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Showing posts from 2015

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens [IMAX/3D]

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I will just say it right now: this was not a great movie.

It was a good film; an enjoyable, fluffy, popcorn, end-of-year, special-effects bonanza that is bound to make loads of cash, but it was not great in any way at all. Filled with a predictable and recycled storyline, predictable and clunky dialogue (noticed a trend?), mediocre to bad acting from the newbies, and boringly bland sets, music and cinematography, this film rides on the legacy of its original epic trilogy and succeeds because of the dismal tragedy of its prequels.

Granted, J.J. Abrams had a lot on his shoulders when he took on this behemoth and all things considering, he did a valiant job. Just not an outstanding one.

The film was obviously made for a four-quadrant audience with as much mass appeal as possible (read: simplicity). It had to pay homage to the original and acknowledged the mistakes of the prequels for the fanboys, and yet it need to hook in a whole new generation of audience for the large cinematic univer…

Creed

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Nostalgia weekend starts with Creed – the seventh film in the Rocky franchise, and boy was it a knockout! Reuniting Fruitvale Station’stalented Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, the film was surprising sincere and heartfelt. Even as it occasionally veers towards the overly dramatic and oddly faux epic-ness of a Rocky movie, it was still a worthy successor of Slyvester Stallone’s early hits. Speaking of Stallone, he was the Most Valuable Person of the film. There was an unexpected naturalness in his role that genuinely made you feel for him and how life must be like for a lonely, ex-champion. It was no wonder that he has been getting accolades and he does deserve it. There is a possibility that he might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination out of it, but if he does, Mark Rylance is still the man to beat (without having seeing Spotlight yet). Coogler directed a brilliant film. He managed to get another great performance out of Jordan and also from Stallone, and the rest of the suppor…

In The Heart Of The Sea

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Ron Howard's latest wasan alright movie - it was neither spectacularly good nor horrendously bad - it just lacked the grandeur and epic sweep that it so badly wished it had, but, in the end, it was failed by a generic story and un-imaginative storytelling.
Chris Hemsworth is an underrated actor and it is going to take a lot for him to get out from under Thor's shadow. His last outing with Howard gave us the excellent Rush and hopefully with the moolah from Marvel, he can continue to pursue smaller films that allow him to showcase his acting chops.
The story by Char;es Levant, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver was too focused on getting the characters to meet The Whale that it sacrificed characterization and relationship building which would become so important in the Third Act as the crew tried to survive. In truth, the story behind Moby Dick could have been very interesting, but the direction it took was not refreshing or new.
ITHOTS tried to emulate the gorgeous CGI-created world…

Macbeth

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A beautiful and poetic interpretation, albeit a mildly abridged version, of Shakespeare's classic tragedy that was filled with gorgeous shots and a riveting, mesmerising  performance by Michael Fassbender and an equally hauntiing and intense one from Marion Cotillard. Thankfully the subtitles helped with both the Shakespearean/Elizabethan English and the heavy heavy Scottish (and Irish and French and Fassbenderian) accents.

Director Justin Kurzel's first big film was assured and confident, and he managed to stage the film like a play but yet still fully-utilised the large screen capability of cinema to translate the grandeur and majesty of the story. However, the strength in his directing was really the closer and intimate portrayals of King and Lady Macbeth. Although that was also partially due to the strength of the actors.

I think it is great that actors of such calibre like Fassbender and Cotillard are willing to take a chance on Kurzel, and something must have gone right…

The Good Dinosaur

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The Good Dinosaur was a beautifully rendered animation with gorgeous, picturesque landscapes and amazing details. The story itself was a simple, straightforward The Land Before Time  meets The Lion King sensibility that despite its subtle darkness, still lacked the depth and lofty ideas of past Pixar entries. Nonetheless, it stills pack an emotional punch aided by Mychael and Jeff Danna's grogeous score.

I think Pixar had a wonderful concept initially: What if the meteor that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs didn't really hit Earth. That is a brilliant sci-fi concept and animation would have been able to carry it off beautifully (think: Avatar). And some seeds of that idea could be seen in the final film, however, what was more obvious was that the final product was clearly a different story from that.

The anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs went a bit too far  - but just roll with it since it is an additional million years of evolution - and the de-anthropomorphism of the…

The Program

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Stephen Frears’ newest film was an enjoyable and rather educational look into the Lance Armstrong doping saga, and like his past films The Queen and Philomena, he managed to extract a phenomenal performance from his lead – in this case, the revelatory Ben Foster – but unlike those earlier films, The Program lacked heart and passion.
Frears and writer, John Hodge, presented a clear narrative from the beginning to the final downfall of Armstrong. However, too much time was focused on the long middle act which illustrated the abuse of the performance enhancement drugs (which the audience already knew he did), and not enough time was spent examining the why in the beginning or the potentially emotionally wrecking fall from grace in the end.
As a docu-drama of the faux legend there was not really any real drama involved in the retelling nor were there any documentary revelations about the saga.
We learnt nothing new about Lance Armstrong, nor did we feel like we better understand why he did …

Legend

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On paper this film sounded great, but unfortunately what we see on screen is nothing but. This was not a bad film per se, but just that it was ... uninteresting. A tepid and bland presentation of what could have been an exciting gangster(s) biopic. The only saving grace was the undeniably talented Tom Hardy who gave a performance that was fun, exciting, engaging but sadly undeserving of Brian Helgeland.

For someone who wrote the excellent - oscar-winning - screenplay of LA Confidential, the narrative in this film was unfocused. Does it want to be a gangster film, a true-life biopic, a romantic drama or a family drama? Sadly, Helgeland chose to focus on the romantic aspect which was the weakest and also the least interesting storyline.

At the end of the film, after 131 long minutes - it would have been better served if they cut it by 20-30 minutes - we still do not really know the Kray brothers any better.

Helgeland's story seemed to want to push the envelop, but Helgeland the dir…

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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Breaking up the final part of this trilogy was clearly a money-grabbing ploy because on its own, Part 2 lacked a definite structure which made the conclusion of this dystopic saga feel limp and betrayed the emotional investment of the audience.


That being said, Suzanne Collin's third book itself was also not her best, as it tried to cramp as much of its political satirism-for-tweens, but at least the ending held weight and was less expected than in the movie - which was clumsily foreshadowed.


The target demographic would surely be happy with the film. Its darker overtones were well handled but could have been dealt with more deeply to give it a richer complexity which I am sure star Jennifer Lawrence could have handled.


This second part dragged on too long to reach a conclusion that as foresaid was expected. It moved from one scene to another, as our characters faced one obstacle after another, but none of that were truly climatic or exciting. It truly felt hollow as there nev…

Spectre [IMAX]

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Spectre was an entertaining, action-packed and generally fun film that tried to tie up all of Daniel Craig’s past Bond films into a neat little bow. However, Sam Mendes and John Logan tried too hard to do both that and re-capture the magic of Skyfall, such that it succeeded in neither. Comparisons with Skyfallwill be expected, and just like Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall is a paler shade to Adele’s Skyfall, Spectre too failed to excite and engage as much as its predecessor. And it is not just the plot, unfortunately even the cinematography (by Hoyte van Hoytema here), Thomas Newman’s score and Christoph Waltz’s villainy all failed to match the high standards set by Roger Deakins, Newman himself and Javier Bardem.

The film started off great. That was the best part and it gave hope that Spectre will be better than Skyfall. That opening sequence – especially that long tracking shot by Mendes – was outstanding. The action sequence too was the best of the whole film, and even in compariso…

Quantico

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Pilot: ABC's new show might be the best of this season's lot. In the vein of "How To Get Away With Murder", we are treated to a mystery in the future with clues in the flashbacks. Like "Murder", the cast are all fairly fresh-faced (and pretty) individuals with some old familiar faces to keep the viewers grounded. And although Priyanka Chopra is not as big a star as Viola Davis in the States, she is a big deal in Bollywood. Similarly, it also bears the question: how would it sustain itself beyond one season?



Episode 2, America: Some new faces and a certain amount of character retcon were introduced. But at least it worked. Although the focus on Chopra's sexuality/sensuality is getting too overt. But the suspects are genuinely getting more interesting in both their personal lives and how they may figure into the larger mystery.


Episode 3, Cover: A less exciting episode but it did serve up a nice surprise or two. However, after two episodes of the trainees,…

Supergirl

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Pilot: CBS has jumped into the superheroes pool and has wisely decided to make a splash by centering on a female superhero, but - damn it! - you don't have to keep drumming that point in throughout the whole pilot do you? And you can't even give a good reason why she is called "supergirl". From the co-creators of The CW's DC-shows - the fun The Flash and the dark Arrow - the pilot of Supergirl has gotten most things right straight out of the bat. Melissa Benoist was surprisingly well cast and she brings with her a lovable and refreshing charm. Our titular heroine actually loves her power, the people around her all knows she has power - even the potential love interests which is refreshing - and so far the rest of the cast are appealing with an outstanding Calista Flockhart especially.  But it will be interesting to see how the supporting cast will be integrated into the action/drama - which was one thing that both Arrow and The Flash did very well - and how CBS w…

Burnt

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In theory, this film should have been great, but in the hands of director John Wells and writer Steven Knight, what we were left with was the equivalent of a stale, insert-your-favourite-mass-market-store-brand bread. What a waste of the bevy of talented stars attached to it (and I am not including Bradley Cooper in this mix).

Essentially, this should have been marketed more like a romantic-comedy, and then perhaps it would have made more sense. If you are looking for food-porn or have a better understanding of how chefs work/think, then may I humbly suggest Netflix's superior Chef's Table. Or even Bryan Fuller's Hannibal!

Why did Emma Thompson even agreed to be in this film? Uma Thurman was barely up for less than 10 minutes. Talented European actors like Daniel Bruhl, Omar Sy and Matthew Rhys end up playing second fiddle to (American) Cooper who brings nothing to this role other than his usual persona. And poor Alicia Vikandar - this year's more ubiquitous actor - d…

The Walk [IMAX/3D]

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An entertaining biographic film that was visually exciting and buoyed by Robert Zemeckis' remarkable use of 3D and achored by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's boyish, faux-french charms.

A technically superb film but its effects occassionally usurped and distracted from the story. The First Act started off promising with Gordon-Levitt, and his initially-distracting Parisian-accented english, and his co-stars Charlotte Le Bon and Ben Kingsley, exploring Phillippe Petit's initial desire and need to be a wire walker.

However, despite all their rom-com-esque charm (think: JGL and Zooey Deschanel's 500 Days of Summer) and Kingsley stealing his scenes, there was a distinct lack of heart. We do not really know who is Phillippe and why he wants to do what he wants to do. Zemeckis used lots of voice-overs to try to bring that acrosss, but Gordon-Levitt's faux-french voice work - and what was shown on screen - did not hel pto convey that across. And it is this lack of empathy that l…

Blindspot

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Pilot: NBC's latest crime/drama tries to be something different, but the whole concept/execution of it is reminiscence of its own Blacklist, except for the change in gender. Its like Blacklist meets Prison Break. The cast is attractive, especially the two leads Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton, and the central mystery intriguing itself. The supporting cast seemed to be included for racial diversity which honestly is absurd considering that the pilot's plot is racist. Or that could just be put down to lazy writing without research which really is not forgivable considering that the pilot should be solid (i.e. Mandarin is not Cantonese and most Chinese dialect are spoken not typed out). Similarly, the showrunners are positioning this more like a crime procedural than a black-box mystery, also heavier on plot and narrative rather than character. After the pilot they all seemed flat and only Marianne Jean-Baptiste was interesting, in part also because she had presence. They…

Crimson Peak

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Disclaimer:I cannot believe that in this day and age, Singapore is still censoring films such as this. It gets slapped with a NC-16 rating (not for 16 years and under) and the sex scenes are cut?!

Guillermo del Toro's latest is not a horror house picture. It is a very stylish and gorgeously sumptuous gothic, tragic love story that appealed more to the eyes rather than the brain or heart.

With such a wonderful cast, it was a pity that del Toro (and co-writer Matthew Robbins) did not focus more on the story and tried to get more out of his stars. The chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston can be best described as frosty; that between Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain remained obtusely enigmatic; and although Charlie Hunnam and Wasikowska had some sparks, it was a pity they were not explored.

There were elements in the story that had some potential but they were merely skimmed through, which then begged the question, what was the purpose of bringing it out in the first pla…

Code Black

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Pilot: A great cold opening that led into a relentless adrenaline high for the next 40-odd minutes, but therein laid Code Black's biggest problem. How can it maintain such high standards for a whole (network) season? Marcia Gay Harden is the star of the show and her entrance was brilliant. She was believable (in a TV sense of the word) and had enough vulnerability to not make her a sap. The central conflict was addressed early on and laid the groundwork for the rest of the pilot to focus on. Harden's chief sparring partner is Raza Jaffrey who has really seen his star rise since getting noticed on Smash. The other standout was Luis Guzman and it's a pity Kevin Dunn is not a regular. As for the residents, they are externally different but written oh-so boringly. The writing on the show is also bordering on cheesy and clunky, and unabashedly emotionally baiting. After the pilot, this feels like HOUSE M.D. on speed but lacking the cast chemistry and magnetic enigmatic charisma…

Stonewall

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By itself this was not a good film, bordering bad; but as a film about a significant slice of history, it was truly offensive!

Roland Emmerich's personal film was poorly directed, badly written (by Jon Robin Baitz) withb poor characterisation, unfocused and, ultimately, messy. But most importantly, it did no favour to the people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, and those who followed after, like Harvey Milk, which led to the Supreme Court of USA to declare Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional and legalisation of same-sex marriage in the US in June 2015.

Leaving politics aside, for now, Emmerich and Baitz had no clear idea or vision about this film. Is it going to be a coming-out/of-age story or a film about gay rights? If it was the former, the exploration of which was juvenile and superficial at best. It really felt like they threw in every single gay/coming-out cliche that they could think of and laid it out there. Sometimes barely even coherently.

If Stonewall w…

Bridge of Spies

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Let the Oscar Games begin.

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and the Coen brothers start the 2015/16 Oscar season with a bang with the first truly good movie of the year. Let's hope that they can keep the momentum going.

Bridge of Spies tells a (inspired by true events) story that may not be as well known but definitely inspiring and aspirational. Penned by Matt Charman with the Coen brothers, the story in itself was relatively straightforward but tucked beneath this Cold War drama was a simple exploration of the themes of morality, justice, faith and humanity. All of which fall directly into Spielberg's wheelhouse.

Spielberg, on his part, has directed a great movie with wide-spread popular appeal - especially with Hanks in the lead. The story had shades of his under-rated Munich and the modern classic Schindler's List, but albeit one with a more pro-American shade reminiscence of  Lincoln. All his trademarks were present, lens flare (waaaaay less then JJ Abrams), back lighting,…

The Martian

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A very likable and enjoyable nerd/sci-fi thriller that had humour, suspense, and pathos, but despite all that something was still lacking in it to make it really superb.

Ridley Scott finally scored a real hit after the so-so Exodus: Gods and Kings, the well-acted but incoherent The Counselor and the disappointing Prometheus, and writer Drew Goddard definitely played a role in the success because the script was the strongest of the lot. It was direct, straightforward and made sense (within the scope of cinematic/artistic licence).

However, therein also laid one of the main problems. Goddard's script was essentially script-writing 101. There were no surprises and nothing unpredictable about how the story unfold. Scott himself also presented it such that you knew what was exactly going to happen next and that made any sought of tension in the film appeared overly drawn out and tedious. Character development and emotional investments were sacrificed on the altar of narrative cohesive…

It Follows [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

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A fairly original horror/supernatural film, and that in itself is a rarity these days, that was suspenseful and entertaining throughout relying less on jump scares but mood, atmosphere and directing to inject fear and trepidation. It felt a lot like last year's great horror flick The Babadook, especially in terms of the ending.

A standout performance by the central damsel-in-distress - Maika Monroe - and here's hoping that she can break out of her stereotype. However, the rest of the cast were fairly non-memorable.

I liked that story-wise writer/director David Robert Mitchell did not lay out any background or mythology to the supernatural entity. Just accept that it is what it is. However, one of the most important things in horror films is that the villain/ghost/spirit/demon/etc has got to be consistently portrayed and its capabilities/powers need to be consistent regardless of how exagerrated it might be, and in this case the inconsistency got to the point where it was rat…

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

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An indie version of The Fault in Our Stars, but with more originality and sincerity such that its emotional climax was much more deserved.

Directed by one of Glee's usual and more visually exciting director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the exuberance and angst of youth was deftly captured. The story itself was nothing new and the way it was told was also not very original, but putting them together gave us something interesting. Think Perks of Being a Wallflowermeet John Green.
Thomas Mann made for a good narrator and his self-effacing mannerisms made him endearing to the audience. Similarly, Olivia Cooke is a rising star worth keeping an eye out for. Especially since she landed the lead in Spielberg's Ready Player One.
The character of Earl, on the other hand, was interesting. And a smart choice. He served as both the audience surrogate and as Mann's character voice of reason.
In the end, like an episode of Glee, there was even a lesson to be learnt. But here, it did not sound Ry…

Black Mass

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With this movie, Johnny Depp has placed himself on this year's long list for Best Actor. However, despite a fascinating story of an equally intriguing character, Scott Cooper failed to really explore beneath the superficiality to uncover what could have been a complex character study.

Depp was really not very different here in this film than his last offerings. He has completely changed himself physically but the only difference now is that Black Mass is not a Disney film. He was creepy as hell, with an icy cold stare that would freeze even the White Walkers of GOT, and he really did inhabit the character - losing himself but without the caricature-tendency of Jack Sparrow or The Mad Hatter.

The story by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk was straightforward but as aforementioned, it focused more on the life of James Bulger rather than explore deeper into the man himself. What that resulted in was a missed opportunity to mine the rich relationship dynamics that existed between Bulg…

Everest [IMAX 3D]

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Disclaimer: I am so glad that after climbing Mt Kilimanjaro I have no further need to satisfy myself to scale any higher peaks.

This movie should be seen in the big screen and preferably in 3D. IMAX if possible. The cinematography is gorgeous and you need that screen size and the 3D depth to really appreciate the scale and the harrowing horror that mountain climbing can bring. Exciting misadventures notwithstanding, the narrative was ultimately as thin as the air up there, made worse by nagging inconsistencies and unrealism, and a Final Act that unabashedly dramatises the truth to milk your tears.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur did a great job in getting straight into the story. However, that ended up being a double-edged sword. We got great shots of the gorgeous landscape and was right there in the midst of the action as the mountaineers begin their track and acclimatisation. But we barely know anything about the characters which made the final act seemed unearned and false in …

Sicario

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A brilliant and exciting movie by Denis Villeneuve that had almost everything going right for it - great directing, excellent cinematography, fantastic music and a top-notch cast - except for a familiarly subversive, and slightly uneven story that really only worked because the protagonist was a female, and that female was Emily Blunt. And there was Benicio del Toro.

After Enemy and Prisoners, Villeneuve returned with a home-run that is Sicario. From the opening sequence on, this slow-burning drug/crime procedural did not let down on its pacing. The action sets were not big or showy, but Villeneuve's direction was precise and notched up the tension expertly. Buoyed by Roger Deakin's gorgeous cinematography and Johann Johannsson's sumptuous music (much better than his work on The Theory of Everything), this film was a visual and aural pleasure!

Using Blunt's character as an audience surrogate, we follow the story as blind as her, and slowly understand the larger pictur…

The Visit

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M. Night Shyamalan's latest is a decidedly smaller film than his previous outings, and was much better for it. Without much gimmicks, and with Blumhouse behind the scene, the focus was on the story and atmosphere which was effectively intriguing and unsettling. Although Shyamalan's reputation still cast a large shadow over the project, and the climax was expected and did not hit high enough a mark,

Using a variation of the found-footage technique, Shyamalan managed to make a horror/thriller story that was grounded more in reality and relied less - but not absolutely none - on jump scares but more on suspense and mood. Having said that, the "twist" itself was expected but at least not outrageous - it was not the trees!! - although the final climatic sequence could have been edited and shot a bit more creepy.

The child actors here were actually good, which was important since they were the anchors of the show, and they had good chemistry together as siblings. Neither …

The Assassin 刺客聶隱娘

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A polarising film that is very much typical of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien 侯孝賢; so in other words, it should not surprise those who are familiar with his works. However, it is a bit of a Western-misnomer to call this a wuxia film, when in actual fact, it really was more a political period piece. 
Hou won the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it really is not surprising that he did. Hou's favourite single-frame shots - whether tight close-ups or wide-angled landscape - are peppered throughout the film. As are long moments of silences and stillness. 
Hou is a master in the arts of show-not-tell. And he very seldom belittles the intelligence of the audience. 
The biggest let down were the actors. Most of them could not live up to the immense subtlety that is required of them amidst the stillness of Hou's direction. Eyes and body language become more important than speech and intonation. 
Shu Qi 舒淇 did a commendable job in an unflattering role, but her…

The Gift

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Joel Edgerton's directorial debut was a decent effort albeit one that was thematically and stylistically inconsistent, but a smarter-than-average pseudo-intelligentsia story with decent performances by Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Edgerton made this film an entertaining enough watch.

The story itself (which was also written by Edgerton) was rather straightforward, but Edgerton managed to slowly tease out the details and secrets such that the audience were more or less constantly guessing. However, there were times when the script was too smart for its own good.

The First Act was excellent, and then someway in the Second Act, Blum House Productions got control and it somehow morphed into a horror/slasher-flick cliche, and in the Third Act, the resolution felt rushed and unearned.

More time and effort should have been spent on developing the characters more fully. Instead, Edgerton spent his energy on moving the plot forward and left the characterisations to his actors.

Bateman …

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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A fun and uber-stylish crime/spy-caper from Guy Ritchie - expect nothing less! - with a dash of camp and noir. Unfortunately this time round, style beats substance, and the gorgeous men and women, well-directed action sequences, and nifty twists are not enough to cover up the fact that the plot is thin, the characterisations are two-dimensional at best, and the cast really did not have much chemistry.

Ritchie has not really made a great film since the double whammy of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. After getting married, and then divorced, to Madonna and getting seduced by Hollywood to do RDJ's vanity Sherlock Holmes project and its eye-rolling sequel, there was hope that he could ignite his creative juices again.

UNCLE showed that Ritchie is a good director with an eye for action and comedy, and that he has a distinctive style. But he has lost that originality. Throughout the whole 116 minutes run time, the film felt like a mash-up of a Quentin Tarantino western …