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Showing posts from January, 2016

The Big Short

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The Big Short  is the rare film that had some genuinely funny laugh out loud moments, but ironically, almost all of it came from outside the main story, and therein laid the comic genius of Adam McKay (and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph). McKay crafted a fact-based, recent historical retelling of the 2007/08 financial crisis and made it engaging, informative, darkly comic and entertaining. That is no mean feat.

Just like fellow Best Picture/Director nominee Spotlight, this film has the uphill task of leading the audience to an already known conclusion and not losing them along the way. Whereas Spotlight managed to deftly keep the tension high and the emotional stakes honest, The Big Short held onto its audience by its humor, its amazingly factual portrayal of an unbelievably broken and corrupt system and its style.

The whole movie felt like a Freakonomics book, and having not read Michael Lewis' book of the same name, I cannot be sure if the film was faithful to the tone of the …

Spotlight

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A smartly written film with heart that does not pander to the lowest denominator nor paint the heroes in an overly grandeur light. Tom McCarthy and the cast of excellent actors all brought their A-game out for this, making a potentially dull feature on investigative journalism and its reporters, with an explosive exposé notwithstanding, into a compelling and tense human drama.

McCarthy's pacing was excellent and the tension really ebbed and flowed naturally. Even as we approached the climax, McCarthy never really stepped on the accelerator but instead allowed the film's own natural rhythm to bring us to the eventual conclusion. Despite knowing how it all ended, we were still invested - through to the end - to find out how they finally got there.

Writers McCarthy and Josh Singer wisely focused on the team of journalists rather than the subjects and the subject matter in which they are investigating. And that, coupled with the dynamic cast made the film highly engaging. McCarth…

Stan Lee's Lucky Man

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Pilot: There is something interesting about the concept of this series but unfortunately by the end of the hour it still was not very clear about its own identity. Based on next week's preview, this seemed to be a serialised detective drama with a supernatural/superhero twist to it. However, that paranormal angle was not clearly explained nor specified which then throws more questions to the air. Although it does serve to put the audience in the same footing as the lead. And thankfully they have got the charismatic James Nesbitt to sell the show/concept. Unfortunately for him, the people that surrounds him are uninteresting and cliche. This was very distinctively unlike any of the American superhero-based shows, and I do applaud the British for that, but they need to get a better grip of the super-side of things and explain the mythology better especially before they throw in even more plot threads.

Room

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Room was definitely one of the better films of 2015. It had a terrific and very strong first and second act, however, in comparison, the third act fell short with both the director and writer (Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue) getting complacent and/or lazy and falling into a typical, run-of-the-mill storytelling.

Brie Larson gave a strong, honest performance but the third act really let her down, and so whether she is the Best Actress of the year is still not a foregone conclusion. But lucky for her, she had the talented Jacob Tremblay to play off with and the rise and fall of this film really laid on his shoulders. And he delivered. A pity that this year's Best Supporting Actor field is so crowded otherwise he'd deserve a nomination.

Abrahamson should be applauded for the first two acts. Amazingly shot within the confinements of a room, he managed to make it look big and claustrophobically small at the same time. That bottleneck first act was succinct in showing us everyth…

Billions

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Pilot and Episode 2 "Naming Rights": This is Showtime trying to make the world of investment banking as interesting/dramatic as what Netflix did for politics with House of Cards. The only difference is that the world of hedge funds and traders are surprisingly a lot more foreign than Capitol Hill. Further distancing the audience is the difficulty in relating to the ultra-rich - who here is also a co-lead and ?likely anti-hero.

Thankfully, at least, Showtime has decided to not dumb it down too much which shows respect to the audience and kept all the technical jargon in, although conversely, that might end up alienating some audience if they keep it up too much.

Secondly, thank you for staying away from gratuitous sex scenes, although I do applaud them from going beyond network TV's S&M and used golden showers to show how edgy cable tv is. But then, we get drugs and a lesbian sex scene in episode 2. Two steps forward, one step back.

There was too much exposition in th…

Joy

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David O. Russell has his first semi-dud since hitting a home run with his last three movies (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbookand American Hustle).

Re-teaming up with his muse Jennifer Lawrence and frequent collaborators Robert de Niro and Bradley Cooper (can a muse be a guy?...anyways, moving on...) Joy was a genuinely enjoyable, funny and interesting film...in its first act. Thereafter, director/writer Russell got bogged down by the tedious reality behind every success story and neglected the fundamentals that made his previous dramas worked: the characters, the family and the complicated bonds between them. That resulted in a bloated, overwrought, tedious drama of a fairly interesting person which was wrapped up in one of the laziest, sloppiest, deus ex machina way possible which kind of overwrites all the character development of Lawrence's central character.

The first act was a joy (all pun intended). And a very pleasant surprise. With shades of Silver Lining Playbook. Th…

The Danish Girl

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The Danish Girl was a good film that boasted good performances from its two leads - Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander - but despite its Oscar-baiting story, the ultimate product failed to connect and engage with the audience beyond the superficial layer. And it showed especially in its ending and the penultimate scene.

Tom Hooper is really a fan of the close-ups after Les Miserables, and it was again a double-edged sword here. It worked well for certain scenes but not so for the majority of the others. Hooper chose to tell the story Lili Elbe nee Einer Wegener, but yet the film seemed more interested in focusing on the struggles of Gerda Wegener rather than the identity struggle of Einer/Lili. But when it does, Hooper sort-of just glossed over it and Redmayne go through the expected beats, such that it does become painfully obvious that both Hooper and Redmayne did not explore much into the characterisation and emotional architecture of the eponymous heroine.

Although there is a need…

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

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A one-off screening of the much loved (and missed) Sherlock series, this Christmas/New Year special was everything the TV series was and translated very well onto the big screen. Although it truly did not advance the serial’s main plotline, it was an effective one-off, case-of-the-week story telling that kept its fans happy and any new viewers satisfied (the recapped definitely helped). The dialogue was quick and witty and machine-gunned out with aplomb and gusto by all its stars. The humour was spot on and there was a healthy amount of verbal and physical comedy. The direction was superb with outstanding work on set designs, costumes, music and cinematography. The central plot/narrative on the hand was fairly straightforward. The case itself drew comparison with Season 3’s explanation of how Sherlock’s faked his own death. The initial explanation of why it was set in Victorian times was great and truly unexpected (for someone who had strictly avoided all spoilers), however, the constan…

The Little Prince [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

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The Little Prince was a charmingly sweet animation that combined both CGI and stop-motion technology to present a story within a story, with the original narrative mirroring that of the beloved (and well known) fable. Directed by American Mark Osborne, this film was clearly targeted towards introducing a new generation to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s children classic (although every time I read it, at different ages, I garner something new about it). It managed to introduce a wholly new narrative to bring the audience into the world of The Little Prince, however, non-book readers may initially be confused by how weirdly erratic the eponymous little prince could be – although Osborne did try to address that with a bit of meta-confusion. The Third Act was a highlight. With a marvellous imagining that was a bit darker than the preceding two acts, although Osborne ultimately still held back from making it too morose/macabre/dark. The 3D stop-motion was gorgeous and I could really watch the w…

Carol [Moonlight Cinema, Brisbane]

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A beautifully directed love story by Todd Haynes that was superbly crafted and extremely well acted by two talented actresses. However, despite all its beauty and excellence there was within its core a distinct lack of emotional chemistry between the two leads/characters that, if present, would have elevated this film to almost perfection (and Oscar front-runner).

This was a very typical Haynes period film - highly reminiscent of his succinctly masterful Julianne Moore starrer Far From Away (even the soundtrack sounds similar) and the brilliant Kate Winslet/Eva Rachel Wood mini-series Mildred Pierce. Haynes definitely has an eye for the period and his attention to details were impeccable. The sets and scenes were lush with details, as were the costumes and make-up. Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara looked convincingly liked they were from the 50s.

The story itself was beautiful, but I suspect something was amiss in the translation from print to screen. There was without a doubt tha…

Suffragette

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This Carey Mulligan led period piece was a fairly entertaining film that shed some light on the history of the suffragette movement through the personal, circumstantial drama of an initially unwilling participant. However, it lacked the historical details to make it more educational nor does it, despite Mulligan's dedicated and moving performance, provide enough emotional heft for us to connect with the cause. Especially since most educated audience will already accept the fact that it is a right for women to vote. Therefore, the film failed to show and engaging lead the audience to its inevitable conclusion.

The period details were well designed as were the costumes with the drabness and dreariness of the lower class clearly illustrated and emphasized to counterpoint that of the well to do. However, we do not see the struggle of the upper crust and that disparity made the cause and the purpose of the suffragettes jarring.
Mulligan did a highly commendable job in depicting the ev…