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Showing posts from 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

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A competently directed and beautifully shot film by Kenneth Branagh that did not veer too much from Agatha Christie's source material. A refreshing take of a classic story that engages but never really hooked the audience. And if not for the strong ensemble of veteran thespians holding this film up, it would surely have not been as entertaining especially since the younger actors were general disappointments (with the exception of breakout actor Tom Bateman) as their obvious inexperience were starkly apparent when compared directly opposite the likes of Branagh, Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Derek Jacobi, William Dafoe and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Branagh and writer Michael Green managed to inject some originality and freshness to this (mostly) familiar story but despite Branagh's eye for staging, blocking and mood, he never really managed to capture that elusive hook that made this improbable Christie's story so gripping in text. There was a lack of climatic excitement and …

Coco

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An absolute crowd-pleaser  for the whole family. Pixar has done it again with a four-quadrant winner that resonated across generations and culture. It may not be as (pseudo)-intellectual as Inside Out but it definitely pack a great emotional punch especially in its third act, with a strong story line on the evergreen theme of family vs self and obligation vs passions that never turned schmaltzy. Great voice work all around in particular Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal, with great music and score from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the duo that gave us the hits from Frozen, and Michael Giacchino who is back - at last - with a mariachi-tinged score that delivered on the emotional journey.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, who also gave us the last real Pixar tearjerker, Toy Story 3Coco continued Pixar's animation technological supremacy. The film was gorgeous to behold and tiny nuances like the translucency of the skin, the glow of candle light and the luminosity of the 

Justice League

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An entertaining film that brought some laughs and some serviceable action, but ultimately felt like a wannabeAvengers. Although a definite improvement over the travesty that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was still far from the (overrated) high bar ofWonder Woman. The film rushed through its introduction of the new characters leaving most of the newbies as one-dimensional freaks with gifts, and the primary conflict itself suffered from a paper-thin villain and a drastic lack of urgency and gravitas.

Justice League also suffered from being tonally unevenly throughout its near 2-hours run, and it was clear that there were more than one pair of hands involved in the creation of this film. From the hyper-realistic and over-stylised shots of Zack Snyder to the oddly more intimate and less grandoise moments by (likely) Joss Whedon; similarly, for every zinger and witty repartee, there were ten equally eye-rolling clunkers and clumsy bantering.

Wonder woman remained the most int…

The Mountain Between Us

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The seemingly impossible has happened. There was nary a spark of romantic chemistry between both Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. Who knew that that would have been possible between these two gorgeous people. Coupled that non-chemistry with a survival-in-the-wilderness film that lacked realism and grit, this film ended being as frigid as the mountain our two leads were stranded on. 
The lack of chemistry between Winslet and Elba was not only in the romantic side of things, but also in general. The weak script left much to be desired as bantering gave way to heavy-handedness and Nicholas Sparks-ian dialogue. Unfortunately, as the main stars of the film, these two heavyweight actors did not work.
The first fifteen minutes showed potential, as director Hany Abu-Assad effectively set the premise, but from then on, the 112 minutes film just dragged on with many languid moments of waiting and longing and trudging through snow. Abu-Assad and writers Chris Weitz and J Mills Goodloe were egregiou…

Suburbicon

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A typical Coen brothers black-comedic opera that, unfortunately, under George Clooney's direction ended up being neither dark nor funny. What Clooney gave us was instead a messy juggling of a pseudo-murder mystery and a socio-political satire that lacked subtlety and finesse; the former being eye-rollingly ridiculous and the latter being narratively incoherent and irrelevant. Clooney even managed to mangle Alexandre Desplat's score with odd musical cues. The film was only saved by the brilliant - and only truly darkly comedic - Julianne Moore, who - yet again - beautifully embodied the persona of a 50s housewife, and also by the brief comedic turn of third-billed Oscar Issac.

Suburbicon, as a film, had nothing new to say. It seemingly wanted to comment on white-privilege, racial discrimination and maybe even political hypocrisy, but none of those messages were coherently translated on to the screen. Throughout the film, a big question mark looms over the whole narrative, beggi…

Thor: Ragnarok [IMAX/3D]

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Not a simple feat, but kudos to director Taika Waititi for bringing us not only the best film of the Thor franchise but also one of the best entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor: Ragnorak was a superhero space/fantasy that effectively weaved the current wave of 80s nostalgia, from the homage to the old school Star Wars trilogy to the retro electronica and cyberpunk synthesiser beats, into the current fabric of technology-enabled, explosion of colours, sounds and CGI effects. It was not only a rollickingly exciting and fun ride, but it was also downright funny with many laugh out loud moments and excellent comedic beats by everybody in the cast. Perhaps, the weakest part of the film was the plot, and not surprisingly, the villain. The basic storyline was thin, basic and stretched out to fill the spectacle, but at least in this case, the fillers more than made it up to distract from the A-plot.
Finally, since Joss Whedon and the first two Avengers, Marvel has got writers – Eric…

Blade Runner 2049 [IMAX/3D]

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If nothing else, this was a singularly stunning, breathtakingly gorgeous, absolutely beautiful piece of film. Just give Roger Deakins his Oscar now! As for Dennis Villeneuve, the man is now five for five since his 2010 breakout film Prisoners, and he will surely be in the running for Best Director again this year. His film in itself - prior viewing of the 1982 original not necessary, but does inform the experience - was a surprisingly simple, yet layered noir/science fiction story that was effectively told despite its length (163 minutes) and also, ironically, satisfyingly unresolved. Ryan Gosling stood out and may get a nod but he is in danger of not breaking out of his comfort zone.

The IMAX experience was really worth it here. Not only as a canvas for Deakin's sumptuous cinematography, but also for the excellent sound design and mixing. So far, only this film, DunkirkMad Max: Fury Road pioneer Avatar has really, properly utilised the capabilities of IMAX.

Villeneuve's di…

Kevin (Probably) Saves The World

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Pilot: A high-concept supernatural/religious comedy that feels like a touch of Joan of Arcadia meets Touched by an Angel and mixed in with a sprinkling of the cookiness of Wonderfalls. Nonetheless, Jason Ritter makes an affable doofus and it is easy to root for him. The pilot starts of slow, but the final act was when it really came together, once all the heavy exposition dump and character introduction is through. Even the initially annoying teenage niece was partially redeemed towards the end. JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Ritter has great chemistry together and siblings, and hopefully that will get explored more like when Ritter was back on Parenthood. Kimberly Hebert Gregory needs to be more than the sassy "warrior of god" from paradise. Ideally, this story would do well more as a serialised series rather than a save-a-soul-a-week schtick, and hopefully some sort of darkness/edge can creep in to the otherwise bland/typical/feel-good story.

The Mayor

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Pilot: A charming sitcom with a winning cast that exudes chemistry. The pace is snappy and the jokes, although not high-brow, is at least not low-brow and is consistent. Led by a charismatic Brandon Michael Hall, with a perfectly cast Yvette Nicole Brown and Lea Michele in a role that is less campy but at least allow her to flex her underrated comedic chops, this easy comedy is winsome and a welcomed distraction to real-life politics. Shout out to Bernard David Jones and Marcel Spears as Hall's best mates who round out this funny ensemble.

The Gifted

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Pilot: Well, this definitely ain't Legion, but Bryan Singer's directing - within the confines of a broadcast's budget - did help to elevate the action sequences and competently establish the world the show was built in and the central narrative. The CGI effects were good enough to sell the mutant powers, but ultimately, The Gifted lacked originality and save Amy Acker, most of the other cast members were not as strong in their role. Stephen Moyer is definitely not a vampire, and hopefully his storyline will afford him the chance to flex some acting muscles. Acker has the innate talent to hide her Illyria under her Fred no matter what show she is on, and she will be their greatest assets. The two kids - meh! The other mutants - interesting, good racial mix, but boring. Hopefully with the exposition-heavy pilot out of the way, the script and the banter can improve. Mutants-in-pursuit need not always have to be dreary. Again, see Legion.

Marvel's Inhumans

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Episode 1 & 2: Behold...The Inhumans and Those Who Would Destroy Us
You know a show is in trouble when the best thing about it is the sets and production design, and the best character is a fully CGI, oversized, teleporting bulldog that does not speak and spent half of the premiere asleep. It is hard to believe that Marvel actually allowed this to premiere on IMAX last month, and also allowed Scott Buck to create and run a show which after 2 episodes looks poised to be worse than Netflix's Iron Fist (which - in the end - was not too bad).

The casting of our Inhumans royalty was good...if based only on physical appearance. However, some of the cast's acting leaves much to be desired, but at least by the end of episode 2, it does hint that they will improve once they are free from the shackles of pilot exposition. However, the cast's chemistry is obviously lacking. Anson Mount as Black Bolt has got the dignity and command, but he (and his character) seemed to exist in a v…

Ghosted

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Pilot: There was an unexpected charm about this odd, paranormal sitcom that came through throughout its 22-minutes pilot and that could be attributed to comedic duo of Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. Introductions are sped by, backstories paddled through and paranormal science accepted as facts, but yet the jokes are solid, the humour steady and not juvenile. How the series will carry on is still yet to be determined, but Scott and Robinson makes this an easy entry to watch.

Logan Lucky

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Ocean's 7-11 is an apt description of Steven Soderbergh's latest film. It shared a DNA with his Ocean's Trilogy, from the tone, the structure and the concept. All except that in this case, it all felt a bit more hillbilly, i.e. less class, less refined and less witty. The cast's chemistry though good, lacked the electrical excitement and easy repartee that was the highlight of the Ocean series. Nonetheless, this was a fun and easy ride that actually managed to wrangle out some real heart-tugging emotions at the end (boy, John Denver is sure having a moment). One thing for sure, Channing Tatum should stick with Soderbergh because he knows how to bring out the best in Magic Mike.

The screenplay is by Rebecca Blunt (hooray for her and Soderbergh) and although it was a competent script that made sense (at least movie-logic) and was filled with a number of witticism, the characters eventually lacked depth and were stock stereotypes. It could very well had been a fan-fiction…

The Good Doctor

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Pilot: From the creator of House, David Shore, comes another medical drama centred on a lead character who defies societal-norms. And in this case, instead of being a rude, cantankerous diagnostician/genius, we have a high functioning autistic savant/surgical resident. But what both series have in common is a brilliant lead actor who deftly created a character that was unique, distinct and memorable. The Medicine part of things was a tad too cringe-worthy from a professional point of view, and the CGI too in your face Sherlock-esque. The pilot focused on Norman...I mean Norma Bates...no, Freddie Highmore...who after years honing his skills on Bates Motel has finally arrived on Network TV and hopefully to a larger audience. Highmore has impressed ever since his star-making turn on Finding Neverland (much like Tom Holland in The Impossible), and it is gratifying to see this young actor grow and mature. Nonetheless, his character (and even his acting) overshadowed both the plot and the o…

Star Trek: Discovery

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Episode 1 & 2: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars
This new Star Trek definitely has potential and its lead actress, Sonequa Martin-Green, is totally engaging to watch. If the quality from the first two episodes is any indication, and assuming it persists, audience will be in for a treat. The show has a gorgeous cinematic quality to it. From the top rate CGI (much better than most shows on TV) to the beautiful cinematography (by Guillermo Navarro) and great scoring (by Jeff Russo). Creatively, the showrunners (pity Bryan Fuller has left), took a bold risk to start the series off with a prologue-esque structure, focusing on a lead that was not a captain of a Starfleet ship. This definitely informs the character and establish a relationship between her and the audience that will likely shape the rest of the season. However, all shows - and especially a Star Trek one - are ensemble series, and we will have to wait for Episode 3 to see how the full cast get on together and…

Stronger

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An unabashed tearjerker that (mostly) eschewed the typical cliches and tropes of the genre to focus on a strong emotional core that carried the film to cathartic resolution, showcasing a strong and haunting, lived-in performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and a great (and validating) post-Orphan Black turn by Tatiana Maslany. Gyllenhaal might be in the running for a Best Actor nod.
Director David Gorden Green's film ran for almost 2 hours but it did not feel that long. He and writer John Poliono had smartly chosen to have the Boston marathon bombing happen within the first 15 minutes, and with that inciting moment out of the way, Green could focus on the emotional journey of Gyllenhaal's Jeff Bauman. And not only Bauman's journey but also that of the people around him, particularly Maslany's Erin Hurley (his now ex-wife) and his mum, played by a fabulous Miranda Richardson.
The film successfully conveyed a tumult of emotions through not a deluge of words but just the minimal …

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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A fun, mindless romp with the usual Matthew Vaughn-styled, slow-mo, pseudo-one shot action set in a background of outrageous world-domination/spy espionage intrigue, and interspersed with PG13 humour. However, it dragged on a tad too long with too many blatant product placements and lacked the originality, heart and energetic spark of the original despite an unfortunate aborted attempt at a dark political satire. But at least we had Julianne Moore and Elton John! Moore was deliciously campy and Elton (lol!) was just campily vulgar and outright hilarious throughout. 
Vaugh and co-writer (and frequent collaborator) Jane Goldman had scripted a narrative befitting the series, i.e. outrageous enough to be plausible in the real world with a huge dose of suspension of beliefs, but where they went wrong was that the story got bigger than them and whilst negotiating from point A to B to Z they got lost in points U and S. 
<spoilers> The idea of an American counterpart, the Statesmen, was de…

Beatriz at Dinner

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Give Salma Hayek an Oscar nomination! She gave a multi-layered and nuanced performance in an otherwise good-but-not-spectacular film that had a great concept but not the cajones to flesh it - and Hayek's character - out beyond pop-eco/psycho babble. John Lithgow capably and excitingly volleyed with Hayek, but the rest of the ace cast filled their roles ably but with less overall purpose. "Carnage" still sets the benchmark for dining table drama; "August: Orange County" would be a slightly distant second.
Mike White's script lacked bite. It had humour both dark and squirm-worthy, and light and breezy, but nothing actually said that was not pop knowledge and the arguments on either side regarding white-privilege, environmentalism, class divide, compassion and empathy were only superficially explored. It seemed as if White and director Miguel Arteta were afraid to antagonise or vilify Hollywood and/or their producers. 
Arteta smartly focused his camera on Hayek …

Patti Cake$

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A fun and charming crowd-pleaser that was surprisingly touching even though it was an utterly predictable, underdog-triumphs-against-life-predicaments sort of film that ticked all the usual tropes, and it was due to the sincerity of writer/director Geremy Jasper and the endearing, and breakout star, Danielle Macdonald. 
The film would have benefitted from a tighter edit and cutting its runtime by about 10 mins. Nonetheless, it was still an easy digest and the extra minutes did help to further inform the characters, although it did not add too much to the main narrative nor the emotional catharsis sought by Jasper in the final act. 
Jasper followed a very strict three-act structure and that did give the film a backbone which helped the filmmaker to tell his story. The characters too were rote and stereotypical archetypes. But despite all that the film succeeded based on the sincerity of the story and the strength of Macdonald's portrayal. The infectious raps definitely helped too; as…

Battle of the Sexes

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A competent film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine" that tried to juggle too much including gender politics, LGBTQ rights, themes of love vs ambition and of freedom to love with a love story and a love triangle, and unfortunately, in the end, underserved all of them to the point that the actual titular tennis match was the most exciting moment of the whole 121 minutes. In a similar vein, the supporting actors, including the  scene-stealing Sarah Silverman and Alan Cumming, and surprisingly nuanced Austin Stowell and Elisabeth Shue, were more interesting to watch than the leads: a miscast, albeit competent, Emma Stone (who had no chemistry with Andrea Riseborough) and a funny, but lightweight Steve Carrell. 
Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris delivered a by-the-numbers story but may have bitten more than they could chew such that although the narrative moved forward, it moved erratically and without focus. Furthermore, with such a well known historical momen…

American Made

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A fun and frothy, summer-popcorn Tom Cruise film that was one of his better recent outings and will surely entertain the masses. However, for all of director Doug Liman's kinetically-charged and docu-like storytelling, and Cruise's high-energy performance and undeniable charm, this film lacked depth and only superficially glossed through the incredible true story of Barry Seal. For those looking for more complex characters and deeper narratives regarding the Medellin Cartel, drug smuggling and money laundering, you would be better off tuning in to Netflix's "Narcos" and "The Ozarks". 
The film was consistently and constantly fun. Gary Spinelli's script was easy and breezy and littered with references to 80s pop culture. Cruise and Domhnall Gleeson also had the best quips which kept the story light. 
However, despite all that - the superficiality of the narrative and the humour - the biggest problem with the film is the lack of a central conflict. With…

God's Own Country

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A tender and heartfelt coming-of-age love story by first time director (and writer) Francis Lee that was unequivocally sweet, charming and sincere. Comparisons with "Brokeback Mountain" will be inevitable but this film with its limited indie-budget and lesser known actors felt more visceral and more honest. 
As a first time director, Lee's showed a lot of potential but he definitely still fell prey to a couple of cliched tropes, some of which worked, but some did not. His pacing needed some work and some fats could be trimmed off that would not necessarily hurt the story. However, he excelled at the more intimate moments and managed to efficiently and successfully illustrate and evolve his complicated protagonist. 
Lead actor Josh O'Connor rose to the challenge of portraying the emotional walled off protagonist and it was rather beautiful seeing his defences slowly wear off as he embraced his future, his sexuality and the hand that fate had dealt him. 
Co-lead Alec Seca…

mother!

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A polarising and confronting film that on the surface appeared like a "Rosemary's Baby"-esque psychological, horror thriller, but on a deeper level, it can be construed both as a religious allegory and a socio-political commentary. 
This was a technically superb film-making from writer/director Darren Aronofsky that constantly challenges, deliberately confronts and purposely confuses; beautifully shot by Matthew Libatique throughout and Aronofsky and Jóhann Jóhannsson's unique decision to abandon all musical cues only served to highlight the unsettling unease. 
Jennifer Lawrence anchored the film with another captivating and award-worthy performance. Michelle Pfeiffer was a spot-on casting and Javier Bardem's choice of portrayal took a bit of getting used to, but made a lot of sense on hindsight. 
The film's overall real awards chances will all depend on how it is ultimately received. "mother!" is brave film-making and really deserved to be watch with …