Posts

Showing posts from 2017

The Defenders

Image
The Defenders was absolutely bingeable and entertaining. When the team-up occurred, it felt natural and the cast had a genuine chemistry. The series expects the audience to know the backstory and did the story dove straight into the lives of our heroes. Catching us up on what they had been since we last saw them, and not really bothering to explain who they are to newbies.

The Defenders also really benefited from the shorter-than-usual series length. At eight episodes, we had less filler moments and the story momentum was allowed to flow naturally. However, the downside of this team-up was that each of the heroes had to have sufficient screen time which led to a sacrifice in character developments for them, the secondary characters and unfortunately, for our villain as portrayed brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver.

No doubt about it, Weaver was great. She elevated the material and was easily the most enigmatic and magnetic personality on screen. But as a character, she was just not given e…

The Big Sick

Image
What a great movie. Sincere, honest, touching but yet never schmaltzy and oh so funny. The fact that it was based on the true story/romance between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon (played here by Zoe Kazan) just made it all the more emotional and effective. Even knowing how it played out in real life did hardly impact the emotional investment of the audience, and that is the power of great storytelling by director Michael Showalter, co-writers Nanjiani and Gordon, and uber-producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mandel.

The biggest drawback to the film was the run time. Clocking in at 124 minutes, the film could have been even tighter if they had perhaps tighten it by 10 to 15 minutes. However, having said that, it must be said that the film itself was already very well paced with very, very few scenes that did not work, but then again some side plots could have been kept on the editing floor.

From drawback to strength, the five biggest strengths of The Big Sick was (one) the great chemistr…

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Image
Valerian is The Fifth Element for the 21st Century: louder, brighter and just as audacious and over-the-top but sadly, without the melodrama or memorable sequences (Rihanna doing a burlesque/pole dance does not top the diva dance opera...not even close). Nonetheless, it was a fun, rollicking, space adventure that zipped from one adventure to the next with exciting visuals that were neither terribly groundbreaking or innovative, and populated with characters that we never really cared about.

Besson's vision for Valerian was clear. A space opera spectacle that was grand in scope and epic in storytelling. He was successful on the first count, with an impressive CGI-ed world and aliens that could only be made possible now. However, the time spent in these alien worlds were too short to be fully immersive or appreciative. Most of the plot wound up in generic space sets that neither excites or wows.

And with regards to the second point, generously one could say that Besson tried to tell…

Baby Driver

Image
Part musical, part heist flick, part YA romance, part revenge thriller, but definitely all comedy and car chases, Baby Driver was an exhilarating and utterly original story that defied easy categorisation. But yet for all its genre-challenging bravados, Edgar Wright's baby failed to really slam the pedal to the metal and break out of its genre(s) confinements - succumbing to the cliches and expectations - to establish something new.

With a great soundtrack that was literally almost start to end, Edgar Wright definitely put a new spin on the meaning of a musical. And he wisely chose to ignore pop music and went for a more esoteric 60s/70s reggae/jazzy and 90s rap/hip hop kinda vibe, letting the rhythms and beats drive the action. Seriously, who has not driven in a car to the beat of a song?

As for the car chase scenes, the musicality of it kept it fresh, but, to be honest, they were not terribly exciting. We have seen better. Initial D any one? Or even the early Fast and the Furio…

Dunkirk [IMAX]

Image
Christopher Nolan is back...at last. Dunkirk is an unequivocally, amazingly, visceral piece of film. Superbly stunning directing, cinematography, score, sound design and mixing, action sequences, production design and well-acted by a stellar ensemble cast. This was a great war film: riveting, exciting, tightly paced and emotional without being overly expositive or manipulative; Nolan's best film to date.Must be watched in IMAX.

At a trim 106 minutes, Dunkirk is the rare summer blockbuster to clock in under 2 hours and Nolan had smartly maximised the time with nary any excess baggage nor extraneous scenes. Almost every scene and moment served a purpose, showing the heroic deliverance and rescue at Dunkirk. 

Together with Hans Zimmer's brilliant score and Nolan's terrific directing, the dialogue-scarce film was able to effectively identify our heroes, illustrate the perils and frantic desperation and ultimately earned an absolutely deserving climax and emotional catharsis. An…

Miss Sloane [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

Image
This film laid on the strong, capable shoulders of Jessica Chastain. But otherwise, the film was an uncomplicated, wannabe political thriller that only superficially skimmed through the issues at hand. Similarly, other than the eponymous Miss Sloane, the other characters served to only advance the narrative and reinforce her badass-ry.
Director John Madden competently steered the story towards its inevitable conclusion, but with so much signposting and blatant foreshadowing, the audience was kept wanting the other shoe to drop rather than teetering on the edge not knowing how our anti-hero(ine) was going to win. 
Writer Jonathan Perera similarly painted the whole scenario is broad strokes and never really explored new grounds. This could have just been an episode of a Shondaland drama and we would not have even noticed the difference. Even his characterisation of Miss Sloane, for all its blustering and balls-breaking innuendo, actually bordered on misogyny. If it was not for Chastain…

The Lost City of Z [SQ Inflight Entertainment]

Image
A very well executed adventure epic by writer-director James Gray that was equally riveting, inspiring and touching, with a superb performance by Charlie Hunman. Co-stars Sienna Mille exuded subliminal graces, Robert Pattinson remains underrated and Tom Holland cements both his undeniable talent and star calibre.
Gray has crafted a story that traced the mysterious true story of Percy Fawcett but he did not mine it for unnecessary sensationalism or Indiana Jones-esque adventure/thriller. Instead what we got was an intimate exploration of a man’s obsession and how it informed his life’s decision. Smartly, Gray also chose to put some focus on how such obsession affects his family instead of broadly brushing it aside. And it was these moments that Miller shone in a role that would have otherwise been nothing but accessorising. 
Hunman deserves a leading man role as deep/complex as Percy Fawcett. Sure, he could also convincingly play an action character a la King Arthur, but Guy Ritchie’s…

War for the Planet of the Apes

Image
The strength of this film laid in its narrative. Director and co-writer Matt Reeves had, unexpectedly, gone smaller and more intimate in this three-quel and that has paid off. Together with yet another amazing performance by Andy Serkis, the film related the inevitable fall of Humanity without sacrificing character. If anything, the film could have been tighter and its tone less scattered. At times the film felt like a Western, and at other moments, a heist film, a buddy film, a spy thriller and even a biblical epic. But otherwise, this was an entertaining film with a satisfying conclusion to Caeser's story.

Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback wisely used this film to further explore their main character. Instead of expanding the universe and just going for bigger, louder and flashier - like most sequels are prone to do - they chose to look inwards and used the exploration of Caesar's character to illuminate the situation of the movie-world.

In the film, the apes exhibited more…

Spider-Man: Homecoming [IMAX 3D]

Image
As a second reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming had a lot stacked against it, but what Marvel/Sony had wisely chosen to do was to steer away from the over-trodden origin story and instead focused on the growing pains of a being (super)hero. And also casting Tom Holland in the lead. With Holland, the MCU had hit another gold mine in casting like what they had with Robert Downey Jr. That being said, the film itself, unfortunately, was a mid-tier entry in the MCU. It was fun, enjoyable and entertaining - everything one would expect from a Marvel-film and a summer popcorn release. However. for all its quips and maniacal energy, it lacked the kinetic and effortless humour of Ant-Man, The Avengers (both parts) and Guardians of the Galaxy(part one only), and also the thrilling excitement and adrenaline-pumping actions of the first two Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies and Andrew Garfield/Marc Webb's first The Amazing Spider-Man.

Jon Watts' direction was apt and competent, b…

Transformers: The Last Knight

Image
A typical, mindless, over-bloated, all-out sensory assault by Michael Bay that although was just slightly more coherent than the previous "Age of Extinction", it was also less exciting and adrenaline pumping than an usual Bay fare which was very unfortunate since that was the least of all expectations. 
Like the past entries, the story here was a distant third place to CGI and action, with acting a pithy consideration. Even if all that was expected, the film would have benefited a lot more from being shorter. Maybe trim off about 20 minutes and skip the whole unnecessary prologue which served no narrative purpose other than for Bay to do an Arthurian ripoff. And maybe because dragons are wicked. 
Also we could have easily skipped the ridiculous "Stranger Things" homage too and the unnecessary child actor inclusion. 
This go round the main action sequences were more human centric and less Transformers-bases action. And even less Transformers vs Transformers one which i…

The Mummy [IMAX/3D]

Image
Generously speaking, The Mummy would have made for a good TV-movie and be better appreciated as a standalone film in itself rather than as a reboot of the Branden Fraser's 1999 hit.  Even Tom Cruise's innate charisma could not save it from its poor writing, mundane blandness and generally bad acting. However, having said that, there were four really, really great action sequences that were a lot better than anything in Wonder Woman, so there's that. But still, Penny Dreadful this ain't.

The potential of this Dark Universe, monster vs monster franchise is surely there, but director Alex Kurtzman and the whole team of writers basically just gave us a tone-deaf version of what could have been great (again, see John Logan's Penny Dreadful). And it all starts from the miscasting of Cruise. Or better put, the mischaracterisation of what a typical Cruise-character should be. To his credit, Cruise has an insane amount of charisma, but it plays much better when he portrays…

Wonder Woman

Image
As a DCEU film, Wonder Woman was definitely less dour and more lighthearted than the other Zack Synder entries, but Patty Jenkins still managed to make it take itself a bit too seriously and all amidst DCEU's usual gloomy palette; as a superhero-origins film, it delivered the heroics, the awe of self-discovery and also the extravagantly megalomaniac villain; but as a film in itself, it lacked a strong thematic cohesion, was saddled with a rambling narrative that could be at least 20-30 minutes shorter, multiple poor script choices with plot holes and contrivances, and beats telegraphed miles away, lackluster and often uninteresting - to the point of bland/boring - action sequences that relied on too much (bad) CGI, and bad banter. However, through it all, Gal Gadot was the absolute star and saving grace of the film and proved that her appearance in Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice was no fluke.

With Jenkins at the helm, Wonder Woman definitely felt unlike any other previous DCE…

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Image
This was a surprisingly fun and entertaining film only because there was little to no expectations of it going in. And that really is the key to enjoying Johnny Depp re-inhabiting, albeit still rather successfully, the tired trope that is Jack Sparrow. Otherwise, the best part of the film was hearing Hans Zimmer's familiar score throughout the film (now interpreted by his protege Geoff Zanellli). The rest of the film was a tired mashed-up of incoherent, paper-thin, un-inspired storytelling with lame humour, bland characters and an plot twists telegraphed a mile away. Although the end-credits scene does hold potential to a possibly meatier storyline. Though that could just be wishful thinking.

New franchise directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the Norwegian duo that gave us the excellent Kon-Tiki, did try their best to reinvigorate the story and this was encouragingly apparent in the first act - after the prologues (two of them!). It was the most adrenaline-filled and th…

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Image
A largely entertaining film by Guy Ritchie with all his signature directorial flair and screenwriting panache that unfortunately was frequently out of sync with its source material and the story he was trying to do. Everything about the film seemed familiar and there really were not any moments that stood out to make the film fresh and exciting.

However, credit where it is due, Ritchie has an excellent eye and hand for action choreography and it was really the action sequences (and the musical montages) that really helped to lift the film from up the doldrums of its oft-ridiculous and schizophrenic narrative (a product of too many writers/storytellers meddling). It shows a lot when a director has the guts to film a whole sequence in daylight and still manages to capture the kinetic energy and thrill of a chase. The street chase/fight was almost as exhilarating as Steven Spielberg's brilliant one-take in Tintin.

But Ritchie also seemed overwhelmed by both the budget afforded to hi…

Alien: Covenant [IMAX]

Image
A consistently gorgeous, often exciting and occasionally philosophical - and theological - entry into the Alien franchise that reflected a back-to-form for good storytelling by Sir Ridley Scott. There were enough scares and excitements despite the predictability of the plot, but at least significantly less ridiculousness than "Prometheus". And this time there were double the Michael Fassbenders who really carried the film on his god damn perfectly composed shoulders. 
From the opening shot and scene, Scott, his frequent cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and co-writer John Logan (he of the beautiful "Penny Dreadful" musings) established the aesthetics and theme of the film. Together with the ending, the short prologue beautifully bookend this film and heightens the expectations for the next instalment of the franchise. 
One of the biggest challenges of this franchise really how to keep it fresh. By now, even the most casual fans will know how the Xenomorph (or its varian…

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Image
A fun - and funny - film that lacked the urgency or the narrative drive of the first film, and despite the humour it was still, unfortunately, predictable and shallow. James Gunn may have great vision, especially in the cosmo-building of the MCU franchise, and an eye for imageries and great but as a director, and writer, he lacked depth, subtlety and the nuances. And therefore, this sequel will surely be a hit. 
The other thing that Gunn got right was the unabashed embracing of the utter cuteness that is Baby Groot. There cannot be too much of BG, and Gunn got that right. He even had a character voice that sentiment right out (see above re: lack of subtlety). Lucky BG is the definition of cute, although there were brief moments when it was dragged on a wee bit too much. But nonetheless, did I mention how cute BG is? 
And on the other spectrum, Gunn got the music so wrong this time wrong. Unlike the first film where the awesome music was organic to the story, this time round, almost ever…

Colossal

Image
A black comedic sci-fi feminist allegory (yes, that is the best way to describe this genre-defying film) that was not only original in its story but also boast a winsome turn from Anne Hathaway that has been sorely lacking in her recent (Oscar-baiting) oeuvre. And no this is not just a monster-film. "Colossal" was refreshingly original and thoroughly enjoyable with its humorous black streak and feminist leanings. 
The originality of the story laid not only its premise but also in its execution. Writer/Director Nacho Vigalondo kept turning left when you expect it to turn right and not once or twice but almost constantly through its 104 minutes; that is so rare these days. But of course there were also moments where the pacing slowed too much and strange interludes which seemed at odds thematically. 
The final climatic scene was exquisitely executed and the catharsis well-deserved. However, it was the ending of that moment that was disturbing but yet seemed so apt. Taking the fi…

Get Out

Image
As a horror film, "Get Out" was more B-grade than "The Visit" or "Drag Me to Hell", relying heavily on an overbearing soundtrack and jump shots to heighten the tensions and crank up the scares. But as a satirical film of the times, it was emblematic of the current societal and political conflicts within America. However, it does not translate as well - beyond an intellectual level - to an international audience, especially in a predominantly non-Caucasian market. 
Critically, director/writer Jordan Peele came up with a fresh spin to an otherwise unoriginal story, but the execution was neither innovative or genre-breaking. There were quite a number of smart lines and many moments where the tension was purely in the words. Although, much of it seemed to be due as much to the excellent delivery by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. 
Unfortunately, behind the satirical curtain the plot itself lends to a number of plot holes and contrivances. Many of which w…

Ghost in the Shell [IMAX/3D]

Image
We really do live in a time where we have so many choices in how we choose to consume entertainment and ideas. Unfortunately for Ghost in the Shell, what it chose to explore had already been done once, when the idea was still new and fresh, by the original anime and manga, and more recently and more superbly (and in depth) by TV's Westworld,Humans and even Dollhouse. 

Therefore, where it could - and does - succeed was in the technological (and monetary) front. However, there was only so much that souped up CGI can do to entertain and distract from the weak and uninspired plot. The screenplay was by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger and it spent too much time building the world and neglecting the characters, such that when it finally got to the characters, the audience already felt disconnected. But even then, they could never really fleshed out the complexities and the morality of the tech, nor the complexities and moralities of their lead character.

Save for a couple …

Personal Shopper

Image
An odd little film that was both an independent art-house thriller and a murder/horror mystery. However, Writer/Director Olivier Assayas eschewed Hollywood conventions and in the end, the film will leave you with questions as it lingers in your mind. But one thing for sure, this was a one-woman showcase for Kristen Stewart who although has not reached the heights of Isabelle Huppert or Assayas' ex-wife Maggie Cheung, but has now surely shown that she is one of the more underrated actresses of her generation.

Personal Shopper was essentially a simple story about grief and self-identity but Assayas had wrapped it up in a shroud of supernatural mystery and that oddly worked. He used the exploration of death and afterlife, and through Stewarts' nuanced acting, to examine the complex emotions of grief and how those emotions can affect one's rationality and action.

Assayas made many rather smart directorial choices in his storytelling, but his best decision was to have deliberat…

Life

Image
A silly, ridiculous, check-your-brain-at-the-door, but yet highly efficient sci-fi/action/thriller. There was absolutely no intelligence nor logic in the story and every plot-point was telegraphed and derivative, but yet director Daniel Espinosa has managed to pull off an excitingly, brisk thriller. There is no doubt that this film has many moments, in terms of tension, thrills, scares and gore, and truly, as long as you can accept (and forgive) the eye-rolling plot and the ghost-walking actors, Life was a fun 103 minutes.

Espinosa started the film off with so much potential. The opening action sequence emulated Alfonso Cuaron's Gravitywith its well- choreographed one-track shot. And it was done really well. Giving us both a sense of dread, uncertainty and claustrophobia. Throughout the film, Espinosa and his Oscar-nominated Director of Photography Seamus McGarvey managed to maintain that scathing atmosphere which really helped to sell the thrills.

Unfortunately, the other elemen…

Beauty and the Beast

Image
Beauty and the Beast was a fun, nostalgic, live-action retelling of the beloved, classic animation but with 45 minutes more padding that added little to the depth of an already abbreviated fairy tale. Bill Condon’s remake was literally almost a play-by-play re-enactment and that led to the film being uninspiring and tired and – to quote itself – missing a certain je ne sais quois; the magic and joie de vivre of the original was largely missing. It also definitely did not help that Emma Watson, though physically well-cast as Belle, was otherwise horribly miscast and her lack of acting chops grossly magnified here, and the Beast’s mo-cap/CGI was terrifyingly plastic/wooden. Together, they lacked chemistry and could not sell the tale as old as time.
Speaking of CGI, this was nothing compared to the technological wonders of The Jungle Book. Our beloved Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, et al were rendered competently but lacked the fluid and artistry afforded by hand-drawn animation. This wa…