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Showing posts from 2018

Annihilation

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What a pity non-Americans do not get to watch Alex Garland’s follow-up to “Ex-Machina” on the big screen. But thankfully we have Netflix saving the day. Other than perhaps losing the sense of scope and sound design, “Annihilation” did translate rather well to the small screen. And, boy, fans of smart, intelligent sci-fi should watch this! 
This was definitely not “The Cloverfield Paradox”. “Annihilation” was definitely not dumbed down and was led by a quintet of smart, strong women/actress with nary a male in sight other than to play supporting, almost sexualised, roles. But at least, they cast Oscar Isaac, and his crazy-expressive eyes, who was great in his minimal scenes. 
If this film had the visual panache and style of Dennis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (read: budget), coupled with a more emotional-centric (read: Hollywood-esque) script, than it might have been more acceptable in the mainstream and not been relegated to Netflix. 
Natalie Portman definitely had the depth and range to handl…

The Square

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Swedish director Ruben Östlund followed up his tour de force film “Force Majeure” with this biting - and Palme d’Or winning - social satire about classism, elitism, ageism, narcissism, prejudices, legacy, pretensions, disenfranchisement and bystander apathy. 
The biggest problem with the film is that Östlund tried to include too much into one, singular - albeit 150 mins long - film, such that at times the film felt like a string of vignettes or short films intermittently strung together by a thin thread of narrative. 
However, at least the film was anchored by Claes Bang’s strong and charismatic performance as a flawed protagonist, and many impactful visuals and moments. 
The dining room scene - where the image of the poster was taken from - was one of the most powerful scene to be seen on screen in a long time. Just those few minutes beautifully, and hauntingly, captured so many of the themes the film and problems with our society now. 
And then we also had scenes where Östlund basically…

A Quiet Place

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John Krasinski’s directorial debut had so much potential with its concept and Emily Blunt as the lead, but unfortunately the outcome was a moderately tensed monster-thriller/horror wannabe that was riddled with plot holes, contrivances and questions. Krasinski’s direction was amateurishly competent, the screenplay lacked intelligence and logic, and even the score failed to heighten the tension. 
The core concept was exciting, albeit not the most original, but if only more thought had gone into the plot. There were glimpses of what the film could have been. For one the opening prologue was effective in setting the story and it was a smart choice by Krasinski to begin in media res. Also, the middle of the second act could have taken a left turn but instead it was just a brief detour and then back into the expected and typical. What a pity. And annoyingly so.
Blunt was absolutely wasted and although the promotional materials put her front and centre, she was not and director/husband Krasin…

A Wrinkle in Time

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Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” was one of the earliest books I read, and together with Douglas Adams’ “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” formed my childhood - and continual adult - fascination with sci-fi, quantum physics, time travel, mysticism vs religion and ignited my obsession with sci-fi/fantasy series. With that in mind, and the fact that the last time I read the source material was at least 20 years ago, Ava DuVarney’s version of it had the broad themes of love, acceptance and family in its heart but unfortunately her execution lacked the wonder and vision (and even horror) of L’Engle’s richly-imagined world, and also lacking was the emotional bond between its younger (main) characters and the familial bond of the Murrays. 
DuVarney excelled in the smaller and more intimate moments, especially in the first act, but once the story moved on, she was clearly overwhelmed by the fantastical aspects of the story, and consequently the CGI challenge in building a world (for …

Love, Simon

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Objectively, the cultural and historical impact of this film is significant. However, cinematically this was a slightly above average teenage rom-com. Under Greg Berlanti’s direction this felt like a higher production value Berlanti/The CW TV-movie than his usual DCEU TV shows. 
There was no large difference between this and a standard rom-com other than the main character is gay and the central romance is a same sex one. But where it failed was its lack of connection between the protagonist and the supporting characters. No relationships were properly established to deepen the “twists and turns” of the narrative and when things happen, we the audience do not really care. Similarly, in a teenager-centric flick, the relationship with the parental units are crucial - no matter how brief their appearance are (see: Call Me By Your Name) - and unfortunately Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel were mainly present as cookie-cutter, liberal accessories. 
Nick Robinson did his best as Simon and did…

The Death of Stalin

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A black, political satire with a razor sharp intellect and wit that managed to straddle the line between all out absurdist farce and serious politico-social commentary. If you enjoy Armando Iannucci’s “Veep” and “The Thick of It” then you would definitely have a great time watching this which was pure Iannucci comedy led by an all star cast that delivered so many wicked laugh out loud moments. From sight gags to word plays, intentionally unintentional asides to broad comedy, and acerbically dry wit to bleakest of black humour, this film just delivered.  It truly was almost a laugh a minute...and it went on for 107 minutes, which was no mean feat for Iannucci and the writers. Every actor was spot on. It was also very smart of Iannucci to have the cast all speak in their native tongue for an all Russian narrative because it simultaneously separate the tragic truth of the reality and yet also highlight it; both making a commentary of the past and also the indifference of the present. I a…

BPM (120 Battements par minute)

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A Tragic Romantic (yes, both in caps) set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic in early 90s France. And unlike the American (read: mostly Hollywood) interpretation of the subject, BPM was a less showy retelling of the brave actions of the ACT UP activists, mixed in with a dose of European sensibility and arthouse auteur-ness. However, of course it still did have it cliches and was an unabashed tear jerker, but at least the cliches served a purpose and the tears were well-earned. The film was long but it never really felt the full 140 minutes and director Robin Campillo has smartly intersected the film with breaks to give the audience brief breathers to reflect and ruminate and recollect. A superb cast all round and our two leads had great, palpable chemistry that felt honest and real, which was crucial to the inevitable - but yet still cathartic - climax. The music was apt throughout and the choice to close the credits with no accompaniment was apt. After that ending, it was more…

Ready Player One

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An absolutely fun and excitingly nostalgic film that was very apt for Easter with lots of great (80s) pop culture references and laugh out loud moments. Although thinner in complexity and character development then Ernest Cline’s brilliant source novel, Steven Spielberg’s vision was richly drawn and thrillingly executed...except for the slightly drawn out second act. However, Spielberg’s version of the OASIS was as exciting as one would imagined from the book and he would be one of the few living directors who could get all the rights of the 80s throwbacks and pop culture references and put it on to the big screen in a way that worked and spoke to the audience. And obviously things would have to be changed when translating from the page to the screen, and some things worked (that whole homage to “The Shining”...so bloody good!!!) and some did not (why is the villain really after them again?). Tye Sheridan was well-cast as our protagonist but Ben Mendelsohn and Lena Waithe stole the sh…

Tomb Raider

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Alicia Vikander is the only reason to watch this reboot although Vikander lacked the natural charisma and screen presence of her predecessor Angelina Jolie. In addition, Vikander's Lara Croft is a disappointment in this post-Wonder Woman era, with her Croft being a more reactive "heroine" rather than a pro-active, action star. This could have been an attempt by director, Roar Uthaung, and writers, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, to ground this video-game franchise in some sort of reality, however, there are better ways to write your central character, and the plot, without having to sacrifice realism. This origin story had a good, "grounded" first act, but the middle act was too dragged out with simple logic utterly abandoned, and ended with a short, Indiana Jones/The Mummy-esque fun third act and an epilogue that laid the groundwork for a - no surprise here - franchise. 

There were no memorable moments, action or CGI sequences, in this film unli…

Pacific Rim: Uprising [IMAX/3D]

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This was an entertaining, albeit highly silly, ridiculous and narratively incoherent, piece of fluff film that felt a lot more like a high-budget, Sunday morning entertainment à laThe Power Rangers or a live-action Voltron wannabe. It lacked the visceral action, visual panache, characters/actors chemistry and high-stakes value that made the original Guillermo del Toro film so memorable and, retrospectively, exciting (despite its also clunky plot). The over-pandering to the Chinese audience was also intrusively blatant and really affected the overall enjoyment. That is what you get when Wanda bought over Legendary.

The plot made sense in a very loose sort of way. This was one of those films where you just got to check your brains and logic and sensibility at the door, and just go with the flow. Take things as they come, accept the plot contrivances for what they are, and then it will be much more enjoyable. Don't question the logic. That is the simplest way to enjoy this film.

The…

Visages, Villages (Faces/Places)

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This Oscar-nominated documentary was a complex meditation on the people you meet, presented in a seemingly fun package. Everybody has a story and it is up to the individual to find it out. 

The concept of it was highly entertaining, pairing French New Wave auteur Agnes Varda with modern day artist/photograffeurJR, and essentially having them go on road trips. Interweaved between the main narrative, we learn a little bit more about the both of them. 

But at the same time. we also learnt about the immortal transience of art and memories, the role of art in the community and in the culture, and also the duality of both the artist and its subject. At times, the docu may seem meandering but each segment ultimately drove home the point that it is the people that maketh the art.

An entertaining, thoughtful and surprisingly touching exploration of humanity and friendship.

Lady Bird

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Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird was a sure-handed, touching, and sincere coming-of-age story anchored by strong performances from a luminous and naturally charismatic Saoirse Ronan and an emotionally powerfully yet restrained Laurie Metcalf. The authentically complex mother-daughter (parent-child) relationship portrayed by Metcalf and Ronan was the glue that held the narrative together, and kudos to Gerwig for so aptly capturing that in all its angsty mess. Lady Bird deserved all its nominations and hype, and - with all due respect to Alison Janney - Metcalf has been robbed thus far.

This film was a tremendous success for an almost first time director and although unlike other competitors - Dunkirk or The Shape of Water - it lacked technical complexity, Gerwig was absolutely successful in effectively telling a story. And one with a heart, no less. Gerwig’s pacing of the story was fantastic and although the narrative went along at a breezy pace, it never felt rushed and …

Black Panther [IMAX/3D]

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Black Panther was one of the most unique superhero film by Marvel. Was it the best? Not necessarily (that honour still belongs to The Avengers), but it definitely was unlike any other of the franchises in the MCU. Surprisingly, its closest cousin would be the first Thor film. Both films had a Shakespearan core amidst the political intrigue and a son learning how to lead. However, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther stood out - heads and shoulders above - from Kenneth Bragnah's Thor in that it was superhero feature that had decidedly minimum focus on the superhero power/features. Instead the strength of this film was its focus on truly well-defined characters anchored by strong performances of its actors, and its elegant dive into heavy themes of political and social responsibility, cultural identity and self vs country.

It definitely also helped that Black Panther did not look/feel/sound like a typical, cookie-cutter, MCU film. Coogler's directing filled the screen with a vibrant…

I, Tonya

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This was a problematic film. If you did not know who Tonya Harding was before, this film does nothing to better understand who she was; if you did know about Harding and the incident, then this film also does nothing to better understand why and how it happened. Go listen to the New York Times' The Daily podcast that featured an interview with her, you will learn so much more about her as a person and her motivations, and that will definitely increase your appreciation of what the film may had been trying to say.

You know a film has issues when the best things about it were, in order: the editing (those figure skating moments were top-notched, minus some odd-looking face replacement CGIs), the 80s soundtrack (with the likes of ZZ Top, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Fleetwood Mac), followed by Allison Janey and then Margot Robbie. The narration was haphazard, the tone and pacing were all over the place, characters, including Harding and her mum LaVona, were all broadly caricatured…

The Shape of Water

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This was such a beautiful film. An elegantly directed love story/fairy tale by Guillermo del Toro that was bursting with extraordinary vision and sumptuous details, and lovingly buffeted with a gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat. Sally Hawkins was simply divine and enchanting in a (mostly) silent role. And Michael Shannon was a truly terrifying villain. This film not only celebrated Love, but was also a beautiful (yes, that word again) homage to the golden age of cinema/films. Del Toro had a vision and he executed it beautifully without sacrificing his aesthetics or storytelling.

The Shape of Water was a culmination of many creative forces and it truly deserved all its 13 nominations at the 90th Academy Awards. The standouts definitely included production design, cinematography and original score, with Desplat having a strong chance of getting the gold. Desplat's score was so beautiful - romantic yet with a tinge of whimsiness that carried the theme of the film so well. And the l…

Black Lightning

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Episode #1: The Resurrection and Episode #2: Lawanda: The Book of Hope
The CW's latest entry into its ever expanding DC superhero franchise is decidedly different from anything else that Greg Berlanti et al has done. And, no, it is not only about the pre-dominantly African-American cast, but also the whole tone and mood of the series. It definitely is not as light and breezy as The Flash or Supergirl, nor is it as irreverent as DC's Legends of Tomorrow; but yet not also not as dark and grim as Arrow. Black Lightning as a point. It is topical. It is gritty. It is violent (or as violent as can be on network TV). It does not shy away from making a socio-political statement reflective of the world we live in now. And for all that, it is an exciting series. The closest - and perhaps inevitable - comparison would be with Netflix's Luke Cage. Thematically they are both similar, but whereas Luke Cage benefited from cable network's PG-standards and a higher budget. Black Lightn…

Phantom Thread

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This was a very Paul Thomas Anderson sort of film. PTA crafted an unique/atypical love story (and a somewhat cautionary tale regarding loving an artist) between two highly-complex sociopaths that was tremendously well-acted by Daniel Day-Lewis, in another highly committed performance, and newcomer Vicky Krieps, in a star-making turn; both of whom were supported by the ever-reliable and commanding Lesley Manville. As expected, the costumes by Mark Bridges were gorgeous; but more unexpectedly was the beautiful score by Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist of Radiohead.

PTA wrote and directed Phantom Thread and it is hard to imagine that it was not in some way sort of semi-autobiographical. Nonetheless, this historic fashion drama is unlike Saint Laurentor YSL, but a highly nuanced character study of one very unlikeable man, and his equally unlikeable muse. However, the strength of PTA's work laid in layering these characters for they were never really outrightly detestable.

At the heart…

The Resident

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Pilot and "Independence Day": After two episodes, it is safe to say that this latest medical drama tried to offer up something supposedly edgy but ended up with just another ho-hum medical procedural. But at least Matt Czuchry gets to play the lead after being second - and then third - fiddle in his last series The Good Wife. Czuchry is good here. And also wasted. Maybe, hopefully, his storyline will pick up and he develop more as a character, rather than just being the rebel without really a cause. Standouts so far include Billions fave Shaunette Renee Wilson and late entry Melina Kanakareded. Both ladies brought a complexity to their characters given their little screen time. Emily VanCamp, on the other hand, as the female co-lead ain't no Nurse Carol, and so far, other than being shown to smart, attentive and had a thing with Czuchry's character, is kind of a blah/blank. At least she has chemistry with Czuchry. Lastly, we have Bruce Greenwood who is so good at bei…

The Post

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A very timely and topical film that was well-directed by Steven Spielberg and boasted terrific performances by its multi-talented cast. However, in its totality, the film did still feel like a by-the-numbers kind of thriller that was perhaps a bit too blatant and on-the-nose in its moralising. That being said, it was still entertaining, smart and riveting and Meryl Streep was great in it. Streep had many standout scenes both loud and commanding, and quieter yet mesmerising ones; Tom Hanks, on the other hand, although good and convincing, was much less showy than Streep and in his previous two films. The very-talented supporting cast was a veritable who's who of Hollywood (both the big screen and small), including Tracey Letts, Carrie Coon, Matthew Rhys, Bradley Whitford, Michael Stuhlberg, Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods and Allison Brie. A Best Picture nominee for sure, with Spielberg and Streep as potential nominees in a crowded field, and perhaps an Origin…

Darkest Hour

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Together with the cast and the creative team, director Joe Wright and writer Anthony McCarten, created a film that was utterly riveting despite all the talking and the 125 minutes run time. But more than that, the film was also surprisingly funny, unexpectedly rousing and heartfelt. This was Wright's best film since Atonement. Gary Oldman was phenomenon in it, just give him the Best Actor Oscar already, and the supporting cast was also stellar, especially the underrated Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James and Ben Mendelsohn. In addition, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel and the score by Dario Marianelli (whom also worked with Wright on Atonement) were both absolutely top-notched; similarly, the costume design by Jacqueline Durran was outstanding, as were the makeup and production design. This film was an outstanding creative achievement.

Wright's direction was assured and he paced the story very well, except maybe for a slight lagging in the middle of the second act. Howeve…

Molly's Game

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This was, from the start, a very Aaron Sorkin-ish kind of film with bullet-speed dialogue, rapid-fire exchanges, sports metaphors and humour. The film was engaging, intelligent, funny and even a bit sentimental, and despite its 140 minutes runtime, it never felt long or draggy. There is a benefit of having Sorkin direct his own script, as he would be the best person to understand how he would want to tell the story. Although the choice to have so much voiceovers was a gamble, but luckily he has a way with words and Jessica Chastain's narration was great. She was a great casting choice, with her pro-feminist persona in full force as she ably rattled off Sorkin's words with aplomb, and giving a strong, layered performance as Molly Bloom. Her chemistry with Idris Elba as a Sorkin-dialogue sparring partner was palpable and it would have been great if they had more moments together.

Sorkin's directorial debut was competent, however he does not seem to have an eye for continuit…

All The Money in the World

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A competent thriller/drama, given all its last minute controversies, that remained intriguing and rather tightly tensed by Ridley Scott despite the mildly apparent and distracting reshoots. Nonetheless, Scott deserved praise for his dedication and direction to saving this film in light of Spacey-gate. Christopher Plummer more than aptly raised to the challenge presenting a fascinating portrayal of an equally fascinating man, and Michelle Williams gave a strongly nuanced and layered performance that deserved to be seen. Unfortunately Mark Wahlberg was the weakest link of the main cast. David Scarpa's screenplay was efficient but the story - and Scott's direction - tended to meander and lose focus in a long/draggy second act; Dariusz Wolski's washed-out palette also did not help to engage the audience visually. Where the film worked best was its character studies of J. Paul Getty and Gail Getty, and consequently when the focus were on Plummer and Williams.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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An absolutely riveting, searingly powerful and bitingly black comedy/drama by the brilliant director/writer Martin McDonagh. Led by Frances McDormand in a tour de force performance and the equally astounding Sam Rockwell, the talented ensemble cast (in particular Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones and Lucas Hedges) brought McDonagh's wickedly smart script to life. This was despite the film's difficult premise and generally unlikeable characters. However, McDormand and Rockwell really nailed their complex characters and hit it right off the park. They both should be in the running come Oscar season and hopefully together with McDonagh for screenplay and maybe even direction, Carter Burwell for another sublimal score and Ben Davis' for his lensing. With one of the longest title - yet also catchiest - "Three Billboards..." had moments that were sincerely touching and emotionally raw, and also equal parts bitingly funny and honestly bleak, this film was superb and a…

The Greatest Showman

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An entertaining, original, period-musical that was over ambitious in its scope, scattered in its direction and shallow in its emotional execution, but by god, Hugh Jackman was charismatic and the songs were show-tunes calibre and quality. The life story of P.T. Barnum - interesting in its own right - was too complex to be shoehorned into an 105 minutes musical. Newbie director Michael Gracey lacked the chops to handle the story and the reshoots by James Mangold were apparent in the scattered tone of the final product. The book - or the script by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon - had too many strands that were not well handled, resulting in a lack of character depths and emotional resonance. Other than Jackman, broadway star Keala Settle was a refreshing breath and Rebecca Ferguson was aptly cast; unfortunately Michelle Williams looked bored and lacked chemistry with Jackman, and Zac Efron was badly miscast (does Zendaya have a clause in her contract that her romantic partner must not be t…

Wonder

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A wonderfully told, unabashed, tearjerker that absolutely earned its tugs on the heartstrings. A film for all ages that is so relevant with its message of optimism and kindness. Directorial manipulation is inevitable but Stephen Chbosky kept the swells of the strings and the montages to a bare minimum, instead relied on the strength of R.J. Palacio's story, the sincerity of its characters and the honest, heartfelt portrayal of its actors. If Sandra Bullock could win a Best Actress with "The Blind Side", then Julia Roberts really, really deserves at least a nomination. Her performance exuded sincerity, warmth, vulnerability and a genuine maternal love. But this film belonged to the young actors and the casting of Jacob Tremblay, Noah Jupe and Izabela Vidovic were superb casting choices with Chbosky eliciting a natural, authentic ease from them. Equally, the rest of the supporting cast from Owen Wilson and Mandy Patinkin to Daveed Diggs and Danielle Rose Russell were spot …

Mudbound

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A beautifully shot and uniquely crafted film. Director Dee Rees weaved a multi-faceted and multi-layered story interlaced with alternating POVs of the main characters like chapter divisions in a novel. The film explored a myriad of themes from race and class division, family vs self, post-war PTSD and place in society, and ignorance and inaction vs responsibility and guilt; but for all its ambitions, "Mudbound" could not sustain the juggling act and some stories fell to the side. However, the most important of which - racial politics - was powerfully told and climaxed in an heart wrenching third act. And Dee Rees was the director to tell that story, in particular this less often told period of American history: the changing of generation and evolving attitudes and the conflict within family towards the change. A complex story with complex characters, simply told. Mary J Blige was a standout with a strong, restrained performance; Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan were as usual …

Call Me By Your Name

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A touching and affecting coming of age story by Luca Guadagnino that exuded sensuality without overt sexuality and effortlessly showcased the emotional turbulence of First Love. Beautifully crafted, the film is intensely powerful in its languidity as Timothée Chalamet commanded our attention as we cycled with him through the emotional turmoil that is adolescence. Chalamet fell into his character with natural ease, perfectly embodying the 17-years old in all his youth, energy, confusion, naïveté and passion. He will surely get a nomination, but would he win? Was he acting or was he just playing a role that was him? Either of which, he deserves recognition. Playing opposite him, Armie Hammer had the best role of his career; believable in his capacity as the older, more worldly-wised man. But for all the film's honesty, sensuality and beauty, the chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer lacked the enigmatic passion that would have made this a love story for the ages. Instead, the coming…

Wonder Wheel

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A good performance by Kate Winslet that bordered on over-maniacal against a more-exaggerated-than-usual Woody Allen dramedy on Fate and Love. Jim Belushi held his own with Winslet and Juno Temple was an interesting revelation, however Justin Timberlake was miscast and distracting with his foundation-caked complexion, botoxed and doll-eyed blank stares. Perhaps it was the Allen controversy, but Winslet does deserve some recognition for her work here as a complicated woman/mother/wife/lover. She had two stunning monologues - in single takes no less - that showcased her talent, but perhaps her lack of campaigning amidst the current climate was a double-edged sword for her.

The Disaster Artist

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James Franco turned in a committed and truly charismatic and very funny performance as the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau that was oddly affecting and also surprisingly touching. James Franco really does deserve a nomination again for Best Actor this year. As the director, Franco did a great job in telling the unique story of Wiseau and "The Room" without mocking nor belittling the history or the legacy; and also not excessively elevating it beyond its cult status. Instead, what he did was that he managed to make a consistently funny pseudo-mockumentary that injected empathy for its subject and a piqued curiosity for those who have not watched "The Room". The parade of pals-of-Franco making cameos throughout also helped to keep the film interesting. With regards to casting his brother - Dave Franco - as a co-lead, that was a brilliant decision. The chemistry and trust between them both were critical in the selling of the story and the dynamics between Wiseau and Greg Seste…