Saturday, 13 May 2017

REVIEW: Gifted

When you watch blockbuster films, do you ever wish some of the actors star in a much smaller, more emotional and character driven films? I do, and one of those actors is Chris Evans, who is the star of Captain America and Fantastic Four. I admit, I haven't seen Snowpiercer (which is one of his filmography highlights) and his only small scale film I've watched is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which he had a small role.

His latest film, Gifted, promised to have the smaller, emotional and character driven elements. Gifted, directed by Marc Webb, who directed the lovely (500) Days of Summer and the mixed The Amazing Spider-Man franchise. It stars Chris Evans, McKenna Grace (Designated Survivor), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Jenny Slate (Zootopia) and Lindsay Duncan (Sherlock).

In Gifted, Frank Adler (Evans), a self-employed boat mechanic resides in Florida, taken up custody of his niece, Mary Adler (Grace) after his sister's death. Mary Adler, in simple terms, is a math genius who understands very advanced mathematics at the age of a first-grader. Frank wants his Mary to have a proper childhood without the pressure of being a child prodigy and lives next door to Roberta (Spencer). Things change when Frank sent Mary to a normal school taught by Bonnie (Slate) and got his estranged mother, Evelyn's attention, who always wanted a family legacy.

The story of Gifted is not groundbreaking or unique by any means, so it is up to the actors and director to push a little harder to stand out. I think Gifted succeeded in that. This film reminded me on Marc Webb as a good director, he is great in (500) Days of Summer and Gifted is the kind of movie he excels in. He focuses on the small little moments between the characters that makes the audiences invested in their story and their lives, and the quiet times rich of stories. For a film about child custody, which can be depressing at times, it is surprisingly full of entertainment and humour. At times, I bursted out laughing at some of the jokes shared between these characters.

The highlight of Gifted is definitely the performances. Chris Evans showed why he deserves some recognition and more as a serious actor, his chemistry with McKenna Grace is what makes the film tick. Their interaction, relationships and struggles are what made me invested in the film. Jenny Slate had a decent performance too, as Mary's caring teacher. Octavia Spencer is great in this film, made a seemingly unimportant character into a vital one. While Lindsay Duncan's character, Evelyn, is the "antagonist", there are certain scenes that makes you understand her point of view regarding the issue. While these performances are great individually, it is the interaction and talks between these people that made the film so worthwhile.

The only downside I could think of the pacing. There are certain moments in this film, that I wish Marc Webb could just leave them as it is without cutting too much, and long scenes such as the custody battle could be shorter as it is a bit distracting to the overall film.

Gifted, while neither thought-provoking nor original, is still a great film. It had a great cast and character chemistry to overcome the predictability of the premise. It doesn't have much tensions and build up to certain scenes, but the fantastic quiet moments in the film is what made it such a delightful film. I wish to see Chris Evans in more films like this and McKenna Grace's potential develop further. If you want to take some time off from blockbuster films, this is the film for you.

Score: 4/5

Friday, 17 March 2017

REVIEW: Kong - Skull Island

I'm a sucker for giant monster films. When I was younger, I was actually fascinated by how many things Ultraman and monsters are able to destroy, that's the point in all. I also immensely enjoyed 1998 Godzilla, even though it's cheesy, stupid and wrong on so many levels, the destructions laid to waste by monsters are all I need. Pacific Rim is another film I also loved, even though it's stupid. Then, Godzilla got rebooted in 2014 and we finally have monster movie with decent story, even though destruction has been kept to a minimum.

In 2017, King Kong was rebooted into Kong: Skull Island, a appetiser film prelude to Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020 (Yes, it's happening). I was eager to see it. Another monster film? SIGN ME UP! However, does Kong: Skull Island lives up to the hype? Yes, just.

Kong: Skull Island takes place in the 1970s, right after the Vietnam War. An expedition group and a squad of soldiers travelled to an undiscovered island in the South Pacific to "study" the island. Shortly after entering the island, the group is soon meet with unknown beings that are awaiting them.

In terms of action sequences, Skull Island is great. When Kong appears, he looks huge, like a towering figure looms over the island. The sequence where he appears and attacks the group of expedition looks great, it is chaotic yet easy to keep track of where the action is. The best treat is when Kong is going up against other monsters in the island, this is because Kong is placed against monsters that are almost in similar footings as Kong is. For me, this is the best action sequences from King Kong yet.

The visuals are a great treat too, capturing the 1970s flavour in vivid colours, but it fell short in certain scene, as if the film is shot in a studio, even though the crew actually took the filming to the jungle to capture the island. I'm not sure it was deliberate or it was the colour popped up too much.

However, the movie ultimately falls short in terms of storytelling. I don't mind stories at all in monster films, but Kong: Skull Island takes itself a bit too seriously. I get it, they might go with these direction to align itself with Godzilla, but it takes place in a different backdrop. Godzilla makes sense in telling a serious story, as our society just experienced the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in 2011, so the film has to reflect the tone of our anxiety. Kong doesn't need to that at all. Not to mention, at one point of the movie, Samuel L. Jackson's character subplot almost overshadowed the main film. The worst part is, when Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), try to touch Kong, to feel the soft side of Kong (like any other King Kong movie would), that emotional feeling is completely missing!

Some of the actors are great. John C. Reilly is the best for me, who plays a missing person that ended up in the island, he is very entertaining and has a very interesting backstory to back it up as the missing person wandering around the island and survived. John Goodman is great, playing a Monarch scientist with a hidden agenda and Samuel L. Jackson is great as well, playing Colonel Packard, a leader who is losing himself during his time in the island. Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are disappointing, they are great actor and actress, but their characters poorly written, and are bland and forgettable. Jing Tian, well, she is just there as a token Chinese actress for the film to enter the Chinese market, let's leave it that way.

She's there for China's box office

Although, the story is terrible and the characters are forgettable, I still immensely enjoyed Kong: Skull Island. This could be due to my unexplainable love for giant monsters destroying objects. Despite the fact that this Kong has completely changed the message from the core of this franchise, forgettable characters (like Godzilla) and taking itself too seriously, the action sequences are enjoyable enough to watch this film. Having said that, I still can't wait for Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020!

P.S. Please watch this film in biggest screen possible. They used the scale well for Kong to create a very good size differences between Kong and the humans.

Score: 3/5

Saturday, 4 March 2017


X-Men franchise as a whole, has not been particularly consistent. While 20th Century Fox managed to produce gems like X-Men, X2, First Class, Days of Future Past and Deadpool (Yes, he's in X-Men universe), there have been mediocre entry such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand. So, it is interesting to see how they gonna handle Logan, which is the final appearances from Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart as Wolverine and Prof. Charles Xavier.

Following the success of Deadpool, where a good R-Rated movie can sell, 20th Century Fox green-lit Logan to be a hardcore R-Rated unshackled version of the Wolverine. While not every film needs to be in R-Rated territory, Logan is the right move as Wolverine is a violent mutant. Logan also followed Deadpool style in giving a much tighter and more focused storytelling, which able to tell a much thorough story on a character, rather than an ensemble cast.

In Logan, it takes place in year 2029, where mutants are on the brink of extinction. Logan a.k.a. Wolverine and Professor X, along with Caliban, living in exile across the border of Mexico. Their plan changed when a little girl, named Laura was discovered by Logan, as an evil organisation plans to hunt them all down.

Logan is a mix of both classic American films and road trip films, rather than a full on superhero action film. There are standoff between heroes and villains, the characters travelled few places to avoid the attention. It's kinda cool that James Mangold chose to do in this kind of direction, as it allows the audiences have room to feel the tension and spaces to absorb and breath with all the information the film is trying to give. This also allows audiences to feel the emotions being felt by these characters.

The acting in Logan is great as well. Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart are awesome actors as always, but to see Hugh Jackman given an unshackled performance as the Wolverine is hugely satisfying, due to the R ratings. It is fun to see Sir Patrick Stewart, who plays Professor X, a Yoda figure in the X-Men universe, spilling out F bombs. He managed to give Professor X a wise person, yet gives out incredible amount of humour is a great job. Huge shoutout to newcomer Dafne Keen too, who plays Laura. First time seeing her act in film and the first action sequence involving Laura is brutal. Laura, in general, is volatile, hostile, unstable, mood swings, yet has the child-like behaviour throughout the movie, Dafne Keen nailed the character.

Logan has one of the best action scenes in superhero films I have seen. Not only that the action sequences did not hold back due to the R ratings, James Mangold managed to make it look realistic, restrained and brutal at the same time. Logan in 2029, is an old man, tired of fighting due to the violence he has witness throughout his lifetime, to see him take up a fight, you can see he is exhausted, vulnerable and you will feel him taking all the beatings and bone cracking, even though he is a mutant. I love it because of this direction.

One of thing is feel might be con for this movie is the second act. While it is important for the film to slow down to let the characters and audiences have breathing space, there are a few minutes whereby I feel that the movie could cut out. It's not bad thing, just that it needs some trimming.

There's also one scene regarding one of the film's villain might be contentious. I generally like it a lot, but what I find it bad many audience members might find that the sudden shift in tone in the film could be jarring, it will cause audiences to have a few minutes adjusting themselves. X-Men fans might find that particular villain to be unfaithful to the comic series in general.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Logan. It is a much focused superhero movie focuses on a titular character on his final outing. I don't think it is a full on superhero film, it is more a drama film with superheroes. Logan is thrilling, brutal, entertaining and emotional all in one place. Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart gave remarkable performances to give their character a proper and emotional send-offs and Dafne Keen excellent performance as Laura. I think I never been so emotionally attached to a superhero film since The Dark Knight.

Score: 4.5/5