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

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Although it is not a show that I just found out recently, I just started Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a Golden Globe winning comedy after browsing several hours on Netflix. A few of my friends told me that this show was pretty good and I know it is a very well-received show, but I never go ahead and find it to watch. After seeing on Netflix trending page, I decided for a go, and boy am I hooked to this!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a cop sitcom set at a police station, Precinct 99 in New York City. It features a group of brilliant, yet childish and dysfunctional detectives in their daily work lives. The team comprises of Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a intelligent and wisecracking detective, who also loves Die Hard, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), a smart, hardworking but nerdy in nature, Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Trulio), a bubbly and a food critic, Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), a resilient, mysterious and emotionless tough girl, Sgt. Terry Jeffords (Terry  Crews) the toughest detective in the precinct, yet incredibly soft and caring, Cpt. Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), a strict and by the book captain of Precinct 99, round up the cast is Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti), kleptomaniac, extreme narcissistic assistant of Captain Raymond Holt.

The show format are usually fixed. Each episode features a prologue (no relation with the rest of the episode whatsoever) of the casts doing ridiculous stuff and then pays off with big joke before going into the title card. The show then proceeds to split the cast into pairings, investigating cases or solving personal issues. Lastly, the casts usually wrap up the episodes together, celebrating or sit in the precinct talking about their story. The whole episode takes about 20 to 25 minutes.

I enjoyed watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine is definitely the cast. Cast is very important in an ensemble sitcom where the jokes need to feel natural and improvised without any stuttering between the casts. Even in weaker episodes, the show never felt stale. For Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the casts pairing usually resulting in a refreshing take of their relationships with each other, there are always new angle of story to explore with the cast dynamics. The characters are so different, yet the matchup is so good and it feels natural.

Another thing I like about the show is the jokes. The jokes in Brooklyn Nine-Nine takes its time to build up, making as much laughs as possible, yet it doesn't overstay its welcome. When the jokes deliver, they usually pay off with a big laugh out loud from me. The lack of laugh tracks is helping too, as some of the jokes need time to absorb in entirety to fully have the impact, having laugh tracks might derail the jokes as laugh tracks tend to laugh earlier than they should.

So far, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is halfway through season 4. I am currently halfway through season 3, the short length of episodes makes it very easy to binge watch and it feels like watching YouTube videos. If you're into sitcom or wanting to start a new sitcom to watch, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a great choice. It is one of the funniest comedy in recent years.

Monday, 13 February 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

Before he is the leading face from The Matrix, Keanu Reeves made his name from top billing action films such as Point Break and Speed, two of the most iconic action films in the 1990s. Although I don't think he is a good actor, but I can't deny his dedication to his role in his films.

The first John Wick film was a sleeper hit, it did not gather much attention until late into its box office life, but it was a damn fine action flick. John Wick is one of the action films in recent times, along with Mad Max: Fury Road, to try to restrain themselves from doing too much, no bombastic explosions, physics defying stunts, unkillable protagonists and etc.

I usually don't review sequels by showing the originals as I think films need to be viewed individually, while comparing one or two aspects of the originals. However, I can't help it but to embed a clip from John Wick, as it is just to awesome! The film spent the first 30 minutes to build up John Wick's character, how he was the bona fide hitman in his heyday. John Wick is not a man to be messed around, as paraphrasing characters in the movie, "He killed three man with a fucking pencil". So the first action scene after 30 minutes is such a huge pay off for the character, that sheer ruthlessness and precision are on display, and that's just the first action sequence! However, John Wick is not invisible, he can be beaten, that's what makes the film so intense as you never know how hard he's going to take.

John Wick: Chapter 2 looked like an extension to the first one, and it delivers. It essentially begins where John Wick left off, where Mr. Wick applies his finishing touch to his previous work. He begins to meet with his former accomplice to work on a job and well, shit happened. Due to this, John Wick starts off another rampage to get to the bottom of it.

While John Wick did not contain a excellent storyline by any means, the story itself was justifiable enough to drive John Wick's reason to go for a killing spree towards his enemies. Chapter 2, however, fell short in terms of story, Wick's continuation of rampage was slightly off in terms of execution. It was not bad by any means, it just kind of bland in comparison. I felt it could be a little better, but not a big minus, just that the drive was not as strong. One thing I like about John Wick and Chapter 2 is that it is a universe filled with notorious crime lords throughout the films, yet it did not felt the movie flooded you with needless expositions and character building.

However, Chapter 2 did get the key of John Wick right, the action sequences. The film followed the previous recipe of restrained actions, realistic stunt works, steady camerawork and a match up of similarly strong henchmen and villains to go against John Wick. The action sequences are throughout this film, from start to finish. It did stutter in some parts of the film, but not anything significant once the film got back the pace again. Most of the scenes were so restrained that even film students with rules applied by their lecturers can pull off, but the execution was so good and slick, that me and the audiences got all the thrills by just watching it. One particular sequence that stood out for me was that long brawl of John Wick and fellow hitman Cassian (played by Common), seeing them made the scene so clear cut of who is fighting who and both of them going against each other is immensely satisfying, not to mention that the scene ended in quite a humorous way.

I do want to point out, however, that I felt that the film's ending was a bit unrealistic, in terms of the execution. It is regarding the world of crime lords, it did felt a bit overblown, for me at least.

Neo & Morpheus reunite in John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a slick and fine sequel to John Wick. It is so well-made because the film did not try to outdo the first one and kept itself from doing over the tops sequences like many action films do today (Fast & Fu *COUGH* Fast & Furious). The film kept itself grounded and simple, and it resulted in one of the slickest and most entertaining action film in recent years. John Wick is the spiritual successor to Die Hard for the 21st century.

Score: 4.5/5

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Personal Top 5 Films of 2016

I finally decided to write about my personal Top 5 films of 2016. I choose to wrote it a month down 2017 is not because that I forgot to write about it, it is a lot of films that are released at the tail-end of 2016 only made it to Malaysia on the January of 2017. While personally I believe that blockbusters were not as good as 2015, but some of the smaller films have made a great showing.

Without further ado, these are my top films of the year:

1. Arrival

Sci-fi films these days are mostly focused on the action sequences to see which films can pull of a better moves or cooler weapons. Arrivals went against the status quo, by having characters race against time to find common ground with the aliens by using critical thinking skills and intelligence, something to remind of the current social issues of action first, think later. With Arrival and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve is starting to be my favourite director.

2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

At this pace, my list have to be a Top 6 to accommodate Star Wars in its yearly release, or else it could be unfair to other strong movies out there. Rogue One presents a great risk for Disney, as the success of this film will decide how Disney will plan its Star Wars expanded universe films in the future. Luckily for them, Gareth Edwards managed to pull off another gem in Disney library in their quest for cinema dominance in recent years. Rogue One managed to tell a tale well-known by all the fans and presented in ways that still managed to entertain both fans and casual movie-goers alike.

3. Zootopia

Another gem from Disney, currently Disney animation division have a stronger run compared to Pixar in the past two or three years. Zootopia is a solid entry to Disney animation library by telling a great story yet serves a very good lesson for the young audiences that it targeted, by replacing human problems with animals. Not to mention that it was full off animal puns and amusing from start to finish.

4. La La Land

La La Land is an old-fashioned movie, very old-fashion. It feels like it was made in 1950s and then was remastered for 2016. Yet, the film use this to its advantage. The story itself wasn't that great, the singing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aren't that fantastic (good but not amazing) to make the film more "realistic", but the cinematography was well-timed, the camera directions, choreography and the colours did pop out in dark scenes. La La Land is imperfectly perfect.

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane

One of the major surprises of 2016. This is because Paramount and J. J. Abrams deliberately hid the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane until it was close to release, surprising the audiences and critics alike. Presented as a spinoff to Cloverfield, it has very little connection to the film. Instead of a found footage alien invasion movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a closeted psychological thriller focusing on unstable relationships of three people stuck in a bunker. I enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane for its simplicity and the amount of intensity throughout the short film and the small bunker space.

There are a few films that I think are great and should be shortlisted as well, but due to the fact that I plan to do only Top 5, the rest ultimately had to be cut from the initial list.

Here's the honourable mention: Deadpool, Marvel's Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Sully, The Jungle Book.

That's all for my Top 5 films of 2016. Let's hope 2017 is gonna be good.