2016

Split – Review #62

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Split, dirImage result for split movie posterected by M. Night Shyamalan, is the story of a kidnapping, with a very particular kidnapper. Three teenage girls are captured by a man named Kevin. Who’s also a man named Barry. Who’s also a woman named Dennis. Who’s also a woman named Patricia. Who’s also a 9 year old kid named Hedwig.

…let me explain. Or actually, let the film explain. Because this is a movie worth watching.

M. Night Shyamalan, a director whose reputation has made a name for itself. We all know the “what a twist!” meme and his less than stellar last few works.

My first real exposure to Avatar was his Last Airbender movie. I was 10. I had the DVD. I kinda liked it.

…the pitchforks can wait.

But yeah, besides that, I have no experience with his work. I haven’t seen The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and not even his “so bad it’s good” movies. Besides The Last Airbender, that is. Heh.

But hey, I judge a movie on its own, not on its reputation it or its director might have. And in the instance for Split, it’s actually not that bad.

With a concept as…well, high as this, you go in to it with a sort of defensive stance. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a very real mental order, and the last thing any mental disorder patient needs is to be compared to a less than truthful or shining portrayal on the screen.

And, considering James McAvoy plays a serial kidnapper…yeah, this could have some problems.

But I’ll give Shyamalan credit where credit’s due. He uses the mental disorder as the crux for the villain, yes, but he also takes time to really give us the sense of tragedy this man goes through. You feel horrible for him, but you’re disgusted by him as well. He’s someone you want to be rid of, but not necessarily hurt him if possible. Shyamalan did that really well, with James McAvoy’s performances just being the cream on top. We’ll get back to him later.

The three main girls are played by Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula in order of film prominence. Taylor-Joy is our main girl, and she was amazing. I saw her in The VVitch and she was absolutely brilliant in that, and here she’s no different. I haven’t seen Richardson or Sula in anything, but they were alright as well. Not as good as Taylor-Joy, but acceptable.

However, the guy we’re all there to see is good ol’ James McAvoy, and Christ on crackers he gives a stunning brilliance. The guy just gives it his all, he goes so over the top with it it actually turns around and becomes unbelievable. The movie’s worth seeing just for him alone.

Of course, this movie has its faults. Shyamalan has no idea howto write teenagers. He’s trying oh so hard, but it just doesn’t work. That Shyamalan stilted-ness is there. It’s actually not much present in the other actors, just the teenage girls.

And yes, there kinda is a twist to it. It’s less of a “changing the whole dynamic of the story” twist a la The Sixth Sense, it’s more of a “Huh, so that’s why this can happen” twist. Fair warning, if you haven’t seen or know his previous works, you might not get it. That’s all I’ll say.

In conclusion, Split was a surprisingly entertaining movie. It was well shot, it’s story well told, and the acting for the most part was solid. A good recommendation, this is.

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Arrival – Review #61

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ArImage result for arrival posterrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, tells the story of one Louise Banks, a university lecturer and linguist whose life is turned upside down when one day, out of the blue, 12 mysterious objects appear all over Earth. The governments of the world, understandably spooked by this, try to communicate with the objects, and the U.S. government call for Banks. What follow is a slow burner, a mind-bender of a film, and one of my favorite films of 2016.

Man, Denis Villeneuve is having a ball of a career, isn’t he? Dude’s getting accolades left and right not just for this film, but for his previous works as well. The only other movie I’ve watched from him is Sicario, but yeah, Sicario was pretty damn good, and I can’t wait for his Blade Runner sequel. People have compared him to David Fincher, and I can definitely see that. Meticulous in shot design, no directly distinctive and noticeable style or technique, his works stand on its own. You won’t be looking at a particular scene of his movies and go “hah, that is so a Villenueve shot”. A very workmanlike director, he is.

But anyways, back to Arrival, and yeah, the critical lauding for it is very well deserved. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a film that made me go “ooh”, and much longer since I’ve seen a sci-fi film that did it-I read The Martian before watching it. Heck, I don’t think it’s even happened before.

It feels so good to see a movie that doesn’t hold the audience’s hand. I want to say “high-brow” but that’s not really the word for it, is it? “Mature” seems more like it. It tells it’s story, and doesn’t give two shits if you get lost amongst the plot structure. The plot itself is easy enough to follow, but the way they told it completely twists your thought and perceivings of previous scenes, giving them a completely new context. I did not expect this type of mind-fuckery, and I’m glad it was in it.

Amy Adams helmed the film as Louise Banks, and she was amazing in this. Oscar worthy? I personally don’t think so, but I can definitely see why others would. The co-star Jeremy Renner was great as well, and the rest of the main and supporting cast all do well.

What stuck with me the most though, was the aliens themselves. In the risk of some of you haven’t seen it, I won’t describe how it actually looks, but they’re just subdued and hidden enough that it gives its sense of mystery and wonder to the audience with flying colors.

If Arrival can only win one Academy Award, it has to be for Best Sound Mixing/Editing purely for the aliens alone (I can never figure the difference between those two). It uses sound cues and effects to bring them to life, and it works wonders.

There really is nothing immediately wrong about this movie that I can immediately see. Everything works, and works amazingly well. If I really have to nitpick, and this is going into mild spoiler territory, is that in the beginning the way you think the plot was gonna go was quite…stereotypical? But in the end they completely subvert that, so really that nitpick is completely null and void. Eh.

In conclusion, Arrival is what I heard it was and what I wanted it to be, and it is that with excellence. This came to my country late, so that’s why I only got to review it now, but if a few of you still haven;t seen it, I very much recommend it.

Moana – Review #60

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The directors of this movie also made The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and oh my god can you see it.

csky6rmviaenstq-jpg-large.jpgMoana, directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, is the newest animated film from Disney and stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johson, Alan Tudyk, Jermaine Clement and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho as the title character, Moana Wailaliki. Moana is the daughter and chief apparent of a small tribe in the Polynesian islands of Motunui. She wants to venture, to explore the waters, but her father forbids her from doing so, citing dangerous waters and all that. However, things become desperate when the island’s resource begin to wither, for legend says that Te Fiti, the goddess of life, had her stone heart stolen by the demigod Maui, and now death and destruction wreck the land. Now, Moana must find the demigod, return the stone back to its rightful owner, and restore peace throughout the Pacific.

I wasn’t particularly pysched for Moana, really. It looked fine, but I just didn’t had that much of an interest in it.

But hey, it was Disney, so I decided to check it out.

They had a short before the movie this time around, which surprised me. I didn’t realize they did shorts, since Zootopia didn’t had one. It’s called “Inner Workings” and it’s alright. Quite funny, looks like Despicable Me, nothing special.

But anyways, without further ado, Moana.

Moana was a fun time, as Disney films are. The animation was spectacular, the water especially looked amazing, downright photo-realistic.

Now, I live in a tropical country. Malaysia, to be exact, way west of Polynesia. And while this place has nowhere near the beauty and the green of the Polynesian islands, it had enough that I felt a strange sort of familiarity seeing so many yellow sand and coconut trees. That latter one especially, we adore coconuts here. Just wanted to say that.

Humor was top notch. Comedic timing is Disney’s bread and butter, and I had man a good laugh at this as well. Dwayne Johnson as the demigod Maui had amazing charisma, and had great chemistry with Auli’i.

But the one thing that makes this movie is the music by Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is a traditional Disney movie, with catchy songs that stay in your mind for years. Following the work of the greats like Alan Menken and Tim Rice, he is. Considering that the last few Disney animated movies had little to no singing, this actually felt very nice. Again, very old school.

Too old school, in fact.

“A young female of high authority is confined by social standings and wishes for more out there, all the while accompanied by a cute animal sidekick.” Sounds familiar to you? Well, it should be.

I have no problems with directors using tropes and cliches in their movies. What I have a problem is them using it blatantly. And in Moana, the checklist of cliche is way too poorly hid to not be noticeable. You can choreograph what’s going to happen a mile away, and sometimes the tropes happen to the detriment to the plot. That pig you’re seeing on those posters? Dude shows up for a minute or so in the beginning, completely disappears for the majority of the movie, and only comes back in one scene in the end. There was literally no reason for it to be there.

That is what ultimately drives the movies down for me, it’s very obvious abundant use of Disney tropes. It bugged me, and I didn’t like that it did that.

Also, at one point the movie turns to Mad Moana: Fury Sea. Yeah, I was confused too.

In conclusion, Moana is above average Disney, but it isn’t amazing Disney. That still goes to Zootopia. Still, if you’re looking for a fun time and know what you’re going into, it’s a fun watch. Bring the kids along. A good recommendation.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – Review #59

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fantastic_beasts_poster…oh dear.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, directed by David Yates, is the first film in a new series that plans to bring the people back into the wizarding world of Harry Potter. It is 1926, and one Newt Scamander comes to New York for a stopover. He has just finished finding and documenting exotic creatures of the wizarding world, and everything would’ve gone smoothly, had a normal Muggle, a.k.a. No-Maj, not accidentally took his briefcase which just so happened to contain his beasts, and whose discovery may spell trouble for both the wizarding and Muggle world.

As usual, I shall start with where I stand in terms of source material familiarity.

I guess I am in the category of the “Harry Potter fan”. I’ve read all the books and watched all the movies, and while I am not as crazy as some hardcore fans, I know my Harry Potter. Like, I knew who Newt Scamander was before the movie was announced.

But since it’s been 5 years since Deathly Hallows Part 2 ended the series, I like to believe that I entered this relatively bias-less, and uh…the end product…leaves something to be desired.

Oh, and one last thing, I’ll be going into spoiler territory for this one, so reader beware.

With that said, let’s start.

This movie…has problems. Lots of them. Very protruding ones. But before I delve into negativity, let’s talk about the good things first. Get them out of the way.

It felt great to go back into the world of Harry Potter again, even though Voldemort and the Boy Who Lived was still a generation away. I loved hearing the iconic theme in the beginning, and I loved seeing the spells coming out of wands again, the magic and all that. And as a fan of the Roaring 20’s myself, the few times Mr. Yates really basks in that era, with the nightclubs and the clothing and the general atmosphere, I too thoroughly allowed myself to indulge.

Also, Dan Fogler as the Muggle-yes I’m calling them Muggles not No-Majs’ that’s what I grew up with-Jacob Kowalski whom unwillingly is hurled into the wizarding world was easily the best character of the movie. By far. He serves as the audience’s proxy, his face a constant one of shock and awe, and I loved every minute of him. He was funny, he was likable, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t tear up at the end of his story-arc. I don’t know if he’s returning for the sequels, but I sincerely hope he does.

And also, I actually really bought the villain. No, not Colin Farrell, and not the other guy, but Samantha Morton as Mary Lou, basically the wizard’s version of the KKK/Nazis. I dug her because, if a wizarding world actually existed, there probably would be some people who would be like that. It was refreshing to see a very much human villain after the whole magic-ness of You Know Who.

And lastly, the titular beasts are great when they’re on screen. I absolutely loved the designs, and I really want to see more of them after the movie was over.

Shame they’re only in like half the movie.

Now we come to the problems. Where to start…

…okay, since I ended with my appreciation for a character in the last paragraph, I’ll start with my “eh” of another character here. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is fine. The problem here is not the actor nor the character. It’s the character’s story. He does not go through any arc, remains pretty much the same throughout, and in the end feels very much to be desired. His reason for coming to New York is glazed over, and in fact, almost every introduction to our new characters feel half-assed. It’s just like “boom, there they are”. No explanation or anything before they start their adventure. Granted, they explain it later on, but by then you’re already more “oh” than “ooooh”, and the magic is gone.

And speaking of lame character introductions…hello Johnny Depp. Okay, it’s not the twist that Graves was Grindelwald in disguise that made me go “what”, it’s the fact that they built up the twist so badly. Literally, the only time Grindelwald is talked about is in the beginning of some newspapers flying past, and literally one or two lines. That is it. And those happen rather early on in the movie, so by the time the twist occurs, you’ve long forgotten about him. Now I had the privilege of knowing who Grindelwald was before watching, but I can only imagine the sheer confusion of seeing Colin Farrell turn to Johnny Depp in the ending fight, not helped by the fact that Farrell had actually built quite a presence, while Depp had no presence what-so-ever. Maybe he’ll actually be awesome in the coming movies, but here, he’s lame.

Oh, and Katherine Waterson is some witch who was fired from the U.S.’s version of the Ministry of Magic. I don’t have much to say about her, because neither does the movie. She’s just there, helping Newt and Jacob. Oh, and her sister’s telepathic.

Now that was the main complaint, so from here on out things might seem nit-picky, but just stick with me. There’s no weight to the plot, the location and settings, for the most part, dull and unimaginative, and by god, some of the CGI is just lazy. There’s one scene especially, near the end, when a deus-ex-machina solves everything, Newt pats a huge bird creature on the neck. It is so blatantly CGI is amazing. His hand doesn’t cast a shadow on the bird! Fucking werewolf Lupin from Prisoner of Azkaban felt more real, and that was over a decade ago!

…but I digress. I can ignore that kind of CGI, as long as the monsters themselves were cool, and they were, but man…that one shot…you’ll know it when you see it.

Okay, in conclusion, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is mediocre, and I hate saying that because I love the world of Harry Potter, and I want to be amazed by it again. But no, there was only a little bit of it here, and that’s probably nostalgia talking. A resounding “eh” from me.

The Nice Guys – Review #58

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the-nice-guysThe Nice Guys, directed by Shane Black, is a comedy neo-noir film starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as an unlikely pair set in the backdrop of 1970’s Los Angeles. Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a down-on-his-lucking private eye living with his daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice, and is investigating the case of a murdered porn star. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a hired enforcer who hurts people for a living. Fate binds them both when a young woman named Amelia disappears. Holland had a lead that Amelia was somehow involved with the murder, and Amelia had hired Jackson to keep him away from her. They decide to band together to get to the bottom of this, and go down a road of corruption and conspiracy. Oh, and porn.

This was one of my most anticipated movies of 2016. Two very charismatic actors, set in the most drug-fueled days of America, led by Shane Black, the guy who wrote the script for Lethal Weapon? Heck yeah.

And so I went in, watched the movie, came out, and am very glad to say that yeah, this movie was fun as hell.

Alright. First off, the tone. I don’t know if this was just this movie or if this is a Shane Black thing, but the humor in this movie was blunt crass-ness mixed with the Russell’s badassery and Ryan’s whimpers. I think I should say that when I mean crass, I don’t mean like “teen comedy shit/piss/jizz/sex joke” crass, I mean “fuck/shit/Jesus-fucking-Christ exclamation” crass. This was a legit buddy comedy movie, straight outta the 1980’s. And why wouldn’t it, considering Mr. Black’s record. I genuinely had a great time in the theater. The movie was really pretty funny. There were a lot of moments where I did laugh out loud and had a great time. Seeing Ryan Gosling being this low-life jackass was hilarious. It’s Inherent Vice meets Lethal Weapon, and I couldn’t be more happy for it.

The cast is excellent. Like I said, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play of each other wonderfully, with Russell being the straight man and Ryan being the idiotic asshole. There’s Angourgie Rice, who’s spectacular at being the little kid whom simultaneously is both childlike and mature. I swear, hearing a kid swear never gets old. I don’t think there’s a single bad performance at all.

However, as much as the characters behind the story are likable to watch and enjoyable to be with, it’s the plot that stops this move from being something really special. At first, it basks in the culture of the 1970’s, taking jokes and making fun of the time. The smog problem, the thriving porn industry, the disco, all of that, but as the film progress, that sorta takes a backseat to the “plot twist” of the movie. I won’t spoil it for you guys, but I think that it, while plot-wise made some sense, made the movie eat more than it could chew. It became too big for itself. Perhaps if they did one more re-write of the script it would flow better.

But hey, at least we got an in-joke about Detroit.

So yeah, overall, this film was great fun. I had a blast, and I heartily recommend it to everywhere who has a fleeting interest in it. It wasn’t this perfect film I thought it would be, but I was smiling when I left the cinema, so I think it did its job well enough.