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Jan 262015
 

The_Imitation_Game_poster

Directed by Morten Tyldum.
Written by Graham Moore.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode and Keira Knightley. 

Before discussing the merits of the film, it was ironic to discover that the movie was rated NC-16 for “homosexual references” in Singapore. Thus, despite receiving a royal pardon for his criminal conviction for gross indecency, Turing is judged again in this risible manner. Ah well.

Apart from that, there is nothing notably negative about The Imitation Game. The actors are all on their game – Cumberbatch delivers a stunning performance. The narrative jumps around from time to time in a satisfying non-linear fashion. And the grand injustice meted out to Turing before his death is given its due as a horrifying third act.

The message behind The Imitation Game is clear enough – prejudice is inhuman and those that stand out as different should be treasured not vilified. Of course, much of the human drama is glamorized for effect – Turing’s role in breaking the Enigma code and the relationship with Joan Clarke (Knightley) – but necessary to design an effective plot.

An enjoyable ‘message’ film that really should be seen by everyone from 12 upwards.

Jan 222015
 

american_sniper2

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by Jason Hall. 
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller.

So will the real American Sniper please stand up? The film, a biographical account of Navy SEALs sharpshooter Chris Kyle –  deadliest marksman in U.S. military history – has split US audiences down the middle. From liberals decrying it as jingoistic propaganda to conservatives hailing it as a tribute to a deserving war hero.

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Jan 182015
 

Whiplash_poster

Written & directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons & Paul Reiser.

Whiplash – the story of Andrew Neiman (Teller), a young jazz drummer who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz – has been the surprise package for the Academy Awards, garnering Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons.

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Jan 172015
 

Blackhat_poster

Directed by Michael Mann.
Written by Morgan Davis Foehl & Michael Mann.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Wang Leehom. 

When watching Blackhat, one gets the strong sense that this was a lost opportunity. Twenty years ago, Mann confirmed his credentials as master of the crime thriller with Heat.

Blackhat – with its international cast, cybercrime subject matter and diverse Asian locations – had the potential to define a new form for a new global generation. Unfortunately, instead it turns out merely to be a cash grab by Legendary Pictures and Mann himself.

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Jan 162015
 

Birdman_poster

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr & Armando Bo.
Starring  Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts.

Nominated for a total of nine Oscars, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is surrealist black comedy at its best. Mocking the artifice of celebrity and the entertainment industry, Birdman is a fascinating inside look into the absurd insanity of entertainment world as perceived by its protagonist, Riggan Thomson.

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Jan 152015
 

FF-pic

For a scifi-superhero movie that is slated for release later this year (August), virtually no advance information of the new Fantastic Four movie is available online except a couple of interviews, a plot summary and this fuzzy photograph (above) of the cast when shooting wrapped last year!

Yes, this reboot of the comic book that launched the Marvel Universe itself is only seven months away and the silence over at Fox is deafening. And can anyone blame Fox? After all, the initial buzz of having Chronicle’s Josh Trank helm the movie dissipated quickly when the cast was announced (Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm).

The last two choices were particularly controversial for obvious reasons as fans opined that physically, both Jordan and Bell did not resemble the characters whatsoever. The situation worsened when actors admitted that the movie would not be faithful to the source material – Mara confirmed that director Trank advised her NOT to read the comic book before shooting began!

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Jan 142015
 

TOA-still

Directed by Ethan Spaulding 
Written by Heath Corson
Starring (voices of) Matt Lanter, Sam Witwer, Jason O’Mara, Shemar Moore, Jerry O’Connell, Christopher Gorham, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Astin, Harry Lennix.

Ostensibly a sequel to Justice League War – the animated movie introduction to the New 52 continuity – Throne of Atlantis is a very loose adaptation of the storyline that ran through the Justice League and Aquaman comics from 2012-2013.

Considering that Aquaman was replaced with Shazam (the original Captain Marvel) in War, it’s clear that Throne was to be used as an introduction to Aquaman. Thus, major changes to the comic book plot were made that greatly weakened the storyline. (AND seriously, why change Mera’s costume?)

Screen shot 2015-01-14 at PM 05.52.57

In that context, it is recommended that you skip this movie completely and go straight to the source material.

However, if you do feel the need to compare and contrast.

Jan 132015
 

Screen shot 2015-01-13 at AM 10.20.44

The 2nd trailer for the much anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron is out now. Although Ultron is set up to the villain of the piece, it does appear – based on this trailer – that internal strife within the Avengers ranks is the real enemy. If so, this plot point would lead us nicely into Captain America: Civil War.

Date of release: 30th April (Singapore)

Jan 122015
 

The-Babadook-Poster

Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.

Who or what is The Babadook? In the context of this horror film, it is the supernatural creature that terrorizes widow Amelia and her young son, Samuel. The monster turns up mysteriously in Samuel’s cupboard as the titular character in a pop-up book entitled Mister Babadook.

From that point in the film, the Babadook slowly imposes its frightening agenda on mother and son, till it’s an open confrontation that does not – to Kent’s credit – resolve in a clichéd manner.

From the psychological angle, perhaps the monster represents unresolved issues that Amelia has failed to address, concerning the untimely death of her husband and Samuel’s father.

Within the virtually one location premise (the residence), Kent delivers genuine scares without having to resort too much violence or gore (or special effects) – the terror is induced very much by pacing, cinematography and music and for the most part, work very well.

Essential viewing for horror movie fans.

Jan 102015
 

Theory_of_Everything

Directed by James Marsh.
Written by Anthony McCarten.
Starring Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones. 

The Theory of Everything is a beautiful film. Beautifully shot, beautifully scored but ultimately, it is a story about two beautiful people who had to reinvent themselves and their relationship constantly in the face of challenging life circumstances.

The acclaimed theoretical physicist Stephen J Hawking (Redmayne) is by now quite well-known even in pop culture circles. What is less known perhaps is the journey that both Hawking and his former wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Jones) took to make him the icon that he became despite suffering from debilitating motor neuron disease.

Director Marsh treats both sides of the story diplomatically and sympathetically, although perhaps – especially in the third act – at the expense of narrative clarity. Events are rushed somewhat and real life details are fudged to keep the characters on the good side of the audience.

Whilst Redmayne’s stellar performance is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime distinction, equal credit must go to Jones for portraying Jane’s stoic determination to support her husband. Which is fitting, considering screenwriter McCarten based his screenplay on Jane’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. 

In the final analysis, it is clear that the film is as much about her as it is about him and the message of the movie is summed up in Hawking’s quote – “Where there’s life, there’s hope….”

The Theory of Everything is playing in the cinemas now.

Jan 102015
 

Seduced-poster

Directed by James Toback.
Starring Alec Baldwin.

The premise of Seduced and Abandoned is simple enough. Director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin try to sell a film concept at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and basically make a documentary about the experience.

Along the way they interview influential directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski & Bernardo Bertolucci to get their takes on Cannes and the movie industry as a whole. The duo also talk to actors Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and James Caan.

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Jan 092015
 

BeforeIGoToSleep

Written & Directed by Rowan Joffe
Starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth & Mark Strong.

When the film begins, you might be forgiven to think that Before I Go To Sleep is a rip-off of Christopher Nolan’s ground-breaking Memento. After all, the protagonist Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) is an amnesiac and wakes up every morning with no memory of her life from her early twenties onwards.

However, whereas Memento starts at the end and the story is presented backwards, the story telling in Before I Go To Sleep – barring the odd flashback – is mostly linear. Expect numerous twists and turns along the way as Christine attempts to piece together the truth from her shattered memories.

As much as the premise is interesting (based on the novel of the same name), there is something missing in the execution of this adaptation. Colin Firth is somewhat unconvincing and Kidman herself seems to be in a constant haze. Presumably that is what the script called for but it is difficult to empathize with her character as played.

The plot – without spoiling it for you, dear reader – has quite a few gaps: with the main one being the illogical manner in which the antagonist is allowed to manipulate Christine’s life for such a long time, without anyone being the wiser. But if one is able to ignore these holes, then Before I Go To Sleep is a passable thriller – especially if you are a fan of Ms Kidman.

Jan 082015
 

turner big-2026

Written & directed by Mike Leigh.
Starring Timothy Spall.

Premiering at Cannes last year, Leigh’s biopic of famed English painter JMW Turner has already garnered a Best Actor award for Spall’s performance in the lead role and a special jury prize for the film’s cinematography for Dick Pope.

That just about sums it up really. Spall plays Turner as a brutish flawed man who had an unique ability to produce epic, awe-inspiring work which was extremely radical in its day. Pope manages to make virtually every outdoor shot a Turner painting and it is a wonder to behold! Check out the amazing of re-creation of The Fighting Temeraire (1839) below.

Turner-2

Leigh’s triumph with Mr. Turner is stringing together a loose collection of slice of life vignettes and filling them with all the relevant details to make that time and place come alive. The pacing is a little slow and nothing overtly dramatic happens but that’s the whole point of the exercise.

In the right hands, such evocative cinema is stirring and inspiring – Leigh and his heart-felt tribute deserves recognition as one of the best movies of 2014. Absolutely essential for art lovers everywhere.

Mr. Turner is in the cinemas now.

 

Jan 072015
 

Ant-Man-poster-1

Our first proper look at the Ant-Man movie is a teaser trailer that comes with a Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) voice-over, as Pym attempts to convince the convicted felon Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to become the Ant-Man (or ‘Ent-Man’ as Douglas pronounces it!).

After the speech, Lang responds with typically Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) light humor and whilst the action montage does not seem that exciting (the special effects of Ant-Man and trademark flying ant was underwhelming), it’s too early to draw any conclusions.

Evangeline Lilly looks hot as Hope Van Dyne (Pym’s daughter with Janet Van Dyne) but everything else is a blur. No clue as yet how they are going to handle this idea of Pym being a elder gentleman and how the MCU history will handle the original Ant-Man and even Wasp. All to be revealed on 17th July.

Jan 062015
 

Peanuts_GoogleP_Cover copy

Now, here’s one that I am looking forward to! As a kid, I loved Charles M Schulz’s timeless comic strip although at the time, I thought it was named after it’s main character, Charlie Brown. I remember all the animated movies when I was younger as well – all good fun. Finally, a proper 3D movie adaptation will be released in November this year and based on the trailer, it looks pretty much faithful to what has gone before. Produced by Blue Sky Studios, the folks behind Ice Age and Rio, the Peanuts Movie promises to be excellent fare for all ages!

Jan 042015
 

The Drop Poster

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam. Written by Dennis Lehane.
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini.

The main strengths of this crime drama are two-fold. The performances are solid and the plot is well-constructed. Although, these plus points are almost undone by the snail-like pacing.

Prima facie, the film appears to be about former bartender Marv (the late Gandolfini is his last role in a feature) and his attempts to steal from his Chechen mafia overlords via the ‘drops’ that take place at the bar.

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Jan 042015
 

Ant-Man-poster

Fans will recall how Marvel released an ant-sized teaser trailer a couple of days ago? Well, enough of the PR gimmicks, here’s the full-sized teaser, with the proper trailer coming out on 7th January.

Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly & Michael Douglas and will be in Singapore cinemas on 16th July 2015.

… still there’s more … 

 

Jan 032015
 

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_poster

Directed by Scott Frank
Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Sebastian Roche

Actor Liam Neeson’s third act has been defined by his role in Taken – the invincible, grizzled man of action on a mission – which he duly reprised in other action movies like Unknown, The Grey and Non Stop to great effect. In this respect, this crime drama is no different.

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Jan 022015
 

Automata-poster

Directed by Gabe Ibanez
Starring Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott & Robert Forster.

Automata tries its best to be thought-provoking and edgy but fails miserably. Superficially, it does have a couple of thoughtful moments but once the protagonist Jacq Vaucan (Banderas) ends up in the desert, the plot runs out of steam. Conceptually, it ‘steals’ so many ideas from Blade Runner that it’s embarrassing.

For the first 30 minutes of so, the look of the city, Vaucan’s trench coat attire (with that private dick veneer) and the constant inclement weather smacks of Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi movie adaptation of Philip K Dick’s android classic, Blade Runner. But at least director Ibanez managed to keep the interest level at a reasonable level. But then the plot jumps the shark and nothing makes any sense from then on.

Not the worst sci-fi movie out there but that third act was simply awful. If nothing else, enjoy the minimalist soundtrack from Zacarias M. de la Riva (he probably owes Philip Glass royalties as well!)

Jan 022015
 

under-skin-poster

Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
Starring Scarlett Johansson.

Highly rated low budget sci-fi flick with ScarJo playing an alien seductress. Nothing really happens except for ScarJo luring unsuspecting horny Scots into her lair where their essence is drained from them, leaving their skin behind. Sure, you get ScarJo in the buff for your troubles and other eye candy in the form of bleak Scottish landscapes but more than that? Not much else to recommend itself in terms of story-telling, Under the Skin has a strong sense of the ‘arthouse film’ about it. You know, the kind that announces in every frame – “Look at me, I’m fuckin’ art!”. Not so much.

Jan 012015
 

RIgby

Written and Directed by Ned Benson
Starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

The hype over The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby has to do with presenting the story of a couple coping with the loss of a child from differing perspectives. However, it is really only hype. The actual reality of watching this movie is rather tedious. Very arthouse in approach, nothing much happens for long periods of time.

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Jan 012015
 

Seventh_Son_Poster

Directed by Sergei Bodrov
Starring Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore. 

Generally speaking, fantasy movie adaptations do not perform well at the box office, the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit and Harry Potter films, notwithstanding. Ironically, the very elements that made the original books popular are usually the first things to be changed in a movie adaptation, leaving the film an empty husk, full of cliches and tropes.

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Dec 292014
 

Favourite movies of 2014. And why.

GotG-poster

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (Directed by James Gunn)

No surprise here. Gunn took an unlikely B-grade space opera comic book story and transformed Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot into a family of heroes fighting for the galaxy. In doing so, Gunn infused comedy and drama brilliantly to convey all the wonder of a ‘real’ comic book experience.

2. Predestination (Directed by the Spierig Brothers)

Sleeper of the year! Low budget scifi at its best. Sterling performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook coupled with a very tightly woven tale makes for an enthralling film. Very faithful to its source material (Heinlein’s -All You Zombies-), Predestination is way up there with all the best ‘mindfuck’ flicks like 12 Monkeys & Inception. Keep a close watch on Michael and Peter Spierig.

3. Nightcrawler (Directed by Dan Gilroy)

An intense study of sociopathic attitudes (as embodied in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom), debutant director Gilroy presents a scathing commentary on the modern law of the urban jungle. In the mind of Bloom, survival of the fittest takes on ominous tones and Gyllenhaal’s masterful performance is both chilling and impressive. Gilroy is another directorial talent to look out for.

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