Former frequent visitors to this blog will remember when I used to write reviews for pretty much every movie I saw, but in recent years I've stopped doing so, partly because I lost interest in dissecting movies according to my personal opinions and whatever little academic knowledge I have. But I do continue to write mini-reviews on Facebook. So here's a collection of those that I bothered to write for in the year 2012.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS – 7.5/10. Let's not get too excited now, but it exceeded my expectations. Snappy dialogue at times and generally not inane otherwise (typical Malaysian indie film pitfall); the performances for the most part worked; and the pacing was okay, there weren't really any boring moments. Extra points for a well-executed suspense scene in the cafe.
Khai should prob experiment with something other than shakycam and excessive use of close-ups, while the over-abundance of rack focuses was annoying. Sound recording can also be improved - but not too bad.
And Benji, stop touching your spectacles!!!
ANONYMOUS – 7.5/10. How on earth did Roland Emmerich (2012, Independence Day) end up directing this smartly imaginative, revisionist historical drama about Shakespearean plays and 16th century English politics? I still find it hard to believe that Emmerich actually possesses the intellect to deal with the subject matter (maybe he doesn't, maybe it's entirely from the writer), and while it could be better, I think it's pretty good as it is. Technically sound, with plus marks for excellent vfx work recreating 16C London, and appropriate make-up and costumes and production design.
MAN ON A LEDGE – 7/10. You know at the back of your head how contrived some of this stuff is, but otherwise it's a decent enough suspense mystery thriller. Good direction maximizes whatever suspense it could milk out of the unremarkable script. Elizabeth Banks is always a welcome sight.
HAYWIRE – 6.5/10. A very European sort of action thriller, right down to the slow-moving, classically designed choice of shots and the almost French-styled (I'm guessing) jazzy music. Malaysians will be bored (just like they did with its sister film, Contagion), but cringe at the smacks and crunches heard in the matter-of-fact fight scenes. Gina Carano takes down Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas while on the run with in-over-his-head Michael Angarano. Very interesting casting, I must say.
EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE – 7/10. Where Hugo was a movie about a kid with a keyhole looking for a key, this movie is about a kid with a key looking for a keyhole. (What happens if they meet? :p) Anyways, a furious performance by young, precocious non-actor Thomas Horn surrounded by the likes of Bullock, Hanks, von Sydow, and lovely Viola Davis (in yet another 9/11 movie). The plot could've been more engaging, but I'm not sure how that can be achieved.
J. EDGAR – 5/10. A rambling, pointless film about an influential but not-so-great character in modern American history. Being a Clint Eastwood film, the technical aspects were all as accomplished as ever, but the film never quite provides a reason to exist. Acting by DiCaprio is very controlled but the voice grates; Hammer works well enough as Tolson while Watts exudes a quiet but sympathetic presence throughout the film. The most prominent feature of this film, perhaps also its least accomplished, is the makeup - in CU it probably is pretty good geriatric prosthetics, but something just doesn't quite gel when the characters move and talk in them.
THE LORAX – 7.5/10. A decent piece of entertainment. Funny most of the way, though the pacing slowed down slightly in the middle, but builds to a satisfying and meaningful ending. None of the creatures here ever attain the obscene hilarity bursting from the yellow minions of "Despicable Me", but they're still funny. Worth watching. If they keep this up, Illumination will displace Pixar/Dreamworks as my favorite animation studios.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK – 7/10. Great sound effects/mixing and appropriate art direction and lighting combine to create a terrifying film. Honestly, I don't watch horror movies; wanted to see how young Radcliffe fares post-Potter (not bad, though unfairly for him Potter aura remains on him) and I generally love period pieces. Also, there's something about old English mansions that's grand yet eerie in quietude and isolation, used to full effect here to generate heart-pounding suspense. Also, the tidal causeway brings back memories of cycling through one at the Orkney Islands 6 years ago ...
JOHN CARTER – 8/10. Worth the price of the IMAX screening in 3D; I can't imagine enjoying the film as much if it wasn't that size and without the extra dimension. Surpassed my fairly low expectations; Lynn Collins isn't as boring as she appears in the trailer, and Taylor Kitsch isn't as miscast as he appears in the trailer. (That trailer probably cost Disney millions of emergency marketing money to prop-up its impending box office failure.)
A suitably complex fantasy tale from a writer who is otherwise more popularly known for writing Tarzan, competently brought to screen by the writer-director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E in his first live action stint with the production crew of JJ Abrams' Star Trek. I didn't think I'd say this but I wouldn't mind watching the sequel now.
BUNOHAN – 5/10. The opening felt like someone threw a bunch of sequences into the air like a desk of cards and just let it land randomly; 5 minutes in and the stale, musty air of "arthouse" movies wafts over you; half way through I started looking at my watch every few minutes. Having said that, the story is not without its merits, and the cinematography is accomplished. And I really enjoyed the soundscapes in the film sometimes.
SEEFOOD – 2/10. The sound design was so sparse that it crippled the entire film; you see the ocean and expect to feel it aurally but didn't, same goes for the village, etc. The pacing was incoherent and boring. The textures and models look alright but the animation was terrible - I really didn't want to have to say this but this film doesn't surpass the very low bar set by Geng. Avoid.
MY WAY [마이 웨이] – 8.5/10. A very cinematic story about a pair of Korean and Japanese soldiers who traversed almost the entire military landscape of WWII, almost unbelievable as a story, which landed on the lap of the Koreans to make this film. Competently shot skirmishes which aren't stale (very hard to achieve these days). Though sometimes inaccurate; I can clearly tell that the German accents were totally off, while this contains perhaps the sunniest depiction of the D-Day assault on Normandy. Great performances by (as usual) Jang Dong-gun, and Joe Odagiri.
BATTLESHIP – 6.5/10. Why on earth did the director of the very intelligent THE KINGDOM take this up? (Well, if it was for the fat paycheck, I guess that's fair enough.) Peter Berg dropped his Greengrass influence completely and went full-blown Michael Bay, not just with the cinematography, but right down to the inane dialogue and disjointed plotting and the annoyingly ignorant Secretary of State. I liked Tadanobu Asano here though.
THE AVENGERS – 9/10. I'd say Joss Whedon got it exactly just right, matching the expectations of this non-comic-fan. Excellent plotting; the challenge is to weave together all these separate narratives and give the audience the right feeling of coherence, setups and payoffs, and twists and turns, and which character gets to die. Witty dialogue, except the best ones were posted on the trailer. Great cast; loved Scarlett Johansson here, in particular the uncertainty generated by her shiftiness. VFX was excellent, as was the post conversion 3D. It should only ever be watched in IMAX.
PROMETHEUS – 8/10. Despite complaints about the story, I think the story is solid, if slightly unwieldy in its presentation, due to its complexity and intellectual ambition. A movie about the palpitating wonder of the process of discovery in an alien planet, that occasionally serves as a horror movie, and one that throws a different (and very clever) interpretation on the xenomorphs of the entire Alien series, it succeeds in generating intrigue on the implications of the expedition's discovery, and does that rare thing of NOT informing the audience all the facts so that we're kept wondering. A lot of audiences don't like that. I applaud it.
Noomi Rapace is excellent, Michael Fassbender sinks into his role seamlessly, and I would like to see more of Logan Marshall-Green (what an interesting name, btw).
TED – 8/10. Hilarious, vulgarly so, sometimes disgustingly. Great fun with the random references. Seeing Mark Wahlberg dance and sing badly is ironically funny too. And, this has got to be my favourite Ryan Reynolds cameo, ever.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – 7.5/10. The plothole and plot incoherence count rises along with the scale and anticipation of this film, and despite the anarchy and destruction quotient being higher than The Dark Knight, strangely it felt *less* ambitious than that last film. I was entertained, for sure. But not being a Batman comic follower, many of the stuff that resonated with some of you (reducing you to sobbing tears, apparently) had zero effect on me. The word 'indulgent' appeared in my head a couple of times when I first saw it. At the end of it, I thought – this is how you end the series?? It's okay, I thought there was more, that's all. Plus, as my movie companion pointed out, the stunt acting sucks big time (the fights, the shootings), and kind of distracts. And really, a nuclear bomb in a Batman movie? Couldn't get used to the idea at all. Hans Zimmer's score is the best part about the film.
TOTAL RECALL – 7.5/10. What on earth are people cribbing about? It's a decent, fun action thriller with excellent fight scenes (there's not enough of the Biel-Beckinsale catfights I was expecting to see), with quite impressive quantity of VFX work and production design that showcased a complex vision of a futuristic human civilisation, and as a film it has less potholes and 'eh?' moments than, say, The Dark Knight Rises. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A fun cast too; Farrell makes a good action hero as always, while Beckinsale had so much fun as the terminatrix you don't want to cross, while I always loved watching Biel, and Cranston is perfectly cast, and then there's John Cho and Bill Nighy. And I'm probably the only one in this region who recognised Harry Gregson-Williams' music while watching the movie.
THE BOURNE LEGACY – 7.5/10. Short version: I don't mind seeing how it plays out in the sequel(s).
Excuse me for stating this a little too gleefully, but Tony Gilroy ain't no Paul Greengrass.
Credit where it's due: the movie latches itself onto the trilogy fairly successfully; it does what very few movies do and dares to use densely specific spy/tech language that the audience would be hard-pressed to follow and also makes for a more complex plot. The guys around me were yawning, which prob added to my enjoyment - dumbasses around me are precisely the kind of mindless plebs who get killed when action heroes go on a motorbike chase across midtown Manila.
Oscar-nominated Gilroy has no competition when it comes to argument scenes (see Michael Clayton), and luckily for him he has Rachel Weisz to pull those off. The cast is a collection of Oscar winner & nominees - Weisz, Renner, Norton, Allen, Strathairn, Finney.
Unfortunately, Gilroy's action directing and editing falls below the bar set by Greengrass, and the loss of composer John Powell means that the action sequences are even less exciting. Also, Gilroy indulgently spends about 15% of the movie purely on procedurals; where earlier the movie just expects the audience to just buy that Bourne can get onto planes and trains undetected, here it spends 10 mins of screentime showing you how they did it. Expect lots of complaints about the movie's pacing.
PREMIUM RUSH – 7/10.
LOOPER – 8/10. The first 45 minutes was just Oscar-worthy brilliance, with maximum milking of a killer premise but one that is focused on the character and his predicaments. JGL, with the aid of prosthetics (it looks that way), does his best to channel the Bruce Willis attitude, while Bruce is being Bruce, meanwhile Emily Blunt doesn't come in until 50 mins into the film but holds her own. The movie shifts down three gears in its second act, which seriously drops the movie from its would-be Inception-level greatness, but the final act ties everything satisfyingly. Great job from Rian Johnson, his best work so far.
TAKEN 2 – 6.5/10. Suspenseful. I wondered whether having Albanians as villains in the first movie was deliberate (in foreseeing a sequel), considering Albania's infamous blood killing culture. A frequent offender in always allowing the good guys too much time for them to escape or be rescued, but the taut directing and pacing and otherwise effective plotting makes the movie eminently watchable.
SKYFALL – 7.5/10. Man, average Malaysians are gonna feel cheated when they see this Bond film, which, for the rest of us however, is certainly one of the more untraditional and thus more interesting of Bond films, taking the plot to entirely unexpected sequences and directions. Directed by Kate Winslet's ex, DP'ed by a nine-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer, scored by the composer of Wall-E and Finding Nemo, it also features a homo-suggestive villain played by an Oscar-winning actor who unfortunately only succeeds in generating disgust but not terror. It's a mixed package, but I see this as being the final piece of a trilogy that started with Casino Royale, thus completing the re-introduction of Bond and the world he inhabits.
PERFECT SENSE – 7.5/10. A bit slow, slightly meandering perhaps, but that is not to say it's anything less than sublimely interesting. A sensual, erotic love story set in a gradually dying world where humanity experiences spasms of extreme emotions followed by sequential losses of senses - it's a very interesting mix of genres, got my intellectual head pondering on the implications and possibilities the way one reads science fiction, yet invested in the characters, thankfully cast with Ewan McGregor and Eva Green, who are some of the best and most beautiful actors of our generation. You have NEVER seen an end of the world movie like this.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD – 7.5/10. A comedy about the end of the world, works quite well with funny gags on how some people take in such depressing news. (They continue to surf at the beach, or gleefully order suicide-assassinations.) That soon gives way to a romance story that isn't entirely convincing, though Carell and Knightley are great actors to watch anyway. Such a lot of cameo actors though, from Melanie Lynskey to T. J. Miller to Derek Luke to Martin Sheen to an unrecognisable Adam Brody. And then we get to the ending, and ... wow. Simple, but powerful.
BLACK GOLD – 8/10. A surprisingly obscure adventure film - involving the saga of two competing Arab sultanates at the arrival of Americans in Arabia seeking oil riches - considering how expensive the movie looks, with sweeping shots of desert and war, and exotic costumes. A great ensemble cast that includes an enigmatic, sensitive Tahar Rahim, stern-faced Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong, with Freida Pinto and a memorable Riz Ahmed. I quite enjoyed the plot, while James Horner provides his quintessential sweeping desert adventure score.
TO ROME WITH LOVE – 7.5/10. Didn't expect to enjoy it this much. Even though it's not as good as Midnight In Paris, it's still a lot of fun, with four strands of stories going from the quirky (Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin) to the thoroughly absurd (Benigni in a perfect role), to the the totally WTF (involving Woody Allen and Alison Pill). Oh and Penelope Cruz plays an Italian prostitute.
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL – 7.5/10. Reaches occasional, surprising but subtle brilliances, with excellent writing in terms of Judi Dench's voiceovers and some of its plot developments, and a rambunctious performance by Dev Patel alongside such greats as Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith (although her character was a tad inconsistent) and Bill Nighy. I recognised Thomas Newman's music despite it being somewhat hidden under the layers of Indian influences - the score really made the film better than what it originally was by supplying nostalgic sentiments to many of the scenes.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – 7.5/10. Benji Lim was raving about the book. An exemplary coming-of-age film. Logan Lerman, for the first time, fulfills the acting potential he showed in 3:10 TO YUMA (everything he's done in between had been somewhat disappointing). Emma Watson continues to fulfill every guy's dream of an intelligent, classically beautiful girl crush, now in an American accent - :D Ezra Miller is perfectly casted as the warm, confident homosexual misfit. Seriously, this is a fine example of excellent casting, right down to small roles such as Melanie Lynskey's and Mae Whitman's (that little girl in ID4 who said, "Is Mummy sleeping now?" ... yeah, that one). They snipped off the gay kiss over here though.
And, I want my own typewriter now.