La La Land

I think La La Land is the best movie ever, not even exaggerating. It’s like a hybrid of Woody Allen’s Manhattan + Michel Gondry’s visual style. So freaking good :O The movie’s like unadulterated pure hopeless romance on high, with zero inhibitions as to what critics would say. The songs are still stuck in my head esp “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars”. Omg they’re so good :O

Chef

Caught the new film from Jon Favreau, Chef! This has to be the year’s best film thus far. The only other close challenger for that title is X-Men: Days of Future Past. The film not only features great food (as expected from the name of the film), a great cast, it has excellent pacing too. There was never a dull moment and the music used in the film is spot on for the scenes and intended mood. This is also one of the rare films that correctly showcases the power and reach of social media platforms and how quickly things can spread virally via new media.

This goes to show that Jon Favreau is a bona fide director and the successes of Iron Man 1 and 2 were not just flukes. The film also gave an interesting critique of the delicate relationship between a critic and the person whose work is being reviewed. Upon closer observation, this relationship is symbiotic; really, one can’t survive without the other. Oliver Platt and Robert Downey Jr. delivered memorable performances, making full use of the little screen time they were given.

The estranged father-son relationship underlies the whole film and explores it to a satisfying emotional conclusion with the 1s-a-day video scene which in my opinion was brilliant, highlighting the film’s emotional tone.

Of course there are some flaws with the film, including the impossibility of some of the story elements such as how quick and easy it was for the sous chef to come and help them and how easy it was for the ex-wife to fall back in love with the main character.

But overall, it was a movie full of satisfaction, like eating a really good meal. I’ll certainly be looking forward to be back for another round of Jon Favreau’s future offerings!

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Hard Eight

Only after reading Philip Baker Hall’s interview with Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/philip-baker-hall-remembers-genius-philip-seymour-hoffman-20140202), did I realise that most of the scene above was improvised. Philip Seymour Hoffman never ceases to amaze me with his brilliance. To be able to improvise this well and catch the timing right goes to show his genius. The world will surely suffer from this loss of a massive acting talent for a long time.

Non-Stop

Saw the mystery-thriller film Non-Stop starring Liam Neeson on Sunday. The film actually had a pretty good premise; someone is threatening to kill passengers every 20 minutes unless he gets his goal of having $150 million transferred to a bank account fulfilled. What makes it a good thriller is that this person is likely among the 150 passengers on board and that besides knowing this guy is sending threats through his cellphone, there’s no way else to tell which person is more suspicious than another. Every person on the plane could be the blackmailer, including the co-pilot and the air stewardesses and this basically means there’s no character we can totally trust to be clear of suspicion, not even the main character himself whose own history is not immediately revealed to us. The film does a good job in keeping us on the edge of our seats by having us constantly wondering who the real blackmailer is and how they are able to carry out the killings without exposing themselves openly. It also does well by playing on stereotypes and perspectives, like having others be suspicious of the Muslim guy by virtue of his race but who turns out to be a helpful doctor.

Of course, the film can’t work without some source of positive goodness to lead us on, otherwise it will just become a dark and broody film focusing on Liam Neeson. This source of positive vibe came in the form of Julianne Moore’s character. I must say I always have a good impression of Julianne Moore ever since seeing her in Boogie Nights. She had brilliant oscar-worthy scenes in that movie that showed her vulnerability and gave her character real depth as supposed to a thinly sketched porn actress that her character might have become in the hands of a lesser accomplished actress. Though she was indeed nominated for an oscar for Boogie Nights, I really cannot understand how she did not eventually win the award. Since then, she has been nominated a further three times in the Academy Awards, even twice in the same year – a feat only accomplished by a few other brilliant actresses such as Cate Blanchett in 2007, but similiar to Cate, she did not win either awards she was nomimated for in 2002. She gave convincing turns in this movie as well. When she says she has a heart problem and can die any time, who can really doubt her words?

Back to Liam Neeson, his character was made to be that of an anti-hero. He doesn’t exactly have a perfect history – he’s an alcholic and had bad records in the line of duty – but who else can we trust besides this US federal air marshal to find the real culprit behind the killings? Rounding up the great cast (at least that’s what it seems on paper but whether it works, we’ll come to that later) is the recent oscar best supporting actress winner, Lupita Nyong’o.

The film had a good start, setting the stage for a good old locked room mystery since the suspect is one of the people on the plane and there is no way to escape. However, I do think that the film wasted its good premise and solid cast. Although the buildup was good, the film really went into auto-pilot mode in the film’s final act. There was so much ridiculous and unbelievable stuff going on. Liam Neeson’s character tried to minimise the bomb explosion by stacking it behind all the luggage at the back of the plane, a plan he called ‘for minimal damage’. This was a plan that even he himself acknowledged no plane has carried out successfully in reality. And yet, at the end of the film, the plane managed to land safely with no one else dying. And by the end, when everything was revealed including the real blackmailer(s), there were still many glaring plot holes that were unresolved and not addressed. Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o were all nominated for the Academy Awards before but their talents were pretty much wasted here, especially Lupita Nyong’o who recently beat Jennifer Lawrence to clinch the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress in her debut film, 12 years a slave. Here, she seemed to have disappeared into the background and almost unnoticeable. Her role in the film was so insignificant that it would not have made much difference if they had actually given her part to an unknown.

All in all, this would be a good film if you can simply go along with the ride and not over-think it too much.

Gravity + Best Picture

For films nominated for the upcoming oscar’s best picture, my current favourite is still ‘Gravity’, followed by ‘Her’, and next ‘Philomena’ and then ‘America Hustle’. Gravity is still my top pick because if you really think about it, you’ll realise how hard it is to make a movie about the emptiness of space, an abstract quality that doesn’t translate easily to screen. How do you make the audience feel the effects of this intangible thing known as Gravity and to also fully realise the vast nothingness and loneliness of space? Alfonso Cuaron managed to do just that. Of course the jaw-dropping visual spectaculars help but this is not just about the visuals because having nice visuals does not always equate to a good film, as evidenced by the case of Avatar. It’s about a human’s desperate struggle to survive in space, a stage where there is nothing else, no one else to rely on but your own instincts and that scenario forces the main character (played by Sandra Bullock) stuck in that situation to have to confront the problems she tried to run away from on Earth. Afterall, there is no place for you to hide in space and the saying ‘no one can hear you scream in space’ can’t be more true here. And I caught this movie at Cathay Platinum Suites last year which really provided the perfect setting to experience this movie. The wide screen is really optimum for the full experience of space. Take for example the opening shot, as the character drifted slowly from far away in the background to the front, the scene is simply breathtaking and highlighted the beauty of space very well. Thus, I really think Gravity should win Best Picture for being a landmark film.

Frozen

Finally caught Frozen (yes really late considering it came out in November). Surprised it’s even still showing. Overall, it was a good movie but I definitely wished they had gone even more in-depth with Idina Menzel’s character, Elsa. She was the most intriguing character in the story, facing alienation from everyone around her including her family since such a young age. She also had to forcefully isolate herself to protect those closest to her, and in so doing, ironically pulled the distance further between herself and them. There is this very similar theme as the X-men movies of feeling alienation and unacceptance by society because one is different, being a mutant. Frozen could have gone down the road of an X-men Origins story and devoted more screen-time to show her inner struggles even as she’s growing up. And besides, Idina Menzel’s such an accomplished performer, surely she could do with more songs. She’s still a bit under-used in the film despite being one of the main characters. And she is definitely good at playing these anti-hero misunderstood characters. Her Elphaba character in Wicked (and especially her Defying Gravity song) is still often spoken of as an iconic classic. Just look at that one solo that they gave her, Let It Go. Even with just that one performance given, she stole the whole show and it’s no wonder why that’s the most remembered scene in the movie.

Another character I enjoyed was Josh Gad’s Olaf. They were definitely smart in casting him as Olaf. The enthusiasm and exuberance he brought gave the film an optimistic and uplifting tone. A snowman in summer? Now that’s an irony that’s both joyful and carries an underlying sadness at the same time. He gave the film a much needed break from the depressive direction of the plot while also not compromising on the overall theme that one might have been involuntarily disadvantaged from birth as in the examples of Elsa having abilities no one else understands and of Olaf being a snowman that yearns to experience summer which technically is already impossible from his conception. Of course, the film ultimately does find a way to fulfil Olaf’s seemingly impossible dream and also a way for Elsa to coexist with her abilities while still being accepted by society, thus proving the old adage that nothing is impossible.

However, like mentioned above, though it’s a good Disney classic, the film isn’t without its flaws. I wasn’t totally convinced of the plot twist of Hans being a bad guy from the start. It seemed very much like an afterthought, added in too abruptly, giving the character a too shallow personality.

Overall, it is a good comeback film for Disney.

Philomena

Finished Philomena some time back, I find the film to be very interesting. There were several scenes that established and showcased the gulf between the two main characters’ background, the snobbish and highly intelligent Martin Sixsmith played by Steve Coogan and the polite and simple-minded title character, Philomena played by Judi Dench. My favourite scene was that at the airport where Philomena was explaining to the often sarcastic Sixsmith about the book she had just finished reading. It set the tone for the story which manages to be both moving and feels real because it is emotional but yet not overly sentimental, dwelling not too long on what could otherwise be very dramatic scenes in the hands of another director which would have lost its relatable aspect to the audience. Even the part where they informed Judi Dench’s character that her dead son was gay, she did not appear shocked. Sixsmith had to check whether she really understood what that meant because he had expected her to be surprised. But the real surprise was when she said that she already knew he was gay, even when he’s 3 years old. That gave real depth to her credibility as a mother and made the audience sympathise how much better her son’s life would have been if he was under her care all these while instead of being under a violent and homophobic father. And her words towards the end when she forgave the nuns for deliberately keeping her and her son away from each other, really highlights her character’s depth and strength. She forgives the nun because she thinks it is exhausting to be consumed with anger all the time. Forgiveness is indeed harder than to hate. All in all, a great piece of performance showcase from Judi Dench, it’s nice to see her in a more friendly and affable role rather than a strict and more domineering one like M in Skyfall or The Queen in Shakespeare In Love though she’s a perfectly capable actress of portraying both extremes.