Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling

Blade Runner 2049 (IMAX 3D)

Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) said he decided to take on Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the classic 1982 sci-fi hit, because he didn’t anyone else to “f#$% it up.” In the end, not only did he not f#$% it up, he might have made one of the best sci-fi sequels of all time.

It’s visually breathtaking, deeply atmospheric, thought-provoking and narratively satisfying. The scale is epic and yet the story is deeply personal. An instant classic that has shot right to the top of my 2017 list. For me, the most frustrating thing about Blade Runner 2049 is that I have to wait another week before I can see it again (and that’s because of a family vacation)!

I actually didn’t really know what to expect going into this one. I saw the original Blade Runner by Ridley Scott when I was in my late teens and didn’t find it particularly memorable apart from the visuals. What made me watch the movie in the first place was the Blade Runner PC game (released in 1997), which was a pretty shitty game in terms of gameplay but captivated me because of the bleak, rainy, neon-filled futuristic world it depicted. That awe-inspiring vision and atmosphere from the original film and the game (set in 2019) has been transferred to perfection and updated in the sequel (now set in 2049). The world is bleak

That awe-inspiring vision and atmosphere from the original film and the game (set in 2019) has been transferred to perfection and updated in the sequel (now set in 2049). The world still has those same elements but is now as bleak as ever, filled with desolate landscapes of metal and sand. The cities provide a stark contrast with their constant rain, seediness, neon lights and glowing hologram advertisements.

Ryan Gosling plays the central protagonist, a “blade runner” who tracks down old replicants (human clones) and “retires” them, just as Harrison Ford’s character Deckard did in the 1982 film. I don’t want to get into the plot much more than that, but suffice it to say that you don’t need to have seen the original to watch this movie.

There are some fantastic action sequences throughout Blade Runner 2049, but don’t expect an action movie — this is not the Star Trek reboot or Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It’s a true sci-fi film that explores big questions about the human condition, about who we are and what we are, about cloning and nature, about raw feelings and emotions and memories and how all of these things shape us and our reality.

Visually, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most captivating and jaw-dropping films of the last decade along with Inception and Mad Max: Fury Road. If nothing else, this is the type of movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the visual feast. It’s not just the seamless special effects but also the fabulous set designs, costumes, and cinematography of the amazing Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption and Fargo, two of my favourite movies all time, as well as Sicario, Unbroke, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Prisoners, etc.) I saw it IMAX 3D — I like IMAX but hate 3D (it’s a shame they lump the two together to jack up ticket prices) — and will watch it in 2D next time. You really don’t notice the 3D beyond the first 15 minutes or so anyway, but having the massive IMAX screen was definitely a plus.

The film is a confident 2 hours and 43 minutes but doesn’t feel overlong or exhausting. It unfolds at its own pace — with a near-perfect rhythm that gives audiences time to breathe and think. While the storyline itself is unexceptional, the film is a joy to watch largely because of Villeneuve’s sublime vision and direction, well-crafted and thought-provoking ambiguities, gorgeous visuals and world-building, wonderful performances, and its simple yet blaring soundtrack.

There are layers of mysteries, some built upon the first film and some newly created. The script by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original film) and Michael Green (Logan and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) keeps many things intentionally vague and open to interpretation. Amazingly, it manages to expand on the same world and deliver a fresh story while preserving some of the most intriguing elements from the first film.  It trusts that viewers are intelligent enough to follow the film and make up their own minds. It’s the kind of movie that can be seen multiple times to spot more clues and be discussed and debated between friends and movie-lovers alike.

As for the performances, Ryan Gosling is absolutely superb, as good as anything he has been in. Harrison Ford is integral to the story but his top billing on the promotional material is a little misleading. The same can be said for Jared Leto, whose role is surprisingly small. The standouts for me are Dutch actress Silvia Hoeks as Luv and Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Joi, who both deliver a lot of power to the film but in different ways. Robin Wright and Dave Bautista also have relatively minor roles. Everyone is really good.

In all, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterclass in filmmaking from Villeneuve. We’ve seen plenty of sequels that come decades after the original in recent years, and pretty much all of them have failed. This is not just a rare exception — it’s arguably better than the original (not sure if it will be revered as much but time will tell) and certainly one of the best sequels and sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. I’m going to check out the Final Cut version of the orginal and check out the three short films made for the release of the sequel (see below) — and then see it again.

5 stars out of 5

The Nice Guys (2016)

In all honesty, I was not particularly amped up to see The Nice Guys despite how good it looked on paper: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in a film by the awesome Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and soon the Predator reboot) — the potential for awesomeness was absolutely there. But it was a buddy comedy set in the 70s, which reminded me of Starsky and Hutch (that’s not a good thing), and plus the film kinda bombed at the box office, so my expectations were dampened somewhat.

Seeing this film again confirms my idiocy, because it is freaking great! In terms of pure fun and laughs, I can’t think of a better comedy in 2016 than The Nice Guys. Crowe and Gosling are both great actors, but I never expected them to be great comedic actors with superb comedic timing, and certainly not for the two of them to have such wonderful chemistry.

Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a tough guy enforcer who basically gets paid to beat people up. Somehow, he ends up crossing paths with a pathetic private eye named Holland March (Gosling), and the duo team up to solve a mystery that involves a dead porn actress, high-ranking government officials and lots of goons with guns.

I loved the wacky vibe of the film from the get-go. It doesn’t take itself very seriously and has that old school charm with plenty of witty banter and crazy situations. The film makes great use of random happenings and coincidence, which reminded me of one of the greatest movies of all time, Pulp Fiction. I was also surprised by how much slapstick there was in the film and how effective it was, especially when blended in with wonderfully executed action sequences. It helped that too that there was actually a plot that was not too basic and kept up that air of mystery and intrigue, and yet it was also not too convoluted to make it hard to follow.

Crowe plays the straight man in this odd couple while Gosling plays against type the moronic, uncoordinated goofball. Audiences used to seeing the romantic (The Notebook), suave (Crazy Stupid Love) or cool (Drive) Gosling are in for a huge shock because he goes all out in making a fool of himself in this movie — and he’s fantastic at it. The against-type casting really works to the film’s advantage because it’s so unexpected. Gosling might have gotten the Oscar nomination for Best Actor for La La Land, but there’s an argument that he’s just as deserving for this role.

Special mention also goes to young Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter, Holly March, who provides the emotional center of the film and the catalyst for the character development of the two main leads. Despite being just 16 years old in real life, she holds her own against two of Hollywood’s heavyweights. And of course, she’s an Aussie. Can’t wait to see her next in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

All in all, The Nice Guys really exceeded my expectations and turned out to be one of the funniest movie experiences I’ve had in a while. It’s nice and refreshing to get a good comedy these days that’s not drenched in cheap laughs or laced with unnecessary sentimentality (like those damn Judd Apatow dramedies). It’s a shame that not a lot of people saw the movie notwithstanding the draw of the cast and the director and the positive reviews and word of mouth. Definitely worth checking out if you feel like a good laugh — it might be the best comedy of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

La La Land (2016)

Of all the movie genres out there, I would say the musical is probably my least favourite, followed by romance. There’s just something about suddenly breaking into song and dance that takes me out of a film, and most romance flicks are done so poorly that they make me cringe with embarrassment. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part I try to avoid them. La La Land, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to director Damien Chapelle’s Whiplash, has received a lot of acclaim, and yet I still did not know what to expect because it is both a musical and a romance.

Well, I finally got around to watching it at the cinema today, and all I can say is, “Wow”. I don’t think I have ever watched a movie knowing it has received good reviews and then having it exceed my expectations this much. 

The premise is actually quite simple: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress, respectively, who come to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams.  That’s pretty much all you need to know, but it is a romance after all. so you know they are going to meet and fall in love. However, it is the way that this is portrayed that makes the film so engrossing. We already know that Gosling and Stone have excellent chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love, and here they elevated to a whole other level. There is just something really organic about their interactions, which never feel forced or contrived. It also helps that they are both well-developed and likable characters you want to root for. 

The first half of the film is sweet, dreamy and full of energy, just like the characters pursuing their dreams and falling in love. The second half is darker and more serious as it deals with the practical realities of their lives and careers. I don’t recall a movie in recent memory that got me genuinely smiling (not because of a joke, but because of how joyful it is) and then genuinely on the verge of tears. It’s one of nose rare bittersweet films that sucked me in right from the beginning, warmed my heart, then damn near broke it. I can’t imagine how people who are have really gone to LA to pursue their dreams feel when they watch this movie. As I said, I usually don’t like romance films because they’re so poorly made. La La Land, on the other hand, nails it perfectly.

The other thing I was afraid of, the singing and dancing, surprisingly did not bother me. Part of it is because the songs are so fantastic and catchy, and part of it because the lyrics fit the emotions of the narrative so well. And part of it is because the amazing choreography and the way it was shot is so flawless. I was sold from the opening  sequence that really set the tone for the rest of the film. I had always felt that musicals would be better confined to stage plays, but the incredible long takes and creative camera angles, as well as the way Chazelle blends them in with the stunning cinematography, makes La La Land an experience built for the big screen.

Full credit must go to Gosling and stone for their performances, both of which deserve Oscar nominations if not wins. They play off each other seamlessly, from the silly banter to the serious conversations to the cute duets and dance numbers. It was almost a little annoying to see such highly attractive and fit people be able to sing and dance this well. And who the heck knew that Gosling was such a good piano player?

Chazelle has also made himself a favorite for Best Director and Best Screenplay by proving that Whiplash was no fluke. La La Land is so different from Whiplash, and yet both films exude the same type of self-assured confidence and controlled pacing. I can’t wait to see what Chazelle comes up with next. 

I’ve heard some people call La La Land a love letter to Los Angeles, and I guess you could construe it that way. I just think it’s a brilliant, funny, sweet, heart-felt movie from start to finish. There were a couple of decisions I perceive as minor missteps, though on the whole, there’s really nothing to dampen how I feel about the movie. Perhaps it’s just the dreamer in me talking, but I just can’t believe how much I love it.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: I literally walked out of the cinema after watching La La land to discover that it had won a record seven awards at the Golden Globes with a clean sweep. I’m not usually one for hyperboles, but it’s well-deserved. I still have a few films left to watch that could potentially knock it off its perch, but as of now, La La Land is the best 2016 release I’ve seen.

The Big Short (2015)

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Wasn’t sure what to expect from The Big Short, the true story of how a bunch of brokers and fund managers made billions from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Though I majored in finance for my business degree at university, I never really developed a passion for all the complex financial products, especially derivatives, and the last thing I wanted to see was a movie about the industry and how it works.

Dudes and dudettes, my concerns were misplaced. The Big Short turned out to be a highly entertaining and fascinating riot of a comedy that ranks up there as one of my most enjoyed movie experiences of the year. Apart from finally getting a clue about what actually happened in 2008, I laughed my butt off at the wicked and witty humour. And yet, amid all the fast-paced explanations and hilarity, the film doesn’t forget that millions of people lost their jobs and homes because of the greed  and incompetence of those who run our financial systems.

It’s difficult to balance jokes and paying respect to what is a massive tragedy for so many people, particularly one that’s still fresh in our memories, which is why full credit must go to director and co-writer Adam McKay. It’s even more impressive when you consider that McKay, an SNL alum, is the guy who previously gave us farcical comedies such as Anchorman, Talledega Nights and Step Brothers.

McKay steps up in a big way, using a clever and innovative storytelling methods that include breaking the fourth wall and getting seemingly random celebrities to explain complex financial concepts in layman’s terms. As you would expect, there are plenty of explanations in this film, though it’s always done in a fun way that’s relevant to that point in the plot. The pieces are always moving so it never feels like things are constantly starting and stopping. You may not understand the concepts completely, but most regular viewers should garner enough knowledge to get by. Despite all the financial jargon, I felt like I was watching an exciting heist film.

Of course, the A-list cast is another huge reason to see this film. Christian Bale, who got another Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor), portrays Dr Michael Burry, the only character to use his actual name for the movie and the guy who first discovered that it would only be a matter of time before the US housing market faces a complete collapse. To be honest, I don’t know if Bale deserves the nomination, for if it were up to me I’d probably give it to Steve Carrell, a hedge fund manager approached by Ryan Gosling’s slick bond salesman to invest in credit default swaps. Carrell steals the show a little bit in my opinion and is arguably even better than he was in Foxcatcher.

This trio of big names are backed up by a whole host of solid supporting actors. The most notable is Brad Pitt, who co-produced the film and plays a former banker with a pessimistic view of the system. He is flanked by two very impressive youngsters, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, who plays a couple of up-and-coming hedge fund guys who started out in their garage. Others recognisable names like Rafe Spall, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei round out a spectacular ensemble cast that rivals Spotlight for most impressive of the year.

Earlier today I was just telling a friend — who thought the film might be boring — that The Big Short reminds me a little of The Wolf of Wall Street but without all the swearing and debauchery. I say that not just because both are about the corruption of the financial sector, but because of the rapid pace and machine-gun dialogue, the sharp wit, the light tone layered with dark themes, and the impeccable comedic timing. While I can’t quite compare my enjoyment of The Big Short to the epic levels of fun I had with The Wolf of Wall Street, I still consider it a smashing success, a delightful mix of learning and humour that deserves its reputation as one of the year’s top flicks.

4.5 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part 1

I’m trying my best to get through as many 2013 movies as I can so I can complete my best and worst lists for last year. And since I’m scheduled to be a consultant again at this year’s TTV Oscar’s broadcast, I better get a move on and finish watching the last few movies outstanding on the Best Picture nominee list. Don’t worry, it’ll be done. In the meantime, here is the first batch of my 2013 movie blitz!

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

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Guess what? One of the biggest flops, not to mention most-panned films, of 2013, The Lone Ranger, is actually a fairly decent film. I don’t know why critics hated it so much, whether it was the well-publicized budget cuts, the high expectations or weird Johnny Depp fatigue, but to be honest I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films from the same director, Gore Verbinski.

Armie Hammer (both of the Winklevii in The Social Network) is John Reid, a scrupulous lawyer who would eventually become the titular character. His sidekick is the more famous and higher-billed Johnny Depp, who plays a Comanche Indian by the name of Tonto. Together they try and take down a notorious outlaw played wonderfully by William Fichtner. Strong supporting cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, Stephen Root and James Badge Dale.

Now I know the film’s name does not make sense considering the Lone Ranger clearly does not act alone, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid piece of entertainment fuelled by the chemistry of the two charismatic leads.

I can understand if people are sick of Depp playing these oddball characters, but he’s funny as Tonto in the same quirky way that people love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. In fact, the entire film has that same adventurous, them-park-ride vibe running through it like the Pirates franchise, and it baffles me how people can love that but hate this.

The action is extremely over the top as well, but it’s done well in a surreal kind of way, and my main complaint is the bloated length of 149 minutes, but I said the same thing about all the Pirates movies too.

It’s nowhere near one of the top movies of the year, as Quentin Tarantino rated it, but The Lone Ranger is definitely a lot better than what most critics would have you believe. I enjoyed it for what it is – a light, comedic action popcorn blockbuster.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Grown Ups 2 (2013)

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Grown Ups was yet another new low for Adam Sandler, one of the worst films of 2010 and the nastiest comedy I had seen in years. It was basically just a bunch of dicks (I mean, comedians) being mean to people less fortunate than them, and it wasn’t funny.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I ended up watching Grown Ups 2, which brings back Sandler and his group of friends such as Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, with Salma Hayek and Mario Bello playing two of the wives.

And make no mistake, Grown Ups 2 is a horrible movie – something I knew from the opening scene when a wild deer pisses over everyone in Sandler’s family – BUT you know what? It’s actually better than the first one.

I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true, despite the fact that Grown Ups 2 has not discernable plot and simply follows Sandler and his buddies around as they carry on with their daily lives back in Connecticut, where they grew up.

There are some puerile and downright awful attempts at comedy as expected, most of which are pee pee, poo poo and lame sex jokes. Having said that, this time around the characters are not as mean-spirited as they were, and are in fact more the butt of the jokes than the ones dishing them out.

There are two reasons why laughed a few times. The first is the always legendary Steve Buscemi, who has a slightly meatier role this time after a light cameo in the first film. The second is the surprisingly comedic Taylor Lautner (of Twilight fame), who is perfect as the douchey fratboy alongside a nearly unrecognizable Milo Ventimiglia (from Heroes).

Grown Ups 2 is still a crap movie, but fortunately, and sadly, it’s better than its predecessor.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Runner Runner (2013)

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He’s talented and charismatic and not afraid to make fun of himself, but he’s still Justin Timberlake, so I need to dislike him on principle. Throw in Ben Affleck, one of my favourite directors but least favourite actors, and I knew the chips were stacked against Runner Runner from the beginning.

Timberlake plays this college kid called Richie Furst, a genius with numbers (yeah right) whose greed gets him into trouble and leads him into the world of online gambling. I’ve always been sceptical of these online gambling sites, and fair enough, Richie discovers that he’s being cheated by the system. However, instead of going to the authorities he takes his find to the web casino’s owner Ben Affleck, who ends up taking Richie under his wing and introduces him to the high life.

As these stories typically go, Richie discovers that not everything in the high-roller world is roses and must find a way to redeem himself while fleeing the inevitable danger. To add to the cliché is the potential love interest played by Gemma Arterton, who just happens to be Affleck’s ex-lover.

It’s not that Runner Runner stinks (okay, maybe it does a little), it’s just that we’ve seen this type of story so many times that nothing comes as a surprise. Paranoia, which also came out in 2013 and stars Liam Hemsworth instead of Timberlake, is pretty much the exact same movie but with a slightly different setting. You know there will be an initial high but then everything will fall apart and things will look hopeless until a “twist” involving a stroke of genius allows the protagonist to escape unscathed. Valuable life lessons are learned along the way, of course.

It’s better than Paranoia, which was even more boring, but RunnerRunner is at best a barely passable DVD rental if you have nothing else to choose from or if you really like Justin Timberlake.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

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I love Ryan Gosling a lot. Maybe not as much as some heterosexual women, but he’s up there in my list of favourite actors, plus he seems to keep churning out excellent, edgy films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. I was hoping that Only God Forgives, a crime flick set in Bangkok written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who also directed Drive), would be more of the same, but unfortunately I have to tell it like it is and admit that this was a terrible misstep for Mr Gosling.

Brutally violent, deliberately paced, surreal and downright bizarre at times, Only God Forgives treads a fine line between art and pretentiousness, and in my opinion falls to the side of the latter.

Gosling plays Julian, an American ex-pat who runs a muay thai kickboxing gym in Bangkok that is really a front for a family drug smuggling operation headed by his sadistic brother Billy and his even crazier mother Kristin Scott Thomas. When Billy rapes and murders a local prostitute, it sets of a series of bloody events driven by revenge and Julian is unwillingly caught in the middle of it.

It’s a strange film that mixes sexual fantasies, violent visions, extended karaoke performances, gun fights, fist fights and swinging sword decapitations. There is a certain stylishness and visual flair about Only God Forgives that brings back memories of the brilliant Drive, but it’s also far more confusing and far less gripping. We get bursts of emotion from the characters but they don’t feel anything like real people, and their interactions are too minimal and deliberate to come across as genuine drama.

The result is a film that is very difficult to describe and understandably polarizing. Because of Drive I will always remain interested in what Refn has in store for audiences next, but on this occasion I think he missed the mark with Only God Forgives.

2.25 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part V

Let’s take some time out from my 2012 Movie Blitz to go back to some movies I have watched more recently.

Evil Dead (2013)

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The original Evil Dead directed by Sam Raimi is now widely considered classic even though it’s actually a very flawed horror film that happens to have a few iconic images. Thirty-two years later, we have what is considered a reboot as well as a loose continuation of the franchise. This time, the film is directed by Fede Alvarez in his big screen debut — and the results are surprising.

In keeping up with tradition, this reboot is also about a bunch of young people who end up in a cabin in the woods (this time for drug rehab purposes) and one of them stupidly brings a demon to life by opening a book he/she shouldn’t have. The demon possesses one of them, and like a zombie virus, the possession is spread from one to the next.

Much of the scares come from the visceral details of the graphic injuries. They get scalded by hot water, get stabbed, punctured, tossed around, covered in glass and have limbs torn right off, and yet they just keep soldiering on. And the craziest thing is that the non-possessed humans are even harder to kill than the demon-possessed characters. It’s so outrageous it’s funny — but in a good way.

I didn’t expect much from Evil Dead given the disappointing horror reboots in recent years (just about all the ones you can think of). I had heard that this one was effectively gory and disgusting but not particularly frightening — but I respectfully disagree. Yes, it was excessively bloody and gruesome and gross, but it was done effectively and not gratuitously like say the horror porn films such as Hostel and the later entries in the Saw franchise.

I didn’t recognise any of the actors except Shiloh Fernandez, who was in that awful Red Riding Hood movie, but everyone does a decent job — no small feat considering that most casts of such film are laughably bad.

So yeah, while this rendition of Evil Dead won’t make us forget the original any time soon, it was still an unexpected pleasure in the way that only gross horror movies can be.

3.5 stars out of 5

Gangster Squad (2013)

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Gangster Squad has all the ingredients of a great blockbuster — the “loosely based on a true story” concept, the noir atmosphere of the post-WWII era, a fundamental good vs evil storyline, and a ridiculous cast headed by Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, plus Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick. Everything was seemingly there, and yet the film felt like it was missing…something.

I can’t quite put my finger on it except to say that there was a sense of familiarity with the film, as though I had seen it or experienced it all before. Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with that, but for a film of this magnitude carrying hefty expectations it just felt like the film fell well short of expectations.

The story is based around real-life notorious crime boss and former pro-boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who basically ran LA back in those days by eliminating witnesses and bringing legal officials. When even the cops tell their own not to venture into Mickey’s property, you know he’s not to be messed with. But Josh Brolin is a sergeant who can’t say no to justice, and he accepts a clandestine mission from his boss, Nick Nolte, to bring Cohen down off official police books. The rest of the cast mentioned above are pretty much all members of Brolin’s Gangster Squad, except for of course Emma Stone, one of Cohen’s women who falls in love with Ryan Gosling (because everyone loves Ryan Gosling — even though he puts on this weird, whiny voice in this movie).

Gangster Squad is a pretty-looking film that successfully captivates the mood of the era and has some crafty action sequences (including a bare-knuckle showdown that made little sense). It is ultra-violent and perhaps unnecessarily so, but I never have a huge problem with violence as long as it’s not blatantly gratuitous (well, and even then…). Where I think the film falters is the script, which never brought out the characters properly and as a result we never develop any emotional connection to them. It’s not awful by any means, but given the stars involved being merely average is not good enough.

3 stars out of 5

Dark Skies (2013)

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I love horror films and I love alien/UFO films, and Dark Skies is an attempt to roll both genres into one.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are a couple struggling with financial difficulties, bringing a lot of tension to their relationship with each other and as well as with their two sons. Like a poltergeist movie, strange things start happening in and around their home, and if you know your alien abduction cliches, you would have seen them all. But thanks to some effective direction from Scott Stewart (who last gave us the lacklustre Priest), the scares are still quite effective.

The frequency and intensity of the weird stuff increases as the couple realise that there might a sinister force trying to take over their lives, leading them to seek the help of an “expert” played by JK Simmons (with some unintentionally amusing results). After receiving some advice, they buckle down and face what is going to inevitably come at them anyway — but wait, there might be a twist. Sound familiar?

I sound harsh about this film, but the thing is, you should not approach Dark Skies like it’s going to be some fantastic masterpiece. It’s a sci-fi horror about alien abduction, so keep your expectations in check. All you can really hope for are some eerie atmospheric tensions, a few creepy incidents, some “boo!” scares, an effectively climax and an ending that doesn’t suck too badly. Dark Skies delivers all of the above, albeit in ways we’ve all seen before. Thanks to my bias for scary aliens, I still had a pretty good time with it.

3.25 stars out of 5

Odd Thomas (2013)

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I first became acquainted with Odd Thomas, the character not the film, a couple of years ago, when a friend got me In Odd We Trust, a graphic novel about a young man who can see dead people and decides to do something about it. The graphic novel is based on a series of novels written by horror master Dean Koontz.

I liked the graphic novel but thought it would be even better as a movie, and what do you know, a year or two later and we have Odd Thomas, the motion picture version, starring Anton Yelchin (one of my favourite young actors) as the titular character and the pretty Addison Timlin (whom some might recognise from Californication) as love interest Stormy. The film is actually in limbo at the moment because of a lawsuit, so I won’t disclose how I actually came about to watching it.

Odd Thomas is a film that is tonally difficult to get right because it’s supposed to be scary (with dead people and ghosts and demonic creatures and so forth) but at the same time it has to have that kiddy graphic novel feel where you have to partially suspend disbelief but not to the extent where it becomes a farce. And at the center of it lies a sweet romance between Odd and his one true love, Stormy, but it can’t be too sweet or else it will put off viewers.

Amazingly, director Stephen Sommers (GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Mummy franchise) gets it right, or at least gets close enough. Odd Thomas is essentially a fun, quirky and sweet detective film laced with elements of horror and fantasy — and some well-executed action. Not everything works (some of the concepts were either too “out there” or convoluted for my liking) but on the whole the elements meshed well together.

Anton Yelchin’s unusual look makes him a perfect Odd, and his chemistry with Timlin is scorching. Willem Dafoe also gets to show off some of his comedic chops as the police chief who can’t seem to get a minute alone with his wife. It’s not cult classic material but I’d like to think it’s enjoyable enough to possibly be the first instalment of a franchise.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

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OK, I can see why the ladies love Ryan Gosling. If nothing else, the guy knows how to choose his roles.

We’re barely halfway through the year, but rest assured that The Place Beyond the Pines will be in my top 10 for 2013. As epic crime dramas go, they don’t get much better than this. Much like how Gosling’s 2011 classic, Drive, hypnotized me from the opening scene, Pines had me gripped all the way through. (But don’t be mistaken into thinking that the two films are in any way similar)

Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (who previously collaborated with Gosling on the depressing Blue Valentine), Pines is an unusual film in that it abandons the traditional three act structure film students are told to adhere to. I guess you could treat it as three interconnected three-act pieces, or just one massive three-part epic. Whatever it is, it’s awesome.

It’s hard to go into plot details without giving away spoilers, so I’ll try my best to skirt around the edges. Ryan Gosling plays a circus motorcycle stunt rider who is forced to settle down when an old fling played by Eva Mendes drops a bombshell: they have a son. To make ends meet, Gosling finds a job at a shady auto shop run by Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, who teaches him how to earn lots of cash by making the most of Gosling’s amazing riding skills.

Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper plays a low-ranking but intelligent and ambitious cop who is given an opportunity to rise up the ranks, but at a cost that will challenge his sense of righteousness and morality. It’s probably not a spoiler to say that Ray Liotta plays a corrupt officer — I mean, what else could he be?

I don’t think the storyline itself is necessarily very original, but Cianfrance’s storytelling is sublime. He is a master of subtlety, atmosphere and tone — the film is dark, sombre and intentionally slow in some parts, but it draws you in with skillfully crafted tension and refuses to let go. Perhaps it was overly ambitious in some respects, though I can’t fault Cianfrance for trying.

The performances are some of the best I’ve seen this year. Gosling’s at his charismatic, brooding and vulnerable best — that I am used to by now — though I was completely blindsided by Cooper, who probably delivered the performance of a lifetime. He received an Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook, but he is arguably even better here.

I just loved it from start to finish and was blown away by the conclusion. Pines won’t be for everyone, but those who get it will jump on the bandwagon.

4.5 out of 5!

Top 10 Films of 2011!

It had to be done. My list of 10 favourite films of 2011. Actually, I cheated. It’s really 11 films because I didn’t feel it was right to leave one of them out, so I made them both equal 10th.

In the end, after going through all 110 films I watched from that year, I came to the conclusion that 2011 was a fairly decent year in cinema. Not necessarily a lot of extraordinary “all-time “films but a fair number of very very good ones. Also a lot of 4-star films and a couple of films higher than 4 stars that unfortunately couldn’t make the cut.

Again, this list is based on the ratings I gave when I initially reviewed the movies. It is also a list based on the films I liked the most as a casual filmgoer, rather than a list of films judged the best by some sort of objective standard.

Without further ado, here goes. (Click on the titles for the full review)

10 (tied). The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

We're in the top 10 films of the year, Snowy! Let's celebrate!
We’re in the top 10 films of the year, Snowy! Let’s celebrate!

I felt compelled to include this one in the top 10 because it’s one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. I know cartoons can do cute and comedy, but this is the first time I found an animated film so exhilarating to watch. A bit long, of course, but a remarkable and landmark achievement in motion capture animation features.

10 (tied). Moneyball (2011)

Our movie's pretty awesome, chubby!
Our movie’s pretty awesome, chubby!

I don’t think you need to love baseball to love this film, which I found insightful, amusing and moving in a strange kind of way. It might have moved a little slow for some but the pace was just right for me. And kudos to Kerris Dorsey for stealing the show as Brad Pitt’s daughter, especially for her sweet rendition of Lenka’s “The Show.”

9. The Ides of March (2011)

Vote for me or I'll stomp your head in
Vote for me or I’ll stomp your head in

I’m a sucker for political dramas/thrillers and this was another one brilliant one that just happens to star three of the best actors in Hollywood — George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymore Hoffman. Far from perfect but in many ways it comes across as a more stylish version of Primary Colors, still one of my faves from the 20th century.

8. Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)

I'm on a date with Robin Thicke's wife!
I’m on a date with Robin Thicke’s wife!

Just when you thought Tom Cruise’s career was on the rapid decline path he churns out one of the best, if not the best, action movie of 2011 with fourth instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise, in my humble opinion the best one yet. Its simplified but intelligent plot and ridiculous action sequences provided a non-stop adrenaline rush and almost had me jumping on the seats like Cruise on Oprah.

7. Warrior (2011)

Bain vs Tom Buchanan
Bain vs Tom Buchanan

Take note, Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown — this is how you do an MMA movie. Actually, by infusing the narrative with a touching storyline and characters we can root for, Warrior is by far the best MMA movie of all time, and leaped onto my top 10 list of 2011 the moment the credits started rolling.

6. Super 8 (2011)

Look, it's E.T.!
Look, it’s E.T.!

My appreciation for Super 8 has perhaps waned a little since watching it more than a year ago,  but at the time I watched it I thought it was potentially this generation’s E.T. — the nostalgia it created was as powerful as anything I had seen in years. Even without it, the film was still highly entertaining and a lot of fun. A great family film.

5. Hugo (2011)

I heard the toymaker used to be Gandhi...
I heard the toymaker used to be Gandhi…

I can’t believe there are so many family films on my list, but there’s no way I could leave Hugo off this list. This remarkable Martin Scorsese film is rich and enriching, magical and emotionally rewarding. On top of that I found it incredibly impressive from a visual perspective and it’s also one of those rare films where the 3D was not detrimental to the overall experience.

4. Midnight in Paris (2011)

I wanna hug this movie too
I wanna hug this movie too (and Rachel McAdams)

If Hugo is for cinema lovers then Midnight in Paris is for lovers of literature. I had no idea what the film was about (thanks to the spoiler-free trailers) but was blown away by the clever script and the perfect tone created by Woody Allen in what must be his best film in years. Sweet, engaging and charming, it’s the best lighthearted movie of the year.

3. Drive (2011)

Yep. I'm Ryan Gosling and I can do no wrong.
Yep. I’m Ryan Gosling and I can do no wrong.

Drive might become my favourite 2011 movie when I look back years down the track, but for now, it’s no. 3. This stylish, ultra-violent neo-noir crime drama won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it simply has the X factor. I was captivated by this film from its brilliant start (one of the best intros ever) all the way through to its powerful conclusion. I don’t really care if the movie has an underlying message — I just thought it was awesome to watch.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Stop freaking me out!
Stop freaking me out!

Based on the acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin haunted me when I watched it and still gives me the chills whenever I think about it. As a new father, this film, which is really a “horror” more than anything else, resonated with me in a way few films do and much of that has to do with the spectacular performance of Tilda Swinton, who absolutely should have at least had an Oscar nomination. The recent tragedy at Newtown has had me thinking about the movie a lot lately, which could be why it topped Drive for the no. 2 spot.

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Get your dirty hands off my wand, Malfoy!
Get your dirty hands off my wand, Malfoy!

That’s right. My favourite film of 2011 is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And if you don’t like it you can bite me! What can I say? I love those monkeys. Seriously, it may be an unconventional choice, but to me this was the best film of the Apes franchise (yes, including the iconic original) and may possibly be one of the best popcorn movies of all-time and one of the most entertaining movies ever. I’ve seen it more than twice and I still think its awesomeness is unparalleled. A cool premise, mindblowing special effects and the most epic action sequences of the year — who cares how much sense it made when it’s so much fun to watch?

Well, that just about does it. With less than two days to go in the year, it looks like this 2011 list will only be one year late instead of two. I promise my 2012 list will be posted during the first half of 2013! Promise!

Honourable mentions: 50/50, X-Men: First Class, Shame, The Descendants, Crazy Stupid Love, Snowtown, Limitless, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

PS: I just realized I never reviewed the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on this blog. I have no idea why, but from memory I gave it 4 stars and it would have missed out anyway, though it probably would have made the honourable mentions list.

Battle of the Polarizing Films: Drive (2011) vs The Tree of Life (2011)

It’s November and I still haven’t finished reviewing my list of 2011 films. So here’s another film battle — this time,  between two of the most polarizing films of last year — Drive and The Tree of Life. I thought one of these films was amazing, and the other boring and pretentious — but can you guess which is which?

Drive (2011)

I had heard some mixed reviews of this Ryan Gosling neo-noir crime drama. Some said it was slow and boring and too violent for its own good. Others said it was one of the best films of the year.

The story follows Gosling’s unnamed lead character, who works as a mechanic by day and a getaway driver for criminals at night. You don’t know much about his past or background, but all you know is that he is one heck of a driver who can stay calm under the tensest of situations and a badass you wouldn’t want to mess with. He befriends a neighbour, played by Carey Mulligan, and her young son, whose father is in prison and owes protection money to the mob.

It’s a simple story driven by a fascinating character and a sublime performance from Gosling, who seems to be unable to do anything wrong these days. It’s also boosted by a superb all-star cast, including the omnipresent Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks.

With the exception of Mulligan, who gives a good performance but feels miscast in the role, I loved everything about this riveting film, which had been hooked and on the edge of my seat from the opening sequence — which is, might I add, one of the best of any movie ever. I loved the tension and I loved the mystery of Gosling’s character — the calmer he was the more nervous I got. And I don’t often notice the soundtrack but this one’s was rocking — the ethereal-electronic-pop-dominated score was perfect for the look, style and feel of the film. (For some reason it reminded me a little of the video game Grand Theft Auto!)

As for the violence, yeah, it might have been a little excessive (elevator scene, anyone?) but I thought it fit in well with the overall tone and added an edge to the tension. I’ve always been a fan of well-executed violence (thanks, Tarantino), and I suppose this is a great example of it.

One of the best, and potentially one of the most memorable, films of the year for me.

5 stars out of 5

The Tree of Life (2011)

The buzz around The Tree of Life before I watched it was that it is a revolutionary piece of filmmaking that cements his place in cinematic history as one of the best directors of all time. But word of mouth from relatives was that it was so confusing and boring that walking out would have been a better option than staying until the end.

My previous experiences when it comes to Terrence Malick have not been positive. I remember when people were calling The Thin Red Line a vastly superior film to Saving Private Ryan and decided to check it out, but had too much trouble trying to decipher all of Nick Nolte’s mumbling to really understand what the fuss was all about. Then I watched his next effort, The New World with Colin Farrell, but I gave up on it about 20 minutes in after, again, failing to get through all the mumbling voice-overs. What’s this guy’s deal with incomprehensible philosophical mumblings?

Anyway, I thought as a more mature movie viewer, I would now be more capable of appreciating Malick’s art. But in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. The Tree of Life had its fair share of mumblings as well, but that wasn’t its problem. Its problem was trying too hard to be “profound”, to be “different”, to be a “masterpiece.”

Essentially, this “experimental” film follows a middle-aged man’s (Sean Penn) memories of his childhood in Texas in the 1950s with his parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), but at the same time it is also supposed to be some chronicle of the history of the universe that explores the meaning of life.

I don’t have a problem with ambitious projects, which this clearly is, but I suppose you need to be in the right kind of mood to enjoy The Tree of Life (ie, high on LSD or something). If you’re expecting a linear narrative with a clear story to tell, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But if you’re expecting a movie to suddenly turn into the National Geographic channel and show the images cosmos and dinosaurs and asteroids, and feel that it explains what life is all about, then you’ll probably love The Tree of Life.

I do appreciate the artistic merits of the film to some extent, as well as the beautiful images of nature that Malick projects onto the screen. The scenes depicting the children and their relationship with their father are also done well and occasionally stirring. In that sense I guess I don’t despise The Tree of Life like some others do, but at almost 140-minutes it was just too much to take and digest. Frankly, I was often bored and frustrated.

Maybe I’ll have more luck with Malick’s next film, To the Wonder, a romantic drama starring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams. I heard people booed laughed at it during the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

2 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Ides of March (2011)

I really need to get a move on.  It’s almost the end of 2011 and there are too many potentially good movies to be watched before 2012.  And so I began my (hopeful) end-of-year movie blitz with a 2012 Oscar frontrunner, The Ides of March, directed by, co-written by and starring George Clooney.

I’m a sucker for political dramas (I thought the 1998 John Travolta film Primary Colors was fantastic), and so I had high hopes for this film, which also stars some of my favourite actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei.  However, The Ides of March really belongs to Ryan Gosling, who continues to impress with a controlled, Oscar-worthy performance as Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager for Clooney’s (potential) Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Morris.

Without giving away too much, the film follows the young, bright and extremely capable Meyers as he tries to assist Pennsylvania Governor Morris in securing the state of Ohio in the Democrat’s presidential candidate race against an Arkansas Senator.  Securing Ohio effectively clinches the nomination (and essentially the White House), so it’s a big deal, but both Meyers and Morris are idealists who want to run the race with integrity and without compromising their values.  However, as they both find out throughout the course of the film, politics is a dirty game where the lines and boundaries and continually being pushed and blurred.  To what extremes will they go in order to get what they want?

I won’t divulge more than that except to say that The Ides of March is, at its core, a somewhat cynical political tale about the loss of innocence.  It begins slowly and is what some would call a slow burner, so it won’t be for everyone.  But I enjoyed every minute of it.  Apart from giving viewers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the shady deals, compromises and grey areas in these political processes — daily battles with competitors, internal power struggles, schmoozing journalists and smoothing out scandals — the stylish intensity that underlies the film from start to finish really elevates this otherwise unremarkable story (if you think about it)  to one of the best dramas of the year.

The perfect performances from the awesome cast must receive a significant chunk of the credit.  Gosling has already been nominated once (for Half Nelson in 2006), and this could be the year he takes out Best Actor at the Oscars.  Clooney (Syriana), Hoffman (Capote) and Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) are all Oscar winners and Giamatti is a multiple nominee, and each brings a touch of class to their character — all of whom possess a different side to what is originally presented.  And Evan Rachel Wood, who has a key role as a Morris campaign intern, is surprisingly good and steals a lot of scenes (no mean feat considering the company).

The Ides of March is a clever, well-executed drama with impeccable performances.  It’s probably not for the casual filmgoer looking for light, fast-paced thrills, but I think lovers of (American) politics and serious dramas will thoroughly enjoy it.

4.5 stars out of 5