Tag Archives: Sally Hawkins

Movie Review: Paddington (2014)

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If you had asked me to jot down the 10 major releases of 2014 that I had no interest in seeing, I’m fairly certain that Paddington would have been on that list, and near the top too.

Paddington bear is beloved in children’s literature, which usually means disaster when it comes to big screen adaptations. Besides, I don’t know much about the character myself, don’t care much for it, and I don’t particularly like family or children’s films. Throw in the typically overrated Nicole Kidman in the cast, and it’s no surprise Paddington barely registered a peep on my movie radar.

And yet, the 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating enticed me to give it a try when I had nothing else better to do. I still didn’t expect it to be good because I figured the positive reviews were judging it from the standpoint of a family/children’s film.

I was of course wrong. Even taking into account my low expectations, Paddington turned out to be one of my surprise hits of 2014. It’s not a groundbreaking family film by any means, but the humour and tone are so well-crafted that adults might end up enjoying it more than the kids.

The plot is formulaic: an English-speaking Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) somehow ends up in London and is adopted by a typical family who name him after the station where they found him. The mother (Sally Hawkins) and her two kids welcome Paddington with open arms, but the dad (Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey), a risk analyst, can’t wait to get rid of the troublesome bear.

As you would expect, there are fish-out-of-the-water experiences for Paddington as he tries to acclimatise himself to human life, baddies (led by Nicole Kidman) who want to stuff him, and opportunities for the dad to accept Paddington into his family and his heart.

None of this is mildly surprising. What is surprising is that Paddington is genuinely funny and filled with feel-good fun. Much of the brilliance stems from the decision to have everyone in the movie accept the existence of a talking bear with a non-chalant, “so what?” attitude. No one he comes in contact with is shocked, and the reaction is typically more one of disdain for his scruffy appearance. This durable gag is backed up by a plenty of deadpan humour, especially from Bonneville, who strangely reminded me of a likable version of Piers Morgan. He is absolutely fantastic.

It’s a shame the lovely Sally Hawkins doesn’t get to do much here, though other characters, such as Nicole Kidman’s villain and Peter Capaldi’s grumpy neighbour, manage to pick up the slack. Most of the laughs in this film are light, but they are mostly witty and come regularly. I never expected to laugh this much in a family film with a CGI bear.

At the end of the day, Paddington is still a formulaic family film with a bear whose cuteness has no influence on me. But despite not being my cup of tea on paper, I ended up having a blast because comedy does not discriminate. Funny is funny no matter what genre. I’m glad I gave Paddington a chance and I hope everyone will too.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014) (IMAX 3D)

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We generally tend to think blockbuster monster flicks aren’t going to be very good, and yet we always seem to expect a lot out of them. Well, the latest Hollywood rendition of the legendary Japanese lizard, Godzilla, was one of the my most anticipated movies of 2014, and I’m glad to report that it’s freaking awesome. It shits all over the 1998 Roland Emerich version (which was not as bad as historically remembered anyway) and is superior to last year’s Pacific Rim.  While it’s far from perfect, it more than lives up to the hype and demonstrates that monster movies can be good after all.

I haven’t seen any of the Japanese versions of Godzilla, but from what I understand, this version pays homage to the origins of the creature, born from the Japan’s collective consciousness in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Cleverly, story writer David Callaham and screenwriter Max Borenstein take that and fuses it with the more recent nuclear meltdown in Fukushima to create a narrative that touches on both the past and the present.

It’s hard to discuss the plot without giving away spoilers (and trust me, there is a plot, and there are surprises for those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese franchise), but essentially the story focuses on the family of Kick-Ass (an unrecognisable, insanely buffed Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a US soldier in the mould of Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker (in that he diffuses bombs) and his wife (played by the non-anorexic Olsen sister, Elizabeth) and their young son. Kick-Ass grew up in Japan, where his parents Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche worked as supervisors of a nuclear power plant until an “accident” turned their lives upside down, and Cranston is still trying to uncover the conspiracy behind it 15 years on. Meanwhile, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins (who was so brilliant in Blue Jasmine) play a couple of scientists who have been researching Godzilla for decades.

British director Gareth Evans was a natural choice for Godzilla. He was a the helm of the successful 2010 indie sci-fi flick Monsters, which I personally thought was a little overrated but did an excellent job of bringing forth the human elements of the story along with excellent special effects (not surprising as he started out his career in visual effects). Monsters was made on a shoestring US$500,000, whereas for Godzilla Edwards had US$160 million to play around with. Usually indie directors struggle when transitioning to big-budget blockbusters, but to Edwards’ credit he ensured that Godzilla had a compelling, emotional human story to tell, without forgetting that it is still ultimately a monster flick where everyone wants to see a lot of carnage and devastation.

Speaking of Godzilla’s “human” story, kudos must go to Heisenberg, or Tim Whatley, or whatever you want to call him. He stole every scene he’s in and was the epicenter of the film’s emotional core. The characters weren’t exactly well-written, but I cared about them and the story when he was on screen, and it was his absence later on that caused the me to stop caring about the humans (in particular Taylor-Johnson and Olsen’s relationship). It’s not that they were bad — to the contrary, actually — but they paled in comparison to Cranston’s now-mythical acting prowess and presence.

Fortunately, me losing interest in the human story coincided with Godzilla’s “in all his glory” appearance on the IMAX screen, which rendered everything else secondary. If you want to see Godzilla do what he does best, and that’s smashing shit up, then I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. The sheer scale of the action was jaw dropping enough, but Edwards also infused the scenes with intelligence and creativity. Watch it on the biggest screen you can find and just enjoy the ride. (I’d pass on the 3D though — once again a complete waste of time and money)

How do the monster scenes compare to Pacific Rim? Favourably, in my opinion. Pacific Rim was more about live-action anime-style eye candy designed to provide a lot of euphoric “cool” and “yeah” moments, whereas Godzilla was more “grounded in reality”, so to speak. In contrast to the energetic vibrancy of Pacific Rim’s bright colour schemes, Godzilla is almost entirely grey and misty, but it matches the sombre and mysterious tone well.

What sets Godzilla apart from Pacific Rim and most other big Hollywood monster movies, however, is that Godzilla himself is a character rather than just an ugly prop wreaking havoc for no discernible cause. There is a purpose for Godzilla’s existence and a reason behind his actions, and I anticipate that a lot of people will be surprised by how the big fella is portrayed.

I don’t agree with some of the criticisms levelled at the film, which include that Godzilla is too fat. He’s not fat. He’s just big-boned. I also believe, contrary to some claims, that Godzilla received sufficient screen time. I actually think Edwards arranged it perfectly, giving us enough glimpses early on to whet our appetites, building up the suspense throughout the second act, and finally giving Godzilla to us unencumbered — free from blurriness, rapid cuts and obstructions — in the climax. It’s not how much time he has on screen anyway; it’s what you do with him when he’s there, and Godzilla had ample opportunity to demonstrate why the film was named after him.

Having said that, I do have some other criticisms of my own. First, while the overall pace of the film is good, there were times when the momentum sagged because Edwards was trying too hard to establish the characters. It was more or less the same problem I had with Monsters, but to a lesser extent. Secondly, apart from Kick-Ass and Heisenberg, no other human character actually does anything in the entire film. Olsen, for instance, was just the anxious wife who spends all her time doing little other than being really worried about her husband. Watanabe and Hawkins just sat around and observed, pretty much, and by the end I had forgotten that they were even in the film at all. The problem is not as egregious as it sounds because if I had a choice between resolving these characters’ stories and watching Godzilla doing Godzilla things, I’d always choose the latter. And my guess is that Edwards, upon realising that the film should not be much longer than 2 hours (it’s 123 minutes), went in the same direction.

Despite its flaws, Godzilla is frighteningly close to everything I could have hoped for. An intelligent premise that pays homage to the original and contemporary events, an all-star cast powered by the almighty Bryan Cranston, passable characters and dialogue, and most of all, riveting, eye-popping monster action with impeccable special effects. It’s everything a summer blockbuster should be.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Blue Jasmine (2013)

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I don’t think much of Woody Allen as a husband or father, but I still get excited whenever I hear that he has a new film out. Despite a mixed bag in recent years, I loved Match Point and thought Midnight in Paris was one of the best movies of 2011. His latest, Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett in possibly a career-defining performance, is definitely right up there as one of his better projects over the past decade.

In tradition with Allen’s unique style, Blue Jasmine is a small, chatty, neurotic character movie, this time about a woman who had everything coping (or not coping) with losing everything. Blanchett plays the titular Jasmine, a New York socialite who once had wealthy husband (Alec Baldwin) and all the branded handbags and shoes a woman could want, but begins the film travelling to live with her not-so-well-off sister and her two sons in San Francisco. There are reasons for her downfall and breakdown, and we find this out gradually, piece by piece, through a series of well-designed exposition and flashbacks.

It’s clear from the very first scene, a one-sided conversation aboard her flight, that Jasmine is not a likable protagonist, someone who cannot let go of her elitist attitude and high and mighty behaviour despite no longer having the status or bank balance to back it up. Much of the fun is watching this very self-centered, pompous and cluelessly tactless woman trying to “put up” with people she thinks are inferior to her, though at the same time there is a certain poignancy to Jasmine’s ordeal because she is fighting so hard to not crumble under her depression. Despite all the obnoxious and insufferable things she says and does, it’s no easy hating Jasmine because she’s so laughably pitiful.

Part of that is Allen’s masterful writing, but most of the credit should go to Blanchett’s performance, which has already won her a Golden Globe and makes her a favourite heading into the Oscars. She is simply perfect as Jasmine, exuding an elegance and presence that is tailor made for the role. Everything, from her posture to the way she seems to start every sentence with a heavy sigh, tells you the kind of horrible character she is, and yet you understand why men are drawn to her. And most of all, she is incredibly funny, in an endearing Larry David/George Costanza kind of way.

Backing Blanchett up is a strong cast that includes Sally Hawkins as her “far too nice” sister, Bobby Cannavale as the sister’s middle-class boyfriend, and Peter Sarsgaard as a potential new love interest. Rounding out the effective ensemble are Alec Baldwin as the sleazy husband (another wonderful bit of casting), Louis CK as the sister’s new potential love interest, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a creepy dentist.

Blue Jasmine is an unusual, quietly brilliant movie because it doesn’t follow Hollywood’s typical “character journey” plot. Some of the subplots were a little on the predictable side — you just knew Woddy was setting certain relationships up for a dramatic moment — but by the end I was pleasantly surprised with its unconventional, and probably more realistic, conclusion. The film does lose momentum and become more serious and less funny as it progresses, but with a crafty pace and a compact 98-minute running time, Blue Jasmine is a pure delight that doesn’t come around very often, even for Woody Allen.

4.25 stars out of 5