Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Movie Ramblings | THE TREE OF LIFE

You probably won't ever forget The Tree of Life; or rather, cinema probably won't ever forget The Tree of Life.

Such is the impact it leaves on viewers who have watched this lyrical film of giddy proportions by writer-director Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line). Winner of this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, not everyone who comes across this film will remember it for the same reason.

I recall shifting uncomfortably at scenes from the first-half, but still in jaw-dropping awe of the visuals that are playing out in front of my eyes. As evident by the puzzling trailers, the shots of grandeur ranging from the opulent details of inner workings of an organism to the breathtaking colours and movement of the creation of our universe all intersect with the storyline of a family drama in 1950s Texas.

'Ambitious' is an absolute understatement when it comes to describing this film. Striking comparisons can be made with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, another visual and intellectual masterpiece. But what Malick has done here is to ground the story right on Earth, with a very human, very affecting storyline about coming-of-age and looking to the cosmos for answers on love and faith.

Brad Pitt (in a role originally meant for the late Heath Ledger) stars as the father of 3 young boys, his "survival of the fittest" morals greatly affecting the oldest of his sons, Jack (the chilling Hunter McCracken). In fits of rage we see that his father's tough parenting stance has a negative influence on Jack, while his mother's (Jessica Chastain) kindness and vulnerability frustrates and stokes the rebel in him.

In the non-linear plot, Jack's adult self (a vexed and troubled Sean Penn) is trapped in a landscape of towering glass towers, reminiscing his past and exploring the grief of a deceased family member, only to find solace in a final surreal sequence on a wide, windy beach.

The answers to the existentialist questions voiced by the various protagonists are meant to be discovered by the audience themselves, as the film is laden with rich metaphors and symbols, some which probably can never be deciphered.

Some critics have observed that this film might be an exercise in a director's over-indulgence, but for its boldness and inspiring beauty, a heavenly score and sound editing, its determination to not follow a format, its heartbreaking drama and everything in between, I applaud The Tree of Life as possibly the year's best film.

The utterly mesmerising trailer, once again:

Current Tomatometer: 86%

My Rating: 5.0/5

That's all =)

And anyway, I'm back in SINGAPORE!!!!!! WOOHOO!

Means watching movies in Singapore at sg movie prices, which is slightly cheaper than TW's.

Take care, people!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Ramblings | SUPER 8

I want so badly to love Super 8 whole-heartedly because it had the kind of marketing campaign that actually intrigues people to catch a movie, and that is never a bad thing.

JJ Abrams' track record has also earned him credibility (TV's Lost, Cloverfield - yes, I thought it was awesome, Star Trek), and there is that Spielberg brand-name to bank on, too.

But what is holding me back, then?

So far, two camps have emerged after watching the sci-fi thriller, which opened at #1 in the US over the past weekend. Some are saying it is a mesh-up of The Goonies, E.T. and basically every other Steven Spielberg coming-of-age film in the past.

On the other side of the fence, however, stands people who praised the film for the homage it pays, and that yada-yada about the nostalgic factor.

Personally, I feel that Super 8 is not the definitive sci-fi flick the mysterious trailers and marketing posters set it out to be. But it is no denying that it is one darn good summer movie with more good things to be said than there are flaws to be nit-picked.

If you haven't already known, the film centres around a group of teenagers who were out filming a zombie movie one night and witnessed a disastrous train accident. The wreck was caught on their Super 8 film, and therein lies some thrilling answers to some strange happenings in their little Ohio town.

From the opening act, the director sets the tone right with the untimely death of someone close to the protagonist. Within that short period of time, the cinematography establishes the era with the sub-urban houses of a small American town, and the screenplay was quick with characterizations, so that the story can move towards the fateful train crash without delay.

But here lies a big problem with the film. As suspenseful as some of the scenes were (audience members with weak hearts might jump once or twice), it never really got to the point of thrills as promised by the secretive trailers. With Steven Spielberg as producer, one would expect the sense of awe as shown by E.T., and although one scene involving an overturned bus did bring back memories of Spielberg's classic Jurassic Park, it was neither as scary nor exciting for the viewers.

However, is JJ Abrams really going for a full-fledged alien movie? One cannot help but feel that the film has more of a character driven-plot, ala Korea's The Host, instead of the soulless Battle: Los Angeles.

And with that direction, Super 8 succeeds.

The young cast carries the entire show, with two of the leads shining the brightest. Joel Courtney stars as the young Joe Lamb, who oscillates between bravery and innocence with breathless ease, making his character as a kid who has to handle some screwed-up domestic issues entirely believable.

His sweet, budding romance with Alice Dainard (played by Elle Fanning, absolutely stealing every scene she's in) anchors the plot well because of their likeable chemistry, and the rest of the Goonies-like youngsters round up the fun-pack with their strange little eccentricities.

While admittedly not the most original movie of its genre to emerge (for that, see Oscar Best Picture nominee District 9), you cannot help but enjoy Super 8. Is it because it brings us back to the time where movies are supposed to entertain us with a good story, characters and perhaps a pepper of special effects here and there?

To me, the film has the universal appeal of a summer blockbuster, but it contains a pure heart so rarely found in (or reflected in) movies nowadays. Now that is something I can't really compain about.

P.S. Stay during the credit roll for the amusing movie-within-a-movie.

Current Tomatometer: 83%

My Rating: 3.5/5


That's all about Super 8!

OMG I can't believe I only have 5 days left for my Taiwan exchange! Gonna miss this place so much =(

But I'm kinda missing Singapore loads, too, so I can't wait to go home as well.

Take care, people!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Movie Ramblings | X-Men: First Class

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

Origin stories are hard to tell. Hannibal Rising memorably failed to create a coherent backstory for one of the scariest villains in movie history, while X-Men's very own Wolverine got a spin-off treatment that was more flashy than fleshy in terms of its screenplay.

Good examples? Star Trek and those two Christopher Nolan movies. How does this prequel measure up, then?

Although not as defining as what Batman Begins did for its franchise, X-Men: First Class is still a praise-worthy prequel that serves as one of the better series reboots in recent memory.

Focusing on two of X-Men's main characters, Erik (a.k.a Magneto) and Charles (a.k.a Professor X), the film charts their beginnings since they were young boys and attempts to explain the motivations of how the two eventually lead different mutants against each other.

The brilliant cast is a feat to behold, and McAvoy's turn as Professor X deserves top mention. Portraying a cerebral sensibility beyond his age, the British actor handles the gravity of the role with aplomb, making X's trademark index-finger-to-the-head gesture both intense and believable.

Matthew Vaughn's assured direction (for goodness sake, he was the hand behind Kick-Ass and Stardust, two very different but equally brilliant movies) were reserved for his talented ensemble, as scenes of the young mutants' training particularly stands-out with its playful use of split-screen. The younglings are the stars (it's the first class afterall), and he is not afraid to make sure they have fun chemistry on-screen.

The visual effects, although uneven at parts (do we really need another sequence of missiles/arrows flying towards protagonists?), dazzles particularly for curvy mutant Emma Frost (Mad Men's January Jones), her sparkling-diamonds shape-shifting look always as fascinating as Mystique's transformation. As a mind-reader as well, Frost's character arc sets up possible future tensions with the telepathic Professor X.

Although still filled with the casual genre cliches (stern-looking Russians and a tacky missile stand-off between opposing warships), X-Men: First Class builds up enough excitement and momentum for audiences to want to watch how the rebooted franchise will unfold.

All I can say is: the new upcoming Spiderman movies better up their game.

My Rating: 3.5/5

That's all!

Am glad that the summer flicks are so far so good! Here's hoping Super 8 and Captain America would follow suit...

Take care, people!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Ramblings: UPCOMING

The Dark Knight Rises! Okay, so it won't be until next year that the next Batman opus is released, but the hype surrounding the film is so deafening that it is comparable to those of blockbusters releasing this summer.

Back to those that are timely: it does seem like sequels and superheroes are set to jam-pack the upcoming theatre line-up. From Cars 2 to Captain America, movie fans (especially fanboys) will have to shell out extra bucks for big-budget on-screen epicness.

Here's a list of my most anticipated flicks this season:

#1 Super 8

JJ Abrams (the mastermind of Lost and that spectacular Star Trek reboot) + Steven Spielberg smells of cinematic blockbuster ecstasy. Shrouded in mystery from the start of production, trailers have now revealed that it is about a group of teenagers in 1979 America who witnessed a massive train-wreck while out filming on their Super 8 handycam.

Not long after, strange extra-terrestrial events start to happen in their little town, and reviewing their footage on their Super 8 seem to bring out some thrilling answers.


Current Tomatometer: 85%

#2 X-Men: First Class

This lowly-hyped prequel to the not-so-great X-Men Trilogy initially did not interest me at all. Who would have anymore faith in the franchise after X3 killed off Cyclops and Professor X, and making a mess out of villain Deadpool in the equally non-spectacular X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

But after the first reviews of the movie streamed in, stating that it boasted a strong script and look, it was apparent that this X-Men film is on a class of its own, which might just be needed to revive the series, who faces tough competition from Marvel's Avengers movie.

Current Tomatometer: 88%

#3 The Tree of Life

When the strangely captivating trailer of Terrence Malick's new film first came out, it left audiences puzzled - but in awe.


Mixing a father-and-son drama (played by both Brad Pitt and Sean Penn) with breathtaking National Geographic-style shots of oceans and forests, the film obviously tackles the ambitious. And judging by its recent Palme d'Or win at Cannes it is undoubtedly set for greatness once awards season arrive at the end of the year.

Poised to be one of the most talked about movies of the year.

Current Tomatometer: 85%

#4 Captain America: The First Avenger

Okay, so Hollywood decided to go nostalgic this time round with an X-Men prequel set in the 1960s, Super 8 in the late 70s, and now Captain America during WWII. Marvel Studios has been steadily building up its Avengers universe recently with Iron Man, Thor (read review in previous post), and the Hulk from before.

It's finally Captain America's turn


Judging from the trailer, the set design of the movie is ace, and with bucket loads of cash from the previous movies, Marvel definitely won't go easy on the special effects.

Let's hope the cast of Chris Evans - who was previously superhero Human Torch from another Marvel comic, Fantastic Four - and Tommy Lee Jones will take advantage of this great set-up to deliver another solid entry in the epic culminating of The Avengers.

Current Tomatometer: N.A.

Worthy mentions:

#5 Transformers: Dark of the Moon
No more Megan Fox. Michael Bay seems very determined to right the wrongs of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Heck, Steven Spielberg's name is attached to Part 3... so it must at least be good!

#6 Cars 2
#7 Kung Fu Panda 2
The latter is already released to rave reviews (one of those rare sequels that is equally good as the original), whereas Pixar's 12th animated feature film (and 3rd feature film sequel) has a lot of expectations to live up to. It is definitely a tough act to follow two Oscar Best Picture nominees (Up and Toy Story 3) but I believe the beloved animation giant can do it.

Yupyup, hope at least one of those movies interest you!

Will catch X-Men very soon (my 6th movie in Taiwan), with review coming up.

Take care, people!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Movie Ramblings: 5 Reviews

On one random note: it's my 200th blogpost!

Anyway, let's talk about the movies that I've caught in Taiwan so far. Although I'm far away from home, nothing's stopping me from watching films!

Managed to catch five movies here (to date), and here they are, from the earliest to the latest ones I've watched.

Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush

This year's Best Picture winner is a beautifully filmed and acted piece that is both humorous and dramatic, a safe kind of flick that the Academy usually goes for (although, quite unlike last year's The Hurt Locker).

Even though my personal pick would have been The Social Network for the Oscar, King's impresses with a very dedicated performance by Colin Firth (impeccable down to the last stuttering syllable), while its cinematography of bluish hues and warm colours helps to highlight the quietly-powerful screenplay of a King battling with both internal and external fears.

FYI: "The Colours of The King's Speech" photo spread

Current Tomatometer: 95%
My rating: 4.0/5

Director: 朱峰
Starring: 柯有倫,房思瑜

This little Taiwanese film intertwines two generations of lovers together into one story line, resulting in a fair share of hits and misses. The bittersweet tale of the older couple (勾峰 & 沈海蓉) tugs at heartstrings as it stretches from the past in China to present Taiwan, their presentation of undying love and anguish etched out movingly on their every action and expression.

But the younger couple's uneven plots sags the picture, although their youthfulness and energy somehow made their characters believable. The saving grace: the director's attention to set detail and the cinematographer's lyrical camera work improves the film experience.

FYI: 走出五月 movie trailer

Current Tomatometer: N.A.
My rating: 3.0/5

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman

Although not the first avenger (that's Captain America), it is the first avenger movie to be released this summer. After the insane success of Iron Man, sure-footed Marvel unleashes the mighty hammer-god, Thor, with its charismatic lead Chris Hemsworth - coming off suave and firm - earning the credit for carrying the bulk of the movie on his massive shoulders.

A deft blend of fantasy and mortal world, Thor brims with the right amount of humour (listen closely to Avengers references!), heavyweight action sequences and sweet chemistry between its leads, with the rarely-go-wrong Portman as love interest. A thumbs-up for the filmmakers for framing most of Earth's establishing shots in the Dutch-tilt, adding interesting cinematic depth to an already above-average superhero offering.

FYI: The 'Dutch-tilt' camera angle

Current Tomatometer: 77%
My rating: 3.5/5

Director: Robert Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz

The fourth installment of the mega Disney franchise does not bring anything fresh to its plate, unless you count a school of killer mermaids - they were rather creepy, though - as something original.

That said, Depp's Jack Sparrow is as amusing as ever, enlivening the movie's dull plot of a Fountain of Youth quest, and his crackling banter with fiesty new character, Angelica (played with predictability by Cruz), adds much needed sexual tension to improve the film.

Audiences will lap it all up, though, as it is still an entertaining adventure to sit through, filled with the physical Sparrow humour of Dead Man's Chest, and the high-seas swash-buckling of At World's End.

FYI: On Stranger Tides main characters' trailer

Current Tomatometer: 33%
My rating: 3.0/5

Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker

You know how we sometimes laugh at those guys who only have braun and no brains? That's exactly what Fast Five is, but wait - that's not exactly a bad thing in this case.

With insane high-octane car chase sequences that gleefully defy the laws of physics (jumping out of a falling car off a cliff, anyone?), this movie is like Charlie's Angels 2 by McG, minus all the fluff and pump in all the muscle, multiplied by a hundred. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson joins the cast and rounds up the 'beefcake' showcase (but don't worry, dudes, the babes are not too bad, either).

Generic heist + @#$%^ car chases + Sleek production = Not a dull moment

FYI: "The 21 Hot Cars of Fast Five"

Current Tomatometer: 79%
My Rating: 3.5/5

That's all folks! Watch out for my next post on the highly-anticipated movies I wanna catch this summer (of which some I might have to watch in Taiwan).

Take care, people!