Saturday, 12 August 2017

Movie Review: Bad Genius

Bad Genius is an intense thrill ride. Exams have never been this entertaining, hilarious and nerve-racking before. Based on recent reporting about real-life scandals of Scholastic Assessment Tests (SAT, portrayed as STIC in the film), Bad Genius deserves its high praise for its highly engaging storytelling and deliciously clever editing for their heist scenes.

The titular heroine here is prodigy student Lynn (played by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying in her first onscreen role), who has just enrolled in an elite school according to her father’s wishes. She comes from a lower middle-class group and her father is a recently divorced schoolteacher. The film shows her journey of discovery and personal growth as a person as she comes to peace for who she is and decides who she wants to be as she navigates through various teen social issues in this corrupt, crooked world of ours.

In order to help and support her working class dad who tries to find more money for her tuition, Lynn decided to use her genius intellect to devise a system to cheat in exams for a group of wealthy classmates in exchange for cash payments. This eventually balloons into a daring venture with an elaborate plan to cheat in an international exam. Believe it or not, it’s rather exciting to see how the students find their ways to cheat onscreen.

The film showed some insights on class inequalities and corrupt system that plagues the education system. It highlights a social system that benefits the rich. The class differences of each character draws out their inherent personalities as well, such as Grace’s (Lynn’s friend who she met when enrol at school) emotional blackmail of Lynn to get good results to join the acting club (which leaves one to question whether her friendship with Lynn is genuine or not), or even Pat’s (who’s also Grace’s boyfriend) enterprising thinking and tendency to use people to get what he wants.

On the other hand, Lynn and Bank (Lynn’s rival and interest) are exceptionally intelligent but not socially groomed or conniving compared with their wealthy classmates. Their feelings for one another and conflict of interest on ethical grounds are fresh and wonderful takes on the frenemy formula. It is especially saddening to see their loss of innocence and their internal anguish at the end. Bad Genius showed the consequences, showing that bad things always happen in this crooked world of ours.

One of the commendable aspects of the film is that no high-tech fantastical flashy gadgets were used (unlike many Hollywood blockbusters) to enact the heist, which gives a strong sense of realism to it. I won’t spoil the technicalities of doing the heist here; you need to see it for yourself.

Bad Genius is a huge surprise, a film that surpasses expectations. All of it works. None of the scenes are wasted. It’s an exceptional one-of-a-kind movie! One of the best films of the year. Highly recommended. A must watch!

"If you don't cheat, life cheats you."

Rating: 9/10

Friday, 14 July 2017

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

In an unexpected fashion, the reinvention of the classic Planet of the Apes franchise has shown that Hollywood can make better remakes and sequels. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had raised the stakes in terms of quality even better than its original source materials. I personally love Rise (the first film) and I adore Dawn (the second film) very much. So expectations are quite high for this final sequel of Caesar's story.
War for the Planet of the Apes picks up 2 years after the events of Dawn (the second film), where Caesar and his fellow apes desperately tries to find a new place and escape an impending doom of a war that claimed many lives of apes. Consumed by anger and grief for his loss, the once noble and empathetic Caesar decides to leave his fellow apes and his role as a leader in search for revenge. Over the course of the film, Caesar needs to face his own demons with flashes of Koba haunts his very soul. The movie is about mercy and forgiveness, let go of hatred, showing us that ultimately it’s our choices that define who we are.
The CGI rendered and performance-captured apes are superb and top-notch like its predecessors. The various expressions of the apes are beautifully captured and shown on screen. The inclusion of a new ape character, Bad Ape serves as comic relief, by providing a few laughable moments here and there. The new human character, a mute orphan girl, Nova (despite origins unknown and no further character developments provided, based on the character of the same name in the source material) provides some emotional scenes for this sombre, tense and heavy film.
However, hard pressed to say, the final sequel proved to be rather disappointing. Although the same director (Matt Reeves) is at helm for this final sequel and he’s the co-writer with one of the screenwriters for the two previous films (Mark Bomback), it seems that the current script lacks the compelling emotional elements that made its predecessors great, which might be contributed by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (co-producers, but not co-writers for this final sequel this time). The second act, which is the constant chasing, imprisonment and subsequent prison break is rather slow and draggy, which might bore some audiences.
The trailers, posters and movie title is rather misleading…We don’t get to see a full blown-out epic, climactic ‘war’ battle between the apes and humans. It’s not really considered as a war if one side doesn’t stand a chance to fight against the other. The off-screen death of two characters that is very important to our main hero, Caesar, which triggers the path of revenge for him, is rather abrupt and sudden.
The new villain, Colonel is not as compelling or impactful as Koba, Caesar’s mutinous second in command. The film tries to portray him as the evil big boss, but the story doesn’t show like so. The colonel does explain how he becomes who he is now, but the film supposed to show us the horror, not telling us.
All in all, despite its numerous shortcomings, the trilogy successfully develops Caesar as one of the most compelling, fascinating heroes of recent cinema history. His moral leadership, honorable values and wisdom represents the best of humanity. The kindness that the orangutan, Maurice and the other apes show Nova stands in stark contrast to the Colonel's behavior. Not the best film in the series but it’s enough to warrant a screening for those who wanted a conclusion of Caesar’s story.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes

Question for the movie
***Spoiler Alert***

 Who is Nova?
 Nova (played by Amiah Miller), shares her name with Linda Harrison’s character from the 1968 original. Nova, like Harrison’s character and the other humans in the original 1968 movie, can’t speak, which is why Astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston), who can talk, is so remarkable to the ruling apes. While the original Planet of the Apes never explains why humans lost the ability to speak, War for the Planet of the Apes shows that it’s a further mutation of the original virus, the Simian Flu, which killed off a large portion of humanity following the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now becoming a virus that strips off humanity's ability to speak and intelligence, becoming a primitive mind state. Take note that the original movie is a separate film, not to be mixed with this new trilogy.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

76 years in the making. The first female-led, female directed comic book superheroine film. The most iconic superheroine in comic book history. The 4th instalment in the DC extended universe films that set to challenge the widely known Marvel cinematic universe films. It's about Diana's origin story, Princess of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, the golden child of an all-female paradise island protected by the Olympian Greek God Zeus from the outside world. The story remains faithful to her comics origins (mixture of elements from Golden and Silver Age, The New 52) and establishes Wonder Woman as an inspiring, engaging character to women (and men) all around the world.

The film starts by showing her growing up on the island of Themyscira, trained to be a warrior until an American pilot Steve Trevor crashes there. His revelation that World War I is happening subsequently forces Diana to leave her home to help fight the cause. Although the Paradise Island scenes are beautiful to look at, the film only begins when Diana leaves with Steve to begin the adventure. Wonder Woman takes its time to focus on its characters and various themes about human nature and war. The film successfully captures the heart and soul of its titular character. She's funny, curious, compassionate, sexually aware, naive, kind, resilient, courageous...all wonderfully portrayed by Gal Gadot.

The film willing to take time to flesh out its protagonist. Traditionally, the character has been the symbol of female empowerment, inspired old generation of women to stand up for themselves, to learn to fight, be strong, firm, don't have to be scared and most importantly, not to demand for respect or equality, but to earn it, to show them (men) that they (women) deserve it. Diana is sincere and genuine about everything. She encourages peacefulness and esteem for human life. Someone who cannot sit back and do nothing, who wants to help others because she can. In a time when death, selfishness and hatred is a norm, watching her stand firm on her ideals and believing so earnestly in love is a profound experience. She carries the ideals of feminism, a woman who knows what she wants, stands for what she believes is right.

To those fans who have been waiting for this film their entire lives, who have yearned to see Wonder Woman on the big screen with big action moments, you can take a breath and relax. The film's action is engaging, especially the scene where Diana steps into no man's land in the battlefield is stunning to behold. Director Patty Jenkins wisely chooses to focus the key action scenes in slow motion, on Wonder Woman, with her signature theme song as she takes out the baddies, proved to be exhilarating and visceral than what is expected.

Other than that, it's also a Steve's movie, as much as it's a Diana's movie. Steve Trevor is not your typical male version of 'damsel in distress'. The film takes time to show how important he is to her, and she is to him. The world-weary Steve is a terrific contrast to the optimistic, naive Diana. The film shows how these two people are changing each other for the better. Her faith in the goodness of men is at times heartbreaking when she witnesses the horrors of the world for the first time (it is to say that we, unlike Diana, know how evil the world truly is) but it is also inspiring. How he guides her to remain that faith, what she chooses to believe carry a strong inspirational message for a comic book adaptation.

However, disappointingly, the film is weak on the villainy department, which is not supposed to be, considering that traditionally DC have more compelling villains than Marvel. None of the villains in the film have any proper development, or even lasting memorable impression on them. However, this is understandable considering the fact that the film puts more focus on the titular character, her origins and her supporting character. Wonder Woman is an action film, a romantic comedy, a coming-of-age story, a period piece and a war movie. It's a hopeful, inspiring story about humanity...Despite the darkness that lies deep within us, there's still something worth protecting for those who still believes the good within. It's hard not to feel wonderful. Wonder Woman is great. It's about time for her to shine.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, 18 November 2016

List of Fantastic Beasts in the film

The following magical beasts and creatures are featured in the film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:

Rodent-like creatures that were attracted to shiny things, which made them wonderful for locating treasure. Nifflers were gentle by nature and could be affectionate towards their owners but they could wreak havoc if set loose outside.

 Swooping Evil
Large, blue-and-green winged magical creature that looks like a cross between a reptile and an extremely large butterfly. When it is not spreading its spiked wings in mid-flight, the Swooping Evil lives in a green spiny cocoon. It can be quite dangerous, as it can feed on people's brains (which it "sucks out"). It also secretes venom that, when properly diluted, can be used to erase bad memories.

Hand-sized, insect eating, tree dweller with long sharp fingers (two on each hand), brown eyes, and a general appearance of a flat-faced little stickman made of bark and twigs, which serves well as camouflage in its natural habitat. Serves as a tree guardian for its home tree, which is usually a tree whose wood is of wand quality. Useful for picking locks.

Insect native to Australia that's around half an inch long with the colouring of a vivid sapphire blue. The speed of the Billywig means that it is rarely noticed by Muggles. Billywig's wings are attached to the top of its head, and the wings rotate extremely fast, spinning the Billywig so that it can fly.  Anyone stung by a Billywig will suffer giddiness, followed by levitation.

Plumed, two-legged serpentine-bodied creature with wings that may reach up to fifteen feet in height. It's extremely aggressive to anyone who approaches it. Its eggs are made of pure and soft silver. Occamies can grow or shrink in order to fit available space.

Peaceful, herbivorous creature that can make itself invisible and tell the future, which makes it very hard to catch. It resembles an ape with large, black eyes and long, silky hair. Demiguise are highly sought after as the hair can be woven into Invisibility cloaks. Demiguises have precognitive sight, so that the only way to catch them is to do something completely unpredictable.

Large, avian creature native to Arizona. It can create storms as it flies, and can sense danger nearby. Thunderbirds possess multiple and powerful wings, with Frank the Thunderbird shown having six wings in total. Thunderbird feathers shimmer with cloud-like patterns, and the birds' flapping can create storms as they fly.

A marine beast resembling a rat with a growth on its back resembling a sea anemone.

Huge African magical beast resembling a rhinoceros. A powerful creature with a thick hide capable of repelling most curses and charms, a single long horn, and a thick tail. The Erumpent will not attack unless provoked, but the results are usually fatal. The horn can pierce skin and metal, and the horn contains a deadly fluid which causes whatever is injected with it to explode.

Giant mammal similar to a leopard that is native to East Africa. It moves silently, despite its size, and is considered by some to be the most dangerous creature alive. The breath of the Nundu is toxic and filled with disease. Nundu is extremely hard to subdue, and has never been defeated by less than around one hundred wizards working together.

Doxy (Biting Fairy)
Small Fairy-like creature, sometimes mistaken for a Fairy. Doxies have shiny beetle-like wings, and a double row of sharp venomous teeth. If bitten, a wizard or witch should take an antidote immediately. Doxies bury their eggs underground, and Doxy Queens can lay up to five-hundred at once. The eggs generally hatch in two to three weeks.

Shy creatures that only comes out of its burrow during a full moon. Mooncalves has smooth, pale grey skin, and four spindly legs that end in large flat feet. They also has bulging eyes (like an owl) that sit on the top of its head.

Plump, fluffy-feathered and flightless bird that has the ability to disappear and reappear elsewhere as a means of escaping danger. Muggles are aware of the existence of the Diricawl as a dodo (a large, extinct, flightless bird). However, since Muggles are not aware of its ability to vanish at will, they believe that they have hunted the dodo to extinction.

Dangerous and aggressive magical creature,  large and hump-backed, with greyish-purple skin tougher than that of dragons. It can repel most spells, has two golden horns, and walks on large four-thumbed feet. Newton Scamander had the last pair of breeding graphorns, along with a young graphorn.

Note: Obscurus is not a beast or creature
An unstable, uncontrollable dark force that takes the form of a flying, storm-like, violent torrent of darkness. It was created by young wizards to suppress their magic due to constant physical and psychological abuses in their childhood because of their powers. An Obscurial is the host of an Obscurus. When an Obscurial reaches their emotional and mental breaking point, the Obscurus appears and attacks whatever is the source of their distress. If they lose control of the Obscurus completely, the Obscurial can physically transform into it and destroy everything in their path. Usually, a child possessed by the Obscurus dies around their 10th birthday, but there are exceptional cases where a wizard with tremendous powers can survive longer. When the child dies, the Obscurus vanishes along with them, though Newt Scamander successfully kept one alive when its host died by encasing it in a magical bubble.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

First of all, I have to admit, the latest 14th entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, like its predecessors, feels overly familiar and formulaic at times. It's a typical basic comic book origin story with a three-act structure that we've seen plenty of times before in the superhero genre. Fortunately, it's also incredibly well made with great visuals and its inclusion of magic, the existence of the Marvel's expansive Multiverse, infinite dimensions and realities, made it quite different from what has come before.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the titular arrogant, sarcastic yet brilliant neurosurgeon, Doctor Stephen Strange, who found that his hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored after a near death experience, effectively ending his career. With no medical procedure able to help him, the doctor travels to Nepal to learn the mystical art of magic, in hopes to find a cure. He encounters a powerful sorcerer, Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), which leads him to the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), also known as the Sorcerer Supreme, who opens and widens his perspective of the world that we live in. Sooner, he finds himself caught in the middle of a war between The Ancient One and Kaecilius (Ancient One's former student, played by Mads Mikkelsen).

From a visual standpoint, the spectacular effects of Doctor Strange is unlike anything audiences have ever seen. Many have noted that the mirror dimension portrayed in the film bears striking similarities of the dreamscapes in Christopher Nolan's Inception, as buildings, roads, city structures were folding into themselves due to reality manipulation by the sorcerers. Although true to some extent, there are some notable differences in the shifting and bending of structures, scenes with things reversing backwards, forwards or freezes in time, magical seals used to conjure weapons or interdimensional travel by the sorcerers and the Cloak of Levitation (not Cloak of Invisibility in the Harry Potter films, mind you) were nothing short of amazing and sufficient enough to make it stand out among others to provide a refreshing take to the genre.

The film's focus on its titular character throughout the film managed to create a well-developed character arc, providing a satisfying viewing experience for the audience. Although the first arc of the film did felt a little rushed, the frequent humour and fast-paced fun managed to sustain the interest of its audience. However, this comes at an expense of the other interesting supporting characters such as Mordo, fellow doctor/love interest Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams) and to a lesser extent, The Ancient One. The development of these characters' arcs are sidelined and not properly fleshed out like they should be. There should be more master-student interaction between Strange and the Ancient One. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams did made use of the little screen time they had to perform what is required of them, but it's not enough. Aside from that, the romance between Strange and Palmer is not properly developed.

Moreover, Marvel has two persistent issues with their films: long list of underwhelming, underdeveloped and forgettable one-time villains with unconvincing motives and the creativity of the way the story is told. We've been given a backstory or expository explanations of the villains, Kaecilius and Dormammu, but nothing in-depth. They're just some villains pitted against our hero to fight with. Marvel has always been playing safe and never dares to take any risk to change their repetitive working formula...the story always unfolds in a simple, straightforward manner or linear timeline, the same can be said for Doctor Strange as well (despite the fact that time is a major thematic element in the film).

Although it's hard to shake off the feeling that we've seen all of this before, I do believe that this film can be rewatched many times with enjoyment. The greatest achievement that this film has made is that it successfully expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe, enhancing the world even further for many stories to come.

Note: It's very important not to miss the two mid and post credit scenes, a commonality with all Marvel cinematic movies.

Rating comparisons with other Marvel Cinematic Universe films:
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange

Little Things you should know/remember before watching Marvel films:

"You're a man looking at the world through a key hole and you've spent your whole life trying to widen that key hole to see more, to know more and now upon hearing that it can be widened in ways you can't imagine you reject the possibility." - The Ancient One

"Dr. Strange, you think you know how the world works. You think this material universe is all there is. What if I told you the reality you know is one of many?"
"This doesn't make any sense."

"Not everything does. Not everything has to."

"You want to know what I see in your future? Possibility."

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Movie Review: The Accountant

Based on an original screenplay by Bill Dubuque, The Accountant is a refreshingly unique, weird but intriguing entry in the crime-drama action thriller genre. The film starts slow and takes its time to build its main character, and as the story progresses, things become more interesting with some unexpected twists along the way. It's an understatement to say that Ben Affleck (who starred the new Batman in Batman v Superman) anchors this film masterfully by delivering a subtle, but feels weirdly authentic performance as the autistic titular character who secretly handles the books for dangerous criminal organisations.

The film gives its main character a great backstory, giving the audience some glimpses of his troubled childhood, tough upbringing and experiences due to his autistic condition through a series of non-linear flashbacks, which resulted in him with a set of formidable hand-to-hand and armed combat skills. However, his intelligence comes with a price. He's unable to socialise with others well and his inability to emotionally connect with people prevents him from forging close relationships with others around him, much to the amusement of the audience.

Affleck also managed to bring a surprising amount of humour to the role. Wolff's (Affleck's character) character mannerisms and peculiarities - bluntness in conversation or action often lead to some funny moments. It's rather amusing to sit through and watch Affleck's character as he awkwardly interacts with Anna Kendrick or even when he unexpectedly taking out bad guys. The flashbacks allow the audience to be fully invested into the character as they need to slowly 'piece' together the identity of Christian Wolff by picking up the crumbs through flashbacks and present key scenes in the film. The film doesn't reveal everything about its protagonist to the audience immediately which keeps the film highly compelling and interesting along the way.

However, the film requires a lot of attention from the audience to keep up with the plot and character revelations. It's quite disappointing to see that Kendrick's role in the film is smaller than expected and the romance between them is paper-thin and not fully developed (the girl tried to approach him many times to initiate conversation for Pete's sake...but he takes it literally due to his autistic condition) J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Robinson did a decent job as a pair of Treasury agents who are working on to uncover the Accountant's identity.

This film is not your average action thriller with a simple plot and over-the-top action scenes. Despite the unappealing nature of its poster, it's highly recommended for those who prefer a less conventional type of thriller to watch. Don't judge a film by its poster.

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Movie Review: Me Before You

Me Before You, adapted from the bestselling Jojo Moyes book of the same name, with the screenplay written by Jojo Moyes herself as well, is an enjoyable, deeply emotional, affecting and charming film that chooses to focus on the bonds that are shared between the characters despite a simple plot. The story starts off with Sam Claflin as Will Traynor, a wealthy and successful young banker turned into a cynical quadriplegic after an accident. On the other hand, Emilia Clarke stars as Louisa Clark, a cheerful, expressive and easy-going middle class girl who's just lost her job and is desperate to get a new one due to her family's poor financial situation. Soon, she stumbles upon a unique job as a caretaker for Will Traynor without the need of any qualifications. As expected, they soon fall in love.

In all honesty, despite the simplicity of its plot, Me Before You is wonderfully elated by the genuinely endearing and enchanting performance of Emilia Clarke as Lou. Lou brought colour into Will's world by showing him the cheerful, genuine yet eccentric side of her while trying to encourage the man to start living again by organizing some outgoing events like watching horse races, going to the beach or a seemingly cheap concerto of Mozart's music. Clarke is further assisted by her wonderful co-star Sam Claflin. Their on-screen chemistry allows the moments in Me Before You to work remarkably and largely enjoyable to watch, slowly establishing rapport among themselves and let the romance to unfold in a touching and emotional manner while ignoring most of those chick flick clichés. The film is surprisingly enjoyable and is chock full of witty dialogues that guarantees to make a few laughs here and there.

Claflin's quadriplegic role as Will Turner was quite challenging as he can only emote with his facial expressions throughout the film. Surprisingly, Claflin's expressions were well done without being too excessive and extravagant. However, the film do lack of worthy 'villains' or 'opponents' for the leads and most of its tensions and conflicts are mainly from human dramas. Moreover, the scenic shots of the British countryside was breathtaking and lovely as well. Another worthy mention is definitely the film's perfect choice of songs for the background music as it adds more flavour to certain scenes in the film.

Unfortunately, the film suffers a lot of criticisms from the disabled community due to the film's ending. Many easily view it as an encouragement for disabled people to kill themselves (despite the fact that Will is rich, handsome and very loved) instead of finding the courage and purpose to live on and continue to fight with hope alive. But, I don't think Me Before You does that. It doesn't glamourise the disabled or dwell deeply enough with the controversial issue that it raises. It doesn't provide a forced, pretentious happily ever after or a dubious ending. It focuses on the relationship between two main leads instead.

On a final note, go watch it and judge it yourself. Don't be dissuaded by the negative critical reviews or opinions from your peers.

Rating: 8/10

Favourite Quotes from the film:
Will: When I was a kid, this used to be my favorite place in the whole world.
Lou: I think this would still be my favorite spot.
Will: That's because you haven't been anywhere.
Lou: Oh, so where's better than this then?
Will: Paris, Place Dauphine, right by the Pont Neuf. If I shut my eyes now, I know exactly how it feels to be in that little square.
Lou: So let's go! We could get on the Eurostar right now.
Will: You don't get it, Clark. I want to be in Paris as me, the old me.

Will: You would have never let those breasts so near to me if I wasn't in a wheelchair.
Lou: Yeah, well, you never would have been looking at these breasts if you hadn't been in a wheelchair.
Will: What? Of course I would have.
Lou: No, you wouldn't. You would have been too busy looking at the leggy blondes, the ones you can smell an expense account at 40 pages and, anyway, I would have been over there serving the drinks, one of the invisibles. Am I right?
Will: Yes, but in my defense, I was an arse.
Lou: Yep!
Will: Do you know something, Clark? You are pretty much the only thing that makes me want to get up in the morning.
Lou: Then let's go somewhere, anywhere in the world just you and me. What do you say? Say yes, Will, come on.
Will: Okay.

Will: This is the kind of place people come to when they've got tired of actually living.
Lou: I'm happy here.
Will: Well, you shouldn't be. You only get one life. It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.

Will: Lose the scarf. If you're going to wear a dress like that, Clark, you have to wear it with confidence.
Lou: Only you, Will Traynor, would tell a woman how to wear a bloody dress.

Will: I don't want you to miss all the things someone else could give you.

Lou: I have become a whole new person because of you.

Lou: I can't just let this happen.
Bernard: You can't change who people are.
Lou: Then what can you do?
Bernard: You love them.