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