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Ilo Ilo (2013)
A Nutshell Review: Ilo Ilo
As it turned out, this is Anthony's labour of love, and the tremendous attention to detail was simply amazing, though not perfect (but what is?), with its art direction to immerse the viewer into knowing we're in the mid 90s without the need for an obvious marker until mid way. Electronic devices such as the Tamagochi game which was quite the rage in its time, ubiquitous pagers, and Sony's walkman all serve to remind us of a time where we got by without feeling the need to be online all the time. And from these little gadgets, come the darting of one's eyes to a lot more clues of time, from costuming right down to wide angled shots where I just had to find something out of place, but rarely did (I admit I nodded when a wide shot of a school hall had the correct President and First Lady picture hung up, something which could have been easily overlooked, amongst other things such as the model used for a police car).
But it is economical filmmaking in a sense, yet big in ambition to tell a story that can, and has proved, to resonate with audiences around the world. Most of the scenes take place in family HDB apartment, or the school, and any other outdoor shots were meticulously scouted and could have made the Old Places team proud, especially when we're modernizing our landscapes at a frightening pace. And the cinematography exploits tight spaces in lieu of avoiding getting something out of place into the frame, yet through its technical constraints came an intimate portrait through tight shots and intricate framing.
What I really liked about the film is how effortlessly the narrative flowed, without the director feeling the urge to be verbose about everything, preferring set ups to be resolved naturally at a later stage, with the film taking its time to evolve rather than pushing its pace to a rush, reining in any attempt to be overly ambitious in trying to cover everything, catalyzed from the introduction of a stranger into a family's life. And on top of that, giving each character crafted their strong, personal story arcs whose challenges one can surely feel for since they touch raw nerves from an unforgettable 90s era.
The Singapore Dreaming connection cannot be stronger than with Yeo Yann Yann's presence playing a pregnant mom in a family drama. One of the actresses at the top of her craft plying her trade on both sides of the Causeway, it is needless to say her sheer acting prowess shone through a role that required her to respond to threats, where her character had to witness the erosion of her bond with her son who slowly but surely begin to forge a stronger one with their family maid. And if that's not challenging the actress enough, her role also deals with the albatross of retrenchment starkly happening in the local small and medium enterprise her motherly character works for, and finding belief through self-help materials.
I've never thought much about Chen Tianwen as an actor since his television days, but it's a testament to the director's ability to elicit the best performance possible from his cast, and it's indeed a revelation that this actor could act, if given the right role, and having his ability coaxed right out of him. While the character had to disappear for a bit toward the last act, his Mr Lim stood for how the typical father would under dire circumstances, speaking little, and digging deep from within to weather the storm, picking up any job to tide through tough times. If you, like me before who is unconvinced by Chen Tianwen's acting abilities, you're in for a huge and pleasant surprise.
Fans of Lav Diaz's films would be no stranger to Angeli Bayani, who plays Teresa/Terry the maid, and nailed her role through and through as the dutiful servant with a mind of her own, standing up for herself from the onset when bullied. Leaving her family and young son behind, the character echoes many of those under similar circumstances, having to come to our island to look after someone else's kid instead, while at the same time bearing witness to the secrets each household owns. And rounding up the principle cast members is Koh Jia Ler as the young kid of the Lim family Jiale, a rascal of a kid, spoilt in a sense, and being the bane of Teresa at the start. Ilo Ilo has their story arcs central to everything else happening around them, and the chemistry between these two performers was one of the highlights of the movie, as we journey through their changes in attitudes that gave way to mutual respect, and love. Probably the child actor at the moment, having to co-shoulder the weight of the film on his shoulders as the unlikely antagonist who jump starts situations.
Anthony Chen has thrown the gauntlet down for local filmmakers to raise their own bars in filmmaking, leading the charge of the next generation of filmmakers who have their unique vision and stories to tell. It's rare in our filmmaking community to find storytellers who straddle between art house and commercial films, but Ilo Ilo shows that a combination of both is possible. So while the film continues to make waves overseas, and prestigious, international awards aside, there's nothing but true testament for any filmmaker, than for audiences in the home country to respond to the film in a show of support through a ticket. And it's not blind promotion - Ilo Ilo is the best local film to hit our shores this year, and perhaps in recent years, that it deserves as wide an audience as it can get from Singapore. You'll laugh, cry and will invariably be moved. A definite recommend!
Spring Breakers (2012)
A Nutshell Review: Spring Breakers
Babes gone bad. A simple enough premise, set around teenyboppers who just cannot wait to break their goody-two-shoes mould, and take on something grittier on film. Written and directed by Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers is that film you may feel nauseous when sitting through, no thanks to its psychedelic colours, repetitive voiceovers, in your face camera angles, and non linear chronological presentation that seemed high on moving backward and forward to rock your cognitive balance deliberately, providing that first hand experience on the perpetual state of high the characters all seem hooked on in their search for hedonism and narcotic nirvana.
It's like a guys wet dream fantasy come alive when dealing with characters who are uninhibited in wanting to try crazy stuff, and the story follows four college girls - Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of the writer-director) and Faith (Selena Gomez), the latter playing that religious girl enticed into the life of hard partying by friends who resorted to robbing a restaurant to fuel their spring break vacation. Then it's scene after scene of merry making, sometimes with the aid of drugs, that we see the drowning of values within Faith as she falls deeper into the rabbit hole of trouble.
Faith may be the character differentiated enough from the rest of her friends, but it's a little bit limited to what she can do, given the subject of peer pressure. The others were bland one-dimensional characters who bond deeper because of their clique that had survived an almost impossible pulling off of a robbery, catching the eye of Alien (James Franco), who decided to help the girls out of jail, posting their bail and taking them under his crooked wing.
James Franco stood out for being the thorn amongst the warped roses, and credit to the makeup and wardrobe team for completely knocking off his good looks, and replacing it with a gangsta inspired wardrobe with metallic braces, sun shades and plenty of tattoos. But the outfit doesn't make the character, and Franco owns it as Alien, a rapper cum drug dealer/distributor, complete with small army and a fortune to go on the recruitment hunt that would put the fun-seeking girls in his predatory path.
It's ultimately light in treatment, trying its best to ramp up the final act with the introduction of a gang rival, and the extent of rot the girls descended into, courtesy of the seduction from the dark side. There's little pleasure obtained from watching the movie, like a desperate exercise by the cast to show off how nasty they can actually be for film, playing to the fantasy of the filmmaker.
The Call (2013)
A Nutshell Review: The Call
You'd have a fair idea just how this film would transpire from beginning to the end no thanks to its verbatim approach adopted by the trailer, which does the film no justice, leaking out every little detail, key scenes, and identifying all the major characters in the movie, giving away some supporting characters' demise as well. So what's left in the movie that would make anyone want to sit through and watch it?
Maybe it's the performances of its Academy Award winner and nominee in Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, which the trailer also never fail to remind you of their acting pedigree, as if hinging on their past successes in order to guarantee this one. But even their experience alone can't salvage Richard D'Ovidio's story, which is kept simple, despite having an interesting premise to work on, in the centralized control centre of all 911 emergency calls in Los Angeles. It was worked well into the story as a prologue with Berry's Jordan Turner playing an emergency phone responder, and having things go down south when she's distracted and not composed in her role, causing the death of her caller (no worries, this already covered in trailer territory).
Now months later, she's no longer in the frontlines, but adopted the trainer role in induct new joiners to the occupation, explaining the job hazards and providing a lot more detail that serve as interesting nuggets of information to the audience, but little else, before the serial killer (Michael Eklund) strikes again, this time abducting Casey Welson (Breslin) from a mall's parking lot, before putting her in the boot and driving off. A cat and mouse game ensues, with Casey having in possession a pre-paid cellphone, can only feed off to the cops some bits and pieces of information, while the killer continues to violently thwart every obstacle put in his way.
There are little thrills and spills in the narrative no thanks to the trailer for just about leaking the entire story in under 3 minutes. It did however, keep the motivations of the killer at bay, although what's being revealed is neither shocking since it's somehwat expected. The kicker though, turned out to be the final few minutes, which plays completely out of character, yet in it because you know director Brad Anderson needed something more intelligent, and this was a random grasp amongst straws for anything that can be turned into a story about revenge and just desserts.
Evil Dead (2013)
A Nutshell Review: Evil Dead
It's hard to live up to one's tagline, especially when it's screaming the words "most terrifying", because it's building expectations sky high, only for it to come out a little bit underwhelming, despite having cult classic pedigree backing it. Evil Dead is that continuation of the Sam Raimi Evil Dead films that had Bruce Campbell in the starring role, but this installment is all seriousness without the camp, which made it a little bit dreadful to sit through, and an exercise in excessiveness.
With the slew of horror and slasher films trying to out-gore one another, a plateau has been reached as to how many times something can be dismembered on screen, full on view, without the need to cut away for decency. Then comes the gushing of copious amounts of blood fit for vampires partaking in their own version of Oktoberfest. There's a limit to how much is enough, though that limit has constantly been pushed further and further away, that it's probably not far fetched to start pondering about how much more the envelope can get pushed, before enough is enough. When one's desensitized, the ability of shock-and-awe diminishes, and the obsession to drape everything in blood isn't really healthy.
But I digress. Credit has to go where credit is due, and the entire make up department deserves that pat on the back for making its main cast of five look grotesque when they needed to be, given that the Book of the DeadXX has unleashed a demon amongst the midst of five young adults, who are assembled in an isolated cabin in the woods to assist one of them, Mia (Jane Levy), to kick her drug habit. This in itself is a smart premise, because when Mia experiences spooky occurrences, it could be brushed aside and treated as just another side effect, until of course it's too late. Iconic scenes do not get replaced, so when Mia issues her threats while under possession, you'd know just what to expect.
The body count's pretty low here for obvious reasons there are only a handful of characters, but there were some nifty moments to ensure some of them got recycled as part of the plot. There's possessions and mind control, coupled with characters who can take a lot of punishment given the slew of weaponry being targeted at them, from chain saws to machetes to a nail gun. It has everything including the kitchen sink, and everything and anything can be used as fair game to stop the madness from decaying from within each of the characters.
As an expansion to the Evil Dead franchise, this has set itself up pretty neatly for future installments for this component, and the established mythos, to collide some time in the future. The soul, erm, sole redeeming factor here will be the finale, with Fede Alvarez crafting what would be an excellent scene of Man vs Monster that would be a no brainer as the poster-child of the movie, and one that's most memorable. It's a pity it had to plod along to get to the best part.
The Big Wedding (2013)
A Nutshell Review: The Big Wedding
This could have been a fine romantic comedy and heartwarming family drama, but it turned out to be nothing more than an extension of its trailer, having revealed the entire plot, and a total waste of talent at its disposal. Directed by Justin Zackham, who also adapted the screenplay from the 2006 French-Swiss movie Mon Frere Se Marie, The Big Wedding is light on laughs, and even lighter in its dramatic, emotional moments, making it cold and distant, and never quite achieving anything in its featherweight treatment.
Imagine the likes of Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams in your cast list. Filmmakers will kill to get a fraction of that talent in their movies, and Zackham showed prime example just how to flush everyone down the toilet. It's true that if you get good talent, it's half the job done, but being unable to manage and direct, exposed how everyone can just go through the motions to get that paycheck for bill payments. Clocking at less than 90 minutes, everyone has a little bit of screen time, just to turn up, play their caricatures, then retire into the sunset. The premise was set, but hardly anything of note happens, with convenience pretty much summed everything up, and its supposed surprises being pulled off as desperate attempts to add flavour to the mix.
De Niro plays Don, who has for many years divorced his wife Ellie (Keaton), and is now in a relationship with Bebe (Sarandon). They all get together when their adopted kid Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is about to get married to Missy (Seyfried), and one would expect hilarity to ensue because of the clash of characters, and hidden agendas amongst all players. Then there's the big lie they have to put up with, because Alejandro's biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) is scheduled to attend his wedding, but seriously, at this point, everything had sounded terribly tedious.
The narrative then tried to boost its other areas and subplots to pad up the screen time, so we have Don and Ellie's other kids turn up to. Heigl plays Lyla, who has daddy issues and boyfriend woes, while Grace plays virgin Jared, who has the hots for Alejandro's biological sister Nuria (Ana Ayora), a Columbian who plays up Zackman's fantasy that South American girls are hot, and are willing to fulfill all sexual fantasies of American men. Robin Williams was nothing more than a cameo playing a priest, which he had already done to better results in License to Wed.
So expect the usual bickering when characters go head up against one another, especially with Missy's parents Barry (David Rasche) and Muffin (Christine Ebersole) doing nothing but to provide one liner revelations of their entanglements with the main family members. Surely this could have been that fine comedy when everything comes crashing down at one large, social gathering, but alas, The Big Wedding fell flat on its face, not knowing exactly what to do with talent and hand, and hampered by an extremely unmoving, and uninspiring story that didn't even try to be smart, since it can't get through to hearts, being without one of its own to begin with.
One of the worst films of the year? Well, it's a possibility, given its unbelievable criminal waste of talent.
A Nutshell Review: Trance
To say that Trance is this year's Inception, is to do either films a disservice. But if I were to lean toward a preference, then Danny Boyle's latest movie has an edge for being succinct in its tale, little loopholes and while fewer characters, is no less complex, but equally stylish in treatment, and bold in its story-telling, dealing with the premise of a heist gone wrong, and hypnosis being the last resort to get into the deepest recesses of the mind for the secrets it harbours.
James McAvoy is probably in one of his best roles yet, opening the film as Simon, an art auctioneer who apparently has reasons to turn corrupt, giving the lowdown on the security measures on how to secure the most valuable art piece of the session in the event of an interruption of the process. And lo and behold, a team led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) comes in forcefully to seize that same valuable asset, only for Simon to have hidden it away both physically and psychologically into his mind, that it seemed a peek into his subconscious would be necessary to unlock the location of the stolen painting. Enter Rosario Dawson's Elizabeth, a hypnotist with skills so sublime, she can lull you into anything if your guard is not tip top.
But you know I'm just scratching the surface of the premise, because even understanding the premise will take away the fun you would experience when watching the narrative unfold. What worked here is the multiple perspectives and shifts in the narrative that Danny Boyle puts you under, being the real mastermind and hypnotist at work in lulling us the audience into lapping up just about everything being thrown at us. Who you thought was the lead in the film, gave way to some other character, and then more, putting you in a spot, yet being terribly engaging from start to finish that you'd want to have a go at the story again, being enlightened the second time round as to who the real puppet master was.
Credit has to go to writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, the former who was responsible for an earlier television movie of the same name in which this film was partially based upon. What I love about the film, is that everything was neatly planned, and didn't entail crafting escape clauses for itself for a less than well thought out narrative. Everything was in place from the start, and the movie magic came from astute direction and intricate editing to shift perspectives, chronology and the like, together with absolutely wonderful performances from all three main leads to pull off this psychological thriller.
Danny Boyle once again proves to be one of the most eclectic filmmakers of this generation, taking on varied genres without a bat in the eyelid, and delivering impressive results in coming up with a film's powerful imagery, with that knack of blending in a top notch soundtrack, and coaxing stellar performances from his cast. Trance becomes that fine balance of substance and style, extremely well made, and very much less confusing than Inception, but no less complex in execution.
James McAvoy retains his boyish qualities while contrasting that with darker emotions that hasn't been seen in most of the films he had starred in. Vincent Cassel is no stranger to playing morally shady characters, and his chief instigator and mastermind being the heist could have been a walk in the park role, but once again he brings an edge to the character like none other, if not for his experience. And the surprise performance of all was Rosario Dawson. She's been in the industry for sometime already, but nothing really stood out until now. Not to mention it being one of her boldest acts yet, and the sacrifice having to really bare herself on screen.
There are many layers to this film than I dare reveal, but let's just say at its core, I'm buying into its love story about the dangers of obsession, which touched upon a raw nerve in how perverted it developed into, and how it enveloped all motivations of the players involved. The twists and turns in the last half hour will leave you breathless, filled with some gory moments that's quite Cronenberg-like. A definite recommend for its all round solid approach, and it's little wonder if it finds itself in my top films of the year listing.
Scary Movie 5 (2013)
A Nutshell Review: Scary MoVie
I thought after some days of hectic work I'd pick the funniest film on release this week to laugh my rear off, but unfortunately Scary Movie 5 turns in a disappointing form, with the Wayan brothers abandoning their franchise for A Haunted House instead. Despite having David Zucker in a writing capacity, this installment seems finally to have run out of steam in its long-running franchise, one which took the horror films in between them and give them the spoof treatment. And the lack of material shows despite the seven year absence, having to touch non-horror films as well given the wafer thin content upon which to draw inspiration from and to make fun of.
And you would think that their crowning glory, having the two Tinseltown folks who can't seem to get out of trouble and the wrong side of the limelight - Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan - would be a tad interesting, but it's not. Both look like they were in it for the paycheck, and couldn't care less to ham it up a little. The jokes they partook in were really bad, with absolutely nothing to laugh at or about, and if they were to think they have a second career as comedians, they just might want to think again, given their lack of comic timing.
No spoof of any horror film today would be without the Paranormal Activity style of video cameras being mounted almost everywhere, with the playback naturally being remotely hilarious, especially when people tend to miss the whole point of what they were hoping to see. Forming the basis for whatever semblance of a storyline is that of Mama, which involves Jody (Ashley Tisdale) and Dan (Simon Rex) picking up three spooky kids, thrown into a mix of Paranormal Activity, complete with a haunted house, Mama, and a housekeeper whose antics were probably the best bits in the film.
Then came some other story development that linked up Black Swan, RIse of the Planet of the Apes and Evil Dead, for the most parts, and so you have one really amalgamated piece of narrative that had tried its best to blend these diverse stories together, but as it turned out, someone forgot to include genuine comedy in the film, short of tapping into the same old bags of toilet humour just for laughs. Some worked, and most didn't. Perhaps it is time to retire the franchise, for good. Even A Haunted House, was miles better than this, without having its jokes run stale, or feeling forced.
The many cameo appearances, do nothing to save the film from its depths of woeful scenes trying their hardest to pass off as comedy. And as if sitting through the film isn't torture enough, you can elect to stay until after the end credits to extend that dreaded feeling for a scene longer.
Iron Man Three (2013)
A Nutshell Review: Iron Man 3
To tell you more about the story will be a great disservice, because whoever cut the trailers, did the perfect misdirection, with what you think you know from the trailer, being very much farther away from the real truth. So that's that. What was expected though, was how closely this narrative ties in as post-events to the Avengers, with Tony Stark now elevated to more than a hero status, instantly recognizable amongst plenty of geeks, and with countless of references back to his exploits in the finale of that movie. It's one thing being recognized, and another thing having to grapple with the reality that there are threats larger than life now, which is Tony Stark's perennial bug bear in this installment. A pity of course, since it's supposed to be the parallel of his pain and addiction to the bottle, which will never see the light of day with Disney as owner.
Fans of Robert Downey Jr, will rejoice with this better than expected installment, since he spends most of the time outside the suit as Tony Stark, battered, bruised and worn out, no thanks to the reckless stunt he pulls as part of personal vendetta, but putting his loved ones at risk and under fire. One cannot get enough of the actor's charisma on screen, and at this point, it's inconceivable to think of any other actor stepping into the role other than Downey Jr, who owns the role, and makes his "I am Iron Man" declaration all the more a truth. There are franchises that get tired after a while, but in Downey Jr, who is portraying Tony Stark/Iron Man in no less than 4 feature films already, there's no lack of enthusiasm, and it shows. Having him outside of the suit for the most parts, is also that breath of fresh air, especially well when it got written into the plot with his tinkering having brought him to a stage where he can be inside, or outside the suit, remote controlling portions of it, and having both an arsenal to count on, plus his street smarts when backed to a corner, and having to design really rudimentary weapons with items from a hardware store.
Jon Favreau continues his role as Happy Hogan, given a lot more to do this time round since he's given up the director's chair, while Gwyneth Paltrow will be that Pepper Potts we have all yet to see. The appeal of Iron Man 3 is how it takes apart the status quo without feeling like it needed to just to stand out from the crowd, but doing so in a fashion that makes it seem like natural progression. Even Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes / War Machine / Iron Patriot also had the character pick up pace from the midway point, combining once again with Tony Stark / Iron Man as an effective team. Paul Bettany remains the unseen but often heard voice of Jarvis, although I thought this time he sounded a little more baritone than in the earlier films. And the standout amongst the supporting cast would be Ty Simpkins whose Harley, a kid whom Tony Stark befriends, plays something of a pivotal role, which once again brings back a little bit of the sharp wit that the previous Iron Man role seemed to lack.
The action here's slicker than what we've already seen from the earlier movies, from its large set action pieces as already seen in the trailer set to pump up some adrenaline, while Iron Man 3 pretty much showed that Tony Stark had put in dutiful hours in the gym and picking up a slew of martial arts along the way. Especially useful since he spends quite a significant amount of time outside of the suit. And the CG got kicked into high gear especially when the arsenal of Iron Men came out to the open, which is fun to watch, but ultimately really cursory and brief, which was my main gripe about it. And it's no surprise too that humour was well placed throughout the film, even when this was darker in tone amongst its predecessors.
Those of you who have been up in arms about this film's kowtow to the Chinese studios, may want to take note that the scenes involving the Chinese actors Wang Xueqi, and Fan Bingbing, were nothing more than a glorified blink-and-you-miss cameo for the former, and a non- appearance by the latter. While there exists an alternate, longer cut of their scenes for the China market, I doubt their characters were written with that much depth to have caused any real impact to the narrative, since they can be so cleanly shaven off from the international release. I am curious however, as to what those scenes exactly were, so I guess one can wait for the discs to find out how, if their scenes get re-entered as deleted ones.
We see more of Tony Stark in this Iron Man film, which is a good thing, but one which also bode some closure to the franchise if it show chooses to end on a high note at this point, no thanks to the finale in having a key cause removed. Something like The Dark Knight Rises having to come full circle with its characters. But it's really never-say-never since Avengers 2 is a go, so there's one more real outing before anyone can call it quits to bidding RDJ and the rest of the cast farewell for starting what had snowballed into the definitive Marvel cinematic universe. Stay tuned, as you would already know by now, until the end of the credits for a scene that neatly bookends this movie, since it began with a narration, and would reveal that bit of a surprise with the post credits stinger. A no-brainer recommendation for Iron Man / Avengers fans everywhere.
I Give It a Year (2013)
A Nutshell Review: I Give It A Year
The trailer alas put in all the best comical bits from the film, so if you haven't seen the trailer yet, don't. Otherwise all that's left in this romantic comedy, is the romance portion only, which begins with the marriage between the leading characters, and I suppose we can agree that sometimes that will suck all romanticism from the film. Which it clearly did.
It's quite an unconventional tale of romance given the leading characters Josh (Rafe Spall) and Nat (Rose Byrne) having taken their vows of matrimony early on, before slowly finding out that their seven month whirlwind romance was clearly insufficient to weather the storm in their relationship any further. Just as how films featuring plane crashes won't make for comfortable viewing for inflight entertainment, so does this film for anyone intending to get hitched anytime soon. It's a film that shows how a marriage can just deteriorate from the lack of communication and honesty, when the initial spark of romance and lust wear out, and what's left is the sinking feeling that you're going to be with someone forever. And forever as it turns out, is an incredibly long time.
Written and directed by Dan Mazer, I Give It a Year began brightly with all the typical trappings of an English film, with plenty of wit on display, and the title coming from expectations that the marriage between the newlyweds wouldn't last more than a year. And we're taken on a trip both down memory lane to examine just how the flashing warning lights and alarm bells have been sounded, before taking stock on what the couple needed to do to salvage their marriage, if they truly want to, though more importantly whether they are with the right person - the one they couldn't live without. And things aren't easy when
It's easy to lay blame in relationships that don't work out, when there are opportunities that are always readily available for that quick flirt, or fling. So you the audience are given that opportunity to exercise and pass judgement, which would make for interesting post-show conversations with anyone you're watching this with, perhaps just to see where the moral lines get drawn. For Josh, there's his ex girlfriend Chloe (Anna Farris, who looked really aged here) with whom he never really had a clean break before meeting his wife, and together they still have that emotional attachment that's yet to be severed. When they each face issues both professionally and personally, they know who to turn to automatically. And having to confess feelings to Chloe and not his wife, is something that's not quite right.
And in the other corner, Nat listens to her colleagues' goading to remove her wedding ring when delivering their sales pitch to an American scion Guy (Simon Baker), an easy qualification for any eligible bachelor's list, and true to form, Guy sees Nat as someone with whom he can connect to both professionally and personally as well. The deception here was something one can easily frown upon, but as the narrative goes, again there's no black and white in issues like these, only shades of grey which you can use to decide one's personal limits and values. Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne play their roles with aplomb, especially in scenes together that highlight more of their differences than similarities, making it obviously clear that they're both heading toward more disasters as the story wore on.
Some of the best scenes in the film happen to be the highlight of the negativity within ourselves, dealing with deceit and hypocrisy, playing foolish games and denying ourselves of our true feelings, often with casualties. Scenes in which all four characters of Josh, Nat, Chloe and Guy coming together are filled with awkwardness and hidden intentions and meaning, that makes it engaging in a What If scenario. Otherwise, if you're tired with the games these adults play, there's always the support caricatures to look forward to, such as those played by Minnie Driver, Jason Flemying, and especially Stephen Merchant, whose role is to prop up the film's comedic department with tons of bawdy jokes, some of which fall flat to keep in line with his character.
I Give It a Year is the anti-thesis of marriage, so you have been warned that this romantic comedy does seem a little bit twisted with its unconventional take on a tale about forcing a romance with the wrong person, while failing to recognize one's happiness truly lies somewhere else. How it all plays out toward the end may be a little bit unrealistic and a tad too inconvenient, but by that time you'd realize Mazer was grasping for anything that can bring this story to a close.
Du zhan (2012)
A Nutshell Review: Drug War
Quite a bit I must say, with pros and cons which Drug War seem to be caught under that crossfire. There are a few rules that the Chinese play by, and chief to that is the morals imposed where the bad guys cannot go Scot free. So even without stepping into the cinema, or hear what this film is about, the ending is already cast in stone, which takes a little shine off the fun in being able to follow through the story, and waiting to be surprised at the finale. No matter how tight one's writing can be, it leads to that inevitable finish, so that expectation is quite the bitch.
Otherwise, China presents itself a new playground in which filmmakers can go and get their vision presented through landscapes yet to be familiar playgrounds. The filmmakers here have ventured beyond the bigger and well known cities, and opted for smaller second tier ones to present that small town, rustic look where one supposes a crime syndicate could thrive under, and operate without too much attention being paid to it. Until Louis Koo's Cai is seen driving a car in haphazard fashion, suffering from injuries yet to be explained, and setting the stage for something special from the imagination of To and long time collaborator Wai Ka-Fai. That, and a trailer that's making its rounds for a delivery of its cargo, made up of ingredients necessary for the big time production of ketamine.
Then we must be introduced to the cops, where the anti-narcotic department is given the spotlight for the film's focus on a drug syndicate. Chinese actor Sun Honglei leads the charge here as the division chief Inspector Zhang, getting introduced as a no-nonsense, hands off type of leader who walks the talk, and never shying away from being in the thick of the action when the need calls for it. In many scenes, it is Sun Honglei's charismatic presence and superb acting that made this watchable, since his character dabbles in a little bit of role play while undercover, utilizing a vast array of skills within his ability to make it convincing not only to the other characters he deals with, but to the audience as well.
The crux of the story lies in the power and cat and mouse play that both Zhang and Cai engage in, with the latter under the former's custody, and facing the mandatory death sentence if convicted. Wanting to survive, he strikes a deal with Zhang to allow him access to the bigger fish in the pond, and for Zhang, this is too big an opportunity in his career, and for the wider group of population he serves, to give up. So together with his team, they form an uneasy partnership with Cai, since trust is yet to be earned, suspicion always round the corner that Cai will bolt, and whether they're walking into a known trap set up by him. The story's kept at a steady pace by Johnnie To, keeping things quite cerebral in leaving you wondering about Cai's motivation for the most parts, especially since having to reveal that Cai is quite the slimy, street smart person going all out to ensure his survival.
And I suppose a Milkyway crime thriller isn't a Milkyway crime thriller if the usual suspects don't turn up in any capacity. With a relatively fresh faced cast from the Mainland, and with recognizable faces such as Huang Yi playing Sun Honglei's able deputy, it never really feels quite right without To's stable of actors tossed into the mix, and thankfully this is one formula that's being kept. Better yet, this version screened here kept their Cantonese dialogue intact - even Louis Koo was undubbed - and that serves as a more authentic presentation. There's Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung, Lo Hoi Pang, and Lam Ka Tung amongst others who make an appearance, and contribute where it mattered most, allowing reason for fan boys to cheer.
There's a wider subtext in the film though, dealing with Hong Kong and China, where the former group sees opportunities in making money in the Mainland, but the message is that collaboration and mutual trust is key. Should one group try to breakaway from an alliance, it serves nobody any advantage, and the outcome may be dire straits. It's an unfair alliance to begin with since there's a larger body involved compared to the smaller partner who's not given a level playing field or too much of a bargaining power, but to play within the rules set will ensure survival.
Not since Election 2 has a Johnnie To film been so direct with its metaphors and allegories, and this is what sets Drug War apart from other run of the mill crime thrillers done by other filmmakers. The Milkyway team has ventured into China with their romantic comedies to some degree of success, and they've now shown the way that crime capers also have an avenue in the mainland despite having to play by the rules set by others. This is well worth a watch despite an extended sequence that vaguely resembled something out of MI:4 Ghost Protocol, which is just as gripping as it was opportunity for Sun Honglei to showoff some acting chops, and the expected moans and groans about the ending where To delivers his usual shoot out spectacle to out-gun and outlast any John Woo picture. Recommended!