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As far as he can remember, Lloyd is all about movies. With a passion for writing, Lloyd likes nothing more than to tell potential viewers why a person should or shouldn't spend their time and money on the movie under review.
Cinema has a new and ferocious monster yet It is much more than a just a horror film.
What is it about clowns that many people find creepy? Because they hardly ever talk and are full of nasty tricks? Or perhaps because they are supposed to be funny yet that perpetual smile seems to suggest that an evil plan is being hatched. If you are one of those people who are uncomfortable around clowns, then brace yourself for It, a well-made horror film based on a classic story from none other than the 'Master of the Macabre' Stephen King.
As a horror writer, many of King's novels have found its way to the big screen, of which The Shining and Misery are still considered horror film classics, while The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile received multiple Academy Award nominations even though these are not horror films. From personal experience, I still consider Salem's Lot his most terrifying film adaptation. Both the book and the 1979 film adaptation resulted in many sleepless nights. That said, when King's books do well in cinema, it is almost always due to the director and production quality of the film being adapted (The Shining + Stanley Kubrick = classic). The same is also true when his books flop as films, which was very unfortunate for Pet Sematary and Cujo, as these are both terrifying books to read. Published in 1986 and adapted into a two- part TV series in 1990, It was generally well received but mainly due to actor Tim Curry's praiseworthy performance as Pennywise the clown. Now exactly 27 years later, It gets a shiny new remake for the big screen and it works, but not just as a horror film.
The number 27 has significance in the story. You'll know why when you watch the film, but going by the book, the film adaptation is only half the story. Directed by Andrés Muschietti (whose previous effort was the lukewarm horror film Mama), the film opens with a terrifying prelude that introduces us to Pennywise, the central and evil antagonist often seen in the form of a clown. This is the scariest part of the film owing to watertight tension and an atmosphere thick with dread. But by the time we get to the end, Muschietti has traded some of that atmosphere for several jump scares. Thanks to well-engineered sound effects, these are not cheap or clichéd but nowhere near that dose of terror we were served at the beginning of the film.
While It works as a horror film, it really shines as a coming of age film amped up with a strong retro vibe. As an 80s kid watching this film, I was latched on with boyish nostalgia. Outside Muschietti's method of inducing fear, what is done right is capturing the mindset of pre-teen kids from a small town in Maine (many of King's books are about towns in Maine). From that perspective, this film stays true to the book by bringing back a great sense of adventure, mystery, fantasy, puppy love, peer pressure, and then heart-break and even terror. Together all seven of them are great, but it is when these kids are on their own or isolated from the rest that the horror mechanisms in the film goes to work. It is also where imagination conjures the most bone-chilling images and sounds that only a kid that age can manifest. Pennywise, remarkably done by Bill Skarsgård, is one of those images and the very definition of a ferocious monster in modern cinema. And as far as clowns go, something tells me there could be a huge drop in kids' birthday parties at McDonald's. Just saying.
As an action-comedy, Snatch boasts of a new heroine with standard heroics but substandard laughs.
Melissa McCarthy appears to be replaced by a younger and gutsier model. Meet Amy Schumer former Comedy Central stand-up artist in her second film since her debut in Trainwreck. By both writing and starring in that film, Schumer proved that there are still unexplored avenues in Rom-Coms that aim to make the audience laugh. Snatched follows suit as a buddy comedy by mixing up action (sometimes violent) with laugh-out-loud gags where Schumer is allowed free reign. It works, but only in the first half where most of the jokes are frontloaded.
Schumer plays Emily, a self-centered individual suffering from blaring personal insecurities. But she is also optimistic, fun loving and adventurous. When she gets fired from her job and dumped by her boyfriend on the same day, Emily phones-in her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) as a companion on a trip to Ecuador. In between mother- daughter bickering, Emily has a blast which ends up in disaster when both of them are 'taken' by South American baddies. And there's no Liam Neeson to save them. What follows is an eccentric escape plan that leads to some very high brow shenanigans.
Last seen in The Banger Sisters 15 years ago, one of the most bizarre things about this film is veteran actress Goldie Hawn being called out of retirement. Trying to make any sort of connection with Hawn's previous characters leads to a dead end, which is why her role here is not only absurd, but also miscast. But before you start to think that something is missing, The Heat and Ghostbusters (both staring Melissa McCarthy) screenwriter Katie Dippold tries to have us believe that the bond between a mother and daughter will overcome any and all perils. It's a nice touch but who are we kidding? By the time we get a feel of what's going on, the fun ends as soon as it starts. On the other hand, Schumer is fun to watch but there's also the feeling that her characters (both of them so far) are mirror images of the roles Will Ferrell played years ago. Also a stand-up comedian, Ferrell got away with playing likable but unpleasant characters till all his characters were losers by default. While it may be too early to say if Schumer needs to look at her roles with prudence, the general feeling is assuring given her flawless comic timing.
On the plus side, laughs come from unexpected places thanks to guest roles from Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, a pair of weirdos who drop in out of nowhere and in the middle of nowhere. There is also a stupidly funny subplot involving Emily's super-nerd brother Jeffrey and a State Department official at loggerheads with each other. These tidbits keep the film from being a total disaster and in the end, If Snatched is about celebrating adventure and the open road, it gets there, albeit without a blazing trail.
The Big Sick (2017)
Funny yet feisty, The Big Sick is a relatable and enjoyable dramedy with a big heart.
Touted as a romantic-comedy from producer Judd Apatow, "The Big Sick" is a special film with all the hallmarks of a sleeper hit. Although Apatow is widely known for writing and producing films with over-the-top debauchery (usually involving cohorts Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill), "The Big Sick" really belongs to screenwriter and lead actor Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistan-born comedian who this film is based on.
Beginning as a standard boy-meets-girl story, the film is about Kumail (as himself), an Uber driver by day and a stand-up comedian by night. When he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his shows, they hook up instantly until the choices they make result in painful consequences for both. But even before the token culture clash theme takes centre stage, the story veers off into a mushier bitter-sweet territory when Emily is diagnosed with a life threatening illness that have doctors confounded (hence the title).
During all this time, Kumail hasn't mentioned a word about his relationship with a 'white woman' to his devoutly Muslim parents (played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) who are under the impression their son is studying law. Being shoehorned into an arranged marriage is another problem for Kumail who is not only head-over-heels for Emily, but is also discovering his own identity as an immigrant living in Chicago. Although these so called Desi moments are packed with amusing one-liners and unadulterated cultural anecdotes, the film really opens up with the arrival of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents. Romano as usual is always lovable, but Hunter is absolutely priceless as a show stealer in every scene and catharsis in the film's central message on religious and cultural intolerance.
While films like "East is East" and "From Bombay to Paris" (RIP Om Puri) touched upon cultural differences of Subcontinent immigrants in a foreign land, Kumail along with real wife an co-writer Emily Gordon hits it out of the park with relatable challenges associated with inter-racial relationships. In portraying these issues on screen, there is crackling chemistry between Kumail and Kazan standing in for the real Emily. Even if the audience has no idea this film is based on a true story, one can't really compare this to Hollywood Desi films that came before. Funny yet genuine, touching yet liberating, soulful yet feisty, "The Big Sick" is as much a heart-stealer as it is an intelligent dramedy with a big heart.
Baby Driver (2017)
As homage to classic heist films, Baby Driver starts exceptionally well but ends with a whimper.
When you have bank robberies, armed gunmen wearing caricature masks and fast getaway cars, you are most certainly watching a heist movie. Add music in every scene, a bit of old fashioned misty-eyed romance, oddball characters thrown into a madcap mix and you are now watching Edger Wright's Baby Driver - a kinetic, off-the-wall action comedy that starts with a bang, but before you know it, is gone in 60 minutes. Everything after is like the recoil of a gun ejecting a spent cartridge.
The first hour is so much fun, it contains every reason you would recommend watching this film. Even so, the first two minutes is all the viewer needs to get hooked in. Written and directed by Wright, the film begins with infectious energy soon after we are introduced to baby-faced Ansel Elgort as the titular getaway driver for a group of armed robbers organised by Doc (Kevin Spacey). He is called Baby because he is the youngest member of the crew and basically a kid. Baby also suffers from permanent hearing damage owing to a tragic accident, so must listen to music to drown out a constant hum in his ears. Seen through Baby's perspective, everything that happens in the film is synchronised to his music. Be it gun shots, doors opening and closing, tyres screeching, dialogue, and every other sound effect is seamlessly integrated into the soundtrack and camera-work with stupendous attention to detail. And as soon as we are hooked to the music, Wright moves swiftly into the plot specifics Baby owes Doc one last job, after which he is free to pursue his own life. But as we have seen in previous heist films, there is no such thing as a last job. Once you're in, there is no way out.
Despite his obligation to Doc, Baby is a nice guy and sure enough things get complicated when he meets love interest Deborah (Lily James), a waitress at a local diner. They plan a perfect getaway but with the arrival of a new stick-em-up crew, ala Bonny and Clyde couple Buddy and Darling (John Hamm and Eiza González), and trigger- happy badass Bats (Jamie Fox), all hell breaks loose. What ensues is a roller-coaster, edge-of-your seat thrill ride all the way but is it the best from visionary director Wright as early reviews seem to say? Including Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, all of Wright's six films to date have been wildly entertaining action comedies with clear love for genre films that came before. Baby Driver is no different in that it is a love letter to some of the greatest heist films from Hollywood (how many references to heist films can you spot in this review?). The car chase scenes for example are non CGI rendered, meaning actual stuntmen were used in white-knuckle maneuvering that resembles chase scenes from the original The Italian Job. But while the film could have remained a simple heist movie (where inevitably the last heist is always botched), Wright's story gets muddled with grand themes of loss and love heals all wounds, and then turns into a farce with a hammy ending where characters refuse to die. No pun intended.
Compared to some of the big titles opening this summer, Baby Driver is much smaller in scale and budget, but still manages to stand its ground as an exhilarating action-comedy with nothing but the will to entertain. Add to that a fantastically assembled soundtrack fused with almost every scene and we are essentially watching a musical on wheels. There is also Wright's unique sense of pulp cinema style oozing in every scene, but despite all that has gone into making Baby Driver an interesting and fun film (including a well assembled cast), the biggest downfall is the lack of any relatable or lovable character. That, and the fact that the film opens on an octane high but simmers down to a whimper towards the end undermines what could have been a scorcher of a film this summer.
Once Upon a Time in Venice (2017)
A film that should have been a fun crime caper is weighed down by dull-as-lead directing.
80s action icon Bruce Willis makes an average of four films a year. That is twice more than what buddy Stallone does yearly. Trouble is, these films are either poorly marketed or badly written or Willis is tasked with supporting roles opposite new actors in lead roles. Which is why Once Upon a Time in Venice has potential but how well it performs will be anyone's guess. There are lots of established actors along with Willis in an interesting setup that resembles a cross between a Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino film. Playing a retired cop turned private investigator (Moonlighting anyone?), Willis plays a loner whose dog is kidnapped by petty criminals. To get his dog back, Willis' Steve Ford must navigate through a series of heists and dodgy characters, including loan sharks and dimwitted gangsters.
It's a film that sounds very familiar and doesn't require a whole lot of thinking to sit through. But as an action-comedy, Once Upon a Time in Venice is a misfire that should have gone straight to streaming video, or the type of film you watch in a hotel room before a flight. There are moments that are supposed to be funny, like Ford's best friend (John Goodman) going through a divorce, or Ford trying to infiltrate a gangster hideout (inaudible mumbling from Jason Momoa), but there's something missing. There are other popular actors too, albeit shoehorned in bit roles that never add up to the overall story.
Debut director Mark Cullen has a long history writing for TV and it shows. Most scenes in the film feel disjointed or like skits at best. At worst it feels like the script was filmed soon after first draft. That's a shame because this film had all the juicy ingredients for a fun crime caper along the likes of Snatch or Jackie Brown. Instead, the film is weighed down by dull-as-lead directing that even John McClane wouldn't shoot his way through. Speaking of Willis, and at 62, there are still plenty of good films he can make as long as the choice is right. Let's just hope Willis doesn't disappear down the rabbit hole like Nic Cage.
War is a terrific yet atypical blockbuster and a fitting swansong to the Apes trilogy.
I made a bold statement while reviewing 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by calling that film the evolution of cinema. And before that I called 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes a ground breaking vehicle in cinematic storytelling. Yet both films asked the same question will xenophobia lead to the destruction of humanity? In fact, this very question was initiated as a social metaphor in the 1968 original starring Charlton Heston. Now 50 years down the line, returning director Matt Reeves has the answer, and it's a fact we've known since the beginning of civilization.
Touted as the finale to an epic trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes is not your typical tent pole summer film. But it's all about computer generated apes, you say; Apes that talk in a setup that's all implausible science-fiction. Yes, and so are superhero films. And while we were sheepishly distracted by wondering which superhero character will get his/her own sequel, the Apes franchise was shaping out to be a rare Hollywood triumph in more ways than initially perceived. While Rise was a runaway hit in 2011, its story was about humanity's unintended conflict with a new race of super intelligent apes. Dawn in 2014 intensified that conflict before concluding that however hateful humans can be, peace is always an option. That little chance of peace is thrown out the window with War for the Planet of the Apes. Thus begins a visually stunning effects driven Hollywood blockbuster, and it doesn't get any better than this.
Thanks to the breathtaking motion performance technology, anyone watching this film will have no doubt that the apes in this film are anything but computer generated creatures. The visuals are that good, if not the best in the franchise. Yet at the core is a strong emotional tug that transcends general expectations of a blockbuster this big. Take for instance that the terrific yet intense action scenes in this film are dispensed with controlled measure in favour of a richer and layered complexity in the storytelling. While it would have been all too easy to place apes on one side and humans on the other and light a fuse in between, Reeves concludes this trilogy with a poignant yet prophetic and equally poetic ode to humanity's self-inflected destruction. And personifying this dark heart of mankind is Woody Harrelson as a Colonel who has abandoned his ranks to exterminate apes led by our beloved Caesar. That very line, in a film pitting humans versus apes is exactly how the audience will react by rooting for another species instead of our own.
Harrelson's Colonel (with more than enough homage to Marlon Brando's Col Kurtz in the still haunting Apocalypse Now) is a scary portrayal of just how ruthlessly pathological humans can be in endangering another species, or for that matter, another race of humans. While that is already known, the greatest achievement in War for the Planet of the Apes is in the innumerable social allegories that lead up to the climactic Caesar Vs Colonel showdown. It's worth the wait and the wait is not plagued with the usual bloating of a blockbuster pushing past two hours. Yet even as the story goes from grim to bleak, Steve Zhan as a chimp calling himself 'Bad Ape' injects some much needed humour. But if there is anyone who deserves top credit for this film (and the previous two), it is none other than Andy Serkis in another outstanding delivery as Caesar. No matter however accomplished, not many actors today can do what Serkis does, which is nothing short of breathing life into a digitally rendered character and then making you shed a tear over that character. While it's still a long shot in getting an Academy Award nomination for a motion capture role, what Serkis has achieved is not only colossal for this film but also for the future of cinema. That being said and irrespective of how well this film does during awards season, Serkis along with Reeves have crafted one of the most memorable films of the year. And if this is the series swan song, it is also one of the most heartbreaking and fully accomplished blockbusters of the year. All hail Caesar!
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
As a holocaust film, Zookeeper's Wife could have done with a little more urgency yet well-intentioned and equally inspiring.
It's hard to think of any other era in human history that Hollywood hasn't exploited but the fact remains that for every life saved during WWII, there are still countless heroes that remain unnamed. Which is why The Zookeeper's Wife is an inspiring story of courage and sacrifice, but also a noble one considering how that war still haunts us on a global scale.
In the titular role is Jessica Chastain as Antonina Zabinski opposite Johan Heldenbergh as Jan Zabinski, zoo operators in Warsaw, just as Germany invades Poland. Antonina loves her animals and this opening segment is beautifully shot and almost dreamlike, but all this changes when bombs drop all over the city. Then comes German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl who seems typecast as a German villain in a Hollywood film) with a proposition to move the prized animals to sanctuaries in Germany. Lutz is also an SS Officer and his sinister motives become apparent as the story progresses. Meanwhile, Jan has a plan and not just for the animals on the pretext of turning their destroyed zoo into a piggery, they would smuggle Polish Jews out of Nazi controlled ghettos and into freedom.
Along with admirable performances from the cast, director Niki Caro's period saga is amiably balanced between a heartwarming true story and powerful moments through the film. One scene has Antonina telling an assaulted girl why she trusts animals more than humans. In another scene, innocent children are seen eager to board a train, not knowing the destination is certain death at Auschwitz. Even as these moments are met with angst from the audience, a little more urgency could have amplified the emotional oomph of these scenes, especially if the script was filmed in the native language of this region but subtitled in English. Yet as a holocaust film based on actual events, The Zookeeper's Wife is a poignant story and at times a stark reminder of atrocities perpetrated by humans on other humans - something even animals wouldn't do; Scarier than that is the thought that if this happened before, it can always happen again.
Bokeh is thematically devastating but intimately visual and narratively poetic.
Pronounced as you would with a 'bouquet' of flowers, Bokeh is a Japanese word relating to a photographic technique that produces a pleasing but blurry background when there is sufficient distance between the subject and the background. The aesthetic quality of this technique was discovered long before the word was coined, which is why any photographer who is a movie buff will be curious to watch this film, and especially since the film is set in every photographer's dream location Iceland!
Reminiscent of the recent sci-fi vehicle starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Prat in Passengers, a film about the hopelessness of an uncertain future, Bokeh follows suit about two people in a nightmarish situation where their relationship is put to the test. This is the story of an American couple on vacation in Iceland but as we soon learn, there is more at stake than their relationship. There's relatable chemistry between It Follows star Maika Monroe as Jenai and her partner Riley (Matt O'Leary), a photographer who prefers the medium format and vintage Rolleiflex to a modern and high end digital camera. Shortly after they begin their vacation, they experience a bizarre event that places them as the only people in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík. In between searching for other people and capturing Iceland's picturesque landscapes, they encounter Biblical allegories that question the very existence of life itself. This then tears into the fabric of their relationship when one becomes an optimist and the other a hopeless pessimist.
The result is a devastating and at times depressing comparison of two individuals who are looking at the same situation but begin to see it in totally opposing perspectives. It's an irony in itself given the titular theme and the surreal nature of photography as a medium that can be attractively haunting on one end and astoundingly intimate on the other. In this regard, the film does sway towards the existential philosophies in a Terence Malick film and in the process reaches a hit-or-miss in the point it tries to make. Is it pretentious? Not really, and given the level of intimacy in the storytelling coupled with the passionately composed cinematography, Bokeh is both visually and narratively poetic. And like Iceland itself, this is a small indie film but packed with just the right amount of mood, tone and curves that you don't see at first, much like the old school art of developing art.
Power Rangers (2017)
Power Rangers is nothing but a silly attempt at grabbing a slice of the market share in superhero films.
You know Hollywood is running out of ideas when a hallmark TV series is made into a big screen production, and then recycled and redecorated with a bigger budget for a new generation. That's perfectly acceptable with franchises like the Jurassic Park films, where sequels are released every decade or so and aimed at a specific cluster of the audience. Power Rangers, on the other hand, has no idea who its target audience is and here's probably why: a suit from Lionsgate (yes, Lionsgate) green- lit the reboot even as the TV series is still being aired, hired screenwriters who wrote superhero films like X-Men: First Class and producers from the Transformers franchise, then hired unknown actors and a newbie director before ending up with a PG-13 fiasco that's neither here nor there.
At just over 120 minutes, it's highly unlikely this film will grab and hold the attention of children, whereas anyone over 40 expecting a glorious heist or scandalous bachelor party is in for the wrong film. This leaves us with older teens widely known as the YA crowd (young adults). Now here's the caveat: Back in the early '90s, superheroes films were limited to one-off appearances a year. 25 years later and there are no less than five superhero films a year (this year we have six including one animation) from stalwart studios with an ever increasing budget and fan base. Yet as a superhero origins film, the new Power Rangers film simply doesn't stack up to the expectations of the general audience, let alone teenagers who expect nothing but cutting edge effects in a mega bucks franchise.
So while lacking a target audience, the bigger question is why a reboot after more than 20 years? Cashing in on the current superhero culture seems like an obvious motive, but the disparity in production quality is even more obvious from the opening scene right through to the end. Except for some campy moments from Elizabeth Banks as a gold digging alien witch (How's Rita Repulsa for camp?) there is no other character worth caring about, not even the titular high school misfits who discover extraordinary abilities but are too dumb to figure out their purpose as a team of intergalactic warriors. Sadly, Power Rangers turns out to be a cinematic misfire that should have gone straight to TV. But even then, titles from Netflix and Amazon Studios far outweigh this debacle whose only purpose appears to be a disappearing act in your wallet.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Skull Island isn't impressively intelligent but it is overwhelmingly gorgeous and a kickass spectacle worthy of the big screen.
Right from its opening scene - a cheesy montage that would come into play during the second half of the film - Kong: Skull Island is a reiteration that size matters at the movies. If BIG is what you want, then that's exactly what you get big budget, big effects and an ape, much, much bigger than his cinematic forefathers from the 1933 classic to the 2005 epic from Peter Jackson. But unlike Jackson's bitter-sweet romanticization of beauty and the beast (which has always been at the heart of a King Kong film) Skull Island is neither a prequel nor a sequel in Kong's storyline. It isn't entirely a reboot either because none of the characters from the previous films are brought back in this film. Instead, this version feels like a pilot episode in its own cinematic universe.
Set in 1973 and just after US forces have all but accepted defeat in Vietnam, we follow a group of explorers and American GIs who set out to geo-map the titular but unchartered island. Their grand entrance into the storm shrouded island is the first of a series of kickass spectacles and essentially why you would want to watch this film on the biggest screen possible. It's also the new Kong's awesome introduction in all his colossal glory and fury. After their Hueys are extended the same welcome as annoying mosquitoes, the group is divided into two teams in an increasingly hostile environment. One team is led by John Goodman's government agent posing as a scientist along with Samuel L. Jackson in a cakewalk role as a vengeful Vietnam veteran. Led by Tom Hiddleston as a tracker and Brie Larson as a war photographer (who serves no real purpose except the tradition that Kong has a thing for blondes), the second team makes an interesting discovery a stranded WWII pilot (John C. Reilly) is just as eager to leave the island as they are.
What sets this film apart from previous Kong lore is the instantly noticeable visual splendour, an aesthetic that seems like a very obvious love letter to Apocalypse Now (1979) but mixed with the cheese and chowder of a Jurassic Park adventure. This in turn wreaks havoc on the tone of the film, resulting in constant shifts between bombastic action, dead-eye terror, pop culture, political and ecological allegories, and whimsy humour including show stealing levity from Reilly. Add to that a stellar cast stuck with stereotypical roles in a telegraphed screenplay and you get an old school monster movie mash with teeth bigger than its bite. But then, who are we kidding? Anyone paying to watch this film will expect their money's worth of copious eye candy and that's precisely what Skull Island promises in return.
Despite being a novice behind the lens, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts can be credited with the creation of a tentpole film that is overwhelmingly gorgeous even if it isn't impressively intelligent. Spectacular action, photorealistic CGI, surreal cinematography, and era specific soundtrack will keep you entertained but it's the deliberate tease at the end that will leave you wanting more. If not New York, maybe Japan? Come 2020, we'll know for sure.