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IMDb filmography profile: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm13265250/
Official personal website: https://briancham1994.com/
How much do I love film?
💪 I work as a screenwriter for Psych2Go, an online animated series bringing awareness of psychology and mental health to a general audience
💪 I have over 1500 film reviews and 24 achievement badges on IMDb
🎓 I have a Degree in Film, Television and Media Studies from the University of Auckland
🏆 I was a finalist in an international film competition run by the United Nations
🏆 I got First in Course for FTVMS300 (New Zealand Film) at the University of Auckland
🏆 I got First in Course for FTVMS327 (Comics and Visual Narrative) at the University of Auckland
🏆 I got First in Course for FTVMS212 (Video Game Studies) at the University of Auckland
🏆 I got First in Media Studies 301 and the Best Director award at Massey High School
What kind of films do I like?
I'm open-minded, but I love these the most:
💕 Science fiction
💕 Mysteries and puzzles
💕 Non-linear timelines
💕 Time travel
💕 Visual imaginative sequences
💕 Anything that makes me think
What else have I done for the film industry?
💻 I also work as a software engineer. I previously worked at the multi-national company Vista Entertainment Solutions that makes the software that runs most of the world's cinemas. I was part of the team that created Living Ticket, a worldwide cloud service that delivers digital contactless movie tickets to millions of cinema-goers every day.
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Questions for discussion: (not every question will be applicable to every film)
- How accurate or inaccurate is this film?
- What is it like to live as this character in a personal sense? Consider lifestyle, goals, society, emotions, etc.
- What would you do if you were their doctor?
- What does this say about the medical/pharmaceutical/psychiatric system?
- Comment on ethical issues, tough choices, social attitudes, patient-doctor conflicts.
Heartwarming silent film
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is one of the best silent films of the period. Pioneering many film techniques ahead of their time, it uses masterly cinematography and high production values to bring the viewer along for the journey. Most importantly, the acting of the two main characters is expressive and shows their shifting moods. Drawing from the expressionist film movement, Murnau also changes his portrayal of the world to fit the moods. From the menacing attempted murder in the boat to the raucous pig chase to the frightful storm rescue, every moment of Sunrise's redemption story is a joy to behold. The only concern is that the wife is a bit too forgiving for her own good!
Tsubaki Sanjûrô (1962)
Not bad, but not great
After the grand and epic Yojimbo, Mifune returns as the eccentric samurai Sanjuro who defeats vast armies through mischievous trickery. While his characterisation is as great as his previous film, the scale is too small in this film to really have an impact. Someone's uncle is falsely arrested and about ten samurai are trying to get him back. It's much simpler and more comedic than Kurosawa's other samurai films, there are too many characters to keep track of, and none of them have anything distinct about them. The scenes of trickery and battles were fine as always, but nothing that exceeds the masterpieces of Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, so you might as well just watch those.
Pather Panchali (1955)
Am I missing something?
I usually don't like realistic slice-of-life dramas, but even giving the film as much credit as I possibly can, I still don't see why it is regarded as a masterpiece. There are a few things I can commend it for, especially the acting. I can totally believe in the eccentric grandmother, the strung-out mother, the mischievous sibling relationship and the simple but fragile village life. Yet I also feel like nothing really happened. After about the first fifteen minutes, I got the main message of what life is like for these characters, and then the film offered nothing else beyond that. I was totally more interested in the dogs than Tunu's necklace.
Dune: Part One (2021)
Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation of Dune satisfied everything I wanted and assuaged all of my concerns. The Dune novel is very dense and full of endless characters, places and terms. The effort to streamline this into a film narrative must have been gargantuan, yet he pulled it off while retaining the same sense of grandeur and scale.
This is why I used the term "epic" to describe this film. Visually, the sweeping scenery across the universe immerses the viewer in entirely new worlds. The designs of the buildings, costumes and technologies show an incredible level of detail and care. It's all futuristic yet historic; fantastic yet realistic. One of my favourite examples was the ornithopters which are designed to look odd and advanced, yet the way they move appears weighty and rough, so it seems like a real military vehicle from the future.
The sound and music were another major factor behind the experience. The impact of Hans Zimmer's impressive score complements the visuals to increase the epic feel of the film. The layers of choirs, drums and strings feel exotic, emotional and exciting at the same time, which is exactly what is needed.
Is there anything I find wrong? Unlike others, I have no problem with the slow pace or inconclusiveness. I'm more bothered by Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya who seem bored and expressionless through most of their appearances. Their characters are there to fulfil story beats and don't really bring much personality with them (much like their role in the prophecy, I guess). But even that's a minor complaint. I eagerly await Part Two in 2023!
Sardar Udham (2021)
Well worth the build up
The beginning of Sardar Udham is slow to build up and takes time to introduce the main character and plot. Even after we get an impression of the main premise, we still have to endure several confusing time jumps to get the full details. Eventually, however, all the disparate scenes and characters start to relate to each other and the plot flows more naturally. One of the most striking things about this film is its incredible production values. All of the historical settings are convincingly brought to life and portrayed with flawless dark cinematography, fully immersing us in the circumstances of the day. The other striking aspect of the film is the unfortunately accurate portrayal of the massacre. It really does not shy away from showing massive showers of blood and gore that simply go on and on without pause. Even after it is over, the film lingers on the rescue of the survivors among the piles of corpses. The impact of the final moments truly pay off the extended build up.
Jai Bhim (2021)
Brutal (perhaps too brutal) legal drama
The strength of this film lies in its evocative performances and direct portrayal of its subject matter. When covering the issue of caste discrimination, it does not shy away from all the horrific ways the authorities inflict injustice on the tribal group. Throughout the film, they exist to the police only as useful scapegoats to inflate their arrest records as they don't have the wealth or social status to defend themselves. This is all portrayed in a tense and brutal way as the actors always show they are in constant anguish and it never shies away from direct violence (which got too much at times). It strikes a fine balance between cynicism and hope, as embodied by the main lawyer character who is a reluctant hero and is pessimistic about the missing men but is defiant enough to try to find them anyway. My main concern with the film was the odd editing as time skips around a lot in very confusing ways, especially when there are so many characters.
Le notti di Cabiria (1957)
Involving, yet repetitive
Nights of Cabiria's main strength is its actress Masina, who makes the film extremely involving. Her character exudes a convincingly tough exterior yet also an underlying vulnerable hope. The film gives her many opportunities to find a fulfilling life but dashes her hopes every time, from the very start to the famous actor to her eventual husband. Her emotional journey allows us to understand why and how she retains hope during this whole time, yet the theme of a "hooker with a heart of gold" was overdone in this film (especially during the church sequence) and the betrayals felt too repetitive.
The Father (2020)
Disturbing and haunting
In this masterpiece of acting, Anthony Hopkins delivers a brilliant portrayal of an old man whose grip on reality is slipping. At the beginning, we are simply shown his eccentric and charming side, which quickly gives way to sheer confusion. Every character is portrayed by multiple actors, each scene abruptly cuts into a different time period, the appearance of the flat keeps changing and core facts keep twisting back and forth. Throughout the film, we see escalating reactions from every person around Anthony as they get progressively more worried or aggressive, leaving him all the more confused. By the end, his condition worsens and the skips through reality just leave him completely broken. It's very well-crafted haunting film to watch, disturbing both because it is very grounded in reality and because it has no sense of reality at all.
Chilling yet trite
I like to think this is India's answer to South Korea's serial killer film Memories of Murder from 2003. The sense of suspense is immense in both films, there are twists and turns throughout, the brutality and corruption reach breaking levels and the overall atmosphere is chilling. Ratsasan excels at portraying an interesting youthful protagonist and a memorable villain. Yet at times the film seems trite and shakily constructed. The editing skips about quite suddenly and it struggles to juggle its main characters. Many plot elements seem lifted from sitcoms, especially when the characters are being introduced, which made the tone inconsistent. Many other plot elements are clichéd: rogue police recruit vs. Stubborn commander, serial killer calling card, tragic childhood backstory, and so on. The serious plot elements relied on implausible acts and coincidences: protagonist bumps into the female teacher at the store, protagonist finds the correct auto rickshaw by accident, protagonist enters hospital elevator from behind (I still can't figure out how this was done in time without anyone noticing). Finally, the final magic battle was too silly to take seriously, even if it was quite interesting to watch. I give it such a high rating only for its masterly execution, not the underlying story.
Fanny och Alexander (1982)
Probably Bergman's best film
Out of the Ingmar Bergman films I've seen, this is probably the best. The portrayal of the cheery family at the beginning has a lively Christmas fairy tale feeling and we get to know the children well. Although the pace is slow and moody as usual, it's not as extreme as Bergman's other films so there's a coherent plot moving alongside the emotional imagery. The plight of the children is a stark contrast with the warmth they were used to (it almost reminded me of Matilda) and the acting performances were great at demonstrating this. The little supernatural touches were a great way to show how the boy Alexander is interpreting everything around him, but it got excessive and confusing near the end. For exampe, how did the bishop see the children upstairs when they were actually hiding in the chest downstairs? Was the Jewish man actually casting a magical illusion? Crossing the line from childhood "magic" to literal Dr. Strange magic made me zone out a bit.
Ryû to sobakasu no hime (2021)
Technical masterpiece, messy story
The animation and music are some of the best I've ever witnessed and deserve a 10/10 on their own. Visually, the real world, the shiny world of U (borrowed without restraint from Summer Wars) and the castle are all gorgeous and sparkling environments with perfect detail and care. The talent behind the music blew me away, especially as Belle's singer was relatively obscure before this release.
The story, however, suffers from many major problems. It was a jumble and sometimes veered into cheesy, undeveloped or nonsensical directions. Let's go through those one by one.
Cheesy - The story has a simplistic adolescent attitude where significant traumas just require small acts of love to make everything instantly better. Because it deals with high schoolers, they have to include obligatory but pointless scenes where they flutter and blush over every interaction (I'm looking at the kayaker here!). The performances in the virtual world supposedly allow the main characters to gain a newfound sense of confidence, but it didn't feel earned as they just turned into heroes instantly.
Undeveloped - The relationship between Belle and the Dragon was very unconvincing as they don't spend that much time together. The character Justin (the Gaston equivalent?) wasn't introduced well and just showed up to be an annoyance, unlike the 1991 version where he got a whole song that demonstrated his personality and popularity. The pointless plot thread involving the kayaker's romance ended up going nowhere. The boys' family still hadn't resolved their issues after Suzu goes back home.
Nonsensical - Near the end, the film turned into CSI as the main characters had to track down a single apartment based on a window view. Then Suzu turned into an amateur social worker and somehow succeeded by standing in the street in front of the violent father and doing nothing (in reality, the father would have just shoved her out of the way). Somehow, all of her friends and her choir group praised her for this.
I give this film a 6.5/10, and that's boosted by technical achievement. This film had the potential to be so much better than it was. It didn't take the opportunity.
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. (2003)
Munna Bhai M. B. B. S. Is a very silly film. If you like that sort of comedy, you'll love its zany characters and scenarios; if not, stick with its predecessor Patch Adams. Sanjay Dutt portrays a lovable but inconsistent gangster-turned-fake-doctor (you read that right) who tries to cheat his way through a medical school to make his parents proud. Along the way, he cures some patients with love, enters a romance with a doctor who is pretending to be someone else, conducts very raucous pranks and amasses an implausibly large following in order to defeat the dean. Like the titular character, this film is silly yet lovable.
Original, yet flawed
Drishyam seems to be India's version of the film noir, and I love it. The characters are amoral, the plot is bleak and there are many deceptive twists and turns. The actors are all great and successfully capture the tension and pressure faced by everyone involved with the boy's death.
How would I compare it to the 2015 remake? By virtue of being the original, the 2013 version obviously wins for creativity. Yet I couldn't help feel that the 2013 version has a low budget and haphazard feeling at times, with conventions like the 180 degree rule routinely being broken for no reason.
Incisive social commentary
Coming hot on the heels of 3 Idiots, this Aamir Khan satire hits the nail right on the head while still being outrageously entertaining. Khan's performance as a perpetually confused alien is awkward, convincing and hilarious at the same time. However, the social commentary is absolutely unsubtle and crosses the line into didacticism, as the plot turns into a mere series of rhetorical devices. Not to mention the romance felt tacked on.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
There are a few ways this film is better than its predecessor. It has a lot more fun moments (mostly propelled by Jim Carrey's comedic performance), it is (apparently) more faithful to the games and it introduces more animated characters with expressive voice actors who give them a lot of personality.
But the story is a mess. It doesn't reintroduce the characters and hanging plot threads from the first film, which left me confused about who was popping up. The subplots are disparate and seem to meander without really going anywhere, especially the wedding scene where the human characters distract from the main storyline for too long.
The Bad Guys (2022)
Like a spicier, messier Zootopia
This film is like if Quentin Tarantino mixed Zootopia (or "Zootropolis") with Ocean's Eleven in a blender, with the results being as great but also as messy as it sounds. The overall message - people can be different from what they seem - is shared by Zootopia but is a bit messier here, as characters keep switching sides in sometimes implausible ways that makes the plot too twisty. The animation style is a nice sunny depiction of Los Angeles, the capers are exciting to watch unfold and the characters are memorable as they bounce humorous banter off each other. Overall, one of Dreamwork's good works, but not their best.
The Red Shoes (1948)
Impressionistic ballet drama
This film is like a very early version of Black Swan. A young woman enters a tough ballet company and is pushed to her limit, all with a fairy tale and a romance as a symbolic backdrop. Although there are many commendable areas of this film, the stylised ballet sequences are clearly the stand-out. As someone with no knowledge nor awareness in the area of ballet, the sequences appear very dynamic and visually stunning with lots of colours and clever use of props. The ending is a tad melodramatic but the passionate lovers and the bitter Lermontov sell it well.
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The Sequel
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is an ode to cartoon fans everywhere, featuring cameos from just about every franchise and company you can think of (and some you can't!). The framing story draws inspiration from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which shows cartoon characters as if they are actors in the real world. This gives the opportunity for lots of creative jokes and opportunities as the Chip and Dale "actors" form a real crime fighting squad in a sort of meta buddy cop plot. The results are solid, exciting and funny, though the character Ellie is a let-down as her actress seems bored all the time.
White Heat (1949)
James Cagney shines in the lead role
White Heat is the story of Cody Jarrett, a notorious train robber sort-of-but-not-really based on a real figure. As well as being ruthless in a 1940s film noir sort of way, he's also pathologically entangled with his criminal mother. Throughout the story, he encounters his match in the form of equally ruthless police, Big Ed and a treacherous wife. The main achievement of the film is to make Cody both twisted and sympathetic.
Style over substance
This film is gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. It has some of the best animation and music I have ever witnessed. The physics-defying scenery, parkour races and flashbacks create a very colourful and dynamic atmosphere.
However, it barely had any story. The characters are just stand-ins for typical anime tropes, the romance is forced and there seems to be no overall "point". The entire plot could be described in two sentences without any loss of detail.
The Irishman (2019)
The epitome of Scorcese
The Irishman is the culmination of Martin Scorcese's entire career, featuring all of his key gangster tropes, long time collaborators and a perpetual sense of nostalgically looking back on the past. The actors are all great as usual, and we do get the sense of ruthless but human gangsters at different stages in their lives. The interweaving of politics and history also give their life events more significance. By the end, De Niro's lack of redemption and family acceptance give his life a sombre turn, but the runtime had worn me out by then.
Let down by poor production values
This is a Marvel production with a school play budget, and it really shows. The locations are bare concrete, the effects are laughable, the camerawork is static (it was actually shot with an IMAX camera - what a waste!) and the fights are repetitive. The actors range in talent and the man who plays Maximus is clearly overdoing the vengeful personality. Without any real charm, who is following him? Perhaps the society is just so sick of the strict caste system that they'll follow anyone who vaguely opposes it, which wasn't explored very far and the royal family never questions these grievances by the end. The story itself drags on without much flow - the characters get lost, then they find each other again - with some weird detours involving drug dealers, bumbling scientists and unconvincing love triangles. I got more entertainment value from identifying which actors had starred in Lost.
The result of a big blender of ideas
This film certainly lives up to its title, almost resembling the dense but vaguely defined bagel of doom featured so heavily in the story. In an impressive act of creativity and filming techniques from a limited crew, Everything Everywhere All at Once features an incredible myriad of visual ideas and alternate characters that all serve common themes. Near the beginning, the execution was nearly flawless - we get to know Evelyn and her daughter Joy, there is a palpable sense of mystery and creative fight scenes bring in the multiverse concept. Later on, however, the film gets bogged down with too many sides to each fight, very slow pacing and weaving too many thematic threads back together. One theme is intergenerational acceptance, which has been common in recent films like Encanto and Turning Red. Another is battling nihilism by choosing to love specific individuals, much like the rose in The Little Prince. Others include enjoying the surrealism of the universe, being comfortable with our choices and exploring the opportunities in front of us. By the end, the bagel that is Everything Everywhere All at Once has become overloaded.
Lacklustre, overly long TV episode
This film was originally planned as a TV episode, and it shows. The animation is a step backwards to Ice Age's 2002 roots, the plot is extremely barebones and most of the dialogue is jokey filler. It's not a bad watch, and it's rather entertaining to see Crash & Eddie's exploits combined with Buck Wild's adventures, but it's not enough to fill an entire feature.
This was Wandavision 2, not Doctor Strange 2
I liked this movie and I think it's a fine addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has the distinct directorial style of Sam Raimi with some quirky camera choices, horror elements and quick montages. The fight scenes and magic are more creative than in previous films, such as the musical battle. The visual design of the universes are very distinct and feels like other worlds have really come to life. It was very exciting to explore other worlds and other versions of Dr. Strange. Scarlet Witch has a truly terrifying presence.
While I enjoyed the movie overall, it did disappoint some expectations and could have been better. As my review title states, it's more like Wandavision 2 than Doctor Strange 2. I kept wondering, whose movie is it? Elizabeth Olsen steals the show as Wanda, a corrupted demonic figure who fits the "slasher" role in this film, but her characterisation was also a bit too single-minded to feel like a real person.
The pacing is very strange. It often skips about from one scene to another before they have really been explored or digested, leaving us with only a glimpse. This film feels like the characters are abruptly jumping between several films that have been awkwardly smashed together, unlike the first Doctor Strange film which was extremely focused. Cool scenes like the Illuminati were wasted by being disposed of so quickly. The multiverse isn't really explored beyond red and green being swapped and pizza balls being "free".
The writing leaves a lot to be desired. As mentioned, this is essentially Wanda's story so nobody else is given much to work with. America Chavez is just there to run away from things, Christine Palmer is just there to give Dr. Strange something to anguish over and Wong is just there for the special effects. There are glimmers of character development but it goes nowhere. We keep seeing that Dr. Strange and Christine Palmer don't work out in any universe, which we already knew, but they keep repeating it for some reason, and it's not a compelling character relationship. Dr. Strange realises that he's really no different from the other versions of him, so he has to accept what he's got in this universe and not pine for things that are out of reach (i.e. Finding happiness without Christine). But he also realises that he can choose to be different from the other versions of him and work for the greater good without throwing anyone under the bus (i.e. Letting America Chavez keep her powers). Which one is it? What does he learn from the other versions of him?
On a finer level, the dialogue had lots of problems. It was often very cheesy, like the supposedly inspiring speech Dr. Strange gives to America Chavez near the end. It was also full of blunt exposition, like the encyclopedic infodumps about multiversal powers, the Darkhold, the Vishanti, the Illuminati, Thanos and so on. There are times when it felt like the writing room had an extensive Q&A session where they tried to cover every possible viewer doubt, concern or plot hole, but instead of weaving the details in naturally, they just made the characters parrot their explanations verbatim, which sounded contrived and awkward. For example, there was one scene where the film stops so that Wong can ask Wanda point-blank why she wants full multiversal powers instead of just staying in one universe with her family. This happens a lot during the film.
The writer Michael Waldron was chosen because of his experience with multiverse stories, especially Loki. This sounds great until you realise that Waldron has already run out of ideas and just wrote the same story again:
- Main tension: The powerful protagonist is put in cuffs and deprived of his powers (Loki: Loki; Dr. Strange: Stephen Strange).
- He is brought before a powerful tribunal of celebrity cameos with AI assistants to account for crimes against the natural order. Protagonist responds with snarky remarks (Loki: TVA, Owen Wilson and Miss Minutes; Dr. Strange: Illuminati, Patrick Stewart and Ultron robots).
- The tribunal has some heroic story for the public, but they are hiding a sinister secret (Loki: Time Keepers maintain the Sacred Timeline; Dr. Strange: Strange sacrificed himself to defeat Thanos).
- Due to having no powers, the protagonist resorts to hand-to-hand combat in their headquarters (Loki: Loki & Sylvia vs. TVA; Dr. Strange: Stephen Strange vs. Illuminati Mordo).
- They turn out to be staffed by imbeciles who couldn't catch a shoplifter. They are dispatched easily in combat so the plot can continue (Loki: TVA vs. Anyone else; Dr. Strange: Illuminati vs. Wanda).
- Main plot: A female character is being pursued because she has powerful abilities to transport herself across time and space and keeps evading everyone (Loki: Sylvie with orange portals; Dr. Strange: America Chavez with blue portals).
- Main threat: A female character possesses the minds of other people to attack (Loki: Sylvie's enchantments; Dr. Strange: Wanda's dreamwalking).
- Lazy and blunt exposition technique: Protagonist uses a machine to bring his memories to life (Loki: TVA timeline viewer; Dr. Strange: Shop display that projects your past trauma to the whole street).
- Lazy and blunt character development: Protagonist is forced to encounter an alternate version of a significant female character from his life to make him realise something about himself. She otherwise serves no story purpose (Loki: Simulation of Lady Sif; Dr. Strange: Illuminati Christine Palmer).
- Eventually, protagonist finds a deranged man who lives alone inside a castle in a post-apocalyptic realm. He knows more about the vaguely defined dangers of the multiverse and must be dispatched (Loki: He Who Remains; Dr. Strange: Sinister Strange).
If Disney keeps hiring Waldron to write the same story, I'll save you ticket expenses by explaining the next Spider-Man movie. Tom Holland's Peter Parker encounters a universe-hopping Spider-Woman and tries to pursue her to find her secrets. He is captured by the multiversal Peter Parker Posse headed by Tobey Maguire and injected with a serum that neutralises his spider-powers. The film stops so that Maguire can give a half hour lecture about the finer details of the multiverse and how there can only be one Spider-Man per universe otherwise something vaguely bad happens. Spider-Woman arrives and controls the minds of some Peter Parkers and defeats them all in half a minute. Using a memory display machine, she reveals that the Peter Parker Posse isn't protecting the multiverse, they're secretly neutralising all the Spider-People's powers so their loved ones won't be in danger anymore. Spider-Woman turns out to be an alternate Aunt May, making Tom Holland's Spider-Man somehow realise that with great power comes great responsibility. They trace the neutralising serum to the Final Peter Parker, who lives in a universe where every single person got spider powers and misused them, leaving him as the only survivor. His life's mission is now to ensure that nobody ever gets spider powers and claims that "with NO power comes NO responsibility!" They defeat him and travel back to all the other universes with radioactive spiders to restore a Spider-Person in each of them. The end. Rinse and repeat for the next ten years.