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Dull and Generic
Whether you like Zack Snyder's controversial, grittier take on Superman in "Man Of Steel" or felt that it was a complete butchery of the character, I assure you that whatever was done in this film makes what Snyder did look great. "Brightburn" tells a 'what if' tale about an evil Superman, or in this case, Superboy. It is a horror take on the classic mythos with Superman now being a 12-year-old boy who turns out to be evil.
On paper, that sounds amazing. A deconstruction of the iconic character that has actually worked surprisingly well in it's original medium- the comics. Furthermore, it is produced by James Gunn and written by his brothers, Brian and Mark. With Gunn being so closely attached to this project, how could it possibly fail? After all this is James Gunn we are talking about, the man who is responsible for bringing the d-list "Guardians of the Galaxy" to the big screen. Gunn's 2010 film, "Super" was also a deconstruction of the superhero genre by itself and "Slither" was an excellent homage to old school horror films. Looking back at his past filmography, "Brightburn" seems to be a sure fire culmination of them all. Unfortunately, this is not directed nor written by him.
As mentioned, the script was written by his brothers, who previously worked on "Journey 2", the one with The Rock. Director David Yarovesky who has done nothing really notable, other than a music video for "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" and some horror feature no one's heard before, helms this. Boy, does it really show. For a film that aims to subvert the superhero genre or the mythos, it does nothing new. Instead, the end product is bleak and dire that even out matches the dark DC Snyder-verse, in that area. However, it is also bland and dull.
For some reason, this film has no comedic elements or even fun at all. Although I appreciate it being in full horror territory, the lack of James Gunn's signature tongue in cheek tone is infuriating. It's as if "Brightburn" tries so hard to make fun of and criticize "Man of Steel" but becomes the worse version of it. There are so many elements that Yarovesky and his writers directly lift from "Man of Steel". Heck, even the score sounds similar to Hans Zimmer's epic. However, all these elements felt watered down and it is not way as glorious as it's predecessor.
"Brightburn" feels unusually cheap and I don't mean as a low budget film only. The script is weak and the narrative feels incomplete. Scenes felt like they have not enough shot coverage or footage available. The entire film feels too rushed as a whole. I can't believe that I missed the slower pace of "Man of Steel". There are also weird character decisions that don't make any sense and only seemed to be made for moving on the plot.
Despite the acting being mostly competent, I could not care less about the characters. There is zero character development whatsoever, especially for the evil kid and weirdly enough, there is also no mythology fleshed out at all which leaves a ton of unanswered questions by the end. Additionally, "Brightburn" suffers from most of the same pitfalls of being formulaic and generic as any other modern day horror film. There is an over-reliance on jump scares and cut away from as much from the gore as possible.
Overall, it is really maddening how the film never reached a bit of it's creative potential. What we have got is a bare minimum of a movie that is so subpar to even call it a deconstruction of anything. It should have been over the top, satirical or at least scary. It's funny as an over the top character, played by one of James Gunn's commonly worked with actors, showed up when the credits rolled, leaving you to realise this should have been the tone of the film.
For a better deconstruction of the genre, audiences might want to watch Josh Trank's "Chronicle" instead. Despite my hatred of found footage, I appreciate what Trank was trying to do and it is a proper way to look at the genre differently. Or audiences can just go and watch "Man of Steel" again as flawed as it maybe; Snyder did fleshed out a unique perspective of the character. This on the other hand, is I quote from another reviewer, a cheap one-night-stand that takes all your money and leaves you unsatisfied.
Huan tu (2018)
Surreal Neo-Noir, an Absolute Gem from Singapore
As a born and bred Singaporean, I can attest that unlike previous horrid depictions of Singapore, Singapore isn't filled with "Crazy Rich Asians". The glitz and glamour is present but only to the rich elite which does not represent our majority. In fact, if anything, "A Land Imagined" shows us this very fact and it is a nothing short of a cinematic achievement for Singapore.
Singapore is a powerful and rich country with leading prospects in almost all industries, yet barely a film industry. A lackluster industry plagued with the typical HDB (the housing property the majority live in) poverty porn or made for locals, degenerate comedies and an occasional soft core erotic or trashy horror film. Once in an excruciatingly long while, we rejoice, when a film garners international acclaim, one like Boo Jun Feng's "Apprentice" which reflects the true potential Singaporean filmmakers can achieve. However, in the meantime, we get Hollywood to glamourize our rich and our locals to reduce our industry into one that is barely existing anymore.
That is why when a gem like "A Land Imagined" arrives, Singaporeans have to cherish it more. Choosing to explore the harsher reality and a more common side of our bustling city, "A Land Imagined" manages to make Singapore look so foreign, even to the locals. Director Yeo Siew Hua shows us a side of Singapore that is familiar yet we fear to venture. A side of Singapore we are unable to recognize and admit exist easily. This bold direction he chooses to take already puts this film above the safe threshold of other Singaporean works.
On surface, "A Land Imagined" is a noir mystery about a police officer (Peter Yu) looking for a migrant, land reclamation, construction worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi). Along the way we meet Luna Kwok's character which links both characters together and brings the mystery slightly closer to being solved. Like any other great American thriller, think "Blade Runner", "Chinatown" and "Heat", "A Land Imagined" takes its time and throughout the film, Yeo Siew Hua pays a respectable homage to other great noir films of the past.
With a mesmerizing synth score at the background, juxtaposed over beautiful wide shots of the reclamation land side or gritty, yet alluring shots of the migrant workers living conditions, this film paints a neo noir look of Singapore which quickly transcends into a deeper contemplative piece. One will quickly realize that Yeo Siew Hua gathers a lot from other films he has watched, yet the end product is something so refreshing for not only the local film industry but the entire film industry. By splitting the film into two distinct perspectives, one of the officer and the other of Wang, the Chinese immigrant, he brings about a shared loneliness from both characters.
Their longing for human connection and a sense of belonging is one that is universal. It is further emphasize through his subplot of land reclamation which ask a deeper question of how Singapore is actually a country made of immigrants. A question about the Singaporean identity that haunts us all. Yeo explores themes of loneliness and desperation in a way that shows how alienating it can be to the rest. By the end, we slowly lose our motivations and purpose, just like the characters in the film, mirroring the real life ups and downs of chasing the Singaporean dream. This is a film about the human condition, or more specifically the Singaporean condition.
The noir-ish elements emulates the best of Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann while the dream like nature quickly takes over and you can see David Lynch taking over the wheel. Atmospheric and alluring, at almost every turn. "A Land Imagined" shifts into its heightened dream state halfway through the film. This is where the cinematography by DP Hideho Urata ramps up. His eye for poignant visuals provided a hypnotizing feel to strangely common settings such as our streetlamps, construction sites etc. Combined with the score, we sit through a journey which ranges from melancholic to trippy.
The longing to become someone else, blends dreams and reality together as Wang and the police officer slowly mirrors one another. In almost a similar fashion to a Bi Gan ("Kaili Blues", "Long Day's Journey into Night") film, we shift away from the plot and fall down the endless pit with Yeo Siew Hua, getting lost into the allure of it all. Just like an immigrant being seduced into the glow of this beautiful country. It's amazing how much influence Yeo takes from Bi Gan, considering the fact that Luna Kwok worked with Bi Gan before on Kaili.
Speaking of Luna Kwok, her character is definitely the stand out of the film. Almost falling into the realm of manic pixie dream girl territory, her character is similar to that of a Wong Kar Wai character, especially Faye Wong's character in "Chungking Express" but grittier. She has a spunk to her and provides a slightly disdain view of Singapore, yet she ties the two perspectives together as if almost knowing as much about the plot as the viewer, serving as our middleman.
Better editing choices could make "A Land Imagined" a little more coherent and give viewers slightly more explanation. The tonal shifts throughout can be quite jarring especially from the cop perspective to the worker perspective and back to the cop. I appreciated the change in perspective for its unsettling vibes but it should have been made to be more uniform. A slight nitpick but score and sound mixing should really be toned down. It a little overpowering, especially during transitions and it could really take the viewers out of the film.
Overall, "A Land Imagined" is not a film that Singaporeans may necessarily want but it is a film we need. A hauntingly important film that speaks about real societal issues the country faces and despite being mainly about foreigners, also highlights the issue of being part of the Singaporean Dream. Do yourself a favor and watch this, instead of the countless other false images other foreigners or even locals tend to paint a picture of Singapore, in their films.
Not Jack Neo Bad, Not Good Either
After years of un-relentlessly bad, throwaway comedies from "Singapore's very own Michael Bay", Jack Neo and especially his propaganda filled, offensive and severely degrading series of turds about life as a Singaporean soldier, we finally got a comedy that takes the Singaporean soldier life into more varied territories. Albeit, still following the comedic route.
From its title alone one can figure out that "Zombiepura" is more than just a comedy that takes place in the confinements of an army base and centered on a group of soldiers. It decides to spice things up by bringing the undead into the mix. It is an ingenious idea. There has been a recent rise of comedies in the zombie genre with many of them relying on the absurdity of the ideal of the walking dead and spoofing it with great effect. From, Edgar Wright's "Shaun of the Dead" to Ruben Fleischer's "Zombieland", the zombie comedy genre works, for the most part. Of course, that's not to say that there isn't any serious zombie entertainment, just look at the melodramatic, never ending "Walking Dead" series.
Placing the undead into a Singaporean context is a refreshing move. Being a densely populated country, zombies would really mess us up easy. That is what I didn't get. Why was it only limited to an army camp? It's called Zombiepura not Zombietekong. Oh well, must be budget issues. When I heard about the fact that the film is taking place in an army camp, a wave of preconceived disdain and disgust from the aforementioned, "Ah Boys to Men" films swept over me. I couldn't help but go in thinking, oh no it's going to be another comedy diarrhea that makes our army looks worse than it actually is. Thank god, it isn't as bad as I thought and it even managed to surprise the heck out of me.
Don't get me wrong "Zombiepura" has made the same pitfalls as the revolting Jack Neo comedies. The characters are not real but caricatures of society. There is that forced empathy that director-writer, Jacen Tan, wants us to exude for them. There is even a babe character resemblance of a Michael Bay female lead that is only there for eye candy. Seriously though, that's how unprogressive a country like Singapore is. The comedy is low bro type of humor that is made by Singaporeans, meant for Singaporeans and appeases the general public that could stand the Jack Neo movies. The plot is generically trashy and the tone just changes during plot points.
But hey, I have to admit unlike other Singaporean films, I had fun with the escapism elements in "Zombiepura". This is due to the fact, I could tell Jacen's love for movies and zombies. He has placed subtle hints and homages to other, albeit significantly greater zombie movies out there. The film fan in me rejoices and appreciates them. There's also a self-awareness to the movie which I enjoyed greatly. It knows it is stupid. It knows it is satirical. Well, at least I hope. Some of the comedy works for me providing a few good chuckles but that's among trudging through the lacklustre bits. The zombie parts of the film were also quite decently crafted. Although, I feel the PG13 rating is a cheap out, Jacen pushed it to the limit with the amount of blood. The acting across the board, is also quite good, despite the generic writing.
Overall, is it a step in the right direction for Singapore? Not really but I would consider it to be a baby step as the idea is there. The execution could have been less crowd pleasing and bolder. I am pleasantly surprised by the level of enjoyment I had during the 85 mins of the movie. It went by way faster than expected. I would consider this to be a huge guilty pleasure. So, for those of you out there who are as skeptical as me. Give it a watch and you will receive somewhat of a fun time, although a very forgettable one.
Tomb Raider (2018)
Finally, the video game movie curse is broken. Let's hope it stays that way.
Video games have never managed to cross over to the film industry. Vice versa. Video games based off films are also mostly pretty bad. Both forms of entertainment just cannot capture the same escapism entertainment that its predecessors format managed to provide. Video game movies have an exceptionally long track record of being really bad. From horridly, unwatchable adaptations such as "Super Mario Bros." and "Street Fighter" to whole franchises based on them such as "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" to even recent forgettable messy adaptations such as "War Craft" and "Assassin's Creed".
It's amazing how the closest to a decent film is 2016's "Angry Birds", however, even that is made for kids and is only borderline entertaining in parts. As you can tell from what I have just said, video game adaptations in films have never been good and they somehow managed to tarnish the reputations of the great games they adapt from. Thus, the video game curse became a huge trope in the world of cinema.
Angelina Jolie's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" films fall into the same category as the rest of the video game movies. Although, I would not exactly call them bad films as they provided a fair bit of entertainments and would serve more as guilty pleasures. The films aren't really dated too. Angelina Jolie is still as relevant as she is today as when she was back then.
There is really no real reason to make newer tomb raider films and expectations for this reboot were low. However, with the news that Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander is taking on the role, this project all of a sudden intrigued me. You see, I didn't play the games before nor do I care for the original films but the marketing really sold me on it and I finally went in with much caution.
Boy, was I surprised. "Tomb Raider" is not only the first film to break the video game curse and the best video game movie out there but it is also by itself, a really solidly entertaining ride. First up, the film did a really great job servicing the game it is based off. There are so many great moments present that make you feel like you are playing a game. We follow Lara Croft on her journey and immerse ourselves from one action set piece to another.
I can't stress how fun this was to watch. We constantly feel the peril Croft is in and that is credited to Roar Uthaug's slick direction. There is an urgent pace throughout the film and Uthaug manages to captures what makes the games fun in the first place. There is also a good grasp on the lore from my limited understanding of the game. The story focuses on the intimate moments and mystery elements of Croft's origin which I felt lacked from Jolie's films. This made Vikander's Croft a really layered and interesting character. They even made the character most effective weapon in the film to be her brains.
I think there is little doubt that Alicia Vikander is stunning in "Ex Machina". She totally owns the role of Lara Croft. I cannot say that she's better than Angelina Jolie nor Jolie is still the better one but she totally showed her commitment as the adventurous Croft and she performed it not just mentally but also physically. Here she is more ripped than ever and where as a subpar actress would have just been eye candy, Vikander allowed us to really feel for her character and follow her.
The rest of the cast is equally pleasant to watch. Although, I must say, the title character does over shadows them and makes them a little underused and underdeveloped. This is especially so for Walton Goggins as the villain. I felt despite his decent performance, it is still an average villain. My other gripe is that the film is a little by the numbers and predictable at parts. There are some misteps here and there. I think many people will find this to be an average movie but I seriously did have a lot of fun watching it. Junkie XL gave another riveting score too.
Overall, it's an origins story done right and solid entertainment. Especially loved the character motivations and the set-pieces. I can't wait for another tomb raider film with Vikander. Thank god the video game curse is broken but let's hope it stays that way.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
A Masterpiece Like The Original
I love the original from Ridley Scott. It's a masterpiece of a film. Especially the final cut which is what 2049 is a follow up to. So, let me tell you straight up, if you hated the original, if you hate slow films, if you hate films in general, why are you even here? Anyways if you said yes to the above, you probably have a good chance of claiming 2049 to be boring, mundane, waste of time etc and please stop reading this.
But the rest of you who are still reading this, Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel that not only lives up to the original, but also MAY even surpass it. The original film had an impact on the industry, influencing countless films after it's release. I feel that 2049 may generate a similar impact. It remind us why films exist. This is the film that will encourage and influence upcoming filmmakers to just grab a camera immediately and make films. (or maybe discourage too, cause lets be real we won't be the next Roger Deakins or Denis Villeneuve. We won't be on their level. Oh god, this is starting to get depressing) It will bring a new batch of audiences into the world of film.
Unlike other cash grab sequels that choose to sell tickets, by over relying on their intellectual properties, 2049 is the rare sequel that honors what its predecessor was. That was what Denis Villeneuve promised us. He did not want any other director to mess up a sequel to Blade Runner and took the challenge of making the film himself. He transport us back to the world we love, as well as, the noir aspects that was what made the original iconic. The visuals are breathtaking. You can freeze frame any frame from the film and gape in pure orgasmic levels. Roger Deakins man, he needs to get that Oscar for this. The whole production design and sound design is so atmospheric transcending you into the world. The visuals may be one of the few things that clearly surpass the original.
Other than the visuals being iconic in the original, the original was profoundly emotional and intimate. However, based off my initial reaction, 2049 has more emotional impact. It brings us down deeper layers than just making us question whether Harrison Ford is a replicant. It is way bigger than that, trust me, no spoilers. Speaking of Harrison Ford, this is that career revisiting role that can be phenomenal or just plain old phoning it in. And let me tell you, it was the former of the two. Just like Stallone did in Creed, Ford gave his all and we haven't even seen this side of him, no, not even in Force Awakens.
Ryan Gosling is a leading man. Are we still questioning that? Alright I will admit, La La Land Ryan Gosling was alright, he wasn't great or anything. But come on, Gosling can carry a film. Note I said film, not movie. His character is the one audiences follow and his journey is so riveting and visceral. Along the way he is being supported by Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. I won't spoil their characters but boy, were they intriguing and engaging to watch. Jared Leto and Dave Bautista isn't in the film as much but they were great too.
As perfect as I want the film to be, it wasn't. But I only have nitpicks. I don't like certain uses of flashbacks and in moments, like certain shots and scenes felt a little overlong. Yeah, minor problems that can be forgotten easily and please don't use as an excuse to make into different cuts. (Yeah I am looking at you Ridley)
In the end, 2049 just proves, yet again, Director Denis Villeneuve is the new master director. Similar to how Kubrick, Hitchcock, Scorsese was to their generations when they were at their peaks, Denis Villeneuve is for our modern generation. I say, give him anything he wants, Dune, Cleopatra, James Bond, Star Wars. Every film he directed so far, I love. OK fine, Maelstrom was weird, I didn't get it. And 2049 may easily be my favorite of his films. It will be interesting to watch how he will progress from here on out and where his journey will take him. Blade Runner 2049 is a film from a huge fan of the original. Strictly a film, not a movie. Don't go in expecting a popcorn action flick that features robot, well in this case, replicant testicles, (F TRANSFORMERS 2, whatever it is called).