Movie Review – The Snowman

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EXPECTATIONS: A film that is warmer than its frosty reputation.

REVIEW: Another week, another film set in the snowy terrain. This week, we have The Snowman, a serial killer thriller starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson and a embarrassment of talent. But unlike the prior film, The Mountain (of Cheese) Between Us, this film has achieved quite a negative reception and brutal reviews from almost every major publication. So what must one do if one were to go into a film like this?

It helps to have an open mind. Films in the past like The Shining (1980), Scarface (1983) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (not released in 2001) gained negative reviews in the past, but over time, the films have garnered a much more positive reception; so there is a chance that The Snowman may be an unappreciated gem.

It could also help that you watch the film with an ironic bent in mind. Laughter really is the best medicine, regardless of the intention and it can get one through films painlessly and even have give films a new reputation as a unintentional comedy classic eg. The Wicker Man (2006) and The Room.

And of course, there’s the much more unorthodox solution of going in a film while being inebriated from either mild amounts of alcohol and cough syrup, but that is not recommended. With all that in mind and all that negative baggage, is it possible to actually enjoy The Snowman for what it is? Let’s cool off and delve into this thing, Mr Freeze-style.

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What an ice-hole.

Michael Frost-bender stars as Harry Hole (no, really), an investigator who’s down on his luck due to his addictions and his zero-temperature status of a marriage with his ex-wife (Charlotte Gains-breeze).

He is then brought back into the fray where an elusive serial killer known as The Snowman starts killing again, continuing a streak of murdered women. With the help of a young, experienced recruit (Rebecca Frigid-son), Hole has to connect the streak of murders to the current murders to stop The Snowman from striking again.

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This is a man who can’t believe what he got himself into.

So with the alcohol/cough syrup discount, an open mind and an ironic bent in check, did I enjoy The Snowman? Absolutely not. But let’s not start this on the negative side. The cinematography by Ski-on Beebe (too many great films to mention) is terrific, as it conveys the chilling territory of the locations in Norway quite well. And the musical score by M-arctic-o Beltrami does deliver a sense of urgency (along the side of unintentionally hilarious timing) to the proceedings.

And like a sense of warmth in the winter, it’s gone in an instant and we delve into the negatives. With this much talent in the cast (Val Chill-mer, Snow-by Jones, J.K. Ski-mmons, Snowy Sevigny and others), you expect them to give passionate and heated performances that would at least elevate the script. Unfortunately, that never happens.

Almost all of the performances are so stilted and petrified that it’s almost as if they were all kept in a meat freezer for weeks and just as the cameras started to roll, they were finally let out to deliver their lines on cue. It’s awe-inspiring to think that this much talent is given next to nothing to work with and are left out there in the cold.

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That’s the face of a woman who knows that she deserves better.

There’s a scene where Charlotte Gains-breeze and Michael Frost-bender are engaging in a prurient fashion that is so ill-executed that it brings new meaning to the word “frigid”. The only bright (or at least, easily seen) light out of the cast is Rebecca Frigid-son, who actually shows signs of life, until her character is unceremoniously expended.

Speaking of being unceremoniously expended, almost of the female characters are either damsels-in-distress, sex objects or murder victims. Hell, some of them are all three. To think at this day of age, the story could be updated to be timely and thematic but the film has the nerve to have a character that is eerily reminiscent of Harvey Windbag Weinstein (with an out-of-this-world accent).

Even with that in check, the story itself is just so dull and goes by at a glacial pace, the film makes polar ice caps look like cars in the Fast and Furious films. The killer himself (or is it herself?) is so predictable that the film should have featured a siren that goes “HONK! HONK!” when the person arrived. And the backstory and motive for the killer is even worse, which adds to the sexism directed to the female characters. It is the solid black foreshadowing, the many scenes of overdone exposition and the horrific editing (credited to Claire Ski-mpson and later credited to Thelma Snow-Cone-maker) that kills every source of heated tension.

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That’s the face of a man who just woke up and realized what film he is in.

But let’s give special mention to Val Chill-mer. Featuring in the film via flashbacks, he brings much-needed and unintentional vitality (or insanity) to the film that audiences will be shocked and awed at his appearance and especially the dubbing. While it is very understandable why Chill-mer was dubbed due to sounding like Sylvester Stallone on Quaaludes (NOTE: Here’s the proof!), the dubbing is so terrible that American distributors of Shaw Brothers films would be rolling on the floor laughing if they witnessed it.

Even if Chill-mer was dubbed properly, the script doesn’t help anyone involved whatsoever, since it is in desperate need of defrosting. According to an interview with director Snow-mas Alfredson, he said that only 85% of the script was completed. If that’s true, then the film is more nourished than I thought since the trailer actually has many scenes foreshadowed that are not in the finished product.

Dialogue exchanges border on farce like in a scene where Hole asks a colleague for some files that you’ll be begging for icicles to pierce your ears with; film techniques such as cutaways and dramatic zooms are utilized to laughable effect (every time a snowman appears) and the violence is so overstated, that it comes across as funny (like scenes from M Fright. Shyamalan‘s The Happening). Hell, even the narrations (which in one particular scene is via walkie-talkie) is embarrassing to witness.

How could this much talent involved could make such a disastrous film? To be honest, it doesn’t matter what the answer is. Even with Val Chill-mer‘s appearance and Snow-mas Alfredson‘s explanation, it doesn’t matter what happened behind the scenes; what matters is what’s on-screen. And after witnessing this disaster, someone out there is just begging to get their ice kicked.

But hey, snow film is better than no film, right? WRONG!

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That’s the face of a man who’s career is steadily going down the toilet.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good cinematography and effective score

Rebecca Frigid-son

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 1/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, James D’Arcy
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriters: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup

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Movie Review – Meow

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EXPECTATIONS: Something that will surprise me, like Stephen Chow’s CJ7.

REVIEW: Benny Chan is known as one of Hong Kong’s most commercially successful directors. With huge classic hits like A Moment of Romance and Big Bullet to his recent blockbusters like The White Storm and Shaolin, he is quite dependable to rely on for action spectacle.

But when Chan branches out to different genres, that is when his films go from decent to disastrous. One of the examples is the sequel to Gen-X Cops, Gen-Y Cops, a film so bad that it made the original look like The Wild Bunch. Filled with abysmal acting, ridiculous events strewn together to resemble a plot and a script that makes Paul Rudd (yes, that Paul Rudd) say the most awful lines (some even in Cantonese!).

Another example is the sci-fi/fantasy flick City Under Siege, which was considered to be Hong Kong’s answer to X-Men, but it turned out to be a disaster, with the expected terrible script, awful acting and unintentionally hilarious make-up effects that would make the Toxic Avenger look like an art installation.

But the two films have one essential factor in common that made them entertaining, despite the terrible quality of each of them: they were both unintentionally funny. They were never comedies, but the films were such disastrous examples of filmmaking, that they might as well have been classified as one.

So when I heard that Chan was making a family comedy about alien cats invading planet Earth, I was both equally appalled and intrigued. Appalled at the fact that Benny Chan would direct such a thing that Wong Jing would shill out any day of the week and intrigued at the fact it could be an enjoyable disaster like the other two entries.

But one thing is for sure: it helps to have an open mind. Does Meow live up to my expectations or even exceed them to become an enjoyable surprise like Stephen Chow’s CJ7? Or will it crash-land and burn up before it even starts the opening credits?

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In the distant corners of the universe, a planet of cats known as Meow exists where its creatures are more civilized than Earthlings. Thousands of years ago, the king of Meow has been sending messengers to planet Earth, hoping to prepare for an invasion. However, over the years, every messenger sent to Earth never returned, which forced the king to put aside his plans.

In the present day, the king decides to re-ignite his plan and selects the bravest and mightiest warrior of Meow, Pudding, as a vanguard to Earth. However, during the journey, Pudding loses a divine Meow device that can resist the particles of Earth and loses his divine powers.

As a result, the lean-built Pudding becomes a giant fat cat Xilili (due to a contrived reason). It is then adopted by a family, which consists of Go-Lee Wu (Louis Koo), his wife (Ma Li), their elder son (Andy Wong) and younger daughter (Jessica Liu). Xilili has no choice but to hide in the Wu household before finding his device to invade Earth.

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Most people have written articles, which say films that consist of pervasive violence and adult content can turn people into psychopaths. To them I say, nay, because it is films like Meow that can turn people into psychopaths. Apart from Kung Fu Yoga (which I thought would never be surpassed as the worst film I have seen so far this year), watching Meow was one of the most insufferable and emotionally harrowing experiences I have ever been through.

To think that most of Benny Chan’s films have unintentionally funny moments in his serious films, it would be feasible to think he would be good at comedy. But in the case of Meow, it shows that he does not have a comedic bone in his body whatsoever. The script is so incredibly stupid and mindbogglingly misguided, that even infants would be insulted.

Who in poo-perfect hell thought that a scene where an alien cat plans to murder a family with a kitchen knife, would be suitable for family entertainment? The only time the film was inching close to laughter is during the dramatic scenes. Like during a scene where one of the main characters trips over, I laughed wholeheartedly. But even with those moments, it was not enough to compensate for the rest.

During the film, I thought to myself, what was going through the minds of Louis Koo and Benny Chan that they would be involved in this film, But alas, it was said in a behind-the-scenes feature that it was Louis Koo’s idea to make a film about cats, due to the fact that he does advertisements for a health and beauty franchise (Mannings) that has a cat as a mascot. And it was Chan’s idea to make it into a feature film about cats in space. If that’s the case, then Louis Koo should get double the blame for his contribution of the cinematic equivalent of ultraviolent dysentery.

In order to find comedies funny, you have to have some sort of engagement with the characters. Clearly, no one involved in the film knew that since the actors in the film all probably thought that to get laughs out of the script is to deliver the lines as loud as humanly possible. And boy, it is like a bunch of needles piercing through your ears and into your brain.

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Louis Koo overacts miserably as Go-Lee Wu (He plays a goalie! Get it?), as he suffers through fart jokes (some literally in his face), pratfalls and lots and lots of screaming. Ma Li (or Mary Ma, as she is credited) loses all of her comedic chops from her prior films like Goodbye Mr. Loser, as she is stuck playing an unlikable harpy while the supporting cast all overact like loonies, that I actually sided with the cat wanting to kill the family. They are all that insufferable to watch.

The only actor in the film that is somewhat tolerable is Michelle Wai. Wai is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated actress in HK, as she has always displayed stellar work, even in the smallest of roles eg. her drug addict role in Insanity. In the case of Meow, she does fine in an unfairly written role as a school teacher and she almost goes out of the film unscathed. She almost acts like a normal human being to the point that I yelled at the screen, pleading her to take me away from the loonies! And yet when the film reaches the end credits, she overacts like all the other loonies. So close.

There are a lot more things to say about Meow, like the xenophobic moments (one character that is meant to be a portrayal of a Thai person is shockingly racist AND homophobic), the ham-fisted approach in conveying a lesson to the audience that filial love trumps all, plot holes (like how does the family afford all the cat food and supplies if they are struggling financially due to Go-Lee Wu being in massive debt?) and even lapses in basic logic (Cats don’t even land on their feet in this film!), but it’s just not worth it.

When parents teach children how to behave themselves, there are some lessons that are taught, which are already known, without prior education. Like how one should not run with scissors or one should not talk to strangers. And now the lesson of not watching Meow should be one of those lessons. Meow is an atrocious piece of garbage and everyone involved in this film should be thoroughly ashamed.

Quickie Review

PROS

You’re kidding me, right?

CONS

**doing a Gary Oldman impression** EVERYTHING!!!

SCORE: 0/10

Cast: Louis Koo, Ma Li, Jessica Liu, Andy Wong, Michelle Wai, Louis Yuen, Grasshopper, Lo Hoi-pang, Lam Chi-chung
Director: Benny Chan
Screenwriters: Chan Hing-ka, Ho Miu-kei, Poon Chun-lam

Movie Review – Kung Fu Yoga

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EXPECTATIONS: An insufferable experience from the once-great Jackie Chan.

REVIEW: Before I get into this review, let’s get the b-word out of the way. I am a fan of Jackie Chan. Ever since I saw one of his films on SBS, I became a huge fan of his due to his incredible dexterity, his creative fight choreography, his amazing stuntwork and his likable aw-shucks persona.

But like every action hero, the thing that defeats them is age, but Chan has always compensated with more creative fight choreography, a sharper focus on acting and and branching out from his likable persona.

But ever since 2009, he’s hit a major snag that has rendered his reputation from being extremely likable to something a lot more polarizing i.e. he became a supporter of Communist China.

Since then, the quality of his films have dropped massively, with very little effort involved from everyone including fight choreography, ill-disciplined use of the high budget and the incredibly childish sense of humour that seems to be present to pander to the China market.

And last but not least, the jingoism and xenophobia is incredibly blatant that it is quite easy to be thrown out of the film. Cases in point: Skiptrace, Shinjuku Incident, Chinese Zodiac, Dragon Blade, Railroad Tigers; the list goes on.

And now, we have Kung Fu Yoga, an action/adventure that seems to be a throwback to the Armour of God films, with all the globetrotting and action you would expect. But can this film break the negative trend or will it sink into it?

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Jackie Chan plays Jack (who else?), a world-renowned archaeology professor, and his team are on a grand quest to locate a lost ancient Indian treasure when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. Using his vast knowledge of history and kung fu (what else?), Jack leads his team on a race around the world to beat the mercenaries to the treasure and save an ancient culture.

Now that is a simple enough plot that is easy to follow. But boy, is it terribly told. The introduction to the film is incredibly emblematic of this flaw. It involves a five-minute backstory all told in terribly rendered CGI that could have only come from a PS2 game but what is bewildering is that it has absolutely no effect or relevance to the plot whatsoever!

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But hey, who cares about the plot in a Jackie Chan film? All we want is the action! Is the action good in Kung Fu Yoga? Nope, not at all. The choreography looks sloppy, uninspired and worst of all, boring. The stunts obviously look wire-assisted, the CGI implemented looks absolutely atrocious and the sets look incredibly cheap. Nothing in the action scenes thrill or amuse and it just ends up being tedious. When a major highlight in an action scene involves a horrific looking CGI lion in a car, believe me, you’re in trouble.

So, when you have terrible action scenes in a Jackie Chan film, all you have is, well, a whiff of something you’re sure not to like. There’s the xenophobia and jingoism present throughout i.e. how there are no Indians that can find an Indian artifact in India, and can solve the puzzle inscribed on the artifact. In Indian. Or how the film actually has the guts to provide a ham-fisted moral lesson from the Chinese to Indians, about something they read from an Indian artifact! And the character actually says “Stop teaching me about my own country!”

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And there’s also the blatant plagiarism that the film steals from eg. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Fast and the Furious films, Tomb Raider and the James Bond films. And there are many details that took me off guard. Like, why is there the use of bells in a university? How do you distract wolves with kung fu stances and snowball throwing? Why is it that a gunshot does not echo throughout the ice cave to signal that someone is in the cave? How is it that the ice cave, which is believed to be in the middle of nowhere, have two people come out of the cave through a staircase? With handrails?

Asking all of these, and many other questions, just made me realize that the film didn’t entertain or distract me from any of those flaws. The actors are no great shakes in their performances and most of them were clearly hired for market appeal rather than thespian chops. Or even charisma.

Even for those who are talented, like Eric Tsang, they disappear faster than Jackie Chan’s reputation in Hong Kong. And the tone is all over the place; the film is clearly aiming for family-friendly (or so it says) humour, and yet there are instances of adult language and violence involving deadly animals.

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Now the end credits is actually the best part of the film. And not because it meant the film was over. I personally hated the way they remixed the original song, but the dance number looked very nice and is well choreographed, by Farah Khan no less.

Kung Fu Yoga is a massive disappointment for fans of Jackie Chan, fans of cinema, Indian fans, Indian people in general and is just a complete embarrassment for all involved. Even the Indians didn’t like the film when the film was released there. That tells you what you need to know.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Okay dance number in the end

Eric Tsang in a very small role

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 2/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Aarif Lee Rahman, Sonu Sood, Lay Zhang, Mu Qimiya, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang, Amyra Dastur, Coco Jiang
Director: Stanley Tong
Screenwriter: Stanley Tong

Movie Review – Assassin’s Creed

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EXPECTATIONS: A videogame film adaptation that finally breaks the videogame film curse.

REVIEW: The majority of videogame films are, for a lack of a better term, complete tosh. From catastrophes like Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros. and most of Uwe Boll‘s filmography to films that are close to viewer satisfaction like Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children and Ace Attorney, the reputation of videogame films is not something you would proudly put on a pedestal.

So when Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed was announced to be made into a film, I admit that I had zero expectations whatsoever. Granted, I have never played the games before, but upon discovering the incredibly talented cast and crew (which most of them made the fantastic Shakespeare adaptation, 2015’s Macbeth), my expectations went up. So do they manage to break the so-called videogame film curse or will the film just end up in the critically maligned dung-heap?

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The film starts off during the Spanish Inquisition, with the Assassin’s Creed (consisting of Aguilar de Nerha and Maria, played by Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed) taking a vow to get a certain artifact called the Apple of Eden, which is known to have powers that can stop violence and aggression in the world. They must obtain the artifact swiftly before the Templar Order obtains it for their unknown deeds.

Cutting to the present day, we see Callum Lynch (also Michael Fassbender), a criminal who is about to be given the lethal injection (that’s not a euphemism). He is then rescued (or revived?) by Abstergo Industries, which just so happens to be the present-day version of the Templar Order, headed by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard).

Callum is then forced to participate in the Animus Project and relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, to investigate the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden in exchange of his freedom. But during the experiments, Callum begins to understand and inexplicably immerse himself to his ancestor to the point that Alan and Sophia might have bit off a bit more than they could chew.

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Does the film break the videogame film curse? Absolutely not. The storytelling is incredibly baffling, the action scenes are perfunctory and uneventful and the exposition is overwhelming to the point of absolute tedium. Hell, many of the story elements don’t make any sense.

For example, the Animus is portrayed as a machine that locks on to the participant to allow mobility within a circular room. So when the participant is running straight during the past, where is the participant going during the present? And this applies for tall heights as well. How high is too high when the building of the present day is quite limited?

It’s not even fully explained if Callum died during his sentencing or he was rescued before he got the injection. How do the people at Abstergo know where and when Callum in the Animus end up to become Aguilar in the past? There are so many illogical inconsistencies and plot holes that if the film was a bulletproof vest, it would be destroyed and mangled beyond recognition.

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Well, the sheer talent of the film absolutely try their best with the crummy script and cardboard cutouts substituting as characters. Michael Fassbender really tries to tap into the essence of his character(s), but he only succeeds in showing his own charisma and star power, instead of giving anything memorable that could’ve come from the script.

This can be due to the fact that main characters in videogames are in fact ciphers; basically proxies of the players that they can put themselves into to experience the story. But this is a film, not a videogame.

Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane LabedBrendan Gleeson; how the hell did they end up in this film? All of them struggle valiantly to give life to their characters and only Cotillard ends up with an arc that actually has some impact and that is only due to her performance. Much like the viewers, the cast were probably all present due to the involvement of rising director, Justin Kurzel. Even with films like Snowtown and Macbeth, he can’t even save this mess.

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The action scenes, which are the biggest selling point of the film, are incredibly over-edited, sanitized and shaky to the point where it is blatantly obvious that the film is sucking up to the teenage crowd to spend their money. The games were already made for people older than 17 years of age, so why doesn’t the film get made the same way? Oh that’s right, the almighty dollar, of course. There is little impact, little suspense and especially little fun be had.

To be honest, I actually fell asleep during the first action scene, since it was just so ho-hum. It also doesn’t help that we know that Fassbender’s character will survive due to the fact that Fassbender himself announced that the story is a part of a three-film arc, so there’s no stakes whatsoever. What happened to making films that were so good that people want more; instead of making feature-length commercials for future sequels and spin-offs?

But the biggest problem with the film is the storytelling. The pacing is all over the place, with exposition scenes either going way too fast (in explaining the Animus) or way too slow (in explaining the connections with Callum’s past and the present). The editing is so choppy, that it kills the little suspense the film could have earned.

The premise is interesting within of itself, but the execution would leave one incredibly puzzled. There’s even a joke in the film when Fassbender actually says “What the fuck is going on?”. Nothing else in the film is more amusing, self-aware and meta than that statement.

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With so many flaws, there are some positives. Besides the insanely committed and overqualified cast, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw makes the film look epic in scope (similar in 2015’s Macbeth) during the scenes set in the past, but can only do so much in the scenes set in the present. The scenes set in Abstergo actually reminds me of the lab scenes in Fantastic Four (2015), and no, that is absolutely not a compliment. The musical score by Jed Kurzel also adds a sense of credibility but like the rest of the crew’s work, it can only go so far.

Another videogame film adaptation, another epic fail, I’m afraid. As if the story of the film doesn’t do that already, it seriously boggles the mind that the film can assemble so much talent and yet achieve so very little. Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed is a disappointment on almost every level.

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast try their darnedest to give the film credibility

The production values are good

CONS

So many plot holes and illogical inconsistencies

The storytelling is all over the place

The action scenes do not thrill or excite

The pacing is incredibly haphazard

Too much exposition, which results in tedium

SCORE: 3/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed, Callum Turner, Brendan Gleeson, Essie Davis, Denis Ménochet
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenwriter: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Michael Lesslie

Movie Review – Thanatos, Drunk

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EXPECTATIONS: Typical art-house drivel.

REVIEW: Slow is deliberate. Beauty is substance. Silence is emotional. If you are wondering about what I mean by those statements, I am talking about art-house expressions, told in simple layman terms. Why am I mentioning this? Because the term “art-house” applies to the film, Thanatos, Drunk. Winning many awards at the 17th Taipei Film Awards and the 52nd  Golden Horse Film Awards, it did get my expectations up. But I have been fooled by critically acclaimed art-house films before. Despite all the film-making prowess that you can muster; it can result in nothing pretentious stylistic flourishes and an astounding lack of substance in getting ANY audience to care. Case in point: some of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films like The Flowers of Shanghai. So when I started to watch Thanatos, Drunk, I was afraid it might be a chore to watch. But to my surprise, it was worse.

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Synopsis from FilmBizAsia: Whenever Rat (Lee Hong-chi), who works at a market stall, visits his alcoholic mother (Lü Hsueh-feng), a former actress-turned-mama-san who lives by the banks of the Tanshui River, she nags Rat to get a proper job and stop hanging out with Shuo (Chen Jen-shuo), an underworld gigolo whom he looks up to and with whom he shares a flat. Shuo’s girlfriend, a club dancer, is Rat’s cousin. Rat’s older brother, Shang-ho (Huang Shang-ho), had earlier upped and left one day for the US; now he’s returned, after losing his boyfriend there. He stays with Rat and gets a job with a film company in Hsimenting district, urging Rat to cut down on his drinking and also find a steady job. One night, Rat rescues a mute young prostitute (Chang Ning), for whom he has a soft spot, from a violent client, cutting him with a hooked knife he carries. The two gradually fall for each other. Meanwhile, Shuo finds his past catching up with him; he’s beaten up and also told that Rat will pay for the scar he caused. Back at the flat, Shuo has his wounds tended by Shang-ho, who then starts coming on to him.


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The film starts off with a long-winded prologue about Rat’s mother droning on and on about her suffering while recounting her life story before giving birth to her two sons. Which, by the way, you can tell that the microphone is being covered when you hear the actress’ dialogue being muffed. Then it jumps (I don’t know how far in time, the editing is unclear in a lot of scenes) to the main character, Rat, working, and looking outside a window of his friend’s home, seeing a rat dying outside, while his friend Shuo is banging his cousin. That’s when I knew, I was not going to like this film. Rat seeing a dying rat, while he mopes around in his drunken stupor? Could that not be any more obvious as a metaphor? It also has characters staring into the horizon or the sky as some sort of emotional reflection. It may have some effect on me if the characters were defined, but they remain annoyingly one-dimensional. Rat is meant to be  the main character, but his actions are so random in their purpose, he just looks like an complete idiot, especially in scenes where he is playing with ants or pig heads.

Other characters such as Shuo and Shang-ho are just as ill-defined. In the case of Shuo, he is a ladykiller, but when he encounters Shang-ho, it is so obvious that he is somehow attracted to Shang-ho, but the direction from Chang Tso-chi is so blatant instead of ambiguous that when the so-called crescendo of the two happens (with a strong sex scene), it comes with a finality that the audience can appreciate just so we can get on with the film. It does not help that the acting is quite mixed. Lu Hsueh-Feng is over-the-top as Rat and Shang-ho’s mother to the point that her character could be the reason that her sons are messed up. Director Chang sure as hell does not know for sure. Lee Hong-chi plays his role just fine, portraying the rebellious nature well, but he can’t add inner life to his character that makes him sympathetic or even grounded. The biggest impressions goes to Chen Jun-shuo and Chang Ning, since they either are animated or add life to their roles, especially in the case of Ning, who is basically the only source of hope in this film.

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Since the acting is quite flawed, the characters should make the journey worthwhile, but it never happens. Like many films of this type, it suffers from characters who are wholly unlikable, irresponsible and downright implausible in their motives. A character in the film gets pregnant and yet they attack their partner for their faults in their position. Do not expect much of the audience to care about characters who know the ramifications of their actions, yet they do them anyway, and expect them to care. It just makes them look like total idiots, or people who have off-screen head injuries. The climax of the film concludes in gory moments, with plenty of stabbings and killings, but the result can be seen in unintentionally funny ways, since some of the execution (pun definitely intended) of the deaths is poor, particularly in a case of a suicide, which just looks really cheap. The storytelling is just as bad, since the time jumps are so out of order, I have no idea how much time has passed or know if a certain character died at that time or not.

I did expect the film to be a chore in terms of its art-house ambitions, but the characters make the film a lot worse to the point that I got a bit infuriated. Do not expect me to care if the badly-defined characters are their own faults of their incredibly stupid actions in their eventual fates. Thanatos, Drunk is just an empty shell of a film it wants to be and I’ll leave it on this note.

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When your film has a sex scene between two men realizing their sexuality AND a gory climax and they both elicit unintentional laughter and relief, your film has serious problems.

Quickie Review

PROS

Some of the acting, cinematography and music is good

CONS

Frustrating and pretentious storytelling

Inconsistent acting

Insistent and blatant directing

Unsympathetic, ill-defined and idiotic characters

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Lee Hong-chi, Cheng Jen-shuo, Huang Shang-ho, Lv Hsueh-feng, Wang Ching-ting, Chang Ning, Lin Chin-yu, Chin Tsu-yen
Director: Chang Tso-chi
Screenwriter: Chang Tso-chi

Movie Review – Ghost Theater

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EXPECTATIONS: A return to form for horror director Hideo Nakata.

REVIEW: Director Hideo Nakata has been long-anointed as a Master of Horror due to the wildly successful film, Ringu (1998). His film(s) including the latter and its sequels/prequels had started a massive wave of Asian horror films and remakes for many years to come. He also had good films post-Ringu like Chaos (2000) and Dark Water (2002). But his recent work has been very problematic and some were quite abysmal. Films like the British film Chatroom (2010) and the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two (2005) were laughably bad and even his native work like The Incite Mill (2010), L: Change the World (2008) and Monsterz (2014) were mostly seen as disappointments. But he ventured back to horror with The Complex (2013) and while it wasn’t a triumph, it was, in this reviewer’s opinion, an entertaining film that was reminiscent to 90’s horror, with a great lead performance from former AKB48/rising actress Atsuko Maeda. Now, Nakata remakes his own work, the 1996 horror film, Don’t Look Up, to create Ghost Theater. Is Ghost Theater a return to form for the man who was once known as a Master of Horror?

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The film starts off with a prologue that shows two schoolgirls being scared out of their minds by a moving mannequin. Their father (Ikuji Nakamura) tries to destroy the doll, but only manages to decapitate it before the police arrest him on suspicion of murder. AKB48 member Haruka Shimazaki stars as Sara, an aspiring actress who wants her big break after working small roles like a cadaver in a TV crime show or recently, a corpses in a crime scene. She goes to an audition for a small role in a stage play of “The Whimper of Fresh Blood”, to be directed by renowned director, Gota Nishikino (Mantaro Koichi). Sara captures the attention of the cast and crew (positively and negatively) and she is cast. The lead actresses Aoi (Riho Takada) and Kaori (Rika Adachi) look down on Sara but that’s the least of Sara’s problems. One day, a female crew member is mysteriously found dead after acting possessed and Aoi is found unconscious, after seeing the mannequin supposedly winking at her. Having memorized all of Aoi’s lines, Sara is, in a serendipitous fashion, cast in one of the lead roles. It is only later in the rehearsals of the play, does things get more malicious and spooky, to the point of the possibility that the production is cursed.

Oh boy, where do I start with this film? Well, I will give the film credit for this. This film did scared me and shocked me. Of how incredibly bad it was. Seriously, this was both one of the most disappointing AND one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies I’ve seen this year. Let me start off with the acting. Every single actor in this film acts as if William Shatner was their acting teacher in teaching them how to look scared. All of the actors are hamming it up in their expressions of fear to the point that it would seem like it is their last role of their careers. This kind of acting would pay off big in kaiju/monster films but in a horror film like this, it just comes off as laughable. It’s not entirely the actors’ fault, as Haruka Shimazaki does fine as Sara. But when the characters are not developed much as all, the actors become are lifeless, particularly Riho Takada and Rika Adachi, who play Sara’s rivals. You figure that the two would ham it up at those moments of jealousy, but nope. Most of the fault goes to director Nakata. His overuse of reaction shots to supposedly offer scares only offers a 180 approach to complete and utter hilarity. Even the reaction shots are used when the actors are reacting at nothing! There’s a scene where characters are possessed and they spout out the word(s) “Gimme!” over and over. It’s supposed to be scary, but it comes off sounding like a zombie cheerleader squad. It’s as laughable as it sounds.

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Speaking of Hideo Nakata’s direction, everything from his talent in his use of sound, his assured storytelling, his way of wringing suspense and tension through eerie visuals and the power of suggestion are all absent in this film. Everything is just plain assaultive and cheap. The sets, the lighting and the cinematography (which tries to emulate a giallo film) never offer a minuscule amount of spooky atmosphere and the sound design, I swear, could’ve came from old film stock and it is used in the most unsubtle way. Like sounds of rain or thunder utilized in Ghost Theater could’ve only come from films in the 50’s, and that’s not a compliment.

Speaking of cheap, the main villain, which is a mannequin. You can’t say dolls cannot be scary (Chucky is a great example) but in the case of Ghost Theater, this has to be the least scary antagonist in a horror film in a long time. The look and movement of the mannequin will elicit more passive shrugs and amused loud chuckles than gasps. Maybe gasps of air before chuckling again. It moves like a malfunctioning robot with little power left in it. Hell, its movement adds to the unintentional hilarity in the climax when the characters are too damn slow to outrun the damn thing.  And the storytelling (or the script) is incredibly boring. Filmed within the same sets for the majority of the movie, and set within the same dress rehearsals, repeating the same lines over and over, alongside the droning narration, it becomes incredibly tedious. Until the hammy acting starts up again.

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Now are there any positives besides the unintentionally farcical humour and Haruka Shimazaki? Not much. The music, from Mamoru Oshii collaboator, Kenji Kawai, is fine on its own merit, but does very little for the film. The story itself had tons of potential to become a great film, with elements of giallo for atmosphere and gore, the Black Swan influence for psychological trauma, or a whodunnit mystery on who is causing the murders. But unfortunately, that’s all it is. Ideas without proper execution. Instead, we get the nadir of Japanese horror.

Admittedly, this film was one unintentionally hilarious experience to witness (the reaction shots from the actors can’t be taken seriously), so for lovers of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, it can be a worthwhile experience. But on the other hand, it’s just so sad to see such a director stoop so low after knowing what promise he used to have. If you want a sure impression of the film, watch the trailer. It’s a pretty accurate impression of the film, if you ask me. As much I hate to say it, this film is pure unadulterated dogsh–

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Quickie Review

PROS

Haruka Shimazaki gives a fine, if unimpressive, performance as Sara, the lead

Many moments of unintentional hilarity, thanks to Nakata’s blunt direction and the hammy performances of the actors

Kenji Kawai’s score is fine on its own, but not the way it is utilized in the film

CONS

Cheap production values from the sets to the lighting and the cinematography

Nakata’s direction is so assaultive, that no suspense, tension or scares can be found

The acting, for the most part, is terrible or worse, lifeless

The storytelling is boring, with droning narration and many scenes of repetition (rehearsals of the same lines happen over and over)

The antagonist is laughably stupid in appearance as well as execution

SCORE: 3/10 (The nadir of Hideo Nakata’s career.)

Cast: Haruka Shimazaki, Mantaro Koichi, Rika Adachi, Riho Takada, Keita Machida, Ikuji Nakamura

Director: Hideo Nakata

Screenwriter(s): Junya Kato, Ryuta Miyake

Movie Review – Fantastic Four (2015)

EXPECTATIONS: Not as bad as the buzz claims it to be.

REVIEW: Another day, another reboot. And this time, the reboot is for Marvel’s first superhero family, the Fantastic Four. Adapted into a film produced by Roger Corman back in the 90’s in a spectacularly campy fashion, it was then adapted into a Hollywood film (and a sequel) in 2005, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis and Captain America himself, Chris Evans. While I haven’t seen the Roger Corman version, I have seen the Hollywood versions, and while I never liked them, I never really hated them like other superhero fans. Sure, it was goofy, lighthearted and downright fluffy, but at least it felt warm, inviting and I really enjoyed the chemistry between Evans and Chiklis, as the two provide many amusing moments. Which is unfortunately more than I can say for the reboot, which is by far, in my eyes, the most boring superhero film I have ever seen. At least films like Batman and Robin and Catwoman go by on a fast clip and/or are so hilariously campy, they become fun to laugh at. This reboot has none of that slapdash charm and is just a slog to get through.

Five highly intelligent people (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell) are hired to embark on a science project of transporting into an alternate universe, but the experiment backfires, leading one of them to their supposed death and the remaining four stricken with shocking abnormalities that make them superhuman. Learning to adapt their abnormalities and embracing them into gifts, they are thrown into a battle between a super-villain which could lead to the end of Earth.

I have never written any spoilers in my reviews before but to be honest, I have completely revealed the entire plot in the synopsis. And this is one of the many problems of the film. Nothing actually happens in the film. 80% of the film’s running time is set in a lab. That’s an approximate 80 minutes of the film. Watching this movie in the cinema a few months back, I remember wondering what was strange about this film and I realized that there is no complication in this film. Every story must have an orientation, a complication and a conclusion. In other words, three acts. But in Fantastic Four, there is no second act. The first act is 80 minutes and the final act is a middling 10 minutes. So the film is all exposition, very little to no build-up and a so-called climax. And boy, the climax is the most problematic part of the film. The green-screen is glaringly obvious, the dialogue is embarrassing, the fight is incredibly anti-climactic and there is no sense of danger or tension for anyone in this scene, despite the best efforts of the actors at hand.

Speaking of the actors, every single one of them are completely wasted. Nothing in the film helps them whatsoever and they just end up looking like they just had their souls sucked away. Miles Teller looks like he needed a drink (like in his earlier film The Spectacular Now) while making the film. Very little of his charisma (or any person, for that matter) is shown and it makes the supposed camaraderie with his supporting cast look incredibly awkward. Michael B. Jordan looks like he should be in a Fast and Furious movie whilst Kate Mara barely makes any impression and Jamie Bell is absent for long periods of time, making one think that he should have been the invisible one. He makes no impression underneath the Thing persona, that they could’ve cast anyone to play Ben Grimm. But as for Toby Kebbell, I feel sorry for him the most because the way the film-makers portray Dr Doom, it is more embarrassing than the 2005’s portrayal. He looks like a horrible version of an egghead Silver Surfer with glow-in-the-dark jizz all over him and he can apparently blow people’s heads up, but he never attempts to do that on the Fantastic Four themselves, especially at Planet Zero, where he is strongest.

Which leads me to the so-called script-writing and editing of the film. Oh boy, here we go. One of the most iconic quotes spouted by kids and adults everywhere is apparently borne out of a child abuser who happens to be Ben Grimm’s brother. Why does Reed disappear for a year that is shown in a title card? Why doesn’t Reed let Ben tag along for the earned scholarship since they BOTH worked on the teleporter together? Why would Johnny Storm’s father hire his rebellious deadbeat of a son to work on a once-in-a-lifetime science project when he could easily hire someone more equipped for the job? How does Dr Doom get a torn-up rag as a cape when he was stuck in Planet Zero for a year? How is it that Reed can change his appearance as well as his voice? If the blast that came from the teleporter made Susan earn the powers to become invisible, why doesn’t anyone in the blast radius have that power too? There’s a hell of a lot more, but clearly someone was on something when they made this film. Even worse was the dialogue, which suffers from what I call the George Lucas syndrome. Where EVERYTHING is spelt out for us. Every human emotion or action is spelt out for the audience like they are mindless idiots. This happens particularly in the third act, when Reed would explicitly spell out what the audience is seeing. Even the mood of the film is so gloomy that there is no fun to be had out of the experience.

I would’ve went more in to the infinite errors of the film (I haven’t even started on the CGI/green-screen of Miles Teller yet) but I feel like I’m bagging out the film. I really don’t want to but there aren’t that many good things in the film to really point out. Just some good ideas that are not properly explored enough like the use of body horror in portraying the abnormalities of the characters (except Susan, which was just lame) and the music from Marco Beltrami and Phillip Glass. This film was just a disaster to begin with that just goes to show that not every superhero film needs a gritty treatment, but they need an actual script. So in conclusion, I think this film is pure dog–

Quickie Review

PROS

Some good ideas (incorporation of body horror)

The musical score mildly affects

CONS

The writing is atrocious (i.e the origin of one of the comic’s catchphrases is hilariously misguided)

Dr Doom is a fucking joke (not only does he look wrong, his motivations are almost non-existent)

The green screen/CGI is laughable (Miles Teller is clearly green-screened in the forest scene)

The whole movie is a set-up, leading to nothing

The entire talented cast is wasted

SCORE: 2/10 (Doesn’t even qualify as so-bad-it’s-good entertainment)

Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Heidecker
Director: Josh Trank
Screenwriters: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank