Sunday, 29 December 2013

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

 12 Years a Slave, based on 1853 autobiography book written by Solomon Northup himself, a New York born free African American who was kidnapped in 1841, sold into slavery, received harsh treatments when working on plantations for 12 years before his release. The film painfully displayed the cruel and evil nature of humanity, performing hideous acts of racism to others...where people are treated as mere properties, not human beings.The hanging, raping, beating and whipping of the black slaves are heart-wrenching at times to watch.

More specifically, the abuse and torture Patsey received are brutal and inhumane when she's done nothing wrong at all. It makes you constantly wonder what wrong they had done to deserve such brutal treatment from others...just because of different skin colour? It's actually despicable for the people to even dare to speak about God when they do sinful acts of cruelty themselves on others.Furthermore, the film also shows that not just white men at that time and age were evil, but the black slaves as well. They just choose to ignore the pain and sufferings of their fellow for fearing that they may receive a harsher punishment.
Chiwetel Ejiofor managed to deliver a convincing performance, successfully conveying his emotions during the sufferings.I find myself nearly in tears when he is finally returned to his family and he said sorry to his wife in tears.Other supporting actors (Paul Dano, John and particularly Fassbender, Epps) did a great job in making the audience hate them so much to the point we actually cheer Solomon as he hit Paul's character back with the whip and Solomon is finally free from Epps when Mr.Parker arrived to rescue him.

The downside of the movie is the lack of a great score to make the emotional scenes pack a punch. Although Hans Zimmer is hired as the composer, but it seems that he just reuse Inception's main theme for the film. As a result, it does hurts the film a little.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is a powerful drama that shows the brutal practise of slavery in America of the past. It reminds us about men's cruelty to its own kind.

Rating: 8.5/10

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” 
― William Wilberforce

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God cannot retain it.” 
― Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Movie Review: The Before... Trilogy

Before Midnight (2013)

The sequel to Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, the film is a continuation of the story of Jesse and Celine after a further nine years. They've decided to be together after their encounter in the Before Sunset and have kids.This time around, they're on the last few days of a family vacation with their kids in Greece. Jesse worries about his son's well-being from his previous failed marriage, which triggers a relationship assessment for the couple after all these years. Once again, the screenplay is written by both the actors themselves and it is astounding. Witty, intelligent, realistic, thought provoking and occasionally humorous, they talked about family issues, work, marriage, the obligations of parenthood, the complexity that lies in long-term commitments, insecurity, struggle of feminism. In the film, Celine's feminist ideas push her to behave in ways we've not seen her do before, many of the romanticism on her have faded away since the first film. Their lives have moved on since then, life is no longer hers alone and she has make some sacrifices for their relationship to work. Their heat argument near the end of the film reveals the hidden tensions in their relationship...the fears, resentments, insecurities, loneliness throughout the years and this reflects a lot of real-life married couple problems. A truly remarkable film that's fascinating to watch.  

Rating: 9/10

Before Sunset (2004)

The story of Jesse and Celine continues again after nine years (the film is also made nine years after the first one). They didn't managed to meet each other at the Vienna train station six months after the events of Before Sunrise. Jesse, couldn't forget their fateful encounter, decided to wrote a book about them. This allows Celine to find Jesse at a bookstore in France and their conversation continues again. The dialogue is superb, even more interesting and personal as his time around, they talked about their troubled love life, politics, environmental issues...Throughout the film, they started to show their imperfections, burdened by numerous responsibilities as they talk about the mistakes they made in life and the disappointments that comes with it. The effects of aging are noticeable from their faces. This film is definitely better than the first, because it provides a more unique, personal perspective. The characters have grown and matured throughout the years. From here, it's becoming apparent that these two characters are soul mates and they were meant for each other. Interestingly, the film's dialogue are both written by the actor and actress themselves. One can't help but to assume that the two leads may have actually shared some personal conversations during the making of the film.

Rating: 8.5/10

Before Sunrise (1995)

The story is about a young guy, Jesse and a young girl, Celine randomly meet on a train in Europe and they're both decided to spend the whole night together, talking about life and love in Vienna. As they walk around Vienna the whole night and communicating with each other, sharing their personal life experiences, you can see a deep connection slowly formed between them. The two lead actors, Ethan and Julie, shared a perfect chemistry together on screen.The script for the film is magnificent as the dialogues managed to keep the audience engaged throughout the film.Their conversations about love provides a lot of insights about relationships.They share their views, thoughts, perspectives of anything...and as they speak, you feel that you started to know these characters as well. The film successfully captures the beauty of youthful love, two beautiful people meet in a romantic setting and attracted to each other.

Rating: 8/10

Overall: Linklater (the director), together with Ethan (the lead actor) and Julie (the lead actress), had crafted the one of the best romantic drama trilogy of all time.The films features an in-depth look into the characters, their life experiences and how it affects their love life...of being together. The films allow us to see one woman and one man changes over the course of time. The sequels improve over time and found to be better than the previous ones.

Note: Keep in mind though, the films are dialogue driven and spend most of the time on the conversations between the leads, how they managed to find a connection between them, share their thoughts, views, perspectives, principles in life...If you find that two people communicating is not enjoyable, then it's not recommended to watch the trilogy.But it'll be incredibly rewarding if you do.

Movie Review: Police Story 2013 (警察故事2013)

Although Police Story 2013 (警察故事2013) stars Jackie Chan and shares the same name as the first three 'Police Story' films that got him famous, they're unrelated and very different in tone. Similar to the unrelated New Police Story (新警察故事) released in 2004, this film uses a serious, darker and gritter approach as well.

The story is about a group of people gets kidnapped at a nightclub, all seemingly unrelated, until it is revealed that is not the case and Jackie need to save the victims and his own daughter as well. The first half of the film is slightly boring and uneventful for an action thriller. Some plot events that happens in the film are unnecessary to the story.

Despite Jackie's great performance in the film (especially the emotional ending scene where he's willing to do whatever it takes to save his daughter), the film greatly suffers due to its lacklustre plot and lack of memorable strong developed supporting characters.There's aren't enough action sequences in this film and most of them were normally out of focus and hard to really see what is really going on at times, especially the brutal cage match between Jackie and a Thai fighter.

The film also lacks a compelling villain, his motivations for doing the kidnapping are very personal but the film doesn't provide any scenes for the audience to empathize with his loss. A great villain normally have a plan that is well thought-out and precise. They know when should they strike and where it hurts the most. They have a goal and clearly knows the best way to accomplish it. This one doesn't.

Furthermore, the cantonese-dubbed version I've watched in the cinema ruined the experience as well. I would really prefer that they use the original Mandarin version instead. A disappointing film.

Rating: 6.5/10 

Movie Review: The Spectacular Now

Last year, we have the spectacular Perks of Being of Wallflower. This year, we have The Way, Way Back and most of all, The Spectacular Now. It is a lovely, heartfelt, sweet, gentle and sincere film. The Spectacular Now focuses on most teen experiences: first love relationship, 'living in the now' attitude towards life, fear of the future, alcohol and family issues.

 The story is about a charming, crude but troubled boy meets a reserved, shy, naive...yet sweet, smart girl/wallflower and managed to find a connection in each other. As the film progresses, it was shown that they enjoy hanging out together, helping and complementing each other.

Sutter, the lead guy, plagued by alcoholism and family issues, must learn to confront his fears and face who he really is and learn what loving someone really means. Aimee, the lead girl, need to learn to stand up for herself against her controlling mother who might be potentially ruining her college future because she's responsible for partially paying the bills. The film may seem to be an average love story, but it carries a genuine believability to it.

The film takes the first-love romance seriously but never falls to become the typical weepy Asian melodramas that Koreans are so fond of making. The two lead actors are great on screen, deliver strong convincing performance to let us believe that the love chemistry between them is real and managed keep the audience engaged throughout the film. There are some subtle humor throughout the film as well.

What a deeply affecting film this is. It's the best coming-of-age romantic drama comedy film of the year.

Rating: 9/10

“But the real challenge in my life, the real hardship, is me. It's always been me. As long as I can remember, I've never not been afraid. Afraid of failure.  Of letting people down. Hurting people. Getting hurt. I thought if I kept my guard up and focused on other things, other people...If I couldn't even feel, well, then no harm would come to me. I screwed up. Not only did I shut out the pain, I shut out everything. The good and the bad. Until there was nothing.  It's fine to just "live in the now".  But the best part about "now" is there's another one tomorrow. And I'm gonna start making them count”

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a visually beautiful, wonderful fantasy drama comedy film that comes with a simple but essential life message that's both inspiring and make you feel good at the same time. This film is essentially about a boring, hardworking, single and lonely, middle-class daydreamer with an active imagination, who frequently 'zoned out' to undergo fantastic adventures in his mind.
In this film, Stiller allows the character he portrays to shine, showing the gradual change in his character throughout the film without a differing core personality. Although the starting of the film suffers a few minor 'hiccups' due to a few abrupt, over-the-top fantasy dream adventures, the film starts to improve as Walter embarks on a life-altering adventure that manages to inspire and affect the audience without the feeling of being pretentious.
Personally, I'm not sure why most of the professional critics dislike it so much, with some even mentioning that his fantasy adventures are greater than his actual trip he embarked in the second half of the film. Although his fantasies are greatly exaggerated by the usage of modern CGI and feels 'big', but his actual journey were nothing short of impressive as not many of us would be lucky enough to encounter such events in our personal travels. (spoilers: read the *** below only after you watched the film.)

The film also reminds us of the current problem of our generation, the obsession of taking great photographs. Yes, photographs are important. It lets us reminisce the good old memories of the past. But, don't forget to live the moment as well as they're precious and brief.

Very highly recommended. This is a fun film with a whole-hearted simple story. Try to put your cynicism aside and just enjoy it, let Walter 'take' you into his fantastical journey. You'll not be disappointed.

Rating: 8.5/10

"Don't work too hard in life, live it. Don't just dream too much about doing something, do it. Don't just obsess about taking photos for every great moment in your life, learn to live these precious moments as well."

"Life is about courage and going into the unknown"

"Beautiful things don't ask for attention."

"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind wall, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life."

***Perhaps the critics don't realise how hard it is to survive from a shark attack from very cold sea waters, cycle around the roads of Iceland, to witness the beautiful landscapes of Iceland, to daringly skateboard your way to a town, to barely escape from a volcano eruption, to encounter and barter with the warlords in ungoverned Afghanistan, to hike the mountains of Himalayas or even damn lucky enough to see a snow leopard in the wild (Snow leopards are very shy, elusive cats known for their solitary nature, are rarely seen in the wild.Total estimated population could be 4000-7000).

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Movie Review: Walking with Dinosaurs the movie

Walking with Dinosaurs: the movie is an extravagantly shot but utterly disappointing animated film.

The visuals in the film are breathtaking, impressive and lifelike as usual, much like the documentaries (from the same makers of UK BBC's 6 episode documentary TV dinosaur series), but the script, plot were awful to the point that it kills the excitement or enjoyment that you might have when watching it. The film uses a formulaic plot that has been overused throughout the ages and the dialogues written for the film are neither funny nor memorable at all.

The voiceovers were incredibly annoying, because they talk too much and the filmmakers assumed that the audience are too dumb or ignorant to the point that they can't see or notice the events that's happening themselves. The production crew should have left the film without any voiceovers and let the visuals do the talking. The expression on the dinosaurs should be good enough to show the viewers about what is happening. Do we really need a young girl's voice to mention the dinosaur's name and data when the dinosaur's name and information can be seen from the screen? Seriously?

It's a film that targets young kids (perhaps less than 9). Stay away from this one. Even the old animation The Land Before Time series is better than this. Not recommended unless you're bringing your kids to watch this.

Rating: 4.5/10

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the exciting adventure of the hobbit Bilbo with 13 dwarves and Gandalf (although he left halfway to investigate an important matter) to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor, which happens early before the events of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

As a prequel to famous The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug proved to be an entertaining, engaging and enjoyable fantasy adventure epic, much better than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in terms of action, humour and CGI and makeup effects for the beasts and creatures of the lore. The scenery shots for the film were magnificient as well. It's nice to see an old character again, the fan favourite (for females), Legolas, the brief mentioning of Gimli and the resurgence of Sauron and his dark forces.

Although there are various subplots found in the film (introduction of a movie-only character, the meeting with Beorn and elves of Mirkwood, Tauriel and her brief romance with Kili, Gandalf's investigation and his eventual confrontation of an old and powerful foe, introduction of Bard and the people of Lake Town, the appearance of Smaug), Jackson managed them well by balancing the subplots with some exciting action scenes. Notably, the barrel chase, confrontation between Gandalf and 'Necromancer', Bilbo and Smaug scenes were well made enough to be considered the best scenes of the trilogy so far.

Tauriel, the silvan elf is a great new addition to the LOTR lore, proving to be a capable fierce warrior like Legolas. It's always interesting to see a strong, capable woman in a male-dominating story. On the other hand, the appearance of Smaug is truly a presence to behold as we don't often see dragons of this scale in films.
Despite its merits, it might be too far of a stretch to make a trilogy from a single book as it never feels as epic and grand as the LOTR trilogy...seemingly lacking a compelling central plot to move the story forward for a 161-mins film. The film also suffers from numerous contrivances, a common problem to many fantasy films...just to name a few: the spiders that manage to catch the group are not eating them immediately, Legolas & Tauriel seemingly always arrive in the nick of time to rescue the main characters, Bard the Bowman just happens to be around when they need help to cross the river, Smaug doesn't kill Bilbo immediately when he knows that he's there to steal the Arkenstone for the dwarves...

Although the film ends in a cliffhanger (and its shortcomings), which may upset some audience or fans, it's still proved to be a satisfying fun watch and I find myself excited to watch the last instalment of the trilogy, The Hobbit: There and Back Again next year.

Rating: 8.5/10

Legolas: "It is not our fight."
Tauriel: "IT IS OUR fight. It will not end here. With every victory, this evil will grow! If your father has his way, we will do nothing. We will hide with in our walls, live our lives without light and let darkness descend. Are we not part of this world? Tell me, Mellon, when did we allow evil to become stronger than us?"

Galadriel: "Why the Halfling?"
Gandalf: "Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay... small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That's because I am afraid and he gives me courage."

The 13 Dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo:

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Movie Review: Firestorm (风暴)

Firestorm (风暴)is a disappointing, unrealistic action thriller despite fine performances from Andy Lau and Gordon Lam.The characters are mostly underdeveloped, the pacing of the story is uneven and the relationships between key characters are not fully explored, which makes the audience hard to develop strong feelings for them when the 'storm' finally kicks in and put them in a moral dilemma. (such as when a character is reciting The Lord's Prayer and watch as his loved one is thrown off a building; Andy's character, a strict senior inspector questioning his deeply held morals and challenging his principles; a merciless robber's eventual surrender and allegiance to the police...)
Much like The White Storm (掃毒), some of the action sequences were illogical and questionable.
Despite many explosions, car crashes, fall from buildings or gunshots being fired, Andy's character still look fine and capable of chasing criminals to deliver gunshots.The weird, shaky, out-of-place camera angles and unrealistic CG effects used for the action sequences further ruined the film as well. The shifting of the main villain at midpoint of the film is not explained properly.
Furthermore, the climactic gunfight showdown between the robbers and ENTIRE police force was simply overdone, ridiculous, unnecessary and fails to provide any lasting impression despite its significant body count. It begs the question: Why can't they deploy any snipers to shoot down the criminals from afar? How the criminals managed to get such heavy artillery to fight with the entire police force?

Rating: 6/10

Movie Review: The White Storm (掃毒)

 The White Storm (掃毒) is an entertaining action drama thriller with strong performances delivered by their three leads (Sean Lau, Louis Koo and Nick Cheung) but greatly suffers due to its over-the-top, excessive action scenes. The film focuses on the brotherhood relationship of three childhood friends who join the police force they bond, turn against each other and finally reconcile in the end.
Some of the key scenes involving the lead actors were mostly emotionally intense, heartfelt and well-acted, especially when Nick confronts Sean and Louis about their decisions, Sean was forced to make a difficult choice. Among the trio, Nick managed to surprise everyone and deliver his career-defining performance once again after Unbeatable (激战).
However, the script for the film is quite messy, the plot development is at times ridiculous and it fails to provide a credible narrative for the film. The occasional humour presented in the film were mostly out of place due to the seriousness of the situation at that particular moment. Worst, the death and eventual return of a key character at the halfway mark of the film is not convincing or believable at all. The climactic showdown near the end of the film is found to be too ambitious, excessive and unnecessary.

It's a huge letdown to see such a promising film fails to be as compelling as it should be despite its gathering of the best acting talents available in Hong Kong now.

Rating: 7/10

Poyd (Treechada Petcharat) is sexy and hot, but she was...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

Frozen is the latest successful animated musical entry from Disney after Tangled. The story is heartwarming, emotionally engaging, unpretentious and enjoyable to watch at the same time. It also provides a good plot twist before the climax. Much like Tangled, Disney managed to return to its old roots by recapturing the long lost Disney classic magic that enthralled the hearts of young and old.

The story's main focus is on sisterhood love compared to romantic ones in the past. However, it does redefine the meaning of true love and and provides a clear moral message to the current younger generation: know the person you fall in love with, not just based on looks and appearances.

The animation is top notch and stunning to watch. The soundtrack for the film is fantastic: the lovely songs "Let It Go", "For the first time in forever", "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?", "Love is an Open Door"...are all good in its own right.

Both princesses in the film are unique, independent, strong, brave young women which can serve good inspirations for many young girls out there. Young Elsa and Anna were so cute and adorable. Elsa is a very interesting character, it's quite rare for Disney to create a female character who is both complex and sympathetic at the same time. Seeing herself as only a force of destruction, feeling that she doesn't belong in the Kingdom of Arendelle, it's actually quite heartbreaking to see Elsa forced to suppress her powers, withdraw all her emotions and tragically isolated from the outside world at a very young age just to protect her family and people.

Come to think of it, it's actually quite a shame that she's not paired with a partner who truly love and understand her other than her sister (Although the current plot is not bad, it's just that it would be better if Elsa have a loving partner and her sister as well. She deserves it.).

Overall, this film is definitely a worthy entry to the long line of Disney's greatest animated musical classics for the years to come. Finally, Disney returned to its former glory. Highly recommended to any family or Disney fans who loved the classics.

Animated short film - "Get a horse": Although it blends in the classic black and white look and modern 3D animation of Mickey, Minnie, and Pete, but nothing spectacular or worth mentioning here compared to Pixar's thoughtful animated shorts.

Rating: 8.5/10

Take a guess, who are these two on Elsa's coronation day?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

 Based on the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea" written by Captain Richard Phillips, the film Captain Phillips tells the story of MV Maersk Alabama hijacking incident, which involves the captain's capture and hostage-taking by four Somali pirates in April 2009.

Although the film may be inaccurate (some of the crew members of the ship accused the film of being inaccurate in facts and does not tell the true story), but it's the most detailed and realistic hijack-survival films I've ever seen. The film successfully shows the constant struggle for survival in a life-or-death situation.

As usual, Tom Hanks delivers one of his best performances in this film, after realizing that the pirates are just poor and desperate Somali fishermen, he feels despair of his failure to convince them to surrender after knowing the inevitable fate awaiting his captors. In the emotional final scene, I find myself in tears during Hanks' powerful portrayal of a man experiencing post-traumatic stress.

However, the story is predictable, progressively slow and takes some time to build up to its climax. The details of the hijacking and subsequent hostage taking feels overly long and might put off a lot of audience. The shaky-cam technique, which is typically used in most Paul Greengrass' films in an attempt to make the film more realistic doesn't help much...even making it worst at times and hurt the film.

Actors who portrayed the four Somali pirates

Overall, it's not the greatest drama film ever made, but it's worth a watch to those who want a realistic, detailed, emotional drama which is 'based on a true story' (we can never know how true it is, are we?). It's not for those who seeks simple hardcore Hollywood action entertainment (otherwise you'll be disappointed).

Rating: 8/10

The best line in the film:

Muse:  It was supposed to be easy.  I take ship. Ransom.  Everybody go home. Nobody get hurt. 
Captain Richard Phillips: There's got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people. 
Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.

Left: Tom Hanks portrayal of the captain              Right: The real Captain Richard Phillips

The actual lifeboat from the ship taken aboard the USS Boxer after the incident for evidence.

 The real MV Maersk Alabama

The real Abduwali Abduqadir Muse after capture, sentenced to over 33 years in prison