Film Review: SERENITY (USA 2018) ***

Serenity Poster
Trailer

The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems.

Director:

Steven Knight

Writer:

Steven Knight

The film’s opening offers a hint of what is to be expected of the new psychological noir thriller called SERENITY.  The eyes of a woman fill the screen as the camera enters the eyes as if the eyes are the entrance to the soul.  The audience is taken under water and gradually to the surface where a fishing boat named SERENITY is seen and the radio is heard.  The radio is broadcast from Radio Plymouth of Plymouth Island.  The audience will surely ask themselves where the hell on earth is Plymouth Island.  The closest link is the port of Plymouth in the south coast of England.  But is there a such a place called Plymouth Island?

The film could be described as FATAL ATTRACTION meets OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Hemmingway style, in a sort of screwed up David Lynch world.  Whether the film succeeds is dependent on the audience but SERENITY offers trashy fun with Matthew McConaughey in what is a typical Nicholas Cage role.

The subject of the story of Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), an out on his luck boatman who earns a living by taking tourists fishing at Plymouth Island.  He works with a caring hand (Djimon Hounsou), who he has an often fond/hate relationship with.  Baker appears obsessed with  capturing an elusive tuna he nicknames ‘Justice’.  He has never come close to catching Justice though he has caught many sharks instead.  Enters one obnoxious tourist (Jason Clarke) whose wife (Anne Hathaway) is willing to pay $10 million to Baker to see her husband dead.  Apparently, the husband’s son wishes the same.  The husband tells Baker: “My son is in his basement all day and when I finally find out what he was doing – playing a video game, his reply was: “Would you rather me be doing something else like killing you?”  This line is a clue as to where the story is leading.  It is all very intriguing at this point in this strange but absorbing mystery movie.

The script, also written by director Steven Knight, keeps the audience guessing as to what is really happening.  The dialogue often has two meanings. Strange characters like Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), always in a suit, appeal out of nowhere.  Reid says he is the rules of the game and does not care whether he lives or dies or who he is.

The film is enlivened by McConaughey’s crazed performance.  But it is Jason Clarke, the mean obnoxious tourist who steals the show.  Knight includes some very hot sex senes with McConaughey.

The film works before the audience is clued as to what is happening.  After what has been made clear, expectations seem to dwindle.  A sort of ah-ha, so this is what the film is all about.  Nothing more can be that interesting and the film then ends with a disappointing Hollywood ending.  For all that is worth, SERENITY is trashy fun while it works, and fortunately, it works for a majority of its running time.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbrOMrjhyvI

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Film Review: OCEAN’S 8 (USA 2018) ***1/2

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TV Program

Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

Director:

Gary Ross

Writers:

Gary Ross (screenplay by), Olivia Milch (screenplay by) | 3 more credits »

 

OCEAN’S 8 (original title OCEAN’S EIGHT) has almost nothing in common with the other OCEAN movies.  There is no casino, no rat pack and no Steven Soderbergh directing, though Soderbergh has producer credit.  Matt Damon of the OCEAN films makes a quiet cameo while the atmosphere of the crime caper is kept intact.  As most are aware of by now, OCEAN’S EIGHT is a female spin-off of the rat pack OCEAN films.  The female rat pack rob the prize jewels during the annual Mets benefit gala dinner.

The film opens with Debbie Ocean (Oscar Winner Sandra Bullock) released from jail when she promises to live the simple life.  Yea, right.  She has no intention whatsoever to alter her life of crime.   Inspired by her brother, Danny Ocean, Debbie attempts to pull off the heist of the century at New York City’s star-studded annual Met Gala.  Her first step is to assemble the perfect crew (which the film introduces one by one): Amita (Mindy Kaling), an Indian jewel expert, Tammy, (Sarah Paulson), a now housewife, previously Debbie’ crime partner, best friend, Lou (Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett), Asian thief, Constance (Awkwafina), Tech savvy genius, Nine Ball, (Rihanna) and Rose (Helena Bonham Carter).   Bell will wardrobe mega-star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) who will be wearing $150 million worth Cartier necklace that they will steal together with other assorted jewellery at the Met Museum.   More fun is entered into the proceedings with insurance investigator, John Frazier (late night show host James Corden) behaving like an efficient but sarcastic Sherlock Holmes.

The actors appear to be having a really good time particularly Carter,  Hathaway and Corden and their enthusiasm rubs off well on the audience.

In these times of female equality, it is good to see a solid well-made female crime caper.  What is immediately notable is that there are no fights, firepower, pyrotechnics or car chases. It is a tough task to keep audience attention from waning and suspense sustained.  The script co-written by Olivia Milch and Ross (director of SEABISCUIT, PLEASANTVILLE, THE HUNGER GAMES and writer of BRUBAKER, BIG) and direction by Ross achieve the rare feat.  The film runs over two hours and the only time I glanced at my watch was tat the 2-hour mark.

Those who are in the know of the haute couture industry (sorry – you are not, if you do not know who Anna Wintour or André Leon Talley are) will enjoy this film more for the appearances of cameos, the familiarity of fashion events and a few fashion inside jokes.  The filmmakers have assembled a stunning cast of cameos, like Matt Damon, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould as well as a whole lot playing themselves such as  Anna Wintour, Zayn Malik, Katie Holmes, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, Adriana Lima, Kylie Jenner, Alexander Wang, Kendall Jenner, Olivia Munn, Zac Posen, Hailey Baldwin, Derek Blasberg and `Lauren Santo Domingo.

Don’t expect any life lessons or messages as the film does the reverse, promoting theft and embezzlement as well as promoting the satisfaction from exacting a revenge. But the film, provides classy, sophisticated entertainment in place silly fodder like BLOCKERS, LIFE OF THE PARTY and I FEEL PRETTY that have fart and shit (though there are puke) jokes.

Female version of Hollywood blockbusters have done critically like the recent female GHOSTBUSTERS.  OCEAN’S 8 cost a hefty $70 million.  The former film was the most successful comedy at the box-office of that year but only made a tiny profit due to its huge cost.  OCEAN’S 8 might be in the same boat.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFWF9dU5Zc0

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Film Review: COLOSSAL (Canada 2016). Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis

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colossalDirector: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell

Review by Gilbert Seah

 
An eccentric movie is occasionally praised by critics for just being different. But there are films like COLOSSAL (that premiered at last year’s TIFF) and the recent SWISS ARMY MAN that are so weird that they make no sense at all.

SWISS ARMY MAN had a farting corpse dragged around from start to end of the movie. Plain awful, unfunny and senseless. Director Nacho Vigalondo (TIMECRIMES) is given big money with this high flyer starring Anne Hathaway and Dan Stevens, among others. But his eccentric film would be a very hard watch for the commercial moviegoer, less any critic.

The film opens with a little girl witnessing a monster in the playground. The film quickly forwards 25 year years after. This is really funny, similar to the opening sequence of THE LOBSTER, but that is the only scene that gave me a giggle.

The film’s protagonist is a going-nowhere party girl, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) who discovers a mysterious connection between herself and a giant monster wreaking havoc on the other side of the globe, in Seoul, South Korea. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) parties too hard, drinks too much, and does not think about the consequences — that is, until her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) gets sick of her behaviour and throws her out. Unemployed and with nowhere to live, Gloria heads back to her hometown and rekindles a friendship with childhood chum Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who now runs his dad’s old bar. Dreams of a fresh start are dashed when Gloria slides back into old habits: she drinks till last call every night with Oscar and his cronies (the hilarious Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell), she stumbles home each night via a playground-sandbox shortcut, and she sleeps through each day till it’s time to drink again.

One day (lo and behold!) she emerges from her haze to the news that a giant monster is stomping its way through the panicked metropolis of Seoul.
Why is the film that weird? Gloria has awakened to a different world to discover how the real-life monster movie taking place halfway across the world might be somehow connected to her. The monster mirrors her moves. For example if she falls, so does the monster, killing Koreans on the ground. The segment in which Gloria and Oscar have an all out fight is also total ridiculous.

Vigalodo attempts to blur the lines between fantasy, drama and sci-fi. He only succeeds in dumping all three genres into a cauldron of messy brew.
The special effects of the robot menacing Seoul look like a cheap version of GODZILLA.

Hathaway looks half lost throughout the film. Actors Dan Stevens and Jason Sudeilis are largely wasted.

If things cannot get more ridiculous, Gloria travels to Seoul at the end of the film.

Director Vigalondo makes no effort to get the audience to like any of her characters. His sense of humour is lacking and the film is neither funny nor amusing. The film ends open ended, (not revealed in this review) with an inside joke on the protagonist. Best to give this film a complete miss.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqcZtz8VXXE

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Movie Review: ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (USA 2016) **

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alice_through_the_looking_glass_poster.jpg
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (USA 2016) **
Directed by James Bobin

Sarring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhys Ifan

Review by Gilbert Seah

Based on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass”, the sequel to ALICE IN WONDERLAND entitled ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is produced by Tim Burton but the director’s reins are now taken over by The Muppet’s James Bobbin. Burton’s dark first film is replaced by glowing dizziness, all shiny stuff and sparkles, delivering a louder and glitzier Alice. Which one is better? Critics have been divided roughly 50-50. But both films had the common trait that the plot’s logic is largely incomprehensible.

When ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS opens, the titles inform that the ship Alice Kinsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is captain of, is sailing the Straits of Malacca in the year 1874. To those rusty with their geography or history, the straits is the narrow sea separating the west of West Malaysia (known at that time as Malaysia) and Sumatra, Indonesia. It is the time when trade was opening between Britain and the East Indies. Alice is supposed to be prospering in trade. But now, she is pursued by pirates. The pirates are inserted, perhaps to whet audience’s appetite for a new version of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN from Disney. Alice’s ship escapes, thanks to the magic of CGI but she returns to more trouble in London, England.

The plot involves a few different stories. One is her losing her independence and her ship to a former suitor, Hamish (Leo Bill). But Alice escapes through a looking glass back into Wonderland where she meets her old friends Tweedledee/Tweedledum (Matt Lucas from LITTLE BRITAIN), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Everyone appears worried about the depressed Hatter (Johnny Depp), and the White Queen dispatches Alice to travel back into the past to save his family. So the second story involves Alice stealing time in the form of a gyroscope under pursuit by Time (Sacha baron Cohen) himself. The other less interesting one has the red queen (Helena Bonham Carter) dealing with her evil issues.

The humour is very, very mad and all over the place. Imagine sitting in a room having tea with a bunch of crazies or on an uncontrollable acid trip. Johnny Depp is in home territory here.

Sadly, the film’s most interesting segments are Alice’s problems back in reality dealing with her mother’s contract to Hamish and how she deals with them. It is when Alice goes to Wonderland, which is the majority of the picture, is when the film gets too crazy.

All the gaudy excesses cannot hide the fact that a film with a convoluted and confusing plot results in a less satisfying entertainment – whether a dark or glossy look is used to disguise it. Both ALICE fins fail to hit the mark. And the film contains too many puns on the word ‘time’.

The film is lovingly dedicated to Alan Rickman who voiced Absalom, the blue butterfly that leads Alice to the magical looking glass. It is funny that Rickman should be remembered by his last film a a blue butterfly than in his first film and best role in DEEPLY, MADLY, SWEETLY.

 

 

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