Film Review: AQUAMAN (USA 2018) ***

Aquaman Poster
Trailer

Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

Director:

James Wan

Writers:

David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (screenplay by), Will Beall (screenplay by) |5 more credits »

As much as I have complaints about the new Superhero DC comic AQUAMAN film adaptation, I have the highest regards for the film’s director James Wan.  Born In East Malaysia, (a neighbour of Singapore where I was born), Wan is the only Hollywood successful director from that region.  Wan was a skinny teen like myself, and his early photos reminds me of myself.  He has gained fame and fortune through his talent and horror films like he SAW franchise, INSIDIOUS and the CONJURING films.  He also brings on board Patrick Wilson from the latter two movies to play the villain in AQUAMAN.

Wan is known for his excesses.  Excesses abound in the 2 and a half hour action blockbuster aquarian fantasy AQUAMAN, played with aplomb by Jason Momoa.  There are plenty of images and CGI effects to gawk at.  The film looks amazing.  See it in IMAX and one will feel that one is in a gigantic fish tank as in one of those big aquariums found in big cities.  As far as super-action hero movies go, there is plenty to satisfy the fan base.   Superhero action fans will no doubt leave the theatre cheering, as in the case  of the promo screening I attended.   Surprise guest Patrick Wilson was present .  Who can ask for anything more? 

But one can.  The film lacks any good plot development, character intelligence and spicy dialogue.  When Aquaman is told that he has to save the underwater and land worlds by claiming the throne, all he can say is  ‘duh!’.  The script does not offer him any good one-liners either.  Lazy writing leaves a lot of unexplained and choppy facts in the story.  The effect of the evil that the villains do is brought down several notches by making them misunderstood beings.  One scene shows AQUAMAN as a boy at a city aquarium bullied by other kids, when a shark in the tank comes to the rescue.  Where did the boy, who is supposedly born and bred by the lighthouse keeper father find residence in the city and who where his foster parents?  That one scene appears from nowhere and conveniently disappears.  The key that only unlocks the trident with droplets of water is far-fetched bulls**t.   The climatic fight underwater by the edge of the cliffs makes no sense.  No one can fall off a cliff underwater.

The story begins in the year 1985, though Aquaman existed in comics way before then.   In Maine, lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison ) rescues Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the princess of the underwater nation of Atlantis, during a storm.  They eventually fall in love and have a son, Arthur, who is born with the power to communicate with marine lifeforms.  Atlanna is forced to abandon her family and return to Atlantis, entrusting to her loyal advisor Nuidis Vulko  (Willem Dafoe) the mission of training Arthur.  Under Vulko’s guidance, Arthur becomes a skilled warrior but is rejected by the Atlanteans for being a half-breed and ultimately leaves Atlantis behind.

There is a subplot that really looks out of place with an invasion in which Arthur confronts a group of pirates attempting to hijack a nuclear submarine.  Their leader, Jesse Kane, dies during the confrontation while his son, David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), vows revenge against Arthur.   David later targets Atlantis at the behest of Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s younger half-brother and Atlantis’ king who uses the attack as a pretext to declare war on the surface.  All thistles to Aquaman having to retrieve a trident (like the Sword in the Stone) and battle Orm to ave the world.  Yes, all action here films involve saving the world.  The inter-racial subplot looks too obvious a political correct move.  We have seen all this before time and again.

Still, as far as Warner Bros. DC super hero film adaptations go, (example the awful BATMAN v. SUPERMAN, SUICIDE SQUAD), AQUAMAN, as in WONDER WOMAN is one of the better films.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDkg3h8PCVU

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Film Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE (USA 2017) ***

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Justice League Poster
Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Director:

Zack Snyder

Writers:

Chris Terrio (screenplay by), Joss Whedon (screenplay by)  »

 

JUSTICE LEAGUE is the d.c. comics team of superheroes (conceived by Gardner Fox and first appearing in the 1960 comic) who join together to battle super villains. The seven original members were Superman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  These members rotate and have also included lesser known action heroes like Atom and Plastic Man.

In JUSTICE LEAGUE the film, the league is made up of the leader, Batman (Ben Affleck) , Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa)and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) formed to honour Superman (Henry Cavill) after his death.

The story takes place months after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Superman dies.  As the world mourns Superman’s death, the Justice League is formed by Batman to face the catastrophic threat of Steppenwolf (an unrecognizable Ciaran Hinds) and his army of Parademons, who are on the hunt for three Mother Boxes on Earth.

Considering the (critically not commercially) disaster of all the films so far in the D.C. extended universe excepting WONDER WOMAN, director Snyder plays his film safe so it cannot be crucially panned.  The story is left simple and straight forward so nothing can go wrong.  Batman forms the league, the league fights the villain and wins and the film ends.  The mood is kept relatively serious with humour in the form of a few punch lines thrown in periodically.  Of all the superheroes, Wonder Woman has the most screen time and jokes about her sexiness (kept non-feminist) plentiful.

Of the new superheroes, Ezra Miller (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) puts in some fresh life as The Flash with his cute schoolboy looks and humour.  In the other hand,  Cyborh turns out pretty boring, as he complains of his super powers half the time.  Aquaman has little screen time, perhaps the filmmakers just whetting audience’s appetite for the new upcoming AQUAMAN film by James Wan.

The dialogue ranges from good to plain awful.   Good: When Batman is asked of his superpowers, his reply is :I am rich and wealthy.”  The awful:  words to Wonder Woman: “You smell good” followed by  “I have smelt you before.”  But one should expect better writing for a $300 million blockbuster.

The fight scenes at the end are executed with the expected pyrotechnics (nothing really stands out) that likely cost a big bundle.  Of the $300 million, $25 million went into 2 month of re-shoots and into the post-production digital removal of Cavill’s moustache which he had to sport for his MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6 role.

At a massive cost of $300 million, the film should make a profit considering the success of the other films in the D.C. extended universe and the huge fan base.  Never mind if the film critically bombs.  Anyway, Warner Bros. has already had a swell year with hits like IT, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE and of course, WONDER WOMAN.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cxixDgHUYw

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Film Review: SUGAR MOUNTAIN (USA 2016)

sugar_mountain_movie_posterDirector: Richard Gray
Writers: Abe Pogos, Abe Pogos (story
Stars: Jason Momoa, Cary Elwes, Anna Hutchison

Review by Gilbert Seah

 SUGAR MOUNTAIN is the location in Alaska where two brothers device a scam in order to get the money to pay off debts and have a new go on life.

Deep in debt to a local thug (upcoming actor Jason Momoa soon to be seen on AQUAMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE), Miles (Drew Roy) persuades his girlfriend Lauren (Haley Webb) and brother Liam (Shane Coffey) to help fake a disappearance in the Alaskan wilderness around the town of SUGAR MOUNTAIN. The plan is to sell the story. But unknown to Liam, who is the main subject of the film, Miles has also other secrets that get in the way. Worst still, Liam is in love with Lauren. While the town works together to find Miles, the local chief of police, Jim Huxley (Cary Elwes) begins to suspect foul play. As he closes in on the truth, Liam struggles to conceal the hoax, and in the process exposes a secret that rocks him and Lauren to the core. Now the two are struggling to stay one step ahead of a sadistic thug and the tenacious cops before Miles is gone for good.

Performances are believable by the relatively unknown young cast. It is good to see Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) nine in the role of the cop father after a long absence in films.

Being shot in Alaska, the film is expectedly gorgeous to look at. From the first scene of Miles lost in the mountains of snow to the boat (the Viking) cruising down Alaskan waters to the mountain sides where the search for Miles is carried out, cinematographer John Garrett never fails to astound. Garrett won the 2015 Emerging Cinematographer Award recipient (American Society of Cinematographers). There is also a remarkable shot scene where the couple find themselves close up to an angry bear.

The script by Abe Pogos based on a story by Pogos and Catherine Hill is interesting enough with sufficient plot twists towards the end. But the film would have world better if it was darker and more violent. One expects these elements in a film advertised a a dark thriller. But most important is the happy ending that is credible enough. The film works best when the audience is not sure what is happening on screen is part of the plan or going on for real.

SUGAR MOUNTAIN is a tough sell being a small budget movie released in the month of December in stiff competition with the big league films like ROGUE ONE, FANTASTIC BEASTS, DR. STRANGE, MOANA as well as smaller budget critical acclaimed hits like MOONLIGHT. To be fair, SUGAR MOUNTAIN is not a bad film, but it is not that remarkable a film either. But it is an earnest film, with a lot of effort put in and is a welcome change in a month where thrillers are noticeably absent.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29KpXJVT3IM

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