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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TIFF 2018 Review: WHITE BOY RICK (USA 2018) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

White Boy Rick Poster
Trailer

The story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug-trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Director:

Yann Demange

BAD BOY RICK stars newcomer Richie Merritt, delivering a solid performance as Ricky Wershe Jr. the drug hustler and informant, based on the 1980’s true to life criminal of the same name.  Yann Demange who wore the script and directed this based on true story film, dramatizes many of the incidents for the screen, easily noticed.  The narration is choppy with unequal time given to each of the major parts, more time needed to be allotted for the informant segment.  

Demange breaks ground on the ease of communication between the white Merritt family and black folk.  Never once does colour come into the picture.  All performances are excellent, the best coming from Bel Poulter playing Rick’s difficult and sassy sister.  As emphasized many times in other drug movies, the sentencing is so hard on drug offences that one would be better off murdering someone than being caught with a gram of cocaine.  

Still the film comes across with the message that drugs are bad and the target are the federal agents (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane) who promises Rick immunity for informing but never come true to the promise.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qns48PtK2io

Film Review: THE DARK TOWER (USA 2017) ***

the dark tower.jpgThe last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writers: Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Jeff Pinkner (screenplay)
Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor

Review by Gilbert Seah

 The film’s story from ‘imdb’ goes this way: The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

The film has been reported to have gone through $6 million in reshoots and production troubles. Though based on 8 volumes of a series by author Stephen king, the story sounds absolutely terrible. But surprisingly the film is not all that bad.

The main difference is the introduction of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), an 11-year-old adventure seeker who discovers clues about another dimension called Mid-World. The story now become more credible, because the audience can identify with a human being or a boy at that. No one believes him, least of all his mother and her new husband who have arranged for him to attend a psychological retreat. His dreams on being chased by ‘skin’ people’ are realized when the skin people (recognized by him) show up at his home to take him to the retreat, This results in an exciting chase on the rooftops. Upon following the mystery, he is spirited away to Mid-World where he encounters a Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is on a quest to reach the “Dark Tower” that resides in End-World and reach the nexus point between time and space that he hopes will save all existence from extinction. But with various monsters and a vicious sorcerer named Walter o’Dim (Matthew McConaughey), the Man in Black hot on their trail, the unlikely duo find that their quest may be difficult to complete.

The film deserves to be commended for its continuity. When Jake throws his shoe through the portal as a test, his shoe is shown after he enters it. He is also shown in need for water and food after entering the new land.

McConaughey makes a creepy and evil enough villain without having to overdo it. While Elba seems wooden in his role, it is sort of expected for a gunslinger not to emit any emotions. Taylor as the kid is an excellent find (though his British accent is detectable in some parts), putting the much needed human feeling into the film.

The film is noticeable violent down to details like chards of glass pulled out from a hand and realities like the death of close ones. The special effects are primarily used for the action sequences though the film’s most interesting parts are the parts on earth involving Jake in school and at home.

The film successfully combines several genres like horror, sci-fi, western and fantasy.

The ultimate question is how well the film does at the box-office as THE DARK TOWER is expected to be one of many films to come. At a production cost of $60 million, which is modest in comparison to futuristic films, THE DARK TOWER should at least make a decent profit.

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

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Film Review: GOLD (USA 2016) ***

gold.jpgDirector: Stephen Gaghan
Writers: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard

Review by Gilbert Seah

GOLD has been advertised as an American crime adventure film. But the film is not that much an adventure film, feeling more like a biopic of Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), an unlucky businessman who discovers and finds gold, but loses it all including his long-suffering girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard). GOLD is in reality, based on the Bre-X scandal. It is indicated at the start of the film that the film is inspired by true events. So, the Wells character is likely made up.

It appears that the entire story of GOLD can be determined from the trailer. But it is not so. Though the story has a twist, director Gaghan, who directs based on a script by himself, Patrick Massett and John Zinman cannot decide what kind of film (satirical or sincere) it wants to be. It is also part romance, crime, a bit of adventure but feels like a biopic of a totally obnoxious (though fictitious) person that the audience is supposed to root for.

The film turns towards sincerity in the segment where Kay angrily warns Kenny of the business wolves. The satire is mainly found in Kenny’s character – for example in the scene with him hugging geologist Michael in his underwear like two gay lovers.

Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) looks absolutely horrendous in the movie – intentionally and he flaunts it. He has put on so many pounds that his gut shows. Besides smoking half the time, Kenny spawns a receding hairline, looking half bald with bad skin. It makes matters worse that the guy the audience is supposed to root for is not only obnoxious but ugly.

The film is set in Indonesia where the gold prospecting is being done. Locations in Thailand are used to substitute for Indonesia, for obvious reasons that Thailand is more stable for filming. As far as westerners go, most cannot tell the difference. The film makes sure that the locals in the film including the character of the geologist Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) speak Malay and not Thai.

Of the performances, veteran Stacy Keach as big-shot, Clive Coleman stands out. Others supporting actors like Howard, Ramirez, Bruce Greenwood deliver standard uninspired performances. McConaughey is McConaughey, who can deliver an extremely annoying over-acted performance, as observable in the film’s first 10 minutes. But hand it to him, at least his over-acting keeps the film from being boring.

The film begins with Kay and Kenny talking about gold prospects. The script quickly jumps 7 years into the story with Kenny growing bald and fat. The script also calls for the story to bounce to and from from the States to Indonesia. Director Gaghan also, for no reason, resolves to split screen for a few minutes of the movie and then never goes back to it.

The most interesting segments of GOLD are not the location shots in Thailand. They are the ones involving the business wheeling-dealing – often with Kenny being taken for a rough ride. The best of these is the business conference in which a strategic partner is sought with an impossible conversation.

Does GOLD succeed in telling an entertaining story? The answer is up to the audience to decide but as in the words of Kelly when he first discovers gold: “the ride has begun!”

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdLXPv5NsA4

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Film Review: SING (USA 2016) ****

sing_movie_poster.jpgDirected by Garth Jennings

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly

Review by Gilbert Seah

Garth Jennings, director of the not-so-successful THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and the excellent SON OF RAMBO seems an unlikely choice for director of the 3D computer-animated musical comedy film produced by Illumination Entertainment (the DESPICABLE ME films). But Jennings who also voices the old secretary Matilda, the glass-eye popping iguana in the film, proves a worthy choice.

The age-old plot of SING involves the protagonist, here in the form of a cute koala (Matthew McConaughey) putting up a show in order to save his failing theatre. He comes up with a brilliant scheme to save his stage: put audience members on it. “Real talent from real life,” Buster declares. Buster is determined to host the world’s greatest singing competition, and, given the overwhelming response to his call for participants, the show might just lay claim to that title. After an exhaustive (and entertaining) audition process, his lead contestants left are an exhausted mother of 25 piglets, a timid adolescent elephant, a porcupine with punk, a rodent con artist with Sinatra-esque chops, and a gangster gorilla eager to change careers. Each is as desperate to change their life as Buster is to rescue his business. Who will win? It doesn’t really matter as all eventually do their part to save the theatre. Jennifer Saunders of ABS FAB does the voice of ex-diva a sort-of patron for Moon’s theatre as she is rich beyond means.

SING is undeniably a feel-good movie with an extra coating of sweetness that stretches credibility to the limit. If the film was not animated, it would never get away with the premise. But animated feature are supposed to be totally crazy and not matter how unbelievable, any crazy premise will always work to its favour.

Water has always been difficult if not impossible to animate. Disney’s THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (from FANTASIA) with Mickey Mouse demonstrated that. But now with computer animation, all is possible. In SING, Buster Moon decides to create an elaborate lighting sequence for his show using squids in a huge water tank that ends up leaking and blowing up. All this is an excuse to showcase the studio’s impressive modern animation with computer aid using water. No complaints here, as the sequence is one of the film’s best animated, as in the time lapse rebuilding of Moon’s theatre near the end of the film. Disney and Pixar are faced with stiff competition here.

The impressive cast of actors and singers include Reese Witherspoon as Rosita, Seth MacFarlane as Mike, a small white crooning mouse with a big Frank Sinatra-esque voice and an arrogant attitude, Scarlett Johansson as Ashley, a crested porcupine punk rocker, John C. Reilly as Eddie Noodleman, a Suffolk sheep and Buster’s partner, Tori Kelly as Meena, a teenage Indian elephant with an exquisite voice, and severe stage fright,Taron Egerton as Johnny, a Cockney-accented mountain gorilla, who wants to sing and Nick Kroll as Gunter domestic pig and Rosita’s German-accented, very optimistic and bubbly dance partner.

SING is by no means a faultless feature. It falls into the trap of having too many characters for its own good and not knowing when to shorten its story. The film also hurdles at too fast a pace, as in the father gorilla escaping jail to see his son perform.

The film features more than 85 classic songs from famous artists all more than adequately performed by the animated characters as well as a few catchy original songs.

Like Moon going all out to save his theatre, one cannot help but root of writer/director Jennings in his worthwhile effort and awarding him an “A” for effort.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7uGHY-t80I

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