Film Review: MIDWAY (USA 2019) ***

Midway Poster

The story of the Battle of Midway, told by the leaders and the sailors who fought it.


Roland Emmerich


Wes Tooke

It was 1976 when Jack Smight’s BATTLE OF MIDWAY starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda opened in the then sensational Sensurroud. Forty years later, INDEPENDENCE DAY’s director Roland Emmerich has another go at making a film on the decisive Pacific naval battle during WWII.  Though both films centred on the MIDWAY battle, the focus of both films are different.  The heroes of the first film were ridiculous fictional characters a father (Heston) and son (Edward Albert) involved with a Japanese/American immigrant while the latter, a clear improvement centred on real life heroes of the War.  Their real portraits are revealed during the film’s closing credits.

Ememrich’s MIDWAY opens a few years before the start of World War II.  The US Naval attaché in Tokyo and his counterpart discuss the US and Japanese positions in the Pacific Ocean during a state function. Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) quietly informs intelligence officer Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) that they will take action if their oil supplies are threatened.  The film fast forwards to the morning of December 7, 1941with a 15-minute extravaganza on the shocking Japanese bombing of Pearl harbour.  This feels like Spielberg’s D-Day landing in Normandy in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  The goal is clearly to get the audience riled up against the Japanese.  Both films show the planning that goes into both the Japanese and American sides, though clearly the prejudice is against the Japanese.

MIDWAY works at both educating on the details of a history lesson that lasts over two hours as well as entertain as a WWII super hero flick.

The superheroes are real life WWII planners and fighters.  These combatants are played by a stellar cast headed by Ed Skrein as LTA Richard Best, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Nonas, Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson and Mandy Moore as Bests’s wife.

Performances-wise, Skrein (GAME OF THRONES) is sufficiently cheesy as the gum-chewing maverick fighter pilot.  Patrick Wilson is the one who steals the show delivering the best performance of a worried but super bright Intelligence Officer.  There are hardly any women in this picture and Mandy Moore has the usual under-written role as the supportive wife.

The history lesson takes the audience through the several battles including the Doolittle Raid and the Coral Battle before culminating with the crucial climatic battle of MIDWAY.  The latest version clearly highlights the progress CGI and special effects have made compared to the 1976’s cheesy Sensurround.

The battles are well executed and exiting enough, though it often looks a video game.

MIDWAY costs Lionsgate a whopping $100 million to make and to date has grossed close to $80 million.  MIDWAY has garnished mixed reviews so far, but MIDWAY is more entertaining because the heroes are real who lived on the Planet Earth and not fictional heroes with made-up superpowers in some alternative Marvel Universe.  Despite a few flaws here and there, MIDWAY delivers the thrills as well as intricacies involved in strategic planning of battles in a war.


Film Review: ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP (USA 2019) ***

Zombieland: Double Tap Poster
Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock move to the American heartland as they face off against evolved zombies, fellow survivors, and the growing pains of the snarky makeshift family.


Ruben Fleischer


Dave Callaham (screenplay), Rhett Reese (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

ZOMBIELAND begins with the Lady Statue of Liberty Sony Pictures Logo coming off her pedestal and whacking off two zombies, reminiscent of the time she drew guns from her cowboy belt way back when in 1965 at the start of the Jane Fonda western comedy hit CAT BALLOU.  Expect the same zaniness.

ZOMBIELAND takes half the film to pick up.  The first half is a little slow, boring and annoying wth little action, silly special effects, unfunny jokes and impromptu nonsense from the actors.  But be a little patient.  The film improves.  It calls for the narrator Columbus to bring the audience up to date with the state of affairs.  The audience is informed that there are three categories of zombies, the very slow, the stealthy and the new almost invincible breed.

ZOMBIELAND picks up, fortunately once a few comedic set ups set in.  It is clear that the single premise of human beings fighting zombies is insufficient material for an entire film.  One setup involves the meeting of Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) with a musician and their quest to find their Utopia, which in this case is Babylon.  The problem with this one is the really annoying musician boyfriend, (Avan Joglia’s Berkeley) who is as unfunny as he is unoriginal.  Babylon is a sort of hippie haven.   Another set-up, the film funniest and best has the two Columbus and Tallahassee meet their doppelgangers.  Each are unaware oftener own doubles, which make the situation even funnier.  Columbus’s double is as dorky as himself with his own rules which he calls commandments.

A little romance is provided.  One is the couple played by Emma Stone (as Wichita) and Jesse Eisenberg which is a little played out and manipulative.  The other between Harrelson and Rosario Dawson (as Madison) is the wilder but funnier one which is more in tone with the movie.

Performances-wise, Harrelson and Eissenberg deliver exactly what audiences would expect of them.  Harrelson overacts the way he normally does, screaming out his lines while jumping all over the place.  Eissenberg does his usual talky dorky bit.  The two opposites make the perfect unlikely buddies.

For a big budget zombie horror comedy, the special effects are excellent as is expected.  There are lots of gore and violence with some good vomit thrown in.  Chopped limbs, severed heads, gushing blood are plentiful whenever there is a zombie attack. 

The film’s climax is the big zombie attack on Babylon after the residents celebrate with fireworks thus attracting the monsters.  Special effects are turned on to the maximum with lots of pyrotechnics and explosions.

There is one last comedic set-up at the end so audiences that leave at the beginning of the closing credits.  Bill Murray plays himself being interviewed at some sort of comic con convention promoting what is his new GARFIELD 3 movie  When trying to churn out a fur ball with his interviewer, the interviewer strut spewing out vomit and while the convention is then attacked by zombies who are fought off by Murray.  

Is ZOMBIELAND DOUBLE TAP better than the original?  Hard to say as many will not remember the original (back in 2009) being quite some time back.


Film Review: SHOCK AND AWE (USA 2017) ***

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Shock and Awe Poster

A group of journalists covering George Bush’s planned invasion of Iraq in 2003 are skeptical of the president’s claim that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction.”


Rob Reiner


As the film title might imply, the fictionalized events of a true story is intended to shock and awe.   But the title of the film, SHOCK AND AWE (technically known as rapid dominance) is a military tactic based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.  This doctrine was applied by the United States in the Iraqi invasion

The film, based on a true story (that it proudly declares at the start of the film) is an account of the journalists investigating the assertions by the Bush Administration concerning Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.   Two determined reporters, Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) and Warren Stroebel (James Marsden), their boss, John Walcott (Rob Reiner), and war correspondent, Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), lift the lid on abuse of power at its highest level and expose the truth about what led us into the longest and costliest war in American history.  

Written by Joey Hartstone and directed by Rob Reiner (A FEW GOOD MEN, LBJ, THE PRINCESS BRIDE), SHOCK AND AWE is unfortunately no ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.  Part of the reason appears to be the writer and director’s over eagerness to please.  This means getting the blood of the audiences riling with anger at the injustices done to both the American people and Iraq.  The dialogue is always full of one-liners and punch ones with insults frequently thrown at the guilty (Donald Rumsfeld is called ‘looney tunes’) for the pleasure of the audience.  

But the script distracts with the female presence, no doubt put in to entice female audiences to see the film.  Warren’s romantic fling with neighbour, Lisa (Jessica Biel) leads nowhere as does Jonathan’s wife, Vlatka’s (Milla Jovovich) objections to the danger her husband might have got himself into.

In the words of Joe Galloway, When the government fucks up, the soldiers pay the price.  This is illustrated by the story of a black soldier put into the story.   Adam (Luke Tennie), has his spinal cord severed in an explosion just three hours after he landed in Iraq.  The incident is emphasized on the day Adam enlists to what he believes, in serving the country. His angry mother points out that he does not even know where Afghanistan and he wants to travel there to fight.  And worse still in a war that is lied about by the Bush Administration.  The film poses the question as to who is the most detestable U.S. President in history.   It would be a tough fight with George W. Bush as the frontrunner. 

Director Reiner gives himself, playing Journalist Night Ridder chief, John Walcott the best role and the best lines.  “Bossman got balls!”  Warren tells Jonathan at one point in the film.  And “We don’t write for people that send other people’s kids to war!” says Walcott angrily – another best line.

Reiner’s film achieves its purpose in whistle blowing the Bush Administration and with shock and disgust rather than awe.  In being more entertaining, the film loses a little of its dramatic effectiveness though audiences should not be complaining.


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Film Review: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Solo: A Star Wars Story Poster
During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.


Ron Howard


(The review contains a few plot points. that should not spoil ones enjoyment of the film) 

Han Solo, is the space outlaw made famous by Harrison Ford ever since the first blockbuster STAR WARS wowed the world is.  It would be a treat for Star Wars fans if Ford made an appearance in this movie.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the second of the Star Wars anthology films following ROGUE ONE in 2016.  The film is a stand-alone instalment set prior to the events of A NEW HOPE.  As the title implies, the film follows the adventures of the beginnings of Solo (played this time around by a younger Alden Ehrenreich) before he joins forces with Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.  The film is written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan and directed by Ron Howard taking over the direction after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were let go owing what the studio cited as ‘artistic differences’.  Lord and Miller are still credited as executive producers.

A good exercise watching the film would be to guess which section was directed by Lord and Miller and which were taken over by Howard.  The former made the crazy LEGO MOVIE, which might have been too much for the Star Wars franchise.

The film opens with young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) fighting for survival on a desolate planet while having the dream of becoming a pilot to fly his ship among the stars.  But first he has to get out of the hell hole.  He and his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to but she is captured at the last minute, Solo escaping promising to return to the planet to save her.  This opening escape sequence (with the introduction of great sets, odd creatures and stunning alien landscape) is done really well and sets up the stage for an exciting film, which fortunately director Howard delivers.  The story goes on to Solo meeting with a master criminal, Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who becomes Solo’s mentor.  They eventually embark on a task to aid Master Criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) steal prized fuel from a distant planet.  Along the way, other new characters are introduced including Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Solo’s Wookiee sidekick and best friend.  

The film introduces new terms like gravity well, hyper fuel, Crimson Dawn just to list a few.  The film reveals (good for Star Wars paraphernalia) how Han Solo got his name, how he and Chewbacca originally met and how he got his first starship to fly.

Alden Ehrenreich, a star in the making, creates an excellent Han Solo,  the new super young action hero, the space outlaw who will gradually grow into Harrison Ford in the later films.  The other new actors like Clarke and Donald Golver as Lando Calrissian also prove their worth standing besides veterans like Harrelson and Bettany.

The film contains all the elements of a good action movie – betrayal, love, sacrifice and exciting action set-pieces.  There is the classic climatic fight between hero (Solo) and villain, Dryden.  The ending includes both a plot twist and a western-like showdown.

SOLO: A STAR WARS film turns out to be another solid action space western in the Star Wars franchise, another winner for director Ron Howard, translating to lots of money for Disney studios.


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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Poster

In this darkly comic drama, a mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder, when they fail to catch the culprit.


Martin McDonagh


Written, co-produced, and directed by one of the most esteemed playwrights in Ireland (the play, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENAN) Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI arrives with all the hype after winning this year’s Toronto International Film Festival prestigious People’s Choice (Most Popular) Film Award.  This is a film that can be enjoyed by both the commercial audience and critics alike.  It is smart, funny (darkly so), suspenseful and brilliantly acted by all concerned.

Nine months after her daughter is raped and murdered, a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is totally frustrated that there has been no progress with the investigation led by the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).   Using the last of her hard earned money, she leases three billboards from Red (Caleb Landry Jones) on the edge of her Missouri town to condemn the local police force for failing to find the culprit.  This angers the sheriff and one of his top officers, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a red-neck racist mamma’s boy, with a temper to suit his prejudice.  Mildred is one angry, foul mouthed woman who would kick any man in the nuts if they comes across her the wrong way.  The billboards gradually lead from one bad incident to another resulting in the suicide of Police Chief Bill Willoughby.  This infuriates Jason who beats Red up, ending up in Red being in hospital and himself fired from the force.

Despite the wicked humour, McDonagh’s script is smart enough never to forget the main issue at hand – the desperation of a mother to see justice done.  The irony though, is that Mildred is not that good a mother who on the eventful night of the rape, had an argument with the daughter that led her to walking alone and abducted.  Those like myself who love irony, will see it rearing its head again when the racist Jason coming up as the one with the best clue as to the killer.

As one would imagine after the film passes its half way mark, it is not the identity of the killer that is important.  It is the nature of people – how people change, and in this film for the better.  The chief who kills himself writes letters to Mildred and Jason that would change them.  This is the reason audiences would favour the film.  It has heart, sympathy despite the dark humour and foul language – more irony here (the film with the most foul language has the biggest heart.) 

One might argue as to the necessity of the abusive language used in the film.  To McDonagh’s defence, thee are people in the world that utter the ‘f’ word in every sentence.  Mildred happens to be one of them. 

McDonagh develops excellent characterizations.  The best is the lead, Mildred.  Mildred has so fierce and powerful a personality that one is never sure what she will do, thus becoming an exciting presence in every scene she is in.  Sam Rockwell achieves marvellous results with his complex character which might win him an oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  McDonagh’s film’s ending is also impressive.  It is a 4 way open ended non-Hollywood ending, which is the smartest conclusion I have seen in a film this year.


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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APESAfter the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Review by Gilbert Seah
The original PLANET OF THE APES films were camp and occasionally goofy. They were never taken that seriously. The first featured Charlton Heston stripped naked so that the audience could see his bare buttocks and ended with him cursing God after discovering the Stature of Liberty half buried in the sand.

This followed with BENEATH THE PLANT OF THE APES where subterranean creatures were battling the apes that ending with Earth blowing up. What next? ESCAPE FROM, CONQUEST and the most ridiculous BATTLE FOR which ended the series.

The series reboot began similarly with PLANET OF THE APES flowed by RISE and DAWN OF and now WAR FOR. The primary difference is that the reboot series is serious fodder. The camp and fun is gone. What is left is a serious man vs. ape and the fight for what is right, things that also can get quite ridiculous. When things get ridiculous, the series will end.

The plot takes place two years after the events of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes have been embroiled in a war against humans. As the ape population decreases, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts (isn’t the film serious enough?) in order to avenge his fallen companions. The encounter with the apes and humans puts them into the ultimate confrontation, to determine the fate of the Earth. But the plot is not as simple as it sounds. It also involves a mad colonel (Woody Harrelson) a kind of Marlon Brando character from APOCALYPSE NOW. (There is a poster with the words APEPOCALYPSE NOW, as if the similarity is not already evident.)

The actual war involves two factions of human beings – one led by the colonel who believes that sick human begin should be totally destroyed and the other the rest of the world who believe that the sick can be cured. The apes are caught in between. The problem with all this is the oversimplified plot. What about the other nations of the world like he Chinese, Indians etc. Also, the number of apes can never outnumber the number of humans, though the excuse given is the virus that eliminated most of the human population.

Caesar leads the apes out of the jungle to the new land like Moses in the Bible’s old Testament. The analogy is so obvious and makes the film even more serious for the fact. To the filmmakers’ credit, the film has excellent production values and looks absolutely stunning on film.

So what is the attraction of the PLANET OF THE APES films? Someone once told me he wanted to go see it because he was so obsessed with seeing apes riding horses with rifles slung round their backs. The question is whether the fascination will hold after 4 or 5 similar films. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the 4th of the reboot series and cost a whopping a amount of money with a running time of 140 minutes. Perhaps enough is enough!

Trailer: v=UEP1Mk6Un98

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Film Review: WILSON (USA 2016) ***

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wilson.jpgDirector: Craig Johnson
Writers: Daniel Clowes (graphic novel), Daniel Clowes (screenplay)
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian, Shaun Brown

Review by Gilbert Seah

Woody Harrelson had a supporting role of a neurotic teacher who did not care a f*** in the indie film EDGE OF SEVENTEEN last year. It is as if he expanded that character fully and incorporated the character as WILSON, a film in which the lead character is a lonely, neurotic and funny man who has almost given up on life. When the film opens, he quips that at present all his dreams when he was a kid (like wanting to grow up an astronaut, doctor) are all mired down in disappointment. Wilson (Harrelson) is separated from his estranged wife, Pippi (Laura Dern) but still loves her.

Wilson is likely the saddest protagonist seen in a film this year. Wilson does have a super cute terrier, that he walks daily. Every one would stop to pat this cute thing. Wilson would do a fake dog voice when this happens, creeping the patter out Wilson is also the type who should sit next to a stranger when there are lots of empty seats around i a bus or coffee shop just to strike up a conversation The film uses these segments both for comedy as well as to introduce the character of Wilson to the audience.

As WILSON is a film about losers based on a graphic mover by Daniel Clowes, who also wrote the screenplay, its humour is a bit weird and obviously not for everybody – though I cannot complain as it is very funny.

Alexander Payne (ELECTION, SIDEWAYS, THE DESCENDANTS) was originally hired to direct (he serves as one of the `film’s producers) but Craig Johnson (THE SKELETON TWINS) took over, doing a fine job. The best thing about the film is its unpredictability, just like life itself. Wilson never expected himself to be thrown in jail. While confronting his daughter to give her s*** for testifying against him, he is given good news about being a grandfather. The jail term served by Wilson also surprisingly does him good, forcing him to be social in the prison society. It is believable that such a turn in character can occur.

WILSON is the role that Harrelson was born to play – annoying, eccentric, smart-talking while occasionally being smart. But he would not likely receive an Oscar nomination for such a small film. Laura Dern, an often under-rated actress does a marvellous job as the ex-wife, who keeps her dignity amidst losing her daughter and family. Acting honours also goes to the cute terrier.

In a nut shell, WILSON is a film about a sad middle-aged man called Wilson who through sheer termination finally comes of age in the goring up process. A small little small budget film, WILSON is charming and an entertaining enough film.




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