Horror, Reviews

Split

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Three teenagers, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) are kidnapped by one of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s (James McAvoy) 23 personalities and they are locked in a cell beneath the ground with the sole purpose of being offered as human sacrifices to a surfacing 24th persona known as ‘The Beast’. Sensing that Kevin’s more perverse nature is currently in control, his psychologist, Dr Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) conducts her own investigation to locate the missing girls.

Review
M. Night Shyamalan’s competency lies in dispensing suspense and terror to hair-raising effect. By condensing the story on the girls trying to flee from their captor, he avoids the mistakes made in calamities like ‘Lady In The Water’ and ‘The Happening’. (Certain) character motivation and rationality are the movie’s finest qualities and casting McAvoy is like watching a filmic one-man show with 23 roles.

There is a kicker though. We are reminded that there are 23 characteristics, but ‘The Sixth Sense’ director only chooses to show us about eight of them for no particular reason. McAvoy’s acting artistry is in top form as he dazzles after being in cruise control for the last two years. He is prudish in a pleated midi skirt and illuminates as a precocious nine-year-old boy.

The depth McAvoy brings to the various individuals intensifies Kevin’s struggle with himself and it would have become unintentionally comical if someone lesser assumed the part. What disheartens me most about this thriller-cum-horror is that it is neither exciting nor scary despite the unique premise and outstanding central performances (Taylor-Joy and Buckley supplying commendable support).

Perhaps it is the ambiguity of what Kevin’s dominant ‘others’ have in store for the girls that is haphazardly written undermines the robust buildup in the first and second acts. Taylor-Joy effortlessly projects fear, confusion, and desperation all in just a look. Unfortunately, all I see is a regression from Shyamalan’s 2015 sleeper ‘The Visit’.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behaviour, violence and some language

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Musical, Reviews

La La Land

la_la_land_film

Copyright © 2016 by Summit Entertainment

Story
Pursuing a shot in Los Angeles, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress works as a barista on the Warner Bros. lot while auditioning for minor roles in television shows. She chances on Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician making ends meet by playing Christmas carols & 1980s remixes and they both fall in love. When they both ascent to fame, their relationship is tested and it thrusts them into a melancholic decision.

Review
After beguiling in the festival circuit, where it set a new record for the biggest haul in the Golden Globes and a record-tying 14 nominations in the Oscars, ‘La La Land’ is a deserving heir to ‘Whiplash’, Damien Chazelle’s knockout which awarded J. K. Simmons his first Academy win. The flub in last week’s oldest awards ceremony does not ebb its allure one bit and the film’s magic stems from its atmospheric adoration to classic Hollywood.

As a valentine to movie musicals of yesteryear, the opening dance number set in a traffic jam and a joke reworked from ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, ‘La La Land’ is a colourful throwback to nostalgia that is impossible to resist. It is a pastiche of references from flighty career opportunities (‘A Star Is Born’) to the faux Paris dance finale (‘An American In Paris’) and bittersweet reunion (‘Casablanca’).

Even if the musical seems more eager to amalgamate a vanished Tinseltown era than finding its own original voice, Chazelle’s intentions shines clearly; applying happiness and fantasy to his themes, he has created gorgeous and dreamy vignettes dressed in an air of romanticism, set against the backdrop of a contemporary life in Los Angeles.

The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is nothing short of heavenly, encompassing a reservoir of riches in L.A. that ensnares the glimmering skies of Griffith Observatory, the aesthetic divinity of Watts Towers and the iconic Colorado Street Bridge. Pepping in every scene is the red-hot connection between Gosling and Stone whose vigor will indubitably whisk you away from the humdrums of reality for two hours in believing these two crazy idealists.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated PG-13 for some language

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Drama, Reviews

Hidden Figures

hidden_figures

Copyright © 2016 by 20th Century Fox

Story
In 1961, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia staffs Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematician who is reassigned into an all-white team in the Space Task Group commanded by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) to assess the calculations of the scientists scurrying to match Sputnik and launch John Glenn (Glen Powell) into space. Exceptional at her work, she is indispensable to NASA but is troubled by the mistreatment from the rest of the men. Her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) face similar barricades to their careers but their determination pay off as they become key figures in contributing to the space race.

Review
Celebrating a life’s work and presenting it as entertainment would normally have the protagonist face with insurmountable adversities that finishes on an inspiring high. Such examples of optimism inculcated about the minority include ‘Ali’, ‘Invictus’, ‘42’, ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and ‘Selma’. These great men of colour encouraged equality through their intellect, compassion and resolution.

But let’s make room for a few more to join the coveted list. The ladies at NASA are stepping out from their crummy basement and essaying for their own progression in a workplace systematically run by white men. ‘Hidden Figures’ is a frank, pleasing tale of triumph that radiates with current relevance fronted by a fiery Henson and an imposing debut from Monáe.

The quiet dignity Henson adorns Johnson is infectious that you cannot help but be enamored by her struggle. It sets the audience up to the film’s big, purgative moment, one that is no stranger even till this day. Monáe’s Jackson is brassy. Queenly yet delicate, she is the most forthright and ambitious of the lot, flaunting her mind and independence with attitude.

There is a universal fascination of overcoming obstacles and inequity for mankind’s greater victory. ‘Hidden Figures’ brings these previously unjustly invisible women to global recognition while avoiding broad-stroke beats of a civil rights drama and focusing on the women’s private lives. The script has been accused of fudging the facts and intentionally saccharine-coated but it is visibly off trajectory if this crowd-pleaser never saw the light of day.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements and some language

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Reviews, Thriller

Patriots Day

patriots_day_film

Copyright © 2016 by CBS Films

Story
When two terrorists with Chechen roots set off two home-made explosives in the crowd watching the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260, police sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) searches for clues to apprehend Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) while heading the official manhunt is FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and he is facilitated by Boston police commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and Watertown police sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J. K. Simmons).

Review
Third venture in, director Peter Berg and star Wahlberg pair up for a rousing retelling of a real-life American tragedy which they successfully captured a few months back about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Like ‘Deepwater Horizon’, the latest has Berg skillfully placing human connection above action. The various lives introduced are capably downplayed and add the mounting dread of what is to come next.

The docu-drama form is expertly included, inserting a street-level experience which magnifies the tension when the bomb detonates at the finish line and the city goes into a frenzy. The blast is graphic, setting a macabre tone for the rest of the crime procedural. The monstrosity perpetrated is shed through the cold and distant occupants in the Tsarnaev household.

It is their (seeming) isolation from the rest of the community that motivates these brothers into more heinous crimes such as the brutal murder of a young MIT police officer who died defending his weapon & car, carjacking a Chinese student and an all-out strike in Watertown. The carjacking scene in particular deconstructs a momentary look into Dzhokhar and Tamerlan’s motives with conviction delivered in earnestness from the threesome of Wolff, Melikidze and Jimmy O. Yang, the innocent Mercedes-Benz owner.

If you thought ‘Patriots Day’ is shadowing the underrated ‘13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’, the former’s political undercurrent is less overt. Other than an unsettling interrogation of Tamerlan’s defiant wife by an intimidating agent donning a hijab, Berg has chosen to center on the efforts of real-life people who were instrumental in the arrest of the Islamic radicals and the valor of the victims. Could be deeper but it is still a thoughtful tribute to a united and strong Boston.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use

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Animation, Reviews

Zootopia

zootopia

Copyright © 2016 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Story
Fresh from the police academy, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) joins the force in Zootopia aiming to reduce crimes in the city. Instead, her commanding officer, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to parking duty. Unfazed by the decision, she still does the job admirably. Opportunity arises when a predator’s wife requests the prioritisation of searching for her missing husband. Judy volunteers and is forced to team up with a conniving fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) as he is last seen with the victim.

Review
What a year it has been for Disney. The most powerful brand in 2016, the reported annual grossing for the collective movies from its in-house division to subsidiaries such as Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm is a whopping $7 billion. Beginning the year with its record-breaking numbers is the first megahit, ‘Zootopia’, a timely and irreverent tale about racial prejudice.

Poise to nab a couple more gongs for ‘Best Animated Feature’, a third consecutive win at the Oscars validates Disney’s return as a mighty storyteller capable of rivaling Pixar’s once unblemished history for innovation. As a buddy cop comedy, a whodunit puzzler and an oft-told reminder of remaining true to oneself, ‘Zootopia’ is entertaining to the young and astute for mature viewers.

Taken at face value, the visuals are stunningly animated, the jokes rarely miss (but Judy’s interaction with a sloth incites only a mild giggle that lingers more than it should) and the cast delights with exceptional voicing from Goodwin and Bateman. Like the best on-screen mismatch combos before, the duo’s unlikely partnership pulsates with thumping hilarity.

Judy’s intuitive disposition added with the savoir-faire from Nick as a street hustler, the case comes to a satisfying end but what really deserves praise is the ingenuity of conceptualising a mystery that correlates with xenophobia and its implications. The film jabs the matter eagerly in a period of political unrest and it is comforting to witness the reactions are gloriously positive.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting (Voice): A
Plot: A

Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action

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Comedy, Reviews

Deadpool

deadpool_poster

Copyright © 2016 by 20th Century Fox

Story
An ex-special forces officer turned mercenary, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer and leaves his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) to fight the illness alone. He meets an agent from a clandestine facility who guarantees him a cure. Wade undergoes the treatment headed by Ajax (Ed Skrein) through torturous methods leaving him permanently disfigured but healed of his cancer. Claiming his horrific scarring is reversible, Wade relentlessly tracks Ajax for a cosmetic improvement.

Review
Time to make the chimichangas and brace for a whole lot of adult and meta humour from your friendly neighbourhood Pool guy. A passion project since his introduction in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, Reynolds has tirelessly sought for the right talent to evoke goodwill and erase any animosity fans may still have in Gavin Hood’s dismal entry.

The gamble led to a $132.7 million opening and a ‘Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy’ nod from the Golden Globes and Producers Guild of America. Though not fully deserving the highest echelon during this awards season, a slot in the ‘Best Picture’ race from the Oscars would put the academy on track in its quest for continuous diversity.

Starring God’s perfect idiot and written by the real heroes here, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who knew that breaking the fourth wall can be this profanely merry. Many quotable one-liners quipped by a duly nominated Reynolds for ‘Best Actor – Musical or Comedy’, he is only let down in trite plotting. The film hangs firmly on his charms and offers nothing new.

With an R rating exhibited so prominently in its marketing, the promise of a rebooted Deadpool mirroring the comics looked set for a bloody delivery. It is bloody and there is loads of cussing. The merc with a mouth is back and as cool as he was as Weapon XI, there is no denying that his witticism is his defining asset. But we cannot coast only on personality, can we?

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B

Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity

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Drama, Reviews

Ben-Hur

ben-hur

Copyright © 2016 by Paramount Pictures

Story
The friendship of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbell) is tested after Messala revisits his home in Jerusalem as a revered Roman officer. It reaches breaking point when Ben-Hur refuses to spy for his adopted brother on the Zealots who are against the oppressive Romans. In a failed assassination on Pontius Pilate’s (Pilou Asbæk) life from a young Zealot, Gestas (Moisés Arias) whom Ben-Hur is harboring, he shoulders the blame and is condemned to enslavement in a galley. After five years of slavery, the galley is wrecked in a naval attack and he journeys back to Jerusalem with Sheik Ilderim’s (Morgan Freeman) support.

Review
“For the right price, they’ll let you do anything”. Monetary motivations aside, consenting a second remake for the 21st century feels judicious and John Ridley polishing the script restores some required faith. As terrific the Oscar juggernaut is (11 wins and stayed victorious for almost four decades until ‘Titanic’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ matched the record), a modern spin could rejuvenate interest.

The 1959 tale of two friends / brothers driven apart by ambition and religion fuels the rage of the wrongly accused Jew with a heartrending finale that is accompanied by impassioned music from Miklós Rózsa. Even after the umpteenth viewing, being dry-eyed is a test I repeatedly flunk gloriously. Big shoes for Timur Bekmambetov and a predominantly unknown cast to fill 57 years later.

From the math, the numbers are disheartening and the film has been dismissed by both secular and religious groups. As it turns out, it is not the calamity that many pundits prophesied before its release. In defense, this re-imagination strives a profounder insight into Ben-Hur and Messala’s relationship before all hell breaks loose. Although fleeting, it maneuvers to a lachrymose conclusion nevertheless.

The chemistry Huston and Kebbell share is adequate and both actors are laudable successors to Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd. Now to address the elephant in the room, is the chariot race any good? A crowning glory for ‘Ben-Hur’, we are enticed ahead of Bekmambetov’s vision with a visceral, furious and raucous affair. It is a valiant bid to upstage William Wyler’s hit but CGI trickery does quell its magnitude. Bummer.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images

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