Sight Unseen: Mortal Engines

Usually, it’s possible to glean from a movie’s promotional material and the level of marketing, along with other factors, whether or not it’ll more than likely be a good movie or not. A recent example is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms which I recently saw. The badly put together trailers for the film in terms of their messy editing and severe lack of that magic Disney feel already set me up for a subpar film, which it was.

For the Mortal Engines, however, it really seems like one of the biggest wild cards in awhile. While on one hand, it appears to have some of that Peter Jackson LOTR magic; the visuals look grand and beautiful, the action sequences look interesting, it concurrently harbours a familiar young adult aftertaste reminiscent of the YA mania period of The Hunger Games and Divergent. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, the dialogue in the trailer seems far from inspired, so I think a lot of it will come down to whether or not they focus enough on building these characters amidst the CGI spectacle. The scar on Hester’s face is certainly a peculiarity that I think will be explored, probably with commentary on the concept of beauty (inner vs outer etc).

The promotional material has seemed to focus quite extensively on the character Anna Fang (played by Jihae), so that tells me that she might be the scene-stealing character, who will be of more interest than the protagonist. Of course, a film like this needs a good villain and I think Hugo Weaving has a great track record for bringing us villains who we truly fear and react to.

I can see the film sticking somewhat closely to the novel; the trailers seem to point to a rather faithful adaptation, (of course, that Hollywood filtered scar has been a negative talking point) which would mean multiple deaths throughout the movie. I think if they’re able to make us feel for these characters and have a connection to them leading to the brutal climax, this could be a great film, especially with the CGI spectacle to boot. However, if the characters turn out to be wooden tropes, and the dialogue is cliche as the trailers sort of suggest, it could tank the movie. For me, unfortunately, I’m kind of leaning slightly towards the latter; I think the main character will actually be an issue in terms of development and connection, however, a potentially interesting plot, interesting side characters that pull the story along, and a visual treat of the moving cities and their battles should bolster this movie.

Prediction: 7.5/10. Despite a slightly uninteresting lead, the world of the mortal engines nevertheless captivates you, with an interesting plot bolstered by the scene-stealing supporting cast.

 

The Wife Analysis/Thoughts

I recently watched The Wife starring Glenn Close, and thought there were many interesting points of discussion.

The Wife opens by setting clear the premise of the whole film; that the husband has won the Nobel prize for literature. We begin to glean the complications that would arise as the camera gives us our first close-up of Joan’s face while her husband receives the news; it’s a distant, sad, almost glazed look that will permeate the film as we encounter numerous flashbacks.

As the plane takes the duo to receive the prize, dark clouds set the scene for a turbulent journey ahead. We immediately see this tension when Joan is being introduced to members of the Nobel Prize committee; her husband casts a questionable gaze onto his young, pretty photographer, but most crucially, we detect the potent simmer of emotions when Joan is claimed not to be a writer.

We slowly discover the ugly truth that fuels the ongoing tension that brews, thanks in large part to the tremendous performances of Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, who reveal a particular bitterness in their expressions despite outward expressions of love. 

This dark undertow of bitterness is given meat when journalist Nathaniel Bone paints a decidedly more crooked portrait than that of the ‘Great Man and Great Man’s Wife’ public persona of the two (also explaining Joe’s earlier brusque treatment of Nathaniel) – that Joan had in fact ghostwritten all of Joe’s great works. She was the one with the golden touch, but as a female author at her university said, ‘a writer needs to be read,’ and being female just meant a much harder time getting published. 

Joan notably rebuffs him, and anyone, even her son, who leveled this accusation at her husband. 

This is despite Joe’s infidelity, that is revealed throughout the film to be almost pathological, becoming the inspiration for many of Joan’s novels.

This tension builds all the way until the night of the ceremony itself, where Joan is finally unable to contain the pent of resentment of being unrecognized as a writer. Their bitterness for each other is laid bare in a cathartic, explosive scene where Joan finally, audibly declares to the audience that the books were written by her, that they were her words. Their altercation is interrupted by a call where they find out that they are grandparents, leading to a brief moment of true affection between the two. It is short-lived however, as Joe suffers from a fatal heart attack not long later, and we see absolute desolation on Joan’s face, a testament to how she had loved him after all, despite the secrets and betrayals. 

In the after-light, Joan promises to tell those important to her – her son and daughter – the truth, while vehemently rejecting any form of public expose of her husband. This perhaps reflects how she’s decided that books were his stories, as they were inspired by his life, though written in her words. As the plane taking her home cruises into the light, we see her flip her notebook to a new page – a new start – and we can only surmise that she will crescendo into new life as a writer.

This film is very much anchored in the amazing performances of Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, who detail the toll of their secret reality with searing restraint, expertly elevating the tension throughout the film towards the explosive finale. The plot and script were decent, but definitely elevated by the lead performances.

Rating: 8/10

Crazy Rich Asians thoughts (by a Singaporean)

This review comes extremely late, as CRA is weeks into its historic box office run in the US, but I thought I’d just share some thoughts on it anyway.

loved the movie. The fact that it’s plot was striking of a run-of-the-mill rom com didn’t deter my enjoyment of the movie; it may even have enhanced it. Because this is the first time I saw a truly mainstream Hollywood with a full-fledged Asian (and not to mention highly Singaporean) cast.

Many western reviews have noted how it’s a fine portrait of Asian culture and society. Mostly, they seem to implicitly refer to Chinese American culture (making dumplings etc), however, I thought it did a fine job of displaying Singaporean values and culture as well, which was such an added bonus for me. Peik Lin’s family was not just comic relief, it was a nice quip at Singaporean’s obsession with things new and shiny, and the antics of the burgeoning nouveau riche. The snarky aunts that flank Eleanor in almost every scene are also a nice reflection of competitive family dynamics in a typical Singaporean household, where a spirit of one-upmanship and incessant gossiping is a mainstay. Of course, these may seem like generic tropes, but I thought they were imbued with a nice, authentic Singaporean touch and were tropes commonly seen in Singaporean films, giving it that added local flavour.

My favourite scene was definitely the Mahjong scene. The usage of such a popular game in Singapore in such a pivotal scene was nice, and I liked how it tied in with the very first scene we see with Constance Wu, where she wins a game of Poker because her opponent was playing to not lose, and not to win. Bringing this concept full circle at the end of the film, (with a change in the game from Poker to Mahjong being a nice nod to Singaporean/Asian culture), she talks about how Eleanor had made it such that any side winning had become impossible. She utilises the game to express this sentiment amazingly; Eleanor technically wins, at first, but then Rachel reveals her hand, showing how she’d given the game to Eleanor, rendering Eleanor’s win unauthentic. Here, we see how she’d played not to win, not to ‘not lose’, but to lose, and in the process had felt for the first time that she was ‘enough’. I thought this had a nice message of how assessing different permutations towards success wasn’t necessarily always the optimal way to grow as a person, rather, considering the value of failure or loss may prove more valuable.

Overall, just loved this film, and watched it three times because I had to. As for it’s Oscar chances, I think it should show up in some minor categories just as a nod to it’s significance as one for the history books, though a nod for Michelle Yeoh may well be possible if the stars align.

9/10

Comic Con trailers: Godzilla, Fantastic Beasts

Recently, I saw the trailers for the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Godzilla films, and thought I’d pen down some of my thoughts.

First, the Godzilla trailer. I thought the trailer poised the film really well as a giant monster flick; the one shot where Godzilla spews his atomic breath into the sky with the military ship before him as a size comparison is a glimpse of the breathtaking scale of the visuals that I’m hoping permeates throughout the film.

I think Millie Bobby Brown is an interesting casting choice (if someone typecast). Assuming the trailer is simply playing up her popularity and that she is indeed the main human protagonist of the film, I think some interesting dynamics can be explored by the filmmakers in terms of size and stature, both physical and metaphorical. Her character appears to be small in size even relative to the other humans in the film, but perhaps her bravery will render her larger-than-life, comparable to the literal titans in the film.

I think the trailer does leave things somewhat vague, which is good, though those knowledgeable in Godzilla lore may note the presence of certain familiar rivals to the king of monsters and infer how it would play out. I suppose if the filmmakers were to follow pre-existing lore meticulously, we’d probably see a battle between two camps of monsters. (Godzilla and Mothra against Ghidorah in a CGI-explosive Act 3, where the human characters play their own minor parts but are largely left on the sidelines)

Next, Fantastic Beasts.

I liked how the trailer still placed some emphasis on the various fantastic beasts of the wizarding world. We even see some new ones! I had feared that the film would sidelines the beasts to place emphasis on the Grindelwald/Dumbledore storyline and more or less transform it purely into a Harry Potter prequel. Thankfully, the trailer seems to show that the film will offer a lot more. The line where Zoe Kravitz’s character observes how there was no monster Newt couldn’t love was particularly interesting to me. I feel that she meant this not pertaining solely to his care for the various beasts seen in the film, but also to the sidelined people or perhaps those seen as ‘sub-human’ because of various peculiarities. I think it’ll be interesting if the filmmakers explored this human-beast dynamic and what made someone or something constitute a beast. For instance, in our world, we may treat a dog infinitely better than we do another human being. What would that say about the status dynamics between beasts and humans?

x

Trailers: First Man, A Star is Born

In recent weeks, some trailers for several upcoming films touted to be big players at next year’s Oscars were released. I’ll give my brief thoughts on two of them: First Man and A Star is Born.

First Man appears to be as dramatic and Oscar-baity as you’d expect, with a lot of the trailer showing us the brooding Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, whose inner turmoil he brings out in anticipation of the mission to the moon. It does seem like a lot of this film will be carried on his shoulders, so if it succeeds, I think he may be a lock of a lead nomination, especially seeing how favourable he’s been with Academy members recently (La La Land).

I think Claire Foy looks to be an electric foil to Gosling’s brooding Armstrong; her first scenes from the trailer show her to be loud and quick-tongued, and with her stellar work in The Queen, I think Academy members will give this TV star her first Oscar nomination, likely in the supporting category. The supporting, empowering wife figure seems to be a popular choice for Academy voters, especially when to a male lead who’s primely in the race (see: Felicity Jones, Keira Knightley, Ruth Negga). Claire Foy does seem to add no small degree of her own voice in this film, (she’s seen berating Neil’s colleagues in potentially scene-stealing fashion) and I think she may be a lock as well.

Onto A Star is Born, I think Lady Gaga looks great! Of course, she sounds great as well, and just from the trailer, I can detect definite chemistry between the two leads. I think this could really be a breakout for her, but she’d have to be really good, and so would the movie. When people remember that Cher won an Oscar back in the day, I’m not sure if Academy members view that as a historic moment or a ‘what were we thinking’ moment, so I think they’d want to be extra sure if they were to award a (former?) pop artist the biggest prize. A nomination definitely seems possible, though.

 

Renee Zellweger in Judy

I think this is the year Renee Zellweger returns to the Oscar race.

Following her consecutive Oscar nominations in the early 2000s, including one for her unforgettable performance in Chicago and her ultimate win in Cold Mountain, I’ve felt for a long time that she was bound to take home the top prize one day – a Best Actress award (her win in Cold Mountain was in the supporting category). 

It’s too early to tell, but given her undeniable talent, and given that she’s playing a Hollywood legend, the stars just seem so aligned. Time will tell.

Why Avengers: Infinity War ultimately disappoints

I liked Avengers: Infinity War. One of the factors I’d been most wary about; the balancing of so many different characters and their individual stories, turned out to be a success, as I thought the various plot lines weaves together really nicely, concurrently displaying how far-reaching Thanos’s impact was, with our heroes playing their parts in different parts of the galaxy at the same time.

I thought the focus on Thanos as the main character was well done too; it definitely gave him a proper introduction that previous Marvel villains lacked.

Ultimately, I was disappointed by Avengers: Infinity War because of the widely talked-about ending. 

Since it’s been awhile since it’s release, I think it’s safe to reveal that basically half the characters die as Thanos has collected all the Infinity stones.

When I saw Black Panther, Spider-Man and the bulk of the GOTG cast disappear though, instead of shock I felt somewhat cheated – because we know they’re coming back based on Marvel upcoming announced releases. 

Effectively, the sense of finality and characters being gone for good just wasn’t there. 

I guess I’d expected this to have a defined ending on its own, but it’s instead become a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 or Mockingjay Part 1; it’s only half of a complete story; and surely the less important half.

Overall rating: 6.7/10

Broadly speaking a real accomplishment of a film, if brought down only by a disappointing ending