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.

 

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?

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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.

 

A Quiet Place Quick Thoughts

A Quiet Place is an amazing movie. Much in the vein of last year’s Get Out, it is an exciting and unique offering to the horror genre, with subtle social commentary at play as well.

Director and star John Krasinski has mentioned that the film is meant to explore the family unit. Upon reviewing the film by memory, I find that the use of sound as the key element to the story certainly gels with his goal.

In any family unit, noise can be destructive, both literally and metaphorically. Arguments can tear families apart, noise from people external to the family can very quickly cause disharmony among the family. The toxicity of all this unwanted noise is manifested as a killer alien in AQP, and we see that the family sticks to the solution of not making any sound.

We see that this too, is sub-optimal; in blocking out the negative elements of all this sound, they also remove the positive; a lack of communication means issues cannot be solved as one does not understand the other; the young girl believes her father doesn’t love her.

It is interesting how the alien is killed, which is through sound, more specifically a frequency that the father had utilized in his attempt to help his daughter hear. I suppose this could be analogous to how in order to truly be in tune with each other, a family must find a common ground, a common frequency which they can all subscribe to in order to understand and appreciate one another. A more far-fetched idea I got was in relation to how it’s the feedback from the hearing aid that causes the creature to experience immense pain – which could translate to how feedback is required from all members of the household in order to foster understanding, even if it may cause pain along the way (as shown by the pain experienced by the girl from the feedback).

Overall, a very very thoughtful and well thought out movie that is engaging throughout with it’s incredibly scary and tense scenes that definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought the cast’s performances were amazing, especially Emily Blunt’s; without sound, they manage to reveal so much about themselves solely through their actions and facial expressions; the bathtub scene was so gripping. Another highlight scene for me was of course when the Dad sacrifices himself for his children through a burst of sound that can be described as raw and primal; speaking to parent’s primal instinct of putting their children first.

Rating: 9/10

Ready Player One and Pacific Rim: Uprising

I recently watched these two films almost back-to-back, and I thought they juxtaposed nicely with each other as two very different blockbuster movies. 

While Pacific Rim: Uprising tried to show what could happen if we pushed the limits of man-made technology in its physical manisfestation, Ready Player One explores the limits of man-made technology in the virtual realm. 

As one would expect, virtual reality is often more fantastical than physical reality, and we certainly see the element of fantasy play very heavily in RPO. Yet that can’t be the only reason why I found RPO to be so much better a film than PRU. 

Perhaps it’s the plot. Despite seeming RPO seeming to be the more high concept  of the two, RPO’s plot is simple and laid out from the outset; find the three keys, save the world. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story feels refreshing even while sticking to a standard, fittingly role-playing game-like storyline, certainly thanks in part to the constantly changing action scenes and landscapes. 

In PCU, however, the plot is one built on twists and question marks from the outset; who is the rogue robot? What are Shao’s true intentions? While I’ve mentioned many times before that one thing I love in any film is a good plot twist, I felt that the reveal was not only stunted by a giveaway earlier scene (where Charlie Day’s character connects his mind to some alien brain), but was also beset by the story being overstuffed with too many narratives; there’s the Mako/Jake brother sister arc at the start, the rival arc between Jake and Nate, the rival arc between Amara and Vik, the teacher-Student arc between Jake and Amara, the love triangle that sort of ends nowhere… the list goes on and on, and already, I’m sure you can see how any sort of undergirding plot line is quickly diffused by all these narratives that the filmmakers seem to place enough emphasis on individually to detract from any sort of overarching storyline. 

One thing I must say though, the visuals for both were stunning, and they both certainly had their epic moments. 

Overall,

7.5/10 for Ready Player One

5/10 for Pacific Rim: Uprising 

Sight Unseen: Avengers Infinity War Predictions Part 2

Now, to cover my thoughts how what the quality of this film will be like. To view my predictions on what the plot and flow of the film will be like, check out Part 1.

I think expectations are definitely through the roof for this one. For some reason, I’m keeping myself hesitantly optimistic. Maybe it’s because the second Avengers was a huge letdown.

However, with the Russo brothers directing, I think this film should overall be a good one. I thought they did a good job with Civil War, and this looks like it could be that but just on a much bigger scale.

With so many prominent characters and what seems like the ultimate bad guy of the MCU in this film, I think this film can only be great if it pulls off both epic storytelling and epic action sequences. And when I say epic, I mean unprecedented epic. Because this movie is unprecedented.

From the trailers, the action sequences look to be good but honestly didn’t seem to have that much of a wow factor. Of course, this is me speaking with roughly 3 minutes of footage to judge from.

I think it’s inevitable that the movie may get a little messy and hard to follow with this number of characters, so it’ll really come down to the directors to make sure audiences aren’t confused.

I do think that Marvel and Disney would’ve gone to great lengths to ensure this film is good because it is such a landmark movie. The trailers honestly haven’t really shown me the ‘epicness’ that I’d expect from such a film.

Ultimately, I think the Russo brothers will do a good job in balancing all the characters, and will definitely provide amazing action sequences, but perhaps not with the epic feel you’d expect of such a movie

Prediction: 9/10

With amazing visuals and action sequences, Infinity War does a good job balancing its huge cast with a well-told story. However, it’ll never quite ascend to the level of the mind-blowing.