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First Man (2018)
Sombre but refreshing look at an American hero
This is a movie which is not presented as a fun, space adventure, but as a solemn and harrowing look at Neil Armstrong personally during his period as an astronaut for NASA throughout the 1960s. Slow-paced and serious in tone, this style isn't for everyone, which is understandable, but I found this to be a masterfully crafted film which goes beyond a standard biopic and utilising an interesting angle to examine its main protagonist. The film really does go slow, sometimes to a fault as some scenes drag on a bit too much, but not as to make the entire film boring or monotonous. And we get a view of Neil Armstrong as a very stoic, often emotionless man. You may feel that this character is a bit personally detached from the audience, but it actually creates a real look at Armstrong's personality. And this is why much of this film is dedicated to displaying his family life, as how his personality and duties as an astronaut (especially by the time the Apollo 11 mission comes round the corner) influence the relationship with his family. The dynamic between Neil and his wife Jane is arguably the best element of this film's narrative, as her qualms resulting from Neil's busyness reveals so much about the one theme Chazelle loves to focus on in his films: the troubling side-effects of single-mindedly pursuing an ambition. The performances by Ryan Gosling and especially Claire Foy are fantastic: some of my favourite scenes were when Foy's character took centre stage. And the camerawork, while admittedly making me feel a bit dizzy during the spaceship sequences, adds a sense of authenticity to the whole film. And the space sequences are gorgeous too! This movie is worth the try at least and quite unique for its genre.
A Star Is Born (2018)
Everything about this film is brilliant and goes together perfectly. Both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga's singing and acting are absolutely on point. Gaga's vocal talent has never been in doubt, and it obviously comes through here, but her performance as Ally is sensational; all the emotions her character experiences are portrayed so authentically, she really knocked it out of the park. This is also arguably Bradley Cooper's greatest performance of his career (yes, even greater than Silver Linings Playbook and American Sniper!!) as the way he presents Jack Maine, a once-great musician on the decline due to alcoholism and drug abuse, is compelling and similarly authentic. His singing is amazing as well!! It's hard to believe his lack of a musical background when you hear his voice. The chemistry between the two in their onscreen romance is about as real as it gets, setting the tone for the rest of the story.
The way Cooper directed this movie was also immaculate. Utilizing a timeless story that had been shown onscreen three times prior to this, he draws out the emotional power contained within the storyline so beautifully. At its core, this film is a deeply affecting one, and it's presented to the audience in such a real way, without seeming fake or manipulative- as you see this the two fall in love, Ally's rise to stardom, Jack's struggles catching up with him and how it affects the dynamics between them and the rest of the characters- it all unfolds in such a gripping manner. Truly a magnificent movie musical with great songs, great acting (including from all the supporting actors, especially Sam Elliott playing Jack's brother), a deeply touching story, directed superbly and totally worthwhile seeing!!
Deeply affecting and real look at prejudice, family and lowly members of society
Mudbound is not a feel-good film filled with laughs or thrills, rather is defined by its somber tone and grim look at the lives of two families of farmers living in rural Mississippi during the WWII era, one white and one black. The lives of all the characters are impacted by war, trauma, prejudice, impoverishment and tragedy- all themes that ordinary people are able to relate to. So to witness these things play out in their lives, and see how it affects them and how they deal with it, makes for a fervently compelling and relatable story, even helping you empathise with people who are in similar situations. And ultimately, this is the greatest strength of the film; even though on the surface, the story seems to be mainly about the historical backdrop of World War II and the racial tensions of that era, it really is primarily a look those downtrodden, impoverished, lowly members in our society and the struggles that have to deal with. That is what makes this film so beautiful and moving, and it never comes across as preachy or formulaic. It goes beyond a typical historical drama, as the arc of this film never becomes overly entrapped in its historical setting or wallows too much in its anti-racism message.
The acting in this film, from every character, is top class. The cinematography and production design of this film is also gorgeous- the movie is a very good-looking one. And the script fleshes out the characters seamlessly, giving each character enough time and drawing out their backstories. The narrative manages to hold itself together well. Different aspects within the story- Laura and Henry's struggles within their marriage, the friendship forged between Jamie (a white man) and Ronsel (a black man), the sickening bigotry of the white family's patriarch- they all add different dimensions to the story so as to make it layered and multi-dimensional. The film seems to go slowly at moments but fortunately not too much to make it boring. I believe this is one of the best movies of 2017, and its a shame that this didn't get a Best Picture nomination when it certainly is superior to some of the ones that were nominated (such as Darkest Hour and The Post, which I feel are pretty formulaic historical dramas that lack Mudbound's cutting edge). It's a Netflix original, so for anyone on that site and hasn't watched this, I really recommend you check it out.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Entertaining look at wealth, identity and cultural tradition
Let me say straight off the bat that this does not give an accurate representation of 99% of Singaporeans, such as myself, ordinary people with more modest, down-to-earth backgrounds. This didn't stop me from enjoying this movie, which featured terrific acting, a storyline that translated decently onto the screen and wonderful camerawork and production values.
Michelle Yeoh, acting as the stern, imposing mother of the male protagonist Nicholas gave the standout performance for me- I could sense the intensity of this character without going over-dramatic. Constance Wu, playing the female protagonist, also did terrifically as the girl thrust into a world she's totally unprepared to face. Everyone else, including Henry Goulding as the male protagonist, were also solid.
I found the character development in the movie impressive, not just with the two main characters but even the minor ones too, as their backstories and motivations for behaving the way they did unfolded effectively. The storyline does fall prey to corny moments typical of most rom-coms- indeed, on that note, the story itself unfolded in a manner very formulaic of a rom-com, but that isn't too big of a deal in a script which overall works well. And it's supplemented by interesting camerawork and beautiful production values, illuminating the story very nicely.
Many people seem to really detest this movie (and even the book it's based on), perceiving it as a shallow, silly, even offensive glorification of ultra-rich families and modern-day materialism. I'd say that's too simplistic of an overview, as the heightening of a mega-wealthy bubble that is presented in the story is simply to illustrate the issues and circumstances that someone in that scenario would face. It draws out themes such as the love of wealth, the desire to maintain a reputation before others, and how to manage cultural/social expectations and traditions when they conflict with your wishes. That is something I really appreciated in the film, and would recommend you disregard the negative reviews and give it a watch.
Manbiki kazoku (2018)
Great portrayal of ordinary folks' struggles and haunted pasts
Excellently scripted and full of impressive subtleties, Shoplifters is a harrowing look at a working-class family in Tokyo, in the business of trying to simply make ends meet day by day. At first glance this may seem like just a story of this family resorting to petty crime, but as the plot gradually unfolds the reasons for the behaviour and decisions of each character is revealed, and al the dots begin to connect amidst this struggle.
Certainly seeing some of the characters getting involved in decidedly immoral behaviour- for example, the shoplifting carried out by the young boy and his father (as the title indications) and one young lady making a living off involvement in the porn industry, can be uncomfortable to see and it does present the characters in this film as morally dubious. But the whole situation that these people are in, and partially choose to create themselves, is eventually presented to the audience with unassuming subtlety, which is beautiful to watch. The overall tone of this film is fairly grim, and there is definitely raw emotional power to many scenes, but the acting and the script never at any point becomes overly sentimental or tragic. The scenarios and emotions that each character faces is really presented as it is, but of course with much delicacy.
This film may be relatively slow-paced and not visually stunning, but is breathtaking nonetheless. It's no wonder why it managed to win the Palme D'or! It's definitely going to end up as one of the best films of the year and will probably be recognised as a classic long in the future. Regardless of which culture you're from, I highly recommend checking this film out. It should deeply resonate with and impress any film lover.
On the Waterfront (1954)
Simply one of the best
This is a film which has garnered a reputation as among the greatest films of all time and is fully deserving of such credit. Revolving around a ex-boxer turned dockworker, who is one of the hundreds of dockworkers under the corrupt and murderous rule of mobster Johnny Friendly and his army of assistants, he is gradually faced with the choice of continuing to waste his life under the tyranny of this system, or stand against the evil that this is. Along the way, he is helped by a girl whom he falls in love with and a priest from the neighbourhood parish.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest contributions to the greatness of this film is Marlon Brando's performance as Terry Malloy, which I firmly believe is the greatest of his entire career. His performance alone would probably be a good enough reason to at least be interested in the film, as he perfectly encapsulates the anguish and inner tension that his character faces throughout the film. Lee J. Cobb, playing Johnny Friendly, the mobster in charge at the waterfront, also turns in a brilliant performance as a domineering kingpin who will do absolutely anything to cover up his evil deeds, even at the expense of other people's lives. These are just two of the many great acting performances in this film, which also included Eva Marie Saint (As Edie, a sister of one of Friendly's casualties and Terry's love interest), Karl Malden (a tough, justice-oriented priest who plays a role in motivating Terry to stand up against Friendly) and Rod Steiger (Terry's brother and Johnny Friendly's right hand man).
On the Waterfront is also very well shot, not relying on spectacular cinematography or breathtaking special effects, but the sturdy, gritty black-and-white depiction of the harsh dockworkers' environment is phenomenal and helps to make the film more captivating. But above all else, it is an emotionally gripping story that leads you to empathise with the main character and the other dockworkers, as well as sensing a righteous indignation against the evil and injustice perpetrated by Friendly and his gang. You also journey with Brando's character as he is gradually led down a path of personal redemption. The iconic scene of Terry and his brother in the cab, as he pours out his heart in lamenting his wasted opportunities and regrets while resenting his brother's previous betrayal of him. This is undoubtedly one of the finest movies in American cinema that has ever been made, and totally worth watching for any film lover.
Emotionally moving, captivating and well made
This story about a young mother, stuck in captivity with her innocent five-year old son, is among the finest shown in cinema over these past couple of years. Though there is a glimpse into the horrors of being what it's like to experience being locked up by a twisted, cruel captor for many years inside his small garden shed, the plot also emphasises the struggles they face when having to face the real world that lays outside of 'Room'. Yet through it all, the deep and unbreakable bond between Ma and her little boy, Jack, which punctuates virtually every scene, is what makes this film so moving and never ceases to uplift.
Brie Larson's performance as Ma is absolutely phenomenal; her portrayal as this woman protecting her little boy while battling the gut-wrenching struggles of being stuck inside Room, and then facing the difficulties of transitioning back to the outside world is so beautifully authentic. It was no surprise, and certainly no injustice, that she gained a 100% deserved Oscar win for Best Actress that year. Jacob Tremblay's portrayal as this sheltered, innocent little boy born into this dark world without a full awareness of what's truly going on is also fantastic. The outstanding chemistry between Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay is a huge contributing factor in successfully bringing across this story onto screen.
But aside from the emotionally powerful storyline and excellent acting of the two leads, it is also a brilliantly shot film. Lenny Abrahamson fully deserved his Best Director nomination at the Oscars (despite never standing a chance against the likes of Inarittu that year) as he makes excellent use of cinematography, editing and set design to give an authentic picture of the character's perspective of what Room would be like, as well as the outside world later on. Some of the shots are truly beautiful, in spite of the lack of flashy special effects or lavish set design. Just in case you thought this film would only be good for its acting or emotional capacity, it is a genuinely well filmed movie.
It's great to see that this film on the IMDB Top 250 list, that it's at least come close to getting it's deserved recognition. I would confidently proclaim this as one of the best films of this decade, right up there with the likes of Inception and 12 Years a Slave, not something many people would say.
This never gets old!
Disney has made many animated feature films, and there are still animated movies aplenty being made out there in modern times, but very few can eclipse the very first one of all, which is the story of a beautiful young princess called Snow White who is under the watch of the wicked Queen, who forces her as a maid in the house. This movie is now so highly rated and acclaimed that in 2007, the American Film Institute named this animated flick the 34th best American film of ALL TIME.
Even while watching it as a little kid, watching it again as a grown up teenager still brings back awesome memories, proving that the story, the characters and beautiful music is gripping and makes this a fascinating tale. Snow White herself is drawn so beautifully that you can't help but simply admire her, and the incredibly adorable voicing from Adriana Caselotti is a child's fascination. The Seven Dwarfs are very united and usually do things together- they live together, work together etc. But they are all different in personality and even in appearance. One example is Grumpy, who is for a while reluctant to accept Snow White and cold towards her, but is still one to play a part to rescue her from the Queen when danger arrives. They are the other backbone of the story, and are my personal favourite in this.
This one animated film has received a lot of praise and attention over the years, right up until now 3 quarters of a century later, because by 1937 standards this is just phenomenal. Kudos Walt Disney for having the far-sightedness and innovation to create this stupendous movie in Technicolor back then and making it fun and realistic. Even now, all children should watch this- perhaps even with their parents who will not mind it!