38 of #52FilmsByWomen: Abzurdah

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Abzurdah (2015, written and directed by Daniela Goggi)

[No. 38 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

This movie is based on a true story by Cielo Latini, about herself as a teenager who meets and falls in love with a man from the internet. Her obsession with him takes her on a path of self-destruction, and eventually, aneroxia.

We don’t get a lot of stories depicting this type of disorder. From watching this movie I learned that there are other ways this eating disorder can arise besides trying to look ‘beautiful’, which under most societal beauty standards, is to be thin.

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Movie Review: Ola Bola

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This Malaysian production took its inspiration from the Olympic games qualification for the 1980 national football team. Helmed by Chiu Keng Guan, the acclaimed director of ‘The Journey’, one can expect a touching film with a lot of heart. That is pretty much what you’ll get: a movie that will make you root for the protagonists and cheer when it ends. However, it is far from perfect, and the shortcomings are hard to ignore.

The film is basically an underdog story, with the Malaysian football team trying their best to qualify for the 1980 Olympic games after narrowly missing out four years ago. In what was to be captain Chow Kwok Keong’s last chance at the Olympics, the stakes couldn’t be higher; the team must learn to work together and resolve their issues with the newly-appointed coach, Harry Mountain.

As a Malaysian and a football fan, I like this movie. There are a few heartwarming bits regarding unity, dedication and achieving your dreams. Those who are familiar with the Malaysian culture will find a few chuckles although I am not sure how well those content translate to non-Malaysians.

Unfortunately, the imperfections I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post marred an otherwise great movie. For starters, the acting abilities leave a lot to be desired. Certain dramatic/emotional moments were ruined by woeful overacting. It was hard to take the characters’ struggles seriously when poignant moments were acted out with forced tears, screamed deliveries and chest thumpings.

Then there was the matter of characters. Some of the characters were well developed, and it was nice to see the chemistry between a few of them. My favourite characters were Mei Ling as Chow’s sister, and Rahman as the ever enthusiastic commentator; the former nailed it in a scene where she chastised her brother. However, Chow proved to be a weak link, as his constant sour expression got tedious halfway through the movie. His lady love, Siew Lee, was not much better; she was disposable and two dimensional as the ever-supportive girlfriend, and hardly got any lines.

Lastly, I question the decision to write the Koreans (the opponents) as villains. While I am not sure how historically accurate the match was (for sure the final score was changed from 2-1 to 3-2), painting the Koreans as sneaky villains gave the climax a ridiculous feel. It was as if the director was afraid that the audience would not root for the main characters if they weren’t shown in contrast to some mean footballers. We are not watching a James Bond film, we don’t need sneaky, cheating villains! We can support the main characters because we saw how hard they trained and followed their struggles. Have some faith in your characters, will ya? After all, we did spend an hour or so watching them mope, whine, argue and eventually learn to cooperate with each other (through a dramatic training montage too!) on screen.

Still, as far as Malaysian made films go, this definitely ranks as one of the better ones. The story is not bad, and there are quite a lot of endearing moments despite some of the weaker parts. Malaysians would love the sense of unity and the nostalgia evoked, and it certainly made me wish that our football team will return to its golden years.

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Jude Law. These are only some of the big names you can find in this movie. Really, is anyone not in this movie?

The story unraveled itself in the form of a story within a story within a story. No, that was not an error; there really are three levels of narrative. It sounds confusing, but thankfully, it was handled beautifully. At the core of the movie is the vain, egocentric, insecure concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero Mustafa (Tony Levolori). The two were plunged into sticky but oh-so-hilarious situations as Gustave was framed for the murder of Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), with whom he had a relationship that went beyond professional context. Hence, Gustave, with the help of the ever faithful Zero, set off on a wacky adventure to clear his name.

This movie is a riot. I mean it in a good way. There are plenty to laugh about, with cleverly set sequences that are very charming and well thought out. The humour and the bizarre-yet-entertaining plot are helped along with effective use of music; credit goes to Alexander Desplat, who managed to convey so much with a note or two. (Okay, random digression: I went to Youtube to seek out the soundtrack for this film, and just listening to the music transported me back to the movie. It’s simply perfect, regardless of what Hans Zimmer fans say in the comment section.)

The characters are all interesting in their own ways. It was not hard to be endeared by Gustave, despite his self-centeredness and his pompousity. Zero as the steady, loyal sidekick was very human and likeable. However, my favourite character is Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), who was sensible and dependable. Dragged into their misadventures by her association with Zero, she was the character to root for even though her screen time was limited.

All in all, if you are one to enjoy quirky characters stuck in bizarre situations and dark humour, you will enjoy this movie. Wes Anderson’s style worked wonders here to give us a memorable comedy done right.

38 of #52FilmsByWomen: My Love Sinema

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My Love Sinema (2016, directed by Tan Ai Leng)

[No. 38 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

According to its marketing description, this movie was inspired by an old Italian film Cinema Paradiso. In this one, we follow the life of Kheong (Tosh Zhang), a young, illiterate man from the country coming to 1950s Singapore to work as a cinema projectionist. He meets and falls in love with Xiaowei (Cheryl Wee), a teacher and an anti-colonial activist.

The Book of Life – Weak Plot Behind Great Visuals

[Major spoiler alert here, as I’ll discuss in detail some of the plot points]

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The critically acclaimed ‘The Book of Life’ movie taps into Mexican folklore, especially the Day of the Dead. The plot revolves around a wager between La Muerte and Xibalba, the rulers of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively. The two gods bet on the outcome of a love triangle between two boys and a girl in the town of San Angel. Manolo and Joaquin are different in temperament – the former kind and musically inclined, the latter a paragon of strength and brawn – but they share a deep love for the feisty Maria. La Muerte (you can sort of tell that she’s supposed to be the ‘good’ god) favoured Manolo (definitely the guy who will win Maria’s heart, on the basis that he is the protagonist), while Xibalba was willing to pull out all the stops to make sure Joaquin gets the girl.

The Book of Life is visually captivating. One can gather that much from the trailer itself. The character designs and the design of the worlds (technically, there are three worlds here) featured in the movie are a feast for the eyes. The Land of the Remembered deserves a special mention; stunning is an understatement.

Unfortunately, it seemed that all the attention has gone into the visual aspect of the movie. The overall plot was not terrible, but it is pretty formulaic: Manolo faces obstacles, his identity gets challenged, and getting the girl was easier said than done, but you knew he will succeed in the end. I won’t even count telling you that as a spoiler. However, the details of how he overcomes the challenges were rather disappointing. Except for the bullfighting scene, all his problems were solved too easily to be engaging, thanks to various McGuffins and inexplicable bending of rules in his favour. Seriously, no explanation was given for the exception made for Manolo other than, ‘because we can’.

Manolo and Joaquin are alright as characters, but it was Maria’s character that attracted my attention. Feisty, free-spirited, there were traces of feminism in her, conveyed in a few instances in which she chastised the men around her for their sexist views. Unfortunately, the script did not allow her to remain that way for long because the moment Manolo dies (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he dies.. sorry), she was persuaded to marry Joaquin. You see, San Angel was under the threat of an attack from bandits, and only Joaquin can defend them. However, Joaquin will only stay to defend the town if she agrees to marry him. After dallying for about 5 minutes, Maria agreed, for the good of the town.

Okay, firstly, can someone just slap Joaquin for his selfishness? Refusing to save a village just because a girl doesn’t want to marry you is a huge mark of assholery. It’s blackmail, and really, if you had to force someone to marry you, how likely is that going to result in a happy ending? Of all people, I expected Maria to give Joaquin a piece of her mind. Instead, Maria wallowed in her dilemma before deciding to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of the people. Whatever happened to her rational thinking?

Secondly, I hate this kind of love triangle where one of the competing parties turn out to be a douchebag. We see this all. the. time. This sort of situation is hardly interesting because what the coveted person faces is an artificial dilemma and the illusion of having an option. Really, between an asshole and the (often wonderful) main character, is there really a choice? Why does one party always have to be evil or mean or generally unlikable? Are the writers worried that the audience wouldn’t know who to root for? The main character (in this case, Manolo) wins just by being a decent human being.

Like I have mentioned the movie is visually very captivating. The action scenes are well thought-out and some parts are just breathtaking. However, there are problems with the storyline that superb animation and creative designs cannot hide: the plot is predictable and there is the lack of convincing explanations for some of the things that happen in the movie. It’s not a boring movie by all means, but it could have been ‘amazing’ instead of ‘alright’.

The Secret Life of Pets

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The title of this movie is pretty self-explanatory. What do pets do when their owners are away? A lot, apparently.

Max, an adorable little dog, had a great life with his mistress Katie. One day, Katie returned with another dog by the name of Duke. Max was expected to share his home with Duke, a situation that did not sit well with Max. Unfortunately, the hostility between the two dogs resulted in them getting caught in an adventure and as one can expect from a feel good, formulaic movie, must work together to overcome obstacles and find their way home.

Watching this movie in the cinema made me feel totally alone because everyone seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves. Sure, there were a few genuinely funny moments, but for most parts the movie trudges along predictably.

Okay, there were good things in this movie. The voice acting is great. Louis C.K. as Max, Kevin Hart as Snowball, and Lake Bell as Chloe are among the few that did their parts well. There were creative ‘fight’ scenes, and the climax (reminiscent of a scene from the 2006 Casino Royale movie) was gripping. Still, it left me feeling rather unimpressed.

Perhaps, the movie just does not appeal to my sense of humour. Judging from the amount of laughter at a scene of a prim and proper-looking poodle listening to heavy metal music, I gathered that it was my humour that was off. If you enjoy seeing a cute rabbit being psychopathic, you will probably enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, I don’t, which meant that once you look through the animations and the jokes, there really isn’t much of a story to savour. There was no grand message, no heart-tugging scenes, or character development. The movie even ended with a saccharine montage of owners cuddling their beloved pets, and yet I found myself feeling like I couldn’t care less about the animals on screen.

But then again, I suppose I have been harsh. As far as lighthearted animated movies go, Secret Life of Pets was not terrible, especially for kids (although quite a few adults sing praises of it). It was too much for me to hope that this would be another Zootopia, wasn’t it?

Well, at least I should be thankful that it wasn’t another Ice Age sequel.

37 of #52FilmsByWomen: Burn Burn Burn

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Burn Burn Burn (2015, directed by Chanya Button)

[No. 37 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Whenever there’s a death of a relative or a loved one, we are naturally prompted to rethink our own purpose in life and our roles in the lives of others. Burn Burn Burn, a British film delicately balances these thoughts friendship and loss, amongst the structure of a road trip comedy.

Two close friends, Alex and Seph (Chloe Pirrie and Laura Charmichael) are driving across Britain to scatter the ashes of a Dan, a recently-deceased friend at four different places of special significance to him. He had left a series of video messages for them to watch throughout the trip, many of them bringing out repressed feelings and hard truths between the three of them.

One of my favourite things about this movie is that it knows when to be funny (slapstick-y, even) when the characters are mourning the loss of a friend. Even the dead friend Dan is portrayed as a kind of an asshole most of the time, which is rare in a society where never speaking ill of the dead is thoroughly ingrained in our minds. Nevertheless, we do end up feeling sympathetic to Dan. This is probably thanks to the great performance by Jack Farthing who could convince us that Dan’s dickish behaviour comes from him lashing out against his mortality.

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The characters of Alex and Seph are also great. They are close friends despite having very different lifestyles and personalities. Alex is the more introverted character who allows only very few close emotional attachments, while Seph is the outgoing actress who likes to meet new people at parties.

Because their differences are only played for drama, and not for laughs, we appreciate their bond and friendship even more. Both of them are confronted head-on with questions of friendship and honesty with each other, and and also with other people in their lives. When one of them chides the other for making a stupid decision, both of their views are relate-able. I felt invested in their quarrels, and I cheer on when one of them gets protective over the other.

Obviously, it makes no sense to wish for a sequel for a movie like this. Though I like these characters so much that I wish I get to see more of them.