Saturday, 8 February 2014

Movies: Holding on to humanity

Joel Kinnaman stars in Columbia Pictures' 'RoboCop'.

Joel Kinnaman stars in Columbia Pictures' 'RoboCop'.

What's showing now in local cinema.

Note: Star ratings (*) out of 5.


LOOKS like another superhero movie reboot (is RoboCop a superhero?) has jumped onto the dark and emotional bandwagon of filmmaking. And that is totally not a bad thing. The formula plays to RoboCop’s advantage. The tale is a tragic one: a cop almost dies and is saved by having his mind and remaining parts placed in a robot body. Imagine if one day you woke up and found half your body covered in metallic armour. The memory of a tragic accident slowly creeps in and the realisation hits you like a tidal wave. Would you be able to cope?Are you still the same person?

These are the elements explored by director José Padilha, grounding the movie on a very human level. Movies such as this could potentially be an explosion of razzmatazz. But RoboCop isn’t. It’s an exploration of a man’s inner struggles and his attempts to keep his city and family safe. However, the movie does have its share of explosions, cool fight sequences and Robo’s new look. And the movie is not short on star power with the likes of Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson. Did anyone notice the interesting pairing of the Caped Crusader and Commissioner Gordon from two different Batman movie series? Anyway, here’s to an even more successful sequel (I hope there’ll be one). – Dinesh Kumar Maganathan (****)

The Monkey King with Donnie Yen

The Monkey King 

ONE thing you can say about The Monkey King is that Donnie Yen really tries to give a convincing portrayal, both physically and, uh, behaviourally as a celestially empowered simian. There’s one brief fight scene where he puts his own spin on monkey style kung fu, just minus the “drunken”. And of course, Chow Yun-Fat is suitably regal as Heaven’s Jade Emperor.

But so many other things about it make you want to throw stuff (the same stuff monkeys are wont to throw) at the screen. The CGI looks half finished, the continuity is awful and the creature makeup is shoddy, like they just stuck papier mache heads on some of the lesser characters. And if you think one of the Fox Spirit’s pals looks like Jar Jar Binks, wait till Monkey goes diving into a green-screen set that looks just like Otoh Gunga.

For the record, this is a prequel to Journey To The West (the literary classic, not last year’s Stephen Chow movie ... though it could be) and shows us the Monkey King’s birth, turbulent “adolescence” and why he came to be imprisoned. This movie is almost enough cause for eternal incarceration. – Davin Arul (**)

I, FRANKENSTEIN stars Aaron Eckhart in the title role. Also in the film are Jai Courtney, Yvonne Strahovski and Bill Nighy.

I, Frankenstein

MODERN retellings of classics can border on the obnoxious these days. Remember that whole Amanda-Seyfried-in-a-red-riding-hood travesty? Not that you can fault the filmmakers for coming up with the most bizarre plots, given the short attention span of the Facebook-obsessed.

A reanimated corpse bent on taking revenge on his eccentric scientist creator? Meh. But add a clan of warrior gargoyles and unscrupulous demons with a sinister agenda, and wham-bam-pow, you have a blockbuster to satiate the easily distracted.

If it all sounds terribly frivolous, that’s only because you shouldn’t expect much depth from I, Frankenstein (what’s the point of watching a blockbuster if you have to think?). All you need is plenty of adrenaline-pumping fight sequences with a generous amount of CGI effects and you’re set.

The acting does come across as cheesy at times. Just because you’re the lead in a fantasy action film, that’s no reason for you to pull off an Edward Cullen, dear Aaron Eckhart of the Ridiculous 0% Body Fat Abs.

Eckhart plays Dr Frankenstein’s shocking experiment who, 200 years after his creation, finds himself in a biblical war over the fate of humanity. Oh well, whatever it takes to get the kids interested in yesteryear’s masterpiece, right? Chester Chin (***)

Joyce Cheng (L) and Aniu (Tan Kheng Seong) in scene from local CNY movie Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat!

Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat!

AH NIU plays Ah Huat, a kampung boy with learning difficulties. He lives with his grandfather, whose friends keep Ah Huat employed in simple jobs. But his naivety often gets in the way with things. Later, Ah Huat gets the chance to prove himself as a coffee maker.

Huat Ah! Huat Ah! Huat! is a very simple story, with predictable outcomes for its characters. But it is brilliant in terms of how the filmmakers present the story. I appreciate the way it highlights the kampung life. I also like how the film is told in pleasant neutral tones, in a way where you know the cinematographer has cared to set the white balance before the start of filming.

It’s a simple story that works because the filmmakers cared to make it presentable for the audience. Oh, and there’s also plenty of retro-style musical numbers by Ah Huat to keep audiences entertained. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s got enough elements to keep you laughing and crying with Ah Huat. – Angelin Yeoh (****)

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Mara Rooney in a scene from


In the not-so-distant future, lonely letter-writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) – who composes touching letters for other people – is having a hard time divorcing his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara). He buys an artificially intelligent operating system that’s guaranteed to intuitively evolve to become an ideal companion, which names itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

The two of them soon form a bond closer than either expected.

On one level, this movie is a beautiful love story between two unlikely protagonists, set in a well-conceptualised future; on another, it talks about the reality and perception of emotions, and how individuals grow within and beyond relationships.

If you like movies like 50/50, which tackle the larger questions of life within beautifully-crafted screen stories, then you must watch this movie. – Tan Shiow Chin (*****)

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