Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not the legacy I was looking for

TRON: Legacy
My rating:

I recently rewatched the original 1982 TRON, and I want to say it has not aged well - but the thing is, it wasn't very well-regarded even in 1982. It was clearly made by a first-time director (Steven Lisberger), whose direction and storytelling sense were exceedingly clumsy. But watching it again, I saw two things it had going for it. One is the super-cool visual design of the computer world, that included tanks and spaceships and those awesome lightcycles, all of which still look great today (albeit in a charmingly retro way). The other is its concept of a world within a computer network in which programs were people, had the faces and personalities of their creators, and actually worshipped the "Users" as gods. Critics and audiences at that time may have disregarded these - or failed to appreciate them - but they were enough to inspire an entire generation of geek kids. (Of which I was one. Young TMBF was not immune to its charms.) And now that generation has grown up and become filmmakers themselves, who have given us a sequel 28 years in the making.

What's disappointing then is, these filmmakers were inspired by only one of those two things.

Twenty years ago, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), brilliant computer engineer and CEO of software conglomerate ENCOM, disappeared mysteriously. Then one day, his now-grown son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is contacted by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn's old partner and ENCOM executive, who tells him of a page he received from a number at Flynn's old video arcade. When Sam investigates, he finds himself transported into the Grid - a vast virtual world that is now ruled by Clu (Jeff Bridges), a tyrannical program that bears Flynn's likeness. Sam is immediately thrust into life-or-death gladiatorial games, but another program called Quorra (Olivia Wilde) comes to his aid and reunites him with his father - who has been trapped in the Grid for a very, very long time.

Okay, let me start by explaining why I'm giving it 4 stars: because it is aaawwwesome. The updated glowing-neon look of the Grid is so incredibly awesome, I was pretty much open-mouthed in awe the entire time. The new lightcycles, the light car, the various flying vehicles, the disc fights - I'm almost dismayed at how I can be so entranced by its shinyness and still call myself a film critic. But honestly, it's not just the shinyness. Joseph Kosinski may also be a first-time director, but he proves far better than Lisberger at delivering good old action-adventure thrills; the film is far more engaging on a visceral level than the original ever was. And then there is Daft Punk's soundtrack. You've probably heard a lot about how cool it is that the innovative electronic music duo are doing their first film soundtrack for a movie that fits their sensibilities to a T, and the results are totally seriously cool. The music is so forceful and majestic, it adds hugely to the awesome quotient, and had me leaving the cinema hall feeling pumped.

Now here's where I spend the rest of my review blasting the movie. I'd already heard comments about the movie and how its visuals were stunning but its story sucks, and I can't disagree. I watched the original film shortly before this one, so the story (sort of) made sense to me, but it's clear that anyone who hadn't would probably be hopelessly confused. The reveal of the identity of Rinzler, Clu's mysterious helmeted badass henchman, is tied closely to the first film, but here it's handled in a way that doesn't bother to be coherent to new viewers. And one of the plot elements in the 1982 TRON is that Users who entered the computer world had vague god-like powers - and this was just one example of its messy and look-just-roll-with-it-okay? sense of storytelling. Flynn's deus-ex-machina powers makes a return here in a manner that will likely evoke loud reactions of WTFHUH? They had 28 years to fix the flaws of the original, and they just didn't bother.

In fact, there's a lot that they didn't bother to take from the original. TRON's concept of a computer world didn't really hold up to scrutiny (and even its depiction of the real world was wonky. ENCOM is a corporation that develops video games and quantum teleportation technology?), but it had a lot of fun finding digital analogues for everything. Insurance programs were happy to help people plan their futures. The lightcycles and tanks and Recognizers were taken from actual video games. People were rejuvenated by drinking glowing water that they called "a pure energy source". And the entire plot was about a computer network that had been cut off from the software engineers who created it, thus creating a schism in which believing in Users is considered heretical - and the hero had to get to an I/O tower to communicate with his User. It was recognisably about computers, in all that uniquely '80s sense of gosh-wow cheesiness.

TRON: Legacy is not about computers. Other than that its denizens are still referred to as "programs", the world of the Grid has almost nothing to do computing and software and information networks. It's just another portal fantasy, like Narnia or The Wizard of Oz. And that's a real pity, because one would've thought that a sequel to TRON would build on its ideas. What would the Grid look like in the age of the internet? What would programs look like, and what purpose would they serve? What would video games look like, now that we're all playing Crysis and Starcraft 2 and Farmville? Granted, no one predicted the massive advance in information technology way back in 1982, and it would be a huge challenge to incorporate all that into a sequel. But screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz simply didn't bother. It's like the only thing they were inspired by from TRON is its visual aesthetic.

Thus, they made a film that's very pretty to look at, but is also infuriatingly shallow. Its one attempt at an intelligent idea was conveyed during a dinner scene midway through between Sam, Quorra and Flynn. (And in that dinner scene, they're clearly dining on a roast suckling pig. What is this, PORK.EXE?) Apparently, Flynn's tinkering with the Grid gave rise to spontaneous AI - artificially intelligent, sentient life that he calls "isomorphic algorithms" or ISOs. This is the miracle that he mentioned in the beginning, that would "change everything - science, medicine, religion." Um, okay. How? It's a cool idea, but how about exploring it, Messrs. Kitsis and Horowitz? I grok science fiction, so I can imagine heaps of ways artificial intelligence can change the world - but this movie doesn't give us any of it.

And Clu's master plan is... okay, there was this bit in the trailer in which he said, "Out there is a new world! Out there is our destiny!" So I thought, aha, he wants to open up the Grid network to the Internet. And he'll be able to wreak genuine havoc if he does, since he is, after all, a program. But no. Like I said, this isn't a movie about computers. Clu wants to materialise in the real world - which, okay, I can soooorrta buy that, since if human flesh can be translated into bits and bytes I guess you could also go the other way round. But it's lazy. Kitsis and Horowitz took a film that had some genuinely cool and fascinating ideas, and wrote a generic sci-fi action sequel with a villain who wants to Take Over The World.

But I thought it was awesome. Well, it was. It's a slick and well-made action movie, and I like those. I liked the cast; Olivia Wilde is cute (and stuningly hawt). Garrett Hedlund's range isn't taxed too much, but he does a lot with some very subtle emoting. Michael Sheen has fun vamping it up as Zuse, the diva nightclub owner. And Jeff Bridges oozes hippie-Jedi-Master cool - although any time he appears as his digitally de-aged self, whether as Clu or in flashbacks, it falls squarely into uncanny valley territory. It's a far better cinematic experience than its predecessor, and even its plot holes didn't really bother me much, because I saw them as callbacks to the original film. I'm still giving it 4 stars, even though I seriously considered knocking it down to 3-½ as I wrote this review. It may have wasted terrific potential just to become yet another sci-fi action movie, but it's far from generic - not when it looks this cool.

Expectations: I didn't even expect this movie to make it to Malaysia

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tahyul shmahyul

Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah
My rating:

I may have been too hard on Mamat Khalid. Baru selepas saya publish-kan rebiu Estet yang menghentamnya dengan agak kaw, saya terbaca his defence of his controversial remarks regarding the winners of Festival Filem Malaysia ke-23, in which he supposedly tak puas hati sebab his movie kalah kepada Magika. It seems what he was really tak puas hati about was the overall quality of the judging - which, yeah, it sucks. (Momok the Movie Filem Terbaik?? Ptui!) As does the quality of local entertainment news reporting, incidentally; I wouldn't be too surprised if he was quoted out of context just to hebohkan the skandal. It didn't make me like Estet any more, but it did make me more willing to give a chance to a director whose films I've only seen one of, but is widely regarded as one of our better filmmakers.

Which, yeah, he is. But possibly not for me.

Hussin (Awie) returns to his hometown of Kampung Pisang to find it much changed. He is greeted by his friends Abi Hurairah (Johan Raja Lawak) and Usop (Shy8), but the latter is now a paraplegic; his attempts to rekindle his romance with the lovely Che' Nin (Ummi Nazeera) is stymied by her disapproving father Pak Jabit (Man Kadir); and his next-door neighbour Kak Limah (Delimawati) has been behaving strangely and looking somewhat ghostly. When they decide to pay Kak Limah a visit along with village headman Pak Abu (Zami Ismail), what they find there leads them to believe that Kak Limah is dead, and that her restless spirit now haunts the village. They seek the help of bomohs - first the Indonesian Wak Joko (Soffi Jikan), then Chomprak (Kamarul Hj Yusof) from Thailand - but to no avail, and all the while Kak Limah continues to wreak havoc in Kampung Pisang. And then there is Ayu (Avaa Vanja), who has her eye on Hussin for reasons unknown.

Ini adalah sebuah komedi kampung. Ianya mengisahkan orang kampung, ditujukan kepada orang kampung, dan dibikin oleh pengarah dan penulis lakonlayar yang obviously arif tentang masyarakat orang kampung. So this is gonna be a hard review for this budak Cina KL film critic to write. Not only is it made for a very different demographic than mine, everyone speaks in a thick logghhat Peggghhhak - and on top of that, the sound mix for the dialogue is strangely too soft, I dunno if it was just the cinema I was in or what. Also, it is a loose sequel to Mamat's 2007 film Zombi Kampung Pisang, which I haven't seen and therefore can't tell how loose it is. But what I can tell is, for a komedi kampung, this is probably one of the best of its kind. There's a confidence and assuredness to the entire production, from the cast who all seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, to Mamat's direction that gets the horror-comedy combination just right.

The cast does something I rarely see in Malay films, which is that setiap pelakon memainkan watak yang mempunyai peranan dan karakter yang berlainan. They all play broad, exaggerated comedic roles - some a lot more broad than others - but they all serve their own respective purposes, in the tradition of a good ensemble farce. The standout is Shy8 (a.k.a. Syed Mohamad Asri, and don't get me started on stupid Malay celebrity names), whose Usop is a lot of fun and proves that a "lembut" character doesn't have to be as one-note and annoying as, say, Cat Farish in Cuti-Cuti Cinta. I am not familiar with Awie's storied cinematic reputation, but he's quite good as Hussin - who, despite being the prodigal anak kampung who came home riding a Harley, is only slightly less dimwitted than the rest of this bunch. And then Soffi Jikan shows up, whose gloriously nutty (and all-too-short) performance as Wak Joko is the kind that takes the director's ideas and just runs wild with them.

Director ni pula dikenali sebagai pengarah yang banyak menyentuh isu-isu masyarakat dalam filemnya. Jujurnya, mula-mula saya tak nampak; every now and then, someone makes a non-sequiter comment about FINAS' censorship policies or the films of Razak Mohaideen for laughs, and if that's his idea of social commentary, well, penonton filem tempatan memang mudah dipuas. But then a major theme started to take shape here. To put it mildly, the good people of Kampung Pisang are a bunch of morons - superstitious, cowardly and gullible. Mesej yang filem ini hendak sampaikan ialah a call to rationality, and a rejection of all the kepercayaan tahyul-mahyul that is their knee-jerk reaction to anything out of the ordinary. Now that's a mesej that this avowed skeptic can totally get behind. Hell, I think ini sebuah mesej yang perlu didengari oleh masyarakat kita...

...tapi mungkin sebab inilah saya rasa ia boleh disampaikan dengan lebih baik lagi. Dalam satu babak, Hussin gives an impassioned speech to the villagers, warning them that their superstitions are carrying them too far. Um, kan baru tadi korang nampak hantu sebenar? ("Hantu Nang Nak", which is a reference to the 1999 Thai horror film, and an honest-to-goodness hantu kopek, which is not something I'd ever expected to see in a Malay movie.) If Mamat meant this as some kind of mass hallucination, I didn't really get that. And then there's its ending which, without giving too much away, ia macam menyanggah tema rasionalis yang telah di-establish-kan. Now, maybe it's just me. Mungkin saya melakukan dosa terbesar pengkritik filem, iaitu memikirkan filem yang ingin saya bikin sendiri daripada filem yang sepatutnya saya ulas.

Because again, this movie isn't made for me; it's made for an audience which, from the cinema I was in, enjoyed it immensely and got all its jokes. (There's a running gag about the kampung folks going "ce-citer, ce-citer" which they all thought was hilarious, and which I assume must be a Perakian thing.) And even from my outsider's perspective, I could tell that it is uncommonly well-made for a local film; Mamat uses darkness and shadow to spooky good effect, and displays a remarkably deadpan sense of comic timing. Ini menjadikan ia sebuah filem yang jelas lebih baik daripada Estet, serta telah memulihkan keyakinan saya terhadap Mamat Khalid. Sayangnya, ia sebuah filem yang saya kurang memahami, dan juga bukan sebuah filem yang boleh dihargai di luar negara. Tapi tak salah kalau sesebuah filem Melayu tidak menjadikan itu sebagai sasaran. Orang kampung pun suka tengok filem - dan mereka berhak mendapat filem yang dibikin dengan elok.

Expectations: considerably lessened

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lion Jesus and four kids go to war...

(Boy, I haven't done one of these in a while. I'm a stickler for continuity; if I'm gonna watch a sequel, I always want to catch up on its predecessors first, and I always feel I ought to review them too while I'm at it. Only time, or lack thereof, keeps me from it. I still have a backlog of movies to watch and review - TRON: Legacy, thou must waiteth yet for me - but I think I can handle this one.)

I haven't read C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia in ages - although when I did, I was the right age for them. I remember little about them though; I was a voracious reader as a kid, but most of the books I read back then are hazy memories now. They've always been known as classics of children's literature, but it was the 2005 big-budget Hollywood adaptation of the first book that brought them back into public notice as openly Christian allegories (which I never noticed). In fact, the first film was deliberately marketed towards Christian audiences in the States. But on the surface, they're family-friendly fantasy adventure films - of somewhat varying quality, really. I recall watching the first on Astro or something, and I did watch the second on DVD; so now that there's a new one out, I decided to quickly rewatch them again, just so I can have a unique overarching perspective on all three. I am nothing if not thorough.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
My rating:

I think, when I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that time on Astro, I must've only watched the second half. That would be the good part, because I don't remember the parts that are so twee. I do remember that this first adaptation of C.S. Lewis' classic novels was hyped as being the next Lord of the Rings, a goal that it falls well short of. The main reason is that director Andrew Adamson is nowhere near as good as Peter Jackson, nor are his screenwriters anywhere as good as Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Dialogue is often on-the-nose and characterization is clumsy; we're reminded way too many times of Edmund's recalcitrance, and Susan and Peter are just dull. Their actors are also stiff and awkward around each other - only Georgie Henley's child-like wonder makes an impression.

Most of all, Adamson's handling of the material is very lightweight and kiddish, which brings us to another reason: Lewis' novel is not Lord of the Rings: Junior Edition, and Narnia is not Middle-Earth. There is actually a scene in which Father Christmas - Santa Claus! - appears, though he is never so named, as if the filmmakers were embarrassed about it themselves. J.R.R. Tolkien created a fully-realized world with an internally consistent mythology (and geography, and anthropology, etc. etc.); Lewis wrote whimsical children's fantasies. It's a big stretch to turn them into fantasy war epics, and neither Adamson nor Weta Workshop - who did such terrific work on Rings - were quite up to the task. They had nowhere near the amount of pre-production time that the Rings crew had, and thus the visual design of the world feels much less substantial. Narnia just never amounts to anything more than some picturesque locations, pretty CGI backdrops and neato costumes and props.

But then we get to that big climactic battle. Hey, what can I say, I likes me my medieval fantasy battles. Adamson's efforts to remake Lord of the Rings has some occasional successes, and one of them is this thrilling battle sequence. Tilda Swinton is deliciously evil and genuinely menacing as Jadis the White Witch, and it is during her scenes that the movie somewhat achieves the gravity and seriousness it's going for. Aslan is quite obviously an allegory for Jesus - specifically the Passion story - but I was more interested in the moral dilemma that Edmund goes through, which gives it some welcome depth for a kids' movie. I found it enjoyable, but just barely. It's cutesy and corny, but at least it never got as annoying as Chris Columbus' movies (him being TMBF's current reigning Least Favourite Director of Family-friendly Fantasy Films).

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
My rating:

If the first one was Andrew Adamson's fledgling attempt to rival the Lord of the Rings movies, Prince Caspian is where he gets it right - and he does it by going in a slightly different direction. The second Chronicles of Narnia is a clearly darker, grittier, more violent, and better film than the first, which now seems like a trial run for this one. It's another fantasy war epic, but it's closer to, say, Braveheart than Rings, what with its royal intrigue and treachery, and the fact that its antagonists are the human Telmarines instead of a sorcerous witch and an army of CGI beasties. The stakes feel higher, the action scenes more focused and exciting, the tension more real. The climactic battle scene is longer and better-staged, and there's even a gruelling swordfight between Peter and the villainous Lord Miraz. I likes me my swordfights.

The four Pevensies also fare much better. In the last film, they all grew to adulthood as reigning kings and queens of Narnia before returning to the real world, and I was on the lookout for signs of this here. I wasn't disappointed; both the writing and the performances took care to intimate that these are adults in children's bodies. They bicker much less amongst themselves now, and Edmund is no longer the designated pain in the ass; in fact, one of the things I enjoyed the most is how much more developed his character is. (I loved his snarky-cool parley with the Telmarines just before the battle.) Peter is kingly, Susan gets to be badass with her bow - in the previous one, I think she fired all of one shot - and Lucy is as sweet as ever; all their actors are far more comfortable in their roles than they were before. Amongst the new characters, I liked Trumpkin the grumpy dwarf best; diminutive actor Peter Dinklage will probably never get another action-hero role, but he was great here.

Although Caspian wasn't marketed as a Christian film the way Lion was, the allegory is still present; there's a running theme about how everyone's faith in Aslan is tested, despite his absence at a time of Narnia's need. (If I were a militant atheist, I'd take issue with its depiction of a deity who possesses the power to save his subjects, but would rather let them die until they prove themselves "worthy" - but naah, it didn't really come off that way.) On the whole, I liked it a good deal more than the first, even though its depiction of action-adventure and war still clashes somewhat with the kid-friendly tone. And this is also the one in which I came to really like the Pevensies and their performers, especially Henley and Skandar Keynes. It's a pity that this wasn't as financially successful as Lion; it simply didn't make much of an impression, either on the box-office or on the consciousness of moviegoers.


I hasten to add that I am not at all reviewing these films based on how faithful they are to the books. Like I said, I don't remember the books much, I don't hold them to any particular sacrosanctity, and the movie I liked best was the one that took the most liberties in its adaptation. Lewis may be rolling in his grave, but to me the Narnia movies are meant to be fun and exciting, and that's how I judge them. Which is how I'll be judging The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - or rather, judged, since I'm writing all this after I've already seen it. To which let us now get.

...and then to sea, but that's as far as it goes

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
My rating:

Amongst the entertainment news sources and websites I frequent, none are particularly big on The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, most of them reported on the news of its latest installment with an underlying tone of "huh, does anyone really want another one of these?" A sentiment which I share, frankly, which was why it was a surprise to discover that the series does have its fans. Based on the murmurings I heard during my viewing of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, quite a few of them were with me in the cinema - kids and younger teens, along with their parents. Maybe it's because of the whole Christian thing; Malaysians are a devout bunch, so I wouldn't be surprised if these movies are more popular here than in the godless U.S. Or maybe not; maybe they just like them for being a (relatively) long-running fantasy adventure franchise.

I kinda hope, for their sake, that it's the Christian thing. They'd enjoy it more it that way.

Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) are staying with their fussy and annoying cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), while their older siblings Peter (William Mosely) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are away with their parents. Before long, they are transported once again to the magical land of Narnia, where they are picked up by the Dawn Treader - a magnificent ocean-going ship commanded by their old friend Caspian (Ben Barnes), now King of Narnia. With a brave crew that includes another former companion, Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg) the warrior mouse, Caspian is on a quest to find seven lords whom his evil uncle banished - a quest that takes on greater importance when they encounter an evil green mist emanating from the distant Dark Island. Only the lords' seven swords can defeat the evil, which plagues everyone with their deepest fears and insecurities - particularly Lucy, who envies her sister's beauty. And beyond even the Dark Island is the country of Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), in whose faith they must once again rely on.

It's not a war movie this time; early on, Edmund wonders why they were called back, if Narnia is currently at peace. It's a swashbuckling maritime adventure that takes place on the titular ship as well as the mysterious islands on the hitherto-unseen oceans of Narnia. So, kid-friendly Pirates of the Caribbean then, instead of kid-friendly Lord of the Rings like the first two were. Perfectly serviceable approach, given the material in the book, and no reason why it couldn't have been as good as Prince Caspian or even better. But it isn't; it's about on par with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, even though it's not really as cutesy or twee as that one was. It's biggest problem is that it's just not very good; it never achieves the heights of wonder, thrills and poignancy that it aims for.

Michael Apted, man. Just take a look at his resume. I can't help but think he puts his real passion and talent into his more high-minded projects, but treats big-budget Hollywood movies as hackwork. It isn't any one thing that makes Voyage a so-so movie, it's a bunch of little things that all point to a filmmaker who doesn't really have his heart in it. The action scenes are poorly-staged and confusing. The plot is choppy, and many scenes and elements don't feel fleshed-out enough, especially the whole bit with a wizard named Coriakin (Bille Brown); at just under 2 hours, it's the shortest Narnia movie compared to its predecessors which both felt nicely epic at 150 minutes. And it was clearly filmed on digital cameras, which is a jarring change from its predecessors and gives it a slightly blurry and unreal look to the whole movie. (I'm glad I didn't fork out extra for the 3D version.) Apted takes over the directorial reins from Andrew Adamson, whose version I would've much preferred.

But it is a Narnia movie. Which only means anything to fans, but even though I'm not really one myself, there is pleasure to be had in seeing a second sequel and spotting all the little continuity nods. And it is particularly fun to see Lucy and Edmund again; they've always been the more interesting two of the Pevensies, and Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes the better actors. Watching how they've grown up (Henley was 9 when she made Lion, Keynes 13) is neat, and the entire Lucy subplot makes for the film's best scenes, especially since Henley is now 15 but as charming as ever. Edmund doesn't get as much character development, except for the bits in which Jadis the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) makes a cameo appearance again - I thought he'd gotten over all that in the last one - but Keynes is still a charismatic screen presence.

So is Ben Barnes, but he doesn't have much to do; in fact, his character is ill-served in both Caspian and Voyage, saddled here with a subplot about his dead father that never amounts to much. New to Narnia is Will Poulter, who is Eustace the butt monkey of the movie and manages to annoy the characters without doing the same to the audience. At one point he gets turned into a dragon, which is a plot development that really should've been more affecting than it was; it mostly just deprives us of more Poulter and subs him with a not-very-convincing CGI critter. Edmund and Lucy won't be appearing in any more Narnia movies, leaving Eustace to carry the torch - unfortunately, it will be the kinder and gentler Eustace, not the one here who's actually fun to watch.

Then again, whether there'll be any more Narnia movies is in doubt. The first two were distributed by Disney, but they opted out after disappointing box-office returns for Prince Caspian. Walden Media managed to get 20th Century Fox to distribute this one, but I don't think they're gonna fork out for another after its equally less-than-stellar performance - even after the studio supposedly went back to the Christianity-centric marketing angle. Ironically, there isn't much of a Christian theme here, except for an overt bit right at the end when Aslan tells Lucy that in her world, he has another name, and that she must come to know him there. Christians will probably squee at this, and if they do, good for them.

As for me, it was, like Lion, just barely enjoyable; everything it tries to do has been done better in other fantasy franchises such as the Harry Potter movies and, yes, Rings and Pirates. The same of which can be said for all three of them, really. Too bad for Poulter, Apted, Adamson (who is still a producer on this one), Walden Media and the fans in the cinema with me, but I don't think the demise of the series is worth mourning. Maybe if Edmund and Lucy were to return - but then again, I'd rather watch Henley and Keynes in something else anyway. If The Chronicles of Narnia goes down in history as the movies that discovered them, that ought to be the only real significance it warrants.

NEXT REVIEW: Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah
Expectations: peluang kedua, Mamat Khalid

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Aku tak suka Boris Boo

Aku Tak Bodoh
My rating:

Jarang ada cerita tentang filem tempatan Melayu dalam akhbar bahasa Inggeris The Star. Inilah satu faktor yang membantut perkembangan industri filem tempatan, tapi The Star tak patut dipersalahkan; prioriti mereka ialah artikel yang dapat menarik minat pembaca, dan pembaca The Star memang tak ramai yang minat filem Melayu. Baru-baru ini, satu pengecualian ialah Aku Tak Bodoh yang diberi liputan dua minggu lalu, mungkin kerana ia adalah remake kepada filem I Not Stupid Too arahan Jack Neo dari Singapura yang agak femes jugak di Malaysia. Sebenarnya kalau akhbar Inggeris menerbit cerita tentang filem tempatan, ia sangat berkesan untuk menarik penonton baru bagi filem tempatan. Saya ada seorang kawan yang langsung tak hirau dengan filem tempatan, tapi dia terbaca artikel The Star tu dan dia pun ada kata kepada saya, "Eh, that movie called Aku Tak Bodoh, it actually looks quite good."

Unfortunately, it sucks.

Sixteen-year-olds Roy (Rohaizat Hassan) and Sudin (Aeril Zafrel) are best friends, Roy's brother Jefri (Wan Nor Aizat) is eight, and they all have one thing in common: parents who don't understand them. Roy and Jefri's mum and dad (Amy Mastura and Riezman Khuzaimi) are wealthy but frequently absent, caring more for their respective careers than spending time with their sons. And Sudin has a difficult relationship with his hot-tempered father (Nam Ron), who knows no other way to communicate with his son than to scold him, despite advice from Kak Jah (Adibah Noor). Even Roy and Sudin's schoolteacher (Dato' Jalaluddin Hassan) does nothing but disparage them; they begin to grow more rebellious, and eventually join a gang of hoodlums. And even little Jefri appears to have taken up stealing.

Filem ini ada banyak kekuatan sebenarnya. Ceritanya yang berasal dari filem Singapura cukup segar bagi filem Melayu; tema kekeluargaan sebegini jarang dilihat dalam filem-filem kita yang asyik memaparkan hidup mat rempit atau cinta remaja (atau orang yang kononnya dewasa tapi berkelakuan seperti remaja budak kecik). Saya juga terasa mesejnya mempunyai aspek anti-authoritarian, dimana orang yang tua dan berkuasa dilihat lebih bersalah daripada orang muda - bukan hanya ibubapa dan guru, malah ada juga dua watak anggota polis yang korup. (Kementerian Dalam Negeri tak larang ke? Bagus! Hidup kebebasan bersuara!) Ini juga sesuatu yang baru bagi filem tempatan yang kebanyakannya bersifat konservatif. Nilai produksinya juga memang bagus; pengarahnya Boris Boo pandai memilih syot-syot yang unik dan menarik, jauh lebih baik daripada mana-mana pengarah kita.

Tapi makin lama saya tonton filem ini, makin lama saya rasa jengkel dan muak - dan salahnya terletak dengan Boo yang juga penulis lakonlayar (dengan bantuan penterjemahan Hassan Muthalib). Dialognya tersangat-sangat "atas hidung", atau on-the-nose; bermaksud dialog yang bukannya datang dari watak yang mempunyai pendirian sendiri, tapi dari lidah penulis yang hendak menyampaikan poin dengan cara yang paling gabas dan keras. Ini kerja pencerita yang malas, dan memang malas penceritaan filem ini. Contohnya babak dimana cikgu Roy dan Sudin merampas telefon bimbit pelajar, lalu mencetus perkelahian yang mengakibatkan Sudin dibuang sekolah kerana berlawan dengan cikgu. Pahamlah kalau sekolah tak benarkan telefon bimbit dalam kelas, tapi henpon yang average pun bernilai ratusan ringgit. Adeke sekolah rampas tak bagi balik? Kenapa Roy takut sangat telepon dia kena rampas? Ini salah satu adegan yang paling penting, tapi garapannya tak masuk akal langsung.

The thing is, komedi dan drama adalah dua genre yang sering bercampur. (Sebenarnya, semua filem ialah filem drama, tak kira genre; filem aksi, seram, sci-fi atau fantasi pun perlu ada emosi kemanusiaan.) Tapi campurannya mesti jitu, dan inilah dosa terbesar si Mr. Director tu. Boo juga pernah mengarah Phua Chu Kang: The Movie, dan stailnya tak ubah-ubah dari filem tu. Komedinya adalah jenis yang broad dan slapstick, dan ia sering berlaga dengan unsur drama yang sepatutnya menyayat hati. Contoh pertama ada dari memula lagi; ada babak dimana pertengkaran antara Sudin dengan bapanya menjadi ganas, dan ini diikuti terus dengan adegan dimana bapa dan anak mendemonstrasikan peribahasa "masuk telinga kanan, keluar telinga kiri" dengan menggunakan kata-kata CGI. Dari rasa terharu, tetiba nak kita gelak pulak. Tak boleh macam tu!

Jadi bila komedi dan drama bertentang, komedi selalu akan menang; penonton lebih rela ketawa dari bersedih, dan akibatnya bahagian yang sepatutnya sedih jadi kelakar pula. Ini ditambah lagi dengan dialog dan adegan yang on-the-nose, bermakna segala yang disasarkan tak kena. Terutamanya pengakhiran filem ini, dimana semua watak sedar akan salah mereka lalu menyesal; ini kita tahu sebab setiap orang sedia mengeksplanasikan salah mereka dan kesal mereka dengan cukup panjang lebar. Babak inilah yang membuat saya terus hilang kepercayaan dalam filem ini. Ia dah jadi ibarat seorang jurujual yang bertungkus-lumus nak pujuk saya beli Nokia N-Gage, sedangkan aku dah ada Sony PSP. Aku hanya nak dia belah jauh-jauh.

Sayangnya ialah kekuatannya yang saya sebut diatas, yang juga termasuk persembahan mantap dua pelakon muda baru. Rohaizat Hassan dan Aeril Zafrel sangat berpotensi, terutamanya Aeril yang mempunyai kekacakan rupa dan karisma yang amat menyerlah. (Jangan kata aku gay sebab asyik menyebutkan pelakon lelaki yang hensem; aku cuma tak nak Farid Kamil sorang je yang jadi jejaka gilaan filem tempatan.) Tapi lakonan pelakon-pelakon yang lain tak konsisten, sebab tak tentu nak buat lawak atau serius. Yang paling dibazirkan ialah Adibah Noor; poster je ada muka dia, tapi watak dia jarang keluar dan tak signifikan langsung. Secara adilnya, filem ini patut dapat 2-½ bintang atas kelainannya dari filem tempatan biasa. Tapi garapan Boris Boo meninggalkan rasa yang hambar dalam mulut saya. Adil atau tak adil, I think this movie sucks.

NEXT REVIEW: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Expectations: I remember liking the first two (but I need to watch 'em again)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Punk, traitor, billionaire, genius - all of the above, and more

The Social Network
My rating:

I don't even remember when I first signed up on Facebook. My first experience with social networking sites was Friendster, and back then its only novelty was comparing the number of friends you had with other people. That was only about 6 years ago - and now, I am a quite frequent Facebook user. (I haven't touched my Friendster account in ages.) I rarely update my status, but I enjoy reading my friends'; I frequent this group, as I have mentioned before; and I am admittedly, and quite embarrassingly, addicted to Mafia Wars, butI'msureyoudon'twannahearaboutthat. So yeah, The Social Network is as relevant to me as, well, any of its other 500 million users worldwide.

Thing is, it's not actually about Facebook. But it's still a terrific movie, and definitely one of the year's best.

After a bad breakup with his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) channels his resentment into creating a nasty website called Facemash that hacks into the databases of Harvard dorms - and which creates enough traffic to crash the network. It earns him 6 months academic probation, but also the attention of wealthy twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who recruit him to build their own website called HarvardConnection. Instead, Zuckerberg builds on their idea to start his own project - called TheFacebook - with his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whom he appoints as Chief Financial Officer. TheFacebook becomes wildly popular - Andrew starts dating a groupie named Christy (Brenda Song) - and in their efforts to grow the business, they meet Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), co-founder of Napster, who drives a rift in between Zuckerberg and Saverin. It all ends in lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg by the Winklevosses and Narendra, who believe Zuckerberg stole their idea - and by Saverin, who believes he betrayed their friendship.

This is an incredibly timely movie, perhaps as timely as a film could possibly be, and for that reason many people will want it to be many things - but it isn't most of those things. It is not a business parable of how Facebook came to be a billion-dollar corporation and the world's most influential social network site, overtaking Myspace and Friendster, who were in existence before it. It is not about how it changed the way we interact socially, how it made us "live on the internet", as one character puts it. And it is not really an accurate dramatization of the legal squabbles involving the real-life Zuckerberg, the real-life Winklevosses and Narendra, and the real-life Saverin; it is based on the nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires that was written in consultation with Saverin, but not Zuckerberg. What it is, is a character portrait of an incredibly complex, wildly successful, and ultimately tragic figure - who in this story just happens to be named Mark Zuckerberg.

I like Aaron Sorkin. A Few Good Men, which he wrote and adapted from his own play, was one of the first films I saw that opened my eyes to the pleasures of terrifically quotable dialogue. I also used to really like David Fincher, and count Se7en and Fight Club among my all-time favourites; it's just that I liked him for his visual style, which he has since toned down for movies like Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. These two have never worked together before, but the prospect of Fincher directing a Sorkin screenplay was much more enticing to me than a movie about Facebook. Sorkin is brilliant at characterization and unmatched at dialogue, and that's evident from the very first scene - a dizzyingly rapid-fire exchange between Zuckerberg and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend that's a joy to listen to, even if it takes an effort to follow. That's Sorkin's trademark, and the movie is full of scenes like this.

It is also in this scene that establishes Zuckerberg's defining trait: that he is an asshole. But he is, as mentioned, an incredibly complex and multi-faceted asshole. He may have become the world's youngest billionaire in just a couple of years, but the trappings of money and fame mean little to him; he never throws his wealth around or indulges in sex with groupies. Yes, it was a petty and mean-spirited act that started him on the path that led to Facebook, and he pretty much stays that self-centered and insecure throughout. But the film leaves ambiguous whether or not he deliberately knifed Saverin and the Winklevosses - and one other person, at the end - in the back; it's possible that his only real sin was to get too caught up in his work to think of his friends. Even if he was guilty of malice aforethought, Jesse Eisenberg's flawless performance makes him someone who knows what it cost him and genuinely regrets it. Also, he is supremely arrogant - which is not a positive character trait, but it does mean he gets some hilarious Sorkin-penned insults that almost make you root for him.

But it is Saverin who's the most sympathetic character here. The film establishes upfront that he's the best friend a guy like Zuckerberg could possibly have, a friend whom Zuckerberg often takes for granted. He is also the guy who had the absolute wrong vision for Facebook, which makes you feel even more for him that history has pretty much left him behind. On the other hand, the charismatic Sean Parker strikes Zuckerberg as a kindred spirit almost immediately; in a later scene, we realize why, when Parker reveals that he started Napster to get back at a girl who dumped him too. The storyline also frequently returns to the Winklevosses (or "Winklevii", as Zuckerberg derogatively calls them), and even makes them look sympathetic - as sympathetic as two born-rich, entitled, blonde-and-blue-eyed Aryan hunks could be. Unlike with Saverin, it's much more clear-cut that Zuckerberg deliberately screwed them over, which they didn't really deserve. And it's pretty impressive that they emerge as two distinct individuals despite being played by the same actor.

I've hardly mentioned Fincher's direction, which plays a big part in making this film a compelling and never boring watch. There's little opportunity for him to employ his former visual trickery, but he nevertheless gives it a propulsive pace. And there's two scenes that are pretty dazzling - Zuckerberg's late-night coding binge that created Facemash, intercut with a wild Harvard final club party that he wanted so much to get into; and a rowing race that the Winklevosses take part in, the outcome of which is a stunning contrast to an earlier practice scene. But it's the plot, the storyline, and Sorkin's writing that really make this movie shine for me. A script like this can make any actor look good, and while Eisenberg's performance is the most conspicuous, there's not a single bad performance here. Andrew Garfield is a paragon of decency; Justin Timberlake is magnetic, although his greatest achievement may be to make you believe Garfield can beat him up; and Armie Hammer, as mentioned, does a pretty damn impressive job at his dual role.

It's a story of great human achievement as well as the most fundamental human weaknesses (and not just Zuckerberg's; one key factor in how things worked out the way they did is Saverin's dislike of Parker, and it's clearly hinted that this was motivated by jealousy), and how intertwined both are. And it ends with a question, an unanswered one that's a little reminiscent of Inception's thing with the top - except that here, there can be only one dramatically satisfying answer. No, it's not really about Facebook, but just as well if people think it is. If the average undiscerning moviegoer, who'd rather watch sparkly vampires or explosions, goes to watch this thinking it's about their favourite website, what they'll get instead is a Sorkin-written, Fincher-directed, complex character study. In other words, they'll get a superbly written, acted, and directed film.

NEXT REVIEW: Aku Tak Bodoh
Expectations: any movie with Adibah Noor in it can't be too bad, can it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ini sebuah filem yang ngam

My rating:

Betul ke filem Ngangkung ini telah mengutip lebih RM10 juta? Ini dah rekod baru ni, mengalahkan Adnan Sempit yang rekod lamanya RM7.66 juta yang dicatatkan tak lebih setahun lalu. Fuh, rancak jugak industri filem tempatan kita baru-baru ni - walaupun kebanyakan filem-filem tempatan masih macam taik. Tapi janganlah kita terburu-buru nak dengki dengan kejayaan orang lain. Kita tonton filem ini dahulu, nilai dengan adil dan saksama, dan ulas dengan bernas dan teliti. Kalau ia teruk, baru kita dengki.

Tak dengki pun. Filem ni memang best. Unexpected gilerrr!

Azim (Shaheizy Sam), Tasnim (Azad Jazmin) and Wan (Angah Raja Lawak) are three friends, amongst whom Tasnim and his wife Midah (Putri Mardiana) are the most well-to-do - whereas Azim is a lowly lorry driver, barely making ends meet for his wife Suri (Eira Syazira) and daughter Wahida (Farisya Fatin). Thus he is tempted to follow his friends in their practice of "ngangkung", i.e. seeking winning lottery numbers from ghosts and spirits, through the medium of the bomoh Pendeta (Mazlan Pet Pet). Tasnim and Midah are trying to have a baby, and the kindly Dr. Atha (Azlee Jaafar) announces that Midah is indeed pregnant - but their happiness is short-lived when a "mambang tanah" (Tasha) begins to haunt Tasnim. Whereas for Azim, ngangkung starts to become a dangerous obsession.

Apakah kebetulan Shaheizy Sam ialah pelakon utama bagi filem ini serta Adnan Sempit yang juga pecah panggung awal tahun? Memang bukan kebetulan; bintang Shaheizy makin meninggi sejak kejayaan filem tersebut, dan banyak kipas susah matinya yang beriya-iya nak tengok filem terbarunya. Dia antara pelakon tanahair yang paling berbakat sekarang, dan setiap watak yang dibawanya memang berlainan - tapi saya rasa bukan dia yang patut diberi pujian atas kejayaan filem ini. Pengarah dan pengarang lakon layar, Ismail "Bob" Hasim, telah menghasilkan sebuah cerita yang hampir saya boleh kata miraculous - filem ini mempunyai jalan cerita serta teknik penceritaan yang baik sehingga mengajaibkan.

Ini adalah sebuah filem yang berakal. Bukan bermaksud ceritanya rumit macam Inception, yang kena guna akal untuk difahami; bermaksud ia mempunyai pengarah yang menggarapkannya dengan menggunakan akal. Tiada watak yang bangang atau one-dimensional; kita lihat ketiga-tiga Azim, Tasnim dan Wan ialah suami yang penyayang, walaupun pada dasarnya Tasnim ialah villain dalam kisah ni dan Wan ialah comic relief. Dr. Atha juga seorang yang terpuji, seperti yang dilihat dalam adegan dimana dia cuba menggera seorang gadis (lakonan cameo Yana Samsudin) dari menggugur kandungannya. Babak ni sengau lawaknya, tapi ia berjaya membina watak doktor ini yang cerdik dan mulia. Ya betul! Skrip ini, can make even Angah Raja Lawak and Azlee Senario look good!

Semasa menonton filem Melayu, dah jadi kebiasaan saya untuk expect the worst. Tapi setiap benda buruk yang di-expect-kan tak muncul. Hubungan rumahtangga Suri dan Azim dibina dengan mendalam dan realistik; isteri selalu mengadu, suami asyik mendiam, tapi suami amat sayangkan anak. Apa yang saya takutkan ialah Suri dijadikan watak yang keji, dimana leterannyalah yang mendesak Azim memilih jalan hitam. Ini tidak berlaku; malah, Suri muncul sebagai watak paling simpatetik dalam cerita ini. Midah, isteri Tasnim, juga tidak dipersalahkan, dan filem ini berjaya mengelak sifat misoginis yang sering mencemar filem Melayu. Apa yang ketara ialah, setiap hubungan watak menunjukkan kasih sayang yang sebenar dan sejati - Azim dan Suri, Azim dan anaknya Wahida, Tasnim dan Midah, malah Wan dan isterinya yang hanya muncul sekejap. Ini baru sedap ditonton!

Tapi filem ini ada satu kekurangan besar dari segi pacing. Selama ia berlanjutan, walaupun saya seronok menontonnya saya mula terasa bosan. Saya tertanya-tanya, bila citer nie nak mula? Filem yang berkesan perlu mengemukakan sebuah masalah dramatik dari awal-awal, supaya penonton teruja melihat wataknya cuba menyelesaikan masalah itu. Tapi Azim hanya mula mengobses tentang amalan ngangkung selepas hampir setengah filem dah berlalu. Subplot Tasnim juga, tak pasti kemana ia menuju; setiap kali mambang tanah itu muncul, dia takut, lepas tu dah macam tak endah je. Tiada dramatic tension, tiada rasa ingin tahu apa yang berlaku seterusnya. Satu lagi kelemahannya ialah masa klimaks, dimana segala setup yang tersedia akhirnya dimakbulkan dengan payoff - dan diulang semula dalam flashback bagi mereka yang mudah lupa. Alahai. Yakinlah sket dengan kecerdikan penonton kita ni.

Bagaimana persembahan "the Heath Ledger of Malaysia" kita ni, Shaheizy Sam? (Eh honestly, simpanlah gelaran tu. Dia memang hebat, tapi tak payahlah over glemer sangat.) Malangnya, kali ni dia kurang menyerlah. Raut mukanya macam terpaku dengan satu ekspresi, dan suara garaunya dibuat-buat. Mungkin inilah pilihan Shaheizy untuk menghidupkan watak Azim yang pendiam dan rendah hati, tapi tak natural-lah. Namun lakonannya tetap berkesan, terutamanya semasa big emotional moment-nya di pengakhiran yang membuat mata saya terasa pedih sikit. (Sikiiiit je.) Azad Jazmin juga okey; sebenarnya dia juga pelakon utama di samping Shaheizy, kerana screentime untuk wataknya sama dengan watak Shaheizy. Mungkin filem ini dibikin sebelum kejayaan Adnan Sempit kot.

Dan sebenarnya, filem ini taklah seram sangat; adegan mengejutnya hanya untuk suka-suka, dan akhirnya hantu dan jembalangnya menjadi bahan ketawa. Tapi segala unsur seram, komedi dan drama semuanya berkesan - jauh lebih berkesan daripada filem Melayu yang biasa. Malahan ia juga menyelitkan ajaran keagamaan di babak akhir, tapi ia dibuat dengan halus dan tidak berkhutbah. Ini memang ajaib! Disebabkan jalan ceritanya yang kurang berkesan, saya ada terfikir nak bagi rating 3 bintang - tapi oleh kerana ia mengandungi pembetulan dari setiap kesalahan yang kerap muncul dalam filem Melayu, saya rasa ia patut mendapat 3-½ bintang. Ya, setanding dengan filem The Next Three Days wei, jangan main-main!

Tapi toksahlah nak panggil Ismail Hasim "the Paul Haggis of Malaysia". Ini baru filem arahannya yang pertama, namun ianya sebuah debiu yang sungguh mengasyikkan. Saya rasa janggal sikit menulis ulasan ini; saya selalu menggunakan bahasa Melayu untuk mencaci dan memaki filem tempatan yang teruk, tetiba ada sebuah filem yang layak diberi pujian pula. Tak biasa siut! Tapi diharap ini bukan kali terakhir. Syabas kepada Bob Hasim, dan tahniah atas kejayaan RM10 juta filem anda. Bikinlah banyak lagi filem, dan tunjuk ajar sikit dengan si talentless hack Ahmad Idham tu.

NEXT REVIEW: The Social Network
Expectations: finally!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Another crowning glory for the Disney formula

Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale
My rating:

I gave The Princess and the Frog 4 stars, but rereading what I wrote a year ago, I find the tone of my review incongruously lukewarm. Did I over-rate it, or was I too harsh on it once the time came to sit butt on chair and pound out another review? Hmm, 'tis a quandary. In any case, here is the next Walt Disney animated movie - their 50th, incidentally - and it is in many ways as much a return to the old-school Disney formula as the last one. Spunky heroine, cute animal sidekicks, dashing hero, romance, songs, scary villain, and all based on yet another classic fairy tale. Didn't I say a year ago that I had doubts how much more could be wrung out of this same old same old?

O me of little faith. I never should've doubted Disney - not now that they have John Lasseter at their helm.

A baby girl with beautiful golden hair was born to a king and queen. Her hair had the magical ability to heal all illnesses - and so a witch named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) kidnapped her, craving her youth-giving magic. The girl, now named Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), grew up believing that Gothel is her mother and has lived in a lonely tower all her life, with no friends except a pet chameleon named Pascal. About to turn 18, she yearns to leave her home-cum-prison, and one day her chance arrives in the form of a thief and rogue named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi). She strikes a bargain with him to be her guide to the outside world, not knowing that he is wanted by the kingdom's palace guard - and a palace guard horse named Maximus - as well as the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), his cohorts in crime. And Gothel herself is not about to let her golden-haired goose get away.

It's even more formulaically Disney than The Princess and the Frog. That one at least took place in a more-or-less real-world period New Orleans, and had an ordinary working-class heroine. This one has an actual princess of a generic nameless fairytale kingdom, the kind that films like Enchanted and the Shrek series had a field day parodying; yet it all seems comforting and familiar instead of tired and clichéd. And it's funny, thrilling, heartwarming, poignant, beautifully animated, and terrifically entertaining - everything a Disney animated film should be and has always been.

It does do a couple of new things with the formula though. Chief amongst them is its updating of the Rapunzel story and making it about a domineering mother and an overprotected daughter - which is an obvious approach for a story about a girl who's lived her entire life locked up in a tower. A lot of the Rapunzel-Gothel scenes are uncomfortably close to real-life accounts of child abuse; you get the impression that Gothel's emotional manipulation and passive-aggressive putdowns are things that many a young girl has received from her mother. Perhaps the movie oversimplifies the issue by turning Gothel into an irredeemable villain who thoroughly deserves her eventual comeuppance - but she was a uniquely, deliciously twisted villain while it lasted.

And then there are the numerous little jokes that seem to poke fun at the formula. Am I the only one who thinks the "I've Got a Dream" song sequence is a parody of the typical "I want" song found in pretty much every single Disney animated film? Yes, there's an "I want" song in this one too ("When Will My Life Begin"), as well as a villain song and a falling-in-love song, but if the movie doesn't subvert clichés, as least it makes efforts to cleverly hang lampshades on them. It's also neat that its hero is a none-too-goody Han Solo-type rogue instead of a bland prince, and that its cute animal sidekicks have personalities on top of just being cute. (And funny. Both Pascal and Maximus get some killer gags.)

But what makes it better than even The Princess and the Frog - which it is, even though they share the same 4-star rating - is how emotionally affecting it is. Halfway through I was beginning to think the Rapunzel-Flynn romance isn't going anywhere, and that they'd have to resort to a montage (an easy shortcut for, well, basically anything) or something. Then the ending came around, and damned if I didn't get more than a little teary-eyed. I think it's because the characters are so well-established, that even if their relationships are broad and formulaic, it still works. Rapunzel is recognizably a teenage girl - gawky, excitable, and full of wonder at being able to finally explore the outside world. I'd put her up there amongst the most lovable of the Disney heroines.

Did you know this is the 2nd most expensive film ever made? It cost $260 million, but every dollar is up there in stunning visual design and animation. And it looks like the gamble paid off; it did very well at the box office even against Harry Potter. I was sorry to hear that The Princess and the Frog was financially disappointing, and that this film was radically reworked because of that. Hence the puzzling title (which gives the impression that it's meant to kick off a whole Rapunzel film franchise) - in the U.S. it's called Tangled, to make it sound less girly. No matter. They can market their movies however they like, as long as they keep making 'em - although sadly, they have announced that this will be the last of their fairy tale-based films. They needn't worry. The formula still works.

NEXT REVIEW: Ngangkung
Expectations: Shaheizy Sam FTW?