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You’ll Want To Take Better Care of Your Body After Watching This Anime

Did you know? 

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our body, working relentlessly throughout their life cycle (about 120 days), after which they are replaced with new cells. 
  • White blood cells protect our body against diseases and foreign invaders. There are several subtypes, including macrophages, which destroy bacteria, as well as T-cells that destroy infected cells. 
  • I learned all this from an anime. 

Okay, so that’s not 100% true. I learned it in biology class. But that was 15 years ago, and I’ve long since forgotten everything but the most basic facts about the human body. So watching Cells at Work: Code Black was a fun (albeit dark) refresher. 

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Seriously, if we had shows like this back in the day instead of boring ol’ textbooks, everyone would have aced their biology exams. It has everything that a good anime should have: beautiful art, interesting characters, a great plot, awesome action. But most of all, it’s educational, and it carries an important message beyond just entertainment: Take. Better. Care. Of. Our. Bodies. 

Based on a popular manga series, the first anime season of Cells at Work! details how a body functions through the eyes of anthropomorphised cells, ie a red blood cell and a white blood cell. I haven’t watched the original, but I’ve heard it’s light and fun, with a focus on comedy. Code Black, however, is much darker – and shines the spotlight on what happens to an unhealthy body caused by bad lifestyle habits and stress. 

Synopsis 

The series opens with our ‘hero’ AA2153, a rookie red blood cell. Somewhat naive in character, he starts off enthusiastic and pumped (ha!) for work, but soon discovers that there are plenty of problems with his work environment, from angry, overworked cells to pathways clogged with cholesterol and plaque, hindering oxygen deliveries — a reflection of the body’s unhealthy state. The environment is also hostile: AA2153 often gets verbally abused by other cells, as they are all stretched to their limit and often have to prioritise certain functions over others.

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During a delivery run, our protagonist is saved by white blood cell U1196 from an invading Pneumonia Coccus, and a friendship blossoms despite their different roles. The two characters will continue running into each other throughout the course of the series, as they both try to fulfil their duties to keep the body running. 

AA2153 does his best under terrible working conditions and tries to keep his optimism up. In the first episode, he witnesses a terrible scene: his co-workers turning into zombies (carboxyhemoglobin) after coming into contact with carbon monoxide (from smoking). Although initially terrified, he hardens his resolve to deliver oxygen after his senpai sacrifices himself by running through the gas, so that AA2153 could deliver oxygen through a safer route. However, this is just the beginning of the body’s troubles. 

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Throughout the course of the anime, our characters will have to overcome various situations, some of which are self-inflicted by the body, from heavy drinking and a bad diet to consumption of caffeine and energy drinks, which in turn cause the body to weaken further, making it prone to disease. After battling conditions such as hair loss, kidney stones, gout, erectile dysfunction, gonococci and pulmonary embolism, AA2153 starts to lose hope that the hellish environment will change… 

Verdict 

I absolutely love this anime. Pretty art style aside, I think it’s brilliant how the writers have managed to turn somewhat complicated concepts into easy-to-digest (pun intended) stories— and they’ve also done an excellent job depicting the anthropomorphised cells and the various organs creatively. 

The kidney, for example, is shown as a traditional bathhouse, and the glomeruli (the filtering unit) as bath girls who help clean up the red blood cells. When bacteria invades one kidney, threatening to destroy it, AA2153 urges the girls to evacuate – but they are prevented from doing so by the matriarch Glomeruli, who tells them that the kidney is a ‘silent organ’ — always working, never complaining. This hit me hard because I know that kidney failure is often called a silent killer, and it isn’t until they are failing that we realise something is very wrong. The kidney is eventually saved after the body ingests antibiotics, which help the white blood cells defeat the invading bacteria. 

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Another good example of the anime’s creativity is the liver, represented as a red light district with hostess clubs, where the red blood cells go to ‘unwind’ and detoxify, especially after alcohol consumption. But as the body continues drinking excessively, the once bright and colourful district becomes a dark and gloomy place, with exhausted and sickly hostesses (hepatocytes). I think it’s just great how they used real-life scenarios and applied them to the anime in such a way that is easy to understand. 

But more than just spitting facts, the anime manages to depict the emotions of the anthropomorphised cells and the seemingly hopeless state they are living in. The characters aren’t just there to tell you about how the body works: they have their own hopes and dreams and feelings. The main character is your typical anime hero: bright, cheerful and enthusiastic, always trying to inspire others — and while it’s nothing original as far as animes go (think Naruto, or Luffy), AA2153 is endearing in his own way.

Cells-at-Work-CODE-BLACK-AC1677
AA2153 and AC1677

The side characters are equally well developed. In episode 7, our hero’s best friend, a fellow red blood cell designated as AC1677, becomes jealous of AA2153’s achievements, having always been overshadowed by the former’s achievements.  He also feels somewhat guilty at AA2153’s persistence and dedication, as he doesn’t have the same zeal. AC1677 turns to the high that caffeine produces in order to try and outshine his friend. The body suffers a nosebleed, and AA2153 almost loses his best friend as red blood cells are sucked out and AC1677 loses his strength after crashing from a caffeine high — but he manages to save him, and eventually returns to his former self and works harder. (AC1677 is my favourite character by the way!) 

It’s episodes like these that make me feel a twinge of guilt — of course, I too have made my own body suffer from bad decisions (lack of sleep, for example, eating unhealthy food, and stressing myself out lol) and watching Code Black somehow drives the point home that I’m letting it down. I’m killing these cells in my body even though they’re working so hard for me — always working, never resting — so that I can enjoy a good quality life for as long as possible without suffering and pain. 

Since the pandemic began, I’ve made some changes to my lifestyle, including more exercise and a better diet (because I haven’t been able to eat out lol). I’ve lost about 12 kg, and I’m feeling much better compared to the days I used to gorge on fried foods coz of work stress. I couldn’t even climb stairs without feeling winded. My body must have been screaming. 

I’d like to think I’m providing a better ‘working’ environment for the cells living in me these days. So that’s a good thing. 

Rating: 8.5/10 

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Why You Should Watch Netflix’s New Filipino-Themed Anime, Trese

Based on the critically-acclaimed comics by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Trese is an original Netflix animated series that follows the story of Alexandra Trese, an occult investigator with magical powers. She is also the resident lakan/babaylan, aka warrior/healer; one who upholds the balance between the mortal and the spiritual world.

While the concept may not be 100% original (think Hellboy, John Constantine), what makes Trese unique is its Filipino setting: the story happens in the bustling city of Manila, and features many characters and creatures from Filipino mythology. 

When it comes to the fantasy genre, we’ve had plenty of stories revolving around Western, Egyptian, Roman and even Greek mythology, but very little on Southeast Asian culture – which is why the hype was massive (especially in the Philippines) leading up to Trese’s release. 

And I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint. 

Synopsis: 

Mysterious crimes are happening all across Manila, and they seem to be from supernatural causes. At their wits end, local police enlist the help of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra’s family has long acted as a bridge between worlds –  her father Anton was once the laban, while her mother was a babaylan (shaman) – so ever since she was born, Alexandra has had a strong connection to the spirit world. In the course of the series our heroine, together with her twin bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, investigate a string of murders and disturbances – culminating in encounters with beings such as aswangs (man-eating vampiric ghouls), duwendes (goblins), tikbalang (horse-like creatures), zombies and tiyanaks (baby vampires). The events are not isolated, and indicate that something catastrophic is coming – which would involve the destruction of both the human and the spirit world. 

Why You Should Watch It 

Trese’s Filipino touch makes for a unique and refreshing take on the fantasy genre. I mean, it’s not everyday that you get an animated series based on Southeast Asian mythology – which is a shame, because the culture is so rich with amazing stories, symbols and characters. The fact that it’s on Netflix is a great step in the right direction (especially in today’s climate where companies are looking to champion diversity), because it appeals to a modern audience of young Filipinos to reconnect with their roots, and at the same time, introduce the culture to an international audience. 

While the creatures are fascinating, you also get Filipino references in things such as Alexandra’s weapon (a kalis, which looks very similar to a Malay/Indonesian dagger called the keris). Another example would be Alexandra’s bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, who were named after characters in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. In the first episode, Alexandra investigates the apparent murder of the ghost of the White Lady of Balete Drive – a Filipino urban legend that is as popular as Bloody Mary might be to the British. 

And then you have a plethora of pop-culture references to spot: in one episode, a movie studio where Alexandra and her team investigates has a sign saying ‘ABC-ZNN’, a cheeky play on ABS-CBN, the now-defunct major TV news network that was embroiled in a licensing controversy last year. You also get glimpses of everyday Filipino life: commutes in jeepneys and packed trains, a neon-lit skyline – all captured through a pretty art style that perfectly showcases Manila’s chaotic beauty.

Granted, I think sometimes these references might be lost on non-Filipino audiences (I only knew about Crispin and Basilio because the hubs and I were discussing about Philippine Independence Day – I initially thought Crispin was from St Crispin and Crispinian), but even if you’re non-Filipino, it’s not crucial to the plot, and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. They’re more like hidden Easter eggs that those in the know will find satisfaction in spotting. 

But what I like the most about Trese which sets it apart from others is that it does not shy away from shining the spotlight on real Filipino issues such as police brutality, the drug war and abortion, in a country that is highly religious and predominantly Catholic. Which to me shows that care has been taken to ensure the show is as culturally accurate and as relevant as possible. It’s not just one of those ‘feel-good, show only the best side’ kind of stories. 

Alexandra’s character, despite her grim demeanour, is likeable and well-developed. You feel for her doubts and her struggles, living in her father’s shadow, constantly being told that she is ‘just like him’, but yet feeling inferior that she might not live up to people’s expectations of what she should be. But at the end of the day, I like that she finds her own strength – and the message that one can trust to someone they look up to to guide their actions, but not need to be exactly like them.

My only peeve with Trese? The pacing is good in the beginning but feels extremely rushed towards the end – as is common with many animated series. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Trese, and I think it’s worth a watch for fans of animation and fantasy stories alike. First Raya, then Trese – maybe this will be the start of the rise of Southeast Asian-themed shows. I’d love to see one with Malaysian mythological characters like Badang (not like the shit that starred Aliff Syukri, I mean a proper one), Mahsuri and Hang Tuah. 

Now, tabi-tabi po. Time to go catch up on some Trese!

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Film Review: Tarung Sarung (2020)

Gone are the days when local and regional films are thought to be inferior to Hollywood productions. Thanks to a burgeoning film industry, Southeast Asian movies are on the rise: and while they may lack the big budget their Hollywood counterparts have, some of these films more than make up for it through creative storytelling, beautifully choreographed scenes, and something Hollywood films might find hard to integrate – culture and heritage.

Tarung Sarung (literally ‘sarong fight’) is one of these movies, and it surprised me with how much heart it has, despite the simplistic plot. Directed by Archie Hekagery and starring young actor Panji Zoni in his movie debut, the film was supposed to be released in April last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and subsequently released on Netflix on 31 December 2020.

Synopsis

Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni) is the spoiled and arrogant young scion of one of the richest families in Jakarta, who thinks that money makes the world go round. After a fight in a club which was caught on camera, Deni’s mother Dina sends him packing to Makassar, to manage a resort development project and learn some responsibility. There, he meets Tenri (Maizura), a local girl who is passionate about environmentalism, and is opposed to the resort project.

Deni hides his identity from Tenri in order to get closer to her, and sparks fly. Unfortunately, he gets on the wrong side of Sanrego (Cemal Faruk), a local thug who intends to marry Tenri. Sanrego challenges Deni to ‘tarung sarung‘ (literally, sarong fight) – a traditional martial arts practiced by the Bugis people of Makassar, whereby the participants take part in close one-on-one combat within a sarong. Naturally, Deni gets pummeled, and wanting revenge, seeks help from the village’s undefeated former champion Pak Khalid (Yayan Ruhian), who runs the local mosque, to train him in the ways of the sport. And while Deni starts off wanting to get back at Sanrego, he soon finds motivation and strength from other reasons: the love of Tenri, belief in himself, and ultimately, finding god.

Thoughts

Tarung Sarung is heavily inspired by The Karate Kid (I mean, Deni Ruso? Daniel LaRusso? lol) and follows the typical martial arts film formula, where we follow the journey of our naive and inexperienced hero undergoing training and tutelage under a master, emerging not only stronger physically but as a better person. And while the film doesn’t bring anything groundbreakingly new to the table, it still makes for a surprisingly entertaining drama about teenage love and discovering one’s self, with bits of action thrown in.

Now, I haven’t watched many Indonesian films so I don’t have a benchmark to compare it with, but I felt that the acting was pretty good, especially from Panji Zoni, who pulls off the role of rich, spoiled brat really well. (If I was 10 years younger I’d probably be fan girling coz he’s pretty cute).

Yayan Ruhian as Pak Khalid is also superb. He exudes a tranquil, Mr Miyagi vibe; friendly and wise, but not someone you’d want to piss off. Granted, I did feel that some of the other performances felt rather forced, like Deni’s two sidekicks Gogos and Tutu (who are there to provide comic relief), and the villain Sanrego whose one-sided personality seems to comprise of only over-the-top machismo and angry grunting…but overall I liked the characters and performances, as they feel relatable and believable. Tenri, for example, is a well written character who, despite wearing a hijab and being covered up, is a strong, independent girl with her own dreams and aspirations – a departure from the usual damsel-in-distress roles girls that look like her are supposed to play.

What I really enjoyed, however, is the film’s unique Indonesian perspective, which is refreshing to see in a sea of cookie-cutter action films themed around fighting and violence. Deni, who believes in nothing but the power of money and influence, is slowly guided to discover more about god and religion, which is obviously a big part of Indonesian life. Prior to watching the film, I had also never heard about tarung sarung (which is a real thing in Indonesia), so it piqued my interest in art. Back in the day, duels were fought to the death with badik (a traditional dagger) but this is no longer practiced today (in the movie, they fight bare fisted instead).

There are also interesting bits highlighting Indonesian culture, such as a scene where Deni takes part in pindah rumah, a practice where everyone in the village works together to help carry an entire house from one place to another (this can be done because the traditional homes in Makassar are usually made from wood and have stilts, so they don’t have piling in the ground unlike regular houses). Pindah rumah is also done in other Austronesian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.

Another thing the movie does right is the cinematography, which is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of rural Indonesia – it’s sandy beaches and blue seas, the charm of its small towns and villages, and the warmth of its people. Without spoiling too much, I’d also like to commend the clever ending, I think some audiences might not like it, but I felt like it was very different and subverted expectations.

That being said, Tarung Sarung does have a couple of flaws. For me, it’s the long and draggy run time – at nearly two hours, I feel that the film could have done without certain scenes that don’t add much to the story. The fight scenes are all well choreographed, as expected of a film starring Yayan Ruhian (he was in John Wick 3, by the way. remember that epic scene with the two Indonesian shinobis?), but they are few and far between, which may leave audiences wanting more, since this is supposed to be an action film after all.

Verdict

Tarung Sarung has a standard if somewhat cliche plot and characters, with a uniquely Indonesian flavour and a good mix of romance, coming-of-age, action and drama. And while it won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, I think it’s a nice and entertaining film nonetheless. Worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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I Finally Got Netflix

There are two kinds of people on this planet: those who subscribe to Netflix, and those who don’t.

Until very recently, I belonged to the latter. As someone who has little patience for TV shows and web series (can’t be bothered to sit through multiple episodes), I’ve never felt the need to, despite how popular Netflix is with my peers. I’d much rather spend my free time reading, or playing video games.

My parents, though, don’t have such hobbies – and they’ve been bored watching the same old Astro shows. So one afternoon, after my dad changed channels for the umpteenth time (he wasn’t even watching the TV; more like mindlessly scrolling through shows with remote in hand, eyes glazed over), I suggested we try Netflix.

After subscribing, I finally sat my ass down to watch the much hyped about The Queen’s Gambit (forced myself, more like, lol). It’s decent as far as dramas go, and has quite a unique subject, but like I said, not a big fan of serials. If nothing else, it was good bonding time with the fam, because we all sat down to watch the show together – something we haven’t done for a long time.

Of course, Netflix also has an extensive catalogue of films, which I much prefer watching over serials. I’ve been catching up on some old films (John Wick, Deep Blue Sea, and Small Soldiers – the nostalgia!), and I also checked out an Indonesian film called Tarung Sarung (review up soon – it’s actually pretty decent!).

With cinemas still closed, I think this is the only way I’ll be able to watch films without paying through my nose. The good thing about Netflix is that it isn’t that expensive (about RM35 per month) – and unlike bloodsucking Astro, does not require you to sign a contract tying you down, so you can cancel at anytime.

Do you have a Netflix subscription? If you have good movies to suggest, lemme know in the comments below!

What Do You Think Of Disney’s New Mulan Trailer?

So. The trailer for Disney’s live-action Mulan was just released a couple of days ago; and honestly? I have mixed feelings about it.

As a kid, Mulan was one of my favourite Disney heroines. I remember coming home from school and watching it religiously every other week on VHS (Yes, I existed in the era of VHS. lol). Being somewhat of a tomboy myself, I completely related to Mulan’s struggle to conform to what her parents wanted for her, but still stay true to who she was on the inside. She was also one of the few Asian characters in Disney, and I loved everything about the film – the art, the characters (Mushu and Cri-kee’s dynamic), the humour (Mulan’s ragtag gang of soldiers, ie Yao, Chien Pao and Ling) and of course, the music.

Disney has been in the habit of making live action remakes lately, like Beauty and the Beast which played it pretty safe by following the animated film’s storyline, and Aladdin, which screened earlier this year to mixed reviews. Of course, another Disney remake that has gotten a lot of flak lately is the Little Mermaid, after it was announced African-American actress Halle Bailey would play the titular character of Ariel, who has always been portrayed as white with red locks – launching the #NotMyAriel hashtag on Twitter.

Coming back to Mulan, the less-than-two minute trailer seems to indicate that the film would depart significantly from the original animation, with most of the notable characters missing (aforementioned Mushu, Cri-kee, grandma, and Mulan’s team in the army). There is apparently no love interest either, as we don’t see Li Shang.

All accounts considered, the upcoming Mulan seems to more about her own journey, which would fit the feminist element which Hollywood is pushing strong these days with films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (I fkin hate that film and nothing you say will dissuade me). While I can’t necessarily say it’s a bad thing until I’ve watched the actual film, if this is how it’s going to be, I can’t help but feel a pang of loss and nostalgia – that Disney would take away so many elements that essentially made the original animation such a well-loved, everlasting classic.

Sure, we all want a strong and confident Mulan who doesn’t need no man, but we also want all the other stuff that made us laugh and relate so much to the 1998 version. Perhaps the argument is that Mulan is based on a Chinese legend, and they want to stay true to the source material, but there are plenty of other films out there that have already covered that angle – like the excellent 2009 Hua Mulan starring Vicki Zhao Wei. I want my Mushu and Cri-kee!

Another argument is that concepts/values in old animations have changed, and in order to showcase diversity and the values of today, they should be updated to reflect the current times (eg how Jasmine ended up ruling Agrabah in Aladdin rather than in the original where she was just a ‘princess’).  The thing is, Mulan has always been a strong, independent and badass character – heck, the Emperor bowed to her after she saved China – and she still had time to go home and bring honour to us all. I find there is little need to change what was essentially a perfect film on its own.

Disney’s need to ‘push diversity’ is a bold move,  but it risks alienating a large group of Disney fans who have waited for years to see their favourite films come to life in live action reenactments, only to find they’ve been changed to the point that they lose their essence. For me, I’d love to see more original Disney films with new and fresh characters promoting diversity (like Moana) – rather than trying to shoehorn stuff into what is supposed to be a ‘remake’.

BTW one of my favourite scenes from the original. Pure, raw, powerful emotions – no dialogue needed.

Also this:

Time to go rewatch the cartoon!

Movie Review: The Meg – Giant Flop Or Mega Disaster?

….Surprisingly, for me, it was neither.

Reviews have not been kind on The Meg, despite it being one of the largest (pun intended) big budget shark movies since Deep Blue Sea (one of my favourites in the genre). But I’ve learnt that reviews, especially those from so-called ‘film critics’, are not always to be trusted. **Unless if it’s BvS. I think the all round consensus was that it was a piece of shite. 

Either way, I went into the cinema with an open mind.

While I won’t call The Meg revolutionary, it delivered as a decent summer blockbuster, with some thrilling sequences and a likeable action star lead. Because let’s face it – how many of you watch Jason Statham for his acting chops? 😀

Synopsis: 

Jonas Taylor (Statham) is a disgraced rescue diver, implicated in causing the death of two of his crew mates on a deep sea rescue mission five years ago. Taylor protests his innocence, saying that the sub they were in was rammed by a powerful force from an unknown creature, and he had no choice but to leave them behind – but for plot’s sake, of course nobody believes him.

Now a drunk in Thailand, Taylor is forced out of retirement to save his ex-wife Lori, who is part of an underwater research facility called the Mana One. Lori and her crew were exploring a deeper section of the Mariana’s trench concealed by a thermocline (a layer in a body of water with different temperatures), when they were hit by a powerful impact, stranding their submersible at the bottom of the ocean.

Taylor heads down to rescue Lori, and they finally discover that the creature that Taylor encountered five years ago and was terrorising the submersible was a megalodon, an ancient 60-foot-long shark. Back at the facility above ground, they realise that during the escape, the submersible opened a channel in the thermocline – which was what was preventing the Meg from ascending into the regular ocean depths. Now loose, it wreaks havoc on boats and stuff – so the crew have to set out and kill it before it endangers mankind.

Thoughts 

As with many monster movies, logic is not The Meg’s strong game. The movie was also unnecessarily draggy at two hours long, when it could have achieved the same effect at 1.5. That being said, I found the movie quite fun to watch, although the jump scares were pretty predictable.

A comment on a review site that I found particularly funny was where the poster suggested that the directors “give The Meg a gun to even things out” – suggesting that even when he is a tiny six foot human against a giant prehistoric shark, Jason Statham is ridiculously overpowered. This manly show of testosterone includes deep grunting, snarls, game face and shots of Statham’s chest muscles – but hey, that’s what people go to watch Statham for ha. And also to see him kick some shark butt (which he does).

Overall, The Meg for me was an okay film and not as bad as people made it up to be. Sure, sometimes it takes itself too seriously and never truly goes down either the Deep Blue Sea path or go over-the-top-crazy-its-so-bad-its-fun like Sharknado, but it’s not a bad action film in its own.

Rating: 6/10

 

 

Review: The Greatest Showman + Three Of My Favourite Songs From The Movie

Disclaimer: I am not a professional movie critic.

I feel like I have to say this coz there are just so many pretentious ‘reviews’ out there by critics so eager to show off their powerful vocab, they’re literally tripping over themselves to stuff words like ‘iconoclast’ and ‘flimflam’ into their articles. All style, and no substance.

Kind of like The Greatest Showman. 

Loosely based on the life of P.T Barnum, the movie follows Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his meteoric rise from poor tailor’s boy into one of America’s most well-known personalities in 19th-century showbiz. The film starts off with young Barnum and childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams), the daughter of a wealthy family. Separated by class and circumstance, they meet again as adults and get married. The young newlyweds move into a small apartment, with Barnum working as a clerk for a shipping freight company. The couple have two beautiful daughters and are content, but Barnum dreams for more.

After being laid off by the company, Barnum swindles a loan out of the bank and opens a museum, which he fills with wax figures and curiosities. Business was poor, until an idea from his daughter prompted Barnum to recruit, for lack of a better word, ‘freaks’ for his show. Attendance soared, but although Barnum now had riches, he still craved more – acceptance by high society, who still viewed him as nothing more than a circus showman.

In what must be the mother of all cliche plots, he meets Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind – and in his quest to make her the next big thing, neglects his family and the crew who helped build his empire. After failing to see that Lind was falling for him, he spurns her feelings, prompting the singer to cancel her tour and leave Barnum in debt. To make matters worse, the scandal between the two is published in a newspaper, the circus burns down, and Charity has had enough of her husband’s bullshit, taking the girls with her to her parents’ place.

Of course, he then realises that he has lost sight of who he is, and that real happiness was there in front of him all along. He picks himself up, rebuilds the circus, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Verdict:

The Greatest Showman is exactly like its subject matter. You enter a circus tent to be wowed for several hours by song, dance and performances. The film delivers that, and nothing more. Its attempts to convey messages of empowerment or acceptance are flimsy, and the movie misses numerous chances to expand the plot into a more meaningful one. The cast of ‘freaks’ are there to tell Barnum’s show, and glorify his existence as their saviour. At the end of the day, the audience never really finds out who they are. Who is the Dogboy? Why is the Tattooed man covered in tattoos? Even characters with more screen time, like the bearded lady Lettie, are passed off as props to telling Barnum’s ‘grand’ story. The only other story arc, that of the love story between Zac Efron’s Philip Carlyle and Zendaya’s trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, is cheesy and predictable.

That being said, the acting is solid, especially on the part of Hugh Jackman. Man is truly the greatest showman, captivating the audience in every frame, as he prances and sings his way across the stage. Performances by the rest of the cast is stellar as well, and the set is beautifully designed. The best part of the film, however, is the music and choreography. Three songs, in particular, have captivated me, and I’ve been humming them for several days lol. If you view/listen to them separate from the film, the message behind them is positive and uplifting. Here they are, in no particular order:

“This Is Me”

When Barnum’s crew gets the door slammed in their faces by the boss who was supposed to be looking out for them, they come to a realisation that to him and everyone else, they will always be ‘freaks’. Lettie the bearded lady has had enough of it and leads the group outside, bravely putting on a show despite the booing and jeering, before they finish up on stage. It’s a splendid ‘fuck you’ statement.

“Never Enough” 

A powerful and emotional performance by Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Jenny Lind. She did the lip syncing so well that I didn’t realise it was a dubbed song, originally sang by Loren Allred (of The Voice fame). To me, the song embodied the protagonist, who was never satisfied with what he had, and was always craving for more. Also, the look Jackman gives her when she’s ‘singing’ is Oscar-worthy.

“Rewrite the Stars” 

Typical song about star-crossed lovers – one idealistic, the other reminding him of reality. It’s very poppy and kitsch but gahddamn why is it so catchy

TGS is fun to watch, and has good songs. But is it a good movie? I wouldn’t lump it in the same category as what constitutes good movies in my book. It is a nice watch nonetheless, and keeps you entertained for the duration of the movie.

So sit back, relax and just enjoy the show.

Score: 6/10 

 

Movie Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

I know what they say about actors having to be versatile in order to succeed in the long run; but I also believe that some actors are tailor-made for certain roles. Think Schwazzeneger as the iconic Terminator, or Sylvester Stallone as Rocky. You simply can’t imagine anyone else playing those characters.

For me, Ryan Reynolds found his niche when he played the sarcastic and punny Deadpool – and he seems to fit into this ‘snarky but cute and somehow likeable’ image well. He reprises this persona in his latest movie, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson. 

Synopsis 

Private bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) offers top notch protection services and has his star on the rise – all until a shot through a plane’s window kills a corrupt Japanese businessman he was protecting. Reduced to protecting druggie corporate executives, he blames his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Rousell, for allegedly leaking the info and getting his client killed.

Meanwhile, ruthless dictator of Belarus Vladislav Dukovich (Gary Oldman) is brought to trial for crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice, but is on the verge of being let off due to lack of evidence and witnesses being killed on his orders. In a desperate attempt, the prosecution calls for notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to give testimony, with the promise that they will release his incarcerated wife Sonia. Rousell is assigned to escort Kincaid to The Hague to testify, but the convoy is ambushed and everyone killed except them. Realising that operations have been compromised and that there is a mole in Interpol, Rousell is forced to call Bryce for help. Initially Bryce is reluctant as he has had run-ins with Kincaid in the past, but ultimately agrees in exchange for the restoration of his good name. Hilarity and action ensue, as the mismatched pair attempt to escape pursuit and make it to court on time.

Verdict

One reviewer called the film ‘cartoonish’. It’s certainly OTT, but in a fun way. Kincaid and Bryce are like yin and yang – the former brash and impulsive with a wing-it attitude, the latter meticulous and likes having everything planned out to a tee. Their on-screen chemistry and jokes make for a barrel of laughs, and just about holds the rather cliche plot together. The story itself is very straightforward with no major twist and turns, but I do like some scenes that add depth to the character’s backstory: like the story of how Kincaid became a hitman and his notion of justice. There’s also plenty of good action scenes.

All in all, the bullets fly, blood is spilled, explosions aplenty and epic car/boat/bike chase through Amsterdam make for a fun summer blockbuster.

Score: 7/10.