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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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P.Ramlee Memorial, Kuala Lumpur – A Tribute to Malay Cinema’s “Golden Boy”

Hollywood’s Golden Age had figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, James Dean and Clark Gable.

Early Malay cinema had Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

Potret P. Ramlee.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Born Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Puteh on the island of Penang, Malaysia (then the Federated States of Malaya) in 1929, P. Ramlee was a man of many hats. Beginning the late 1940s, he acted in, produced and directed numerous films (some of which are still considered beloved classics till this day), and also performed and wrote hundreds of songs. At the height of his career, his fame reached as far as Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan – cementing his name in the annals of classic Malay music and cinema. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 44.

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My dad is a big fan of P. Ramlee’s black and white films, and as a kid, I often joined him to watch movies like Bujang Lapok, Nasib Do Re Mi and Tiga Abdul, which were usually shown on weekend afternoons on national TV (or during the patriotic month). Being young, my comprehension was limited – but I still enjoyed the acting and stories, which often had a moral behind them.  Now as an adult, I can fully appreciate the simple and heartfelt artistry that went into the characters and the film, something which I think is missing in many modern films, despite the big budget CGI, better equipment and techniques, and whatnot. Old films had soul. 

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If you’re keen on finding out more about our national icon, there are a few places dedicated to remembering his contributions, such as the P.Ramlee Memorial House in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. Tucked within a housing estate, the building is one of Ramlee’s old homes, and was converted into a mini museum in 1986. The space is small, but there are a couple of interesting exhibits. I suggest pairing a visit with nearby attractions such as the Visual Arts Gallery and the National Library.

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PS: Filming is not allowed within, but you can take photos.

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The exhibition space is neatly divided according to themes. There are sections dedicated to his childhood growing up in Penang to Achehnese parents, his directorial debut, and his love story with another iconic Malay actor, Saloma. Ramlee was married twice, but it seems third time was the charm for these two lovebirds. In fact, Saloma was so overwhelmed with grief at the death of her husband, she suffered from depression and various illnesses, and passed away at the still young age of 48, 10 years after Ramlee’s death.

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There is a small AV room within where visitors can watch old P.Ramlee films.

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Ramlee’s impressive filmography. My favourite is Tiga Abdul, which draws inspiration from old Malay folktales. Set in a fictional Middle Eastern Country, the movie tells the story of three brothers, who are tricked by the cunning businessman Sadiq Segaraga, who uses his three daughters to force the brothers into parting with their wealth. The story is lighthearted, humorous and dramatic all at once, but with a moral lesson behind it about greed and honesty. Another must-watch is Anak-ku Sazali, where Ramlee shows off his acting chops playing dual roles as both the father and son characters.

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Films were not the only thing Ramlee was known for – he often sang and wrote/composed the soundtracks for them as well. In total, he wrote about 400 songs throughout his career.

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He was also apparently quite a tall man, judging from these clothes!

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Ramlee’s old piano.

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Although he is celebrated today as an icon of Malay cinema, it was said that Ramlee’s final years were mired in financial trouble and setbacks, with his once celebrated movies flopping, as the entertainment scene moved on to better, shinier things.  Some even saw him as a ‘has-been’, and Ramlee died a broken man, ridiculed by the public and the industry he loved so much. Recognition might have come too late and he might have died poor, but he left behind a rich legacy – one that will hopefully inspire and entertain new generations for years to come.

“Karya seni adalah satu daripada kerja Tuhan. Oleh itu, buatlah sungguh-sungguh dengan penuh kejujuran.” (Art is god’s work. Do it with diligence and honesty.) – Allahyarham Tan Sri P.Ramlee

P.RAMLEE MEMORIAL HOUSE 

22, Jalan Dedap, Taman P Ramlee, 53000 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM (Tuesdays – Sundays, closed Mondays). On Fridays, they open from 10AM – 12PM and 3PM – 5PM to allow for Muslim prayer break.

Admission: FREE

*There are no designated parking spots, since it is a residential area – so you can park by the side of the road. Do be mindful of where you park the vehicle though as you don’t want to block someone’s front gate! 

 

**PS: I am now on Patreon!  You can subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Movie Review: Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Every time anything with Stephen King’s name stamp on it comes out, I get super excited (He is, after all, one of my favourite authors!), so I was super psyched to watch The Dark Tower movie.

As a self-professed King fan, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read any of the Dark Tower books in his behemoth 7-titled series – but only because it was hard to find earlier titles in bookstores, and I didn’t want to start in the middle. This was a blessing in disguise. I went in to the movie with only the tiniest notion of what the books were about (a gunslinger in a fantasy world where forces are out to destroy The Dark Tower, which links all the worlds together), so I had none of the ‘baggage’ or expectations of a reader. And guess what? I liked the film, despite its abysmal 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe it would have been different if I had read it (case in point: The Hobbit – which Hollywood utterly destroyed) but I thought it was a nice, solid film with good casting and a well balanced dose of action.

Synopsis:

11-year-old New Yorker Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has recurring dreams of a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who forces children with psychic powers to channel their energy into destroying a Dark Tower. He is aided by monsters, dressed in human skin suits. There is also a gunslinger who opposes him.

Jake’s visions coincide with increasingly frequent earthquakes in the city. When he relates these to his mother, stepfather and psychiatrists, they dismiss it as trauma from his father’s recent death. His stepfather, who wants him out of the house, eventually convinces Jake’s mother to send the boy away to a hospital – but when the alleged facility people come to take him away, he recognises them as the monsters from his dreams because of the seams under their necks. Fleeing, he eventually locates an abandoned house from one of his visions and discovers a portal, where he travels to a parallel dimension dubbed the Mid-World. There, he encounters the Gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last of his kind from a line of medieval knights, sworn to protect the Tower. Roland is seeking the Man in Black, Walter, as revenge for killing his father who was also a gunslinger. Jake learns that the Tower is all that is protecting the universe from ‘outside’ monsters, hell bent on invading and destroying reality as we know it – and that the Man in Black wants to let them in by harvesting the powers of psychic children.

Meanwhile, Walter investigates Jake’s escape and the portal breach; coming to the conclusion that Jake’s psychic powers are far beyond anything that they have seen so far. And so the hunt for Jake begins… can Roland protect him and save the world?

Verdict 

I don’t know why there’s so much hate for the film. Maybe I have low standards (?) but I quite liked it. Of course, it’s not mind-blowingly good, but with a run-time of only 96 minutes, it was short, sweet and entertaining. The Independent called it ‘wildly unfaithful and simplistic to fans of King’s books’. Maybe so, but how do you condense a mammoth 7 books into one short film? Even Peter Jackson had to stretch out the Hobbit into a trilogy. I felt that Nikolai Arcel did a pretty decent job, considering.

The plot is simple enough that newbies should be able to understand without having to read an encyclopedia of King lore, and the cast is stellar. If nothing else, critics all agree that Idris Elba makes an excellent Roland. His world-weary portrayal of a Gunslinger who has lost his way and purpose, only to find it again through an optimistic, never-say-die young boy, is inspiring. Elba is effortlessly cool and scenes where he draws his gun and shoots baddies are awesome. I especially liked the Gunslinger’s Oath (which, in my mind, when recited by anyone else would appear almost cheesy and comical).

Jake is also very likeable; coming across as courageous and quick-witted. Some critics have panned the way the movie focuses on Jake more than the Gunslinger, but I felt it was a good way to build up the story without taking away from Roland’s role. Action sequences are choreographed well, and I enjoyed picking out the little Easter eggs from King’s other novels throughout the film.

The weakest link among the cast is, sadly, The Man in Black. Matthew McConaughey’s slick, snakeskin-oil salesman persona lacks real menace, and for a sorcerer who can make others stop breathing with just a few words, he seems rather mild and tame compared to some truly disturbing villains.

While I wouldn’t say it’s a great film, I felt it wasn’t as awful as critics made it out to be. Definitely watchable, especially on a lazy weekend.

Score: 7/10.

 

 

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets

Ever since I saw the trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets last year, I’ve been waiting to watch it coz it looked so visually enticing. The movie is based on the best selling French comic series, Valerian and Laurellin, and is directed by Luc Besson (of Fifth Element fame). According to interviews, Besson had originally wanted to create this film rather than Fifth Element (now a cult favourite – and one of my favourite movies too :)) but he was only able to realise his dream recently. It is crowd sourced and funded by Besson himself at a budget of 200mil, making it the most expensive ‘independent’ movie in French history. You can definitely feel the Fifth Element vibe in this film though, just from the trailer:

Synopsis 

It’s the 28th century, and top space agents Valerian (Dane de Haan) and Laurellin (Cara Delevingne) are working for the police force atop the Alpha, a human-built space station that is now home to millions of creatures from different planets, who live in harmony and exchange their knowledge and cultures. While out on a mission, Valerian has a dream of a peaceful humanoid race living on a tropical paradise, where they fish for energy pearls and use animals called ‘converters’ to duplicate them – before everything is destroyed by falling debris from the sky, and he is jolted awake.

The pair travel to a marketplace, where their mission is to retrieve a package from a black market dealer. The package turns out to be the converter Valerian had dreamnt of, and the customers in the deal are two of the mysterious humanoid race. After escaping from the dealer’s pursuit, they return to the Alpha, where they are told by Commander Fillit that part of the station has been infected by an unknown radioactive force, with no troops returning and the infection spreading. The two are assigned to protect the commander, but before the mission can continue the room is stormed by the humanoids, who kidnap the Commander.

Who are the mysterious humanoids, and what do they want? How is it related to Valerian’s dream, and why is the converter they are carrying, the last of its kind, so important? Our top agents set off through a series of adventures across the massive space station to find out…

Verdict 

Many reviewers have bashed Valerian, saying that the story is shallow and the acting wooden. I agree to some extent – but that’s not what i was expecting when I bought my ticket. I was expecting explosions, space action, colourful-looking aliens – and the movie delivers with aplomb. It is such a joy to behold the wonderful characters and the world that is Valerian’s; it’s like entering an exotic land for the first time to a sight and sound sensory overload. The story itself loses focus as it steamrolls to the end, but I felt that certain characters were developed well – just not our two main protagonists. The Pearl race(the humanoids), have an interesting backstory, and they’re extremely pretty to look at (the wonders of CGI). Even Rihanna, who plays Bubbles, a shapeshifter, has some golden moments, and the General who leads the team after the Commander’s kidnapping was also stellar in his performance.

The weakest link in the whole film were its two ‘heroes’ – Valerian and Laurellin. Which is ironic, seeing that the whole film was to be based around them. Perhaps Besson wanted to remain true to the love story between the two, but DeHaan and Delevingne have absolutely zero chemistry between them and the supposedly romantic/lovey-dovey conversations felt forced and emotionless. Delevingne, despite having starred as Enchantress in Suicide Squad, seemed not to have improved in the acting field. There was a comment that said the two looked like siblings, which was totally true. It felt incest-ual somehow lol.

No doubt Valerian falls short of Besson’s sci-fi piece de resistance, Fifth Element, but it has just enough of special effects and mindblowing scenes to carry its own. Years down the road, it might even become a cult favourite! We shall see.

Rating: storywise/acting, 4/10, visuals: 10/10. Average score: 6.5/10.

 

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Movie Review – Spiderman: Homecoming

Captain America and the Gang may have protected the Earth from alien invasions, but it’s Spiderman that has always been my favourite superhero. If you’re getting mugged in a dark alleyway by a hoodlum, it won’t  be IronMan flying down from the sky to save you – it’s going to be Spidey swinging from his webs. I like how he looks out for the ‘little guys’ – his tagline is, after all, ‘Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman’ – a true working class hero who prowls the streets protecting its citizens while the ‘big boys’ are busy defending the universe.

Following Hollywood’s tradition of milking the shit out of a franchise, there’s a brand new Spiderman, and it tells the story of Peter Parker in his teenage years. I went in with no expectations. After all, the Amazing Spiderman 2 just showed 3 years ago, and here they were ‘rebooting’ it already.. how many times can a story be told?

Well… needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised because Spiderman: Homecoming is one of the better superhero movies to come out in a long time.

Synopsis: 

The film opens with Adrian Toomes and his salvaging crew cleaning up the scene after the Battle of New York (from the last Avengers movie), before they are unceremoniously laid off by Tony Stark’s US Department of Damage Control. Angry at being driven out of business, Toomes convinces his colleagues to keep the alien technology they found on site to create advanced weapons and sell them on the black market.

Fast forward eight years and 15-year-old Peter Parker is drafted into the Avengers by Tony Stark, in a sort of ‘internship’ programme. However, he is told that he isn’t ready to be an Avenger and resumes his classes in high school. Frustrated and eager to prove his worth, Peter sneaks out nightly to perform crime fighting duties. He becomes disinterested in studies, believing he is destined for greater things, and drops out of his school Decathlon team in order to have more time as Spiderman. Coming home from his daily rounds, he is accidentally discovered by his best friend Ned, revealing his identity.

One night while attempting to stop what he thought was a regular ATM robbery, Peter runs into goons using high weapon tech sold by Toomes, which destroys a sandwich store across the road. He attempts to call up his superior at the Stark Company, Happy, but is dismissed. Determined to show he is ready to be ‘treated like an adult’, Peter and Ned try to get to the bottom of the mystery. Interrupting a weapons deal with a local thug, Peter confronts two of Toome’s associates, culminating in a high speed chase in which he nearly drowns after Toomes in his Vulture suit drops him into a lake. He is saved by Stark, who warns him to stay out of trouble.

Of course, like any teenager, Peter does just the opposite…

Verdict 

Finally, a superhero movie that’s not just mindless explosions and special effects!

Spiderman: Homecoming follows a tried-and-tested plot of a young hero who discovers the meaning of maturity and destiny. Aside from being a superhero film about good vs evil, it also plays out like a good high school drama, as Peter takes on all the issues teens go through: bullying, crushing on girls, math quizzes, rejection and a good dose of angst. The film takes time to flesh out the characters and set up the scene for the final showdown.

I think one of the most endearing things about the Peter Parker character is that he’s a giant nerd and the underdog, so we can’t help but cheer for him. Actor Tom Holland is an exceptional Peter, capturing the essence of a headstrong, rebellious youth trying to find his way in life, to make a mark in the world. His on-screen chemistry with almost all the other actors are on point, creating very believable interactions. Speaking of actors, this is one of the most diverse Spiderman movies – just look at the Decathlon team!

Another great development is Toomes, aka the Vulture. While other super villains seem hell bent on world domination or revenge, the motivations behind Toomes’ actions are more relatable to ordinary audiences. If Peter Parker is a working class hero, then Toomes is a working class villain – driven to a corner by the higher-ups and authority, he resorts to a life of crime in order to provide for his family, and will not hesitate to kill in order to protect them.

Some might say that Spiderman: Homecoming has a straightforward, ‘simplistic’ plot, but it’s good-natured and pays tribute to the early days of the character – just a young man trying to do good in whatever way he can. It doesn’t try to be what it isn’t, or distill over 50 years of history into a single 2-hour + movie, and that, in my opinion, is what makes it tick.

Score: 7.5/10