Three films you should catch in Malaysian cinemas this week

SEPTEMBER 7 — Despite this being nowhere near the peak of summer movie season, this has to be one of the most bountiful weeks of the year when it comes to movie choices available to us in Malaysian cinemas.

Just opening this week alone is the hotly anticipated sequel It: Chapter Two, not to mention the Korean sleeper Exit, Korean horror flick Warning: Do Not Play, Malaysian horror film Wangi and Chinese blockbuster The Bravest, which is a lot of new films for one week!

And that doesn't even count the movies that opened last week and are still playing like The Art Of Racing In The Rain, The Angry Birds Movie 2, Sangkar, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and the still going strong Angel Has Fallen from two weeks back.

I managed to see three of these in the past week, cramming some movie time in between work and my usual DVD and Blu-ray watching at home, so to help you at least make up your mind about the movies that have opened earlier, here's what I think of them.

As for the new ones that have just opened, let's see if I can squeeze in some more movie time this week.

Angel Has Fallen

Launching a franchise is already a rare feat in itself, as too many attempts to launch a movie franchise have failed, despite huge production and promotional budgets, as can be easily seen from bombs like The Golden Compass, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, which were supposed to have launched a new franchise but did so badly at the box office that the hoped-for sequels never materialised.

So the fact that there's now a third Has Fallen movie, after the merely acceptable first film Olympus Has Fallen is already pretty impressive indeed.

But to have a franchise improve with every new film is an even rarer find in this age of committee studio film-making, and I think one of the main reasons this franchise has done so well is that, despite its public face as an action thriller franchise, there's actually an auteurist heart at work here.

Starting off with Antoine Fuqua (director of Training Day, Southpaw, The Equalizer and The Magnificent Seven) with Olympus Has Fallen, then followed by Swedish director Babak Najafi (who made his name with the Swedish hit Snabba Cash II) with London Has Fallen and now with the ever so excellent Ric Roman Waugh (director of Shot Caller, Felon and Snitch) handling Angel Has Fallen, all three being directors known for their facility with action thrillers without sacrificing character and drama, this has been a surprisingly good franchise.

From the trailer (and the title, of course) you'll know that this time, the tables have turned on Mike Banning as he's accused of an assassination attempt on the US president.

So instead of the variation of Die Hard that can be found in the previous instalments, this one's a variation of The Fugitive, and Waugh handles things with his usual aplomb.

The tone is a lot more sombre than before, and there are topical things in the story like private defence contractors, citizen militias and painkiller dependency as a result of Mike's brain injuries from things that happened in the previous two films.

So Waugh's film has got the balance of action thrills and dramatic weight just right, making this easily the most respectable movie in the franchise yet.

Sangkar

A Kabir Bhatia MMA movie? Say it isn't so! At least that's what the trailer promised us, showing a sporting rivalry between two of Malaysia's hunkiest actors, Zul Ariffin (who plays Adam) and Remy Ishak (who plays Johan) and possibly giving hopes that this might be a Malaysian version of Warrior.

It's not, and that's actually a very good thing. What we really have here, is a movie about redemption and family, with very strong Islamic undertones (heck, I'm even tempted to call it a sort of "dakwah" movie) masquerading as an MMA film.

A tragic mistake by Adam led him to try and make amends with Johan, and the movie charts Adam's progress from being a selfish brute to a fully redeemed man, spiritually and mentally.

With so much reliance placed on the dramatic aspects of the film instead of the actual fights, I'd rather not spoil the film for you with more description of the plot.

What I can and will say is that this reliance was helped greatly by the performance from each member of the main cast.

Zul Ariffin is very clearly in the form of his life, delivering what is surely his best performance yet, and Remy Ishak is also excellently subdued in his role, with Mira Filzah quietly charming and that little kid Nik Adam Mika sure to touch your heart.

I can't and won't call the movie excellent because the MMA fight scenes are not really that exciting, which I totally understand because it's not really Bhatia's forte.

Melodrama is his forte though, and thankfully that part of the movie is more prominent, which more or less saves the movie.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

Talking about surprise franchises, 47 Meters Down may be one of the biggest surprises of all (outside of the Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project movies) because its first film was merely a direct to DVD release back in 2016 before another studio picked it up, repackaged it and released it in cinemas in 2017.

It became a hit that grossed about US$62 million (RM259 million) worldwide, a pretty impressive feat for an independent movie on a US$5 million budget.

I was baffled back then because I did catch the initial 2016 release on DVD, only to then see it arrive in Malaysian cinema the next year.

With 47 Meters Down: Uncaged arriving this year, this is surely the start of a new franchise, as the sequel has also been making waves critically and commercially (so far grossing almost US$28 million worldwide), and a basic formula successfully being set in place by director Johannes Roberts (who also directed the first movie, and other genre faves like F, Storage 24 and The Other Side Of The Door).

A bit like the Final Destination movies, the cast here may be totally different, but the basic story is still the same — two sisters being terrorised by a great big shark.

The original saw the sisters trapped in a cage at the bottom of the ocean, terrorised by a shark, and this one sees another pair of sisters also trapped, not in a cage, but this time in an underwater cave, and that's all there is to it.

If you're into this kind of thing, you'll love this. It's not in the same league as the wonderful Crawl, but it's more than good enough.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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