NOVEMBER 23 — We’re now deep into November, so even if the summer blockbuster season is long gone, this is more or less the time that the major Hollywood studios start ushering in some of their Oscar bait films, which means that the number of movies fighting for screen time in Malaysian cinemas will be quite a lot, leading to movie geeks like yours truly scrambling to find time to catch the ones we want to see.
Last week was particularly brutal, with so many new films opening that I really had to stretch my schedule, even going so far as to catch a 2 hour and 16 minute movie at midnight just because that’s the only screening I could catch because of my work schedule.
But catch them I definitely did, so here’s the lowdown.
The highlight of last week’s clutch of new movies, this surprise box office smash from China is quite the comeback story.
A melodrama about high school bullying that’s also a love story involving two lost souls, Better Days was, according to different accounts, either blocked from entering this year’s Berlin Film Festival because of censorship problems with authorities in China or pulled out from the festival because the post-production process was not completed on time (which is probably a softer way of saying it did not receive a screening permit from the authorities on time).
There were reportedly more censorship battles after that before the film was finally released eight months later in China, when it became its release weekend’s highest grossing film in the world with a US$81.5 million (RM339 million) three-day debut, besting the global takes for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil by a few million dollars and Joker by about US$20 million.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can definitely see why it was such a big hit, as it is one of those very rare examples of pure, emotional melodrama that can sometimes magically happen, mostly in Asia.
Remember those beloved Hindi movies that made you sob uncontrollably? Well this one’s far more low key and far less exaggerated, but its emotional power is reminiscent of those.
It’s a movie about a student having to contend with two high pressure situations — being brutally bullied at school and preparing for China’s national college entrance exams — who then falls in love with a local thug, and where director Derek Tsang then takes you with this setup.
I’ll let you experience it for yourself. Just take my word for it, go see this blind (without checking out any trailers), and go along with the ride. It’s money well worth spending.
Ford v Ferrari
Arriving quietly in local cinemas, this latest film from director James Mangold (Copland, Walk The Line, Logan) is clearly one for the Oscars just from the pedigree of everyone involved, with leading stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale no strangers to critical praise and awards nominations.
And just from the insanely high calibre of craftsmanship from everyone involved in the production, this one should be an instant Oscar Best Picture contender, with plenty of nominations in other categories for Damon, Bale, the film’s writers, editor, cinematographer and more.
Heck, when a film manages to get you rooting for a huge, greedy corporation to win out over a much smaller, family owned business, you know that it’s doing something good.
And this period piece about that time in the 1960s when Ford decided to enter the Le Mans race to beat longstanding champs Ferrari and hopefully make Ford a sexier brand name, is a supremely fine example of an Oscar bait movie done right.
Damon plays a retired former Le Mans winner charged with making that Ford dream a reality and Bale plays one of his drivers, and it’s this combination of two, relatively down on their luck good guys, doing the bidding of some fairly bad guys that’s the source of the film’s drama, and Mangold takes this opportunity to deliver some deliciously old school storytelling and visual exposition, with plenty of very cinematic instances to please those alert to things like these.
My favourite cinematic moment? When Bale was listening to the race on the radio in Damon’s workshop in an aircraft hangar, and you can see shadows of race cars moving, illuminated by the airport/airplane lights in the background while he listens to the sounds of cars racing on the radio. Now that’s movie magic.
We’re pretty lucky here in Malaysia, as we get to see this crowdfunded indie movie way ahead of its US release date, which will be on December 12.
More or less a crime movie with world building that blends concepts earlier seen in X-Men and District 9 into the mix, Code 8 is set in a world where four per cent of its population were born with various superpowers.
Because of their powers, these “power-enabled” people are controlled tightly, leading to them living in poverty and discrimination.
As with any good sci-fi stories, there are parallels and allegories with the real world here, as these power-enabled people were used to build the city they live in, Lincoln City, but ended up being discriminated against.
And as with any good crime movie, the morals here are murky. Our hero, in a desperate bid to scrounge up enough money for his mother’s medical treatment, gets mixed up with a bunch of power-enabled criminals, and this push and pull between the blatant injustice they’re facing and the crimes they commit (no matter how noble the cause) gives the film its dramatic drive, and enough good excuses to stage some awesome display of superpowers to make this one a very decent watch.
Imagine your standard issue US crime drama, with X-Men lead characters and District 9 baddies, then you’re probably already half way there.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.