Four films in Malaysian cinemas you might want to check out now

DECEMBER 7 ― As we enter the month of December, which is usually reserved for Oscar bait and Christmas movies, and movies for kids since it's the school holidays here in Malaysia right until the end of the year, the choices that we have in Malaysian cinemas are similar all over the place, as there are plenty of market segments for local distributors to target.

The kiddie movie market has so far seen a straight battle between Frozen 2 and the locally-produced Ejen Ali The Movie, while the Oscar bait market has so far only seen Ford v Ferrari gracing our screens, with more probably to come as the end of year awards season heats up.

So it's an interesting grab bag of choices out there, and here's what I think of the ones I did manage to catch in the past two weeks.

Knives Out

If you can only catch one movie in the cinema this week, please, please make it this one.

Knowing the quality of writer-director Rian Johnson's previous work like Brick, Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I knew going in that Knives Out was probably going to be good, maybe even very good.

But since it's a movie in a genre that has long been dead on the big screen (despite the honourable attempt at bringing it back with the Murder On The Orient Express remake), I didn't want to place too much hope on what's clearly a film made by the director (and cast) with fun in mind.

But damn was I surprised at how excellent, invigorating and deeply enjoyable this film turned out to be.

Bringing back the whodunit (and sometimes “howdunit”) genre in 2019 is no easy task, but Johnson and his very game cast, headlined by a marvellously funny Daniel Craig (“ahh have eliminayted NO suspects”) has not only revived it, but updated it for the viewing habits of 2019, and produced one of the most entertaining films of the year.

Full of neat little twists and surprises, and plenty of energetic film-making, this murder mystery is one endlessly delicious concoction.

Ejen Ali The Movie

Destined to be a local box office smash as it has already managed to rake in RM1.86 million on its opening day, you don't have to be a fan of Ejen Ali the TV series to enjoy this movie version.

Having not watched a single episode of the TV show, I can attest to thoroughly enjoying this one even without any background knowledge of the characters.

Taking a page out of the Pixar playbook, Ejen Ali The Movie is an animated movie that the kids will enjoy for its jokes and action set-pieces, but it possesses a storyline that any adult can relate to, as it's about our hero Ejen Ali who's starting to feel a bit redundant as a result of a new and improved programme in his agency, and there's a whole plot strand about Ali and his late mother that will make not only the adults in the cinema tear up a little, but will also make the kids in attendance hold on to their parents a little bit tighter.

It's still nowhere near the thematic sophistication of Toy Story 3 or Toy Story 4 (then again, not many movies can achieve that kind of magic), but it's still a hell of an achievement for Malaysian animation, and something that all of us can really be proud of.

Last Christmas

Paul Feig's latest film, starring our very own Henry Golding alongside Emilia Clarke (aka the “Mother of Dragons” from Game Of Thrones) and supported by another one of our own, Michelle Yeoh, has been absolutely battered by film critics worldwide.

Having now seen it and then read the absolutely shocking reviews it has been receiving, I really don't see what the outrage is about.

Yes, I'll be the first to say that a lot of it simply didn't work, a lot of the jokes were simply not funny, and there's an alarming lack of romantic chemistry between Golding and Clarke (which, come to think of it is completely explained/rationalised by the movie's very, very predictable twist), but I think part of the mistake on our part is that we're expecting it to be a rom-com a la Love Actually and Notting Hill (thanks to the film's promotional campaign), when in reality this one's actually a true blue Christmas movie in the spirit of films like It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol.

Touching on some pretty serious stuff like identity, immigration, integration, Brexit and homelessness, like all those classic Christmas movies, this one reminds us about how lucky we are to be alive, and in the end is a celebration of life, of doing good, and of the value of helping other people.

If you're feeling festive, this one would be right up your alley. But if you're feeling romantic, it's probably better to give this one a miss.

Wira

Now on its third week of release and still playing in local cinemas, Wira is the latest film from Paskal director Adrian Teh.

But don't expect Paskal 2 though, because this one's a  totally different beast and is obviously made on a much lower budget.

In short, this is a fight flick, like the ones starring Iko Uwais (The Raid films) and Tony Jaa (the Ong Bak films), arriving hot on the heels of another local film Geran, which had the same ambitions and was released months earlier.

As a fight flick, Wira is clearly the better crafted of the two when compared to Geran, with fight scenes that are not only much better choreographed, but also shot and edited much better.

A fight flick is not much different from a dance film in that there are two choreographies that need to be in sync and dance with each other in order to make things work ― the action choreography itself and the camera movements and editing.

And these two are rock solid here, still not reaching the crazy heights of The Raid films but definitely just as good, if not better than the Ong Bak ones.

As with most fight flicks, the acting can be inconsistent and even shoddy, the storyline (involving a fictionalised area in Malaysia) functional, though it does manage to work up something terms of allegory ― even a cursory look at the plot will bring back memories of May 9, 2018 and the events that led up to that historic victory in the 14th Malaysian general election.

I've even jokingly referred to this film as Wira: Ini Kalilah, seeing that it managed to do what Rise: Ini Kalilah had plainly failed to do, but dressed up in an action movie package.

But my main takeaway from Wira and Geran ― somebody needs to put Fify Azmi and Feiyna Tajudin together in a movie and let these two awesome women kick ass in a female-fronted Malaysian action movie. Now wouldn't that be something?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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