Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
On our first long-haul flight (13 hours from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur), Malaysian Airlines provided a small TV set in the back of each economy seat. This small screen contained well over 100 films. I had already had a look on the website, which contains a list of every film available, and decided on all the films I would do my best to watch during the half-a-day I was in the air. There was The Mask, which I would watch first, then The Way (one of my friend Michael's favourite films), then I might have caught Die Hard, and I couldn't miss A Bug's Life...
In the end, I slept for about eight hours. I could only fit in one movie, and that turned out to be Wes Anderson's teenage romance comedy Moonrise Kingdom, a film that has been in the back of my mind as one that I might really enjoy since it was released last year. It turned out to be just as charmingly eccentric as I had imagined, with very pleasing camerawork and outstanding acting from a group of the best used to tell what is essentially the simplest of love stories. A young Scout runs away from camp to escape from the bullies in the troop and find the girl he has been smitten with since they briefly met the year before. This provokes an island-wide search for the couple, led by Edward Norton's scoutmaster. Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Bruce Willis also feature in great roles, taking advantage of the wonderful script.
The plot may be simple enough to predict, but that hardly matters when the story is handled so well by Anderson, with an ideal cast and wonderful cinematography to carry it along.
Man of Steel (2013)
On a relatively quiet night in Kota Kinabalu (capital of Sabah, the region of Malaysia we were visiting), we found out that there was a great big cinema on the top floor of Suria Sabah, the city's largest shopping centre. Abandoning the Bornean culture for an evening, me and a small group from our team went to see Man of Steel (with Malay subtitles), a film I had been curious to see since hearing there was a new Superman film in production. Curious, not keen.
I wondered how Superman could possibly be portrayed as sympathetic to cinema audiences. Unlike Batman (and the Dark Knight films are very closely linked to Man of Steel; they share a writer in David S Goyer and Christopher Nolan produces), Superman is not human. He cannot be injured by any natural means, or by Earth weapons. Had he gone against the Joker, he could have flown, faster than a speeding bullet, to save both Rachel and Harvey with time to spare. Had he gone against Bane, he could have broken his back and flown the bomb to the centre of the Pacific or something. He is not weak, physically or mentally. He has no moments of wavering morality. He can come out of any situation with a sparkling grin, immaculate hair and his square jaw intact.
It isn't enough for audiences to just watch evil villains and their henchmen be beaten up for a couple of hours. They need something to associate with. For the first movie - and it is the first, as a sequel was recently confirmed at San Diego Comic Con - Zack Snyder drafted in a true match in General Zod, a fellow Kryptonian with a vengeance against Kal-El and epic plans for the destruction of Planet Earth. The closing battle between the two is enjoyably destructive, with things smashing and exploding all over the place and another building collapsing every other frame. What I liked the most, though, were the scenes in the middle of the movie, showing Clark Kent having to constantly move between jobs as he always ends up blatantly using his superpowers for benevolent means, with the Superman legend being created in his wake. Is Superman a religious metaphor? The Jesus analogy is, at one point, openly discussed. And in one scene, if I'm not reading too much into it, he battles against 'evolution' and wins...
Having now seen it, I'm no less skeptical about whether Superman can really appeal. I can't imagine these films ever really touching on emotional themes on the same scale as Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. The good story, great cast and grand scale are all slightly let down by such a sadly thin main character. There is a part of me, though, that is aching to see the next few films, even if it is just to see where they go from here.
On the bus to Sepilok Orang-Utan Sanctuary, the eight hours on dull roads through endless palm plantations were made more bearable with the screening of two Malaysian films on small television screens hanging down from the roof. The first of these, about a man who exacts revenge on the group of gangsters who murdered his humble fisherman father, lost my interest about fifteen minutes in and was so bad I can't remember what it was called. This was followed, however, by a drama named Kil, set in Kuala Lumpur, which immediately caught my eye.
I couldn't take my eyes off it for the length. Starring a man who I can only describe as the Malaysian equivalent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kil concerns a man named Akil (his nickname gives the film its title), who wants to commit suicide but can't bring himself to jump from the tower block where he lives. He finds a flyer for a mysterious company (Life Solutions, Inc) which assists suicidal people, and signs a contract that hires one of their people to murder him at a random point within the coming weeks. However, he finds himself regretting this when he meets a girl and falls in love within days of taking out the contract. This is paralleled with the story of a film director who, left by his family and scorned by the media over his latest film, takes out the same contract.
Suicide is an undeniably tough issue to confront, but Kil faces it starkly with sympathy and insight. The two main actors (called Redza Minhat and Cristina Suzzane, now I've done some research) are incredibly talented, delivering performances suited to the powerful story. It has a stylish and modern look, drawing on the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur. The smart ending embellishes rather than confuses the film.
Doing a bit more research, I found out Kil was filmed in just eleven days on a tiny budget. This is a testament to Nik Amir Mustapha as director, and it is mad to learn that this was his debut film. A very impressive achievement. Find it and watch it.
We had taken off in June, to return in July. Malaysian Airlines had brought in a whole new crop of recent movies for the new month. Among these was the great Danny Boyle's new movie, Trance with James McAvoy. Suitable for Boyle's famously eclectic filmography, Trance slots into another genre he has never tried out before: the psychological heist thriller. To be fair, it's a bit of a specific subgenre that not many people have made a film in before (Inception?), but it's hardly Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours or Trainspotting.
Trance is another film for which style and image is important. The editing and camerawork is sleek, the colours distinct. This is a cool film. From the opening few scenes, with McAvoy's Simon addressing the viewers directly for his description of an art auction's security measures to the epic, almost over-the-top climactic scenes, close attention has been paid to the look. Simon is an aid at an art auction when a painting just sold for several million pounds is apparently stolen in a violent heist. He quickly cuts it out the frame and hides it from the gangsters, who knock him unconscious. In doing so, they wipe out the memory of where the real painting is hidden. Simon is sent to a hypnotist to worm out the final location of the picture, but more than intended is uncovered.
It's as confusing as you'd want and expect from such a film, and only gets more puzzling as the audience are taken deeper and deeper into Simon's mind, before the crushing truth is dramatically revealed. It takes a very clever mind to pull off such an intricate plot, but Danny Boyle's is that mind. He is aided by the suave but on-edge McAvoy, the main player in a film where the majority of the script belongs to just three characters. It's an enjoyable film of memorable images and ideas, and it will certainly provoke many conversations over the credits, about what was actually happening there.
We had a hll of a good time over in Borneo, and we returned during the school's summer holidays. This means it's back to the classic routine. I've already racked up three more films to write about before I can relax. Probably by watching a movie, I suppose.
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