Five for the Fifth: MAY 2015 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Since tonight I will be attending a Christopher Nolan‘s Conversation with Scott Foundas, chief film critic for Variety, I thought I’d dedicate my first question in Nolan’s honor.

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Nolan is actually the first filmmaker whose complete works I have seen, though not in order as I’ve just caught up with his first film The Following (1998) a few years ago. I made a birthday tribute to him in 2012 by ranking his movies. Even though I wasn’t wowed by Interstellar, a so-so Chris Nolan film is still a darn good one. Foundas posted an article on Walker Art website on Nolan, calling him A Practical Magician of Modern Movies, which I think is an apt description.

So if you can ask one question to Nolan, what would it be? 

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2. I always like to include some kind of FIRST LOOK in FFTF, and this one just arrived yesterday courtesy of EW. It’s Martin Scorsese‘s upcoming drama SILENCE starring Andrew Garfield. It also stars Liam Neeson and Adam Driver due out in 2016.

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Based on Shusako Endo’s 1966 novel, ‘Silence’ tells the story of a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who is persecuted along with other Christians in 17th-century Japan. Garfield portrays Father Rodrigues, pictured in an exclusive image with Shinya Tsukamoto, who plays a villager named Mokichi.

Per EW, Scorsese told reporters in a press conference in Taiwan that he’d been trying to find a way to adapt this novel since he first read it more than 25 years ago, and that its themes resonated with him deeply. “The subject matter presented by Shusaku Endo was in my life since I was very, very young, … I was very much involved in religion, I was raised in a strong Catholic family. … Further reflection is how [we] want to lead our life in the Christian faith … so ultimately this book drew my attention when it was given to me in 1988.”

The spiritual element certainly piqued my interest. Sounds  like a meaty role for Garfield and I’m happy for him. I saw him in this British indie Boy A prior to his stint as Spiderman and he’s certainly a capable actor.

What’s your initial thoughts of Silence?

3. Now, since today is Cinco De Mayo, I usually highlight Mexican filmmakers and/or actors but this time around why not talk about Mexican cinema in general. I actually haven’t seen any film about the Battle of Puebla, which is what the Fifth of May commemorates. There’s one called Cinco de May: La Batalla that’s just released in 2013. This still below is from that film, has anyone seen it?

CincoDeMayoMovieLately Mexican filmmakers have dominated the award seasons, culminating with two Mexican directors and winning Best Picture Oscars back to back (Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity and Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman). But there are many others that have made a name in Hollywood and not just limited to directors, Emmanuel Lubezki is no doubt the hottest cinematographer working today.

So in celebration of Mexican cinema, what’s your favorite Mexican film?

4. I’ve been watching a ton of foreign films lately, thanks to MSPIFF AND my new crush Stanley Weber who’s so far have been mostly in French films (Violette, Thérèse Desqueyroux).

One of my top 3 picks from MSPIFF is definitely Girlhood (Bande de Files), a French coming-of-age drama that really spoke to me and featured one of my favorite scenes ever. I LOVE Karidja Touré‘s performance in that film, and it made me think how I wish more people would discover her. She’s still only 21 years old and based on this article, she is bilingual which helps… “Better practise my English so I can be a star in the States.” I’d love to see her get noticed the way Lupita Nyong’O practically took Hollywood by storm.

KaridjaToure_GirlhoodAs for Stanley Weber, well he’s been my obsession in the past month or so. I’m not gonna lie, of course I was initially transfixed by his ridiculous good looks. He’s like a taller, sexier, more virile version of Chris Pine, with a hint of Richard Madden. But looks alone won’t get me all worked up about. Actors I love have to have the chops AND screen presence and Stanley’s got both in spades.

Stanley putting on the charm on Audrey Tautou in Thérèse Desqueyroux

Stanley putting on the charm on Audrey Tautou in Thérèse Desqueyroux

Classically trained at Cours Florent, French National Academy of Dramatic Arts and the London counterpart LAMDA, his background is theater but he’s done quite a few TV and film works in the past decade. Even in smaller supporting roles alongside big names of French cinema, Isabelle Adjani, Emmanuelle Devos, Audrey Tautou, etc. he more than held his own. He’s only 28 but seems much older than he looks, I kind of think of him like an old soul. As with ANY successful actor, versatility is key and I’ve seen him display his comedic chops in a British rom-com (Not Another Happy Ending) as well as portray a devilishly charming psychopath (BORGIA: Faith & Fear) convincingly. So yeah, I’m dying for him to get more leading roles, and soon!!

Which foreign actor/actress you noticed lately that you wish would get their big break in Hollywood?

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5. This month’s Five for the Fifth’s guest is Tom from Digital Shortbread!

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Seeing that Avengers: Age of Ultron has just rolled on through, I thought it’d be interesting to gauge what people think of highly anticipated movie events.

Is hype generally a good thing or generally a bad thing, in your view, when it comes to movies?


Well, that’s it for the May 2015 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! :D

Highlights from 2015 Wizard World Minneapolis Comic-Con

MplsWizardWorldComicConWhew, another packed weekend at Wizard World Minneapolis Comic Con this year! This year I was able to make it to the Press Welcome Party at Hard Rock Cafe, which includes an advanced screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron [check out my review] We even had the Avengers cosplayers greeted us before we got in :D

Comic Con Highlights:

We got to the Minneapolis Convention Center just before 11 am and immediately made our way to Room 101 for the WETA workshop: character creation through prosthetics, hair & make up

As a big fan of the Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit trilogies and King Kong, I simply had to see the work of famed makeup/effects artist Warren Dion Smith. He asked for a volunteer from the audience who wanted to be turned into an Orc in under 40 minutes! A guy named Scott was the lucky winner, see below for pics of his transformation. Not only is he a master at what he does, Warren’s such a fun guy, answering a couple dozens questions whilst working on Scott. It was so entertaining to learn tidbits about his career and how he’s become longtime friends with a lot of the actors he’s worked with in various films.

During the panel, Warren said he’s worked on hundreds of Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, etc. during his time at WETA. But he’s also done other films besides those directed by Peter Jackson, i.e. Elysium, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Man of Steel, and the children’s classic remake of the 1960’s Thunderbirds are go Series.

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In between panels, Ivan and I walked around the exhibit hall… and I spotted Lance Reddick in his booth. My immediate reaction is ‘Oh that’s John Wick’s concierge from the Continental Hotel!” 

I asked one of the comic-con organizers if I could approach him and was allowed to do so. So I said hello to him and shook his hand. I erroneously thought he was also the same actor in HEROES, to which he graciously corrected me, oops!! Of course I had to ask him about John Wick 2 and he’s hoping that’d happen. You and me both, Mr. Reddick!

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That’s me chatting w/ Mr. Reddick

 

2:00-2:45 – No “bones” about it: Karl Urban

Ok so naturally I knew the Karl Urban panel would be one of the main highlights of the day. But I really didn’t know it’d be THAT much fun!

I had gone to the restroom just before the panel started and spotted him going into the ballroom through the side door. He looked just as tall and handsome as I had imagined it. He came to the stage to thunderous applause. Interesting that there’s no moderator present during his panel and really there’s no need for one. The hunky New Zealander handled the crowd and a throng of fans lining up for questions with aplomb! I’ve been a fan of his since his Lord of the Rings days where he played Éomer, but he’s since impressed me in various films like Bourne Supremacy, Star Trek, RED and Dredd. There were questions for pretty much every role he’s played, even Xena: Warrior Princess!

What strike me about Karl was how relaxed and polite he was. He thanked every single person after each question and he answered even the silliest ones like this guy who asked him if other people should all move to New Zealand. Karl thought he meant *his* people should move to NZ, and it was a hilarious exchange. One blond woman asked him simply ‘Cake or Pie?’ and even he entertained the audience by asking her what’s in the cake and the pie, before settling with apple pie.

Karl shared that he just wrapped Pete’s Dragon which was filmed in his native NZ, it’s a family adventure film that starred Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard and Wes Bentley. Sounds like a fun film!

Many of the questions were about Dredd 2 and he seemed keen on that idea and it sounds like there’s still hope for that project, woo hoo! He’s also confirmed to play Bones in the Star Trek sequel of course. One fan asked him if he’d have more screen time, to which the room cheered. I definitely think he SHOULD have more screen time, he’s so awesome in the role!

4:00–4:45 – The truth is out there: Gillian Anderson

I wasn’t going to stay for the whole segment as I haven’t really watched enough of her work to know what’s going on, but we ended up staying anyway.

Gillian Anderson looked even more beautiful in real life. She seems a bit shy and didn’t expect the huge crowd… “I thought there’d only be a 100 people in here…” to which the moderator said “Well you’re wrong, Gillian.” Clearly she had many fans being in the X-Files series.

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It’s cool that a couple of people asked about her stage work as I know she’s done some performances at London West End, including Doll House at DonMar Theatre in London with none other than Toby Stephens! She also talked about how much she loved playing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic theatre in London. Based on a couple of brief clips I’ve seen, she can do a very convincing British accent!

One thing that made me want to watch after this panel is her British show The Fall that’s on Netflix. I had no idea Gillian was in Hannibal as well, not sure if she is still on that show and whether she’d have some screen time with Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde.

 

 Michael Rooker called James Gunn during his panel

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I got to this panel rather late and when I arrived, Michael Rooker was goofing off on stage with his former Mallrats co-star Jason Mewes. The panel was apparently about the Mallrats 2, which is to be Kevin Smith’s next movie. [There was a special Q&A session ‘An Evening With Kevin Smith’ at the State Theatre on Friday].

At one point Mewes said, “Yeah man, why didn’t you get me into one of your movies?” Well, the next thing I know, Rooker suddenly took his mobile phone out and called James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy to ask if Jason Mewes could play one of the Ravagers (the interstellar group of thieves, smugglers and pirate led by Rooker’s character Yondu) in Guardians of the Galaxy 2!

Someone’s posted the video of the exchange on Youtube, watch it below:

 

You could hear Gunn on speaker phone and the funniest bit was when Gunn said “I got an even better idea. Why doesn’t he play Yondu?” Ahahaha, be careful Rooker, you could end up losing your job to Mewes! ;)

 

Favorite Cosplayers

One of the best parts about comic-con is the people cosplayer watching… and here are some of my favorites! The father-son team of Batman & The Joker is my absolute favorite, we saw them just outside the exhibit hall after they’d just finished their lunch and we just had to take a photo!! The two Dredd guys were pretty cool as well, they’re both pretty imposing in those costumes.

That was a blast! I definitely had even more fun this year than last year, definitely the highlight of my weekend! Big shout out to Wizard World PR people Jerry and Ryan for your hard work organizing this wonderful event!

I look forward to next year when Wizard World is back in town on May 6-7-8!

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So that’s my recap folks. Any thoughts on any of the actors/projects I mentioned above?

FlixChatter Double Reviews – Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Ted’s Review

I have a confession to make, I’m not a big fan of the first Avengers film, I enjoyed it for the most part but when I watched it again on Bluray, I found it kind of dragging. So going into this gigantic sequel, I had no high expectations for it. Well color surprise because I think Age of Ultron might be my favorite Marvel film to date, I’ll know for sure when I see it again in a few days.

Things kick off right away when the movie opens; our superheroes are in the middle of a battle with the bad guys. The sequence was quite impressive; director Whedon decided to reintroduce each of the heroes by showing skill set and that they’re now working as a team. They successfully retrieved Loki’s scepter from Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and before it returns to Thor’s world, Stark and Banner decided to create an AI called Ultron without telling the rest of the team. After the events of the first film, Stark wanted to protect humans from another alien invasion. Of course every time when some geniuses create a super intelligent machine, it will take over its masters and that’s what happened here. I think most people have already seen the trailers and clips of the movie so I’m not going to discuss its plot. For this review I’ll go over the goods, there are plenty of them and not so good about this sequel.

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The goods: Whedon really improved the action sequences in this one, along with the opening sequence; there are three other set pieces that I thought were quite excellent. The fight between Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor was spectacular. The midway action sequence where Capt. America was fighting with Ultron and Black Widow on the motorcycle chasing them was eye-popping. Finally the entire climatic battle with Ultron’s minions was just fun to watch. I didn’t care for the 3D effects in the first movie but here all the 3D worked, clearly Whedon shot each sequence with 3D in mind.

Instead of focusing on one character, Whedon was able to give each of the heroes equal screen time and they’re bantering are still amusing to me. All the actors appears to be quite comfortable in their respectively role. I wasn’t sure if the addition of Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch would work in the story but they turned out well.

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I also have to mention the sound design, the movie was recorded in Dolby Atmos and it’s my favorite surround sound right behind GRAVITY. If there’s a theater that has Dolby Atmos near your time, please see it there. I don’t tend to recommend seeing movies in 3D but I was quite impressed with 3D effects in this movie. So see it in 3D and Dolby Atmos if possible.

The not so good: I didn’t care for the romance with between Hulk and Black Widow, it kind of dragged on too long and just didn’t work for me. I expected Ultron to be this super menacing villain but he kind of turned out to be bland, just the usual AI villain that we’ve seen many times before.

Despite my quibbles I still think this is a perfect summer movie that delivers everything you’d expect to see in a tent pole picture. I can’t wait to see it again.

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Ruth’s Review

It seems that Ted and I have the opposite reaction in regards to the two Avengers movies. I actually loved the first film, I even made posted 10 Reasons why I think The Avengers rocks and gave it a 4.5/5 rating. I remember being massively anticipating it, following all the buildup from Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, there’s still a sense of novelty of seeing ALL of the Avengers assembling on screen fighting a menacing villain Loki hellbent to rule earth and beyond.

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This time, I have to admit I wasn’t terribly excited for Age of Ultron. Despite all the hype, I just couldn’t muster the excitement I once had for the last Avengers movie.  That said, I figure I’d still have fun with it and maybe I’d end up loving it. Well, I wouldn’t say the movie wasn’t devoid of fun. It actually started off with a thrilling action sequence and there are some funny moments peppered throughout, but overall it’s just not a movie I’d remember in a week or so, and certainly not something I’m eager to watch again.

Ok let’s start with the good. I still have to commend director Joss Whedon for somehow not making a huge mess out of having sooo many characters in a film (11 characters total) and having to somehow give each of them adequate screen time as well as making them work as a cohesive team. All things considered, I think he did a smashing job. The scenes of the team working or playing together are the main highlights for me. I feel like they care about each other and look after each other when one of them get hurt. It genuinely feel like a team whose loyalty is tested by a new deranged enemy.

I especially enjoyed that whole Mjölnir-lifting-attempt scene where each Avenger tried to see if they could lift Thor’s mighty hammer. The look on Thor’s face when Chris Rogers tried his luck is perhaps the funniest of all. That’s absolutely hilarious and one I’m sure I’d watch over and over again when someone has posted it on Youtube. Other than that, I honestly can’t think of a moment where I actually cheered or having any kind of strong emotion towards what’s happening on screen.

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Gif Source: MTV.com

I have to say that the villain Ultron himself was okay, despite the run-of-the-mill storyline of human-created AI that ended up wanting to destroy humanity. We’ve seen that plot in a plethora of sci-fi movies and explored in a much deeper way in films with a tiny fraction of Age of Ultron‘s budget, yet somehow James Spader’s able to inject some wit and humor into that mechanical character. At least he’s more interesting than a Transformer robot, even if he’s nowhere as fun to watch as Loki was.

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As for the bad, well it’s simply an overloaded and overstuffed movie from the get go. It’s as if they didn’t have too many characters already, they added even more! I suppose Marvel have to pave the way for Phase 3 and beyond, so perhaps they’re planning a standalone movie for Vision (Paul Bettany), who looks like something out of the Body Worlds exhibit with a red cape. There are also the Maximoff twins, who were experimented on by of one of Hydra cohorts Strucker in an Eastern European country of Sokovia. Out of the two, Elizabeth Olsen fared better than Aaron Taylor-Johnson who came across so weird and awkward. Their *Russian* accent are laughable but they’re just so underwritten, though to be fair I think every character here suffers the same treatment. The Quicksilver character in X-Men: Days of Future Past was far more fun and memorable.

AgeOfUltron_Vision

I’d say that the biggest misstep of them all is the tacked-on romance between Bruce Banner (Hulk) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow). I didn’t care for that cheesy and entirely-unnecessary subplot and their scenes are so cringe-worthy that it took me out of the movie. Natasha was sharing some of the backstory of her dark childhood, and it would have been a rather emotional moment but I just couldn’t get into it as the corny romance thing was distracting me. I like both Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson, but they seem to have a more effortless chemistry off-screen during interviews than in the movie.

AgeOfUltron_HulkBlackwidow

I think people expecting a bunch of action in a big tentpole movie won’t be disappointed. For me, it’s more fun if I actually care about the characters and the universe presented here. As it is now, it’s just one huge bombastic film, in fact the whole fight sequence of Hulkbuster vs Hulk was so loud and verbose it reminded me of the final battle in Man of Steel. With so many characters all fighting for relevancy, the movie feels disjointed and abridged at times. The backstory of some of the characters also didn’t gel with me and felt forced and extraneous. Even the most adept filmmaker like Whedon surely was overwhelmed so I don’t blame him that he’s not going to do the final Avengers film. The Russo brothers certainly have a challenging task ahead of them to direct Avengers: Infinity War, and because Hollywood is all about the bottom line, of course it will be another two-part movie.

Oh, I have to mention that I saw this in 2D and the theater I was in had a pretty terrible surround sound. I wish I had seen it in a theater with Dolby Atmos as I still love the soundtrack, this time done by Brian Tyler & Danny Elfman. I doubt that seeing it in a better-equipped cinema would fix the weak script however. It also pains me to see Andy Serkis practically wasted here.

You could say the superhero fatigue is getting to me, so that certainly plays a factor in my enjoyment of this film. I can’t say I’m excited for more Marvel movies, except for Captain America: Civil War because I actually care about the Capt and his relationship with his friend-turned-foe Bucky, aka The Winter Soldier. Compared to the second Captain America movie, this one just felt bland and forgettable. It’s amazing how all that star power and an astronomical budget ($250 mil) only amounts to this, but then again, more is often just more, not better.

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Well, if you’ve seen this movie, what did YOU think? 

APRIL Viewing Recap, Movie of the Month + Looking forward to 2015 Wizard World Minneapolis!

Monthly2015RecapAprilWhoah, April’s been a freakishly busy month thanks to MSPIFF! Check out the banner below to check out our reviews from the Minneapolis/St Paul Film Festival, I have this image widget on my blog sidebar for easy access as well. I’ll have my MSPIFF recap next week as well as my and Josh’s picks top three movie picks.

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Posts You Might’ve Missed

MSPIFF 2015 Film Spotlight: The Center
Interview with filmmaker Charlie Griak & lead actor Matt Cici

The Longest Ride interview with cast member
Scott Eastwood & Britt Robertson

Wordless Wednesday:
the unrequited love of The Age of Innocence

BLOGATHON:

20 Perfect Cinematic Moments – A Fistful of Moments

The Five Senses Blogathon

Thursday Movie Picks #42: Father-Daughter Movies

April Blind Spot Pick:

A Space Odyssey (1968)

New-to-me Movies (non-MSPIFF related):

Avengers: The Age of Ultron

Furious 7 (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Not Another Happy Ending (2013)

Thérèse (2012)

Documentary – The Rise & Fall of Versailles: Louis XV

I think if I were to sum up the month of April, you could say it’s basically a split between MSPIFF and my new obsession Stanley Weber.

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Yes I’m officially afflicted by the #StanleyWeber bug. Watched #NotAnotherHappyEnding a dozen times in just under 2 weeks!! #madcrush

— FlixChatter (@FlixChatter) April 21, 2015

Needless to say, there’s barely time for any other rewatches :P

TV Series:

Netflix’s Daredevil (season 1)

BORGIA: Faith & Fear (season 1)

Movie of the Month

ExMachinaPosterI’m excluding MSPIFF films here as I’m going to do a separate recap. So this was an easy choice, Ex Machina is simply an excellent sci-fi… well, an excellent film in general.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was the last film I saw in April, and though there are some fun moments like the attempt to lift Mjölnir scene, overall it’s pretty forgettable. I don’t know when I’ll have time to review this movie but let’s just say I agree with Kenneth Turan I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning: “Age of Ultron is made for the ‘instant gratification’ culture… It disappears without a trace as soon as it’s consumed.” Yep, that pretty much sums up my sentiment.

What I look forward to in May

WizardWorld2015MplsIt’ll be a fun weekend at Mpls Comic-Con starting tomorrow! Full programming all day Saturday, these are some of the panels I’ll definitely take part in:

11:30-12:15 – WETA workshop: character creation through prosthetics, hair & make up

2:00-2:45 – No “bones” about it: Karl Urban

4:00–4:45 – The truth is out there: Gillian Anderson

 

WalkerArt_NolanLectureMy hubby and I got tickets to attend this quickly sold-out lecture at Walker Art Center with Christopher Nolan! I sure hope there’ll be a Q&A segment at the end!

In celebration of 25 years of Walker Dialogues, the Walker presents acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, one of the most innovative directors working today, in discussion with Variety chief film critic Scott Foundas. The lecture is followed by a nine-film retrospective May 7–24, 2015.


Whew, so that’s my April recap. What’s YOUR fave movie(s) you saw in April?

Thursday Movie Picks #42: All in the Family Edition – Father-Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today the theme is… 

Father/Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

I actually don’t really have much experience or memories of father/daughter relationship, as my dad was never really part of my life after my parents split when I was three. I was raised by my late mom and strong-willed grandma, the latter was a successful businesswoman revered by her family and peers. So in a way she’s as close to a father to me given her strict rules and occasional anger outbursts that used to petrify me but now that I look back, I find it kind of endearing.

Despite not having a biological father present in my life, I certainly appreciate father/daughter relationships in movies, here are three that left a big impression to me:

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

ToKillAMockingbirdI didn’t get to see this film until my intense Gregory Peck obsession days, but it’s truly the moment when the actor became the character. Talk about a dream dad. No matter how busy he is, town attorney Atticus Finch always have time for his kids and he genuinely enjoys their company — he doesn’t see time for family as a chore.

I remember tearing up a few times as I watched Atticus interacting with his vivacious young daughter Scout (Mary Badham), displaying his affection and sharing his wisdom in the most natural way. It’s obvious that Scout needs her dad just like any young kid needs their father, but I think those moments are crucial for Atticus too, beyond just the familial bond. Being with his young daughter must’ve reminded Atticus of the purity and goodness of life amidst the darkness and brutality he faces every day in his job. I live vicariously through Scout in her moments with her beloved dad, and I certainly take his wise words to heart…

“…you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them…”

Apparently the father/daughter bond between Peck and Badham carried over beyond the film set. The two became close in real life and kept in contact for the rest of their lives, Peck always called her Scout.

Regarding Henry (1991)

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People remember Harrison Ford mostly for his iconic action roles as Han Solo or Indiana Jones and granted he’s fantastic in those roles. But I absolutely love his performance in Regarding Henry, which is a wonderful story about second chances. One of my favorite moments in the film are the ones Henry spend with his young daughter Rachel (Mikki Allen).

In his *old* life prior to the event that transformed him, Henry barely had time for his family. Suffice to say he didn’t really know his one and only daughter, he’s too busy being a hot shot lawyer and having affairs with his secretary. Interesting that Henry’s also a lawyer like Atticus but clearly he’s got his priorities out of whack. But he’s given a second chance to make it right and his daughter helps him do that. I LOVE all the scenes where she teaches him the most basic things like reading, as he’s back to being a kid again, literally. Ford and Allen have a wonderful chemistry, their scenes together are endearingly funny and so full of heart.

Pride & Prejudice (2005)
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Whenever one hears Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, naturally we think of Elizabeth & Darcy’s relationship. But in Joe Wright’s film adaptation, I love the depiction of Lizzie (Keira Knightley) and her dad Mr. Bennett (Donald Sutherland). Clearly she’s her father’s favorite and he understood her much better than her mother ever did.

I LOVE this quote when Lizzie’s mother insisted that she married Mr. Collins…

Mr. Bennet: Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins… And I will never see you again if you do.

The scene towards the end when Lizzy asked her father’s permission to marry Darcy is also wonderful…

Lizzy: He and I are so similar.. we’ve been so stubborn

Mr. Bennett: You really do love him don’t you?

Lizzy: Very much

Mr. Bennett: I can’t believe that anyone can deserve you.  It seems I am overruled.  So, I hardly give my consent. I could have not parted with you my Lizzy to anyone less worthy.

Veteran actor Sutherland portrayed Mr. Bennett so perfectly, with such calming wisdom and compassion. The scene of him crying is so utterly moving, once again the chemistry of the cast work beautifully here.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films?

 

Wordless Wednesday: the unrequited love of ‘The Age of Innocence’

WordlessWednesdayIn honor of the double birthday of Michelle Pfeiffer (57) and Daniel Day-Lewis (58), I thought I’d highlight their work (and scorching chemistry) in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. It remains one of my all time favorite period dramas (and one of my faves of the 90s), and that unrequited love story never fails to move me to my core.

Words fail me to describe the beauty of this story… so I’m going to borrow the words of Roger Ebert: “It was the spirit of it — the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain. The idea that the mere touching of a woman’s hand would suffice. The idea that seeing her across the room would keep him alive for another year.”
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Newland Archer: You gave me my first glimpse of a real life. Then you asked me to go on with the false one. No one can endure that.

Ellen Olenska: I’m enduring it.

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Ellen: I think we should look at reality, not dreams.

Newland: I just want us to be together!

Ellen: I can’t be your wife, Newland! Is it your idea that I should live with you as your mistress?

Newland: I want… Somehow, I want to get away with you… and… and find a world where words like that don’t exist!

ageofinnocence_still2This may not be a violent film from Scorsese in physical term, but it’s certainly a vicious one in terms of matters of the heart. Certainly one of the most painfully-exquisite portrayal of unrequited love.


What’s your thoughts on The Age of Innocence?

April 2015 Blind Spot – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001_bannerAs far as film blind spot goes, this is perhaps one of the most glaring for me given its iconic status. Well, better late than never right? Forty seven years after its release, I finally get what the fuss is about. Now, I’m not saying I *get* the movie, mind you. In fact, it’s the kind of movie that is fun to read about afterwards. According to IMDb trivia, the film apparently prompted a large number of people to walk out from its premiere, including star Rock Hudson who said “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?” Ahah, I can totally relate. Per IMDb, the film’s co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke once said, “If you understand ‘2001’ completely, we failed. We wanted to raise far more questions than we answered.” So I guess I don’t have to feel bad that the movie left me scratching my head.

SPOILER ALERT! Just in case some of you still hasn’t seen this yet, be mindful that I’ll be talking about some major plots in this post.

I guess I’m lucky that I was able to keep spoilers at bay in regards to this movie, as I had no idea there’s actually apes involved in this movie, and the Dawn of Man sequence was almost a half an hour long! I knew that the movie would be slow and there’d be long sequences with no dialog, so I’d imagine it’d be something like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, so I was prepared for that. In fact, I quite enjoyed watching the gorgeous imagery set to sweeping classical music (more on that later) and boy, what a visual treat it was.

2001_Apes_monolithI have to admit that I nearly fell asleep a few times as I was already so tired when I started watching it, so I had to stop after about an hour or so, and continued the next night. I don’t usually do this but I figured the film deserved to be seen with fresh eyes.

When the film’s over, my first reaction was ‘well I could see why this film was so beloved even four decades later.’ It’s not the most emotionally-gratifying film as I there’s really no character development, but visually speaking, the film truly set the bar for sci-fi and no wonder it’s been an inspiration for so many filmmakers since. Even other iconic sci-fi works like Blade Runner, Star Wars, Star Trek, all the way to recent ones like Interstellar have been inspired by Kubrick’s magnum opus. I mean, the ‘Star Gate’ sequence alone is so similar to the wormhole scenes in Interstellar. I read afterwards that that extended sequence of that funkadelic sequence was popular among young adults who love watching ’em when they’re high. Ahah, I bet that’s still true today.

2001_Hal9000There’s something so timeless about the production design, especially the HAL 9000 computer with its omnipresent red eye. Kubrick and Clarke made the right decision making it so simple, instead of going with a mobile robot they initially set out to do. I think it’d have looked more dated than the simple but ominous red eye. Despite its simplicity, it manages to be quite terrifying at times, especially during the time when Dave (Keir Dullea) was trying to get back into the main ship. The film isn’t an *acting* film per se, as the actors aren’t exactly given much to do, but I think Dullea did a good job nonetheless, and the scene of him trying to dismantle HAL is quite memorable. It’s a pretty suspenseful scene and Dullea conveyed the dread and terror very well.

It’s a testament that creating a certain atmosphere is crucial to depict genuine suspense and there’s certainly a horror-like vibe during the entire scene. I literally gasped when the LIFE FUNCTIONS CRITICAL lights came on… then followed by LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED in the scene where HAL systematically killed the rest of the ship’s crew in hibernation. It’s just one of the many minimalistic scenes that made such a huge impact in the film.

2001_Dave2001_Dave_disablingHalThe cryptic nature of the film, with its various metaphors and allegories, certainly sparked all kinds of theories. My hubby and I watched a two-part Youtube videos on the meaning of the monolith, which argues that the monolith is basically “an advanced television teaching machine.” It’s quite a fascinating argument and I’m sure there are others, but I really don’t want to go into that rabbit hole.

I have to mention the music here, which is crucial given there’s such few dialog in the film. I’ve heard that opening theme Thus Spoke Zarathustra soooo many times, as it’s so overused in popular culture that it’s become a cliché. But hearing it in the context of the opening sequence made me appreciate just how iconic it is. Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube (composed in mid 1800s) is also one of my favorite classical piece, which somehow fits the tone and feel of this film it’s as if it was made especially for this project.

2001_spaceshipSo what’s the verdict?

Well, I’m glad I finally saw this film. I didn’t fall in love with the film, I think it falls under the category of ‘films I appreciate but doesn’t quite love.’ I was bowled over by what Kubrick achieved in 1968 – he is a true visual artist with an exquisite eye for details. Nearly every frame is like a work of art and it still looks modern even by today’s standards. Yet it’s not an emotionally-engaging film, which to be fair is probably not what Kubrick intended it to be anyway, so it’s not something I’m eager to watch again. That said, I still give it a high rating because I do think it deserves its classic status and it’s a film that every film fan should see. It took me a while to get here, but I’m glad I finally did!

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The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


What are your thoughts on 2001: A Space Odyssey? 

MSPIFF 2015 Reviews: Unlikely Heroes (Schweizer Helden) + El Crítico (The Film Critic)

MSPIFF15reviewsUnlikelyHeroes_posterUnlikely Heroes (Schweizer Helden)

An uneven picture, Unlikely Heroes is about Sabine (Esther Gemsch), a middle-aged woman in the midst of a lengthy separation from her husband and devolving relationships with friends. She is emotionally unstable. But when she stumbles on a home for asylum seekers, she finds purpose in trying to introduce psychodrama, a form of improvisational acting meant to help people accept their past, to the residents. When the asylum seekers, her would be pupils, seem more interested in performing Schiller’s William Tell play, Sabine opts instead to direct the theatrical production.

Unlikely Heroes greatest merit? Most of the asylum seekers, both in terms of characterization and performance. Punishment (Komi Mizrajim Togbonou, award worthy) is fascinating. Ditto that for Elvis (Karim Rahoma, almost as good), Remzi (Nuroz Baz) and Bahar (Uygar Tamir).

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Unfortunately, this strength dovetails into Unlikely Heroes biggest misstep. Sabine isn’t as interesting as the supporting characters she teaches. She isn’t as emotionally complex. Her journey isn’t as emotionally rife. And her motivations are transparently thin to start, just as the ways they transform are transparently predictable.

This is doubly troubling because it leads to the film’s second biggest flaw. Because Sabine (the character, not the actor who plays her) cannot carry the picture’s emotional heft, Unlikely Heroes winds up being thematically preachy, despite its feel-good-story intentions.

All of which is a shame. With characters like Punishment, Elvis and the other asylum seekers, there is a great film hiding in Unlikely Heroes. We just don’t get to see all of it.

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El Crítico (The Film Critic)

TheCriticPosterI was immediately drawn to this Argentinian comedy as it’s a commentary of the state of Hollywood movies, the rom-com genre to be exact. Victor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd) is a film critic of a local newspaper, and right away we learn how weary he is of the current state of movies he has to watch day after day. He calls it the ‘maladie du cinema’ as he sees life as a big movie that he absolutely loathes.

I find the movie hilarious and engaging from start to finish, thanks to Rafael’s expressive performance. I’ve never seen him before but I enjoyed his deadpan comedy style and sarcastic humor. The dialog between him and his fellow film critics criticizing various movies are amusing because I find myself agreeing with them. Tellez’s teenage niece LOVES Hollywood rom-coms, and there’s also a hilarious scene where they watch clips of The Notebook, Jerry Maguire, Pretty Woman, etc. and Tellez pointing out all the clichéd formula of those movies.

Whilst desperately seeking for a new place to live, Tellez met a mysterious girl Sofia (Dolores Fonzi) who he thinks is trying to steal his dream apartment. An unexpected romance happens, much to his bafflement, and before he knows it, it’s as if his own life morphs into a movie he can’t stand. One of the funniest moments was when Sofia took him to an abandoned ship and she stood at the bow imitating Rose from Titanic, to which Tellez immediately quipped ‘Mon Dieu!’ (OMG) in horror.

ElCritico_stillsThe film is set mostly in Spanish with occasional French as Tellez thinks in his second language for some reason, which makes it more amusing. There are some silly moments and the subplot about this young director who takes offense to Tellez for lambasting his film. There’s a bit of suspense towards the end in relation to this scene but it feels more of an embellishment that doesn’t ultimately adds much to the story.

Despite those small quibbles, overall I was entertained by El Crítico. As a film blogger, I can somehow relate to Tellez and I find his curmudgeon attitude hilarious and even endearing. Apparently the film is a directorial debut from Hernán Gerschuny who also wrote the script. I’d say it’s a pretty darn good debut accomplished with a shoestring budget. I haven’t had a genuinely good laugh at the theater in a while, so it’s always nice when that happens. I also love the premise of a movie about the movie industry, and this is one comedy I wouldn’t mind watching again.

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Thoughts on any of these films?

MSPIFF 2015 Reviews: Belle et Sébastien + The Keeping Room

MSPIFF15reviewsBelle et Sebastien

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Despite being sometimes sappy and overly safe, Belle et Sébastien still mostly succeeds, primarily because Sebastian (Felix Bossuet) and Belle (a dog) are captivatingly adorable. It helps that their bond of friendship is keenly developed, as well.

The film opens with a group of mountain men, including Cesar (Tcheky Karyo), Sebastian’s primary caretaker, hunting a beast they believe has been killing their farm animals. The beast turns out to be a now feral, recently abused dog, whom Sebastian quickly dubs Belle. The two take their time forming an affectionate bond but soon become inseparable. Meanwhile, a friend of Sebastian’s adopted family, Doctor Guillaume (Dimitri Storoge), is sheparding fugitive Jews through wintry mountains, taking them to safety in Switzerland, all while the local Nazis wreak havoc on the village.

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Eventually, of course, the two stories merge, which is good, because initially they are so tonally different that they feel mismatched. One is mostly lighthearted fair fit for younger audiences while the other is dark, obviously intended for older audiences. But writer/director Nicolas Vanier and his co-writers never immerse in the second narrative, instead opting to let it exist on the film’s fringes. As such, the World War II specific subplot is shorted, and the characters specific to it are underdeveloped (this is especially true of Angelina, played by Margaux Chatelier).

Still, despite these narrative flaws, Belle et Sébastien avoids failure, if only because the child lead and his canine friend remain captivating. So too does the relationship between Sebastian and Cesar, and later that between Cesar and Belle.  Moreover, the picture’s imagery is positively stunning. Vanier captilizes on his mountain setting in ways that always impress.

All of which is to say that Belle et Sébastien is imperfect, maybe even forgettable, but it still accomplishes what it sets out to do: tell a sweet story about a boy and his dog.

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The Keeping Room

“War is cruelty . . . The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” ~William T. Sherman

This quote opens The Keeping Room, a part home invasion, part relationship drama, part female empowerment, part anti-war film, and the picture’s plot, about which I will purposefully say little, sets out to prove it, from the opening to the conclusion. So it is we know the sort of movie we’re watching.

Tone is not director Daniel Barber and writer Julia Hart’s only success. So too is their stunning imagery.

And their investigation of people’s potential for cruelty. Moses (Sam Worthington, utterly terrific) does evil things, but he never feels evil. He feels like a person trapped in a system, doing things even he knows he shouldn’t. When he says, “I don’t know how to stop,” we believe him because Barber and Hart have so masterfully shown it to us.

TheKeepingRoom_stillsThe writer and director adeptly characterize Augusta (Brit Marling, every bit Worthington’s equal) and Mad (Muna Otaru, very good), as well. These are two complex women, both of whom we like even though we sometimes question them.

Barber and Hart capture Henry (Kyle Soller) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), less well, however. The former is an archetype, a terrible person who does terrible things because he’s terrible. Henry’s behavior is probably no more or less twisted than Moses’, but the filmmakers fail to nuance the former as well as they do the latter. Louise, too, is borderline archetypal, at least until the end of the picture. (Note: despite this flaw in characterization, when Steinfeld and Soller share the screen, they produce The Keeping Room’s most catching scene.)

The movie’s other notable flaw: pacing. The opening is overdrawn and the finale a little rushed, especially insofar as Louise comes alive in the end, transcending the ‘spoiled teenager’ archetype on which we spend so much time at the The Keeping Room’s onset.

Still, here the merits well outweigh the flaws. This film is worth viewing.

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Have you seen any of these films? Well, what do you think?

FlixChatter Review: Ex Machina

ExMachinaPosterThere have been a plethora of films about man and machine or man vs machine in Hollywood. From cult classics like Blade Runner, Terminator to most recent ones like Robot & Frank, Chappie, etc., clearly not all are created equal. I’d say that this Alex Garland‘s original story has some striking similarities to the 2013 tiny-budgeted British indie The Machine, given that the creator and the machine are the main key players of the film. However, Ex Machina explored the eternally-fascinating topic of ‘what it means to be human’ in a much deeper and more immersive way.

The film started out with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) being dropped by a chopper into this secluded estate of a billionaire scientist in the side of a Norwegian mountain. He’s supposed to spend a week with the CEO of a large internet search engine company, but other than that Caleb has no idea what’s in store for him. As it turns out, he’s invited to participate in a breakthrough experiment in testing artificial intelligence. After meeting the mysterious tech baron Nathan (Oscar Isaac), things just seem to be even more cryptic. I love the initial interaction between the two actors and the unpredictability and suspense of it all. First time director Alex Garland infused the scenes with a sense of appropriate eeriness, as well as a dose of humor that prevents the film from being too heavy handed or frigid.

ExMachina_Still3It’s when we meet the subject of the Turing test, a luminous female A.I. named Eva (Alicia Vikander), that things starts to get REALLY interesting. Even though Eva’s robotic parts are visible, unlike some other films where the droid looks fully human on the outside, she is as fetching as ever. It sparks intriguing questions about why Nathan created her with sensuality, with the ability to flirt and emote. The unhurried pace allows for a lot of reflective moments, thanks to the sharp and focused script by Alex Garland himself.

“One day the AIs are gonna look back on us the same way we look at fossils and skeletons in the plains of Africa” Are the arrival of droids and drones mean we’re on the verge of extinction? That seems far-fetched perhaps, but the way Garland made this film, this scenario seems almost entirely plausible. His idea of the future is ‘ten minutes from now’ and companies like Google or Apple are certainly capable of creating the future we see in this film even today.

The spirituality aspect, whether intended or not, is one of most thought-provoking aspect I’ve seen in a sci-fi film in a long time. Humans may think they can replicate ourselves and build something with *consciousness,* but is a soul something we can create? What these sci-fi films prove is the always-present and increasing desire of humans to become God.

ExMachina_Still1I’ve been a fan of Garland’s work as a screenwriter (especially 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go), so we know he’s a master storyteller. But I think he has a gift behind the camera as well, and perhaps because of his writer background, he’s more concerned about letting the story flow and immerse people into a certain realms, instead of bludgeoning us with action, action, action. Plus he’s got an International cast formed by three accomplished young actors to tell his story.

Guatemalan-American Oscar Isaac has been churning out one fantastic performance after another. He’s truly one of the most fascinating actors working today and it’s such a joy watching him mature even more as a performer. The best scene of the film, and one of my favorite scenes of the year, is the dance scene that’s both unsettling but hilarious. Isaac certainly has screen presence to match his acting chops.

ExMachina_DanceScene Irish Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly captures the naive curiosity of Caleb, as well as the young man’s intelligence and vulnerability. He’s effortlessly likable and you immediately projects yourself into his character as he navigates into this new environment he’s thrown into. Isaac and Gleeson have a good rapport together, and the human relationships are just as intriguing as that between man & machine. In the key role of Eva, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander couldn’t be more perfect in the role. There’s a certain innocence and fragility about her, but yet you know she’s far more sly than you think.

The film is appropriately R-rated for the graphic nudity. Now, I’d be the first to tell you that most of the time, nudity in movies is unnecessary and gratuitous. But I have to say that it’s not the case here, it feels integral to the plot. For the most part, Ex Machina is a quiet, reflective film. It did veers into mystery thriller territory towards the end but it’s a natural progression of the story instead of a forced divergence. It’s definitely a great film to see on the big screen and be fully immersed in the story and the characters’ journey.

Despite the relatively low budget (under $15 mil), the production values are fantastic. From Nathan’s state-of-the-art estate and his lab where he builds these machines, as well as the mountain scenery, it’s a good looking film. I also love how atmospheric the film is, thanks to the cool, ethereal-sounding soundtrack and resplendent cinematography. But the most striking of all is the robotic look of Eva, which is both mechanical as well as organic, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. We’re as drawn to her as Caleb was in the film.

ExMachina_Still2But as evident in films like Elysium, visual flair alone does NOT make a movie. Ultimately what you remember is the story and how it affects you as you watch it, and this film certainly offers plenty for the senses. There are so many scenes that linger long after the end credits role, such as one where one of the characters has a moment of doubts about himself as a human. It’s got such a haunting quality about it that adds another layer of intrigue on the human/machine exploration. It’s further proof that one doesn’t need an astronomical budget or big stars to tell a compelling and memorable story. Dazzling, provocative and haunting… everything you’d expect from a futuristic sci-fi film. An outstanding directorial debut from Alex Garland, I’m curious what he’d tackle next, both as a writer AND as a director.

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Have you seen Ex Machina? Well, what do you think?