FlixChatter Review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

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I’ve been a fan of this long-standing franchise even from the first one by Brian De Palma. Looking back, it certainly was a more cerebral, somber affair as it took itself way too seriously. It might’ve been the fourth movie when the film took a decidedly lighter tone, but amped up the action to be even crazier. It’s akin to a cinematic roller coaster, a huge adrenaline rush from start to finish. You know when want to go for another round the moment you’re done with a REALLY fun amusement park ride? Well, that’s how I felt the minute the end credits roll.
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It’s to be expected that the stake of Mission Impossible movies get more and more well, impossible. But really, they’re not called the Impossible Missions Force for nothin’. This time Ethan and team take their craziest mission yet, and a personal one. If you’re familiar with the franchise, you know about the mysterious International organization the Syndicate, which is as skilled as the IMF and commited to destroy Ethan & co.

Right from the opening sequence with the highly-publicized plane sequence where Tom Cruise was hanging out on the side of the plane, a stunt the superstar himself performed no less than 8 times, you’ll know what you’re in for. But you’ve got to have a lot more tricks up your sleeve if you show THAT scene early in the movie. Thankfully that is the case here. If you love chases of any kind, whether it be on foot, car, motorbikes, etc. you’ll find them here. It’s as if each action scene tries to one-up the other and I have to say each one is as exhilarathing as the last.

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My favorite scene is the one within the Vienna Opera House, with stunning camera work in the narrow, shadowy corners. The fight scenes are jaw-droppingly spectacular, even more so against the classic aria of Nessun dorma. It’s truly the spectacle to watch going into a movie like this and it looks amazing on the big screen.

Early in the film, we’re introduced to a new character Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), but THIS is her moment to shine. She’s my favorite female character in ALL of the Mission Impossible movies so far. I’d vote to have Ilsa replace Ethan Hunt in future MI movies or have her star in a MI spinoff movies. She’s THAT great. I love the fact that she’s a formidable character who’s no bimbo, and on top of being Ethan’s equal in the action scenes, Ilsa actually has a compelling character arc.

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The relentless logic-defying stunts are electrifying, but I like the fact that director Christopher McQuarrie actually includes one scene that show Ethan is human after all. I won’t mention the scene as to not spoil it for you, but I actually feared for his life for once, even for a moment. There is also an emotional connection between the characters, especially when it comes the dynamic of Ethan’s core group: Benji (Simon Pegg), William (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames). The camaraderie works well and it’s easy to root for this group.

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Humor is another recipe for success in this franchise. The high-octane stunts are matched with crackin’ wit, mostly from the resident comedian Pegg, but Renner also made the franchise’s oft-used line “I can neither confirm nor deny any details without the secretary’s approval” to hilarious effect. There’s also a particularly humorous scene involving the British PM towards the end. Nice to see Alec Baldwin as another CIA officer, 25 years after playing Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October.

If I have one quibble though, it’d be the villain (Sean Harris). I don’t know why the filmmakers think a weird & creepy bad guy is more effective than a normal-looking one. I’d think that a perfectly normal character with a ruthless agenda can be just as menacing, so long as they cast the right actor. Harris just seems more of a damaged, eccentric psychopath than a really scary villain worthy of a super spy like Ethan.

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Thankfully, the rest of the cast delivered and the movie is as fantastically entertaining as ever. Just like the unstoppable franchise, Cruise clearly still has plenty of energy to make us believe he IS Ethan Hunt, he made even James Bond seems rather tame. He’s starting to look older but young enough to pull off the relentless action and even the shirtless scenes. Still I’m thankful there’s no unnecessary romance that’d make me cringe.

I enjoyed the heck out of MI: Ghost Protocol and I remember thinking, boy how’d they top that Burj Khalifa scene?? Well, not only does Rogue Nation manage to top THAT scene, but the movie as a whole. This one now stands as my favorite of the franchise. I rarely say this about any movie, but I hope they continue to make more Mission Impossible movies and hopefully McQuarrie will be back for at least the next one. This is only his third film, and I actually quite like his previous film with Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher. He also wrote the screenplay for Edge of Tomorrow, so it seems that his collaboration with Cruise has been a rewarding one. Joe Kraemer who worked on the score for Jack Reacher also did a great job scoring this one.

I can’t wait to see this again, next time at IMAX. It’s an escapism sort of movie and Rogue Nation delivers on that front, and more.

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So have you seen MI: Rogue Nation? Well, what did YOU think?

JULY Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

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How in the world is July over already?!?! Seriously, this past month has been a total blur to me. I feel like I haven’t done anything worth writing about the entire Summer! I mean we’re finally gonna go for a bike ride outside of town with some friends, something we’ve been meaning to do since the beginning of Summer but just never got around to it, heh.

Well, the one thing I love about July was writing my birthday tribute to my beloved Stanley Weber and getting a thank you tweet! Yes I’m still giddy just thinking about it ;) On a related note, I finally got around to writing my first ever script. It’s going well so far, I just hope I can keep the momentum and actually FINISH it.

Posts You Might’ve Missed

Supporting cast you wish got the leading role

Musings on the Han Solo spinoff &
who we’d like to see as young Solo

The Dream Vacation Blogathon

Favorite directing duos & their film(s)

Thursday Movie Picks: Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

Music Break: Top 5 Fave Soundtracks from Henry Jackman

Thursday Movie Picks: Sequels

Musings on Clueless – random observations on the
iconic 90s movie 20 years later

TIFF 2015 Picks

Reviews

Ant-Man (2015)

Cartel Land (2015)

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

ONCE (2006)

Self/less (2014)

Song of the Sea (2015)

New-to-me Movies I haven’t reviewed yet:

Ondine (2009)

A Promise (2014)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Minions (2015)

What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)

Rewatches:

Sabrina (1995)

Clueless (1995)

Notting Hill (1999)

Not Another Happy Ending (2013)
I pretty much watch this one every other week, sometimes I just
have it running in the background whilst I’m working on
my laptop just to have Stanley to keep me company ;)

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

TV Shows:

Saw one episode of BBC’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express

I’m currently juggling a few British series:
Downton Abbey | The Fall | Any Human Heart

Movie of the Month

MIRogueNationIt’s an easy pick this month. I absolutely LOVE this latest Mission Impossible movie, even more than the fourth one which was my fave until this one. I LOVE Rebecca Ferguson here, I’d love to see her replace Tom Cruise‘s Ethan Hunt for future MI movies! I mean if they can’t have a female Bond, why not have the protagonist of MI movies be a female spy?

I’ll be reviewing it this weekend, but for now, I’ll just say that ROGUE NATION is one of the most entertaining movie I saw all Summer and would likely end up on my top 10 of the year. There’s apparently plenty of juice left in the franchise!


So that’s my July recap. What’s YOUR fave movie(s) you saw this month?

Rental Pick: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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I had been wanting to see this movie for ages but for some reason I never saw its theatrical release in my neck of the woods. Even the synopsis and the trailer had me in stitches. Well, the movie itself more than lived up to the hype, it’s so well worth the wait! In fact, the reason this review kept getting delayed is because I kept getting distracted by watching the clips of this on Youtube and they made me laugh every single time.

The idea of a mockumentary about vampires living in modern society is so brilliant and makes for a perfect comedy material, so I’m surprised nobody has made it before. Well I’m glad that these New Zealand comedians did as I can’t imagine anyone else portraying these immortal vampires now. The only person I recognize is Jemaine Clement, one of the Flight of the Conchords comedy band, and he plays one of the four flatmates living in Wellington, NZ. In the opening sequence, we learn that the vampire flatmates have invited a documentary filmmaker to chronicle their lives, hence the title, and they’ve been given some kind of protection so that they won’t become victims like most humans invited into their homes. “Some interviews with some vampires” is the movie’s tagline, an obvious reference to a popular 90s vampire drama based on Anne Rice’s books.
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It’s so much fun to spend two hours with the trio, Vladislav (Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh). There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham), an 8000 years old Nosferatu-lookalike who lives in the basement instead of upstairs with the other three. Viago is like the mom in the family, he’s trying to keep the flat as organized and neat as possible, insisting that his flatmates line the floor and walls with newspapers before they feast on their victims. Of course it’s not always easy, one scene showed Viago accidentally biting the main artery of his victim, causing blood to spurt and splatter all over the room and making a huge mess. This is just one of those hysterical dilemmas these immortal creatures have to deal with living in modern society. All the daily stuff we take for granted, such as being able to see our reflection in the mirror when we get dressed, enjoying the sunlight, etc. are problematic for these vampires and the movie explore those in such a hysterical way.

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I thought that the movie is going to consist mostly of random scenes of these vampires doing daily human chores and other vampiric shenanigans, which would’ve been okay for me considering how hilarious these actors are. But there’s actually a decent plot here, starting with Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a human lured to become their food who ended up being turned into a vampire. Things start go awry when Nick carelessly break every vampire rules and walk around announcing his new identity. But the most hilarious part is when he starts inviting his human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford) to hang out with his vampire mates. All the scenes involving Stu is a hoot, especially when he teaches them technology and social media, much to the delight of Viago and the gang. It’s even funnier as he’s got this deadpan expression throughout.

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This movie has become one of my favorite comedies of all time. Right up there with The Gods Must Be Crazy, Top Secret! and Hot Fuzz. Comedies are so subjective I guess so what some people find funny might not be the case for others. For me, I love great writing and fun characters on top of the slapstick stuff, nothing too crude nor vulgar. What We Do in the Shadows delivers on that front, such a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of raunchy-but-unfunny Hollywood comedies of late. Props to Clement and Waititi who collaborated as writers/directors, as well as the terrific cast that bring this comedy to life. There are just sooo many memorable scenes and it’s so darn quotable.

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“We’re Werewolves, not Swearwolves.”

“Vampires don’t do dishes.”

“Yeah some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.”

“I go for a look I call dead but delicious.”

Seriously, there are hundreds of funny one liners and it’s funnier when you see them in context. The script is so zany and sharp-witted, and the writers obviously knew enough about the whole vampire mythology and stereotypes to turn them on its head. I’ve gotten the Blu-ray and I know it’ll get a ton of play in my house. Even the deleted scenes are a hoot! I don’t normally care for sequels but I sincerely hope Clement and Waititi would work on a sequel for this, as I can watch these characters bicker with each other for hours on end. I’d think this idea would make for a great TV series too, so hopefully that would happen given how well-received this movie has been.
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Have you seen What We Do In The Shadows? Well, what did YOU think?

Everybody’s Chattin + Question of the week: 7 films to see at TIFF 2015

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Happy Tuesday everyone! Well I’m still high from the pure adrenaline rush of watching Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Boy was than fun! I’ll post a full review but in the meantime, here’s my initial reaction:

Ok so about those links…

Michael reviewed a book on a topic I’ve been fascinated by lately, The Cartel by Don Winslow

Keith reviewed my new comedy favorite What We Do in the Shadows. My own review should be up later this week!

Margaret and Mark posted more favorable reviews on Ant-Man

I always look forward to Abbi’s mini reviews on Film Friday for recommendations and what to avoid

One of my fave blog series is The Many Faces Of by Nostra, this month he shone the spotlight on mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis

Last but not least, if you haven’t already, check out Jordan’s Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon to celebrate the phenomenal work of the late thespian

There are still so many of PSH’s films I need to see, one of them is Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, reviewed by Cindy


Time for question of the week!

TIFF15

I was gonna make this a separate post but y’know what, I don’t want to wait another day so I’ll just hit two birds with one stone w/ my community blogging series. The TIFF 2015 full lineup has just been released today, so in case you haven’t read the list, you can hit up The Film Stage or Variety to see what films have been selected.

Wish I could return to TIFF again, it’s been ten years since I visited Toronto in 2005, which was quite an experience. Now, obviously if I were there I’d try to see as many films as I could, but say you only had seven films you could get tickets for, which ones would you see? Here are my seven picks:

Demolition

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Naomi Watts

An investment banker, struggling to understand his emotional disconnect after the tragic death of his wife, begins to tear apart his life in an effort to see where he went wrong and is ultimately rescued by a woman he meets in a chance encounter.

Jake G. can’t do no wrong these days and the premise sounds really intriguing. I’m always intrigued by a human drama type of stories, something that could happen in real life, even people around you. Apparently the screenplay for this film was featured in the 2007 Blacklist; a list of the “most liked” unmade scripts of the year.

Eye in the Sky

Director: Gavin Hood
Cast:
Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Iain Glen

London-based military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is remotely commanding a top secret drone operation to capture a group of dangerous terrorists at their safe-house in Nairobi, Kenya. The mission suddenly escalates from a capture to a kill operation, when Powell realizes that the terrorists are about to embark on a deadly suicide mission.

Anything with Dame Mirren is automatically in my must-see list, and this sounds like a really juicy role for her! Plus Alan Rickman AND Iain Glen? I’m SO there. Nice to see Captain Philips‘ Barkhad Abdi is still getting jobs in Hollywood.

LEGEND

Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Taron Egerton, Emily Browning


The true story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy in an amazing double performance. LEGEND is a classic crime thriller that takes audiences into the secret history of the 1960s and the extraordinary events that secured the infamy of the Kray twin.

One Tom Hardy is good enough, but TWO? A dual role is always intriguing and if there’s one actor who can pull it off it’s Tom. Plus I like Taron from the Kingsman movie.

Victoria

Director: Sebastian Schipper
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski


A movie shot in a single take about Victoria, a runaway party girl, who’s asked by three friendly men to join them as they hit the town. Their wild night of partying turns into a bank robbery.

I actually just saw the trailer this weekend. Whoa, it looks like an intense and wild ride, I have no idea how they pulled off doing this in a single take!

Sicario

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro


In Spanish, Sicario means hitman. In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elite government task force official to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past, the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.

Miss Blunt is another actress I’d watch in practically anything, and the drug war has been on the news so much lately which adds to the intrigue.

Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup.

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Ruffalo AND Keaton in a film together? That alone is a reason to see this despite the icky subject matter. Great supporting cast too, Stanley Tucci is solid in everything he’s in.

The Dressmaker

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Cast: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook

A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

Sarah Snook!! I immediately want to see this because of her as she impressed me so much in Predestination. It’s been ages since I saw Winslet in anything, and the premise intrigues me. LOVE Hugo Weaving too, but the casting of Liam Hemsworth worries me though. Yes he’s hunky but the pretty boy simply can’t act.

Other notable TIFF screenings:

I’m anticipating Cary Fukunaga’ Beasts of No Nation too, which I’ve mentioned here, but since it will premiere on Netflix I’d rather watch it at home. Starring Idris Elba in the role of Commandant, a warlord who takes in a child soldier and instructs him in the ways of war.

Here’s the trailer:

I also have to mention Brooklyn which screened at Sundance earlier this year. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Ireland sent across the sea to find a new life in the land of opportunity. My friend Iba saw it at Sundance and really liked it, check out her review.

 


So tell me, if you could only choose SEVEN films to see at TIFF this year, which films would you get?

Weekend Roundup: Quick thoughts on BBC’s The Fall, ONCE (2006) & Blindspot Series Update

Happy Monday all! Hope you had a relaxing weekend. I didn’t go to the movies but had time for some home cinema. My co-worker and I swapped dvds, I lent him Rocknrolla and he lent me ONCE, I think I got the better end of the bargain ;)

I saw Clueless on Friday and did this writeup on it yesterday, and also managed to see one episode of BBC’s The Fall. I’ve been curious about it for some time, partly curious to see if pretty boy Jamie Dornan actually have acting chops. I’ve only seen him in Once Upon A Time and he didn’t impress me there. Well he’s nice to look and he portrayed a sociopath pretty well, I kind of see why he was chosen as Christian Grey though I have no desire whatsoever to ever see it.

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Gillian Anderson is excellent as the detective, her British accent is very convincing too. So far the first episode is a bit on the slow side, though it’s interesting that the serial killer’s already known so it’s more of a psychological thriller from both the killer & the detective’s perspectives, not a who-dun-it type of thriller. Not sure I want to keep watching this series though, I might watch a few more episodes to see if it’s worth continuing. So far it’s not as good as Broadchurch so maybe I might as well continue with season 2.

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Before I get to my mini review of ONCE, I just want to give you a quick update on my Blindspot series. At this point I still have seven films to watch before the end of the year, but given that I want to have more time devoted to my script, I’m only going to watch half of that, not sure yet which one but I really want to see A Place in the Sun and The Big Sleep. I won’t have a Blindspot review this month, but hopefully later in August.

ONCE Well, as for ONCE, I’m glad I finally saw it! I saw Begin Again which was written/directed by John Carney a few months ago and loved it, so naturally everyone recommended that I checked out ONCE. I didn’t realize it was made in 2006, I thought it was released just a few years before Begin Again for some reason. It’s a much smaller film but has similar characteristics in that they feature some great music and centered an unlikely relationship between two musically-gifted people. Both also feature recording session scenes and a ton of great music!

I LOVE the naturalistic setting in Dublin, Ireland. I hadn’t heard of either Glen Hansard nor Markéta Irglová but apparently both of them are singer/songwriter themselves. It’s as if they’re playing themselves as Glen is Irish and Markéta is Czech, exactly like in the film. From the moment they met, there’s an effortless chemistry between them and you’re immediately swept up in their journey in realizing the dream of making a record. The music is absolutely fantastic… it proves that no matter what background you have, even if you’re not speaking the same language, music has a way to connect you in such a deep emotional level.

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I’ve heard the song Falling Slowly before and it’s even more beautiful now that I’ve listened to it in context of the story. But there are a few other wonderful songs I enjoyed, like When Your Mind’s Made Up and the one Markéta sang at the piano in one particularly heartfelt moment between the two protagonists. I have to do a Music Break post on this film real soon.

It’s a small film with a big heart. Perhaps it’s on the melancholic side but the story is bittersweet and romantic. I’ve always loved an unconventional love story and this one is un-Hollywood as it gets. I was quite engrossed in it that I didn’t realize until later than neither one of the protagonists have a name. They’re simply billed as Guy and Girl! It’s amazing that they have such a genuine emotional bond… as the title says, something THIS special must only comes once in a lifetime. But the film is something I would probably enjoy watching more than once.

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Excited for Mission Impossible: ROGUE NATION tonight, woo hooo!! In case you haven’t seen it, check out this featurette w/ Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane. THIS is why you go see a Mission Impossible movie!


So that’s my weekend recap folks! How ’bout you? Seen anything good?

Musings on Clueless – random observations on the iconic 90s movie 20 years later

CluelessPoster So apparently Clueless just hit its 20th anniversary this month, as suddenly there are a plethora of references on from the movie all over social media. In fact, my hubby was perplexed by some of them as he hadn’t seen it before. So we thought, why not watch the movie Friday night since it’s on Netflix streaming. To be honest, neither my hubby and I are into high school movies. I mean, of course I enjoyed John Hughes movies when I was actually still in high school, and occasionally there are good ones from the genre, like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek them out. I can’t remember when I saw Clueless, but it must’ve been at least a decade ago. My memory of it is a bit hazy so it felt like seeing the movie for the first time.

So what’s the verdict?

Well, for one thing he didn’t hate it. He said it actually didn’t make him cringe as he had feared, and overall it was enjoyable. I mean, for one thing the movie is hysterical! The movie obviously didn’t take itself seriously and made fun of the characters’ own preposterousness but yet it’s not mean-spirited that it’d leave a sour taste in your mouth. Cher’s driving test scene alone is a hoot… Cher-Driving-Test-Clueless …but her BFF is an even worse driver, which made for one of the funniest scenes in the movie! a95f5745222c63b9668c36e1cd2186fb When my hubby and I discussed it afterwards, we were wondering about, because neither of us went to high school in the US, was whether teenagers actually spoke like that back in the 90s as they seem to still have that same speaking style now. The constant use of the word ‘like’ is practically like ‘as if’ and ‘whatever’ in the film, and even those are probably not entirely absent from teens’ vocabularies now as the movie still resonates to this day.

A Cultural Touchstone

I read this Vanity Fair article on the oral history of Clueless. Apparently the movie was a surprise hit back in 1995. The movie opened at No. 1 the weekend of its release on July 19, and went on to earn $56 mil in the US/Canada (a figure that the movie data-tracking site Box Office Mojo equates to $105.7 million in contemporary, inflated dollars). Not bad considering the budget was only $12 – $13 million. The movie definitely was a ‘cultural touchstone’, as EW pointed out in this article pondering what it’d be like if the movie’d been made today. Surely the age of selfies, social media and celebrity worship of today isn’t all that different from 20 years ago, and maybe that’s why the movie still resonates to this day. There are lots of gems in this movie that understandably become part of pop culture to this day. Ok so I’m not fond of Cher’s outfits but clearly it was a hit for teens as they raid the local malls for plaid skirts and knee-high socks. I went to an all-girl Catholic school and those were our uniform so I’d never ever want to wear those combo nor would I consider those fashionable. asif But the movie is so darn quotable with tons of hilarious lingo that will forever be associated with this movie.

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Source: Vanity Fair

Talk about great casting!

I can’t imagine anyone else but Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, though the VF article did mention they were thinking of Reese Witherspoon at some point. Alicia’s goofy facial expressions alone is a hoot to watch, she has one of those expressive faces that you can’t take your eyes off. It was a no-holds-barred performance that to this day it’s impossible to separate Alicia from her breakout character. Cher was an inherently ridiculous and obviously flawed character but there’s something so sincere and straightforward about her, that she didn’t care what people think. It’s quite refreshing and amusing, that you quickly stop judging her and just accept her for who she is. I guess it’s the same thing that happens to Cher herself in how she comes to terms with the people in her life. 

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The supporting cast was equally fun to watch, and they’re pretty racially diverse which is pretty progressive for the time. The fact that the non-white characters, are in the same social class as the white, blond, rich protagonist would be considered progressive even by today’s standards. Dionne (Stacey Dash) and her boyfriend Murray (Donald Faison) are both black, but both are equally as popular as Cher in school and there are also some Asian American girls in Cher’s social circle. It’s sad that Brittany Murphy is no longer with us, her portrayal of Tai is just as entertaining and iconic.

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And of course there’s Paul Rudd as Cher’s stepbrother Josh. The VF article talked about how he almost didn’t get to play Josh as he took another role (Halloween movie) and had his head shaved. Thankfully it ended up being a long journey to cast that particular role and casting director Marcia Ross said ‘he never went out of consciousness.’

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It’s funny too that the same month this movie turns 20 years old, the 46-year-old Paul Rudd is a bonafide superhero himself with Ant-Man, and he still hasn’t aged a day!! Need proof? Just take this Vulture quiz and see if you can guess how old he is from certain photos. If they made this movie today, Rudd could still totally play Josh!

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Why the movie was sort of ahead of its time… and culturally-relevant to this day

As Jane Austen’s work still resonates even two hundred years later, it’s not surprising that writer/director Amy Heckerling was inspired by Emma, the novel she read as a teenager. The plot/characters/themes and values are all based on Austen’s novel, as Emma too was clueless about her own feelings and the business of match-making. But like the Austen heroine, deep down she’s a good person and her heart was in the right place. I love stories where the protagonist actually evolves throughout the course of the film. In her own cute and endearing way, Cher had some growing up lessons and disappointments just like the rest of us, she just had better more expensive clothes to go through them in. For how beautiful and privileged she is, Cher is surprisingly relatable. I mean who hasn’t fawned over a guy and make a complete fool of herself? cher_seducing_christian I thought it was interesting that they made Cher a virgin, which was rare then and still rare now amongst teens. The movie touched upon serious issues about chastity/abstinence but they didn’t make her someone who’s holier-than-thou kind of character. It’s just another thing that made Cher unique, so the issue wasn’t done in a preachy way. clueless-like-its-a-bad-thing clueless-cher-picky-about-shoes1 You’d think that this movie is all style and no substance, but that’s actually no the case. As this Grantland article points out, despite the fact that the protagonist and her friends are all rich, “…the movie’s messages are anti-capitalist: Money can’t buy you love, and caring about other people is cool.” Thanks partly to Josh, Cher realized her own ignorance and prejudices and genuinely made an effort to make a difference by volunteering and donating her stuff. She didn’t just think differently, but she actually took action and do something about it. And she does it all by still being herself, which in and of itself is quite inspiring. clueless_cher1 There’s also the genuinely heartfelt father/daughter relationship throughout the movie. Dan Hedaya is perfect as the workaholic dad who’s tough but yet loving. Heck, raising a girl like Cher as a single dad can’t be easy but somehow they made it through, and there’s a sweet moment towards the end that show they have a pretty good relationship. It’s also another proof that Cher isn’t a heartless creature as she actually takes care of her own dad. DanHedaya Buzzfeed calls Clueless the best movie of all times and they sure made a compelling argument with all those hilarious gifs. I wouldn’t go that far, but I wouldn’t argue its special place in our pop culture and that it’d probably be iconic even a decade from now. Glad I saw this again. Certainly a movie worth revisiting and if you haven’t seen this yet, well, give it a shot. You’d be surprised how much you’d enjoy it!


Have you seen Clueless? What do you think of this movie?

Thursday Movie Picks #54: Sequels

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. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Sequels!

Since I have to pick only three out of a possible 10-20 sequels that have become my favorites, I have to set some sort of parameter to narrow things down. So for this particular list, I’m focusing on live-action movie sequels of the last decade. So that means I’ll be excluding some great animated movie sequels like Toy Story 2 and How To Train Your Dragon 2, as well as some of my all time favorites like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, X-Men 2, Terminator 2, The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, or even Spider-man II as that was released eleven years ago. Interestingly, I ended up picking three that are part of a trilogy (the final film of the rebooted ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie, War of the Planet of the Apes, is in the works for 2017).

So without further ado, here are my picks of three favorite sequels of the last 10 years:

Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
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Jason Bourne dodges a ruthless CIA official and his agents from a new assassination program while searching for the origins of his life as a trained killer.

For some reason I had not reviewed any of the original Bourne trilogy but they certainly are superior than Bourne Legacy. For one thing, Jeremy Renner just isn’t charismatic or intriguing enough as a super spy. Matt Damon on the other hand, somehow fits the role of Jason Bourne perfectly. I actually wasn’t a big fan of the actor until I saw Bourne Identity, but Damon absolutely killed it as a trained killer. The final third chapter of Bourne’s journey is one relentless thrill ride, featuring some of the craziest car chases ever filmed thanks to Paul Greengrass’ phenomenal camera work. The film also benefited David Strathairn and Joan Allen’s performances in the supporting role. Plus the music by Moby is awesome, I’ve done a Music Break on that a couple of years ago.

s I….

The Dark Knight (2008)TMP_Sequels_TheDarkKnight

When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the caped crusader must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice.

When you’re talking about best sequels of the last decade, you can’t possibly overlook this masterpiece by Christopher Nolan. I have seen it half a dozen times and I’m always in awe every single time. It’s SO much more than just popcorn entertainment, though there are fun action scenes abound like the awesome truck-flip sequence (one of those scenes I could watch over and over). But what really riled me up and stayed with me for days after is THIS interrogation scene between Batman & The Joker. Two of this generation’s finest actors together in one room, Christian Bale & Heath Ledger were in top form here, each giving an Oscar-caliber performance. Ledger won a Best Actor award posthumously, but even if he hadn’t passed away, he deserved at least a nomination for that riveting performance.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)TMP_Sequels_DawnPlanetApes

A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.

I never thought I’d like this *intelligent apes* story when I saw the first film, as I hadn’t even seen the original Charlton Heston movie by then. But I was so taken by Caesar’s story, played brilliantly by mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis. The second film proved to be an even more emotional journey for Caesar, I teared up on that scene when he saw the house he grew up in. The film isn’t perfect, i.e. what’s up with Gary Oldman’s screaming matches, but overall it was a truly immersive experience. Matt Reeves created a wonderfully atmospheric loaded with genuine suspense and terror, as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. [my full review]. Glad he’ll be back for the third film.

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

Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon – A Most Wanted Man (2014) review

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This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

A Most Wanted Man

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A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.

It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.

The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.

AMostWantedMan_PSH

Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.

It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.

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McAdams with Dobrygin

As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.

This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.

I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps? 

AMostWantedMan_supportingcast

As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.

This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.

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Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?

Music Break: Top 5 Fave Soundtracks from Henry Jackman

I had been listening to X-Men: First Class during my workout lately, one of my favorite scores of the past few years. Henry Jackman was a protégé of one of my favorite composers, Hans Zimmer, and he’s been churning out great works himself.

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Born in Middlesex, UK, Jackman studied classical music at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School, Eton College and Oxford University. He had been building a successful career in the recording industry, even releasing 3 solo albums, when he garnered the attention of Zimmer and John Powell, also a favorite of mine. He went on to work on composing additional music on such films as The Dark Knight, Kung Fu Panda and the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Here are five of my favorites from his work:

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The music is one of the reasons I love this movie so much, and these two are my absolute faves. It actually made for a great workout music, but I also like listening to it when I need inspiration at work.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

I’m a huge fan of Alan Silvestri’s music work for the first Captain America movie, especially the end credits sequence. It was appropriately optimistic and patriotic. But Henry Jackman made an equally memorable score for the second one. It’s still got that positive, buoyant vibe, but somehow it feels more contemporary and slightly darker to go with the times and challenges Capt. has to face in modern times.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

One of the things I enjoyed about Kingsman is the fun, almost mischievous score that fits the movie perfectly. It’s got a bit of a James Bond-y vibe to it as well, which made me think he’d be a good fit to score a Bond flick in the future.

Captain Philips (2013)

This is such a beautiful, almost zen-like score but at the same time, it has a reflective, vigilant tone which is perfect given the ordeal the protagonist’s been through. It shows how versatile

Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)

I love that there’s a video game-y sound to this vibrant score. It sounds a bit similar to Big Hero 6 which Jackman also worked on that I quite like. It also sounds a bit retro which works for the story.

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I can’t wait to hear Jackman’s score for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and Amazon’s original story based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, The Man in the High Castle (I’ll be doing a spotlight on it soon). Interestingly both projects deal with a common enemy, the Third Reich.


Hope you enjoyed this week’s music break. What’s your favorite score from Henry Jackman?

Weekend Roundup: Reviews of ‘Ant-Man’ & ‘Cartel Land’ documentary

Boy it’s quite a sweltering Summer weekend, I practically lived in my shorts & rompers these days. I love it when you found stuff in one of your old wallets, it’s like getting an unexpected gift. Apparently I left two gold AMC tickets in there, so we ended up going to the movies after all.

I also had time to spare to watch the remaining two episodes of Downton Abbey Season 3, and caught the first episode of season 4. My hope is that I’ll be done with season 5 by year’s end, which I think is feasible. I might blog about it later in the year, as I’m getting ready for the final season of the series in 2016!

In any case, here are quick thoughts of the two films I watched this weekend:

ANT-MAN

We went to the 2D showing as that’s the only time that worked for us and honestly I hate wearing those heavy 3D glasses. I wasn’t really anticipating this movie at all, frankly I’m feeling a bit superhero fatigue. So it’s nice to see that Ant-Man turns out to be more of a heist flick, as Ted’s mentioned in his review, instead of a full-blown superhero movie. The scale is also much smaller than other Marvel movies, which proved to be quite refreshing.

AntManStills

I had a lot of fun with it. Just like Chris Pratt was perfect as the lead of The Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel hit another casting home run once again with Paul Rudd. He’s just so effortlessly likable and we immediately want to root for this down-on-his-luck con-man. The movie is definitely lighthearted and fun, but not devoid of heart either with a familial theme running through the veins of the main characters. Director Peyton Reed is known mostly for comedies (Yes Man, The Break Up) so I guess he’s the perfect man for the job here.

Michael Peña is the movie’s scene stealer, which is not a surprise to me as I’ve always liked him in various supporting roles throughout his career. Interesting that people say he’s the comedic breakout here as I think he’s always got great comic timing, he’s just so under-utilized in Hollywood. I also love Evangeline Lilly’s role and her character Hope actually has a decent arc in the story. Funny that she has a similar hairstyle as the lead female character in Jurassic World, but thankfully her bad-assery didn’t feel forced in this one. I actually enjoyed this movie more than The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which again proved that sometimes bigger [scale] doesn’t mean better.

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CARTEL LAND

I always love documentaries that take you to a world that’s rarely explored, and few are as immersive as this one. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman got an unprecedented access, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels.

CartelLand_Doc

It’s rated R for a reason as the film is pretty intense and show some really brutal scenes of what the drug lords do to people who wronged them. There are also some crazy shoot-outs that made me wonder just how in the world the filmmaker manage NOT to get shot! It’s also astounding that Heineman got access to film a meth lab, which was shown in the beginning and end of the film. It’s an unsettling scene to be sure, as the filmmaker was surrounded by heavy-armed men cooking meth at night in the desert. One of the workers interviewed said they’re so poor that they had no choice but to do this line of work and that they’ll continue cooking meth “as long as God allows it.”

The two main characters in the film came from opposite backgrounds. In the the Mexican state of Michoacán, we have a charismatic physician Dr. Jose Mireles (who looks like a latin version of Omar Sharif) who leads the Autodefensas, one of the vigilante organizations aiming to restore order to Mexican communities. They felt they couldn’t rely on the government to protect them, so they had to take matters into their own hands.

On the other side of the border in Arizona’s Altar Valley, also known as Cocaine Alley, Army veteran Tim Voley felt the same way about the US government. He felt that the authorities/border patrols didn’t do enough to keep Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across American border. Even though Mireles and Voley never met, they definitely share the same vision and brought their own brand of justice.

MethLab_CartelLand

What’s interesting is how initially the film portrayed them as a big hero, but as the film progressed, we saw that they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us. The Autodefensas themselves turn out to be as morally corrupt as the organizations they fight against. For one thing, vigilantism isn’t a black and white matter. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a really gripping documentary that at times felt all too visceral and horrifyingly-real.

Heineman won Best Director and Special Jury Award for Cinematography at Sundance this year. Both awards are well-deserved as the director practically risked his life making this and the result is one of the most gripping doc I’ve ever seen. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow also served as one of the executive producers for the film and I could see her making a film version of this topic.

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So that’s my weekend roundup. What did you see this weekend, anything good?