MSPIFF14 Reviews: Paulette & The Life of Riley

MSPIFF_Reviews

The film festivities continues! Today we’ve got a couple more MSPIFF 2014 reviews courtesy of Josh from JJAMES reviews.

Paulette (2013)

Paulette-PosterPaulette is a French comedy with a simple plot and simple characters to match. The titular protagonist (Bernadette Lafont) is an unpleasant elderly woman who, along with her late husband, once ran a successful restaurant. Now, however, she lives on minimal pension and cannot afford to pay her bills, a fact that inspires her sell marijuana. When other dealers take offense at her success, Paulette opens a bakery, with the narcotic as her central ingredient.

To be certain, Paulette is initially hilarious. For the first thirty minutes, or so, we are aghast that this woman dares tell her black confessor (Pascal Nzoni) that he deserves to be white, that she steals food from the homeless, that she tells her bi-racial grandson (Ismael Drame) she hates him because he’s black, or that she ignores her son-in-law (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), who happens to be a police officer investigating drug trafficking. Paulette’s behavior is despicable, but it is also funny, no doubt owing to Lafont’s skill in playing the character. We laugh even more passionately when Paulette chooses to sell drugs, and then all the more when she is good at it. Quickly enough, however, the humor grows stale, because writer/director Jerome Enrico and his four credited co-writers replay the jokes too many times.

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How frequently does Paulette dodge detection by her son-in-law, who is supposedly good at his job but can’t pick up on the incredibly obvious clues she spills? I lost count. How many times do her friends seem aghast at her new behavior? Again, I lost count. Eventually, of course, the friends learn the truth, but then instead of being as appalled as their previous behavior suggests they ought be, they help Paulette. Why? How many times does Paulette’s daughter drop off Leo, the aforementioned grandson, even though Paulette is a terrible caretaker? Again, I lost count. How many times does Walter (Andre Penvern) seek Paulette’s romantic affection? You already know my answer to that question.

Poor character development doesn’t help. The villains and other secondary characters are basically trait-less. Even Paulette is in-complex, no matter her changes. Simply put, she has one note early and a different one late.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh. Thanks to its sense of humor Paulette isn’t a total failure. I just don’t think it successful either. Here the comedy isn’t enough to overcome poor character development, simplistic plot lines and repetitiveness.

tworeels
2 out of 5 reels


The Life of Riley (2013)

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The Life of Riley occurs in and around Duluth, Minnesota, sometimes venturing northward to the Lake Superior shores that surround it. In many ways, the film is a love letter to its setting; director Carrie Boberg, cinematographer Mark Hartzel and writer/co-editor/producer/star Jason Page present Duluth such that it seems equal parts calming, fun and beautiful. Boberg’s wide angle and static exterior shots prove especially effective in that regard. Like Mystery Road, another movie I saw at MSPIFF, The Life of Riley has a superlative sense of setting. All viewers, even those previously unfamiliar with the city, will fall in love with Duluth.

The central characters are lovable, too, especially Maggie (Jessica Manuel), who enters Riley’s (Page) life as he is languishing at a job he hates, so much so that he lacks inspiration to finish the novel he has been theoretically writing for years. Maggie and Riley’s first date is to join Elliot (Peter Ooley) on a trip to Minneapolis where they see Martin (Zachary Stofer) headlining a rock concert with one of his bands. The date goes well, so well that Maggie seeks out Riley the following day, whereupon the two begin a passionate relationship, one that vitalizes Riley and brings about significant changes in the ways he lives life.

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In the early going, The Life of Riley is hilarious, largely owing to the witty banter between Riley, Martin, Elliot and Maggie. The mostly amateur performers help, as well, especially Page and Manuel who play their characters with such charismatic aplomb that we almost don’t notice Riley or Maggie’s flaws.

Approximately two-thirds through the film, Page’s screenplay takes a surprising turn, one that instantly transforms The Life of Riley from hilarious to emotional. For the most part, the shift is handled adeptly, except in the moments immediately preceding it when Boberg’s directorial decisions and Page’s screenplay too directly foreshadow what is to come and thereby temporarily make the project melodramatic. In the final third, the cast stumbles a bit, too, not quite accessing proper gravitas to suit events. Finally, some of the dialogue is a little too on point.

All of these flaws are dismissible, however, because the characters are complex and captivating. Moreover, enough of the film is laugh out loud funny that we are always entertained, and, perhaps most importantly, The Life of Riley makes several interesting observations about life. The film mightn’t be perfect, but it is quite good.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


JJamesReviews
Thanks again Josh for the excellent reviews!


What do you think of these two films? Let us know in the comments!

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MSPIFF14 Reviews: Breathe In & The Grand Seduction

MSPIFF_Reviews

Breathe In

BreatheInPosterI have to admit I’m usually not into films about infidelity as it often gets glamorized on film and those getting cheated on often appear as if they deserve what happen to them. Luckily that’s not the case here. It’s more of a character study on temptation and the fragility of people who are deeply disillusioned with their lives.

The film opens with a seemingly happy family in an idyllic suburbs in upstate NY. The dad Keith (Guy Pearce) is a music teacher who is an aspiring orchestra cellist, the mother Megan (Amy Ryan), is a housewife who sells cookie jars on the side. Their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) is a swimming champion, blond and vivacious. They were all anticipating the arrival of Sophie, an exchange student from Britain who’s coming to stay w/ them. That part reminds me of an exchange student from Denmark who came to live with us when I was in high school. Fortunately there was no such drama like what happens to this family. But then again, the student at our house was not in the form of an attractive girl like Felicity Jones and there was no married male in my household.

The attraction between Keith and Sophie is inevitable and palpable. As soon as Keith helped her with her luggage at the airport, exchanging quick glances in the car or at dinnertime, all the seemingly innocent acts have an electric undercurrent.

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The naturalistic style of Drake Doremus‘ direction lends itself to an atmospheric and intimate setting, as well as an authentic performance from the actors. Not that their behavior is excusable in any way, but neither Keith or Sophie seems powerless to stop their attraction from getting the best of them. In Keith’s part though, it seems that it’s more about him chasing his dream of a Bohemian life, something he felt he gave up when he took on the job and move out of Manhattan. There’s no real friction between him and his wife other than the fact that she sees his aspiring career as a concert cellist as a mere hobby. Keith’s motivation in the whole affair seemed more visible, for a lack of a better word, whilst Sophie’s much more of an enigma. And that to me, felt like a crux that prevents this film from being truly compelling. The way Lauren and her teenage friends is depicted here seems rather simplistic and generalized, it certainly puts teen life in a very unflattering light.

What I do appreciate is the lack of sensational & unnecessary sex scenes which I think would cheapen the story. As my friend Ashley astutely pointed out in her comment, anyone can grind and moan but to create a real sexual tension with just the touch of a hand or even a look across the room is far more challenging. As I’ve mentioned briefly in this piano moment post, there’s not one but two memorable piano scene brimming with sexual tension. Pearce and Jones certainly have a scorching chemistry despite their 16 age gap and the build up to their first moment together was almost as tense as a suspense thriller! Pearce is one of today’s finest actors and this performance further cements his amazing versatility. Even at 30, Jones still looks believable enough as a teen, and her character is supposed to be much more mature than her age. Having seen Like Crazy, I feel like I have seen Jones in a similar role as a girl who recklessly puts desire and passion above reason.

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I have to give props to Amy Ryan for delivering a memorable supporting role to a thankless role as Keith’s wife. She somehow makes her character sympathetic and I’m glad the film didn’t turn her into nothing but *scornful wife* here. There’s also a droll, albeit creepy, scene with Kyle MacLachlan pointing out the elephant in the room to Pearce’s character.

I think people might call this film tedious or underwhelming as there’s barely anything happening. I can see where they’re coming from, and for me, if it weren’t for the excellent performances I’d probably think the same way. I do think the script is so sparse and the vague finale barely give us anything to grasp on. What happened to Sophie in the end? Is the family beyond repair at this point? There are gaps that seem to be intentionally left open here which can be frustrating. All the exquisitely shot and breathless moments are memorable in and of itself, but ultimately the film itself feels too indulgent and even morose for its own good. One thing for sure though, it’s quite a sobering picture of infidelity that temptation may be sweet but remorse never is.

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3 out of 5 reels


GrandSeductionPosterThe Grand Seduction

I almost missed seeing this as I couldn’t get an extra ticket for my hubby on Friday night. Fortunately there’s a second screening on Sunday night and I’m glad I made it! This is one of the most delightful and sweet comedies I’ve seen in a long while.

The tiny Newfoundland harbor called Tickle Cove was once a thriving fishing village. But now that they’re prohibited from fishing to make a living, the community is living off welfare check. So when there is an opportunity that might land a contract with a big oil corporation to build a factory, a petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility to be exact, the town realize this is an opportunity of a lifetime to save their town from complete financial ruin. What’s the catch? In order to have the factory built on their premises, the contract specifies that the town needs a permanent doctor. And that’s where the grand seduction comes in.

At first I was wondering why they choose such a sensational title but once I see the movie it perfectly makes sense! The doctor in question is a young, cricket-loving Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), is only assigned in that town for a month. And so the new mayor Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) gets the entire harbor community to seduce the doctor to stay. The length to their seduction is the heart of the story and it lends itself to grand hilarity! I think the funniest bits are when the hockey-loving town has to learn the game of cricket, from creating the uniform & paddles, building the cricket field AND of course learning the rule of the game. As soon as Dr. Lewis arrives in town, he’s welcomed by practically the entire male population in a [faux] game of cricket. That’s just a fraction of the other schemes the entire town is in on Dr. Lewis, who’s so deliriously oblivious I feel like he deserves being pranked in this way.

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I LOVE comedies that aren’t gross, foul-mouthed or just plain silly and this movie fits that description. As director Don McKellar said during the Q&A after the film, he’s drawn to the project as it’s the kind of social comedy that has a certain dignity, a certain respect for the people being depicted. There is a purpose to every gag, down to even the smallest comic scene is not a waste. There’s an obvious ethical issue with what the town is doing, I mean they’re tapping his phone and stuff, the NSA has nothing on them, ahah. Yet it’s not done in a mean-spirited kind of way and you can’t help but root for the town as well as for the young doctor.

The name of the harbor town is perfectly appropriate as it tickles your funny bone. There are plenty of gut-busting, thigh-slapping hilarity to be had from start to finish and having real life townsfolk definitely makes it feel authentic. Gleeson and Kitsch seem like an odd match and it is, but that’s kind of the point and it’s played to great effect here. Both of them are the only two actors who aren’t from easternmost province of Canada. Gleeson is Irish (which fits perfectly to the town’s Irish heritage) and Kitsch grew up in Vancouver. Gleeson is such a great actor, but I really like him in comedies [he's much softer here though than his character in The Guard which I saw recently]. He’s is joined by Newfoundland’s most famous celebrity Gordon Pinsent (Away From Her), and the rest of the supporting cast, including comedian Mark Critch are from the area as well. All of them are so hilarious and by the end of it I fell in love with the Tickle Cove community!

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The ending is pretty predictable but in no way that it lessens the charm of the story. In fact, I don’t mind it at all that it ends on a hopeful and cheery note. I’m still gleeful just thinking about some of the funniest bits from this movie. Not only is it delightfully funny, it’s also heartwarming and beautiful to look at, it could practically doubles as a tourism video for Newfoundland. I definitely will watch it again as soon as it’s available on dvd or streaming.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen either one of these movies? I’d love to hear what you think!

Weekend Roundup: The Machine (2013) Review

Happy Monday everyone! I’m slacking off a bit here, I was hoping to get my Breathe-In review this weekend but just couldn’t find the time to do it. But I was supposed to catch the Brendan Gleeson/Taylor Kitsch comedy The Grand Seduction on Friday but I made a snafu that I didn’t order an extra ticket for my hubby so I have to go to the Sunday night screening instead. So I’ll post my review of Breathe-In together with that one as soon as I get around to it :D

Well, this weekend I got to see a pretty cool sci-fi indie The Machine: TheMachinePoster

This British dystopian sci-fi has obvious nods to Blade Runner. In fact, it says right on the synopsis and the marketing itself. As a fan of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, I was naturally intrigued. Instead of a story of a cop hunting down replicants aka robots, The Machine‘s protagonists are two artificial intelligence (AI) engineers who are working together in a futuristic era where a world is in an economic crisis and a cold war with China is brewing. Their boss is the Ministry of Defense Thomson (Denis Lawson) who’s hellbent on winning the arms race by creating a robotic soldier. The main scientist, Vincent (Toby Stephens) is morally conflicted about his job, but he does it because it’s the only way he could have technological access to help his ailing daughter.

The meat of the story takes place after Vincent’s new science partner Ava (Caity Lotz) is brutally murdered and he then created a cyborg in her likeness. Soon Thomson’s real motive is quickly revealed and Vincent’s life is endangered as he becomes a potential victim of his own creation.

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Despite the low-budget production (less than $2 mil), I think writer/director Caradog W. James‘ did a nice job in creating a thought-provoking film that’s also visually arresting. The homage to Blade Runner is evident in his stylish visual style with the bleak futuristic setting and use of neon lights, as well as its use of synthesizer music that evokes Vangelis’ theme. I like sci-fi films that’s more atmospheric and even a little bit moody, instead of an all-action extravaganza like Elysium, and that’s partly why I enjoyed The Machine. There’s a lot of heart in the relationship between Vincent and his daughter, as well as with Ava even in robotic form. The developing relationship between a human being and an AI is nothing groundbreaking and foreseeable, but when done well, it’s still fascinating to watch. The love story is also not overblown which adds to its realism.

Both Stephens and Lotz did a nice job in their respective roles. Stephens’ got that brooding, tortured soul thing down pat which works well for this role, and Lotz whom I’ve never seen before is especially impressive. Her transformation from a curious scientist to an AI with childlike vulnerability but deadly power is quite convincing, and I find her struggle with the loss of her humanity pretty moving. She obviously looks more robotic than any of the replicants in Blade Runner, and Lotz gets the mechanical mannerism perfectly. Action fans would certainly appreciate her dance-like but lethal kickboxing moves. The film is rated R for some brutal and bloody action sequences from start to finish.

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The story is not perfect though, it gets predictable as the film progresses and some things are not explained too well. The side effect of the sensor-restoring brain implants on the fatally-wounded war veterans *recycled* for the project is that they render them mute as they become cyborgs. For some reason they can still speak in intelligible robotic voice to each other, though later they regained their speech ability and it’s never fully explained why. Despite that, it’s pretty darn entertaining and I highly recommend it if you’re into this genre. The intimate feel of the story gives a nice lingering effect after I watched it, and the ending is perfectly eerie as we imagine what a plausible future shared with an AI could be. The Machine proofs that you can still make an engaging film even on a shoestring budget, I’m curious to see what James would do with more resources at his disposal.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen this film? Curious to hear what you think.

MSPIFF14 Reviews: Hotell & Mystery Road

MSPIFF_Reviews

Happy Sunday everyone! We’ve got a couple more MSPIFF 2014 reviews courtesy of Josh from JJAMES reviews.

Hotell_posterHotell (2013)

A Swedish film written and directed by Lisa Langseth, Hotell follows Erika (Alica Vikander), a beautiful and pregnant young woman with an almost idyllic life. Already moneyed and apparently successful, she and her husband, Oskar (Simon J. Berger), have a plan for including an infant in their lives, one that begins with a pre-arranged Caesarean Section.

But their plan falls apart when their son’s birth goes horribly wrong, a fact that mandates the couple adjust. Oskar manages well enough. Erika does not, instead slipping into deep depression, because of which she joins a support group that includes Rickard (David Dencik), Pernilla (Anna Bjelkerud), Anna-Sofi (Mira Eklund) and Peter (Henrik Norlen). Each of Erika’s new friends are, in their own way, ill, and, like Erika, tired of feeling conflicted, so when she proposes an unconventional plan to collectively escape their lives, for an indeterminate duration of time, they accept. Along they way, they informally try to help one another.

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Hotell has many merits. First, and most notably, Langseth portrays mental illness exceptionally well, never playing it for laughs or forced sympathy, but rather showing its complexity and potentially debilitating consequences with acute empathy. It might be the best such portrayal I have ever seen, in any motion picture or television show. 

Moreover, Erika and Rickard are complex, vibrant characters. Oskar could be one, as well, if he had received more focus. Plus, all of the performances are top-notch, especially Alicia Vikander’s Her every expression shows a veneer of reserve and composure, but also underlying vulnerability mixed with grief and guilt, facts that are praiseworthy enough, but become all the more so when considering Vikander’s two most explosive scenes. She is award-worthy good. Mira Eklund, who plays Anna-Sofi perfectly, is almost her equal.

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Yet, despite its many merits Hotell is not as emotionally moving as it could have been, largely because Langseth doesn’t develop her secondary characters well. Oskar all but disappears for most of the movie’s last three acts, and Peter, Pernilla and Anna-Sofi are too simplistically drawn. Just as their illnesses are not given enough attention.

It is doubly disappointing, because Langseth daringly bucks genre expectations. Here the therapy group is not particularly good for each other, and none of them are necessarily ‘cured,’ facts that help solidify Hotell’s themes. And would have done so even more powerfully if some of the characters had been better developed.

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3 out of 5 reels


Mystery Road (2013)

Mystery-Road-PosterMystery Road is ostensibly a police procedural about Australian outback Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), who investigates the murders of indigenous girls. In that sense, the film is predictable, opening with Swan being assigned a murder case and following him through his investigation. Eventually, of course, he learns the truth, and then must grapple with the personal consequences of his new, and dangerous, knowledge. If we only consider the plot, Mystery Road is borderline formulaic and certainly not inventive. On the other hand, if that is all we consider, we are unfairly pigeonholing this complex movie. 

Because, in a master-class display of showing not telling, filmmaker Ivan Sen (the picture’s writer, director, editor, cinematographer & composer) ensures the story is tertiary, important only as a vehicle to represent setting and characters, in that order. Therein is why Mystery Road opens with sweeping, late-night aeriel shots of the rural outback. The wide angles are impressive, but made all the more so by their juxtaposition with close-ups of a truck driver (Hayden Spencer) using a flashlight to check his rig’s tires and then, after hearing a howling dog, to light his walk through nearby terrain. The sequence is wordless and slowly paced, meaning our focus is on the location, not the trucker himself and certainly not his actions. Perhaps that’s why we’re startled when he finds the first body, that of Julie Mason.

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At that point, Sen cuts to protagonist Jay Swan. Now we watch the detective, becoming intimately connected to him at the same time we learn more about Winton, a rural town. Swan asks his Sergeant (Tony Barry) for extra manpower to help him investigate Julie’s death, but he’s rebuffed. So he works alone, encountering racism aplenty. Some of the residents he meets are indigenous, like Swan’s ex-wife, Mary (Tasma Walton), and his daughter, Crystal (Tricia Whitton). They live in small houses. Others are white and own farms with larger homes. Still others, including Johno (Hugo Weaving), are morally obscure, leaving us to ponder their objectives. All of which contributes to Mystery Road’s greatest strength: neither Sen’s filmmaking technique nor his screenplay tell us what to think; he shows the conditions in which his characters live and trusts that we’ll understand his message.

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That Jay is well developed and that Pederson is captivating helps, as well. As do the strong supporting performances (special mention to Weaving and Walton), and the interesting secondary characters, most of which make sense. Johno is the lone exception. Even in the movie’s climax, we do not comprehend his motives. Johno is Mystery Road’s biggest misstep, but it is easy to overlook. As is the film’s other mistake: having so many characters that tracking them is difficult. 

The flaws do not limit the picture’s effectiveness, because Sen’s minimalist filmmaking is entrancing. He uses his simple score infrequently and powerfully, punctuating scenes and cementing emotion. Ditto that for his almost tangential dialogue, and his camera work and editing cuts, each of which are reserved. The director’s decisions immerse us in his setting.

As if it isn’t sufficiently clear, Mystery Road is almost magical and surely one of the best movies at MSPIFF.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


JJamesReviews
Thanks again Josh for the excellent reviews!


What do you think of these two films? Let us know in the comments!

Scene(s) Spotlight: Nic Cage as Castor Troy in Face/Off

NicCageCastorTroy

Happy Friday everyone! I don’t usually post about the same actor back to back, but y’know what, I’ve been wanting to highlight some scenes from FACE/OFF. I’m an unabashed fan of this John Woo movie, and it’s no doubt one of my favorite 90s action flicks. Ok so technically John Travolta plays Castor Troy as well as they switch roles in the film, but for the most part I prefer Nic Cage in the role than Travolta, save for that one scene in prison in the last clip below.

I know it’s got its haters and some people can’t stand its over the top action sequences with all the quintessential Woo‘s stylized action with the slo-mo and of course, flying doves! But for some reason I loved everything about it, the performances, the action, the music, everything just works. I have to mention that Joan Allen is also brilliant here against both actors. Even after re-watching it recently, I still love it and embrace the preposterous ‘in order to catch him, he must become him‘ plot and everything that goes with it :D

I always think of Face/Off as my guilty pleasure but y’know what, I’m not the least bit guilty for liking it. Apparently the critics did too, I was surprised to see it got 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

Though we’ve seen Troy in the opening scene but THIS is the grand intro to the bad ass Castor Troy. The whole cape blowing in the wind, the twin golden guns, Troy shows his minions who’s boss. But he’s also got a softer side with his kid brother (Alessandro Nivola), as you’ll see later in the film, and that shoe-tying scene is repeated again later in the movie.

The famous line uttered in classic Nic Cage fashion. “I’d like to take his face… off” to the utter bewilderment of his drug dealer BFF. Ok so technically Cage is playing Sean Archer in this instance, but he’s pretending to be Troy to his enemy’s friends so he’s sorta playing both. Psychotically brilliant if ya ask me.

The soundtrack by John Powell is fantastic here. I also love this anachronism use of the classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow song in this bombastic shoot-out scene. The contrast between such a wholesome song with something so brutally violent somehow just works beautifully.

I have to give credit to both actors for convincingly play both good and bad guy convincingly. In this scene, Travolta is chewing all kinds of scenery in his first appearance as Castor Troy, and that character seems to lend itself for over-the-top ridiculosity [yep, I just made up a word, he..he..] Clearly the bad guy is having way more fun!


Did you love Face/Off? If so, what’s YOUR favorite scene(s)?

Question of the week: What’s your 10 Favorite Nic Cage Roles?

10FaveNicCageRoles

Happy Thursday everyone! I’m kind of in a list-y mood so I’m doing yet another list post today, with the collaboration of my friend Josh of JJames Reviews … AND also all of you fine friends of FlixChatter!

Inspired my our recent viewing of JOE featuring the inimitable Nicholas Kim Coppola, aka Nicolas Cage was in top form, I thought we’d collaborate on this post. Ever since his feature film debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High back in 1982, the prolific actor has done nearly 70 films, more if you count the ones that are not yet released! So I’m guessing most of you have seen at least 10 of his work. Love him or hate him, he’s made quite a name for himself in Hollywood, with perhaps the most erratic role choices that seems to be as mercurial as his temperament, on and off screen.

So, let’s get on with the list, shall we?

JOSH’s picks:

First, a word on how I made these selections. I did not select the ten best movies in which Nicolas Cage has appeared; instead, I considered whether or not a given performance demonstrates range. For example, Moonstruck (1987) is certainly a better film than Con Air (1997), and, strictly speaking, Cage is likely superior as Ronny Cammareri than as Cameron Poe. Yet, Poe made my list and Cammareri did not. Why? I submit that Con Air solidified Cage as an action star, something at which we had only hints in the late nineties, whereas Moonstruck showed us what we already knew: Cage can be funny, romantic and dramatic, capably shifting between the three seamlessly.


10. Cameron Poe – Con Air (1997)

9. Grug – The Croods (2013)

8. Charlie Bodell – Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

7. Frank Pierce – Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

6. Seth – City of Angels (1998)

5. Damon McCready, AKA Big Daddy – Kick-Ass (2009)

4. Charlie & Donald Kaufman – Adaptation (2002)

3. Joe Ransom – Joe (2014)

2. Ben Sanderson – Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

1. H.I. McDunnough – Raising Arizona (1987)

One last word: Please, Joel and Ethan, please cast Nicolas Cage again. He was pure gold in your hands, gentlemen. 

 

RUTH’s picks:

JOE was the first film since Kick-Ass in 2010 where I saw Nic Cage on film. It seems that in from 2007 and on he’s hellbent on making a string of crappola movies. Yes I know an actor is allowed a few bad films in their career but Cage seems to make it the norm instead of the exception! Yet for me, I think there’s a certain charm (or whimsy) about him that made him so watchable even in laughable material [ok, maybe with the exception of Ghost Rider which is just ghastly].

Now, like Josh said, my picks aren’t exactly about his best movies or best roles, but it displays his versatility and I think that’s part of his undeniable appeal. Whether playing a saintly cop or a devil-incarnate villain, he seems effortlessly convincing playing them. Please note that I have not seen some of his earlier work like Peggy Sue Got Married, people’s favorite Raising Arizona or his Oscar-winning role in Leaving Las Vegas. As with any list, these are by no means comprehensive as it’s based on the ones I have seen.


10. Damon McCready, AKA Big Daddy– Kick-Ass (2009)

9. Stanley Godspeed – The Rock (2009)

8. Seth – City of Angels (1998)

7. Cameron Poe – Con Air (1997)

6. Ronny Cammareri – Moonstruck (1987)

5. Joe Ransom – Joe (2014)

4. Charlie & Donald Kaufman – Adaptation (2002)

3. Charlie Lang – It Could Happen To You (1994)

2. Jack Campbell – The Family Man (2000)

1. Castor Troy – Face/Off (1997)


So what’s YOUR favorite Nic Cage roles? Even better if you can share your top 10!

Music Break: 5 Memorable Piano Moments on Film

MemorablePianoMoments

As a big fan of classical music, I have always been a fan of piano music. In fact, I grew up listening to Richard Clayderman in the car nearly every single day as the French pianist is my late mother’s favorite.

This month’s music break is inspired by a scene I saw on Monday night. It was in the new drama Breathe-In starring Guy Pearce who plays a music teacher and aspiring concert cellist who’s tempted by a high school British exchange student in the form of Felicity Jones. There is a scene where she played the piano for him right after both being drenched by a thunderstorm. Brimming with breathless sexual tension, let’s just say their mutual attraction reached a crescendo.

It made me think of other memorable piano scenes in movies. Now, I’m not talking about films that are about musicians like Amadeus, Immortal Beloved, Copying BeethovenGreat Balls of Fire! or movies with piano/pianist in the title for obvious reasons (plus I haven’t seen The Pianist yet, but I’m guessing there are many piano moments in it). No matter what the genre, a well-choreographed piano scene is not just about the music itself. As some of these scenes exemplify, they can stir up various emotions, whether it’s sweet, fun, tense, happy, melancholy, or ominous.

Here are five to start with and I hope you, my friends, can add your own favorites in the comment section:

STOKER

Just like the scene in Breathe-In, the sexual tension is ricocheting off the walls and the ceiling of the whole room. So much so that one can’t help but squirm in one’s seat as the scene reaches its er, climax.

Casablanca

“Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.” It’s one of the most misquoted line from Hollywood classics. I love this scene, it’s romantic but tinged with sadness. Ingrid Bergman never looked so luminous and As Time Goes By remains one of my favorite songs ever.

Corpse Bride

I didn’t plan on having an animated feature on this list but somehow I just remembered how much I enjoyed this scene. It’s one of my fave Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter many collaborations, and they made a sweet musical duet.

Groundhog Day

This is such a great movie as it’s full of surprises. I love Phil’s piano solo, especially when he played Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation on a Theme by Paganini, as in the music used in Somewhere in Time.

Moonraker

What, a Bond film? Well, why the heck not? I’ve shared it on this blog before that my early introduction to classical music was partly through Roger Moore’s Bond movies, as the Spy Who Loved Me introduced me to Mozart as Bond villain Stromberg played Piano Concerto No. 21. This scene is particularly memorable as it’s the first time Bond met his nemesis Drax, an elegant billionaire with a penchant for killer dogs and classical music.


As a bonus, I had to add this one in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Though really who notices the piano when you’ve got Michelle Pfeiffer in that red dress, ahah. Amazing that Jeff Bridges didn’t make one false notes watching her sexy rendition of Making Whopee.


Well, hope you enjoy today’s music break. What are some of YOUR fave piano moments in movies?

MSPIFF14 Reviews: JOE & Brave Miss World documentary

MSPIFF_Reviews

JOE

Review by Josh P.

JOEmovieposterOften grim, Joe is well made and gripping, though, perhaps, not for the faint-hearted. In the film’s first scene, writers Larry Brown & Gary Hawkins and director David Gordon Green define Joe as a harsh drama. In it, fifteen-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) accosts his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), for being an abusive alcoholic. Gary’s soliloquy helps solidify the film’s identity, of course, as does Wade’s response, but Green’s camera angle is even more effective; it is an unchanging over-the-shoulder shot, one that shows us the back of Gary’s head and most of Wade’s face.

From this first image, we know that Gary is not in control, that he will have to fight for success. Joe promises to be about a child on the precipice, one whom the world ignores.

It delivers. When Gary meets Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an ex-convict with a good heart but uncontrolled anger, the former convinces the latter to hire him and his father for laborious work as corporate tree killers. In his excitement, Gary runs home to tell his family he’s found work, but neither his mother nor father reciprocate his elation. Worse, Wade refuses to help Gary get groceries in town, only finally agreeing to join his son after lengthy conversation. Upon enlisting his father’s aid, Gary sees a stranger, Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins), and asks for a ride. But Willie does not help. And neither does Wade, no matter what Willie says or does to his son.

Gary is too young and uninformed for such a life, but only Joe and Connie (Adriene Mishler) care. And only Joe helps. Helps so much, in fact, that he becomes Gary’s role model and surrogate father, his own emotional issues notwithstanding. Brown, Hawkins and Green’s plot, then, effectively adheres to theme: as Joe himself asks, more or less, how does society allow its children to be this disadvantaged? Why don’t people help them?

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It is an upsetting question, made all the more so because Green immerses in it. When Joe should be disturbing, the directoruses every filmmaking element to fuel the audience’s anxiety. Consider when Wade stalks a homeless man. We hear soft, beat-heavy music mixed with natural footstep sound editing, at the same time we see a wide-angle shot that frames both men. The shot is held so long, the walk so drawn out, that we dread the scene’s resolution. When Wade lights a cigarette, our dread turns to fear. It is only one example of Green’s directorial skill, but it is emblematic. Joe would not be half so effective without the director’s artistic touches.

A narrative that sufficiently develops most of its characters helps, as well. As do powerhouse performances from Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter. All three men are note-perfectly captivating. Ditto that for Joe’s occasional flights of humor, which lighten the mood just enough to make the film entertaining.

If still imperfect, mostly because Willie is poorly written. Why, really, does he hate Joe? Why he is so bent on revenge? Why does he freak out at Gary the first time they meet? Why, in other words, is he who he is? We can only begin to answer such questions, and none of our answers move beyond theories.

Despite this significant flaw, Joe accomplishes its objectives and merits a recommendation.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels

Review by Josh

JJamesReviews


Brave Miss World

BraveMissWorldDocI’ve always been attracted to documentaries about social issues and this one immediately grabbed my attention. Linor Abargil seemed to have the world on her feet at 18. I mean she beat hundreds of contestants to win the Miss World title in 1998. But little did most of the world then knew that she was abducted, stabbed and raped in Milan by someone she trusted, her travel agent, just six weeks before she was crowned.

Some documentaries are tough to get into, especially when the subject is as bleak as rape. Yet this film kept my attention from the start thanks to the protagonist of the film. Linor became the reluctant ‘face’ if you will for survivor of sexual violence. Though she had the support of families n friends, she was still haunted by the horrifying event. I applaud her for speaking out however, and using her Miss World fame to help others. Though at times it wore her out and took an emotional toll on her that she had to revisit that terrible night every time another woman confessed she had been raped, she kept going. I wonder why at times, and so did her family members, as her parents candidly shared to the camera how they dread her taking on this cause. It helps that how open and candid her family & friends were, including her then-boyfriend who’s now her husband, about sharing how they felt about Linor and her journey.

As the documentary took us on a journey along with Linor though, I’m inspired that Linor chose to turn a brutal act into be something that brings light to a lot of suffering women around the world. At the same time, the experience of talking to fellow survivors was sort of a healing process for her. It was also a quest to bring her rapist to justice. Turns out her rapist has done this crime before and so she was determined to keep him behind bars when he became eligible for parole. The mix of Linor’s personal journey and the cause to bring sexual violence to light wasn’t always seamlessly done however, and editing could’ve been tightly done to maintain the focus on the protagonist. The abrupt detour showing Hollywood stars (Joan Collins, Fran Drescher) who shared their own experience of being raped felt a bit jarring, as it sort of took me out of the film a bit.

BraveMissWorld_Linor

Towards the end of the film, we saw quite a striking transformation of Linor. Her conversion to Judaism may seem quite drastic but I for one didn’t think that her new-found faith was merely a spiritual *crutch* nor that it was merely an act of desperation of some sort. I felt that her desire to be closer to God is a natural passage as she somehow starts to see herself in a different light. I respect that and I’m glad that her spiritual journey was not cut out from the film. I felt that she’s far more beautiful in her natural state, without any makeup or glamorous clothing, as her inner beauty really shines through.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


BraveMissWorldWebsiteFor more info and how you could take action to support this cause, check out Brave Miss World’s official website. She will be making the film festival rounds for the next few weeks. Hope you’ll check out this film when it’s playing near you.

You can also read (and share your own) stories on the site, as well as info on how to get help if you need it.


What do you think of these films?

Weekend Viewing Roundup & MSPIFF14 Review: Intruders (2013)

MSPIFF14_April6

After the snow storm on Friday, this weekend turned out to be absolutely gorgeous. Saw four movies this weekend:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the second time around (yep, still love it!). It’s currently my favorite Marvel stand-alone movie!
  • Capricorn One – a fantastic 1977 space conspiracy thriller (Thanks Michael for lending it to me!). Review upcoming but I really enjoyed this one, and that ending was awesome!
    CapricornOnePostr
  • For my first day at MSPIFF, I saw two films yesterday:
    BraveMissWorld_JOE

I should have reviews of both Brave Miss World and David Gordon Green’s JOE later this week but I’m thrilled to not only saw such a great documentary about such an important yet devastating issue of rape, but I got to meet filmmaker Cecilia Peck, yes Gregory Peck daughter! After the Q&A, I went up to her and tell her how huge of a fan I was of her dad, and that I appreciate her making such a great film on an important topic. She clearly cares about social justice issues like her dad did, and she is just as beautiful inside and out as well. Too bad all four of the photos taken were so dark (turns out the flash was off), but you could see a bit of our smiling faces I think :D

 


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I’m thrilled to tag team with Josh from JJames Reviews (who’s way more than qualified btw) in covering MSPIFF 2014! He’ll be contributing MSPIFF reviews for the next three weeks. Starting with this one from South Korea:

INTRUDERS

IntrudersKoreaPoster

The Festival staffperson who introduced Intruders pitched it as being “Fargo by way of South Korea.” She wasn’t far off, at least when considering the ways both films generate humor through flawed characters and unexpected plot twists. That each includes sweeping wintry landscapes and impressive cinematography facilitates the comparison, as well.

In Intruders, writer Sang-jin (Jun Suk-ho) takes a bus to the Gangwon province in South Korea’s mountainous north, where he plans to stay at a closed and otherwise unoccupied bed and breakfast that belongs to his boss’s family. While alone at the resort, Sang-jin hopes to finally complete his screenplay, for which his boss is impatiently waiting. Unfortunately, the writer faces significant challenges, including writers’ block, a talkative ex-convict named Hak-su (Oh Tae-kyung), two scary hunters, a group of young skiers who think he manages the resort, and a local police officer (Choi Moo-soung). It only gets worse when he becomes increasingly convinced that the bed and breakfast is unsafe.

Along the way, Intruders reminds us of several mainstream films, including, of course, Fargo (1996), but also Prisoners (2013) and Misery (1990), a project writer/director Noh Young-seok jokingly references in Intruders’ first act. All are favorable comparisons, largely because Noh makes many strong authorial and directorial decisions. Start with his screenplay, which impressively shows not tells the most important characters. We know Sang-jin intimately, despite only passing references to his backstory and limited dialogue explaining his current motivations. Then, we see him change through carefully developed scenes.

Hak-su and the cop are similarly well written, but Noh struggles a bit with his secondary characters. The hunters are enigmas and most of the skiers are stereotypically inconsiderate youngsters, indistinguishable from one another. Only Yu-mi (Han En-sun) is given some treatment, but even she is too thinly defined, what with only two character traits: angry and shrill.

Intruders_Korea_Stills

Yet, Noh Young-seok’s screenplay mostly overcomes flaws in development of secondary characters, partially because it masterfully foreshadows plot twists, so well, in fact, that we are never certain what will happen next, but also never stunned into disbelief by new developments. In his long opening sequence, for instance, Noh shows Sang-jin’s obliviousness, playing it for humor but also staying with it long enough that we know it will be important later. Frequent newscasts foreshadow what is to come, as do many other examples I will not directly cite.

That Intruders is often laugh out loud funny, even in its darkest moments, helps as well. As do the actors, all of whom are perfectly understated. Special mention to Oh Tae-kyung who plays Hak-su so skillfully that we can never be certain whether or not the character is an innocent bystander, a villain or something in between.

Neither the screenplay nor the actors are Intruders greatest merit, however. Noh’s direction is. Take for example, his camera work. By frequently placing subjects in the center of the screen, and by using lengthy point of view shots, the director increases our sense of intimacy with his characters. Plus, he keeps the camera perfectly still for the majority of the film, only to move it in bursts of lengthy pans, arcs and editing cuts, techniques that heighten or lessen tension fittingly. As just one more example of Noh’s directorial talent, Intruders’ ambiguous symbolism works very well; when, at one point, Noh cuts away to a close up of a spider web, we have to wonder: is Sang-jun the spider or the trapped prey?

The director is so good that we can overlook Intruders’ unsatisfying jump cut to end credits or its inconsistent use of telephones. No matter its few minor flaws, this film is very good.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels

P.S. So far, Intruders lacks US distribution. Hopefully that changes.

Review by Josh

JJamesReviews


Thoughts on the film(s) above? What did YOU see this weekend, folks?

Five for the Fifth: APRIL 2014 Edition

FiveForTheFifth2014

Welcome to FlixChatter’s one and only 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. April Fools was just four days ago, man it seems like it was ages ago for Unbreakable_Postersome reason. Some of you caught the prank I pulled that day, and surely the interweb was full of fake news. One of them I read was this article listing three fake news stories we wish were real. One of those fake headlines says that M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable 2 Confirmed for 2015.

Per the article, ‘the studio indicated that the sequel will be set well after the events of the original film, and will follow Willis’ character as he learns more about his powers and the responsibility that comes with them.’ Oh man, if only that were true!! I’ve long been awaiting to see Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their roles, Unbreakable is my favorite M. Night’s film and one I’d wish to see a follow-up on. It’s been 14 years since its release and I still think it’d be worth revisiting the first truly *dark* superhero film.

Did you read any April Fools fake news you wish were real?
….

2. Switching gear to a superhero follow-up that’s been breaking box office record [pardon the pun]. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is poised to be the biggest movie of 2014 so far. According to Box Office Mojo, the Friday take of $37 mil would likely wind up to about $110 -$120 mil final weekend tally. I’m glad it’s doing well as I’ve said in my review it’s my favorite Marvel stand-alone movie yet, though I still have a special fondness for the first film.

MarvelStudiosFilms

Surely everyone’s going to have a different opinion on this. So, just for the heck of it, how about we rank 10 Marvel Studios movies from 2000, but only those involving character that appear in The Avengers. That means we’re NOT counting the X-Men movies, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc. Here they are alphabetically:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Hulk
  4. The Incredible Hulk
  5. Iron Man
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Thor
  9. Thor: The Dark World
  10. The Avengers

So how would you rank these 10 Marvel movies?

……
3. Right now I’ll be watching a bunch of indie films at MSPIFF  2014. One of them I sadly have to miss because of a scheduling conflict is Tom Hardy‘s LOCKE.

LockePoster

A successful construction manager’s life is drastically changed by a series of phone calls while he drives.

Now this film that puts one actor in a confined location, more of a one-man-show for the entire film if we’re to judge from the trailer that I posted here. We’re only seeing Hardy as Ivan Locke as he takes a series of phone calls as he’s driving in a car, but boy is it gripping! I really think that the casting is what make or break this types of films, as that actor would have to be charismatic enough to hold our attention whilst seemingly not much is happening. As I’m a big fan of Hardy, naturally I’m intrigued.

My question is two fold: What do you think of Locke? And which actor would you like to watch in a similar confined setting like this one? 


4. Any casting news involving Chiwetel Ejiofor always makes me smile as I’ve been championing him for some time. Last time he was rumored in Star Wars also made a Five for the Fifth subject, if only that were true! Now as a massive Bond fan, of course this casting news piqued my interest!

ChiwetelEjioforBONDvillain

Seems that lately, or at least since Sam Mendes was on board, the new plan seems to be only to hire Oscar winners/nominees as Bond villain, ahah. In Skyfall we’ve got Oscar winner Javier Bardem, and now, Ejiofor is reportedly the top choice for Bond 24 which is currently in production. I’m definitely stoked if he were cast, though my initial thought was that fellow Black Brit Idris Elba would also make a great choice, given he’s got that devilish charm about him. I’ve never seen Ejiofor’s sinister side on screen before but I’m sure the massively talented actor is more than up for the task! With Ralph Fiennes and Naomi Harris returning, boy this is going to be one heck of a Bond cast. This might be the case where I’d love the villain more than the hero, ahah.

Thoughts on this casting rumor? Who would YOU like to see cast as Bond villain?

5. What a perfect segue to the last topic as we’ve got a former Bond villain in this one. I just backed this Kickstarter project ENEMY OF MAN, starring Sean Bean, Rupert Grint, James D’Arcy, Jason Flemyng and Charles Dance.

EnemyOfManMovie

Enemy of Man is an ambitious feature length retelling of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Macbeth.

This will be the feature directorial debut of actor Vincent Regan. I really like him in TROY and 300, I thought he gave one of the best performances in 300, as well as the most heart-wrenching. Regan is no stranger to Shakespeare, he’s a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare and National theaters. Sean Bean apparently played Macbeth on London West End and this gave him a chance to revisit the character for a larger audience.

All money raised from this campaign will go towards taking the film into pre-production. You can read the details on the Kickstarter link above as well as a preview to the teaser trailer. Below is Sean Bean talking about his involvement in this project:

This looks pretty promising and the talented British actors involved are quite underrated. I hope they’ll meet their goal and get this film made! As of right now, there is only 15 hours left and they still need about $33K to meet their goal.

Whether or not you choose to back it, what do you think of this project and the cast involved?


Well, that’s it for the APRIL 2014 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks.

Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! :D