A Trio of New Releases Reviews: Wreck it Ralph, Life of Pi and Hitchcock

Happy Friday and the last day of November, everybody! Are you going to the cinema this weekend? Well, unless you’re already set on seeing the new Brad Pitt retro crime thriller Killing Them Softly, perhaps you’re considering what else is worth a watch? Well then these reviews might help you make up your mind.

Thanks to FC contributor Cecilia Rusli and my colleague Sarah McNeal for two of the reviews.

Wreck-it Ralph

Director: Rich Moore
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Voice Cast: John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer

In almost every video game and movies, there’s the good guy, and there’s the bad guy. Wreck It Ralph tells the story of Ralph who has always been the bad guy on a video game and has the duty of wrecking people’s apartments. Every time there’s a villain, there must be the good guy or what’s-so-called  hero. Fix-it Felix is the character which repairs everything Ralph destroyed. Actually the Wreck it Ralph game reminds me of Rampage, a 90s video game where players destroy buildings. I used to play it on PlayStation while i was a kid and it indeed brings pleasure destroying stuff.

While doing his duty on wrecking apartments, Ralph suddenly wants his life to change. He wants to be the good guy who’s being loved by people. Along the way, he met Vanellope, a kid from the world called Sugar Rush. Sugar Rush with its lovable colors looks like the ones I saw at Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. A world full of sweet treats.

It turns out that Ralph has to team up with Vanellope in Sugar Rush and help her to win a car race there. A car race is also brings some video games nostalgia. One I remember pretty well is Crash Team Racing on PlayStation where we need to have a car race with Crash Bandicoot and friends. Yes, it’s a very girly video game. I’m pretty sure there are still plenty of car race arcade games nowadays. During the race scenes, the emotions building between Ralph and Vanellope is done pretty well. The connection between them is very heart-warming and yes it officially made this movie another animated feature with a heart.

Wreck It Ralph SugarRush

Wreck-it Ralph surely will amuse people who are into video games. Lots of video games characters have a cameo here that fans will surely notice and actually name during the movie. I will not do that here as it’s more fun and exciting to discover them by surprise. In some scenes I was actually concerned that people would walk in front of the screen and I’d miss seeing the cameos!

The 3D was fine. It doesn’t have much pop-up stuff but the scenes at Sugar Rush indeed looks more exciting in 3D. Overall, Wreck-it Ralph is a sweet time machine to the age of 8-bit video games. Great story with engaging characters, lovely colors and musical score surely make Wreck it Ralph one of the best animated movie this year for me. Can’t help waiting for Despicable Me 2 next summer!

– Review by Cecilia R.

4 out of 5 reels


Life of Pi is magical and marvelous

Director: Ang Lee
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

Life of Pi has been near the top of my list of favorite books for years. When I heard it was being made into a movie, I wondered how. When I heard Ang Lee was director, I knew he’d nail it.

The story is of a shipwrecked boy named Pi, sharing a life raft with a tiger named Richard Parker. And so much more. This story to me is all about choosing to believe versus choosing not to – be it in God, in magic, in journeys, in life. Sure, you can believe that life is nothing more than the cells we are made up of, and when we die, we die. Or you can believe that life is a fantastic journey, rich in detail, strife, love, endurance. Which is the better story? This is the simple question the story asks.

At the end of the movie, Pi is recuperating in the hospital when some insurance adjusters come to find out why the boat sunk. Pi tells them his incredible story, which meets with stares and more questions. They want the truth, they say, just the facts. Why did the boat sink? I don’t know why the boat sunk, says Pi, but he gives them what they want and retells the story starkly. It’s not just dull, it’s torpid. In the end, even the insurance adjusters chose to believe.

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As an animal lover, I have to say: That poor zebra. That awful hyena. And Orange Juice, the orangutan, gets dispatched way too early. But how magnificent Richard Parker is! And those flying fish! And the jellies!

As much as this review is of a marvelous book and movie, I feel I have to put it in context. I went to see it with my husband, who knew only that I loved the book, my 15-year-old daughter, and my 62-year-old sister-in-law, who is a minister. An interesting group of people, one a focus group would almost hand select to see this movie. We all found it amazing. And we are all going back next weekend to see it in 3D!

5 out of 5 reels

– review by Sarah McNeil


Hitchcock

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel

Hitchcock is a love story between one of the most influential filmmakers of the last century, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), and his wife and partner Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). It’s set during the making of Psycho, and it also explored how Hitchcock came into working on what ended up being his most successful film.

I’m not familiar with the filmmaker and so the strong influence of his wife was quite eye-opening. In fact, Mirren has quite a substantial role here and this film explores the side of Hitchcock, most people perhaps aren’t familiar with. Apparently it was quite a tumultuous journey to bring Psycho to the screen and a lot of personal sacrifices had to be made. I always like getting a glimpse of the making of a classic, how films get made back in the day, the relationship between actors and the studio, etc. That’s the part that I find amusing with My Week with Marilyn.

In any biopic, especially someone as well-known as Hitchcock, the makeup is crucial. At times Hopkins’ look is distracting as he doesn’t seem to look quite right to me, like he’s always high-strung or something. After a while though, I managed to just accept that he’s Hitchcock and concentrate on the story, but perhaps having an unknown in that role might’ve worked better.

The casting of Helen Mirren is the main reason to see it for me. The dame is always so watchable and has always been a highlight in everything she’s done. Not only is she beautiful and still has a killer figure for being 3 years shy of 70, but she has that screen prowess like no other. I love all the scenes Alma is in, especially the part where she passionately gave her husband a piece of her mind during a heated argument.

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As for the rest of the supporting cast. Well, initially I wasn’t too fond of Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh (I think she’s perhaps more suitable to play Jayne Mansfield?) but she turned out to be ok and the filming of the shower scene where she was screaming her head off was quite the highlight. The scene of Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) meeting with Hitchcock is strangely amusing, it’s quite clear in that scene why Perkins was perfect for the role. There’s also a revelatory scene involving Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), albeit a brief one, that hints on Hitchcock’s unhealthy obsession with his leading lady. One of the most curious thing is the character of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) as the Wisconsin serial killer who’s the inspiration for Psycho’s protagonist Norman Bates. I think their relationship was supposed to be a metaphor — the way Hitchcock seems to be consulting Gein as if he were his therapist, etc. — but it’s not entirely clear to me. Aside from the two leads though, there’s little to no depth in the supporting characters for you to care for them.

I think it’s wise that the film focuses on a specific time frame of Hitchcock’s life, but even so, given the brief 1 hr and 38 minute running time, it still feels a little rushed at times. Tonally this film seems rather off as well, it doesn’t quite work as a drama or comedy and there’s little emotional resonance overall. Perhaps mischievous is the word that comes to mind to describe this film, which I suppose is appropriate given the subject matter.

Just for the record, I actually have not seen Psycho so I was a bit worried that this biopic might be a bit lost on me, but fortunately, the film is more about Alfred and Alma than it is about the film. Perhaps people who are avid Hitchcock fans might appreciate it more though, so I’m curious to hear what they think of this film.

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So overall, I’m glad I knew a bit more about this iconic filmmaker and how much his wife played a part in his career. However, the film is a bit too uneven and not substantial enough to be all that memorable. Still, I find it amusing and certainly worth a look for anyone who’s seen at least one Hitchcock film.

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


Thoughts on any one of these films? Well, let’s hear it!

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Rental Pick: Daybreakers (2009) – a novelty twist in a classic genre

I’m not into horror flicks but I kind of have a penchant for the vampire genre (the proper kind, NOT Twilight!) so when I saw the premise of this last year, I was intrigued. It took me a while to finally see it but I’m glad I did.

DAYBREAKERS (2009)

In the year 2019, a plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

This is one genre that’s been done to death that very few of them lack bite anymore, pardon the pun. But with Daybreakers, the filmmakers managed to have deliver new to say on this genre. Glad to see that it’s not the classic vampire/human gothic romance but more of a survival story, not just for the humans but for the vampire as well as blood is scarce. On TV we heard a Senator said that humans had been offered a chance to assimilate but because they refused, they’re now considered enemies of the state and will be captured and farmed for blood supply.

These vampires live in a world just like ours — they work in offices, they drive cars or take the subway, etc. They even line up to buy coffee in the morning (albeit with a percentage of blood in it). In fact, as the human blood supply gets lower and lower, so is the percentage amount in their coffee, and there’s an interesting scene where a riot broke out out of their frustration.

The protagonist is Edward Dalton (fortunately this Edward doesn’t sparkle!), a hundred-something year-old vampire who works as a hematologist at a Bromley Marks pharmaceutical corporation ran by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). Dalton has been working on finding an artificial blood supply but when they finally tested it on one vampire, it didn’t work, leaving the subject in pieces, literally. The situation is pretty dire as the lack of human blood on these vamps eventually turn them into these horrifying creatures (basically a human bat) that would prey on anything and everything, even their own kind. Edward and his brother had a terrible encounter with one of them one night and it turns out that creature used to be one of the gardeners!

Edward detests being a vampire and he’s resentful that his brother turned him many years ago. So when he somehow encounter a group of humans who trusted him enough to take him to their hideaway, Edward was more than willing to help. The rest of the film becomes a cat and mouse game between the vampires and the small group of humans.

This film has some truly gory parts so it’s definitely not for the faint of hearts. I had to cover my eyes in some parts, especially the devouring scene at the end, but overall I really like this film. Ethan Hawke has the soulful, deeply forlorn look to him that suits his role perfectly. Nice to see Sam Neill playing the baddie and Willem Dafoe as a good guy for once. I really thought that when I saw Dafoe in the cast that he would be the lead vampire, ahah! The actress playing Dafoe’s cohort is amateurish however, I wish they had cast someone far more expressive in that role. Hawke and Dafoe are the only American actors as the cast are mostly from Down Under.

The cinematography set in Queensland Australia is quite beautiful, I think the filmmakers did a good job in creating a realistic-looking dystopian future (albeit it takes place only 10 years from now) that feels eerie and sinister. I also appreciate the small details like the lack of reflection of Edward in his car’s rear view mirror and how his house and car are styled to be sunlight-proof. Not bad for only the second feature film from Aussies Michael and Peter Spierig, known as the Spierig Brothers.

This dystopian horror thriller is definitely worth a rent if you’re looking for a novelty twist in a classic genre. I find the whole social satire idea more arresting than I expected. Strangely enough, at times I find myself rooting for some of the vampires, as just like in the human world, corporate greed abounds and the strong prey on the weak. After watching this, it actually makes me think about our own society and the idea of how a limited supply of precious resources does to people. I mean, just look at what happens with the gas shortage post Hurricane Sandy!

4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on this movie? Those who’ve seen this one, curious to hear what you think.

The Flix List: First Impression from Second Stringers

Greetings all and sundry. Allow me a few moments of your time to delve into an area first experienced as a child. That has reliably borne fruit for more than a few decades. The excitement of seeing a fresh face for the first time plying his or her craft and watching them swing for the fences. Or not. But leaving something worthwhile and memorable in that first meeting. To plant a seed and look for and sometimes anticipate a second or third meeting and follow their careers in cinematic story telling.

To that end, I’ve assembled ten then novitiates. Their initial roles that sparked my interest and where their talents and career have taken them since then.

First Impressions from Second Stringers.


10. Lee Marvin

First caught my attention in a brief, sometimes scary role as a sweaty greasy spoon fry cook with a secret life in a no budget, 1955 Red Scare film titled ‘Shack Out on 101′. Not surprising, Mr. Marvin’s character was named ‘Slob’ and he lived up to that name with disgustingly carefree glee. Going out of his way to provoke fights, when not trying to force himself on his boss’s wife as she sunbathes in a cove around Big Sur.

There was something shocking, vile and oddly intriguing and admirable in watching an actor be so free and comfortable in his own lean, leathery, sinewed skin while playing someone so intimidating and revolting. Traits that would rise again in ‘The Wild One’,  ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’, ‘The Big Heat’,’The Caine Mutiny’ and ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. Later toned it down for  ‘Point Blank’, ‘Hell in the Pacific’, ‘Emperor of the North’ and ‘The Professionals’. Then turned it inside out for his split roles as Kid Sheleen and Strawn in ‘Cat Ballou’.

9. Patricia Neal

First crossed my path as a roving radio show interviewer in ‘A Face in the Crowd’ from 1957. Where she crosses the path of drunken, itinerant hobo, Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes (Andy Griffith) and is quite taken by his talents, down home humor and prowess at spinning yarns (Story Telling). Soon sees him as her ticket out of the backwater sticks of Arkansas while slowly falling under his Svengali charms. Ms. Neal’s Marcia Jeffries shows vulnerability while trying to keep Rhodes in check from being an aspiring, corrupt Senator’s front man. Then steels herself to sabotage Rhodes after his appearance on a local television show. With an open microphone as Rhodes displays his contempt for others. In Elia Kazan’s scathing opus to the marketing of  modern politics.

With such a powerful introduction, it’s always been fun when Ms. Neal shows up in a film. Sometimes as a leading lady and holding her own opposite Paul Newman in ‘Hud’.  Or John Wayne in ‘Operation Pacific’ and ‘In Harm’s Way’. Though more often in a secondary player. As in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’.

8. James Coburn

I have low budget master of Randolph Scott westerns, Budd Boetticher to thank for having Mr. Coburn show up on Saturday afternoons after chores were done. Tall, lean with ropy arms and a watchful, quiet demeanor as Whit. The second or third Right Hand Man of black hatted and attired, Pernell Roberts’ bad guy, Sam Boone in ‘Ride Lonesome’ from 1959.

There was something about Mr. Coburn. Taller than Lee Marvin, though possessing the same cat~like fluidity of movement with just a bit of Steve McQueen cool and swagger. Easily holding the camera through countless television episodes and small, then larger roles in films. Before finding his niche as knife throwing Britt in ‘The Magnificent Seven’. A film that launched many careers. With Mr. Coburn backing up Mr. McQueen in ‘Hell Is for Heroes’ and ‘The Great Escape’. Then carrying along opposite James Garner in ‘The Americanization of Emily’ in 1964 and Charlton Heston in ‘Major Dundee’ a year later.

Deftly switching to comedy and expanding his coolness factor as Derek Flint in two films. When not playing high end thieves in ‘Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round’, ‘Duffy’ and ‘Waterhole #3′ and finally as ‘The President’s Analyst’. Before delivering what is quite possibly his best performance in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’. Then becoming the Actor Emeritus in far too many television show, made for TV and big screens movies to count.

7. Ellen Page

An actress who came completely out of left field as a red hooded 14 year old gamine with an agenda in 2005′s Hard Candy’. A small budgeted independent revenge film from 2005 that deals with Pedophilia and the death of Ms. Page’s Haley Stark’s best friend,  Donna Maurer. Who had come to a grisly end after meeting an older (32 years old) man at a local coffee shop.

What struck me about Ms. Page’s performance is the sophistication and maturity of thought brought to the fore from the film’s opening scene. Where Haley is chatting on the same site last used by Donna. Setting up the mark, Jeff (Patrick Wilson), who is a lot less clever and more vulnerable, due possibly to repetition  than he thinks he is. They meet. Seduction occurs with the aide of some doctored Screwdrivers. Jeff comes to and finds himself tied to a wheeled computer chair and the games begin!

Psychological for the most part. Humiliating and demeaning as Haley stays three moves ahead. Holds all the trump cards. And twists Jeff into all sorts of contortions before the inevitable happens and Haley walks away. Perhaps satisfied. Perhaps towardsher next victim.

A performance like that immediately put Ms. Page on my radar. Though she made a quite serviceable Kitty Pride and ‘Shadowcat’ in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’. It was her later performance in ‘Juno’ a year later that reinforced my belief that I was watching an exceptional talent. Holding her own in the world of Austin, Texas Roller Derby in ‘Whip It’ before finally coming to play with Chris Nolan and the big boys. As maze mistress, and architect, Ariadne in ‘Inception‘.

6. Joe Mantegna

If there ever was a guy made to add gravitas to the words of David Mamet. It’s this guy, right here! My first impasse with Mr. Mantegna was in 1987 in the film, ‘House of Games’. Mamet’s directorial debut into the sometimes seamy, sometimes glitzy world of mid range grifters and con men. Amongst the smoke hazed, grimy dives and pool halls and elegant hotels around Seattle. Where Mr. Mantegna’s ‘Mike’ is the smooth, suave, undisputed King of his crew. Who happens across an icy, though slowly thawing psychiatrist, Margaret Ford. Flawlessly played by Lindsay Crouse. Who seeks out Mike to intervene in a $25,000 gambling debt owed by one of her patients.

Knowing a mark when he sees one, Mike takes Margaret through a tentative tour and taste of his world. Which she seems to like. Aiding Mike in a relatively high stakes poker game by flirting and spotting the ‘tells’ of the other players. Then deflating the bravado of one player who tries to steal the huge pot with the aid of a leaking Luger squirt gun. The hook is sunken deep as Margaret forgets her patients and proves to be just as obsessive and compulsive as the people she writes about in her best selling books. Helping out in another larger con that doesn’t go to the script. The wheels come off and Mike and Margaret have a final fatal tête-à-tête in an airport luggage dock before Mike tries to flee.

Mr. Mantegna’s Mike put the actor high up on my ‘To Watch List’. Where his versatility shone through as a sympathetic Mafia gofer, Jerry. Opposite Don Ameche in another Mamet gem, Things Change’ a year later. Hitting a solid double as Joey Zasa in the less than great ‘Godfather: Part III’ in 1990. Then knocking it out of the park as Baltimore Homicide Detective Bobby Gold in the Mamet written and directed ‘Homicide’. Who has a moment of clarity and faith regarding his religion while taking down on the run street thug, drug dealer and cop killer, Randolph; wondrously played by Ving Rhames.

Then rising again like a Phoenix in ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ in 1993. As every day dad and sports writer, Fred Waitzkin. Whose very young son, Josh is an undiscovered Chess prodigy. Regularly winning against all comers. Either in Central Park or musty inner sanctum clubs. Dividing his time between hustler, Laurence Fishburne and Chess Master, Bruce Pandolfini. Played humorlessly by Ben Kingsley. Fred recognizes Josh’s talents as Quality Time is made during trips and tournaments in a surprisingly humane, family friendly film. Where the grown up behave as grown ups and Max Pomeranc’s Josh behaves exactly as a kid would. Showing great potential while nonchalantly stealing every scene he’s in!

Mr. Mantegna’s later work in television, mini series, made for TV movies and voice acting speaks for itself. Though he seems to have revisited and expounded upon his every dad, Fred. As Detective Will Girardi in CBS’s ‘Joan of Arcadia’ from 2003 to 2005.

5. Ellen Barkin

First caught my eye and attention as the hard as nails, cold as ice leader of a smash and grab diamond crew, Sunny Boyd, in Walter Hill’s 1989 Neo~Noir ‘Johnny Handsome’. Sashaying into a local merchant’s shop, distractingly resplendent in low cut, tight black leather. Before pistol whipping the owner and smashing display cases as Lance Henricksen, Scott Wilson and a grossly disfigured Mickey Rourke (Johnny) fleece the place clean. Before an alarm sounds, and Johnny is shot and left for dead.

Thus begins a very well and frugally executed tale of revenge. As Johnny is convicted and sent to a Louisiana penal farm. Where he is shanked and sent to the hospital to be patched up and eventually given a new face, courtesy of Forrest Whittaker. A liberal facial surgeon with a large grant in need of a Guinea Pig. Johnny is released with a new name and face and a job on the docks that allow him to split his time from nice girl, Donna McCarty (Elizabeth McGovern) and trying to connect with Sunny and Rafe (Henricksen).

Sunny is at first intrigued by Johnny. Even more so as Johnny slips and has trouble keeping his stories straight. Setting the stage for a moonlit and street lamp slashed showdown as Morgan Freeman’s Lt. A. Z. Drones knowingly looks on.

One heck of an introduction to an actress who would dominate the Bad Girl/Femme Fatale arena for five years with ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘Bad Company’. Then turning on a dime and delivering a klutzi-ly believable turn as lecherous Perry King stuck inside a stiletto heeled, gorgeous blonde’s body in Blake Edwards’ ‘Switch’ from 1991. Watching Ms. Barkin struggle in spikes and short or pencil skirts is well seeking out or worth the price of admission.

Which caused a search for Ms. Barkin’s earlier works. Where she established herself as the damaged relation in ‘Tender Mercies’ and Lumet’s take on the surviving son of the Rosenberg Trial in ‘Daniel’ from 1983. Where Ms. Barkin played Timothy Hutton’s radical wife, Phyllis. Then keeping busy as the smart woman reporter in ‘Eddie and the Crusiers’ and damsel in distress in ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Across the 8th Dimension’ the following year. Before switching up to be the determined District Attorney wanting to lock up possibly corrupt New Orleans  Detective, Dennis Quaid in ‘The Big Easy’ in 1986.

Creating a body of work that began with Barry Levinson’s ‘Diner’ in 1982 and has branched out into television and a return to the Bad Girl in ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ in 2007. And ‘Operation: Endgame’ in 2010.
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4. Michael Ironside

Arrived without preamble in the role of troubled psychic, Darryl Revock in David Cronenberg’s ‘Scanners’ way back in 1981. Looking about as anonymous and harmless as a career postman. Sitting in a small audience while listening to a lecturer. Until veins begin sticking out on Revock’s neck and forehead and one lecturer’s head explode!

That, friends and neighbors, is an Entrance! The opening act of an intriguing little gem by a budding master of the odd, weird and often creepy. That pits good people with extrasensory powers against Revock and his band of equally gifted evil doers. All quite possibly the victims of Thalidomide like mutations before birth. At the hands of chemical corporate head, Patrick McGoohan. With Mr.Ironside shining throughout as his megalomania begins controlling his actions. For a final showdown with his half brother and good Scanner, Stephen Lack.

More than enough to look for Mr. Ironside in a few low budget films and a guest spot on ‘Hill Street Blues’ before coming under the attention of US audiences as recurring bad guy, Ham Tyler in NBC’s sci-fi lizard series, ‘V’ in 1984. Which set the stage for his roles as humorless Aggressor Pilot, Jester in ‘Top Gun’ in 1986. And corrupt and sweaty Colonel Paul Hackett in Walter Hill’s modern western Guy Flick, ‘Extreme Prejudice’ the next year. Staying in medium budgeted film-dom before achieving near cult status as Lt. Jean Rasczak in Paul Verhoeven’s take on Robert Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers’ in 1987. And corporate henchman, Richter in ‘Total Recall’ in 1990. Keeping his hand in both film and television before finding a lucrative niche as a voice actor for Warner Brothers animation.

3. Frances McDormand

Allow me to posit a question to the ladies. If you were part owner in a kind of sleazy Texas road house, married to and sharing your bed with an even sleazier Dan Hadaya. Would you not want to find a lover, who’s clever, yet easily tempted and manipulated into murdering Dan?

That’s where Frances McDorman finds herself in this debut role as Abby in the Coen brothers’ first film ‘Blood Simple’. A gritty, sometimes sweaty Neo~Noir from 1984, where everyone is out to kill everyone. Abby wants to off Dan’s character, Julian Marty. Who has already hired the rarely slimier M. Emmett Walsh to get incriminating photos of Abby and her lover, Ray (John Getz). Who works as a bartender at the road house.

It soon becomes a question of which is cheaper for Marty, murder or divorce? Quickly answered when Ray quits and Marty calls Walsh’s Loren Visser to seal the deal while Marty is away fishing in Corpus Christi. Half of the payment is given. With the promise to pay the other half when Marty returns.

Visser breaks in while Abby and Ray are busy. Then waits until after the festivities to steal Abby’s shiny .32 revolver. Meets Marty the following night and shoots him twice. Setting up a double or triple cross while taking his payment, but leaving his lighter at the scene of the crime. Comes the morning and Ray finds Marty slumped in a chair and prepares to bury the slowest dying man in Texas and possibly, cinema history in a remote field. Ray returns to Abby to tell her that he’s ‘cleaned up her mess’ and the fireworks begin. Interrupted by a call from Visser that sets the groundwork for a great, shadowy game of extortion and cat and mouse.

What raised my eyebrow about Ms. McDormand was her unremarkable normality as Abby. Not stunningly beautiful or crafty or even beguiling at first sight. Abby’s just a wife in a possibly abusive, violent marriage who has had enough and has found a way out. Though the sly and crafty come out once Visser starts cleaning up loose ends.

Bits of Abby showed through in her six episode role as Officer Connie Chapman in the fifth season of ‘Hill Street Blues’. Where a lot of big named, contemporary talent got started and noticed. Before taking on the quirky, comedic role of Dot opposite an even quirkier, hard luck Nicholas Cage in ‘Raising Arizona’. Honing her talents in ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Chattahoochee’, Darkman’ and a cameo as the Mayor’s secretary in ‘Miller’s Crossing‘. Keeping busy on stage and television before given the plum role of pregnant local cop, Marge Gunderson in ‘Fargo’ and OCD, compulsive game stat freak, Bunny in John Sayle’s ‘Lone Star’ in 1996. Holding her own in other films and embracing her inner, no nonsense uber Mom, Elaine Miller in ‘Almost Famous’ in 2000. Then returning as Billy Bob Thornton’s wife, Doris in The Man Who Wasn’t There’. And Christian Bale’s super hot, record producing mom in ‘Laurel Canyon’ the following year.

Ms. McDormand seems to be blessed with talents and beauty that have become more pronounced and elegant with time, like fine wine. Whether in dramatic or comedic roles. Her subtlety and ease makes for great entertainment!

2. Gene Hackman

Crossed my path when I was in my early teens. On an episode of NBC’s ‘I Spy’. Where this kind of dumpy, thinning haired nobody wanted to blow up a mid tiered US diplomat in Mexico by planting a Nitroglycerine bomb in a Pinata for the diplomat’s son’s birthday party. There was something about this nobody’s voice, attitude and the confident, easy way he carried himself. That had me rooting for him. Even as he was being chased down by Robert Culp and Bill Cosby through some aged ruins before the final shoot out and explosion at the story’s end. Something to make me look for his name in the final credits and remember it for future reference.

Which didn’t take long. A double feature of ‘Bonnie and Clyde‘ and ‘Bullitt’ sealed the deal. Mr. Hackman’s older brother, Buck was a slob in the classic Eli Wallach mode. The kind of guy you could dress up in an expensive suit and tie and still come up far short. Yet easily comfortable in his own and character’s skin. A trait that would show up repeatedly in smaller ensemble films that made money, though many have forgotten. ‘Riot’, ‘The Gypsy Moths’, ‘Downhill Racer’ and ‘Marooned’ in 1969. With a side trip to period pieces, ‘I Never Sang for My Father’ and The Hunting Party’ filled time before the role of NY Detective Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle planted Mr. Hackman on the map with William Friedkin’s procedural masterpiece, ‘The French Connection‘ in 1971.

Though the plump, fat roles didn’t arrive right way, his quality of cast improved with ‘Cisco Pike’ (Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black). ‘Prime Cut’ (Lee Marvin). ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (Everyone), ‘Scarecrow’ (Al Pacino). Which led to his most understated role as surveillance demi-God, Harry Caul in Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’ in 1974 (The film was robbed at that year’s Oscars!). Which sent Mr. Hackman back to ensemble gems, ‘Young Frankenstein’, a much more personal. ‘French Connection II’. Plus a standout performance as a Chandler~esque private eye in Arthur Penn’s ‘Night Moves’ and ‘Bite the Bullet’ in 1975. Then taking a crack at recruited convict turned assassin, Roy Tucker in Stanley Kramer’s ‘The Domino Principle’ in 1977.

Comedy seems to have come late to Mr. Hackman as Suerman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor before turning up opposite Nick Nolte in Robert Spottiswoode’s Nicaraguan uprising, ‘Under Fire’ and as the bank roller of the Vietnam POW rescue film, ‘Uncommon Valor’ throughout 1983.

The roles continued to arrive at a pace where Mr. Hackman would seem to fade from the spotlight. Then find a role to put him back squarely in the spotlight. In either the lead or a supporting role. Very much like Sean Connery before him. Making films much more memorable with his presence. Specifically, ‘Hoosiers’, ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘Crimson Tide’, David Mamet’s ‘Heist’ and a fine comedic turn in ‘The Royal Tennebaums’.

A consummate character actor who worked his way through the system to achieve his rightful place high in the firmament!
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1. Helen Mirren

The woman who near silently beguiled me as Bob Hoskins’ love interest, Victoria. In the east End, London docks thriller. ‘The Long Good Friday’ from 1980. Mixing poise, polish. yet subtle and unadulterated sex appeal. Ms. Mirren held the camera’s attention no matter where she was placed in a scene. Rarely showing vulnerability and creating the perfect foil for Hoskins’ Harold Shand. Lifelong thug and survivor with grand dreams of criminal enterprise along the Thames.

That performance helped me understand why and how the Brits do some genres of films so much better than we in the states. Less is often more. And that was writ large in my next encounter. In a small, little known gem titled ‘Cal’ four years later. Where Ms. Mirren taps into vast wells of vulnerability as Marcella. A recent widow whose husband, a Protestant policeman was killed by the IRA. And who slowly falls in love with her husband’s killer. Young and on the run first timer, Cal. Then turning in a better than serviceable role as Russian Science Officer and Pilot Tanya Kirbuk opposite Roy Scheider and John Lithgow in Peter Hyams’ decent ’2001′ sequel, ’2010′ the same year.

From there it was as Georgina Spica, in Peter Greenway’s ‘The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover’ from 1989. And onto a role that would make her and her character, DCI Jane Tennyson in Grenada Televison’s series of ‘Prime Suspect’ films. When not busy playing Queen Charlotte in ‘The Madness of King George’ in 1994. And Mrs. Wilson in Robert Altman’s ‘Gosford Park’ in 2001. Soaring into the stratosphere of title and talent by becoming Dame Helen Mirren, while taking on the role of Chris in Nigel Cole’s ‘Calendar Girls’ in 2003. Then playing Elizabeth II in Stephen Frear’s epitome of sublime pomp and formality, ‘The Queen’ in 2005. Then turn in strong performances in ‘The Debt‘ and as Prospera in ‘The Tempest’ in 2010. Before taking on a dry, prim comedic tone as retired assassin, Victoria. The most alluring woman ever behind a Browning M-2 Heavy Barreled Machine Gun, Sniper’s Rifle, or an elegantly compact Uzi sub machine gun, in ‘Red‘.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Well, what do you think of  these actors? Feel free to share which film(s) you first saw them in.

Long Weekend Roundup: An underrated Bond flick, a Sci-fi Horror and some TV Watching

Happy post-Thanksgiving weekend! Hope those of you in the States enjoyed your long weekend off, spending time with family and perhaps got some sweet deals from Black Friday? I was quite bummed that I missed the Amazon big sale on the Pixar’s BRAVE 3-disc- st blu-ray, it was only $8 bucks on Thursday from 2-6pm but I thought it was Friday! :( Ah well, I guess I’ll wait a bit longer until there’s another good deal for it.

Well, I got 5-days off this weekend so it’s movie-watching time in the comfort of my entertainment room. We actually skipped the cinema all week long as there’s really nothing that made the trip worthwhile. So it’s a lot of rewatching and catching up on older movies, including my third rewatch of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which was still a lot of fun! I still got goosebumps watching Tom Cruise on top of that Burj Khalifa skyscraper!

I also got to rewatch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, something I’ve been wanting to do but finally iTunes has it available to rent.

I think I saw this movie years ago when I was growing up but my memory of it is hazy. So I felt like I have seen this for the first time now and I actually enjoyed it. Ok so George Lazenby is far from being my favorite James Bond and there are some silly parts, especially those with all the girls at Blofeld therapy session, ahah, and what’s with him and the kilt? :D

Back to Lazenby though, I don’t think he’s a terrible Bond, he just doesn’t seem all that charismatic. He does have a lean, athletic physique and handles all the action and fight scenes stuff very well. He even looked manly wearing a ruffled shirt! Perhaps if he had done a couple more films, I might like him more than Brosnan but I guess we’ll never know. I quite like Telly Savalas as Blofeld, he’s not super menacing but not cartoon-ish either. Diana Rigg is fabulous as the beautiful and feisty Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ di Vicenzo, the kind of brain + beauty combo I like, just like Eva Green’s Vesper. Now I know why my friend Michael likes Rigg so much ;)

I think the action stuff is excellent, especially the ski and sled chase scenes. But it’s the love story aspect that separates this Bond film from the rest, and that end scene when Bond cradles Tracy’s lifeless body in his arms is so heartbreaking. Even though I already knew it’s going to happen, I still teared up as he said, ‘It’s ok really, we have all the time in the world.’ Speaking of which, that score by Louis Armstrong is absolutely beautiful… it even has a tinge of sadness to it which is perfect for this film.

The one movie I have not seen before was the sci-fi horror vampire flick Daybreakers. I’m done with the review but I will post that separately as it’s quite long.

On the TV front, I watched some episodes of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome in 10-minute increments on YouTube, which was pretty decent even though whoever plays the young Adama is not nearly as charismatic as Edward James Olmos but whatever.

My hubby and I are still hooked on Once Upon A Time show so we watched a few more episodes of that too on Netflix Instant. Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold is still the best thing about this show but I’m warming up to Ginnifer Goodwin & Josh Dallas as Snow White and Prince Charming. We might actually finish Season 1 by end of the year!


Well, that’s it for my long weekend round-up. Any thoughts on these films/shows? What did YOU see this past weekend?

Top 3 Favorite Nicole Kidman Roles

This post is for the current LAMB Acting School 101 on Nicole Kidman.  As I haven’t got a chance to catch up on a ton of her work (as I’ve mentioned here), I decided to just choose the top three favorite roles of the 11 films I’ve seen her in so far.

I actually include Nicole in my Movie Alphabet I did recently as I generally quite like her and I think she’s one of the most glamorous Hollywood actress working today. I included her in the Honorable Mentions in my Top 10 Hottest Aussie Actors, but in hindsight, I’d probably swap Sam Worthington with her as I’m not too fond of him lately.

I do think Nicole should lay off on the Botox and not be so obsessed with looking perfect as she ends up looking so plastic with scary lips! I mean the statuesque 5’11″ actress looked so fresh when she was starting out, with her freckles and glorious curly red hair. I mean just look at her photos from then and now…

In any case, she is a talented actress and I give her props for trying out different genres and not afraid to portray morally-ambiguous, even down-right evil characters. I thought she was pretty good in the far-more-watchable Joel Schumacher Batman movie Batman Forever with Val Kilmer. An interesting trivia – She has co-starred with four actors who’ve played Batman in a movie: In My Life (1993) with Michael Keaton, Batman Forever (1995) with Val Kilmer, The Peacemaker (1997) with George Clooney and The Portrait of a Lady (1996) with Christian Bale.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work, especially her Oscar-winning performance in The Hours, as well as her most recent ones such as Hemingway & Gellhorn with Clive Owen and her role as the eternal beauty Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my picks of Nicole’s Top 3 performances:

To Die For (1995)

I saw this years ago but was impressed by her fearless performance as a ruthless TV personality who’s willing to get what she wants, no matter what the cost, even killing her own husband! She’s the ultimate femme fatale: seductive and dangerous! Apparently she fought to get this role and was quite relentless in that pursuit, even tracking down director Gus Van Sant & calling him personally. Well, it paid off and I think she won a Golden Globe for her performance. Joaquin Phoenix turned in a memorable performance as well.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

I adore this film and it stands as one of my all-time favorite musicals. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Ewan McGregor and Nicole at first, but they both wowed me here. Not only did they sound fabulous singing together, they also have excellent chemistry here. Nicole was appropriately sultry as an elite courtesan, but she also displays her comic timing in the scene where Satine first met Ewan’s character whom she thought was the Duke in her bedroom! She also conveys believable pathos towards the third part of the film, displaying her versatility as an actress.

Far & Away (1992)

She’s done three films with her ex-husband Tom Cruise but I pick this one as I don’t think I’ll be seeing Eyes Wide Shut and I barely remember Days of Thunder. I actually saw this on the big screen with my brother years ago and I remember really enjoying it. Ok, the Irish accent is all over the place but I like the feisty chemistry between her and Cruise, she was quite feisty in her role and she still has that fresh-face look with her red curly hair.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

NINE – She’s not my favorite female actress in this film (that would be Marion Cottilard) but I thought she was pretty good as Claudia, as the muse of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Guido. She has a beautiful voice and definitely suits the glamorous but icy demeanor that her role requires.


Well, that’s my favorite list so far, I might update this once I see more of Nicole’s films. What do you think of my picks?

My Movie Alphabet Blogathon – Actors/Directors Edition

Thanks to Mettel Ray for starting this Movie Alphabet as part of her 400th Blog Post celebration! Her original list consists of movies, directors, actors and actresses, but to switch things up, I’d like to just focus on actors and directors for my list as I’ve done the film version in this Cinematic Alphabet a year ago. So for each letter in the alphabet, I choose to highlight those whose work and performances have become my favorite over the years. I might add honorable mentions later on but it’s taken me much longer than I thought to even just coming up with these, so without further ado, here we go:

A  – Audrey Hepburn

The epitome of beauty and class. I love Audrey ever since my mother brought My Fair Lady from her trip to Europe when I could barely speak any English. She’s such a captivating actress beautiful inside and out, I really admire her charity work outside of her iconic performance in many delightful films.


B – Ben Affleck

I never thought I’d  put Ben Affleck on any of my favorite list, but the only reason I’m putting him here is for his DIRECTING work, especially Gone Baby Gone and ARGO. I think he’s become one of the most talented directors working today.

C – Cate Blanchett

I love this beautiful and massively talented Aussie actress. I haven’t seen her in anything all year so I’m so looking forward to seeing her reprise her role as Galadriel in The Hobbit! I’m also excited to see her in Terrence Malick’s upcoming film Knight of Cups with Christian Bale! I think she might be in two films with Terrence Malick next year.

D – Denzel Washington

I just love how dignified his name sounds and he certainly is a classy actor, not to mention gorgeous. There are some films that don’t appeal to me until he’s cast, and even in so-so movies, Denzel is still great to watch. I think one of his best roles is Philadelphia and American Gangster (I have yet to see Training Day yet).

E – Ewan McGregor

Clearly I have a penchant for Scottish guys, especially the cute ones who can sing ;) I haven’t seen too many of Ewan’s work but I LOVE him in Moulin Rouge and boy, he could’ve easily have a singing career! He also sang in Velvet Goldmine in his earlier days but his role as the romantic poet Christian stole my heart. His duet with Nicole Kidman is just lovely!

F – Frances O’Connor

I just saw this Aussie actress in Lumpy at TCFF screening and was pleasantly surprised to see her in that film. I think she’s so massively underrated, I wish she had gotten more roles in Hollywood. I absolutely love her in Mansfield Park and also in the time travel adventure Timeline.

G – Gerard Butler

Speaking of cute Scots who can sing ;) Well I think it’s obvious who I’d pick for G right, he..he.. Seems like a lot of my crushes’ names start with G… Gregory Peck, Gabriel Byrne… but I think Gerry is the only one I’m most consistent on. It’s been interesting following his career over the years and even though he hasn’t got a hit yet lately, I think he’s a charismatic and talented actor, not to mention versatile! So yeah, I think I’ll be a GB fan for years to come.

H – Harrison Ford

It’s amazing how he almost quit acting after American Grafitti! Can’t imagine a more successful actor with so many lucrative franchises under his belt. I like him in action films, but he also shines in dramas like Regarding Henry. My all time favorite role shall always be Indiana Jones though, I mean, he’s the epitome of effortless machismo.

I – Ian McKellen

I was flabbergasted that Sean Connery turned down a high-paying job playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings franchise, but now I can’t imagine anyone else by Sir Ian McKellen in that role. His gravitas and THAT voice that can be both authoritative and soothing makes his performance so iconic. I also love his villainous turn as Magneto in the X-Men films, as well as his super creepy role in Apt Pupil.

J – Judi Dench

One of my three favorite British dames – along with Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith – the 77-year-old thespian has such a strong screen presence and an un-inimitable voice to boot! As I said in my Skyfall review, it’s the best casting decision ever to have her play M. She made the usually forgettable character so much more interesting, no wonder Mendes gave her so much more screen time in the latest Bond flick. I also love her softer side in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

K – Keanu Reeves

I love Keanu… or Chuck as my friend Mark calls him. Yes he’s not the most expressive actors but he’s got quite a screen presence and that certain unique-ness that separate him from the pack. He’s great in action flicks surely (The Matrix, Speed, Constantine, etc.), but I also love him as a romantic lead in A Walk in the Clouds. I just rewatched Point Break recently which was done 21 years ago, and seeing him in the 2012 documentary Side by Side, it’s amazing how this guy practically doesn’t age!

L – Lee Pace

Ok I just realize there are like five Hobbit-related people on this list, ahah, trust me it’s not intentional but clearly Peter Jackson has a keen eye for casting. I’m truly hoping that this highly-anticipated LOTR prequel will launch a few actors’ career, one of them is this super talented Oklahoma native who wowed me in The Fall and also Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. How this guy is not more famous than Ryan Gosling is beyond me!

M – Michael Mann

For someone as accomplished as Mr Mann, I’m surprised he’s not as prolific. He’s only got ten feature films under his belt, and out of the seven I have seen so far I’ve only been disappointed with this one. I’ve been watching his work as executive producer of the Miami Vice TV show which was one of my favorites growing up. But he’s done at least three that I’d consider a masterpiece: Heat, The Insider and The Last of the Mohicans; whilstthe other three are very, very good.

N – Nicole Kidman

I don’t always seek out every movie she’s in but she’s definitely a darn good actress. It’s quite interesting to see her transformation from a freckled-face redhead to a glamorous porcelain-skinned doll much like her character in The Stepford Wives. I really think she needs to lay off Botox or whatever it is she’s using, as I think she’s already very beautiful. She can be quite fierce if she wants to be, like in To Die For, but one of my favorite roles is the tormented courtesan Satine in Moulin Rouge.

O – Olivia Williams

There are two Olivias I was going to include here, the other one was Olivia de Havilland who played Melanie in Gone With the Wind. But I decided to go with the one I’ve seen more of. I’ve only seen the London native’s work in supporting roles (The Sixth Sense, An Education), but they’re all very good. She was particularly good in a scene-stealing role in The Ghost Writer as the wife of a retired UK Prime Minister. I’m not too fond of the film but she was memorable.

P – Peter Jackson

He hasn’t made many films, but the Lord of the Rings is one of my all time favorite franchise, hence my anticipation for The Hobbit. I’m also one of those who likes King Kong, so I might still give The Lovely Bones a try one of these days despite the dismal reviews. Even when he’s not making films, he’s indirectly contributed to major hits like X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Prometheus, etc. through his visual effects company WETA Digital.

Q – Quentin Tarantino

As I’m not a fan of violent movies, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of QT’s films but I can’t deny his talent and brutal honesty for ‘copying’ other filmmakers work whilst still making them his own. Out of the three of his films I’ve seen, I think I like Inglourious Basterds the most. It’s one of those films I never thought I’d enjoy but it was definitely a pleasant surprise despite my nerves being stretched to its snapping point in more than one occasion.

R – Richard Armitage

I think if you’ve read this blog you should notice this tall, dark and handsome Brit gets a lot of mentions. In fact, I dedicated a post when he was cast in The Hobbit as Thorin! I fell for him in the BBC miniseries North & South, but he also wowed me in other series since – The Vicars of Dibley, MI-5 and Strike Back. I sincerely hope this role in The Hobbit will (finally) catapult his career in Hollywood. He’s far too gorgeous and too talented to only be confined in TV world!

S – Sean Connery

Ok, even as a Bond aficionado, I wasn’t exactly planning on putting two Bond actors back-to-back on this list, but hey, why not? Sir Sean was perhaps the most famous Scottish movie star when he was cast as 007 and having seen Dr. No recently, he certainly has the looks and swagger like nobody’s business. The former body builder is more than just a Bond actor though, he’s great in various roles such as The Untouchables, The Hunt of Red October, Just Cause, The Rock, and of course, his scene-stealing role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!

T – Timothy Dalton

Here’s another Bond actor who’s sooo much more than his most famous role. In fact, even though he’s my favorite Bond (yes Daniel Craig is a close second), I absolutely adore him in a role that’s as far away as 007 as you can get: Mr. Rochester in BBC’s 1983 Jane Eyre. He’s wonderful in larger-than-life heroic roles like Julius Caesar, but I also love him as a baddie in The Rocketeer and the made-for-TV thriller Framed with David Morrissey. I’ve already covered how criminally underrated he is and how much I’d love to see him in a romantic thriller with the likes of a fellow seasoned Brit Helen Mirren, so I think my feelings for him is clear.

U – Uma Thurman

I haven’t seen Uma in anything lately but I quite like her in some roles. Her Oscar-nominated performance in Pulp Fiction made her a star and a cult classic status. Seems like QT knows how to tailor a role for her as she was memorably bad ass in the Kill Bill movies. She’s going to co-star with Gerry Butler in his upcoming soccer dramedy Playing for Keeps but curiously absent from all the promos for the film as they seem to only feature Catherine Zeta-Jones or Jessica Biel. Does that say something about her current star power??

V – Vanessa Redgrave

Did you know that Vanessa Redgrave was in a relationship with Timothy Dalton for fourteen years? Apparently they met on the set of Mary, Queen of Scots and were both passionate about Shakespeare, natch! I have been seeing her in a few films lately and she’s certainly a force on screen, from her younger years starring in Camelot all the way to her spectacular supporting role in Coriolanus. I love her in Letters for Juliet where she actually co-starred with her current husband Franco Nero.

W – William Wyler

Every time I go through his filmography, I’m always amazed at Mr. Wyler’s varied work. He’s one of those directors who can’t be confined into any genre as he could do tackle any one of them. Three of my favorite films of his are a Biblical epic (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ), a western (The Big Country) and a romantic comedy (Roman Holiday). I still need to see the war drama Mrs. Miniver, amongst a plethora of his other work.

X – Professor X

Ok, I don’t know of ANY actor/director with this name so I broke the rule a bit and feature one of my favorite characters instead. Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men franchise was played by two brilliant actor: Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the prequel X-Men: First Class. I LOVE both of their performances and the character itself is inherently intriguing and his relationship with his friend-turned-nemesis Magneto is the most compelling part of that franchise.

Y – Yul Brynner

Ok, there are very limited names that starts with Y so I chose Yul Brynner for his iconic performance in The King and I and The Ten Commandments. Apart from those two films I haven’t seen anything else he’s done. The Russian actor (his real name was Yuli Borisovich Bryner) has one of those ‘exotic’ look that made him quite versatile playing all kinds of ethnic characters. He’s also an accomplished photographer and often take pictures of the sets of the various projects he worked on over the years.

Z – Zhang Yimou

I had just become acquainted with his work a few years ago when I saw House of Flying Daggers and was treated to such a visual feast of vivid colors and breathtaking cinematography. His distinct visual style is legendary, which you might have seen in the Jet Li movie Hero or if you saw the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games Opening Ceremony in which he directed. His latest work was Flowers of War which I still need to see one of these days.


Well that’s my Movie Alphabet, folks. Hope you enjoy my list. If you haven’t done one already, I invite you to join in on the fun!

Everybody’s Chattin’ – Thanksgiving 2012 Edition

The parking lot in my office is much more sparse today as people are probably already on the road or up in the air on their way to their Thanksgiving celebration. Well, as we’re all about giving thanks this week, I thought I’d take the time to give thanks to EVERYONE who’s been a loyal supporter to FlixChatter!

I’m grateful that in my third year of blogging I’ve ‘met’ a lot of wonderful folks from all over the globe, some of whom I’ve actually met in person, too! Blogging has become so much a part of my life, in fact if you ask my hubby, it seems to have taken over my life, ahah. I really enjoy writing and chatting about movies and making connections with fellow movie lovers, so THANK YOU for every ‘LIKE’ that you’ve given me and every single comment you’ve dropped on each post. As you know I try to respond to every one of them and you know I truly appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to comment!

Special thanks to: Michael, Josh, Sati, Mark, and Fernando who not only comment regularly but have kindly give shout outs to my blog either on their own blog or via Twitter.

I also want to give a shout out to Allied Integrated Marketing, especially the Minneapolis Director Katie Stroup for admitting me to their Press List. That means more advanced screenings in the future, yay!

Now it’s time for links!

My pal Michael has a plethora of awesome blog series on his blog It Rains… You Get Wet. As you know his TMT one is my favorite, but my second fave is his Same Song, Different Movie series. This time he chose Canzonetta Sull’aria by Mozart, one of the most beautiful aria that makes your heart soar and eyes well up with tears. I’ve only seen the one film he mentioned but I might give The Great Raid a try.

Fernando of Committed to Celluloid recently reviewed a Mexican drama that’s been submitted as Best Foreign Language Film for the 2013 Oscar, called After Lucia (Después de Lucía). It deals with a tough topic of severe bullying, but sounds like the performances are really worth a look.

I LOVE posts about Scene Spotlight and nobody does it better than Lady Sati! The combination of gorgeous photography and animated GIFs are so lovely. I LOVE this recent Scene of the Week in The Dark Knight Rises. I love that scene despite the logic-defying circumstances (but hey, it’s a comic-book movie after all), but I do have more questions after Bruce made the jump.

I mean, how in the world did Bruce make it back to the heavily-guarded Gotham full of Bane’s army with no money, no shoes, and worse of all no Alfred! Nolan has some ‘splainin’ to do in the DVD/Blu-ray feature! :)

Being a Movie Trivia aficionado, I LOVE Mark’s Tuesday Trivia Tidbits he started a few months ago. There’s always a few you haven’t heard of, certainly I was surprised by one on my favorite super spy and his famous Walter PPK. So take a look if you haven’t already!

The ever-so-prolific Josh at Cinematic Spectacle watches a bunch of movies week after week. Perhaps he has 36 hours in a day instead of 24? ;) Well, he recently gave us a viewing update on 12 films he’s catching up on before year’s end. There’s a lot on there I haven’t seen, including the indie dramedy Your Sister’s Sister starring Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt. I should give that one a watch just for those two lovely ladies!

Last but not least… my pal Terrence always has such a timely poll in his weekly Time to Vote Tuesday. I LOVE that he actually dedicated a poll for my boy Gerry Butler last week to commemorate his birthday!

This week his theme is on Holiday Shopping, so vote for THREE (3) movies that has your favorite shopping scenes! Sorry to hear you have to work on Black Friday, my friend, but here’s wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving day!


So, what are your Thanksgiving viewing plans this weekend? If you’re one of those traveling today, enjoy and be safe. I pray that you won’t end up like these two :D

Music Break – Favorite fairy tale music inspired by ABC’s ‘Once Upon A Time’

I just started catching up on the ABC show Once Upon A Time this past weekend, so that inspired me to pick the music for today’s Music Break. I’ve only watched two episodes from the first season but I quite like it so far, though some of the acting is a bit over the top. As someone growing up with Disney fairy tale movies, the premise appeals to me so we’ll see if the show has enough going for it to keep me interested. Nice to see Robert Carlyle in it as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold. The Glasgow-native is easily the best actor on that show, and no I’m not just saying that for my penchant for Scottish actors ;)

Anyway, inspired by that show, here are three favorite fairy tale music from the classic and current fairy tale movies:

SNOW WHITE (1937)

You can’t beat the classics. Even 75 years later, Snow White is still hot property, what with two films made with that character this year alone! There are really too many to choose from as the whole soundtrack is great, but I love this finale of Love’s First Kiss. It’s enchanting, sweet and full of hope, the kind of stuff Disney music is known for, and the choir singing Someday my Prince will come really warms the heart.

Original music by Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith, with Adriana Caselotti and Harry Stockwell as the voice of Snow White and Prince Charming, respectively.


P.S. My all time favorite music from Disney ‘Princess’ movies is actually Once Upon a Dream from Sleeping Beauty, which I’ve highlighted in a stand alone post a year ago.

TANGLED (2010)

Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated feature and it boast the maestro that is Alan Menken as the composer. I grew up listening to his Disney songs, it’s amazing how he could keep churning up beautiful music for every piece that fits the theme of the film so perfectly! According to IMDb trivia, he’s currently tied with famed costume designer Edith Head for third most Academy Awards won, with eight Oscar win. He has won best score and best song for four Disney animated movies: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas (1995).

This romantic piece is by far my favorite from the film. I always tear up every time I watch it. The scenery with all those lanterns are pure Disney magic, I love Rapunzel’s face as she watches them fly to the sky. I LOVE both Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi’s voice in the duet, I had no idea he could sing so well! I was rooting for this to win Best Original Song at the Oscar, but ironically, Randy Newman’s We Belong Together for Pixar’s Toy Story 3 ended up taking the trophy.

BRAVE (2012)

I was thrilled when I heard that Scottish composer Patrick Doyle was going to work on this film! I LOVE his work in Sense & Sensibility and Thor, among others (see my tribute post). Per Wiki, in order to bring some of Scotland’s native flavor to the music, Doyle used native Scottish instruments such as bagpipes, a solo fiddle, Celtic harps, flutes and the bodhrán, with an electronically treated dulcimer and cimbalom to give it a more contemporary feel. “I employed many classic Scottish dance rhythms such as reels, jigs, and strathspeys, which not only serve the action but keep it authentic,” said Doyle.

Well the result is a gorgeous and lush Celtic music that adds so much to the authenticity of the film. I like the joyful and rousing Touch The Sky that matches the exuberance of Princess Merida, but my favorite is the instrumental piece that captures the Scottish theme so well. I LOVE this one called Legends Are Lessons, especially after the 2:35 mark when the bagpipes start playing. I wish I could be transported to the Scottish Highlands as I’m listening to it! :D


I hope you enjoy these songs. What are YOUR favorite Disney/Pixar soundtrack?

(Indie) Weekend Roundup: Today’s Special and The Heir Apparent Reviews

Bella proves she’s now one tough vampire chick by… arm wrestling??!

The Twi-hards rejoice once again with the release of the last movie of the behemoth Twilight franchise (wahoo!! free at last!) Their purchasing power truly cannot be denied! $141 mil this weekend alone domestically, topping the first part of Breaking Dawn‘s $138 mil. I did see the first part as my Twi-hard colleague lent me her dvd, I probably wait until she does the same thing again next year, simply for the unintentionally hilarious moments now that Bella joins her man as a vampire herself.

I skipped the cinema this weekend as I just wasn’t that interested in Lincoln and I sort of lost interest in Anna Karenina. I think I’ll just rent that instead. I doubt Keira with all her pouting could convey the depth of Tolstoy’s beloved character as he envisioned her in the book.

So my hubby and I opted for a couple of indies from Netflix Instant instead and we really enjoyed both of them. Here are my mini reviews:

Today’s Special (2009)

A young Manhattan chef Samir rediscovers his heritage and his passion for life through the enchanting art of cooking Indian food.

This 2009 foodie comedy is loosely inspired by the lead actor Aasif Mandvi‘s off-Broadway play, Sakina’s Restaurant. You might remember the Indian-American actor as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and also as Mr. Aziz of “Joe’s Pizza” in Spider-Man 2. He’s also done supporting parts in films like The Proposal, The Last Airbender and Margin Call.

Nice to see him in a leading role here and I immediately sympathized with his character Samir, a sous chef in a posh Manhattan restaurant who dreams of making it big. But when he’s passed over for another promotion, Samir promptly quits and plans to move to France, but fate has a different plan for him and he ends up taking care of his dad’s rundown Indian restaurant.

On top of that, Samir has to deal with family issues, the typical overbearing mother who wants to find him a Muslim wife, and a disillusioned father who constantly berates him that he’s not as good as his deceased brother. Samir’s personal journey is peppered with humor, heart-warming moments, and chock-full of hilariously eccentric characters. I love that even the minor characters — such as this one kitchen worker who could only say yes and no — are quite memorable.

The scene-stealer here is Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah as the free-spirited taxi driver Akbar whose chance meeting with Samir one night could be the best thing that ever happened to him. I don’t ever remember Mr. Shah in anything else before which is a shame as he’s quite a charismatic actor and his character is just so darn charming!

Just like any movies about food, the scenery is really mouth-watering. I tell you, it made me crave Indian food watching Akbar mentor Samir on the art of cooking Indian cuisine. Akbar is a passionate chef who cooks from the heart, which goes with the tagline of the film, ‘Life Has No Recipe.’ The relationship between these two are the best part of the film, as the romance between Samir and his former colleague (Jess Weixler) isn’t explored all that well.

Overall it’s an enjoyable ‘cultural comedy’ if you will, but anyone should be able to relate to its universal theme of family, friendship and the message of making the most of one’s ‘broken dream.’ I highly recommend this if you’re in the mood for an enjoyable off-the-beaten-path comedy.

4 out of 5 reels


The Heir Apparent (2008)

After a powerful billionaire is murdered, his secret adoptive son must race to prove his legitimacy, find his father’s killers and stop them from taking over his financial empire.

I remember seeing the trailer for this movie a while back but didn’t remember the title. Apparently this film is based on a graphic novel by a Belgian comic artist Philippe Francq, who incidentally is a big fan of the Tintin comics I grew up with. What I love about this film is its international flavor, which reminds me of Bond movies in the way it was shot in many exotic locations.

The protagonist is Largo Winch, played by French actor of Israeli-descent Tomer Sisley, a reluctant heir to a billionaire magnate, Nerio Winch. Largo gets entangled in a corporate conspiracy theory following the death of his adopted father. He has to prove his legitimacy to the shareholder of his late father’s company, the W Group, and also find out who kills him.

The film has some flashback scenes on Largo’s adoption and upbringing, both when he was living with a Croatian family designated by Nerio himself, and how Largo’s father has always prepared him to be his chosen heir. This personal journey of Largo keeps the story grounded, even if the twists start to pile up and the action gets more and more bombastic. Director Jérôme Salle likely borrows the style from Bond and Bourne movies, there are all kinds of chase scenes to be found here. Motorbike chase, car chase, foot chase, you name it, there’s even a scene of the hero falling into the ocean that’s highly reminiscent of Bourne Supremacy.

But despite its lack of originality, I think this is a pretty enjoyable and slick action adventure that should please action fans. There’s enough suspense and beautiful cinematography of exotic locales to keep up entertained as well. There’s one breathtaking scene where Largo rides a boat to a round island that’s supposedly near Malta (see below), but it was filmed in Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, Italy. The scenery rivals that of a Bond film which is quite impressive given it’s only got a $30 mil budget.

I think Sisley is a pretty appealing leading man, even if he’s not exactly the most-skilled actor. He’s got a devil-may-care attitude to him, but he’s also got a warm side to him, especially during the scenes with his adopted mother Hannah. Apart from Kristin Scott Thomas, who’s excellent as always, most of the supporting cast is unknown. I think I’ve only seen Mélanie Thierry in the The Princess of Montpensier trailer and she’s got quite a steamy scene with Sisley. They use various languages here as well which enhances a level of authenticity and the music by multiple Oscar-nominee Alexandre Desplat is worth noting as well.

I like this one enough that I might actually check out the sequel, The Burma Conspiracy, which has the same director as this one.

4 out of 5 reels


So that’s my weekend roundup, folks. What did YOU watch this weekend?

Indie Film Project Spotlight: The Fitzroy

Happy Friday everyone! TGIF is the word and not only because it’s the end of the workweek, but because today FlixChatter is shining the spotlight on a UK indie feature film called The Fitzroy!

I first heard about this film earlier this month when I ‘met’ producer James J. Heath via Twitter. At the time their Kickstarter project hasn’t launched yet, but I checked out the film’s website and quite like what I saw. As a graphic designer and a movie buff, I just love how well-thought out and creative this project is, I love the illustrations and the sense of whimsy of the whole project. The video, website, blog and other promotional materials seems really well put-together, so obviously the Fitzroy team has worked diligently and should be on their way to make their dream a reality!

The Fitzroy – A black comedy feature film set in an alternative post-apocalyptic 1950s on a submarine hotel.

SYNOPSIS:

Set in an alternative post-apocalyptic 1950’s, The Fitzroy hotel, a derelict submarine beached just off Margate, is the last place for a traditional summer holiday. Bernard, the hotel’s bellboy, cook, maintenance man and general dogsbody faces a constant battle to keep the decaying hotel airtight and afloat.

But when he falls in love with Sonya, a murderous guest, he is thrown into a world of lies, backstabbing and chaos. As Bernard struggles to hide her murders from the other guests and suspicious authorities, the hotel literally begins to sink around him. As his world implodes, Bernard must choose between the woman he thinks he loves and the hotel submarine that is keeping them all alive.

Check out this intro video below featuring director Andrew Harmer on the Black Widow submarine they’re hoping to shoot on:

Meet The Fitzroy Team!

In 2011, Liam Garvo and James J. Heath formed Dresden Pictures to focus on producing feature film content with The Fitzroy being the first in a line up of several films they will be producing. Liam described the dark comedy as ‘.. a cross between Delicatessen and Fawlty Towers.’ Just in case you’re wondering, the film will be live action, with the opening titles the only thing that’s animated. James told me they’d be announcing casting info soon.

Here’s James, writer/director Andrew Harmer, and Liam at the Sci-Fi London’s Post-Apocolympic festival last weekend where they set up a stall to promote their film.

James, Andrew and Liam

You can read the detailed bios of each of them on their website (see a set of links below to find out more info)


The Fitzroy Official Site | Andrew’s blog | Twitter | Facebook | The Green Rock River Band | Dresden Pictures


Click the graphic to check out their Kickstarter campaign

The Fitzroy team has launched the Kickstarter campaign on November 8 and so far has made it through the 10% barrier. But they still need to raise £60,000 in order to make the film and enter it into various film festivals. There are all kinds of rewards listed there, you could even be in the movie if you choose to. The films titles will be an animated cartoon and will explain how the world of The Fitzroy came to be, so if you send ‘em a couple of photos of yourself, they will turn you into a toon featured in the title sequence! :D

For those of you in London, there’s a celebratory shin-dig for The Fitzroy and it’s crowd funding campaign.

Monday, November 19, 2012 • 7pm

Zigfrid von Underbelly of Hoxton
11 Hoxton Square, London

The film’s band and soundtrack producer - The Green Rock River Band will be performing a live set of ‘Doom Folk’, plus there’ll be giveaways, an exhibition, and special announcements. Oh and also a FREE BAR (not for long though, so get there early).

I wish I could attend but I live on the other side of the pond!


Now, both James and Andrew have agreed to do a special Q&A with me and FlixChatter’s readers.

So before you check out their project, do submit any question you have for the filmmaker in the comments section. Their answers will be posted here later this month!