7 Films Screened at Sundance 2015 I’m most curious about

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How’s your weekend everybody? I spent some of my weekend reading [and dreaming] about the Sundance Film Festival. I wish I could go there one day, the venue itself in Park City, Utah is gorgeous and of course, it’s a haven for movie fans, especially indie lovers. Who knows when we’ll actually see these films in a theater near us, but hopefully we will eventually.

So here are just a tiny sampling of movies that piqued my interest [in random order]:

Z For Zacharias

Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Pall Grimsson, Nissar Modi
Cast: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor

In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

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I’ve been seeing this photo all over the place and the cast alone intrigues me. I had no idea this was about a love triangle set in a post-apocalyptic world. Apparently this is based on a YA novel and according to this review from Variety,  the book has “…allusions to the Genesis narrative, [and] the novel was seen by some critics as a metaphorical clash between science and faith.” I was impressed w/ Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it’d be interesting to see her in a more prominent role against these two equally gorgeous and talented actors.

Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson

In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

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I LOVE Ronan and the 20-year-old’s definitely coming into her own as a grown-up actress now after churning in great performances in her teen years, esp. Atonement and Hanna. I like the sound of this period drama and John Crowley’s the same director who did the excellent Boy A with Andrew Garfield.

99 Homes

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
Cast: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern

After his family is evicted, proud and desperate construction worker Dennis Nash (GARFIELD) tries to win his home back by striking a deal with the devil and working for Rick Carver (SHANNON), the corrupt real estate broker who evicted him.

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This sounds really intriguing, and it’s already got really good reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s an excerpt from We Got This Covered, “It is a film that could easily have condescended with characters that fall too concretely on the sides of black and white, the 99% vs. the 1%. (it is easy to believe that the 99 from the title refers to the plight of the common individual against the monopoly of the elite). However, Bahrani and co-scribe Amir Naderi are too perceptive and intelligent to depict these two men in simplistic ways.” 

Last Days in the Desert

Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Writer: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds

An imagined chapter from Jesus’ forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis.

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Ok so yes I was initially intrigued to see this mainly to see how McGregor pull off playing both Jesus and the Devil. But reading this interview with the filmmaker and lead actor on Christianity Today made me all the more curious. Described in the article as “…a character-driven meditation on family and mortality, haunting and spare” it seems as far away from something like EXODUS in terms of its *epic* and CGI-laden extravaganza, but hopefully it offers a reflective and thought-provoking look of Jesus’s life in perhaps his pivotal moment in his short but momentous life.

Lila & Eve

Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Pat Gilfillan
Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

Two distraught mothers, whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action.

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Viola Davis and J-Lo?? Now THAT’s quite an unlikely duo. It’s reminiscent of Thelma & Louise but decidedly more serious in tone. Considering the cultural climate of the recent police shootings in this country, the film would likely spark controversies. It’s certainly nice to see two strong women of color, who have a huge following in their own right, starring in a film together. The main draw for me here is Davis who’s charismatic and massively talented. Despite her questionable choice of movies, Lopez is actually not a bad actress and perhaps she gets to show her dramatic chops in this one.

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Director: Andrew Bujalsk
Writer: Andrew Bujalsk
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce

Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.

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Guy Pearce in a comedy, as a personal trainer no less? Yes please! Interesting to see the pairing of him and Smulders, but both have been in Marvel movies. Variety reported that the film’s been sold to Magnolia and perhaps will open later this Summer. Here’s more info about the plot: The film is set in the fitness world of Austin, Texas, with Corrigan as a recently divorced, miserable slob who makes a stab at self-improvement by signing up for a personal trainer at a local gym, where he meets the self-styled guru/owner (Pearce) and acerbic trainer Kat (Smulders). Sounds good to me!

Slow West

Director: John MacLean
Writer: John MacLean
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendehlson, Kodi Smit-McPhee

‘Slow West’ follows a 16-year-old boy on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of the woman he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveler Silas.

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It’s interesting to note that first time director was a musician whose music been featured in films like High Fidelity and Remember Me. He worked on a short called Man on a Motorcycle starring Fassbender and perhaps that’s who the two met. Fassbender is also producing this film, described in MacLean’s own words in this Indiewire interview as “A European perspective of the West and young love…” Westerns isn’t my go-to genre, but the premise and cast definitely grabs my attention.

Hopefully these movies will all get distribution and that I get to see them later this year!


Well, have you been following Sundance this year? Which movies are you most excited to see?

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite MALE Performances of the Year

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Well, now that I’ve posted my Top 10 Movies of the year and picked my Top 10 favorite FEMALE Performances and Top 10 Film Scores of the year, I’m finally down to my last 2014 Recap list. It’s quite a crowded category, more so than the female counterpart, as obviously there are more roles for men as there are for women on any given year. But I’m still picking only 10 on the main list, and another 10 15 on Honorable Mentions (there are just too many to keep it to just 10). Naturally these are performances from films I got a chance to see last year. So in case you’re wondering where’s Jake Gyllenhaal, Eddie Redmayne or J.K. Simmons, well I haven’t seen Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything nor Whiplash.

Same w/ the ladies, this list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ‘em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

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It’s one of those transformative roles that all actors are privileged to get but not everyone can pull it off. Well, I always think that Steve Carell is a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for and Foxcatcher‘s director Bennet Miller said during our interview that “…it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them.” But it takes so much more than just putting on a fake nose to create a convincing character. I’ve seen him in serious roles before in Little Miss Sunshine, but took his dramatic potential up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. As I’m writing this, I couldn’t help recalling his earlier role as Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty, yet I couldn’t fathom that they’re played by the same actor!

2. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

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Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing an eccentric genius on screen. But apart from being British and a brainiac, Alan Turing couldn’t be more different than his Sherlock persona. Cumberbatch effortlessly captures that brilliant intellect and that arrogant, dismissive attitude towards the world around him, but he also convincingly conveys Turing’s inner tumult. The final scenes where Turing is treated as a social outcast is the film’s most heart-wrenching moments. All the pain, anguish and utter despair is palpable on Cumberbatch’s face but without a moment of overacting. It’s no doubt the actor’s shining hour, a personal best even amongst his already impressive resume.

3. Chris Evans – Snowpiercer

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In a year when he’s truly coming into his own as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America in its sequel, Chris Evans also emerges as a capable indie leading man. Certain actors often become stuck to play certain roles because of how they look and I think Evans is one them. But Evans is more than just a pretty face & a hot body, even if his role choices are questionable at times. I saw that he has dramatic chops in Puncture but this is an even more complex role – not to mention a better-crafted film overall – and he gets to show what he can do as an actor. As a conflicted rebel leader with a dark past, Evans displays an unusually somber, soulful and heartfelt performance. I’d love to see him tackle more dramatic roles like this in the future, he certainly has it in him.

4. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Whilst Carell is comedian playing a dark role, the normally-serious Ralph Fiennes got to do the opposite. It’s such a thrill to see him being so goofy here, and he seems to relish in the character’s inherent zany-ness. Apparently Wes Anderson wrote this role specifically for him, which I think is an inspired choice that absolutely paid off. His deadpan delivery is really fun to watch here, and he has that effortless elegance about him too that fits the role of the legendary concierge M. Gustave.

5. Tom Hardy – Locke

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It takes an actor of a certain charisma to hold your attention for 1.5 hour long when all you see is him inside a car the entire time. But charisma can only go so far without the skills, but thankfully, Hardy’s got both. This is the first film with him in the leading role, after seeing him stealing scenes left and right in films like Rocknrolla, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. He was a co-lead (with Joel Edgerton) in Warrior, an intensely physical role that he offsets with layers of vulnerability. As a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life, his body is barely shown the entire movie, so he had to rely on his eyes and facial features to convey every single emotion. Suffice to say, he delivered with aplomb. It’s a mesmerizingly-nuanced performance that confirms my opinion that Hardy as one of the finest actors working today. Seems that he’s only just getting warmed up.

6. Michael Keaton – Birdman

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One of the highlights of 2014 cinema for me is definitely seeing the perpetually-underrated Michael Keaton getting a career resurgence. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, as he’s the kind of actor who can tackle hard-hitting drama as well as silly comedic roles effortlessly. In Birdman he gets a chance to tackle both and he relish in that opportunity. He’s been garnering kudos left and right and he’s the one I’m rooting for the entire award season. The fact that there are many similarities between his character Riggan and his professional acting life certainly adds a dose of amusement as well as authenticity to his portrayal. Keaton infused Riggan with such depth and genuine pathos that even during some of the film’s most bizarre scenes as Riggan descend into madness, he’s always emotionally engaging.

7. James McAvoy – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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If only you more people had seen at least one version of this romantic drama, even just to see how good both lead actors are. McAvoy’s co-star Jessica Chastain is on my Top 10 list of Female Performers from the same film. I’ve been a fan of James McAvoy since Atonement and the Scottish actor has since done an amazing job balancing big blockbusters like X-Men: First Class to small indies like this one. He’s an instantly likable actor who I vehemently believe is more talented than people give him credit for. What I love about McAvoy is that there’s always such a natural way to his acting that you instantly believe he’s that character. Here he wears his character Conor like an old shoe, a man desperately trying to somehow regain his lost love. There is a moment in the film where Conor is alone in an empty apartment and he reminisce on his marriage that is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a shame that AMPAS doesn’t even notice this film as both Chastain & McAvoy’s marvelous performances are certainly Oscar-worthy.

8. Edward Norton – Birdman

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Another highlights from Birdman and why this is truly one of the best films of the decade is seeing Ed Norton in a role worthy of his talent. It’s definitely a scene-stealing role in a film that’s already jam-packed with fine performances. Just like his co-star Keaton, Norton did a brilliant dramatic and comedic turn as a self-absorbed diva of an actor who’s more comfortable in his own skin when he’s on stage. All the scenes of him and Keaton are truly the film’s highlights as both actors not only baring their skin down to their underwear, but they also bare themselves emotionally. It’s too bad that he probably won’t win an Oscar again this year, but I sure hope the three-time Oscar nominee won’t be wasted playing second/third banana in subpar movies like Bourne Legacy ever again.

9. David Oyelowo – Selma

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I’ve made my quibbles known about one of the egregious snubs of this year’s Oscar. But if there is justice in the world, this wouldn’t be the last we see Oyelowo’s name being mentioned during cinema’s award season. Even in bit parts in a myriad of movies ranging from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, Jack Reacher, etc., I always notice his performance. He finally got to shine in a prominent supporting role as Forrest Whitaker’s teenage son in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which also deals with the Civil Rights Movement. It’s interesting that a year later he got to play the key figure in that historical movement, a role that I read he’s been dreaming to play for some time. Oyelowo didn’t just get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mannerism and speaking style right, it’s more than just a brilliant impersonation but he truly embodied the role. What’s more, he portrayed Dr. King as not just a heroic figure but as a man, flawed and plagued with doubts just like any regular person would. He is just as convincing as a powerful and persuasive orator as he is in the quieter scenes that demand subtle nuances. I can’t wait to see what Oyelowo will tackle next.

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher 

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Is there anything Mark Ruffalo can’t do? I feel like I’ve been missing out as for whatever reason I didn’t really pay attention to him until recently. I was going to list his performance in Begin Again but technically that’s a 2013 film, but man what an astounding display of versatility. His role as an Olympic pro-wrestler David Schultz in Foxcatcher couldn’t be more different than a distressed & disheveled record producer in Begin Again but he’s utterly believable in both. Ruffalo’s role is actually the least flashy compared to Steve Carell’s and Channing Tatum’s, but his character is no doubt the heart of the film. It’s a role that demands the perfect amount of nuance and subtlety and Ruffalo pulls it off wonderfully. The video interview scene alone when he’s asked to describe Carell’s character is simply masterful, I remember marveling at how good his performance was as I was watching it. I think that might’ve been what earned him his second Oscar nomination.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I truly didn’t expect to see some names would end up on this list. I honestly have never seen Tyler Perry nor Zach Galifianakis in anything other than clips of their movies, but they definitely left an impression on me in their respective films. There are some big breakthroughs here too, especially Dan Stevens and Chris Pratt, garnering a lot of buzz in their successful starring roles. There are also some perennial favorites of mine who definitely still got it (Keanu Reeves), as well as a brand new actor I’ve never seen before. Manish Dayal‘s like the male counterpart of Gugu Mbatha-Raw for me and I hope to see him more movies! As for Guy Pearce, I sure hope that he will get the recognition he deserves one day as he’s simply a phenomenal actor.

Here they are in random order:


Thoughts on these male performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

Everybody’s Chattin’ and Music Break featuring THE GUEST Soundtrack

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It’s already three weeks into January and I just realize I haven’t done a Community Links nor a Music Break post. So why not combine the two again, right? Having just seen The Guest, I knew I had to do a post on the awesome 80s retro soundtrack! I really enjoyed the movie too, review up sometime in the next few days.

So here are what blogger’s been chattin’ about this past week:

There are still a lot of 2014 recaps circulating on the blogosphere and I actually still have one more year-end recap list on Top 10 MALE Performances that I’m hoping to finalize this week yet.

Best2014RecapWell, speaking of cinematic recaps, Margaret and Keith just posted theirs and it’s an absolute blast reading ‘em! LOVE all the creative categories highlighting the best and worst of the year.

Kudos to Eric for finishing his 50 Movies Project! Here’s how he ranked all those films, consider this a list of film recommendations too!

Now switching gears to 2015 Movie Watching plans and glad to see Melissa and Abbi joining the Blindspot series! Check out their film selections on their respective blogs.

I wasn’t going to include any more award-related stuff until Oscar telecast later in late February, but Josh just posted about how his Oscar predictions (which he started 9 months ago!) lined up with the actual nominations.

Now on to reviews!

Dell just posted his review of Selma and Andrew posted his thoughts on the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself. Meanwhile, Natalie and Mark just reviewed the surprise box office smash American Sniper.

Last but not least, Tim just reviewed T3ken which I hope Bryan Mills won’t read, ahah. Seems like it’s as hilariously awful as the trailer!


Now time for some awesome music …

theguest_danstevens2… bad ass & deliciously creepy Dan Stevens!

Here’s another fun action flick from last year besides John Wick that has a hint of 80s/90s retro, not just in terms of the film’s style but also in the soundtrack! Nerdist.com posted an interview with director Adam Wingard about how he crafted the soundtrack,

“…I was thinking more ’80s goth rock stuff like Death In June but as we made the picture, I realized the movie was going in a more poppy direction [becoming] less dark as the movie developed and that kind of evolved more into 80s goth electronica as opposed to straight up ’80s goth rock”

As with a lot of stuff, everything old is new again and the nostalgia factor is what makes it awesome :D My favorite track happens to be the same one that Stevens’ character David love! It’s called Anthonio by Norwegian recording artist Annie released back in 2009. I also love the ending score by Steve Moore.


Hope you enjoyed today’s Music Break!

Question of the Week: What new (or new to you) TV series are you really into right now?

Hi everyone! Just to switch things up from all the awards chatter (which is so tiresome already), let’s talk about TV shows.

BroadchurchBBCIn the start of the new year, I thought I should catch up on some great shows that people have been recommending. So last week I finally caught up on Season 1 of BROADCHURCH starring Olivia Colman and David Tennant. Thanks to my friend Dave W. who gave me this top 10 reasons of why you should absolutely check out this amazing British drama if you haven’t already. It’s every bit as gripping and emotionally-engaging as I had expected. It took me about four days to finish all 10 episodes as it’s really quite addictive that I couldn’t stop watching!

Now, just yesterday I finally got around to seeing another British series I’ve been meaning to check out: The Honourable Woman.

TheHonourableWomanI erroneously thought that this 8-part series will leave Netflix at the end of the month but it’s actually not up for renewal so it will REMAIN on its streaming service, yay! In any case, I can’t tell you enough how good this series is and Maggie Gyllenhaal absolutely deserves her Golden Globe win as the show’s protagonist. Here’s the premise:

Nessa Stein, a woman who inherits her father’s arms business and finds herself in a international maelstrom when as she continues to promote the reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Right from the get go, the show created by Hugo Blick is immensely riveting and suspenseful. Plot twists abound as you have no clue who’s good or bad, there’s no clear heroes or villains which makes it all the more intriguing. The writing, acting and cinematography are top notch, and not only does it have a strong female protagonist, it’s nice to see women playing prominent characters in this series. As a fan of British dramas, the show is filled fantastic mostly-British cast: Stephen Rea, Janet McTeer, Andrew Buchan (who’s also in Broadchurch), and Tobias Menzies. Maggie is a native New Yorker but her British accent is flawless (well it sounds that way to me anyway) but it’s her acting and elegant way she moves that is truly fun to watch.

Check out the trailer:


So that’s what I’ve been obsessing lately. Which *new* shows did you just discover that you can’t get enough of?

Weekend Roundup + Review of Michael Mann’s Blackhat (2015)

Happy Monday everyone! It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my office is closed in remembrance of Dr. King’s birthday. I was reading up about Dr. King’s history earlier today and I’m always astonished by how many inspiring comments he had made in his relatively short life. These are just some of my favorites we can all live by no matter what day it is.

Did anybody see SELMA this weekend? Well, it’s a good a time as any to see that film but I figure it’d resonate even more on MLK Day. I only went to the cinema on Friday night for Blackhat, and only got around to seeing The Guest last night. Tonight my hubby and I are going to start watching The Honourable Woman before Netflix yanked it off its streaming service at the end of the month. We’ve been wanting to check that out for ages, and Maggie Gyllenhaal winning a Golden Globe for her performance served as a perfect reminder!

Now here’s my review of Michael Mann’s latest cyber thriller:

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Well, looks like I have to eat my words on this one, considering I’ve done this enthusiastic post on this movie. I was prepared for a smart cyber-thriller that would speak to our cultural anxieties sparked by the repetitive security breaches and surveillance concerns, but the movie is just a typical crime thriller in which the plot revolves around a malicious hacker (hence the title). The opening sequence depicts a CGI tracking shot going into a maze-like chase from inside one computer and out of another on the other side of the globe and resulted in a nuclear reactor explosion in China. Both US and China are desperate to find a computer whiz to help find the cyber criminal and so we’re introduced to Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) who’s currently serving time for computer fraud. Conveniently, his MIT roommate Chen (Wang Leehom) is now a high-ranking Chinese official and he suggests that the FBI grants him a furlough to help them out.

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It all sounds oh-so-exciting but the film itself comes off as dull and un-suspenseful. The hacking jargon and those cyber intrusion CGI may look and sound cool at first, but it gets repetitive as the film progresses, but that’s not even the film’s biggest flaws. The aerial shots are frame-worthy, as one would expect from visual stylist like Mann, but it can’t cover for the clunky dialog (both in English and sometimes broken Indonesian) nor all the plot contrivances that don’t pay off at the end. I haven’t even mentioned the lame villains that’s more irritating than menacing.

I mentioned my doubts about our current ‘sexiest man alive’ Hemsworth as a hacker. Not just any hacker mind you, a computer genius who can hack into anything, including tricking NSA to get him access to their “Black Widow” super computer. (Thor & Black Widow, yes those Avengers reference did put a smile on my face). Well, no matter how authentic the hacking sequences and UNIX command line accuracies are (apparently the film got ‘em right according to Wired), it’s still REALLY tough to buy Hemsworth as any sort of computer whiz. He’s not a terrible actor in the right role but he’s so out of his elements here. He also isn’t a movie star, not yet anyway. I read a comment on IMDb that says, ‘Tom Cruise is a star, Hemsworth is a mere flash light.’ Ouch! But y’know what, it made me think that if it were Cruise or someone with his charisma in the starring role, the movie could’ve been a bit more watchable.

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It doesn’t help matters that we’ve got the cheesiest, most cringe-worthy tacked-on romance between him and Chen’s sister (Tang Wei) who conveniently happens to be a software expert. I remember the scorching chemistry between Colin Farrell and Gong Li in Miami Vice, but none of that is to be found here between Hemsworth and Wei. All longing glances and even a sex scene two days after they met, but absolutely zero chemistry. Zilch. I wish Mann would give more time to Leehom and Viola Davis instead, both are perhaps the only saving grace here in terms of casting. Even delivering lines like ‘You can call me Chica anytime you want,’ Davis is always entertaining to watch, if only Hollywood would give her more to do in a movie.

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It’s really a shame that this film never rise above mediocrity. There are even some seriously preposterous moments, I mean, magazines used as bullet proof vest?? Ok so maybe if Thor has ribs made of steel [shrug] My hubby and I turned to each other as the credit rolls that it doesn’t feel like a Michael Mann movie. It looks as if a lesser filmmaker was imitating him as Blackhat has the look/sound/feel to it. I do appreciate the global feel of the film, being shot on location in several countries from US to China to Indonesia. But even the finale set during a Hindus’ Nyepi “Day of Silence” Celebration in Jakarta serves nothing more than an extremely elaborate set decoration, employing 3000 extras no less, that doesn’t add much to the movie.

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You know I REALLY want to love Blackhat so imagine my disappointment. It’s yet another exercise of style-over-substance. Yet visually, despite some arresting ones here and there, overall it’s not as impressive as his previous work in an urban setting, i.e. Collateral. Everything else fares even worse, from casting, dialog and plot, there’s very little to recommend this even coming from a big fan of this director. Six years after the disappointing Public Enemies, this is another misfire from Michael Mann. Well, I hope we won’t have to wait as long to see him back in top form for his next film.

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So what did you watch this weekend? What do you think of Blackhat?

Tube Watch: 5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having gotten family Thanksgiving feasting and festivities out of the way a few days early. And indulging in minor Tryptophan comas through many variations of sumptuous leftovers. I’ve decided to make good on a debt or favor and honor to our Hostess, Ruth.

Accumulating information, intelligence and perspective on a well budgeted, thought out and executed extension of the Twentieth Century Fox television derivative, FX. And their inspired doubling down and betting it all on one series. As successfully done with their previous offering,”The Shield”. And again coming out on top!

The series in question isn’t exactly a Western. Nor is it what I consider a full fledged or procedural “Cop show”. Though it has topics, drama and situations taken from both genres. Cleverly updated and blended together in ways that only veteran novelist and writer, Elmore Leonard could conjure up and bring to tense, sometimes comedic life.

So, allow me a few moments of your time to delve in, peel back layers and hopefully lay bare a perspective on one of the more enigmatic, yet surprisingly addictive series of this decade with:

5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

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Though not given a numerical value that might place one specific above another. I am going to be au courant and simply state the reasons. Since each is an integral part of the others. And how well they mesh to create superlative adult entertainment.

The Writing

The foundation of any series, film, feature or short subject lays trapped inside the writers’ imagination. And how well those thought and ideas flow through to paper. And later, processor or lap top. And few are better than master novelist and screenwriter, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard.

Whose pedigree runs from the 1950s heydays of Budd Boetticher’s low budgeted, Randolph Scott films (‘The Tall T’). Through the original ‘3:10 to Yuma’. Both renditions of ‘Hombre’. To ‘The Moonshine War’, ‘Valdez Is Coming’, ‘Joe Kidd’, ‘Mr. Majestyk’ and ’52 Pick Up’. And later, more recognizable efforts, ‘Get Shorty’, ‘Jackie Brown’. Television’s ‘Karen Sisco’ and low budgeted, mid west winter revenge flick, ‘Killshot’,

JUSTIFIED_FX_GrahamYostAdd an eye for minor details with Graham Yost (HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and major Wild West meets Shakespeare cult class series, ‘Deadwood’). And you have the makings of grittily modernizing the “Old Gunslinger comes to town” premise. Add a few love interests. The odd family and home town feuds. Old school (Moonshine) and updated forms (Grass, Oxycotin and Heroin) of illegal recreational pharmacology. Bracing old friends and new snitches. Serving warrants and transporting prisoners. And you have a continuing tale and mixture that pays off in ways unimagined!

With the writing for the ever developing. overall idea nicely tied up. We move to:

The Locations

With the sunny beaches south of Miami used as a backdrop for a Han Solo and Greedo like sit down showdown with a mid tier Columbian drug runner to get the story moving westward during the series’ pilot and premiere episode. Then shifting ever so quickly to the rustic, quaint and near antique confines of Harlan, Kentucky. Talent is needed to find just the right look and feel of a town and outskirts that architecturally haven’t left the 1960s.

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And that’s where Jared Kurt, Andrew Keeler and Eric Klosterman come in. Finding out of the off the beaten path and less accessible way places, townships, railway heads, trestle bridges and occasional steam powered locomotives and trains to add back woods and water authenticity. Where forested, hilly, coal country Kittaning and up against the Appalachian and Ohio border, Washington, Pennsylvania come into their own. Though much more in the second season and beyond. Where coal, mining, land sales, drug deals, the “Dixie Mafia”, organized crime out of Detroit and local politics move to the fore. Not exactly a perfect, restored time capsule when dealing with contemporary eyesores, safety rails and the like. But a pleasantly rewarding treasure trove for those who appreciate the look and feel minor details add to an organic domestic mix. Accepting and often looking forward to these tidbits, because of their solidity and tangibility.

While Santa Clarita and the outskirts of Pasadena, California fill in for the rustic and slightly time warped main drag and town square of Kentucky’s capital, Frankfort. Its court houses, municipal buildings and the more affluent parts of cities and towns where the movers and shakers on both sides of the law and criminal scale live and do business,

JUSTIFIED_FX_MargoMartindale

Sets of all shape, size and devotion to detail abound. From the Marshall’s office in Harlan with computers on every desk and a flat screen televisions in the boss’ office. To the incredibly old time clap board country and general store of “Mags” Bennett (Margo Martindale, magnificent and made for the role!). The tough as nails, seemingly omniscient matriarch of a low scale crime clan way out in the hills. And several old, disused and forgotten coal mines and shafts which fill a more lucrative purpose. Add some Honky Tonk bars. Dirt floored and otherwise. Mobile home and trailer-ed brothels of the series’ main nemesis. And watch some magic go to work!

Which moves us along to those who ride herd and maintain control over all this largesse of imagination and logistics.

The Directors

Far too many to mention here. Though the number tops out at twenty. With notables being Adam Arkin (Who also has a cameo role as elegant Detroit mob shot caller, Theo Tonin). Who came on board early and has a nice touch for the series tone, grit and occasional irony and humor. While honing his near veteran skills with two episodes for each season.

Followed closely by crime connoisseur and master of Neo Noir, John Dahl (‘The Last Seduction’, ‘Red Rock West’, ‘Rounders’) Who brings out the “Tough Guy” talk and image beautifully in the Good Guys, Bad Guys, crews and clans memorably the early seasons and beyond. While Jon Avnet has a real penchant for introducing and fleshing out new, often returning characters and the beginning of major twists seasons before they sometime disastrously occur. And leaves some slack to expand upon for Peter Werner, Tony Goldwyn, Don Kurt and Peter Werner to run and play with.

Creating a fluid, uninterrupted canvas for this cabal of visual choreographers to deliver solid consistent work. About the only director who hasn’t been called in to add his perspective is Peter Weller (“Robo Cop’, ‘Shakedown’), who has been doing superior work directing and being a crooked retired police chief on FX’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’!

Which brings us to the meat of the series. Split into two groups.

The GOOD and BAD Guys

THE GOOD GUYS

Relatively small in numbers. As is befitting any continuing tale of Good versus Evil.

Raylan Givens: Veteran U.S. Marshall. Tall, lean nonconformist. Made for denim jeans, jacket, chambray shirt, Tony Lama boots and a wide brimmed, down turned Stetson. That he absolutely rocks. Even in Mimi, Florida! A fast and deadly accurate shot. Reassigned back to Harlan after a controversial shooting. Played with a wise, sly, cynical smile by Timothy Olyphant (HBO’s ‘Deadwood’, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, ‘Hitman’, ‘The Crazies’).

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Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens

Art Mullen: Raylan’s unassuming “Been There. Done That” boss. Elder statesmen, mentor and conscience to Raylan and his squad. Overweight, Long of tooth. Up for retirement. Yet knowing more about his stomping ground, feuds and secrets than he lets on. Embodied near flawlessly by baritone, veteran character actor, Nick Searcy (‘Castaway’, ‘Moneyball’, ‘The Ugly Truth’, ‘To Appomattox’).

Rachel Brooks: (Erica Tazel) So much more than meets the eye. Smart, clever, efficient, quiet. Yet very proud of her being a Marshall. And not adverse to drawing and using her sidearm or shotgun.Can read most men in less than a minute. Slated to take Art’s place upon retirement. Huge potential for an actress just starting out. And showing the chops to stay ahead of the pack.

Erica Tazel

Erica Tazel

Tim Gutterson: (Jacob Pitts. HBO’s ’21’, ‘The Pacific’, ‘Euro Trip’) The squad’s long range rifleman and occasional back up for Raylan. Former Army sniper with multiple tours in Afghanistan and the desert. Equally proficient with a pistol. Doesn’t talk much, because he really doesn’t need to. Also a dead ringer for a younger Chris Cooper! Possessing quiet “Old Time Toughness” as well as a bit of sly when confronting criminals.

ADA David Vasquez: (Rick Gomez: HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Sin City) Up and coming Federal Prosecutor trying to “make his bones” and a name for himself far away from the power players in Washington, DC. Fast talking. Too shrewd by half. Knows Raylan’s gun slinging reputation and wants to capitalize on it to his advantage.

Judge Mike Reardon: (Stephen Root: ‘Office Space’, ‘Fargo’, ‘News Radio’) No nonsense judge who carries a licensed pistol under his robes. And has a red Swingline stapler atop his desk beside the blotter and phone in his chambers!

Which leaves the floor open for:

THE BAD GUYS

Many with extended families and cousins. Most vying for supremacy. Or control of a criminal beyond the reach of their respective towns or counties.

Boyd Crowder: Criminally under rated Walton Goggins, Channeling Shane Vendrell of FX’s earlier, ‘The Shield’. Finally being the Outlaw he was meant to be. Sly, smooth. With a chess player’s mind and a scary familiarity with violence. Had worked in the mines as a youth with Raylan. Very handy with explosives.

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Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder

“Mags” Bennett: (Margo Martindale: ‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘The Hours’, Orphan’) Hard luck woman. Matriarch of the Bennett clan. Sons Doyle, Dickie and Coover. Sells Moonshine (“Apple Pie”) and decent grass. When not trying to get family land from a fading coal company.

The Crowes: Daryl Crowe, Jr. (Michael Rapaport). Muscle bound ‘roid raged bully and small time grafter with delusions of grandeur. Danny Crowe (AJ. Buckley. Lab nerd on ‘CSI:NY’ turn in a bravura turn as a knife freak fixated on challenging men with guns from a distance. Dewey Crowe (Damien Harrison). Skinny. Loud mouthed. Former gator poacher. Possibly the most hapless criminal in Florida or Kentucky. Nose broken by Raylan early on lead to a lawsuit and payoff that bring Dewey’s cousins ruing at the scent of opportunity and money!

The Crowe Brothers

The Crowe Brothers

Wynn Duffy: (Jere Burns) Represents “The Dixie Mafia” as front man and “arranger”. Always mobile in a Winnebago. Constantly stuck in the middle of attention drawing Turf Wars. Thinks his talents are misplaced.And would rather be elsewhere.

Robert Quarles: (Neal McDonough. Another ‘Band of Brothers’ alum) Enforcer for the Detroit syndicate. Sexual sadist and usually calm sociopath. Favors a two shot derringer in a forearm to wrist slide rig.

Ellstin Limehouse: (Mykelti Williamson: ‘Forrest Gump;, ‘CSI:NY) Overseer to an historic hollow where slaves were left alone to thrive. post Antebellum. Shot caller fo many gangs throughout the state. And not adverse to the odd bank robbery.

Which leads us to:

The Ladies in Attendance

Winona Hawkins: (Natalie Zea) ADA for Harlan County. Former girlfriend of Raylan. Smarter than she lets on. Though sometimes lets emotions get in the way.

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Natalie Zea

Eva Crowder: (Joelle Carter) Married to Boyd’s cousin Johnny, whom she shoots with a Deer Rifle at the dinner table in the series premiere. Falls for Raylan. Then Boyd. To become the font of knowledge of criminal activity in Harlan. And Boyd’s woman. A hard luck. Hard loving woman. Who may just be out for herself, after all.

Wendy Crowe: (Alicia Witt) The only Crowe to earn a law degree. And not bashful about using that knowledge gaming others and The System to her and her son’s advantage. Pretty, clever. Dreams big. But manages with just enough to get by.

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Alicia Witt and Michael Rapaport

Katherine Hale: (Mary Steenburgen: ‘Joan of Arcadia; ‘Elf’, ‘Sunshine State’) Back up for Wynn Duffy. Elegant, fetching. Heart of ice. May or may not off Wynn during this last season.

Loretta McCready: (Kaitlyn Dever) A teenage girl with the mind far beyond her years. Whose father was killed by Coover Bennett and sought revenge. Then redemption. Every bit as sly as the boys and a perfect foil for Raylan!

Overall Consensus:

A series that has done surprisingly well. With its first season devoted to character introductions and small scale crime. That has smartly built on copious notes taken and expounded upon in later seasons. Whose script writing team wisely hangs around at the ready for new ideas from its constantly expanding cast and directors. Creating memorable scenes on the fly with Margo Martindale. Hints of the beginnings of the blood feud between the Bennett and the Givens clans. Or Damien Harrison’s Dewey Crowe for incredibly shameless comic relief.

JUSTIFIED_FX_MargoTimothy

Margo Martindale w/ Olyphant

But the real meat of the series is the continuous slow raging war for supremacy between Raylan and Boyd. A perfect team up of wits. The give and take of discussion that Boyd makes sure work to his advantage. Add an endless stream of often returning bad guys. And variations on slowly solidifying schemes. And an episode rarely ends the way anyone predicted!.

Toss in well tended Art and Set Direction, Dressing and Continuity. And Stunt and Special Effects men too numerous to mention. Music by Steve Porcaro. Notable late night, middle of nowhere location cinematography. And you have the makings of superb adult television!


Author’s Notes:
I’ve only scratched the surface in as concise a thumb nail and sketch as I can manage. There are multiple clips, tributes, mash ups, interviews and complete episodes from the previous five seasons of ‘Justified’ n You Tube and IMDb


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


What do you think of JUSTIFIED? Opinions are always welcome. The floor is now open for discussion.

2015 Oscar Nominations: The Good, the Bad and the WTF

Oscars2015BannerSome movie bloggers (myself included) must be masochists in some ways. I mean, I haven’t quite recovered from some of the disappointments of the Golden Globes and now we’re subjecting ourselves to another disgruntlement of Oscars nominations! :P

Same like last year, I didn’t make a post of my nomination predictions this year, I only tweeted who’d be nominated for Best Picture and a few other categories.


Well, I guessed correctly that it’d be 8 nominations, but apparently I got one wrong, which is the one film I was REALLY hoping would make the cut! (It’s the #2 pick on my Top 10 Movies of 2014)

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Here’s what the 20 acting nominees look like this year:

ActingNominationsOscars2015

Yes yes, of course EVERYONE should be nominated based merit (though at least a couple of the noms here don’t really deserve the noms). Anyway you want to look at it, the diversity gap is really quite staggering:

Anyway, you can see the full nominations here. Let’s start with the positive …

The Good

So I guess it’s a good year for Indie Films. I was listening to a critic on NPR saying that the total box office take of ALL the Best Picture nominees combined would probably only top $200 mil, which is drop in the bucket for something like Transformers.

  • Thrilled to see SELMA made the Best Picture list and got Best Original Song nomination for Glory! Sadly it’s the ONLY two good things The Academy bothered to recognize.
  • Happy to see Birdman getting a NINE nominations, yay! It’s pretty much nominated in every major category, including Best Picture, Director, AND three acting nods. Of course Michael Keaton has been a lock for some time but still happy to see him here. It’ll come down to him and Eddie Redmayne (both won Golden Globes), but fingers crossed Keaton will emerges as the winner!!
  • Congrats to Colleen Atwood for her 11th Best Costume Design Oscar nominations. Hey she’s catching up on Meryl, though she’s definitely far far more deserving than Meryl is in their respective categories. The costumes are indeed gorgeous in this movie!

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  • YAY for Marion Cotillard amongst the Best Actress nominees instead of Jennifer Aniston! I mean nobody I know has seen Aniston’s performance and from some of the reviews I heard of Cake, it’s not even a good movie. I haven’t seen Two Days, One Night, one of the two possible performances she could be nominated for, but sounds like it’s a more challenging role than The Immigrant.
  • I know that Julianne Moore seems to be the favorite to win for Still Alice, but I’m still rooting for Rosamund Pike all the way!
    GoRosamund
  • I’m glad to see Citizenfour shortlisted for Best Documentary! Now I haven’t seen the other four that are nominated so I can’t say who’s most deserving, but still nice to see this fascinating doc getting major recognitions. It’s currently on my Top 10 of the year!
  • Overall I agree with pretty much ALL of the Best Actor nominations, though I haven’t seen Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking nor Bradley Cooper as the late sniper Chris Kyle. I just realized that ALL four nominees portrayed real-life people, except for Michael Keaton‘s fictional character Riggan Thomson. It makes me root for Keaton’s performance all the more considering how good and how unique it is.
  • Glad to see Big Hero 6 in the Best Animated Feature category! I really do love this movie, if only The LEGO Movie is nominated along with it…. more on that later.
    ///
  • Lots of amazing talents in the Cinematography category. Roger Deakins is one of the few who weren’t snubbed for Unbroken. So this marks his 12th nomination! But I’m rooting for Emmanuel Lubezki (yes again, as I was rooting for him for Gravity last year) to win for Birdman though. Those single long tracking shots are practically iconic and is crucial to the story-telling piece. Here’s a great article on his astounding work.
    Lubezki_Birdman
  • WOW, congrats the ever-prolific and constantly-amazing Alexandre Desplat for getting DOUBLE nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel AND The Imitation Game, both of them are on my Top 10 Favorite 2014 Scores. Also thrilled for Hans Zimmer for his 9th nomination! I LOVE his score for Interstellar, it just seems to get better the more you listen to it.

The Bad

  • Ok, let’s start with the most egregious one. It’s just a bad year for diversity. What a difference a year makes. Seems that Oscar was quite progressive last year with THREE non-white actors being recognized in the acting categories and 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture. This year NONE of the acting nominees consist of an actor/actress of color, I mean not a single one! Now, shouldn’t the noms be based on merit? Why yes course it is, and both Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are both worthy of recognition. It’s DuVernay’s direction that made Selma a powerful and stirring film and Oyelowo truly embodied Martin Luther King Jr., delivering a compelling performance that’s fiery, vulnerable and emphatically human.
    Oyelowo_DuVernay_SELMA
    I’d also argue that Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s stunning performance in both Belle and Beyond The Lights far surpasses Reese Witherspoon’s in Wild.
  • Seems that it’s a bad year for women too. I’ve mentioned DuVernay, but Angelina Jolie got no love for Unbroken, either. No Gillian Flynn in Adapted Screenplay category, and none in the Best Score nor Best Cinematography category. I’ve been hearing great things about the cinematography of Tracks by Mandy Walker, and I absolutely adore Rachel Portman‘s score for BELLE (one of my Top 10 Fave 2014 Scores).
  •  Everything is awesome…. NOT!

    But what’s awesome is how its director is such a good sport!!

  • Hoyte Van Hoytema is robbed once again for his amazing cinematography work in Interstellar (he was also overlooked last year for his work in Her) I mean come on!! Now, I didn’t expect Chris Nolan nor his film would get much Oscar love, but the absolutely mesmerizing visuals is one of the film’s greatest strength, and certainly one of the most memorable of the past year.
    InterstellarCinematography
  • Speaking of robbed, where is Ralph Fiennes?? His first ever comedic leading role, in which he was sensational, went unrecognized. The Academy must have a thing for Bradley Cooper as he’s nominated for the THIRD time in a row for Best Actor!

The WTF

  • Ok now, did The Academy has something against Gone Girl?? I mean look at the trifecta of snubs here. First there’s no love for Fincher for directing nor Gillian Flynn for writing, but the Academy also snubbed Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for their fantastically atmospheric score!
  • No offense Morten Tyldum, as I love your Danish thriller Headhunters, but sorry I can’t fathom how he’s considered a better director than David Fincher! Yes I included The Imitation Game in my Top 10, but there is no way was it as crafty and bold as Gone Girl.
  • I had the exact reaction last year about Meryl Streep‘s nomination over Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks! Well now she’s back for her 19th nomination(!!) for her over-the-top performance in Into The Woods. It’s yet another scenery-chewing performance as she did in August: Osage County as the toxic-spewing matriarch. This time she played a witch, so there’s not much difference in terms of character arc is there??! [sigh] I’d have LOVED to see Carmen Ejogo getting a nod in Meryl’s spot for her heartfelt performance as Correta Scott King in Selma.
    CarmenEjogo_SELMA
  • Now, I haven’t seen either one of the films but I think it’s safe to say that Jake Gyllenhaal got robbed! I mean I’ve read countless reviews praising his chilling psychotic performance in Nightcrawler. Again, was Bradley Cooper really THAT good of an actor that he warrants three Best Actor noms in a row??

The 87th Academy Awards will air on February 22 on ABC.


Well, that’s my reaction to the 2015 nominations. What are your Oscars-related delights and gripes?

2014 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

Top10Movies2014

Well, well, well, it’s that time of the year again where us film bloggers agonize in making these Top 10 list. Yes, agonize is not a hyperbole as it’s REALLY quite an arduous task not only selecting which 10 films would make the list, but also ranking them. But once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. I did make a Top 10 list from the first half of 2014, and it’s interesting to see which ones stay on the list and which ones are now relegated to my Honorable Mentions.

The same with the previous years, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already. The [dis]honor of the WORST films of the year is at the end of the BEST list.

Ok well, without further ado… I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2014

10. The LEGO Movie

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Everything is awesome! And still is. This is actually one of three animated features I absolutely LOVE from last year, but I decided I only wanted to include just ONE. The LEGO Movie wins by a narrow margin, beating out How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 to make it to my main list. It really comes down to Emmet being such an adorably goofy protagonist, surrounded by spin-off-worthy supporting cast like Lego Batman and Good Cop/Bad Cop, it’s really a fantabulous geekstravaganza that would likely hold up with repeated viewings. Plus, that music is simply, well, awesome! That unabashedly vivacious song makes my Top 5 Songs of the year as well. (full review)

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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This is the first Wes Anderson movie that ever made it to my Top 10 of the year list, so I guess you could say it’s now my favorite of his collection. It captivated me from the opening scene all the way until the end and it’s more fast-paced than his previous films. But of course it has all the things you expect from Wes: the quirky characters, the perfect symmetry of every single scene, playful music, etc. The ensemble cast is wonderful once again, led by Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role who’s an absolute blast to watch. I also enjoy F. Murray Abraham and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero Mustafa, the ever-so-resourceful & loyal lobby boy. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again. (full review)

8. The Imitation Game

ImitationGame_8

This is no doubt one of my favorite films at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It won a TCFF 2014 Awards for Best Feature Film and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley also won acting honors. It’s a biopic on Alan Turing, a mathematician whose pivotal role in cracking the enigma code during WWII helped the Allies won the war against the Nazis. It’s an important film to be sure, boasted by a fantastic all-British cast led by a terrific Cumberbatch as the unsung hero. Though it may be a bit formulaic and by-the-numbers (pardon the puns), it’s still a highly entertaining, as well as emotionally-poignant film that stays with me after the closing credit. In a year of great ensemble-cast films, this is no doubt one of my favorites. I especially love Mark Strong & Matthew Goode here, two underrated performers who ought to get more leading roles of their own.

7. Citizenfour

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I only saw a few documentaries last year but this is the one that stuck with me the most. It seems like ages ago when we’re introduced to the name Edward Snowden, and since then some see him as either a traitor or a hero. Filmmaker Laura Poitras got an unprecedented access to one of the first of many meetings between reporter Glenn Greenwald (who at the time worked for The Guardian) and Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room. It’s more of an eyewitness type documentary, allowing us the viewer to be a fly-on-the-wall so to speak as Snowden revealed the mechanics of those NSA intelligence leak. I remember vividly when his first photo was broadcasted all over the media and here we saw him wearing the exact same brown-ish shirt he wore for that shot. The doc may contain what’s seemingly mundane series of events of people talking in a hotel room, but it was utterly engrossing to me. It’s the implication of those conversations, and what it means to the central character and all of us who’s watching it that makes the scenes all the more captivating.

6. Selma

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“Selma is at once a peek into the past and a snapshot of the present.” I like the title of this AVClub review because it sums up the film perfectly. I’m glad there’s finally a big-screen adaptation of Martin Luther King’s story, but I’m glad this film isn’t a conventional biopic. Instead, director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb effectively focused on the pivotal event of his life and made this more about the collective struggle for voting rights. Much has been said about the historical inaccuracies about Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal, which isn’t the first time liberties are taken on films based on real-life events. But I think apart from that, this is a powerful and gripping film, uncomfortably tense at times, especially during the Bloody Sunday sequence. The issue of police brutality couldn’t be more timely considering the events in Ferguson and NYC, which makes it all the more poignant and heart-wrenching. David Oyelowo embodied the role of King, convincing in both the fiery moments of his speeches, as well as the quieter moments with his wife (portrayed brilliantly by Carmen Ejogo).

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I haven’t re-watched this film since I saw it back in July, yet I still remember much about how I felt about the main character, Caesar. The fact that he’s not even a human being says a lot about how good the character development of the last two ‘Apes’ films and this sequel took us a step further into Caesar’s journey. The ‘king of mo-cap acting’ Andy Serkis once again delivered a phenomenal portrayal of the apes leader. His eyes convey so much that they’re practically hypnotic. Director Matt Reeves created a suspenseful & atmospheric piece here that’s immediately engrossing. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film, as well as genuinely poignant moments that tug my heartstrings. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. (full review)

4. Belle

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I feel like a broken record when it comes to miss Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but she’s truly one of the best talent discoveries in a good long while. She’s the heart and soul of this film, displaying a nuanced and charismatic performance in nearly every scene. I’m also glad to have discovered director Amma Assante, who shows such dexterity in her sophomore feature, crafting a beautifully layered and affecting historical drama. There are so many things to love here, and after having seen this four times already, I’m still mesmerized. Visually it’s just a stunning film, the gorgeous lighting brings out the best of the costumes, set pieces, etc. But it’s the rich, engrossing story and brilliant performances by the all-British cast that make this such a rewarding film to see over and over. (full review)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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I knew this film would make my final Top 10 from the first time I watched it. This is another movie on this list I’ve seen more than twice and I still absolutely loved it! It’s one of the rare sequel that easily surpasses the the first one. Billed as a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie’, The Winter Soldier delivers on that promise and gives us something that’s genuinely intriguing and massively entertaining. It’s filled with adrenaline-pumping geek-gasm scenes without being banal or vapid. Chris Evans‘ much more confident in the role which makes him even more watchable, and Robert Redford + Anthony Mackie are great additions to an already-fantastic cast. This one has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero! (full review)

2. Gone Girl

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It’s a testament of a great film when it clocks in at 2.5 hours and it went by like a breeze. Dark, twisted, stylish, and even mesmerizing, Gone Girl is one of those movies that play like a thrilling roller coaster ride. Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn made this more of a psychological character study of a couple in a crumbling marriage that turns more sinister by the minute. Rosamund Pike was nothing short of amazing as the year’s certifiable female anti-hero you love to hate. She gave an intense and haunting performance that’s absolutely Oscar-worthy. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining. (full review)

1. Birdman

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. The use of the continuous long takes helps tell the story in such a unique and immersive way that completely absorbs you. But the story itself is rich and full of thought-provoking allegory, brought to life by Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s adept direction. It’s one of those rare films where style actually meets substance, as the story brilliantly blends fantasy & reality, drama & comedy in a way that can be both deep as well as entertaining. It has its darker and even vulgar moments I don’t typically embrace, but it never overpowers the protagonist’s journey, which is the heart of the story. On top of all that is the phenomenal performances across the board, led by Michael Keaton in the lead role, one that I’ll been rooting for the entire award season. (full review)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these movies were actually in my Top 10 list of the first half of 2014. I marked those with an * (asterisk), this time I’m NOT ranking these, so they’re listed in alphabetical order:

  1. Begin Again
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Chef
  4. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  5. Edge of Tomorrow*
  6. Foxcatcher
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. The Grand Seduction*
  9. How To Train Your Dragon 2*
  10. The Hundred Foot Journey
  11. John Wick
  12. Locke*
  13. The Machine*
  14. Time Lapse
  15. X-Men: Days of Future Past*

What I missed from 2014:

Boyhood, Calvary, Ida, Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Theory of Everything, Still Alice, Under the Skin, and Whiplash.


Top5WorstMovies2014

Now, I wish I could get my 2+ hours back from each of these awful movies! Ok I saw most of these at press screening, so thankfully I didn’t have to pay for them, but still they’re such a waste of my time. Avoid these if you can help it, consider yourself warned.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like  I Frankenstein, Pompeii, Blended, Transcendence, The Best of Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2014. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

5 Reasons I’m looking forward to Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT

BlackhatPoster

Normally I don’t get too excited about films opening in January, but when it’s a Michael Mann movie, that changes everything. His cyber-thriller Blackhat opens this Friday and I definitely will see this on opening night!

I posted the first trailer here a few months ago, and here are five reasons why I’m excited for this movie:

1. Michael Mann – one of my all time favorite directors

Even though I was underwhelmed by Public Enemies, I still consider Mr. Mann amongst my faves and I always look forward to his films. Manhunter, Heat, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, and Collateral are some of cinema’s finest films and he always takes his time in making his films.

MichaelMannDirectingBlackhat

I love how LA Times describes him, “…Mann, 71, crafts sharp, sleek thrillers with a moody, existentialist bent” and per IMDb trivia, Blackhat also marks the very first Michael Mann movie to be shot entirely in digital. According to Variety, Mann has been up to his eyeballs in the worlds of cyber intrusion and espionage for the past three years, ever since he first read about Stuxnet, the computer worm (widely believed to have been deployed, at least in part, by the U.S. government) credited with creating major disruptions in Iran’s production of enriched uranium.

Sounds like Mr. Mann has done extensive research on the subject, consulting microchips engineers, cyber-intrusion experts, and the likes. I also read that hackers served as on-set consultants during filming.

2. The eerily-timely & intriguing premise

Considering the major SONY hack is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and just yesterday there are reports of U.S. military social media accounts being hacked by Islamic State sympathizers, this cyber-crime premise is as timely as it ever was.

Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary’s BLACKHAT follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.

According to this NY Times article, [Mann] became interested in a hacker-centered story after spending time in Washington with government cyberdefense officials. “What became apparent is that Washington knew — the White House, defense, law enforcement — how truly vulnerable we are to cyberintrusion.”

3. The international setting, including my hometown Jakarta!

There are no international barriers to cybercrimes and so naturally I’d expect the film would have a global appeal. I LOVE films that are shot on location, especially during the Winter months when escapism is why you go to the movies for! Plus, I’m super excited to see my hometown Jakarta on the big screen, woo hoo!!

Blackhat_Jakarta_Market
Blackhat_Jakarta_Nyepi

Per LA Times, Blackhat was shot over 66 days in the U.S., Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the production used a variety of cameras, from top-of-the-line digital equipment to cheaper, smaller consumer-grade models. There’s supposed to be a sequence where Mann re-created the annual Balinese Nyepi Day celebration with some 3,000 extras. WOW, can’t wait to see THAT!!

Here’s a behind-the-scene video of Man filming in Jakarta:

 

4. Curious to see if Chris Hemsworth can carry a movie as an action hero

ChrisHemsworthBlackhat

For sure Hemsworth makes a good superhero, but can he be an action hero sans his red cape and Mjölnir? Truthfully, I still see him as more brawn than brain, and so I was quite dismayed surprised by his casting. I mean, Mann has worked with the likes of De Niro & Pacino, Brian Cox, Daniel Day Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Tom Cruise, so Hemsworth isn’t exactly in those leagues just yet. Besides, most hackers probably don’t have abs and biceps like these …

ChrisHemsworthShirtlessBlackhat

But I read in this article on how Mann came to casting Hemsworth:

“I first saw Chris in `Thor,’ and I thought he was great. Then I talked to Ron Howard, who had worked with him on `Rush,’ and Ron had a great experience and was kind enough to show me about 45 minutes of the film. Chris was just terrific. Then, I really wanted to meet him. So I went down to Costa Rica, where he was vacationing with his family, and we spent about two days together just talking about the film. I decided, at that point, this guy’s it.”


So y’know what, I’m going to give Chris the benefit of the doubt. Heck if Matthew McConaughey can play an astronaut and fly a spaceship through a wormhole to save humankind, who’s to say a beefcake can’t hack? ;) I do love the ethnically-diverse supporting cast, starting with the always-excellent Viola Davis, character actor William Mapother (who happens to be Tom Cruise’s cousin), Chinese actress Tang Wei and Taiwanese-American Wang Leehom.

5. Promises to be a dynamic, entertaining, & cerebral action thriller

If there’s a director who could make the convoluted world of cyber-crime cinematic, I’d think that’d be Mr. Mann. I mean, he made a what seemingly tedious story about tobacco whistle-blowing case tense and suspenseful in The Insider and cyber thriller is inherently more exciting than that.

Plus, I think we can expect a good looking film, as most Mann movies are. Here he’s working with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, an Oscar nominee for The Piano who first worked with Mann on the pilot for his TV series Luck, noted that as much as possible they shot using available light, whether the dazzling neon of Kowloon or mostly by torchlight for the final confrontation in Jakarta.

It’s been a while since I saw a really good cyber-crime thriller. I mean I enjoyed Sneakers, The Net, and of course The Matrix, but Blackhat promises to be something more visceral and the fact that the premise is ripped from today’s headline makes it all the more intriguing.

Fingers crossed all of this adds up to one heck of a great thriller!


Here’s the latest trailer:


So are you going to check out Blackhat?

2015 Golden Globes Coverage: Thoughts on the Winners + Best & Worst Moments of the Night

GoldenGlobes2015

Can’t believe it’s already time for the main award season, with the kick-off of tonight’s 72nd Golden Globes Awards… once again it’s just four days shy of the Oscar nominations (January 15). I posted the list of the FILM nominees here, but I’m not making any predictions this year, but I do have my winner wish list, especially Michael Keaton for Birdman and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. I’m honestly torn between Norton and Ruffalo, both are phenomenal in their respective roles, so I sure hope one of them would win this thing!

RED CARPET STUFF

I’ve only started tuning in about a half hour before the show started, but thanks to Twitter, here are some notable dresses of the night:

Best Dressed Ladies:


LOVE Rosamund, but that’s quite an ill-fitting dress. I think it’d work better on skinnier girls who’s not um, so well-endowed.

And THIS! Yowza miss Fonda!

….


Comments on Winners/Losers

The bold one in magenta is the winner

BEST PICTURE (drama)
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
 …
I’m gonna reserve my comment on Boyhood win until I actually see the movie! Lots of strong contenders in this category.
BEST PICTURE (comedy/musical)
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Pride
St. Vincent

>>>
I guess I’m ok w/ Grand Budapest Hotel winning Best Picture at the Globes. I just hope this won’t repeat come Oscar time. Pulling for Birdman all the way!!

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay | Selma
David Fincher | Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu | Birdman
Richard Linklater | Boyhood

>>>
I guess I should bite the bullet and just see Boyhood soon. I don’t know why but I haven’t been enthused about it apart from my curiosity on how Linklater pulls off that 12-year filmmaking process. I sure hope I’d enjoy it!

SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game


I was hoping Gillian Flynn would get this for Gone Girl, but I REALLY like Birdman and any win for that film is all right by me.

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie


I actually LOVE three of the nominated animated movies equally (Big Hero 6, HTTYD 2 and The LEGO Movie), but I really thought The LEGO Movie had the biggest shots amongst the nominees.

ACTOR (drama)
Steve Carell | Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch | The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal | Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo | Selma
Eddie Redmayne | The Theory of Everything


I’m bummed that I haven’t seen Eddie’s nor Jake’s performances by now. But there’s really a ton of amazing transformative performances in this particular category.

ACTOR (comedy/musical)
Ralph Fiennes | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton | Birdman
Bill Murray | St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix | Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz | Big Eyes


Obviously I’m thrilled to see Keaton win! I mean he absolutely deserved it and he’s paid his dues time and again. I sure hope this isn’t just a one time thing, hope his comeback means more leading roles for him in the future!

ACTRESS (drama)
Jennifer Aniston | Cake
Felicity Jones | The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore | Still Alice
Rosamund Pike | Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon | Wild


I’m seriously bummed to see Rosamund NOT winning this. No offense to Julianne Moore as she’s a good actress, but I hope Rosamund still has a chance at the Oscars! But hey, at least Reese Witherspoon didn’t win for her overrated performance, I mean she shouldn’t even be nominated in the first place. Where the heck is Marion Cotillard?? She’s got not one but TWO worthy performances this past year (The Immigrant, Two Days One Night).

BEST ACTRESS (comedy/musical)
Amy Adams | Big Eyes
Emily Blunt | Into the Woods
Helen Mirren | The Hundred Foot Journey
Julianne Moore | Maps to the Stars
Quvenzhané Wallis | Annie


I haven’t seen Adams’ performance in Big Eyes, in fact, I’ve only seen Mirren’s performance in this category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rosana Arquette | Boyhood
Jessica Chastain | A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley | The Imitation Game
Emma Stone | Birdman
Meryl Streep | Into the Woods


Haven’t seen Arquette’s performance either, but at this point, I’m happy that ANYONE besides Meryl win this thing!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall | The Judge
Ethan Hawke |Boyhood
Ed Norton | Birdman
Mark Ruffalo | Foxcatcher
JK Simmons | Whiplash


I’m sure Simmons deserves the win but I was REALLY hoping either Ruffalo or Norton will win this category :(

BEST SCORE
Alexandre Desplat | The Imitation Game
Johann Johannsson | The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor | Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez | Birdman
Hans Zimmer | Interstellar


Sheesh, the ONLY one film I haven’t seen in this category won this thing!! It’s a really tough category though, I mean three of the nominees here are on my Top 10 Best 2014 Scores.


Random Commentaries

Best Moments

“Welcome you despicable, spoiled, minimally talented brats!”
Right on, Tina Fey!

“North Korea referred to ‘The Interview’ as absolutely intolerable and a wanton act of terror. Even more amazing: not the worst review the movie got.”

LOVE the jab on Steve Carell …

“Steve Carell is here tonight, for Foxcatcher. In Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays a paranoid, murderous billionaire. The role was a stretch for Carell who in real life is a paranoid, murderous millionaire.”

Carell_GG2015His expression when the camera closes in on him is such a hoot!! LOVE this guy, he’s just so effortlessly hilarious & affable.

The hosts listing a long list of accomplishments of George Clooney’s new wife Amal Alamuddin who’s a human rights lawyer, then said, “And now her husband is getting the Lifetime Achievement Award.” Mwahahaha!

Easily the most glamorous couple of the night. Amal is just absolutely stunning. George you lucky SOB!

Easily the most glamorous couple of the night. Amal is just absolutely stunning. George you lucky SOB!


They might not be the most glamorous, but Anna Faris & Chris Pratt is absolutely my favorite couple! They’re just so genuinely adorable together!

Faris_Pratt_GG2015

Anna Faris: We have a mixed marriage. I’m CBS, he’s NBC.
Chris Pratt: But we want our kids to be HBO.

The WOULD YOU RATHER joke should be used every year! 

Tina: “Who would you rather: Colin Farrell or Colin Firth?”
Amy: “Farrell, all day!”
Tina: “Firth, for a polite amount of time.”

Tina: “Richard Linklater or Alejandro Iñárritu?”
Amy: “I’m gonna say Iñárritu: one take, two hours straight, no stopping.”
Tina: “Linklater, five minutes, once a year.”

Amy: “You know, Tina, I didn’t like Gone Girl. I go to the movies to escape. I didn’t want to see myself up there on the screen.”

Amy: Chris Pine or…
Tina: Chris Pine!

I’d agree with that… especially in THIS outfit ;)

ChrisPineIntoTheWoods

/// 
King of Photobomb Benedict Cumberbatch is at it again!

Keaton taking a photo of Meryl w/ Margaret Cho dressed as Kim Jong Cho

Keaton taking a photo of Meryl w/ Margaret Cho dressed as Kim Jong Cho

Can’t believe I’m saying this but Ricky Gervais actually makes me laugh tonight!

‘No one want to see me insult any of you rich, beautiful, overprivileged celebrities’ 

“Famous people are above the law, as it should be. Streep. Clooney, I’m not even looking at Katie Holmes.”

BEST Short Speech

Billy Bob Thornton

BEST Long-ish Speech

Kevin Spacey – “This is only the beginning of my revenge!”

Most Moving Speech 

Michael Keaton – His speech has a great balance of being genuinely moving as well as funny, just like the actor himself who’s great at mixing drama & comedy!

Clooney_CecilBDeMile2015

I’ve never been a huge fan of George Clooney, so here’s my thoughts on his Cecil B. DeMile Award:

WORST MOMENTS

Most Sexist Comment of the Night:


Most awkward jokes of the night

The whole gag on North Korea with Margaret Cho dressed as the appalling dictator is just awkward and frankly, it’s just not funny! I cringed every time she’s on and I think the two hosts tried their best pretending it’s a good joke. It’s really getting tiresome to be honest, though the apparent jab at The Interview in the beginning is pretty spot on. I have to admit though, the Margaret & Meryl photo-op with Benedict photo-bombing them was pretty amusing.

///


Now, apart from my disappointments on who win/lose, overall I thought the event was pretty entertaining. Most of the jokes did make me laugh, and Tina/Amy did a great job as host once again. I’m not really sad this is their last year though, hey what’s wrong with getting some fresh talents to host?

Wiig_Hader_GG2015

Some people were suggesting Kristen Wiig & Bill Hader next year on Twitter. Hey I like them both, but hopefully they’d be funnier than they were last night as some of the jokes didn’t quite work too well.

Well, that’s it folks. As you can see, I’m only covering the FILM portion as I barely watch any TV :)


So, what are YOUR thoughts on the winners & what’s your favorite moments of the night?