FlixChatter Review: Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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It’s been nearly a month since I saw this film, but I’m still thinking about it. In fact, I was just telling a friend over coffee this weekend how the more I think about this film, the more I like it.

The story revolves around Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton in an art-imitating-life sort of a role as he’s famous for playing Batman in the late 80s/early 90s. Riggan is a has-been actor, most famous for playing a successful comic-book franchise, Birdman. But instead of opting to take an easy paycheck out of the fourth installment of the franchise, Riggan attempts to reinvent himself and reclaim his past glory by directing/starring an off-Broadway play. Not a light undertaking, especially when one problem after another starts popping up, threatening to grind his play to a halt. It also doesn’t help that Riggan is still haunted by his Birdman character, literally, who constantly berates him in his dressing room.

Birdman_Still

The way Alejandro González Iñárritu frames his story is captivating and unequivocally surreal. The camera is told from Riggan’s point of view and the camera often follows him in one long, continuous take. From the cramped dressing room through the narrow corridor all the way to the stage, the film takes place mostly in the confines of the theater’s backstage. The neon sign of Phantom of the Opera is often visible in NYC’s Theater District across Riggan’s theater, one of the things that grounds the film in reality amidst all the surreal elements. Slipping back and forth between reality and fantasy, and often blurs the line between the two, the film manages to keep me entertained and engaged throughout.

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It certainly helps that all his actors perform with equal dexterity. Nice to see Edward Norton get a role worthy of his talent. He’s a method actor who’s a bit of a diva and his on-and-off screen antics are fun to watch. There’s an amusing brawl backstage between him and Keaton that’s worth the price of admission. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Emma Stone all provide memorable supporting role, with Stone perhaps having the flashiest part as Riggan’s daughter. Her performance, especially memorable for her heated monologue, has already earned her a Golden Globe and SAG nomination. Even Zach Galifinakis, an actor I never quite warmed up to, was quite good here as his often-hysterical theater producer. British actress Lindsay Duncan has a small but important role as the critic who could potentially make or break Riggan’s career.

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The real star here is Michael Keaton in a welcomed come-back role as a leading man. I’ve always been a fan of the underrated actor as he can deliver both serious, menacing and comical performance convincingly. He gets to do both here in equal measure as he truly embodies his character. He’s a natural in the more um, batty scenarios, but also genuinely sympathetic in the quieter moments that display Riggan’s vulnerability. Perhaps the fact that he has a similar personal experience helps him in the role, so it’s definitely inspired casting here that works wonderfully for the film.

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This is Iñárritu’s third film that I have seen so far. It could very well be my favorite and one I don’t mind seeing again. He strikes a perfect balance between drama and humor, at times hilarious and off the wall, and others heart-rending and poignant. The film’s a not-so-subtle mockery of Hollywood’s preoccupation with superhero franchises – and some of the real-life actors who’ve been in them– but yet it’s not done with disdain nor contempt as it’s all part of Riggan’s personal story. The movie also provides an interesting commentary on social media and how that affects celebrity culture in this day and age.

On a technical level, Birdman is simply phenomenal. The stunning and unique camera work make you think ‘how did they do that?’ without being too distracting. The percussion music isn’t really my style but it works in the context of the film. Emmanuel Lubezki, who won an Oscar for his astounding cinematography work for Gravity, will likely get another nom for this. I read somewhere that he shot this without artificial light due to space constraints of the cramped theater.

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I have to admit I still don’t know what to make of that WTF finale that seems deliberately left open for interpretation. It certainly makes for a fun discussion afterwards and it’s been fun reading all kinds of theories about it. I won’t say another word on it as it’s best that you discover that for yourself. Despite all the bizarre scenes and all its dream-like eccentricities, the film somehow still feels personal and human, even relatable in a strange way. No surprise that Birdman‘s become the critical darling of the year and has been raking a bunch of nominations left and right. I for one think the accolade is well-deserved as Iñárritu pushes the creative boundaries of story-telling to a new level.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Have you seen Birdman? Well, what did YOU think?

Trailer Spotlight: Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ starring Christian Bale

I don’t usually post a trailer spotlight so early in the week, but I’ve been waiting for this movie since back in 2011! Knight of Cups was also on my most-anticipated films of 2013, alas it’s Terrence Malick we’re talking about here. But looks like we WILL see this one in 2015 as apparently the film will now open at Berlinale, Berlin Film Festival, next February.

I was already sold on this film when they cast Christian Bale and the incomparable Cate Blanchett. There’s something about Bale’s look in this film that really appeals to me. At the time, all that’s known about the premise is that it’s the story of a man, temptations, celebrity, and excess. Check out the trailer:


Well, per Deadline we’ve not got the full synopsis:

“Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep. Rick’s father used to read this story to him as a boy. The road to the East stretches out before him. Will he set forth?”

I must say I’m quite mesmerized by the trailer. But then again, Malick’s films are always chock full of gorgeous, poetic and evocative imagery. He’s working with his longtime cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki again so we can expect another visual spectacle.

Somehow though, this one doesn’t seem as cryptic as his previous films. The story seems to be a cautionary tale or even just a commentary about the repercussion of hedonistic lifestyle.

“You don’t want love… you want to love… experience.”

“You have love in you… I know it.” 

Of course with Malick, he tends to communicate via metaphors and such, so who really knows how accessible and comprehensible this film is.

With the bass-heavy paired with all kinds of debauchery and decadence in the first half, and later with a more soul-stirring classical style, it’s such a beautifully-cut trailer that I hope the film itself will live up to. As I’m watching it, it made me think that Malick should perhaps do a short film. I think if you take out all the reflective long shots, this story could potentially be told under 20 min. Heck, given his penchant for leaving so much stuff in the cutting room floor, you’d think short films would be his forte.

The cast is pretty eclectic, though some of them are barely featured in the trailer. For sure we’ve got Natalie PortmanJason Clarke and I hear Antonio Banderas‘ voice on there. The rest: Brian Dennehy, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Armin Mueller-Stahl and apparently, the voice of Ben Kingsley.

I’ve seen four of Malick’s films so far and I actually like all of them to varying degrees. Even though I didn’t quite comprehend Tree of Life, there are still a lot to like about it and I appreciate Malick’s poetic style. That reminds me, I should rent To The Wonder at some point. So yeah, I guess you could say I’m anticipating this now, even more so than before.


What do you think of this trailer? 

Weekend Roundup + Musings on the SAG Awards & Golden Globes Nominations

What a hectic weekend it’s been. With my hubby’s company holiday party, a Christmas concert, a TCFF bloggers meet-up and a morning screening, I barely had time to even open my laptop until Sunday night. No time for home cinema at all obviously, though I did see two press screenings: Into The Woods on Thursday night and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb Saturday morning.

It’s my first Night of the Museum movie I’ve ever seen, in fact I didn’t even know this was the third entry, wow! It was fun enough that I might check out the previous two. As for Into The Woods, well let’s just say that apart from some hilarious sequences, this material might’ve been more suited for a play. I’ll post a double review of both before Christmas.

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Ok, this post marks the first Awards Chatter of the year!

I finally had time to put my thoughts down on the two recent award nominations that was announced back to back last week. To keep this post at a manageable length, I’m only limiting my comments to under 15 categories each, and on FILM nominations only (as I barely watch any TV to have any opinion on those).

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BEST PICTURE (drama)
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
 …
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David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve only seen two out of this list, but Selma‘s press screening has been scheduled in the first week of January so I’m looking forward to that! I honestly don’t know which one I’m rooting for most, I guess I’ll know after I see Selma but I’m glad there’s finally a good Martin Luther King Jr. adaptation. But where’s Gone Girl?? It’s nominated for Best Director but no love from the Hollywood Foreign Press for the film itself?
 …
BEST PICTURE (comedy/musical)
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Pride
St. Vincent
 …
After having seen Into The Woods, I definitely don’t think it deserves a nom! I wish Begin Again had been nominated here over that one instead, it’s just a more entertaining and engaging film by a wide margin. Ah well, I guess out of this list, I’m rooting for Birdman with Grand Budapest Hotel a close second.
 …
DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay | Selma
David Fincher | Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu | Birdman
Richard Linklater | Boyhood
 …
As I haven’t seen Selma and Boyhood, out of the three I’ve seen, I’m torn between Iñárritu and Fincher. Congrats to Ava DuVernay for making history as the first-ever African-American woman to be nominated in the Best Director category! At the same time, why does it take THAT long for a woman of color to finally get directorial recognition?! Well, out of the ones I’ve seen, I’m leaning towards Iñárritu as Birman is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen and will surely end up in my final Top 10. It’s hilarious yet poignant at the same time and I’m just glad to see Michael Keaton making a major comeback!
 …
SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Again, I’m rooting for Birdman here, though I think Gillian Flynn did a fantastic job adapting her own novel Gone Girl, so I definitely wouldn’t cry foul if she wins.
 …
ANIMATED FILM
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
  …
Yay, three of my fave animated films are nominated!! Out of Big Hero 6, HTTYD 2 and The LEGO Movie, I’d LOVE to see Big Hero 6 win, but I think The LEGO Movie could very well be the one to beat this year.
 …
ACTOR (drama)
Steve Carell | Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch | The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal | Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo | Selma
Eddie Redmayne | The Theory of Everything
 …
Carell_Foxcatcher
This is such a strong category and each seems to be quite deserving of a nom. I’m bummed that I have only seen two performances here, Carell’s and Cumberbatch’s. Carell is absolutely astounding and virtually unrecognizable in Foxcatcher and so my money is on him this year.
 …
ACTOR (comedy/musical)
Ralph Fiennes | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton | Birdman
Bill Murray | St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix | Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz | Big Eyes
 …
I LOVE the fact that Fiennes is getting a nod for a comedic role and deservedly so. But I’ve been a fan of Keaton for some time and I’m really rooting for him to sweep all the awards this year.
 …
ACTRESS (drama)
Jennifer Aniston | Cake
Felicity Jones | The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore | Still Alice
Rosamund Pike | Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon | Wild
 …

So the trend that actress who *deglamorize* for a role usually gets nominated continues. I haven’t seen Cake yet and I honestly haven’t heard much of it apart from Aniston going sans makeup in the role. I guess I might rent it when it’s out on rental. I’d LOVE to see Pike win this category, I mean she’s just fantastic as Amy Dunne, and please please please, don’t give it to Witherspoon!! I’m already so disappointed seeing her name here, I mean I’d rather nominate Gugu Mbatha-Raw for either Belle or Beyond the Lights any day!

 …
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’ve only seen Emily Blunt‘s performance here, and though I’m not crazy for the movie, I do think she’s VERY good in the role but she’s always been a great actress IMO. Kudos for Moore for her double nominations though I have yet to see either one of her performances.

 …
SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rosana Arquette | Boyhood
Jessica Chastain | A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley | The Imitation Game
Emma Stone | Birdman
Meryl Streep | Into the Woods
  …
Both Knightley and Stone were good in The Imitation Game and Birdman, respectively, but I don’t know who I root for most out of those two. I’ve always like Chastain as an actress and I’d have liked to see her get a nod for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Interesting that Streep’s character is considered a supporting role in Into the Woods, as she seems to have a pretty major screen time there. In any case, does she have to be nominated for EVERY SINGLE ROLE she plays EVERY YEAR though?? I could think of a handful of actresses I’d rather see in her place, for one I’d love to see Andrea Riseborough (or Naomi Watts) in Birdman get a nod! I was also impressed by Kim Dickens as Detective Boney in Gone Girl.
Andrea Riseborough with Keaton in 'Birdman'

Andrea Riseborough with Keaton in ‘Birdman’

 …
SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall | The Judge
Ethan Hawke |Boyhood
Ed Norton | Birdman
Mark Ruffalo | Foxcatcher
JK Simmons | Whiplash
 …
Woo hoo for Mark Ruffalo! I was a bit worried Channing Tatum would get a nod in the supporting role instead of him. I guess Tatum could be considered a co-lead with Carell. But Ruffalo was truly the heart of the film and he was truly believable and compelling in the role. Meh on Robert Duvall, but I guess it’s better him getting a nod than Robert Downey Jr from The Judge.
 …

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


I’ve been listening to Interstellar’s score a lot lately so I guess that’s my favorite from the bunch. But Reznor’s work for Gone Girl is excellent and I’ve been a fan of Desplat’s work generally. Seems that the Academy loves him, he’s been nominated 6 times in the last 7 years, but he has yet to win. So perhaps this would be Desplat’s year?
 …

SAGawards
I’ve never blogged about the SAG awards before for some reason, but it could very well be far more important than the Globes and other awards apart from Oscars. Per THR, in the years since the SAG Awards were first handed out in 1995, the guild’s acting nominees and winners have predicted the Academy Awards’ acting nominees and winners more consistently than any of the many other accolades that collectively constitute the awards season.

It’s definitely the year of the Brits! There’s a British actor in practically every acting category both at Golden Globes and SAG this year.
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
STEVE CARELL / John du Pont – “FOXCATCHER”
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH / Alan Turing – “THE IMITATION GAME” 
JAKE GYLLENHAAL / Louis Bloom – “NIGHTCRAWLER”
MICHAEL KEATON / Riggan – “BIRDMAN” 
EDDIE REDMAYNE / Stephen Hawking – “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” 

Pretty much everyone I predicted would be nominated are on this list, and yay once again for Keaton! It’s a big year for Cumberbatch & Redmayne as this is the first SAG nom for the two Brits that would likely lead to the Oscars. VERY curious who’d win this year but I have no quibble about the nominees. I was bummed not seeing David Oyelowo‘s name here but apparently Selma wasn’t completed in time to send screeners to the SAG voters, hence the exclusion.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
JENNIFER ANISTON / Claire Bennett – “CAKE” 
FELICITY JONES / Jane Hawking – “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” 
JULIANNE MOORE / Alice Howland-Jones – “STILL ALICE” 
ROSAMUND PIKE / Amy Dunne – “GONE GIRL” 
REESE WITHERSPOON / Cheryl Strayed – “WILD”

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Unlike the more predictable MALE category, the Lead Best Actress category is full of surprises! Jennifer Aniston getting a double nomination, esp. from SAG, wow I’d never guess THAT as I have never even heard of her film Cake until a few weeks ago. I just hope there’s more her performance to warrant that nom than simply going sans makeup (and having bad hair) for the role. One thing for sure, as I said above, I don’t buy Witherspoon in a similar ‘non-glamorous’ role in Wild.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
ROBERT DUVALL / Joseph Palmer – “THE JUDGE” 
ETHAN HAWKE / Mason, Sr. – “BOYHOOD” 
EDWARD NORTON / Mike – “BIRDMAN” 
MARK RUFFALO / Dave Schultz – “FOXCATCHER”
J.K. SIMMONS / Fletcher – “WHIPLASH”


I’m rooting for Norton and Ruffalo out of this bunch, both of them are nothing short of excellent. I guess Norton’s role in Birdman is flashier but Ruffalo shines in a more understated performance in Foxcatcher. I definitely wish Duvall won’t win this category, I don’t know why he’s even nominated here.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
PATRICIA ARQUETTE / Olivia – “BOYHOOD”
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY / Joan Clarke – “THE IMITATION GAME”
EMMA STONE / Sam – “BIRDMAN”
MERYL STREEP / The Witch – “INTO THE WOODS” 
NAOMI WATTS / Daka – “ST. VINCENT”

[sigh] Meryl Streep once again, am I the only one tired of seeing her name in EVERY SINGLE NOMINATIONS year after year? Boy I didn’t even know Watts was in St. Vincent, I thought if she were to get a nod it’ll be from Birdman. I was quite impressed with Stone in Birdman, perhaps her best performance I’ve ever seen from her after her mediocre turn in those Spider-man movies and an entirely unconvincing one in Gangster Squad.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
BOYHOOD (IFC Films)
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
THE IMITATION GAME (The Weinstein Company)
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus Features)

ImitationGame_Cast

It’d be interesting if The Imitation Game with its all-star British cast win this thing but they do have an excellent ensemble! I personally love The Imitation Game and Birdman ensemble as I think the supporting cast absolutely deliver across the board, and they’re not just a glorified cameo like many in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

So who got snubbed??

So the most popular four-letter word during award season is back once again!

Seems that the early frontrunner Unbroken is not really much of a contender. I bet Angelina Jolie (who’s been nominated for Golden Globes half a dozen times, even for The Tourist!) would never guess Jennifer Aniston would get DOUBLE nominations this year. Perhaps the HFPA and SAG voters just don’t want to see both of them competing on the same red carpet or something? But the fact that the film didn’t earn a single acting nom, even for its lead Jack O’Connell is surprising to me. Now, the movie itself might not even be THAT good, so whether it’s really a SNUB remains to be seen.

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Jolie on the set of ‘Unbroken’ – Photo courtesy of HollywoodTake.com

Some consider this a snub, but I’m not all that surprised NOT seeing Interstellar nor Matthew McConaughey amongst the nominees. I’m not disappointed either as the film didn’t wow me. Seems that Ben Affleck is also not getting any love for his performance in Gone Girl, which arguably is one of his best acting in recent memory.

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Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

Lastly, two Cannes winners: Bennett Miller (Best Director for Foxcatcher) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor for Mr. Turner) are both missing from both Golden Globes and SAG nominations. I have been hearing nothing but praise for Spall’s performance as the eccentric British painter, so this seems to be a pretty glaring omission.


Well, there ya go folks. So who do you consider the surprises and/or snubs this year from both GG and SAG awards?

FlixChatter Review: EXODUS: Gods and Kings (2014)

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Sir Ridley Scott maybe the most inconsistent successful film director ever, he first burst into fame by directing Alien in 1979 but made two big budget misfires a few years later, Blade Runner and Legend. He came back into prominence again in 1991 with Thelma & Louise, but the rest of his work in the 90s were mostly forgotten. Not until 2000 when he finally became an A-list director by making Gladiator and many of his films in that decade were very successful. He’s now back with another big budget period epic adventure, but unfortunately I think it might be one of his worst films.

Before I go into the review, I would like to note that I’m not a religious person so I don’t know the story of Moses, heck I’ve never seen The Ten Commandments so I went into this movie with zero knowledge of the subject.

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In the Egyptian city of Memphis, the film introduced us to Moses (Christian Bale) and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton), they’re preparing to go into a battle and getting a blessing from King Seti (John Turturro) who also happens to be Rhamses’ father. Right away we get the feeling that there’s some kind of animosity between Moses and Rhamses and the King seems to have more love for Moses than his own son. During the battle, Moses saved Rhamses’ life and this somehow made him resent Moses even more. In the said scene, Rhamses was so offended he even considered killing Moses. After defeating their enemies, both Moses and Rhamses were heralded as heroes back in their hometown. Again King Seti seem to be more impressed with Moses than his own son, later on he told Rhamses to go and check up on a close by city because some of the slaves aren’t behaving. Not expecting to receive this kind of menial task from the king, Rhamses was not happy. So Moses volunteered to go instead. Upon arriving at the city, Moses met with the elders of the slaves including its leader Nun (Ben Kingsley). It’s here that Nun confronted Moses and told him that he’s a Hebrew and needs to lead his people to freedom. Of course Moses didn’t believe a word of what Nun said. I think anyone who’s familiar with the story probably already know what’s going to happen so I won’t go deeper into the plot of the movie.

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Scott is known for being a perfectionist when it comes to how his films should look and here again his film looks spectacular. Shot natively in 3D, the effects were very immersive, but unfortunately he only included some few WOW 3D effects. So save yourself some money and see it on 2D instead. I haven’t mentioned about the plagues and the Red Sea parting scene because even though the effects were great, I wasn’t so into the movie so I didn’t even care about them. Aside from the visual aesthetics, the movie itself was kind of mediocre. For the first hour or so I thought this was made by a amateur director. The story narrative was all over the place and the editing was even worse. I’m quite sure we’ll get the inevitable longer “Director’s Cut” version when it comes out on video. I’m not quite sure of what he’s trying to say about the main leads, especially Moses. He started out as some kind of a non-believer but then out of nowhere became this savior who only answers to God. Maybe because I’m not familiar with the story and also a non-believer, I just didn’t buy into his transformation. For those expecting to see a Gladiator or even Kingdom of Heaven action style, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The movie contained one big action sequence but the marketing folks did a good job of promoting the movie as this non-stop action/adventure.

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There’s been a lot of controversies when it comes to the cast, the filmmakers decided to cast mostly Caucasian actors in the lead roles. Truth be told, many of them look kind of ridiculous with heavy tanning and make up, especially Joel Edgerton. Personally I don’t have any issues with the casting, I mean this is a $140mil Hollywood produced movie and they need to cast some well-known actors to get their money back. Controversies aside, most of the actors were pretty good in their respective roles. This is a Christian Bale‘s movie since he appeared on the screen 90% of the time. Even though I thought the role was poorly written, Bale did what he could with the material. Edgerton was also good playing the “villain.” I don’t think I’ve seen him in any other movie except the atrocious Star Wars Episode 2. Here he played a pretty menacing character and he even outshone Bale in a couple of scenes they appeared together.

I’m pretty sure Sigourney Weaver must’ve been quite upset when she sees the final movie since she appeared on the screen for only about 5 minutes and spoke about 5 lines of dialogs. I’m guessing most of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Ben Kingsley did a fine job as this Yoda kind of role. The oddest person in the cast here is Aaron “Jesse” Paul, he played this sidekick to Moses and I just thought he’s way out of his elements here. Another bad casting is John Turturro, he looks ridiculous in the weird make up and spoke with a weird accent that I wanted to laugh when he appears on screen.

For all the bad casting, writing and directing, the worse crime this movie committed was that it’s so boring! I actually dosed off a couple of times during the screening. This was yet another misfire from a director whose career may need to come to an end. I can forgive the bad editing and writing if the movie was entertaining, unfortunately it’s just a bad movie that can’t be saved even though it looks so good.

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Have you seen Exodus? Well, what did you think?

Everybody’s Chattin’ and Teaser Trailer Spotlight: Pixar’s Inside Out

EverybodysChattinWinterHello all! It’s yet another combo post today, as I want to highlight some of my favorite posts from fellow bloggers as well as highlight a brand new teaser trailer from Pixar. I was going to do a Music Break of Into The Woods since I’m going to the press screening tonight, but I’ll save it ’til next week. I’m also going to the Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb screening early Saturday morning. I haven’t seen the first movie but hey Dan Stevens is playing Lancelot!

I might be blogging about my reaction to the SAG and Golden Globes noms, boy they all seem to be coming out at once! Oh and stay tuned for Ted’s review of Exodus tomorrow. If you’ve read yesterday’s post, you might’ve guessed what he thinks of it ;)

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

CR_FelixLeiterAfter having finished the audio book Carte Blanche (read by my dahling Toby Stephens, natch!), Michael talked about one of Bond’s most loyal allies: Leiter, Felix Leiter.

One of my fave bloggers Cindy B. always have such insightful and perceptive posts. Her latest is on the point of view of Books vs Films and why the latter often doesn’t live up to its source material.

A few month-in-review posts are still trickling in. Kristin and Eric just posted what they’ve watched last month… and Kristin also talked about what she’s anticipating in December.

Those with music in their minds … Josh posted his list of Top 25 Songs of 2014, whilst Chris picks his Top 100 songs in batches.

Lots of great reviews of movies I haven’t seen yet:

Mark reviewed Whiplash, Stu reviewed Calvary, and Zoë reviewed FURY. Meanwhile, Mikey and Katy are both impressed by the movie I wish I had seen: Nightcrawler.

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Last but not least, check out these two great lists … Alex picks his Top 10 Conrad L. Hall films, whilst Dan/Top10Film‘s contributor listed Top 10 Horror Films from the USA.

 


Now time for that awesome teaser trailer …

I hadn’t been following Pixar’s next project but oh, I absolutely LOVE this story concept! Inside Out is Pixar Animation Studios’ fifteenth feature film and glad they’re going back to an original story since Brave in 2012.

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Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters.


Now I’m not too crazy about the name (wonder what other titles were tossed around). But hey, the premise does sound promising and the trailer definitely grabbed me. This looks like it could be right up there with Toy Story and Wall•E, both of which are written by Pete Docter and he also directed Monsters Inc. and UP for Pixar. Docter is the sole screenwriter of Inside Out and he’s also one of the co-directors. I quite like the voice cast too: Diane Lane, Amy Peohler, Kyle MacLachlan, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader. So color me excited for this one!


What do you think of ‘Inside Out?’

Question of the week: Which seasoned director do you think has lost his mojo?

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Sir Ridley couldn’t even keep Christian Bale awake on set

Though this falls under my Random Movie Question categories, you’d surmise that it’s really NOT so random. I was inspired by my friend Ted who texted me after the EXODUS screening that he was surprised the film was made by an experienced director of Ridley Scott’s caliber, he said it looked like it had been done by some newbie filmmaker.

You’ll see his full review later this week, but that confirms my dread that Sir Ridley seems to have really lost his mojo. I mean this is the same visionary director who did sci-fi classics like Alien, Blade Runner in his early 40s, then Gladiator (one of my faves of all time), Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Dawn, etc. in his 50s. A lot of people might’ve said he’s lost it long ago and perhaps the 77-year-old should’ve retired and just stick to be an executive producer. Yet I somehow still defended him when he made Robin Hood (which I still enjoyed though I wish he had stuck with the Sheriff of Nottingham concept), and I even think A Good Year has its charm. But after Prometheus, which was fun but definitely no masterpiece by a long shot, The Counselor was panned by critics and audience alike. His latest *Biblical epic* seems um, poised to fall in that same category, and not only because of his questionable casting choices.

Now, he’s certainly not the only director out there who can’t seem to follow up their past success. People have been saying that about Brian de Palma, Oliver Stone, even Francis Ford Coppola are in the same camp.


So I’m curious, which seasoned/famous director(s) you think have lost their touch in recent years?

FlixChatter Review: WILD (2014)

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Based on a memoir of Cheryl Strayed, a Minnesota native, it’s no surprise the TCFF screening last month was packed and there were a long line at the RUSH line trying to get tickets to the sold-out showing. As someone who haven’t read the book, I was intrigued by the female-driven story and was expecting to be entertained as well as enlightened. Alas, I got neither.

This movie is like Eat, Pray, Love 2.0 where a white woman in the midst of a life crisis decided to go on a journey of self-discovery. Now, instead of traveling the globe, in the mid 90s Cheryl hiked the 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long trail of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), all by herself. So the first act was quite amusing as we watched the petite Reese Witherspoon struggling to even carry her ginormous backpack twice her size and struggling to figure out how to put up a tent, cook a meal and so on. The film tells us in flashbacks who Cheryl is and how she ended up taking up such an extreme adventure. She went on such an arduous trek without much preparation, I mean the PCT is such a challenging terrain even for most experienced hikers. It seems that Cheryl went through life in a similar reckless manner, prompted by the death of her mother, played by the always affable Laura Dern.

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Though her family was poor, Cheryl’s mother was always there for her and she had such a sunny outlook on life even in the most dire circumstances. Her mother’s death from lung cancer wrecked the already-fragile Cheryl and her life went on a downward spiral. She drank, did drugs and slept with any willing man, even in a dirty alleyway. It’s no surprise her humiliated husband divorced her and even she didn’t fault him for doing so. In fact, her last name ‘Strayed’ was made up by Cheryl herself after the divorce, perhaps to signify her lost and philandering ways?

Witherspoon pulled all the stops in portraying Cheryl’s ‘warts and all’ persona, which includes posing nude, swearing up a storm, and pretty much anything we don’t expect from *America’s sweetheart.* But that’s the thing, I felt like the actress tried too hard to shed her ‘good girl’ image here, yet I feel she didn’t quite go far enough. For one I think she still looks too beautiful even sans makeup, never once did I believe her as a desperate person reaching her wit’s end. Some have said it’s a bravura and transformative performance but to me it looks superficial and bait-y, because she didn’t immerse us or make us empathize with the character.

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Perhaps an actress with a better range (like Cate Blanchett or even Emily Blunt) might’ve suited this role better. Other than Witherspoon and Dern, there are no other performances worth talking about. I only noticed Michiel Huisman as a guy she hooked up on her journey as I recognized him from some Game of Thrones stills, but he wasn’t given much to do than looking hunky.

The film itself also tried too hard to tug at my heartstrings that it felt manipulative. That is if you weren’t overwhelmed by the repetitive and at times jarring flashbacks to the point of ad nauseam. It’s worth noting that this is Jean Marc Valèe‘s follow-up film after the critically-acclaimed Dallas Buyer’s Club which was nominated for an Oscar, and the script was done by acclaimed writer Nick Hornby (About A Boy, An Education). Great pedigree to be sure, if only I had been more impressed by the result.

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The cinematography by Yves Bélanger of the PCT is perhaps the only thing I admire about this film, I mean it could double as an advertisement for the scenic trail (oh and for REI too, with its blatant product placement). Though the running time was under 2-hours, I felt like it went on for ages and I never felt more relieved to see end credits appearing on screen! I don’t mean to be so down on this movie, I suppose the themes of self-empowerment and perseverance are quite inspiring, but in the end, Cheryl Strayed remains emotionally distant to me.

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Have you seen WILD? I’m curious to hear what you think!

Five movies everyone seem to love that leave me cold

RonSwansonBannerThis list has been on my draft folder for some time. Well, now seems as good a time as any to counter all the the applause for movies as one award after another is getting announced. This post is inspired by Abbi’s list, as well as Kristin’s who posted her own list. Now, I don’t totally abhor all of these films, but like Abbi said, I really don’t get all the praise and for me at least, it did NOT live up to the hype.

I use IMDb rating and Rotten Tomatoes score just to show how critically-acclaimed these films are. Two of the classic films listed here are even considered iconic masterpieces which is even more baffling to me. If you happen to LOVE these movies, well I wish I could say the same but I think they’re awful, sorry!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

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IMDB rating: 7.1 | RT Score: 87%

I actually enjoyed the first Hellboy and that’s the reason why I was excited to see the second one but heh, my hubby and I actually turned it off after less than a half hour. For some reason I just couldn’t figure out why we liked the first one but this sequel is so boring. All the peculiar creatures and fantastical setting we found amusing the first time around just feels derivative, it feels like a studio obligation instead of a passion project from Guillermo Del Toro perhaps because that’s really the case here. I like Ron Perlman in the role though, but I’d rather just watch the first movie again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 79%

Just like Transformers, a string of horror series and young adult adaptations, I never get the appeal of Pirates of the Caribbean from the get go. Johnny Depp‘s flamboyant, Keith-Richard-inspired Jack Sparrow is amusing for maybe a half hour tops, but for some reason people just can’t get enough of it that the fifth movie is now in the works [face palm]. Alas Depp can’t seem to shake that role either now, it’s as if Sparrow became his acting *curse.* I haven’t bothered watching the sequels, though I had to endure the second one (or was it the third??) when I was at a friend’s house and it just reminded me how awful this franchise is. I wince every time Geoffrey Rush show up, but I suppose a big paycheck from this type of drivels allow him to do something worthy of his talents. As if these movies aren’t unbearable already, we also have to endure watching Orlando Bloom doing poor imitations of Errol Flynn!

Spartacus (1960)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 96%

Spartacus_romanceMy jaw dropped when I found out just how high the score is after seeing the film. I saw this a few years ago and I could barely made it to the end. Now, I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which I have seen time and again over the years and it still held up, and as a fan of swords & sandal genre, I thought I’d enjoy this too. But heck, I find it corny, dull and boring. I don’t buy Kirk Douglas as a gladiator slave for a second. He just isn’t tough nor ruthless enough I’d imagine the character to be. Sure some might’ve called Charlton Heston a wooden actor, but he at least look the part as Ben-Hur and he made me root for his character. Not so with Douglas, and the romance with Jean Simmons have zero chemistry and the backdrop wallpaper they used for the scene is so awfully fake looking I couldn’t stop laughing!

So apparently Douglas did this movie to show William Wyler that he could do a Roman epic of his own, as he didn’t get the Judah Ben-Hur role he wanted. Per IMDb trivia, he was actually offered the role of Messala but he refused to play second banana. Heh, I thank the Lord he’s NOT part of Ben-Hur, I doubt he could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the lead role!! I also think Tony Curtis is completely miscast here as well.

Stanley Kubrick apparently disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that explained it. Seems that this movie resulted from *too many cooks spoil the broth* syndrome.

The Getaway (1972)

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IMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 85%

This was my intro to Sam Peckinpah as my pal Ted S. LOVES his work. Sorry Ted, but I really don’t like this film, like AT ALL. It’s also my intro into Steve McQueen who’s supposed to be this suave and cool hero, but meh, I find him to be blank and stiff. I saw some clips of him in Bullit and he’s pretty much acting the exact same way. Now, I like a tough, brooding hero as much as the next gal, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on internally in his character to make me care. Same with Ali MacGraw who’s gorgeous but doesn’t really have much going on otherwise, and the romance is as lifeless as a dead fish.

TheGetawaySlappingSceneThis film is labeled a thriller but I don’t find it suspenseful at all. Even the shootout from a supposedly celebrated violent action director is so lackluster and on a few occasion it made me laugh! The color of the blood here looks so obviously fake too which doesn’t help matters. Al Lettieri did look menacing as the villain but for the most part he’s more annoying than scary. Plus the whole creepy sex scene with Sally Struthers, forcing her own husband to watch her cheat with a criminal is just plain revolting. What bothers me most here is the violence against women by not just the villain but the hero, as there’s a scene where McQueen slaps MacGraw several times and I read that he actually did it spontaneously so her reaction looked real. Heh, there’s nothing cool or ‘macho’ about assault of any kind and it’s even more shocking that this film is rated PG!!

Interestingly enough, this is yet another movie disowned by the director himself, as apparently he butted heads with McQueen who wanted a different version of the story and the studio backed the actor.

To Catch A Thief (1955)

ToCatchAThiefPosterIMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 95%

The poster promises ‘shocking suspense and sizzling romance’ but we’ve got neither. Apart from the gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera – as well as Grace Kelly’s exquisite beauty – this film hasn’t got much to offer. Kelly’s soooo beautiful here that it’s actually distracting, and I was  also distracted by how tanned Cary Grant is in this movie, especially compared to his alabaster co-star. It feels more like a rom-com than a mystery romance, as it lacks any real suspense or even believable chemistry between the two leads. Perhaps the fact that Grant was 50 playing a guy in his mid 30s have something to do with that. It’s almost as tedious as Torn Curtain, another disappointing film from ‘the master of suspense’ director Alfred Hitchcock.

The premise sounds promising on paper and you’d think with this cast, this could’ve been far more entertaining. By the time the twist was revealed, I no longer cared who did what to whom. I suppose this film is worth seeing for the lush scenery and glamorous costumes (done by Edith Head, natch!), but as a film, it’s more window dressing than an intriguing piece.


Well, those are five movies that everyone seem to love but me. What do you think? Let’s hear it!

Five for the Fifth: DECEMBER 2014 Edition

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

Since this is the last FFTF of the year and award season has kicked into high gear, the questions will revolve around film awards and your choices of ‘best of’ or favorite in both films and TV. So let’s get started, shall we?

1. First off, I’m going to talk about A Most Violent Year, which was recently voted Best Picture by The National Board of Review. The NBR president Annie Schulhof was quoted as saying “‘A Most Violent Year’ is an exhilarating crime drama with a compelling story, outstanding performances and an elegant cinematic style,” per LA Times. I posted the trailer in the last Five for the Fifth post and it certainly does look VERY good, but also very intense. NBR also awarded its stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in Best Actor and Actress category respectively, two extremely talented actors who are fellow Juilliard graduates.

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I was quite surprised by this pick, but at the same time, not really. I mean, sure it hasn’t gained as much traction as other films such as Birdman, Boyhood or The Imitation Game, but writer/director J.C. Chandor was an Oscar nominee for Margin Call so this could very well be Oscar’s dark horse. I read somewhere that this film is like Wall Street meets Scarface, hmmm I probably just rent this later as it might be way too violent for me.

So what’s your thought on MBR’s pick of Best Picture? Do you predict it’ll be nominated for Oscar too?

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2. You might not know who she is yet, but I’ve mentioned Gugu Mbatha-Raw quite a few times in my blog based on her two excellent performances I saw this year in Belle and Beyond the Lights. In fact, I’d be sorely disappointed if she didn’t get at least a nomination for BAFTA’s Orange Rising Star Award next year, I mean she should have won one already by now.

I have only heard of her prior to this year from the JJ Abrams’ show Undercover that was canceled pretty quickly. I haven’t seen a single episode but I’d have watched it for Gugu! In fact, she makes my Honorable Mention on my list of 10 Actresses I’d Watch in Practically Anything.

So which actor/actress you’ve never seen prior to 2014 who left a huge impression on you this year?

3. Ok so the ‘Best of’ lists have started to pop up and though I’m still not sure what my Top 10 would look like, there is at least a few that I know WILL make the list: Belle, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men Days of Future Past.

Say what you will about Wolverine but Xavier + Magneto are what the X-Men prequels are all about for me

Xavier + Magneto are what the X-Men prequels are all about for me

Now my Top 10 is a personal one as it’s usually comprised of films that I both admire AND enjoy watching that I’d buy the Blu-ray, not something I appreciate but won’t ever want to see again. So it’s not always the most critically-acclaimed films out there, though these three are actually on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top 100 so far.

So I’m curious, tell me at least ONE film that surely will end up on your Top 10 of the year?
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4. Now switching gears to those that won’t make your Top 10 list, unless it’s the WORST or Most Disappointing list of the year. I was actually making a list of ‘movies everyone seem to love that leave me cold’ from classic to contemporary movies. I’m excluding 2014 films as the one film that disappointed me most hasn’t even opened yet in most cities. But if I were to include it, WILD would make the list as it just bored me to tears.

WildMovieI was flabbergasted how high the rating is for that one and the fact that it’s been taunted as an Oscar contender just boggles my mind.

Now I’m curious which critically-acclaimed 2014 movie you didn’t enjoy or disappointed you most?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Mark from Three Rows Back!

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Inspired by yesterday’s announcement of SPECTRE, Mark has Bond on his mind. Now this topic has been discussed before even though Daniel Craig is still under contract to do one more Bond film after Spectre. I’ve listed some of my – and my pal Ted’s – choices of who we’d like to say play 007, but hey, there’s no reason why we can’t talk about it again. Here’s what Mark’s idea of who he thinks should be considered:

I would rule out a Yank to play the part; Bond is quintessentially British.

Much as I liked him, I would have discounted Tom Hardy until I saw him in ‘Locke;’ an underrated performance full of range in my book, so he would be right up there for me. I’ve always loved Idris Elba too; that guy hasn’t found his true calling yet and Bond could well be it.

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Tom & Idris in Rocknrolla!

I LOVE both Hardy and Elba (hey both are Rocknrolla alums!), but I give Elba the edge as he’s tall. I dunno, I kind of prefer Bond to be at least 6 feet tall. Nothing against Craig as he does a great job in the role, but I wish the next Bond actor would be tower above most people. Heck I don’t care what race, I mean I think the world is ready for a Black Bond (I wanted Colin Salmon as Bond at one point), heck even Asian Bond, someone like British/Korean actor Daniel Henney who’s 6’2″ and is a decent actor. As for the argument that Bond actor should be British, I can see that and I have no problem with that though for me, if another non-Brit can pull off a British accent convincingly, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I did put Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on my wish list.

So, Mark [and I] would like to know … who would you like to see replace Craig after he hangs up his Walter PPK?


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

007 Chatter: BOND 24 is now called SPECTRE

Boy it’s been a while since I posted anything about Bond and this morning a press release came to my email that I simply had to do a post! “Welcome back commander!” 

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[you can see the motion poster over on 007 Facebook]

LONDON, UK, December 4, 2014 – 007 Soundstage, Pinewood Studios, London. James Bond Producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli today released the title of the 24th James Bond adventure, SPECTRE. The film, from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is directed by Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig, who returns for his fourth film as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. SPECTRE begins principal photography on Monday, December 8, and is set for global release on November 6, 2015.

The launch of SPECTRE was streamed live on 007.com and Facebook.com/JamesBond007, and here’s the video if you missed it:

Along with Daniel Craig, Mendes presented the returning cast, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear as well as introducing Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci and Andrew Scott. Mendes also revealed Bond’s sleek new Aston Martin, the DB10, created exclusively for the movie.

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Click to enlarge

Official synopsis:

A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Bond’s going back to the classic Aston Martin too, which is by far one of my favorite of all Bond’s fantastic rides. Man, the DB10 is going to be specifically built for the film and it’s absolutely drool-worthy!! Heck, I’d rather take his car home than Bond himself, ahah.

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click to enlarge

The 007 production will be based at Pinewood Studios, and on location in London, Mexico City, Rome and Tangier and Erfoud, in Morocco. Bond will return to the snow once again, this time in Sölden, along with other Austrian locations, Obertilliach, and Lake Altaussee.

Commenting on the announcement, Wilson and Broccoli said, “We’re excited to announce Daniel’s fourth installment in the series and thrilled that Sam has taken on the challenge of following on the success of SKYFALL with SPECTRE.”.

Per EMPIRE, the evil organization has not had a presence in the Bond universe thanks to a long-running copyright battle between MGM and the estate of Kevin McClory, the producer of Thunderball and the unofficial Connery Bond, Never Say Never Again. That, however, was resolved in 2013, paving the way for SPECTRE to return to the Bond movies. People have been speculating that Christoph Waltz will be playing Spectre’s leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but according to the UK mag, his character’s name is Oberhauser [??]

Man, I’m super excited for this!! What a cast, too, woo hoo!!! I LOVE Christophe Waltz, the Austrian thespian really impressed me in Inglourious Basterds and he has been working steadily in Hollywood ever since. He’d be great as the villain, with Bautista as his henchmen I presume. Not sure who Andrew Scott is playing, but he’s playing another baddie named Denbigh. They’re playing it *safe* this time in casting actors who’ve won accolades playing bad guys previously, as Scott won BAFTA for portraying Sherlock‘s nemesis Moriarty in the BBC series.

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I’m loving the female cast, too! I have always been a big fan of Naomie Harris as Money Penny, but now we’ve got gorgeous Italian and French beauties Monica Bellucci & Léa Seydoux. I’m actually surprised they haven’t cast Monica in previous Bond films, but she still looks stunning at 50 so it’s cool to see they don’t just cast young actresses as Bond girls!

SPECTRE is set for a October 23, 2015 release in the UK and a November 6, 2015 release in the US. Can’t friggin’ wait for this!!


So, what do you think of this announcement? Would love to hear your thoughts, folks!