FlixChatter Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

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I initially had no desire to see this new Terminator flick; from the trailers that I saw I thought it lacked creativity and originality. But then a couple of weeks ago, James Cameron gave his blessings and said fans of the franchise will enjoy it. Being that I’m a fan of Cameron and love his two Terminator flicks, I decided to give this new sequel a chance.

Ignoring the events of the previous two films, things kick off in the future where John Connor (Jason Clarke), his best pal Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and a bunch of soldiers are battling the evil Skynet’s cyborgs. Connor has found a way to defeat the cyborgs and shut down Skynet permanently. But Skynet has a plan in place to win the war, they have created a time machine and sent one of their terminator cyborgs back in time to 1984 to kill Connor’s mom. In order to stop the cyborg and help Conner’s mom, Reese volunteered to go back in time.

Basically this opening scene was meant as a prologue to the first film. Then the film jumps to 1984 where they recreated the opening scene of the first film, we see the Terminator (young Arnold Schwarzenegger) just arrived in L.A. and was just about to kill the three punks but an older Terminator (old Arnold) came to their aid. A fight between the two Terminators ensues and then the younger cyborg was put down.

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We then see Reese arrived at another location in Los Angeles; he’s also met with another Terminator, the T-1000 (Byung-Hun Lee). When he’s about to get killed by the T-1000, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and the old Terminator came to his rescue. If you’ve seen the trailers then you pretty much knows how the rest of the movie will play out, our heroes gets chased by the evil cyborg and they have to destroy Skynet. The only difference here is that Sarah already knows what’s going to happen and she’s already prepared for Judgment Day. This is one of those films that think it’s smarter than it actually is. The writers came up with alternate timeline and time travel and just assume that the audiences have seen the previous movies. Sadly none of it made any sense and frankly I just didn’t care. The point of a reboot is to come up with something new and refreshing, here they just rehash elements of the first two films and threw in some “new” ideas. None of it worked and I was bored halfway through the movie.

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Even though he gets top billing, Arnold was just there to be the action hero and comic relief. The main leads are Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke. We’re supposed to care about these two characters like the first film but the two actors have zero chemistry. Jai might be the blandest actor since Hayden Christensen; he’s one of the current young actors that Hollywood is trying to make into the next big action hero. Clarke is no better, she’s trying to channel the brave and tough version of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah from the second film, but sadly she couldn’t convince me that she’s badass. As for the main villain, well if you’ve seen the trailers then you’ve already know that John Connor is the antagonist in this one and he’s also quite bland. If there were a great example of miscasting actors in prominent roles in a big film, this would be it. None of the actors fit into their respective roles. The only person belongs in the movie is Arnold and he’s great.

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On the technical side, the movie is flawless. Director Alan Taylor and his cinematographer did a great job of capturing look and feel of Cameron’s previous Terminator pictures. The 3D effects were very effective; the action scenes were well staged and best of all, no hand held shaking cam action sequences. Speaking of action, the franchise is known for its long action sequences but Taylor somehow decided to edit down the length of each action scenes, with the exception a helicopter chase, many of the action scenes were short and not really creative at all. Again here they tried to rehash elements of Cameron’s films and nothing else.

I guess the trend of this summer’s big films are reboots/sequels and Terminator Genisys is no different. While I thought the concept worked for Mad Max: Fury Road, it didn’t work for this movie. If you’re fan of the franchise then you might enjoy it, for newcomers you might get confused by all the references to the previous events in the past films. My two-and-a-half stars are only for the movie’s excellent Dolby Atmos surround sound and very cool 3D effects. I think it’s time for this franchise to get terminated.

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So have you seen Terminator Genisys? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

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There’s something so refreshingly frank about this movie right from the start. Though it deals with a difficult subject of terminal illness, the movie is both heartwarming and genuinely funny. The ‘Me’ in the title is Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his free time making parodies of classic films with his friend, whom he refers to as his co-worker, Earl (RJ Cyler). One day his mom tells him that one of his high school mates has cancer and she basically pesters him to spend time with her. His constant protests prove to be futile, so Greg reluctantly visits Rachel (Olivia Cooke) and frankly tells her that he’s there because his mom told him so. He practically begs Rachel to let him hang out with her as his mom would ‘give him hell’ if he doesn’t.
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I was sold on this movie right from this very scene. It reminds me of the 2011 dramedy 50/50 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt which also deals with cancer in a lighthearted-yet-profound way. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a smaller, more intimate film and it’s also a lot quirkier. Greg and Earl made for a rather unlikely duo but they’re a hoot to watch as they watch classic movies together and then make a whole bunch of parody movies of them in their spare time. Both of them are a bit of a social outcast and so this movie-making hobby is sort of a release for both of them to channel their frustration as well as creativity. So when one of Rachel’s friends found out that they like to make movies, they’re tasked with making a film about her.

There’s a laid-back vibe to this movie that adds to its indie charm. From the way the characters interact with each other to the seamless way things unfold, it’s a journey that’s rather easy to digest and one that doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative. That last part is tricky given the subject matter, yet director Alfonso Goméz-Rejón stays away from clichés or cloying over-sentimentality that could threaten to weigh this movie down. Also props to Jesse Andrews who wrote both the novel AND the screenplay. I love that the film doesn’t ask us to pity Rachel, and the character is adamant about that in her initial conversation with Greg. She faces her illness head on just as this movie also doesn’t sugar-coat Rachel’s illness and how she, as well as those around her, deals with it.

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I like that there’s mostly unknown in the entire cast. The most famous cast member is Nick Offerman, who along with Connie Britton as Greg’s parents add a dose of eccentricities to the movie. Initially I felt that Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom was perhaps a bit miscast here as you just kept expecting her to do something totally bonkers, but in the end it turns out to be a rather restrained performance from her. It’s also a bit odd to see Jon Bernthal here as Greg’s history teacher who let the two boys have lunch and watch movies in his office. I guess I just never saw him in this kind of role before but I like his understated performance and his character is integral to the moral of the story.

MeEarlDyingGirl_pic4The stars of the film however, is Mann, Cooke and Cyler as the three unlikely friends. The three young actors embody their roles pretty well and Cooke especially had the difficult task of convincing us that she’s indeed ill. The friendship theme run deep in this film, and it’s truly the heart of the film. The scenes ofMeEarlDyingGirl_SockworkOrange Greg and Earl talking about their parody movies are genuinely funny, so are the titles they come up with, i.e. A Sockwork Orange, Senior Citizen Kane, Rosemary Baby Carrots, The 400 Bros, etc. The movie incorporates some animated sequences which gives it a surreal vibe, but it never detracts us from the friendship storyline.

The third act proved to be the most emotional and I find myself tearing up quite a bit towards the end. I suppose you could say the ending is pretty predictable, yet the scene of Greg coming to terms with the situation hit me harder than I thought it would. There have been a lot of dialog throughout the movie up until the finale, but there’s no words necessary to convey the sentiment of the finale. I think it’s fitting that the filmmaker let the scene speak for itself, which made it feel all the more poignant.

Overall though, I like this movie but I wouldn’t say that I’m in love with it. There are some high-school moments that don’t resonate as well with me, and at times some of the supporting characters felt too cartoonish. Strangely enough, I also don’t feel as much an emotional connection with Rachel as I thought I would, but perhaps the story is more about Greg than about her. That said, I do think it’s an outstanding feature film debut from Goméz-Rejón and he’s certainly a director to watch for.

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I listened to an NPR’s Fresh Air interview with Goméz-Rejón who talked about how losing his dad shaped his approach to the film. It’s apparent that this film was a personal project for him and I think his personal experience made this film feel more authentic. He also talked about working as Martin Scorsese‘s personal assistant in his early 20s so he’s definitely learned from the best. The Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize is well-deserved and I have a feeling this would stand as one of the best high school films of this generation. If this is playing near you, I hope you go out and check this one out folks, a refreshingly original story that’d make a great antidote to all the sequels/reboots of the Summer and beyond.

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Have you seen this one? Curious to hear what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review: Pixar’s Inside Out (2015)

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Ever since Pixar came out with Toy Story in the mid 90s, I’ve been a big fan of Pixar films. What I love about most of them is behind the imaginative concepts and inventive visuals, the stories aren’t devoid of heart. Well, that principle is in full display with this latest movie.

This time, the protagonists aren’t people, animal or aliens, but the emotions that reside within an 11-year-old girl, Riley. As if a preteen girl’s life isn’t complicated enough, being uprooted from the Upper Midwest all the way to San Francisco certainly is a big adjustment. Watching Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness bicker with each other on how to best navigate Riley’s new environment is a real blast!

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The fact that the young protagonist is from Minnesota makes it extra amusing for me. I didn’t realize that at first but I suppose the scenes with all the snow, the family going skating and the fact that Riley LOVES hockey should’ve been a major giveaway. Pixar really immerses you into their imaginative universe here. The headquarter where the four major emotions operate in is so fun and inventive, such as how each memory is stored within this glowing orb and the whole process of how it gets sent up the memory tube. There’s also Riley’s Island of Personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island, each powered by Riley’s core memory.

InsideOut_IslandOfPersonalityFiguring out how Riley’s internal *universe* work is part of the movie’s charm, and of course, the four emotions are such a hoot. I absolutely adore Joy who’s now become one of my favorite Pixar characters. Amy Poehler is the perfect choice to bring her character to life. She utterly lives up to the name in every way… an absolute joy to watch and listen to. The voice work is stellar all around, as to be expected in a Pixar movie. Nice to see so many female voice cast, too. Mindy Kalling as Disgust is delightfully snarky and Kaitlyn Dias as Riley is appropriately bubbly and full of angst, as you’d expect every preteen to be. Bill Hader is perfect as Fear and Richard Kind is memorable as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong who’s a bizarre combination of an elephant, a cat, candy, and a dolphin. Oh and it cries candy, it really doesn’t get more adorable than that!

InsideOut_JoySadnessBingBongFor anyone who’s ever experienced moving to a new town at a young age, forced to abandon the friends and environment we’ve grown to love, we can certainly identify with Riley. But truly, Inside Out‘s is relatable no matter what age you are because we’ve all experienced growing up. The movie mostly takes place within Riley’s head, but occasionally it goes into the mind of Riley’s mom and dad. The one that gets the most laugh is the closing credit sequence when it zooms inside the mind of dogs and cats. Boy I could watch an entire movie of a cat version of Inside Out! Now there’s a spinoff idea. Oh and I have got to mention the hunky Brazilian Helicopter Pilot, that bit was hilarious and I certainly can relate to THAT ;)

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This film’s concept is brilliant and inherently challenging one as it deals with the psychology and science of the brain which, if not handled well, could easily be quite boring. Yet directors Pete Docter (who I just realized is a Minnesota native) and Ronaldo Del Carmen somehow made all the science stuff so whimsical and delightful, without forgoing accuracy. Per this article, Pixar worked with UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, an expert on the science of emotion, which I think help flesh out the animated personifications of the four major emotions depicted in the film.

Final Thoughts: I had a lot of fun with this one. I’d think this movie would appeal to both kids and adults, though I’d imagine parents of preteens/teens would get a real kick out of this. Inside Out is not just an entertaining family fare, but it’s also an affecting one that gives us an insight into our humanity in the most delightful way. Not sure yet how this movie will rank amongst my all time animated favorites like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall•E over time, but this is definitely another winner from Pixar.

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FlixChatter Review: Jurassic World (2015)

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It’s been twenty two years since the release of Jurassic Park, the phenomenal sci-fi thriller that’s still as timeless as ever when I saw it recently. So even though Steven Spielberg is no longer in the directing chair (but still served as executive producer), I was still anticipating my return to Isla Nublar.

This time around we’ve got a sprawling dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as envisioned by John Hammond. It’s been fully operational for about a decade but even with a giant shark-eating Dino-Shamu attraction, visitor rates is on the decline. So of course a new, shinier attraction is created to entice the masses.

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I have to say that there’s not much of the way of surprise or even suspense in Jurassic World. When they engineered a bigger, louder and scarier dino called Indominous Rex, you know it will somehow escape and wreck havoc on the park. There are thrills and special effects extravaganza when that happens and that’s really the reason to see a dinosaurs movie, but for me, it’s not enough for a movie to only succeed on a technical level.

I miss the wit and emotional depth of the original film. Richard Attenborough’s Hammond had such warmth when he first welcome us into the park… and he loved the creatures he built in that park so it was not just about profit. There’s also an intoxicating and contagious energy as the group begin their journey to Isla Nubar that just wasn’t present in this film. This time around we’ve got billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the Bollywood actor adds gravitas to the film despite not having much to do. Simon doesn’t really have emotional investment in those dinos other than what they could do to his pocket books. Same could be said about his employee Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who’s portrayed as an ambitious go-getter who’s all business and no time for *frivolity* like spending time with her two young nephews visiting the park.

The only person who seem to have a semblance of relationship with the lab-engineered creatures is Owen (Chris Pratt), a former navy who’s been working as a velociraptor trainer at the park. He even gave them cutesy names: Charlie, Echo, and Blue. The scenes involving him and those raptors are pretty cool. He had no idea the park is engineering this monstrous creature called the Indominous Rex, part T-Rex, Raptor, cuttlefish and frog which gives it all kinds of superpower like chameleon camouflage. The monstrous beast is truly the star of the show, not even Pratt’s charisma can compete with THAT. More of that later.

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So it’s during its paddock inspection when all hell broke lose. As if that mammoth lab rat weren’t vicious enough, the fact that it was bred in captivity means it’s got zero social skills and loves ‘killing for sport.’ The scene inside his paddock is the moment with genuine spine-chilling terror in the film, and the first time we get a sense just how horrible things would get in the park. The rest of the movie is pretty much a series of chase and action sequences, with the most thrilling parts involving dino vs dino fights. Seems that the Indominous Rex is kind of an analogy for the movie itself. Yes, it is bigger and louder, but bigger does not always mean better or more exciting. It doesn’t help that some of the human story is so lackluster and cheesy.

The romance between Owen and Claire falls flat for the most part and I cringe during the brotherhood story of the two young boys trapped in the park. It’s supposed to be heartwarming but it feels so forced that it comes off as hackneyed and annoying. It’s too bad because I really like Nick Robinson in the indie flick The Kings of Summer and Ty Simpkins seems like an adorable child actor. Don’t even get me started with Vincent D’Onofrio as the bad guy Hoskins, head of InGen’s Private Security division. He’s just irritatingly verbose and not nearly as sinister as his turn as Fisk in Netflix Daredevil. Omar Sy and Judy Greer are completely wasted here so not much for me to say about either of them. Jake Johnson basically served as comic relief in this movie and not much else, but at least he made me laugh a couple of times.

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Back to Mr. Pratt, Hollywood’s Boy Du Jour who’s charismatic and sexy in this movie. He’s definitely my first choice to play Indiana Jones, and here he even looks the part. But he’s not given much to do in this movie and most of the time his alpha male character across smug, not charming. I like Dallas Howard as an actress but her character is kind of tough to root for, which is the problem with the way she’s written. I mean, why the heck would they have her running around in heels the entire movie?? It’s not a question of whether she can pull it off [she did], but why?? Apparently that was the actress’ choice according to this article, “… those heels were her shield in a certain way as a woman. She felt like surrendering the heels felt like surrendering the femininity of the character…” Huh??

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But in any case, that’s one small quibble as the movie has other issues. Despite some of the spectacular action, the movie felt pretty boring at times. Even the most thrilling moment involving the Indominous Rex still didn’t hold a candle to the moment the t-rex escaped from captivity during a power outage in Jurassic Park. I suppose it’s not fair to compare it to the original and most of us knew it’s never going to top that first film. But at the same time, this seems to have a lot going for it to be much more memorable than it is.

Similar to a recently-released blockbuster Tomorrowland, this film has an intriguing concept and lots of attention to detail, but the movie as a whole just doesn’t gel as well as I had hoped. The emotional connection is non-existent either, despite the ever increasing peril the humans are subjected to. Humans are either being gobbled up like a piece of meat or thrown around like mere playthings, but it hardly matters because they didn’t earn our sympathies. Heck, the most emotional moment for me actually involves an injured dino as a result of Indominous Rex’ killing spree.

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It’s interesting that the producers hired director Colin Trevorrow, who only has one feature film credit under his name, the charming & quirky sci-fi comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. So this is his first foray into blockbuster territory, and though I think he is talented, I wonder if he’s really the right fit for this job. At times this movie plays like an action comedy, instead of a mystery thriller with some comedic elements. We’ve got the visual and effects spectacle, but yet the sheer terror and that sense of wonderment Spielberg gave us in the first film is largely absent.

Final Thoughts: Jurassic World is nothing more than popcorn cinema and no less disposable as the nameless extras gobbled up by Indominous Rex. I suppose if you go in expecting a ton of dino-chomping action and all kinds of chase scenes, then you probably enjoy this movie immensely. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this film, it just doesn’t leave a lasting impression to me. I’ve rewatched Jurassic Park countless times and still in awe, but I doubt I’ll be revisiting this film anytime soon. The only thing that remains epic, evocative and powerful is John Williams‘ score, even when a few notes came on in the beginning of the film, it made me feel nostalgic about the Jurassic universe. It speaks volumes about this movie when the classic score is still the most spectacular and memorable piece about it.

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Have you seen Jurassic World? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review: SPY (2015)

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I have a confession to make. I haven’t seen Bridesmaids nor any of Melissa McCarthy’s R-rated comedies The Heat, Identity Thief, and Tammy. I’m not exactly fond of raunchy comedies with all the foul language and gross situations that I don’t find the least bit funny. But somehow when I saw the trailer for SPY, I was laughing so hard I actually watched it several times before the screening. I guess I love the spy action genre, and the casting of Jason Statham and Jude Law didn’t hurt either. Once the movie starts though, it’s clear that it’s McCarthy who’s the STAR of the show, she’s effortlessly hysterical and here she’s instantly likable. I was rooting for her character Susan Cooper right from the start, when she’s merely a desk-bound CIA analyst who’s desperately in love with a handsome spy (Jude Law).

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The story itself is pretty basic. When an operation goes bust, Cooper ends up volunteering to be a field agent and of course, hilarity ensues as she goes undercover to infiltrate the dangerous world of a deadly arms dealer. Just like any Bond or Bond-like movie, of course her mission is to prevent a psychopath villain from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon and save the world. But the plot hardly matters in a movie like this, so long as they keep the comedic moments coming and thankfully they did! Perhaps the fact that I’m not all that familiar with Paul Feig‘s brand of comedy works in my favor as at least it felt fresh to me.

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McCarthy herself is such a hoot here, she delivers the laugh from start to finish. It helps to see her paired with someone equally hilarious. Not sure why English comedienne Miranda Hart looks familiar to me as I’ve never seen her before, but I hope she’d get her own movie in the future. She’s simply hysterical and they have such a fun rapport together. If they ever do a movie or TV show with Melissa & Miranda together, I’d so watch it!

As a big 007 fan, of course I love all the Bond references, down to the moment when they go to the Q-branch to get her spy gadgets. The movie’s villainess comes in the form of gorgeous Rose Byrne. I’ve only seen her in a couple of non-comedic roles but she definitely has genuine comic timing. I remember McCarthy said in one of her interviews that Rose’s hair is basically a character in itself and it sure is! Her character is deliberately over the top but she also has some of the funniest bits in the movie “It’s the Bulgarian clown in you.” Ha!

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The casting of Jason Statham may seem odd but he got his start in an Guy Ritchie’s action comedy (Lock, Stock Two Smoking Barrels & Snatch) so he’s actually quite a natural here. Of course it’s a hoot seeing him poking fun at himself and a bunch of preposterous action scenes he’s been in. The bit where he’s bragging about surviving all kinds of ridiculous calamity is pure comedic gold! Allison Janney with her deadpan expression is pretty funny too as the no-nonsense CIA boss.

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Now, I’ve mentioned that I’m not fond of raunchy, foul-mouthed comedies and so of course there are scenes here I don’t care for. Seriously, those selfies of male genitalia is imbecile, gross and utterly unnecessary. I really don’t think it adds anything to make the movie funnier, and neither are the excessive f-bombs though sadly most people have become desensitized to such things these days. I’m also not that impressed by Bobby Cannavale (Byrne’s real life boyfriend) as this suave but deadly arms dealer. His character is too much of a caricature, so I guess I have more of an issue about how he’s written. Byrne’s character is definitely far more memorable and more fun to watch.

Despite those quibbles, I had fun with this one and I might even rent this later.I might also give The Heat a watch as it also has Sandra Bullock who’s always fun to watch. This movie made me like Melissa McCarthy and I think it’s great that her movies are box office hits! It’s about time we see guys like Statham and Law playing second and third bananas to her, and that we see more and more female-centric movies in general.

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FlixChatter Review: ENTOURAGE (2015)

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When Entourage aired on HBO from 2004-2011, I used to watch it religiously. In fact, I thought it’s one of the best shows on TV at the time. But just like most great shows, the last couple of seasons just went downhill. Nevertheless, when the producers announced that a film version was going to come out right after the show ended, I can’t help but get excited about it.

Unfortunately it took them 4 years to get the film to the big screen and now the boys are back. For those who’ve never seen the show, it’s loosely based on the show’s producer Mark Walberg’s early career in Hollywood. It celebrates and at the same time, mocks the excess life style of the celebrities and filmmakers in Hollywood. The show’s also well known for its famous cameos from celebrities, athletes, musicians and filmmakers. Even A-list directors such as James Cameron and Martin Scorsese appeared on show.
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The film picks up just a few weeks after the show ended. Ari (Jeremy Piven) is now running a big Hollywood movie studio. Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his best pal/manager Eric “E” (Kevin Connolly) are now single again. Vince’s brother Johnny “Drama” (Kevin Dillon) is still trying to make it as an actor even though he’s well into his 40s. While Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) became super rich after he started his liquor business with Mark Cuban. Since Ari is close with Vince, he offered him to star in his first big tentpole picture for the studio. Vince said he’ll do it only if he can direct it too; this of course made everyone nervous since no one knows if he can direct a film or not. The story then jumps 8 months ahead and Vince’s film is almost done, but he’s yet to show it to Ari because he needs more money to finish the visual effects.

In order to get more money, Ari has to go to Texas and beg the studio’s co-financier billionaire businessman named Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton) to write him another check. McCredle is not happy because he’s invested a lot of money to the studio and he’s yet to see his returns. Vince’s new film will make or break a lot people’s careers, including Ari’s. McCredle will give Ari more money only if his spoiled and obnoxious son Travis (the unrecognizable Haley Joel Osment) likes the movie. This creates a problem because Ari has yet to see a single frame of Vince’s film.

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This kind of storyline would’ve been great had the filmmaker stuck with it, but unfortunately the rest of the movie is all about the boys’ usual shenanigans. I don’t want to see another lame storyline of Eric having more girl issues, Drama embarrasses himself again and Turtle trying to get laid with a hot chick. And the supposed star of the show, Vince, didn’t have much to do throughout the film. Why didn’t they write up a story of Vince’s struggle to make his first film and the responsibilities of directing a tent pole picture? That would’ve been a great story to tell; unfortunately this film’s just a longer version of the bad TV episode from the show.

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The only saving grace for this film was Jeremy Piven’s performance, I’m glad they made him the lead. The rest of cast were fine, I mean they’re so comfortable with their respective characters that no one could screw up. Pretty much all of the familiar faces showed up in this film and of course the endless cameos.

Most fans of the show will probably love it but for me it’s quite disappointing. It has so much potential but they’ve decided to just make another bad episode, just two hours longer.

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FlixChatter Review: The Congress (2013)

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An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn’t consider.

I’ve been wanting to check this movie out of sheer curiosity. The idea of mixing animation with live-action is tricky, and I always wonder how a filmmaker would pull this off. This is from the same filmmaker who brought the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, and I must say The Congress is an ambitious and absolutely bizarre film. Whether or not the film works for you depends on how much the eccentricities bothers you, plus the structure of the film is also not straightforward to make it digestible. But the way I see it, I’m glad I saw it and the thing with certain art form is, one can still appreciate it even if we don’t fully comprehend it.

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The story is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress. In the film, Robin Wright plays a fictionalized version of herself as an aging actress and single mother of two, and her son’s hearing and eyesight are slowly deteriorating. A Hollywood mogul from Miramount (Miramax & Paramount) offered to buy the film rights of her digital image so in the future studios could make films using only CGI versions of her, provided that she’d never act again anywhere.

It’s twenty years later when her contract’s about to expire that the animated adventure came alive. At the entrance of Abrahama City, where Robin is to attend Miramount’s “Futurological Congress,” she’s given a chemical so she transform into an avatar of herself in order to enter the strict animated zone. Trippy is the word I would use here and I can’t even begin to explain what the plot is about.

TheCongressStill3In fact, when the movie’s over, I thought ‘what the heck was it that I just watched??’ Part of the film seems to be a commentary or satire on the mercenary nature of Hollywood, but other times it’s a mother-son story, and then there’s a love story between Robin and Dylan (voiced by Jon Hamm), who claims to be her animator. It’s hard to tell what it’s about, it’s really quite discombobulating as things get more colorful and more surreal. You’ll notice a bunch of famous people in the animated world, from deity, famous entertainers, sports figures, etc.

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The fact that the film somehow still retains my interest is Wright’s heartfelt performance, even in her animated format she’s always engaging and sympathetic. The supporting cast are excellent too, Harvey Keitel as Robin’s agent, Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son, and Danny Huston as the studio mogul. The most emotionally engaging moments are between Robin and Paul Giamatti who plays the kind doctor who treats her son.

The altered sense of realism is to be expected in a live-action/animation hybrid format, but messy structure of the film highlights the narrative problems. I kind of knew going in this film would not be an easy watch however, but still it can be frustrating. I think some people would have serious issues with the film, much like they would with say, Holy Motors, and I can’t say I blame them. But there are some enjoyable and funny moments, I always appreciate originality even if it’s a little on the bizarre side. I’d love to connect more with it and the characters, but overall it’s got enough going for it to warrant a recommendation from me.

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Have you seen this film? Well, what do you think?

Rental Pick: Time Lapse (2014)

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I saw this back in October when the film was screened at Twin Cities Film Festival. This film is yet another proof one does not need a big budget to create a compelling film, and a tight script certainly goes a long way. Time Lapse isn’t a time travel per se, not in the traditional sense anyway. The time aspect refers to the mysterious camera machine that takes pictures 24 hours into the future.

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The film is basically an ensemble piece of three characters living in the same apartment,  Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary), and Jasper (George Finn). When one of them inadvertently stumbled into the machine during a routine property maintenance, things quickly unravel. The machine resides in the unit right across from theirs and somehow they’re the ones who end up in the pictures… only a day ahead.

I love the mystery aspect and the filmmaker creates a noir-ish ambience with the lighting and dramatic shadows. Given the low budget, the setting is constrained into this apartment and its courtyard, but that actually gives you a sense of claustrophobia that enhances the tension. The camera machine itself looks rather ominous and it made you wonder just what that thing is really capable of. What makes this sci-fi thriller intriguing is the psychology aspect of how the discovery affects each character and slowly transforms them before they realize what hits them. It amplifies the worst trait of each of them… whether it’s greed, desire or paranoia. It’s quite fun to watch how this discovery changes them and in turn their relationship with each other.

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All three actors fit the roles nicely. I’m especially drawn to Finn’s character Jasper, I suppose the bad boys always have more fun. O’Leary is perhaps a bit too reserved and melancholy as Finn, though he does present a nice contrast to Jasper’s more impulsive nature. There’s a bit of love triangle going on between the three, as Callie & Finn are an item whilst Jasper isn’t quite subtle about his [lustful] feelings for Callie. As the only girl in the group, Callie is a bit of a mystery to me, but in a way it works for the story.

The script by Bradley King and BP Cooper is pretty tightly-focused whilst somehow still maintain a level of quirks and humor throughout. Jasper sure does some dumb things as his greed overtakes him. As he tries to use the machine for monetary gain, he ended up getting involved with some shady characters and you know things won’t end well. But yet the film still manages to surprise you in one violent scene. Even that scene isn’t devoid of humor, making you wince as well as laugh at the same time.

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As with a lot time travel movies, the logic doesn’t always compute but the story is engaging and keeps you guessing right until the end. I have to admit that I didn’t see the twist coming, but once it’s revealed it made me think about some of the events that happened that lead to that point. It’s certainly in keeping with how the machine basically messes with the characters’ head, and how even they themselves were caught off guard by it in the end.

There are very few special effects in this movie, but the filmmaker did invest in creating this retro-looking camera machine that has that steam-punk quality to it. During the Q&A after the screening, King shared that he worked with a concept artist named Howard Schechtman and he made it clear I didn’t want any LEDs or lasers or computer chips, etc. They ended up using parts from an airplane junkyard, hardware stores, even those from the abandoned apartment complex itself. I thought that was pretty darn cool.

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There’s a Hitchcock-ian vibe to this film, the minimalist setting is enhanced by an atmospheric score by Andrew Kaiser. This film won Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It’s a well-deserved win as I’m VERY impressed by King’s feature film debut and would keep an eye out for what he’s going to do next.

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This movie is now available on available on iTunes & Amazon.

Check out my interview with Bradley King and George Finn at 2014 TCFF


Have you seen Time Lapse? Well, what do you think?

May 2015 Blindspot: Breathless – À bout de souffle (1960)

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One of the fun things about participating in this Blindspot series is to familiarize myself with certain genre or film movement. I actually picked this one rather randomly, not realizing this was part of the French New Wave, which happens to be the renowned French auteur Jean-Luc Godard‘s first feature film.

Films set in the City of Lights are always welcome in my book, and this one looks absolutely spectacular in black and white. I find myself paying more attention to the gorgeous city than reading the subtitles, but it seems the filmmaker seems deliberately more concerned more about the presentation than its narrative. Breathless is unabashedly stylish and cool – chock full of gorgeous scenery, good looking people and chic Parisian fashion.

Jean Seberg is simply adorable in her pixie cut and cat-like eyeliner whilst Jean-Paul Belmondo is all rebellious swagger. As the film’s antihero Michel Poiccard, he’s unscrupulous through and through, but definitely not without charm.

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A small time thief who nonchalantly kills a cop who pursues him, he just as casually hits a man and hides him in a bathroom stall without blinking an eyelid. Michel is one smooth bastard, yet somehow she gains the affection of Patricia Franchini, an American journalism student he’d met up in Nice a few weeks earlier. Their first meeting as she’s selling newspaper is infused with so much style. C’est magnifique!

There’s such a relaxed, leisurely tone to the movie that fits the message that celebrates freedom and independence. It’s apparent in their conversation and action of the leads how much they value their liberty. Some people might find this movie boring, especially the scene in Patricia’s flat where they spend 20+ minutes simply talking, and Michel trying to get under her skirt, but not much happens. Yet I’m quite enthralled by it all, there’s a certain charm in the forthright conversation between them despite its unabashed crudeness. Michel’s vulgarity and persistence in getting her to bed is contrasted by Patricia’s almost childlike innocence. She somehow remains unaffected by his mercurial mood and she has such a sweet way of rebuffing his advances.

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I find Michel’s utter ignorance and lack of culture quite hilarious.

Patricia: Do you know William Faulkner?
Michel: No. Who’s he? Have you slept with him?

I read later how this film became the quintessential film of the French New Wave, which is described in Wiki as having a documentary-style format, feature existential theme laden with irony and sarcasm. It’s clearly a risky move back then to create a film like this. Per IMDb trivia, its star “[Belmondo] was very surprised by the warm reception the film received. Immediately after production he was convinced it was so bad that he thought the film would never be released.” I don’t think even Godard or Truffaut would be so well-received, nor would they predict the film would become such a pop culture icon. I’ve been reading some articles on this that cite how influential Godard’s debut is even to this day.

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Visually the film is truly a work of art. Nearly every frame is like a postcard of Paris. It’s an amazing feat given the low budget. Apparently Godard couldn’t afford a dolly at the time, so he pushed cinematographer Raoul Coutard around in a wheelchair through many scenes of the film. I love how in many scenes I felt like I’m viewing the city through the eyes of the characters, strolling pass Paris landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées and café terraces. I especially love the scenes as they’re driving, whether with the top down in a Cabriolet or inside a Taxi like this scene below:

I found this photo of Coutard filming on a rooftop and clearly that’s how we get the sweeping view of the magnificent city. There are also the intriguing hand-held shots roaming a room, street, elevator, etc. that gives us a sense of realism.

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I really enjoyed this one and even re-watched parts of it just before I published this review, the scene of the two leads in bed and the finale. Yes it’s perhaps simplistic narratively but Godard more than made up for it in style. This is one of those films I can see myself revisiting again later in the future and it’ll always make me reminisce about Paris. The jazzy music by Martial Solal complements it perfectly, sometimes the music even takes center stage, some scenes play out like a fashionable music video. It’s no surprise this movie’s been remade and Hollywoodized in 1983. I have no desire in seeing that one however, surely it could barely hold a candle to this original version.

Well, it’s been over a half a century since the film’s release and it’s only just my first intro into Godard’s work. I suppose better late than never, right? I’m curious to check out his other films, so if you have recommendations as to which ones I should watch next, do let me know!

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The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


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

Weekend Roundup: Quick thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road + Cannes 2015

Memorial Weekend came a bit early this year, but hey, a three-day weekend is ALWAYS welcome. It’s been a nice, mellow weekend for me, giving me a chance to catch up with old friends I haven’t seen in a while.

I also got a chance to finally see Mad Max: Fury Road and well, here’s my initial reaction:

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So yeah I totally agree with Ted’s review and I personally would’ve given it a 4.5/5 reels. My hubby and I have decided we’ll see this again in a bigger screen with Dolby Atmos as the visuals are simply astounding!! What surprised me most was how emotionally-gratifying the film was… the visual spectacle did NOT smother the story that it became more style over substance [I’m looking at you Tomorrowland!]

Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy are simply superb here, both bringing their A-game in terms of physical and emotional performance. This film is more about Furiosa’s story than it is about Max, but that’s not to say that Max was just tagging along. I think the story of a partnership between the two lost souls is beautifully realized… nobody needed *saving* but their shared journey ended up bringing redemption to both of them. The supporting characters are wonderful as well.

I found this Tumblr post and I agree wholeheartedly with what’s being said below on the relationship between Capable (Riley Keough) & Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

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I’ve been following Cannes 2015 the past week and now that it’s wrapped, so in case you haven’t been reading about it, here are some of the big winners…

The Palme d’Or winner: Dheepan by Jacques Audiard A Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who flees to France and ends up working as a caretaker outside Paris

Grand Prize runner up: Son of Saul by László Nemes – In the horror of 1944 Auschwitz, a prisoner forced to burn the corpses of his own people finds moral survival upon trying to salvage from the flames the body of a boy he takes for his son.

Jury Prize: The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos – In a dystopian near future, single people are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days or are transformed into animals and released into the woods.

Best Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien for The Assassin – Based on a short story written during Tang dynasty, “Nie Ying Niang” is a story about assassin Nie’s mission to assassinate a political rival

Best Actor: Vincent Lindon for The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché)

Best Actress (tie): Rooney Mara for Carol and Emmanuelle Bercot for Mon Roi.

I can’t wait to see all of these movies, I sure hope all of them will get a decent release here. I’m surprised Macbeth or even Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t get any award, especially the latter. The reviews I’ve glanced through so far for Macbeth have been positive so I really can’t wait for that! Of course it’s never too early to talk about Oscar and this HitFix article talks about which movies are ready for Oscar close-ups.


Of course my weekend wouldn’t be complete without some Stanley Weber viewing ;) Friday night was Movie Nite with my girlfriends and we watched Not Another Happy Ending… I lost count how many times I’ve seen it but I still love it!

I also watched The Hollow Crown: Henry V, which is the last of the four-part BBC miniseries I’ve mentioned here. I can’t believe I still haven’t seen this given how many amazing British actors are involved. I will watch all four miniseries at some point, but I couldn’t help watching this one because Stanley has a small role as the Duke of Orléans.

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He barely got any screen time in this series, which is a pity. I wish one day I’d see him be the star of his own Shakespearean production! Judging from a dozen roles I’ve seen Stanley played so far, he’s definitely a versatile and dedicated actor who’s ready for his very own closeup any day now.

Well, since I’m currently obsessed with anything Parisian, it’s easy to decide what my May Blindspot movie pick would be:

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À bout de souffle (Breathless) – by Jean-Luc Godard

Can you believe it I’ve never seen a Godard film before? It’s also written by François Truffaut too, another French filmmaker whose work I’m not familiar with… yet. Review shall be up sometime Tuesday!


Well that’s my weekend roundup. How ’bout you, seen anything good?