FlixChatter Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

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Jane Austen’s brilliant work has endured over two centuries so far and it’s as relevant as ever. I’m not a purist Austen fan, as I actually enjoy alternative/re-imagining of her work, i.e. Lost in Austen, Bride & Prejudice, Bridget Jones Diary, Austenland, etc. But none are as outlandish as what Seth Grahame-Smith’s done in his book. I hadn’t read it, but when I first heard of the film adaptation back when Natalie Portman was supposed to play Elizabeth Bennet, I was already sold. Fast forward 6 years later, Portman is still attached as a producer but this time we’ve got an ensemble of up-and-coming British actors.

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As with any mashup, it ought to offer a good balance of the two genres. Whilst I think it has a good mix of both, I do think that this might offer more for fans of period dramas as it might not be bloody/gory enough for zombie lovers. It’s heavy on action with a few jump scares and less on the horror side, which suits me just fine. It’s especially thrilling that director Burr Steers (who also wrote the script) is loyal to Austen’s text and the story is grounded in the timeless romance of Lizzie and Darcy. The social class commentary is also preserved, but of course we’ve got yet another layer beneath the lowest class, that is the undead.

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The movie opens with the dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, perfectly-brooding AND bad-ass) who’s now a Colonel, visiting a wealthy estate in search of recently-turned zombies hiding amongst the living. Within minutes, we see Darcy’s decapitating an undercover zombie in his typical unperturbed stoicism. That scene is followed by a crafty storybook opening credit sequence that explains the fact that in lieu of the Napoleonic Wars, 19th century England is now overrun by hordes of the undead. In this universe though, people who’ve been bitten by the undead don’t immediately turn into full-on zombie until they’ve consumed human brains, hence they can still somehow hide in plain sight.

In order to survive in the world plagued by zombies, they had to be trained in weaponry and martial arts. Apparently the upper class folks have been trained in Japan, whilst those of lesser means, like the Bennet sisters, were trained in China. There’s an amusing bit where Lizzie speaks in Chinese to prove to Darcy that she’s read the proper text of The Art of War. As they say, all is fair in love and war, and thus the zombie apocalypse certainly ups the stakes for everyone involved.

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Faithful to the Pride & Prejudice text, the film still has the scenes that Austen fans would expect to see. We still have the Bennet sisters spending time with the family, except that instead of knitting, they’re polishing their muskets and swords. “My daughters are trained for battle… not the kitchen,” Mr Bennet says at one point, played with dignified grace by Charles Dance. We’ve also got the formal ball where Lizzie and Darcy first meet, and it’s played out just like in the original in that they did not get off on the right foot. I must say Lily James is one formidable Lizzie Bennet, even if she is still too pretty for the role just like Keira Knightley was. Miss Bennet is already a feminist icon to begin with, here the female empowerment element is pumped up even more as she’s a Kung-fu warrior who defiantly says that she’d “never relinquish her sword for a ring” and that the right man wouldn’t ask her to.

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But of course, the two headstrong pair soon find themselves attracted to each other. It’s crucial in any Pride & Prejudice adaptation that Lizzie and Darcy has chemistry and here they have that in spades. Lizzie is no damsel in distress, and by the time she and her four sisters slash a throng of zombies in slo-mo fashion, it’s Darcy who’s hyperventilating. The entire Bennet sisters are pretty bad ass, even Jane (lovely Bella Heathcote) is no shrinking violet and gets to save Mr. Bingley’s (Douglas Booth) life here. The numerous battle of wits are intact, with some intense physical battles thrown in to spice things up even more. The epic duel between Lizzie and Darcy is definitely my favorite part of the film, it’s immensely fun to watch these typically demure characters kick and hit each other senseless, and undoubtedly release their repressed sexual frustration in the process.

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This review from SFGate remarked that the zombies give Darcy a reason to brood about, and I wholeheartedly agree. I have to admit one of the issues I have with Mr. Darcy is that he’s just so enormously wealthy that he doesn’t need to work, and has little reason to justify his somber mood. But here, the titular character is given an intriguing backstory that naturally made him seem less preoccupied with finding a wife given the matters of life and death he has to face daily. There’s also an even more compelling reason why he absolutely detests these zombies (AND Mr. Wickham). I’ve never been one of those Mr. Darcy groupies, but THIS leather-clad, Samurai-wielding zombie killer extraordinaire is a hero worth swooning for, ehm. Speaking of Mr. Wickham (a charming Jack Huston), I think the major twist in Austen’s text involves his character. I won’t go into detail about his character but lets just say he’s quite um, friendly with the zombies. Heck, he even took Lizzie to a church where the patrons are not entirely alive.

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I do have a few quibbles about the poor action sequences though. The blurry sequence during the zombie attacks/fight scene get irritating after a while, and there is some inconsistencies about the nature of the zombies as some can seem less *dead* than others. I also think Charles Dance wasn’t given enough to do and neither was his Game of Thrones’ co-star Lena Headey as eye-patch wearing Lady Catherine du Bourgh (Darcy’s aunt). She’s made out to be a fierce zombie warrior, yet we didn’t see a single scene of her battling zombies! The whole sequence of her going after Lizzie in protest of her union with Darcy is rather silly as she brought along a henchman. You’d think a woman of such stature would never be in need of one.


Despite those flaws, overall I had a lot of fun with this one. The actors are fully committed to their roles and they play it straight throughout, no wink-wink nudge nudge as if they’re doing a SNL skit. The deadpan humor is interwoven in the inherently bizarre plot and I was more than along for the ride. I think you’d enjoy this movie more if you accept the sheer audacity of mashing up these two genres from the get go. The fact that the most preposterous scenes are done with a straight face makes them even funnier. Matt Smith steals every scene he’s in as the ridiculous Mr. Collins, though he’s playing him far more flamboyantly than the previous versions. There’s always been a hint that Collins might have a thing for Darcy and it’s played up even more in this movie.

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The set pieces and gorgeous costume design by Julian Day is delightful to look at. The soundtrack by Fernando Velázquez is also suitably elegant but with a touch of ominous brood. For fans of rom-coms, this is one where there is both romance AND comedy in equal measure. I definitely will watch this again, and on the big screen! I’m glad the movie ends on a cliffhanger as I wouldn’t even mind seeing a sequel, but only if we have Lily James and Sam Riley back as Lizzie and Darcy. I like James more here than in Cinderella and she certainly can handle the action as well as the drama. I thoroughly enjoyed Sam Riley‘s portrayal of Darcy, he might not be as refined as Colin Firth but he plays up the strong-silent-type hero perfectly. He’s said in interviews that if Firth is the Sean Connery of Darcys, he’s the Roger Moore. But considering his bad-assery and special skills in weaponry, he’s more akin to Daniel Craig’s Bond mixed with Taken‘s Bryan Mills!

So yeah, I find this unlikely mashup more than a little agreeable. I do think the reason this movie works is a testament of the genius of Austen’s writing. Not only does it stand the test of time, the core of the story is intact no matter what backdrop it’s set against.

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Have you seen this movie? I’m curious to hear what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

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Continuing his obsession with the spaghetti western genre, Quentin Tarantino has made another self-indulgent film that may divide some of his hardcore fan-base. Personally I thought it’s an entertaining picture but not one of QT’s best films.

Set in a post-civil war Wyoming winter storm, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is deserted on the road. As a stagecoach approaches, he meets a bounty hunter named “The Hangman” John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who’s escorting a prisoner named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the nearest town for her hanging. Warren asked Ruth if he can catch a ride to a mountain pass safe point called Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once they’re on their way to Mannie’s, they ran into another stranded individual named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who said he’s the new sheriff at a town where Ruth and Domergue are heading to. Arriving at Minnie’s to escape the roaring storm, Ruth keeps a steady eye on Domergue, sussing out other customers, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Bob (Demián Bichir,), General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern), and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), while stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) tries to keep out of the way. As the strangers attempt to figure one another out, paranoia soars, pitting the gunmen in a contest of storytelling as they try to wield lies before they brandish guns.


Just like other Tarantino’s films, the story is broken up to chapters, but told in a linear style. Tarantino seems to love his own writing, a little too much in case of this film. While I do enjoy the dialogues by all the actors, the film’s first half tends to drag a bit. At nearly 3 hours long, it could’ve used some trimming. Despite my qualms about the first half though, once the story gets going, QT knows how to ratchet up the tension and when the bullets starts flying, it’s a vintage Taranto’s film.

The performances by the actors were pretty great, especially Russell, Jackson and Leigh. The entire film is built out of monologues and these actors were up to the task by delivering some over-the-top lines. This being a QT film, the N-word and F-word has been uttered many many times.

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Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson decided to shoot the film in 65mm and it looked spectacular. I’ve seen the film twice, once on a 70mm presentation and the other on digital. To be honest with you, I prefer the digital presentation only because the 70mm theater I saw it at wasn’t properly set up and there were film scratches the screen. Not many theater has the ability to set up 70mm screen properly anymore so I think I would’ve enjoyed the 70mm presentation much more had I seen it in a proper set up. But I’m still happy that Tarantino is one of the few directors who still insist on shooting his films on high quality film.

The Hateful Eight may not be one of QT’s best films but it’s one heck of a good time. If you can stomach the bloodshed and of course QT’s over-indulgent dialogues, then you should check it out.

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So have you seen The Hateful Eight? Well, what did you think?

Weekend Viewing Roundup & Updates on my pledge to #52FilmsByWomen

Hello everyone, hope you had a pretty nice and relaxing weekend. Those in the Northeast, hope you’re doing ok and not buried under the snowmageddon! It’s crazy that we Minnesotans have been enjoying relatively uneventful Winter lately, I mean we got the subzero temps last week but as far as snow, there’s really not much to write home about.

Well, I haven’t been to the movies since before New Year but starting this coming week, there’ll be at least one press screening a week, starting with Pride + Prejudice + Zombies this Thursday! Yep, I’m a big Jane Austen fan, but I’m not really a purist so I enjoy mixing of genres, especially as bizarre as this one!

I did see quite a few movies at home, mostly rewatches though:


Learning to Drive
is a cross-cultural comedy drama by Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet that’s instantly elevated by the two charming cast. Sir Ben Kingsley once again played an Indian man, and for some reason I just learned that the British thespian is actually half Indian. Did you know his birth name is Krishna Bhanji? In any case, Learning To Drive is sweet and poignant, albeit rather predictable. Patricia Clarkson is lovely as a woman ditched by her husband. Her character seems insufferable at times, but she displays such affecting vulnerability that you instantly root for her. I haven’t seen too many films of hers but I certainly will do so now.

I still LOVE Notting Hill and my hubby and I actually watched it right after Learning to Drive. He said he’s forgotten most of it but he loved the movie. I think Richard Curtis is one of those rare directors who can make fun rom-coms that appeals to both men and women. Rogue Nation is of course so immensely watchable, glad that my hubby bought the Bluray last week!

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As for Gosford Park, it’s been ages since I saw this one so it’ll feel like the first time. I’ve always been fascinated by films about the English class system and this was written by the writer of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellows. It’s part of the three films we’ll be discussing at Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club on Feb 13. The cast is filled with the who’s who of British cinema: Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Clive Owen, etc. Ryan Phillippe seems out of place in this lineup, playing a Scot no less!

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I’ve mentioned this when I posted my 2016 Blindspot list earlier this month. Well, I’ve seen the first one of my Blindspot film which happens to be directed by a woman: Marie Antoinette (review upcoming). If you haven’t heard of this *movement* yet, well head to WomenInFilm.org announcement here, hope you can take part!


Well, so far I’ve watched three films by women this month, but one is a rewatch (Belle by Amma Asante). I hope to watch another one by end of this month. Most likely it’ll be another cross-cultural drama, Cairo Time, which also stars Patricia Clarkson, directed Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda.

TallulahMovieSpeaking of movies directed by women, my good friend Kirsten Gregerson‘s in Sundance this weekend and one of the films she’s been talking to me about is Tallulah. It’s a drama by female director Sian Heder starring Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard and Zachary Quinto, which has just been picked up by Netflix!

No trailer yet but the film’s been getting great reviews, including this one by Variety. I’ll be blogging more about Sundance films later this week.


Well, what did you watch this weekend? Anything good?

FlixChatter Review: The Revenant (2016)

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I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. I think he’s a very good filmmaker but many of his films are way to depressing to me. Heck I have yet to see his awarding winning film Birdman, so I was hesitant to see his latest picture. But after seeing a stunning trailer a few months back, THE REVENANT became of the films I most looked forward to seeing this winter.

Set sometime in the 1820s, frontierman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a fur tracker who’s part of a pelt gathering expedition that’s being lead by Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). As the film begins, Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are deer hunting in the forest while his group are gearing up to get on their boat. Suddently out of nowhere, a pack of Native Americans starts attacking them. In an intense battle sequence, some of the crew were killed but Glass and the rest of the gang were able to get away. Later the group came to a rest at a camp site. While out scouting for any potential dangers, Glass was attacked by a bear. He’s badly wounded but was able to kill the creature. Moments later, Henry and some of the men found him. They stitched him up but realized he might not live for long.

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One of the crew members named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) suggested that they leave Glass to die on his own since he’s badly wounded. This of course upsets Hawk and Henry refuses to leave anyone behind. As the crew are heading back to their settlement across the mountain, it became clear that they can’t carry Glass all the way back. So Henry offer money to any volunteers who will stay with Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. Glass’ son Hawk immediately volunteered and so did a young crew member named Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). The third person to volunteer was Fitzgerald, his only reasoning was that he wants the cash. What Henry doesn’t know is that Fitzgerald didn’t care for Glass and he never intended to wait until Glass dies. What follow is a story of vengeance and survival in the harsh winter landscape.


DiCaprio didn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film but his performance really shines as he uses all of his body and emotions to convey a man who’ll do anything to get vengeance at the people who left him for dead. It’s obvious he wants another shot at that golden statue, I’m sure he’ll get nominated again but I don’t know if he’ll win it. Hardy turned in another stellar performance as the antagonist. I wouldn’t call him a “bad” guy, his action and reasoning are quite understandable, although I don’t agree with some of the things he did in the film. The two young actors, Goodluck and Poulter, also shines as sort of the innocent characters in this harsh time.

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Iñárritu directed the film with some interesting camera work, particularly in the battle/action sequences. He also paid a lot of homage to Terrence Malick’s films. Some might call it pretentious but I don’t see it that way. The movie is quite brutal when it comes to violence, the bear attack scene was the most intense and realistic thing I’ve ever seen on screen. Then there’s the eventual showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald, it’s brutal and bloody but believable to me.

The film was shot by the always-great Emmanuel Lubezki and of course it looks spectacular. See it on the biggest screen you can find. Also, I have to mention the sound design, it’s one the best I’ve heard all year. The film was recorded in Dolby Atmos, but unfortunately the advance screening I saw was at a 7.1 surround sound. But I’m planning to see it again at a Atmos theater. So find a nice big screen theater with great surround if you can and be amazed by the sight and sound of this film.

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I don’t pay attention to any award shows but I won’t be surprised if this film get lots of attention from Oscar or Golden Globe voters. It’s one of best films of the year and as of now, it’s my favorite of 2015.

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So have you seen The Revenant? Well, what did you think?

Musings on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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I wasn’t going to blog about Star Wars as I didn’t think I’d have time before my East Coast trip on Tuesday. But you know what, I can’t help it. Hubby and I actually watched the original trilogy a few weeks ago, just to refresh my memory as I barely remember any of the story. We even watched the last half hour of episode III around the time the final duel between Anakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin becoming Darth Vader.

Well, naturally there’s a feverish anticipation to The Force Awakens, a decade after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005. I’m glad the film is finally here so I can actually talk about it and not worry about spoilers. Given the behemoth box office take of $238+mil, surely most of you have seen it by now? I pretty much avoided reading a lot of reviews and articles before this weekend and I’m glad I did. Well, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet.

A balance of homage & re-imagining

After refreshing the sci-fi classic Star Trek, it’s incredible that JJ Abrams ended up getting the torch to refresh yet another beloved franchise. In a way he’s the right man for the job, and he’s dealt with audience’s passion AND wrath for some of his own creation, i.e. LOST. It’s crazy to think that this is only his fifth feature film as he mostly serve as producers in a plethora of film and TV series.
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Abram’s revealed that it’s nerve-wracking to be helming such a massively popular franchise with such ardent fans who are quite tough to please. So I can see why he sort of played it safe with Episode VII and the plot was a nice continuation from where Return of the Jedi left off three decades earlier. The trio of writers, Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, were respectful to the original story whilst making it current in terms of tone and narrative for the new generation of fans.

The one major update seems to deal with the Force itself. In The Phantom Menace, the Force was measured by Midi-chlorian counts found in the cells of a human being. Anakin had a high amount of that and that’s why Qui-Gon Jinn deemed him to be the Chosen One. But he had to be trained to be able to use the force optimally, but now it seems that the Force-sensitivity is more of a mythical thing that isn’t quantifiable, as the case with Rey who doesn’t require much training to use it (more of that later).

After the Galactic Empire was defeated, a new threat emerged in the galaxy, this time it’s called the First Order. Its similarities to the Third Reich is palpable once again, down to the army formation, uniform, etc., led by the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s clear from the start who the good and evil parties are, which kind of takes away the suspense.

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What I like about it

There’s plenty of familiar faces that’s thankfully more than just for nostalgia sake, as the major players Luke & Leia Skywalker and Han Solo’s are integral to the plot. But the fresh faces add a dose of new energy to the story, and the female-driven plot is a welcome but not-surprising move coming from Abrams.

The adventure pretty much began the moment we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger in the desert planet Jakku and Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who found his conscience and escaped from the First Order headquarter. I love both Ridley and Boyega as the two young fresh faces, that’s inspired casting there to cast two unknowns who have a nice chemistry together. Ridley’s given the most to do here as the Chosen One character, both in terms of physicality and emotionally. I think overall she pulled it off. Boyega is an effortlessly likable lead who’s got a pretty strong screen presence, too. They’ve signed on to multiple Star Wars movies and I certainly welcome seeing more of them.

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Both of them have some funny and even sweet moments with the original cast, especially Harrison Ford who have the most screen time compared to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, the latter had no speaking part at all. Like an old shoe, Ford filled his role of Han Solo effortlessly, complete with his curmudgeon attitude and dry wit. His loyal companion Chewie was right there beside him up until the end and perhaps the only moment I choked up a bit was when Chewie witnessed his BFF being murdered right in front of him.

Lupita Nyong’O, whose face was never seen, added gravitas as the wise Maz Kanata, a petite pirate of some kind who’s lived a thousand years. It’s a memorable motion-capture performance and her character is a pretty important one as she seems to know the whereabouts of Luke and also has his lightsaber.

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Like in Abram’s Star Trek films, there’s an underlying humor throughout. The banter between Rey, Finn and Solo are a hoot when they’re trying to operate (and fix) the archaic Millennium Falcon. I also find Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hilarious when he’s angry. The dude has major anger management issues as he’d blast an entire control panel with his lightsaber upon hearing some bad news, ahah. He does have great hair though and what’s the secret to him NOT having helmet hair? Now that‘s a secret worth knowing about ;) I think between him and resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), they can practically do a Pantene commercial!

My new fave characters are definitely Rey, Finn AND the spherical droid BB 8. It’s the most adorable droid yet and he’s an absolute blast to watch! Just like Baymax in Big Hero 6, I had a big smile in my face every time the droid appeared on screen and it even knew how to give a thumbs up!! So yeah, thanks Abrams for introducing such a fun new character that made me forget about that super annoying amphibious whose name rhymes with jinx.

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When I learned that the film is 2 hrs and 15 minutes long, I was worried I’d be bored stiff but I’m glad that’s not the case at all. In fact, the film felt like a breeze thanks to the dynamic pacing and fun action scenes, especially the flying sequences. That said, I didn’t think the special effects were THAT spectacular as some people have been saying. I mean, it’s to be expected from a modern movie with a humongous budget of $200 mil. It wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Mad Max: Fury Road which was made with $50 mil less and it didn’t feel so CGI-heavy as this one.

Lastly, I have to mention about John Williams‘ score which was still as awesome as the first time I heard it. The new score is wonderful and rousing as well, which mixes the old and the new, just like the film itself.

What I’m not crazy about

I mentioned the lack of suspense, well that’s how I feel throughout the movie. I can’t tell you a moment where I was genuinely surprised, let alone shocked by it. It’s also very predictable, which takes away the impact of some of the big moments of the film. I could see the death of a major character from a mile away, and I didn’t shed a single tear when it happened (and I’m a cryer!). So you could say that the film wasn’t as emotionally gratifying as I had expected.

Now, my main *quibble* that I discussed on my way home with my hubby was the fact that there are more questions than answers after seeing it. I read this article on Tech Insider on 11 biggest questions after seeing the movie and I agree with all of them. The main one is about the protagonist Rey, who we knew nothing about when the film started and she remained a mystery up until the end. Why is she force sensitive? How does the force work within her without ANY kind of training? Yes of course given that Disney is going to milk this franchise for all its worth, I said to my hubby that we probably won’t know much about her until Episode XII! Heh.

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The other main issue I had was that it was never explained why Kylo Ren had such a major beef with his parents? I’d think they’d mention a bit of that when Han and Leia talked about him, but no, we only learned that he had been trained by Luke but then got seduced by the dark side like his granddad. I kept thinking how this seems akin to those parents who learned that their sons had secretly joined ISIS. Ren himself is far from the great villain Vader was (which is obviously the point I guess, hence his constant self doubts), and he’s far too emo and prone to tantrum-throwing to be effective as an evil leader. It made me wonder how he got to be in such a high position to begin with, is it because Snode saw a potential in him given that he’s Vader’s grandson? As much as I enjoy seeing his gorgeous hair though, I think Ren should’ve worn his mask more often as he’s not at all menacing when he takes it off.

“A soap opera about family, not spaceships”

That’s a quote from George Lucas himself I read in this article. “People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems — it’s not about spaceships.” Well, that is fine and dandy because even stories that take place in space have to be somewhat relatable for it to resonate with audiences. But do they need to have familial link for every single character though?? I think if Kylo had been someone NOT blood-related to any of Star Wars’ major character, but that he somehow received training from a Jedi (Luke), I doubt that it’d make that much of a difference in the story. Yes obviously having Han being killed off by his own son, instead of some stranger baddie who happens to be a Vader groupie, has a bigger shock value (though I wasn’t all that shocked, to be honest).

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In any case, I do think the Star Wars saga is NOT just about spaceships. It’s got some Biblical values of good and evil, generational sins, and a good message about self-control, self-sacrifice and what it means to be a hero. It’s also a story about loyalty and friendship, as with Han and Chewie, as well as those droids being so loyal to their masters. The Force Awakens introduce new best friends too, Rey and Finn, Finn and Poe, and even Rey and Chewie?

So is it a perfect film?

Well, the short answer to that is NO. As I mentioned above, Abrams took a pretty safe path and made it more of an homage with a few new things added and so I feel that it’s a bit derivative and even predictable. Just as the original trilogy were best appreciated as a whole, as a stand-alone film, The Force Awakens is good but not spectacular, but it works as a continuation of a larger story. The finale hints that Luke would have a larger role in Episode VIII alongside Rey, so it’ll be interesting where the story goes from here.

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Yes it is indeed better than the prequels, and the dialog has more zing and not cringe-inducing, thank goodness. I’m glad I saw it and I think having just seen the original trilogy helped with my enthusiasm for this new film. Having said that, my hubby and I didn’t absolutely LOVE this enough to see it again on the big screen though. We might rent it again later once it’s on Blu-ray. Thus, as entertaining as The Force Awakens was, I’m actually looking forward to talking about other movies other than Star Wars in the new year.


Well, what did YOU think? Did you share my thoughts about Episode VII?

Star Wars Fever: Movie posters that Lightsabers would definitely have improved

Hello everyone! Had enough of the force yet? Star Wars fever hit fever-pitch this week with its premiere in L.A. and its wide opening tonight. The press screening was last Tuesday but it was at 11am and I had to be at work, plus I was going to see The Big Short that night anyway.

Surely all of you either have seen the movie or you’ve got your tickets for The Force Awakens. Apparently I didn’t order mine fast enough as the Friday tickets in our fave theater is mostly gone (I refuse to sit in the front row) and so hubby and I are gonna see it Saturday night, woot woot!

Well, we’ve got a cool guest post from Izzy just to mark this special occassion…

The Lightsaber – THE weapon of choice for both Jedi’s and The Sith and in the words of The Urban Dictionary, ‘A weapon from a more civilized time’. I personally couldn’t think of a more appropriate word than ‘civilized’ for this type genre of fighting (if fighting can ever be deemed civilized?). A Lighsaber duel is elegant, takes skill, and it doesn’t involve hiding and firing from a distance (yet it can deflect bolts being fired from afar). I challenge you to come up with a more polite way to battle!

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My adoration of duels in true Star Wars style had me thinking about which movies would have been improved if the mighty Lighsaber had featured. Thinking turned to wishing, and wishing turned into poster editing…Eventually I landed here, showing you guys which movies my buddy Luke and I thought would have been significantly improved with the occasional Lightsaber battle….

Click on each image to view a larger version

Posters courtesy of Izzy and were originally posted on GBposters.com.
IzzyS
Izzy S. is a drama graduate with an interest
in literature and screenwriting

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Ok, I’ve been wanting to include this video for some time. It’s an oldie but goodie, but it never fails to crack me up. Eddie Izzard is a comedic genius!


May the force be with you, folks! 

FlixChatter Double Review: CREED (2015)

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I had trepidation about seeing this film as I’ve only seen one Rocky film and I’m not really a boxing movie fan. But my hubby really wanted to see it, and so we went and am I glad I did. Here’s our review:

Ted’s Review

Doing a spinoff of a franchise that hasn’t been a box office hit for long time could be risky but somehow director/writer Ryan Coogler was able to convince not only the studio executives but its star Sly Stallone to revive this once box office gold of a franchise. What’s even more surprising was how good the film turn out to be and it’s one of favorite films of the year.

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Adonis Johnson/Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is a young man who wants to be professional boxer; he found out early in the story that his late father was a fame-boxing champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Creed’s widow Mary (Phylicia Rashad) took in the young Adonis and raised him as her own son. Unlike other boxers who needed to box in order to make a living, Andonis grew up in a privilege lifestyle but he yearns to be a boxer. Even a promotion at his corporate job won’t keep him from pursuing his dreams. So he quit his job, moved to Philly and tried his hands at a professional level boxing. But after he got beat badly in a “friendly” bout, he realized he’s not ready and asked Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. Rocky has walked away from the ring after his last victory match and never wants to be back. He’s now happily running his Italian restaurant.

But the young Creed is persistent and wants to create his own image, he doesn’t want to be known as the son of the great Apollo Creed. He even found time to romance a local musician named Bianca (Tessa Thompson). The story of this film is similar to that of the original Rocky, it’s about an underdog who’s determined to be the best. The film features the usual training montage, great fight sequences and fans of the franchise will happy to know that we do get to hear that famous Rocky’s theme. But Creed does have his own theme though.

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The performances by the leads were quite excellent. Jordan excels in his first leading role; his fierce demeanor is very similar to that of Weathers’ Creed from earlier films. Thompson’s Bianca is not just another pretty face love interest, she has her own ambitions and chemistry between her and Jordan were quite believable. The person who steals the show for me though is Rocky himself. Here I think Sly gave maybe his best performance of his career. Rocky is now an old man and he realized he doesn’t have much in life; all of the people he cared about are all gone. By training the young Creed, he can have a family again and maybe have one last glory as a trainer to a champ. I won’t be surprised if Stallone gets an Oscar nomination.

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I’ve never seen any of Coogler’s previous films but after this one, I’ll have to check out his work. I was surprised how well he put this picture together; I was involved in the story from beginning to end. He even shot a single take for one of the boxing matches in the film; it’s an incredible sequence. What really impresses me was the way he’s able to blend in the nostalgic feel of the earlier films and then injects some 21st century style into this film. He’s a real talent and I’m looking forward to his next film.

Creed is a great spinoff/reboot of a once popular franchise. It contains great performances, tight direction and reminds you to never give up your dreams. I can’t wait to see the next chapter in Creed’s pursue of becoming the best boxer in the world.

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Ruth’s Review

There has been far too many reboots and spin-offs and more often than not, it’s just a money-making scheme. But once in a while, emerged a gem that actually earns its merit and Creed is no doubt one of them.

Though I’ve only seen one Rocky film, I read a little bit about the friendship of Rocky and Apollo Creed, the father of the film’s protagonist, and it certainly helped me understand the story better. The film began with a brief but meaningful introduction of Adonis, who clearly has his father’s talent, as well as ambition as a boxer. Determined to make his mark in the sport, Adonis moved to Philadelphia. He ended up finding an aging Rocky Balboa at his restaurant, naturally named after his beloved wife Adrian. It’s a memorable scene that promises great things to come from this eventual mentorship.

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The relationship between these two is the heart of the film and filmmaker Ryan Coogler is wise to keep that be the focus of the film. He didn’t squander it by over-complicating things or adding unnecessary subplots, and that’s largely why the film worked so well. There’s an effortless chemistry between Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan almost straight away. There’s an interesting banter between the two that’s funny and heartfelt, and it gets even better as the film goes on.

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One of Adonis’ journey involves a love story with a beautiful up-and-coming singer Bianca (Tessa Thomson), but I’m glad she’s given an intriguing character arc and not simply just a ‘pretty girlfriend’ role. Yet the film paid more attention to Adonis’ relationship with Rocky, which ultimately is what the film is all about. Most of conversation takes place during training and it certainly will please people who love boxing and boxing films. But even for someone like me, I find those scenes extremely dynamic and entertaining.

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Much had been made about Stallone’s excellent performance and you know what, it lived up to the hype. It’d be interesting if he did end up being nominated for an Oscar, as he did in 1976 for the first Rocky film. I’d think would mark some kind of record that the same actor is nominated twice playing the exact same role. He’s definitely my pick to win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. He obviously had lived and breathed this role for many years, and if this were to be his swan song to the franchise, well he couldn’t have left on a higher note. His performance is convincingly heartfelt, showing a gentler, wiser and more vulnerable Rocky who thinks he’s got nothing much to live for anymore. What started out as a mentorship slowly builds into a genuine friendship between him and Adonis, and they both end up helping each other when they need it most.

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For a boxing film, the film isn’t graphically violent. There are basically only two major fight sequences but both are done VERY well. There’s one that was done in a single take and it was quite a scene to behold. Real-life professional boxers Andre Ward and Tony Bellew play two of Adonis’ oponents which adds a touch of authenticity to the scenes. The script by Coogler and Aaron Covington have a wonderful balance of humor and emotional touches, which honors the original Rocky story that breathes life into the new hero. But nostalgia could only work so much and so it’s wise that Coogler didn’t drown the film with it and lets it stand on its own merit. Even its use of the Rocky theme is perfect, it’s brief but it came just at the right moment.

Ultimately this is Jordan’s film and he’s certainly perfect in the role. He’s reunited with Coogler who directed him in Fruitvale Station. I haven’t seen that one yet but clearly this has been quite an erm, fruitful collaboration between the two and I look forward to seeing more from both of them, together or separately. This movie is such a pleasant surprise of the year, an entertaining as well as inspiring film that should please loyal fans and win new ones.

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So have you seen CREED? Well, what did you think?

Mini Reviews of Steve Jobs + Mr. Holmes + temporary blogging hatus

Hello everyone! You might’ve noticed I’m not blogging as regularly of late after the flurry of Twin Cities Film Fest. Well, I’ve been wanting to take a real blogging break and since this is Thanksgiving week, it sounds like the perfect time.

I’ve been wanting to really focus on my script and so I also plan to blog less in the coming weeks. I’m really close to finishing my script but as with many things in life, the last stretch is often the toughest. But before I do so, I wanted to share just my quick thoughts on two recent films in which the protagonist has been the subject of many films/tv projects. Thankfully we’ve got two very competent thespians in the lead of both movies (movie geeks will probably realize they’ve played the same role in the X-Men franchise).

STEVE JOBS (2015)
    SteveJobsMovie2015Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

My hubby and I are huge fan of everything Steve Jobs had built, as we pretty much use solely Apple products in our homes: Macbook, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, etc. So we’re quite familiar with his life and my hubby has read Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson and at first I was rather reluctant to see this given that it’s mostly a work of fiction. Well, ahead of the press screening, I read a bunch of articles that outline its inaccuracies, which I’ve listed in this comment section. That fact actually helped tamper my expectation about the film, but as soon as the film started I was immediately engrossed in the film. Ok so Michael Fassbender didn’t resemble Steve Jobs one bit, but it hardly matters once he started spewing lines from Aaron Sorkin‘s sharp script.

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I have to say the film is quite mesmerizing, Fassbender is as charismatic as ever, as I think he captured the essence of Jobs’s magnetic but difficult personality. Apparently he memorized the entirety of the 180-page script which is just incredible. The supporting cast is equally phenomenal. Kate Winslet is fantastic as Jobs’ loyal marketing exec Joanna Hoffman and the constant banters they have are entertaining, even her Polish accent is quite believable. But my favorite supporting cast has got to be Jeff Daniels as Jobs’ former BFF and business partners John Sculley whom Jobs stopped speaking with when he was fired from Apple. Even Sculley himself was reportedly impressed by Daniels’ performance, even though most of the conversations between them never took place. One thing I didn’t really care for is Seth Rogen‘s performance as Steve Wozniak, which seems so sensationalized and just didn’t ring true at all. Yes the rest was pure fiction but at least they seemed believable. It’s ironic since Rogen apparently met with Wozniak extensively for the role.

That said, I definitely recommend this film. Danny Boyle‘s fine directing brings the fine elements of the script and performance to life and the camera angles and intriguing shots certainly liven up an otherwise dull scenes of talking people. If you’re going into this film expecting excellent dialog and great acting, then you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect a documentary because Sorkin himself envisioned it more like a ‘painting, not a photograph.’

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Mr. Holmes (2015)

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Now, Sherlock Holmes’ adaptation has been done many times over, but this one seems to have an intriguing angle that’s rarely seen. The aged, retired London detective is dealing with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. Ian McKellen is perfectly cast in the role, playing Sherlock as a 60 and 93 years old. As he returns to Sussex  in 1947, he ends up befriending the young son of his housekeeper, Roger (Milo Parker). The interraction between these two is the heart of the film.

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The curious kid had been through Holmes’ study and it’s clear that he wanted the detective to work again. Through his proding and also because he’s still hunted by his final case, Holmes started writing again. The film goes through several flashback scenes, which is handled very well and definitely adds the mystery aspect one would expect from a Sherlock Holmes film. Hattie Morahan is terrific as the woman central to Holmes’ case and there’s a heartfelt exchange between the two that undoubtedly left a mark on him. As the film progressed, it’s apparent that the older Holmes is a changed man and that he has learned that intellect and logic alone often won’t solve issues involving matters of the heart.

McKellen is effortlessly magnetic here, as he always is, and he is whom I’d imagine an older Holmes to be. The usually excellent Laura Linney has a rather distracting British accent here as Holmes’ housekeeper, though I think towards the end she redeemed herself in the role. I do love Milo Parker as Roger who more than held his own against his much older and far more experienced co-star.

I wasn’t impressed with Bill Condon’s direction of The Fifth Estate (which strangely enough starred Benedict Cumberbatch who became famous playing Sherlock on BBC), but he did a good job here. It’s a slow-burn narrative that remains interesting even when there’s not much going on, and the film is beautifully shot. It’s the quintessential character study of a titular character that certainly merits its existence.

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Have you seen either one of these? Do share your thoughts in the comments!

FlixChatter Review: 99 Homes (2015)

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Right from the moment this film was announced, I was immediately hooked by the timely premise and the cast. Set in Orlando, Florida and loosely based on a real-life events, Andrew Garfield plays a twenty-something single dad Dennis Nash who’s been struggling to find decent work as a construction worker. His family gets evicted from his family home where he’s lived since he was a kid, where he lives with his young son and hairstylist mom. Right away I sympathize with Nash as he just can’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard he tries.

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On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a shrewd, wealthy real estate broker Rick Carver, played with steely gaze and gravitas by Michael Shannon. The actor is a towering figure already at 6’3″ but there’s something inherently ominous about him that makes him so perfect for this role. It’s easy to think of Carver as nothing but a greedy bastard who’s all about making money off of other people’s misery. I mean, when he drives around the block of certain neighborhoods in his fancy car, all he sees is what profit he could make from these homes. Yet as the film progress, we see that he’s not a one-dimensional villain and there is a reason behind his madness.

Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani tackled the subject of the housing crisis with such astute and empathetic eye. The way he filmed the eviction scene is truly heartbreaking and the actors portray the grief and outrage convincingly. I read that Bahrani apparently used some non-actors playing people being evicted from their homes, but he didn’t tell the lead actors in order to get an authentic response from those scenes.

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The film is tense and suspenseful despite not having much action going on. I felt that under a lesser director, they’d probably sensationalize this story with unnecessary shoot-outs or sex scenes to drive the point across. But thankfully Bahrani chose subtlety and infuse the film with nervous energy that keeps building until a boiling point in a riveting finale. He’s definitely a director to watch and no wonder Roger Ebert called him ‘the new great American director’ in this piece from 2009. “His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all,” the article says, and indeed he accomplished that in 99 Homes. I think being the son of Iranian immigrants gave him a unique perspective on American culture and events that shape Americans.

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The strength of the film also lie in the two leads Shannon and Garfield. It’s interesting that both have just recently done a superhero movie(s), Man of Steel and Spider-Man, respectively. But you won’t even associate either of them with those roles, which is a testament to their fantastic performance and versatility. Garfield captured the anguish of his character perfectly, and he makes for a convincing young dad. There are some emotional scenes between him and his son (Noah Lomax, who bears a striking resemblance to Garfield), as well as his mom (the always watchable Laura Dern). He has a great rapport with Shannon and they play each other off so well. I have to mention Tim Guinee as well who has a small but memorable supporting role as a friend of Nash who’s driven to extremes by circumstances.

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This film certainly doesn’t paint the real estate system in a flattering light, but yet somehow Bahrani manage to present the story as it is. It’s not a preachy piece that push a certain agenda. It’s more about two characters from two opposite real estate spectrum, and how their lives end up affecting each other in ways they’d never imagine.

Like any formidable house, 99 Homes is built on a strong foundation of a sharp script and held up by intuitive direction and powerful performances. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. I can’t recommend this one enough. I definitely look forward to more films by Ramin Bahrani and more intriguing roles for both Garfield and Shannon.

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Have you seen 99 Homes? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SPECTRE (2015)

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I wonder if the way I feel about the Bond song somehow impacts how I feel about the film itself. Some of my least favorite Bond songs are The Man with the Golden Gun, Die Another Day, and Quantum of Solace, and those are also my least favorite Bond films. I already mentioned in this post how much I abhorred Sam Smith’s latest, Writing’s on the Wall which sounds more like fingernails on a chalk board. Unfortunately for me, during the press screening, I had to endure that song not once but twice as they played Sam Smith’s music video before the movie, so I had to suffer through THAT song once again during the opening title [sigh]

Of course it’s ludicrous to judge a Bond movie from the song, so I was prepared for an awesome Bond film. To be fair, the melody of the song itself is actually not bad, with Thomas Newman back scoring this again after Skyfall. Well, the first 15 minutes is certainly promising. It’s tradition that Bond films open with a bang and this one is no different, starting with a foot chase through a throng of huge crowd during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. It’s followed by a spectacular fight scene aboard a helicopter flying above the main square. If we’re to judge a movie by cinematography alone, Spectre is excellent, thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema whose done amazing work in Her and Interstellar recently.

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Plot-wise, Spectre has a lot going for it, at least on paper. The parallel conflicts that Bond and M are facing in the film also promises an extra layer of intrigue, in addition to the personal vendetta that runs through the vein of Daniel Craig‘s Bond films. A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization and somehow he ends up going rogue. Meanwhile, his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with a crisis of his own as the head of Joint Intelligence Service (which merged MI5 and MI6) threatened to shut down the double-O section. It’s an intriguing set up and as a massive Bond fan, I expect once again to be bowled over.

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Alas, after that spectacular opening, the film seems to lose momentum and never quite claim it back. All the high-octane action didn’t have quite the adrenaline rush I expected from a Bond movie. Even the car chase through the streets of Rome feels rather stale, it’s like I’ve seen a far more exciting car chase scene in previous Bond movies and recently in its rival franchise, Mission Impossible 5. Then there’s the unintentional humor that makes it hard to take the film seriously. The two times Bond wooed two of the beautiful Bond girls, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, the scenes elicit laughter from the audience. It feels so obligatory and cringe-worthy, a far cry from the intriguing AND sexy love affair between Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale. Vesper was a complex character with a compelling story arc, but here the two Bond girls aren’t given the same courtesy. It’s sad to see an actress of Bellucci’s stature be utterly wasted here.
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The film also promises a massive super villain, the mother lode of all villains Bond has encountered in his past, “I’m the source of all your pain,” Oberhauser tells him once Bond gets to his lair. So it’s quite a let down that this supposedly fearsome, ultra-powerful mastermind turns out to be not so menacing at all. Remember how sinister Christoph Waltz was in Inglourious Basterds? Well, here he’s nothing more than a clichéd psychopath throwing tantrums at Bond because of… a childhood feud. Huh? No less than FOUR screenwriters credited here, three of whom also worked on Skyfall, and all they could come up with is THIS half-baked story? [spoiler alert] I find it hard to believe that Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chifre, who was effortlessly menacing AND intriguing in Casino Royale, actually worked for this lame, petulant nutjob.

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Sam Mendes and his team of writers seems to have recycled a lot of what’s been done in previous Bond films with nothing new to add to the franchise. In fact, in terms of the treatment of the Bond girls, it’s a step backward. The film seems to aim for a darker story but the execution feels light and even unintentionally comical. I realize that Bond films aren’t expected to be too deep or poignant, but even the fun, escapism factor seems to be missing in this one as Mendes can’t decide what kind of Bond movie he wants this to be. At times it harkens back to the Roger Moore era, which is a jarring contrast to the more pensive and grittier tone established in Craig’s films.

The returning characters from Skyfall are still good in their roles. I do like Ralph Fiennes as M but yet he still can’t hold a candle to how fantastic Judi Dench was in the role. Moneypenny and Q (Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw) have bit more to do in supporting 007, though not so much that would make any real impact in the movie. Andrew Scott, who’s excellent in the Sherlock series, is just serviceable here, but Dave Bautista certainly lives up to other big, burly but taciturn henchmen of Bond’s past. The fight scene on the train is certainly an homage to From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me with my favorite henchman, Jaws.

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As for the titular hero, I still like Craig as Bond, but more often than not he looks bored in this movie. It’s as if he’s weary of the same old types of shenanigans and hollow sexual escapades in various exotic locations. Yes I know Bond’s supposed to have this devil-may-care attitude but I think there’s a sense of fatigue that the actor can’t quite conceal. Perhaps it’s telling when Craig said in an interview recently how he’d rather slash his wrist than play James Bond again. It’s tacky to bite the hand that feeds you, but I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

It’s a pity because this could’ve been a truly great swan song for Craig if he were to retire as Bond (though I think he’d be back for at least one more). I like the fact that four of his films are connected in some way, though the constant throwback to his previous films also invites the inevitable comparison. If I were to rank Craig’s Bond films now, Spectre is just slightly more watchable than Quantum of Solace, but falls far short of the greatness of Casino Royale and Skyfall.

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Spectre might’ve topped the box office, but it’s nowhere near the top of the best Bond films for me. So I guess that awful theme song is sort of a warning about the movie. Bond’s most personal mission barely evoke any emotional response as the protagonist himself didn’t even seem to care. There’s just no compelling human drama here in this largely soulless affair. Overall the payoff just doesn’t live up to all that build-up and frankly, the film is just forgettable. I saw it four days ago yet I barely remember anything about it. It’s such a bummer really, this movie even made this loyal Bond fan think that perhaps I’ve outgrown this franchise a bit.

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Well, what did you think of Spectre? Did you like it more or less than I did?