February 2015 Blind Spot: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

SunsetBlvdPosterAs the Oscar ceremony is still fresh in my head, I thought it’d be interesting to see this iconic film for this month’s Blindspot. It’s always fascinating to see a film about Hollywood and the narcissistic nature of that industry, and there’s not a better commentary of that than this timeless classic.

The story is told in a flashback, with the narrator telling his own story. As the film opens, the narrator’s fate is already revealed, I’m not going to say what happens just in case some of you still haven’t seen it. Let’s just say it instantly made me curious just why and how he got there. It’s a familiar story that’s superbly told. Two people on opposite spectrum met on a fateful day when a down-on-his-luck screenwriter had a flat tire whilst fleeing from repossession folks seeking his car. As luck would have it, Joe Gillis (William Holden) ends up in the mansion of a faded silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), immensely wealthy but desperate for a comeback. It’s a toxic relationship from the start, one that you know would not end well.

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Apparently director Billy Wilder came up with the story as he was inspired by those grand Hollywood houses in L.A. with former silent film stars still living in them. He wondered just how they spend their time and how they deal with losing their celebrity and box office appeal. Well, I’d imagine this story could’ve easily been a biopic.

It’s really quite a tragic story as it starts off as a desperate situation and it goes on a downward spiral from there. Neither Norma nor Joe is exactly the most likable people, they basically use each other for their own personal gain. But you can’t help being drawn to their twisted story and feel pity for them.

It’s a thought-provoking tale of how far fame could corrupt people and drive them into absolute madness and self-destruction. Joe might seem as if he was only a victim but he too was driven by the desire of living a good life even if it’s based on a lie. The strength of Sunset Blvd. isn’t so much the plot twist or mystery of what’s going to happen next, but in the character study and psychology of the story.

SunsetBlvd_Swanson_HoldenCasting wise, it’s absolutely spot on. I can’t imagine anyone else but Gloria Swanson in the role of Norma. According to Wiki, she shared many similarities with her character. Not only is she the same age as Norma (around 50 when she made this film) she was once a famous silent-screen star who lived extravagantly in a Sunset Blvd mansion. Unlike Norma though, Swanson wasn’t obsessed for a comeback, but surely she must’ve been able to relate well with the idea of losing one’s fame. She is deliriously creepy here, chewing the scenery every time she’s on screen.

William Holden fits nicely into the role of the desperate screenwriter and he certainly has that matinee-idol look for the part. He handles the disillusionment of his character well, and there’s such an apparent fear in his eyes when he realizes Norma was falling in love obsessed with him. His ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ expression when he’s looking all dapper in a custom-made tuxedo is palpable. His style of acting is very laid back here, I don’t know if that’s his style but it offers quite an amusing contrast to Swanson’s intense and decidedly over-the-top performance.

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But it’s the cameos that adds an extra dose of realism and amusement. Buster Keaton and a few other actual silent-stars of that era had a quick cameo in the card game scene in Norma’s mansion. But it’s the iconic filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille extended cameo that’s the real highlight. Mr. DeMille played himself working in Paramount Studio in what looks like to be The Ten Commandments set. It’s a key revelatory scene about Norma’s diva reputation and her inability to transition into talky pictures. But the moment people recognize who she was, it feeds into her obsession of fame and being the center of attention.

This is a good looking film with fabulous dramatic lighting and elaborate sets. The B&W, German-expressionist cinematography by John F. Seitz adds that noir touch. He worked with Wilder previously on Double Indemnity. But what’s even more memorable are those iconic quotes:

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!”

“All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,”

Those two from Norma are what people remember most, but I also love this one from Joe about the predicament of actresses that’s still being talked about today in contemporary Hollywood:

“There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.”

This film is quite a bold story to be told in that era as it doesn’t exactly paint the film industry in a flattering light. According to IMDb trivia, studio mogul Louis B. Mayer was upset by the film for that very reason. Big kudos to Billy Wilder for having the guts to do this, and for co-writing the marvelous script (with Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr.). Despite the tragic story, the film isn’t sullen or somber. It’s atmospheric and even eerie at times, but it also has some humorous moments and Holden’s narration has some snarky wit about it. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny but certainly lots of moments that made you chuckle, especially that midnight chimp funeral scene. “It was all done with great dignity. He must have been a very important chimp, the great grandson of King Kong, maybe.” Ha!

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There’s a subplot of romance between Joe and script reader Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), as the two end up secretly working together on a screenplay. The love story is perhaps what gave Joe back his conscience, if you will, though it’s a little too late. I have to mention the shadowy figure of Max (Erich von Stroheim), Norma’s loyal butler who’s key in keeping Norma’s delusion of grandeur alive years after her audience had left her. The revelation about his character took me by surprise, I think that was one of the few moments that really hit me out of left field.

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So they were turning after all, those cameras. Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her.

I’m glad I finally saw this iconic and timeless piece of cinema. As the end credits roll, I was mulling over that this film defies genre convention. It’s a film noir that’s also a dark comedy and psychological drama. I love how Wilder’s films always deal with the human condition. It transports you into another time and place, whilst at the same time make you ponder on the themes and symbolism that’s relatable to us, whether we want to admit it or not. You could consider this Billy Wilder‘s magnum opus that will stand the test of time.

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2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Sunset Blvd? Well, what did YOU think?

 

Guest Post: Sundance review of SLOW WEST

Special thanks to Iba from I Luv Cinema for her Sundance review!

Ah, the western – on its surface, it would seem it is not to my favorite cinematic genre. But upon further examination, I must admit it has produced some of my all time favorite films (High Noon, Unforgiven, The Searchers, The Ox Bow Incident). At their best, westerns have the potential to provide an insightful glimpse into the human condition. Or, they could just simply be well executed, rock-em, shock-em, shoot-em-ups.

I am still not sure that Slow West will enter the pantheon of the films in this genre that I hold in the highest of regards, but I will concede that I enjoyed the film.

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Set in the sweeping expanse of the western frontier of 19th century America (but shot in New Zealand), Slow West is the journey of young Scot nobleman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he leaves his homeland in search for his love Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Along the way, he runs into a variety of characters – most importantly Silas (Executive Producer Michael Fassbender), who is to be his guide. It is clear that Silas is an opportunist of sorts, but how far down the rabbit hole is the question we will ask ourselves, and later discover over the course of the film.

Slow West combines the wild serenity of the environs, with moments of explosive (and sometimes surprising) violence – even by Western standards. And, in the midst of all this, the film finds instances of irony that will make you laugh out loud – seriously, I laughed for at least two prolonged periods.

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While this film may not lay out the big moral questions of those previously mentioned films that I love so much, there is a sequence at the end, which, based on how you view it, may serve as a reminder of what has been gained and lost on this journey propelled by young love.

In addition to the love story, the “stranger in a strange land” theme pervades throughout – so it is apropos that the film is lensed by a “stranger” of sorts – Scottish-born, BAFTA-award winning writer-director John Maclean (Pitch Black Heist). Slow West marks his full-length feature (and Sundance) debut.

It would be remiss of me not to credit the work of all the actors involved for a job well done. Mind you, Smit-McPhee and Fassbender are the central protagonists, but the film felt like a truly collaborative experience.

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In the end, I feel that Slow West is a film that is accessible even if you are not a particular fan of the genre. Or, if like me, you have yet to truly discover how much the genre has to offer you cinematically.

* Slow West was the 2015 Sundance winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize: Drama.

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Review by Iba @
ILuvCinema


What do you think of Slow West? Are you keen on seeing it when it’s released near you?

Weekend Roundup & Kingsman: The Secret Service review

Valentine’s Weekend is awesome this year as it’s a company holiday on Monday for President’s Day, who doesn’t love a three-day weekend right? Hope you had a lovely V-day wherever you are. It was super cold Saturday night so we opted for some scrumptious Thai take-out and watched Nightcrawler, that’s the kind of perfect *night in* for us. I’ll have my full review of the Jake Gyllenhaal film but suffice to say it lives up to all the great reviews I’ve been reading.

It’s not surprising that the Fifty Shades movie shatters box office record, though it’s kind of sad such a movie is so wildly popular. There is no way I’d ever subject myself to what Aussie anchor Lisa Wilkinson calls ‘domestic violence dressed up as erotica’ and I’m convinced her review is far more entertaining that the film:


I re-watched two of my favorite period dramas, Belle and Pride & Prejudice, and my love for both films just keep growing. I did go to the cinema Friday night to see Kingsman: The Secret Service and here’s my review:

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I have to admit that the first time I knew about this movie was from this cool poster I saw at a local cinema. It has no info of the director nor the cast but the visual of an elegant closet is so Bond-like and ever so British. But by the time the trailer came out I thought it looked a wee bit silly, and so it wasn’t until the positive reviews coming out that I was excited to see it.

Well, the movie is VERY British indeed, both an homage AND a spoof to the 007 movies, and as a fan of the genre, that definitely appeals to me. Refined British gent Colin Firth plays as one of the Kingsman agents, Harry Hart, who’s as proper as he is bad ass. The first act was basically him recruiting a replacement for his fellow agent who died on a mission in the Middle East. Harry (aka Galahad) owed his life to Lancelot (another code name inspired by British Knights) and thus he felt compelled to recruit his friend’s teenage son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). The film moved along swiftly and director Matthew Vaughn infused it with tongue-in-cheek humor and a huge dose of riotous fun from start to finish. The whole sequence at a ski resort is very Bond-like, but think Roger Moore instead of Daniel Craig in tone, complete with a gorgeous female assassin wearing razor-sharp blades as prosthetic legs.

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Apparently this was based on a comic-book written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the two also collaborated on Wanted). The story itself is actually pretty solid and not all about silly good fun. There’s a bit of a father/son bond between Harry and Eggsy, and a bit of a coming-of-age story in regards to Eggsy. During one of the intense Kingsman training, Mark Strong‘s character told him to ‘get rid of the chip on his shoulder,’ and Eggsy’s slowly coming into his own as the film progresses.

As the film’s master villain is Samuel L. Jackson, as internet billionaire Richmond Valentine that’s a heck of a lot more entertaining than Tomorrow Never Dies‘ lame media mogul Elliot Carver. He even has his very own henchwoman deadlier than Jaws & Oddjob combined, in the form of dark-haired beauty Sofia Boutella. Jackson is obviously having a good time playing Valentine. He speaks with an amusing lisp (which the actor apparently had in real life) and can’t stand the sight of blood. Of course he has to be some kind of a psychopath hellbent on *saving the planet* as it were, but in his own twisted way. It’s an interesting social commentary on how our addiction to our handphones just might lead us to our own demise. Apparently, the broadcast signal sent by Valentine to those hand phones cause people to become extremely violent.

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It’s yet another fun collaboration between Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class). This could very well be Vaughn’s version of a Bond flick, that is if the Bond producers would allow him to make a hyper violent R-rated film. I knew this would be violent but I didn’t know it’d be THIS violent, I mean there are some intense and extremely bloody fight sequences that made even John Wick seems tame. One sequence inside a church reminds me of this scene in 300 when Leonidas single-handedly fought all those Persians, but without the stylized slo-mo. I do think the foul language & violence are excessive, gratuitous and more graphic than it needs to be, even if the fight sequences are well-styled. There’s one crazy head-explosions scene that’s absolutely bonkers, set to the Pomp and Circumstance Marches no less! You can’t help but laugh in its absurdity and the fact that the filmmakers had the balls to do it. SPOILER ALERT: We’ve seen plenty of scenes of the White House exploding on screen, but never the Commander in Chief himself, especially one who is still in power!

I think what makes Kingsman works is its self-awareness and that it doesn’t to be a heavy movie. It’s ‘boys just wanna have fun’ type of flick, packed with wit, dry humor and of guns & gadgetry. The set pieces are great to look at, especially the Kingsman headquarter that resembles Drax’ mansion in Moonraker. And of course, those sleek, sharp suits that’s practically a character in itself. I saw Sam Jackson in a talk show the other day wearing one of the Kingsman menswear line that’s crafted especially for the film, dang that is some exquisite tailoring. It was fun seeing Mr. Darcy being so ridiculously bad ass here. I read that Colin Firth did most of his own stunts, which is quite impressive and somehow he still looked quite elegant doing it. “Manners maketh man” is his motto after all. I quite like newcomer Taron Egerton here as well, I actually think he might fit the role better than Kick-Ass’ star Aaron Johnson who was offered the role initially. It’s always nice seeing the always-reliable Mark Strong having a bit of fun here and there are also some amusing cameo from Mark Hamill and Michael Caine.

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Overall it’s definitely a fun spy flick that works in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Kingsman is gleefully over-the-top, relentlessly boisterous and unapologetically un-PC. If you’re a fan of Vaughn’s or Guy Ritchie movies, you should enjoy this entertaining twist of the spy genre. Though the ultra violence and some offensive content is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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So what did you see this weekend? If you’ve seen Kingsman, what did YOU think?

Guest Post: Sundance review of Z for Zachariah

Special thanks to Iba from I Luv Cinema for her Sundance review!

ZforZachariah1Boy the things you learn when you decide to just hop in and catch a film. For instance, I did not know that there was a source material to this three-hander, post-apocalyptic drama. Z for Zachariah, directed by Sundance veteran Craig Zobel, is based on the same-named sci-fi novel written (and published posthumously) by young adult author Robert C. O’Brien. With a big screen adaptation penned by Nissar Modi, the film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. Yup, that is it. No one else. So you better like them, because for the duration of the film’s 95 minute running time, they (and a dog) are all we have to entertain us.

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From jump, we know something is horribly wrong, as the world (or at least this part) appears to have gone to waste. However, among these ruins, we also land in an ‘Eden” – a spot that seems untouched by the chaos. Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) is our guide through these landscapes. She is alone, that is until she comes across Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a scientist, who until fairly recently, has lived underground. Circumstances will necessitate that they work together to build a life; I mean, really it makes sense that when you find someone, they should become an ally. Or will they? Because just as we get comfortable with these two and the bond they are forming, in walks Caleb (Chris Pine) an enigmatic crasher to their party of two. Immediately tension enters our idyllic hideaway as the two men contend for Ann.

In a slight deviation from the source material, I find it interesting that the filmmakers decided to essentially split the Loomis character from the novel into two people. In doing so, it ratcheted up the tension, thus creating a post-apocalyptic love triangle. This definitely presents an interesting dilemma for her as she sees these two men essentially duking it out for her as the prize. They could not be any different in their approaches – there is the soft, slow burn of her relationship with Loomis starkly contrasting the raw urgency of her interactions with Caleb.

ZforZachariah2Aside from romantic complications, we also have before us a story with heavy biblical references; set in a paradise (lost) of sorts, there is a Cain versus Abel-like battle waging between the two men. Oh well, maybe it’s just me …

Overall, I would say Z for Zachariah was an interesting cinematic exercise. If you are a lover of a well-crafted love story set in the blight of an apocalyptic fallout, I suggest you take a look-see. It is indeed beautifully shot and well acted. In fact, the film did hold my attention until that very (ambiguous) end – which when you think about it, maybe was not so ambiguous after all …

It is ultimately up to us to decide.

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Review by Iba
ILuvCinema


What do you think of this film? Are you keen on seeing it when it’s released near you?

Birthday List Update: Favorite Films from Each Decade I Live Through

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Today I’m moving up the age bracket. I’m taking the day off because well, it’s my ME DAY and sleeping in is one of life’s greatest joys ;) Well, four years ago I did this list of favorite movies from the past three [full] decades I’ve lived through, so basically from the 1980s to 2000s. Looking at the list, not much has changed from the 80s and 90s, but I did update my 2000s list, swapping out about 5 or so movies from my list as I’ve seen more films since 2011.

Again these are a personal FAVORITE list, not a Best Of list necessarily though I’d argue that some of these are excellent classics.

1980s (in order of release)

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  1. The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)
  2. Somewhere in Time (1980)
  3. Superman II (1981)
  4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  5. Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
  6. The Living Daylights (1987)
  7. The Untouchables (1987)
  8. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  9. Licence To Kill (1989)
  10. The Little Mermaid (1989)

 


1990s (in order of release)


  1. Beauty and The Beast (1991)
  2. Jurassic Park (1993)
  3. The Age of Innocence (1993)
  4. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
  5. Speed (1994)
  6. Heat (1995)
  7. Sense & Sensibility (1995)
  8. L.A. Confidential (1997)
  9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
  10. The Matrix (1999)

 


2000s (in order of release) 

This decade is when I REALLY started watching more and more movies and saw them with different eyes, even though I didn’t start blogging until 2009. It’s agonizing to narrow them down to 25, let alone just 10, so I decided to just make it a Top 25. It’s interesting how my love for animated movies is quite persistent, as well as my taste in actors. There are three films starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (including one with both of them together) and hey, two Gerard Butler movies still made my favorite list ;) We’ll see if he’d ever do a worthy film to be included in my future list. I own 15 out of the 25 films listed below, most of them have been re-watched repeatedly.

Here they are in order of release:

  1. Chicken Run (2000)
  2. Gladiator (2000)
  3. Moulin Rouge (2001)
  4. Minority Report (2002)
  5. Finding Nemo (2003)
  6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  7. Love, Actually (2003)
  8. Master & Commander (2003)
  9. X-2: X-Men United (2003)
  10. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  11. Phantom of the Opera (2004)
  12. Unbreakable (2004)
  13. Batman Begins (2005)
  14. Dear Frankie (2005)
  15. Casino Royale (2006)
  16. Children of Men (2006)
  17. The Painted Veil (2006)
  18. The Prestige (2006)
  19. Stranger than Fiction (2006)
  20. Atonement (2007)
  21. Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  22. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
  23. The Dark Knight (2008)
  24. Wall•E (2008)
  25. District 9 (2009)

2010 and beyond…

Now, we’re only about halfway through the decade, so I’m only comprising half of my top 20. I’m curious which of these will make my final 2010s list five years from now :D

  1. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
  2. Inception (2010)
  3. X-Men: First Class (2011)
  4. Midnight in Paris (2011)
  5. Brave (2012)
  6. Skyfall (2012)
  7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  8. Gravity (2013)
  9. Her (2013)
  10. Birdman (2014)
  11. Belle (2014)
  12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  13. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

 


So folks, what do you think of my picks? What are some of your favorite movies in the past four decades?

FlixChatter Review: JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)

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This film was supposed to open in the Summer of 2014, but Warner Bros’ delayed it to give more time for post-production work. Heh, clearly they’re far more concerned with all the CGI extravaganza as what the film needed more is a script rewrite. I already had a bad feeling about this even from the unintentionally hilarious trailers. They included the dialog where Channing Tatum said he had more in common with dogs than humans, especially a supposed royalty, to which Mila Kunis replied, “I love dogs, I’ve always loved dogs.” Well, at least they’re consistent as the movie is as dreadful as the promos.

The entire film is a discombobulating and farcical mess, but what’s more baffling is the claim by The Lana Wachowski – as well as several bloggers on Twitter – that this is an *original* sci-fi. Huh?? What originality? The ‘chosen one’ type of plot is rehashed from stuff the Wachowskis themselves have done better with The Matrix, as well as a bunch of other sci-fis. Self-plagiarism isn’t uncommon among filmmakers and I’m fine with it if it actually improves on their previous work.

JupiterAscending_MilaChanningIn any case, the movie opened with the protagonist, Jupiter Jones’ narration about her life story and how she ended up being a cleaning lady in Chicago. Her late dad was an astronomer, hence the name, and a tragic event prompted her family to migrate to America. A lowly beginning to be sure, and she claimed repeatedly how she hated her life. But of course we know that’s not really her *destiny* as in a planet far, far away, three royalty siblings with a name that sounds like some household cleaning product, Abrasax, talk about claiming earth as their own now that their mother’s died. So apparently, their planet consumes earth’s resources in a process called planetary harvest, which basically is an extensive form of genocide in order for the aliens to live forever.

The first act is a long exposition telling us why Jupiter is special and why there are intergalactic bounty hunters as well as an army of weird-looking aliens are after her. But no fret, we’ve got an eyeliner-wearing man-wolf hybrid Caine Wise (Tatum, sporting a goatie & elven ears) with his anti-gravity boots to save the damsel in distress. The action sequences are cool for the first five minutes at best, but it long overstayed its welcome that it became aggravating. Cool visuals can only entertain you for so long when we barely care about the characters and their journey. So apparently Jupiter shares the same DNA sequence as the Abrasax’s late mother and that makes her special as she’s also heir to the throne and could potentially rule earth.

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This is a space opera at its most bloated and risible. It’s full of weird-looking space creatures which are humans cross-bred with elephants, alligators, etc. but they all seem to speak with British accent of course. All of them report to Balem (Eddie Redmayne), who should win a Razzie for the most annoyingly over-the-top performance, as an androgynous looking *royalty* could only whisper or scream and nothing in between. Redmayne seems to take this role way too seriously, but all the theatrical antics prompts grimace and laughter every time he’s on screen.

The protagonists fare slightly better, thought that’s not saying much really. I have to hand it to Mila Kunis, she’s not a particularly strong performer but she always comes across genial and earthy. She’s effortlessly likable though she appears mystified for much of the movie. Channing Tatum is pretty much hired for his physical prowess, as he appears shirtless for a good chunk of the time. He has zero chemistry with Kunis and he kind of has this constipated look throughout, perhaps thanks to the mouthpiece he had to wear during filming (per IMDb trivia) Heh, why they put an actor through that if it had absolutely zero purpose for his character arc nor the story as a whole??

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Poor Sean Bean as Tatum’s friend from his military days didn’t have much to do here other than offering more exposition and saying lines like ‘Bees don’t lie.’  Oh brother! I think this tweet pretty much sums up how I feel about his involvement:

It also pains me to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a half human/deer mutation who serves as Balem’s aide. I sure wish Hollywood would recognize talent when they see them. Douglas Booth looks like he could be Redmayne’s prettier younger brother, but both he and Tuppence Middleton who formed the three Abrasax siblings are pretty much fillers. But then again, what can you expect from the supporting characters if the main protagonist doesn’t even have an arc? It may seem like there’s theme of female empowerment here but Jupiter mostly plays a passive role in her own *destiny* [yawn], as she’s whisked away from one strange place to another.

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This movie would’ve probably been slightly more palatable if it had a sense of humor. There are several attempts at it, like Jupiter using a sanitary pad to patch Caine’s wound, ewww gross!! The only true comical moment is the whole bureaucracy process Jupiter has to go through, kind of like an administrative immigration procedure if you will, with Terry Gilliam‘s cameo. I didn’t realize it was him until later and I read that it was an homage to his fantasy satire of bureaucratic society, Brazil.

This is the Wachowskis’ third under-performing film in a row after Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas (which I actually quite like). I doubt they could easily get the kind of astronomical budget like this one ($176 mil), as they’d likely struggle to make half of that given the mere $19 mil opening weekend. Heh, no amount of money and crazy CGI-fest can camouflage a terrible story.

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Final Thoughts: Yet another style-over-substance sci-fi in the vein of Elysium which also boast some arresting space imagery. The costumes, especially Mila’s dresses, are gorgeous and the design of the planetary universe and spaceships are imaginative, if only they’d invest the same care to the story and characters. It amounts to one big dumb flick, not really a step up from those Transformers movie. Now, some dumb action flicks can still be entertaining but to add insult to injury, this movie is also quite boring, and the bombastic action/chase scenes just dragged on for far too long. I guess this one *lives up* to the reputation of being released in Hollywood’s dump month of February. Suffice to say it’ll likely end up in my worst list of the year.

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Well, what are YOUR thoughts about Jupiter Ascending?

Weekend Roundup: Quick thoughts on BAFTA 2015 + review of Predestination

Happy Monday everyone! Well it’s quite a busy weekend for me but I got to see two new-to-me movies, yay. I also got two reviews done on Sunday, so expect to see a review of Jupiter Ascending tomorrow.

BAFTA

Here are my top five things I’m happy about from 2015 BAFTA Awards:

  • Emmanuel Lubezki winning Best Cinematography for Birdman
  • The LEGO Movie winning Best Animated Film
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel winning Best Original Screenplay
  • Citizenfour winning Best Documentary
  • Alexandre Desplat winning Best Original Music for The Grand Budapest Hotel

But really, who cares about the winners, check out these dreamy guys at the BAFTAS ;)

Ehm, okay so Boyhood wins big at the BAFTAS including Richard Linklater winning Best Director. But hey, Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director at Directors Guild Award so there’s still a chance Birdman comes out on top come Oscar. Boy the race is REALLY neck and neck between the two movies. Both has the same one-word title with exactly six letters too, that’s gotta be a first. The THE EE RISING STAR AWARD went to Jack O’Connell whose work I still need to see. It’s a bummer that Gugu Mbatha-Raw didn’t win but I hope one day she’d win an actual BAFTA!



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The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

I was intrigued to see Predestination as I was impressed by the Spierig Brothers’ previous film Daybreakers. It offers a novelty twist to the popular vampire genre and this time, they tackled another popular Hollywood theme, time travel. This is my impression after I saw it:

I’m not going to say much about the plot as the less you know about it the better the experience. All I’m going to say is that it’s based on Robert A. Heinlein’s short story All You Zombies. I thought at first there’s some similarities to Minority Report about the preventing-a-future-crime from-happening plot, but the story is completely different. In fact, it makes that Spielberg film seems more straight-forward if you can believe that. I like how the film started out with a bang but then the pace slows down considerably in the first act as we’re introduced to the characters played by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The odd pacing seems deliberate and I actually think it’s pretty effective and engrossing in getting us to care about their journey.

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Hawke is solid here once again, as he was in Daybreakers. I always think he’s an underrated actor as though he’s not the most charismatic actor but he’s always reliable. There’s something soulful about his performance and he’s not afraid to show his vulnerable side. But it’s Snook who’s quite a revelation here. I’ve never seen the Aussie actress before but she is absolutely astounding. It also helps when she’s given a strong character arc here, and she tackled her role as The Unmarried Mother, which is the name of her magazine column she writes for. It’s quite a complex role with multiple layers but it’s so rewarding to see how she tackles each one convincingly and with so much heart.

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There’s also Noah Taylor as the enigmatic Mr Robertson but for the most part, the story revolves around Hawke and Snook’s characters. This film will leave you scratching your head, as most stories dealing with time travel paradox often do. But how the plot unravels is captivating, keeping you guessing whilst you try to grasp just what you’re actually witnessing.

If you like sci-fi AND time travel movies, this one is a must-see. The cinematography and art direction is wonderful, featuring unique camera angles and excellent production design. It’s impressive considering the relatively tiny budget (about $5 mil according to Deadline, as it’s part of a three-picture deal worth $17 mil). It’s another proof that one doesn’t need an astronomical budget to tell a good story. I’m curious to see what the Spierig brothers will tackle next!

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So what did YOU see this weekend? Anything good?

In with the New BLOGATHON: 4 remakes we think are better than the original films

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Happy Weekend everyone! Today I’m participating in Wendell’s In With the New Blogathon, and here’s the gist of it from Dell himself:

In movies, we tend to look upon the new version of things with disdain or, at best, cautious optimism. By new version, I am of course talking about remakes and re-imaginings. Let’s be honest, we have good reason to be skeptical of these movies. They often pale in comparison to the original. Every once in a while, though, one comes along that blows its predecessor out of the water.

I think remakes that are better than the originals are still uncommon, but here are four films my pal Ted S. and I think are on par or better than the original. Anyway, the two films that Ted picks are taken from this previous post that compares remakes from their originals.

Ted’s Picks:

Man on Fire

1987 Original: Speaking of Tony Scott, he was actually set to direct this film way back in the 80s but at the time he was still new in the industry, so the studio didn’t want him to take over the project. They let some French director named Elie Chouraqui do the film instead. The original starred Scott Glen as Creasy and Joe Pesci as David, his character is that of Christopher Walken’s in the remake. I saw this version years ago at the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino, he loves the film and can’t stop talking about it while he was promoting Pulp Fiction. To be honest with you, the film wasn’t that good. The first 30 minutes or so was hard to sit through, but the rest of the film was pretty decent. The film was badly directed and acted, especially Joe Pesci, he was quite awful in the film. Also it was a very low budget film so it looked very cheap.

2004 Remake: So 17 years later, Tony Scott was finally able to make the film he wanted to do years back. He has more prominent stars with Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken, and a bigger budget. The remake is pretty much the same as the original, except this one took place in Mexico while the original was set in Italy. Also the remake was much more violent and since it cost $70mil to make, so the action scenes were bigger and louder than the original.

 

Infernal Affairs/The Departed

2002 Original: The original version from Hong Kong was a very slick and cool thriller, and I knew Hollywood would do a remake of it right after I saw it back in early 2000s. In fact, Brad Pitt bought the rights to the film after he saw it and was going to star in it himself but he decided to just be the producer. The film was very fast paced with great cinematography and a cool soundtrack. To me though, the film didn’t spend enough time on character development, so we didn’t really know about them all that much. The women in the film were simply there just for eye candy purposes and the main gangster (Nicholson’s character in the remake) was played by a very weak actor.

2006 Remake: So the remake is pretty much the same as the original plot wise with the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t ruin it for those who haven’t seen either the original or the remake. In my opinion, the remake did a better job when it comes to developing the main characters, we know more about them and their motivations as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. Of course it helps a lot when it was directed by the master Martin Scorsese and the fact that Jack Nicholson played the Irish gangster.

 


Ruth’s Picks:

The Shop Around the Corner/You’ve Got Mail

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1940 Original: I saw this movie a year ago or so, and given that I like Jimmy Stewart, I was prepared to be wowed by it. Well, it didn’t quite make an impression to me as much as had hoped. I find it odd that the film was set in Hungary and Stewart playing Hungarian, and that fact didn’t really add much to the story. The beginning the story was more about the various human relationships of the store in that gift shop. Stewart was okay here, but I personally prefer him in other films. There’s not much chemistry between him and Margaret Sullavan either, and so when they ended up together, it wasn’t emotionally involving. It’s not a bad movie per se, and I’m glad I saw it, just not something I’d ever see again.

1998 Remake: It’s loosely based on the same story, with some technological changes of course, it’s email vs letters, and in the remake, the characters are more of a business rival. I really think that the pairing of Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan (the queen of rom-coms back then) made the movie for me, and Ephron infused the story with such wit and irony that it’s such a delight to watch this one repeatedly. Of course the technology is so dated, it’s hilarious to hear that modem sound and that cutesy ‘you’ve got mail’ icon, but I think the story still holds up. I also love the two supporting cast here: Parker Posey and Greg Kinnear as Hanks’ girlfriend and Ryan’s boyfriend, respectively. It also boasts one of the loveliest New York City scenery in a movie.

Sabrina

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1954 original: I also saw this film years after I saw the remake. Now people might say that usually we prefer films that we saw first and be that as it may, the original has one of my favorite classic actresses of all time: Audrey Hepburn. So she was really the main draw for me here, yet I didn’t really like her in this role as much as I had hoped. Similar to how I felt about Stewart, I prefer her in other films of similar genres, i.e. Roman Holiday, My Fair Lady. Well for one, Hepburn never really looked that shy or awkward to me nor did she come across as being desperate despite the attempted suicide scene. Now, suicide is obviously a dark subject matter but here it comes across rather silly and Sabrina seems like a petulant girl who’s upset things don’t go her way instead of someone who’s deeply brokenhearted. I also feel that Humphrey Bogart, who was three decades older than Hepburn, looked old enough to be her dad so their scenes are kind of creepy. William Holden was fun to watch as the rich playboy David but I too feel there’s not much chemistry between him and Hepburn. I still enjoyed the movie, but I expected more from Billy Wilder.

1995 Remake: I absolutely adore this movie the first time I saw it years ago, and I’ve seen it countless times since. I really connected with Sabrina Fairchild right from the start and Julia Ormond might not have the movie star charisma as Audrey Hepburn, but she more than made up for that in earnestness. I like how Sydney Pollack made her look plain, almost like an ugly duckling in the beginning, as she watched David with googley eyes from a tree. There is something so beguiling about Sabrina’s vulnerability here that I didn’t find in the original, and her narration really helps me get into her character’s head. Harrison Ford might seem like unlikely casting here but I actually really like him in the role of Linus, he’s such a contrast to the charming rascal younger brother David, played with such wonderful comic timing by Greg Kinnear. Ford was actually two decades older than Ormond but somehow it didn’t feel creepy as Ormond looked far more mature than Hepburn. I love everything about this movie, the look, the setting, the supporting cast (especially all the servants in the Larrabee’s mansion) and the absolutely gorgeous music by John Williams.

 


What do you think of our picks? Let us know in the comments!

January 2015 Recap + Pick of Movie of the Month

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First month of 2015 has come and gone. Hello February! This is always a special time for me as it’s my birthday month and I reach a milestone this year [moving up the age bracket ;) ]. I don’t fret about getting older though, as I think you are only as old as you feel and I don’t feel a day over 30, he..he..

Well, it’s kinda been a rather sluggish start as I’ve only seen a paltry 7 new-to-me movies. But hey, I did get to see a lot more TV shows than I usually do in a given month.

Posts you might’ve missed:

Random Cinematic Recap of 2014

Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of 2014

2014 Recap: Top Five Favorite Movie Songs

Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014

10 Favorite FEMALE Performances of 2014

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10 Favorite MALE Performances of 2014

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

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

Pictorial birthday tribute to Christian Bale

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BLOGATHON:

Thursday Movie Picks #29: Married Couple Movies

New-to-me Movies:

Blackhat

The Guest

Lucy

112 Weddings Documentary

The Hundred Foot Journey

Selma

Selma is in my Top 10 of 2014 Movies, even though I saw it in early 2015 I just had to include that on my list. Blackhat proved to be a disappointment, which is a major bummer as I generally love Michael Mann’s work. The Guest, Lucy and The Hundred Foot Journey are all great rentals, definitely worth your while if you haven’t seen them.

Rewatches:

The Dark Knight Rises

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Ever After

So it seems that my hubby & I were in the mood for superhero movies this month. We actually bought the Bluray of X-Men: DOFP weeks ago, and I’m glad we bought it as that movie is as awesome as the first time I saw it. Same could be said with The Winter Soldier, though I find myself liking The Dark Knight Rises a lot more this time around.

January Blindspot:

Rear Window

TV Shows:

Broadchurch – Season 1

Black Sails – Season 2

The Honourable Woman

Galavant

The Flash – Season 2

Fleming

Fave Movie of the Month

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Glad I finally got to see this Hitchcock classic. Nice to see 2015 Blindspot starts off strong, and I do have 11 more to go that I can’t wait to see.


Well, has 2015 started off great for you? What’s YOUR favorite movie of January?

January 2015 Blind Spot: REAR WINDOW (1954)

RearWindow1954I’ve been wanting to check this Alfred Hitchcock classic for ages. It seems to be unanimously loved by critics and audiences alike, which always adds a dose of curiosity to see if it would live up to its classic status.

The story centers on a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeff (James Stewart) who spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. It’s interesting that the protagonist is basically a peeping tom, which would’ve been really creepy and disturbing, but because it’s played by such a likable actor like Stewart, you can’t help but like the guy. At first he’s complaining how it’d be a chore to be confined to his apartment and not being able to go out, but after a few hours [or maybe just minutes?], he doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, it’s clear Jeff’s become obsessed that he doesn’t even sleep anymore, aside from the occasional dosing off in his chair.

RearWindow_JimmyStewartStewart is perfectly cast here, and his growing fixation with what he think is a murder case is quite amusing to watch. You know a guy is uncontrollably obsessed when he’d rather look out the window than make out with his stunning girlfriend, Lisa, in the shape of Grace Kelly no less. Even in a sea of ridiculously beautiful people that is Hollywood, the late actress still stands out amongst them. I’ve said in my review of To Catch A Thief that she is too beautiful it’s distracting. Well that is still true but fortunately in this movie she was given more to do than simply prance around like a model.

Here she plays a high-society fashion consultant, which is a perfect role for her and once again I’m marveling at every single thing she wears. It’s not just the clothes, though they certainly are amazing, it’s the graceful way miss Kelly wore them [pardon the pun] that made them memorable.

RearWindow_CostumeDesign

I’m shocked that the legendary costume designer Edith Head was NOT nominated for her work here. Say what?? The 1950s costumes are not only gorgeous, they’re practically iconic. I’m curious now who were the costume design nominees that year if they’re considered more worthy what Head did here.

At one of the most amusing and most action-packed scenes, whilst wearing her dainty 1950s floral dress, Lisa managed to climb a ladder up to the second floor of an apartment AND got into the unit through the window! As unbelievable as that scene was, it sure was fun to watch.

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My favorite character in this movie is Jeff’s physical therapy nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter). I love how she’s always berating Jeff for sitting around snooping on people instead of marrying his girlfriend.

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She got the best lines and she delivered them with such dry wit:

Stella: Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

Stella: You heard of that market crash in ’29? I predicted that.
Jeff: Oh, just how did you do that, Stella?
Stella: Oh, simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment, they said. Nerves, I said. And I asked myself, “What’s General Motors got to be nervous about?” Overproduction, I says; collapse. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.

My favorite scenes are when the three of them – Jeff, Lisa and Stella – are all speculating and bantering about the neighbor in question. Not surprised that John Michael Hayes was nominated for an Oscar for his screenwriting work.

RearWindow_Stella_Lisa_Jeff

Jeff: Those two yellow zinnias at the end, they’re shorter now. Now since when do flowers grow shorter over the course of two weeks? Something’s buried there.
Lisa: Mrs. Thorwald!
Stella: You haven’t spent much time around cemeteries, have you? Mr. Thorwald could hardly bury his wife in plot of ground about one foot square. Unless he put her in standing on end, in which case he wouldn’t need the knives and saw.

There’s also the conversation between Jeff and his detective friend Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) who’s vehemently skeptical about Jeff’s suspicion and his murder theory.

Lt. Doyle: Jeff, you’ve got a lot to learn about homicide. Why, morons have committed murders so shrewdly that it’s taken a hundred trained police minds to catch them.

The romance isn’t all that convincing, though in this case it’s meant to be as Jeff is unsure about how he really feels about Lisa. I feel that the romance in Hitchcock films is a hit and miss. I didn’t really buy the romance between Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief either, nor between Grant & Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest. I did love the chemistry between Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound though.

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Now, the studio set where the movie was shot is practically a character in and of itself. According to IMDb trivia, the entire film was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. One thousand arc lights were used to simulate sunlight and all the apartments in the building across from Jeff’s apartment had electricity could be lived in. That’s just incredible! Right from the opening sequence, the set look like it’s custom-made for the film, but the artificial look of it is part of the charm. Both Robert Burks and Loren L. Ryder were both nominated for Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, respectively.

So what’s the verdict?

RearWindow_VoyeurismWell I’m glad to say that this was definitely an enjoyable film that’s perhaps also rewarding on repeat viewings. I love all the interesting details even in the tertiary characters and the various personalities of Jeff’s neighbors here that adds another layer of intrigue. Of course the film also packs a lot of interesting themes and commentaries about psychology, human nature and such that’s intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.

What surprises me was how playful it is and overall the tone is much lighter than I expected. Considering this was billed as a mystery thriller, I was expecting a much more suspenseful and perhaps something more threatening. The only real tension was in the finale, which was also quite hilarious at the same time as [spoiler alert!] Jeff tried to blind the intruder by taking a series of photographs of him with his camera. Given that he had to change the light bulb every time he took a photo, you’d think the intruder would’ve had ample time to attack him! Raymond Burr cut an intimidating figure as Mr. Thorwald, though he barely had any lines in this movie.

Now, those aren’t quibbles so much as my observation. Naturally some things are quite dated but given the time it was made, it was perfect for that time. I think it’s more of a dark comedy with elements of mystery than a thriller, but it’s still a well-crafted and entertaining film nonetheless. This one certainly lives up to the hype and what one would consider an enduring classic.

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2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Rear Window? Well, what did YOU think?