FlixChatter Review: Cinderella (2015)

CinderellaPosterGrowing up watching Disney fairy tale movies, I have to admit Cinderella wasn’t my favorite heroine. Over the years though, as there are more and more adaptations of this quintessential underdog story (more so than any other Disney “princesses” it seems), the more I appreciate the animated classic. Lately the cinematic trend is reinvention, giving a classic tale a new twist or perspective, such as Snow White & the Huntsman and Maleficent, and so naturally I thought we’d see the same thing with Cinderella. Well, it turns out that this film stayed true to its classic story, you could even say it paid tribute to the animated film, with some surprises thrown in. But by going the conventional route doesn’t mean it’s dull and boring, in fact the opposite is true. There’s something so lively and refreshing about Kenneth Branagh‘s vision that even some of its most sentimental moments aren’t without charm.

Being that it’s the origin story of Cinderella, the movie begins with young Ella whose blissful existence is cut short when her dotting mother suddenly fell ill. Before she passed away, she instilled in her daughter to ‘have courage and be kind,’ a life motto young Ella takes to heart. And so, as life kept coming at her with one terrible blow after another, especially after the arrival of her stepmother and two step-sisters, Ella never gives up hope. I was skeptical at first about Lily James‘ casting in the titular role, but I quickly warmed up to her. There’s a pleasant countenance about her that makes her believable as a benevolent and sweet-tempered girl equipped with inner strength to face the cruelty inflicted upon her by her new *family.* Instead of running away from her problems, she choose to endure.

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Ella’s no damsel in distress either. I love how her sweet and swoon-worthy meet-up with the dashing Prince, who refers to himself as Kit to hide his true identity, reveals her independent spirit. “Just because it’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done,” she tells Kit in protest of him hunting deer for sport. The prince was immediately smitten by her, perhaps he’s also impressed that she rides her horse without a saddle! Richard Madden effortlessly steals Ella’s heart, and every maiden in the audience, with his impossible good looks and almost indecent sex appeal. As if the filmmakers weren’t sure of that, they had to outfit him in those distractingly tight white pants! I don’t know why they need to digitally enhanced his blue eyes though, I mean he’s already hunky enough with his eyes the way God made ‘em!

Cinderella_PrinceCharming cinderella_prince_firstmeetIn any case, I like that he fell for her whilst Ella’s still dressed as a maid, though I actually think she’s the most attractive this way, so fresh-faced and full of life. Unlike the animated version, the Prince also gets a back-story here, and the father/son relationship depiction is quite moving. The Ella-Kit meet-up is my favorite scene of the entire movie! Yes, more so than the entire ball scene or even the transformation scene. In fact, I’m not too fond of Cinderella’s look for the ball — her hair is huge, the ball gown is huge, it’s just overwhelming. Overall there’s more chemistry between her and the Prince in that brief meet-up.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be Cinderella without the wicked stepmother and Cate Blanchett is an absolute delight to watch in the role. Looking as stunning and regal as ever, the great Cate was scene stealing all the way through with her elegant icy-ness. The Aussie thespian is obviously having fun with the role, there’s a twinkle in her eye and sense of mischief as she relish in being bad.

Holliday Granger and Sophie McShera are ok as the two vile stepsisters, they’re a bit over the top at times, yet not nearly as memorable as Cate was even when she was standing still. It’s fun seeing Helena Bonham Carter being the comic relief as the fairy godmother and the film’s narrator. Derek Jacobi adds Shakespearean gravitas as the Prince’s ailing father, whilst Ben Chaplin is affecting as Cinderella’s doting father. In attempt to making the cast a little more diverse, Branagh cast Nonso Anozie as Captain (who’s in his previous movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and the guests at the ball are racially-diverse.

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The production design is really something to behold. This is easily one of the best looking movie I’ve seen in a while, and I’m not just talking about the beautiful cast. The costume design by Sandy Powell is simply amazing, especially Cate’s jewel-toned, richly-embroidered dresses, blending 1940s with 19th century style. Everyone’s talking about Cinderella’s gorgeous ball dress – and Lily James’ teeny-tiny waist – but I think Cate’s outfits are equally breathtaking to look at. Oh and those glass slippers… well, that’s fairy tale for ya, the funniest bit was when the fairy godmother say they’d be comfortable, ha! Apparently they’re made of real Swarovski crystals fit only for mannequins. So the scene of Cinderella having those on is made possible by the magic of CGI.

Chris Weitz‘s script might seem simple and conventional, but it’s quite challenging to somehow make the story fresh without making it unnecessarily dark or edgy just for the sake of it. I’ve been a longtime fan of Patrick Doyle‘s gorgeous music and Branagh’s longtime collaborator once again delivered! The music fits the genre perfectly, it has that elegant, sweepingly lush feel to it, but also with a bit of whimsy.

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But the biggest kudos has to be given to Kenneth Branagh and his impeccable directing style. He somehow made something *old* feels new again. I think it starts with his vision for the main characters, with an empowered Cinderella who, despite being mistreated, remains true to her moral principles. In this article, “[Branagh] likened it to the nonviolent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi.” Ok so that might’ve been a bit of a stretch, but I get the point. The love story feels richer and more emotionally involving because you believe there’s more than just the obvious physical attraction. Branagh’s quoted in the article as saying, “When you watch this film, you see Cinderella is such an amazing woman. My biggest thing was how do I create a man that is worthy of her?” I came away from the movie thinking that Cinderella rescues the Prince just as much as he rescues her.

I enjoyed this movie so much I just might see it again on the big screen as it’s such a visual treat. But I wouldn’t say it’s style over substance, there’s a nice balance of drama, humor, and even action to please the young and the young-at-heart. Though the movie is infused with such an infectious sense of optimism with its bright, lush colors and lavish set pieces, there are genuine poignant moments to keep it grounded. The scene when Ella receives news of her father’s sudden passing is one of those scenes that made me tear up.

If you’re on the fence about this one, I’d say give it a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised. I think I’d get the Blu-ray as I could see myself enjoying this for years to come.

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Have you seen Cinderella? Well, did you like it more or less than I did?

Weekend Viewing Roundup + The Two Faces of January (2014) review

Well last Friday was the first weekend of Spring but Winter’s still not done with us yet as it was the Winter Wonderland again Sunday night. I didn’t think the snow was going to stick but here’s what my neighborhood looked like as I left work this morning! I do love those snow-covered branches!

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Skipped the cinema again this weekend, but rented a few things from Netflix: Shaft (the 2000 version with Samuel L. Jackson – review upcoming) and The Two Faces of January. Apparently The Phantom of the Opera (2004) w/ Gerry Butler and Emmy Rossum is now on Netflix streaming so of course I had to rewatch that again. In fact, I also watched half of the 2006 BBC Jane Eyre w/ my dahling Toby Stephens. Wintry night in is meant for viewing indulgences ;)

RoyalDeceitOh, on Thursday night also rented what’s supposed to be a Danish re-telling of Hamlet called Royal Deceit. I couldn’t believe how horrible it was, it’s simply ghastly in terms of direction, script (if you can even call it that), production design, as well as acting. I only saw it because of the stellar cast: Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Tom Wilkinson AND a young Any Serkis (this was apparently his film movie), all of them were absolutely wasted in one cringe-worthy scene after another. I honestly thought the cast might’ve lost a bet or something to star in this movie, what a criminal waste of talents! If I were to rate it, it’d get a big fat ZERO reel as there is nothing redeemable about it.

Anyway, here’s my review of …

 The Two Faces of January

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A thriller centered on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who flee Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective.

This film seems to have the making of a great psycho thriller, given that it’s from the writer of great mystery thrillers The Talented Mr Ripley Strangers on a Train. I haven’t read Patricia Highsmith‘s novel, but I’d think the book might’ve been more exciting. It has its moments but it suffers from a rather sedate beginning and sluggish second act before it finally picks up in its third act.

I haven’t seen Viggo Mortensen in anything new in a while so it’s always nice seeing him here, playing an older, elegant businessman Chester Macfarland traveling with his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). Mortensen is a solid actor and he does a great job here, but I find myself drawn to the tour guide/con-artist Rydal (Oscar Isaac) with his brooding good looks and dark, enigmatic eyes. There’s a palpable sexual chemistry between Isaac and Dunst, and Isaac also has some great dramatic scenes with Mortensen, especially towards the end.

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The breathtaking cinematography in Athens and Crete is practically a character in itself and it serves as a fine distraction during some of the film’s slower parts. The finale’s foot-chase scene in Istanbul was stylishly shot and that’s definitely the most exciting part of the entire film. Iranian director Hossein Amini made this film with a Hithcockian flair to it, and the use of light is quite dramatic, especially in the night time scene in a Greek ruin. Apparently this is Amini’s feature film debut so that might explain the uneven tone, but I think he did a pretty good job for a first timer and I’m curious what he’d do next.

I think the strength of the film lies in Mortensen and Isaac, and the film’s main conflict is ultimately between these two. Mortensen convincingly displayed the jealousy and paranoia that constantly haunted Chester, whilst Isaac’s character couldn’t seem to shake his lust for Colette that sucked him deeper and deeper into this dangerous predicament. I’ve been a fan of Isaac for some time and I sure hope he’d get more leading roles as he’s got such an effortless screen magnetism.

Given the intriguing plot and the cast, this could’ve been a really compelling and riveting noir thriller. As it is now, the film dragged in parts and felt longer than its 96-minute running time. It’s also hard to care about the unlikable characters, even if there’s a hint of redemption in the end. But overall I still think it was well-worth renting, especially if you’re a fan of Highsmith and Hitchcock and/or any of the cast.

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So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen The Two Faces of January, I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Gunman (2015)

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Sean Penn has been out of the limelight for a few years, so in order to get people talking about him and promotes his new movie; he decided to tell some lame joke at the Oscars. Kudos to his PR team, after the so-called “offensive” joke, Penn is relevant in Hollywood again. Now it remains to be seen if his off color joke will get people to go see his new action picture.

The movie opens with a flashback to 2006, Jim Terrier (Penn) is a humanitarian working in Congo with his buddies Felix (Javier Bardem) and Cox (Mark Rylance). Terrier also has a girlfriend named Annie (Jasmine Trinka), she’s also part of his team of do-gooders. What she doesn’t know is that Jim, Felix and Cox are a bunch of assassins working undercover. They’ve been assigned to take out an important political figure that their boss wanted to get rid of. After he assassinated Congo’s Minister of Mines, Jim disappeared and told Felix to look after Annie.

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Fast forward to present day, Jim is still working as a do-gooder in Africa, but things got dicey when some armed men came after him, of course being a super assassin, he took them out easily. Alarmed after the attack, Jim sets out to London to see his old buddy Cox, who’s now working as a top executive at some big corporation. Jim suspects that their mission back in 2006 has been compromised and it’s the reason why he’s being targeted. Cox is skeptical but assured Jim that he’ll look into this matter. After a brief stay in London, Jim heads to Spain to see Felix, who’s now married to Annie. Things got messy when assassins showed up at Felix’s house and now Jim and Annie are on the run. The rest of the movie is about Jim trying to figure out who’s after him and keeping Annie safe. This being an action movie, there has to be some shootouts and explosions between the boring scenes. And that’s the problem with this movie, it’s so boring! There’s nothing interesting about the plot or any of the characters, by the time the true villain is finally revealed, we the audience already figured out before the hero did. Not only was the movie boring, it also took itself way too seriously.

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Not known for being in action pictures, Penn was actually decent as an action hero. It’s obvious he worked out for a long time to prepare for this role, because he can’t seem to keep his shirts on in a lot of scenes. He also looked good in fight scenes, particularly a brutal hand-to-hand combat in the climatic sequence. But again he seems to take the role too seriously and doesn’t look like he has any fun with it. Being that he’s also the producer and co-writer, he must’ve demanded that he’s on the screen 99% of the entire run of the movie. I’ve never seen Jasmine Trinka in anything before this movie and she was okay as the damsel in distress, but it’s kind of creepy seeing her as the leading lady to a man who’s old enough to be her father. Bardem pretty much phoned in his role since it’s nothing more than a cameo. Ray Windstone might be the only one who seems to get what the movie should be about and had a lot of fun with his sidekick role. Fans of Idris Elba will be disappointed, he didn’t show up until the last 20 minutes or so of the movie and he’s more like a cameo. Although for those who wants to see him as 007, the filmmakers did give a little wink by naming his character with initials JB.

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I don’t know how much control director Pierre Morel has during the production, but he was going for the 70s espionage thrillers mix in with the Jason Bourne flicks and the result was a disaster. The pacing was very slow, about 20 to 30 minutes should’ve been edited out. What’s worse was that he shot most of the action scenes in that shaky cam up close style that I can’t stand. I still don’t understand why some directors still uses this kind of style, what’s the point of making action movies if you’re not going to show the action? The only good action sequence was the bloody hand-to-hand combat between Penn and an assassin. I won’t even go into the script because it’s so generic that most people can figure out what’s going on.

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This could’ve been a good action thriller if it didn’t take itself too seriously because I think Penn was believable as the action hero. But it’s obvious he has hidden agenda by making this movie. By masking it as an action picture, he probably thought he could get the message out to a wider audience. Unfortunately though, the movie was poorly written and directed. With a better script and tighter editing, it could’ve been good.

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Have you seen The Gunman? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: FRANK (2014)

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Jon, a young wanna-be musician, discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank.

I have heard so many great things about this film and the quirky aspect of the story appeals to me. I have to say that Michael Fassbender‘s casting intrigues me most as he spends 99% of the movie wearing a giant papier-mâché head. Thankfully, that part wasn’t just a silly gimmick, but there’s an intriguing story behind it.

The film took its time in revealing what the story is with Frank (Fassbender) and why he refuses to reveal his face. Yep he even sleeps and shower with it, which drives Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) bonkers with curiosity. In fact, since the story is told from his perspective, we identify with Jon in how he feels about suddenly being thrown into this quirky mix of people. Frank is an enigmatic figure to be sure, but he’s actually the most likable personality of the entire band who pretty much treats Jon like dirt. I get that he had to earn his place in the band, but still, the contempt was quite uncalled for.

FRANKmoviestillsIn the first two acts, we pretty much spend time with the band as we witness their creative process in a remote cabin in Ireland. It’s full of quirky moments, some works and some don’t, and plenty that leaves me scratching my head. But it’s the third act where things sort of goes off the rails. As it turns out, Jon has been posting their recording sessions online and been tweeting about it constantly. Somehow that got them an invite to South by Southwest and it’s here that we learn just what’s really going on with Frank. The third act at SXSW is where I felt that the film went off the rails a few times, though the finale did reveal more about the main character in a way that still surprised me.

I have to admit that my initial response to this movie by Lenny Abrahamson was not overly positive. I was left irritated and frustrated by the pacing, the mostly unlikable characters and how sometimes the weirdness seems more gimmicky. I’m a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but here her character seems to go out of her way to be utterly unlikable. That sex scene is absolutely mental and I have to admit, it’s a bit revolting. But the more I think about this movie and read some articles on it, I appreciate it a bit more. Props to Fassbender for giving such a nuanced performance without the use of an actor’s main asset – his facial expression. Aside from Gleeson, who’s got a natural charm about him, Fassbender is truly the star here.

FRANKmoviestillThe story’s so much more than just about music, but more of the creative process, as well as a commentary about true art vs commercialism. The use of social media here is interesting too in how that could give people a false sense of fame and notoriety. I wish I had been as invested in the story however, the only time I found most emotionally involving was the finale. There are intriguing and memorable moments throughout, but I’d say that the movie itself is less than the sum of its parts. If you’ve been curious about this one though, I’d say give it a shot.

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

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Weekend Roundup: Coherence (2013) Review

Happy Monday everyone! Well, in case you noticed, I haven’t been blogging much lately as I’ve been sick with a stubborn cold for over a week now. One of my coworkers apparently got pneumonia and he has to be off work for a whole week. So just for precaution, I was at urgent care Thursday night for 3.5 hours checking to make sure I don’t have it. Well now I’ve passed on my cold on to my hubby, so we’re both sick during one of the warmest and gorgeous Minnesota Spring :(

Well suffice to say, I didn’t really get much blogging done, but I did get to rewatch Stardust last night which was more fun than the first time I saw it. Boy the cast is really amazing in that one and they’re all fun to watch. Interesting to see baby-faced Charlie Cox is playing Daredevil and in the beginning of the movie he had a fight with another British cutie Henry Cavill aka Superman ;)

I also saw two sci-fi movies from 2013 this weekend. Here’s a review of one of them:

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Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gather for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead.

This movie came highly recommended from my husband’s coworkers and I have to say the premise sounds intriguing. It starts with a woman driving in a car whilst she’s on the phone with who appears to be her boyfriend, then when she hangs up, the phone suddenly cracks. Does the comet passing overhead have something to do with it? Well, that’s the question everyone, both on and off screen, are wondering about.

I wish I could get into the story more but the camera work is so nausea-inducing it’s hard to concentrate on what’s going on where you’re trying not to vomit. In fact I had to close my eyes several times to reduce my headache but the hand-held camera bounces around the entire time, blurring and focusing, zooming in and out, often so close you could practically see the actor’s pores. I don’t know why filmmakers think this found-footage style would add anything to the story.

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Now, even if the camera work weren’t an issue, I’m not sure that I’m all that impressed with this film. I’m surprised of the high rating to be honest. I mean yes, the story has potential and there are some really creepy and eerie moments, but overall it’s quite tedious. The strange happenings get weirder and weirder and the entire dinner party were gripped with paranoia and started freaking out. With the right cast, it might’ve been fun and amusing, but I find myself being irritated by most of the rather unlikable characters or trying to figure out where I’ve seen some of the actors before. I might’ve recognized one of them from Buffy but not sure about the rest.

It’s billed as a sci-fi thriller but it’s more of a drama as hardly anything happens, mostly people chatting during a dinner party. The third act is slightly more interesting when one of the characters realized what’s going on and decided to do something about it. The movie is only about an hour and a half long, though it felt slightly longer than that. The finale felt rather anticlimactic but by that point I was glad the film was over. I kind of think that the story might’ve worked better as an episode of Twilight Zone or something like that.

Now, given that this is a low-budget indie film, I don’t want to be too harsh on it as I think the filmmaker have potential and this story could’ve been quite gripping. Interestingly, writer/director James Ward Byrkit was the writer of the animated film Rango which I quite enjoyed. If only this film had a bit more wit and humor, perhaps it might’ve been more palatable.

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So what did you see this weekend? If you seen Coherence, curious to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Run All Night (2015)

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Liam Neeson has struck gold with TAKEN and he’s been doing the same kind of movie since. It could be that he’s now being typecast or that he prefers the big paychecks; I’m thinking it’s a little bit of both. Whatever the case, he’s great as the action hero who can take down countless baddies and he would’ve been perfect as Jack Reacher. For many action stars in Hollywood, we kind of have to suspense of belief that they can beat down a bunch of bad guys, I don’t see Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon take down anyone in real life. But Neeson I can believe he can kick ass on the big screen and in real life.

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The film opens with a wounded Jimmy Conlon (Neeson), he’s been shot and then the film flashes back 16 hours earlier. Conlon is now at some bar in NYC and asking the bar owner Danny Maguire (Boyd Holbrook) for a loan. Danny is the son of a powerful Irish mobster Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). We later learned that Conlon and Maguire are childhood friends and that Conlon is his hit man. Conlon also has a son named Mike (Joel Kinnaman) who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him because of his involvement with the mob. Mike is a limo driver and on this night happens to be driving Danny’s drug dealing partners; he drops them off at Danny’s condo and waited outside. Danny owes his partners a lot of money and since he can’t pay them back, he decided to kill them. Mike witnessed the carnage and barely escaped when Danny went after him. If you’ve seen the trailer then you pretty much know the basic story set up, Jimmy came to his son rescue and killed Danny. This of course pissed of his old friend Shawn so he sends out his henchmen, including dirty cops, to take out Jimmy and his son. True to the title, both of them ran all night.

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Unlike his role as Bryan Mills in Taken, Neeson is more of a loser in this film. But he’s still kick a lot of butts and shoots tons of people. Basically he’s a poor man’s version of Bryan Mills. Harris took his role a bit too seriously but he’s effective as the villain. I’m still not sure I like Joel Kinnaman, he’s okay in last year’s Robocop remake and he’s okay here as the sidekick. There aren’t any other memorably performances in the film, although rapper Common showing up as the main antagonist was kind of weird and interesting. Also, there’s a nice cameo from a veteran actor whom I haven’t seen on the big screen for a long time, so keep an eye out for him.

The script by Brad Ingelby is pretty generic, there’s nothing that we haven’t seen in this kind of film before. In fact I think he must’ve watched some early 90s crime thrillers before he wrote this script, the film reminded me of State of Grace, Out for Justice and Heat. There’s even a scene where the two veteran actors Neeson and Harris facing one another in a restaurant just like the scene from Heat with De Niro and Pacino. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked with Neeson previously in Unknown and Non-Stop) did a good job of keeping the action moving fast and never lingered on useless scenes. He used some interesting transitions between each scenes, not sure if I’m a fan of the technique but it’s definitely interesting. He didn’t really include any over-the-top action sequences, but I did enjoy an action sequence set in the housing project. He also shot the movie on film, a rarity these days and I think it looks great.

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This isn’t a film that’s going to win any awards and don’t expect any originality. If you like seeing Liam Neeson kicking ass then you’ll enjoy this one. It reminded me of the 90s action thrillers and most importantly, I was never bored while watching it.

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Have you seen Run All Night? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: LUCY (2014)

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A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Luc Besson is a hit and miss director for me. Of his recent works, The Family was abhorrent, but The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec has its charm, so I proceeded this one with caution. The premise of this action sci-fi is rather preposterous, but that goes with the territory with Besson.

Scarlett Johansson portrays both sides of Lucy convincingly, before and after the *transformation.* She started out as a typical wild & fun-loving college student who inadvertently got involved in some serious mess when one of his party buddies forced her to deliver a suitcase to a Korean mafioso at a hotel. Naturally she’s scared witless and utterly confused as to what the heck’s going on and you truly felt for Lucy in this scenario. When she was brutally assaulted by her captors, the powerful drug that’s sewn into her abdomen was accidentally released into her system. Well, all hell break lose as Lucy then sets out to avenge her captors.

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Despite the preposterous action sequences, I was quite engrossed in Lucy’s journey even as she quickly transform into some kind of a super-heroine with off-the-chart cerebral and physical prowess. If you’re familiar w/ Besson’s work, you can expect over-the-top bloody shoot-outs and of course, exhilarating car chases. It’s odd though that even though the setting is mostly in Taiwan, the villains all speak Korean.

Morgan Freeman is playing yet another wise-guy of sort, something he could do in his sleep practically but he’s still watchable even when he spent most of his time here looking perplexed. He plays Professor Norman, a well-known scientist whose research happens to be on brain’s cerebral capacity and he ends up being Lucy’s ally. Choi Min-sik is effortlessly sinister as the sadistic Korean drug kingpin. Amr Waked, whom I really liked in Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, has a small but memorable supporting role as a Parisian police captain. The star here is definitely Scarlett, she’s definitely has the charisma and star power as the protagonist. A lesser actress would’ve turned Lucy into a cyborg-like creature, but she’s still able to display a sense of vulnerability. There is an emotional moment when she calls her mother, knowing that the power of the drug will soon consume her. There’s a rumor that the role was initially offered to Besson’s ex Milla Jovovich, I doubt I’d even be interested in this if she had been in the lead.

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Now, the movie attempts to be philosophical and it doesn’t quite work. I just don’t think Besson has it in him to really explore the depth of such a question about ‘the meaning of life’ and such, he’s more interested in the action. The *science* presented here is absurd, but hey, it’s science fiction after all, the logic-defying thing is sort of expected. At the same time, it’s actually not as vapid as it may seem, in fact, it’s engrossing enough that I was willing to go along for the ride. And that’s a pretty thrilling ride down to its wacky and bombastic conclusion.

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

FlixChatter Review: CHAPPIE (2015)

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Neill Blomkamp burst into Hollywood fame with his film debut District 9, a film that was well-received by both critics and audiences alike; although I’m not a fan of it myself. Then he hit a sophomore slump with Elysium, it wasn’t a great movie but I enjoyed it more than District 9. For his newest outing, he went back to his hometown and made a smaller scale sci-fi action thriller. Unfortunately it’s one of worst movies I’ve seen this year so far.

Set in just a year from now, the city of Johannesburg is control by robotic police force known as Scouts. An opening that’s similar to District 9, a news TV crew is interviewing people at a company that build these robots. One of them is the designer of the Scouts, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), he’s a very smart engineer who wants to make these robots into more than just policing the streets. He wants to make them more human, after cracking codes on how this could be achieved; he pitched the idea to his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). She didn’t think it would benefit the company’s interests and refused to finance it. We also get to know Wilson’s rival at the company, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, sporting an awful mullet from the 80s). He’s been trying to get funding for his own robot project but Bradley wouldn’t give him the money because the Scouts are doing fine protecting the city. Later we see the Scouts in action; they got into a shootout with some thugs, two of them turned out to be the main human leads of the movie, South African rappers Ninja and Yolandi. The two thugs and one of their crew members Yankie (Jose Cantillo) were able to escape and we learned that they owe the city’s crime lord lots of money. They came up with a plan of kidnapping the Scouts’ designer Wilson and force him to “turn off” the robots so they can commit their crimes and pay back the crime lord Hippo (the very over acting Brandon Auret).

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Wilson is still upset from the news that his boss won’t finance his new pitch to her, decided to steal one of the Scouts that was inline for decommissioned and take it home to build his more human robot. However on his way home, Ninja’s gang ambushed him. They saw the robot in his van and ordered him to build them a Scout that would help them commit crimes. Wilson agreed but warned them that this new robot is not like the others and it needs to learn things before it can function normally, it’s basically a child and they named it CHAPPIE. For most of the movie, we had to sit through excruciating scenes of Yolandi and Ninja teaching Chappie to become human and act like a thug, I’m not kidding you. The promos for this movie made it appear that it’s about Chappie becoming some sort of savior for the human race but that never happened in the movie.

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I’ve never heard of rappers Ninja and Yolandi (Die Antwoord) and I assume they’re quite popular in South Africa and Europe. Now the only reason why Blomkamp decided to cast them as leads was maybe because he’s a big fan of them, that’s my assumption anyway. They cannot act and I cringed every time they’re on the screen teaching Chappie how to be human. Apparently we’re supposed to care about these thugs even though their plan is to commit crimes in order to pay off their debts. The rival between Wilson and Moore became a subplot and I just don’t care about any of these characters. Sigourney Weaver has now become that once-famous actress whom director will only use sparingly and she’s on the screen for maybe 5 minutes. The main star of course is Chappie, voiced by Sharley Copley and unfortunately he’s quite annoying. We’re supposed to care about his growth of becoming more human but I just didn’t care for any of that.

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The script by Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell was amateurish. They came up with some good ideas but threw all that away by focusing story on thugs teaching Chappie to be human and included too many clichés that we’ve seen many times before. There’s no doubt that Blomkamp knows how to shoot movies, his previous two pictures looked great and this one is no exception. It’s a good example of how good digitally-shot movie could look. But his storytelling skill is questionable, he tried to juggle so many things in this movie and they all just fell flat. I actually wanted to walk out halfway through but I didn’t because I knew there’s going to be a big action scene at the end. Well he delivered in that department, the climatic shootout was well-staged and very exciting but by then I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted the movie to end. The only other positive thing I can say about the movie was Hans Zimmer’s pulse-pounding score. As usual his music shines, especially in action scenes. But scores alone can’t save a crappy movie.

I didn’t have any expectations going into this movie because I don’t think Blomkamp is as talented as Hollywood thinks he is and here’s a proof of it. The movie feels like it’s a film student project that he somehow conned a big studio to finance it. It’s a trifecta of bad acting, writing and directing.

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

FlixChatter Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

NightcrawlerPosterSeems that I might be the last person who hasn’t seen Nightcrawler and I’m even gutted I didn’t see this on the big screen. There is something so mesmerizing and disturbing about this film which is in keeping with the theme of the gawker mentality that the small-screen media capitalize on.

Set in the nocturnal underbelly of the City of Angels, the film begins with a desperate but resourceful thief Lou Bloom who can’t seem to catch a break. That is until he witnessed an accident on a highway and came across a freelance camera crew (Bill Paxton) who film crashes, fires and any kind of mayhem, that a lightbulb went off in his head. Lou says several times in the film that he’s a fast learner and he’s not exaggerating. Within days of acquiring some camera equipment and a police scanner, Lou went to work and quickly sneaked his way into the dangerous and competitive world of night-crawling – these are the people who take pictures and film horrifying events to deliver them in time for the morning news.

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“If it bleeds, it leads!”

That’s the mantra Lou lives by and he approaches his newfound profession in a mechanical precision, almost robotic way. He’s always been a methodical guy, he waters his plants, iron his shirt as he watches TV, there’s almost a certain regime if you will, in how he conducts his life. His work ethic doesn’t resemble as a human being, the way he approaches victims as if they’re nothing but soul-less objects for him to profit from. When he actually talks to a living-breathing fellow human, he also has this robotic quality in that he doesn’t see the person across from him as having any kind of emotion. His salesman-like delivery is both creepy and hilarious, in fact, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s gaunt, bug-eyed face still gives me the creeps days after I saw this film. I’m still astonished that Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated, as it’s truly a tour de force performance. I read that the 35-year-old actor literally starved himself to play the role, losing 30 pounds as he visualized himself as a hungry coyote. His look definitely gave a certain realism to his character, but there’s more to it than that. His speech delivery and the precise mannerism of how Lou behaves, such as not blinking for a long period of time, really gets under your skin.

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As Lou continues to rise to the top, he took deliberate measures to get what he wants. Along the way he recruits a down-on-his-luck young man, Rick (Riz Ahmed), as his assistant. It’s appalling how Lou treats the hapless and homeless guy like dirt, but we shouldn’t be surprised that he does so, given what we know about him thus far. Lou seems to have met his match in Nina (Rene Russo), the beautiful older news director who buys Lou’s footage. But before she even realizes what happens, Lou backs her into a corner, figuratively and literally, as he feeds off her vulnerability and fear of working in such a notoriously competitive field. That entire scene at the Mexican restaurant gives me the heebie jeebies and the script is so taut that even without Lou so much as touching Nina, the whole scene still makes your skin crawl.

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This is another astounding directorial debut in recent memory and would perhaps rate as one of the best debut by a screenwriter. Dan Gilroy co-wrote The Fall and The Bourne Legacy, which strangely enough wasn’t that great in terms of script, but here he shows not only his screenwriting chops, but also his talents behind the camera. The way he filmed mostly at night, there’s an eerie, haunting quality that adds to the suspense. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time even though there’s not that much action going on throughout.

The chase towards the end is utterly exhilarating not only because of the car chase itself, but the manic energy that Lou displays throughout. He proceeds to drive like a maniac despite Rick’s protest to slow down, and in a way we live vicariously through him in the way he views Lou. Unlike the preposterous car chases in movies like say, Fast & Furious, the scene is tinged with realism because even amidst all that action, Nightcrawler is still very much a character-driven film. When we think that the movie’s gone off the rails, Gilroy reminds us that Lou is still in control, for the detriment of those around him.

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?”

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In this Indiewire article, Dan Gilroy joked following a screening that this is “…about the triumph of the human spirit…it’s a feel good film.” Very funny Dan, as nothing could be further from the truth. I was screaming at my TV during the finale and I think the director deliberately wants us to feel disturbed by the unsettling story. But with any kind of industry fueled by consumer demand, this film is as much a commentary on the TV news business as those who choose to watch these kinds of graphic coverage.

The night cinematography by Robert Elswit is excellent in its use of ambient lighting, it adds so much to the tone of the film. It’s definitely one of the best-looking films shot in L.A., right up there with Michael Mann’s Heat and Collateral. I have to mention again the superb acting by Gyllenhaal who hopefully will score an Oscar one day, but props also to Russo and Ahmed in memorable supporting roles. Nice to see Russo in top form and actually gets a role worthy of her talent. I was impressed by Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the British actor shows his amazing versatility playing an entirely different persona.

If only I had seen this film sooner, it’d definitely have a place in my Top 10 list. Nightcrawler is a brilliantly-crafted Neo-noir that has a lingering effect long after the end credits. The film was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, written also by Gilroy. I think it merits at least a few more nominations in the acting category AND a Best Picture nod. It’s THAT good.

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What do you think of Nightcrawler?

Guest Post @ Digital Shortbread Blog – My review of Night Train to Lisbon (2013

This review is my contribution to Bite Sized Reviews over at @ Digital Shortbread Blog

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Night Train To Lisbon is a historical-tinged drama where a chance meeting leads a Swiss Professor to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. Based on a best-selling novel by Pascal Mercier and directed by Danish director Bille August, the film stars Jeremy Irons in an understated yet engaging performance.

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Though Iron’s Raimund is the protagonist, it’s Jack Huston who’s also a standout in the film. He’s fantastic as the young doctor Amadeu as there’s a mysterious quality about him, and there’s quite an alluring chemistry between him and Mélanie Laurent. The always enchanting Charlotte Rampling is marvelous as a woman who’s personally connected to Amadeu and fiercely protective of their past.


Check out my full review by clicking the image below

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