AUGUST 2015 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

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Well, we are officially entering the ‘ber’ month which means ‘brrrrr’ months are upon us. But I do love Autumn here in Minnesota though so let’s not think about Winter yet.

The highlight for me this month is that I’ve kept up on my script and it’s about 70% done now. I mean obviously there’s going to be a ton of rewrites and polishing but I’m just glad I’ve kept up with it almost daily, and thus I haven’t been blogging [and visiting others’ blogs] as much lately. In any case, I might blog even less in the future, but I don’t plan on giving that up completely, at least not yet.

Posts You Might’ve Missed

Liebster Award

A Trio of Casting News
I’m Excited About

Guest Post – Musings from a part-time cartoon artist:
Maybe some comics shouldn’t be movies

five_newtomeactors_2015Music Break: Pride & Prejudice and
Fave Scores from Dario Marianelli

Interview with the filmmakers of
NO ESCAPE: John Eric & Drew Dowdle

Blogathons

Against the Crowd:
a battle of two sword-n-sandals movies

The Five Emotions Blogathon

Thursday Movie Picks #56:
Alien Invasion of Earth

Reviews

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

The Man From U.N.C.L.E

Dark Places [guest review]

The End of the Tour

Solomon Kane

Casting By Documentary

No Escape

New-to-me Movies:

Hitman: AGENT 47 (2015)

Seeking A Friend For the End of the World (2012)

La Banda Picasso (2012)

The Last Flight (2009)

Two Days One Night (2014)

I tried to watch CHERI with Michelle Pfeiffer but just couldn’t finish it. I just think Rupert Friend is so awkward in the title role. Heh, his character is supposed to be a young French Casanova, wish they had cast Stanley Weber who’d be more age appropriate AND perfectly seductive in the role.

Rewatches:

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Pride & Prejudice TV miniseries (1995)

Persuasion TV movie(2007)

Sword of Vengeance (2014)

Top Secret! (1984)

Hot Fuzz (2007)

TV Shows:

Dancing on the Edge

Movie of the Month

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I had been waiting to see Two Days One Night for ages. I thought this was going to hit Netflix back in June. Well, it was well worth the wait. It’s such a compelling human drama, right from the start the story truly sucked you in and Marion Cotillard gave such an amazing performance. It’s an understated role and they made her look so plain her as a young Belgian mother Sandra who discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus in exchange for her dismissal. So the title refers to the time she has to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

This is the second film by the Dardenne Brothers‘ work after The Kid with the Bike and it’s definitely a superior one. It’s such a minimalist film in terms of style, the performances are naturalistic, but the story REALLY packs a punch. I was fully invested in the character’s journey and it really pays off in the end. It’s certainly one of miss Marion’s most astounding work in her already illustrious career. I can’t recommend this one enough folks, see it pronto if you haven’t already.

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So that’s my AUGUST recap. What’s YOUR fave movie(s) you saw this month?

Film Spotlight + Mini Review of Action Thriller NO ESCAPE

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When I first saw the trailer of NO ESCAPE, it definitely promises to be a highly intense action adventure. I have to admit though I was quite surprised by the casting of two actors known mostly for their comedic work: Owen Wilson and Lake Bell, but hey, we’ve got James Bond er Pierce Brosnan in it, whom I associate with this types of films. But it’s the unlikely casting that got me intrigued. The fact that the film is set in South East Asia also piqued my interest.

Well, later this afternoon I’ll have the opportunity to interview the filmmakers behind the film, John Erick Dowdle who directed the film based on the script he wrote with his brother Drew Dowdle.

Film Synopsis:
An intense international thriller, NO ESCAPE centers on an American businessman (Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city.

It’s always awesome to see Minnesota filmmakers making movies in Hollywood!

Per IMDb, John grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. After graduating St. Thomas Academy, an all-boys, military, Catholic high school, John moved to Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa. There he would make the move from writing to film. Two years later, John moved to Manhattan to attend NYU’s film program. After graduating NYU, John moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in filmmaking. John wrote and directed his first feature, Full Moon Rising (1996) just out of college. For his sophomore effort, The Dry Spell, John was joined by his brother Drew, who produced the film as John wrote, directed and edited. They now live in Los Angeles, working together as The Brothers Dowdle.

 


My mini review of NO ESCAPE

I must say that these types of thrillers are not usually something I’d see on the big screen as I have such feeble nerves. Given their horror background, there’s definitely nerve-wracking terror and sense of dread, as well as genuine jump scares in this edge-of-your-seat thriller.

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I think the less you know about the plot the better, and there’s definitely more emotional resonance than what the trailer/poster have you believe. I’m very impressed by Owen Wilson‘s casting, he’s not an ‘action hero’ or macho tough guy, he’s just an ordinary family man who’s driven to extremes to save his family. His ‘everyman’ persona definitely make you sympathize with him right away, and Lake Bell as his wife is quite convincing here as well, in a role I haven’t seen her portray before. Even the two little girls played by Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare are both terrific here. Kudos to John E. Dowdle for coaxing such a convincing performance out of them, to display authentic sense of terror for such young actors must’ve been very challenging.

How we feel about this survivor-thriller hinges on whether we care or not about Wilson’s family and this film definitely delivers. Pierce Brosnan‘s quite memorable here in a key role. He’s not in the film much but when he’s on screen, he’s definitely memorable. There’s a conversation between his and Wilson’s character that offer an interesting perspective on what’s going on. The film is billed as a coup-gone-horribly-wrong (as the title was going to be The Coup), but there’s more than meets the eye.
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The film is bloody but thankfully not gory. The filmmakers wisely choose to show the reaction after a violent act is committed, and what it means to them, rather the act itself. It makes it all the more effective and suspenseful. I think do horror/thriller fans would appreciate the filmmaking style of the Dowdles, and the convincing performances of the actors definitely immerse you in their predicament. Wilson and Bell certainly have dramatic chops on top of being talented comedians.

The scene on the roof is one of the craziest, most intense scenes I’ve ever seen. I think it’d be especially tense if you are a parent, as it’ll make you REALLY think about what you would do in such a dire situation.

The fact that the film was shot on location in Chiang Mai, Thailand certainly makes it look authentic. But the film is set in a fictitious SE Asia country as to not offend the Thai government. Given the recent bomb attack in that country though, it certainly adds to the nightmarish quality of the film. If you like the experience of having your nerve stretched to its snapping point, then this is a film for you.

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NO ESCAPE opens in the US on 8/26 and in the UK on Sept 4.


Stay tuned for my interview post with the Dowdle Brothers!


What do you think of this film? Which film of the Dowdle Brothers have you seen?

A trio of casting/directing news I’m excited about

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A trio of casting/directing news piqued my interest this past few days that I thought I’d blog about it. I’m supposed to be doing this casting news roundup every month but obviously I’ve dropped the ball a few times :P

Rebecca Ferguson joins Emily Blunt for
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN adaptation

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YES! Another female-centric thriller based on a female author is getting a cinematic adaptation. The Girl on The Train is based on Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel.

The story follows Rachel, a woman devastated by her recent divorce who spends her commute fantasizing about a seemingly perfect couple who lives in a house that her train passes every day. One morning, she sees something shocking there and becomes entangled in a mystery.

Naturally there’s the Gone Girl comparison given the unreliable narrator and marital dysfunction storyline. Emily Blunt was already cast as Rachel and Rebecca Ferguson apparently will be playing the role of Anna, the wife of Rachel’s ex-husband. There are apparently three prominent female characters in the novel.

In any case, I LOVE this casting bit! I’m a huge fan of miss Blunt and so I was already excited for this film for her, but given how Ferguson is my new girl crush thanks to MI: Rogue Nation, this has shot up to my must-see list for 2016! Well, I hope it’ll be released next year anyway. I’m glad that Ferguson passed on playing Channing Tatum’s love interest in Gambit according to Deadline. Ugh, she’s WAY too good for that role anyway. This sounds like two juicy roles for both talented actresses.

Now of course it’ll be interesting to see who’d be cast as Tom. He’s a douchebag so we’d need an actor who’s charismatic enough to go against these two. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal or if they want someone older [who’s still smoldering], how about Clive Owen? He needs a REALLY memorable role right now, pronto!

Christian Bale to star in Michael Mann’s Ferrari Biopic

Apparently this film has been a passion project for Mann for the last 15 years. Per Deadline, the he even partnered with the late director Sydney Pollack to bring the story of the Italian auto magnate to life. Apparently the film’s being packaged to be sold at the upcoming Telluride, Toronto and Venice Film Festivals and I can’t imagine this NOT being a lucrative project.

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The film takes place in 1957, a year where passion, failure, success and death and life all collided. I’m not familiar with Ferrari’s life, but a quick check on Biography Channel tells the story that in 1957, a Ferrari car driven by Alfonso de Portago blew a tire and crashed into the roadside crash at the Mille Miglia. The driver, co-driver and nine spectator including five children were killed. In response, Ferrari and tyre manufacturer Englebert were charged with manslaughter as they chose to let the car continue for an extra stage rather than stop for a tire change. It was dismissed in 1961.

EnzoFerrariPer THR, the project adapts the 1991 book Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine, which details the rise of the auto mogul. Now, Bale’s casting definitely piqued my interest. He’s worked with Mann in Public Enemies, which I wasn’t crazy about, but hopefully this would be a more intriguing film. As disappointed as I was with Mann’s Blackhat, I still consider him one of my fave directors. Plus Bale is a heck of a lot better actor than Chris Hemsworth so even though he looks nothing like the real Enzo Ferrari, I think he could do this role justice.

Speaking of Hemsworth though, the last film involving car racing was RUSH which I think was pretty good. I grew up with a brother who’s a huge car fan so I’ve always loved watching car scenes in movies.

George Miller in talks to direct Man of Steel 2?

Now, file this under rumor that I wish were true! I hadn’t even been remotely excited for Man of Steel 2, nor that I thought it was still in the works. But with Mad Max creator George Miller’s involvement, color me intrigued!

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If you’re into comic book adaptations, you probably are familiar that Miller was at one point going to direct a Justice League film with Armie Hammer as Batman and D.J. Cotrona [who resembles Henry Cavill a bit] as Superman back in 2007. It’s perhaps best that the project never came to fruition, but obviously Miller is interested in doing a comic-book film. Given the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, I’d think he’s in Warner Bros good graces to come back to the DC world.

Of course even if there’s a remote chance of this project happening with Miller, it’s still a loooong way off as Man of Steel 2 isn’t part of WB superhero slate until 2020. Per EW, what we can expect include movies like Shazam and Cyborg [??] Heh, I tend to agree with Rich in this article that perhaps some comic-book movies should NOT be movies.


Well, any thoughts about any of these news?

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Weekend Roundup: Solomon Kane, Dancing on the Edge miniseries + Casting By doc

Happy Monday everyone!

Hope you had a nice weekend. It was a nice, mellow one for me, just enjoying the last few weeks of the fleeting Minnesota Summer. We had yummy Lebanese food for dinner and took a stroll by Mississippi River just before sunset… it was a warm night with a slight breeze. PERFECT.

My hubby took this on our stroll in St. Paul at dusk

My hubby took this on our stroll in St. Paul at dusk

I did fit in a few movies, one of them I’ve been wanting to see for some time…

SOLOMON KANE

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A ruthless mercenary renounces violence after learning his soul is bound for hell. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer’s murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

I’m not going to review it again as my pal Becky has done a comprehensive review/tribute to the massively underrated sword & sandal film. She had the dvd so I saw it on Friday night at her place, and boy am I glad I finally did. I’ve been a fan of James Purefoy since his fearless performance in HBO’s ROME, and I’m constantly astounded why he’s not more famous than he is now. The man has the looks, talent, charisma, but maybe he lacks the one thing most stars have to have that they have no control over: luck.

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Director Michael J. Bassett and the producers had planned Solomon Kane to be a trilogy. It’s a bummer that it didn’t happen as it was a darn good film, it probably just wasn’t marketed very well. It’s got the swashbuckling action that looks gritty and raw with little CGI, and the supernatural elements of the story work for the adventure fantasy story. I find the story to be emotional engaging as well, especially between Solomon and the Puritan family led by the late character actor Pete Postlethwaite. English actress Rachel Hurd-Wood is quite good in a key role in the story, and it’s also got Max Von Sydow in a brief supporting role.

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s definitely worth a rent.


DANCING ON THE EDGE miniseries (2013)

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A black jazz band becomes entangled in the aristocratic world of 1930s London as they seek fame and fortune.

I’m glad Netflix added this recently. I think I heard about it when Jacqueline Bisset won a Golden Globe for her performance, but I kind of forgot about it. But really, with a cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor AND Matthew Goode, I knew I had to see it.

I’ve only seen two out of the six episodes and I love it so far. The 30s jazz music is fantastic, but I like the glamor of the British aristocracy of that era and the mystery aspect of it that really sucks you in. There’s also the obvious racial issues given the Louis Lester Band is perhaps the first black band to ever perform for the British royal family. John Goodman has a key supporting role as an enigmatic American businessman, I can’t wait to see what he’s all about but he’s quite sinister.

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The set design and 30s costumes are beautiful to look at. It’s definitely an ear & eye candy + a gripping, historically-tinged story. Can’t wait to finish ’em all. If you’re looking for something to watch on Netflix streaming, can’t go wrong with this one.


CastingBy

This documentary focuses on the role of the casting director in movie making and particularly on Marion Dougherty. She began work in the late 1940s sending up and coming young actors to be cast in the then new medium of television. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the contribution on casting directors was recognized in film credits and even today there is no Oscar awarded for that role in filmmaking.

If you know me at all, you’ll know how much I’d love to be a casting manager. So naturally I find this documentary utterly fascinating. I talked about this briefly here, but somehow I just haven’t got around to seeing it. Casting is so crucial and can make & break a film, so people like Marion Dougherty is really an unsung hero in Hollywood.

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Anyone who loves movies should check out this HBO documentary, as it shows how some of Hollywood legends like James Dean, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, etc. get their start. There are also stories about actors getting second chances after a not-so-memorable first start, most notably from Jon Voight and Jeff Bridges. Some of the people interviewed include directors the likes of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Peter Bogdanovich. It also proves that Michael Eisner is a jerk, I mean he’d rather have Suzanne Sommers over Meryl Streep??! Mel Gibson was ready to drop out of Hollywood and raise organic vegetables and beef cattle before Dougherty suggested him to Richard Donner for Lethal Weapon. She also told Donner about Danny Glover… “He’s black, so what?” – Y’see, the part wasn’t written for a black actor, so obviously miss Dougherty was far more progressive than most Hollywood folks.

There’s no Academy Award category for casting director, and so in 1991, there was a campaign started by a bunch of actors to get her an honorary Oscar. Well, the fact that women mostly make up the job of casting, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re overlooked in this male-dominated industry.

Thanks to filmmaker Tom Donahue for shining a light on this under-appreciated profession that’s so crucial in the filmmaking process. This documentary is available on Netflix Streaming, so definitely worth checking out!


Well, that’s my viewing recap. So what did YOU watch this weekend, anything good?

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FlixChatter Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

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I saw this at a very early press screening three weeks ago but there was an embargo to even tweet about it. By now I could barely remember much about Guy Ritchie’s movie, but if I were to describe it in one word, it’d be frothy. Just like Mission Impossible, this movie is based on a 1960s TV series of the same name. I actually never watched it, but basically U.N.C.L.E. is an international counter espionage agency, and the acronym stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

Ritchie certainly got the retro look right for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., just as he did with Sherlock Holmes‘ Victorian London in the 1800s. In fact, the style is the only thing going for this movie – from the exotic Mediterranian locales to the extremely good looking actors wearing those stunning 60s clothing. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play enemies-cum-partners, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin, respectively. They reluctantly have to work together on a mission against a mysterious criminal organization. It’s set during the Cold War so naturally the [clichéd] plot has to involve nuclear weapons proliferation. It only seems alarming on paper but given the humorous tone of the movie, you’re not supposed to take any of it seriously. The movie has a deliberate Bond vibe but perhaps more in line with the mischievous spirit of Roger Moore’s era.

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Ritchie has experience with bromances, pretty much every film he’s done from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Rocknrolla to his latest Sherlock Holmes with Jude Law & Robert Downey Jr. has bromance elements. I think Hammer and Cavill have a decent chemistry, though not as effortless as Law and RDJ, and neither has quite the star power. As much as the two male mannequins are gorgeous to look at, unfortunately they’re as bland as a Minnesota hot dish. [Actually, it’d be an insult to my home state’s cuisine as I actually think tater tot hot dish is pretty tasty!]. I suppose there’s not much the actors can do when their characters are only as deep as a cardboard cutout. They give each of them a backstory of sort, i.e. Solo was a criminal before he was a spy, but still the characters are pretty much one dimensional.

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Ritchie assembled an International cast for this movie which results in an amusing hodgepodge of accents. We’ve got a Brit playing American (Cavill), an American playing Russian (Hammer), a Swede playing German (Alicia Vikander) and an Aussie playing Italian (Elizabeth Debicki). Not to mention Irish actor Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) doing his best Texan drawl as Cavill’s CIA boss. Overall the actors did okay with the accents, though Hammer’s Russian accent is quite hilarious and rather distracting. I guess I find Russian accent even coming from Russian actors as amusing because it always sounds so exaggerated. Thankfully Hugh Grant as the leader of U.N.C.L.E. sticks with his own British accent.

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I really want to love this movie and I have to admit there are some fun moments and the setting and costumes are fun to look at. But overall, no matter how pretty the package is, it can’t really fix a hollow story. I think Ritchie aims for cool escapism from the dreaded Summer heat, but really, it wouldn’t hurt to inject just a teeny bit of substance into the whole glamorous affair. It feels like watching a two-hour retro fashion commercial, with ocassional gadgetry and gun play that never feels even the least bit threatening. The quota of beautiful people is off the charts, even David Beckham has a cameo and we’ve got Italian model Luca Calvani as Debicki’s sidekick.

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I was impressed with Debicki in The Great Gatsby but she’s barely given anything to do here, I think Vikander’s character fares a bit better but barely scratching the surface of her talent considering what she could do in Ex Machina. I have to mention that even though Cavill is a beautiful man built like a Greek god [I mean he IS Superman], I find him lacking in virility on screen. He doesn’t quite have that sparkle in his eye that make him belieavable as a ladiesman, to me anyway, I have a feeling a lot of ladies would disagree.

One thing I find distracting is the music that’s overused or used in an overblown way that it becomes a sensory overload with all the frenetic CGI action. There is one particularly funny scene when Solo nonchallantly watches Kuryakin fights for his life in a speedboat chase whilst he snack on a sandwich he found on a parked truck. But for the most part, all the action is forgettable as you could barely invest in the story. I’m not saying The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a bad movie, but it’s the quintessential style over substance. There’s a not-so-subtle hint of a sequel at the end but I don’t think there’s enough going for it even for a single movie.

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Have you seen Man from U.N.C.L.E? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter [Guest] Review: Dark Places (2015)

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After a tragedy occurs, what happens next? When a child loses their whole family to darkness and death, where do they go from there? When a teenager is accused of an atrocity they didn’t commit and is sentenced to life in a prison cell, what kind of person will they become? When a stranger knocks on the door with the idea to set the story straight, what kind of truth will they demand be acknowledged?

Dark Places (available on demand now via DirecTV, and in theaters on 8/7) is the second film to be made based on a bestselling novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. Charlize Theron plays Libby Day, a woman who has locked herself away from the world after the majority of her family was brutally murdered one night when she was very young. Her testimony helped put her brother behind bars, and since then she’s lived off the monetary kindness of others and by selling her story to the highest bidder. But now the money has run out and her only financial assistance is coming from a group of would-be detectives who think there is more to the murder of her mother and two older sisters than was previously known. Libby agrees to work with the group, at first hesitantly and later because of her own desire to know the truth. What really happened that night long ago when she lost everyone she loved?

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Like Gone Girl before it, Dark Places is a twisty thriller that showcases multiple sides to the story. Libby was just a little girl when she witnessed the murder of her family and her memory of that night is spotty at best. She knows she had a mother and sisters and a brother and that in the middle of the night she woke to find most of them dead and what appeared to be her brother responsible. But she was not the only one in the house that night. Her brother remembers his own side of the story, which involves sex and drugs and Satan and a desperate need to do the right thing for the girl he was in love with. And the film also shows, through flashbacks, the side of Libby Day’s mother – a woman with four children and no money to support them, a farm that was worthless, and a town demanding blood after her son was accused of a terrible crime. To solve the great mystery of the film, Libby has to follow the trail of all three stories and see the truth where they converge.

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Unfortunately, unlike Gone Girl, Dark Places fails to truly take viewers along for the emotional ride it wants them to experience. Though Charlize Theron is an extremely talented actress and plays prickly, angry, closed-off Libby Day to the best of her ability, there is very little to like or relate to in the main character. She’s a beautiful woman leading an ugly life who gets dragged into a mystery for selfish reasons and stays because she can’t seem to help herself. She is surrounded by two-dimensional characters (including Lyle, played by Nicholas Hoult who recently starred alongside Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road) who do little to enrich the story and who really seem superfluous the plot most times. And the ending, while surprising in some elements, feels forced and contrived in others.

Overall this film leaves you feeling like there should be MORE. More story, more character development, more time figuring things out and revealing the truth of the central mystery. Which is surprising considering how much voice-over and exposition there is to deal with. Every moment of explanation feels forced, as if filmmaker Gilles Paquet-Brenner is desperate to cram as much back story as possible down your throat. But without likable characters or a proper build-up to suspenseful moments and the big murder mystery reveal, Dark Places falls short of taking viewers on the dark journey it intends.

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Brittni Williams is a freelance writer and blogger from the Midwest. After finishing up school in Arizona, she picked up and moved to Chicago where she currently resides with her cat, Pockets. She primarily covers entertainment topics and the occasional DIY piece. Her interests include playing tennis, traveling, and scouring the city for the best tacos. Find her on Twitter @brittni303


Have you seen Dark Places? Let us know what you think!

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FlixChatter Review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

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I’ve been a fan of this long-standing franchise even from the first one by Brian De Palma. Looking back, it certainly was a more cerebral, somber affair as it took itself way too seriously. It might’ve been the fourth movie when the film took a decidedly lighter tone, but amped up the action to be even crazier. It’s akin to a cinematic roller coaster, a huge adrenaline rush from start to finish. You know when want to go for another round the moment you’re done with a REALLY fun amusement park ride? Well, that’s how I felt the minute the end credits roll.
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It’s to be expected that the stake of Mission Impossible movies get more and more well, impossible. But really, they’re not called the Impossible Missions Force for nothin’. This time Ethan and team take their craziest mission yet, and a personal one. If you’re familiar with the franchise, you know about the mysterious International organization the Syndicate, which is as skilled as the IMF and commited to destroy Ethan & co.

Right from the opening sequence with the highly-publicized plane sequence where Tom Cruise was hanging out on the side of the plane, a stunt the superstar himself performed no less than 8 times, you’ll know what you’re in for. But you’ve got to have a lot more tricks up your sleeve if you show THAT scene early in the movie. Thankfully that is the case here. If you love chases of any kind, whether it be on foot, car, motorbikes, etc. you’ll find them here. It’s as if each action scene tries to one-up the other and I have to say each one is as exhilarathing as the last.

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My favorite scene is the one within the Vienna Opera House, with stunning camera work in the narrow, shadowy corners. The fight scenes are jaw-droppingly spectacular, even more so against the classic aria of Nessun dorma. It’s truly the spectacle to watch going into a movie like this and it looks amazing on the big screen.

Early in the film, we’re introduced to a new character Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), but THIS is her moment to shine. She’s my favorite female character in ALL of the Mission Impossible movies so far. I’d vote to have Ilsa replace Ethan Hunt in future MI movies or have her star in a MI spinoff movies. She’s THAT great. I love the fact that she’s a formidable character who’s no bimbo, and on top of being Ethan’s equal in the action scenes, Ilsa actually has a compelling character arc.

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The relentless logic-defying stunts are electrifying, but I like the fact that director Christopher McQuarrie actually includes one scene that show Ethan is human after all. I won’t mention the scene as to not spoil it for you, but I actually feared for his life for once, even for a moment. There is also an emotional connection between the characters, especially when it comes the dynamic of Ethan’s core group: Benji (Simon Pegg), William (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames). The camaraderie works well and it’s easy to root for this group.

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Humor is another recipe for success in this franchise. The high-octane stunts are matched with crackin’ wit, mostly from the resident comedian Pegg, but Renner also made the franchise’s oft-used line “I can neither confirm nor deny any details without the secretary’s approval” to hilarious effect. There’s also a particularly humorous scene involving the British PM towards the end. Nice to see Alec Baldwin as another CIA officer, 25 years after playing Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October.

If I have one quibble though, it’d be the villain (Sean Harris). I don’t know why the filmmakers think a weird & creepy bad guy is more effective than a normal-looking one. I’d think that a perfectly normal character with a ruthless agenda can be just as menacing, so long as they cast the right actor. Harris just seems more of a damaged, eccentric psychopath than a really scary villain worthy of a super spy like Ethan.

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Thankfully, the rest of the cast delivered and the movie is as fantastically entertaining as ever. Just like the unstoppable franchise, Cruise clearly still has plenty of energy to make us believe he IS Ethan Hunt, he made even James Bond seems rather tame. He’s starting to look older but young enough to pull off the relentless action and even the shirtless scenes. Still I’m thankful there’s no unnecessary romance that’d make me cringe.

I enjoyed the heck out of MI: Ghost Protocol and I remember thinking, boy how’d they top that Burj Khalifa scene?? Well, not only does Rogue Nation manage to top THAT scene, but the movie as a whole. This one now stands as my favorite of the franchise. I rarely say this about any movie, but I hope they continue to make more Mission Impossible movies and hopefully McQuarrie will be back for at least the next one. This is only his third film, and I actually quite like his previous film with Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher. He also wrote the screenplay for Edge of Tomorrow, so it seems that his collaboration with Cruise has been a rewarding one. Joe Kraemer who worked on the score for Jack Reacher also did a great job scoring this one.

I can’t wait to see this again, next time at IMAX. It’s an escapism sort of movie and Rogue Nation delivers on that front, and more.

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So have you seen MI: Rogue Nation? Well, what did YOU think?

Rental Pick: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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I had been wanting to see this movie for ages but for some reason I never saw its theatrical release in my neck of the woods. Even the synopsis and the trailer had me in stitches. Well, the movie itself more than lived up to the hype, it’s so well worth the wait! In fact, the reason this review kept getting delayed is because I kept getting distracted by watching the clips of this on Youtube and they made me laugh every single time.

The idea of a mockumentary about vampires living in modern society is so brilliant and makes for a perfect comedy material, so I’m surprised nobody has made it before. Well I’m glad that these New Zealand comedians did as I can’t imagine anyone else portraying these immortal vampires now. The only person I recognize is Jemaine Clement, one of the Flight of the Conchords comedy band, and he plays one of the four flatmates living in Wellington, NZ. In the opening sequence, we learn that the vampire flatmates have invited a documentary filmmaker to chronicle their lives, hence the title, and they’ve been given some kind of protection so that they won’t become victims like most humans invited into their homes. “Some interviews with some vampires” is the movie’s tagline, an obvious reference to a popular 90s vampire drama based on Anne Rice’s books.
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It’s so much fun to spend two hours with the trio, Vladislav (Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh). There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham), an 8000 years old Nosferatu-lookalike who lives in the basement instead of upstairs with the other three. Viago is like the mom in the family, he’s trying to keep the flat as organized and neat as possible, insisting that his flatmates line the floor and walls with newspapers before they feast on their victims. Of course it’s not always easy, one scene showed Viago accidentally biting the main artery of his victim, causing blood to spurt and splatter all over the room and making a huge mess. This is just one of those hysterical dilemmas these immortal creatures have to deal with living in modern society. All the daily stuff we take for granted, such as being able to see our reflection in the mirror when we get dressed, enjoying the sunlight, etc. are problematic for these vampires and the movie explore those in such a hysterical way.

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I thought that the movie is going to consist mostly of random scenes of these vampires doing daily human chores and other vampiric shenanigans, which would’ve been okay for me considering how hilarious these actors are. But there’s actually a decent plot here, starting with Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a human lured to become their food who ended up being turned into a vampire. Things start go awry when Nick carelessly break every vampire rules and walk around announcing his new identity. But the most hilarious part is when he starts inviting his human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford) to hang out with his vampire mates. All the scenes involving Stu is a hoot, especially when he teaches them technology and social media, much to the delight of Viago and the gang. It’s even funnier as he’s got this deadpan expression throughout.

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This movie has become one of my favorite comedies of all time. Right up there with The Gods Must Be Crazy, Top Secret! and Hot Fuzz. Comedies are so subjective I guess so what some people find funny might not be the case for others. For me, I love great writing and fun characters on top of the slapstick stuff, nothing too crude nor vulgar. What We Do in the Shadows delivers on that front, such a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of raunchy-but-unfunny Hollywood comedies of late. Props to Clement and Waititi who collaborated as writers/directors, as well as the terrific cast that bring this comedy to life. There are just sooo many memorable scenes and it’s so darn quotable.

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“We’re Werewolves, not Swearwolves.”

“Vampires don’t do dishes.”

“Yeah some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.”

“I go for a look I call dead but delicious.”

Seriously, there are hundreds of funny one liners and it’s funnier when you see them in context. The script is so zany and sharp-witted, and the writers obviously knew enough about the whole vampire mythology and stereotypes to turn them on its head. I’ve gotten the Blu-ray and I know it’ll get a ton of play in my house. Even the deleted scenes are a hoot! I don’t normally care for sequels but I sincerely hope Clement and Waititi would work on a sequel for this, as I can watch these characters bicker with each other for hours on end. I’d think this idea would make for a great TV series too, so hopefully that would happen given how well-received this movie has been.
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Have you seen What We Do In The Shadows? Well, what did YOU think?

Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon – A Most Wanted Man (2014) review

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This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

A Most Wanted Man

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A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.

It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.

The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.

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Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.

It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.

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McAdams with Dobrygin

As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.

This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.

I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps? 

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As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.

This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.

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Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup: Reviews of ‘Ant-Man’ & ‘Cartel Land’ documentary

Boy it’s quite a sweltering Summer weekend, I practically lived in my shorts & rompers these days. I love it when you found stuff in one of your old wallets, it’s like getting an unexpected gift. Apparently I left two gold AMC tickets in there, so we ended up going to the movies after all.

I also had time to spare to watch the remaining two episodes of Downton Abbey Season 3, and caught the first episode of season 4. My hope is that I’ll be done with season 5 by year’s end, which I think is feasible. I might blog about it later in the year, as I’m getting ready for the final season of the series in 2016!

In any case, here are quick thoughts of the two films I watched this weekend:

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We went to the 2D showing as that’s the only time that worked for us and honestly I hate wearing those heavy 3D glasses. I wasn’t really anticipating this movie at all, frankly I’m feeling a bit superhero fatigue. So it’s nice to see that Ant-Man turns out to be more of a heist flick, as Ted’s mentioned in his review, instead of a full-blown superhero movie. The scale is also much smaller than other Marvel movies, which proved to be quite refreshing.

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I had a lot of fun with it. Just like Chris Pratt was perfect as the lead of The Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel hit another casting home run once again with Paul Rudd. He’s just so effortlessly likable and we immediately want to root for this down-on-his-luck con-man. The movie is definitely lighthearted and fun, but not devoid of heart either with a familial theme running through the veins of the main characters. Director Peyton Reed is known mostly for comedies (Yes Man, The Break Up) so I guess he’s the perfect man for the job here.

Michael Peña is the movie’s scene stealer, which is not a surprise to me as I’ve always liked him in various supporting roles throughout his career. Interesting that people say he’s the comedic breakout here as I think he’s always got great comic timing, he’s just so under-utilized in Hollywood. I also love Evangeline Lilly’s role and her character Hope actually has a decent arc in the story. Funny that she has a similar hairstyle as the lead female character in Jurassic World, but thankfully her bad-assery didn’t feel forced in this one. I actually enjoyed this movie more than The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which again proved that sometimes bigger [scale] doesn’t mean better.

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CARTEL LAND

I always love documentaries that take you to a world that’s rarely explored, and few are as immersive as this one. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman got an unprecedented access, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels.

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It’s rated R for a reason as the film is pretty intense and show some really brutal scenes of what the drug lords do to people who wronged them. There are also some crazy shoot-outs that made me wonder just how in the world the filmmaker manage NOT to get shot! It’s also astounding that Heineman got access to film a meth lab, which was shown in the beginning and end of the film. It’s an unsettling scene to be sure, as the filmmaker was surrounded by heavy-armed men cooking meth at night in the desert. One of the workers interviewed said they’re so poor that they had no choice but to do this line of work and that they’ll continue cooking meth “as long as God allows it.”

The two main characters in the film came from opposite backgrounds. In the the Mexican state of Michoacán, we have a charismatic physician Dr. Jose Mireles (who looks like a latin version of Omar Sharif) who leads the Autodefensas, one of the vigilante organizations aiming to restore order to Mexican communities. They felt they couldn’t rely on the government to protect them, so they had to take matters into their own hands.

On the other side of the border in Arizona’s Altar Valley, also known as Cocaine Alley, Army veteran Tim Voley felt the same way about the US government. He felt that the authorities/border patrols didn’t do enough to keep Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across American border. Even though Mireles and Voley never met, they definitely share the same vision and brought their own brand of justice.

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What’s interesting is how initially the film portrayed them as a big hero, but as the film progressed, we saw that they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us. The Autodefensas themselves turn out to be as morally corrupt as the organizations they fight against. For one thing, vigilantism isn’t a black and white matter. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a really gripping documentary that at times felt all too visceral and horrifyingly-real.

Heineman won Best Director and Special Jury Award for Cinematography at Sundance this year. Both awards are well-deserved as the director practically risked his life making this and the result is one of the most gripping doc I’ve ever seen. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow also served as one of the executive producers for the film and I could see her making a film version of this topic.

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So that’s my weekend roundup. What did you see this weekend, anything good?