My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest


Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late


This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember


As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong


Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High


A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer


There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing


Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made


When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room


I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn


It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!

The TCFF Insider Series kicks off in December, so be a member so you don’t miss out on film screenings/events all year long!

If you miss my TCFF coverage, click on the Twin Cities Film Fest tab at the top of the page.

What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?

Five for the Fifth: Special James Bond Edition


Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

Well, since SPECTRE is released this weekend here in the US, I’m dedicating this month’s edition to be ALL THINGS James Bond!

007chatter1. As I grew up watching Bond movies, I have a special fondness for the franchise. Even though I haven’t always loved all the movies, I always look forward to seeing a new one whenever it comes along. If you’ve read my blog long enough, surely you’ve noticed that this is a pretty frequent topic here, I even have a special category for it… 007 Chatter.

My twin brothers and I would watch Bond movies on VHS (yes I’m that old) over and over, and we’d always watch ’em when they’re on TV.  I actually don’t remember which Bond film I saw for the very first time, I just know it was a Roger Moore film.  Now, he’s not my favorite Bond (some loyal readers know it’s THIS guy), but I always have a fondness for some of his movies, especially For Your Eyes Only.

So tell me, how did you first discover the Bond franchise?

2. One of the things I LOVE about the franchise is that it’s pure escapist entertainment. Yes, we’ve got the guns, gadgets and girls, but for me, it’s location, location, location. You can always count on Bond movies to be shot on location in the most exotic places in the world.

There are SO many places in Bond movies I’d love to visit, but you’d have to be a billionaire to have THAT kind of bucket list. So I were to pick only six Bond locations to travel to in my lifetime, I’d choose these from each of the six Bond actor’s film:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So what’s your favorite Bond film setting?


3.  As the saying goes, “a hero is only as good as their villain”. It’s true for most great stories, but it’s extremely crucial when it comes to the Bond franchise. The worst Bond movies is often as a result of a weak villain, whether it’s in the writing or in the casting, but I think the latter plays an even crucial role.

The topic of Bond villains have been covered several times here. We’ve talked about the best and worst villains, as well as who I’d like to see as a Bond villain a while back. In regards to that last one, I still stand by these choices as none of them have ever been cast yet (what a shame!)


L-R: Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen and Timothy Dalton

Oh man, it’d be a dream to see Timothy Dalton be cast as the next Bond villain. I mean he’s contracted to do three Bond films before the MGM legal woes basically caused Dalton to walk out, so casting him as a Bond villain would just be the perfect *atonement.* If you’ve seen him in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, you’ll see he’s still got the chops, not to mention he still looks pretty damn good in his 70s! If only Penny Dreadful‘s creator John Logan, who’s also one of the writers of Skyfall and Spectre would agree with me, he could pitch that to the Broccolis! :)

Which actors/actresses are on your wish list as a Bond villain?

I’m not going to talk about who should replace Daniel Craig as Bond at this point. There’s just been way too much talk on that topic and Craig is supposedly under contract for at least another Bond movie anyway. I already talked about who I think would be great to play 007, but what I haven’t ever really discussed is Craig himself… apart from his role as Bond.


I’ve only seen Craig in a handful of non-Bond roles, the first one being Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Yep, he was Lara’s um, boy toy before Gerard Butler got the *honor* in the sequel. I haven’t seen any of the Dragon Tattoo movies nor Layer Cake, but I did see him in supporting roles in The Road to Perdition and Munich. That’s about it. So I really don’t know how good an actor he is apart from the Bond films, which doesn’t exactly show his range.

I’m curious, what’s your favorite Daniel Craig role apart from 007? 

This month’s Five for the Fifth’s guest is a longtime friend and fellow Bond fan Dan from Top 10 Films site! Dan’s posted a myriad of Bond-related top 10s, including top 10 Bond gadgets from contributor Rodney aka Fernby Films, so it’s no surprise that his question would be gadget-related. Check out this awesome infographic on this very topic!


So what’s your favorite James Bond gadgets? Is there a memorable moment(s) when Bond uses one of his gadgets to get out of a sticky situation?

Well, that’s it for the James Bond edition of Five for the Fifth. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all!

10 Things I Love about Twin Cities Film Fest!


And so it begins!! In less than 24 hours, the 6th annual Twin Cities Film Fest commences! Starting this Wednesday, we’ll have 11 days filled with cinematic festivities… 120+ films of national and international screenings, live musical performances, red carpet galas, cocktail mixers, film panel discussions and all kinds of special events for film lovers to enjoy. From today all the way until Halloween, SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE is THE place to be for film lovers in the Upper Midwest!

I’ve been blogging for TCFF since its inception back in 2010 (all documented in my TCFF Archives page) and it just keeps getting better and better! Whatever type of cinephile you are, you’ll likely find something to look forward to at TCFF. Now, I’ve been wanting to do a top 10 list to kick off the event, so today seems as good a time as any.

How do I love thee TCFF? Let me count the ways…

A film fest with a cause

YouthlinklogoEach year TCFF brings awareness to an important social issue, such as bullying, hunger prevention, poverty, sex trafficking which were themes from the past few years. This year, the Twin Cities Film Fest is partnering with Minneapolis-based YouthLink, which serves as a resource center for homeless youth. According to the nonprofit, on any given day about 4,000 youth are homeless in Minnesota. We have four films tied to the topic of homelessness, including this opening night film, A New High. I think it’s cool that the organizers are mindful about the social issues of the community and make the most of the festivities for a great cause!

Great mix of studio + indie films

One of the perks of attending a film festival is that you get to see smaller independent films that you probably won’t get to see until much later when it’s available on VOD. But there’s something about going to the theater and seeing them on the big screen that makes it extra special. There are a plethora of great indies I’m looking forward to, some of them I’ve highlighted in this post. Three of the big studio movies I REALLY can’t wait to see are The 33, Brooklyn and Youth.


TCFF’s artistic director Steve Snyder have highlighted some of the top ones from each day, here’s just a sampling from this week alone:

Wednesday, Oct. 21 – For Book Fans and Oscar Buffs: ROOM – This is probably the biggest film we’re screening. Period. But given the odd timing, there’s still seats available. It stars Brie Larson, is based on the hit book, and just took home the top prize of the Toronto International Film Festival.

I saw this a couple of weeks ago at a press screening and was blown away. I’d be sorely disappointed if I don’t see Brie Larson’s name in this year’s Best Actress nominees!

Friday, Oct. 23 – War Film and History Buffs: Remember – Starring Christopher Plummer as a Jewish man who barely survived World War II and Auschwitz who sets out as an elderly man to get revenge against a Nazi camp guard.
Saturday, Oct. 24 – Romantic Comedy and Katie Holmes‘ big comeback! Touched With Fire – Holmes returns to the movie screen in this South By Southwest smash shit. She plays a bipolar poet who befriends and then falls for another poet while admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
The-Last-Great-Circus-FlyerSunday, Oct. 25 – Performance Arts: The Last Great Circus Flyer is one of the year’s best documentaries, about the greatest trapeze artist who ever lived – the first to ever complete a quadruple jump – who one day abruptly quit the circus and walked away. Director Philip Weyland AND the trapeze artist Miguel Vazguez himself will be present. This is a magical film.
Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with the gracious Mr. Weyland, I can’t wait to meet him and Miguel in person!

Eye-opening & entertaining documentaries

Speaking of great docs, well I’ve highlighted seven not-to-be-missed documentaries in this post. For the first time in TCFF’s six year’s existence, the fest will open AND close with a documentary feature: A New High and Thank You For Playing, respectively.


Each year TCFF programmers seek out some of the most riveting documentary films to share with our festival goers. This year they went above and beyond! The FILM page on TCFF official site makes it easy to search films by genre, so as you can see under the Documentary page, there is something for everyone.

Growing female filmmakers represented

The gender disparity in Hollywood when it comes to female talents AND filmmakers have come under scrutiny of late and I certainly welcome the opportunity for discussions. So I’m always glad to see more and more women in the the notoriously male-dominated industry and pushing through challenges to get their films made.

These are just some of the female filmmakers whose films – big studio films/indies/docs/shorts – are screening at TCFF:

  • Shalini Kantayya – Catching the Sun
  • Patricia Riggen – The 33
  • Pamela Romanowsky – The Adderall Diaries
  • Emily Ting – It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
  • Stéphanie Joalland – The Quiet Hour
  • Vanessa Magowan Horrocks – Keepsake
  • Courtney Ware – Sunny in the Dark
  • Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone
  • Kelly Huang –A Refugee’s Story: Khamsay Huang (short)
  • Annie Silverstein – Skunk (short)

A variety of MN-connected films

It thrills me that Minnesota have such a booming arts & film culture… we have nearly 50 MN-connected films playing at TCFF just this year alone! Now, when we say MN-connected, it doesn’t always mean they’re filmed here or that the topic is about MN, but we also have MN-based producers financing Hollywood films.


Some of those filmmakers/producers are coming to town, such as Andrew Putschoegl for NERDGASM, Justin Mikelson for The Dust Storm, and Zac Adams & Tim Vandesteeg for Autism in America doc. I also got a chance to interview executive producer Ralph S. Bovard for the indie sci-fi The Quiet Hour.

A plethora of great short films

ShortsBlockI tell myself that I need to see more short films, but I don’t always get around to checking them out. I’ve just reviewed a great short film In Vitro by actor Toby Stephens recently and I always think that short films can be just more effective and compelling than feature films.

So it’s great to see that TCFF continue to feature short films in blocks with various themes, i.e Land of 10,000 Stories, Coming of Age, Love American Style, Shoot to Kill, etc. I’ve seen a few of them and are REALLY impressed by the skills of these filmmakers in crafting engaging stories efficiently told in such a short time. In many ways, developing a short film serves as a launching pad for some filmmakers trying to break into the industry, so there’s definitely a ton of promising work represented here.

Insightful educational panels

I have to give kudos to Matt Cici who’s in charge of this year’s Educational Events. I came to know Matt from his directorial debut Lambent Fuse, and earlier this year he’s also played the lead in The Center. He’s put together a collection of great film panels, featuring screenplay reading and discussions on film trends. The best part? These events are FREE and takes place at TCFF Lounge right at Showplace ICON Theater, so if you’re going to see a movie anyway, might as well attend one of the panels and get great insights from film experts and those who’re working in films that are screening at the fest.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two of the panels I can’t wait to participate on are:

  • The Future of Film (Saturday, 10/24 @ 1pm-2:30pm)
    A discussion on the state of the film industry with some of the top media professionals in the publishing industry. Featuring film experts from publications like Variety & Twitch Film
  • Capturing the Image (Saturday, 10/31 @ 11am-12:30pm)
    A discussion on the challenges and tools of telling stories through images. Featuring award-winning cinematographers/directors of photography, i.e. Checco Varese who shot one of TCFF’s gala films, The 33.

Access to Talents & Filmmakers

Perhaps the best perks as a TCFF blogger is the opportunity to chat with filmmakers and talents involved with the fest. I definitely have the most interviews, perhaps more than the last two years combined! Most of the filmmakers/producers have been so gracious and kind in responding to my interview requests, so stay tuned for the interview posts in the next two weeks. Special shout out to directors Emily Ting, Philip Weyland, Brent Baum, Ryan Lacen and David Spaltro for taking the time to do the email interviews, can’t wait to see all of you at the fest!!

Great venue for films & mixers!

Of course the venue of a film festival is crucial for theatergoers and filmmakers to enjoy and it really doesn’t get any better than Showplace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End! It’s become my favorite theater with its comfy VIP section and great lounge upstairs (fabulous burgers!).

Just one of the perks of for TCFF festival goers year after year is the mixers/after party. You can check out the Mixer schedule to see which band is playing on a certain night. Anyone with a ticket from a film that day may attend for no charge. We’re also offering a TCFF Festival Lounge Pass this year for people who just want to enjoy the mixers without buying a film ticket. The mixer space at the former Love Culture space across the street from the theater is three times as large as last year’s spot!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being around film fans

Last but not least, the best part of attending any film festival is being around fellow film fans! It’s awesome meeting new people who share the same passion, whether it’s just people who enjoy watching movies or those in the industry making them. It’s a fantastic place for networking or simply hang out with fun people who love movies!

I’m thrilled that this year I’d get to meet yet another fellow film blogger! Mike from Just Me Mike blog is actually coming to Minneapolis to cover TCFF! I’ve come to know Mike over the years and enjoyed reading his blog, so it’ll be a treat to hang out with him in person starting tomorrow. Of course I also look forward to hanging out with my friends and FlixChatter blog contributors Ted S. (whom most FC readers already know) and Sarah J. who’ve helped cover TCFF in the past years!

So thank you Jatin Setia, Naomi Dahlgren, Steve Snyder, Bill Cooper, Dani Palmer & the rest of TCFF staff for always bringing your A-game year after year in bringing us this awesome film event!!

Well that’s just a sampling of why I’m super excited for TCFF 2015! Stay tuned for a complete coverage of the fest and see which movies you wouldn’t want to miss!

Thursday Movie Picks #62: Journalist/Reporters for Print/TV

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Movies featuring journalists/reporters for print/TV

I LOVE this month’s theme as I actually wanted to be a journalist growing up. I was thisclose to enrolling in Journalism major in college before I switched to Advertising. I like a lot of film that involve journalism, especially investigative journalism that continues to be an intriguing subject today. In fact one of the films I’m anticipating later this year that screened at TIFF is SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child molestation scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. These three films also involve scandalous events that’s notable in their time.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

All The President’s Men (1976)


Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

This was one of my Blindspot picks of last year and I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s as much a detective tale as it is about journalism. I like how the story stays focused on the investigative aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Robert Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life. The two leads Redford and Dustin Hoffman are in top form here, but it also feature fantastic supporting performances from Hal Holbrook who played Woodward’s extremely secretive source, “Deep Throat.”

The Insider (1999)


A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco

This film (as well as HEAT) is why I will always admire Michael Mann. I was disappointed by Blackhat but I think he’s still a phenomenal filmmaker that can infuse such a compelling drama to an otherwise ho-hum story. Russell Crowe gave one of his best performances in his illustrious career, which I think deserved a Best Actor Oscar more than his role in Gladiator. I dedicated this post to highlight some of the scenes I love from this film. The relationship between Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the whistle blower of the mammoth tobacco company Brown & Williamson’s and Lowell Bergman, a senior producer on 60 Minutes (Al Pacino) is compelling to watch. It’s amazing how even just two people talking on the phone can be so riveting, but that’s the genius of Mann’s style. Lots of great supporting cast here too, most notably Christopher Plummer as the legendary CBS News reporter Mike Wallace, Bruce McGill as trial lawyer Ron Motley, and Michael Gambon as the top tobacco company exec.

Veronica Guerin (2003)


Based on a true story, this is about the Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, a reporter for The Sunday Independent, who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons and drug lords in 1996.

One of my all time favorite Cate Blanchett performances, where she totally disappeared into   her role. Cate not only portrays the feisty reporter, she embodies the journalist’s incredible valor in investigating Dublin’s drug trafficking. You immediately believe her as the character and the Aussie thespian even nailed Guerin’s Irish accent convincingly. I know some of you might be put off by Joel Shumacher as director, but it’s a good film, so give it a shot if you haven’t already. It’s one of the great examples of the danger of investigative journalism and how some of them are truly unsung heroes for their bravery to expose things that are harmful to society.



Philomena (2013)


A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

I already had the three above locked down but I still want to include this film as I haven’t reviewed it yet. I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and she’s simply phenomenal as Philomena (hey that rhymes :D) Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the script) played the disgraced former journalist Martin Sixsmith who ended up coming alongside Philomena Lee in her journey to find her long lost son. A lot of his acting consist of bewildered reaction to Philomena, especially the part where she basically divulges the entire plot of a trashy book she’s reading that he couldn’t possibly be more disinterested in. It’s a bittersweet story that made me laugh and cry. Dame Judi is mesmerizing here and she’s as effortlessly adept in comedy as she is in dramatic roles. I find the story to be poignant, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.


What do you think of my picks? Which movies involving journalism/reporting are your favorites?

Thursday Movie Picks #61: TRAIN Scenes

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

TRAIN Movies

For this month’s theme, instead of going with a film that’s set entirely or even mostly inside trains, I’m going to post three memorable train scenes in movies. The train is also a key part in the film so I think that would count.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

It’s Harry’s third year at Hogwarts; not only does he have a new “Defense Against the Dark Arts” teacher, but there is also trouble brewing. Convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped the Wizards’ Prison and is coming after Harry.

This is possibly my favorite Harry Potter film and if you’ve seen any of the films, obviously the Hogwarts Express plays a key role in the story. So there are many great train scenes, but this one is perhaps one of the most memorable ones. The Dementors are just so creepy!

I love the Hogwarts Express, they made it one of the main feature in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Florida. It’s one of my fave rides when I was over there last Spring.


Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.

The entire film is set inside the train and it’s definitely one of the most memorable films set inside a train, as well as one of the best futuristic sci-fis. There are many scenes here to choose from, and I like a lot of the scenes with Tilda Swinton, but if I have to choose only one memorable scene, I have to go with this axe battle. I mean how many axe battles actually happen inside a train? So the small space definitely makes the brutality even more potent!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.

I don’t love this movie, I think the first film is better but still it’s enjoyable thanks to the great bromance between Sherlock and Watson. The train sequence is particularly fun and action-packed. Robert Downey Jr. definitely relish on this over-the-top role and the constant bantering between him and Jude Law is what makes this movie watchable.



Mission Impossible (1996)

An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization.

Well technically this scene isn’t inside a train but on top of one. Well, every Mission Impossible film has to have one ridiculously preposterous action stunt and THIS is definitely the highlight. Even compared to the crazy plane scene of the latest movie, this one still gets my blood going.


What do you think of these train scenes? Which train movie scene(s) are your favorites?

Throwback Thursday: A Funny Thing Happened On My Way Through The ’60s!


Greetings all and sundry!

Having enjoyed a few recent get-togethers with family and friends before the murderous traffic of the Fourth of July weekend around the nation’s capitol. Topics of discussion have been many and varied. Given the age of the those included range around sixty, plus or minus five. Family wise, politics and religion are moot. Since we have been solidly ensconced from birth. And are of the same cloths. Though much louder and boisterous amongst friends.

Fashion and culture?… Really? Not many takers. Though the trends in films over the past ten years did take some Flak damage for its lack of original thought and dependence on comic books, CGI and the overall ease and enhanced elegance of falling into the “Sequel Trap”.

Music seemed to create the most varied and heart felt discussions. As name, lineages and styles were traced back to the early to late 1960s. To a time when four kids from Liverpool landed on US shores and changed music. If not “forever”, then for a few generations.

Creating some worthwhile grist for a good sized chunk of personal history. And the revelation of how…

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way Through The '60s!

Being born in late June of 1954 has its advantages. A Child of The Cold War. Wonderfully appealing American excess in engineering and technology. Huge, chrome laden cars and “Entertainment Systems that ranged from portable transistor radios. To enormous polish woof encased, furniture sized AM and just starting out FM radios, TV and “Cocktail bars”. Time saving appliances sleeks and futuristic looking… So Much Tech! All props perfectly meshed for the first steps into “The Decade That Changed America!”

Which is exactly where my head was in mid August, 1963. When a local Washington, DC Disk Jockey, Carroll James, of WWDC 1260 unleashed the first volley of ‘The British Invasion’. With the very first 45 RPM cut of The Beatles’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in the US.

Now. For a precocious eight year old whose head was filled with Saturday adventures of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. George Pal big rocket ship and Space Station Science Fiction films. And who could, and still can do pretty decent freehand drawings of P-51 Mustang fighters and B-24 Liberator bombers. Courtesy of DC comic books.. I didn’t get it!

My sister, older by eighteen months did, As dis her female contemporary friends and cousins, Listening to them gasp and gush over George, John, Paul and Ringo was something strange. Yet oddly informative in later years. While I preferred an early and long standing contender from another British group, The Tornados. And their often covered, attempted, though never matched offering, ‘Telstar’.

With two guitars, drum and what may well have been either a Theremin. Or the very first steps into sound synthesis with a first generation of prototype of the Moog Synthesizer. Which left me wide open for the ballsier, grittier, raw and far less polished trappings of The Rolling Stones. Preparing the later, Second Wave with their cover of Bobby Troupe’s iconic, orchestral or Lounge Lizard, ‘Route 66’.

And young upstarts, Jeff Beck and future Guitar God, Eric Clapton‘s first baby steps with The Yardbirds. And their now very rare, but radiating future greatness to come with an early and unpolished shot across the bow. ‘I Ain’t Got You’.

The complete and noticeable lack of elegance, style and big budgeted studios reached out and grabbed another curious preteen male. Enhanced by the equally familiar “pop”s and “sizzle” that was part and parcel of vinyl. And lyrics which were roughly polar opposites of sweeter, cuter and lighter competition. Definitely aimed at guys.

Which created time explore domestic urban fare. Specifically, a young man from Duluth, Minnesota. Robert Zimmerman. A hard core acolyte of Woody Guthrie. Who was wise enough to change his last name to Dylan. Superb song writer and lyricist, Creating bodies of work infinitely adaptable to interpretation. And other imports from across the pond. To size up their takes on this youngster’s original works. Premiere amongst the imports. A five man group named Manfred Mann. Who got off the blocks early with ‘The Mighty Quinn’

For its fife introduction and lighthearted approach opposite Dylan’s near Calypso dirge. A trait that would return a few years later. With a left handed. freshly released from the 101st Airborne, African American acolyte of Dylan named Jimi Hendrix. And his guitar burning finale of The Trogs’ ‘Wild Thing’. His immortal, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. And ‘All Along The Watch Tower’. That blew audiences in Germany and the UK away before reestablishing his Bona Fides and reputation in the US. At the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

Allowing for some “Less Is More” time with a quartet from Australia known as The Seekers. Lead by Judith Dunham. Who still has the best pipes in the business, And backed up by a guitars, banjo and a stand up bass. Their ‘World Of Our Own’ and ‘Another You’ are fine examples of clean harmonies and rhythms. Followed closely by Cyrkle and their ‘Red Rubber Ball’. And The Left Banke‘s ‘Walk Away Renee’ for its melancholy vocals and flute interludes. While, closer to home, Simon and Garfunkel were back from coffee houses. A venue they never should have left. Since their voices and harmonies were made for close, intimate surroundings. My taste was in March, 1969. At The Birchmere in North West Washington, DC. And “busking” (Street playing for loose change) the streets of London. Making themselves knows with albums ‘Wednesday Morning: 3 AM’ and ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’. With The Vogues’ Philly Street Corner Acapella influenced, ‘5 o’clock World’ close by to lighten the load.

To The Beach Boys for superb harmonies. With and without instruments. Having seemed to matured with their pre-MTV B&W video and promo for their ‘Sloop John B’.

A sterling example of “with and without’. Long before moving on to their marvelous, no frills Acapella multi album, ‘Pet Sounds’!

Keeping me well occupied until Woodstock rolled around. More out of happenstance and spontaneity than planning and scheduling. An event that will never happen again. Mostly due to those two factors than anything else. Though, for “A-List Talent”, former alums of Monterey and some new talent peeking out from under the stage. It’s very hard to beat!

JanisJoplinEspecially Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Canned Heat (Still think their ‘Going Up The Country’ is an unexpected masterpiece!), The Band, Blood, Sweat and Tears for their superior brass. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. And more than enough grist to keep me occupied from those who declined or couldn’t make the gig.

Specifically Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. For Frank’s minor Guitar God mastery, off the wall lyrics, Hendrix like innovation at sound creation and strange tales. Chicago, The Byrds, The Jeff Beck Group, or Cream. Take your pick. Because… Eric Clapton. And The Moody Blues.

Almost too much variety to pursue and fill time. Until i happened across Capitol Records’ press of The Beatles‘ ‘Rubber Soul’. Listened to and purchased earlier. Allowed to “age”. As I am apt to do with mail, paperback and hard cover book purchases, sauces, marinades, vegetables or specific cuts of meat for an experimental or specifically planned therapeutic time in the kitchen and meal.

The group that my sister and myriad others had gone “Ga Ga” over years before than grown up and were showing off their lineage and what they’d learned in years previous. Specifically, their pre-Quarrymen, “Skiffle” (Guitar, Washboard, Washtub or Tea Chest Bass) inspired ”I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “I’m Looking Through You’.

Along with ‘Michelle’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’. Diverse cuts and puzzle pieces that mesh to create what music aficionados long for… An album with no bad cuts! Primed and ready to join the ranks of Janis Joplin’s ‘Cheap Thrills’. Any of the early Simon & Garfunkel albums. ‘Monterey Pop’. ‘Woostock’ Frank Zappa and the Mother’s ‘Overnight Sensation’ and ‘Apostrophe’. The Band’s ‘Rock of Ages’. The Grateful Dead’s ‘American Beauty’. Eva Cassidy’s ‘Live At Blues Alley’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’, The Beach Boys ‘Pets Sounds’, And Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.

Author’s Note: A Hat Tip and Shout out to Cindy Bruchman and her exquisite post on Janis Joplin and ‘Cheap Thrills’. Which diverted my thoughts away from Classic Films and supplying the impetus for this belated piece of personal history.

Additional: Nearly all of the artists and their works mentioned can be found on You Tube.


Check out Kevin’s other posts and reviews

Wish to offer your own 60s music memories? The Floor Is Open For Discussion!

Five new-to-me actors I’d love to see more of – based on 2015 viewings

I saw this list on Variety on 10 Actors To Watch in 2015 and I realized I dropped the ball on this Actor Discoveries post last year. I mentioned in the first post back in 2012 that one of the joys of watching movies is discovering new talents. I planned on making this post an annual thing but alas, the last time I did this post was in 2013.

On that list, I included Lake Bell, Daniel Brühl, Riz Ahmed, Andrea Riseborough and David Oyelowo. Since then, most of them have been getting more prominent roles, with the exception of Riseborough which I think is so criminally under-utilized. Since I didn’t make a list last year, certainly Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Reid would’ve made my 2014 shortlist.


So, based on this year’s viewings (not exclusive to movies released last year) , here are five new-to-me actors I’d like to see working more in Hollywood.

[In alphabetical order]

Carmen Ejogo


The Oscars not only dropped the ball on several counts when it comes to SELMA last year. Much was made about the omission of Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo from the nomination list, but I think Carmen Ejogo was equally deserving to be amongst the Best Supporting Actress nominees.

Like his co-star, she’s from the UK but she effortlessly portrayed an American. She’s been working in a variety of TV and film, so I feel kinda bad that I hadn’t seen her until this year. There’s a certain elegance and tortured soul about her that makes her so intriguing to watch. I’m hoping her career would benefit from the Oscar buzz and that she’d be getting more and more prominent roles.

What’s Next: Jazz biopic Born to Be Blue with Ethan Hawke

Jack Huston


I noticed Jack Huston when I saw American Hustle, but it wasn’t until Night Train in Lisbon that I became a fan. Huston has quite a Hollywood pedigree, being the grandson of famed filmmaker John Huston and nephew of Anjelica Huston. But the 32-year-old Londoner is a talented actor in his own right.

I like that he has one of those *ethnically hard to pin down* look about him that makes him suitable to play different kinds of ethnicity. In Night Train to Lisbon he played a Portuguese doctor and an American mobster in American Hustle. As many actors who grew up in the UK, he’s got a knack for accents which makes him even more versatile. I wasn’t thrilled at all when they announced they’re remaking Ben-Hur, but since they cast Huston in the titular role, I’m actually intrigued! I’d love to see more of him in a variety of roles, as he’s far more interesting to watch than a lot of Hollywood A-listers working today.

What’s Next: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (as Mr. Wickham) and the Ben-Hur remake


Rebecca Ferguson


My friend Ashley had told me about the Starz’s miniseries The White Queen a while back, but I haven’t got around to seeing it. Well, it’s on the top of my Amazon Prime queue now after I saw Rebecca in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I really couldn’t shut up about how impressed I was with her in that role. It was surely a kick-ass performance but she didn’t just pull off the physicality of the role, but she elevates the role into so much more. She’s equally as intriguing as Tom Cruise if not more so, and no doubt she’s the most memorable part about that film.

As I’ve blogged about here, I’m thrilled to see her cast in The Girl on the Train and I’m glad she didn’t end up becoming Channing Tatum’s love interest in Gambit. She’s so much more interesting to be pigeonholed into action roles, and so I hope Hollywood realizes that.

What’s Next: I just saw this trailer of an upcoming espionage drama Despite The Falling Snow! She’ll be starring with Sam Reid, wahoo!!


Sarah Snook


Sometimes it only takes a single film for you to become an instant fan of a performer. That’s the case with Sarah Snook, who single-handedly stole the time travel sci-fi film Predestination with her outstanding performance.

As I mentioned in my review, it was a revelatory performance from the Aussie actress whose educated at National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. It’s quite a complex role with multiple layers but it’s so rewarding to see how she tackles each one convincingly and with so much heart.

What’s Next: She has a small role in the Aussie-set drama starring Kate Winslet, The Dressmaker. She’s also in the Steve Jobs film with Michael Fassbender. I hope she lands a leading role soon, she deserves it!

Stanley Weber


Well I think this one doesn’t need much introduction if you’ve been reading my blog this year. I have mentioned him practically every week since I discovered him on April 5 in the Scottish rom-com Not Another Happy Ending (yes I even remembered the date!). It’s one of those spellbound moments that doesn’t happen very often, but once it did, well, it’s REALLY hard to snap out of it :P

I’ve posted a full tribute for him here that list five of my favorite roles of his so far. It takes more than a pretty face for me to be obsessed with someone, and Stanley certainly is a dedicated actor who can handle stage, TV AND film roles, in fact that’s what he’s juggling this year alone. I LOVE actors who loves to mix things up and not afraid to look unglamorous for a role. It’d be tough to make this Frenchman look ugly though, I mean he’s still so beautiful even with THIS haircut for his upcoming role as a Jesuit priest in Pilgrimage.

What’s Next: I can’t freakin’ wait to see Stanley in STARZ’s Outlander season 2, the adventure drama Pilgrimage, and the French WWII drama L’origine de la violence. Hopefully all of them will be out next year!!

Honorable Mentions:

I hadn’t heard of any of these five impressive performers prior to 2015, but I’m glad I saw them and I hope they continue to find prominent roles in Hollywood.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

The Swedish actress seems to have had quite an astronomical rise to stardom in Hollywood. She had been working in her native country until about 2012 when she was cast with Mads Mikkelsen in A Royal Affair. I didn’t see Anna Karenina until earlier this year on the plane, in which she had a small role, but it wasn’t until Ex Machina that I really took notice of her. She has this delicate physique but a formidable screen charisma that makes her so lovely to watch. It’s no surprise she is one busy girl, with three more films scheduled to open later this year, as well as the untitled Bourne film with Matt Damon next year.

Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man)

As I was watching the John le Carré spy drama, one of the performances that intrigued me was by the actor who portrayed the mysterious Issa Karpov. I found out later that Dobrygin is a Russian actor who’s a classically-trained ballet dancer. He apparently won a Silver Bear award for Best Actor at Berlin Film Festival for Russian film How I Ended This Summer.

I definitely would love to see more of him in Hollywood, hopefully he will continue acting and not go back to go back to ballet. Per The Guardian, he has just finished on Susanna White’s Our Kind of Traitor, with Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis and Naomie Harris.

Karidja Touré (Girlhood)

Another French actor who caught my eye and this was her feature film debut! The 21-year-old has that undeniable charm and screen presence on top of her acting talent. Her parents are from the Ivory Coast but she was born in France and grew up in Paris. I hope she’d get the same opportunities as fellow French actor from north African origin, Omar Sy, who had a breakout role in The Intouchables. He’s gone to big budget route such as Jurassic World, but I’d like to see Touré in smaller films that would offer her a chance to show what she’s capable of.

Maika Monroe (The Guest)

The Guest feature two awesome performances from relative newcomers. I’m already familiar with Dan Stevens from his period drama days in the UK, though most Americans probably saw him here for the first time. I hadn’t seen Monroe before however, and right away I thought she has an uncanny resemblance to Gwen Stefani. She also has that cool factor, that effortless swagger of a rock star that makes her fun to watch. She’s also in the buzzed-about horror flick It Follows, so I think the 22-year-old Californian has a long career ahead of her.

Taron Egerton (Kingsman)

Speaking of swagger, there’s plenty of that to be found on the 25-year-old Welsh native. There’s a devil-may-care attitude in him that I find endearing, which reminds me a bit of Tom Hardy when I first saw him on screen. I haven’t seen him in a serious drama yet so I’m curious to see how he fares in that. Hollywood’s certainly taken notice of him, as he’s been cast as the Robin Hood reboot. We’ll also see him along with Hardy in LEGEND later this year.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd)

The Belgian actor has been working pretty steadily since the early 2000s but for some reason I just never got around to seeing any of his films until earlier this year. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting him in the role of Gabriel Oak, a classic romantic hero in Victorian England, but he won me over with his sensitive portrayal. He’s all doe-eyed with a hint of smolder… not the steamy kind of smolder, but one infused with such sincerity that makes it easy to root for him. I said in my review that he reminds me a bit of Viggo Mortensen, and that’s a good thing. Curious to see what role he’d tackle next, but I probably should go back and check out his older films.

Thoughts on any of these actors? Are you a fan of their work?


Thursday Movie Picks #56: Alien Invasion of Earth

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Alien Invasion of Earth

This month’s theme turns out to be pretty easy as there are actually not that many to pick from for me. A lot of the scifis I like are more about humans & robots, not aliens.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Independence Day (1996)

The aliens are coming and their goal is to invade and destroy Earth. Fighting superior technology, mankind’s best weapon is the will to survive.

When someone says ‘alien invasion movies,’ the first thing that came to mind is this. In fact, I asked my hubby and that’s the first thing that came to his mind as well. It’d also my pick for apocalyptic blockbuster as it’s just so much fun! I remember when I saw it on the big screen for the first time, there’s a sense of awe and intrigue when those big spaceships first appeared hovering above the sky.


I mean, all the action set pieces like the White House blowing up, Will Smith punching the ugly, slimy alien in the face, and that bombastic aerial battle at the end are still memorably epic to this day! It’s an awesome ensemble cast too, Jeff Goldblum has the snark and swagger to make any role memorable. And of course there’s that rousing, albeit corny, presidential speech from Bill Pullman… “We won’t go quietly into the night!” There’s nothing quiet about this flick and I love it all the better for it!


SIGNS (2002)

A family living on a farm finds mysterious crop circles in their fields which suggests something more frightening to come.

Let me preface this pick with the fact that despite the atrocity of The Happening, I actually still have hope for M. Night’s career. He’s made two excellent films you could consider a classic (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) and the other two in his resume, The Village and Signs, left a lasting impression that I thought about them for days after seeing them. I know his films have their share of ardent fans and equally passionate detractors.


I’m not saying SIGNS is a perfect film, there are some preposterous, even laughable moments. But I like that it’s really not so much about alien invasion, but he took some of the classic elements of that genre and turn it on its head. In the same way that Sixth Sense isn’t your typical ghost story and Unbreakable offers a compelling twist in the crowded superhero genre, Signs deals with a broader theme. It’s an intimate film about a close-knit family, led by a former pastor dealing with a crisis of faith. The mystery and suspense surrounding the aliens themselves was pretty fun to watch the first time around, but it isn’t the heart of the film and it’s not what stuck with me afterwards. I like the emotional and spiritual aspect, and how a dire predicament actually helps restore a man’s soul and brings his family together. It’s been ages since I saw this but I definitely want to see this again. Excellent acting all around too by Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.

Pacific Rim (2013)

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

I love LOVE this movie! I never thought I’d love a big monster movie THIS much but what can I say, it’s awesome. Or as one character in the movie said, “That’s two-thousand five-hundred tons of awesome!’ :D I don’t think it’d be a major spoiler to say that it’s as much an alien invasion movie as it’s a big monster flick. The Kaijus are obviously not from this world, they’re mammoth biological weapons sent by an alien colony through a portal for a specific mission: wipeout humankind. Guillermo del Toro did an amazing job making these creatures look organic like a dinosaur, but with thick, gunky blue blood that actually looks cool the bloodier the darn thing is.


All the fight scenes between the Kaijus and the massive human-powered robots called Jaegers are wonderfully staged. But I love that we constantly see the humans powering these machines and some of the scenes are actually quite emotional. I like the father-daughter dynamic between Idris Elba‘s and Rinku Kikuchi‘s, and a flirty banter between Rinku and hunky Charlie Hunnam, as well as a slew of fun supporting characters that enrich the movie. Just like ID4, this movie doesn’t take itself seriously, there’s something so giddily-amusing about the fight scenes, like when a Jaeger named Gypsy Danger swung a huge, Titanic-sized ship and hurl it at the Kaiju. You just want to get up and cheer when those moments came on!

I saw this movie twice on the big screen and loved every minute of it. I’ve since bought the Bluray and it’s gotten a lot of play in my house.


What do you think of my alien-invasion movie picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?

Thursday Movie Picks #54: Sequels

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 


Since I have to pick only three out of a possible 10-20 sequels that have become my favorites, I have to set some sort of parameter to narrow things down. So for this particular list, I’m focusing on live-action movie sequels of the last decade. So that means I’ll be excluding some great animated movie sequels like Toy Story 2 and How To Train Your Dragon 2, as well as some of my all time favorites like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, X-Men 2, Terminator 2, The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, or even Spider-man II as that was released eleven years ago. Interestingly, I ended up picking three that are part of a trilogy (the final film of the rebooted ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie, War of the Planet of the Apes, is in the works for 2017).

So without further ado, here are my picks of three favorite sequels of the last 10 years:

Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Jason Bourne dodges a ruthless CIA official and his agents from a new assassination program while searching for the origins of his life as a trained killer.

For some reason I had not reviewed any of the original Bourne trilogy but they certainly are superior than Bourne Legacy. For one thing, Jeremy Renner just isn’t charismatic or intriguing enough as a super spy. Matt Damon on the other hand, somehow fits the role of Jason Bourne perfectly. I actually wasn’t a big fan of the actor until I saw Bourne Identity, but Damon absolutely killed it as a trained killer. The final third chapter of Bourne’s journey is one relentless thrill ride, featuring some of the craziest car chases ever filmed thanks to Paul Greengrass’ phenomenal camera work. The film also benefited David Strathairn and Joan Allen’s performances in the supporting role. Plus the music by Moby is awesome, I’ve done a Music Break on that a couple of years ago.

s I….

The Dark Knight (2008)TMP_Sequels_TheDarkKnight

When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the caped crusader must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice.

When you’re talking about best sequels of the last decade, you can’t possibly overlook this masterpiece by Christopher Nolan. I have seen it half a dozen times and I’m always in awe every single time. It’s SO much more than just popcorn entertainment, though there are fun action scenes abound like the awesome truck-flip sequence (one of those scenes I could watch over and over). But what really riled me up and stayed with me for days after is THIS interrogation scene between Batman & The Joker. Two of this generation’s finest actors together in one room, Christian Bale & Heath Ledger were in top form here, each giving an Oscar-caliber performance. Ledger won a Best Actor award posthumously, but even if he hadn’t passed away, he deserved at least a nomination for that riveting performance.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)TMP_Sequels_DawnPlanetApes

A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.

I never thought I’d like this *intelligent apes* story when I saw the first film, as I hadn’t even seen the original Charlton Heston movie by then. But I was so taken by Caesar’s story, played brilliantly by mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis. The second film proved to be an even more emotional journey for Caesar, I teared up on that scene when he saw the house he grew up in. The film isn’t perfect, i.e. what’s up with Gary Oldman’s screaming matches, but overall it was a truly immersive experience. Matt Reeves created a wonderfully atmospheric loaded with genuine suspense and terror, as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. [my full review]. Glad he’ll be back for the third film.


What do you think of my SEQUELS picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?

Thursday Movie Picks #53: Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

It’s interesting that the requirement for this sci-fi genre is no space/aliens as a lot of my favorites in this genre aren’t the ones with aliens in them. In fact, I love sci-fis that don’t look or feel science fiction-y, in fact, intriguing sci-fis are those with rich layers of human drama that remind us what it means to be humans.

I immediately thought of including Ex Machina here, but I decided not to include something from this year. Instead, I’m selecting three from the past few years that have a small/modest budget (under $25 mil) that have made a big impression on me:

Predestination (2014)

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


As I mentioned in my review, the less you know about the plot the better the experience. Since I was just talking about directing duos, I have to mention the Spierig Brothers who also made this vampire sci-fi Daybreakers. The premise is rather bizarre and definitely not an easy one to grasp, but it’s well worth a watch. I like how the film started out with a bang but then the pace slows down considerably in the first act as we’re introduced to the characters played by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The odd pacing seems deliberate and I actually think it’s pretty effective and engrossing in getting us to care about their journey. Snook is quite a revelation here and I kept hoping to see her getting prominent roles.

s I….

HER (2013)

A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.


Once in a while, a film you hadn’t heard much about suddenly sneaked in and took your breath away. In 2013, that film for me was HER. That’s what I wrote in my review over a year ago, and there’s still very few films that affected me emotionally the way this one did.

There are many robot/human *love* stories that’s been done time and again but what Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) experienced with Samantha (voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson) is quite unlike any other. For one, there’s no physical presence of Samantha in the film but yet her presence is felt so viscerally. I’m going to borrow my from my own review… This is the kind of thought-provoking science fiction story that I wish Hollywood would make more of. Sci-fi is not always about aliens or cool-looking futuristic equipments or cars or what have you, but a good sci-fi should actually makes us ponder about our own humanity. I realize this film isn’t for everyone as there are a few people I recommended this to that aren’t wowed by it. That said, I think you owe it to yourself to at least give this one a shot.

Never Let Me Go (2010)

A love triangle develops between three friends who came of age at a mysterious, secluded boarding school and are destined to lead brief lives.


This is another film where the less you know about the plot the better. If you just look at still photos or even the poster (which you can see on my review post), you’d never thought this is a sci-fi. It looks more like a mystery drama, and I think that’s the vibe director Mark Romanek was going for. Working from Alex Garland’s script, who later made his directorial debut in Ex Machina, the pace is decidedly slow and graceful in the way things unfold. The romantic drama sensibilities offer a stark contrast to the cerebral sci-fi nature of the story. I really need to watch this again, but I remember being really absorbed by this film. Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield are excellent here, it’s still one of my favorite performance from both of them even after seeing more of their work. It’s also exquisitely-shot in muted hues that perfectly match the somber tone of the film.


What do you think of my sci-fi picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?