Captain America Blogathon Part I – Jack Deth’s List

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Andy over at Fandango Groovers’ Blog was inspired by the latest Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer in which we see Steve Rogers make a note in a pocket note book. It’s a list of things he missed out on in the time he was frozen that people have recommended he should catch up on. So the idea is to list ten movies we’d recommend to a person who had been frozen between 1943 and 2011.

Greetings all and sundry! When one receives an invitation from Ruth to aid in a Blog-A-Thon. Due diligence, patience and thought is required in the assembly of, layout and dissertations of probable, then solid selections.

Being a fan of the late, great Jack Kirby. And his handling of the recently thawed out Captain America/Steve Rogers. And his association with the eye patched, Jack Kirby and Steve Streranko. Robert Culp like Colonel (formerly Sgt.) Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division) of 1965..

I opened up vast volumes and tomes of cinematic history. For both entertainment and acclimatization’s sake. Since I’m sticking with the cinematic premise of finding Cap frozen outside the Arctic Circle by a new and improved, contemporary S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) of the Samuel L. Jackson.

To that end. Allow me to align my selections in chronological order and introduce:

Ten Films for Captain America: (1943-2011)

#10: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

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Very possibly the best film focusing around returning veterans of World War II. And their adjusting to a world they had left only years before.The film focuses on a decorated bombardier (Dana Andrews), an Army Infantry Squad Leader (Frederic March) and an enlisted sailor (Harold Russell) who lost both of his hands when his ship was shot out from under him.

The tale is not just restricted to the men returning to their Ohio home towns. The director (William Wyler) goes out of his way to see the points of view of their wives (Who give and get as good as their men!) and families are examined as well.

A near perfect film for either Rogers or Cap to enjoy. While understanding that he is not so unique or alone after all.

#9: The Graduate (1967)

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Few films describe the given everything, lazy and spoiled “Baby Boom” generation and the changing mores, culture and morals of the 1960s than this touch stone, Buck Henry comedy.

A well fleshed out and executed thumbnail of the next generation Cap fought for. And what many believe is the decade that changed the world.

#8: The Night of The Living Dead (1968)

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The crème de la crème of low budgeted, back yard horror films! That introduced the mystique of slow moving, cannibalistic, brain eating zombies just under a half century ago While creating a fairly decent analogy for Cap’s arch nemesis, Hydra in regards to ever increasing opposing numbers in a never ending war of attrition.

No frills? You bet! Claustrophobic? Absolutely! In a film that slowly builds, fear, suspense, tension and “Bang for the Buck!” into a finale no one sees coming!

#7: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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The richly opulent and wondrously detailed look at what might have been. Had not “The Great Society” and its first steps of income redistribution been given precedence.

More science fact of the day, than science fiction. Director Stanley Kubrick and author/scientists, Arthur C. Clark go to great lengths in authenticity in this cinematic landmark. A distinctly possible double bill with director, Ron Howards’ Apollo 13, from 1995.

#6: The French Connection (1971)

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This gritty little gem provides one of the most unflattering look at the five boroughs in film. Becoming an uncredited player in a Cat and Mouse game of veteran narcotics cops trying to get ahead of and nail down a then record breaking amount of high grade, near pure heroin as it comes into New York City. In one of the first and best “partner films”to grace the big screen.

Both Steve Rogers and Cap should appreciate and empathize with detectives Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Russo (Roy Scheider) working against the bureaucracy, feds and a god awful winter in their pursuit of the elusive, elegant Frenchman, Charnier (Fernando Rey).

#5: Vanishing Point (1972)

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This would be a pleasantly intriguing pallet cleansing road trip with a mission film. Wrapped around a fully blown 440 big blocked 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T piloted by the stoic, near silent Kowalski (Barry Newman in his first film role). Former Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, uniformed cop and recent Benzedrine aficionado delivering a black Chrysler Imperial to a garage in Denver, Colorado. Then wagering that he can deliver the Challenger to San Francisco in 18 hours.

While offering some superb on location racing between the Charger, Jaguar and other road trekking competitors. The film also reveals an interesting loo at the American Midwest, post Woodstock. As Kowalski and his Dodge elude motorcycle cops and speed traps with the aid of blind African American disc jockey, “Super Soul” (Cleavon Little).

In an impeccable tale of the classic anti-hero going against the system as more and more people hear of Kowalski and his trek through “Super Soul”. And the local police set up a large and unique roadblock outside Cisco, California.

#4: Pat Garrett And Billy the Kid (1973)

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A Western is called for. Though not your John Wayne, John Ford or Howard Hawks kind of Western. One has its roots in history and lore. And told in a slower, more sedate than most.

With the master of the “South of The Border” tales, Sam Peckinpah spinning his sweeping book balancing, payback and redemption yarn in a near Antonioni pace. Amongst a “Who’s Who” of veteran supporting actors sharing action with lush and splendid backdrops. As James Coburn delivers his best underplayed role. Opposite a younger, equally talented Kris Kristofferson.

#3: Young Frankenstein (1974)

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What “kid from Brooklyn” wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to see a cleverly comedic take of a the film that starred Colin Clive as the doctor with a “God Complex” and Boris Karloff as his creation. No doubt seen in countless matinees.

Mel Brooks sticks with the original B&W and used several laboratory sets from the 1935 classic. While pulling out the stops for Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Cloris Leachman as “Frau Blucher”. And Peter Boyle as the intelligent, opinionated monster. Where no classic scene is beyond lampooning and the patter between Wilder and the cast is inspired.

#2: The Usual Suspects (1995)

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Cap may need a refresher in the ancient saw: “Nothing is as it seems!”. In a subtly executed crime film. Told mostly in flashback during an impromptu, recorded interrogation between sole survivor, Verbal Kint (Calmly confident Kevin Spacey) and U.S. Customs Agent David Kujan (Chazz Palmenteri in peak form!). As the “Who?”, “What?” and “Where?” of criminal mastermind, Kayser Soze.

In a film that demands attention as proven and just starting out actord and their characters are introduced and do what they do best. At possibly the behest of the enigmatic, invisible Mr. Soze.

Leaving the Number One spot open for a different and somewhat more historic take on a possible contender to add to Cap’s list of Rocky and Rocky II.

#1: Cinderella Man (2005)

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With Russell Crowe as New Jersey lightweight champion turning heavyweight, James J. Braddock during the Depression of 1929. Suffering from a broken hand and finding work in unions and heavy machinery. Doing what his can to make ends meet for his wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger) and his sons and daughter.

Salvation takes place when Braddock’s old manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) sets up a bout that Braddock wins in a third round knockout. Which blazes a trail to fight heavyweight contender, Max Baer (Craig Bierko).

In a deftly executed period piece that will have the audience cheering in the final reels!


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


What do you think of Jack’s recommendations?

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Top 10 Favorite Irish Actors working in Hollywood today

Happy St Patrick’s Day everybody! According to this Guinness Store House sign, everyone’s Irish today :D

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I hope you don’t mind me resurrecting this oldie-but-goodie list I did a while back, but I’ve been meaning to update ‘em for some time. This list is limited to performers born and bred in Ireland (at least for most of their childhood), so not those of Irish-descent as it’d take this entire blog to list them all. For the most part, my list stay the same, but you can check out the original list and see who’ve been taken out of the list ;)

Here they are in random order:

  1. Colin Farrell
    ColinFarrellOf all the vile things Joel Schumacher is known for as a director, you could say that he has an eye for talent. He cast Farrell in Tigerland which got the Dublin native noticed. I first saw him in the sci-fi action Minority Report alongside Tom Cruise, and then the Terrence Malick’s The New World. His foray into historical action hero in Alexander was ridiculed panned by critics, and he nearly became a Hollywood cliche with his womanizing ways and drug/alcohol abuse, but he manage to maneuver a career comeback with his Golden-Globe-winning turn in the Irish black comedy In Bruges (2008). His career choices haven’t always been solid (Total Recall remake, Winter’s Tale), but he’s certainly a talented actor. I think he’s wonderful in Saving Mr. Banks.
    ….
  2. Liam Neeson
    LiamNeesonProbably the most famous Irish actors of the bunch, Neeson is one of the hardest working actors right now. His diverse resume is impressive by any thespian standard. From historical figures (Michael Collins, Rob Roy, Schindler’s List), comic-book villain (Batman Begins), to playing bad-ass action star hell-bent on revenge (Taken), Neeson adds gravitas to any role he’s in. Can’t wait to see him as Zeus bellowing ‘Release the Kraken!!!’ in Clash of the Titans. The 61-year-old still looks amazing and obviously has the um, special skills to kick ass. Hollywood offered him to be the next action hero with Taken and he hasn’t looked back since. He probably will be doing action fares like Taken 254 & counting, or a variation of that genre, just like he did with Non-Stop. He’s definitely more watchable than a lot of younger action stars these days anyway, so why not?
    ….
  3. Saoirse Ronan
    SaoirseRonanShe may be only nineteen, but Ronan’s got that wise-beyond-her-years thing going for her, plus enormous talent to boot. She was phenomenal in Atonement as the little girl who couldn’t quite figure out how to channel her attraction to the opposite sex that led to disastrous consequences. She pretty much comes out unscathed even when The Lovely Bones bombed artistically and financially. Since Atonement, Ronan has worked for director Joe Wright again in Hanna as a 14-year old assassin. Boy, talk about range. She’s more than able to hold her own against the likes of Cate Blanchett. Since then, she continues to impress me in The Way Back, How I Live Now, as well as in the small role in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I wish there were more Irish ladies working in Hollywood today so miss Ronan isn’t alone on this list, but she’s the only one so far whose work I really admire.
    ….
  4. Cillian Murphy
    CillianMurphyMost people recognize him as Scarecrow in Batman Begins, but his memorable role is perhaps in the zombie flick 28 Days Later. His impossibly chiseled cheekbones and dramatic eyes somehow make him the perfectly creepy yet sophisticated villain, as he displayed in the horror/thriller Red Eye. Renowned directors such as Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle obviously like working with him, as he’s done two movies for Boyle (Sunshine & 28 Days Later) and Nolan also cast him in his Batman trilogy and Inception. Even in a mediocre movie like In Time, Murphy is usually the best thing in it.
    ….
  5. Michael Fassbender
    MichaelFassbender(Ed note: Though he’s born in Germany, Fassbender is half-Irish and was raised in southwest Ireland)
    I’ve mentioned this guy A LOT on my blog lately and for good reason, he’s definitely eye-candy material but with acting chops to boot. Thanks to Zach Snyder for casting such great actors in 300 even in smaller roles, as I definitely noticed Fassbender as the loyal and valiant Stelios. He’s then proved his amazing range in transformational role in Hunger, and another indie darling Fish Tank which won him several nods from various European Film Festivals. He’s in yet another swords-n-sandals movie Centurion, but he definitely made an impression in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He’s come a looong way since I put him on the original list 3 years ago. His versatility is always on display, whether in costume drama Jane Eyre (as the Byronic hero Rochester) or as a superhero villain Magneto in X-Men: First Class. He even garnered an Oscar nomination for his work in 12 Years A Slave.
    ….
  6. Gabriel Byrne
    GabrielByrneI first noticed Byrne in The Point of No Return as Bridget Fonda’s sympathetic mentor. He may not always get the lead roles, but you always remember him (The Man in the Iron Mask, Little Women, The Usual Suspect, and Miller’s Crossing) The charismatic 63-year-old actor definitely still got the looks to go with all that talent, he won a Golden Globe last year for his performance as a psychotherapist in the HBO drama In Treatment. I cast him in one of my movie pitches, I think he’d be great in a crime noir like this one, wouldn’t you think?
    ….
  7. Ciarán Hinds
    You may not know his name, but you certainly recognize this tall, dark and handsome Belfast native. His dark look makes him suitable to play people from different nationalities: English (Phantom of the Opera, Amazing Grace), (Israeli (Munich), Roman (as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome), Russian (The Sum of All Fears), and that’s just a sampling. His new indie flick set in his native homeland The Eclipse (NOT Twilight 3) is to be released this weekend. Glad to see him get the lead role for a change, hope he’d get another one in the future.
    ….
  8. Kenneth Branagh
    KenBranaghFor all the Shakespearean work he’s done (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet), I initially thought Branagh was an Englishman. The RADA-educated actor had his start in theater when he joined The Royal Shakespeare Company at 23. Soon after he formed his own performance art company called The Renaissance Theatre Company, which counts Prince Charles as one of its royal patrons. He surely brought some of that artsy and sophisticated sensibilities into the comic book adaptation Thor. He’s more than capable doing double duties as actor and director, which he did in the recent reboot of the Jack Ryan movie Shadow Recruit.
    ….
  9. Brendan Gleeson
    BrendanGleesonThis character actor is always fun to watch even in a small role, i.e. as Alastor ‘Mad-­Eye’ Moody in Harry Potter series. But my favorite performance of his would have to be In Bruges with Colin Farrell. I’ve been meaning to see The Guard for ages but it’s not available to rent on iTunes, so I might have to bug my friend who has the Netflix dvd subscription to rent it for me. I’ve been dying to see what happens to At Swim-Two-Birds, which was supposed to be his directorial debut. I blogged about it 2 years ago and still no new news on that one :( Just check out the amazing Irish cast on that one, who wouldn’t want to see that come to life.
    ….
  10. Michael Gambon
    MichaelGambonI first noticed the 74-year-old thespian as the evil tobacco executive in Michael Mann’s The Insider. He’s one of those actors who makes an impact even in a brief appearance. Some of his memorable supporting roles are The Wings of the Dove, Charlotte Gray, The King’s Speech and the latest one I saw was in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet. He’s probably most well-known to mass audiences as Albus Dumbledore, when he replaced fellow Irishman the late Richard Harris in the Harry Potter series.

….

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Harris, Ray Stevenson, Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, and Pierce Brosnan.


So, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day (or just the love for the Irish), who are YOUR favorite Irish actors?

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Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films – In the Valley of Ellah, The Ides of March & Margin Call

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Greetings all and sundry!

Between bouts of less than strenuous snow shoveling. I’ve taken refuge within the recent fare of The Sundance and Sony Channels. To acclimate myself with some interesting contemporary offerings. And maintain a sense of loyalty to Julian of Dirty With Class. And his suggestion that I sometime stray from my comfort zone of earlier Classic Films.

To that end, I have plunged deep into titles that tickled my interest as their trailers and ads when first unleashed on the populous. Either for their visuals, tightly compressed and less than two minute story lines. Or their casts. Which, surprisingly in hindsight appeared and delivered far beyond the parameters of their assigned tales.

Allow me to introduce …

Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films

Chronologically first in line is this odd little offering from Paul Haggis and “Based on actual events” of the early Iraq War.

In The Valley of Elah: (2007) – Sundance Channel

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Whose central plot device focuses upon returning G.I. Specialist Mike “Doc” Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker). And his strange and grisly death after suddenly going AWOL after a few weeks stateside.

Enter Mike parents, Army veteran and retired Army Intel Sergeant, Hank (Tommy Lee Jones). And his stoic wife, Joan (Susan Sarandon), who has already lost one son to a helicopter crash during a Ranger training exercise..

Being the concerned father, Hank travels to his son’s home station. Starts asking questions while hitting the first defensive line of an Army stonewall. And doesn’t buy the less than orderly goings on of the Army investigation for a minute. In retribution, hank takes a look at his son’s barracks room and finds Mike’s smart phone. Hoping it may have something hidden within its high tech innards.

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Frustrated, Hank has a discussion with Joan, who channels her inner June Lockhart from the 1960’s CBS fci-fi series, Lost In Space. And sends Hank out to find some help from the local police. On the way, Hank drops Mike’s phone at a local computer shop and asks the resident nerd or geek to run a complete diagnostic and dredge up what he can.

At the police station, Hank sees Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) deep in discussion with the distraught wife of a returned G.I.. Who had drowned the family’s pet dog in the bathtub while her husband had his son watch. Detective Sanders takes the report, but there is nothing she or the police can do. And there’s even less Sanders and the cops can do regarding an AWOL soldier. Not her problem. Not her jurisdiction.

Until a few days later and a crime scene pops up with a burned and dismembered body in the middle of nowhere. The local P.D. is more than happy to lateral the scene and crime over to the Army. Since the scene is on the outskirts if the military reservation, Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

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Hank wants to stick his nose in, but the Military Police have little time and no use for a long retired brother in arms. Angered, Hank starts playing with his son’s phone. Which had suffered heat and fire damage. And its stored videos are garbled, but show images of G.I. interrogating and later, torturing Iraqi soldiers.

Hank get a call from the base and an officer takes Hank out to the crime scene. And later the morgue. Where Jason Patric‘s Lt. Kirklander starts asking questions about Mike’s possible involvement in drugs. Nudging the possibility that a cross border gang may be responsible. Since a glass pipe was found under Mike’s mattress.

Hank and Sanders return to the crime scene and determine that Mike was brutally killed and immolated elsewhere and deliberately dumped between battling civilian and military jurisdictions…

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers’ sake.

Overall Consensus:

Paul Haggis is a well respected, revered and feted screenwriter. Attached to many award winning films. And that said. He should stick to what he knows and does best!

His direction of this first of a small number of “Anti-War” films is parochial at best. He knows how to set and stage scenes. And arranges and choreographs whatever action scenes there are in a copy book or primer fashion. No scene leaps out memorably. Though, Mr. Haggis claims credit for the film’s adaptation and screenplay.Even when Tommy Lee Jones’ Hank near weepingly informs his wife that their youngest son is dead.

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Susan Sarandon does anger and the sudden bereaved mother well. But Carol Burnett did it better in the made for TV movie, Friendly Fire in 1979. Cinematography by Roger Deakins is serviceable. And a bit clever with New Mexico outlands and Morocco substituting for Arizona and Iraq, respectively. And polished by editing by Jo Francis.

Also not a fan of the heavy-handed, Boogeyman treatment ladled onto Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Something that little is known about, but quickly becomes the catch all for any tense or erratic behavior beyond what is considered the “norm”.

Which takes into the sometimes murky world of politics. In an adaptation of the play, Farragut North. Originally written by Beau Willmon, who shares screenwriting credit with the film’s director, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The Ides of March: (2011) – Sony Channel

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Which boasts Ryan Gosling as junior political campaign manager, Stephen Meyers. Attached to the Presidential campaign of Pennsylvania Governor, Mike Morris (D), (George Clooney. Who’s not afraid to occasionally throw his weight around). Tied up in a slowly tightening race against fellow Democrat and Arkansas Governor, Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell).

Both candidates have connections and money to burn. But need the endorsement of North Carolina Governor, Franklin Thompson (Slippery Jeffrey Wright), who controls 356 convention delegates.

Now that the primary characters have been noted. The meat of this tale hangs mostly upon and is brought to the fore by secondary players. Specifically, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, in fine form!) as Tom Pullman’s manager, front man and perhaps, bag man? Who meets with Meyers in private and delivers Meyers to a sit down with Duffy’s boss. Media and message specialist, Paul Zaza, (Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Laconically used to his power and rarely raises his voice.). Who is intrigued by Meyers and is in search for a new Padawan to mentor and teach the ropes and ins and outs to.

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Meyers and Duffy talk. And Duffy offers Meyers a position on the Pullman campaign. Which Meyers turns down in an effort to curry favor with his new girlfriend, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood). Young. Idealistic. And utterly naive and out of her depth in her desire to be part of “An honest campaign, where integrity matters”.

Molly is an intern with the Morris campaign and is also the daughter of former Senator Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin) and Chairman of the Democrat National Committee.

Meyers is bounced around as offers of Sec State are made to Morris by Duffy through Pullman. Counter offers are made in return by Zaza. Just to the the juggled balls even and airborne and Thompkins’ delegates in the mix as major leverage.

No one is playing well with the other. All anxious to hold onto whatever favorable numbers are in the polls. Meyers tries calling Molly to no avail. So Meyers begins poking around where he shouldn’t. Back to Iowa and a stopover shared by Molly and Morris. Molly is pregnant by Morris. Meyers pays bag man and delivers money to Molly for an abortion. Meyers fires Molly from the campaign with orders for her to keep quiet.

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A New York Times reporter, Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) braces Meyers with what she knows about Meyers’ meeting with Duffy. And wants more. Threatening to publish what she knows unless Meyers wants to help himself. Confronted with a leak. And Molly’s sudden overdosing. Meyers decides to take on Morris. Who has just enough information and gossip to implicate Meyers in Molly’s death. And cuts Meyers off at the knees while being handed his walking papers.

Seeking revenge, Meyers talks to Duffy, who wants nothing to do with Meyers’ rogue, duplicitous activities. Paul Zaza is even less friendly. Filling Meyers in on his personal beliefs in loyalty. And Meyers coming up far short. Admitting to Meyers that he leak that sent The New York Times after him. And not really caring. Because Meyers doesn’t have what it takes for full contact politics.

I’ll not violate the Prime Directive regarding Spoilers and pull over right now.

Overall Consensus:

Having followed the rough and tumble of politics inside and just outside Washington, DC for forty plus years. And crediting everything I know about how Democrats play the game to the late, great political novelist, Ross Thomas. I just didn’t buy the premise of the entire film.

Never doubting for a moment that Mr. Clooney’s Mike Morris would win the nomination. Basically due to his hair and good looks. I also expect something more imaginative than long telegraphed twists and standard plot devices.

That said, the battle is fought exceptionally well in the trenches by Mr.Giamatti’s and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And their characters who exude worldly weariness over the daily give and take. Addicted to the give and take of power, while doing everything they can to protect their candidates. To these men, it’s a job. Which becomes a career over time. With wins and losses. As long as the wins outnumber the losses. To Ryan Gosling‘s Stephen Meyers. It’s an adrenaline charged rush. That requires, and later demands recognition.

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It might also help to use locations in Pennsylvania to help tell and sell the tale of a Pennsylvania Governor’s desires to rise in political ascension. Instead of major and outlying cities in Ohio and Michigan!

Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is noteworthy in using these sometimes cramped and uncredited locales to add a touch of damp, dour, cold, dingy winter weather to buttress a rather tame, pedestrian.story.

Which glides us to the final installment in independent story telling. Orbiting slowly and re entering in stock market crash of 2007 and its near fatal effect on Goldman~Sachs and other Wall Street firms.

Margin Call: (2011) – Sundance Channel

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Which opens to the noise, clamor, hustle and bustle of another day’s trading on the floor. Though, something new is added. Expensively suited supervisors taking busy traders aside and handing them their pink slips. With whispers to not clear their desks or offices. Just leave!

Watched in slack jawed and stunned awe by Junior risk assessment analyst, Seth Bergman (Penn Badgley). Senior Trader, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Trading Desk Supervisor, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany). Something foul is afoot as traders are escorted out. Amongst them, Peter and Seth’s boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Master numbers cruncher. Head of risk management on the trading floor. And nearly unrecognizable in a few days’ stubble.

The three subordinates watch as Dale is led towards an elevator. Peter steps close and Dale manages to pass a USB Memory Stick. With the waning “Be Careful” as the elevator doors close, Peter plugs in the stick and starts stripping the mathematical algorithms. Discovering a whole submerged iceberg of useless and junk stocks, bonds and mortgage backed securities. Far exceeding projections from any time in the past. Or present.

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The exchange house is hemorrhaging money. And drastic measures are needed as department heads decide to burn the midnight oil. each wondering if their heads will be on the block. As Senior Risk Management Officer, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) starts going over the “Formula”‘s numbers and projections. Seth and peter call in Will Emerson. Who calls his higher up, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey solidly in touch with his inner Jack Lemmon).

The players make their entrances in whispered asides and brief encounters. As Will, Seth and Peter go to the skyscraper’s roof for a smoke or last bit of fresh air before the dawn. With Will trying to allay fears while not really knowing much of anything, himself. As a helicopter makes itself known before circling and landing on the upper, night lit helipad.

The first of several meetings is called. With Division head, Jared Cohen (Simon Baker, from L.A. Confidential and The Mentalist. Radiating smooth confidence in expensive attire) and Corporate CEO, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons. A veteran of past “hiccups” and anxious to find the limits of immediate damage). His opening soliloquy is equal parts familiarity with what may occur. And a desire for ideas. Any ideas which might help allay or soften the inevitable.

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Ms. Robertson adds to the discussion with the news that “The Formula” is real and a worst case scenario will soon be at hand. While Sam responds to Tuld’s wanting a plan of action with a dawn to dusk sale of anything and everything. At least 40% sales on stocks and shares at 85 cents on the dollar by 11 o’clock. With recalls to brokerage houses throughout the day. Starting at 65 cents on the dollar afterward and continuously whittling down as excess ballast is dumped, But to what end?

Survival, of course. Creating what is sure to be a long, hard and full day ahead. As lower tier traders go seek privacy to cry or panic. And their bosses sweat out what can be retrieved or gained.

As the man with the plan, Eric Dale is sought out for whatever other input he might be able to add in regards to sales and options. Eric is at home. In his recently purchased and refurbished house in Brooklyn. And Will and Peter have their breakfasts interrupted. And are dispatched to find whatever the can. or bring him back.

In the interim, Ms. Robertson has a tete a tete with Jared over whom is going to be asked to fall on their sword and be a sacrificial lamb. Sarah is having no part of it. While Jared knows that she is. And will be. While Sam takes the just arrived floor traders asides and delivers not exactly a pep talk, but more of a plan of strategy.
Mentioning bonuses to individual and team of traders for achieving or exceeding their assigned quotas.

The morning bell clangs and the air is alive with calls out and the sales feeding frenzy begins. With Will laying on all his charms while giving away whacking great chunks of toxic stocks at slightly better than minimum loss. That will surely approaching maximum before the day is out.

Overall Consensus:

Here we have an instance of an A-List cast being used to less than their absolute potential. In a film whose dialogue could use one or two scenes of unbridled and angry scenery chewing. We have utter, serene, near glacial calm as the bottom is falling out of a touch stone brokerage house.

The cast does what it can to add suspense with inflection and decades of experience with the spoken word. Especially Kevin Spacey’s Sam. Who has too many years in. Wants out badly, but the present opportunity offers little in return. Sam does what he does, because he needs the money.

While Jeremy Irons knows the present situation is terrible. But survivable. The only real “third wheel” is Demi Moore‘s Sarah Robertson. Who approaches the requisite anger level for such a situation. Railing against the men over her coveted position, while being brushed aside at nearly every turn.

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Surprisingly, it’s Stanley Tucci who calmly, quietly underplays and subtly manages to steal then own every scene he’s in. His talk with Will on the steps of his Brooklyn home is a wonder to follow as explains hours and days of travel saved with a bridge he’s helped design between Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Direction by J.C. Chandor is adequate and mostly shot in one of Goldman’s deserted office towers. Though his screenplay could have stood a second review and possible re-write.

Personal Notes:

I don’t mind “Bad Cinema”. Some offerings are my favorite Guilty Pleasures. What I do mind are producers (And these films’ list of producers are all excessively long) putting their money on the line to assemble A-List and ‘Dream Team’ actors saddled with less-than-satisfactory projects under the reins of less than proven directors.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Your comments are welcome!

10 Favorite Romantic Films Directed by Women

RomanceFemaleDirectors

Firstly, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, everyone! I wish you love, good health and good movies… today and every single day of the year :D

Now, this list is long overdue, but lately I’ve been thinking about all the romantic films that I love… and you know what, a lot of them are directed by female directors! When I mean romantic, it doesn’t always mean a romance genre or rom-com, though many of them certainly are in this category, but it could be from other genres so long as there is some kind of love story involving the protagonist. As with list of this kind, obviously it’s not complete, there are a bunch from female filmmakers I still haven’t seen yet, i.e. Across the Universe, After the Wedding, Monsoon Wedding, etc. That’s where YOU fellow bloggers and dear readers come in, I ask that you recommend one or two of your own picks.

1. Austenland (2013) | Jerusha Hess (full review)

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I know the critics aren’t fond of this but I had such a blast watching this. The entire theater seems to have a good time as well, even the male moviegoers around me were laughing constantly. It’s a Disneyland-type resort for Jane Austen fans, filled with one hilarious scenario after another. I’m not saying it’s a perfect movie, some of the mindless slapstick stuff are indeed cringe-worthy, but I was caught up in its fluffy buoyant spirit, and the ending is pure escapist romance any Darcy fan would appreciate. All things considered, it’s a pretty good debut from Jerusha Hess who was a writer of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre.

2. Bride & Prejudice (2004) | Gurinder Chadha

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Another Austen-related movie that offers a fun twist to the classic period drama. I first saw Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham which was fun, but I REALLY love this one and Aishwarya Rai is absolutely stunning. Yes she’s obviously too gorgeous to play the supposedly plain-looking Elizabeth Bennett-inspired character Lalita, but she made it work somehow. Martin Henderson is surprisingly endearing as Mr. Darcy, his dimples made me forgive his rather stiff acting style, ahah. If you need a mood-lifting movie, I can’t recommend this one enough! Watch out for the Snake Dance scene ;)

3. Dear Frankie | Shona Auerbach (full review)

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Ok, this is not a romantic film per se but the relationship between Frankie’s mother and the Stranger alone is enough to make this one eligible for this list. Emily Mortimer has a scorching chemistry with Gerry Butler [in one of my all-time favorite roles] despite their rather icy first meeting that’s not exactly a *meet-cute* variety. But man, that doorway scene… slo-burn romance doesn’t get more tantalizing than this. I also love that the ending is open-ended which makes it even more intriguing. Not sure why British director Shona Auerbach hasn’t made another film since. Now if only Butler could find another script as good as this, likely buried under a pile of rubbish he’s constantly picking on lately :(

4. Little Women (1994) | Gillian Armstrong

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I love this story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. The cast is fabulous, including a young and vivacious Christian Bale (before he went to the brooding and dark side) and Gabriel Byrne as dashing professor Friedrich Bhaer. On top of the sweet and poignant love story of the four sisters, it’s also a warm celebration of family as they endure trying times in times of war. This reminds me I need to check out more works by miss Armstrong, most notably Mrs. Soffel and Oscar & Lucinda.

5. Lost in Translation (2003) | Sofia Coppola

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I’ve only seen two Sofia Coppola films so far but I think this would likely remain my favorite. I’ve always been fond of unlikely pairings in movies… a faded movie star and a neglected young wife hits it off as their paths crossed in a foreign land. The Tokyo backdrop gives the film a quirky yet strangely melancholic mood that works well for the story. I can see that it’s not a film for everyone as my friends have said it bored ‘em to tears but I find it delightful and hilarious.

6. Return to Me (2000) | Bonnie Hunt 

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I’ve dedicated a post for this a couple of years ago and it pains me that a lot of people still haven’t seen this. I’ve re-watched it recently and I’m still in love with it. The story starts out pretty sad but not in a depressing kind of way, in fact, you want these two characters to find love again after what they’ve been through. Thank you Bonnie Hunt for making an unabashedly romantic movie that’s genuinely heartfelt, enchanting and funny. I love the effortless chemistry between David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, and the supporting cast of James Belushi, David Alan Grier, Carol O’Connor and miss Hunt herself are delightful.

“When she met you, her heart beat truly for the first time. Perhaps it was meant to be with you always.”

Oh that line gets me every time. You’ll know why when you see the film. I also have to mention the lovely soundtrack with the likes of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. In fact the movie is named after Martin’s song of the same name.

7. Sleepless In Seattle (1993) | Nora Ephron

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Oh how I miss Nora Ephron. This is the first film of hers I saw and I fell in love with her witty dialog and fun but relatable characters. Of course the genius is in the casting of Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan, even when the two protagonist barely have a screen together, we are so invested in them and really root for them to be together. I have seen this countless times and I also fall in love with the city it’s set in, not to mention the timeless music that fits the film so perfectly. The supporting cast is wonderful, even Hanks’ own wife Rita Wilson has a scene-stealing hilarious moment when describing the finale of An Affair to Remember. This movie is chock-full of memorable scenes!

8. Water (2005) | Deepa Mehta

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This is the last film of Mehta’s Elements Trilogy, set in 1938 when India was still under British rule. The film deals with a heart-wrenching topic of gender inequality for women, especially widows, who must live their lives abandoned in an ashram. There is so much cultural and political depth to this film that was tough to process at times, but it’s definitely worth a watch as it’s such a powerful and beautiful story. There’s a theme of unlikely friendship and forbidden romance, especially the relationship between a beautiful young widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who’s forced to prostitution to support the ashram, and Narayan, an idealistic follower of Ghandi from a higher caste. Mehta’s films are rife with controversy, there were intense protests when she was filming this that she had to relocate to Sri Lanka to work on this film. It deservedly earned an Oscar nominated for Best Language Film.

9. What Women Want (2000) | Nancy Meyers

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Regardless of what one may think about his personal life, Mel Gibson was undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s bonafide movie star in his prime. He can effortlessly do action, drama AND comedy. This role shows his movie star charm as a chauvinistic advertising exec who gains an ability to hear women’s thoughts following a fluke accident. Ok so the premise is wacky but this part fantasy, part war-of-the-sexes comedy does deliver the laughs and there’s actually more substance to the story than meets the eye. Helen Hunt is utterly believable in the tough but vulnerable female exec and makes for a great sparring partner for Gibson.

10. You’ve Got Mail (1998) | Nora Ephron

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Another winner from miss Ephron. It has the spirit of rom-coms of the 40s and 50s like Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or even Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman with the two eventual lovebirds’ bantering with each other. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks reunited five years after Sleepless in Seattle and actually share lots of screen time together this time around.

I actually saw the original movie it’s based on, The Shop Around the Corner, and though I enjoyed that one, I didn’t love it as much as this one. Again, I love the witty script, thanks to the Ephron sisters Nora and Delia, and of course the two leads are as charming as ever. It’s also beautifully shot in New York City, which almost become a character in itself, especially during the gorgeous Christmas season.

Honorable Mentions:

• Mansfield Park | Patricia Rozema
Top10MansfieldParkThis is a serious oversight on my part, it should’ve been on my MAIN top 10 list instead of Honorable Mentions. Thank you Dave for mentioning it, I can’t believe I’ve forgotten about that one. It’s one of my favorite period dramas of all time, I LOVE the tentative love story between Fannie Price (Frances O’Connor) & Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller). It’s a darker tone of a Jane Austen adaptation as Fannie challenges Edmund’s father of his dealings with slavery in the Regency era, but ultimately, it’s a lovely and compelling love story that holds a special place in my heart.

• Bend It Like Beckham | Gurinder Chadha
• Bright Star | Jane Campion
• ‘Bastille’ segment in Paris, Je T’aime | Isabel Coixet



• The Holiday | Nancy Meyers


This Cockeyed.com article shows a great list of female filmmakers and their movies. We obviously need more of them in Hollywood!


So is your favorite romantic-themed movie on this list? Please do add YOUR own picks that you’d recommend!

10 Movie/TV Clichés That Need to Die A Horrible Death!

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Greetings all and sundry!

While taking advantage of the intermittently snowy, yet not disastrous winter weather and snow visiting the mid Atlantic east coast. I’ve taken to television, DVDs and the occasional film to develop a list of annoying clichés. That try as one might to avoid or ignore. Keep returning to the scenes of their crimes.

We’ve all seen them. Some may even look forward to their optimization. While other scenes are relatively new. Others personally date back to the 1960s and earlier.

Lists have been compiled to the more often seen. Baguettes peeking from grocery bags. Opulent loft apartments, whose renter doesn’t really do much for a living. Always having an empty parking spot close to home or the scene of the action. heroes stoically endure being beaten up or flesh wounded on moment. Only to wice as the heroine tries her hand at First Aid. Stiletto heels on femmes fatale, arrogant businesswomen, lawyers and CEOs. And those pesky crudely assembled bombs with LED countdown displays. That rate a only a slight roll of the eyes.

No. Mine are more personal. And perhaps, more trivial. Though one quickly tires of.

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#10 |”Very Special” Episodes of Any Television Series.

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Which had their heydays in the 1980s and 90s. Usually attached to a popular situation comedy or drama. Focusing on the deep, dark, politically correct news item of the day (Gary Coleman in ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ and Child molestation) and tap dancing all around the topic. While never solidly addressing it and its collateral damage.

Also used when a cast member leaves the series. Due to a contractual dispute. Or lack of empathy with the audience. While often wrapping that episode in the cloak of the:

#9 | Majority Flash Back Episodes.

At least once a season, a series will have its hero or heroine barely escape death. Laid up on an ICU or Post Op hospital bed. Hovering at Death’s Door. Though with cognitive senses intact and remembering highlights oblique or in line.While the series’ supporting cast plays “Catch up” and tries to find out “Whodunnit?”, “Whydunnit?” and “Let’s Go Get ‘em!”

If thought-out well and executed concisely, it works pretty well to heighten or maintain suspense. If the results are slap dash and shifted to the last few seconds before the commercial breaks, you have a problem!

Greatest offenders: Castle, Hawaii Five-O, CSI, Burn Notice and Law & Order:SVU.

Which brings us to a change of venue with …

#8 | Shaky-Cam.

Once known and revered as Cinema Verite ages ago in a galaxy far, far away. This little cinematic gimmick allowed the cinematographer holding the camera to add a First Person point of view to many chase scenes, troop advancements or segments of battles. Adding a well deserved touch of authenticity to such films as The Battle of Algiers, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket. The original Evil Dead. And most recently in American Gangster.

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What has evolved in far too many films to annoyingly count. Is an often stomach churning glimpse of action lost as the camera uselessly (Cloverfield leaps to mind!) bounces up and down. Beginning with The Blair Witch Project and transmitted and mutated by directors who should really know better. Most predominantly, Michael Bay.

Who also rates very high in the next regression of style, panache that has become a trade mark for excessively loud and headache inducing attempts at toy product placement and Inner Ear Disorders.

#7 |  Heroes Walking Away From Explosions No One Could Survive.

Aided by a large dose of Mathematics and some cinematic sleight of hand. Used in ways to the “Coolness Factor” into the Stratosphere. While keeping stunt double alive and well and far beyond the usually CGI enhanced explosion’s shock wave.

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Miraculously being exactly where flying debris sails close, but does not score to remove a limb or head. Almost universally set up and executed in ways where not much is between the heroes and exploding building or car. So there is no way to determine where the explosion initiates. Though it usually is “sweetened” (ala The Matrix) and made larger with CGI. Greatest offenders are Transformers, Charlie’s Angels, any later Tarantino film. Beginning with From Dusk Till Dawn, The Expendables, The Losers. Also USA’s Burn Notice. TNT’s Leverage. And occasionally, Covert Affairs.

#6 | Toilet Humor And Belches Instead Of Clever Writing.

With supposed Romantic Comedies, Buddy Flicks and any number of supposed comedies where adult males play overgrown, yet to be weaned children with Egos far larger than their collective IQs being the greatest offenders.

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I’ll reach back and opt for John Landis’ Animal House and FOX’s first season “shock troops” of Married With Children. Though, in those instances this new addition or substitution worked. And has slowly de-evolved through the decades. With Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, the Hangover films, Friends With Benefits and Comedy Central’s South Park taking the lead. Followed by any early Rom-Com with Reese Witherspoon, Jesse Eisenberg, Mila Kunis, Matthew McConaughey, and Seth Rogen close behind. And ending in Paul, and The World’s End.

Of course, these choices are mine and welcome to open interpretation, discussion and disagreement.

#5 | Happy Ending And Group Hugs.

Another topic I noticed while occasionally bay siting my very young nice while sitting through episodes of Joan of Arcadia and Gilmore Girls on CBS. Mysteriously branching out into dramas like the CSI franchises. ER and The West Wing. An annoyance to be sure. That stealthily threaded its way to then “Go To” series reruns and DVDs of Tour of Duty, JAG and The Unit. And recent episodes of Blue Bloods and Hawaii Five-O.

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Now. One thing David Mamet does not believe in is Happy Endings. Which I took with a grain of salt. Though, when Romantic Comedies take a sudden twisting plot twist to where the female romantic lead can see some good in a less than sterling, bad boy suitor. It did give me pause (The Breakfast Club). Enough to notice it in Block busters like, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Gatsby. Most Harry Potter films and anything other than Thelma And Louise.

Which brings us to “The Final Four”. Distinctly male in content and execution. And very personal to yours truly. Goofs and blatant errors noticed first at a very young age, Becoming a hopefully too quick to notice staple of myriad television series and films.

#4 | Telescopic Sights On Rifles.

First used in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate as a dramatic device to heighten tension as Lawrence Harvey decides who to assassinate.

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With cross hairs wind and gradient lines transposed on the camera lens. Then brought into shocking relief with the assassination of JFK in Dallas. Even though the distance and direction of the Presidential Limo was well within range for open sights.A dramatic tool was added to the film and television arsenal with glee and abandon. Used ad infinitum by every international, high priced hit man. SWAT and Tactical Response cop in the visual realm. Definitely too much of a not-so-good thing!

#3 | No Recoil From Handguns Or Rifles:

Being an avid civilian shooter of pistol, rifle and shotguns. This one has gotten under my skin since Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was hitting bad guys at fifty yards with a one inch barreled .38 Smith & Wesson revolver back in the early 1970s. And has seemed to flourish in cop and private eye shows through the ’80s and beyond.From personal experience, the physics of firearms dictate that the firing pin strikes the cartridge’s primer and explodes the powder within. Sending the projectile (bullet) down the barrel. Causing torque as Newton’s First Law raises the barrel up and away. Left or right. Depending on the twists inside the barrel.If your stance, grip, breathing and trigger squeeze is correct. The weapon will drop down exactly where you had last aimed in around a second. Making many rapid “Spray and Pray” moments seen on Hawaii Five-O, the NCIS franchises, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, the very recent Mob City questionable in regards to actually hitting and dropping any said target or bad guy.

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Granted, firearms used in television and films have been adapted to fire blanks with a lower powder charge. Actors are hired and paid to sell illusion. Even with the recent preponderance of “Air Soft” rifles and pistols substituting for the real thing.

“Sell it!!!” A simple roll of the wrist can add so much. Even in the face of….

#2 | No Ejected Brass From Semi Automatic Pistols And Rifles.

The last time(s) I saw empty brass cartridges ejected in its trademark flat arc from an M-16 was in the CBS series, Tour of Duty. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. John Irwin’s Hamburger Hill. Friedkin’s To Live And Die In L.A. and Randall Wallace’s We Were Soldiers. Simply because the directors understood that the medium demanded it.

Not so much nowadays. Where replicas are as well detailed as the originals. And barrel flash can be simulated with CGI. C’mon, guys! Get your sound man to buy “Delta Force II” or any UibSoft/Tom Clancy “Splinter Cell” computer game and loop the sound of ejected, clattering brass, It’s not rocket science!!!

Which delivers us to the Number One Spot. An annoying and useless few seconds of countless television series episodes. Dating back to a very young Frank Gorshin as a failed and desperate pool hustler turned failed kidnapper playing his last card as the cops close in on an episode of Peter Gunn.

#1 | Cocking Loaded Handguns For Dramatic Effect

You could also include “Jacking Rounds Into Already Loaded Pump Shotguns. Where Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) would easily lead the decades long pack of offenders in the USA series, Burn Notice. Mossberg, Remington, Benelli or DiFranchi SPAS 12 have all fallen victim to this cool looking and sounding, though overall useless stunt.

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Though with pistols, any lightweight heavy or minor bad guy on Blue Bloods, Elementary, Hawaii Five-O, Covert Affairs, White Collar, the CSI and NCIS franchises. Or the short lived, Dylan McDermott led Dark Blue would do. A completely ineffective effort for semi automatic handguns in close, face to face quarters. And even more so with just about anything short of a Civil War Ball & Cap or Antebellum Single Action (Which has to be cocked before firing) Colt Revolver. Unless it is to draw a dramatic line in the sand. Which becomes negated and moot once the pistol’s hammer is drawn back.

Seeing it pulled off so well once five decades ago worked well. But to see it driven into the ground through those intervening years. Especially the 1970s and ’80s has relegated this quick action into the lunar trajectory of Pet Peeves!

Overall Consensus:

Granted, this list may seem eclectic and perhaps, even a bit off the wall. Though arrives gleaned and ready through five decades plus of time spent before large and small screens. Back to the 1960s and the heyday and much looser standards and regulation surrounding prime time and half hour syndicated series. Though, not focusing entirely in that arena. Branching out into the near across the board, slowly crumbling quality in structure, writing and execution of contemporary films and network television series.

As noted above. These choices are mine and explained to the best of my ability.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree/Disagree? Feel free to add a a few of your own!

In *honor* of Hollywood ‘dump months’ – 6 films that are excruciating to sit through

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So now that all of the holidays and prestige films have been released, Hollywood will dump films that they’re not too proud of in the months of January and February. In fact, the term ‘dump months’ is an unofficial term used in the film community for the period of the year when there are lowered commercial and critical expectations for new major-studio releases. [per Wiki]

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Let’s face it, most of the films coming out in the cold winter months aren’t going to win any awards or earn big money at the box office. With the exception of the new Jack Ryan film, I don’t plan to waste my money on any of them this winter, I’m looking at you The Legend of Hercules; I, Frankenstein, and the Robocop remake. Seriously those films just look awful to me, what happened to the careers of Renny Harlin and Aaron Eckhart anyway? I loved the original Robocop but the remake just look ridiculous and since the studio decided to moved it out of the prime summer release, I just don’t have much hope for it.

With so many bad looking films coming out in the next few weeks, I thought I should list some of the films that were excruciating to sit through, unfortunately some of these films were box office hits but thankfully many of them were duds. In no particular order, here they are:

The Waterboy (1998)

This was one of WaterboyPosterthe biggest box office hits of 1998 and that’s unfortunate because it’s such an awful movie. I used to be an Adam Sandler fan, really enjoyed Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison and The Wedding Singer, so of course I looked forward to seeing this one. But wow only about 20 minutes into the movie, I wanted to walk out. I didn’t crack a smile the entire time I sat in the theater, I just couldn’t believe that any studio executives thought this was a good idea to turn such an awful script into a movie. The movie was pretty mean-spirited, witless and worst of all, not funny at all.

Bad Boys 2 (2003)

BadBoys2PosterI enjoyed the silly first film but I didn’t think it deserves a sequel. The only reason why this film ever happened was because Will Smith was in a slump at the box office at the time and of course he needed a hit. I know there are people who’ll defend this film and said it’s a perfect example of Michael Bay at his best, but is that really a good thing? Now I’m one of those people who loves action films but this two and half hours of mayhem just wasn’t fun to sit through. When I go see movies like this, I expect to have fun and be transport to another world; not in this one. It took itself way too seriously and the bickering between the two leads just felt forced to me.

Apparently Sony is moving forward with a third film and I can only pray that Smith won’t come back and star in it. But he’s in another box office slump so I won’t surprise if he agrees star in another sequel.

Rollerball remake (2002)

RollerballRemakeIt’s one of the biggest box office bombs ever and it deserves it. I’ve never seen the original version but when it’s announced that John McTiernan and Keanu Reeves has signed up to do a remake, I was actually excited to see it. Well a couple of months before the cameras started rolling, Reeves decided to back out and the filmmakers has to scramble to find his replacement.

They cast Reeves lookalike Chris Klein (probably the worst actor I’ve ever seen) and somehow McTiernan still was able to keep the film’s bloated budget of $90mil. The film was scheduled to come out in the summer of 2001 but after some bad test screenings, they couldn’t even convince Harry Knowles from Ain’t It Cool News to write a good review for the film, the studio decided to dump it in the winter of 2002. There were so many things wrong with this film, from the awfully shot and direction to the badly-written script and of course the lead actor was a joke. Seriously this was directed by the same guy who made two of my favorite action films, Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October, I wonder if McTiernan was high while filming this movie. Please don’t waste your time or money on this turd.

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers3PosterAnother Michael Bay’s film on the list and this one also made a ton of money. I mildly enjoyed the first film, the second one was junk but I thought this one was just a pain to sit through. They somehow decided to focus on the human characters instead of The Transformers, I wanted to the evil robots to kill everyone human in this movie. Seriously every characters in the film were so annoying, especially the hero Shia LaBeouf, I wanted the bad Transformers to crush his skull and shut him up. All he did throughout the film was whining and yelling. Yeah I really hated this movie. I won’t be wasting my time and money on the fourth film that’s opening this summer.

Godzilla remake (1998)

GodzillaRemake1998This film should be consider one of the most hyped up films ever. I remember after the awesome Super Bowl teaser trailer, the promotions for this film were everywhere. Internet was still new at the time so most of the marketing were used in traditional print ads: billboards, large digital displays and the non-stop TV spots. I got even more excited to see it after they released a full trailer, I thought it’s going to be one of the biggest hits ever and my favorite movie of that summer. Boy was I wrong on both fronts, the actual film was awful and it became one of the biggest bombs of the 90s. I seriously wanted to walk out about half way through but my friends were having a good time and I didn’t want to be rude. Also one of them drove so had I left the theater, I would’ve to wait outside till the movie’s over.

The film was full of clichéd characters and plot, the acting was awful and Godzilla looked silly. I actually bought a cheap blu-ray of this film last year, hoping that I was too harsh on it and maybe I might enjoy it since I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. Boy I was wrong again, I turned it off after 20 minutes and sold the BD at the pawn shop the next day.

Of course another remake is opening this summer but I don’t think it’s going to make a dent at the box office. The cool trailer was shown when I went to see The Desolation of Smaug and a lot of people burst out laughing when they saw the trailer, not a good sign when people are laughing at it. Who knows maybe the new remake could be good but I won’t see it unless it gets tons of good reviews.

Lost In Space (1998)

LostInSpacePosterAh yes, the film that’s well known for finally dethroning Titanic from the number 1 spot at the box office. The 90s were a period when many old TV shows were turned into big budget spectacle, Tim Burton’s Batman films, Mission: Impossible and The Fugitive were some good examples. New Line thought they have a winner and try to cash in on the trend by green lighting this very expensive space adventure. After a good looking trailer, I was excited to see this film even though I’ve never watched the old TV show. I saw it at the opening weekend and I actually asked the theater manager for my money back because I hated it so much; he didn’t give me back my cash. It was such a painful experience to sit through, from the lazy direction and script to the awful, even for its time, special effects.

The plot made no sense and I didn’t care for any of the characters, even the great Gary Oldman can’t save this stinking pile of turd. New Line thought the film was going to be a huge hit and if I remember correctly, the film sort of ended in a cliffhanger style. The studio thought they had a lucrative franchise in their hands. Thankfully it tanked at the box office and pretty much forgotten by most people throughout the years. The film also cost its director’s career, Stephen Hopkins was a up-and-comer director at the time and after he made this film, he’s been doing TV shows ever since.

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Those were some of the awful films I had to sit through, did you see any of them and do you agree with me? Feel free to list your own films that you thought were painful to sit through.

TOP 10 FILMS of 2013 and The Worst/Most Disappointing Films of the Year

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It took me a while to finally publish my Top 10 list, but my plan was to post this sometime in January anyway. Now, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Rewatchability is a factor but it doesn’t account as high as the other virtues I’ve mentioned, because some of the films here are more of a one-time-viewing-only types (for me anyway), but I still very much appreciate the artistry and passion that goes into making them.

Last year I did something different where I posted my Top 10 of the First Half of 2013 back in July, though only one of the films I listed there made it to this FINAL list. Yeah, I’m quite surprised by that as well, but I guess a lot of great films were released in the latter half of the year. 2013 has been a pretty good year for movies so I couldn’t resist actually making a Top 20 (scroll down to read it), as well the unfortunate WORST list that we moviegoers are likely to be subjected to year after year [sigh].

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. Captain Phillips (full review)

Ten_CaptPhillipsUnder a lesser director than Paul Greengrass, this film could’ve easily been a run-of-the-mill action film. Fortunately, even when you already knew the story did end well for the Captain, Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray managed to deliver one heck of a thrill ride.

Tom Hanks once again proved he’s one of the most consistently accomplished actors of his generation with his astute portrayal. The genius casting doesn’t stop there, as  newcomer Barkhad Abdi is quite a revelation in portraying a villain that’s so much more than a caricature. The direction, performance, cinematography and score all made for a taut, cerebral thriller from start to finish.

9. August: Osage County

Nine_AugustOsageCounty It’s especially challenging to adapt from a stage play, but somehow director John Wells did an admirable job making it work. The ensemble cast worked wonderfully and it manages to be both hilarious and moving. There’s beauty amidst all that chaos and it’s quite amusing that at times the madness of the Weston family actually hits pretty close to home. It’s no surprise that Meryl Streep can pretty much play ANYONE, and as the pill-popping matriarch Violet, she made even the Prada-wearing Miranda Priestly seems warm and fuzzy! I’m especially impressed by Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale and Julianne Nicholson are especially worth-noting. Oh and Benedict Cumberbatch also proved his versatility playing a role that’s a complete opposite of Sherlock. Plus he sings, too!

8. The Act of Killing (review + interview w/ director)

Eight_TheActOfKillingIt’s truly one of THE most harrowing films I saw in a long time and not only because it involved my home country’s history. As if all the re-enactments of the gruesome genocide wasn’t enough, the perpetrators went even further in making an elaborate theatrical performances of their past that’s as surreal as it is disturbing. Major kudos to director Joshua Oppenheimer for tackling a subject matter that not many people know about, and made it in such an inventive way. Though it’s really tough to watch, I still would recommend people to give it a shot. It’s an essential viewing in that this incident isn’t just about Indonesia, but it speaks volumes about our humanity and what we humans are capable of

7. Nebraska (full review)

Seven_NebraskaThis film was an absolute surprise when I saw this at TCFF as I hadn’t heard much about it. Like August: Osage county, this one also deals with a quirky family. I feel that this one has a more compelling character development as I felt an odd kinship with Bruce Dern‘s Woody and his son David (Will Forte). I think the ending is one of my favorites of the year as it’s hilarious but also full of heart. This is one family road movie that you’d be glad you tag along.

6. The Hunt (full review)

Six_TheHuntFew films I saw last year got me as riled up as this one. It’s another film festival gem that I’m glad I got to experience, though not something I’m keen on seeing again. The way the story unfolds is most unsettling, made even more eerie by director Thomas Vinterberg‘s minimalist but atmospheric style. He found the perfect actor for the protagonist in fellow Dane Mads Mikkelsen who also subscribed to the less-is-more principle in delivering maximum impact with subtle nuances. Superb in every sense of the word.

5. 12 Years A Slave (full review)

Five_12YearsASlaveI finally get what the fuss is about with British director Steve McQueen. This is only his third film but he’s certainly made an indelible mark in the filmmaking industry. The story of Solomon Northrup, a former free man who was tricked and sold into slavery, made the darkest chapter of human history so hauntingly personal. Glad to see the talented actor Chiwetel Ejiofor getting much-deserved attention for his eloquent and stirring performance. A powerfully-breathtaking work of art, in more ways than one.

4. MUD 

Four_MUDThis is the film that got me so upset I couldn’t see it at the MSP film fest as it was snowing so hard. I’m glad I finally saw it when it’s out on rental and what a gem it is! Like McQueen, this is my intro to Jeff Nichols which is also his third film. I really like the story of unlikely friendship and this is one of the roles that brings about Matthew McConnaughey‘s career transformation. I also got to discover Tye Sheridan as one of the boys who befriended Mud. The stunning cinematography of Arkansas’ Mississippi river banks could be a character in itself, it definitely adds to the beauty of this film.

3. Frozen (full review)

Three_FrozenIt may seem like a traditional Disney princess movie as it’s also set in a Kingdom in a far-away land, but fortunately there’s more to it than that. I absolutely adore the story and the characters, with the funny and kind protagonist Anna being one of the most enchanting character that kids and adults alike can look up to. There are much fun to be had watching this film, but it’s also got so much heart. It’s certainly one of my favorite 2013 films I’ll watch over and over again.

2. HER (full review)

Two_HER2013 turns out to be full of surprises in terms of movies, and this one is at the top of the GREAT surprise. There’s barely any buzz surrounding this when I saw it, but it absolutely mesmerized me. It’s the most bizarre exploration of love in the modern world, but also one of the most emotionally-gratifying. It’s the kind of film that makes you ponder about the possibilities and effects of technology in our daily life, but more profoundly, it makes us reflect in what really makes us human. I’ve only seen one film by Spike Jonze but after this I’m real curious to see what he’ll tackle next. As for the performances, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson made the most arresting couple in recent memory despite the latter not being physically present in the film.

1. Gravity (full review)

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I saw this last October and I knew it would top my Best list. I kept wondering though if in the next two months there might have been another film that might dethrone it. Well, as of today, it still reigns as THE best film of 2013 for me. Her comes pretty darn close but overall I think Alfonso Cuarón‘s work is still more deserving to take the top spot. I have always loved Sandra Bullock and her outstanding performance here has become a career’s best even in her long filmography. As I said in my review, I ran out of adjectives to describe this film. It’s an exceptional kind of work that people will be talking about for years and people study about in film schools. A pretty simple story set entirely in space, yet it’s a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and soul. Plus, it boasts a finale that makes you want to get up and cheer. Can’t top THAT!


These 10 would likely make my Top 20:

It’s a testament to a pretty strong year of movies last year was that I have a long list of Honorable Mentions. Now, before I get to the general list of Honorable Mentions, I should prioritize films that I thought were excellent but for one reason or another, they just didn’t make it to my top 10 (in random order):

  1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  2. RUSH
  3. The Kings of Summer
  4. American Hustle
  5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  6. Pacific Rim
  7. Saving Mr. Banks
  8. Stoker
  9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  10. Man of Steel

You might be surprised that Man of Steel didn’t make my Top 10 considering how much I had been anticipating it. Well, upon third viewing (3rd time being on Blu-ray), somehow I just wasn’t wowed by it anymore. In fact, I found myself picking faults with it that I either overlooked or didn’t mind at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the film and I probably will watch it again, but I just don’t think it deserves to be on my Top 10.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Now some of these films are on my list from the first half of 2013. They’re definitely worth your while when you’re looking for something good to rent:


MOST DISAPPOINTING:

The Wolverine (full review)

It’s not quite a terrible movie so I don’t think it deserves to be on the WORST list, but I was expecting SO much more from this. It’s not enough that it’s better than the original Wolverine movie. Plus it had so much promise the fact that it’s set in Japan and we’re supposed to get a compelling back-story into one of X-Men’s most bad-ass mutants. Alas, apart from a few exciting scenes, I find myself feeling quite bored by this movie. I expected a great deal of emotional gravitas from the story, but I didn’t connect with Wolverine’s Japanese journey as much as I had hoped.

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WORST OF THE YEAR:

Ok I’m glad that at least my bad list is shorter than my good list and thankfully I saw less horrible films in the latter half of the year. In any case, my initial Top Five Worst List from last July still stands (listed first), with two more that I saw after that. So avoid these if you can help it, you’ve been warned!


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2013. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ‘em with you :D

Five new-to-me actors I’d love to see more of – based on 2013 viewings

Since I started last year, I’m going to make this post an annual thing (well, for as long as I have this blog that is). I mentioned in the first post that one of the joys of watching movies is discovering new talents. Again, I may not necessarily love the film they appear in, but the actor(s) in question could still make an impression to me to make the list. The obvious case for me this year is last year’s Honorable Mention Oscar Isaac (who in hindsight should’ve been on my MAIN list) in Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m not terribly fond of the film but I LOVE his performance and I’d love to see more of him in Hollywood.

So like last year, I’d like to focus on those I either wasn’t aware of prior to 2013, or that for some reason I just didn’t notice them until last year. Some of these actors have been working steadily and relatively well-known to some, but they were ‘obscure’ to me until recently. It’s perfect timing that I had just read the BAFTA Rising Star nominees earlier this week, and a couple of their nominees make my Honorable Mentions.

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In any case, based on my 2013 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]

Riz Ahmed

FiveNewFaves_AhmedI had never heard of Riz Ahmed before but apparently the British Pakistani from Wembley London is a pretty well-known actor and rapper. Well he didn’t rap in the movie I saw him in, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but he gave a pretty soulful and affecting performance as a Pakistani man pursuing the American dream. I was pretty mesmerized by the 31-year-old, though apparently he also had a bit part in Michael Fassbender’s swashbuckling actioner Centurion in 2010.

What’s Next: Well according to IMDb, he’s got supporting roles in Nightcrawler and Violent Talent, not sure yet about the release dates. I hope he’d get a leading role again in the future as he definitely has the talent AND gravitas to pull it off.

Lake Bell

FiveNewFaves_BellApparently miss Bell has been acting in various movies and TV shows like The Practice and Boston Legal, but I haven’t seen a single film of hers until her directing debut where she also starred. The film was this comedic gem In A World … which I saw at the MSP Film Festival in a sold-out showing.

The leggy and beautiful actress could’ve been a fashion model (and she probably was at some point), but she made herself to be a disheveled mess in her own movie, but yet she’s so fun to watch! I hope she does more comedies as she’s so naturally goofy and has quite a knack for physical comedy. As a voice over talent trying to break into a male-dominated industry, she proves her mettle both in front and behind the camera. I love that she explored a plot that hasn’t been explored much but definitely ripe for a hilarious comedy!

What’s Next: I just saw her in the trailer for sports drama Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm, and she’s also up for a thriller with Owen Wilson (??) and Pierce Brosnan called The Coup. But what I’m looking forward to is Bell teaming up with Simon Pegg in British comedy Man Up, now I don’t know what the premise is yet, but it sounds like fun!

Daniel Brühl

FiveNewFaves_BruhlNow, I’ve already been aware of Brühl from his memorable supporting role as a Nazi officer in Inglourious Basterds. But everyone’s performance in that movie was practically eclipsed by that Austrian Christoph Waltz. But this year, I was impressed by the 35-year-old German actor in not one but THREE films: RUSH, The Fifth Estate, and Joyeux Noël. I’m thrilled that he’s nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Niki Lauda in RUSH, but hopefully Oscar won’t overlook him.

There is a quiet charisma about him that I like, not to mention his versatility. Apparently he’s part Spanish as his full name is Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo (wow!) and he’s fluent in German, Spanish and French on top of English, of course. No wonder he’s able to pull off different accent, which is key to being offered roles of various nationalities.

What’s Next: I saw him in the John le Carré’s spy thriller A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman, but looks like he’d have a more prominent role in the drama The Face of An Angel with Kate Beckinsale.

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David Oyelowo

FiveNewFaves_OyelowoHe’s one of the trio of British-African actors I’m really loving lately, along with Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I first noticed him in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and then The Help, but last year I saw him in Jack Reacher and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Now, it’s the latter that REALLY made me take notice as the 37-year-old actor somehow can pull off playing a teenager and college freshman believably. Not only that, the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) graduate also has the on-screen charisma to match his natural acting talent.

Like many British talents, Oleyowo are often mistaken for being an American as he effortlessly pulls off various accent. In fact, most of the roles I saw him in was him playing an American. Many Brits might recognize him from earlier season of Spooks (MI-5) as well, so he’s perhaps one of the most successful Spooks-alum as Hollywood’s taken notice of him.

What’s Next: He’s got no less than seven projects listed on his IMDb page, yay! One of them is Interstellar. But what I’d love to see is him in leading roles as he surely deserves it. Sounds like he’s the protagonist in Nightingale and Five Nights in Maine, and a supporting role (rumored) in Jurassic World.
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Andrea Riseborough

FiveNewFaves_RiseboroughWhen I first saw Riseborough in Disconnect, I was blown away by her performance… only to be floored later on when I realized she’s British!! I’d say her role as an ambitious journalist was one of the most grossly-overlooked performances of 2012! Later in the year I saw her in OBLIVION where she uses her natural accent and she was truly the best performer in that entire movie!

The third film I saw her in, Shadow Dancer with Clive Owen, she plays an IRA member-turned-informant and pulls off an Irish accent beautifully. She reminds me of my favorite actress of all time Cate Blanchett, who has the same chameleon-like ability with not only her looks but her accent, demeanor, etc. The 32-year-old English actress was trained at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), so I guess we can expect quality work from this future thespian.

What’s Next: She’s part of an ensemble cast of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film Birdman (also starring Emma Stone, Ed Norton and Naomi Watts), as well as The Silent Storm with Damian Lewis. Hopefully she’s got a bigger role in the latter.


Honorable Mentions:

These five names did an impressive performance last year, though two of them (Robinson and Nyong’o had not acted before). Poulter and Nyong’o are one of this year’s BAFTA Rising Star nominees year’s nominees, too.

Tye Sheridan (Mud)

Somehow I didn’t notice him much as Brad Pitt’s son in The Tree of Life, but here he’s definitely memorable. As one of the two young boys in MUD who befriended a man with a shady past (Matthew McConnaughey), Sheridan’s character was the heart of the film. I’d love to see what else he’s got going on next.

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

It’s definitely one of the most talked-about performance of the year but her sensational performance hopefully won’t be a one-hit wonder. The Mexican-born Kenyan actress was a graduate of the Yale University School of Drama’s Acting program and she has a pretty extensive stage credits. She’s starring with Liam Neeson next in the actioner Non-Stop [sigh], let’s hope Hollywood finds a project worthy of her talent soon enough.

Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer)

Soulful. That’s how I’d describe this newcomer. Though it’s his feature-film debut, the 18-year-old has a certain confidence and charisma to carry off a leading role. He also seems wise beyond his years which made him so perfect in this coming-of-age tale.

Will Poulter (We’re The Millers)

Here’s another young Brit who manage to fool me as an American. I totally forgot he was in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader but the tall, lanky 20-year-old was absolutely convincing as an geeky American teenager who somehow got entangled with a small-time pot dealer pretending to be a family vacationing in Mexico. His rendition of TLC’s Waterfall alone proves that this kid has amazing comic timing, it’s worth seeing just for that part (I’m sure it’s on Youtube).

James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3, Parkland)

Here’s another actor who I’ve never heard of before then suddenly I saw three of his movies in one year (same as Riseborough above). I didn’t really remember him in World War Z but he was definitely memorable in Iron Man 3 and Parkland, two VERY different roles that he pulled off nicely. In the former, he somehow reminds me a bit of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, though perhaps not quite as iconic. As in Parkland, as Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert, the 35-year-old displayed his dramatic chops. I hope he won’t get stuck playing supporting roles in the future.


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

Top 10 inspiring Biopics to see this holiday season… or any time of the year

Christmas is always a special time for me. It’s not just another holiday, as there is someone’s birth I am celebrating for His gift to humanity. So as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, it’d be most appropriate to focus on the theme of inspiration. The word itself came from the Latin word inspīrāre which means ‘to breathe upon or breathe life into.

inspire (ɪnˈspaɪə)
— vb
to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Certain films have a power to inspire us, especially those that are based on a real person. Of course Hollywood often takes creative license with the films, but so long as the essence of the story is there, it can still very much inspire us. Note that I’m limiting the list to films from 1980s and up just to help narrow things down.

So without further ado, here are 10 biopics I have seen so far that I find the most inspiring (in alphabetical order):

Amazing Grace (2006)

The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

I saw this a while ago and I wish more people had seen this. This movie’s release coincided with the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first anti-slave trade bill, ending 400 years of slave trading. The main protagonist, William Wilberforce is a faithful British member of Parliament. Ioan Gruffud is excellent in the title role, conveying the emotional and physical struggles battling illness and one setback after another in the two decades he fought to end slave trading in England.

AmazingGrace

Along the way, he’s encouraged by his mentor John Newton (portrayed marvelously by Albert Finney), the author of the beloved hymn of the movie’s title, a repentant former slave trader. He’s also helped by his allies, PM William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), a scholarly former slave Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour), as well as his loving and influential wife, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Though it’s heavy on the history and political aspect, but the redemptive values aren’t lost in the process. It’s one of those rare Hollywood films with a deep passion for goodness and virtue that’s entertaining as well as inspiring. The performances of mostly-British talents, which also includes Ciaran Hinds and Rufus Sewell, are top notch, but ultimately it’s the profound message and inspiring story that makes this a winning feature.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

It’s one of those sports biopics that is so much more than the sports itself. Both Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both gifted Olympic-worthy sprinters, but what set them apart is the motivation behind each athlete. Abrahams has something to prove to himself and those around him, and Liddell runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

ChariotsOfFire

The rivalry between the two isn’t so much about who’s better or more righteous, as both stood for what they believed in. Each of them is motivated by their own personal values and convictions, nary of any political agenda nor hostility, that alone is inspiring. The physical and spiritual conflicts presented here made for a rich human drama with plenty of teachable moments. For one, there is a good message about one’s preoccupation of winning at any cost that ultimately lead to empty victories. Hugh Hudson‘s brilliant direction, David Watkin‘s exquisite cinematography and Vangelis’ powerful score made this film a classic, one that can be passed down from one generation to the next as it’s the kind of timeless stories people of all ages can appreciate.

Conviction (2010)

A working mother puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has exhausted his chances to appeal his conviction through public defenders.

Just like Amazing Grace, this is another overlooked small-budget-with-big-story that I highly recommend. Featuring two excellent performances by Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell as Betty Anne and Kenny Waters, I was inspired by Betty Anne’s undeniable love and loyalty for her brother, which leads to her unrelenting quest to get upturn his conviction, even getting a law degree whilst struggling to support her own family.

Conviction

It’s quite heart-wrenching to see the struggles Betty Anne had to go through, helped only by her sympathetic lawyer friend Abra (Minnie Driver). Coping with one setback after another, yet she kept on hoping and trying even when Kenny himself seemed to have given up. It’s a compelling drama about the power of love that triumphs even in the most difficult circumstances.

Finding Neverland (2004)

The story of J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan.

It’s one of those heart-warming stories of unlikely friendships that is beautifully presented on screen. Johnny Depp at his most charming yet understated role and Kate Winslet is lovely as always as the frail Sylvia, but it’s Freddie Highmore who’s quite the scene-stealer.

FindingNeverland

I was really won over by how life-transforming this friendship was for everyone involved, especially between Mr. Barrie and Sylvia’s youngest son Peter. All the performances are lovely, including supporting turns from Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. This film celebrates the gift of imagination and creativity and its emotional healing power.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.

One of the hardest films to sit through yet has the best lesson to take away from. Paul was an ordinary man who’d never make himself out to be a hero. Yet the indescribable atrocities around him compelled him not to simply stand in the sidelines. This film shows the worst of humanity, how the world failed the people of Rwanda, but out of all that wickedness and evil, there is always a glimmer of light peeking through. It reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” and that’s exactly what Paul did, which proves that even one person could change the world.

HotelRwanda

Don Cheadle delivered a remarkably powerful and moving performance and Sophie Okonedo is quite remarkable as Paul’s wife. In a brief role, Joaquin Phoenix as a photojournalist delivered a line that is perhaps the most convicting of all, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say Oh, my God, that’s horrible. And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” We definitely are guilty of that, whether we want to admit it or not. Paul Rusesabagina shows us what it means to actually care and not simply shrug things of and say that it’s other people’s problems.

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.

Sometimes an ordinary person can be a hero when it’s willing to risk it all for the good of the public. Jeffrey Wigand is a research chemist who makes a good living working for a tobacco company, but yet he risks losing it all, even his own family, when he became a whistle blower exposing the fatal danger of smoking.

TheInsider

It’s a gripping story that’s full of suspense without a single shootout or car chases. The real beauty is in the script and performances, esp. by Russell Crowe as Wigand and Al Pacino as investigative journalist Lowell Bergman. At the core of the story is a riveting David vs. Goliath story that carries the themes about honesty, loyalty, integrity, as well as what it means to selflessly put others first.

The Intouchables (2011)

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Phillipe and Idris couldn’t be more different from each other in terms of background and social status. Yet the two strike an unlikely friendship that spark a journey to self-healing when they least expect it. What I love most about this film is the honest dialog between the two characters and how Idris never see the paraplegic Phillipe as a ‘lesser’ person because of his condition.

Intouchables

It’s a sincere and incredibly poignant depiction of human relationship that celebrates the human spirit. Though their circumstances perhaps don’t change much in the end, their friendship certainly is life-affirming.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

With the South African leader being laid to rest earlier this month, this film’s timing is unbelievably timely. Yet I believe the story of personal courage and benevolence shall stand the test of time. This is not the first film about Mandela I saw, nor would it be the last, but his life story never fails to move and inspire me.

MandelaLongWalkToFreedom

This film shows the personal toll it took on Mandela for the sake of equality and human rights. “It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he declared, and as the film title says, it sure was a long and difficult walk, having to endure 27 years behind bars in Robben Island. He lost his freedom but also his family, not being able to see his wife and kids which ultimately cost his marriage to Winnie. So many things about Mandela are inspiring, but perhaps most of all, is his ability to forgive those who put him in jail. It’s the ultimate manifestation of love,  the love for his people and his nation, that enables him to put aside his own pride and personal vendetta. Now that folks, makes Mandela better than any Hollywood superhero.

Schindler’s List (1993)

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

The contrast of how the Nazis value human life and how Schindler sees it towards the end of the film is tremendously striking. “I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…” Schindler weeps in one of the many, many heart-wrenching scenes of the film. He comes to value how precious each human life is, and that monetary success no longer means anything to him when there are human sufferings all around him.

SchindlersList

Few films strikes deep to the core of your soul like this one, and John Williams’ exquisite score has a transcendental quality that haunts you for a long time. The quintessential ‘inspiring movie,’ Schindler’s List is considered a masterpiece for a reason. Perhaps the best and most personal work by Steven Spielberg, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t think he could do the story justice.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

The story of Irish journalist who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons in 1996 and later gunned down by assassins hired by the same criminal drug lords she exposed.

One of the first Cate Blanchett films I saw and I was so deeply moved by it. The Australian actress is absolutely convincing with her Irish accent and truly disappeared into the role of the Irish journalist.

Her single-minded pursuit which endangers her life and her family can be considered reckless, but one can’t help but admire that incredible courage. On top of that, her lack of apathy towards the evil around her is to be commended, as most people would just turn the other way. Guerin’s husband pleaded for her to drop the case yet she refused to succumb to the criminals’ threats that prove to be fatal.

VeronicaGuerin

It’s painful to see that time and time again, it takes a tragedy for lawmakers and the power that be to finally wake up and fight the crime they should’ve been fighting for from the start. There are memorable supporting turns from Irish actors Ciarán Hinds, as well as then-unknown Colin Farrell in a cameo role. Director Joel Schumacher is known mostly for his bad films like Batman & Robin, yet his smaller gems like this one sadly got overlooked.


Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

BlessedChristmas


Surely there are more inspiring biopics beyond what’s on this list. What are some of your favorites?

10 Favorite Things about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

TheHobbit2_Smaug_Bnr

Much has been debated about whether or not it’s a good idea that The Hobbit gets the same trilogy treatment as The Lord of the Rings trilogy when there is only one book being adapted. Now, I actually didn’t mind it and given how much I adore the Middle Earth universe, I welcome the extended film adaptation.

My interest in these movies increased tenfold when the casting was announced. It’s chock-full of my favorite actors, with Richard Armitage topping that list, then Lee Pace, Luke Evans, the BBC Sherlock duo Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, and of course the LOTR veteran Ian McKellen back as Gandalf. All of them did a wonderful job bringing their respective characters to life. Heck I even like Orlando Bloom as Legolas, I’m not fond of him as an actor but I can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

So here are 10 things I love about the second part of The Hobbit trilogy:

10. The livelier pace
Right of the bat, the film feels more energetic as we finally get to the quest in question. There’s a bit of a flashback scene with Thorin and Gandalf that sets everything up, and since it features my favorite Brit Richard Armitage, I certainly welcome this intro ;)

TheHobbit2_lonelymountain

There are half a dozen major action-packed sequences that really genuinely thrilling, so despite some slower moments, the 161-min running time still feels like a breeze. There is even more sense of urgency to get to Erebor and it definitely makes me even more eager to finally get there myself.


9. The fantastic special effects and set pieces
The technological wizardry is what you’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson movies. As I’ve posted the film production trivia a few days ago, you’ll see that it took a bazillion production workers nd extras, as well as props, prosthetics, sets etc. to bring the Tolkien universe to life. But it’s the endless imagination of PJ and his crews that really makes these films such a fun escapist experience. Ok so there are some sequences that look digitally animated but with a fantasy film like this, it certainly comes with the territory. I’ve also gotten used to seeing it in 3D High Frame Rate(48Frames/Second) and I have to say I enjoyed it even more this time around.

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I even enjoyed the Spider attack scene in the forest though the amazing details on those giant spiders did give me the heebie-jeebies! There are so much details to creating each character and creature, as well as the new settings such as Lake Town and the dwarves kingdom of Erebor that virtually transport you to Middle Earth.

8. The adventure in Lake-town
The addition of Luke Evans as Bard definitely adds more excitement to the story and there’s more adventure in store for Thorin & co. even just getting into the fictitious community of Men upon the Long Lake.

TheHobbit2_Bard_LakeTown

They took a chance with Bard, not knowing if he’d betray him, so it adds to the suspense. It also features one of the funniest bits of the movie, which is a great continuation from the wine barrel escape (more on that later). There’s also some fun scene with always amusing Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, as well as some action packed sequence involving the Orcs and Elves. The town itself is beautiful to look at, apparently Peter Jackson and his crew built about 40 buildings on caster to make up the town.

7. The strong link to the Lord of the Rings story
Gandalf is separated from Bilbo and the Dwarf group this time around, working with his fellow wizard Radagast to get to The Dol Guldur. Inside the ruins is the creepiest sequence of all the film as Gandalf had to confront the Necromancer (once again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

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The terrifying eye of Sauron once again makes an appearance, establishing just what is REALLY at stake beyond the quest involving the Dwarves getting their gold back from a dragon. The duel between Gandalf vs. Necromancer reminds me a bit of the scene where he fought the Balrog creature in an epic battle in which he fell down the Bridge. There’s something so sinister seeing an imprisoned Gandalf watch the Orc army marching off towards the Lonely Mountain and he can’t stop them.

6. The awesomely bad-ass Elves
I always like the elves from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but here, led by Legolas and the Woodland Elf Tauriel. She’s not in the book so I think purists might have a different opinion about her (and Legolas appearing in The Hobbit), but I quite like Evangeline Lily as the warrior Elven princess. As the head of the Elven guard, she’s definitely as bad ass as Legolas, who’s even more swift and agile with his bow and arrows. They both move at breakneck speed as they fight the Orcs, yet there’s something so graceful and elegant about their moves that are so fun to watch. There’s an interesting dynamic between Legolas and Tauriel, hinting at a romance between the two (though seems like Tauriel has more of a thing with Thorin’s nephew Kili, played by the gorgeous Aidan Turner, in this movie).

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One of my favorite scenes from the LOTR trilogy are those set in the ethereal Rivendell, now in this sequel, we’re taken to where the Wood-elves and its leader Thranduil live. I always enjoy the long shot of the lush and beautiful vista of the Elves’ dwelling place. Lee Pace‘s Thranduil has a bit more to do in this sequel, as there are memorable exchanges with Thorin as well as with his son Legolas.

5. Finally getting to Erebor
At the end of the first movie, when everyone was at the top of the large rock and saw the Lonely Mountain in the distance, I remember how I couldn’t wait for the gang to finally reach it. Well, it was so worth the wait!

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There’s something so emotional about the sequence when they finally reach that abandoned palace. It’s apparent that Bilbo and the band of Dwarfs are so weary after such a long journey, both physically and emotionally, so it’s such a huge joy to see them finally reaching their destination. Bilbo once again saves the day and we get to live vicariously through him as his REAL adventure begins as he reach the mountain of gold and jewels… and finally having to face the Dwarves’ arch nemesis!


4. Thorin! Thorin! Thorin!
It’s no surprise that I have a special fondness for Richard Armitage‘s character, but really, can you blame me? It’s one of the best casting choice in The Hobbit, a close second after Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Armitage has even more to do here (yay!) and he sure delivers with stately gravitas. Armitage didn’t sing again here, but he gets to showcase his thunderous deep voice of his in several occasions,  especially in the scene in Lake-town when he appeals to the Master and the people of the town about his quest. I also love that he gets to show his range here as an actor, obviously displaying leading-man charisma but also a certain vulnerability and even tenderness.

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There’s an emotional scene as the gang reaches Erebor, starting with indescribable joy that soon turns to grave disappointment. Thorin displays one of his rare smiles, he’s actually grinning ear to ear at the possibility of finally entering his palace once more, but within minutes we see how his high spirits quickly leaves him. It’s all on display on his expressive face as the camera zooms in on him. His humanity is palpable, here we really see Thorin as not just a leader on a mission, but a man on a very personal journey that means everything to him and the people he loves.


3. The Wine Barrel scene
There’s been many discussions of this escape sequence in many interviews and boy, it definitely lives up to the hype!! If you don’t remember anything about this film, you’d likely remember this one. The scene of getting into the barrel itself is a hoot, which was big enough to fit a couple of Dwarves (well one for the extremely obese Bombur). Once they get to the Celduin river, all hell break lose!

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It’s such a huge rush to watch this scene, no wonder filming this seems to be the most memorable for the cast involved! Not only do they have to survive being bounced around in the river, which runs from the Lonely Mountain south through the Long Lake with some fierce streams, they also have to battle the ugly and vicious Orcs (or Goblins as known in the Hobbit books). The fight scenes involving the three different races (Goblins, Elves and Dwarves) along that river are relentless and exciting, definitely one of the most exhilarating action sequences of the year.


2. Bilbo the hero
What I appreciate most about this film is that each challenges Bilbo, Thorin and the gang encounter built on their character. I think Bilbo’s character arc is even more fleshed out. He told Gandalf that he’s found his courage and though it was told as an alibi, he’s certainly not lying as he’s evolved to be a brave fighter of his own right. The way he rescued the dwarves from the giant spiders show his growing strength and deftness with the sword, but my favorite part is his scene in Erebor.

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He still has his whimsy intact, which makes me love Martin Freeman‘s casting even more. The way he moves and all his nervous gestures are part of his charms and why it’s so effortless to root for him. His zany-ness makes for pure comedic gold, even when he’s literally surrounded by gold trying to find the Arkenstone, which is like finding needle in a haystack!
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1. Smaug
The mythical dragon is everything it’s cracked up to be and more! When Bilbo inevitably wakes him up with all the ruckus, it turns out the lonely dragon is one chatty giant lizard. I guess he’s been all alone for so long with nobody to talk to that he simply can’t shut up, ahah. Benedict Cumberbatch did some motion capture on top of just providing the voice of Smaug, which gives it such a lifelike realism to the creature.

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We get to see every bit of Smaug in its glorious detail from head to toe, which is all kinds of awesome. He’s slithering about tormenting Bilbo with his enormous presence, but it’s the banter between the two that I enjoy the most. It’s dramatic as well as hilarious that I wish the Smaug sequence could’ve been longer! Nice to see the BBC Sherlock duo together again, Cumberbatch’s wit and that iconic voice certainly creates enough of a presence that it was fun to see him interact with Martin Freeman.

The final confrontation with Thorin & co. is thrilling as they’re trying to outwit and outmaneuver the sly Smaug. With Gandalf being away facing off against an even darker power of evil, Bilbo and the Dwarves are pretty much on their own. “If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together,” Thorin proclaims defiantly, and the fight in Erebor is certainly a fiery one.

I really enjoyed the Smaug sequences that when he flew away and the closing credits came on, I felt like it was a tad too soon!


Kili (Aidan Turner)

Kili (Aidan Turner)

Now, I wish I could give this film a 5/5 but there are some REALLY slow moments that I feel grounds the film to a halt. One scene in particular is the lengthy flirty banter between Tauriel and Kili. Now, as Tauriel isn’t even in the book, I can”t imagine that scene is crucial to the story. It’s also odd given that there was much talk about Tauriel & Legolas romance that we barely see. Kili gets a lot more screen time in this film, so I’m curious about his character arc in the final installment.

Overall, it’s a great follow-up of an epic journey. The ending promises that even more lives are at stake in Middle Earth with Smaug being unleashed. Boy I’m even more eager to see the final film.

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4 out of 5 reels

So what do you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.