10 Favorite Romantic Films Directed by Women

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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!

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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).

TheHobbit2_TaurielLegolas
TheHobbit2_Mirkwood

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!

TheHobbit2_KeytoErebor

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.

TheHobbit2_ThorinInLakeTown

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!

TheHobbit2_WineBarrel

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.

TheHobbit2_BilboInErebor

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.

TheHobbit2_Smaug

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.

fourreels
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.

Breaking Emotions Blogathon: HATE + LOVE

BreakingEmotions_Banner

This is the last set of emotions from Mettel Ray‘s BREAKING EMOTIONS blogathon. Check out my entry on the previous two sets of emotions: Tears & Surprise and Smiles & Thrills.

HATE + LOVE

Here’s what Mettel had in mind about the set of emotions:

Finishing up the emotions are two of the most ultimate emotional states one could imagine, HATE is up first in this case because I wanted the good stuff to be the last thing everybody will read when it comes to the Breaking Emotions Blogathon. It is quite obvious that we all have those scenes that just bring up all the bad feelings and it’s not even awkward, it is just plain bad! Most of my hate is towards romantic comedies but I’m sure there are some serious scenes that have caused some of you some inner turmoil and this is the time and place to let all those emotions run wild.

And the last one, the very last emotion I’m asking you guys to break is LOVE – it doesn’t have to be a scene about love, hell no, it can be a sci-fi scenery, it can be the ending of a drama and yes, it can be a scene from Notebook as well but it’s not mandatory. I’m looking for scenes that you love and adore until the end of time, scenes that just pop up in your mind while walking to the store and are just simply awesome. What are the scenes that you love the most?

Check out Mettel Ray’s post on Breaking Emotions: HATE + LOVE


It should be obvious for posts like these, but just in case, if you haven’t seen any of these, BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Ok, so here are my picks:

HATE

Schindler’s ListThe Balcony Scene

There are many, many instances where Amon Goeth (played with chilling realism by Ralph Fiennes) does absolutely revolting acts that makes your blood turn cold. But this is one that particularly stands out. The bloated second lieutenant just wakes up and goes to his balcony of his villa in Kraków, he nonchalantly grabs his rifle and starts shooting Jewish people at random, whoever happens to enter his eye-shot.

I so hated Goeth, but more than that, I hated Hitler and the Nazi party for corrupting people to such a degree that they lost their souls. I mean, they’re worse than alien body snatchers (if there were such a thing) as they’re SOUL snatchers, making humans worse than animals.

District 9 –  Test weapon scene

This is one of the most harrowing scene that made me so sad and so angry. I hated that the people at the lab forced Wikus to do this, it’s one of those sci-fi films that REALLY made me abhor the humans in it. I couldn’t bear watching this scene at the theater, and hearing Wikus’ pleading that he doesn’t want to shoot the aliens is so gut-wrenching. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll see the obvious allegory to racism and how the Prawns are treated like second or even third class citizens with nowhere to go. At this point, Wikus’ has been infected with the alien DNA and that’s why he’s the only one who could operate the extra-terrestrial weaponry. So he’s forced to shoot the Prawns who hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s infuriating how quickly the people at the military company turn on their fellow human being as Wikus’ been infected. On top of that, they have no qualms in manipulating him for their own gain. I hated this scene so much and it’s one that lingers with me most after the film’s over.

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Bel Ami – Robert Pattinson’s mis-casting

I’ve already made a post on this a while back on good/bad casting choices of 2012. Well I’m going to mention it again here as I really hated his performance here as R-Patz is so terribly mis-cast. Ok so teeny-boppers may think he’s like THE most beautiful man vampire in the planet in those abhorrent Twilight movies, but seeing him with the likes of the great Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman, and even Christina Ricci who’s closer to his age just highlights how ill-advised his casting was. On top of that, his character is so utterly unlikable, unsympathetic and just a plain douche bag. Now, a charismatic actor could make me like him or at least enjoy his performance but R-Patz just makes me want to punch him and kick myself for renting this [it's on Netflix so at least I didn't have to pay extra for it, but still!].

BelAmi_PattinsonScottThomas

The character of George Duroy from Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel is supposed to be seductive and manipulative [which is a juicy role for any actor methinks], but Pattinson’s portrayal is neither, he’s just annoying and lame. I hated what his character did to those women who loved him, but most of all, I just hated his sub-par acting that’s completely devoid of charm.

* I almost put his ex Kristen Stewart’s performance in Twilight and Snow White & The Huntsman on here, but you know what, I think I hated R-Patz’ performance here more. And that speaks volumes!


LOVE

Sleepless in Seattle – Finale

“Are you Annie?”

“Yes.”

“You’re Annie?”

“This is my dad… his name is Sam.”

“Hi Jonah… [sigh] Sam…”

SleeplessInSeattleEnding

I only love a handful of rom-coms and three of them are by Nora Ephron. Out of the three, I think Sleepless in Seattle my favorite, one that I can watch over and over. I can easily list all the things I love about this movie, but I’ll save that for Valentine’s Day. I picked this finale as this is the only time the two main protagonists actually meets and oh, what a meeting it was. It was such a satisfying ending to all that build-up throughout the film and it was as perfect as a romantic scene can be filmed without resorting to banal over-sentimentality. It’s got just the right amount of sweetness and plenty of adorable things, such as Sam’s son Jonah grinning ear-to-ear when he realized it’s the woman he wrote his letter to (and when the elevator closes). It’s as much a love story between a man and a woman as it’s a love story for a family, whose tragic loss seems too impossible to recover from. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan at their loveliest, plus the music is just so enchanting!

Beauty & The Beast – There’s something there

There may be something there that wasn’t there before.

BeautyAndTheBeast_SomethingThere

Since I just talked about Disney movies at the last Five for the Fifth, I wanted to include one that always makes my heart soar. The song is lovely and whimsical, and though it may not be the most memorable one of the entire movie, this scene is just adorable. It always puts a smile on my face every time I think of it [so I guess it would fit under the SMILE Breaking Emotions, too!]. It’s the ultimate unlikely friendship that blossomed into well, something more. You could say that Belle and The Beast are the most developed characters amongst other Disney *princess* movies as you really see the gradual progression of their relationship. The ballroom dance scene is perhaps what people remember most, but I picked this one as there’s an irresistible innocence about it and Belle’s expression as she realizes her feelings for the Beast is wonderful to behold. The scenery, song, etc. all make up for one lovely scene.

Superman: The Movie – Superman rescues Lois scene

I know it’s predictable that I put this on here given how much I loved Superman, but we are talking about a scene that I will love and adore until the end of time, so I can’t possibly exclude this one. Every time the rousing theme plays on as Lois quipped, ‘You’ve got me, who’s got you?’ I can’t help feeling nostalgic and giddy as the first time I saw this when I was a kid. This is why the Christopher Reeves will always be Superman in my heart, inimitable and unrivaled to this day.

SupermanSavesLois

There are SO many awesome things about this scene… the set-up, how Supes was introduced, the crowd’s reaction as he saw him fly [as well as the 'that's a bad outfit!' quip the first time he's seen in the red & blue suit] and of course, that iconic John Williams‘ theme song! It’s just brilliantly done by Richard Donner that is still the scene to beat even three decades later. This is what Man of Steel is lacking… at least one truly memorable scene featuring the Kryptonian hero that even if you remember nothing else about the film, you will always remember the one iconic scene. In the case of this one, it’s one I will always cherish for ever and ever, and one that never fails to fill my heart with joy.


What do you think of my picks? Which scenes would YOU pick for LOVE + HATE?

Counting down to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

TheHobbit2_Bnr

Finally the wait is almost over! The movie opens here next Friday but I don’t have to wait much longer as I’ll be seeing it tomorrow night! :D

I quite enjoyed the first movie [read my top 10 list why I think it was a worthwhile journey] and I’m one of the few people who actually don’t mind seeing The Hobbit extended in three films as I just love the Middle Earth universe, especially filled with my favorite actors! Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, oh my!

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Some of the ensemble cast at the L.A. premiere earlier this week

Well, just for fun, here are some interesting trivia and fun marketing campaign:

BY THE NUMBERS

1 Hobbit – Bilbo Baggins

1 Dragon – Smaug

Smaug_Bilbo

1 Crew member whose sole job on set was to look after prosthetic hands

1 Elvenking – Thranduil

ElvenKingThranduil

2.5 Number of years the textures department at Weta Digital worked on Smaug’s skin

2 Wizards – Gandalf and Radagast

3 Number of children belonging to Bard

3 Films in the Trilogy

4 Inches that 15-year-old actor John Bell (Bain) grew over the length of production

4 Tons of silicon used to generate the facial prosthetics

5 Hours to complete hair, make-up, prosthetics and wardrobe for each of the 13 Dwarves

5 Average number of doubles used for each main character, including scale, stunt and riding doubles

6 Number of weeks it took to build Beorn’s house

BeornHouse

7 km Length of toupe tape used to attach beards to faces

8 Legs on the giant Spiders infesting Mirkwood Forest

9 Weeks of location filming on the Trilogy

10kg Human hair for wigmaking

104 Average days it took to renew a studio with a new set

13 Dwarves – Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori and Ori

13 Empty wine barrels in which the Dwarves escape Thranduil’s Realm

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14 Tons of silicone used to mold all of the armor and weapons for all cultures

26 Average days shooting on a single set

32 Polystyrene trees, used in various configurations, to make the Mirkwood set

40 Buildings on casters that make up the Lake-town set

TheHobbit_PJ_LakeTown

48fps Higher frame rate used for the Trilogy

60 2nd unit studio crew

65 Number of people it took—including actors, doubles and stunt men—to portray 13 Dwarves

80 The age of the oldest vintage microphone used to record the score for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

88 Microphones used in the film’s scoring session

91 Wigs created for the Dwarves

94 Set models created for the Trilogy

95 Number of musicians in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recording the film’s score

99 Number of studio sets built for the Trilogy

100+ Hobbit feet for Bilbo

stewtwt

Even Smaug couldn’t resist Bilbo’s feet! [Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman on set]

Check out this hilarious Yahoo! video Guess the Feet, too bad I can’t embed it directly to this post, but trust me, it’s a hoot!

100 Total 2nd unit location crew

100 Total costume department crew

115 Number of drivers needed to transport the cast and crew to New Zealand locations

250+ Approximate population of the Trilogy’s art department

263 Beards made for the production

300 Bottles of spirit gum used in the production

350 Off-set crew

400 Costumes created for Lake-town

450 Main unit studio crew

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547 Traveling weapons for the 13 Dwarves

800 Crew traveling on location between two units

860 Bottles of isopropyl alcohol used to remove prosthetics

752 Wigs. Nearly everyone in the film is wigged

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1200 ‘Extras’ that needed to be cast for the Trilogy

2000 Hand-spun goblets created for Smaug’s Lair

3000 Props recorded in the furniture catalogue for Lake-town

5000+ Approximate population of Lake-town

8900 Approximate number of continuous hours the art department worked to build, decorate, and tear down sets. This involved different crews working 24/7

11,862 Prosthetics made for the Trilogy

TheHobbit_DirectingDwarfs

140,000+ Cups of coffee made by craft services throughout production

170,000 Punched aluminum gold plated coins trickled over Smaug’s Lair

Air New Zealand

This was released in mid November along with a contest to win a 5 night trip for two to Middle-earth itself! Oh man, that would’ve been sweet! That’s one of the dream places I’d love to visit, hopefully someday I could make it there as well as visit my dear aunt in Sydney, Australia!

Here in Middle-earth, everyday tasks can reveal out of this world surprises and before you know it everything can turn a bit Hobbit-shaped.

And one of my favorites about Peter Jackson‘s films are the plethora of video blogs and behind-the-scenes footage he readily share to his fans. Here’s the latest Production Diary which focuses on filming with Smaug the Dragon. Now I could watch an entire video just on Benedict Cumberbatch on set:


And here’s a 13-minute video of filming, I wish there are more specifically on the Barrel escape scene!

Well, the reviews I’ve been reading so far has been positive, so I’m even more excited about it than ever. I LOVE the world of Middle Earth so I really can’t wait to go back and be immersed in that universe once again!


Hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Thoughts on The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug?

Happy Thanksgiving! 28 Movies I’m thankful for in 2013

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Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s the first time I’m spending Thanksgiving apart from my dearest hubby, as he’s in Jakarta, Indonesia and I’m here in sunny San Diego, but I’m thankful nonetheless. It’s been such a blessing to spend time with my BFF whom I’ve been friends with since Junior High! I should make a list of Great Friends in Movies in her honor, kind of like what I did for my loving hubby a couple of years back: What I’m Thankful For – My Loving Husband and also my list of Wonderful Movie Husbands. Did you notice that Christian Bale‘s John Rolfe in The New World kept popping up? I mentioned him again on this Breaking Emotions: Smiles :D

Now, I’m thankful to be a movie blogger and I’m especially thankful for the friends I’ve made through blogging, and getting press accreditation that gives me access to advanced screenings (Thanks to everyone at ALLIED!). So with those, as well as the two Film Festivals in town: TCFF and MSP Int’l Film Festival, it’s truly been a great year for me as a movie lover. I’m not as hugely prolific as other bloggers but still, there are probably far more films I could list here. But since it’s the 28th today and that number represents a good 2013* sampling based on what I’ve seen so far, let’s just go with that.

MoviesImThankfulFor

Here they are in alphabetical order:

12 Years a Slave
A harrowing and unflinching depiction of human cruelty but it also offers us the beauty and power of the human spirit. I’m thankful for Steve McQueen‘s skillful direction and Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s brilliant performance.

August: Osage County
This film makes me thankful for my family, no matter how nutty and chaotic we think we have it. Beauty amidst chaos. There’s something so out there yet relatable about this dysfunctional family tale, and the amazing performances made this so disquieting yet entertaining.

Austenland
I had so much fun watching this on the big screen. It was hilarious and sweet, yes it’s cheesy and goofy at times but that’s kind of the point. It’s an homage AND a spoof in one, and as a Jane Austen fan, it was a blast to watch.

Captain Philips
There are stories that truly made me grateful for being alive and well, and this is one of those films. It’s wonderful to see an old favorite performer (Tom Hanks) in top form and a brand new face making his mark for the first time (Barkhad Abdi).

Disconnect
A story that really makes you take stock and reflect at our own lives and what’s going on around us. It also introduced me to an amazing British actress Andrea Riseborough who impressed me in all three films I saw her in (the other two were Oblivion and Shadow Dancer)

Fast & Furious 6
Not every movie has to aim for an Academy Award. This one sets out to be a thrilling action with over-the-top spectacle and it delivers! I also like the underlying message about taking care of one’s friends and family.

Gravity
A technical marvel that offers one of the most emotionally-gratifying story I’ve seen this year. We take so much for granted the simpler things in life, but after seeing this, even just inhaling air into our lungs feels like an amazing privilege. Thank you Alfonso Cuarón for making such a masterful work we’d appreciate for years to come.

Her
A movie I barely knew anything about yet I was floored by how much this affected me. It’s such a unique love story. It’s disturbing, thought-provoking, soul-stirring, with a haunting quality that would linger long after the credits roll. I’m always thankful for films that remind us what it means to be human, so thanks Spike Jonze for making this, and Joaquin Phoenix for your soulful performance!

In A World …
Lake Bell‘s debut is real comedic gem! I really like the story of the voice over industry, which I’m surprised it hasn’t been tackled before as that material makes for a comedic gold. I hope she continues to make movies, as Hollywood could use more female filmmakers.

Iron Man 3
To be honest I was rather blase about this one but somehow Shane Black managed to still inject a fresh approach into this bankable Marvel franchise. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves why he’s the best paid Marvel superhero as his charm and wit never fails to entertain. Plus Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley add so much to the fun playing baddies.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler
The themes of racial injustice is how much we have overcome but also that the US still have a long way to go. I was so moved by Cecil’s journey as a person as well as a loyal Butler serving under five American presidents. It’s a poignant, touching and heart-warming portrayal that’s also humorous and lively.

Man of Steel
I’ve seen it three times by now and though I didn’t fall in love with this one as I did with Donner’s first Superman film, there are still a lot to love here. For one, Henry Cavill‘s version the kind of Superman I can actually identify with, his hu-MAN aspect is actually far more intriguing than his SUPER one and his relationship with both his Kryptonian and earthly family are beautifully-realized.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
I know I’ll always be thankful for any film with Idris Elba in the leading role. Especially when it’s a role that showcases his chops and versatility as an actor. I have to admit I feel a bit guilty drooling over him as he’s playing Mandela, but really can you blame me? Who knew Mandela was so darn hunky? ;)

Monsters University
Thanks Pixar for taking me back to the adorable citizens of Monstropolis! Sully, Mike & co. are still a blast to watch, especially little Mike Wazowski as a dorky green-eyed monster in grade school, complete with his teeth retainer! It really made me appreciate the gift of friendship as the movie took us into the journey of how Mike & Sully first become friends.

Mud
There’s something so gratifying to see a talented actor gets a comeback of sort and seeing Matthew McConnaughey in the past couple of years is like seeing him making the most of his second chance at [acting] life. This beautifully-shot film also features marvelous portrayal of unlikely friendships between two young boys and Mud, a man w/ a shoddy past.

Nebraska
Yet another film that makes me appreciate the intricacy of family, that there’s grace even in the most complicated and frustrating relationships. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this film as much as I did, so that’s always something to be thankful for. Bruce Dern and Wil Forte are such an unlikely pairing that paid off big time. The father-son relationship is as convincing as it is endearing. Plus June Squibb is a hoot with her irreverent frankness.

Pacific Rim
Thank you Guillermo Del Toro for such unabashedly fun action movie that’s entertaining to watch over and over! I have seen this movie five times already and I still get this big grin on my face every single time. Yes it’s cheesy but it’s GOOD cheese, so I’m not ashamed that I’ve become a Jaeger groupie :D Special thanks to Ramin Djawadi for his super awesome, electrifying score!

Rush
It’s a movie that literally lives up to its title for giving us an adrenaline rush from start to finish. The racing sequences are amazingly-shot and gives us a sense as if we’re right there where the action is, but the dramatic story between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda are just as intriguing to watch.

Star Trek Into Darkness
I already said before that I was thankful to JJ Abrams for making me care for the whole Star Trek universe. I’m especially thankful for Benedict Cumberbatch casting as a sexy villain, he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. It’s also fun to see Capt. Kirk and the Enterprise crew, certainly one of my favorite ensemble cast of recent memory.

Stoker
I had trepidation about watching this as the director had made some really violent films in the past, but I’m glad this one was still within my comfort level. Stoker is a gorgeous thriller with an eerie atmosphere that REALLY gets under your skin.

The Act of Killing
No doubt one of THE most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, yet I’m thankful that director Joshua Oppenheimer made this eye-opening documentary that exposes my home country’s darkest past. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen and in a land where originality is as hard to find as needle in a hay stack, this is a film that every cinephile should make a point to see.

The Angels’ Share
I had the privilege of seeing this Scottish indie gem just a day before my interview with its writer Paul Laverty. It was a joy to watch newbie Scottish actor Paul Brannigan shine in a heist comedy of sort, funny with plenty of heart.

The Armstrong Lie
A well-made documentary that’s as eye-opening as it is beautiful to look at. Alex Gibney got an unprecedented access into one of the biggest sports scandal in history. Yet as disturbing as Lance Armstrong’s doping violation was, it’s the abuse of power and ugly betrayals that struck me the most.

The Hunt
If you want a roller-coaster emotional ride, look no further than this astutely-made Danish film. It’ll make you in awe of its beauty (the acting, cinematography) as well as incredibly angry at how cruel humanity could be as director Thomas Vinterberg immerses you in the protagonist’ plight. Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely brilliant in his understated yet intense portrayal of a man being persecuted publicly for a crime he didn’t commit, and more heartbreaking of all, cast aside by his own friends.

The Kings of Summer
This film made me so thankful of the beauty of nature and friendship, however fragile it can be. A beautifully-shot coming-of-age story that’s peppered with meaningful and hilarious moments. Great script, performances, scenery and soundtrack — it’s got all the ingredients to make an entertaining film that I don’t mind watching again.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
It’s always nice to see a new face on screen, especially someone as charismatic as  London-born Riz Ahmed. He shines as the protagonist in this cultural drama under Indian director Mira Nair‘s careful direction. Though it deals with a political/terrorism theme of 9/11, this is ultimately about a journey of a brilliant Pakistani young man caught between two worlds in a time where prejudice and distrust runs rampant.

Thor: The Dark World
A robustly entertaining film that’s also thigh-slapping-ly hilarious.  Any movie that features the undeniable charismatic Tom Hiddleston is something to be thankful for, in fact I’d be even more grateful to Marvel Studios if they’d just make a Loki movie already… and soon! 

World War Z
I never thought I’d put a zombie flick on my thankful list, let alone one with Brad Pitt in it! But I quite enjoyed WWZ as it’s more of a political thriller than a slasher/horror flick. The story was intriguing enough that I’m actually interested to see how the planned sequel is going to pan out.

* Note that a few of these films might’ve been released in 2012 outside of the US but I went with the US release dates which were all in 2013.


So HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all my friends who are celebrating! But you don’t need to have a Thanksgiving holiday to be grateful about something.

So what are some of the 2013 movies you’re most thankful for [so far]?