Weekend Roundup & MSPIFF14 double reviews starring Juliette Binoche

Happy Monday everyone! Hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend.

I took a bit of a break from blogging this weekend, but this week has been pretty busy in terms of movie watching. It’s the last week of the MSPIFF 2014 and I saw three more films, one short of what I intended to see but fortunately there’ll be a press screening of Locke next Monday. As the film fest continues with Best of Fest screenings all week, there’ll be more reviews coming from both me and Josh ;)

Here are the three new movies I saw over the weekend:

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I’ve blogged about All Things To All Men quite a while ago and finally it’s available on Netflix streaming. Remember how I always say some movies are well worth seeing just for the cast. Well, in this case, the ONLY thing worth seeing is the three actors: Toby Stephens, Rufus Sewell and Gabriel Byrne in that order [I'm having a serious crush on Toby, didn't you notice?] Alas, the film itself left so much to be desired, and leaves me scratching my head why these actors signed on to do such a project. Did they lose a bet or something? I’m not sure I could even review it, but let me just say that unless you’re absolutely in love with any of the cast, I can’t exactly recommend it.

These two from MSPIFF, on the other hand, is well worth a look.

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A Thousand Times Good Night

Rebecca is one of the world’s top war photographers. She must weather a major emotional storm when her husband refuses to put up with her dangerous life any longer. 

This is one of those dramas that at times play out like a thriller. Even from the first moments when the protagonist is witnessing a ceremonial custom of an Afghan suicide bomber being prepped for self sacrifice, it’s quite an emotional roller coaster all the way to the very last scene.

For Rebecca (Juliette Binoche), covering the war is not just a job, it’s her way of life. When she comes home injured from Afghanistan, it’s apparent that it’s just as tough for her family to deal with her dangerous job. It’s apparent that her husband Marcus is constantly worried sick for Rebecca and this incident puts him over the edge which compels him to give her an ultimatum. It’s her family or her job. At first I felt that it’s not fair of him to do so, but as the film progresses, we’re shown how her two young daughters are dealing with her absence whilst she’s away in a war zone. It’s a tricky dilemma that I find myself grappling with as I watched this film. I read that this film is semi-autobiographical as Norwegian director Erik Poppe was a war photographer himself. No doubt this story is quite a personal one for him.

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The main quibble I have with the film is the slow pace. I don’t mind quiet moments on film, but at times it felt a bit too indulgent that it threatens to grind the film to a halt. The metaphor of Rebecca drowning/suffocating by her life dilemma also grows repetitive. But the cinematography is simply stunning, nearly every shot is like a work of art. It’s also very atmospheric and the conflict felt genuine. The sense of authenticity comes from a committed performance from the always-reliable Binoche, as well as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays her sensitive & caring husband. I’ve always been a big fan of Nikolaj from his short TV stint in New Amsterdam, long before he played Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones, and he proves himself once again to be a capable and versatile actor. Lauryn Canny as Rebecca’s eldest daughter Steph is also quite good. When they’re in Africa, something happened that was quite traumatic for Steph. Some of the most emotional scenes in the film feature the two of them.

The heart of the film is no doubt Binoche. She conveys so much even in scenes where no words are spoken. This is the first of two films I saw her in and she’s absolutely excellent in both of these. There’s a certain aura of mystique about her that seems unreachable, and she’s very convincing as an fiercely idealistic woman. There is a fine line between bravery and recklessness and I think this film often blurs that line. There is a hint at the finale where Rebecca is back in Afghanistan that perhaps she’s a changed person after what happened between her and Steph, but the film lets us interpret that for ourselves.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Words and Pictures

An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important.

Romance that’s sparked out of rivalry has been done many times before, but with the right cast, it can still feel fresh. The pairing of Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche is what intrigues me about this film and they’re still the reason to watch to movie.

Owen is Jack ‘Mr Mark’ Marcus, a gifted English teacher at an upscale prep school. His best days as a published author seems to be behind him and he’s got a drinking problem. Perhaps that’s a result of his disillusionment with his life, as he seems to have lost his mojo, as well as in danger of losing his job. Meanwhile, a renowned painter Dina Delsanto (Binoche) has just been hired at the school. Her nickname is icicle for obvious reasons, but her coldness seems to also stem from her disappointment that she can no longer paint as much as she did due to her server Rheumatoid arthritis.

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The two couldn’t be more different from each other, but as they say, opposites attracts. It’s fun to watch Owen in a softer role like this where he’s not firing a gun every two seconds, but his intensity is still there as he bud heads with the school principal and board members. He’s a deeply flawed character and in the most vulnerable moments, especially between him and his estranged son, is where I enjoyed his performance most. I wish the film would focus more on these two characters, as all the drama with the students are not as intriguing to me, and they don’t really add much to the story. The whole school competition of Words vs Pictures is more of a personal *war* for Marcus and Delsanto, and though it’s predictable that they’d end up together, it’s still fun to watch their banters. I personally like the pairing of Owen and Binoche more than him and Julia Roberts in Duplicity, which I find rather contrived. The only other actor I like in this movie is Bruce Davison as one of the more sympathetic faculty members.

Binoche is lovely here and it’s a testament to her versatility that she is also very convincing as a painter. I didn’t know that she’s an artist herself but in the credits I noticed that the Delsanto’s work is by Binoche, wow! I think out of the two films I saw last week, her dramatic chops perhaps suits something like A Thousand Times Good Night better. I like the idea of two broken people finding each other and to see a romantic film between people over the age of 40. Alas, I think the ending is almost as rough as Owen’s unkempt stubbles. Even the finale of the competition just didn’t have the oomph needed to make the story soar. Overall it’s an enjoyable dramedy though, eons better than a lot of the rom-coms are churning out these days. If you’re a fan of these two actors, this one is definitely worth a look.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


So what did you see this Easter weekend? Anything good?

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Weekend Viewing Roundup & MSPIFF14 Review: Intruders (2013)

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After the snow storm on Friday, this weekend turned out to be absolutely gorgeous. Saw four movies this weekend:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the second time around (yep, still love it!). It’s currently my favorite Marvel stand-alone movie!
  • Capricorn One – a fantastic 1977 space conspiracy thriller (Thanks Michael for lending it to me!). Review upcoming but I really enjoyed this one, and that ending was awesome!
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  • For my first day at MSPIFF, I saw two films yesterday:
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I should have reviews of both Brave Miss World and David Gordon Green’s JOE later this week but I’m thrilled to not only saw such a great documentary about such an important yet devastating issue of rape, but I got to meet filmmaker Cecilia Peck, yes Gregory Peck daughter! After the Q&A, I went up to her and tell her how huge of a fan I was of her dad, and that I appreciate her making such a great film on an important topic. She clearly cares about social justice issues like her dad did, and she is just as beautiful inside and out as well. Too bad all four of the photos taken were so dark (turns out the flash was off), but you could see a bit of our smiling faces I think :D

 


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I’m thrilled to tag team with Josh from JJames Reviews (who’s way more than qualified btw) in covering MSPIFF 2014! He’ll be contributing MSPIFF reviews for the next three weeks. Starting with this one from South Korea:

INTRUDERS

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The Festival staffperson who introduced Intruders pitched it as being “Fargo by way of South Korea.” She wasn’t far off, at least when considering the ways both films generate humor through flawed characters and unexpected plot twists. That each includes sweeping wintry landscapes and impressive cinematography facilitates the comparison, as well.

In Intruders, writer Sang-jin (Jun Suk-ho) takes a bus to the Gangwon province in South Korea’s mountainous north, where he plans to stay at a closed and otherwise unoccupied bed and breakfast that belongs to his boss’s family. While alone at the resort, Sang-jin hopes to finally complete his screenplay, for which his boss is impatiently waiting. Unfortunately, the writer faces significant challenges, including writers’ block, a talkative ex-convict named Hak-su (Oh Tae-kyung), two scary hunters, a group of young skiers who think he manages the resort, and a local police officer (Choi Moo-soung). It only gets worse when he becomes increasingly convinced that the bed and breakfast is unsafe.

Along the way, Intruders reminds us of several mainstream films, including, of course, Fargo (1996), but also Prisoners (2013) and Misery (1990), a project writer/director Noh Young-seok jokingly references in Intruders’ first act. All are favorable comparisons, largely because Noh makes many strong authorial and directorial decisions. Start with his screenplay, which impressively shows not tells the most important characters. We know Sang-jin intimately, despite only passing references to his backstory and limited dialogue explaining his current motivations. Then, we see him change through carefully developed scenes.

Hak-su and the cop are similarly well written, but Noh struggles a bit with his secondary characters. The hunters are enigmas and most of the skiers are stereotypically inconsiderate youngsters, indistinguishable from one another. Only Yu-mi (Han En-sun) is given some treatment, but even she is too thinly defined, what with only two character traits: angry and shrill.

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Yet, Noh Young-seok’s screenplay mostly overcomes flaws in development of secondary characters, partially because it masterfully foreshadows plot twists, so well, in fact, that we are never certain what will happen next, but also never stunned into disbelief by new developments. In his long opening sequence, for instance, Noh shows Sang-jin’s obliviousness, playing it for humor but also staying with it long enough that we know it will be important later. Frequent newscasts foreshadow what is to come, as do many other examples I will not directly cite.

That Intruders is often laugh out loud funny, even in its darkest moments, helps as well. As do the actors, all of whom are perfectly understated. Special mention to Oh Tae-kyung who plays Hak-su so skillfully that we can never be certain whether or not the character is an innocent bystander, a villain or something in between.

Neither the screenplay nor the actors are Intruders greatest merit, however. Noh’s direction is. Take for example, his camera work. By frequently placing subjects in the center of the screen, and by using lengthy point of view shots, the director increases our sense of intimacy with his characters. Plus, he keeps the camera perfectly still for the majority of the film, only to move it in bursts of lengthy pans, arcs and editing cuts, techniques that heighten or lessen tension fittingly. As just one more example of Noh’s directorial talent, Intruders’ ambiguous symbolism works very well; when, at one point, Noh cuts away to a close up of a spider web, we have to wonder: is Sang-jun the spider or the trapped prey?

The director is so good that we can overlook Intruders’ unsatisfying jump cut to end credits or its inconsistent use of telephones. No matter its few minor flaws, this film is very good.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels

P.S. So far, Intruders lacks US distribution. Hopefully that changes.

Review by Josh

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Thoughts on the film(s) above? What did YOU see this weekend, folks?

Monthly Roundup & Favorite Film of March 2014

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Welcome to April everybody! I finally got my flip-flops out yesterday for the first time in … well I can’t even remember! Temperature actually reached 60˚F on Sunday! I saw a bunch of people in shorts either jogging or on their bikes. It’s just a tease though as we’ll be back in the 30s again tomorrow, complete with SNOW! :(  Thank goodness blogging is something I can do indoor or there’d be only like two posts a month, ahah.

Now, before I get to the recap, I just want to make a small but significant announcement:

APRIL FOOOOOOLS!

This past weekend I rewatched The Notebook again (in tandem with Drive) and now I’ve fallen madly in love with Ryan Gosling! YES I know, I know, better late than never right? I felt like I have been missing out that I have not blogged about the oh-so-hunky & massively talented movie star. So to make up for lost time, I will be dedicating the entire month of April to Ryan Gosling and his films. I even made a special header to commemorate this special occasion!

Ahah sorry to those who fell for my April Fools prank, I wanted to do something cheeky and my hubby helped me come up with the idea. So don’t expect me blogging about Gosling anytime soon. No hard feelings ok, friends? ;)


Ok now that we’ve got that out of the way… here are some posts from March you might’ve missed:

Lots of Blogathons I participated this month, here are three I participated in:

New Releases:

Rental:

Rewatches:

March Blindspot Film: All The President’s Men (1976)

Favorite Movie Seen in March 2014:

FaveMarchMovie_CapAmerica2I happen to enjoy the first Captain America movie, even more so every time I watched it. Yet this one managed to surpass it. The conspiracy theme they promised us definitely delivered, and Chris Evans is much more comfortable in the role and he absolutely rocked it. Review coming later this week!


What I’m looking forward to in April:

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Just got my Press Pass yesterday so I’ll be posting which films I’ll be seeing. Stay tuned!


So, what movies did you get to see in March and which one is your favorite?

Weekend Viewing Roundup & 28 Days (2000) mini review

Happy Sunday everyone! It finally felt like Spring is actually around the corner here in my neck of the woods. The good news is we can forgo the long johns and parka, but we now have to put up with dirty cars as the roads and slushy roads from melting mountains of snow.

Well, no cinema trip this weekend but it’s been a great week as a film fan as I got to see Divergent two weeks early and also got to interview author Veronica Roth and cast member Ansel Elgort (who’d be starring with Shailene Woodley again in the upcoming drama The Fault in our Stars). I’m still transcribing the Q&A so stay tuned for it next week!

Here’s what I saw this weekend:

28 Days (2000)

A big-city newspaper columnist is forced to enter a drug and alcohol rehab center after ruining her sister’s wedding and crashing a stolen limousine.

I’m not exactly sure why we rented this movie but if you haven’t seen this yet and was curious to see Viggo Mortensen here a year before he became Aragorn, note that the actor’s billing on IMDb is misleading as his character’s screen time is so small it’s more of a cameo! Dominic West had more screen time than him as the obnoxious & drunk boyfriend of Sandra Bullock‘s character. Now I like Sandy and that’s one of the reasons I saw this, but even she couldn’t save the movie.

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I felt like the story could’ve been told so much better and have more depth to make it memorable. I’d say you’d like to see a movie about characters in a mental institution, I think you’d be better off renting Girl, Interrupted. I think making this subject matter and make it a comedy seems ill-advised. It’s not THAT funny to begin with and the serious moments just didn’t make any real impact. I think the one saving grace is perhaps Alan Tudyk as a gay German rehab patient. I wish he had more screen time as he’s hilarious and the movie seems to pick up every time he appears. Oh, there’s also Steve Buscemi who’s always watchable, but it’s a bit odd to see him playing it completely straight as the former-alcoholic-turned-counselor, it kind of seems like a missed opportunity, ahah. Oh, as for Mortensen, well he is practically wasted as a supposedly famous baseball player who has a knack for watching soap operas. Yes it sounds funny but it’s really not that hilarious as it’s being played in the movie as his character didn’t even appear in the soap re-enactment scene towards the end.

I can’t say I recommend this one unless you’re a die hard Sandra Bullock fan. But I wish I had rewatched While You’re Sleeping instead.

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2 out of 5 reels


I also re-watched a couple of old favorites this weekend …

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I LOVE this romance drama by Mexican director Alfonso Arau. Yes Keanu Reeves seemed an unlikely romantic lead but I think he’s lovely in this movie and has a nice chemistry with Italian/Spanish actress Aitana Sánchez Gijón. I’ve always admired the gorgeous cinematography, it turns out it was the work of recent Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki! I still love this movie, it’s one of my fave unconventionally-romantic movies!

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Daniel Craig‘s fantastic intro to the Bond franchise has become one of my all time favorites. It’s still the one to beat out of the three he’s done so far IMO. The action, the scenery and the music are all superb, plus it features my fave Bond girl Vesper Lynd. I’d rather see Eva Green here than in the 300 sequel, and based on Ted’s review, good thing I skipped the movie.

… and a new-to-me Wes Anderson movie released seven years ago:

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I’ve been curious to see this one for some time, but after seeing Keith’s review on Friday I thought I’d rent it this weekend. As I was writing my review of Grand Budapest Hotel, it gives more perspective into Wes Anderson’s filmography. Stay tuned for my review of both of his movies later this week!


So what did you watch this weekend? Thoughts on the movies I mentioned above?

Monthly Roundup & Favorite Film of February 2014

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Ahhh… March is here! Though it came in like a mountain lion as this weekend’s temps was struggling to get above ZERO Fahrenheit, there’s a promise of a warmer days ahead. By *warmer* I mean highs in 20s and 30s, I’d be doing a happy dance in my short sleeves when it hits 40! Yes pathetic I know, but fellow Minnesotans (or Canadians) would understand :D

Ok, here are some posts from February you might’ve missed:

New Releases:

Rental Reviews:

Rewatches:

TV Review: The Americans

February Blind Spot: Mr Smith Goes to Washington

Last Award Coverage of the year:

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Favorite Movie Seen in January 2014:

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This massive box office hit three weeks in a row is really a ton of fun! Great story and fabulous voice cast makes for an entertaining movie for the whole family. I certainly don’t mind watching this again!


What I’m looking forward to in March:
Divergent screening and interview with author Veronica Roth


So, what movies did you get to see in February and which one is your favorite?

Weekend Roundup: The Americans (FX series) and The Bling Ring reviews

Happy Weekend everybody! WOW, everything’s still very much awesome for The LEGO Movie, winning box office for the third straight weekend with $31 mil. It’s now made $183 mil domestically, and with a production budget on only $60 mil, that’s quite a huge hit for Warner Bros. The McG/Luc Besson’s spy thriller 3 Days to Kill (review coming later this week) is a distant second with $12 mil but with a low production budget of $28 mil, I’d think they’d still turn a profit. Pompeii on the other hand, lives up to its subject matter, being a major box office disaster as it only made a measly 10% of its $100 mil budget, ouch!

It’s home cinema this weekend for me, catching up on some older films and TV series I’ve been meaning to check out. Here are my thoughts:

The Americans (FX series)

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Two Soviet intelligence agents pose as a married couple to spy on the American government.

A few people have mentioned about this show, but finally my hubby and I had a chance to check out the pilot last Friday. We’re definitely gonna try to catch up with Season 1 as there are only 13 episodes.

I thought the concept of having two Russian protagonists in an American show is very intriguing. It certainly offers a fresh twist to an otherwise run-of-the-mill spy show. It’s set in the 80s during the Reagan-era Cold War, and according to IMDb, the show is based on a true story that broke in 2010 of Russian sleeper agents hiding in plain sites in the US for decades. So just like in the series, their children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors had no idea they were spies.

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Having just seen Austenland, it’s quite a change to see Keri Russell as a bad ass spy here, in the opening sequence she’s dressed like a hooker seducing an FBI agent. Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, with impeccable American accent, plays her *husband* aka spy partner. Both are excellent in the role of married couple Elizabeth & Phillip Jennings, who look like a typical suburban DC couple with a couple of kids posing as travel agents. The pilot presents quite a dilemma for the couple when their assignment involves kidnapping a defecting KGB agent whom Elizabeth had a personal vendetta. Their loyalties to Mother Russia is tested as the Jennings don’t always share the same feelings about their job. Of course things are about to get even more interesting when one of the FBI agent hot on the trail of the kidnapping suspects move in to their neighborhood! A strange twist of coincidence or is there more to it than that?? Well, I can’t wait to find out! Nice to see Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman, he’s one of those character actors I’m always impressed with every time I see him in a movie or TV series.

I think the most riveting of all is how the American audience are no doubt compelled to perceive the “enemy” of the states in a whole new light. I definitely sympathize with them more than I probably should. But really, are they really so different from our own agents working in a foreign country? The sharp script keeps me engrossed and in suspense. I love that this spy series is not about the cool action and gadget you’ll find in escapist fun like James Bond, but it’s more in the vein of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that explores the tricky adventure of espionage and really get into the intricate psyche of a secret agent.

I refrain from giving a rating at this point as I’ve only seen the pilot. But I highly recommend this one if you’re a fan of the spy genre or if you’re looking for a quality show to get hooked to.

Now switching gear to Sofia Coppola’s latest effort from last year. 

The Bling Ring (2013)

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At first glance I really wasn’t all that enthused to watch this film. I mean I couldn’t be more disinterested in seeing materialistic and fame-obsessed teenagers robbing their favorite celebrities. I find the whole TMZ culture so loathsome, I don’t even care to read US magazine anymore even when I’m at the salon. It’s interesting why Coppola choose to do a film on them, but perhaps there’s some kind of message she’s trying to tell us with this story. Well, unfortunately this film is as shallow as protagonists depicted here.

The film basically shows us how these teens, led by its ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard), rob one celebrity’s house after another. They’re mostly C-list celebs who are more famous for their shenanigans (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton) or those famous for being in the fashion mags instead of actual work (Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson). So apparently none of these celebs have heard of home security as even Hilton’s mansion was so easy to break into, in fact, the group barely had to break anything to access their homes. I don’t know what is more repulsive than witnessing these kids stealing things left and right or seeing the excessive decadence on display.

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I have to admit I wasn’t as bored out of my wits watching this as I did watching her last film Somewhere, but I felt that even that movie perhaps had a bit more depth as at the very least Coppola tried to present some kind of redeeming quality for the disenchanted Hollywood actor. In this film, the characters only pass through time, living their incredibly shallow life in succession, simply motivated by the grand hedonistic lifestyle and self-indulgence. It’s stylishly shot but everything is so detached. Despite a few engaging and hilarious moments in a self-parody kind of way, I struggle to find a meaning – if any – that Coppola is trying to say here.

The only saving grace here seems to be Emma Watson, simply because it’s amusing to see her portray someone so different from Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Her American accent is spot on and she certainly has the gift of comedy. It’s amusing to think that the young actress is surely as wealthy – if not more – as the victims that her character rob in this movie! But even she could barely save this vapid drivel. Even though it’s only 90-min long, it felt pretty tedious by the repetitive stealing-and-partying scenes displayed over and over. It’s darn near impossible to sympathize with any of the characters the way Coppola depicted them here. I think Marc was perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film as he seems to be the only one who has the slightest bit of remorse. But really, that’s not saying much.

This is the third film by Sofia Coppola I saw, but so far my favorite is by far still Lost in Translation. I might give her other earlier films a try, hopefully The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette fare much better than this one.


2.5 out of 5 reels


So what did you watch this weekend? Thoughts on The Americans series and/or The Bling Ring? 

Weekend Viewing Roundup & Musings on BAFTA Awards 2014

Hi everyone! Did you have a nice weekend? It’s another long weekend for me as I got Monday off for President’s Day. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time as Winter storm is brewing as I’m typing this, glad I didn’t have to drive in this Wintry condition.

Before I get to my thoughts on BAFTA, here’s a summary of what I saw this weekend:

How’s your Valentine weekend? Hope you didn’t have to endure see Winter’s Tale. If you’ve read my review, then consider it a warning. I know it’s early, but it could easily end up being one of the biggest duds of 2014.

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On V-day, my hubby and I opted for a simple dinner and a movie, home cinema to be exact. I’ve been wanting to re-watch Austenland since I saw it last August and so that’s what we did. I still enjoyed it and my hubby liked it, too, there’s a reason I love my man ;)

On Saturday night, we went to see RoboCop, a second time for my hubby as he went with Ted last Monday. He liked it well enough he didn’t mind seeing it again with me. Y’know what, I quite enjoyed it. It’s not as violent as the first one, and it’s not an all-out action movie either. In fact, there’s quite a lot of backstory for the character that made me care about the ‘man inside a machine.’ There’s a lot of heart in this reboot, the humanity aspect as well as his relationship with his family is explored quite well I think. Joel Kinnaman is pretty good in the lead role in that he’s got a commanding presence and effortlessly likable. I might actually give this 3.5/5 if I were to review it, and I agree with Ted that Gary Oldman is my favorite performer in the ensemble, he just always elevates everything he’s in.

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I completely missed seeing this LIVE yesterday. I was out and about that by the time I realized BAFTA’s on, it’s already too late. So this morning I was playing catch up on the winners via The Guardian. Let’s start with the acting honors:

Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

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Thrilled to see Chiwetel Ejiofor and Cate Blanchett in the Best Leading Actor/Actress category. Both did a superb performance in 12 Years a Slave and Blue Jasmine respectively. I had been rooting for Sandra Bullock before I saw the Woody Allen film, but once I saw Cate’s performance, there’s no doubt in my mind that she should be sweeping all the awards. Classy Cate paid a tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman … “Phil, your monumental talent, generosity and unflinching quest for truth in art and life will be missed by so many people. You raised the bar continually so very, very high and all we can do in your absence is try to continually raise the bar. Phil, buddy, this is for you, you bastard. I hope you’re proud.” [per Deadline] We truly missed a great talent, but it really took one to know one.

Congrats to Barkhad Abdi, what a year it’s been for the former Minneapolis limo driver! Though I think he did a fine job opposite Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, I had wished that Daniel Brühl would get the honor. Same with Sally Hawkins who should win instead of Jennifer Lawrence who’s absent from the festivities. I’m more disappointed in that than Brühl not winning. I’m REALLY hoping the Academy does right by Hawkins and give her the well-deserved honor.

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Oh… one of my top 3 favorite British Dames Helen Mirren was honored the BAFTA Fellowship Award, yay!! I LOVE that Prince William joked that he should call her ‘Granny,’ referring to her award-winning portrayal in The Queen. I read about her charming speech in that she offered her gratitude to a great teacher who encouraged her to be an actor.

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Now to the question of Best Film of the Year.

Best Film: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Best British Film: Gravity

Seems that there still is no clear winner and come Oscar I think it’ll still come down to a thriller set in space and a slavery drama. Interesting that there’s a Best Film and Best British Film category, which went to 12 Years a Slave and Gravity respectively. As quoted by Deadline, Alfonso Cuarón said backstage that, “There are rules that make a film eligible for Best British Film. Gravity definitely has all the requirements, except a couple of Mexicans that came here — legally! — and a couple of American stars. It was shot in this country, developed in this country, and with cutting-edge technology developed by British artists.” I have no qualms about the eligibility stuff, obviously the BAFTA deems it eligible and that’s that. Gravity deserves all the kudos, it won six out of the possible 11 noms, including Best Original Score, Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Visual Effects, Sound AND Best Director honor for Alfonso Cuarón. It’s my number 1 film of the year so I’d be happy if it sweeps the Oscars as well!  

Other BAFTA winners I’m thrilled about: 

Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
Best Animated Film: Frozen
Best Production Design The Great Gatsby
Best Costumes: The Great Gatsby

BAFTA_JoshuaOppenheimerHuge congrats to Joshua Oppenheimer for winning Best Documentary!! It’s the only documentary that I included in my Top 10 films of the year, and Joshua was gracious enough to grant me an interview. I told him I would be rooting for him come award season, so I’m super thrilled that he’s also up for an Oscar! I love that he dedicated his award to his anonymous crew, “I dedicate this award to them. This film couldn’t be made without people who risked their safety and changed their careers to work on it. Professors, human rights leaders. … They stopped everything they were doing to work on the film, knowing they couldn’t take credit for their work.”  [per Deadline]

Yay for FROZEN, another one of my Top 10 favorites! It’s no contest they will win Best Animated Film at the Oscar, it’s a shoo-in at this point. The production design and costumes of The Great Gatsby are definitely the major highlights of the film so kudos to Catherine Martin! Seems that she’s gotten far more honors in her husband Baz Luhrmann‘s films than Baz himself.

So this is the last major award ceremony before the Oscars on March 2nd. BRING. IT. ON!


So what did you see this weekend? Thoughts on the BAFTA winners?

Monthly Viewing Roundup & Favorite Film of January 2014

MonthlyViewing_Jan

Good riddance January!! Boy it’s truly THE coldest month I’ve had in my 20+ years living in MN, though December 2013 is not any warmer at all either! On Groundhog day yesterday, Groundhog Phil saw his shadow in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa. so I guess we have six more weeks to contend with of this dreadful Winter. Heh, I don’t mind so much if we could do away with the crazy subzero temps.


In any case, time for the recap.

I’ve had 23 posts so far this month, some of which are guest posts from my awesome collaborators. Thanks Ted, Jack aka Kevin, Conor, Sarah and Dave W!

Here are some posts you might’ve missed:

Film Reviews: Nebraska | 12 Years a Slave | Her | August: Osage County
TV Review/Commentary: The Returned | Early 2014 TV Season

The list of all list … my picks of

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

top10best_2013

Award Season Coverage:

Blogathons: The Alphabet Movie MemeLCR’s Recast-Athon

New Films Watched:

Rewatches:

  • BBC Sense & Sensibility (2008)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

I’ve been um, preoccupied by Richard Armitage [yes I know, that's putting it mildly] so I’ve been catching up on some BBC Robin Hood solely for Sir Guy of Gisborne ;)

Yes I realize it’s a pretty s-l-o-w start in 2014 in terms of movie-watching. I only went to one advanced screening which was the new Jack Ryan movie, but hey, looking ahead to February, it’s already a pretty darn good start as I saw The Lego Movie and also saw Cate Blanchett’s phenomenal performance in Blue Jasmine this weekend.

LegoMovie_BlueJasmine

I’ve got three screenings scheduled for the next two weeks: The Monuments Men on Wednesday and Winter’s Tale next Monday. As the Robocop remake is scheduled the same day as Winter’s Tale, Ted will be seeing that one in my place.

Favorite Movie Seen in January 2014:

ItHappenedOneNightPoster

Glad I finally saw this classic Capra rom-com (view my full review). It’s easily my favorite viewing of January, so that’s definitely a fabulous choice for my BlindSpot list! Not sure which one I’ll watch next, perhaps a Jimmy Stewart film as I’ve been wanting to see more of his films for ages.


So, what movies did you get to see in January and which one is your favorite?

MLK Weekend Roundup: a coming-of-age comedy, 1934 classic romance & a 1975 political thriller

MLKWashingtonHappy Monday all! It’s Martin Luther King Jr weekend here in the States and it’s a company holiday where I work, yay :D Another year and yet another snag in the long-overdue MLK biopic. I made this post last year about the status of the project that Paul Greengrass was once attached to. Well it turns out that Oliver Stone has now exited the project, taking to Twitter that his rewrite of the script, which dealt with “issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation” was not well received by producers. (per EW.com)

It’s really too bad as I’d love to see Dr. King’s biopic. Of course I realize he’s not a ‘saint’ as Stone said via Twitter nor do I expect him to be, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a great man who’s an inspiration to us all.

Now, though I didn’t go to the cinema this weekend, it’s been a wonderful movie catch-up for me. I saw The Way, Way Back on Friday which was pretty good despite the slow start.

TheWayWayBackPoster

I LOVE Sam Rockwell who stole the film with his effortless charm, and newcomer Liam James is endearingly dorky in this coming-of-age comedy. It probably won’t have made my Top 10 list but certainly would factor in the Honorable Mention if I had seen it last year.

As for the two great classics I finally caught up with, one of them is on my Blindspot list and the other is a spy thriller that my friends have recommended me from time to time.

ItHappenedOneNight

I will have my full review of It Happened One Night (1934) on the last Tuesday of this month (1/28) for my Blindspot assignment but let me just say this film lives up to the hype! I’ve only seen Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, so it’s nice to see a different side to him in this role. Practically everyone I’ve talked to adore this film and I could see why.

ThreeDaysOftheCondor

On Saturday night, my hubby and I were in the mood for a spy thriller, having just seen Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit on Wednesday (review coming tomorrow). My hubby isn’t a huge fan of older films, but I managed to convince him to rent 3 Days of the Condor (1975) as I’ve heard great things about it. I quite like 70s thrillers like Dirty Harry, The Conversation and The French Connection, no wonder my friend Michael calls it his favorite decade for movies! I quite like this one, it’s more of a slow burn but has plenty of suspense in a whodunnit kind of story filled with political intrigue as well as sexual tension between Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. It’s a smart thriller by Sydney Pollack, with a taut script and an intriguing ending where things aren’t tied up neatly with a bow. It’s loosely based on a novel by James Grady titled Six Days of the Condor.


So that’s my weekend roundup, folks. What did YOU see this weekend?

Weekend Roundup & Review of ’1976: Hunt vs Lauda’ Documentary

Ok, I’m hoping I won’t have to talk about Minnesota weather on every Weekend Roundup but this is truly ridiculous! Schools are canceled today nationwide, ordered by the Governor, and every forecast says things like “Limit or even eliminate time spent outside today” and “It’s truly dangerous out there.” My brother in Jakarta thought business would be closed too, but not a chance, though I did opt to work from home today. I’m coming in to work tomorrow though as temp is slightly better, but man, I sure hope this is the last arctic blast we’re gonna see in a while. This is brutal!!

Naturally, I hibernated all weekend. We finally caught the sci-fi drama Contact for the first time, thanks to my pal Ted for lending me the DVD. Another film we saw was 1976: Hunt vs. Lauda (Thanks The Revolver Group, for sending me the dvd), which was dramatized in the Ron Howard film RUSH. Here’s my review:

1976HuntVsLauda_DVD1976: Hunt Vs. Lauda

As I quite enjoyed RUSH, I was definitely curious to see this documentary about the first Formula 1 superstars and perhaps the greatest sports rivalry. Sometimes a film took a lot of liberty and over-dramatize the story, especially something THIS sensational, so I wanted to see the real story of James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda. The documentary is only 60-min long and it focuses primarily on the races in the year of 1976. So we didn’t quite get the background of each of the racer which would’ve been nice to see.

What strikes me is how close the portrayal of both Hunt and Lauda in the film version, especially German actor Daniel Brühl as Lauda where he totally nailed the mannerism and way of speaking on top of being made up to closely resemble the Austrian racer. In this film, it’s also Lauda who gives us a bit more insight into his character and also the drama that went on in those dangerous races. I guess the fact that Lauda is the only one still alive today gives him the edge, but the flamboyant Hunt was pretty short in his past interviews as well. We do get a glimpse of Hunt’s ambition from his sister in one of the interviews, how he’s got this single-minded drive to win the world championship.

We’ve got talking heads such as Lauda’s Ferrari manager Daniele Audetto and Hunt’s manager at McLaren Alastair Caldwell, providing eye-witness account of the event. It’s interesting to see that throughout the film, it appears that despite the rivalry, Hunt and Lauda are pretty good friends. Even Lauda himself was happy when Hunt won the World Championship after he crashed his car, and Hunt was one of the first at the scene of Lauda’s crash as well. Caldwell said that Hunt said this following the accident, “Niki, you re the only person I know who could have been in a fire and come out better looking.” Despite the difference in character, they seem to really like each other, so RUSH somehow made it look as if there were more animosity between them.

Top: Lauda & Hunt  Bottom: Lauda with his Ferrari manager (in blue jacket)

Top: Lauda & Hunt
Bottom: Lauda with his Ferrari manager Audetto (in blue Goodyear jacket)

The racing footage was pretty thrilling to see, especially that rainy day in Japan where it obviously looked too dangerous to race on. It showed how the World Championship race was very tight, Lauda was way ahead initially but by the end it was neck and neck. It’s fascinating to see Lauda’s determination to race merely six weeks (2 races later) after his accident, and he was so nonchalant about it when the press asked him about it. It did affect his decision to withdraw from the Japanese Grand Prix as by then he had faced a near-death experience and he simply couldn’t go through it again. I’ve come to really respect Lauda and find him to be immensely sympathetic. He barely has anything bad to say in his later interviews and he doesn’t seem to have any regret despite the major scar he received from the accident.

NikiLauda_ThenandNow

Lauda – then and now

One complaint I have is the audio issues with the disc, which makes the narrator’s voice sounds so dim at times that it was tough to hear. Fortunately the sound from the footage and interviews are fine. It was worth seeing the real story of Hunt and Lauda, especially if you’re a fan of sports documentaries. Hunt had the looks and the glamor, but Lauda’s got the heart and technical precision that made him a racing legend. Though he lost in 1976, he went on to become world champion again in 1977 and 1984. As I said before, I wish there were more backstory here before the real rivalry began. These guys certainly have incredible stories worth-telling.

threereels
3 out of 5 reels


The DVD is available starting tomorrow on Amazon.com


That’s my weekend roundup folks. What did YOU see this weekend!