Fun in the Florida sun, Wizarding World of Harry Potter & What I watched during my vacation

Hello everyone! So I’m kinda back from vacation though I haven’t blogged a single thing since I’m back, well except for this post. I’m hoping to start in the swing of things and write reviews again before I forget how, ahah. I have like five reviews I still have to write hopefully by end of the month. I literally had to write a note on my phone last night which movies I saw in the last three weeks that I haven’t reviewed yet:

  • The Water Diviner
  • The Woman in Gold
  • Far From the Madding Crowd
  • Felony
  • Paddington

We’ll see which one I’m in the mood to write next :)

Ok so, the Florida trip… well it was a blast!! We pretty much got to everything we set out to do, except for Disney’s Animal Kingdom as the forecast said it might rain that day. So here’s my recap:

Clearwater Beach

We kinda started late in the day and it was about an hour drive from our hotel in Tampa. By the time we got there it was mid afternoon and the place was packed!! We didn’t swim – I’m actually not a big ocean swimmer, if I want to swim I’d hit the pool – but we did walk around barefoot on the soft, white sand beach and dip our feet in the ocean to cool off.

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Tarpon Springs

I’m so glad we managed to fit in this small Greek town about 40-min north of Clearwater. It’s such a picturesque little town with a small harbor. The town has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US and the historic downtown is lined with Greek restaurants/bars and shops. We had one of the best Greek food for dinner with one of the best views!

NASA Kennedy Space Center

On our way to Orlando from Tampa, we fit in a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. There wasn’t a crowd at all on Sunday so it was perfect.

NASA

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The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)

We took on a bus tour around the vast NASA facilities, including some of the rocket launch sites at Cape Canaveral. We didn’t get inside the VAB building though, just went around it. It didn’t seem THAT big but apparently you could fit three Empire State Buildings comfortably inside this, wow!

My favorite part is the new Atlantis exhibit. I think if you’re a space nut or someone who’s really into sci-fi would get a kick out of this one.

Universal Studios – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Monday was Harry Potter day! We could see the Hogwarts Tower from our hotel window as Universal Studios is only about a mile away.

The place was packed and it was well worth getting the Park-to-Park tickets so we could get to both Harry Potter sites: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The latter is no doubt my favorite and it’s a bit cooler in there. We spent the most time at Diagon Alley and we had lunch at Leaky Cauldron in which was a rustic tavern like place with a kind of a communal seating area with long tables and benches.

One of the highlights was definitely riding the Hogwarts Express itself that takes us from Hogsmeade right to Diagon Alley!

I’m quite impressed with these two parks. Seems that they went to great lengths in creating a fun experience for HP fans and paid attention to the small details from the architecture, down to the food and beverage – those BUTTERBEER seems to be quite a hit! I especially love the architecture of Diagon Alley with all the shops. I’m not as huge a fan of HP to fully appreciate every detail but I still enjoyed them. The only disappointing thing for me was there’s nothing on Snape at all, not a single statue or even Snape-related souvenir item. Trust me, I actually asked a couple of people about that.

Second best part of the HP experience is the Escape from Gringotts ride. It’s my fave ride of the entire Universal Orlando, and we went to about five of them including the Transformers and Spiderman rides. The wait was the longest too, but the inside of the ride was beautifully decorated and as you entered the Gringotts Bank, there were lifelike goblins working at their stations and sometimes they look up from their papers to stare at people waiting in line. Creepy but fun!

If you’re ever in the Universal Walk area, make sure you stop by The Crowfish which is a fusion type bar/restaurant for their awesome sushi and burger fusion dishes. I actually had the delicious Bento box and my hubby had sushi w/ burger meat that’s absolutely smashing! Great ambience too, definitely our favorite restaurants from the entire trip!

TheCrowfish

Downtown Disney

On our last day in Orlando, we just spent our time in Downtown Disney. Now that we think about it, we really should’ve gone to Animal Kingdom instead as the rain was kind of sporadic anyway.

It’s kind of disheartening to see all the bastardization of the Star Wars paraphernalia. I mean, they basically added Mickey Mouse ears to most of the iconic SW characters. Needless to say, we didn’t buy anything at the plethora of Disney stores.

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Vader and Leia w/ Mickey Mouse ears! My hubby’s not impressed.

Movies/TV Watched During Vacation

I only had time to watch stuff on the plane or when we’re bat at the hotel.

Nazi/Hitler documentary on American Heroes Channel

It’s a rather dark subject to watch during vacation but my hubby ended up watching a couple of hours worth of Hitler documentary, mostly concentrating on his youth and how he became the monster that he was. It’s more of a re-enactment documentary, not just talking heads. Interesting though that it’s in a channel called American Heroes (??)

The Rewrite


TheRewrite

I saw this on the plane and mostly because I love Marisa Tomei. It actually turns out to be pretty good for a rom-com. I mean it’s kinda predictable but sweet, and it was rather fun seeing Hugh Grant poking fun at his previous roles as a Jane Austen hero. Not a bad rental if you like this kind of stuff.

Frozen (rewatch)

I can’t help rewatching this one on the plane ride back. It just always puts me in a good mood. Funny but Let It Go is actually my least fave song of the whole movie! Olaf’s In Summer song however, never fails to put a smile on my face!

SHOWTIME’s Penny Dreadful Season 2 (2 episodes)

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I don’t know which episodes they are but since I’ve read a few articles/reviews on the show (yes because of Timothy Dalton’s involvement), I pretty much knew what the show is about. Boy is it ever terrifying, I don’t think I could watch this alone in my basement without my hubby in the room. The violence is really quite brutal and the satanic stuff is REALLY creepy, but the production design is top notch. Seriously they threw money at this show like nobody’s business, they certainly don’t skimp on the set, costumes, ambience, etc.

 


Hope I didn’t bore you with my recap folks… So how’s your week been, seen anything good lately?

APRIL Viewing Recap, Movie of the Month + Looking forward to 2015 Wizard World Minneapolis!

Monthly2015RecapAprilWhoah, April’s been a freakishly busy month thanks to MSPIFF! Check out the banner below to check out our reviews from the Minneapolis/St Paul Film Festival, I have this image widget on my blog sidebar for easy access as well. I’ll have my MSPIFF recap next week as well as my and Josh’s picks top three movie picks.

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Posts You Might’ve Missed

MSPIFF 2015 Film Spotlight: The Center
Interview with filmmaker Charlie Griak & lead actor Matt Cici

The Longest Ride interview with cast member
Scott Eastwood & Britt Robertson

Wordless Wednesday:
the unrequited love of The Age of Innocence

BLOGATHON:

20 Perfect Cinematic Moments – A Fistful of Moments

The Five Senses Blogathon

Thursday Movie Picks #42: Father-Daughter Movies

April Blind Spot Pick:

A Space Odyssey (1968)

New-to-me Movies (non-MSPIFF related):

Avengers: The Age of Ultron

Furious 7 (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Not Another Happy Ending (2013)

Thérèse (2012)

Documentary – The Rise & Fall of Versailles: Louis XV

I think if I were to sum up the month of April, you could say it’s basically a split between MSPIFF and my new obsession Stanley Weber.

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Yes I’m officially afflicted by the #StanleyWeber bug. Watched #NotAnotherHappyEnding a dozen times in just under 2 weeks!! #madcrush

— FlixChatter (@FlixChatter) April 21, 2015

Needless to say, there’s barely time for any other rewatches :P

TV Series:

Netflix’s Daredevil (season 1)

BORGIA: Faith & Fear (season 1)

Movie of the Month

ExMachinaPosterI’m excluding MSPIFF films here as I’m going to do a separate recap. So this was an easy choice, Ex Machina is simply an excellent sci-fi… well, an excellent film in general.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was the last film I saw in April, and though there are some fun moments like the attempt to lift Mjölnir scene, overall it’s pretty forgettable. I don’t know when I’ll have time to review this movie but let’s just say I agree with Kenneth Turan I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning: “Age of Ultron is made for the ‘instant gratification’ culture… It disappears without a trace as soon as it’s consumed.” Yep, that pretty much sums up my sentiment.

What I look forward to in May

WizardWorld2015MplsIt’ll be a fun weekend at Mpls Comic-Con starting tomorrow! Full programming all day Saturday, these are some of the panels I’ll definitely take part in:

11:30-12:15 – WETA workshop: character creation through prosthetics, hair & make up

2:00-2:45 – No “bones” about it: Karl Urban

4:00–4:45 – The truth is out there: Gillian Anderson

 

WalkerArt_NolanLectureMy hubby and I got tickets to attend this quickly sold-out lecture at Walker Art Center with Christopher Nolan! I sure hope there’ll be a Q&A segment at the end!

In celebration of 25 years of Walker Dialogues, the Walker presents acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, one of the most innovative directors working today, in discussion with Variety chief film critic Scott Foundas. The lecture is followed by a nine-film retrospective May 7–24, 2015.


Whew, so that’s my April recap. What’s YOUR fave movie(s) you saw in April?

Everybody’s Chattin’ + MARCH Viewing Recap

EverybodysChattin

Happy April everyone!!

Let’s start off with some lists and non-review posts

  • Chris is back with his ‘What is’ series, this time he posted about Aspect Ratio
  • Sati posted 11 things she looks forward to in Game of Thrones 5
  • Mike posted about the superb contemporary noir that is Michael Mann’s HEAT, part of his Looking Back 20 Years series
  • The entries to Andrew’s A Fistful of Moments blogathon‘s been popping up a lot this week, I really love Irene‘s and Anna‘s lists, which include two films that’ll surely be on my own list!
  • Speaking of lists, Dan just posted about Top 10 Crazy Movie Doctors

Now on to reviews!

  • Mark reviewed Inherent Vice
  • Stu reviewed Animal Kingdom
  • Cindy reviewed Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 classic Some Came Running
  • Jordan posted his Bite Sized Reviews on Digital Shortbread, including Russell Crowe’s scariest performance as a skinhead in Romper Stomper
  • Steven just reviewed one of 2015 Oscar’s Best Foreign Language nominee Wild Tales
  • Last but not least, Michael just reviewed a space film classic Apollo 13


Before I get to my March recap, I simply have to share this awesome video mash-up…  SUPERMANDREAS. A guy by the name of Nick Acosta decided to re-edit the San Andreas trailer to take out Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and put in Christopher Reeve as Superman in the 1978 film. It’s such a hoot!!


 …

MarchRecap2015I saw a dozen new-to-me movies this month, quite an improvement over January and February. Minneapolis-StPaul Film Fest (MSPIFF) is coming in mid April so I hope I’ll see more movies this month! Plus the weather’s getting nicer, MUCH nicer than it was around this time last year, so I think I’ll be getting Spring Fever in no time!

Posts You Might’ve Missed

Music Break: 5 Fave Sci-fi Scores About Robot

Music Break: Disney’s Animated Classic Cinderella

St Patrick’s Day Special: 5 Scenes set in Ireland

BLOGATHON:

Thursday Movie Picks #35: Fairy Tale Adaptations

Thursday Movie Picks #36: Movies adapted from Young Adult Novels

Thursday Movie Picks #37: Mother-Daughter Movies

March Blind Spot Pick:

WINGS (1927)

New-to-me Movies:

Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013)

Cinderella (2015)

Coherence (2013)

Furious 7 (2015)

Lucy (2014)

Royal Deceit (1994)

Shaft (2000)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)

The Congress (2013)

The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Woman in Gold (2015)

I’m so behind on new releases reviews, I’m more caught up on writing the ones I saw on rental. I have both The Congress and Shaft reviews done in my draft folder, but I’m planning on writing my review of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Woman in Gold this weekend. I enjoyed both though neither is far from perfect, but I think the casting of three of my favorite Dames: Judi Dench & Maggie Smith in Marigold Hotel, and Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold made me like ’em more. Well, I saw Furious 7 on IMAX last night and here’s my initial reaction:

Rewatches:

Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Mansfield Park 

BBC’s North & South (2004)

BBC’s Jane Eyre (2006)

Movies of the Month

MarchMoviesOftheMonthI can’t pick between these two, so it’s a tie! I’ve been lucky in picking my Blindspot films as Wings is yet another classic that lives up to the hype… and then some. As for Cinderella, well what can I say? I enjoyed it and it’s definitely a movie I’d add to my collection once the Blu-ray is released.


Hope you enjoyed today’s post… stay tuned for our list of ‘Perfect Cinematic Moments’ sometime tomorrow!

 

Weekend Roundup: Coherence (2013) Review

Happy Monday everyone! Well, in case you noticed, I haven’t been blogging much lately as I’ve been sick with a stubborn cold for over a week now. One of my coworkers apparently got pneumonia and he has to be off work for a whole week. So just for precaution, I was at urgent care Thursday night for 3.5 hours checking to make sure I don’t have it. Well now I’ve passed on my cold on to my hubby, so we’re both sick during one of the warmest and gorgeous Minnesota Spring :(

Well suffice to say, I didn’t really get much blogging done, but I did get to rewatch Stardust last night which was more fun than the first time I saw it. Boy the cast is really amazing in that one and they’re all fun to watch. Interesting to see baby-faced Charlie Cox is playing Daredevil and in the beginning of the movie he had a fight with another British cutie Henry Cavill aka Superman ;)

I also saw two sci-fi movies from 2013 this weekend. Here’s a review of one of them:

CoherencePoster

Strange things begin to happen when a group of friends gather for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing overhead.

This movie came highly recommended from my husband’s coworkers and I have to say the premise sounds intriguing. It starts with a woman driving in a car whilst she’s on the phone with who appears to be her boyfriend, then when she hangs up, the phone suddenly cracks. Does the comet passing overhead have something to do with it? Well, that’s the question everyone, both on and off screen, are wondering about.

I wish I could get into the story more but the camera work is so nausea-inducing it’s hard to concentrate on what’s going on where you’re trying not to vomit. In fact I had to close my eyes several times to reduce my headache but the hand-held camera bounces around the entire time, blurring and focusing, zooming in and out, often so close you could practically see the actor’s pores. I don’t know why filmmakers think this found-footage style would add anything to the story.

CoherenceStill

Now, even if the camera work weren’t an issue, I’m not sure that I’m all that impressed with this film. I’m surprised of the high rating to be honest. I mean yes, the story has potential and there are some really creepy and eerie moments, but overall it’s quite tedious. The strange happenings get weirder and weirder and the entire dinner party were gripped with paranoia and started freaking out. With the right cast, it might’ve been fun and amusing, but I find myself being irritated by most of the rather unlikable characters or trying to figure out where I’ve seen some of the actors before. I might’ve recognized one of them from Buffy but not sure about the rest.

It’s billed as a sci-fi thriller but it’s more of a drama as hardly anything happens, mostly people chatting during a dinner party. The third act is slightly more interesting when one of the characters realized what’s going on and decided to do something about it. The movie is only about an hour and a half long, though it felt slightly longer than that. The finale felt rather anticlimactic but by that point I was glad the film was over. I kind of think that the story might’ve worked better as an episode of Twilight Zone or something like that.

Now, given that this is a low-budget indie film, I don’t want to be too harsh on it as I think the filmmaker have potential and this story could’ve been quite gripping. Interestingly, writer/director James Ward Byrkit was the writer of the animated film Rango which I quite enjoyed. If only this film had a bit more wit and humor, perhaps it might’ve been more palatable.

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So what did you see this weekend? If you seen Coherence, curious to hear what you think!

Weekend Roundup & Kingsman: The Secret Service review

Valentine’s Weekend is awesome this year as it’s a company holiday on Monday for President’s Day, who doesn’t love a three-day weekend right? Hope you had a lovely V-day wherever you are. It was super cold Saturday night so we opted for some scrumptious Thai take-out and watched Nightcrawler, that’s the kind of perfect *night in* for us. I’ll have my full review of the Jake Gyllenhaal film but suffice to say it lives up to all the great reviews I’ve been reading.

It’s not surprising that the Fifty Shades movie shatters box office record, though it’s kind of sad such a movie is so wildly popular. There is no way I’d ever subject myself to what Aussie anchor Lisa Wilkinson calls ‘domestic violence dressed up as erotica’ and I’m convinced her review is far more entertaining that the film:


I re-watched two of my favorite period dramas, Belle and Pride & Prejudice, and my love for both films just keep growing. I did go to the cinema Friday night to see Kingsman: The Secret Service and here’s my review:

KingsmanPoster

I have to admit that the first time I knew about this movie was from this cool poster I saw at a local cinema. It has no info of the director nor the cast but the visual of an elegant closet is so Bond-like and ever so British. But by the time the trailer came out I thought it looked a wee bit silly, and so it wasn’t until the positive reviews coming out that I was excited to see it.

Well, the movie is VERY British indeed, both an homage AND a spoof to the 007 movies, and as a fan of the genre, that definitely appeals to me. Refined British gent Colin Firth plays as one of the Kingsman agents, Harry Hart, who’s as proper as he is bad ass. The first act was basically him recruiting a replacement for his fellow agent who died on a mission in the Middle East. Harry (aka Galahad) owed his life to Lancelot (another code name inspired by British Knights) and thus he felt compelled to recruit his friend’s teenage son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). The film moved along swiftly and director Matthew Vaughn infused it with tongue-in-cheek humor and a huge dose of riotous fun from start to finish. The whole sequence at a ski resort is very Bond-like, but think Roger Moore instead of Daniel Craig in tone, complete with a gorgeous female assassin wearing razor-sharp blades as prosthetic legs.

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Apparently this was based on a comic-book written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the two also collaborated on Wanted). The story itself is actually pretty solid and not all about silly good fun. There’s a bit of a father/son bond between Harry and Eggsy, and a bit of a coming-of-age story in regards to Eggsy. During one of the intense Kingsman training, Mark Strong‘s character told him to ‘get rid of the chip on his shoulder,’ and Eggsy’s slowly coming into his own as the film progresses.

As the film’s master villain is Samuel L. Jackson, as internet billionaire Richmond Valentine that’s a heck of a lot more entertaining than Tomorrow Never Dies‘ lame media mogul Elliot Carver. He even has his very own henchwoman deadlier than Jaws & Oddjob combined, in the form of dark-haired beauty Sofia Boutella. Jackson is obviously having a good time playing Valentine. He speaks with an amusing lisp (which the actor apparently had in real life) and can’t stand the sight of blood. Of course he has to be some kind of a psychopath hellbent on *saving the planet* as it were, but in his own twisted way. It’s an interesting social commentary on how our addiction to our handphones just might lead us to our own demise. Apparently, the broadcast signal sent by Valentine to those hand phones cause people to become extremely violent.

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It’s yet another fun collaboration between Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class). This could very well be Vaughn’s version of a Bond flick, that is if the Bond producers would allow him to make a hyper violent R-rated film. I knew this would be violent but I didn’t know it’d be THIS violent, I mean there are some intense and extremely bloody fight sequences that made even John Wick seems tame. One sequence inside a church reminds me of this scene in 300 when Leonidas single-handedly fought all those Persians, but without the stylized slo-mo. I do think the foul language & violence are excessive, gratuitous and more graphic than it needs to be, even if the fight sequences are well-styled. There’s one crazy head-explosions scene that’s absolutely bonkers, set to the Pomp and Circumstance Marches no less! You can’t help but laugh in its absurdity and the fact that the filmmakers had the balls to do it. SPOILER ALERT: We’ve seen plenty of scenes of the White House exploding on screen, but never the Commander in Chief himself, especially one who is still in power!

I think what makes Kingsman works is its self-awareness and that it doesn’t to be a heavy movie. It’s ‘boys just wanna have fun’ type of flick, packed with wit, dry humor and of guns & gadgetry. The set pieces are great to look at, especially the Kingsman headquarter that resembles Drax’ mansion in Moonraker. And of course, those sleek, sharp suits that’s practically a character in itself. I saw Sam Jackson in a talk show the other day wearing one of the Kingsman menswear line that’s crafted especially for the film, dang that is some exquisite tailoring. It was fun seeing Mr. Darcy being so ridiculously bad ass here. I read that Colin Firth did most of his own stunts, which is quite impressive and somehow he still looked quite elegant doing it. “Manners maketh man” is his motto after all. I quite like newcomer Taron Egerton here as well, I actually think he might fit the role better than Kick-Ass’ star Aaron Johnson who was offered the role initially. It’s always nice seeing the always-reliable Mark Strong having a bit of fun here and there are also some amusing cameo from Mark Hamill and Michael Caine.

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Overall it’s definitely a fun spy flick that works in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Kingsman is gleefully over-the-top, relentlessly boisterous and unapologetically un-PC. If you’re a fan of Vaughn’s or Guy Ritchie movies, you should enjoy this entertaining twist of the spy genre. Though the ultra violence and some offensive content is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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So what did you see this weekend? If you’ve seen Kingsman, what did YOU think?

Weekend Roundup + Review of Michael Mann’s Blackhat (2015)

Happy Monday everyone! It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my office is closed in remembrance of Dr. King’s birthday. I was reading up about Dr. King’s history earlier today and I’m always astonished by how many inspiring comments he had made in his relatively short life. These are just some of my favorites we can all live by no matter what day it is.

Did anybody see SELMA this weekend? Well, it’s a good a time as any to see that film but I figure it’d resonate even more on MLK Day. I only went to the cinema on Friday night for Blackhat, and only got around to seeing The Guest last night. Tonight my hubby and I are going to start watching The Honourable Woman before Netflix yanked it off its streaming service at the end of the month. We’ve been wanting to check that out for ages, and Maggie Gyllenhaal winning a Golden Globe for her performance served as a perfect reminder!

Now here’s my review of Michael Mann’s latest cyber thriller:

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Well, looks like I have to eat my words on this one, considering I’ve done this enthusiastic post on this movie. I was prepared for a smart cyber-thriller that would speak to our cultural anxieties sparked by the repetitive security breaches and surveillance concerns, but the movie is just a typical crime thriller in which the plot revolves around a malicious hacker (hence the title). The opening sequence depicts a CGI tracking shot going into a maze-like chase from inside one computer and out of another on the other side of the globe and resulted in a nuclear reactor explosion in China. Both US and China are desperate to find a computer whiz to help find the cyber criminal and so we’re introduced to Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) who’s currently serving time for computer fraud. Conveniently, his MIT roommate Chen (Wang Leehom) is now a high-ranking Chinese official and he suggests that the FBI grants him a furlough to help them out.

Blackhat_Hemsworth

It all sounds oh-so-exciting but the film itself comes off as dull and un-suspenseful. The hacking jargon and those cyber intrusion CGI may look and sound cool at first, but it gets repetitive as the film progresses, but that’s not even the film’s biggest flaws. The aerial shots are frame-worthy, as one would expect from visual stylist like Mann, but it can’t cover for the clunky dialog (both in English and sometimes broken Indonesian) nor all the plot contrivances that don’t pay off at the end. I haven’t even mentioned the lame villains that’s more irritating than menacing.

I mentioned my doubts about our current ‘sexiest man alive’ Hemsworth as a hacker. Not just any hacker mind you, a computer genius who can hack into anything, including tricking NSA to get him access to their “Black Widow” super computer. (Thor & Black Widow, yes those Avengers reference did put a smile on my face). Well, no matter how authentic the hacking sequences and UNIX command line accuracies are (apparently the film got ’em right according to Wired), it’s still REALLY tough to buy Hemsworth as any sort of computer whiz. He’s not a terrible actor in the right role but he’s so out of his elements here. He also isn’t a movie star, not yet anyway. I read a comment on IMDb that says, ‘Tom Cruise is a star, Hemsworth is a mere flash light.’ Ouch! But y’know what, it made me think that if it were Cruise or someone with his charisma in the starring role, the movie could’ve been a bit more watchable.

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It doesn’t help matters that we’ve got the cheesiest, most cringe-worthy tacked-on romance between him and Chen’s sister (Tang Wei) who conveniently happens to be a software expert. I remember the scorching chemistry between Colin Farrell and Gong Li in Miami Vice, but none of that is to be found here between Hemsworth and Wei. All longing glances and even a sex scene two days after they met, but absolutely zero chemistry. Zilch. I wish Mann would give more time to Leehom and Viola Davis instead, both are perhaps the only saving grace here in terms of casting. Even delivering lines like ‘You can call me Chica anytime you want,’ Davis is always entertaining to watch, if only Hollywood would give her more to do in a movie.

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It’s really a shame that this film never rise above mediocrity. There are even some seriously preposterous moments, I mean, magazines used as bullet proof vest?? Ok so maybe if Thor has ribs made of steel [shrug] My hubby and I turned to each other as the credit rolls that it doesn’t feel like a Michael Mann movie. It looks as if a lesser filmmaker was imitating him as Blackhat has the look/sound/feel to it. I do appreciate the global feel of the film, being shot on location in several countries from US to China to Indonesia. But even the finale set during a Hindus’ Nyepi “Day of Silence” Celebration in Jakarta serves nothing more than an extremely elaborate set decoration, employing 3000 extras no less, that doesn’t add much to the movie.

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You know I REALLY want to love Blackhat so imagine my disappointment. It’s yet another exercise of style-over-substance. Yet visually, despite some arresting ones here and there, overall it’s not as impressive as his previous work in an urban setting, i.e. Collateral. Everything else fares even worse, from casting, dialog and plot, there’s very little to recommend this even coming from a big fan of this director. Six years after the disappointing Public Enemies, this is another misfire from Michael Mann. Well, I hope we won’t have to wait as long to see him back in top form for his next film.

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So what did you watch this weekend? What do you think of Blackhat?

[Last 2014] Weekend Roundup + Mini Reviews of The Trip To Italy, The Immigrant, Exodus: Gods & Kings and Into the Woods

Hello hello! Hope you had a lovely long Holiday weekend. It’s quite a nice and relaxing holiday for me, though it ended up being a pretty busy one hanging out with friends. I did fit in some movie-watching, even went to the cinema for Exodus though it was more of a last-minute decision when some friends invited us.

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Just a quick thought on each of them as I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to review them…

The Trip to Italy
It’s not as fun as the first film, The Trip. Perhaps I’m just getting tired of Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon‘s schtick and they’re really not very likable characters. The impersonations are getting a bit repetitive, but some are still fun to watch, especially when they’re talking about all the Bond actors. The Italian scenery and food imagery are truly drool-worthy however.

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The Immigrant
The main draw for me is the cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard. Two things that this movie have going for it are the performances and the intriguing story. I’m not generally fond of Jeremy Renner and here he’s just ok, not as compelling as the other two actors. The star is definitely Cottilard who remains alluring no matter how destitute they made her up to be. Now, if only the pace and direction had a bit more life to it. It felt overlong and tedious, even if the actors were able to hold my attention for the most part. The finale did pack an emotional punch, but I wish it had been more evenly-handled throughout, especially since the story strikes a chord with me.

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Exodus: Gods & Kings
Now, Ted’s given a full review of this but since I just this earlier today, I figure I’ll give my own two cents. Well, I ended up enjoying this more than I thought. Perhaps having a very low expectations helps, but I’m glad to say I didn’t find it boring even if it certainly lacking that *epic* touch I expected from Ridley Scott. Performances are good, especially the two leads Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, but Scott took way too much liberty with the story and character of Moses. There are too many to mention here but let’s just say this story is more inspired by the Biblical tale than an actual adaptation. It’s one thing if a reimagining of the centuries-old story actually enhances the adaptation, but in this case, the alterations are much to its detriment and much of it just don’t make sense. Still, I don’t think this was an abomination as some critics describe it but I think keeping the integrity of the story would’ve served this film better.

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IntoTheWoodsBanner

I have to admit I’ve actually never heard of Stephen Sondheim‘s play before this film, apparently it’s been around for nearly 3 decades. But since I grew up watching a ton of Disney fairy tale movies, the idea of reimagining some of Brothers Grimm fairy tales intrigues me. I’m all about crafting a twist to a classic story, so long as they do a good job of it. Alas, I feel that Into The Woods might be a much better fit as a stage performance as it’s all about showmanship instead of a compelling narration.

The main players are comprised of the Baker & his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), and the wicked witch (Meryl Streep). The rest are basically supporting characters: Jack and his mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Johnny Depp’s in a glorified cameo.

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Not a bad cast at all, and I must say they all did a good job singing and performing the songs. Some fare better than others of course, Kendrick could’ve done well on the stage version of this with her beautiful voice and Streep also has quite a lovely voice. Much have been said about her performance as the witch, but seems that at this point she could just be reading a restaurant menu poetically and they’d shower her with a plethora of awards. I think she’s rather over-the-top here, though that’s perhaps the direction she was given. Her song has the most memorable melody of the entire movie, but I don’t think her performance itself is THAT extraordinary. I think my favorite has to be Pike & Magnussen’s (the two Prince brothers) hilarious and unabashedly campy rendition of Agony. Ironically, it’s the least agonizing rendition of the rest and it got the whole theater cheering for its flagrant goofiness. Corden has the most screen time aside from Streep and I think he’s a good and likable actor that’s able to hold his own. He has a nice chemistry with Blunt, who’s always lovely to watch no matter how little she has to work with.

Overall though, I just can’t get into the story. It’s convoluted for no apparent reason and the third act just got too somber and dark for its own good, which seems disconnected from the lighter scenes that precede it. In fact, the stories don’t feel well-connected at all, they just seem randomly thrown together for amusement sake. Much like the equally star-studded ensemble of Nine, Rob Marshall seems more adept at assembling a bunch of fabulous crews and actors but he’s inept in making the most of the performers to tell an engaging story. I’ve only seen three of his work, including the overrated Chicago which I don’t think deserve the Best Picture Oscar. In fact I wish it hadn’t, as it encouraged Marshall to think he’s a great director.

As I walked out of the theater, I wonder if it had been ill-advised to adapt this material on the big screen. I mean if they absolutely had to adapt it, perhaps Disney should’ve gotten someone who’s more of a bold visionary filmmaker. Someone who could breathe some real sparkle (to match all that fairy dust) into this adaptation and make it entertaining in the process. As it is now, the movie is mere window dressing with gorgeous set pieces, pretty costumes and lovely songs, but it inspires more of a ‘huh?’ reaction than ‘wow.’

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Well, have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

Weekend Roundup + Musings on the SAG Awards & Golden Globes Nominations

What a hectic weekend it’s been. With my hubby’s company holiday party, a Christmas concert, a TCFF bloggers meet-up and a morning screening, I barely had time to even open my laptop until Sunday night. No time for home cinema at all obviously, though I did see two press screenings: Into The Woods on Thursday night and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb Saturday morning.

It’s my first Night of the Museum movie I’ve ever seen, in fact I didn’t even know this was the third entry, wow! It was fun enough that I might check out the previous two. As for Into The Woods, well let’s just say that apart from some hilarious sequences, this material might’ve been more suited for a play. I’ll post a double review of both before Christmas.

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Ok, this post marks the first Awards Chatter of the year!

I finally had time to put my thoughts down on the two recent award nominations that was announced back to back last week. To keep this post at a manageable length, I’m only limiting my comments to under 15 categories each, and on FILM nominations only (as I barely watch any TV to have any opinion on those).

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BEST PICTURE (drama)
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
 …
Oyelowo_Selma

David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve only seen two out of this list, but Selma‘s press screening has been scheduled in the first week of January so I’m looking forward to that! I honestly don’t know which one I’m rooting for most, I guess I’ll know after I see Selma but I’m glad there’s finally a good Martin Luther King Jr. adaptation. But where’s Gone Girl?? It’s nominated for Best Director but no love from the Hollywood Foreign Press for the film itself?
 …
BEST PICTURE (comedy/musical)
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Pride
St. Vincent
 …
After having seen Into The Woods, I definitely don’t think it deserves a nom! I wish Begin Again had been nominated here over that one instead, it’s just a more entertaining and engaging film by a wide margin. Ah well, I guess out of this list, I’m rooting for Birdman with Grand Budapest Hotel a close second.
 …
BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay | Selma
David Fincher | Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu | Birdman
Richard Linklater | Boyhood
 …
As I haven’t seen Selma and Boyhood, out of the three I’ve seen, I’m torn between Iñárritu and Fincher. Congrats to Ava DuVernay for making history as the first-ever African-American woman to be nominated in the Best Director category! At the same time, why does it take THAT long for a woman of color to finally get directorial recognition?! Well, out of the ones I’ve seen, I’m leaning towards Iñárritu as Birman is just unlike anything I’ve ever seen and will surely end up in my final Top 10. It’s hilarious yet poignant at the same time and I’m just glad to see Michael Keaton making a major comeback!
 …
BEST SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Again, I’m rooting for Birdman here, though I think Gillian Flynn did a fantastic job adapting her own novel Gone Girl, so I definitely wouldn’t cry foul if she wins.
 …
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
  …
Yay, three of my fave animated films are nominated!! Out of Big Hero 6, HTTYD 2 and The LEGO Movie, I’d LOVE to see Big Hero 6 win, but I think The LEGO Movie could very well be the one to beat this year.
 …
ACTOR (drama)
Steve Carell | Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch | The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal | Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo | Selma
Eddie Redmayne | The Theory of Everything
 …
Carell_Foxcatcher
This is such a strong category and each seems to be quite deserving of a nom. I’m bummed that I have only seen two performances here, Carell’s and Cumberbatch’s. Carell is absolutely astounding and virtually unrecognizable in Foxcatcher and so my money is on him this year.
 …
BEST ACTOR (comedy/musical)
Ralph Fiennes | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton | Birdman
Bill Murray | St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix | Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz | Big Eyes
 …
I LOVE the fact that Fiennes is getting a nod for a comedic role and deservedly so. But I’ve been a fan of Keaton for some time and I’m really rooting for him to sweep all the awards this year.
 …
BEST ACTRESS (drama)
Jennifer Aniston | Cake
Felicity Jones | The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore | Still Alice
Rosamund Pike | Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon | Wild
 …

So the trend that actress who *deglamorize* for a role usually gets nominated continues. I haven’t seen Cake yet and I honestly haven’t heard much of it apart from Aniston going sans makeup in the role. I guess I might rent it when it’s out on rental. I’d LOVE to see Pike win this category, I mean she’s just fantastic as Amy Dunne, and please please please, don’t give it to Witherspoon!! I’m already so disappointed seeing her name here, I mean I’d rather nominate Gugu Mbatha-Raw for either Belle or Beyond the Lights any day!

 …
BEST ACTRESS (comedy/musical)
Amy Adams | Big Eyes
Emily Blunt | Into the Woods
Helen Mirren | The Hundred Foot Journey
Julianne Moore | Maps to the Stars
Quvenzhané Wallis | Annie
 …

I’ve only seen Emily Blunt‘s performance here, and though I’m not crazy for the movie, I do think she’s VERY good in the role but she’s always been a great actress IMO. Kudos for Moore for her double nominations though I have yet to see either one of her performances.

 …
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Rosana Arquette | Boyhood
Jessica Chastain | A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley | The Imitation Game
Emma Stone | Birdman
Meryl Streep | Into the Woods
  …
Both Knightley and Stone were good in The Imitation Game and Birdman, respectively, but I don’t know who I root for most out of those two. I’ve always like Chastain as an actress and I’d have liked to see her get a nod for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Interesting that Streep’s character is considered a supporting role in Into the Woods, as she seems to have a pretty major screen time there. In any case, does she have to be nominated for EVERY SINGLE ROLE she plays EVERY YEAR though?? I could think of a handful of actresses I’d rather see in her place, for one I’d love to see Andrea Riseborough (or Naomi Watts) in Birdman get a nod! I was also impressed by Kim Dickens as Detective Boney in Gone Girl.
Andrea Riseborough with Keaton in 'Birdman'

Andrea Riseborough with Keaton in ‘Birdman’

 …
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall | The Judge
Ethan Hawke |Boyhood
Ed Norton | Birdman
Mark Ruffalo | Foxcatcher
JK Simmons | Whiplash
 …
Woo hoo for Mark Ruffalo! I was a bit worried Channing Tatum would get a nod in the supporting role instead of him. I guess Tatum could be considered a co-lead with Carell. But Ruffalo was truly the heart of the film and he was truly believable and compelling in the role. Meh on Robert Duvall, but I guess it’s better him getting a nod than Robert Downey Jr from The Judge.
 …

BEST SCORE
Alexandre Desplat | The Imitation Game
Johann Johannsson | The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor | Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez | Birdman
Hans Zimmer | Interstellar


I’ve been listening to Interstellar’s score a lot lately so I guess that’s my favorite from the bunch. But Reznor’s work for Gone Girl is excellent and I’ve been a fan of Desplat’s work generally. Seems that the Academy loves him, he’s been nominated 6 times in the last 7 years, but he has yet to win. So perhaps this would be Desplat’s year?
 …

SAGawards
I’ve never blogged about the SAG awards before for some reason, but it could very well be far more important than the Globes and other awards apart from Oscars. Per THR, in the years since the SAG Awards were first handed out in 1995, the guild’s acting nominees and winners have predicted the Academy Awards’ acting nominees and winners more consistently than any of the many other accolades that collectively constitute the awards season.

It’s definitely the year of the Brits! There’s a British actor in practically every acting category both at Golden Globes and SAG this year.
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
STEVE CARELL / John du Pont – “FOXCATCHER”
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH / Alan Turing – “THE IMITATION GAME” 
JAKE GYLLENHAAL / Louis Bloom – “NIGHTCRAWLER”
MICHAEL KEATON / Riggan – “BIRDMAN” 
EDDIE REDMAYNE / Stephen Hawking – “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” 

Pretty much everyone I predicted would be nominated are on this list, and yay once again for Keaton! It’s a big year for Cumberbatch & Redmayne as this is the first SAG nom for the two Brits that would likely lead to the Oscars. VERY curious who’d win this year but I have no quibble about the nominees. I was bummed not seeing David Oyelowo‘s name here but apparently Selma wasn’t completed in time to send screeners to the SAG voters, hence the exclusion.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
JENNIFER ANISTON / Claire Bennett – “CAKE” 
FELICITY JONES / Jane Hawking – “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” 
JULIANNE MOORE / Alice Howland-Jones – “STILL ALICE” 
ROSAMUND PIKE / Amy Dunne – “GONE GIRL” 
REESE WITHERSPOON / Cheryl Strayed – “WILD”

Aniston_Cake

Unlike the more predictable MALE category, the Lead Best Actress category is full of surprises! Jennifer Aniston getting a double nomination, esp. from SAG, wow I’d never guess THAT as I have never even heard of her film Cake until a few weeks ago. I just hope there’s more her performance to warrant that nom than simply going sans makeup (and having bad hair) for the role. One thing for sure, as I said above, I don’t buy Witherspoon in a similar ‘non-glamorous’ role in Wild.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
ROBERT DUVALL / Joseph Palmer – “THE JUDGE” 
ETHAN HAWKE / Mason, Sr. – “BOYHOOD” 
EDWARD NORTON / Mike – “BIRDMAN” 
MARK RUFFALO / Dave Schultz – “FOXCATCHER”
J.K. SIMMONS / Fletcher – “WHIPLASH”


I’m rooting for Norton and Ruffalo out of this bunch, both of them are nothing short of excellent. I guess Norton’s role in Birdman is flashier but Ruffalo shines in a more understated performance in Foxcatcher. I definitely wish Duvall won’t win this category, I don’t know why he’s even nominated here.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
PATRICIA ARQUETTE / Olivia – “BOYHOOD”
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY / Joan Clarke – “THE IMITATION GAME”
EMMA STONE / Sam – “BIRDMAN”
MERYL STREEP / The Witch – “INTO THE WOODS” 
NAOMI WATTS / Daka – “ST. VINCENT”

[sigh] Meryl Streep once again, am I the only one tired of seeing her name in EVERY SINGLE NOMINATIONS year after year? Boy I didn’t even know Watts was in St. Vincent, I thought if she were to get a nod it’ll be from Birdman. I was quite impressed with Stone in Birdman, perhaps her best performance I’ve ever seen from her after her mediocre turn in those Spider-man movies and an entirely unconvincing one in Gangster Squad.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
BOYHOOD (IFC Films)
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
THE IMITATION GAME (The Weinstein Company)
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus Features)

ImitationGame_Cast

It’d be interesting if The Imitation Game with its all-star British cast win this thing but they do have an excellent ensemble! I personally love The Imitation Game and Birdman ensemble as I think the supporting cast absolutely deliver across the board, and they’re not just a glorified cameo like many in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

So who got snubbed??

So the most popular four-letter word during award season is back once again!

Seems that the early frontrunner Unbroken is not really much of a contender. I bet Angelina Jolie (who’s been nominated for Golden Globes half a dozen times, even for The Tourist!) would never guess Jennifer Aniston would get DOUBLE nominations this year. Perhaps the HFPA and SAG voters just don’t want to see both of them competing on the same red carpet or something? But the fact that the film didn’t earn a single acting nom, even for its lead Jack O’Connell is surprising to me. Now, the movie itself might not even be THAT good, so whether it’s really a SNUB remains to be seen.

Jolie_FilmingUnbroken

Jolie on the set of ‘Unbroken’ – Photo courtesy of HollywoodTake.com

Some consider this a snub, but I’m not all that surprised NOT seeing Interstellar nor Matthew McConaughey amongst the nominees. I’m not disappointed either as the film didn’t wow me. Seems that Ben Affleck is also not getting any love for his performance in Gone Girl, which arguably is one of his best acting in recent memory.

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Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

Lastly, two Cannes winners: Bennett Miller (Best Director for Foxcatcher) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor for Mr. Turner) are both missing from both Golden Globes and SAG nominations. I have been hearing nothing but praise for Spall’s performance as the eccentric British painter, so this seems to be a pretty glaring omission.


Well, there ya go folks. So who do you consider the surprises and/or snubs this year from both GG and SAG awards?

November Recap + Top Movie of the Month

November2014Recap

WOW, would you believe it, we’re already in the last month of 2014! I’ve been sort of blissfully disconnected from the blogosphere the past few days, so I was quite flabbergasted that tomorrow is December already. Seems that the year have flown by much quicker than I could keep up with.

Anyway, it ends up being a rather slow month for movie-watching for me, but I think December will be another busy one with a bunch of press screenings already scheduled in the next few weeks, starting with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Into The Woods and Night at the Museum 2.

Posts you might’ve missed:


New-to-me Movies:

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Rewatches:

  • Sense & Sensibility (1995)
  • Superman Returns (2006)
  • Licence To Kill (1989)

Favorite Movie of November 2014:

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I had been anticipating Birdman for some time because I’m a fan of Michael Keaton and it’s great seeing him in a lead role again. Well he certainly did NOT disappoint! It’s truly as bizarre & surreal as I expected it to be, but it’s also poignant, emotional and unlike anything I’ve seen all year. Review coming sometime next week.


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

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Weekend Roundup & Review of Disney’s Maleficent

Hi everyone! Hope you had a lovely weekend. Well it’s sort of the calm before the storm as Twin Citians are bracing for the first snow storm of the year. We’re supposed to get anywhere between 6-12 inches, ugh! I ran a bunch of errands today just so I don’t have to go anywhere besides to and from work, though even THAT is gonna be quite an adventure tomorrow.

In any case, well it’s been quite a busy week for me movie-watching wise. Like many of you, I saw Interstellar on Saturday night in the AMC IMAX theatre. I’m still trying to process it, but I’m gonna try to review it this week, along with Big Hero 6. Y’know what, this time I’m agreeing w/ the critics in placing the Disney animated feature ahead of Christopher Nolan’s big space drama (91% for Big Hero Six vs 73% for Interstellar)

Friday night, my hubby and I opted for a fairy-tale reimagining that we’ve been wanting to see for some time. Boy it took forever for this movie to be available on iTunes, who knows why Disney delayed the rental release for SO long as the movie was released back in May. So here’s my review:

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As a huge fan of Sleeping Beauty, which is my favorite Disney fairy tale, I’m curious to see the backstory of Maleficent, which is also one of my fave Disney villains. The twist of the story itself is a hit and miss. I thought that the unlikely relationship between Maleficent and Aurora is interesting and also kind of hilarious. I mean before Maleficent curses Aurora to die on her 16th birthday upon pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, she also confirms one of the three good fairies’ blessing that she will grow in grace and beauty and that she’ll be loved by ALL who meets her. Well I guess that includes Maleficent herself as she can’t help to also grow to love Aurora in the end. Therein lies the issue I have w/ the plot – Maleficent isn’t so much an evil sorceress we expect from the animated version, as she never really did anything evil at all despite her vengeful quest. She’s portrayed more like a victim of the ambitious Stefan who betrays her to become King and he’s definitely the malevolent one in the story.

Jolie_Maleficent

That said, there are quite a few enjoyable moments to be had and Angelina Jolie is mesmerizing as Maleficent. I really can’t imagine anyone else in the role and she handles the dramatic as well as the mischievous moments brilliantly. The scene when she discovers her wings are cut off is quite heart-wrenching, but she also seems to be having fun with the more whimsical moments in the movie. The rest of the casting doesn’t fare as well, I’m so baffled why Sam Riley agrees to do the role of Diaval, Maleficent’s shape-shifting crow as it’s such a thankless role. I really thought there’ll be more to that character later on, but it never happened. Seems that all the guys in this movie are either evil or pointless, including Prince Philip, Aurora’s supposed suitor. Sharlto Copley’s plays Stefan with a sheer madness about him, consumed by paranoia and contempt against Maleficent that he seemingly forgot about his own family. I wasn’t crazy w/ Elle Fanning as Aurora, as she’s more cute than beautiful, but I guess they’re going for more an innocent girl so I warm up to her as the movie progresses. Given this is Maleficent’s story, all three gifted actresses (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) weren’t given much to do here.

The visuals are basically a CGI extravaganza, which is not surprising given first-time director Robert Stromberg worked extensively in the visual effects department most of his career. The flying sequences are great to look at and there are some beautiful scenery and set pieces. That said, I’m still partial to the animated version from 1959 with its hand-drawn illustrations. Even by today’s standards, I’m still in awe how lush and beautiful it is. I like that the movie pays homage to the original in some ways though. Per IMDb, Jolie apparently insisted that the dialogue in Aurora’s christening sequence has to be written word-by-word and based exactly from the original animated film because she feels that it was the main core and setup of the entire film.

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So overall I think this is a decent film if you’re willing to accept the reimagining of the fairy tale classic for what it is. The ending is kind of predictable and the ‘true love’ aspect seems to be borrowing from Frozen from a year before. But if you want to see this for Jolie’s performance as Maleficent, she certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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Have you seen Maleficent, well what did you think?