Tube Watch: 5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having gotten family Thanksgiving feasting and festivities out of the way a few days early. And indulging in minor Tryptophan comas through many variations of sumptuous leftovers. I’ve decided to make good on a debt or favor and honor to our Hostess, Ruth.

Accumulating information, intelligence and perspective on a well budgeted, thought out and executed extension of the Twentieth Century Fox television derivative, FX. And their inspired doubling down and betting it all on one series. As successfully done with their previous offering,”The Shield”. And again coming out on top!

The series in question isn’t exactly a Western. Nor is it what I consider a full fledged or procedural “Cop show”. Though it has topics, drama and situations taken from both genres. Cleverly updated and blended together in ways that only veteran novelist and writer, Elmore Leonard could conjure up and bring to tense, sometimes comedic life.

So, allow me a few moments of your time to delve in, peel back layers and hopefully lay bare a perspective on one of the more enigmatic, yet surprisingly addictive series of this decade with:

5 Reasons Why FX’s ‘Justified’ Rocks Out Loud!

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Though not given a numerical value that might place one specific above another. I am going to be au courant and simply state the reasons. Since each is an integral part of the others. And how well they mesh to create superlative adult entertainment.

The Writing

The foundation of any series, film, feature or short subject lays trapped inside the writers’ imagination. And how well those thought and ideas flow through to paper. And later, processor or lap top. And few are better than master novelist and screenwriter, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard.

Whose pedigree runs from the 1950s heydays of Budd Boetticher’s low budgeted, Randolph Scott films (‘The Tall T’). Through the original ‘3:10 to Yuma’. Both renditions of ‘Hombre’. To ‘The Moonshine War’, ‘Valdez Is Coming’, ‘Joe Kidd’, ‘Mr. Majestyk’ and ’52 Pick Up’. And later, more recognizable efforts, ‘Get Shorty’, ‘Jackie Brown’. Television’s ‘Karen Sisco’ and low budgeted, mid west winter revenge flick, ‘Killshot’,

JUSTIFIED_FX_GrahamYostAdd an eye for minor details with Graham Yost (HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and major Wild West meets Shakespeare cult class series, ‘Deadwood’). And you have the makings of grittily modernizing the “Old Gunslinger comes to town” premise. Add a few love interests. The odd family and home town feuds. Old school (Moonshine) and updated forms (Grass, Oxycotin and Heroin) of illegal recreational pharmacology. Bracing old friends and new snitches. Serving warrants and transporting prisoners. And you have a continuing tale and mixture that pays off in ways unimagined!

With the writing for the ever developing. overall idea nicely tied up. We move to:

The Locations

With the sunny beaches south of Miami used as a backdrop for a Han Solo and Greedo like sit down showdown with a mid tier Columbian drug runner to get the story moving westward during the series’ pilot and premiere episode. Then shifting ever so quickly to the rustic, quaint and near antique confines of Harlan, Kentucky. Talent is needed to find just the right look and feel of a town and outskirts that architecturally haven’t left the 1960s.

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And that’s where Jared Kurt, Andrew Keeler and Eric Klosterman come in. Finding out of the off the beaten path and less accessible way places, townships, railway heads, trestle bridges and occasional steam powered locomotives and trains to add back woods and water authenticity. Where forested, hilly, coal country Kittaning and up against the Appalachian and Ohio border, Washington, Pennsylvania come into their own. Though much more in the second season and beyond. Where coal, mining, land sales, drug deals, the “Dixie Mafia”, organized crime out of Detroit and local politics move to the fore. Not exactly a perfect, restored time capsule when dealing with contemporary eyesores, safety rails and the like. But a pleasantly rewarding treasure trove for those who appreciate the look and feel minor details add to an organic domestic mix. Accepting and often looking forward to these tidbits, because of their solidity and tangibility.

While Santa Clarita and the outskirts of Pasadena, California fill in for the rustic and slightly time warped main drag and town square of Kentucky’s capital, Frankfort. Its court houses, municipal buildings and the more affluent parts of cities and towns where the movers and shakers on both sides of the law and criminal scale live and do business,

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Sets of all shape, size and devotion to detail abound. From the Marshall’s office in Harlan with computers on every desk and a flat screen televisions in the boss’ office. To the incredibly old time clap board country and general store of “Mags” Bennett (Margo Martindale, magnificent and made for the role!). The tough as nails, seemingly omniscient matriarch of a low scale crime clan way out in the hills. And several old, disused and forgotten coal mines and shafts which fill a more lucrative purpose. Add some Honky Tonk bars. Dirt floored and otherwise. Mobile home and trailer-ed brothels of the series’ main nemesis. And watch some magic go to work!

Which moves us along to those who ride herd and maintain control over all this largesse of imagination and logistics.

The Directors

Far too many to mention here. Though the number tops out at twenty. With notables being Adam Arkin (Who also has a cameo role as elegant Detroit mob shot caller, Theo Tonin). Who came on board early and has a nice touch for the series tone, grit and occasional irony and humor. While honing his near veteran skills with two episodes for each season.

Followed closely by crime connoisseur and master of Neo Noir, John Dahl (‘The Last Seduction’, ‘Red Rock West’, ‘Rounders’) Who brings out the “Tough Guy” talk and image beautifully in the Good Guys, Bad Guys, crews and clans memorably the early seasons and beyond. While Jon Avnet has a real penchant for introducing and fleshing out new, often returning characters and the beginning of major twists seasons before they sometime disastrously occur. And leaves some slack to expand upon for Peter Werner, Tony Goldwyn, Don Kurt and Peter Werner to run and play with.

Creating a fluid, uninterrupted canvas for this cabal of visual choreographers to deliver solid consistent work. About the only director who hasn’t been called in to add his perspective is Peter Weller (“Robo Cop’, ‘Shakedown’), who has been doing superior work directing and being a crooked retired police chief on FX’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’!

Which brings us to the meat of the series. Split into two groups.

The GOOD and BAD Guys

THE GOOD GUYS

Relatively small in numbers. As is befitting any continuing tale of Good versus Evil.

Raylan Givens: Veteran U.S. Marshall. Tall, lean nonconformist. Made for denim jeans, jacket, chambray shirt, Tony Lama boots and a wide brimmed, down turned Stetson. That he absolutely rocks. Even in Mimi, Florida! A fast and deadly accurate shot. Reassigned back to Harlan after a controversial shooting. Played with a wise, sly, cynical smile by Timothy Olyphant (HBO’s ‘Deadwood’, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, ‘Hitman’, ‘The Crazies’).

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Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens

Art Mullen: Raylan’s unassuming “Been There. Done That” boss. Elder statesmen, mentor and conscience to Raylan and his squad. Overweight, Long of tooth. Up for retirement. Yet knowing more about his stomping ground, feuds and secrets than he lets on. Embodied near flawlessly by baritone, veteran character actor, Nick Searcy (‘Castaway’, ‘Moneyball’, ‘The Ugly Truth’, ‘To Appomattox’).

Rachel Brooks: (Erica Tazel) So much more than meets the eye. Smart, clever, efficient, quiet. Yet very proud of her being a Marshall. And not adverse to drawing and using her sidearm or shotgun.Can read most men in less than a minute. Slated to take Art’s place upon retirement. Huge potential for an actress just starting out. And showing the chops to stay ahead of the pack.

Erica Tazel

Erica Tazel

Tim Gutterson: (Jacob Pitts. HBO’s ’21’, ‘The Pacific’, ‘Euro Trip’) The squad’s long range rifleman and occasional back up for Raylan. Former Army sniper with multiple tours in Afghanistan and the desert. Equally proficient with a pistol. Doesn’t talk much, because he really doesn’t need to. Also a dead ringer for a younger Chris Cooper! Possessing quiet “Old Time Toughness” as well as a bit of sly when confronting criminals.

ADA David Vasquez: (Rick Gomez: HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Sin City) Up and coming Federal Prosecutor trying to “make his bones” and a name for himself far away from the power players in Washington, DC. Fast talking. Too shrewd by half. Knows Raylan’s gun slinging reputation and wants to capitalize on it to his advantage.

Judge Mike Reardon: (Stephen Root: ‘Office Space’, ‘Fargo’, ‘News Radio’) No nonsense judge who carries a licensed pistol under his robes. And has a red Swingline stapler atop his desk beside the blotter and phone in his chambers!

Which leaves the floor open for:

THE BAD GUYS

Many with extended families and cousins. Most vying for supremacy. Or control of a criminal beyond the reach of their respective towns or counties.

Boyd Crowder: Criminally under rated Walton Goggins, Channeling Shane Vendrell of FX’s earlier, ‘The Shield’. Finally being the Outlaw he was meant to be. Sly, smooth. With a chess player’s mind and a scary familiarity with violence. Had worked in the mines as a youth with Raylan. Very handy with explosives.

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Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder

“Mags” Bennett: (Margo Martindale: ‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘The Hours’, Orphan’) Hard luck woman. Matriarch of the Bennett clan. Sons Doyle, Dickie and Coover. Sells Moonshine (“Apple Pie”) and decent grass. When not trying to get family land from a fading coal company.

The Crowes: Daryl Crowe, Jr. (Michael Rapaport). Muscle bound ‘roid raged bully and small time grafter with delusions of grandeur. Danny Crowe (AJ. Buckley. Lab nerd on ‘CSI:NY’ turn in a bravura turn as a knife freak fixated on challenging men with guns from a distance. Dewey Crowe (Damien Harrison). Skinny. Loud mouthed. Former gator poacher. Possibly the most hapless criminal in Florida or Kentucky. Nose broken by Raylan early on lead to a lawsuit and payoff that bring Dewey’s cousins ruing at the scent of opportunity and money!

The Crowe Brothers

The Crowe Brothers

Wynn Duffy: (Jere Burns) Represents “The Dixie Mafia” as front man and “arranger”. Always mobile in a Winnebago. Constantly stuck in the middle of attention drawing Turf Wars. Thinks his talents are misplaced.And would rather be elsewhere.

Robert Quarles: (Neal McDonough. Another ‘Band of Brothers’ alum) Enforcer for the Detroit syndicate. Sexual sadist and usually calm sociopath. Favors a two shot derringer in a forearm to wrist slide rig.

Ellstin Limehouse: (Mykelti Williamson: ‘Forrest Gump;, ‘CSI:NY) Overseer to an historic hollow where slaves were left alone to thrive. post Antebellum. Shot caller fo many gangs throughout the state. And not adverse to the odd bank robbery.

Which leads us to:

The Ladies in Attendance

Winona Hawkins: (Natalie Zea) ADA for Harlan County. Former girlfriend of Raylan. Smarter than she lets on. Though sometimes lets emotions get in the way.

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Natalie Zea

Eva Crowder: (Joelle Carter) Married to Boyd’s cousin Johnny, whom she shoots with a Deer Rifle at the dinner table in the series premiere. Falls for Raylan. Then Boyd. To become the font of knowledge of criminal activity in Harlan. And Boyd’s woman. A hard luck. Hard loving woman. Who may just be out for herself, after all.

Wendy Crowe: (Alicia Witt) The only Crowe to earn a law degree. And not bashful about using that knowledge gaming others and The System to her and her son’s advantage. Pretty, clever. Dreams big. But manages with just enough to get by.

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Alicia Witt and Michael Rapaport

Katherine Hale: (Mary Steenburgen: ‘Joan of Arcadia; ‘Elf’, ‘Sunshine State’) Back up for Wynn Duffy. Elegant, fetching. Heart of ice. May or may not off Wynn during this last season.

Loretta McCready: (Kaitlyn Dever) A teenage girl with the mind far beyond her years. Whose father was killed by Coover Bennett and sought revenge. Then redemption. Every bit as sly as the boys and a perfect foil for Raylan!

Overall Consensus:

A series that has done surprisingly well. With its first season devoted to character introductions and small scale crime. That has smartly built on copious notes taken and expounded upon in later seasons. Whose script writing team wisely hangs around at the ready for new ideas from its constantly expanding cast and directors. Creating memorable scenes on the fly with Margo Martindale. Hints of the beginnings of the blood feud between the Bennett and the Givens clans. Or Damien Harrison’s Dewey Crowe for incredibly shameless comic relief.

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Margo Martindale w/ Olyphant

But the real meat of the series is the continuous slow raging war for supremacy between Raylan and Boyd. A perfect team up of wits. The give and take of discussion that Boyd makes sure work to his advantage. Add an endless stream of often returning bad guys. And variations on slowly solidifying schemes. And an episode rarely ends the way anyone predicted!.

Toss in well tended Art and Set Direction, Dressing and Continuity. And Stunt and Special Effects men too numerous to mention. Music by Steve Porcaro. Notable late night, middle of nowhere location cinematography. And you have the makings of superb adult television!


Author’s Notes:
I’ve only scratched the surface in as concise a thumb nail and sketch as I can manage. There are multiple clips, tributes, mash ups, interviews and complete episodes from the previous five seasons of ‘Justified’ n You Tube and IMDb


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


What do you think of JUSTIFIED? Opinions are always welcome. The floor is now open for discussion.

2015 Oscar Nominations: The Good, the Bad and the WTF

Oscars2015BannerSome movie bloggers (myself included) must be masochists in some ways. I mean, I haven’t quite recovered from some of the disappointments of the Golden Globes and now we’re subjecting ourselves to another disgruntlement of Oscars nominations! :P

Same like last year, I didn’t make a post of my nomination predictions this year, I only tweeted who’d be nominated for Best Picture and a few other categories.


Well, I guessed correctly that it’d be 8 nominations, but apparently I got one wrong, which is the one film I was REALLY hoping would make the cut! (It’s the #2 pick on my Top 10 Movies of 2014)

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Here’s what the 20 acting nominees look like this year:

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Yes yes, of course EVERYONE should be nominated based merit (though at least a couple of the noms here don’t really deserve the noms). Anyway you want to look at it, the diversity gap is really quite staggering:

Anyway, you can see the full nominations here. Let’s start with the positive …

The Good

So I guess it’s a good year for Indie Films. I was listening to a critic on NPR saying that the total box office take of ALL the Best Picture nominees combined would probably only top $200 mil, which is drop in the bucket for something like Transformers.

  • Thrilled to see SELMA made the Best Picture list and got Best Original Song nomination for Glory! Sadly it’s the ONLY two good things The Academy bothered to recognize.
  • Happy to see Birdman getting a NINE nominations, yay! It’s pretty much nominated in every major category, including Best Picture, Director, AND three acting nods. Of course Michael Keaton has been a lock for some time but still happy to see him here. It’ll come down to him and Eddie Redmayne (both won Golden Globes), but fingers crossed Keaton will emerges as the winner!!
  • Congrats to Colleen Atwood for her 11th Best Costume Design Oscar nominations. Hey she’s catching up on Meryl, though she’s definitely far far more deserving than Meryl is in their respective categories. The costumes are indeed gorgeous in this movie!

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  • YAY for Marion Cotillard amongst the Best Actress nominees instead of Jennifer Aniston! I mean nobody I know has seen Aniston’s performance and from some of the reviews I heard of Cake, it’s not even a good movie. I haven’t seen Two Days, One Night, one of the two possible performances she could be nominated for, but sounds like it’s a more challenging role than The Immigrant.
  • I know that Julianne Moore seems to be the favorite to win for Still Alice, but I’m still rooting for Rosamund Pike all the way!
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  • I’m glad to see Citizenfour shortlisted for Best Documentary! Now I haven’t seen the other four that are nominated so I can’t say who’s most deserving, but still nice to see this fascinating doc getting major recognitions. It’s currently on my Top 10 of the year!
  • Overall I agree with pretty much ALL of the Best Actor nominations, though I haven’t seen Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking nor Bradley Cooper as the late sniper Chris Kyle. I just realized that ALL four nominees portrayed real-life people, except for Michael Keaton‘s fictional character Riggan Thomson. It makes me root for Keaton’s performance all the more considering how good and how unique it is.
  • Glad to see Big Hero 6 in the Best Animated Feature category! I really do love this movie, if only The LEGO Movie is nominated along with it…. more on that later.
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  • Lots of amazing talents in the Cinematography category. Roger Deakins is one of the few who weren’t snubbed for Unbroken. So this marks his 12th nomination! But I’m rooting for Emmanuel Lubezki (yes again, as I was rooting for him for Gravity last year) to win for Birdman though. Those single long tracking shots are practically iconic and is crucial to the story-telling piece. Here’s a great article on his astounding work.
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  • WOW, congrats the ever-prolific and constantly-amazing Alexandre Desplat for getting DOUBLE nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel AND The Imitation Game, both of them are on my Top 10 Favorite 2014 Scores. Also thrilled for Hans Zimmer for his 9th nomination! I LOVE his score for Interstellar, it just seems to get better the more you listen to it.

The Bad

  • Ok, let’s start with the most egregious one. It’s just a bad year for diversity. What a difference a year makes. Seems that Oscar was quite progressive last year with THREE non-white actors being recognized in the acting categories and 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture. This year NONE of the acting nominees consist of an actor/actress of color, I mean not a single one! Now, shouldn’t the noms be based on merit? Why yes course it is, and both Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are both worthy of recognition. It’s DuVernay’s direction that made Selma a powerful and stirring film and Oyelowo truly embodied Martin Luther King Jr., delivering a compelling performance that’s fiery, vulnerable and emphatically human.
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    I’d also argue that Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s stunning performance in both Belle and Beyond The Lights far surpasses Reese Witherspoon’s in Wild.
  • Seems that it’s a bad year for women too. I’ve mentioned DuVernay, but Angelina Jolie got no love for Unbroken, either. No Gillian Flynn in Adapted Screenplay category, and none in the Best Score nor Best Cinematography category. I’ve been hearing great things about the cinematography of Tracks by Mandy Walker, and I absolutely adore Rachel Portman‘s score for BELLE (one of my Top 10 Fave 2014 Scores).
  •  Everything is awesome…. NOT!

    But what’s awesome is how its director is such a good sport!!

  • Hoyte Van Hoytema is robbed once again for his amazing cinematography work in Interstellar (he was also overlooked last year for his work in Her) I mean come on!! Now, I didn’t expect Chris Nolan nor his film would get much Oscar love, but the absolutely mesmerizing visuals is one of the film’s greatest strength, and certainly one of the most memorable of the past year.
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  • Speaking of robbed, where is Ralph Fiennes?? His first ever comedic leading role, in which he was sensational, went unrecognized. The Academy must have a thing for Bradley Cooper as he’s nominated for the THIRD time in a row for Best Actor!

The WTF

  • Ok now, did The Academy has something against Gone Girl?? I mean look at the trifecta of snubs here. First there’s no love for Fincher for directing nor Gillian Flynn for writing, but the Academy also snubbed Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for their fantastically atmospheric score!
  • No offense Morten Tyldum, as I love your Danish thriller Headhunters, but sorry I can’t fathom how he’s considered a better director than David Fincher! Yes I included The Imitation Game in my Top 10, but there is no way was it as crafty and bold as Gone Girl.
  • I had the exact reaction last year about Meryl Streep‘s nomination over Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks! Well now she’s back for her 19th nomination(!!) for her over-the-top performance in Into The Woods. It’s yet another scenery-chewing performance as she did in August: Osage County as the toxic-spewing matriarch. This time she played a witch, so there’s not much difference in terms of character arc is there??! [sigh] I’d have LOVED to see Carmen Ejogo getting a nod in Meryl’s spot for her heartfelt performance as Correta Scott King in Selma.
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  • Now, I haven’t seen either one of the films but I think it’s safe to say that Jake Gyllenhaal got robbed! I mean I’ve read countless reviews praising his chilling psychotic performance in Nightcrawler. Again, was Bradley Cooper really THAT good of an actor that he warrants three Best Actor noms in a row??

The 87th Academy Awards will air on February 22 on ABC.


Well, that’s my reaction to the 2015 nominations. What are your Oscars-related delights and gripes?

2014 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

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Well, well, well, it’s that time of the year again where us film bloggers agonize in making these Top 10 list. Yes, agonize is not a hyperbole as it’s REALLY quite an arduous task not only selecting which 10 films would make the list, but also ranking them. But once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. I did make a Top 10 list from the first half of 2014, and it’s interesting to see which ones stay on the list and which ones are now relegated to my Honorable Mentions.

The same with the previous years, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already. The [dis]honor of the WORST films of the year is at the end of the BEST list.

Ok well, without further ado… I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2014

10. The LEGO Movie

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Everything is awesome! And still is. This is actually one of three animated features I absolutely LOVE from last year, but I decided I only wanted to include just ONE. The LEGO Movie wins by a narrow margin, beating out How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 to make it to my main list. It really comes down to Emmet being such an adorably goofy protagonist, surrounded by spin-off-worthy supporting cast like Lego Batman and Good Cop/Bad Cop, it’s really a fantabulous geekstravaganza that would likely hold up with repeated viewings. Plus, that music is simply, well, awesome! That unabashedly vivacious song makes my Top 5 Songs of the year as well. (full review)

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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This is the first Wes Anderson movie that ever made it to my Top 10 of the year list, so I guess you could say it’s now my favorite of his collection. It captivated me from the opening scene all the way until the end and it’s more fast-paced than his previous films. But of course it has all the things you expect from Wes: the quirky characters, the perfect symmetry of every single scene, playful music, etc. The ensemble cast is wonderful once again, led by Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role who’s an absolute blast to watch. I also enjoy F. Murray Abraham and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero Mustafa, the ever-so-resourceful & loyal lobby boy. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again. (full review)

8. The Imitation Game

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This is no doubt one of my favorite films at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It won a TCFF 2014 Awards for Best Feature Film and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley also won acting honors. It’s a biopic on Alan Turing, a mathematician whose pivotal role in cracking the enigma code during WWII helped the Allies won the war against the Nazis. It’s an important film to be sure, boasted by a fantastic all-British cast led by a terrific Cumberbatch as the unsung hero. Though it may be a bit formulaic and by-the-numbers (pardon the puns), it’s still a highly entertaining, as well as emotionally-poignant film that stays with me after the closing credit. In a year of great ensemble-cast films, this is no doubt one of my favorites. I especially love Mark Strong & Matthew Goode here, two underrated performers who ought to get more leading roles of their own.

7. Citizenfour

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I only saw a few documentaries last year but this is the one that stuck with me the most. It seems like ages ago when we’re introduced to the name Edward Snowden, and since then some see him as either a traitor or a hero. Filmmaker Laura Poitras got an unprecedented access to one of the first of many meetings between reporter Glenn Greenwald (who at the time worked for The Guardian) and Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room. It’s more of an eyewitness type documentary, allowing us the viewer to be a fly-on-the-wall so to speak as Snowden revealed the mechanics of those NSA intelligence leak. I remember vividly when his first photo was broadcasted all over the media and here we saw him wearing the exact same brown-ish shirt he wore for that shot. The doc may contain what’s seemingly mundane series of events of people talking in a hotel room, but it was utterly engrossing to me. It’s the implication of those conversations, and what it means to the central character and all of us who’s watching it that makes the scenes all the more captivating.

6. Selma

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“Selma is at once a peek into the past and a snapshot of the present.” I like the title of this AVClub review because it sums up the film perfectly. I’m glad there’s finally a big-screen adaptation of Martin Luther King’s story, but I’m glad this film isn’t a conventional biopic. Instead, director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb effectively focused on the pivotal event of his life and made this more about the collective struggle for voting rights. Much has been said about the historical inaccuracies about Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal, which isn’t the first time liberties are taken on films based on real-life events. But I think apart from that, this is a powerful and gripping film, uncomfortably tense at times, especially during the Bloody Sunday sequence. The issue of police brutality couldn’t be more timely considering the events in Ferguson and NYC, which makes it all the more poignant and heart-wrenching. David Oyelowo embodied the role of King, convincing in both the fiery moments of his speeches, as well as the quieter moments with his wife (portrayed brilliantly by Carmen Ejogo).

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I haven’t re-watched this film since I saw it back in July, yet I still remember much about how I felt about the main character, Caesar. The fact that he’s not even a human being says a lot about how good the character development of the last two ‘Apes’ films and this sequel took us a step further into Caesar’s journey. The ‘king of mo-cap acting’ Andy Serkis once again delivered a phenomenal portrayal of the apes leader. His eyes convey so much that they’re practically hypnotic. Director Matt Reeves created a suspenseful & atmospheric piece here that’s immediately engrossing. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film, as well as genuinely poignant moments that tug my heartstrings. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. (full review)

4. Belle

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I feel like a broken record when it comes to miss Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but she’s truly one of the best talent discoveries in a good long while. She’s the heart and soul of this film, displaying a nuanced and charismatic performance in nearly every scene. I’m also glad to have discovered director Amma Assante, who shows such dexterity in her sophomore feature, crafting a beautifully layered and affecting historical drama. There are so many things to love here, and after having seen this four times already, I’m still mesmerized. Visually it’s just a stunning film, the gorgeous lighting brings out the best of the costumes, set pieces, etc. But it’s the rich, engrossing story and brilliant performances by the all-British cast that make this such a rewarding film to see over and over. (full review)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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I knew this film would make my final Top 10 from the first time I watched it. This is another movie on this list I’ve seen more than twice and I still absolutely loved it! It’s one of the rare sequel that easily surpasses the the first one. Billed as a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie’, The Winter Soldier delivers on that promise and gives us something that’s genuinely intriguing and massively entertaining. It’s filled with adrenaline-pumping geek-gasm scenes without being banal or vapid. Chris Evans‘ much more confident in the role which makes him even more watchable, and Robert Redford + Anthony Mackie are great additions to an already-fantastic cast. This one has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero! (full review)

2. Gone Girl

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It’s a testament of a great film when it clocks in at 2.5 hours and it went by like a breeze. Dark, twisted, stylish, and even mesmerizing, Gone Girl is one of those movies that play like a thrilling roller coaster ride. Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn made this more of a psychological character study of a couple in a crumbling marriage that turns more sinister by the minute. Rosamund Pike was nothing short of amazing as the year’s certifiable female anti-hero you love to hate. She gave an intense and haunting performance that’s absolutely Oscar-worthy. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining. (full review)

1. Birdman

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. The use of the continuous long takes helps tell the story in such a unique and immersive way that completely absorbs you. But the story itself is rich and full of thought-provoking allegory, brought to life by Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s adept direction. It’s one of those rare films where style actually meets substance, as the story brilliantly blends fantasy & reality, drama & comedy in a way that can be both deep as well as entertaining. It has its darker and even vulgar moments I don’t typically embrace, but it never overpowers the protagonist’s journey, which is the heart of the story. On top of all that is the phenomenal performances across the board, led by Michael Keaton in the lead role, one that I’ll been rooting for the entire award season. (full review)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these movies were actually in my Top 10 list of the first half of 2014. I marked those with an * (asterisk), this time I’m NOT ranking these, so they’re listed in alphabetical order:

  1. Begin Again
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Chef
  4. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  5. Edge of Tomorrow*
  6. Foxcatcher
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. The Grand Seduction*
  9. How To Train Your Dragon 2*
  10. The Hundred Foot Journey
  11. John Wick
  12. Locke*
  13. The Machine*
  14. Time Lapse
  15. X-Men: Days of Future Past*

What I missed from 2014:

Boyhood, Calvary, Ida, Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Theory of Everything, Still Alice, Under the Skin, and Whiplash.


Top5WorstMovies2014

Now, I wish I could get my 2+ hours back from each of these awful movies! Ok I saw most of these at press screening, so thankfully I didn’t have to pay for them, but still they’re such a waste of my time. Avoid these if you can help it, consider yourself warned.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like  I Frankenstein, Pompeii, Blended, Transcendence, The Best of Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2014. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

5 Reasons I’m looking forward to Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT

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Normally I don’t get too excited about films opening in January, but when it’s a Michael Mann movie, that changes everything. His cyber-thriller Blackhat opens this Friday and I definitely will see this on opening night!

I posted the first trailer here a few months ago, and here are five reasons why I’m excited for this movie:

1. Michael Mann – one of my all time favorite directors

Even though I was underwhelmed by Public Enemies, I still consider Mr. Mann amongst my faves and I always look forward to his films. Manhunter, Heat, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, and Collateral are some of cinema’s finest films and he always takes his time in making his films.

MichaelMannDirectingBlackhat

I love how LA Times describes him, “…Mann, 71, crafts sharp, sleek thrillers with a moody, existentialist bent” and per IMDb trivia, Blackhat also marks the very first Michael Mann movie to be shot entirely in digital. According to Variety, Mann has been up to his eyeballs in the worlds of cyber intrusion and espionage for the past three years, ever since he first read about Stuxnet, the computer worm (widely believed to have been deployed, at least in part, by the U.S. government) credited with creating major disruptions in Iran’s production of enriched uranium.

Sounds like Mr. Mann has done extensive research on the subject, consulting microchips engineers, cyber-intrusion experts, and the likes. I also read that hackers served as on-set consultants during filming.

2. The eerily-timely & intriguing premise

Considering the major SONY hack is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and just yesterday there are reports of U.S. military social media accounts being hacked by Islamic State sympathizers, this cyber-crime premise is as timely as it ever was.

Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary’s BLACKHAT follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.

According to this NY Times article, [Mann] became interested in a hacker-centered story after spending time in Washington with government cyberdefense officials. “What became apparent is that Washington knew — the White House, defense, law enforcement — how truly vulnerable we are to cyberintrusion.”

3. The international setting, including my hometown Jakarta!

There are no international barriers to cybercrimes and so naturally I’d expect the film would have a global appeal. I LOVE films that are shot on location, especially during the Winter months when escapism is why you go to the movies for! Plus, I’m super excited to see my hometown Jakarta on the big screen, woo hoo!!

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Per LA Times, Blackhat was shot over 66 days in the U.S., Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the production used a variety of cameras, from top-of-the-line digital equipment to cheaper, smaller consumer-grade models. There’s supposed to be a sequence where Mann re-created the annual Balinese Nyepi Day celebration with some 3,000 extras. WOW, can’t wait to see THAT!!

Here’s a behind-the-scene video of Man filming in Jakarta:

 

4. Curious to see if Chris Hemsworth can carry a movie as an action hero

ChrisHemsworthBlackhat

For sure Hemsworth makes a good superhero, but can he be an action hero sans his red cape and Mjölnir? Truthfully, I still see him as more brawn than brain, and so I was quite dismayed surprised by his casting. I mean, Mann has worked with the likes of De Niro & Pacino, Brian Cox, Daniel Day Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Tom Cruise, so Hemsworth isn’t exactly in those leagues just yet. Besides, most hackers probably don’t have abs and biceps like these …

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But I read in this article on how Mann came to casting Hemsworth:

“I first saw Chris in `Thor,’ and I thought he was great. Then I talked to Ron Howard, who had worked with him on `Rush,’ and Ron had a great experience and was kind enough to show me about 45 minutes of the film. Chris was just terrific. Then, I really wanted to meet him. So I went down to Costa Rica, where he was vacationing with his family, and we spent about two days together just talking about the film. I decided, at that point, this guy’s it.”


So y’know what, I’m going to give Chris the benefit of the doubt. Heck if Matthew McConaughey can play an astronaut and fly a spaceship through a wormhole to save humankind, who’s to say a beefcake can’t hack? ;) I do love the ethnically-diverse supporting cast, starting with the always-excellent Viola Davis, character actor William Mapother (who happens to be Tom Cruise’s cousin), Chinese actress Tang Wei and Taiwanese-American Wang Leehom.

5. Promises to be a dynamic, entertaining, & cerebral action thriller

If there’s a director who could make the convoluted world of cyber-crime cinematic, I’d think that’d be Mr. Mann. I mean, he made a what seemingly tedious story about tobacco whistle-blowing case tense and suspenseful in The Insider and cyber thriller is inherently more exciting than that.

Plus, I think we can expect a good looking film, as most Mann movies are. Here he’s working with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, an Oscar nominee for The Piano who first worked with Mann on the pilot for his TV series Luck, noted that as much as possible they shot using available light, whether the dazzling neon of Kowloon or mostly by torchlight for the final confrontation in Jakarta.

It’s been a while since I saw a really good cyber-crime thriller. I mean I enjoyed Sneakers, The Net, and of course The Matrix, but Blackhat promises to be something more visceral and the fact that the premise is ripped from today’s headline makes it all the more intriguing.

Fingers crossed all of this adds up to one heck of a great thriller!


Here’s the latest trailer:


So are you going to check out Blackhat?

2015 Golden Globes Coverage: Thoughts on the Winners + Best & Worst Moments of the Night

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Can’t believe it’s already time for the main award season, with the kick-off of tonight’s 72nd Golden Globes Awards… once again it’s just four days shy of the Oscar nominations (January 15). I posted the list of the FILM nominees here, but I’m not making any predictions this year, but I do have my winner wish list, especially Michael Keaton for Birdman and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. I’m honestly torn between Norton and Ruffalo, both are phenomenal in their respective roles, so I sure hope one of them would win this thing!

RED CARPET STUFF

I’ve only started tuning in about a half hour before the show started, but thanks to Twitter, here are some notable dresses of the night:

Best Dressed Ladies:


LOVE Rosamund, but that’s quite an ill-fitting dress. I think it’d work better on skinnier girls who’s not um, so well-endowed.

And THIS! Yowza miss Fonda!

….


Comments on Winners/Losers

The bold one in magenta is the winner

BEST PICTURE (drama)
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
 …
I’m gonna reserve my comment on Boyhood win until I actually see the movie! Lots of strong contenders in this category.
BEST PICTURE (comedy/musical)
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
Pride
St. Vincent

>>>
I guess I’m ok w/ Grand Budapest Hotel winning Best Picture at the Globes. I just hope this won’t repeat come Oscar time. Pulling for Birdman all the way!!

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay | Selma
David Fincher | Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu | Birdman
Richard Linklater | Boyhood

>>>
I guess I should bite the bullet and just see Boyhood soon. I don’t know why but I haven’t been enthused about it apart from my curiosity on how Linklater pulls off that 12-year filmmaking process. I sure hope I’d enjoy it!

SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game


I was hoping Gillian Flynn would get this for Gone Girl, but I REALLY like Birdman and any win for that film is all right by me.

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie


I actually LOVE three of the nominated animated movies equally (Big Hero 6, HTTYD 2 and The LEGO Movie), but I really thought The LEGO Movie had the biggest shots amongst the nominees.

ACTOR (drama)
Steve Carell | Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch | The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal | Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo | Selma
Eddie Redmayne | The Theory of Everything


I’m bummed that I haven’t seen Eddie’s nor Jake’s performances by now. But there’s really a ton of amazing transformative performances in this particular category.

ACTOR (comedy/musical)
Ralph Fiennes | The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton | Birdman
Bill Murray | St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix | Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz | Big Eyes


Obviously I’m thrilled to see Keaton win! I mean he absolutely deserved it and he’s paid his dues time and again. I sure hope this isn’t just a one time thing, hope his comeback means more leading roles for him in the future!

ACTRESS (drama)
Jennifer Aniston | Cake
Felicity Jones | The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore | Still Alice
Rosamund Pike | Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon | Wild


I’m seriously bummed to see Rosamund NOT winning this. No offense to Julianne Moore as she’s a good actress, but I hope Rosamund still has a chance at the Oscars! But hey, at least Reese Witherspoon didn’t win for her overrated performance, I mean she shouldn’t even be nominated in the first place. Where the heck is Marion Cotillard?? She’s got not one but TWO worthy performances this past year (The Immigrant, Two Days One Night).

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 haven’t seen Adams’ performance in Big Eyes, in fact, I’ve only seen Mirren’s performance in this category.

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


Haven’t seen Arquette’s performance either, but at this point, I’m happy that ANYONE besides Meryl win this thing!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall | The Judge
Ethan Hawke |Boyhood
Ed Norton | Birdman
Mark Ruffalo | Foxcatcher
JK Simmons | Whiplash


I’m sure Simmons deserves the win but I was REALLY hoping either Ruffalo or Norton will win this category :(

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


Sheesh, the ONLY one film I haven’t seen in this category won this thing!! It’s a really tough category though, I mean three of the nominees here are on my Top 10 Best 2014 Scores.


Random Commentaries

Best Moments

“Welcome you despicable, spoiled, minimally talented brats!”
Right on, Tina Fey!

“North Korea referred to ‘The Interview’ as absolutely intolerable and a wanton act of terror. Even more amazing: not the worst review the movie got.”

LOVE the jab on Steve Carell …

“Steve Carell is here tonight, for Foxcatcher. In Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays a paranoid, murderous billionaire. The role was a stretch for Carell who in real life is a paranoid, murderous millionaire.”

Carell_GG2015His expression when the camera closes in on him is such a hoot!! LOVE this guy, he’s just so effortlessly hilarious & affable.

The hosts listing a long list of accomplishments of George Clooney’s new wife Amal Alamuddin who’s a human rights lawyer, then said, “And now her husband is getting the Lifetime Achievement Award.” Mwahahaha!

Easily the most glamorous couple of the night. Amal is just absolutely stunning. George you lucky SOB!

Easily the most glamorous couple of the night. Amal is just absolutely stunning. George you lucky SOB!


They might not be the most glamorous, but Anna Faris & Chris Pratt is absolutely my favorite couple! They’re just so genuinely adorable together!

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Anna Faris: We have a mixed marriage. I’m CBS, he’s NBC.
Chris Pratt: But we want our kids to be HBO.

The WOULD YOU RATHER joke should be used every year! 

Tina: “Who would you rather: Colin Farrell or Colin Firth?”
Amy: “Farrell, all day!”
Tina: “Firth, for a polite amount of time.”

Tina: “Richard Linklater or Alejandro Iñárritu?”
Amy: “I’m gonna say Iñárritu: one take, two hours straight, no stopping.”
Tina: “Linklater, five minutes, once a year.”

Amy: “You know, Tina, I didn’t like Gone Girl. I go to the movies to escape. I didn’t want to see myself up there on the screen.”

Amy: Chris Pine or…
Tina: Chris Pine!

I’d agree with that… especially in THIS outfit ;)

ChrisPineIntoTheWoods

/// 
King of Photobomb Benedict Cumberbatch is at it again!

Keaton taking a photo of Meryl w/ Margaret Cho dressed as Kim Jong Cho

Keaton taking a photo of Meryl w/ Margaret Cho dressed as Kim Jong Cho

Can’t believe I’m saying this but Ricky Gervais actually makes me laugh tonight!

‘No one want to see me insult any of you rich, beautiful, overprivileged celebrities’ 

“Famous people are above the law, as it should be. Streep. Clooney, I’m not even looking at Katie Holmes.”

BEST Short Speech

Billy Bob Thornton

BEST Long-ish Speech

Kevin Spacey – “This is only the beginning of my revenge!”

Most Moving Speech 

Michael Keaton – His speech has a great balance of being genuinely moving as well as funny, just like the actor himself who’s great at mixing drama & comedy!

Clooney_CecilBDeMile2015

I’ve never been a huge fan of George Clooney, so here’s my thoughts on his Cecil B. DeMile Award:

WORST MOMENTS

Most Sexist Comment of the Night:


Most awkward jokes of the night

The whole gag on North Korea with Margaret Cho dressed as the appalling dictator is just awkward and frankly, it’s just not funny! I cringed every time she’s on and I think the two hosts tried their best pretending it’s a good joke. It’s really getting tiresome to be honest, though the apparent jab at The Interview in the beginning is pretty spot on. I have to admit though, the Margaret & Meryl photo-op with Benedict photo-bombing them was pretty amusing.

///


Now, apart from my disappointments on who win/lose, overall I thought the event was pretty entertaining. Most of the jokes did make me laugh, and Tina/Amy did a great job as host once again. I’m not really sad this is their last year though, hey what’s wrong with getting some fresh talents to host?

Wiig_Hader_GG2015

Some people were suggesting Kristen Wiig & Bill Hader next year on Twitter. Hey I like them both, but hopefully they’d be funnier than they were last night as some of the jokes didn’t quite work too well.

Well, that’s it folks. As you can see, I’m only covering the FILM portion as I barely watch any TV :)


So, what are YOUR thoughts on the winners & what’s your favorite moments of the night?


FlixChatter Review: American Sniper (2014)

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The last time Clint Eastwood tackled a war story he made Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima back to back. The former I thought was a good film but contained too many clichés, while the latter I thought was one of the best war films ever made. I think his latest picture sort of fall in between his last two war films.

Based on the book and life of the late Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US history. The story begins with a flashback of Kyle and young brother being raised by a tough and religious father. He was raised as the typical all American boy – tough, a patriot and never give up. Years later he’s now a grown man and played by the buffed-up Bradley Cooper. He and his brother are still close but his life is not what you call a success. After seeing an American embassy building got blown up on the news in Africa, he decided to wants to fight and protect his country from terrorists. He went down to the local army recruiting office and told the recruiter he wanted to enlist. Since he’s already 30 years old and in pretty good shape, the recruiter suggested he should enlist in the Navy Seals unit. We then got to see a montage of him training with the other Seals recruits.

AmericanSniper_Stills

Later he meets his future wife Taya (the unrecognizable Sienna Miller) at a bar. They hit it off and later got married. On their wedding day, Kyle’s Seals unit got a call to head over to Middle East. The whole movie was about Kyle’s life on the battlefield and how it affects his personal life once he’s back to the States with his wife and children. The story was told in two tiers, one you see Kyle and his men battled the enemies in the Middle East and the other shows his normal life in the States when he’s back from one of his tours.

I’m not the biggest fan of Bradley Cooper, ever since I saw him in The Hangover movies, I could never see him as anything but a frat boy type. However, he gave quite a strong performance here and displayed so many emotions that I didn’t know he could do. Kyle’s a man who wants to be strong for his family and comrades, but deep down you know he’s a troubled person. He keeps all of his emotions inside and refuses to talk about what he saw and done while in the battlefields. He’s a patriot and won’t question his superiors for the orders they gave him, but when some of his comrades were killed, he may have some doubts about the war itself. Since Kyle is the main character, Cooper appeared in pretty much 99% of the film.

AmericanSniper_BradleyCooper

Unfortunately I wish Eastwood had cast a better actress for female lead, Sienna Miller changed her appearance make herself look more like a normal person but she’s still can’t act. Some of the dramatic scenes with her and Cooper were kind of cringe-worthy. The rest of the cast didn’t really make much of an impression on me because many of them only appeared briefly in the film.

Eastwood has always been a generic director to me but in a good way. What I mean by that was that he never tried to include any trick shots or weir filters in his films and best of all never go for the popular trends in movies. I was afraid he’s going to shoot the battle scenes in those annoying shaky cam and fast editing shots but thankfully he held the cameras steady and we can what’s going on during the action scenes. In fact, he staged some quite intense and exciting battle sequences. He and his editors, Gary Roach and Joel Cox, kept the pace moving quite smoothly. They never linger on scenes that could’ve dragged on. Also, for a war picture I thought it’s going to be quite gory but they didn’t show that much of the gore.

I’ve never read the book that the film was based on and knew only a little bit about the real Chris Kyle so I don’t know how accurate this film was to his life. Jason Hall wrote the screenplay and I thought it’s weird that he actually included some “villains” in the story. In fact, for most of the movie I thought I was watching a movie based on one of Tom Clancy’s novels instead of a real person and events. Since I’ve never read the book, I don’t know if the antagonists were real or were just made up for dramatic purposes.

With a good performance by Cooper and solid direction by Eastwood, I thought this was a good action thriller, but not a great war picture. Again, the inclusion of the villains took me right out of the reality of the story and I thought I was watching something Tom Clancy would write. But the movie did have some great battle sequences and some very intense dramas, I won’t mention it here but it’s definitely not a movie to bring your young children along.

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Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

Documentary Spotlight: 112 Weddings + Interview with filmmaker Doug Block

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The 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest may still be 10 months away but periodically, the organizers run an awesome Insider Series event for film fans to enjoy. Next week, they are featuring a special screening of a thought-provoking and fascinating documentary, 112 Weddings (more info here).

Filmmaker Doug Block is a documentary filmmaker (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up) who does wedding photography on the side for some extra cash. Initially he didn’t really set out to create a film that examines the institute of marriage, but after having shot several weddings over the course of a couple of decades, he often wondered whatever happened to those couples years later. That curiosity sparked the idea for this film, and so we got an intimate and personal look into the lives of about a dozen couples who candidly share their marital stories for the film.

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As the poster tagline says, happily ever after is indeed complicated. And real-life love stories can often be more intriguing and dramatic than whatever Hollywood concocted and that’s what I found when I was watching this film last week. Each couple’s narrative is as varied as their weddings themselves, and it’s clear that marriage is a tricky journey in which there are no shortcuts. One couple is dealing with a child’s debilitating condition, another is dealing with crippling depression and so forth. It’s also surprising to learn which couples stay together and which have ended in divorce, as the film starts with the original wedding footage first. It’s also interesting to see the perspective of a same-sex couple and what marriage meant to them. One of those couples said that marriage sort of ‘solidifies our relationship as a team.’ One older couple decided NOT to get married initially, though they still have a celebration to mark their union as a couple. But later on, after their kids are grown, they did decide to officially marry.

Some of the couples featured in the film

The documentary is only 95-min long and it’s quite well-paced. Though each only have a few minutes to tell their story, you still get a glimpse into the intricacies of their lives. There are poignant and heart-breaking moments, as well as funny moments. One rabbi said the funniest lines that couldn’t be more accurate:

“Weddings are easy… just throw a lot of money at it & liquor. But marriage is hard. If you throw a lot of money at it and liquor, usually it doesn’t end up very good.”

I commend Doug Block for tackling on such a project and as someone who’ve been married for over a decade, it definitely makes me reflect on my own married life. Early in the film, Doug asked one of the couples ‘What’s your biggest fear that your marriage will turn into?’ and that’s really a thought-provoking question that I’d think every couple would have to face at one point or another. It may seem at first, to me anyway, that the filmmaker seems to have a rather pessimistic view on marriage. He asks ‘What does it say when the most hallowed institution ends in failure half the time?’ He also quipped, ‘It’s one thing to take a gamble on a marriage, it’s another to have as much of a chance of success as flipping a coin.’ But overall it’s a sobering & honest look at the subject that presents things as they are, no sugar-coating it. The film actually ends in a hopeful note with a young couple walking blissfully following a festive outdoor ceremony, and it leaves me wondering how things would turn out for the happy couple years down the line.

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I had the chance to chat with Doug via email about his film. Read below on the filmmaking process:

DougBlock_112WeddingsOut of the 112 weddings you have filmed, how did you decide which ones to feature in the doc?

Half were couples who popped right into my memory bank as lively and interesting. Others were picked by way of contrast, and to obtain as much diversity as I could within the parameters of who hired me. Finally, I deliberately tracked down two divorced couples, as I felt that aspect of marriage needed to be represented. Needless to say, those were the toughest couples to find and secure interviews with.

How long did it take you to make the film? I’d imagine it involves a pretty grueling editing process?

It’s something I had thought about for many years, for almost as long as I’d been shooting weddings. But once I actually began in earnest it only took about two years to make altogether, which is relatively quick for a feature documentary. The first year was spent not just interviewing our main couples but viewing as many of the 112 weddings I shot as I could to find moments to use interstitially throughout the film. That was done simultaneously with the fundraising. The second year was primarily devoted to the editing. It was actually a lot of fun to edit because I love collaborating with my amazingly talented editor, Maeve O’Boyle.

Out of all the couples that stood out to me the most were Sue & Steve and the interracial couple Yoonhee & Tom who met on a plane. Could you elaborate a bit on the process of filming either one of the two couples and how that came together?

Sue & Steve

Sue & Steve

Yoonhee & Tom

Yoonhee & Tom

In all cases, not just with those two, I simply called the couples and explained what I was doing. I also told them upfront that I was making the film in partnership with HBO, so that they’d be aware that this was something that would eventually be seen widely. As I say in the film, when I shoot a wedding I form a pretty intimate bond with the couple very quickly, as I’m with them at close quarters on perhaps the most extraordinary day of their lives together. Many years later, they all remembered who I was right away and, I’m happy to say, quite fondly. So I think I had their trust from the beginning. That became very clear when I did the interviews, which, like my weddings, I shot by myself without a crew. At times I was astonished at how open and candid they were with me. It was almost like they mistook me for a therapist

What have you learned from the experience of making this documentary? Not knowing what your view is about marriage, did it alter your opinion in any way?

Well, when I started the project I’d been married for over 25 years, so I’d say I knew a thing or two about marriage.  But I didn’t want to impose my own views and go into the filming with any set agenda.  I just wanted to capture a collection of snapshot-like portraits of marriage by revisiting some of my wedding couples and, when put together, seeing what they added up to.  It actually led to a number of surprises, including questioning why we even bother getting married at all.  I never thought that would be a major question that would come up.
Lastly, what would you like people to take away from seeing this film?

I hope it will get them thinking about marriage in a deeper way, and hopefully lead to some lively discussions. I think too often people conflate marriage with the wedding day. Their fantasies are usually directed at the dress and the cake and what it will be like to walk down the aisle. But weddings are just day one of what will theoretically be a lifetime commitment.

So I hope it shows marriage in an affectionate but much more realistic light. As someone says in the film, happily ever after is complicated.

Check out the trailer below:


112 Weddings is available on HBO Go, iTunes, and Dogwoof TV.



2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

Top10FemalePerformances2014

As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ‘em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

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I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing ;) In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Chastain_EleanorRigby

Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

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Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

ElizabethBanksMockingjayI

Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

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Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

gg_5014 gg_8780 gg_4411Thanks to Sati for letting me borrow her pics of Amy Dunne

It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

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If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

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Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

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Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

2014 Recap: Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014

BlindSpotSeriesSidebarSince Blindspot posts are typically published on a Tuesday, I figure I’ll do the same with this recap. I’m glad I joined this series last year, which was spearheaded by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob. It’s truly a wonderful way to catch up on classic (or even newer films) that I’ve missed and see if they live up to the hype, as well as my own expectations.

Here’s my Blindspot Picks of 2014

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Unfortunately I couldn’t complete all 12, so I didn’t get to see How the West Was Won and Time Bandits last year. But hey, that makes for a perfect Top 10, right? ;) So below is my ranking of the 10 films I saw. Click on each title to see the full review.

10. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
9. Purple Noon/Plein Soleil (1960)
8. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
7. Rebecca (1940)
6. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

5. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. The Sting (1973)
3. All the President’s Men (1976)
2.
Double Indemnity (1944)
1. The Apartment (1960)

For the most part, all of the films range from good to excellent. I mean the *lowest* rating I gave was 3.5/5 to The Philadelphia Story, which equals to about B– so it’s far from being a bad film. I kind of knew The Apartment was going to be my favorite of the year even when I saw it back in May, it’s darn near perfect IMHO, and I really could’ve given it a 5/5 instead of 4.5. Oh and I just realized I have TWO Robert Redford films on here, and he’s part of duo in both films (with Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, respectively).

I’m very curious how this year’s list will pan out, check out which 12 films I picked to watch for 2015 Blindspot Series.


What do you think about these films? Which one(s) is your favorite?

2014 Recap: Top Five Favorite Movie Songs

Top5MovieSongs2014

Ok so I started making my Top 10 Films list, in fact I have my top 9 ready to go with just one more left to include. But y’know what, I realize I should wait until later this week as I have one press screening of a 2014 film on Tuesday.

Now this one is a much easier list to include, and four of the five have pretty much been decided long ago. The fifth one I’m including here is from an earlier 2014 movie I’ve just seen recently, Begin Again. In case you missed it, I’ve posted the Top 10 Favorite Film Scores list back in December, which surprisingly doesn’t have any overlap. What’s indeed surprising to me is that two of the songs here are sung by the lead actresses of their respective films, which means I should really update my five-year-old list of actors who are surprisingly good singers. As for I’m Not In Love, I’ve actually been a fan of that song (which was released in 1975) for some time, but I had to include it here as it’s my fave song from the awesome Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. It might not be as catchy as Hooked on a Feeling but it doesn’t get old as quickly as that one.

So anyhoo, here’s my top 5:

Blackbird – Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights)

Everything’s Awesome –Tegan and Sara with The Lonely Island (The Lego Movie)

Once Upon A Dream – Lana Del Rey (Maleficent)

I’m Not In Love – 10cc (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Like A Fool – Keira Knightley (Begin Again)

 

Honorable Mention: 

Agony – Chris Pine & Billy Magnussen (Into The Woods)

I have to include this one as this scene is easily my favorite of the entire film! You can take a look at the hilarious clip here (it’s fuzzy as it’s recorded on the big screen) but I’m including the official song below because the quality is much better.


Thoughts on my picks here? So what’s YOUR favorite songs from the past year?