David Mamet Double Feature – Part 1: The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

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Greetings all and sundry!

DavidMametWhile becoming more and more ensconced in the wonders and vagaries of apartment living. I’ve taken some time to fall back on one of, if not the best and most prolific writers and directors of the 1980s, 90s and contemporary times, David Mamet. Who started small. With screenplays for the stage, occasional episodic television. Then grinding out larger endeavors and stowing them away until the stars budgeting were properly aligned (The Verdict, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Things Change. Homicide. The Untouchables). Between award winning stage productions (Speed The PlowOleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross, Vanya on 42nd Street) to keep heath and home in comfortable order.

Best known for his more recent works, like Glenngary Glen Ross. It is well past time to shine a spotlight on his earlier works. Not too well known for Writer/Director’s trademark colorful profanity and fully developed characters, though easily showing a gifted novitiate’s touch with the force and beauty of words. Used to deflect, shroud or divert attention from the topic, or “McGuffin”. While cleverly taking around it. A very neat trick, if pulled off without a hitch. And in this first offering. That talent is displayed boldly in six foot tall Neon!

So, allow me a few moments of your time. To introduce or hopefully, reacquaint those reading with!

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The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

This first offering comes ten years after Mr. Mamet premiere film, ‘House of Games’. And carries on the Writer and Director’s penchant for the confidence game. Though, on a higher level of subtlety, trade craft, tricks and potential payoff.

Which begins with a chartered jet whisking whisking premiere engineer and numbers cruncher, Joe Ross (Campbell Scott. Underplaying with a neophyte’s near wide eyed abandon) off to the Lower Florida Keys and Archipelago, St. Estephe. Vacation paradise. Home of crystal waters, immaculate beaches and plenty of free time after a meeting with Joe’s boss, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara) and George Lang (Ricky Jay). To talk about Joe’s recently discovered “process” that will make all at the meeting incredibly rich!

The meeting goes well, but not as well as Joe had hoped. with no mention of immediate reward for his many after work hours of calculations and discovery. A bit disconsolate, Joe walks out to the beach. Where a dark haired, attractive woman (Rebecca Pidgeon) offers to take Joe’s photo. With a lone seaplane riding the waves in the distance. The photo is taken. The woman leaves with a promising smile. And a voice states. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars for that camera.”

The owner of that voice is tall, tanned, comfortably, yet expensively dressed. Immediately giving off an aura of danger and mystery. Perhaps, someone who is indulging paranoia? Or is more than politely concerned about his privacy.

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Julian “Jimmy” Dell. More than comfortably rich. Living on wisely invested family money. With friends and connections in Massachusetts and Manhattan. Slowly, subtly befriending Mr. Ross. Revealing glimpses of his laid back worldliness by asking a favor for his sister. Would Joe be so kind as to deliver a wrapped and packaged book once Joe is back in New York?

Joe agrees, but is cautious of Drugs and Customs. Opens the package and tears the cover of a book on tennis. Joe scours high and low for a duplicate. With that accomplished, Joe keeps the torn copy in hos office. Finds her austere, old money digs. Only to be told that she has flown off to Spain. Joe and Jimmy cross paths and Joe explains over drinks at Jimmy rather swank loft. Talk turns to money and Jimmy mentions a Swiss account. Jokingly asks if Joe has one? And sets up an account with the Suisse Banque Nationale for a paltry sum. Protected by a password, “Paddy”.

A dinner at Jimmy’s “Club” fares badly. Since Jimmy’s guest is not a member. Words are exchanged in the darkly oiled and paneled anteroom and bar. Joe fills out what he believes is a membership form. Jimmy loses his patience and a cheaper eats are sought. Joe is also off put to discover that the dark haired, attractive Susan Ricci is a newly hired secretary with Joe’s firm. Who seems just a bit more interested in Joe and his skills than necessary.

Sensing something is amiss. Joe calls the FBI. And a meeting is arranged with Agent Pat McCune (Felicity Huffman) whom Joe had seen down in St. Estephe. Sharing a drink with Susan. Who is well aware of Joe’s situation, process, others interested in it. And Joe’s meeting with Jimmy at the Central Park Zoo the next afternoon. Wheels turn. Plans go into effect for an earlier with with other agents. And Joe being wired and briefed on what to do. In the Zoo’s far off men’s room. With Ed O’Neil (Married With Children, Modern Family) in charge. Doing the talking, Giving a brief history of “The Spanish Prisoner” as one on the oldest cons in the world. Where the mark is “lured in to get the money and the girl. And gets neither”.

Joe is in the middle of a slight variation. And is to listen to Jimmy’s proposition. And say “No.” Which makes things very interesting, afterwards. Joe is taken by the hand. To Jimmy’s now vacant, much smaller loft. And the bar to Jimmy’s “Club”. Is nothing more than a very elegant and expensive cloak room. The Feds and local cops continue snooping and discover that the process is missing. A large sum of money is now in Joe’s Swiss Account. And the “membership” to Jimmy’s club was a document seeking political asylum in Venezuela. Requiring only Joe’s signature.

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If joe wasn’t going to play along before. he is now. Damnably implicated for high crimes and being the fall guy for the murder of George Lang. Not sure if Susan is working for Agent McCune. Or vice versa. Joe returns home to his apartment. Where Susan is waiting, Having called in sick. And seeking a way out. Airline tickets are arranged for Logan Airport. Since local airports are probably being watched. While Joe showers and cleans up.

The noose starts to tighten slowly, As Joe detours around police check points. Susan picks up the tickets and a change in plans is made. The Boston ferry to Montreal. And a flight from there to Venezuela. Joe doesn’t want to. But has little choice. Stepping aboard at the last moments. As members of the FBI and Marshal Service discreetly make themselves known before a final showdown with Jimmy and Susan.

I’ll leave the tale right here for now.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

A circuitous tale well told. With the love and care and slow revelation of being caught in the web of a con. By one who loves the nuance and give and take of making others take the next step in their own possible destruction. Borrowing a page from Roman Polanski. In letting the audience see and hear only what the director wants them to see and hear.

Spoken in a language of vagueness, Without specifics, but heavy hints of intimation. Skirting the borders of legality and illegality. As though the principals of the cast are worried about wire taps and hidden microphones. In other words. Mamet doing what Mamet does best. And making the film much better because of it!

With a television and stage heavy cast giving great mysterious depth to their spoken words. Intriguing and alluring on one side. Opposite comfortable and confident on the side of the law. And even that is up for grabs!

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Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain is exceptional. On location in the Florida Keys. Well decorated sets and about the Central Park Zoo. And editing by Barbara Tulliver is inspired. Lingering on the beauty od St, Estephe. While giving equal balance to shadows and tension in several tetes a tetes with Mr. Campbell and Ms. Pidgeon. Solidly aided by an occasionally ethereal, dreamlike percussion, tubular bell, reed and brass sound track by Carter Burwell. That keeps the mystery and tension slowly rising through the merry chase.

What Makes This Film Great?

Campbell Scott underplaying his character wondrously. As he treads the edge of playing a Grade A Sap. With the stalwart belief that he has done nothing wrong. And just wants to make a nice sized chunk of the large rewards his “process” will bring about. An every man. with every man dreams. Until things seriously go awry.

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The beginnings of a clutch of secondary actors who will grace several later Mamet efforts. With card sharp Ricky Jay, Ed O’Neil and an aspiring, just starting out Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) in short or cameo scenes. Though it is Rebecca Pidgeon who dives right into her role as a carefree Femme Fatale with polish, style and the allure of more.

While comedian, Steve Martin surprises across the board as master juggler and bad guy Jimmy Dell. A total cypher. Never tipping his hand as to whom he’s working for. Fronting serious cash to keep the game afoot. Is he in it for himself? His crew, which may contain Agent McCune? An unnamed foreign entity? Others? We’ll never know. As he delivers a performance that made me wish he would never have slipped back into comedies!


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree or Disagree? The Floor Is Open For Discussion.

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Fairy Tale Blogathon: Ridley Scott’s LEGEND (1985)

FairyTaleBlogathonPicWhen I saw that there’s a blogathon on Fairy Tale movies, hosted by Movies Silently, I jumped at the chance to participate. Alas I discovered it too late that most of the movies I wanted to review had been picked by others.

But then I remembered about Legend, which is a fairy tale/ fantasy film by Ridley Scott that I’ve been curious about. The film’s received some kind of a cult status, and the fact that it also stars Tom Cruise piqued my interest even more. Apparently there are the theatrical and director’s cut [as is often the case w/ Ridley Scott’s works] and the one I saw on iTunes is the theatrical version.

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I knew the movie would be rather campy, a la Flash Gordon, I mean it’s the 80s after all! As the film opens, we’re treated to a really wordy exposition talking about darkness and light and setting up who’s who in the movie: a girl (Lily), a boy (Jack), unicorns and the devil himself, Lord of Darkness. The visuals and set pieces are actually pretty darn good for a film of its time, there’s an atmospheric quality to it that works for this genre. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given Scott’s meticulous hand in creating an imaginative world for his films.

Tom Cruise and Mia Sara play the two lovebirds who supposedly represent what’s good in the world… Jack and Lily are innocent and pure, though we barely know just who these people are and how they meet, etc. Then the story seems to have taken the ‘Adam & Eve’ route in that Eve Lily does the forbidden thing when she touches an angelic-looking unicorn despite Jack’s vehement warning. Apparently it’s a huge no-no in their universe though the unicorns themselves don’t seem to mind it. So of course that incident propels a series of bad things, including one of the unicorn getting its horn cut off and Lily herself being kidnapped by Darkness’ minions.

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Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness is no doubt the best thing about this film with his deep baritone voice and vivacious yet maniacal style, but he’s given so little screen time here. It’s a real shame as his devilish makeup is quite entertaining in and of itself, it’s like a combination of The Joker + Hellboy with big horns and flappy ears. It’s no wonder the makeup team got an Oscar nomination for their crafty work. The English actor relished in being an evil lord and gleefully flash his trademark Cheshire cat grin and deep hearty laugh.

Legend_TimCurryCruise seems rather out of place here and he pretty much just runs around in his hideous scale mail dress, though it’s amusing to see him looking so boyish and fresh-faced here pre his Scientology indoctrination. Let’s just say he gets better with age not just in looks but also in screen presence as he doesn’t seem at all confident or compelling here in comparison to his other heroic roles he’s played in his career. Mia Sara is just ok as the heroine, nothing special. Lily is far more interesting when she dons a very revealing outfit that’s no doubt handpicked by Lord Darkness himself, but otherwise she’s a rather bland character.

The story is inherently cheesy and predictable, but I wouldn’t have mind it so much if it weren’t so boring or worse, mind-numbingly irritating. The movie spends so much time with the silly goblins and those annoying elves/dwarves whom Jack encounter on his journey to fight Darkness and rescue his girlfriend from his possession. Their scenes are just pointless and again, hugely irritating that I actually had to fast forward past them. There’s a big fight scene towards the end between Jack and Darkness, but I wish there’s more screen time between the two of them.

Cruise_LegendFor the most part, Legend is just so cliché-ridden and absurd that it’s unintentionally hilarious. It certainly doesn’t live up to its name as I don’t think the film merits any kind of exalted status. Neither the hero nor heroine [or unicorns for that matter] really inspire anything and so devoid of personalities to make any kind of impact. The soundtrack of the theatrical cut is scored by Tangerine Dream and the synthesized sound actually fits the ethereal look and dreamy mood of the film, though after a while it also gets to be too much that it feels overindulgent. Oh and apparently Sir Ridley has sort of a fairy dust obsession here the way J.J. Abrams is with lens flare, poor Tom and Mia must’ve been engulfed in them in this one schmaltzy scene.

So overall I guess I wasn’t too impressed with this one. In fact it’s nuts to think this is from the same guy who directed the likes of Blade Runner and Gladiator! The concept of dark/light and the allegory of good & evil is intriguing, and it’s a theme that’s always timely. I just think the execution misses the mark and it’s not as entertaining nor meaningful as it could’ve been. I don’t regret seeing it though, as the visuals and atmospheric quality is wonderful and the contrast of the good vs evil is beautifully realized. As far as fantasy movies go, it doesn’t hold a candle to other period pieces in its genre like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Pan’s Labyrinth or The Princess Bride.

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Have you seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think!

Tube Watch: 11 Great TV Series You Should Be Watching Right Now

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Dave, aka ackackattack, here. Last year I wrote about two tremendous, international TV series, Broadchurch and The Returned (Les Revenants). Ruth kindly asked that I write a guest post about what I’ve been watching lately.

TVWatchingRemoteIn America it’s said we’re living in a ‘golden age’ of television here starting with The Soprano’s and The Wire going on all the way up to Breaking Bad and True Detective. Well frankly across the pond they’ve been having their own renaissance with their own original TV programming too. Especially of note is what is coming out of Britain, Sweden and Denmark. For those of you willing to brave thick accents, subtitled dialogue, different cultures and original programming you will be greatly rewarded. If you haven’t noticed, we Americans seem to be stealing remaking foreign programs more and more lately… and not doing it nearly as well. Case in point FOX’s Gracepoint (Broadchurch), FX’s The Bridge (Bron/Broen), AMC’s The Killing (Forbrydelsen) and ABC’s Resurrection (Les Revenants).

In my 40+ years of consuming entertainment it’s getting harder and harder find original, challenging programming with well-drawn characters and compelling storylines. Especially in a world of sequels, franchises and remakes where the bottom line ultimately rules the day. But rather than be frustrated it just means is that I sometimes have to look outside the box to find what moves me. It just so happens that a lot of great content comes from TV these days… and not just here in America.

Some of these shows mentioned can be a challenge to find so I listed where they might be found at the end of each synopsis.

1. Rita

RitaRita stars the fabulous Mille Dinesen who plays a rebellious, flawed Danish schoolteacher trying to “save the children from their parents”. As a single mother of three older children she juggles everything to raise them the best that she knows how. Supposedly they remade it as a pilot for Bravo with Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) that didn’t get picked up. It’s hard to imagine the US remake touching this lighthearted dramedy with its mature themes that Europeans are so comfortable with that we Americans are so afraid of confronting. Curiously enough Dinesen is a dead ringer for Linda Hamilton. I swear you’ll say that to yourself, in your head, at least once an episode. Seriously.(US/Denmark/Sweden Netflix.)

2. Happy Valley

HappyValleyIt’s the story of a kidnapping gone wrong not unlike Fargo but without the all the “you betcha’s”. Actually the tone of Happy Valley is actually more reminiscent of Broadchurch. Sarah Lancashire stars as Catherine Cawood, the police sergeant of a small English valley, who gets caught up in this twisted case. Ratcheting up the tension more is someone from her past who turns up, complicating matters all the more for Catherine. It’s a standout performance from Lancashire that is well worth your time. (US Netflix)

3. Black Mirror

BlackMirrorIt’s like a very dark, twisted version of The Twilight Zone crossed with Tales of the Unexpected. If you’re a fan of those shows you will love this. Being an anthology series there’s a different cast, setting and even reality for each show which makes it palatable in small doses. It should came as no surprise that Robert Downey’s production company has optioned one of the episodes to be made into a feature film. The first of six episodes in this series, entitled The National Anthem, is one for the ages. It will certainly test your mettle. All I can say is you have to see it for yourself. (UK Netflix)

4. The Bridge (Bron/Broen)

TheBridge_OriginalYou might know this series which was remade by FX with Oscar nominees Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) and Damon Bichir (A Better Life). This is the original Swedish/Danish co-production titled Bron/Broen starring the wonderful Kim Bodina (Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher). The body of a Swedish politician is found, cut in half and deliberately placed in the middle of a bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. Falling under the jurisdictions of both countries, two detectives must work together to solve this mysterious murder. Later it is found out that the corpse is from two separate bodies. Chaos ensues. (Denmark/Sweden/UK Netflix)

5. The Killing (Forbrydelsen)

TheKilling_DanishThe Danish strike again with The Killing (Forbrydelsen). In what would be remade by Showtime, whose US creator drastically changes some of the story (and not for the better), this where it all began. Detective Sarah Lund is looking forward to her last day in Copenhagen before she moves to Sweden when a high profile rape and murder case comes up. Over the next 20 days, with implications reaching high up into government, she decides to stay and delve into the case of a particularly dangerous and intelligent murderer. (Denmark/UK Netflix)

6. Borgen

Borgen_DanishBorgen, which is Danish for ‘The Castle’, is from the producers of The Killing (Forbrydelsen). It’s the story of a charismatic, female Danish prime minister faced with suddenly coming into power. It’s been favorably compared to the best seasons of The West Wing. Stephen King named it his favorite piece of pop culture of 2012. I know this is hard to believe but HBO is in the works to develop this series. (Available through Link TV on satellite via Dish Network or DirecTV)

7. Southcliffe

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Sean Durkin follows up his impressive debut film, Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elisabeth Olsen, John Hawkes), with this British series Southcliffe. It tells the nonlinear story of a series of deadly shootings in a fictional, rural English town. Starring Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Intermission), the truly underrated Eddie Marsan (The World’s End, Happy Go Lucky) and Sean Harris (Prometheus, Showtime’s The Borgias) who won a BAFTA for his chilling portrayal of the shooter Stephen Morton. (US/UK Netflix)

8. Hit & Miss

HitAndMissIt’s a British drama, set in Yorkshire, about an Irish, transgender contract killer. The story begins when he comes to England after finding out he’s been named guardian of a son that he didn’t know he fathered. Despite its implausible sounding premise the show is remarkably quite compelling. It’s anchored by Chloë Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry) who does the best work of her career here. Guys out there, be forewarned, it’s quite conflicting watching the lovely Sevigny play a pre-op transgender woman in this (think The Crying Game). LOL. (US Netflix)

9. Orphan Black

OrphanBlack_TatianaIt’s hard to avoid seeing Tatiana Maslany’s name on the internet these days. Particularly for how she’s been snubbed by the Emmy’s for her work on this fascinating sci-fi show hailing from Canada on BBC America. The writing/directing team from the movie Ginger Snaps, Karen Walton and John Fawcett, created this fun, smart sci-fi series about cloning. To watch Tatiana Maslany portray no less than 7 distinctly different clones and then have them pretend to be one another while still in their original character is something you have to see. As one reviewer put it “she’s her own special effect.” BBC America On Demand. (UK/Denmark/Sweden Netflix)

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Lastly I wanted to highlight two US shows that are excellent in their own right and are truly like nothing else currently showing on American TV.

10. Transparent

TransplantJeffrey Tambor should be on the Emmy shortlist next year for his performance as a father that comes out as transgender to his severely dysfunctional family. Amazon Prime has really stepped up with its first original series. Based on the life experiences of creator Jill Soloway’s (Six Feet Under) family. The large cast is quite extraordinary. It’s as unique as anything you’ll see this year. (Amazon Prime Video)

11. Rectify

RectifyTo say there is nothing like Rectify on American TV is an understatement. It’s a deliberately paced, southern Gothic story of redemption and the loss of one’s self. After 19 years on death row, Daniel, who was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing his 16 year old girlfriend, is released from prison after new DNA evidence surfaces. Struggling to fit into a small town that doesn’t want him and a family that doesn’t know how to accept him, he tries to adjust to his new found surroundings. Did Daniel actually do it? You won’t find out until well into the series and it’s really beside the point anyway. I can’t recommend this sleeper enough. Created by the actor Ray McKinnon who was best known as Rev. H. W. Smith on Deadwood. (The Sundance Channel OnDemand and Netflix)


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Special thanks to our new *official* TV contributor Dave W (aka Ackackattack) whom many of you have *met* on the comment section here at FC :D Check out Dave’s profile and see if you share his fave movies and/or filmmakers/actors.


So have you seen any of these shows? Well, which one(s) are 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.

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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?

Everybody’s Chattin’ and Music Break: John Wick Soundtrack

HAPPY [almost] FRIDAY!! I’m gonna combine this month’s Chattin’ post with Music Break as I missed it the past couple of weeks. I’m getting a bit of a blog fatigue lately and I’m behind on a bunch of reviews, so I might do more mini reviews in the next few weeks. I also have two fantastic guest posts from my pals Jack Deth & Daveackackattack on David Mamet and great TV recommendations, so stay tuned!

Well, since Interstellar opens this weekend, I most likely will go see that on Saturday. It’s nearly 3 hrs long, so I don’t feel like seeing it after dinner or I’ll doze off before the first half is over.

So here are what blogger’s been chattin’ about this past week:

Michael eloquently talks about his love for film photography which is increasingly become a lost art today.

OnlyLoversLeftAliveImgI can’t believe I still haven’t seen Only Lovers Left Alive, especially after such a glowing review from Mark , but fortunately I have seen Fight Club, and another Mark, as in Mark Walker illustrates why it’s definitely one of Fincher’s finest

Margaret reviewed Begin Again, which sounds lovely and I can see why she’s crushing on Mark Ruffalo ;)

Stu just caught up on The Act of Killing and I’m glad he appreciated that documentary despite not being the easiest film to watch

Drew on the other hand, is lamenting on how boring and pointless The Rover was, I had no idea Joel Edgerton wrote it!

PrinceSwitching gear to a music post, check out what makes Chris‘ list of Top 10 Songs by Prince 

Lots of new trailers are released this week, check out what you’ve missed on Terrence‘s Trailer Time Thursday

Now this is a list I can get behind… Tom lists 10 actors he avoids in pretty much anything. Wow, I agree with ALL of them, though I still don’t mind Timberlake in a small supporting role

Last but not least, Dan and Ryan have already set their minds on 2015 Blindspot lists, and they’re asking your help to choose 12 movies that you believe they must watch next year

 


Now time for some awesome music …

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… and John Wick’s puppy, cutest movie dog you’ll see this year!

A lot of you already know I love the movie but one of the things I love about it is this cool and dynamic score from Tyler Bates and Joel Richard. It fits the mood and tone so perfectly and it’ll make for an awesome dance party soundtrack! I can’t help tapping my feet and groovin’ to the beat as I’m listening to it. Screencrush said in their John Wick review that Keanu Reeves is “…the kind of star who is still partying like it’s the mid-to-late ’90s, and that’s totally more than okay…” Y’know what, the music certainly has a 90s vibe to it to match the 90s-style action sequences of shooting guns mid air and the likes.

My fave track is the Shots Fired one at the club scene, followed by Red Circle and a slower one about Willem Dafoe’s character, Old Friend Marcus.


Well have a great Friday, everyone! What are you gonna see this weekend?

Five for the Fifth: NOVEMBER 2014 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Can’t believe this is already the second to last Five for the Fifth of the year! First off, I want to highlight one of my favorite character actor who’s definitely got the leading-man charisma: Sam Rockwell. The California-born actor turns 46 today.

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I honestly don’t know when I first spotted Rockwell, as I’ve missed out on a lot of his earlier roles in the 90s. But he’s the kind of actor whose presence is always welcomed as he’s so fun to watch. He certainly lives up to his name as he pretty much rocks well in any role.

There’s a chameleonic ability about him that he can effortlessly portray a repulsive killer in The Green Mile and a goofy & paranoid third-rate actor in Galaxy Quest in the same year. I also love his brief performance as a wrongly-convicted felon in Conviction, a flamboyant, surfer-dude type alien in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as a carefree man-child with a heart of gold in The Way Way Back. He’s memorable even in smaller roles in Iron Man 2 as Tony Stark’s rival weapons manufacturer, that’s as equally charming, sarcastic and witty. In fact, his weapons demo is my fave scene of the whole movie! In fact, someone on youtube actually pitches a spinoff of his character Justin Hammer, and you know what, if they make it, I’d watch it! I’m bummed that I missed Laggies last month at TCFF, and I have yet to see Moon as someone spoiled it for me, but I’d still see it at some point just to see his performance.

So what’s your favorite Sam Rockwell role?

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2. I saw a couple of trailers this weekend that piqued my interest. I didn’t realize it until today that both of them have Oscar Isaac in it. I think he’s one talented actor so I’m glad he continues to get a variety of roles that highlight his versatility. Now, first one is A Most Violent Year.

In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.

There are many things that piqued my interest. Firstly, I love the pairing of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, both Juilliard grads who’ve made good in Hollywood. It’s also cool to see David Oyelowo and Alessandro Nivola here, two underrated actors I wish would get more roles. Secondly, the director is J.C. Chandor, it’s his third film that he wrote as well as directed. I was quite impressed by his debut Margin Call, and his sophomore effort was All Is Lost, a one-man show starring Robert Redford. Let’s hope the film is as gripping as the trailer.

The other one is a sci-fi thriller with yet another man-and-machine theme Ex-Machina.

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

This is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later and Sunshine, two of the best sci-fi films that happen to be directed by his frequent collaborator Danny Boyle. Garland also wrote Never Let Me Go which I found really heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. So naturally I’m intrigued by this one and the trailer certainly looks promising. Interesting to see Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander pairing up again after Anna Karenina two years ago.

Does either one of these trailers pique your interest?

3. Happy Movember! The annual mustache-growing event to raise awareness about men’s health issues starts on November 1st. I know there are some folks in my company who does this annually, and as the weather’s turning chillier, I suppose facial hair is like a ‘fur coat for one’s face’ :D

Truth be told, I’m not really a fan of men with mustaches, but some do look good with ‘em and I can’t imagine some actors without their mustache (i.e. Tom Selleck, Nick Offerman, just to name a few). So I thought just for the fun of it, I’d highlight some memorable Movie/TV Mustaches, including several of my own personal favorites.

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So who’s your pick(s) of favorite movie/tv mustaches?
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4. I literally just spotted this as I’m working on the post last night. According to SlashFilm, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has revealed the 20 animated films that have been submitted and will be eligible for up to five nominations for Best Animated Feature Film at next year’s Oscar! Here’s the list:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Book of Life
  • The Boxtrolls
  • Cheatin
  • Giovanni’s Island
  • Henry and Me
  • The Hero of Color City
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
  • The Lego Movie
  • Minuscule – Valley of the Lost Ants
  • Mr. Peabody and Sherman
  • Penguins of Madagascar
  • The Pirate Fairy
  • Planes: Fire and Rescue
  • Rio 2
  • Rocks in My Pockets
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Boy there are SO many I haven’t seen yet but my top 3 are easily The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 in that order. Actually, The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6 are pretty much neck and neck for me, as both are REALLY fun, heartwarming and simply a fantastic piece of entertainment.

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I talked about Song of the Sea back in June, but sadly I haven’t seen it yet. I’m also curious about The Book of Life which has been getting some good reviews. As for the rest, some of them I’ve never even heard of and some I simply have no interest in seeing [I’m looking at you Planes: Fire & Rescue].

So which three of these 20 animated features are you rooting for?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Josh from The Cinematic Spectacle blog!

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The topic is on ensemble-cast movies from the past year. I know I’ve brought up this topic back in April in this discussion about which ensemble cast that fail to deliver. It was inspired by my viewing of All Things To All Men which totally waste talents the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Rufus Sewell and my personal fave Toby Stephens! Of course there are many other ensemble cast movies released in 2014, i.e. Monuments Men, This is Where I Leave You, Grand Budapest Hotel, Expendables 3, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, FURY, Men Women and Children, just to name a few. It’s an eclectic list and some obviously work better than others. But perhaps, some films are still worth seeing just for the cast alone, and sometimes a particular ensemble can actually elevate a so-so film.

So, Josh would like to know … what are your favorite ensemble casts of 2014? 


Well, that’s it for the November 2014 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! :D

FlixChatter Review: John Wick

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‘Don’t judge a movie by its trailers,’ That’s a saying I often live by, for better or for worse. But in the case of John Wick‘s trailer, which was groan and eye roll-inducing the first time I saw it, I’m glad I ignored my first instinct and saw it anyway.

The movie is as lean as its protagonist, the eternally-youthful 50-year-old man that is Keanu Reeves. It’s lean in running time (1 hr 36 min), dialog, as well as plot. The movie keeps things simple and doesn’t try to be anything else but a stylized revenge thriller. All you need to know is that John Wick is a former mob hit man who re-emerges after 5-year retirement when some dumb punks break into his house and kill his dog given by his late wife.

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The swift exposition reveals that those punks are actually the son of his former employer, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). John Leguizamo‘s great in his brief scene as Aureilo, a car shop owner frequented by the thugs who’s also friends with Wick.

Viggo: Why did you strike my son?
Aureilo: He stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog.
Viggo: Oh.

The over-the-top way the movie tells us the protagonist is entertaining and hilarious. The filmmakers – former stunt professionals David Leitch and Chad Stahelski – are in on the joke and they’re smart enough NOT to take things too seriously for this type of action flicks. I read a review from a top critic that says action flick is about movement and given the stunts background of the filmmaker, they certainly subscribe to that adage. I remember critics described the stylized action of Zack Snyder’s 300 as the ballet of death. Here we’ve got the bullet ballet of Gun Fu, which is a martial-arts fighting in close-quarters with firearms that’s common in Hong Kong action cinema. It reminds me of John Woo’s style, but without the doves. Though the style is not exactly groundbreaking, it somehow still feels fresh and a heck of a lot of fun!

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People keep asking me if I’m back…. yeah I’m thinking I’m back

One of the secret ingredients of this movie is no doubt its leading man. Say what you will about Keanu Reeves but he’s got screen charisma. And not only that, he can effortlessly earn our sympathy, which is essential in any revenge fantasy. John Wick may be ruthless, but he’s not heartless and that layer of vulnerability is what Keanu often brings to even his most action-packed roles. His brooding, taciturn and trademark stoic mode is put to good use, as well as his physical prowess in pulling off those action stunts. I’ve always liked Keanu and I really don’t think he’s ever *left* even with the recent big flop of 47 Ronin. All the supporting cast like Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane did a good job despite not having much to do. The two that stood out to me were Lance Reddick in his brief appearance as the hotel manager frequented by hitmen, and Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist who actually makes for a memorable villain this time around. He’s so lame in Mission Impossible 4, but here he displays a genuine sinister side with a sarcastic sense of humor. I also like the fact that Viggo is kind of a reluctant bad guy, he doesn’t really want to fight Wick but he knows he has to. The only character I don’t care for is Adrianne Palicki‘s Mrs. Perkins which is totally unnecessary. It’s as if the filmmakers just want to have a femme-fatale character in here thrown for good measure.

JohnWick_Still4In case you can’t tell already from my review, yes I enjoyed this movie! Armed with gorgeous cinematography by Jonathan Sela, Tyler Bates‘ dynamic soundtrack (who did a great job scoring 300 as well), and bad-ass & kinetic action set pieces, I’m glad I saw this one on the big screen. The action stuff looks gritty and actually fun to watch, sans the dizzying quick cuts or extreme slo-mo that plague most action movies these days. It’d look great in IMAX too I bet, though seeing all those exploding heads and limbs getting stabbed in such a huge screen would’ve been too much for me. Given how violent it is though, the movie is actually not that gory. The gunfights are done in quick succession and there’s no lingering open wounds that make your stomach churn. Still, the scene after scene of carnage does make me wince at times, but hey, it comes with the territory.

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This movie should please action fans with its unabashed love for thrilling, preposterous action and no-nonsense storyline. Again, it doesn’t try to be deep or philosophical, the protagonist just wants to get back to those who wronged him. Pure and simple, the only moral of the story is, ‘don’t mess with John Wick!’ The ending is ripe for a sequel and you know what, I wouldn’t mind seeing it if Leitch/Chad Stahelski and Keanu are involved.

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Have you seen this? Well, what did you think?

Monthly Recap, Top 5 Picks from TCFF 2014 + Fave Movie(s) of OCTOBER

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Happy November, everyone! Oh what a whirlwind October it’s been, but you won’t hear me complain about the weather as the past few weeks we’ve had one of the best Autumn weather ever. In fact, the entire Twin Cities Film Fest run, the weather was in one word, glorious. Temp was in mid 60s – low 70s, which in my book is absolutely perfect!

Well I think it’s obvious that TCFF was the highlight of my blogging time this month. It’s especially awesome that I got a chance to chat with some filmmakers and cast. Scroll down below to check out the complete recaps of the 10-day festivities!

Posts you might’ve missed:


Top 5 Fave Movies Seen at TCFF

TCFF_Top5_YoungKieslowskiThe Young Kieslowski

TCFF_Top5_OldFashionedOld Fashioned

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Flying Paper DocTCFF_Top5_ImitationGame

The Imitation Game [Review Upcoming]

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Time Lapse [Review upcoming, but check out my interview
w/ its filmmaker Bradley King & actor George Finn]

TCFF 2014 Recaps

  1. TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review
  2. TCFF 2014 Day 2 – Interview with Haley Lu Richardson
  3. TCFF 2014 Day 2 Reviews: Father-Like Son, The Last Time You Had Fun, V/H/S: Viral
  4. TCFF 2014 Day 3 Reviews: These Hopeless Savages, 3 Nights in the Desert, The Well and House of Manson
  5. TCFF 2014 Day 4: Wild Canaries, Just Before I Go & double reviews of The Young Kieslowski
  6. TCFF 2014 Interview with Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of Old Fashioned
  7. TCFF 2014 Day 5 & 6: Reviews of ‘Evil, Enemies & Aliens’ Shorts Block + Solitude
  8. TCFF 2014 Day 7: Romance Double Bill – Old Fashioned & Comet
  9. TCFF 2014 – Interview with Ink & Steel Filmmakers/Cast
  10. TCFF 2014 Interview with Bradley King & George Finn for sci-fi thriller Time Lapse
  11. TCFF 2014 Documentary Reviews: Stray Dog, Flying Paper, Where The Trail Ends & One Good Year
  12. TCFF 2014 Wrap Up & Final Awards: The Imitation Game, Time Lapse, Stray Dog Doc, Solitude & More!

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New-to-me Movies outside of TCFF lineup:

I saw the last three in 48 hours, in fact I saw Big Hero 6 exactly an hour after my Foxcatcher screening. I’m glad that’s the case though, as I really needed something light and vibrant to shake off the dark and morose tone of Foxcatcher. Stay tuned for my interview with director

I’m still behind on a few reviews from the last couple of days of TCFF, but I should have all these reviews done in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, with the crazy schedule of the Film Fest, I was unable to complete my Blindspot assignment of the month. Ah well, something’s gotta give I suppose. I probably will have 10 out of the 12 Blindspot films completed by end of the year, so I’ll just include the two I miss in my next year’s list.

Favorite Movies of October 2014:

I’m going to choose films that are NOT part of TCFF lineup, and it’s quite a tough one as there are some truly awesome movies I saw this past month. After much deliberation, it comes down to a tie of two completely different films. I love that when that happens! :D Stay tuned for my reviews of both of these, but if you’re on the fence about either one of these for whatever reason, I urge you to check both of ‘em out.

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Citizenfour is one of the most intriguing and gripping documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Whether you think of Edward Snowden is a hero or criminal, this is such an important documentary that should be seen by anyone who has ever been online [and really, unless you’re Amish, who hasn’t?]. Big Hero 6 on the other hand, is so entertaining and so full of heart it’s easily one of my top animated features now. Definitely another winner from Disney, it’s just pure exhilarating fun and I love that it would inspire kids to explore their imagination and dream big.


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

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10 Brilliant Acting Performances Defined by One Look

I LOVE LOVE this idea from Brittani that I came across earlier this week that I had to take part.

“Sometimes a simple look an actor gives is nothing short of brilliant,”

I totally agree with her sentiment. Sometimes the quietest, most subtle look or gesture has the power to generate the most emotional response, no words necessary.

It made me think of some of those scenes and really, there are SO many examples that it’s tough to narrow it down to just 10. The fact that I remember these scenes despite the length of time that’s passed since I’ve seen it means they definitely left a big impression on me. In fact, from time to time I still look on youtube to watch that particular scene again. Ok so technically there are 11 here, as I paired up one of them, but I think it still count as one as it happens in the exact same scene where the two actors interact with each other. Anyway, here goes:

Christian Bale in Equilibrium

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I always have a fondness for this dystopian sci-fi thriller despite its flaws. Bale’s Preston came too late to save the woman he loves from being incinerated… and he had to watch her die right in front of him. Bale’s expression of utter despair just breaks my heart. It’s one of my favorite Bale performances from all the amazing work he’s done, even if the film itself is far from perfect.

Emily Blunt – Jane Austen Book Club

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I LOVE miss Blunt and she adds so much gravitas and emotional complexity to her character of a French teacher going through an unhappy marriage. She’s just about to have a rendezvous at a motel with a hot, young student but something precludes her from taking another step. I don’t remember much about the entire film but I always remember this scene.

Toby Stephens – Jane Eyre (BBC – 2006)
Toby_JaneEyreI have to include at least one out of a plethora of Toby’s masterful scenes as Rochester. The no-wedding scene is definitely one of the most emotionally-charged. Rochester’s anguish is so palpable here when ‘bride in the attic’ secret’s been revealed. He was so close to finally be with the woman he loves, but in a single moment, that elusive happiness is snatched away again. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s such mesmerizing beauty in his look of pain and agony. It takes a real craftsmanship to bring such tortured soul persona so beautifully and Toby does it with aplomb.

Angela Bassett in Waiting To Exhale

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Fireman: Ma’am, were you aware that your car was on fire?
[Bernadine nods her head while smoking a cigarette]

Fireman: Ma’am, did you start this fire?
[she puffs smoke and plainly looks at him]

Fireman: You know, it’s against the law to burn anything except trash in your yard.

Bernadine: [flicks off ashes from her cigarette] It is trash.

Miss Bassett is simply awesome, period. It’s been over a decade since I saw this film but I never forget Bernadine’s rage and heartache when her husband leaves her. She’s crestfallen, but yet she never loses that bad-ass sensibility. Her look says it all, ‘Don’t mess with Bernadine.’

Russell Crowe in The Insider

Crowe_TheInsiderI’ve always believed that Crowe got robbed of his Oscar in this film. As fantastic as his portrayal of Maximus was, the way he completely disappeared into Jeffrey Wigand is nothing short of astounding. This scene at the hotel room is mesmerizing, powerful and heart-wrenching and Crowe only communicates with his body language. There’s a bit of a dream sequence here that was crafted masterfully by Michael Mann, but it’s Crowe’s stillness and inner tumult that you won’t soon forget.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave

Chiwetel_12YearsASlaveThis scene is one of the most haunting, which is saying something given how many heart-wrenching scenes there are in this film. At first Solomon didn’t join the other slaves singing Roll Jordan Roll, but somehow, halfway through the song, he started singing. His facial expression stirs up so much expression as I watched it. It’s as if he’d reached the lowest point of his life, losing all hope of ever escaping his fate as a slave… all the grief, desperation, anger and sense of helplessness is all there. Yet there is a glimmer of defiance in him, a flicker of hope still left in him that gets him through another day. Ejiofor deserved an Oscar win just for this scene alone.

Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday

Peck_TheHolidayThe finale remains one of the most beautiful and poignant film endings ever. And I think Peck’s facial expression conveys so much. The restrained tears in his eyes, the rigid way he’s standing, it takes so much out of Joe not to say how he feels about Ann. Yet his expression speaks louder than words could ever do.

Kate Winslet in Titanic

Winslet_TitanicIt’s been ages since I saw Titanic but for some reason, this subtle scene of Rose during dinner with her family and Cal still stands out to me. There’s this glazed look on her face, like she finally stops caring about her privileged life that feels more and more like a prison. “That fire is gonna burn out,” Jack tells her at one point and it’s as if it finally sinks in that he is right and she wants out.

Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator

Joaquin_GladiatorThis is truly one of the greatest scenes in film history IMHO. There’s just so much going on in this scene on psychological and emotional level. Of course Crowe is simply astounding in his ‘Maximus Decimus Meridius’ monologue but one thing that always struck me is Commodus’ stunned reaction. His lips quiver, eyes wide open with shock and his whole body trembles with a combination of rage and fright. It’s like ‘WTF! How could you still be alive?’ He knew at that moment, everything he’s planned so carefully is in shambles. As Lucilla said, at that moment, a slave did become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome, and it’s all written in Commodus’ face.

James Cromwell & Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential

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There are certain phrases in movies that will forever be stuck in my head. “Rolo Tomasi” is one of them, and thanks to both Cromwell and Spacey for creating such an iconic and chilling scene. That’s the name Exley (Guy Pearce) gives the unknown murderer of his father just to give him a personality. “Have you a valediction, boyo?” Capt. Dudley Smith asked the dying Sgt. Jack Vincennes. It’s a powerful and totally unexpected response, and one he never thought would eventually lead to his own demise. Even nearing death, Jack still manages to deliver quite a blow to Dudley.


Well, what do you think of my picks? Please share your own picks of great acting defined by one look.

TCFF 2014 Documentary Reviews: Stray Dog, Flying Paper, Where The Trail Ends & One Good Year

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What I love about Twin Cities lineup year after year is the eclectic variety. Documentary is one of those genres I really need to see more of, so I’m glad there are quite a few of them this year. The past few years, I saw award-worthy docs like A Place at the Table, Bully, Gladiator The Uncertain Future of American Football, The Armstrong Lie, etc. at TCFF. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these would end up in the major award roster next year.


So here are the Documentary reviews …

Stray Dog

A documentary about an intellectual motorcyclist and guilt-ridden Vietnam war- veteran, Ronnie Hall, Stray Dog is a character portrait that ultimately doesn’t delve deeply enough to resonate.

Hall is a fitting subject, and director Debra Granik is adept at stringing together scenes that force us to consider society’s treatment of war veterans. She also reflects on the ways war permanently changes soldiers, often for the worse.

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But it is Stray Dog’s more subtle psychological themes that hold potential for the most emotional (and philosophical) resonance. Can we ever redeem our worst mistakes? What must we do to forgive ourselves? How much altruism overcomes past ethnocentricity and arrogance? Is it possible to adapt to new living conditions, particularly those that do not meet our expectations? And so forth. Troublingly, Granik never completely explores such ideas; take, for example, the question of redemption and altruism. In one powerful moment, easily the strongest in the film, she allows Hall to explain why he labels himself unforgivable, closing in on his face as he details his worst sins. His grief and regret are palpable, as is our own inability to connect the man we’ve been watching with the one he’s now describing. Yet, it is the only such scene in Stray Dog, and so the experience of seeing it quickly fades. Which means the film doesn’t connect to our personal psychological experience.

Make no mistake, though. Stray Dog is not a poor documentary. It is engaging throughout, and it does have intriguing ideas. It just doesn’t linger as powerfully as it might have with more fealty to psychology.

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Flying Paper

Flying Paper is one of the most heart-wrenching as well as uplifting docs I’ve seen in ages. It tells the story of resilient Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown. Though it shows the war-torn condition in Gaza, the film doesn’t take the political approach. Instead it shows life as it is for these youngsters, who like any other kid in other parts of the world, just want to play.

Two of the main kids being interviewed are siblings Musa and Widad, outspoken and full of energy as they walk us through their daily lives and planning to be a part of the United Nations’ Kite Festival. Musa is the unofficial team lead of sort, showing a maturity that seems well beyond his 14 years. They show us how they make their kites with flour and paste, testing it and making sure it flies the way they wanted it to be. The kite symbolizes freedom, the one thing people in occupied territories could only dream of, so in a way, they sort of live vicariously through the kites that soar into the sky.

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Directed by Nitin Sawhney and Roger Hill and co-produced with a team of young filmmakers in Gaza. One of them is Abeer, a graduate from Voices Beyond Walls Youth Media Program who wants to be a journalist. She acts as the reporter in the film, interviewing kids in their homes as well as at the Kite Festival. It’s heart-wrenching to hear little girls younger than 10 years old telling stories about how F-16 flying low over their homes and how loud the helicopters are when they fly overhead. Later on Musa also show us pieces from a bomb or rocket/tank that were fired nearby. It’s more telling how they nonchalantly talk about it, as they’ve gotten so used to as that’s all they know all their lives.

As we go through one of the schools, a teacher said that kite-making builds team spirit and help channel their energy. I’d imagine that as they live in such a brutal condition, kite-making would make them forget – albeit briefly – the trauma of war.

The third act of the doc shows the astounding Kite Fest at Waha Beach. There are throngs of kids with their colorful kites and big smiles on their faces. They’ve so waited for this moment for so long and I couldn’t help being so excited along with them. Over 7500 kids were at the festival, 7202 to be exact, which easily broke the world record.

Despite the dark themes of war, there is such a joyful spirit in this film and by the end you truly care for these kids and what this record mean to them. It’s quite astounding how this film got made despite the ongoing blockade in the area, so if you get a chance to see it, I urge you to do so.

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Where The Trail Ends

If there is a documentary that is meant to be seen in the hugest possible screens, it’d be this one. It’s fantastic for adrenaline junkie or anyone who appreciates epic cinematography that captures one of the most breathtaking nature scenes that would truly take your breath away.

There are five main free-ride mountain bikers: Darren Berrecloth, James Doerfling, Andreu Lacondeguy, Kurt Sorge and Cam Zink, who are featured here as they search for un-ridden terrain all over the globe. The first terrain shown was in Utah and boy I thought it was already scary and dangerous enough, but no, it’s deemed too easy for them. And off they go to various locations such as Nepal, China, Argentina and Canada. Each place seems more exotic than the next, and the cinematography by Brad McGregor is never less phenomenal from start to finish. The high-speed camera was often placed on the bikers’ helmet so you could see from their point of view and totally got the adrenaline rush pumping. I was as in awe of these daredevils and their death-defying stunts as I was with the amazing camera work.

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Now, this is no doubt one of the most-beautiful documentaries ever filmed, but at the same time, there’s only so much one’s eyeballs could take in. I never thought I’d say this but there are actually moments where I was yawning and looking at my watch. No, I’m not saying the film is boring, it’s just that this doc is more eye candy than anything else as there’s barely no emotional connection with any of its subjects. At times it felt as if I was watching an hour-long commercial for Red Bull, Specialized, Contour, etc. To be fair though, I was truly amazed that these bikes hold up being used in such extreme ways. These bikers seem like they’ve made out of rubbers too. I mean they get hurt, some broke their collar bones, foot, back, etc. but it’s still a feat it’s not worse!

There is one rather touching moment however. One of the bikers, I think it was Darren Berrecloth, almost lost it when he couldn’t bring himself to pull a certain dangerous stunt because he broke his back doing the exact same thing back in his home town. There he was, with the magnificent terrain sprawled right in front of him, beckoning for him to do it. Yet knowing how horrifying the back-breaking experience was that he simply couldn’t bear it again. His utter disappointment was palpable but in the end, everyone knew he made the right decision.

Director Jeremy Grant certainly knows how to make an exciting ride that’s chock-full of incredible spectacles. Where The Trail Ends is worth a look because the visuals is like nothing you’ve ever seen. Just don’t expect something profound or anything with an emotional depth.

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One Good Year

“One Good Year” tells the story of four family farms tucked in the densely wooded forest of Northern California. Interspersed between shots of emerald green hills and bucolic community festivals, these entrepreneurs show endless dedication to their crop and willingness to be one with the land. Oh, did I mention they are marijuana growers? Humboldt County, the home of filmmaker Mikal Jakubal, is, as David Samuels from the New Yorker put it, “The heartland of high grade marijuana farming in California.”

In this new 80-minute documentary, we meet four farmers permitted to grow the green leaves under Proposition 215 (California’s medical marijuana law) – Jory, Kim, Syreeta and Blossom. The film explores the dedication of this quartet to organically growing “the best weed anyone has smoked” juxtaposed against others in the area who exploit the environment to make a quick buck on the illegal (but more lucrative) marijuana trade.

It’s a topical subject, as Minnesota (home of the Twin Cities Film Fest) passed a medical marijuana bill earlier this year, joining nearly half of the states in the country with similar provisions. Undoubtedly it will offend some people – in one scene Blossom’s preschool daughter wanders through the crop while Blossom proclaims, “My mother taught me how to grow marijuana.” But Jakubal does a good job of showing us a personal commitment to the marijuana trade apart from the hype of drug cartels and stoned hippies.

OneGoodYearDoc

The four featured in the film are clearly not getting rich off their crop – Syreeta lives in a worn, treehouse like structure with a rusty old pickup in need of repair. When asked why she does it year after year, Blossom replies, “I think there will always be a market for good organic cannabis. I think they’re fun to grow.” The music in this show is particularly complimentary, including the work of local artists such as the Camo Cowboys, whose tune “Family Felony” provides a fun twang.

At times the film gets a little too technical, such as when Jory is describing her seed crop – “This one is Mexican Columbian crossed with Indica from Thailand…” (Oh, of course it is!) Far more helpful are the explanatory text graphics throughout the film explaining certain growing terms like “sexing,” the art of removing male plants to prevent unwanted pollination (only the female plants produce a smokable bud). Overall, it’s a thought provoking addition to the current debate over legalization in this country.

four reels

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


Bonus Doc – Health Focus: One Community’s Effort

This doc wasn’t part of the TCFF lineup but it played in the film fest lounge as a free community event

Raise your hand if you want to live in an unhealthy community. Yeah, me neither. “Health Focus: One Community’s Effort,” shown at the Showplace Icon Theatre in St. Louis Park as part of the Twin Cities Film Fest, is a new documentary from Twin Cities Public Television. It covers the creation of “Health in the Park,” a grassroots initiative started last year and funded by The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota with an aim to increase the overall health and wellbeing of St. Louis Park residents.

A first ring suburb directly west of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park is home to approximately 46,000. “It reminds me of a small town village in an urban setting,” Christa Getchell, President of the Park Nicollet Foundation, says in the video. Out of 50 applicants statewide, St. Louis Park was one of only nine cities chosen, in part because of their level of community engagement. “Our community is known for working together,” says Rob Metz, St. Louis Park School Superintendent. “You don’t see that everywhere.”

Full disclosure: I am a St. Louis Park resident and volunteer for Health in the Park’s Better Eating Action Group. As such, I tend to focus on nutrition but there have also been focus groups and presentations aimed at other aspects of healthy living such as increasing access to sidewalks and bike trails. “Because it’s so multifaceted, you can jump in where you feel most comfortable,” says Susan Ericksen, a St. Louis Park resident and Health in the Park Volunteer.

HealthSourceDoc

Far from being a low level amateur project, “Health Focus” was made by Twin Cities Public Television so the production value in this 25-minute story is high. In many scenes, you see community members in various settings partaking in outdoor and indoor activities the city has to offer juxtaposed against various interviews staged in a way so you see the “City of St. Louis Park” logo in the background.

As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. But with the support and engagement of dedicated community members, St. Louis Park is poised to turn “Health in the Park” into more than just a series of conversations. If you miss it at the Twin Cities Film Fest, you can check out TPT’s website for a schedule of upcoming showings or visit the Health in the Park website to learn more about this initiative.

Not sure if I should rate this one? Admittedly I am biased as a St. Louis Park resident and Health in the Park volunteer.

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


Have you seen any of these documentaries? What did you think?