TCFF 2014 Day 3 Reviews: These Hopeless Savages, 3 Nights in the Desert, The Well and House of Manson

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The festivities continues at Twin Cities Film Fest! Weekends are always super busy at the Showplace ICON Theatres at the West End, but even more so with all the hustle and bustle of the TCFF crowds. A bunch of Midwest Premieres took place last night, featuring Q&A following films such as These Hopeless Savages, Old Fashioned, BFFs, The Well, and a huge cast & crew in attendance for the first of two sold out screening of House of Manson.


The second screening of House of Manson on Monday night at 9:30pm is already SOLD OUT … but, no fret, TCFF will have a RUSH LINE available for every “sold out” screening. We typically are able to accommodate anyone waiting in line. So, before you decide not to come, please do consider the Rush Line! The Rush Line is located across from the TCFF Offices on the Main Level of the Shops at West End, right below the theater lobby.


Now here are the reviews from Day 3…

These Hopeless Savages

Similar to Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013), These Hopeless Savages is a road movie doubling as a relationship drama. In this case, the focus is on Shawn (co-director/co-producer/co-writer/star Sean Christopher Lewis) and Greg (co-writer/star Matt Delapina), childhood friends who have lost touch over the years. Shawn believes he’s won $50,000, which he can claim by traveling from New York to Iowa, and he wants Greg’s help. Though Greg doubts the money’s authenticity, he agrees, for personal reasons, and the two embark in Shawn’s sedan. These Hopeless Savages documents their cross-country journey, along which they encounter several eccentric characters.

In so doing, the film is often funny, particularly in scene’s including Greg’s girlfriend, Nicki (Mackenzi Meehan). Meehan’s deadpan delivery and her chemistry with Delapina are both striking, indeed so much so that she is the film’s greatest merit. Which is saying something, because the cast is universally strong. The picture’s visual style is impressive, as well; directors Kaitlyn Busbee and Lewis use minimalist camera movements and wide image frames to create a realistic tone, one which helps push forward the plot.

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Unfortunately, These Hopeless Savages stumbles at various points. First, we never understand why Shawn believes the $50,000 actually exists. Unlike Nebraska’s Woody, Shawn’s mental faculties are not deteriorating, so what gives him such confidence? It helps that Lewis and Delapina, as writers, hint, at various points, that the money isn’t Shawn’s actual motivation, but the idea is undercooked and then contradicted when the protagonists reach their destination. Moreover, neither of these characters change. They start emotionally damaged, and they end that way. They start with particular character flaws, and they end with the same. Their stories feel unfinished, even in a picture less about individuals than relationships.

For all of that, These Hopeless Savages has enough humor, good acting and quality directing to make it immersive and entertaining. It is far from great, but it is also far from bad.   

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The Well

Though too predictable and too faithful to genre, The Well, is filled with enchanting cinematography and even more atmospheric intensity. The picture, which is written by Jacob Forman and director Thomas S. Hammock, depicts an apocalyptic world fatally short on water. Living in this world is Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson, excellent), who struggles to rebuild an airplane while simultaneously caring for her ill childhood friend, Dean (Booboo Stewart, even better than Richardson) and a youth named Alby (Max Charles, underused), whom she’s found living alone. She must also fend off many rivals, some of them in search of water, and some of them employees of a nefarious company.

In part because of the actor playing her, Kendal makes a compelling protagonist, but she is not the most interesting character here. That is the primary villain, Carson (played empathetically by Jon Gries), who is layered by love for his daughter, Brooke (Nicole Fox) and remorse. When Carson and Kendal finally speak to each other, it is a riveting scene, indeed, one that rewards the viewer with fascinating dialogue between two multi-dimensional characters.

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Hammock’s visuals are just as rewarding, as is his ability to create tension, both through audio and image frames. At times, The Well’s obviously low budget hurts the picture, especially when Hammock uses CGI to create blood or fire, but mostly the director overcomes financial limitations.

A handful of exposition-heavy scenes between Carson and Brooke prove bigger flaws. As does Brooke’s characterization. She is so underdeveloped as to be almost senseless. Finally, during what should be the film’s most impacting moments, Kendal successfully hides from her enemies, but only because Carson doesn’t follow previous patterns of behavior. In another should-be-impacting sequence Kendal behaves differently than she has before. These moments border on character breaking, and thereby disengage the viewer, at least for a time.

Still, The Well succeeds far more than it fails. It deserves a recommendation.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut, and the challenges of filming The Well.


3 Nights in the Desert 

A middling drama about old friends/bandmates reuniting after several years without contact, 3 Nights in the Desert neither impresses nor offends. It simply exists.

Tax attorney Barry (Vincent Piazza) and musician Anna (Amber Tamblyn) travel to the California desert, where their defunct band’s former guitarist, Travis (Wes Bentley), now lives. Ostensibly the three are fulfilling a long-ago promise to collectively celebrate their thirtieth birthdays, but Travis has a manipulative motive, Anna has personal issues never fully explained, and Barry doesn’t want to admit he pines for the past, even while he also rages at it.

All three actors do well with what they’re given, especially Tamblyn, who makes an underdeveloped character feel almost real. Unfortunately, writer Adam Chanzit and director Gabriel Cowan don’t give them much. First, the characters are sketches, not multi-dimensional figures. Second, the plot is boilerplate, offering a standard love-triangle, and equally standard reflection on idealism versus pragmatism. Some forced symbolism and a repeated metaphor (a supposedly mystical cave) don’t help either.

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Yet, 3 Nights in the Desert isn’t bad. Sure the opening voice over explains relationship dynamics Chanzit and Cowan would have been wise to show us, and sure nothing here surprises or enlightens, but the actors still capture attention, the occasional music is quite good, and the picture’s pacing (a run time just over eighty minutes) is crisp enough to ensure the narrative never grows stale. Plus, the director and his crew skillfully photograph some gorgeous California scenery.

In the end, do I recommend 3 Nights in the Desert? Not really. But it needn’t be avoided either.

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House of Manson 

House of Manson is a film that chronicles the life of Charles Manson and focuses in on the events leading up to and including the Sharon Tate murders of 1969. Unlike other Charles Manson biopics that focus in on the sex or the over the top nature of the Tate murder, this one focuses in Charles Manson’s influence and connection with his followers, the Manson family as they call themselves.

Charles Manson is portrayed by Minnesota born actor Ryan Kiser, who returns for the second year in a row to Twin Cities Film Fest. Last year Kiser co-starred in the horror film Truth or Dare and this year he brings the fest the world premiere of House of Manson. Kiser approached the character in a very serious tone and does a fantastic job conveying the crazy yet brilliant way Charles Manson was able to draw followers into his cult.

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Devanny Pinn co-stars as one of Manson’s followers Susan Atkins and gives a chilling performance as her screen presence is freaky. Pinn truly becomes Atkins on screen as the facial reactions make you think this women is completely off her rocker and has no moral compass at all.  An overall amazing performance by Pinn.

This film does suffer from some technical flaws as the sound isn’t completely smoothed and could use some more attention by a sound mixer. The filmmakers even admitted in a Q&A following the world premiere that some of the sound transitions were going to need to be looked at. The film also has a saturated look that doesn’t look completely intentional. The image doesn’t pop off the screen as some movies do that have a more crisp and sharp look to it.

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Overall, the film is a great portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous Charles Manson. It doesn’t get too crude or violent as previous films about the same subject matter, it takes the source material as it is and conveys the story in a very tasteful matter. With a great cast and direction by Brandon Slagle, House of Manson is definitely worth checking out when it later finds distribution.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 4!


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


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

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TCFF 2014 Day 2 Reviews: Father-Like Son, The Last Time You Had Fun, V/H/S: Viral

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Day 3 is nearly gone and I just finally got a chance to put something together for the blog! It’s quite a whirlwind day for me today. I had a prior commitment in the AM in St. Cloud but we somehow made it back in time for the Actors Panel, one of the educational panels that I always look forward to every year. This year we’ve got three awesome guests whose films are playing tonight: Sean Maher (BFFs), Haley Lu Richardson (The Well) and Ryan Kiser (House of Manson). The panel was moderated by actress Marisa Coughlan (Super Troopers, Space Station 76). It was quite an insightful event as you learn how they got into show business, and the high/low of being an actor, etc.


And here are the reviews from Day 2…

Father-Like Son

Let’s just say the script in “Father-Like Son” doesn’t beat around the bushes. Written by and starring Mac Alsfeld and Andrew Megison and featuring Alsfeld in his directorial debut, it tells the story of Clark, a 24 year old wannabe writer living at home with his widowed mother and her new husband Dan, who happens to be Clark’s age but nonetheless aspires to be a father figure to Clark.

The first line in the movie is Dan popping into Clark’s room - “Hey there dude, you got any condoms I can borrow? Your mother claims to have had a hysterectomy but I don’t buy all that science fiction bull.” And the movie goes downhill from there, resulting in an endless stream of immature, unfunny jokes.

(About 20 minutes into this movie I started thinking, “This is like The Hangover. Except not funny.”) Another scene involves Dan, a self-proclaimed “inventor,” showing off his latest creation – the Okey Dookey, a poop-shaped plastic toy you can hide a key in.

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A subplot involves Clark getting a job in a used bookstore, where we meet fellow employee Emily (Molly Canarro) and Peaches (Peaches Davis), the little old lady who owns the place. Emily’s feisty retorts playing off Peaches’s sweet charm were a breath of fresh air. The movie attempts to turn maudlin toward the end with Clark struggling to come to terms with his father’s death but it was hard to care at that point after a mind numbing parade of juvenile man jokes. (To get back at Dan, one of Clark’s friends suggests that he cut up his dog and leave body parts all over the house.)

It is shows like this that remind me of what critics sometimes say if they really don’t want people to waste their time: I watch these movies so you don’t have to. I understand that I am not the target audience for this kind of show but in my opinion I would suggest you pick another movie to enjoy at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

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The Last Time You Had Fun

Story takes place in a single night, mostly in a limo rented by a guy named Will (Demetri Martin), supposedly to celebrate his college buddy Clark’s (Kyle Bornheimer) divorce. These two buddies can’t be more different from each other, even from the way they’re dressed. Will is a preppy lawyer and Clark is a teacher can’t seem to get out of his sweatpants. As we later learned, Clark’s divorce left him for another woman. Because of his friend’s persistence and his young kids’ insistence that he needs to get out of the house once in a while, Clark reluctantly agrees to go, so long as there’s no strip club involved. They ended up at a wine bar, Clark’s pick, and there they run into two sisters. Will dares Clark to pick up those women and he only agrees to do it just so he could go home.

The foursome end up hanging out together in the bar and later share a limo going as aimlessly as they go about their own lives. The two sisters are Alison (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who appears to be the sensible one, married with a young daughter. She’s always patient to lend an ear to the drama queen of a sister Ida (Eliza Coupe), who’s in the middle of a nasty divorce.

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As the title says, most of the characters can’t seem to remember when was the last time they had fun. The bickering between four dysfunctional adults are comical in their honesty about how they feel about themselves and each other. Everyone’s got issues, one seems more messed up than the other. As the night wears on, more layers of their personality is peeled off as inhibitions slowly diminish. In fact, they go more restless, bolder and crazier, much to the chagrin of the snappy limo driver (Charlyne Yi) who have to put up with their shenanigans. One of the funniest scenes is when they try to get some weed, resulting in the most bizarre scenario of the entire film. Character actor Jimmi Simpson has one of those faces you recognize in a bunch of films/TV series. The sexual experiment scenario is played mostly for laughs but yet it’s not a throwaway scene as it’s in keeping with the adventurous theme of the story.

The film’s tiny budget shows in the production quality, but the honest, funny and engaging dialog and naturalistic performances from the entire cast make up for it. The two male actors fare slightly better IMO, you can’t help but root for them despite their flaws. There are some slow parts and some of the dialog seem clunky to me, but overall I think Mo Perkins‘ sophomore effort is a pretty good one. I like how the script by Hal Haberman plays with our perceptions/prejudices of the characters as they don’t always behave in the way they predict they would.

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V/H/S: Viral

V/H/S: Viral is the third movie in the V/H/S series that was started in 2012. The V/H/S movies are anthology films made with mostly found footage films that are edited to play together with an overarching plot that sort of works at connecting them all to play after each other. The previous two installments (V/H/S and V/H/S 2) were very enjoyable in their concept and new takes on found footage through the use of spy glasses cam and GoPro cams.

This time, the overarching plot that is seen between each short film, entitled “Vicious Circles”, is about a man on chasing his girlfriend who has been kidnapped by an ice cream truck which is also being chased by the police. This short that is broken up over the length of the film is quite good at showing the environment on how the entire city is on alert and watching this police chase.  Of the three V/H/S films this overarching plot is the weakest at not only connecting all the films together, as well as being a driving force throughout the whole film. It was different to show a bigger environment to connect rather than show people just watching the other shorts on VHS tapes as was done in the first two V/H/S movies.

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The first short is called “Dante The Great” and is the first time that breaks the complete found footage form in the V/H/S series as it is more of a mockumentary about a magician who owns a truly magical cloak. If you have been following the V/H/S series, this short can catch you off guard as it is not completely found footage and features interview throughout it while cutting to found footage. This short works really well and is the easiest to follow and was fun take on the mockumentary form.

“Parallel Monsters” is a short that involves alternate dimensions as a man opens a door to an alternate dimension that seems almost the same to ours but slowly as he explores it and switches with his alternate dimensional double, is not as similar as once thought. The characters in this short only speak Spanish which adds a new cultural flair that is done quite well. This short is the most detailed in terms of showing how weird the alternate world is that is being explored of the 3 shorts in V/H/S: Viral, not counting the overarching “Vicious Circles.”

The final short is entitled “Bonestorm” and shows some teenage skateboarders who venture down to Tijuana to film a skating video with a combination of regular video cameras and GoPro cameras. Things get out of hand when the area they are skating attracts some unwanted pagan worshippers.  This short was very action packed and didn’t have any lull points and used the short amount of time to its full potential. The actors gave great performances and the special effects that are needed later in the short are quite impressive.

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Overall, V/H/S: Viral is a good, not great, addition to the V/H/S series. While it still has a smaller distrubution method due to the studio putting it out, Magnet Releasing, which is limited on its resources on getting this movie to the public. Fans who have seen the previous two entries will enjoy this addition to the series. Those who are new to the series might need time adjusting to its scattered nature of being an anthology film that doesn’t transition easily between the stories it is telling.

V/H/S: Viral will be available on Video On Demand on October 23 and in select theaters on November 6.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 3 tomorrow!


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


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

TCFF 2014 Day 2 – Interview with Haley Lu Richardson

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One of my fave parts of blogging for TCFF is the opportunity to meet talents whose films are playing at the film fest. Most especially when you meet someone as talented, vivacious and gracious as Haley Lu Richardson.

She has two VERY different films, one is an apocalyptic thriller, The Well, and the other is a teen pregnancy comedy, The Young Kieslowski. That alone is a major accomplishment, but even more so the fact that The Well is her feature film debut. Now, I have seen the latter and no doubt the 19-year-old is a talented young actress poised for stardom.

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Haley in The Well and The Young Kieslowski

Screen charisma is not something an actor can really train for and Haley’s got that in spades. What impresses me most is her versatility, which is what every good actor should have in their arsenal. So check out how Haley got her start and what role she’d like to tackle on next.


FCInterviewBannerI arrived about 10 min early and she was already there as her previous interview got done early. Even at 9:30 in the morning, she’s already looking fresh and bubbly that I immediately feel comfortable chatting with you. I knew it’d be a fun interview, but of course life is not complete without snafus once in a while right? Well, I might’ve had too much fun chatting with her that for whatever reason, either I didn’t turn on my iPhone recorder properly or I accidentally deleted our conversation but that’s what happened. Ah well, so I had to do my best transcribing from my notes and memory ;)

Q: So Haley, ow did you get into acting?

A: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, got into competitive dancing and was into that for a while. [per IMDb, She was a member of Cannedy Performing Arts competitive dance company for 8 years and has won prestigious titles such as 'National Dancer of the Year" and the 'Peoples Choice Award' at the Young Artist's competition.] And with dancing, there’s a bit of emoting required as you’re performing, which makes me think about going into acting. So I had a long talk with my parents over the dinner table. I even made a Powerpoint citing the pros and cons about going into the acting business, etc. Fortunately they’re quite supportive and in 2011, my mother and I moved to LA so I could pursue acting. I was also lucky that I was able to secure an agent that got me into some projects. I did a TV movie called Christmas Twister and a few TV projects before I got the chance to audition for The Well.

Q: How was that audition process go for The Well?

A: Normally the audition goes through casting agents and/or through a talent agency but at the time I was so hungry for work that I submitted my tape to an online casting site and though they normally don’t go that route in finding talents, somehow they found me.

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Q: Your character Kendal rarely says what she’s thinking. She is a doer, not a talker. How do you come to approach that kind of character?

Tom [Director Thomas S. Hammock] and Jacob [writer Jacob Forman] and I had a long chat about the story and character, they really took the time to help me get into Kendal’s head. Plus the setting in a barren landscape of the Mojave Desert [about 4 hours north of LA] looks like a real dystopian place so that definitely helps me get into the mindset of a girl trying to survive.

Q: How much training did you do for the action sequences, was that hard to get to do all the fight scenes? 

Yes, it was pretty intense. I had never held a gun before in my life and it’s really quite scary. I had to practice in the shooting range and even though you’re shooting blanks, I’m still fully aware what a dangerous weapon it was. It’s also quite heavy and I had to shoot several rounds. Whenever I’m walking around though, I usually just carry the plastic thing, but when I’m filming a scene, I had to use a real gun with blanks.

Q: There have been several dystopian young adult movies produced over the last several years. Apart from The Well doubling as a revenge tale, what did you do to make sure The Well was different from the other projects?

I think there are definitely similarities in that movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. deal with a young person being put into a situation where they have to fend for themselves. But I’d say that The Well is a quieter movie. There’s not non-stop action or explosions, but a lot of time for the character to reflect on things and the music is also understated to help set the mood. I think it’s a more intimate and even personal film, as it’s more about Kendal’s journey and how she must protect the last remaining well in order for her to survive

Q: Now moving on to your second film The Young Kieslowski, how did you get this part, did you have to audition for the role of Leslie Mallard also?

Fortunately, the same producer [Seth Caplan] that did The Well offered me the part as I was working on that film. And since the stories are so different, that appealed to me. I then met with the writer/director Kerem Sanga and he agreed to cast me, so that was great! Then it took some time for us to cast the role of Brian Kieslowski so it’s cool to be on the other side, the fact that I was already cast. So I had to read with these other actors. I don’t think I had much say in the casting of Brian but I think we knew early on Ryan Malgarini was perfect for the part. He had the right look, down to his hair and everything.

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Q: The Young Kieslowski is centered on Ryan Malagrini’s character, Brian. You are given significantly less screen time. Yet, you make Leslie as multi-dimensional as the male protagonist. What did you focus on doing as you played Leslie?

If I think too much about a certain character then I think it would screw me up. I don’t know that I’ve ever totally become someone else I’m playing, there’s always a bit of me in that character, even if I had never been in her situation, y’know, I never went to college nor have I ever been pregnant. It’s a pretty emotionally challenging role but I just tried to imagine what it’d be like being in her shoes, having to grow up faster than normal given the circumstances. 

The story is actually a personal one for [director] Kerem as his parents had him and his twin brother in college. So he definitely helps me a lot in processing the story and what he wants out of the character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Q: How was filming that childbirth scene like? Were you nervous about filming that?

No actually that’s one of the main reasons I signed on to do this film. I saw it as kind of a challenge, wow I got to give birth! My parents and I actually watched all these real childbirth videos for research. Filming the scene itself was also a lot of fun to do. The woman who was helping me in the delivery room was actually a pediatrician so she helped me figure out what to do. My voice was gone by the end of filming as I was screaming so much, but it was a lot of fun filming that scene. 

One of the most challenging part is actually wearing the pregnancy suit as they weigh it to make sure it looks realistic. It was really heavy and Kerem had me go up and down the stairs so I get the wobbly walk right and everything.

Q: Ok, last question, but I’m curious that now that you’ve done a futuristic dystopian thriller, a drama and comedy, so what genre or certain role are you interested in tackling next?

A: I like stories that felt real, playing someone you can relate to. So not something too out of this world or improbable. I’d love to play a drug addict, a transformative role that I can really sink my teeth into. 

 


 Check out Haley’s Films at TCFF

The Well

Sat Oct. 18th, 8:30pm


The Young Kieslowski

Sun, Oct. 19th, 3:00pm


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Haley.
I wish you all the best in your career!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for Day 2 reviews tomorrow!

TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review

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Today’s the day! The fifth annual Twin Cities Film Fest kicked off with the Minnesota premiere of Jason Reitman’s latest drama, Men, Women & Children. As he always does year after year, TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia introduced the film and asked the packed audience to give him a five to commemorate our fifth year bringing the film fest to cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike in the Twin Cities and beyond!

Jatin also pointed out the social cause that our film fest bring to the community since year one, when the social theme of the year was education, hence Waiting for Superman was the opening night film back in 2010. We’ve since introduced a CHANGEMAKER series, with the tagline ‘Watch. Learn. Act.’ Check out this FREE event on Friday, Oct 24 at 6:30 event, presenting “Breaking Free from the Life” documentary, followed by Survivor Panel event at Showplace ICON Theatre Lobby.

OldFashioned2015Early in the evening, just before the first screening of the year, I had the privilege of chatting with Rik Swartzwelder, the writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, which will have two showings at TCFF! I’m glad we’re showing a film like this, a classic romance where two people attempt the impossible … an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America. Now that is rare indeed in today’s culture. I really enjoyed our conversation, so stay tuned for the full interview transcript later this week!

Here are some pics from tonight’s festivities:

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And lookie here… the lovely Haley Lu Richardson, who’s got not one but TWO films screening at TCFF, is in town and having a blast! Looking forward to chattin’ with her tomorrow morning :D


Can’t help joining on the fun, too w/ my pal Julie :D

 


Now on to the first TCFF review of the year…

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Men, Women and Children (2014)

Jason Reitman has a knack for portraying interesting [read: quirky] relationships in his films. This is his sixth feature film and once again he explores relationships and its predicaments. This time it’s set in the age of the internet, as Emma Thompson narrates throughout the film whilst we’re shown views of earth from space. The film is a blatant commentary of how we are inevitably affected by the enormous social change that comes through digital devices such as our phones, tablets, laptops, etc. that many of us can’t live without. Nobody is immune, as the title of the film says, the internet affects every man, woman and child [except perhaps the Amish people] and alters how we deal/view relationships with each other.

It’s a topic that’s as relevant and timely as ever, and the concept itself is appealing because most of us today can relate to this. Alas, I don’t think the execution quite hit the mark here. The performances are good but somehow the story took too long to built, and in the end it just wasn’t as engaging as I’d have liked it to be. Right away the theme of the film reminds me of Disconnect which also deals with how ‘disconnected’ we have become in an age where everything is readily available to us at the touch of a button. That film isn’t perfect either but I think it did a better job in telling the story and made us care for the characters.

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Except for a few, most of the characters don’t feel real to me, they’re more caricatures painted with such broad strokes of opposite extremes. One set of parent is waaay too strict about protecting their kids from the danger of the internet, and the other are waaaay too loose that they lose sight of even the most basic societal boundaries are in regards to what/how much one should share online and such. A lot of these characters are so predictable, you expect them to behave in a certain way and voila, they do exactly that. Most of the young actors playing the teens seem so awkward here, and their story lines are too heavy-handed but in the end they’re not fully-realized either.

Adam Sandler gives a restrained performance as one half of a couple in a troubled marriage, with Rosemarie DeWitt playing his bored housewife. Their marriage is as lethargic as the way these interwoven stories are portrayed. Try as I might, the stories just don’t quite captivate me. DeWitt’s scenes with Dennis Haysbert is perhaps one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I’ve seen all year. I know it’s supposed to be awkward given the circumstances, but it’s the way it’s directed that’s problematic, so I don’t blame the actors. It’s too bad as I like DeWitt as an actress and I think Sandler does have dramatic chops when he choose to use it. I’m more impressed by the secondary characters played by Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Dean NorrisJennifer Garner is as dour and stern as I’ve never seen her before, playing an overprotective & controlling mother that undoubtedly produces the opposite effect of what she’s trying to achieve.

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The use of music is a bit odd too, sometimes the songs played are so loud that it felt jarring, and others there’s not a single sound as the camera zooms in on an actor’s face with no word is spoken. The visuals are as somber as the stories, the muted color palette just isn’t aesthetically pleasing here. But the look of the film is the least of the its problems. I just think Reitman, who’s a gifted filmmaker who’s made terrific work such as Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, is trying too hard here in striving to be profound and philosophical. Now, the themes presented here certainly are thought-provoking and the idea that face-to-face human relationships just can’t be replaced by technology isn’t lost on me. I just wish the film were more engaging as I found myself looking at my watch a few times, even as the last third did improve a bit in terms of pacing. Perhaps a more straight-forward approach and injecting a bit more humor into this might’ve made the film more palatable and entertaining. It’s not a terrible film per se, but I expected a lot better from Reitman.

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Well that’s it for Day 1 folks, stay tuned for more TCFF coverage in the coming days!

Gearing up for Twin Cities Film Fest 2014 – Indie & Documentary Spotlights + Meet the talents in attendance

Finally! Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) is coming tomorrow!! In the next 10 days, movie lovers in Twin Cities and beyond rejoice as TCFF features nearly 80 films, with a fun mix of highly-anticipated studio releases, with a bunch of indie films of various genres, some with homegrown Minnesota flavors! I’m glad TCFF has made a home in Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres in St. Louis Park, which has been my cinema of choice for the past few years!

TCFF2014posterI have highlighted some of the lineup in this post, including documentaries and short films, broken down by themes in a block of a half dozen or so. There are still many more films I want to highlight, but before that, I’d like to draw your attention to TCFF Membership ….

At Twin Cities Film Fest, members enjoy several events per year that benefit both film lovers and filmmakers alike. The following benefits are available to all members beginning at just $100/year, which you can write off your tax as our organization is a 501(c)3 non profit. There are LOADS of benefits listed here, but I think the best one is the fact that TCFF members will enjoy year around programming with free screenings for members +1 guest. I mean, that alone makes your membership practically pays for itself.

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Great News! The Pohlad Family Foundation has offered a 1 to 1 match for all new TCFF Memberships! Yep, That means they will donate $100 for every new $100 Membership. TCFF Members receive exclusive benefits – like discounted tickets and festival passes in addition to  Members-Only Screenings and special offers from TCFF Sponsors.

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FULL SCHEDULE is now online as well, click the image below to download a handy schedule in PDF format.

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In addition to screening films, Twin Cities Film Fest also have a bunch of great panels where you get to meet and learn from filmmakers and actors in attendance. Here are just a sampling of the actors who’ll take part in the Red Carpet festivities, check out this Red Carpet schedule, and some would also take part in the Actor Panel.

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Saturday, October 18th, 4-5pm ICON Theatre Lobby

The workshop will include working actors with films screening at the 2014 Twin Cities Film Fest.  They will discuss their journey, training, projects, and the ups and downs of establishing and maintaining an acting career in both film and television.

Panelists include:

  • Haley Lu Richardson – Lead Role in The Well and The Young Kieslowski
  • Sean Maher – Lead Role in BFFs
  • Ryan Kiser – Lead Role in The House of Manson
  • Marisa Coughlan – Moderator, Space Station 76, Freddie Got Fingered, Super Troopers

TCFF14BannerI hope you’ll stop by FlixChatter in the next couple of weeks as a team of bloggers bring you TCFF coverage. I’ll be interviewing some of the talents, starting with Haley Lu Richardson on Friday AM. So stay tuned! :D


Indie Spotlights

On top of the studio releases such as Men, Women & Children, The Imitation Game and Wild, there are a boatload of intriguing indie narratives you absolutely should check out! I’ve highlighted seven of them already [you can see all the trailers here], but there are so many more, starting with this latest addition:

Laggies (Sat, Oct. 25th, 3:00pm)

Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast:
Keira Knightly, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockell

In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, Megan panics when her boyfriend proposes, then, taking an opportunity to escape for a week, hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika, who lives with her world-weary single dad.

Big Significant Things (10/17 – 3:00pm, 10/24 – 2:30pm)

Director: Bryan Reisberg
Cast: Harry Lloyd, Krista Kosonen, Sylvia Grace Crim

A week before they move across the country together, Craig lies to his girlfriend in order to go on his first road trip — to the south. Alone.

Old Fashioned (10/18 – 2:00pm, 10/22 – 4:30pm)

Director: Rik Swartzwelder
Cast:
Rik Swartzwelder, Elizabeth Roberts, LeJon Woods

A former frat boy and a free-spirited woman together attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America.


BFFs (Sat, 10/18 – 6:00pm)

Director: Andrew Putschoegl
Cast:
Tara Karsian, Andrea Grano, Sean Maher, Larisa Oleynik

Kat and Samantha have been best friends for years. Kat is given a couples weekend workshop as a birthday gift by her mother (never mind that her relationship with her ex-boyfriend has been over for six months). Samantha never seems to have a problem finding men to date -they just never seem to last. Samantha convinces Kat to take advantage of the idyllic retreat by pretending to be lovers – how hard could it be? They expect some down time by the pool and maybe a few good stories to bring home with them. What they don’t expect is to get immersed in a world where they are surrounded by couples who are fighting to keep their relationships strong, and by default, make Samantha and Kat face their own shortcomings as they find themselves having to work on their relationship that isn’t really a relationship.

 

The Young Kieslowski (Sun, 10/19 – 3:00pm)

Director: Kerem Sanga
Cast: Ryan Malgarini, Haley Lu Richardson, Joshua Malina

Audience Award Winner, Los Angeles Film Festival: Grand romantic gestures need not apply in this comedic tale of star-crossed young love. Instead, freshman Brian Kieslowski displays endless reserves of bumbling awkwardness as he goes home with a girl for the first time… and then learns that he got her pregnant… with twins… all while she’s going through a rather inconvenient Christianity phase. Could it be that being the good guy and doing what’s right are two very different things? With writer/director Kerem Sanga presenting a seriocomic gauntlet for them to negotiate, Ryan Malgarini and Haley Lu Richardson deliver delightfully nimble performances, hitting all the right off-notes as two kids in just over their heads, whose luck seems as bad as their instincts. The fates may have conspired to prematurely drag them into adulthood, but they intend on going kicking and screaming.

Wild Canaries (Sun, 10/19 – 6:00pm)

Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine, Sophia Takal, Alia Shawkat

A Brooklyn couple suspects foul play when their rent controlled neighbor suddenly drops dead.


Solitude (Tues, 10/21 – 8:45pm)

Director: Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden
Cast: 
Armin Habibovich, Victoria LaChelle, Brent Latchaw, Alex Cotant, Glen Stone, Kelly Lavasseur, Amy Correll

After his mothers death, James Erikson discovers an old storage locker she had, that is filled with journals and newspapers of his family’s history. As he researches it, he finds out about the evil that his family has tried to contain for several generations.

 

Comet (Wed, 10/22 7:00pm)

Director: Sam Esmail
Cast: Emmy Rossum, Justin Long

Set in a parallel universe, Comet bounces back and forth over the course of an unlikely but perfectly paired couples six-year relationship.

No trailer available but here’s Emmy’s interview at LA Film Festival:


Ink & Steel (Sat, 10/25 – 5:30pm)

Director: Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins
Cast: Marc Basch, Jason Beckmann, Dennis Blazek, Molly Ryman

In this upstate New York drama, when a turf war engulfs the city, aging mob enforcer Michael retrieves the Don’s troubled son from his college partying. After they survive an attempted hit on the road home, Michael seeks refuge at a rural farm, imposing on a single mother and her teenage son living there. As violence escalates in the city, Michael is ordered to wait it out, keeping the boss’ son safe while coexisting as unwelcome house guests. But, when dark pasts threaten to collide, Michael, a man more comfortable solving problems with force, must find a way to keep the peace, and decide if he should break the Don’s son free of the cycle of violence which has haunted the family for generations.


Documentaries Spotlights

I always catch some intriguing docs during film festivals and this year is no different. I’ve mentioned three documentaries I’m planning to see, here are two more exciting ones I’ll be checking out:

Where The Trail Ends (Thurs, 10/23 – 5:00 pm)

Director: Jeremy Grant

“Where the Trail Ends” is a film following the world’s top free-ride mountain bikers as they search for untraveled terrain around the globe, ultimately shaping the future of big mountain free riding. This unparalleled story, told in glorious, gobsmacking high-definition, documents man’s challenge of mother nature and himself showcased through a cast of colorful characters. One of the most ambitious extreme sports documentaries ever attempted.

 

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (Thurs, 10/23 – 8:30pm)

Director: David Zellner
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard

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Kumiko lives in a cluttered, cramped apartment in Tokyo with her pet rabbit, Bunzo. She works as an office lady, robotically preparing tea and fetching dry cleaning for her nitpicky boss. But on her own time, she obsessively watches a well-known American film on a weathered VHS tape. Rewinding and fast-forwarding repeatedly, she meticulously maps out where a briefcase of castaway loot is buried within the fictional film. After hours of intense research—convinced that her destiny depends on finding the money—Kumiko heads to the United States and into the harsh Minnesota winter to search for it.

[No trailer available yet]

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Meet the TCFF Bloggers!

Both Sarah and Adam are back to contribute reviews for you dear readers. Feel free to peruse the TCFF Archive page to read some of the films they’ve reviewed here, including We Are What We Are and The Liability starring Tim Roth.

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And look who’s the new kid on the block this year! It’s Josh from JJames Reviews who’ve been long absent from the blogosphere [we miss you man!]. Well, he’s helping me review a whole bunch of indie films this year, woo hoo!

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And of course, yours truly ;)

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TCFF’s Silver, Gold & Platinum Passes are now available!

TCFFPasses(Silver and Gold Packages do not include Opening or Closing Tickets).

GET THEM EARLY
(while supplies last)

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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org

2014 Ticket Prices are as follows:
General Admission $10; Opening Gala $25 (proceeds going to local charities); Closing Gala $20.

 


Hope you’ll stop by during FlixChatter’s TCFF coverage!

Question of the week: Actors whose famous role you can’t shake

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I just reviewed The Judge this weekend and I mentioned how RDJ is playing yet another variety of Tony Stark. He’s always the smartest guy in the room, and always have an arsenal of snarky remarks he can just throw at you at the best opportunity. I’m not just talking about the recent roles he does after Iron Man, but even when I saw Zodiac I still can’t get past his Stark persona. There’s always a hint of that self-assured swagger that’s borderline cocky but somehow still lovable, which is something an actor either has or doesn’t, it’s not something they can teach even at Juilliard or RADA. You know what though, I’m tired of his schtick. As Sati said in her astute comment, his cockiness seems to translate off-screen now that it’s getting on my nerves. No matter how lovable a character, an actor’s job is to be able to pull off a variety of roles convincingly, to make a conscious effort to *disappear* into whatever role they do. I think the bigger/more famous the character is, the more responsibility said actor has to shake that off.

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Source: Eccentric Billionaire Tumblr

Now obviously RDJ isn’t the only actor with this kind of predicament, where somehow they can’t escape their most famous role. I think Johnny Depp can’t seem to shake off his Jack Sparrow image either. I’m not saying RDJ or Depp aren’t capable actors because they are, but perhaps their schtick just sticks in the mind longer than others. On the contrary, someone like like say, Christian Bale doesn’t always remind me of Bruce Wayne when he’s playing other roles post-Batman and I don’t get hang up on Maximus in Gladiator whenever I see Russell Crowe on screen.

I guess I’m just curious if anybody else feel the same, whether it’s RDJ or another actor.


So which actor(s) whose famous role you can’t shake? Or perhaps the question should be, actors who can’t shake their most famous role :)

FlixChatter Review: The Judge (2014)

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It’s a film featuring Robert vs Robert. One is a hugely popular actor hitting a stratospheric rise in his Phase 2 (pardon the Marvel pun) of his career if you will, and the other a veteran actor known for his dramatic intensity. As with the case of Robert Downey Jr, I feel that ever since I saw him playTony Stark, I notice that essentially he plays a similar personality as that character in a lot of his other films. In this one, he plays a top notch defense attorney who’s got a reputation for representing guilty people with money. Hank Palmer is smart, wealthy, snarky, irreverent and a bit of a womanizer. Sounds familiar? 

The story pretty much starts after his mother dies suddenly and he has to return home to a small Midwestern town for her funeral. It’s apparent Hank hasn’t been home in a while and thus made him sort of an outsider with his own family, especially his dad, Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Robert Duvall. It doesn’t take long before the two butt heads, both stubbornly harboring old grudges and neither can reign their ego to concede. I feel that the film takes too slow to get to the heart of the story, which is when the town’s judge became a murder suspect of a man he sent to prison who was later paroled. You could see where the story’s going from a mile away, so there’s hardly any surprises when they all materialized. Even the fact that Joseph is terminally ill, which he vehemently tried to hide from everyone including his own family, is hardly surprising.

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The Judge is part courtroom/dysfunctional-family drama has its moments, but often times it’s way too clichéd and too over sentimental for me to truly enjoy. I’m a big cryer, I mean I cry watching even animated movies like Toy Story & How To Train Your Dragon, but I barely shed a tear in this one. Now I know that alone isn’t a measure of a movie’s quality, but I felt that the lack of emotional involvement makes this one pretty forgettable. The father-son storyline feels very familiar, you’ve seen it done many times over in both films and TV. Regardless of its A-list cast, this courtroom drama type story seems more suitable for a TV movie. 

Now speaking of that cast, I think Downey has dramatic chops, that’s been proven before, but here he doesn’t quite hit a new note. He’s Downey being Downey, and he seems to be playing another Tony Stark-type persona. Duvall is good but again, I think his acting cred is what makes his role interesting, not necessarily how he’s written. Even the scenes between two acting juggernaut RDJ and Duvall didn’t quite ignite the screen as you expect it to. Some of the shots of the courthouse seems to [attempt to] evoke To Kill A Mockingbird, which was Duvall’s big-screen debut. Alas, I must say that his small, non-speaking role there makes a bigger impression to me than he was in this entire film. The two supporting cast that did make an impression to me are Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga, as Joseph’s prosecutor and Hank’s high school sweetheart respectively. However, despite my admiration for Farmiga’s talent, the tertiary storyline between her and RDJ’s character gets more screen time than it needs to be. Dax Shepard lends some comic relief but his performance seems too goofy that it feels out of place. 

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It turns out that this was directed by David Dobkin, the director of R-rated comedies The Wedding Crashers & The Change-Up, which could explain the uneven tone of drama/comedy here. I think this film would’ve been a bit more digestible if it weren’t so repetitive and overlong. At 2 hour, 22 min, it’s 3 minute shorter than Gone Girl but not nearly half as intriguing. Now overall I think it’s a decent film but given the quibbles I’ve listed above, I’d probably save this one as a rental.

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Has anyone seen The Judge? Well, what did you think?

10 Actresses I would watch in just about anything

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As part of a continuation to the Top 10 Actors I’d See in Anything post, I figure I’d do the same list for the fairer sex. If anything, my love for actresses seem to be more constant than for actors, not sure why but aside from some new discoveries, I’ve been a fan of most of these actresses for a decade or longer. Again this idea originated with Abbi at Where the Wild Things Are Blog. The same as the actors, it’s not that I’d watch them in literally anything because there are some movies with them in it I haven’t seen and probably never will. But having their name in a certain film would certainly make me more inclined in watching them.

Here they are ranked from bottom to top so #1 is my MOST favorite:

10. Kristin Scott-Thomas

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Ever since I saw her as Fiona in Four Weddings & A Funeral years ago, I’ve always been fond of the English actress. There is an air of mystery about her, as well as a certain sadness, which made her perfect for her Oscar-nominated role in The English Patient. She’s always wonderful to watch in anything, even in bit parts in lesser-known films like The Heir Apparent, Mission: Impossible, Easy Virtue, Nowhere Boy, etc. Her dramatic talent is irrefutable, but I think she’s got comedic chops too, as she displayed in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. I’d love to see this lighter side of her in other movies. Wish she’d gotten more leading roles, instead of being cast in awful movies like Bel Ami against sub-par leading man Robert Pattinson.

Favorite Role: Fiona in Four Weddings and A Funeral
Least Favorite Role: Virginie in Bel Ami

9. Carey Mulligan

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The first thing I noticed about miss Mulligan is her soothing speaking voice in Never Let Me Go. I already liked her even before she showed up on screen. There is a pleasant countenance about her that I like, as well as a certain childlike innocence that she displayed in An Education. Even when she plays unsympathetic characters like Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby and the acidic-tongued Jean in Inside Llewyn Davis, you can’t totally despise her. When I saw her in Never Let Me Go, I somehow didn’t realize she was Kitty Bennet in Pride & Prejudice! She’s quite a chameleon. Can’t wait to see her in Far from the Madding Crowd next year.

Favorite Role: Kathy in Never Let Me Go
Least Favorite Role: Jean in Inside Llewyn Davis

8. Jessica Chastain

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I mentioned in this post a couple of years ago that miss Chastain sort of came into my cinematic view pretty suddenly. I hadn’t heard of her even six months prior to that, and seems that in an instant she churned out four very distinct performance within the span of a couple of years: The Debt, Tree of Life, Coriolanus and The Help. Then she impressed me once again in Zero Dark Thirty, displaying strong dramatic chops that’s entirely different from the other roles I’ve seen previously. Seeing her in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby sealed it for me that she has to be on this list. I think she’s absolutely beautiful, but in an unconventional way. She’s the kind of actress who I think gets even more interesting the longer you look at her. Can’t wait to see her in crime drama A Most Violent Year opposite Oscar Isaac!

Favorite Role: Eleanor Rigby in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Least Favorite Role: N/A

7. Marion Cotillard

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What is it with French women that made them so beguiling? Miss Cotillard certainly has screen charisma that appeals to both sexes, and though she’s impossibly beautiful she’s not Bimbo-like at all. Like Kristin Scott Thomas, I also find her a bit mysterious which adds to her appeal. I guess I find people with *sad* eyes more intriguing, perhaps it’s that tortured-soul quality I find very appealing in men as well. She gave such a heartfelt performance in Inception, and she’s my favorite performer even in the all-star cast musical NINE. In fact, her two musical renditions are superb as she shows not only her dramatic prowess, but also her amazing vocals & dancing ability.

Favorite Role: Adriana in Midnight in Paris/Luisa in NINE
Least Favorite Role: Miranda in The Dark Knight Rises

6. Sandra Bullock

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Like a lot of people, I first noticed Sandra in Speed and I’m instantly a fan. Whether it’s action stuff like The Net, Demolition Man, or rom-coms like While You are Sleeping, Forces of Nature, Two Weeks Notice, The Proposal, etc. Sandra is so watchable. Though she also excels in serious dramas like The Blind Side and Gravity, I think I like Sandra most in comedies as she’s just so darn lovable in them. I don’t think Miss Congeniality would’ve been as watchable without her in the lead. She’s also hugely entertaining in interviews and her fun, down-to-earth personality absolutely shines in candid conversations. She’s one of those rare movie stars who seem so approachable that you could imagine her as your best friend!

Favorite Role: Annie in Speed/ Lucy in While You Were Sleeping
Least Favorite Role: Kate in The Lake House

5. Emma Thompson

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I think I’ll always be a fan of Emma given my undying love for 1995’s Sense & Sensibility. I’ll always be grateful for her amazing screenplay and her lovely performance as Elinor Dashwood. Before that, I’ve already liked her in Much Ado About Nothing and The Remains of the Day. Her segment in Love, Actually with Alan Rickman is my fave of the entire film, and she’s wonderful in Stranger than Fiction and in the romantic drama Last Chance Harvey. Her comic-relief performance in Harry Potter is a lot of fun to watch, too. Her latest role in Saving Mr Banks shows she definitely should’ve gotten more leading roles. Playing someone so uptight and controlling seems so far away from her laid-back and goofy, but then again, Emma has a knack for playing eccentric characters.

Favorite Roles: Elinor in Sense & Sensibility
Least Favorite Role: Sarafine in Beautiful Creatures

4. Dame Helen Mirren

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Though I had seen Dame Mirren in Gosford Park, it’s not until The Queen that she REALLY came to my attention. She truly won me over with that performance and so every time I saw her name attached in something, I’d want to check it out. Since then she’s impressed me in State of Play, The Debt, The Last Station, and even the goofy action comedy RED & RED 2 where she displayed her bad-assery as a femme fatale. She’s the best thing about the Hitchcock film adaptation as Alma Reville, even her animated character Dean Hardscrabble in Monsters University is fun to watch! Can’t wait to see her in a thriller opposite one of my fave British thespians Alan Rickman in Eye in the Sky!

Favorite Roles: Queen Elizabeth in The Queen
Least Favorite Role: N/A

3. Dame Judi Dench

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Like Helen Mirren, I became familiar with Dame Judi in her latter works. In fact, it’s her most mainstream role as M in Goldeneye that got my attention. She outshone practically every male actor in that role previously, and she delivered such a scene-stealing performance she upstaged even Mr Bond himself! I have to say part of me wish she had been M in earlier Bond films as I’d love to see him going toe to toe with another theater thespian Timothy Dalton as 007!

Since then, I’ve seen Dame Judi in a variety of roles: biopics like Mrs. Brown, My Week with Marilyn and Philomena; and a fair share of literary adaptations like Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and her 8-minute Oscar-winning performance in Shakespeare in Love. I LOVE her in the lovely drama Chocolat, as well as in the ensemble comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Recently I saw her in Ladies in Lavender, teaming up again with her real-life BFFs Maggie Smith after nearly 20 years (in A Room with a View). I always enjoyed seeing them together, so I can’t wait to see the ‘Marigold hotel’ sequel!

Favorite Roles: Queen Victoria in Mrs Brown, M in Bond movies
Least Favorite Role: N/A

2. Emily Blunt

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Though she didn’t get the lead role, it’s safe to say that miss Blunt was the breakout star of The Devil Wears Prada. She’s so deliciously devious in her comic turn that was so fun to watch. But I think it’s her performance in the lesser-known Jane Austen Book Club as a French teacher that made me a fan. She’s my favorite character in the film and I really sympathize with her despite her flaws.

Finally I saw her in a leading role in The Young Victoria and once again I absolutely adore her. Interesting that she plays the same character that Judi Dench played in her later years in Mrs. Brown, which is also my fave role she’s done. Emily stuns even in bit parts, i.e. playing Tom Hanks’ young lover in Charlie Wilson’s War. Since then I’ve seen Emily in a variety of roles: The Adjustment Bureau, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Looper, and most recently Edge of Tomorrow. She had a more action-packed roles in the last two films, perhaps in an attempt to shed her English-rose image. I think she fits well in drama, comedy or action, which shows her versatility and on-screen appeal.

Favorite Roles: Queen Victoria in The Young Victoria
Least Favorite Role: N/A

1. Cate Blanchett

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Ahhhh… the Great Cate. I absolutely love this woman. Similar my first intro to Carey Mulligan, I too fell for Cate’s soothing narration in The Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. I LOVE her as Galadriel, perhaps one of the most famous characters she plays in her illustrious career.

What I LOVE about the Melbourne-born thespian is her chameleon ability to play virtually ANY role from all walks of life. Whether it’s a fearless Irish journalist (Veronica Guerin), working class ex-heroin addict (Little Fish), troubled NY socialite (Blue Jasmine), a wounded wife shot on an overseas trip (Babel), an English monarch (Elizabeth) or Hollywood royalty (as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator), there’s NOT a role Cate couldn’t pull off. She can do any accent flawlessly, and her voice is just so pleasant to listen to. Ok so I still haven’t seen her in her Oscar-nominated role as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, but no doubt she’s also convincing in portraying the opposite sex.

Borrowing from my Birthday Tribute post, Cate is one of those rare artist who’s got the perfect combination of beauty and brains… she is luminous and stylish on the red carpet, but yet she’s not afraid to look plain or even ugly on screen, unlike many other vain what-so-called ‘actors’ who won’t take on a less-than-glamorous role for fear of ruining their image. No matter what she looks like in a given movie, one can expect an amazing depth and intelligent charisma she consistently projects on screen. There is also this chameleon-like quality that makes her perfectly suitable of any genre, from quintessential costume drama to contemporary thriller. Combine that with her knack for accents, Cate is without a doubt one of the most versatile talents working in Hollywood today.

Can’t wait to see her in Kenneth Branagh’s life-action adaptation of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother next year!

Favorite Roles: Galadriel in LOTR, Veronica Guerin
Least Favorite Role: Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones & The Crystal Skulls

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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Ok I’m not ranking these, this list is in alphabetical order as it was tough enough ranking my top 10! I’ve been a fan of most of these for a while, but there are some newbies added based on their performances this past year (Mbatha Raw & Pike). A lot of the actresses here hugely underrated, but just like a lot of my male crushes, I guess I have a penchant for the under-used and under-appreciated ones. Anyway, here they are in my fave role each of them has done so far:

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  1. Helena Bonham Carter
  2. Angela Bassett
  3. Eva Green
  4. Rebecca Hall
  5. Gugu Mbatha-Raw
  6. Julia Ormond
  7. Rosamund Pike
  8. Saoirse Ronan
  9. Maggie Smith
  10. Kate Winslet

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So that’s my list folks! Feel free to name your own picks of actresses you’d watch in practically anything :)

Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)

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A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

PirateRadioPosterSo I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.

I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.

The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.

PirateRadio_StillsWhilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.

As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.


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Have you seen this movie, well what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: GONE GIRL (2014)

GoneGirlBnrFew films this year got as much feverish anticipation as this one. To be honest, I got a bit worried this film wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also glad that since I haven’t read the book, I managed to avoid any spoilers about the plot so it was nice to be surprised by the twist and turns as I’m watching the film.

The opening is quite provocative, as it opens with a shot of a beautiful blond woman, along with a male speaking voice saying how it would be nice to crack open her skull to see just what’s inside her head, to see what she is thinking. There’s an air of mystery around her which sets the tone of the entire film. Now, on a different film, we might chalk that narration up as a figure of speech. But in this case, given the title of the film, it definitely makes you think the worst. Well, Gone Girl definitely keeps toying with our perceptions throughout, and that’s part of the fun.

GoneGirl_Still1In case you don’t know anything about the basic plot, here’s the gist: On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) left his home in the morning to a bar he co-owned with his twin sister. When he came back, he couldn’t find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) anywhere in his sprawling house, and there’s obvious signs of a break in. So he reports his wife missing and before he knows it, there’s a growing media frenzy on his case that puts extra pressure on him on top of the also-growing suspicion from the police that he’s killed her.

Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, this film deals more about the psychological aspect of the crumbling of a seemingly-blissful union and how Nick & Amy deal with their mounting problems. The issue behind the marriage dissolution itself isn’t at all uncommon, lots of us can relate to the issue of layoffs and growing apart when expectations no longer aligns with reality. But of course, this story takes a sinister turn that leaves you wondering just what the heck happens. The beauty of the film is that, it doesn’t rely on the twist [a la M. Night Shyamalan's films] to shock or entertain you. Instead, it’s more of a character study of a married couple – who probably shouldn’t be married in the first place – as well as a commentary of the worst side of media frenzy that toys with the public’s perception about a given story.

GoneGirl_Still3Despite the dark subject matter, this film isn’t overly bleak or depressing. Thanks to the taut screenplay by first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who happens to be the author of the best-selling author novel it’s based on. I’m glad David Fincher agreed to work with her instead of hiring a more experienced screenwriter. I think having been ‘living’ with these characters on her head for so long definitely help make them more fleshed-out.Apparently Flynn actually studied his films as she’s writing the script which explains the synergy going on here. Fincher’s direction is solid all around, the story is clearly tailor-made for him. I like the timeline marking of how many days Amy has been gone, and the use of flashbacks are seamless and effective. The journal entries from Amy’s diary gives us a bit of insight into Amy’s side of the story, yet it wasn’t overdone that it’d actually grind the film to a halt. Fincher’s almost surgical precision is apparent in how he sets up every scene. Just like any real-life crime investigation, painstaking eye for details is absolutely critical.

Fincher’s longtime collaborator Trent Reznor provides a cool and eerie score to go with that somber color-scheme. At first I felt like his score was a bit intrusive in the first scenes when Nick & Amy met, but I think it might’ve been intentional. In some key moments, the vigorous & ominous score definitely gets your heart pounding! Another longtime Fincher collaborator is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual sensibility works with Fincher’s style and therefore helps set the mood. The naturalistic style used here fits the tone of the film and the Midwest setting nicely.

GoneGirl_Still2Bringing the story to life are Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, two beautiful people forming a marriage from hell. For once, Affleck just might get some accolades for his acting instead of directing. I do think he was excellent in Hollywoodland, and in a way there’s some similarities between Nick and George Reeves as he was also at his lowest point professionally. The film however, belongs to the girl in the title role. Pike was nothing short of well, amazing. I’ve seen her in about five films so far, but mostly in supporting roles, and I’ve never seen the kind of range she displayed here. She was perfect as ‘Amazing Amy’, a brilliant ice princess type, the embodiment of her parents perfect image in the book series named after their daughter. At times she reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For, but there’s still a vulnerability about her that keeps you from truly despising her. I knew the British beauty could handle the sinister aspect of her character, but still I was floored by how good she was and her American accent is pretty convincing as well. I so hope she’d get some nominations come award-season, she’s definitely the breakout female performer of the year for me.

The supporting cast includes some rather off-the-wall choices playing against type. Tyler Perry is quite amusing as Nick’s top-notch lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend. The latter threw me off a bit as I somehow didn’t know he was part of the cast. Given Harris’ personal life, it took me a while to see him as a straight guy being obsessed over a girl, but I think he pulled it off. I also have to mention Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens as Nick’s sister and the detective, respectively. Both were excellent playing key roles in the story. Interesting casting of Sela Ward as a TV reporter here given that she played the murdered wife in The Fugitive where the husband was accused of killing her.

GoneGirl_Stills4Spoiler alert [highlight text below if you want to read it]
I feel that Amy might’ve gotten away w/ murder too easily. There’s a moment at the police station when Nick immediately knew she had deliberately killed Desi. “How did she manage to find a box cutter when she’s tied up all the time?” He quipped, but the male cop who’s always disliked him brushed him off. But also there’s the issue about all the blood that was mopped up in the kitchen. If she said she had been hit by her abductor, wouldn’t the cops at the very least try to corroborate her story and find some kind of proof that her story checks out? It’s not a huge quibble but it did bother me after I saw the movie.

So what’s the verdict? Well, Gone Girl definitely lives up to the hype. It’s more entertaining than I thought it would be. This will likely end up in my top 5 favorite Fincher films, perhaps between Fight Club and The Social Network which also have some humorous moments sprinkled throughout. I love it when a movie sparks a lot of discussions and makes you ponder about your own life situation. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment if the film is better than that or not, but I think it works in the big screen format. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining.

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So what do you think of Gone Girl? Did it live up to YOUR expectations?