FlixChatter Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

FoxcatcherBanner

This film is what you’d call a quiet suspense type of film, brimming with unsettling tension throughout even when there’s barely any action going on. The film starts with the two pro-wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, respectively) as they practice in a gym. It gives us a glimpse into the relationship of the two of them and how Mark is a doting older brother to his rather tetchy younger brother. It’s also apparent that Mark is the better wrestler, though both are Olympic champions. The film then takes us into the process of how Mark ends up living in the large estate of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who wants to coach Mark and his team for the 1988 games in Seoul.

Foxcatcher_Carell

Carell underwent quite a physical transformation for the role, wearing a prosthetic nose and made up to look older. But not only that, he also altered his mannerism and even tone of voice that he’s barely recognizable here. To say he looks creepy is an understatement, and the whole set up certainly gets under your skin. Both Mark and John are two people who have been living under someone else’s shadow, which feeds into their insecurity, anxiety and in the case of John, paranoia. I actually read the story of this case prior to watching the film, but it didn’t ruin the experience for me as it’s more of a character study than a plot-driven film. The story focuses mostly on the odd and unsettling relationship between Mark and John for the first two acts, but by the time Dave becomes part of an unlikely trio in the third act, things got more sinister that lead to an eventual tragic event.

There’s a homoerotic undertones between Mark & John that’s deliberately kept vague. It’s left up to the viewers’ interpretation as to why later on Mark act as if he was betrayed, that it must’ve been something that cuts really deep for him to go 180 in his behavior towards John. I remember feeling as if I missed something here and it’s a bit frustrating. There’s also very little dialog in the film, which can be used to great effect, but that at times I feel that the film is a little too austere to really be emotionally engaging.

FoxcatcherStills

This is the kind of film that truly rely on the skills of each actor and the three leads are more than up for the task. Carell obviously is the revelation here. Comedians can often be quite effective in serious roles and I know Carell has dramatic chops when I saw him in Little Miss Sunshine. But he took it up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. Tatum’s good here in a taciturn role and you could say it’s quite a transformative performance for him as well as I’ve never seen him looking so dour. Ruffalo is a reliable actor and his character Dave is definitely the character I sympathized most here. Miller calls him the heart of the film despite him having the least screen time out of the three. He’s a natural choice for playing someone who’s got a thousand best friends, as Dave is revered on the wrestling and cherished by those who knew him. Vanessa Redgrave‘s appearance is basically a cameo but it’s a key scene that show how much John is so desperate of his mother’s love and approval. I’ve mentioned in my interview with the film’s director that Sienna Miller as Dave’s wife seems an unlikely choice but I think she’s fine in the role, though she wasn’t given that much to do until the finale.

Bennett Miller‘s direction style is so matter-of-fact that it sometimes feel like a documentary. But yet I feel it’s lacking a sense of time as I’m not sure when things happen from the time the characters first met to the time the violent incident occurs. For example, I read about the 48-hour standoff between John and the police, but in the film it felt more like 48 minutes. It also suggests that John’s mother’s passing directly led to the brutal finale, whilst in fact the two events are years apart. The slow pace also feels tedious at times, especially in the first act, and apart from a couple of amusing scenes, the mood is somber and grim throughout.

I must say that as much as I admire Foxcatcher, it’s not an enjoyable film and far from being a feel-good film. It’s one of those films one appreciate but not necessarily love as I couldn’t quite connect with any of the characters. Still, I’d recommend it for the amazing performances of the three main actors and it’s quite a fascinating tale of an American tragedy involving one of the country’s wealthiest and most prominent families.

four reels


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

About these ads

Q&A with Foxcatcher’s director Bennett Miller

With the award season upon us, one of the names that’s been showing up in film sites/blogs list of Oscar frontrunners is the psychological drama Foxcatcher. The film has been screened in various film festivals in the US and internationally, and finally it’s opening this week in the Twin Cities. Earlier this month, I had the chance to sit down with director Bennett Miller when he’s in town as part of a press tour around the country promoting the film.

FCInterviewBanner

Photo courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Photo courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Foxcatcher marks Miller’s third film following the critically-acclaimed Capote and Moneyball, and this one is also based on a true story of pro-wrestler brothers Mark & Dave Shultz and their sponsor, millionaire John du Pont. The film stars Channing Tatum as Mark, Mark Ruffalo as Dave and Steve Carell as Du Pont. During our interview, Miller gave us insights into his atypical casting choices, working with producer Megan Ellison (founder of Annapurna Pictures who happens to be the daughter of Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle), the origin of the film + the years it took to get it made, and how Tatum was his only choice for Mark Schultz.

The roundtable interview took place at The Grand Hotel Minneapolis, so this excerpt includes questions from two other interviewers, Eric Henderson (EH) from CBS Radio and Paul McGuire Grimes (PMG) from Twin Cities Live & Paul’s Trip to the Movies Blog. My questions are marked with my initials, RM.

[There are major plot points being discussed,
so consider this a spoiler warning if you have not seen the film
]

PMG: So I just have to have to say that I really enjoyed the movie. It’s think it’s very chilling and suspenseful, and I love the character buildup in it. I’ve noticed that all four of your movies are all based on true stories. Is that something that you look for? Are you more inspired by real life events that you like to dig into and research or is it just mere coincidence?

Miller: I honestly don’t know. I mean I don’t look for it. I don’t tell people “Oh I’m looking for a real life story.” It just happens that way. I like real life stories. Real life stories, at least for me, they all have to have an allegorical quality. They add up to something more than just the story. I try to do these stories because you can see more into them. You can treat the real life story and examine the real story with cinema in a way you cannot examine it with any other medium. So, compared to news coverage or another form of journalism, a film can actually do something in the exploration of the truth of events that “non-fiction” formats can’t. Cinema can capture and shine a light in areas where nothing else can.

PMG: How did you first hear about this story? Did you read Mark’s book or was it a script you came upon?

Miller: A total stranger approached me at an event and handed me an envelope that I would learn contained newspaper clippings about the story.

PMG: That seems a little creepy, but…

Miller: A little creepy, but that’s how it happened. I then set about exploring it and researching it, getting drafts done, and the screenplays.

RM: How long ago was that?

Miller: That was eight years ago. 2006.

Miller_SteveCarrell

Photo courtesy of Zimbio

RM: I just have a quick question about casting. How did Steve Carell come into being cast as John du Pont. And also related to that, Vanessa Redgrave?

Miller: Well. Steve Carell’s agent threw his name into the mix, and I can’t take credit for having been the first to think of it, but it did make a certain kind of sense, in part, because nobody expected John du Pont to murder Dave Schultz. You don’t want an actor in that role who you would expect to murder somebody, and it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them. I just had a lot of confidence that he had it in him. I thought it was just a question of him getting the right opportunity to do something like this.

PMG: I think you have a real good knack for doing that. I mean, Jonah Hill and Chris Pratt in Moneyball gave performances I don’t think anyone expected them to give and now he’s [Hill] doing The Wolf of Wall Street. I think you definitely have something do with that. And now with Steve Carell, you have him to do this side that we have never see him do before and it’s fascinating and it’s brilliant to watch him do this.

Miller: Yeah or there is a tendency to restrict people to opportunities that only allow them to do things similar to what they have done before. So, I think it’s probably true that most people are capable of far more than they get the opportunity to prove, but as it happens in this industry, there is a strong tendency towards derivation.

PMG: Do you ever get resistance from the studio or anyone saying “I don’t know if you want to cast Carell in this” or do they just kind of give you the free reign to do it?

Miller: Well, it was [producer] Megan Ellison, so no. She’s just very supportive and pretty certain. Had it been another studio, perhaps, it would be very possible.

EH: What is the working relationship with her? I mean she’s really a superstar right now in the field.

Miller: It’s ideal because ultimately her interest is the same as the filmmakers. And filmmaking is a tricky industry because it requires partnerships with financiers whose interests necessarily are not identical to the creative interests.

EH: Which is sort of mirrored in the film itself, kind of, the financial aspect of it.

Miller: Which is, I think, one thing that was interesting to her, you know, but those interests rarely are 100% harmonious and compatible. In the case of Megan, I think ultimately what she wants more than anything else, the biggest consideration and the governing principles that the movie is everything that it can and should be. She cares more about that than anything. It’s not that she doesn’t care about the financial side or it’s not that she’s reckless about or ignorant of that, it’s just that she cares about the creative aspect more. It makes for a very ideal partnership with filmmakers I think.

Miller_VanessaRedgrave

Miller directing Vanessa Redgrave – photo courtesy of Zimbio

RM: It’s kind of fascinating to me that the two female characters, the mother and also the wife of Dave Schultz, are both played by British actresses and they are also not who I would expect to play those roles which enhance the roles themselves.

Miller: It’s a coincidence that they are British. Although Sienna [Miller] is half American, her father is American. Why wouldn’t you expect those actors? Which actor would you expect? Which actor is cast in a role that makes common sense?

RM: Well, I don’t know now that I’ve seen it. I mean, now I can’t imagine anyone else playing them. On the top of my head, I kept thinking maybe somebody like Amy Ryan maybe, for the role of Dave Schultz’s wife. But I thought Sienna did a great job. And Vanessa Redgrave can pretty much do anything.

Miller: She [Redgrave] is so good. I think of everybody she seems to make the most natural sense, and she’s probably playing closest to her strengths compared to the other actors.

EH: One actor we haven’t really mentioned yet is Channing Tatum. I think right now we haven’t come up with a word like “McConaissance” yet. Clearly, he’s on the verge of that or is even in the mid of it. Was he an actor you wanted specifically for this role from the get go?

Miller: Yeah, totally. I offered the part to him eight years ago.

EH: So based off of Step Up?

Miller: No before that. It was based off of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006). I saw that film, never having heard of him before, and I offered him the role before there was even a script. I got a meeting with him and said I was intending on making this film, and walked him through it, and he hopped on eight years ago. Things took a while, and things sort of unraveled. I couldn’t get the movie made, so I moved on to Moneyball and then came back to it. I bumped into him and said I was still planning on making this film if he was interested.

EH: And of course by that time his Sabermetrics score, or whatever, had gone up considerably.

Miller: It had. If you would have based that projection on just Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, you probably would not have imagined the turn that his career did, the kinds of movies that he did. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, they’re just so different. But it was Guide to Recognizing Your Saints that gave me the confidence that he was right for this, to the point where I didn’t even have a second choice.

PMG: I like that his character, unlike Carell’s, you know a lot about his character, he’s vulnerable and he brings those aspects apart. We don’t see that a lot from him. There’s a very different side, and it’s a wonderful performance from him. Hopefully, people see that and trust him more than the other roles he typically gets.

Miller: I hope so. I think they will. Again, he’s another one because of his qualities he tends to get used for particular things and he becomes known for that. I don’t see him to be any better suited to do rom-coms than he is to do something like this. In some ways, I think this is much more closer to what his natural vernacular would be as an actor.

PMG: Can you talk a little bit more about the filming style? There are a lot of wide shots where you let the camera sit and watch all of the images come across, very dialogue free, you just watch the characters. There’s a lot of improv on the set, correct? Can you talk a little bit more about that and the idea behind that?

Miller: The improv or the wide?

PMG: Both. Did they both play into each other?

Miller: The wideness, the steadiness, deliberateness of the style, the austerity of it, I would say is meant to concentrate you and sensitize you to the subtleties of what’s happening.

PMG: And it works.

Miller: The “dialogue-less-ness” of the film similarly, I think, draws you in and sensitizes you to pay attention to what’s not being spoken in the times when there are words so the style hopefully helps you process a film that’s communicating on different frequencies. There’s lots going on…

PMG: That‘s not said.

Miller: Exactly. As far as the improvisation goes, it’s actually linked to that as well and as much as we’re looking for ways to express things in the way that people express things inadvertently, so you can have the same words and one reading will reveal one thing and another will reveal something else and to really make that work, sometimes, or often times, it proves most effective to really just experiment and see what happens. There’s a scene when the two brothers are warming up at the beginning of the movie where they wrestle and it gets out of control.

It was scripted, more or less, but I decided to shoot it like a documentary and ask them [Ruffalo and Tatum] to start the scene much earlier than the scene had been conceived to start. When I watched the footage and assembled the first cut of that, it became clear that we learn about these two guys, who they were, and who they were to each other and the rivalry, and the reverence, the competitiveness, and the love, it’s all in there. I was able to cut something like twenty minutes of scenes.

Foxcatcher_Carrell_TatumEH: Speaking of things left open to interpretation, I’ve read some online debate now about this too, there seems to be a thread of sublimated homosexuality going on in the character of John du Pont. Is that one of those things you had in the back of your mind or was it inadvertent?

Miller: Sublimated, I would say … I don’t think that anything ever became explicit.

EH: The only shot where I questioned was the midnight training bout between Carrell and Tatum.

Miller: That kind of stuff really happened, though, so I think that’s how it expresses itself. But it’s never quite admitted that that’s what happening there.

EH: It would be a politically tricky parallel to draw, I imagine, to insinuate a connection between du Pont’s sexuality and his violent act.

Miller: I would have no problem if I thought that’s what happened. I think what happened is what we show what happened. The bigger issue is that thematically you’ve got a character who is fundamentally incapable of admitting and accepting who he is and he, himself, living in the shadow of his ancestors.

EH: Exceptionalism.

Miller: Yeah and trying to live up to some inherited role or a concept of an inherited role or something like that but the truth of his inadequacy, the truth perhaps of his sexuality, the truth of his leadership abilities, or lack thereof…

EH: Or that his mom’s children as horses essentially.

Miller: Right.

Miller_FoxcatcherCastRM: So I think that’s why he identifies with Mark maybe because you know he felt like Mark was always under Dave’s shadow too.

Miller: Mark was susceptible to that and he understood that I think. I also think each saw the other, Mark and du Pont, as an answer to …

PMG: The void that they had?

Miller: Yeah. Somehow the other one was the answer you know, to validate each other.

RM: They thought they could complete each other or something?

Miller: Or together that this guy, who he is, and that he would ally himself with me, is the form of validation that I want. Meaning, both of those characters I think thought that.

RM: There are so many favorite scenes, but the one that stood out to me was the one in the chopper where Mark and John were trying to say “Ornithologist. Philatelist. Philanthropist.” and Mark just couldn’t get it, and they just keep repeating those three words. I thought there was something eerie and that they were snorting heroin…

Miller: Cocaine

(Everyone chuckles)

Miller: They would never do heroin.

RM: Right. I am just wondering, what is the most challenging scene? Are there any for you that were just tough to get down?

Miller: That scene turned out to be pretty easy just because Steve Carell somehow conjured up what happened and he improvised that. That just came out of him. Often it was the simple scenes that you trip up on. The big dramatic intense scenes like when Channing beats himself up and wrecks the room and gorges. Big scene in the script. Big scene in one take. Only one take. Some of the other quieter scenes end up being the most difficult. The simpler they are, the more unforgiving they are.

PMG: Can you talk a little bit more about the research process? Did you get a lot of support from the Schultz family or even the du Ponts about what happened?

Miller: The Schultzes very much so. Mark Schultz, Nancy Schultz, Nancy’s kids. Dave Schultz was somebody who had a thousand best friends, and I feel like most of them came out of the woodwork to support us and put their trust in us. I spoke to law enforcement officials, people who participated in the siege, cops who lived on the estate. I spoke to a few du Ponts who gave us a little bit of insight, but they weren’t around too much. And, of course, wrestlers, the wrestling community.

Miller_Foxcatcher_Cannes

Miller and his Foxcatcher cast at Cannes

EH: So, how mind-blowing to win at Cannes? [Long pause] I mean, you beat Godard!

Miller: Oh ok I might’ve… that’s so American of you.

EH: And I’m sure Godard would say the same.

Miller: Right. It’s very nice to be regarded by your peers. [Another long pause.] I mean, that’s really what it amounts to. I wouldn’t call it “mind-blowing.” It was more humbling.

EH: You strike me as someone who might be more humbled.

Miller: It’s humbling and the overwhelming feeling is gratitude and even some kind of debt. You want to live up to people’s hopes for this medium. It’s a very difficult thing to work. It’s a complex thing. Anyway, it felt nice.

RM: Congratulations!

Miller: Thank you.

PMG: It’s a wonderful movie. I’m excited to see what other people have to say once it opens, and the praise Steve gets, and Channing, and Mark, who we didn’t talk about, but is always fantastic.

RM: He is indeed fantastic here.

Miller: Oh I thought we did talk about him. Yeah, he is the heart of the film.


Foxcatcher opens in limited release today in the Twin Cities.
Check out the trailer below:


Hope you enjoyed the interview. Have you seen Foxcatcher? If so, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: 22 Jump Street

TedSaydalavongBanner

22JumpStreetBnr

I’m a big fan of the TV show 21 Jump Street, heck I think I’ve seen every episodes of the show during its original run. When it was announced that a movie version was coming to the big screen, I was bit a skeptical. I mean how are they going to turn a soap opera crime drama into a feature film? I remember reading online about the film’s early development, they were thinking of making it a full out action/adventure. Thankfully someone at the studio got smart and decided to make it into an action-comedy instead. After the big success of the first movie, a sequel was quickly greenlit and now we get to see more adventures of buddy cops Schmidt and Jenko.

This new movie picked up where the last one ended, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are still doing undercover work. They’re trying to bust a vicious drug dealer known only as The Ghost (the always entertaining Peter Stormare) during a sting, of course their plan didn’t go smoothly and The Ghost and his men got away. After the botched bust, both Schmidt and Jenko got demoted to the Jump Street unit, again. This time instead of going undercover as high school kids, they’re going to college. After a student at a local college was killed in what appeared to be a drug deal gone bad, both heroes were sent to the school to investigate.

22JumpStreetStills1

Once they got to campus, Jenko was able to make friends quickly with the school’s football players, especially the team’s QB Zook (Wyatt Russell, yup he’s Kurt Russell’s son). Schmidt on the other hand is not a jock and felt he didn’t belong with the group, so he ventured out to a new area on campus and met a beautiful art student Maya (Amber Stevens). They hit it off quickly and later spent the night together at Maya’s dorm room. Since their work is to investigate who’s behind the drug dealings, Zook and Maya became their main suspects. Of course both Schmidt and Jenko had to go through lots of shenanigans before they solve the case.

Basically the plot of this movie is exactly the same as the previous one, but that’s not a bad thing. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did a good job of moving the plot along and didn’t linger too long on some of the jokes. Although I wish they’d cut back on the self aware aspects of a sequel, yes we get it, the movie is a sequel and you might not able to top the original. I thought the jokes worked at the beginning but as the movie progresses, they became a bit tedious and I kind of got annoyed by all of those self-aware references.

Hill and Tatum have a great chemistry and the movie works because of them. Tatum’s Jenko joined the football team and became a star and he’s now questioning whether he made the right choice by becoming a cop. Hill’s Schmidt on the other hand, he’s right back being the nerd again and feels he didn’t belong with cool kids. I also like the supporting cast, including the love interests Zook and Maya. Yes you heard it right, Wyatt Russell‘s Zook was sort of a love interest to Tatum’s Jenko, they had this bromance going on throughout most of the movie and of course  that made Schmidt jealous. Ice Cube also returns as their always angry Captain Dickson. A little plot point involves him and Schmidt might be the funniest gag in the movie. Nick Offerman again appeared in a brief scene as Chief Hardy and he delivered some of the funniest lines in the movie.

22JumpStreetStills2

Overall I thought this was a good sequel and I think I might liked it better than its predecessor. It has some laugh out loud moments and everyone seems to have a good time in the movie. What I found a bit surprising was how tame it was for an R-rated comedy. Considering the story took place in college, I expected to see lots of nudity and gross humor. But with the exception of some F-bombs and some mild violence, the movie contained no nudity or any toilet humor and it’s quite “clean” by today’s R-rated comedy standards.

If you enjoyed the first movie then I’m quite sure you’ll have a good time with this one. It’s recommended if you’re in the mood for some good laughs.

3.5 reels


TedS_post


What did you think of 22 Jump Street?

New Releases Double Reviews: World War Z & White House Down

TedSaydalavongBanner

WORLD WAR Z

WorldWideZbanner

Based on a popular novel by Max Brooks, this big budgeted film was plagued with troubled production and ran well over its original budget, reportedly somewhere around $170-200 mil (the original budget was set around $150 mil). The film was scheduled to open last December but because of rewrites and reshoots of the film’s third act, it got delayed for six months. Now it’s ready for audiences all over the world to see. I want to mention that the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, besides the title and premise the film has nothing to do with its original source. Just thought I mention that for fans of the novel.

The film opens with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family going to some family trip. While stuck in traffic on the streets of Philadelphia, suddenly chaos broke out. If you’ve seen the countless trailers and clips, you already know what happened. The scene was pretty intense and exciting to watch. Gerry and his family was able to escape and drove all the way to New Jersey.

Later on Gerry got a call from his former colleague, Theirry Umuntoni (Fana Mokoena), he explained what has been happening all over the world and needs Gerry’s help. Gerry agreed and Theirry told him to wait somewhere overnight and in the morning he’ll send over a helicopter to pick him up. Gerry and his family found a refuge with a family who still lives in an apartment building in New Jersey. After Gerry and his family were rescued, they were flown to a ship outside of the States where the US Navy set up their command post. He found out that US President was killed and most of the government officials have either died or missing. Since Gerry has experience in working all over the world, he’s been asked by the US Navy Captain to help them find out what cause the outbreak. First he was hesitant because he didn’t want to leave his family but after the Captain told him that the only reason he and his family are on the ship was because he’s useful to them, if he doesn’t want to help, he and his family have to leave. I don’t like to give out too much plot points on my reviews so I’ll just say that for the rest of the film, Gerry went on an adventure trying to find out what cause people to turn into zombies.

WorldWideZ_stills

As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but they did include sequences that were similar to some section from the book, some fans might appreciate that, I know that I did. I’m not the biggest fan of Marc Forster but I thought he did a really good job of staging some really cool action set pieces and even made me jump a few times. I thought the first half of the film was pretty great, I was involved in the story and thought it could one of the best films of the summer. Unfortunately the film’s second half was a letdown.

There were five screenwriters who were credited on this film and I blame all of them for the lackluster second half. Apparently studio folks weren’t too thrilled with the first cut that Forster had delivered to them and hired Damon Lindelof to rewrite the ending and order re-shoots. Unfortunately what he came up with was pretty lame in my opinion, of course I won’t spoil it but it’s clear they want sequels. In fact, Brad Pitt said in an interview that he wants to turn this film into a trilogy. I think had they stuck with the original ending, the film might work out better. I hope they include that original ending on Blu-ray/DVD or better yet, integrate it into the eventual director’s cut release. If you want to find out what the original was like, go and read this excellent article that chronicled the film’s troubled production.

Performance-wise, Pitt was pretty decent in the lead role. Make no mistake, this is his film. He appeared on the screen pretty much 99% of the time. Mireille Enos who played his wife had some good scenes in the first 30 minutes or so but unfortunately her role was reduced to just being the worried wife while her husband was out saving the world. The only other major character in the film was an Israeli soldier played by Daniella Kertesz, she sort of became Pitt’s sidekick throughout most of the film.

WorldWideZ_PittKertesz

I was a bit disappointed that they decided to make it a PG-13 zombie movie. I’m not a gore freak but I expected to see blood and some gore when it comes to film about zombies. I know that when they agreed to turn the book into a movie, it was under contract that it couldn’t be R-rated, that’s one of the reasons why they had to change the original ending. Apparently it’s too violent and the film would’ve gotten an R-rating. I understand it’s done for financial reasons but seriously, there was a scene in the film where Pitt’s character chopped another character’s hand off but we didn’t see anything because they had to cut away. Also, if you cut someone’s hand off, there would be blood everywhere! The film couldn’t show that of course. Just a minor complaint though, there were many intense scenes that worked despite its PG-13 kid friendly rating.

Even with the lackluster second half and lack of blood and gore, I still recommend it. I think some of the big spectacle sequences should be seen on the big screen and the 3D effects were pretty good. This coming from a guy who doesn’t care about 3D. Also, I thought the soundtrack was pretty great, especially the theme song by Muse.


3 out of 5 reels

WHITE HOUSE DOWN

WhiteHouseDownbanner

The second film about the White House under attack this year is now ready for audiences everywhere, the first being Olympus Has Fallen which opened back March. This one stars Channing Tatum as the reluctant hero who has to save the day and Jamie Foxx as the POTUS. The premise is pretty much the same with exception that the villains in this film were domestic terrorists while the bad guys in Olympus were foreigners. I would say White House Down really reminded me of Michael Bay’s The Rock, which was basically Die Hard at Alcatraz.

The setup for these kind of films are pretty similar, we were introduced to the main characters who will be involve in the story. There’s the hero John Cale (Channing Tatum), he’s basically a bodyguard to The Speaker of House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). Then there’s the President (Jamie Foxx), head of the security in the White House Martin Walker (James Woods), secret service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) and Cale’s daughter Emily (Joey King). The story begins as Cale is taking his daughter to the tour of the White House, we learn that he and his daughter aren’t that close and she’s sort of hate his guts. So in order to impress her, he told her that he’s being interview for a position as secret service agent. You see his daughter is somehow crazy about politics and she even has her own political blog and she also loves the President.

WhiteHouseDown_Stills

Once they got to the White House, Cale got call in for the interview and found out Carol will be the one who’s interviewing him for the job. Apparently the two of them had some of history back in college and she thinks of him as a loser. Of course he didn’t get the job but he lied to his daughter that he might get it. By now we get to see some of the potential bad guys have also arrived at the White House and gearing up for their attack. The group’s leader is Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). Later on, the bomb went off at the Capitol Building and Emil’s group started killing all the security people at the White House. During this attack, Cale was able to rescue the President and the film became sort of buddy action. There were lots of shoot outs, hand to hand combats and of course big explosions. If you’ve read my reviews on this site then you know I don’t like to give out plot points and you know what, the plot for these kind of films aren’t that important. You’ve seen them many times before and you just have to go along with the ride and I can tell you it’s a fun ride.

The film was directed by Roland Emmerich who seems to love to blow up Washington DC buildings in many of his films and well he did the same thing here. But unlike his other disaster spectacle films, this one was his first shoot’em up action flick since Universal Soldiers. I thought he did a great job of building up the tension and staged some really cool and fun action set pieces. There’s a big car chase that took place in front of the White House’s lawn, it’s the most ridiculous action scenes I’ve seen in a while but it’s fun nonetheless. He also understands that he’s making an action movie so he kept the tone light and not make it overly serious.

As for the actors, I thought everyone did a good job, although Foxx tried a bit too hard to imitate our real President Obama. Tatum was good as the not-so-smooth action hero, he’s more goofy than most action heroes. I was surprised Cale’s daughter played a big role in the movie and the young Joey King did a pretty good job as the know-it-all kid. I give the casting director big props for finding a young actress who actually looks like Channing Tatum. The rest of the cast did pretty well too, again thanks to Emmerich’s direction, none of them took their part too seriously.

WhiteHouseDown_JoeyKing

So how does it compare to Olympus Has Fallen? Well in my opinion this one was a much better film because it didn’t try to be more than an action summer flick. I thought Olympus took itself way too seriously, it tried too hard to be dark, edgy and violent as opposed to just being an action movie. Also, the effects in this film were much better than Olympus’, well to be fair White House Down has a bigger budget. But still Olympus’s budget was around $80mil and yet the effects in the film looked like something from the late 90s.

Of course there were some flaws in this film, I was expecting some new motivations from the villains, not the same old thing we’ve seen in the past. Even though I enjoyed the action scenes, I thought the hand to hand combats were badly-staged and the always bloodless violence sort of bug me a bit. When people get shot or blown up, there should be blood everywhere. Also, there’s a scene during the climax of the film that involved Cale’s daughter and a flag that was kind of odd and I wish they’d rewrite that sequence. I think people will either laugh out loud or just go WTF!? I think you might agree with me when you see it.

Overall I thought the film was a lot of fun and it’s one of the best action films I’ve seen in a while. If you’re a fan of Die Hard, The Rock or Olympus Has Fallen then you’ll enjoy this one.

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


– Reviews by Ted S.


Have you seen either one of these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

FlixChatter Review: G.I. Joe Retaliation

TedSaydalavongBanner

GIJOE_Banner

Well I believe I know why Paramount decided to delay the release of this film from last June to March of this year. Their excuse was that they wanted to add 3D effects to the film but rumors were all over the internet that they also wanted to beef up Channing Tatum’s role. Those excuses were credible but I think the real reason why they delayed it from a Summer release to Spring is because the film is pretty bad. I’m assuming some executives high up in the food chain saw it and realized they have a turkey on their hands and didn’t want to spend more money promoting it in the busy and competitive Summer movie season.

The film picks up right where the first one ended, if you remember Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) who masqueraded as the US President, is still in charge of the White House, while the real President (Jonathan Pryce) is being kept captive at a secret place. Duke (Channing Tatum) is now the captain of the elite squad G.I. Joe. His second in command is Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), a new addition to the franchise. As the film begins, the Joe team is being tasked by the President to retrieve a nuclear bomb from a terrorist group somewhere in Afghanistan. They succeeded but later the entire Joe team got ambush and only a few of them survived. I’m not gonna go into more details about the plot and to be honest, who really cares right? You go into this kind of film for the action, not the plot. Also, returning to the franchise are fans favorite Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and his nemesis Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). There’s a subplot that involves Storm Shadow and Zartan that didn’t make a lick of sense, but again who cares.

GIJOE_Tatum_Johnson

Not returning to the franchise is director Stephen Sommers, stepping in behind the cameras this time is Jon Chu, whose previous films were Step Up 2 and 3 and he also directed a bunch of music videos. Upon landing the directing gig for this film, Chu said he wanted to make sequel more realistic and grounded. Well I guess he achieved that, but unfortunately it didn’t work for the film. I thought by making the movie more *realistic,* it took away all the fun and it bored me to death. Seriously, for an action picture, the film just dragged on and on and on. The action scenes weren’t exciting or original. In the first film, the action scenes were over-the-top but at least those sequences were fun to watch. Chu also doesn’t know how to build up tension, it seemed the action just happens for no reason than to include the action, maybe he thought people would get bored if he doesn’t pepper the film with fight/shoot-out scenes.

Then there’s the 3D, wow seriously this was probably the worst 3D conversion I’ve seen so far and trust me I’ve seen a lot of bad ones. If you really want to see this movie, I highly recommend you see it in 2D. The film has a ton of action and fast movements so it’ll give you a headache if you see it in 3D. I think the only sequence that worked in 3D was the scene where Snake Eyes and his side kick battles a bunch of ninjas on the mountains. Other than that scene, there’s no reason for this film to be shown in that format.

GIJOE_NinjaFight

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mention Bruce Willis yet. Well to be honest, I don’t why he even agreed to star in the film. He didn’t have much to do nor appear on screen that long. I guess Mr. McClane will accept any role they offer him these days [shrug]

It’s only March but I’m quite sure G.I. Joe: Retaliation will make it to my top WORST film of the year. My recommendation is to save your money and maybe rent it if you’re feeling bored on some weekend. Or better yet, wait ’til it airs on TV so you don’t even have to pay for it.

– Review by Ted S.

onereel
1 out of 5 reels

Well, did you see the movie? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects

SideEffectsPoster

This supposedly Steven Soderbergh‘s last feature film wasn’t even on my radar, in fact I just saw the trailer the day of the screening a couple of weeks ago. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about this movie and I think the less you read or watch about it the better. In fact, when I went to the screening, the press associate said the studio won’t allow anyone to be admitted to the theater once the film has begun, saying that the opening scene is so key to the plot that showing up late would surely lessen the viewing experience for the viewer.

The opening scene takes place in what looks to be a luxury apartment in Manhattan, belonging to a well-to-do couple Emily (Rooney Mara) and Martin (Channing Tatum). Emily’s husband has just gotten out of jail where he spent a four-year term for insider trading. She should be overjoyed, right? But instead she’s afflicted with recurring bout of depression and suicidal behavior. The doctor who ends up treating her, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), proceeds to prescribe her an anti-depressant. But when a regular drug isn’t enough, he gives her a new one that just came out in the market called Ablixa, suggested by Emily’s former shrink, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The drug perks Emily up for a while — much to the delight of her husband – but then the drug’s supposed side effect ends up creating more problems than its worth.

At least that’s what Soderbergh wants you to think. When people first saw the trailer or even reading the premise involving a pharmaceutical corporation, they might immediately think of Contagion (which was also written by Scott Z. Burns). Other than the medical-related theme, it can’t be more dissimilar. Soderbergh is known for experimenting on his projects and this one is no different.

As the story progresses, we realize more and more that everyone and everything are not who/what they seem. The character focus alternates between Emily and Dr. Banks, who apparently has some issues on his own and a past incident that catches up with him. The narrative pretty much shifts from being a character study to a whodunnit Hitchcockian thriller laden with plot twists. I find the first act to be much more intriguing, but its um, potency kind of wears off in the second act, recovered slightly in the third though the lurid twist is a bit eye-roll inducing.

SideEffectsMovieStills

I think Side Effects is a deftly-constructed thriller, it’s packed with clever camera work, shrewd acting and appropriately moody atmosphere (thanks largely to Thomas Newman‘s ominous score). Yet somehow the film fails to engage me. Not to mention the lack of emotional connection with any of the characters, made worse by the decidedly morose and unsettling tone of the entire film. A few commenters in the Five for the Fifth post pointed out how some Soderbergh’s films are emotionally-cold, and this one is a perfect example. There is not a single character that I can truly empathize with, maybe Banks’ wife (played by the underrated Vinessa Shaw), who has to put up with her husband’s antics. By the end I feel that they get what they deserve, if only they happen much sooner.

We’ve got another killer heroine from Soderbergh. Instead of the bad-ass action hero in Haywire, this time we’ve got a slightly more rounded character — and more unhinged – but still equally detached. Performance-wise, I think Mara was given the most material to work with and she’s able to tackle the contrasting personalities her character requires. I’ve only seen her in The Social Network, which was brief but memorable. She’s definitely a gifted performer and her glacial aura is put to good use here. Her blank expression suggest there’s something lurking, enhancing the chilling effect. At the same time, her lack of warmth makes it impossible to root for her. Jude Law is pretty good here as he’s the co-lead of the film, a much more sympathetic character despite his flaws. I must say that Law doesn’t have quite have that star quality so when the narrative is focused on him, he doesn’t exactly lights up the screen. All I could say for Zeta-Jones is that perhaps she’s inspired by her husband’s choice of role in his next film when she signed up for this role.

Final Thoughts: Unpredictable? Perhaps. Absorbing? Not really.

Despite the roller-coaster ride that Soderbergh set up for the viewers, this film left me rather underwhelmed. I glanced at my watch a few times as I was watching it, which is never a good sign. I didn’t see some of the twists coming but yet when it happened, I wasn’t all that surprised either. The revelation itself seemed a little too neat that it doesn’t quite pack a punch. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a decent thriller, but it doesn’t leave a level of greatness I expect from Burns and Soderbergh pairing.

Judging from the reaction about his pending retirement, I know a lot of people are disappointed by that and wish the director would stay around. Well pardon me for being indifferent.

3 out of 5 reels

As Tyson has eloquently put in his A Call To Arms post, would you be so kind as to use one of the share buttons below to share my post? I’d sincerely appreciate it. Share… it’s what makes the blogs go around :D


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Five for the Fifth: First Edition of 2013!

fiveforthefifth

Hello folks, welcome to the first 2013 edition of Five for the Fifth!!

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. Well, since it’s only five days into the new year, some people are perhaps just starting their New Year’s Resolutions or perhaps already forgotten all about it, ahah. I actually haven’t really thought about it, though in terms of blogging and movies, I do want to watch more classic movies this year, which I did right away with The Shop Around the Corner on January 1st. It was pretty sweet, I love James Stewart, I need to do a JS marathon :D

Anyway, I’m curious if you’ve got any New Year’s resolution. Name one (or more if you choose) movie/blogging resolution for the year.

……
Oscar20132. Can you believe it that only 5 days away until The Academy Awards nominations! On Thursday, January 10, the nominations will be announced at 5:30 a.m. PT at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. I’ll have a reaction post after that but for now, but I feel like I’m not ready to do my 2013 predictions, though last year I was pretty good in my predictions.

Anyway, last year there was only 9 nominees, so who knows how many it’ll be this year. Well, just for the fun of it, I’ll take a stab at my predictions for the 10 Best Picture nominees:

  1. Argo
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  3. Django Unchained
  4. Les Miserables
  5. Life of Pi
  6. Lincoln
  7. Moonrise Kingdom
  8. Silver Linings Playbook
  9. The Master
  10. Zero Dark Thirty

Sounds like it’s a really competitive race this year, I’m really curious which one would sweep the Oscars this year with at least five nominations or more.

So what’s YOUR Best Picture predictions, folks? Any hunch which one would take home the most Oscars?

..

3. Well, you’ve probably read my goodbye letter to Gerry Butler this past week after seeing the train wreck that is Playing For Keeps. It’s too bad really, but until I see him in much better materials, I can’t simply call myself a GB fan anymore.

ChanningTatumIt’s been quite an interesting year as I actually start to like an actor I previously don’t care for. Now, I’m not exactly a fan of his yet, but at least I’m not going to brush him off so quickly as I did before. I’m referring to Channing Tatum. I first saw him in Haywire and I thought he was just ok, but his performance in Magic Mike was actually pretty good and he was hilarious in 21 Jump Street. So in fairness, I guess I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about him. But no, I’m not about to rent G.I. Joe or [gasp] Dear John.

Btw, the irony is not lost on me that GB and Channing will go mano-a-mano later this year (well not literally) with their White House action flicks. As Terrence has predicted, chances are both are going to be disappointing, ahah.

Anyway, which actor disappointed you this year and/or on the flip side, did you have a change of heart about someone you previously dislike?

4. Switching gears a bit to casting news. For quite a while now, I’ve been reading endless casting reports for yet another Marvel superhero ‘team’ movies in the works, a comic book I’m not familiar about called Guardians of the Galaxy. Just who the heck is that all about?

Even the 31st Century needs heroes, and the call has been answered by the Guardians of the Galaxy, a team of superhuman and extraterrestrial adventurers dedicated to the safeguarding of the Milky Way Galaxy from any force that threatens the security or liberty of its various people. (per Marvel.com)

Apparently James Gunn is going to direct, yet another name I’m not familiar about. But some of the actors who’ve reportedly been tested for the various roles did pique my interest. Here are just some of the names that have been linked to the project:

  • Joel Edgerton
  • Jack Huston
  • Jim Sturgess
  • Lee Pace
  • Eddie Redmayne
  • Zachary Levi
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor in Smallville)

Now, I’m not exactly interested in this movie yet, but if Lee Pace ends up being cast, now that’s a different story :D

GuardiansOfGalaxyLeePace

What do you think of this project? Any particular actor you’d like to see getting cast here?


5. Lastly, since I haven’t posted a Music Break in a while, I’ve got include a movie music in here somewhere. I don’t know if I’ll be posting my list of favorite soundtracks of 2012, but if I did, The Hobbit would surely make the list. I mean, some soundtracks you listen to later on and appreciate. But this music was an absolutely integral reason why I enjoyed the journey so much. Howard Shore did such an amazing job creating a new theme for The Hobbit, whilst incorporating some parts of The Lord of the Rings theme I’ve come to know and love. From the time Thorin (Richard Armitage) led his band of dwarves sang The Misty Mountains in what sounds like a solemn hymn, that beautiful theme continue to mesmerize and move me throughout the film.

The theme itself wasn’t written by Shore however, but by David Donaldson, David Long, Steve Roche and Janet Roddick, who apparently have worked together as composers/songwriters Wellington New Zealand (Thanks MovieMusicUK). Take a listen below:

So my last question to you is, what’s the most memorable movie music you’ve listened to this year? :D



That’s it for the first 2013 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! :D

Weekend Viewing Roundup: 21 Jump Street + Moonrise Kingdom Reviews

Happy Monday all [well Tuesday to some of you on the other side of the world]! I have to say this has been a great week for movie watching. I actually managed to see THREE new movies [well new to me] and even sneaked in a couple of older movies for a rewatch: 300 and Spider-man 2 [I guess I was in a Spidey mood]. Well, I’ve posted my review The Amazing Spider-man last night, which according to Box Office Mojo made $140 mil in six days, but believe it or not it still falls short compared to the Sam Raimi’s versions. But it’s obviously lucrative enough to warrant multiple sequels, I think a trilogy should be a given.

Now, here’s my mini reviews of the other two films I saw this weekend.

21 Jump Street

I used to watch this show in High School so the primary reason I watched this is pure nostalgia. I didn’t want to see it on the big screen as I wasn’t crazy for the main cast [Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum] but the overwhelmingly positive reviews definitely compelled me to rent it. Well, this movie had me in stitches from the start and it never let on.

The premise is simple enough. Morton Schmidt (Hill) and Greg Jenko (Tatum) are former high school foes, it’s the stereotype of the school jock bullying the nerdy academic. As fate would have it, the two ended up enrolling in the same police academy and become unlikely friends. Though at first they seems to have caught a break when they busted some drug dealers in an unassuming park, the two over-eager young officers forgot to read the Miranda right! As punishment, both are reassigned to a special division in that famous street address which turns out to be an abandoned Korean church.

The foul-mouthed Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) told them their first mission is to infiltrate a high school following a death of one of the students after consuming a potent synthetic drugs. They go undercover as brothers and live temporarily in Schmidt’s parents house. Tatum and Hill certainly have comedic chops and just seeing both of them together just makes me laugh. Despite Tatum being soo much more mature than most high schoolers, they somehow managed to blend in and make friends. An accidental switcheroo in their faux-identity puts both undercover cops in unlikely situations, Jenko hangs out with the nerdy crowds, whilst Schmidt hangs out with the cool crowd, including the lead drug dealer Eric (Dave Franco, yep James’ younger brother).

Preposterous and crazy situations are to be expected in a story like this, but hilarity ensues with every step to get to the drug supplier. One of the most hilarious moments happens when the undercover duo had to try out the drug to prove themselves to Eric. Oh my, I was in stitches through that whole scene, but I was on the floor when they arrive in prom complete with flying white doves!! Believe it or not, there are actually some sweet moments between these two, but mostly it’s just non-stop laughter and fun right up until the wild and deliberately overblown finale. Both Jenko and Schmidt did get their wish of a life filled with car chases and explosions after all!

By the way, I don’t think I consider it a spoiler to say I’ve been waiting to see Johnny Depp’s cameo and you know what, he did not disappoint! I practically screamed when I saw him and I didn’t see it coming, which adds to the experience.

Final Thoughts: What fun! Despite being too vulgar for my taste, the writing makes for a truly hilarious action-comedy. It’s similar to Hot Fuzz but perhaps more accessible to US audiences. I’m can’t say that I’m a fan of Jonah or Channing now, but I can honestly say they both are GREAT in this movie!

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


Moonrise Kingdom

I’ve been waiting to see this one in a while (I even put it on my most-anticipated list), which is unusual as I don’t always get excited about a Wes Anderson movie. The only one I have seen before was The Royal Tennenbaums, and whilst I enjoyed that one, I can’t remember too much of the details except to say that and eccentric are the words that come to mind. It’s the same with Moonrise Kingdom, though I’d add the words endearing and delightful to describe it.

Set on an island off the coast of New England in 1965, it opens in a Khaki Scout Summer Camp on the day one of its member, Sam Shakusky, disappears from the camp. Soon they realize that a young girl from a nearby town, Suzy Bishop is also missing. Soon they discover the two had run away together and the town, led by the island police Captain Sharp goes in search of them.

Sam turns out to be an orphan whilst Suzy is not, but both Sam and Suzy feel like an outcast in their respective circle, and that’s what drew them together. The young actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are so endearing in their roles, and their lack of acting experience actually adds sincerity to the romance. Their scenes together remind us the delight of what innocent young love could be. These sweet moments are peppered with some dark, poignant moments, as if to illustrate the world that would await the two twelve-year-olds as they grow older.

The adult actors seem to take a back-seat to these young lovebirds, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have their moments. Edward Norton as Sam’s Scout Master is amusingly delirious to what’s happening, and seeing the usually-serious actor as a chain-smoking boy scout leader is entertaining in its own right. Bruce Willis proves once again he’s more versatile than people give him credit for. I like him in his understated roles as much as his ‘yippikaye’ bad-assery and he’s appropriately somber in this one as he secretly longs for a family to call his own. I feel that Bill Murray wasn’t given as much to do here, he’s sort of just playing his quirky-self, but I guess that works just fine in a Wes Anderson movie. The rest of the stellar cast, including Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel and the other one of Wes’ muse Jason Schwartzman, are all good but none of them particularly stood out to me.

I guess the benefit of not having seen too much of Wes’ work is that I haven’t grown accustomed to his particular style, so everything seems fresh and fascinating to me. Even the preposterous aspects and the zany-ness of the characters all add to the charm and what makes Wes’ work so unique. There’s also that particular look to the visuals of Wes’ film, my super astute friend John outlined in this *tutorial* post…  he described Wes’ films as having “… the aged look and feel.. What I’m referring to is the yellow filter, and the slight graininess that makes you, the viewer, feel like you’re in a theatre in 1970 watching a film.” I LOVE that, I think it adds something special to the whole experience.

Final Thoughts: This is a delightful movie and it’s moving along quite efficiently at only 1 hr 34 minutes. The ending is heartwarming and sweet, but never nauseatingly so. I might rent this again when it comes out on DVD. I might even venture into Wes’ other works, such as Rushmore and Life Aquatic. Whether Wes’ style is your cup of tea or not as creativity is so subjective, I’m glad there’s still a filmmaker who marches to the beat of his own drums like him in Hollywood.

4.5 out of 5 reels



What do you think of either one of these movies? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

Weekend Roundup: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Magic Mike review

This sweltering heat must be doing the cinemas some good as people want to cool off in the air-conditioned movie theaters. Whilst the last two weekends were dominated by movies targeted for kids (Brave, Madagascar 3), this time adults packed theaters to see two R-rated movies: Ted and Magic Mike. The former starring Mark Wahlberg and a foul-mouthed Teddy bear as his BFF earned a whopping $54 mil, which is the highest debut ever for an original R-rated comedy (per Box Office Mojo). With a budget of only $50 mil (half of it probably went to Wahlberg), it’s obviously a very profitable debut for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.

Here’s a review of a movie I saw last Friday night, and thanks to my colleague Susan M. for her review of one of her most-anticipated movie, Magic Mike.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I’ve been curious about this movie from the first time I heard about the book of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. The author himself is adapting his novel into the movie, which tells the *secret* history of one of America’s most famous presidents, supposedly based on Lincoln’s own diaries of his um, nightly activities.

The story spans 45 years of Lincoln’s life, starting with him as a young boy working at a plantation. It shows that even from a young age, Abe’s got a certain fondness for the axe as he tried to defend his friend Wil who’s being beaten by his master, Jack Barts. This incident leads to Barts to poison Abe’s mother which of course sparks the vengeful spirit in him to kill as many vampires as he could.

Now, how does an ordinary man do that? Well, fortunately for Abe, there’s Henry Sturgess to the rescue when he tried to kill Barts years later and discovers that he’s a vampire. Sturgess not only saves Abe’s life but offers to train him to accomplish his mission, that is to kill as many vampire as he could. We’ll learn of Sturgess’ motivation soon enough, which comes at the same time Abe learns that his best friend too, is a vampire.

The fight training scenes are actually pretty cool and the movie lives up to the name swiftly as the fast-learner Abe soon gets to put that silver-coated axe to good use. Those vampire chopping stuff are done in Timur Bekmambetov’s slo-mo style (as you might’ve seen in Wanted) and they’re very, very bloody. The vampires aren’t sexy or cute like in True Blood or Twilight, they are freakish looking with their long and pointy teeth, just as we imagined these bloodsuckers to be.

Newcomer Benjamin Walker is quite believable in the lead role. The lanky 6’3″ 30-year-old certainly looks the part but he’s also instantly likable which helps the audience to sympathize with his character and his mission. He’s got a nice chemistry with Dominic Cooper as Sturgess and also his best friend Wil (Anthony Mackie), but less so with his love interest Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The romance isn’t convincing at all, but no matter, it’s not that kind of vampire movie. We see Timur’s movie for his spectacular fight choreography and on that note he delivers. Lincoln is portrayed as some sort of superhero battling a dozen of vampires in this Southern mansion and blood splatters and splashes everywhere as he masterfully wields his weapon of choice. As you know I’m not keen on horror or bloody sequences, but when done in such a stylized way, it sort of takes the edge off and it’s actually less scary.

Now, I’ve always thought the tone of the movie should’ve been more tongue-in-cheek just like what the title suggest, instead it’s more of a straight-laced adaptation and they tried to align the scenarios with actual historical events such as the Gettysburg address. Fortunately, it’s not completely devoid of whimsy and I think the movie overall is rather fun. Yes it’s silly and preposterous in more than one occasion but you’ve got to remind yourself that you are seeing a movie with a historical figure combined with ‘vampire hunter’ in the title, so logic-defying scenarios should be expected.

Still, there are scenes that are wildly ludicrous even for a historical fantasy, and the horse stampede scene immediately springs to mind. That scene involves a horse being thrown at Abe, yes you heard it right: A HORSE, in the midst of a huge stampede with dozens of horses charging forcefully and Barts actually throws the horse at him! Now, not only does Abe survives that, he proceeds to mount one of them (not sure if it’s that same one thrown at him or not as things are happening pretty fast) and rides the thing whilst wielding that ax at Barts in the process!! As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also able to jump from horse to horse to capture his nemesis… and wait ’til you see that sensational axe gun. Say what you will about this movie, but that scene alone to me is worth the price of admission!

And finally, the villain. Dashing Brit Rufus Sewell is no stranger for playing a baddie but surprisingly he’s never played a vampire before. A shame really as he’s quite good at it and his dramatic eyes seem almost otherworldly. He brings a certain sophistication and suave-ness to his role of Adam (which was written specifically for the movie). Now, you’ve seen vampires being bloodthirsty or romantic, but politically-inclined? Now that’s an idea. Adam is more of a politically-minded vampire… “It’s time we have a nation of our own,” he declares in that sexy, raspy voice of his. Rufus has this smirk on his face the entire time and he seems to be having the most fun in this movie. I wish he had more screen time here and that his character could’ve been a bit more developed, but still he’s always great to watch.

The always watchable Alan Tudyk also has a brief role as Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 1860 election who lost out to Lincoln. He was also Lincoln’s romantic rival as he briefly dated Mary Todd.

Final Thoughts: I actually enjoyed this movie more that I thought. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel looks beautiful and there are some really cool shots of Lincoln with his iconic hat and long coat. The action sequences of the slo-mo vampire chopping scenes did seem excessive though that it became tiresome. But the likable cast certainly helps and somehow the story managed to keep me engrossed from start to finish. I wouldn’t even mind renting this again when it’s out on Blu-ray.

3 out of 5 reels


Magic Mike

If you’re going to see Magic Mike because you want to see a bunch of (mostly) naked men writhing around on a stage, well, you’ll get that. But as a warning, you’ll also get a somewhat uneven portrayal of a lifestyle filled with women, drugs, and desolation.

Let’s start with the good: Channing Tatum saves this movie from being horrible. He’s an excellent movie flirter and a bona fide movie star. Plus, he’s a great dancer (Step Up, anyone?). It’s hard to take your eyes off of him not just because he is ridiculously good looking, but because he makes you sympathize with his character, Mike, an “entrepreneur” who moonlights as a stripper. In Tatum’s limited range, he not only excels, he totally owns it; he knows what he is, he doesn’t try to be more, and he isn’t embarrassed by it.

Alex Pettyfer was also great in the role of Adam, an impulsive lost soul who is living with his sister, going from job to job until he meets Mike at a construction job (one of Mike’s entrepreneurial businesses that we only see or hear mention of once throughout the movie, hence the unevenness mentioned earlier). Mike takes Adam under his wing and soon, “the Kid” as he becomes known, is sucked into the world of Chippendales-style male stripping. But where Pettyfer excels is in portraying the dark side of the business: the lure of money, the drugs, the seedy women.

Then there’s the bad: Matthew McConaughey. He’s probably never been happier since he spent the majority of the movie in leather pants with his shirt off. He appeared so sweaty in almost every scene he was in, you could practically smell the body odor coming off him. And enough with the bongo playing and “all right, all right, all right.” He literally has no range. If you’ve seen one Matthew McConaughey movie, you’ve seen them all. His character, Dallas, is the owner of the club and a former stripper himself. He definitely plays a smarmy strip club owner to perfection, I’ll give him that.

Matt Bomer, as beautiful as he is, is rather unremarkable in the role, unfortunately. And don’t ask me about Joe Manganiello, who is the equivalent to Pamela Anderson, in my book. There is no presence. Sure, he’s fun to look at, but so what?

As for the script, there are several parts of it that don’t make any sense and could have used some serious editing, if not outright trimming completely. The female lead in the film, Cody Horn, who plays Alex Pettyfer’s sister, appears to have the same relationship with her brother as she does with her love interest Channing Tatum. Their opening scene together, at home, is so sexually charged, you feel gross the moment it’s revealed that they’re related. Horn’s character, Brooke, has a bizarre obsession with her brother throughout the film that made me uncomfortable. And her acting was stale and wooden.

It’s also ridiculous when Tatum’s character confronts Olivia Munn, his casual sex partner, and finds out she’s engaged. Her fiancé is sitting beside her. He graciously excuses himself when Tatum shows up at the restaurant. In what world would that actually go down??

That said, it’s not like Magic Mike didn’t have its moments. The depiction of the lifestyle seemed realistic enough. They addressed the drug culture involved in the profession, the desolation, the loneliness that comes from connecting only with people on a purely physical level – these stark realities were indeed portrayed rather honestly, although I’m not really sure if the message actually landed. And the dance scenes were hilarious. I especially loved the Fourth of July tribute when the guys took to the stage in camouflage, and the “It’s Raining Men” routine, complete with umbrellas and rain boots.

Overall, I really liked Magic Mike. But the problem I had with it was not necessarily with the film itself, but more the response to it. There are those who will argue that this is simply the female equivalent of when men hit up strip clubs. No way. When a man goes to see a woman take her clothes off, she’s inferior to his paying power. When a woman goes to see a man take his clothes off, is he inferior to her paying power, or is she still inferior to the power of what’s in his pants? It’s not like she’s leaning back in her chair, controlling the situation. None of those women in the theater or in the club are in control of anything. They are hysterical, horny, and subordinate. Nothing about that suggests assertion. I don’t have anything against a good time. But don’t sell it to me like this is some kind of reversal of misogyny and there’s empowerment to the exercise. You watch those faces and there is nothing empowering about how these women are behaving.

Besides, if this really is about flipping the exploitation over to the other side, how is it that there were multiple long shots of bare breasts and only one shadowed glimpse of a c*ck? This is a movie about male strippers and there’s not one head shot of a free swinging penis? Meanwhile Olivia Munn has her shirt off for an entire scene, and another blond woman, with an ample bosom, romps around a bed for a scene. Doesn’t seem very equal to me.

Final Thoughts: All this being said, I enjoyed Magic Mike for what it was – an entertaining summer movie with a super hot lead character.

– Review by Susan M.

4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen either one of these movies? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

FlixChatter Review: Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Haywire’

The one thing I found appealing right away is of course the cast: Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton… and the femme fatale, a real mixed-martial arts fighter Gina Carano. Steven Soderbergh confessed to the Hall H panel at Comic-con that he ‘discovered’ Carano fighting in a cage whilst watching TV on a Saturday night. According to this NY Post article, after he’d been fired from directing the Brad Pitt starrer Moneyball, he said he decided to make ‘an action flick that looked beautiful.’ Upon seeing Carano, he ended up building an entire script based on her.

Soderbergh with his muse

So was this a good move on Soderbergh part?

After seeing this, my answer is a resounding YES. I like the director’s style in filming this, consistently keeping Mallory Kane, the black ops super soldier [ex-Marine, natch!] as the main focus from start to finish. Right away we find out she’s betrayed by the people who hired her on a mission in Barcelona and the rest of the film follows her hot on the trail to exact her vengeance. Yes, it’s a simple story, this is no twisty espionage thriller so there’s no convoluted plot to deal with. Soderbergh simply creates a vehicle for Carano to be her bad-ass self and it works!

I’ve heard people comparing this to Angelina Jolie’s SALT. Now I haven’t seen that movie and there probably is some similarities, but if these two were to be in a fight together, no doubt Carano would take Jolie’s bony frame down in a matter of seconds. Y’know she made me think that she could practically take down the rest of the Expendables cast, ahah.

Don’t I look like James Bond? Complete with my kick-ass Bond girl!

The action sequences are the reason to watch this film. It’s done without the overblown fast cuts, or slo-mo or nauseating hand-held style employed by many action directors [just as Ted has pointed out here]. Those are done supposedly to make the sequences look cool but it’s hard to see just what the heck is going on. No, Soderbergh filmed the fight scenes realistically, you could see every punch/blow/kick the characters endure. The most intense one is in the clip shown at Comic-con, involving the Bond-like Michael Fassbender [as an MI-6 agent no less!]. So going in I already knew his fate, ahah. But still that is one kick-ass fight scene, woof!

This is not an *acting* film for everyone involved, especially for Carano who never acted before. That said, Carano acquits herself well as Soderbergh is smart enough not to give her long monologues or complicated emotion to convey. Now of course I wish there’s more character development in play, I wish there was a bit more background on Mallory, but y’know what, there’s a certain appeal to its minimalism. In fact, my hubby said it reminds me of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï in its stark simplicity and pacing. We didn’t really know much about Alain Delon’s Jef Costello either, but it’s still interesting to watch him in his journey.

Run Mallory Run!

The star-studded male cast don’t exactly show their range but they’re still fun to watch. They all seem well aware when they signed on that they won’t be given much to do than being the next target of Carano’s vendetta. In the case of Bill Paxton as her author dad, his character is given a bit more emotional weight, but not by much. The ending does seem abrupt but also brilliant at the same time. It ends with an expletive uttered by a character who realizes that his blissful island life with his model girlfriend is about to go um, haywire.

I feel like giving Soderbergh’s other works a watch now. I haven’t seen too many of them, but Out of Sight and Traffic are some of his best films I’ve seen so far. I appreciate his unorthodox style and his effort in experimenting with different genres.

Final Thoughts: Gina Carano certainly makes for a convincing action star whilst still retains her feminine aura. This dynamic action thriller will please any action fans with its high adrenaline-stunts and gritty fight sequences. If you’re a fan of Soderbergh’s other works, this one is definitely worth a watch.

4 out of 5 reels

Have you seen this movie? Well, what do you think?