Weekend Roundup – ‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For’ review

Happy Monday everyone! It’s a sweltering HOT Summer weekend and those who know me well know I’m not a big fan of heat and humidity so I actually spend a lot of time indoors and got to see quite a lot of new movies as well as rewatches.

WeekendViewingRoundupAug24

You could say it’s a pretty eclectic weekend viewing given the variety of movies we saw the past four days. On Friday night we ended up watching The Amazing Spider-man 2 [which wasn't at all amazing], the psycho thriller ENEMY with Jake Gyllenhaal [as weird as I had expected], and The Philadelphia Story for this month’s Blind Spot. I also rewatched my old fave The Phantom of the Opera, yep the movie that made me fall hard for Gerry Butler oh so many years ago.

I didn’t go to the cinema this weekend, but boy seems that lots of people went to see The Guardians of the Galaxy again as it’s now back on top with $17 mil, beating all the new releases, including Sin City: A Dame to Kill For which bombed big time with only $6 mil, ouch! Well, having seen it, I really think this sequel is utterly unnecessary and after nine years, it seems much too late for a follow-up. Here’s my review:

SinCity2Bnr

I was curious to see this one mainly because of the striking visuals, which was pretty much all I could remember from the first film. That, and how cool, sexy and mysterious Clive Owen was and the stylized brutal violence, especially the bits involving Elijah Wood in a role as far away as Frodo as it could get. This time Frank Miller is back in the directing chair with Robert Rodriguez.

This time, we’ve got Josh Brolin as Owen’s replacement in the role of Dwight, a pity as Brolin doesn’t come close in terms of cool factor as the brooding, hunky British actor. Well, the same could be said about the movie as a whole. The novelty factor of the color palette of black & white with a touch of red is wearing thin, plus the plot is even thinner this time around, chock full of clichéd dialog that ultimately renders the whole thing pointless.

The tagline refers to the main character in one of the four entwined story lines, and admittedly, it’s the more intriguing one simply because of Eva Green. Oh how I’d have loved to have seen her on screen with Clive Owen, she’s my favorite Bond girl and Owen’s an actor who’d make an awesome 007. In any case, Green plays a femme fatale type role in which she played as effortlessly as she ditched her clothes in the film. Being French she’s clearly comfortable with nudity. The stylish lighting and camera angle captured her allure beautifully as she devoured every scene she’s in with aplomb.

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The rest of the story lines are pretty boring by comparison, my least favorite is the one involving Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he seems miscast in the role, especially against Powers Booth who fits the noir genre perfectly. He’s quite sinister here with his deep, gravely voice, but his character is as one-dimensional as the rest. The father/son story is nowhere near as clever or intriguing as it wants to be. Jessica Alba reprises her role as Nancy and with all of her gyrating body as a stripper, she is just so lightweight that she comes across so ho-hum next to Eva Green. Mickey Rourke’s back again as Marv, perhaps the film’s comic relief, even in the most violent parts of the movie.

The movie is only 1 hr 42 min long but it started to drag pretty quickly. The stylized violence and all that nudity + sex scenes felt more like a gimmick that became more ho-hum as the movie progressed. As I came out of the theater I thought, it took them 9 years to come up with THIS? [shakes head] Despite the beautiful 3D, the film falls exasperatingly flat. Proof that visual flair alone doesn’t make a movie.

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So that’s what I saw this weekend folks, what about you? Seen anything good?

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FlixChatter Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut Don Jon

DonJonPoster

My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.

The film begins with Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Jersey-accented voice over as Jon Martello, a New Jersey bartender nicknamed Don Jon by his buddies for his ability to pull ’10s’ types of girls every weekend at the club. The film starts off with a glimpse of Jon’s daily life that’s mapped out with almost a military precision. Right away we know that Jon is an obsessive-compulsive, he wants everything JUST SO, from the way he washes his dishes, makes his bed every morning, his workout routine, all the way to how he consumes his ultimate obsession: porn.

Bedding even the most beautiful women in chronic one-night-stands just doesn’t cut it for Jon. Only porn can satisfy his erotic itch, prompting him to sneak up to his laptop in the middle of the night, even with his sex partner of the night still sleeping on his bed! Let’s just say that I’d never hear that ‘bong’ sound of a Mac boot-up the same way ever again. Gordon-Levitt films Jon’s daily routine is in full-on satire mode. Even with the crude sexual imagery projected on screen, however revolting they are, it’s never without a twinge of hilarity and heartbreak. It’s sad to see how a Jon’s practically drowning in his addiction and being further away from making a real human connection.

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Then enters Barbara Sugarman, a voluptuous blond who’s exactly Jon’s type. It turns out Barbara is quite an elusive catch. He has to wait for sex for what may seemed like an eternity for such a Lothario. Soon Barbara has Jon wrapped in her well-manicured little finger in her hard-to-get seduction game. Initially it seems that perhaps Barbara would be the making of Jon, the way she pushes Jon to realize his potential by encouraging to go to night school. She is repulsed by Jon’s porn addiction which doesn’t suit her image of what a perfect man should be. Apparently men who do their own chores is also a big no-no, as at one point Barbara berates Jon for wanting to buy a mop. ‘When we move in together, don’t you ever do your own cleaning,’ she firmly declares.

Her ideal romance is the happy-ever-after kind she sees in rom-coms, which Jon despises. The scene where she drags Jon to see stereotypical chick flicks (featuring cameos by Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway and Cuba Gooding Jr.) is hilarious, but also very telling just how doomed this relationship is from the start. In the third act, we’re introduced to an older woman Esther (Julianne Moore) from Jon’s night class. Their encounters are amusing at first but there are some genuine drama and poignant touches as well.

Kudos for Gordon-Levitt for tackling a tricky subject matter with aplomb, even if it’s not as profound as he perhaps intended it to be. He doesn’t pull any punches with the porn imagery though, which was cut down from NC-17 to get a hard R rating. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see this film if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. I’m glad I gave it a shot but it’s not something I’d likely want to see again. The foul language also makes my ear burn but I guess it comes with the nature of this character. But the ugly stuff is shown to make a point and I for one don’t find any of the vulgar scenes sexy at all. In fact, it has the opposite effect, it’s as repulsive as seeing people snorting heroin or injecting drugs into their veins. There’s a not-so-subtle jab against the Catholic Church as well, but I think it says more about the superficial life of the protagonist. His “faith” is more about fulfilling a set of ritual instead of a genuine spiritual relationship.

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The 32-year-old actor assembles a great cast for his debut, starting with casting himself. He’s always been a consistently excellent actor, but he takes it up a few notches here in a bravura role. I’m glad he didn’t end up casting Tatum as he originally planned which would change the tone entirely I think. Not only is Gordon-Levitt’s newly-buff physique adds to the believability of the part, he’s also got the swagger to match whilst still maintain his likable charm. Scarlett Johansson looks the part as the sexy, gum-snapping starlet, complete with her perfect manicures, hoop earrings and Joisey accent. Apparently Gordon-Levitt wrote the part for her specifically and the two have quite a scorching chemistry. At times her Jersey girl portrayal is so over the top that it verges on caricature territory however, but I think the issue is more about how her character is written.

Another quibble I have is with Moore’s character, which could’ve been a bit more developed. A moment where she reveals about her past feels a bit rushed to me, which I think is a missed opportunity. The ending also feels a bit too neatly-placed and perhaps oversimplified. That said, Moore delivers quite an indelible performance as Esther, wise but vulnerable at the same time. Their scene towards the end conveys a crucial turning point for both her and Jon. It’s amusing to see Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s hot-headed dad, playing against type for those who know him as the sweet dad in Who’s the Boss. Brie Larson as Jon’s teenage sister doesn’t seem like she has much to do, but when she does, you’ll certainly take notice.

Final Thoughts: This is quite an impressive debut from Gordon-Levitt. There’s a certain style in the way he uses repetition to illustrate various point which I think is quite effective. The interesting camera work and use of sound and music in certain scenes are also worthy of note. It remains to be seen whether he’d be as good a filmmaker as he is an actor but his work here is certainly shows plenty of promise.


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


So what do you think of DON JON and/or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular?

2012 Year in Review: Best & Worst Movies and Memorable Movie Moments

Bye2012Can’t believe 2012 has come and gone. I don’t know about you but this past year felt especially fast for me, it just flew by before I had a chance to reflect on a bunch of things. I know a lot of bloggers have been putting their stamp on whether this has been a good or bad year for movies. Now, I personally don’t know how to really judge that, I think if someone were to ask me, I’d say it’s been a pretty good year as I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of movies, both the blockbusters and the smaller indie flicks.

Now, as I’ve done in the past couple of years, this top 10 is more of a list of favorites so naturally it’s very subjective. The movies included are reserved for those released in 2012 that I saw on the big screen (whether on regular theatrical release, screenings or at a local film festival).

So here they are in alphabetical order (it’s hard enough to pick just 10 so I sure as heck am not going to rank these):

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Top 10 Favorite 2012 Films:

  • Argo (my full review)
    Ben Affleck’s third directorial work makes up for a stellar ‘trilogy’ of his work. It was an engaging, edge-of-your-seat stuff and it was emotionally satisfying to boot. Great casting on John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the scene-stealing Hollywood folks set out to make a fake movie.

  • A Late Quartet (my full review)
    One of the indie gems at TIFF that totally lived up to my expectations, especially in the performances department. If you’re a fan of Christopher Walken or Philip Seymour Hoffman, I highly recommend this one.

  • Brave (my full review)
    I actually re-watched parts of this on the plane during my vacation and I still loved it. In a year of kick-ass movie heroines, Princess Merida is a highlight. Pixar delivers once again!

  • Looper (my full review)
    One of the best action sci-fi I’ve seen in years, thanks in no small feat to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The make-up might be distracting but Levitt’s performance was still strong enough to overcome that. The first movie by Rian Johnson I’ve seen – this one certainly makes me want to seek out his other works.

  • Silver Linings Playbook (my full review)
    This one was touted as the ‘centerpiece’ feature film at TCFF and glad it lived up to the hype. Another strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence (I actually like her a bit more here than in The Hunger Games) and proves that pretty-boy Bradley Cooper can definitely act. It also marks one of Robert De Niro’s best in recent memory.

  • Skyfall (my full review)
    Thanks to Sam Mendes, his team of writers and of course the blond Bond du jour Daniel Craig, we’ve got a massively entertaining Bond film that packs both brains and heart. I love that Judi Dench’s M is sort of the unconventional ‘Bond girl’ in this one, and the gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins certainly makes this one all the more memorable.

  • The Avengers
    The loud, popcorn blockbuster is certainly the highlight of the first half of 2012. Considering the herculean hype surrounding this one, it’s quite a feat that Josh Whedon & co. managed to still meet that, and then some! There are so much to like that I listed a top 10 reasons why The Avengers rocked.

  • The Dark Knight Rises (my full review)
    It’s really a testament to Christopher Nolan that despite all the plot holes, I still enjoyed it immensely. I still rate The Dark Knight higher, but overall it’s a satisfying ending to an amazing trilogy!

  • The Hobbit
    Well I just did my top 10 reasons why I loved this movie, so naturally this would end up on my top 10. Definitely a welcome return to the visually mesmerizing world of Middle Earth. Can’t wait for Part II!

  • The Sapphires (see my review)
    Last but definitely not least. I adore this inspirational true story set in the 60s about four talented young Aboriginal girls who were plucked out of obscurity when they formed into a dynamic singing group. Such an affecting story and the music is a winner, I can’t wait to see this again soon.

10 Honorable Mentions:

These ten films are excellent, they didn’t quite make my top 10 but they’re definitely still worth checking out if you haven’t already (click each title for full review):

Cloud Atlas, It’s A Disaster, Moonrise Kingdom, Robot and Frank, Quartet, Ruby Sparks, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, The Sessions, The Hunger Games, Things I Don’t Understand.


The year of the British Dames Trio

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Dames Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren all wowed me in their roles in Quartet, Skyfall and Hitchcock, respectively. Though Hitchcock is not stellar movie, Mirren’s role is the highlight for me and her casting as the filmmaker’s wife Alma undoubtedly made the film a lot better that it otherwise would. Dame Smith and Dench were also wonderful in the delightful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which marked the second time I saw them together on screen (the first one was A Room with a View). If only these three fine dames would star in a film together one day!


Now, I’d like to give a shout out to these 10 Movies I saw in 2012 (either on a rental or on the plane) that I’d highly recommend (click each title for my full review):

  1. Side by Side
  2. Headhunters
  3. Coriolanus
  4. The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch
  5. The Whistleblower
  6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  7. 21 Jump Street
  8. Margin Call
  9. Daybreakers
  10. Endgame

Five Biggest Disappointments in 2012

Now, to even things out, I also want to list those released this year that I didn’t care for. Fortunately, there are only five of them (that I have seen) that I rated 2.5 out of 5 or below.

  1. Total Recall
    Their comic-con panel (especially Colin Farrell) was a heck of a lot more entertaining than this stinker
  2. Bourne Legacy
    I wasn’t a fan of Jeremy Renner to begin with and I wasn’t about to become one after this. Rachel Weisz was a lot more charismatic here, which begs the question as to why she signed up to do this one.
  3. Playing For Keeps
    Well, it’s the year I say goodbye to Gerry Butler :( I’ve written an open letter in lieu of the review, but suffice to say this is one of the worst movie I’ve ever seen in recent memory [shudder]
  4. Snow White and the Huntsman
    I couldn’t stand K-Stew but I thought I’d give her a chance in something other than Twilight. Alas, she’s as expressionless as she ever was, so my befuddlement as to why she keeps getting roles continues. The rest of the cast weren’t exactly stellar either.
  5. Nobody Walks
    This was the worst movie I saw in at TCFF, I just didn’t enjoy the story at all, it actually left a bad taste in my mouth after. It turns out that one of the writers of this was Lena Dunham, so it’s highly unlikely I’d ever be interested in her HBO show Girls.


Top Five Favorite Movie-related Moments in 2012:


Well that’s my recap of 2012 in movies, folks. I’ll have a separate list of the films I’m anticipating in 2013.

So what tops your list of best and worst of the year?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Special: Premium Rush & Looper Reviews

It’s been quite a year for 31-year-old young thespian Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s got four movies opening this year alone, including one mega-blogbuster The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a testament to his versatility that he’s played a supporting role in two (TDKR and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, out later this November), and a starring role in two action thrillers released within a month of each other. Here are the reviews of those two, starting with the review from FC contributor Cecilia Rusli:

Premium Rush (2012)

I really think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is currently Hollywood’s shining star in skinny-guy category. He has pretty much impressed me on 500 Days of Summer, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises which actually affected my curiosity on Premium Rush and Looper where I end up with watching both of them this week.

Premium Rush tells the life of Wilee as a bike messenger who received a package which made he chased by a dirty cop. The main idea of the whole movie is about chasing and running. With a bike.

The movie definitely would appeal to fans of single-speed bikes (fixies) and if you’re one of those people, I’d think you won’t be disappointed in this one. Levitt succeed in showing the best he’s got as a cyclist, riding in a crowded traffic in style. There are plenty of edge-of-your-seats moments here which made me think that this is the bike-version of Fast and Furious. It has a story, but people should not expect much from it. The action parts on the traffic is very entertaining, especially those moments when a biker comes really close to having a deadly accident. However, there was one scene that’s quite disappointing as it appears as if there was going to be a bike-outbreak, where a bunch of bikes suddenly came out of a garage to deceive their enemy, but I don’t think that scene wasn’t handled very well.

As Bobby Monday, Michael Shannon plays his role pretty well. He managed to show his persistence as a tough villain who never stop his fight. Big guy as a dirty cop versus the skinny bike messenger is quite entertaining to watch.

One fun thing about Premium Rush is the graphic design. I really love how Wilee’s GPS shown on the screen, indicating which one is the best way to reach a certain place. The director, David Koepp, also shows some possibilities might happened in route that Wilee’s take. It feels a bit like playing a video game.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a movie which will pump your adrenaline with fun visuals with not much concerns about the story, Premium Rush will suit you just fine. A breath of fresh air for those who are bored watching car chase scenes.

P.S: Stay on seat after the movie ends for some additional footage in the end credits

– Review by Cecilia R.

…..

3 out of 5 reels


Looper (2012)

Time travel sci-fi movies are inherently intriguing to me, so when I first saw the trailer with THIS cast, I knew I wanted to see it. The hype surrounding this film is quite strong, at least if I’m using Twitter as a barometer, but I’m glad to report that I’m not disappointed.

As in the trailer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a specialized assassin, in an outfit called the Loopers. He lives in the year 2042 but the mob he works for lives 30 years ahead where time travel would’ve been invented. When his employer from the future wants to get rid of someone, they zap that person back 30 years where someone like Joe would be waiting with a big gun in hand, ready to blow them up to oblivion. The only rule is: never let your target escape… even if your target is you. The job seems easy enough, I mean, the targets are blindfolded, so it’s not like they could really escape. That is, until one did, and that target happens to be his older self, in the form of Bruce Willis.

Now, before the action begins in full throttle, Director Rian Johnson sets up the story by introducing the Looper doing their jobs and how these junkies hit-men spend their lives in a dystopian future (is there any other kind in the movies??). “Loopers are well paid, they lead a good life…” Joe said in his narration, but what he means by ‘good’ doesn’t mean a happy one and it’s clear that Joe is disillusioned with his life.

Let me just say the less you know about the plot the better as I went in pretty much ‘blind,’ other than seeing the trailer weeks ago, and it’s fun to see the story unravel in ways I didn’t really expect. There’s really a lot to chew on here, as do most time-travel movies, and I have to admit it was a bit mind-boggling to digest it all as I’m watching it, but now that I’ve processed the movie more, Johnson actually told the story well enough without an overly drawn-out exposition.

The strengths are in the performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems to only get better and better as he grows to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Seems like every time I see him, even in minor roles like in Inception or The Dark Knight Rises, he never fails to impress. I’ve got to admit though, his prosthetic make-up to make him look like Bruce Willis is distracting at times, but once I get into the story, I got used to it. In fact, in some scenes Gordon-Levitt’s mannerism and expressions really do remind me of Willis!

Now, I’ve always been a fan of Bruce. He’s a bad ass guy with a heart and I feel that he sold me on the emotional moments as well as on the action front, in which he channels his iconic John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. In fact, I kept waiting for him to yell ‘Yiippiikayee’ during some of the shootout scenes!

I’m also impressed with Emily Blunt and child actor Pierce Gagnon who plays her little boy. Both played two key roles that serve as the emotional center of the story. Their paths crossed with both the younger and older Joe in a way that not only affect their own lives but the lives of Joe’s fellow Loopers. Their scenes with Gordon-Levitt are well-played, though it could perhaps be tightened a bit as it does feel dragging at times. Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano also lend memorable supporting performances, Daniels is sort of a comic relief as Joe’s manager who happens to be sent by the mob from the future.

It’s refreshing to see a movie based on an original script, not an adaptation nor a remake. Despite all the time travel elements, the film also doesn’t feel too science-fiction-y. I’m also glad Johnson doesn’t pile on one action set pieces after another, instead there are a lot of quiet moments to establish character development that help you get immersed in Joe’s journey.

Final Thoughts: Looper is a thrill ride that has a nice blend of thrilling action and matters of the heart. There are brutal action and some totally-unnecessary nudity here, but fortunately not so much so that derails my overall appreciation for it. At the core of this movie lies a heartfelt love story between a man and a woman, and also between a mother and his son. I like what Ryan @ The Matinee said in his review about how our decisions have a ripple effect that might impact people in ways we don’t intend or understand. It reminds me a bit of another time-travel movie Frequency which also deals with this theme, but this one is much less melodramatic.

I haven’t seen Brick yet, but I might give that a shot to see Johnson + Gordon-Levitt’s previous collaboration. I have an inkling this won’t be the last movie of the pair and that’d be a welcome project in my book!

4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on Premium Rush and/or Looper? Let us know in the comments!

Monthly Roundup: September Movie Watching Recap

I didn’t realize Autumnal Equinox was eight days ago. The best part of this season for me is the gorgeous fall foliage. I love driving past all the colorful trees, the mix of warm colors are just absolutely beautiful! I wish we could just have the next six months be Autumn and skip Winter altogether until April! :D

Well, you could say I wasn’t as prolific this past month with just 20 posts in 30 days (compared to 25 last month). I deliberately took most of the weekends off as it’s been quite a hectic month for me.

There’s no blogathon I’m participating this past month, but I’ve been busy prepping for the Small Roles… Big Performances. It’s scheduled to go LIVE on Monday at NOON US Central Time, along with a couple of separate posts from FC’s contributors. Thanks to those of you who have submitted their entry. For those who haven’t I’ll still be taking submissions all next week, so just email it to me or leave it in the comments and I’ll add it to the main post.

Well, here are some of the posts you might’ve missed from September:

Well, what did I manage to watch this month?

Movies I haven’t seen before:

  1. 2016: Obama America (2012)
  2. Robot & Frank (2012)
  3. The Crow (1994)
  4. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)
  5. Endgame (2009)
  6. Frequency (2000)
  7. Headhunters (2011)
  8. Hysteria (2011)
  9. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
  10. Looper (2012)
  11. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
  12. Lumpy (2012)

Re-watch:

  • Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  • For Your Eyes Only (1981)
  • The Avengers (2012)

Favorite September Movie(s):

I haven’t got a chance to review Looper yet as I’ve been busy with the blogathon, but let me just say it’s a solid sci-fi thriller that’s as much a thrill ride as Headhunters was. I can’t choose which one I like the best, and I think I’d end up giving it the same rating of 4.5 out of 5. Interestingly, both directors of Headhunters and LooperMorten Tyldum and Rian Johnson respectively — have only got three feature films under their belt. Not only that, this marks the second collaboration with an actor they worked with previously (Tyldum with Aksel Hennie and Johnson with Joseph Gordon-Levitt).


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

FlixChatter Review: The Dark Knight Rises

In an era where seemingly every Summer we get a superhero cinematic event, Christopher Nolan still manages to kick it up a notch with The Dark Knight Rises. Really, even without the ruckus over death treats over negative reviews and the tragic event that happened in Aurora, CO, during a midnight screening, the hype over the final chapter to Nolan’s Batman saga is still a colossal one. The over-exposure is really quite overwhelming, to the point where I have to make extra effort to tune it out and be as fresh as possible.

Well, I’m happy to say that it paid off to know as little as possible about the plot as I was surprised a couple of times watching this. I think those of you that still have not seen this yet, I suggest you do the same and avoid reading about it as much as you possibly can.

Now, the gist of the story is actually pretty simple… it’s eight years after Bruce Wayne has hung up the Batman mantle, still haven’t moved on from his lost love Rachel who perished in The Dark Knight. But suddenly a disturbance of great proportion threatens to destroy his beloved city of Gotham, and so he feels compelled to help its citizens, even at the risk of facing an adversary that’s even greater than he had faced before. So the gist is simple, but somehow, Nolan and his team of writers concocted a complicated storyline involving a myriad of characters that at times I was left discombobulated trying to make sense of it all.

Before I go further with my critique, let’s start with the positive first.

Nolan has certainly done a remarkable job in maintaining the tone and quality of all three films that they work seamlessly as one spectacular trilogy. In keeping most of the cast intact and most importantly, the writers, we are already fully invested in the story and characters, and when new characters are introduced, there is no dissonant.

Two of the new main characters are both impressive — Anne Hathaway as the masterful thief Selina Kyle [she was never described as Catwoman though she essentially is one] and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as rookie policeman John Blake. Both actors bring something new to the table and I’m happy to say that my doubt about Hathaway’s casting was quickly erased the moment she appeared on screen. She was sassy, strong and playful but yet has that vulnerable side to her for the emotional moments in the film. Marion Cotillard as a philanthropist businesswoman Miranda Tate doesn’t have much screen time by comparison, but her character is certainly a crucial one.

As for Bane, now I think he’s a pretty formidable villain though not the character itself and Tom Hardy‘s performance is not as iconic as the one from the previous installment. Yet I think he’s quite a force to be reckoned with and there are some scenes that made me shudder just on the sheer of physical strength he had.

The rest of the returning cast (Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman) are in top form as well, but if I were to rank my favorite Nolan’s Batman saga characters, I’d say Alfred Pennyworth will be in my top five. Michael Caine brings so much heart into the story, and there’s one pivotal conversation between him and Bruce Wayne that makes me cry. He’s such a father figure to Bruce, and as I’ve said in this Father’s Day post, Alfred really is the one who helps shape Batman to be the kind of hero we’ve come to know and love. Christian Bale proves once again he is the perfect choice to play the conflicted, tormented hero and he even looks like he’s aged a bit here, eaten up by such deep sense of grief.

As Ted mentioned in his review on Saturday, I also think the action scenes are brilliantly-executed. There are not as many of them but once they appear, it is so thrilling and fun to watch, especially the moment Batman first appeared with his brand new toy, the flying tumbler fittingly dubbed The Bat. I feel like I was one of Gotham’s citizens happily cheering my hero once again! As for the mano-a-mano with Bane, well this moody poster with the broken Batman’s cowl on the ground certainly delivers its promise. That fight scene is brutal! Nolan is not afraid to make the hero suffers and Batman has never been more in peril than he is here, both physically and emotionally. Yet we will see why the title ‘Rises’ is aptly used here.

Visually it’s a wonder. Seriously, it’s worth every penny seeing it on the giant IMAX screen. Over an hour of this movie was filmed on 70 mm IMAX film and boy did it show! I was ooh-aahing throughout seeing those gorgeous aerial shots of Gotham, I am certainly glad he chose this format instead of 3D. His longtime collaborator, Wally Pfister ought to get an Oscar nod for his cinematography work here.

At 2 hours 44 seconds, the film also able to keep me engrossed the entire time, which is quite a feat.

So, what doesn’t work here?

A couple of them is on the technical level, such as Bane’s often unintelligible voice that makes it even impossible to comprehend when Hans Zimmer’s score is blaring so loudly in the background that it drowns out everything else happening in that scene. There are moments where I wish they’d turn the volume of the music down a bit so I could hear the sound of the environment the scene is set in and more importantly the dialog! Even when the characters are screaming, I still have trouble hearing what they are saying. I think the score is good, but because it’s so irritatingly loud, I can’t appreciate it as much as I would otherwise.

Now, plot-wise, seems like in seven years, the complexity level has quadrupled since Batman Begins and as I’m watching it, I feel like Bane is not the only one having trouble breathing as Nolan doesn’t seem to give much room for us to come up for air. This film is sooo jam-packed with layer after layer of plot, and whilst it has the power to thrill, it also can be quite frustrating at times. Now, I don’t mind the complexity of the story, but I feel that Nolan seems to be more concerned with the bigger picture of the plot that the *smaller details* seem to have gone by the wayside.

Interestingly, I just read this well-written article on Anomalous Material by Nick Prigge that talks about how the Nolan brothers certainly know their set-ups and payoffs. That is, with every small set-up in the movie, even a seemingly trivial one, there’s always a pay-off, which is always a good rule of thumb in screenwriting. Yet I feel that the writing team drops the ball a few times in this final installment. I’m only going to mention those examples in the spoiler section below for those of you who have seen the movie, but let’s just say that the suspension of disbelief is often stretched too far, and I’m saying that because Nolan has pride himself in creating such a realistic universe in his Batman films that I expect more from him. It’s not a deal-breaker in the grand scheme of things, but yet it’s big enough that I’d have to take into account when I rate the film.

Final Thoughts:

Is this THE best Batman film of the three? I’d say no, and not only because Heath Ledger’s The Joker was such a more compelling villain, but more because of the lack of inconsistencies in the way Nolan set up the universe of Batman and Gotham. I guess I scrutinize this film more because I have come to expect so much more from Nolan and the director himself has set the bar so high to justify such expectations.

Still, overall The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying finale to a fantastic [and lucrative] franchise, and it boasts such a WHOA ending to boot! The conclusion mirrors that of the spinning totem in Inception where we’d be endlessly discussing what we *think* happens at the end [that darn Nolan does it again!!]. I’m also glad that there’s surprisingly a lot of heart beneath such an exhilarating, rip-roaring superhero blockbuster.

4 out of 5 reels

SPOILER ALERT!

Highlight the text below to read this section:

As I stated in my review above, my beef is that Nolan is inconsistent in the way he set the universe of Gotham. In this final movie he suddenly introduces the notion that Gotham is part of the United States, hence that televised presidential speech, but yet the city seems to function as if it’s on its own and no other states exist. I mean how could the cops be trapped under the rubble for three whole months and NO Federal aid comes to the rescue?? I mean all they had to do is to have a Pentagon-like military headquarter send some kind of help by air (since the bridges are burned down) and just blow up those rubble so the cops can get out?? Instead they had to wait for Batman’s aid to do so. I find that really hard to believe.

Another thing is about Bruce Wayne. Now, why is he wearing a walking stick for eight years walking around in Wayne manor and suddenly when he’s back as Batman again, he no longer has a limp and can withstand such brutal beating from the brute force that is Bane. Even the back-breaking thing, well, we’re entering incredible fantasy territory again with how speedy his recovery is and even if that is plausible, my suspension of disbelief is already stretched thin to see him able to walk normally again, but he can actually make such a giant leap to escape the prison of the League of Shadows?? Wow, I think that’s asking too much because everything in this movie is already set up in such a realistic tone. I mean Gotham itself doesn’t have the fantastical element like in Tim Burton’s Batman movies, it’s set up just like an ordinary metropolitan city like New York. So the inconsistencies feel jarring to me.

Lastly, there’s that part where Miranda, a.k.a. Thalia Al Ghul stabs Batman up close with a big knife and it’s clear Batman is hurt as she sadistically twists the knife before she pulls it out. Yet in the subsequent scene, Batman doesn’t show ANY sign of pain whatsoever, it’s like the stabbing never happened. Make that what you will, but I think that’s sloppy writing, no?? I mean tell me where the payoff is on that one, maybe I’m missing something??

I’m curious to hear what you think about Gordon-Levitt’s character. At the end of the movie, his real name is revealed to be Robin [unlike in the comics where Robin is actually an alias] and seems as if based on Blake’s conversation with Bruce Wayne, Batman is grooming him to take over his mantle as the protector of Gotham. I wonder if there’s going to be a follow-up to that in the future with perhaps Nolan serving as a ‘mentor’ of the project, like he does with Man of Steel.

Now lastly… do you think Batman perished at the end? If so, then that scene at the Italian cafe, is that just Alfred’s imagination of wanting his master to finally have a normal life or was Bruce really there with Selina? Well, my hubby reminded me at brunch today about that auto-pilot thing that Bruce apparently fixed, unbeknownst to Lucius Fox. So that piece of seemingly trivial scene might imply that perhaps the Bat had been flying on auto pilot which allows Batman to rescue himself to safety. So my position is that Batman lives! What do YOU think?


Soooo, what did you think of the movie? Do you agree with my assessment? Feel free to discuss about the spoilery stuff but please state a warning in your comment as a courtesy :)

The Good & Not-So-Good about The Dark Knight Rises – Ted’s Review

Well it’s finally here, The Dark Knight Rises opens in theaters everywhere this weekend. I was lucky enough to have seen it at an advanced screening Wednesday night. Since not many people have seen it yet, my review won’t go into any plot points or spoil anything for you.

The movie is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne/Batman is still mourning the death of his true love, Rachel Dawes, while Gotham is living the high life because their White Knight, Harvey Dent, died to keep the peace. For those who went to see M:I-4 last winter at the 70mm IMAX theater, you’ve already seen the opening scene of the film. It starts with Bane high jacking and then clashed an airplane. The first half hour of this film started out kind of clunky but once Bane started his chaos and Batman shows up, you’re in for a treat. That’s all I’m going to say about the story, for this review I’ll go through what I thought worked well and what didn’t.

The Good:

Performances-wise, most of the actors did a great job. I was surprised how effective Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman was in the film. She played a key role and I thought Hathaway did a great job, he role is much more serious and “realistic” than Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns.

The returning players are great as always, especially Michael Caine’s Alfred. His one particular scene with Bruce Wayne was quite emotional, well it was to me. But in my opinion, this movie belongs to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I know it sounds strange to say that but when you see the film, you’ll understand. Whatever speculations you’ve read or heard about his character, let’s just say you’ll either going to be excited or not surprised by it. Bale of course was great as always, in fact Wayne has more screen time than Batman.

Just like all of Nolan’s films, the cinematography in this film was nothing short of spectacular. As you’ve probably already heard, half of the movie was shot with IMAX cameras so if there’s a true IMAX theater in your area, do please see it there. Some of the set pieces were quite stunning on the giant screen. You’d be surprised that the film didn’t have as much action as you’d think but when the action does happen, there were well-staged and no shaky-cam or fast-editing. Thank you Nolan for actually filming action scenes that were exciting to watch. The mano-a-mano fight scene between Bane and Batman was pretty awesome, those who’ve read the comics Knightfall series won’t be disappointed.

Also, I have to mention Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score, the theme is very similar to The Dark Knight‘s but it was still good.

The Not-So-Good:

I know it’s hard to top Heath Ledger’s The Joker but I was hoping Bane could at least be as good but unfortunately I thought Bane was kind of underused as the main antagonist. Even though they fixed some of his voice, sometimes it’s hard to understand what he was saying. Now again I can’t say more without spoiling it for you, so I’ll let you judge his character for yourselves.

Marion Cotillard’s Marinda Tate was also underused, I think the film would’ve worked better had her character was fleshed-out more, her character sort of reminds me of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight.

With that said, I still think this is one of the best big summer films I’ve seen in a long time. Is it better than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? I can’t say that at the moment, I plan on seeing it a few more times, then maybe I can decide whether it’s better than the previous two films or not. When Nolan said this film will wrap up the trilogy, he meant it. To me it felt like he finally finished his take on the Caped Crusader.

– review by Ted S.


Well that’s it, for those who’ve already seen it, do you agree with my review? And for those who’re planning to go see it this weekend, hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Ten awesome things about The Dark Knight Rises trailer 3

I’m sure everyone’s seen this trailer by now, several times over perhaps? Well I don’t blame you, I have seen it about seven times already and I have to restrain myself from being overly-excited about this movie. My friend Matthew from The Movie Mash tweeted this earlier today:

Tonight I finally get to see THE AVENGERS, a movie I’ve been dying to see. Sadly, all I can think about is THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Ahah, well I replied back saying that only Nolan’s Batman could compete w/ the killer buzz The Avengers‘ been getting. And with a trailer like this, naturally!

So here are just ten things I’m excited about from this trailer:

  1. Bane’s mumbling voice is gone! He’s a lot more comprehensible here than in the previous stuff I’ve seen. That is massive good news as it’s hard to be menacing when you can’t understand a darn thing he says!
  2. Selena Kyle a.k.a Catwoman kicking some serious @$$ as Batman’s ally. She seems to be more of a colleague instead of a love interest, which I think makes it even more intriguing. Of course I’m still expecting some flirtatious banters between the two.
  3. Seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Gotham police officer … The trailer hints that he’d have more screen time in this film, but just who is John Blake and how does he fit into the bigger picture? I can’t wait to find out!

  4. The vibe is absolutely ominous, dark, and brooding… There’s a lot of emotional stuff going on amongst all of the action that’s going on. Proves that superhero movies aren’t merely bombastic fluff…
  5. … but yet still knows how to have fun and gives us the fantastic elements we go see a superhero movie for. That last part of Catwoman riding with Batman in what we know is NOT a car promises there are fun to be had with all of those awesome Bat vehicles being put to good use!
  6. How even more menacing Bane is… I love that Nolan is consistent in giving the hero a worthy foe, in fact it just gets scarier with each film. In this article, Tom Hardy explains the contrast between The Joker and Bane… “The Joker didn’t care. He just wanted to see the world burn, and he was a master of chaos and destruction, unscrupulous and crazy… Bane is not that guy. There is a very meticulous and calculated way about Bane. There is a huge orchestration of organization to his ambition. He is also a physical threat to Batman.” Ouch!

  7. We’ll see how a hero earns his stripes… that face-off between Batman and Bane looks vicious. Will Batman survive? In the comics Bane breaks Batman’s back but are we going to see some similarities to the ending of X-Men: First Class in regards to Xavier, or will Nolan do something even more drastic? It all remains to be seen but one thing for sure we’ll see the caped crusader’s darkest hour.
  8. Bruce Wayne’s in love again?? The trailer shows Bruce kissing the magnifique Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate. As fans had been speculating about the presence of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia seeking revenge on the death of her father, could it be that Tate is the Two-Face in this story?
  9. The amazing shots shown in this trailer, that aerial shot of the bridge getting blown up and especially the one of Batman on the bridge looking over Gotham with his cape blowing in the wind looks spectacular.

  10. I love the fact that even with the fairly large amount of footage being shown, this trailer still doesn’t reveal too much about the plot so it’s still delightfully enigmatic. The dialog is kept sparse and the evocative music brilliantly builds up the suspense, ascending along with the the level of high octane action depicting Gotham in utter chaos.

In Nolan We Trust… I expect nothing less than an epic conclusion to the caped crusader saga. Part of my anticipation of seeing The Avengers is seeing this trailer on the big screen. I tell you, July 18 can’t come soon enough!
… 


So those of you anticipating this movie, what do you think of this latest trailer? 

The Flix List: Five noteworthy young actors (under 30)

Talk about perfect timing. I had been jotting down this list when I saw yesterday’s assignment from Castor’s 31DBBB event is to make a list post! It’s day 2 of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, a group project a bunch of movie bloggers are doing together in an attempt to improve our blogs and help each other become better bloggers.

Inspired by my recent ‘discovery‘ of Robert Pattinson’s talent, it got me thinking what other actors under 30 who’ve caught my attention. So inevitably he made the list, along with four other young male actors who’ve made an impression on me in the past decade:

  1. Robert Pattinson (24)
    I never thought of including this London-born actor on this list until I saw Remember Me. Sure, Twilight made him astar and gained him a bazillion fans, but acting-wise the franchise doesn’t do him any favors. Thankfully he seeks out understated rolesin smaller movies to showcase his acting chops. Let’s hope he continues to mix things up and learn from people like Leo DiCaprio who successfully shed his matinee idol image and become a formidable actor.
  2. Jamie Bell (24)
    The English actor first won me over in the acclaimed dancing drama Billy Elliot, he even beat Tom Hanks (Cast Away) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator) at 2001’s BAFTA! Since then been playing mostly under-the-radar roles: King Kong, Jumper, Defiance. Yet, even in supporting roles, it’s clear Bell is one talented young man. I haven’t seen Jumper but my husband who saw it kept saying how he stole every scene from Hayden Christensen, who got the movie’s top billing. He also won raves in the little-seen Hallam Foe, but hopefully his next movie, Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin will rightfully put him on the Hollywood map.
  3. Daniel Radcliffe (21)
    I had just recently discovered Harry Potter, which was an entertaining franchise to catch up on (all six movies in 2 weeks!). The movies are well-written and well-acted, mixing complete unknowns with award-winning thespians. Radcliffe obviously had the formidable job of portraying such a beloved literary character, and I think he pulls it off quite well, growing more comfortable as an actor as the franchise went on. He’s been known to take some risks in his roles as well, probably hoping to shed his innocent-boy image so he can have a fruitful career post HP. He took on the bizarre role in the play Equus, playing a boy with a pathological fascination with horses, even willing to strip nude on stage! He’s set to star in a Hammer horror flick Woman in Black. After that, he reportedly plans on going back to theater in a Broadway play How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Pretty versatile guy I’d say.
  4. Shia LaBeouf (24)
    Probably known most as the Transformers boy who’s the envy of every adolescent boy for getting to snog Megan Fox, I actually think this guy can act. He was rather good in Disturbia, which was a decent thriller, though its similarities to Hitchcock’s Rear Window got the studios in some legal troubles. Spielberg reportedly was quite taken with him, hence casting him in the sequel that should not have been made. Obviously the inept script didn’t give him a chance to do much of anything in that movie. Hopefully his next movie, which happens to be another sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleep, will fare better.
  5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (29)
    Gordon-Levitt is pretty much in a whole different league amongst his 20-something peers, having proven his craft in solid roles one after another: The Lookout, Stop-Loss, Brick, and the refreshingly-smart rom-com (500) Days of Summer. The phenomenal success of Inception will no doubt help his career even further. Though with talent like his, he hardly needs a blockbuster to get us to notice. The best thing about Gordon-Levitt is that he’s reliable, we can always expect an excellent performance out of him and not be disappointed.

Honorable Mentions (added 8/11):

  • Henry Cavill (I talked about this guy quite a lot, so it’s simply an oversight for not mentioning him. Thanks Dez!)
  • Freddie Highmore (He may only be 18, but this kid’s resume is impressive. He’s done some great work in Finding Neverland, A Good Year, and August Rush, among others)
  • Rupert Friend (Won me over in The Young Victoria)
  • Ben Wishaw (Bright Star didn’t blow me away, but can’t deny Wishaw’s acting chops)
  • Andrew Garfield (I confess I haven’t seen any movie of his, but I’m making an exception as he’s impressed me in three trailers: The Red Riding trilogy, The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about this kid in the future, especially now that he’s been cast as Spiderman).

Ok folks, your turn. Which young actor(s) have impressed you lately?

FlixChatter Review: Inception

It’s been more than twelve hours since the movie ended, yet I’m still mulling it over, spewing quotes from the movie, and can’t stop thinking about it. Nolan’s films infiltrate the minds, kind of like when you just wake up from a vivid dream and still feel trapped between the dream world and reality.

Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange. – Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)

I don’t know about you, but I dream often and they’re sometimes quite vivid. No matter how weird and surreal the are, one common thing they share is that my dreams always contain a mishmash of what’s real and what’s not, sometimes they even involve people/things from long ago that I thought I had forgotten, meshed together with those in my imagination. When I woke up, often abruptly, my main is in a state of confusion, but yet I wish I hadn’t been awaken. It’s discombobulating yes, frustrating at times as you can’t keep your finger on it, but dreams tend to be fascinating in a strange way. The same can be said about this movie.

The first fifteen minutes it was challenging to discern. It opens with a figure washed ashore on a beach, waves crashing onto him, and the story immediately unfolds in such an enigmatic way. Characters are vaguely defined as neither good or bad, but one thing we do know even from the trailer, DiCaprio’s Cobb is a thief. He’s not just any thief however, he isn’t after material things, but something far more priceless: an idea, someone’s deepest secret. But this time, his supposedly final job, he’s been hired by wealthy tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) to do the opposite of he usually does. Instead of extracting an idea, his task is to plant one into his subject’s subconscious mind, which happens to be Saito’s business rival. As if stealing from people’s dreams isn’t impossible enough, this crazy mission is bound to be ultra complicated. Well, just you wait.

The thief gets his game on

I just saw Nolan’s first feature film Following just two days prior, so the details are still quite clear in my head. It’s quite obvious that Chris Nolan is obsessed with how the mind works and psychological manipulation. His first and latest film both deal with the concept of theft and intrusion, even the lead character share the same name: Cobb. But of course Inception is not so much a sibling of Following but its distant, ultra wealthy relative in the way of scope, scale and aspiration. There have been expensive blockbusters released this year, so in terms of production, its $170 million budget is by no means groundbreaking. What separates this from the pack is its sheer ambition and up-to-there creativity. To quote TOTAL FILM in it’s Summer issue: “…Inception’s USP is all about WTF originality.” I read one tweet on Friday that pretty much summed it up my experience: “Thanks Mr. Nolan. Now we only have 11% brain power left in us…” or something along that line. Unlike most popcorn blockbusters, you can’t switch off even one tiny part of your brain going into this movie, and even then you’ll still be perplexed, bewildered and frustrated by what’s taking place on screen.

To go into details of the story would be a disservice to those who haven’t seen it, besides, words escape me in trying to find ways to describe it. Many of Nolan’s movies usually demand repeated viewings to fully grasp the story, and this one is no exception. It’s got such a complex and multi-layered dream-within-a-dream concept, with plots and twists piling up on top of each other that we’re bound to miss some key information the first time around. I wish I could rewind a couple of scenes and turn on the caption on, especially when Ken Watanabe is conversing with DiCaprio, which are some of the vital scenes in the movie. But the thrill is in trying to piece together this puzzle Nolan’s thrusts upon us (my husband quipped that Nolan must be into puzzle games and perhaps chess when he was growing up), and there are also some spellbinding visual effects to enjoy throughout. The CGI is quite seamless, which is a feat in and of itself, but the beauty is that when we’re seeing it, we don’t get stuck at the technicality of it. The special effects enhance the story instead of distract us from the movie.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’d have seen a glimpse of the scene where the city of Paris is folding up geometrically. Well, it looks so much cooler in the movie, and we the audience, as well as DiCaprio and Ellen Page’s character marvel together seeing the people who are still walking about and cars driving normally in a gravity-defying manner. Then there is the surreal sudden appearance of a freight train in the middle of a downtown street and a hotel hallway that spins like a hamster wheel in a Matrix-like action sequence. Those are just a few visual treats that go along with the cerebral ones.

DiCaprio & Cotillard as husband & wife

It’s also exciting for me to see the influences that shape Nolan’s body of work. He said to Empire magazine that “[Inception] is absolutely my Bond movie… I grew up just loving them and they’re a huge influence on me.” No wonder, I chuckle during the sequence in the snowy mountainous region of Calgary, as it bear a striking resemblance to the ski shootout in For Your Eyes Only, among others. Interestingly enough, Nolan’s favorite Bond movie is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which is the least successful Bond movie with George Lazenby), as Nolan puts it, “…it’s by far the most emotional.” Similarly with Inception, amidst all the high-level concept, high-tech gadgetry and action-packed sequences, at the heart of the movie is a love story between Cobb and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).

Part of Leo's team: Tom Hardy & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

So, with all the anticipation that went on for almost a year, does it live up to my expectation? One short answer: YES. Albeit being quite mystified for a good portion of the movie, it was exhilarating and fun, a thrill ride for the eyes and the mind. The acting is also excellent throughout, and not just by DiCaprio alone, who’s definitely the ‘face’ of the movie. Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Watanabe, Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger and Sir Michael Caine are wonderful in their respective roles. I particularly enjoy Hardy (who I last saw in Rocknrolla) who steal scenes every moment he’s in with his charming presence and comic relief. I would love to see more of this guy in the leading role.

Well, on that note, let me end with his line from the movie, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” Hardy’s character Eames said just before he pulled out a giant firearm next to a lesser-equipped Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur (you can see the exact clip here, thanks to Chele Belle’s comment). Hmmm, that’s got to be the motto Christopher Nolan lives by.