FlixChatter Double Reviews: The Monuments Men

MonumentsMenPoster

Happy Friday everyone! Today we’ve got another double review of a film which release has been delayed for a couple of months. Originally, this was to be released last December during awards/holiday season, but director/star George Clooney actually asked the studio for more time for post-production due to the special effects weren’t ready. Sarah and I went to the screening last Wednesday, here’s our take on it:

Sarah’s Review

When I was visiting Germany last year and killing time waiting for my train back to Dusseldorf from Cologne, I was struck by a postcard in one of the gift shops with a Google earth type of photo of Cologne in post-World War II Europe. The entire town was decimated by repeated bombings but somehow the 13th century Cologne cathedral still stood tall amidst all the destruction- as if saved only by the grace of God. “The Monuments Men,” the new movie co-written and directed by George Clooney, tells the story of curators, archivists and art historians from thirteen countries whose mission it was to save some of the most culturally significant works of art from Nazi destruction near the end of World War II. In a Napoleonic-like move, Adolf Hitler often ordered his armies to claim some of Europe’s greatest art treasures for his planned “Fuhrer Museum” to be built near his boyhood home in Austria. (Did you know Hitler was a failed art student? Neither did I. When George Stout, an American art conservationist played by George Clooney in the movie, shows one of his paintings to the newly assembled group, one of them remarks, “Hitler did that? It’s not bad.” However, James Granger, played by Matt Damon and based on Metropolitan Museum of Art Director James Rorimer, says, “Well, it’s not good.”) When the fall of the Third Reich became a reality, Hitler commanded his men to destroy everything and the group that has become known as the Monuments Men swung into action, embarking on “the greatest treasure hunt in history.”

MonumentsMen_Stills1
As a self-proclaimed history buff who has studied and visited many of the places in the film, I really wanted to like this movie but it felt like this great story got lost in a mishmash of a film trying to be a combination of Hogan’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan and The Da Vinci Code. Call it a movie with an identity crisis- it was like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. SPOILER ALERT! (Without giving too much away, one example is a scene where one of the Monuments Men gets shot and it’s obvious he’s going to die. However, in the next scene he is cracking jokes. Umm, hello? It’s wartime and you’re dying.) The cast, which also includes Bill Murray and John Goodman, do what they can but ultimately can’t save this one. About the only person who seems to understand the gravity of the situation is Claire Simone, the museum curator turned spy played by Cate Blanchett. When showing Matt Damon’s character some of the Nazi’s re-possessed goods, he asks incredulously, “What is all this?” “People’s lives,” she solemnly replies. Her scenes were a breath of fresh air.
MonumentsMen_Damon_Blanchett
This movie does do a couple of things well. It helps put you in the moment where these men unearth thousands of stolen, priceless artifacts. What must it have been like to gaze upon these famous artworks and know that you had a major role in securing them for future generations to enjoy? And it also provides a powerful reminder of what we were fighting for- not just art, but our culture, history and way of life. Two scenes brought this home to me: the first near the beginning of the film where you see the beautiful landscape of Paris decorated with Nazi swastikas and the second toward the end of the film where you see Nazi soldiers indiscriminately torching some of what they had stolen. Maybe it was these ideals that frustrated me the most about this movie- it was okay, but it could have been so much better.
The movie is based on a 2010 book of the same name by Robert Edsel and it did make me want to learn more about this fascinating point in history. Also, in a local connection, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has put together a self-guided tour identifying items from its own collection saved by the Monuments Men or with other World War II related stories. As our temperature doesn’t want to rise above zero lately and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free, this seems like a great idea! As for the movie, it piques your interest but doesn’t quite hold you in its grasp.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


2.5 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

When I first heard about this film, the subject matter intrigued me more than even the ensemble cast. Truthfully, seeing Matt Damon and George Clooney with their megastar smiles in the trailer, it felt like an Ocean’s Eleven heist type of flick, but with Nazis. Hmmm, it turns out that first impression wasn’t that off-base after all.

Seems that the film has everything going for it to be a truly great WWII drama. Clooney is after all a reputable Oscar-nominated director/writer/actor, a triple threat on top of being one of the biggest movie stars in the universe. He’s got the clout to assemble a bunch of Oscar-caliber International cast and crew, who are more than up for the task to bring this amazing wartime tale to life. But yet, even halfway through the film, it just left me wanting. For something so monumental in history, the film just doesn’t do the story justice.

To call this film uneven would be putting it mildly. There’s a tonal hodgepodge that makes it quite hard to really grasp the weight of the mission of the men (and women) involved. Art historian Frank Stokes, played by Clooney himself, preaches to the audience the significance of this art-rescue mission and how noble the cause was for humanity that it was worth a person’s life. Yet the way the film’s played-out lacks the gravitas of that sentiment. At times it’s just too lighthearted for its own good that it loses its impact. I’m not saying that mixing drama with comedy can’t work, I mean there are great films that finely tread the line between drama and comedy, but I’m not sure it works well here.

MonumentsMen_Stills2

There’s a scenario where one character accidentally stepped on a land mine, but it’s treated like a humorous scene. I guess there ought to be an SNL skit where the Monuments Men don’t know which foot to stand on. Seems that Clooney himself realizes the challenge of getting the tone right, as this article from The Wrap points out  “If we get the tone right it will be a really fun film …” he said. Well, the film is not without its shares of fun, but I think if the tone were right, it would’ve been a great film.

Performance-wise, seems that the cast are having a good time making this which is fun to watch. Clooney and Damon are pretty good but I’ve seen much better work from both of them. It’s amusing to see Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Bob Balaban with his deadpan humor and Jean Dujardin being his irresistible charming French guy that he is. Now, as much as I got a kick watching them, I barely knew about any of them nor any of the other characters in the film. Why did they sacrifice their lives for this mission? Is it simply their love for art, or was there something more? As a result, I couldn’t connect with any of them no matter how hard I tried. Even during the most dire circumstances, it didn’t incite lump-in-my-throat kind of emotion, and this coming from someone who cry easily at movies. I think Cate Blanchett‘s character, the only female cast who’s the most solemn of the whole bunch, is the only one who lends credibility to the story. But still her character’s not explored as well as I would like, either.

This is Clooney’s fifth directorial effort and he also co-wrote it with his screenwriting partner Grant Heslov.  Seems that the filmmakers’ heart are in the right place and the film is not without its poignant moments. I just wish those moments are more consistent instead of just in few and far between. I don’t think that even if this were released just in time for Oscar season that it would’ve been in the running. It’s not a terrible film however, I’d recommend it as a rental if you love the cast. But if you want to really know who the Monuments Men are and their mission, I’d think there are documentaries on them that’s more satisfying and compelling. As it stands, it’s quite entertaining with a tinge of poignancy, though it lacks a certain level of artistry that’d give us a lasting impression.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth

threereels
3 out of 5 reels


What do you think folks, agree/disagree with our review? Well let’s hear it!

About these ads

Guest Post: Elysium, Her & The Nature of Science Fiction

Special thanks to Conor Holt for this post. Stay tuned for my full review of Spike Jonze’s her coming this weekend!


Well, this is awkward. Science Fiction is my favorite film genre, but in 2013 one of my favorite films of the year and my least favorite film of the year…are both Science-Fiction. How could this happen?

Well, let’s go back to the Science Fiction Genre. The Science-Fiction genre is one of the more difficult genres to define, since it lacks the same visual iconography & story structure of more concrete genres, like the Western or the Gangster film (if I can remember my Science-Fiction film genre class from college correctly). The Western features cowboys, saloons, shootouts – constant, common visual cues that you’re watching a Western. A Sci-Fi film, however, could feature a time machine, or take place on a space ship, or feature a robot – any and all visuals are possible. A Gangster film almost always features the tragic rise and fall of a criminal in the urban jungle, while a Sci-Fi film could be about changing the past, or fighting aliens, or about a robot learning to be human. Science-Fiction is defined by its very diversity – any time period, any technology, any idea is possible. The only requirement is that the story address and think about that possibility.  The “what if?” of the story isn’t just a jumping off point, but the actual crux of the story.

ElysiumVSHer

So, back to 2013, and two very different films. Just a few weeks ago, I saw Spike Jonze’s her, and loved it. Absolutely loved it. A tender, beautiful love story between a man and his Artificially Intelligent computer program, and the complications that arise from that. But this Summer, I saw Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium …and there’s really nothing good I can say about it. Matt Damon does his best, but even he can’t save a severely underwritten, poorly-told, simplistic, heavy-handed action film with some robots and space ships thrown in.

Both of these films are technically Science Fiction, yet I had vastly different reactions to them. Why? Well, of course, no one is going to like every film in a single genre. Hell, not every film in a genre is even going to be good – there are probably thousands of terrible direct-to-DVD sci-fi films cluttering Redboxes across the country right now. But I think an important distinction can be made between her and Elysium that address the nature of science-fiction.  “her” is about how a man could love an AI, how an AI could love a human, and the challenges they face as a couple that cannot touch each other (as well as looking at an overall world immersed in virtual activity and communication). Elysium features a floating space station for the rich, brain chips, and fancy new weapons, but it’s about a man trying to break in to a restricted area to get healed by a magical healing machine (the film never tries to explain how it works). While her makes the technology and the “science-fiction” part of the story, Elysium uses the science-fiction setting and props to dress up an action film, and a pretty silly action film at that.

ElysiumSpaceStation

Elysium Space Station

Maybe that’s it – the fact that Elysium pretends that it’s a Science-Fiction film, but is really an action film in Sci-Fi clothing is why I hated it so much, that and the fact that it’s a poorly written, hammy over-the-top failure (such a disappointment after the terrific District 9). Good Science-Fiction takes interesting questions about technology, human nature, outer space, and seeks to explore possible answers. They can be action-packed (The Terminator) or comedic (Wall-E) or head spinning (Primer), but they have to explore possibilities in a way only Science Fiction can.

Perhaps the solution to the broadness of the Science Fiction genre is being a little bit more selective about what gets to be called “Science Fiction”. The Action-Adventure genre can have Elysium – we don’t want it. In fact, they can have Gravity too. Gravity is a tremendous film, and one of the best of the year, but nothing about it is scientifically fictitious – everything in it is real, and it takes place today. It’s not Science Fiction – it’s a survival story on a space station.

Science Fiction is a special thing – a creative space for exploring new ideas, possible technologies, unpredicted futures. If other genres want to play around in this sandbox and borrow bits and pieces, that’s fine – but the distinction of “Science Fiction” should be held only by those who truly care about and are defined by their exploration of scientific possibility.

Thoughts about the Sci-fi genre and/or the films mentioned? We’d love to hear what you think!


Conor Holt is the writer, director, and producer of multiple short films. His most recent film, A Better Life, a science-fiction drama about marriage & control, which he directed & co-wrote, played at the 2013 Fargo Film Festival and the Twin Cities Film Fest, and recently won Best Editing & Visual Effects at the St. Cloud Film Festival. He is a graduate of the Minnesota State University Moorhead Film Studies program, and currently lives in Los Angeles, working odd jobs in the film industry and volunteering at film festivals.

For more information on A Better Life, check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/ABetterLifeShortFilm. Follow Conor on Twitter.

Weekend Roundup … Dragon Knight review + Musings on Matt Damon

Happy Monday everyone!

Did you catch anything this weekend? Two R-rated films ended up winning the box office this weekend. ELYSIUM beat We’re The Millers by a slim margin with a little over $30. With a budget of $100 mil (3 times the amount of District 9 which ended up grossing $115 mil), we’ll see if having A-list cast and Hollywood studio back-up actually pays off for Neill Blomkamp. As I’ve surmised in my review, Elysium certainly doesn’t top D-9 for me, which is a far more compelling film IMO.

I opted for home cinema this weekend. A while ago, Revolver Entertainment sent me the DVD screener of Dragon Knight (Red Knight or Rencontre avec le dragon). Here’s the description at the back of the box:

DragonKnightDVD11th Century AD. In a world that burns with the heat of battle, a world torn apart by Crusades, one knight traverses the desolate wastes laid bare by bloody conflict… Prepare yourself for a descent into a brutal hell, where armies clash and blood flows like rivers, and where a sharp blade is the only means of defense against an army of evil.

Now, the film turns out to be nothing like the description or DVD cover that promises relentless battle scenes. Instead of a swords ‘n sandal epic, it’s actually more of a drama with little sword-fighting involved. Aside from the beautiful European setting of lush mountains and countryside, the production values is pretty sub-par. It’s also a rather odd film, with supernatural elements thrown in, that takes a long time to grab my interest. But I’m willing to overlook all that if it weren’t for the horrible dubbing! Most of the dubbed voices didn’t even match the actors, which makes it utterly distracting for me to concentrate on what’s happening on screen. I wish there were an option to have English subtitles instead, a MUST for every foreign film IMO.

I almost turned it off several times but I stuck it out because I was curious about this young boy named Felix who worships this supposedly legendary Red Knight, Guillaume de Montauban. Guillaume himself isn’t a sympathetic nor gripping character, in fact he kinds of irritates me. I think the story actually has potential, there’s even a love story that I totally didn’t expect. Most of the actors are French, the only one I’ve heard of is Daniel Auteuil who’ve won BAFTA and César awards.

I’d say it’s worth a rental if you don’t mind the dubbing. The film is available on Amazon.com.


Now, after having seen ELYSIUM, I thought I’d turn the spotlight a bit on…

Matt Damon

Since his acting debut back in 1988 in Mystic Pizza (which I totally forgot he was in!), the actor has done about 60 films, and counting on IMDb, about 20 of those are leading roles. I wasn’t too fond of him initially, but after the Bourne movies, I started to really like him, though he’s still not the kind of actor that’d necessarily put my butt on the seat. I usually go see his film because of other factors, so not exactly because his name’s on the marquee. Still, I think he’s a pretty good actor who isn’t afraid to mix things up, i.e. working on a role as Liberace’s lover in Behind the Candelabra in the same year as Elysium!

MattDamon_thenandnow

Damon… in Mystic Pizza and Elysium

It’s clear that the 42-year-old actor gets better with age, no? He even looks better bald than with that dorky mop of 80s hair! He’s certainly one of Hollywood’s elite now, along with his compadres George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt. Now, I don’t usually go for movie stars, in fact, the more famous an actor gets, usually the less I like them for some reason. I’d also be the one to tell you I don’t subscribe to Damon’s über Liberal views, but at least he doesn’t annoy me the way say, Sean Penn does. As an actor he has that everyman quality, plus I respect that he doesn’t seem to have qualms about poking fun at himself! He and Jimmy Kimmel are apparently such good friends that Damon doesn’t seem to mind humiliating himself on his show. This Bourne spoof clip is one of my favorites with Kimmel’s hilarious sidekick Guillermo!


That’s probably one of Damon’s best acting role, ahah. So far, I’ve only seen about a dozen or so of his films, and if I were to list my top five favorite roles it’d probably go like this:

  1. Jason Bourne (The Bourne Trilogy)
  2. Good Will Hunting
  3. Contagion
  4. Invictus
  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley

I was initially anticipating his upcoming film that Clooney directed, The Monuments Men, but the first trailer was rather meh IMO. I’d probably still see it for Cate Blanchett though.

.


So folks, what did you see this weekend? And what’s YOUR favorite Matt Damon role(s)?

FlixChatter Review: ELYSIUM

ElysiumBanner

As a big fan of District 9, I had been looking forward to this for some time. I erroneously thought this was the follow-up to Neill Blomkamp‘s sci-fi thriller set in South Africa when I did this post but by the time the trailer came out, obviously this is an original story that doesn’t involve aliens from another planet.

This sci-fi fantasy takes place in 2154, where the gap between haves and the have-nots have reached astronomical proportion. 99% of humanity’s population are still slumming in a ‘diseased, polluted and vastly overpopulated’ earth, whilst the 1% of the elite and wealthy folks live in the lush and green ELYSIUM. It’s the ultimate ‘gated community’ aboard a lavish space-station where every mansion is complete with robotic servants and magical medical beds that can heal ANY ailments, yes including cancer and a full facial reconstruction surgery in a matter of seconds! Ok, so there’s no superhero in this movie but heck, who needs one when you’ve got a SUPER healing mechanism at your beck and call. Unfortunately, the machine only works if you’re a citizen, and Elysium’s border patrol is equipped with rockets ready to fire at illegal aircrafts entering its airspace.

ElysiumVsEarth

Elysium VS Earth – It’s definitely better up there!

Matt Damon plays a down-on-his-luck Max, a parolee who’s dreamed of leaving in Elysium ever since he was a little boy living in an orphanage. There’s one comedic moment in the entire movie where Max had to see a mechanized parole officer, as the rest of the law officers and other service workers are in the form of robots. Things just gets bad to worse when Max gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the factory. With only 5 days to live, he’s desperate to get to Elysium. In order to get up there, Max has to somehow download crucial information from an Elysium citizen’s brain straight to his. That’s what those exoskeleton stuff you see on the film posters are for. The surgery scene is brutal, I have to shut my eyes as metals are drilled and screwed into Max’s body as if he’s a car in auto shop. When he finally comes out of it, Max practically looks like a robot with powered metals attached all over his body and a computer implanted into the back of his head.

I enjoyed watching all the fantastical futuristic elements, and Blomkamp surely isn’t lacking imagination and ambition. What this film also lacks is subtlety, just like D-9 was an allegory for apartheid, Elysium’s political and sociological themes on class warfare, healthcare and immigration are sure to divide audiences. He cites that growing up in South Africa is the main inspiration of the class division theme in this film, and despite the seemingly obvious commentary about border security and universal healthcare, he said that there’s no political agenda here. Even the über Liberal and politically vocal star Matt Damon downplays the political overtone. I think how much those stuff bother you depending on your political views and interest. For me, this is just another big Summer thrill ride that gives us a bit more food-for-thought amidst some bombastic (literally) action sequences.

ElysiumStills

Speaking of Damon, I think he acquits himself well here though I didn’t really have as big of a emotional connection as I did with D-9′s character Wikus, who I think is a far more tragic character than Max. I also think that though Max is played out like an action hero (Bourne meets Terminator?) instead of a truly desperate and ruthless character hellbent on saving his own life at any cost. I read that Blomkamp originally wanted Eminem in the role, now I’ve never seen him act before but I wonder if he’d actually do a more convincing job. Jodie Foster as Elysium defense secretary Delacourt is distractingly awful here with her robotic acting style and absurd accent. Yes I know that Blomkamp intended the accent of Elysium residents to be an amalgam of different languages but it just makes me laugh! I wonder if having those residents speak multiple languages (like in the underrated sci-fi drama Code 46) instead of with a myriad of accents might’ve been more realistic.

It’s also too bad that Sharlto Copley is reduced to this sadistic special ops agent whose killing method of choice is blowing people up into pieces. His character can’t be more dissimilar than his debut in District 9, which proves he’s a capable actor, but his villainy role is written like a caricature.  I like the International cast here, Brazilians Wagner Moura and Alice Braga, Mexican Diego Luna, Pakistani-descent Faran Tahir, as well as veteran character actor William Fichtner made up the supporting cast.

In terms of special effects and production quality, clearly this film delivers, thanks to a much bigger budget of $100 mil. But having more money and A-list cast don’t always translate to a better film, in fact, D-9 with its uniquely organic style is still more compelling in terms of my the emotional connection I have with the protagonist. Plus, Elysium is decidedly more ‘Hollywood’ in that it’s more predictable and comes with a feel-good and simplistic ending. Yeah as if it were THAT easy to solve such an extreme class warfare. Seems that Blomkamp ends up being preoccupied packing the third half with relentless fight scenes and stuff blowing up that the finale feels rather out of sync with all the sense of realism and intriguing ideas that preceded it. At a relatively brisk 109 minutes, there’s barely room for character development either, the villains are just evil for evil’s sake with no real motivation.

Final Thoughts: Now, even though I think Elysium is a bit of a downgrade from D-9, there are still many things to appreciate. As I mentioned before, the futuristic space stuff are fun to watch and the story also gives us something to ponder even if we don’t necessarily subscribe to the idealism being presented on screen. It could’ve been a more in depth and compelling film though, alas the the typical Hollywood happy ending keeps this from being a notch above a cool Summer sci-fi escapism.

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


UPVOTE please


What are your thoughts on this movie? Did you like this more or less than I did?

Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi thriller ELYSIUM’s Poster & Trailer Spotlight

Boy oh boy! I’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time now. In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge fan of District 9 which was a surprise to me as I didn’t even know much about it when I saw it on the big screen. Well, it’s been over three years since I saw that film and finally, South African director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley are re-teaming for another sci-fi thriller.

I was kind of hoping that Copley would have the leading role this time around, but I understand that with a much-bigger budget, they’d need a movie star. So we’ve got Matt Damon in the lead instead. Check out the awesome poster of him with all that robotic stuff attached all over his body!

ElysiumTeaserPoster

I originally thought this was a follow-up to District 9, as I’ve outlined on my Upcoming Flix Spotlight post a year ago. But now it’s clear that this film has a new storyline that’s not related to D-9 universe, though it still carries a similar social issue theme. Now, this film was first scheduled for release in March before being pushed back to August. I don’t think it’s a sign of trouble though, I think that’d give Blomkamp to release some viral marketing for it like he did for D-9 which was a smart move.

Now finally, a trailer!!


WHOAH!! I’m even more intrigued now after seeing this. I really like the look of this and the apocalyptic story looks very promising and thought provoking, with all the visual and thematic elements every sci-fi lovers would love. Blomkamp is working again with Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital so it’s to be expected that the special effect is going to rock! Even right off the bat, I like the stark contrast between the perfect world of the Elysium space station and the left-behind slum that is the Earth. I read that Blomkamp shot the Earth footage in Mexico City, and everything on Elysium in Vancouver.

Per IGN, like Blomkamp’s previous film, this one has a similarly impoverished and segregated society, but this time along economic lines rather than species. Where District 9 was a sci-fi allegory for racism, Elysium is about economic disparity.

In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a hard line government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

Here are four more details I learned from this HitFix article, which summarized the SONY press preview event in L.A. with Blomkamp, Copley and producer Simon Kinberg:

  • Damon’s character is Max, an ex-con who’s working a factory job on Earth. A radiation leak prompted him to be cast off by the authoritarian government. He knows the only way to get rid of the toxic radiation is in Elysium, and he has to find a way to get there.
  • The robotic stuff on his body, and that data port on his head is the result of self-modification Max did as a mechanism to hijack security information from an Elysium citizen.
  • Sharlto Copley plays the bad guy, Kruger. He is an Elysium operative who lives on Earth, waiting to be activated. When an attack on an Elysium citizen occurs, he gets the signal.
    CopleyFoster_Elysium
  • Jodie Foster plays a Senator, as Foster herself described in Movieline as “… the person who controls who gets to come in [to Elysium] and who doesn’t. She’s methodical, her antagonism has a point.” She also mentions that Elysium is an international place, as its residents comes from all over the earth.
  • Blomkamp said that 2/3 of the film would take place on earth and 1/3 in Elysium to emphasize further that the space station is truly a fantastical place every human being aspire to live in.

Elysium is out in theaters on August 9, 2013. I can hardly wait!


On a related note, two years ago, I wrote this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama pitch where some humans live in another planet whilst the remaining earth population struggle to survive.
Check it out and let me know what you think :D


Are you as stoked as I am about this one? What do you think of the trailer?

Weekend Roundup: Iron Sky, Good Will Hunting, Top Gear Vietnam Special

Happy Election Tuesday folks!

For my fellow Americans who are going to the polls today, good for you for exercising your rights to vote! I’m not a US citizen yet or I would definitely be doing the same thing today! But whichever way you voted, I’m just glad that tomorrow there’ll be NO MORE political ads!!

Well, I’m not going to be reviewing anything today, just a rundown on what went on this weekend.

The best part of the weekend is that my blogging friend Kristin Griffin from All Eyes on Screen and her boyfriend came to visit this weekend! We had a blast spending all day at the Mall of America and after dinner, we decided to rent a movie as it’s already too late to catch Cloud Atlas.

The movie we decided on? Iron Sky. I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailer yet, but here’s the gist:

In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers.

We expected it to be the kookiest, most ridiculous Nazi spoof we’ve ever seen and well, we got exactly what we were asking for. It’s a Finnish-German-Australian production with a mix of German and Australian actors, and some of the dialog are in German with subtitles. The director, Timo Vuorensola, previously directed a similar outrageous Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning. ‘Nuff said. Overall the Nazi-in-space premise delivers some crazy laughs, though some of the caricature characters are pretty lame as they’re mostly cheap shots at some unpopular characters like Sarah Palin. If you’re looking for some camp, absurd comedy, this might be a movie for you, just don’t expect much more than that. Just consider that poster a warning, ahah

On Sunday night, we opted for something more ehm, profound. We’ve been curious to check out Good Will Hunting (1997) for a while, primarily to check out Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning screenplay.

Damon is pretty good in the title role as Will Hunting, a mathematical genius who works as janitor at MIT. The best performances are from the supporting cast though, Stellan Skarsgård as the renowned professor who believes in Will, Minnie Driver who plays Will’s compassionate girlfriend, and last but not least, Robin Williams as the therapist who helps Will find direction in his troubled life.

Well, we quite enjoyed the movie, though I’m not sure that this film is better-written than L.A. Confidential. I do think Robin Williams deserved his Best Supporting Oscar that year, it’s quite an understated and perceptive performance, definitely a much less hyper role than we’re used to seeing him.

Now, last night as I was working on this post, I watched the BBC’s Top Gear Motorbike Vietnam Edition where they travel to the South East Asian country as a challenge to ride a rickety motorbike from Saigon to Hanoi! I mean, even just the sight of 6 foot five or so Jeremy with his teeny tiny Vespa is freakin’ hilarious!

Oh my, it was such a hoot! The first part where they got 15 million Vietnamese Dong (which equals to only $1000) thinking that they could buy a car was a riot!! But wait ’til they get to the actual journey, it’s side-splitting, thigh-slapping stuff as Jeremy Clarkson on a Vespa, Richard Hammond on a Minsk and James May on a Honda Cub went on the 1000-mile journey together!

Check out some of the clips here, though the first part of the episode is not to be missed!

If you have Netflix Instant and you love British humor, I absolutely recommend this show. I might check out other Top Gear adventures in the future!


So that’s it for my eclectic weekend viewing. What did you watch this weekend?

The Bourne Legacy – Ted’s Review

After they couldn’t convince both Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon to come back and do another Bourne film, Universal Pictures decided to go ahead and make another one without them. Was this a good move or an ill-advised one? Read on.

The film opens with a similar scene to the beginning of the first film and the end of the last film, if you remember Bourne was floating in water in the beginning of the first one and then he was swimming away in the last one. Were the filmmakers thought the audience wouldn’t know they’re watching a Bourne film had they opened this new film with a different scene? Well it turns out the person in the water wasn’t Bourne but a new hero, Aaron Cross played by Jeremy Renner. We learned that he’s somewhere in the Alaska wilderness and in training. I have to commend Renner for his performance during these opening scenes, he didn’t have any dialogue and only he let his body do the talking.

We also found out that Bourne’s public exposure of CIA black ops “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar” causes the powers that be to take desperate measures to save additional programs and their own behinds. In came Edward Norton who plays some sort of an advisor to the higher ups at the CIA, his advice was to wipe out all traces of the company’s latest secret agent program, “Outcome”.  So all of the undercover agents were terminate except our hero, Aaron Cross. Along with the getting rid of all the agents, anyone who’s involved with the “Outcome” project also gets their life terminated. Fortunately one of the doctors played by Rachel Weisz was able to escaped and later Cross came to her aid and for the rest of the film, both of them are trying to stay alive by evading the assassins sent  by the agency to kill them.

Unlike the previous films where our hero Bourne was trying to recover his memory of he was and why he’s an assassin, Cross knows who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. Because he’s some sort of a super agent, he needs pills to keep going. And this is one the reasons why I think this film didn’t work, it reminds me way too much of Van Damme’s Universal Soldier. Cross is just not an interesting character, we already know why he’s an assassin so it’s kind of pointless to care about him. Bourne on the other hand, because of his memory loss, he’s trying to figure out why his employer wants to kill him and most importantly, why he’s so good at killing people. We the audience also want to know that too, and so we went along and follow his journey.

Another reason why I thought the film didn’t work was the lack of a true villain. Edward Norton is wasted here. Even though he ordered the hit on all the agents, he’s somehow have some kind of connections with Cross, they showed a few flashback scenes with two of them talking; I’m not quite sure why those scenes were included, someone have to explain that to me.

The film was directed by Tony Gilroy, he wrote the first three films and now he’s decided to shoot the film himself. Gilroy blew me away with his first film, Michael Clayton, but his next one Duplicity was a self-indulgent mess. I feel that’s what he’s done with this film, it seems Gilroy and his brother came up with all these great ideas to kick start this franchise with a new character. But somehow they couldn’t execute their ideas, I think this is where the studio should’ve hired a director who can actually expand or tighten the script a bit. I remember Greengrass actually hired a couple of writers to clean up Gilroy’s scripts of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum.

Since Gilroy gets to direct this time, he’s probably thought his script was perfect and didn’t need a clean-up. I get the feeling that he’s trying to make the film similar to that of the 1970s espionage thrillers but totally failed. The film also didn’t deliver on the action front, in fact there weren’t many action in it compare to the previous three films. The mistake Gilroy make was to try and imitate Greengrass’ frantic style of action scenes. Now the action scenes weren’t as bad as say, Safe House, but the big chase near the end of the film went a bit too long and sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going on. I think the only good thing I can say about this film was Rachel Weisz, she looked beautiful and really played her role quite well. It’s unfortunate that her character was nothing more than another damsel in distress.

Was The Bourne Legacy a bad film? I don’t think so, it’s just wasn’t that interesting and the lack of action didn’t help considering fans of the franchise expect to see hand to hand combats and crazy car chases. Legacy only delivered half of that.

– post by Ted S.

2.5 out of 5 reels


Well folks, what did you think of this film?

A ‘sequel’ I actually want to see: District 9 follow-up ELYSIUM

One of my favorite films of the last decade was the low-budget sci-fi movie District 9. In my review, I said that it’s such a distinctly moving, poignant and provocative film that makes you ponder long after the end credits roll.

Not long after I saw the film, there’s immediate buzz for an inevitable sequel, which I talked about here, but that was three years ago! It’s certainly taken a while to materialize but Variety reports that SONY has secured a release date of March 1, 2013. Now, with the recent casting news of the South African actor Sharlto Copley as the villain for the American remake of Park Chan-wook’s Korean action thriller Oldboy, it seems like a good time as any to update you on:

ELYSIUM


Plot and Production Notes

Like a Christopher Nolan movie, the plot is shrouded in secrecy. Per Deadline, the movie will have the social allegory theme like in District 9, but done in a much bigger scale, set 100 years in the future. However, /Film reported this interview with the film’s producer Simon Kinberg that “… [the sequel is] a very different movie than anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s not necessarily an alien movie … Visually, stylistically it’s actually very different than District 9.”

Hmmm, what does he mean it’s not necessarily an alien movie?? I wonder if he meant that it’s more than just a genre film, much like 28 Days Later is NOT just a zombie movie, or that the film is dealing with something else entirely?

I presume those reading this article knows that at the end of D-9, the protagonist Wikus van der Merwe has transformed into this prawn-like alien being. The ending seems to lend itself to a sequel, but it sounds like the sequel doesn’t pick up the story where it left off.

South African director Neill Blomkamp is back at the helm and has hired famed set designer Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Aliens) to design the set for this film. The budget has jumped from $35 mil for D-9 to roughly $120 mil for Elysium [per THR]. Filming has wrapped last December and is now in post-production work. As Peter Jackson was the executive producer of D-9, his company WETA is now involved in the conceptual design and various special effects for this film.

Casting

One thing for sure, I’m looking forward to seeing Copley teaming up with D-9 director Neill Blomkamp again.

Mr. Copley’s star-power has risen considerably since starring in that film, though he’s only been seen in The A-Team since then. I think he’s perfectly capable in carrying a movie on his own, as he did in D-9, in fact I liked him so much that I wrote this article on how a lot of Hollywood A-listers can learn from him.

Well, two A-listers have in fact joined the cast: Jodie Foster and Matt Damon.

Damon had this to say just before filming started:

I’ve never done anything quite like this and I kind of responded to what’s out there and what’s in and what’s good. The movie is going to be good, he showed me basically the entire world which he’s going to build and it’s really, really exciting. And I can’t wait! – per MovieWeb

Jodie Foster is said to be playing a leader of an alien planet. She revealed to TotalFilm that the main reason she signed on to the film was because it was a chance to work with Blomkamp.

“Yes, definitely. He did District 9, which I think is as close to a perfect movie as you can get … It’s just an extraordinary film. And, this film has a lot of that social commentary in it, but uses sci-fi to get there. It’s great.”

There’s no news yet what role Matt Damon will be playing but judging from this Vancouver set photos of him with a shaved head wearing a prison jumpsuit and has some sort of futuristic weapon thing-y strapped on him, my guess is he’s an ex-con who managed to escape?

Anyway, the rest of the Internationally-diverse cast includes Mexican actor Diego Luna, Brazilians Wagner Moura and Alice Braga, and go-to New Yorker character actor William Fichtner.

Viral Campaign

What’s brilliant about D-9 is the bizarre but brilliant ‘Non-Human’ viral marketing campaign. Now virtually every major movie, for better for worse, have employed similar strategy. /Film posted this poster on the right spotted at Comic-con last year that points to a website with this video clip below. Basically it’s a recruitment video by a fake company called Armadyne seeking “zero g welders, mega-structure engineers, quantum networkers and experts in zero g coupling and multi-generational planning,” in order to accomplish “the most ambitious project ever undertaken by mankind.” Take a look at the video below from the ‘official’ company website:

… 

I hope the trailer is released soon. I do hope that Copley will have a prominent role here instead of being completely sidelined by Damon. What I like about the first one is how completely believable he was as Wikus and the strong emotional connection I had with the character. Now, both A-listers here are obviously very talented actors, so I’m optimistic in that regard. I’m also hopeful that the 31-year-old Blomkamp is more than a one hit wonder.


Are you a fan of District-9? If so, what do you think of this project so far? 

Weekend Viewing Roundup

Hello folks, I’m assuming it’s a short week for most of you? For sure I won’t miss this 3-4 day work-week like this come January when the hustle and bustle returns at the office.

Well, The Dark Knight Rises trailer pretty much sidelined this post, but I still want to give y’all a rundown of the movies I saw this week. I’ve been averaging about 4-5 movies a week since my Gregory Peck marathon started and I’m still having a blast watching his movies!

I’ve posted my Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol review so here are my mini reviews of the others:

Twelve O’Clock High (1949) 

I actually saw this the week before but forgot to include it in my roundup post

Peck played a tough-as-nails general who takes over a bomber pilot unit suffering from low morale and whips them into fighting shape. Those who think Peck as the romantic Joe Bradley or calm-as-a-cucumber Atticus Finch will see a whole different side of him here, he lends credibility to Brig. Gen Frank Savage who’s based on a real life General Frank Armstrong, and the fact that he looks ruggedly handsome in those bomber jacket is a major plus :D
///
His performance was nominated for an Oscar (his fourth in five years) and I wish he had won. His transformation from the stern, uncompromising leader to the moment of his breakdown at the end is compelling to watch… it’s a controlled performance Peck is known for, and the supporting cast is great as well, especially Dean Jagger and Hugh Marlowe.  There’s not a heck of a lot of air battle scenes despite the title but the ones that appear in this film were actually  photographed in actual combat by members of the United States Air Force and the German Luftwaffe, as stated in the opening. No wonder Savage’s leadership style is used as an example in US Navy and Air Force schools, as well as leadership training in civilian non-military seminars. Even though I’m not generally a fan of war films, I really enjoyed this one as it’s more character-driven and focused more on the psyche of the troops.

The Valley of Decision (1945)


Ok, back to the sweet & romantic Gregory in this one set in 19th Century Pittsburgh. Oh man, talk about a fairy tale, forget Cinderella, I want to be Mary Rafferty!! Get this, she came from a poor family of steel mill worker, when she goes to work as a maid for the wealthy Scott family, the eldest (and of course the most gorgeous) son Paul Scott falls for her. 29-year-old Peck turns on the charm big time, in only his third film, he displayed such magnetic presence on screen. His romantic scenes with Greer Garson just made me melt, and it’s really impossible for you not to root for these two to be together.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen Garson (never even heard of her!) but she comes across very likable, I might check out her other films after this. She reminds me a bit of Lucille Ball with curly her hairstyle and giant eyes, and she had a nice chemistry with Peck. I confess that even if the story is terrible, it’s still well worth buying this DVD just to stare at Gregory, ahah, but fortunately I find the story really engaging. Paul & Mary’s romance is complicated by the bitter strike among the mill workers, and a tragic incident involving both their families. Lionel Barrymore co-starred with Peck again here as Mary’s father, but his character is pretty much a variation of Mr. Potter. In any case, this one now stands as one of my top 10 favorite Gregory Peck movie now. Boy, it’ll be tough to make that list as he’s got so many great classics.

Bourne Supremacy (2004)

The second installment is perhaps my favorite of the Bourne franchise. Yes perhaps the presence of the über hunky New Zealander Karl Urban as the baddie Kirill has something to do with it, but I think the film is just more enjoyable than the first. We’ve got British director Paul Greengrass at the helm this time and the movie starts off with a dynamic chase scene almost right away. Damon confidently reprises the title role, growing more weary and exasperated by the relentless pursuits of the CIA. Of course he always managed to get one step ahead of them every single time.

Urban as Kirill

Bourne is on the run once again, this time flying solo across Goa India, Berlin, and Moscow. Hot on his trail is the CIA led by Deputy Director Pamela Landy (the always excellent Joan Allen) who’s immediately suspicious that Ward Abbott (equally compelling Brian Cox) knew more about the ‘Neski files’ case than he let on. The battle of wills between these two are great to watch and once again this film benefits from a great combo of gripping action and tight script, woven together nicely by Greengrass’ dynamic directing style. It’s also nice to see Julia Stiles’ getting more screen time this time around also. Both she and Allen are such underrated actresses.

Btw, my favorite action sequence is this killer car chase scene in Moscow, with Bourne driving with only one arm after Kirill shot him. Oh man, it’s downright gripping and it stands as one of my favorite movie car chases of all time!

Helvetica documentary (2007)

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

As graphic designers naturally the subject matter appeals to us and we both love typography. This documentary focuses on evolution of the ubiquitous type formerly called Neue Haas Grotesk, it’s developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann. You may not know what type face that is but you sure are surrounded by it, everywhere you look you’ll likely to find a Helvetica type face being used, whether in an ad or in a street sign. The doc also shows the origin of this type face and feature various interviews with type designers from mostly Europe and the US.

The history stuff is quite insightful and captivating, but I think the execution falls a bit flat for me. I was bored a lot of the time watching this 80-min doc, which is a shame as it could have been handled in a more dynamic way. Still, it’s worth a watch and I’d still give a similar documentary on product design called Objectified a shot, it’s also directed by Gary Huswit.


Well, that’s my weekend roundup, any thoughts on any of them? Feel free to share about the movies you saw this weekend.

Guest Post: Role Reversals – One Actor’s Misfortune is Another Actor’s Gain

Most of us know that actors turned down roles that would make the ones who accepted it become famous. There are many reasons why they didn’t accept these now famous roles, the main reason is probably they the film wouldn’t be a hit and probably their agents told them not to take it. Below are some well-known roles that were offered to different actors than the ones ended up playing the part and reap the benefits.

• The Bourne Identity (2002) Jason Bourne

Brad Pitt was actually the studio first choice to play the amnesiac spy but he turned it down so he could work on Spy Game with Robert Redford. Here’s the funny thing, Matt Damon was first offered Pitt’s role in Spy Game but he declined and decided to play Jason Bourne instead. I’m always wonder what The Bourne films would have been like had Pitt starred in them. Of course we all know both actors are doing fine but for comparison sake, I think Damon made the right choice since The Bourne Identity was a box office hit while Spy Game didn’t do that well in theater.

• Batman (1989) Bruce Wayne/Batman

So when Michael Keaton was cast as The Caped Crusader back in the 80s, a lot of comic book fans weren’t too thrill about it. The thing is though, he wasn’t Tim Burton’s first choice. Burton actually offered the Dark Knight role to Ray Liotta but he turned it down so he could star in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Even though I enjoyed both of Burton’s Batman films, I never like Keaton as The Dark Knight, I think Liotta would’ve been good in the role.

Michael Keaton definitely benefited from taking Batman role, besides playing the Dark Knight, he starred in quite a few films in the 90s. Liotta on the other hand, he played mostly supporting character or the villain.

• The Hunt For Red October (1990) Jack Ryan

Tom Clancy’s first novel was such a huge hit that when Hollywood was ready to adapt it for the big screen, they offered the prime role of Jack Ryan to the young and on the hot streak Kevin Costner. He turned it down so he could start working on a little film called Dances with Wolves. Of course the role went to Alec Baldwin and I think everyone was happy with the results. Costner won the Oscar for directing Dances with Wolves and the film was a huge box office hit.

Baldwin on the other hand though got screwed out of reprising his Jack Ryan role in the sequel Patriot Games, to read about it more go here. It’s a good read of what really went on the behind the scenes before cameras started rolling on Patriot Games.

First Blood (1982) John Rambo

There were quite a few actors who were considered for the role of Rambo, they include Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman but Steve McQueen was the producer’s first choice from the beginning. But because of his crazy demands, the producers decided to not pursue him. McQueen was asking $1mil for his salary, a crazy number back in the late 70s and early 80s for an actor’s salary. Not only that but he said he’ll only read the script if the producers pay him $500,000 up front, of course they said no. I would love to have seen McQueen playing John Rambo but around that time, he was so anti Hollywood that he might’ve just phoned in the role had he accepted it. Of course we all know Stallone benefited from it since he owned the 80s with his Rambo and Rocky franchises.

Apocalypse Now (1979) Capt. Willard

Well Steve McQueen was also offered the lead role in this film and again he turned it down. Even though I thought Martin Sheen did a good job in the film, I always wish McQueen accepted the role. It would have been great seeing him going toe to toe with Marlon Brando. Of course it would’ve been a nightmare for Coppola, he’d have to deal with two big stars with huge ego.

Blade Runner (1982) Rick Deckard

Believe it or not Dustin Hoffman was actually the first choice to play Deckard and was even offered the role. He turned it down because he believed he didn’t fit the role and he was right. Maybe I’m a little bias since I love Blade Runner but I could never see anyone but Harrison Ford as Deckard, I know people always think of him as Indiana Jones or Hans Solo, but I think  of him as Deckard first before those other two roles.

Die Hard (1988) John McClane

Fox planned a sequel Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, but Arnold didn’t want to do sequels at the time so they turned Commando 2‘s script into Die Hard and offered the role of John McClane to him; but he declined. Eventually Bruce Willis took the role after Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds and Mel Gibson all passed on starring in this film. I think we’re all grateful that Willis got the part right? Can you imagine seeing Arnold say the line: Yippee-ki-yay, motherf**ker.

(Sources: imdb.com, Cinescape magazine, behind the scenes documentary of each film)
,,,

[rtm's note: Also check out my previous post Famous Roles That Got Away for more casting tidbits and find out which actor turn down the most high profile roles]


So those are the now famous roles that were turned down by some famous actors, do you prefer the original actor for the part or are you happy with one who accepted it? Also, if you know of any other roles that were turned down by famous actors, feel free to share with us.