FlixChatter Review: FRANK (2014)

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Jon, a young wanna-be musician, discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank.

I have heard so many great things about this film and the quirky aspect of the story appeals to me. I have to say that Michael Fassbender‘s casting intrigues me most as he spends 99% of the movie wearing a giant papier-mâché head. Thankfully, that part wasn’t just a silly gimmick, but there’s an intriguing story behind it.

The film took its time in revealing what the story is with Frank (Fassbender) and why he refuses to reveal his face. Yep he even sleeps and shower with it, which drives Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) bonkers with curiosity. In fact, since the story is told from his perspective, we identify with Jon in how he feels about suddenly being thrown into this quirky mix of people. Frank is an enigmatic figure to be sure, but he’s actually the most likable personality of the entire band who pretty much treats Jon like dirt. I get that he had to earn his place in the band, but still, the contempt was quite uncalled for.

FRANKmoviestillsIn the first two acts, we pretty much spend time with the band as we witness their creative process in a remote cabin in Ireland. It’s full of quirky moments, some works and some don’t, and plenty that leaves me scratching my head. But it’s the third act where things sort of goes off the rails. As it turns out, Jon has been posting their recording sessions online and been tweeting about it constantly. Somehow that got them an invite to South by Southwest and it’s here that we learn just what’s really going on with Frank. The third act at SXSW is where I felt that the film went off the rails a few times, though the finale did reveal more about the main character in a way that still surprised me.

I have to admit that my initial response to this movie by Lenny Abrahamson was not overly positive. I was left irritated and frustrated by the pacing, the mostly unlikable characters and how sometimes the weirdness seems more gimmicky. I’m a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but here her character seems to go out of her way to be utterly unlikable. That sex scene is absolutely mental and I have to admit, it’s a bit revolting. But the more I think about this movie and read some articles on it, I appreciate it a bit more. Props to Fassbender for giving such a nuanced performance without the use of an actor’s main asset – his facial expression. Aside from Gleeson, who’s got a natural charm about him, Fassbender is truly the star here.

FRANKmoviestillThe story’s so much more than just about music, but more of the creative process, as well as a commentary about true art vs commercialism. The use of social media here is interesting too in how that could give people a false sense of fame and notoriety. I wish I had been as invested in the story however, the only time I found most emotionally involving was the finale. There are intriguing and memorable moments throughout, but I’d say that the movie itself is less than the sum of its parts. If you’ve been curious about this one though, I’d say give it a shot.

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

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Guest Post: Sundance review of SLOW WEST

Special thanks to Iba from I Luv Cinema for her Sundance review!

Ah, the western – on its surface, it would seem it is not to my favorite cinematic genre. But upon further examination, I must admit it has produced some of my all time favorite films (High Noon, Unforgiven, The Searchers, The Ox Bow Incident). At their best, westerns have the potential to provide an insightful glimpse into the human condition. Or, they could just simply be well executed, rock-em, shock-em, shoot-em-ups.

I am still not sure that Slow West will enter the pantheon of the films in this genre that I hold in the highest of regards, but I will concede that I enjoyed the film.

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Set in the sweeping expanse of the western frontier of 19th century America (but shot in New Zealand), Slow West is the journey of young Scot nobleman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he leaves his homeland in search for his love Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Along the way, he runs into a variety of characters – most importantly Silas (Executive Producer Michael Fassbender), who is to be his guide. It is clear that Silas is an opportunist of sorts, but how far down the rabbit hole is the question we will ask ourselves, and later discover over the course of the film.

Slow West combines the wild serenity of the environs, with moments of explosive (and sometimes surprising) violence – even by Western standards. And, in the midst of all this, the film finds instances of irony that will make you laugh out loud – seriously, I laughed for at least two prolonged periods.

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While this film may not lay out the big moral questions of those previously mentioned films that I love so much, there is a sequence at the end, which, based on how you view it, may serve as a reminder of what has been gained and lost on this journey propelled by young love.

In addition to the love story, the “stranger in a strange land” theme pervades throughout – so it is apropos that the film is lensed by a “stranger” of sorts – Scottish-born, BAFTA-award winning writer-director John Maclean (Pitch Black Heist). Slow West marks his full-length feature (and Sundance) debut.

It would be remiss of me not to credit the work of all the actors involved for a job well done. Mind you, Smit-McPhee and Fassbender are the central protagonists, but the film felt like a truly collaborative experience.

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In the end, I feel that Slow West is a film that is accessible even if you are not a particular fan of the genre. Or, if like me, you have yet to truly discover how much the genre has to offer you cinematically.

* Slow West was the 2015 Sundance winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize: Drama.

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Review by Iba @
ILuvCinema


What do you think of Slow West? Are you keen on seeing it when it’s released near you?

7 Films Screened at Sundance 2015 I’m most curious about

Sundance2015How’s your weekend everybody? I spent some of my weekend reading [and dreaming] about the Sundance Film Festival. I wish I could go there one day, the venue itself in Park City, Utah is gorgeous and of course, it’s a haven for movie fans, especially indie lovers. Who knows when we’ll actually see these films in a theater near us, but hopefully we will eventually.

So here are just a tiny sampling of movies that piqued my interest [in random order]:

Z For Zachariah

Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Pall Grimsson, Nissar Modi
Cast: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor

In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

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I’ve been seeing this photo all over the place and the cast alone intrigues me. I had no idea this was about a love triangle set in a post-apocalyptic world. Apparently this is based on a YA novel and according to this review from Variety,  the book has “…allusions to the Genesis narrative, [and] the novel was seen by some critics as a metaphorical clash between science and faith.” I was impressed w/ Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it’d be interesting to see her in a more prominent role against these two equally gorgeous and talented actors.

Here’s a clip from the film

Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson

In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

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I LOVE Ronan and the 20-year-old’s definitely coming into her own as a grown-up actress now after churning in great performances in her teen years, esp. Atonement and Hanna. I like the sound of this period drama and John Crowley’s the same director who did the excellent Boy A with Andrew Garfield.

99 Homes

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
Cast: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern

After his family is evicted, proud and desperate construction worker Dennis Nash (GARFIELD) tries to win his home back by striking a deal with the devil and working for Rick Carver (SHANNON), the corrupt real estate broker who evicted him.

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This sounds really intriguing, and it’s already got really good reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s an excerpt from We Got This Covered, “It is a film that could easily have condescended with characters that fall too concretely on the sides of black and white, the 99% vs. the 1%. (it is easy to believe that the 99 from the title refers to the plight of the common individual against the monopoly of the elite). However, Bahrani and co-scribe Amir Naderi are too perceptive and intelligent to depict these two men in simplistic ways.” 

No trailer yet, but here’s a clip featuring both actors:

Last Days in the Desert

Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Writer: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds

An imagined chapter from Jesus’ forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis.

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Ok so yes I was initially intrigued to see this mainly to see how McGregor pull off playing both Jesus and the Devil. But reading this interview with the filmmaker and lead actor on Christianity Today made me all the more curious. Described in the article as “…a character-driven meditation on family and mortality, haunting and spare” it seems as far away from something like EXODUS in terms of its *epic* and CGI-laden extravaganza, but hopefully it offers a reflective and thought-provoking look of Jesus’s life in perhaps his pivotal moment in his short but momentous life.

Lila & Eve

Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Pat Gilfillan
Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

Two distraught mothers, whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action.

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Viola Davis and J-Lo?? Now THAT’s quite an unlikely duo. It’s reminiscent of Thelma & Louise but decidedly more serious in tone. Considering the cultural climate of the recent police shootings in this country, the film would likely spark controversies. It’s certainly nice to see two strong women of color, who have a huge following in their own right, starring in a film together. The main draw for me here is Davis who’s charismatic and massively talented. Despite her questionable choice of movies, Lopez is actually not a bad actress and perhaps she gets to show her dramatic chops in this one.

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Director: Andrew Bujalsk
Writer: Andrew Bujalsk
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce

Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.

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Guy Pearce in a comedy, as a personal trainer no less? Yes please! Interesting to see the pairing of him and Smulders, but both have been in Marvel movies. Variety reported that the film’s been sold to Magnolia and perhaps will open later this Summer. Here’s more info about the plot: The film is set in the fitness world of Austin, Texas, with Corrigan as a recently divorced, miserable slob who makes a stab at self-improvement by signing up for a personal trainer at a local gym, where he meets the self-styled guru/owner (Pearce) and acerbic trainer Kat (Smulders). Sounds good to me!

Slow West

Director: John MacLean
Writer: John MacLean
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendehlson, Kodi Smit-McPhee

‘Slow West’ follows a 16-year-old boy on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of the woman he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveler Silas.

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It’s interesting to note that first time director was a musician whose music been featured in films like High Fidelity and Remember Me. He worked on a short called Man on a Motorcycle starring Fassbender and perhaps that’s who the two met. Fassbender is also producing this film, described in MacLean’s own words in this Indiewire interview as “A European perspective of the West and young love…” Westerns isn’t my go-to genre, but the premise and cast definitely grabs my attention.

Hopefully these movies will all get distribution and that I get to see them later this year!


Well, have you been following Sundance this year? Which movies are you most excited to see?

Everybody’s Chattin’, X-Men: Days of Future Past mini review and Holiday Hiatus!

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Happy Weekend everyone, and to my fellow Americans, Happy Memorial Weekend!

Well, by the time you read this I’ll be on my way to Amsterdam, then Bruges and of course, Paris! So naturally I’ll be taking a blog break for the time being, but before that I’d like to share some of my favorite posts from my fellow bloggers and my quick thoughts on X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Let’s start with the reviews:

Keith and Tim reviewed Godzilla 

Mark reviewed Enemy

Brian over at Vic’s Movie Den reviewed one of my sci-fi faves District-9

Natalie, Mikey & Dan reviewed X-Men: Days of Future Past

As for the rest …

Nostra is back with another edition of Many Faces Of – this time on Clint Eastwood!

Another CinSpec Award post is up from Josh, this time the focus is on 1952

Michael highlights the opening title and song of one of the best modern noirs ever, L.A. Confidential

Sati’s Rambling Friday is here! I even enjoyed her Game of Thrones’ coverage though I don’t even watch the show. That Pedro Pascal guy needs to get more roles! I actually noticed him when he was in BBC’s Robin Hood, man there are sooo many hunks playing supporting roles on that show!

Oh and lastly, check out Ted’s entry to Katy’s BLOGBUSTED B-Movie Blogathon: Action Jackson (1988) & Dark Angel (1990).


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I’ve been wanting to see this one for ages. It’s perhaps my top 3 most-anticipated movies of the year. Well, I’m happy to report that it’s well worth the wait! In short, I loved it. I’m a big fan of the X-Men franchise, yes even the worst one (X-Men The Last Stand) is still quite watchable. I recall how excited I was when I first saw the X-Men movie trailer 14 years ago in 2000, that’s still one of my favorite superhero films to this day before the genre became so ubiquitous.

My favorite X-Men characters, Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine, are the major players in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the complicated relationship between Charles & Erik is one of the main highlights once again. What I love about the X-Men movies is the social themes of prejudice and alienation that are thought-provoking and even relevant to our world today. This film adds a layer of complexity to the story of humans vs mutants struggle with the time travel aspect. The X-Men sends Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both species.

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I’m not going to go into details about the plot on this mini review, but I just want to point out that I was a bit worried at first that the whole time travel aspect would be confusing, but it turns out to be pretty easy to follow. Despite the back and forth between multiple dimensions, somehow the pacing and transition helped me figure out just what the heck is going on. Kudos to Bryan Singer for still retaining all the things I loved about this franchise in the first place and adds an extra dose of cool factor in some of the big action moments. And most importantly, he’s able to tell a complex story in a compelling way, whilst at the same time not forgetting that this is after all a fantastical comic-book movie that ought to be escapist fun.

PeterDinklageXMenDOFPThe ensemble cast are simply awesome! The five actors that make up the major players, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart + Ian McKellen are excellent as always, and Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine is definitely much more fun to watch in an ensemble. Peter Dinklage is memorable here as well as the new cast member, but I’d have to say Evan Peters as Quicksilver was quite the scene stealer. His scenes of him in action are the most fun in the movie!

As far as superhero movies go, this one has everything that makes going to the movies so gratifying. Emotional drama and complex relationship are mixed together well with witty humor and thrilling, dynamic action. Similar to Nolan’s Batman films in some ways, it’s character & plot-driven. The dramatic tension gives a context and reason for all the action spectacle. In other words, it’s much more than just popcorn cinema that’s roaringly-loud but doesn’t really have anything to say.

I posted 40 reasons why I loved X-Men: First Class, I might do the same with this one at some point. I mentioned the soundtrack on that list and I love the score here too by John Ottman (Singer’s longtime collaborator). Can’t wait to see this one again, though I probably skip the 3D as it didn’t really add much to the experience. I think fans of the franchise might get more out of this film than those who’ve never seen any X-Men movie before. The nostalgia factor and the fact that I’m already invested in those characters adds so much to my enjoyment. That said, I think newbies might be intrigued enough by this one to check out the previous movies (well, you can just skip the Wolverine movies).

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So did you enjoy X-Men: Days of Future Past? 


Adieu

See you in a couple of weeks, folks! 

[Full] Trailer Spotlight – X-Men: Days of Future Past

WHOAH!! I haven’t posted a trailer spotlight in ages but I just HAD to post this one today folks, this is one of my most anticipated movies of the year and despite this awful poster, the trailer definitely gets me super excited!

Patrick Stewart’s voice over alone gets me all hypnotized… this is the kind of trailer where the narration works so well in setting the tone for the film.

Professor X: “You need to go into the past … “
Magneto: “… to end this war before it ever begins”

This film is supposed to act as a sequel to both 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and 2011’s X-Men: First Class, as well as a follow-up to 2013’s The Wolverine (per Wiki) I think this time travel premise is the first of its kind in ANY franchise (as far I can remember anyway), as the characters from the original movie join forces with their younger selves from First Class to change the past and save their future. Seems like a hugely ambitious project in which I’m glad Bryan Singer is back at the helm. He’s the one filmmaker that gave us the first X-Men film in 2000 that pretty much launched the superhero franchise. Before Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy even entered the picture, X-Men was the first comic-book-based film that is more than just a standard action-adventure, as it metaphorically deals with deeper issues of racism, anti-semitism and outcasts of society. This one is poised to be a mindf*ck that promises to discombobulate as well as enthrall us at the same time.

Morphing Xaviers (McAvoy & Stewart)

Morphing Xaviers (McAvoy & Stewart)

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Morphing Magneto (McKellen & Fassbender)

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Thanks Yahoo UK for the GIFs!

Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart from the first X-Men movie are back, joining First Class cast of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult. Peter Dinklage is one of the new cast member here as Bolivar Trask, a military scientist and the head of Trask Industries who created a range of robots called Sentinels whose purpose is to hunt and destroy mutants. The Intouchables’ Omar Sy also played one of the mutants from the future with the ability to absorb energy to redirect it in kinetic blasts  Seriously, this is the kind of movie to watch even just for the cast!!

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I have to admit I get chills and a bit teary eyed watching this. I LOVE Henry Jackman’s music in the first film, and I was bummed that he’s not back to score this… but now I’m loving John Ottman’s ominous yet thrilling music he’s doing here. It hits the emotional high notes of this epic mutant saga and battle against extinction. That last scene of the two Xaviers facing off each other, oh man, that moment of the younger Xavier shedding a tear always gets me. I’ve been sold on this movie from day one, now I’m officially in agony waiting for this film to open in the US on May 23!


Are you as excited for this one as I am, folks?

Top 10 Favorite Irish Actors working in Hollywood today

Happy St Patrick’s Day everybody! According to this Guinness Store House sign, everyone’s Irish today :D

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I hope you don’t mind me resurrecting this oldie-but-goodie list I did a while back, but I’ve been meaning to update ‘em for some time. This list is limited to performers born and bred in Ireland (at least for most of their childhood), so not those of Irish-descent as it’d take this entire blog to list them all. For the most part, my list stay the same, but you can check out the original list and see who’ve been taken out of the list ;)

Here they are in random order:

  1. Colin Farrell
    ColinFarrellOf all the vile things Joel Schumacher is known for as a director, you could say that he has an eye for talent. He cast Farrell in Tigerland which got the Dublin native noticed. I first saw him in the sci-fi action Minority Report alongside Tom Cruise, and then the Terrence Malick’s The New World. His foray into historical action hero in Alexander was ridiculed panned by critics, and he nearly became a Hollywood cliche with his womanizing ways and drug/alcohol abuse, but he manage to maneuver a career comeback with his Golden-Globe-winning turn in the Irish black comedy In Bruges (2008). His career choices haven’t always been solid (Total Recall remake, Winter’s Tale), but he’s certainly a talented actor. I think he’s wonderful in Saving Mr. Banks.
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  2. Liam Neeson
    LiamNeesonProbably the most famous Irish actors of the bunch, Neeson is one of the hardest working actors right now. His diverse resume is impressive by any thespian standard. From historical figures (Michael Collins, Rob Roy, Schindler’s List), comic-book villain (Batman Begins), to playing bad-ass action star hell-bent on revenge (Taken), Neeson adds gravitas to any role he’s in. Can’t wait to see him as Zeus bellowing ‘Release the Kraken!!!’ in Clash of the Titans. The 61-year-old still looks amazing and obviously has the um, special skills to kick ass. Hollywood offered him to be the next action hero with Taken and he hasn’t looked back since. He probably will be doing action fares like Taken 254 & counting, or a variation of that genre, just like he did with Non-Stop. He’s definitely more watchable than a lot of younger action stars these days anyway, so why not?
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  3. Saoirse Ronan
    SaoirseRonanShe may be only nineteen, but Ronan’s got that wise-beyond-her-years thing going for her, plus enormous talent to boot. She was phenomenal in Atonement as the little girl who couldn’t quite figure out how to channel her attraction to the opposite sex that led to disastrous consequences. She pretty much comes out unscathed even when The Lovely Bones bombed artistically and financially. Since Atonement, Ronan has worked for director Joe Wright again in Hanna as a 14-year old assassin. Boy, talk about range. She’s more than able to hold her own against the likes of Cate Blanchett. Since then, she continues to impress me in The Way Back, How I Live Now, as well as in the small role in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I wish there were more Irish ladies working in Hollywood today so miss Ronan isn’t alone on this list, but she’s the only one so far whose work I really admire.
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  4. Cillian Murphy
    CillianMurphyMost people recognize him as Scarecrow in Batman Begins, but his memorable role is perhaps in the zombie flick 28 Days Later. His impossibly chiseled cheekbones and dramatic eyes somehow make him the perfectly creepy yet sophisticated villain, as he displayed in the horror/thriller Red Eye. Renowned directors such as Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle obviously like working with him, as he’s done two movies for Boyle (Sunshine & 28 Days Later) and Nolan also cast him in his Batman trilogy and Inception. Even in a mediocre movie like In Time, Murphy is usually the best thing in it.
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  5. Michael Fassbender
    MichaelFassbender(Ed note: Though he’s born in Germany, Fassbender is half-Irish and was raised in southwest Ireland)
    I’ve mentioned this guy A LOT on my blog lately and for good reason, he’s definitely eye-candy material but with acting chops to boot. Thanks to Zach Snyder for casting such great actors in 300 even in smaller roles, as I definitely noticed Fassbender as the loyal and valiant Stelios. He’s then proved his amazing range in transformational role in Hunger, and another indie darling Fish Tank which won him several nods from various European Film Festivals. He’s in yet another swords-n-sandals movie Centurion, but he definitely made an impression in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He’s come a looong way since I put him on the original list 3 years ago. His versatility is always on display, whether in costume drama Jane Eyre (as the Byronic hero Rochester) or as a superhero villain Magneto in X-Men: First Class. He even garnered an Oscar nomination for his work in 12 Years A Slave.
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  6. Gabriel Byrne
    GabrielByrneI first noticed Byrne in The Point of No Return as Bridget Fonda’s sympathetic mentor. He may not always get the lead roles, but you always remember him (The Man in the Iron Mask, Little Women, The Usual Suspect, and Miller’s Crossing) The charismatic 63-year-old actor definitely still got the looks to go with all that talent, he won a Golden Globe last year for his performance as a psychotherapist in the HBO drama In Treatment. I cast him in one of my movie pitches, I think he’d be great in a crime noir like this one, wouldn’t you think?
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  7. Ciarán Hinds
    You may not know his name, but you certainly recognize this tall, dark and handsome Belfast native. His dark look makes him suitable to play people from different nationalities: English (Phantom of the Opera, Amazing Grace), (Israeli (Munich), Roman (as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome), Russian (The Sum of All Fears), and that’s just a sampling. His new indie flick set in his native homeland The Eclipse (NOT Twilight 3) is to be released this weekend. Glad to see him get the lead role for a change, hope he’d get another one in the future.
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  8. Kenneth Branagh
    KenBranaghFor all the Shakespearean work he’s done (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet), I initially thought Branagh was an Englishman. The RADA-educated actor had his start in theater when he joined The Royal Shakespeare Company at 23. Soon after he formed his own performance art company called The Renaissance Theatre Company, which counts Prince Charles as one of its royal patrons. He surely brought some of that artsy and sophisticated sensibilities into the comic book adaptation Thor. He’s more than capable doing double duties as actor and director, which he did in the recent reboot of the Jack Ryan movie Shadow Recruit.
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  9. Brendan Gleeson
    BrendanGleesonThis character actor is always fun to watch even in a small role, i.e. as Alastor ‘Mad-­Eye’ Moody in Harry Potter series. But my favorite performance of his would have to be In Bruges with Colin Farrell. I’ve been meaning to see The Guard for ages but it’s not available to rent on iTunes, so I might have to bug my friend who has the Netflix dvd subscription to rent it for me. I’ve been dying to see what happens to At Swim-Two-Birds, which was supposed to be his directorial debut. I blogged about it 2 years ago and still no new news on that one :( Just check out the amazing Irish cast on that one, who wouldn’t want to see that come to life.
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  10. Michael Gambon
    MichaelGambonI first noticed the 74-year-old thespian as the evil tobacco executive in Michael Mann’s The Insider. He’s one of those actors who makes an impact even in a brief appearance. Some of his memorable supporting roles are The Wings of the Dove, Charlotte Gray, The King’s Speech and the latest one I saw was in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet. He’s probably most well-known to mass audiences as Albus Dumbledore, when he replaced fellow Irishman the late Richard Harris in the Harry Potter series.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Harris, Ray Stevenson, Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, and Pierce Brosnan.


So, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day (or just the love for the Irish), who are YOUR favorite Irish actors?

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FlixChatter Review: 12 Years A Slave (2013)

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

I saw this film two months ago and it was an early screening at 11 in the morning. I made the mistake of going back to work after this, as I was so shaken by it I could barely concentrate on even the simplest tasks. It’s the kind of film that’s perhaps seen alone or at least not with a big group of friends, because it would leave you so speechless afterwards that one would not be good company for a lively conversation.

The title says it all, it’s an incredible story of a formerly-free black man ended up sold to slavery and having to endure it for twelve agonizing years. Based on an autobiography written in 1853, the fact that Solomon survived this ordeal doesn’t exactly make this retelling any less harrowing, director Steve McQueen makes sure of that. The way the story is told is pretty straight-forward, we see Solomon with his family in Saratoga Springs, New York. An educated man and trained violinist, he lives a good life with his wife and two kids, until one fateful day when two men claiming to be from a touring circus duped and drugged him. That following morning, Solomon finds himself chained to the floor, no doubt it’s the start of the darkest decade of his life.

This is the first film of British filmmaker Steve McQueen that I saw. As I wasn’t familiar with McQueen’s previous works, the main draw for me is Chiwetel Ejiofor and he absolutely delivered. It’s as if I wasn’t watching an actor simply playing a role, Ejiofor became Solomon and everything from his mannerism to his soulful gaze lends authenticity to the character. What happened to Solomon is tragic and he’s a victim to be sure, but there’s a defiant strength in him that’s so compelling. “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” He says, at one of the pivotal moment in his journey, and as life deals him one nasty blow after another, he clings to that glimmer of hope that one day he’d live again.

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McQueen doesn’t spare us the goriest and most vicious details of Solomon’s, as well as his fellow slaves. It’s truly an emotionally—and at times physically—draining experience watching this film as we’re subjected to several unflinching & sadistic violence that seems to go on forever. Though I appreciate the fact that McQueen doesn’t sugarcoat the story to make it more palatable, at times the extensive whipping scenes feels like it overpower the story. The whipping scene is bound to be one people talk about most, but there is also one incredibly disturbing scene involving Solomon half way through the film. It’s particularly harrowing not only because of the act itself, but the reaction of his fellow slaves around him. McQueen kept this scene on screen for a long time, too long for comfort, and that’s exactly the point. Yet it’s not just the brutal violence that really tug your heartstrings, I was practically sobbing watching the scene where Solomon was trying to write but simply couldn’t make the ink solid enough to use. It made me think how I’ve taken for granted the seemingly-simple things I have in my life.

The film intermittently shifts its focus from Solomon to the slave owners, particularly Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), whose brutality is matched only by his own wife (Sarah Paulson). In many ways, Mrs. Epps is actually scarier than her husband. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say, and boy it’s never more true here seeing a woman so madly-driven by jealousy that she couldn’t even recognize the intense suffering of fellow human beings. The subject of that sheer jealousy is Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) as she’s the subject of Epps’ sexual urges. Her scenes are the toughest to watch, even the scene containing only dialog between her and Solomon is utterly heart-wrenching.

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This film has one of the best ensemble cast of the year and the actors delivered solid performances pretty much across the board. Paul Giammatti and Paul Dano played against type portraying some evil characters, though Dano overacted in his brief scene that it made me cringe. Benedict Cumberbatch gave Solomon a fleeting hope as a compassionate slave owner, but in the end he didn’t really make any real difference. There’s much buzz about the Kenyan newcomer Nyong’o with her devastating performance and she deserves them, but I think Paulson deserves equal kudos for portraying such a wicked persona convincingly. Speaking of which, it’s hard not to think of Epps as a devil-incarnate, yet there’s something in Fassbender’s eyes that somehow make us believe he’s not a soulless creature. Alfre Woodard has a bit part here as well, though I wish her character were explored just a bit more. Lastly, Brad Pitt, who also produced the film, showed up towards the end and it was clear even from the promos that he’s made to be the hero in the film. Well, I’m glad to see his character appears in the film though I didn’t think anything of it about his performance. The heart of the film is no doubt Ejiofor, portraying a man who’s down but not defeated, he somehow remains hopeful despite seemingly-impossible odds. I sure hope this role opens even more doors for him in leading man roles as he’s certainly got the talent and charisma.

As powerful as this film is though, it’s not exactly flawless nor would I call it a masterpiece in the same vein as say, Schindler’s List. As my friend Terrence pointed out in his review, I too feel that the treatment of time passing is way too subtle. I didn’t even notice so much about Solomon aging, which should’ve been more obvious in a matter of 12 years under such duress. John Ridley’s screenplay felt a bit too poetic at times which lessened the sense of realism. I also wish there were more continuation with certain scenes and characters, i.e. the flashback scene where Solomon was approached by a slave whilst he shopping with his family, as there’s no follow-up to that encounter later in the film. I also wasn’t too impressed by Hans Zimmer‘s score. For the life of me I simply can’t remember what it sounds like now, perhaps it was a bit too similar to his previous works.

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Final Thoughts: Even with the flaws, I still think this is a brilliant film that merits the praises it’s been receiving. McQueen’s meticulous direction with his no-holds-barred approach proves that he’s one of the most talented filmmakers working today, quite a feat considering this is only his third film. This film shows the absolute horror of what the worst of us are capable of, enhanced as well as contrasted by Sean Bobbitt‘s breathtaking cinematography. This is one of those essential films that ought to be seen. Even if it may take you days to recover from, it’s such a worthwhile cinematic experience.

four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels


What did you think of 12 Years A Slave? I’d love to hear what you think!

October Movie Watching Recap and Movie of the Month

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Hello November! It’s also the weekend daylight savings ends here in Minnesota, so we get an extra hour to do whatever we wish, yay! Well, since I’ve been suffering with a cold the past week (yes that meant I was sick during my vacation plus I also twisted my ankle on my second night of the trip), most likely I will be using that extra hour to rest.

But hey, don’t cry for me, folks. It was still an awesome trip to NYC, which was to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding, the first of two wedding festivities (the 2nd one will be in our hometown Jakarta). LOVE New York City in Autumn, the foliage hasn’t quite peaked yet, but the leaves colors are just gorgeous! I didn’t get a chance to visit as many places due to my twisted ankle though, so we’ll likely be back next year!

Before the ankle-twisting incident... Visiting Belvedere Castle in Central Park and goofing around w/ my sister-in-law on the BIG Piano at FAO Schwartz

Before the ankle-twisting incident… Strolling w/ my dear hubby in Central Park, visiting Belvedere Castle, and goofing around w/ my sister-in-law on the BIG Piano at FAO Schwartz

I’m also happy to report that thanks to TCFF, it’s been a GREAT movie-watching month for me. Check out my 2013 TCFF coverage by clicking the tab at the top of the blog, there are surely some movie gems you wouldn’t want to miss!

Well, here are some of my posts this past month:

New-to-me Feature Films Watched (in alphabetical order):

12 Years A Slave

August: Osage County

Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness (doc)

Captain Phillips

Dark Knight Returns Part I and II

Everybody’s Fine (for the Robert De Niro Blogathon)

Forev

Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football (doc)

How I Live Now

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Nebraska

One Chance

Parkland

RUSH

The Armstrong Lie (doc)

The Fifth Estate

The Big Noise

The Search for Simon

Trust Greed Bullets and Bourbon

Winter in the Blood

Check out which of these films made my TCFF Top Five

I still have some TCFF screeners I have yet to see as I had to lend them to fellow blog volunteers, so there would’ve been more films on this list had I got around to watching them. On top of the films listed above, I also watched a total of 8 short films during TCFF: The Family-themed Shorts that includes A Better Life, as well as Hot and Bothered.

I was planning on going to The Counselor‘s screening but couldn’t make it as it was at 10 in the morning. But after reading the dismal reviews, it’s perhaps best that I just rent that one later. Besides, that might be too dark and disturbing to see before going to work, ahah. No rewatches for me either this month, though we did get our Pacific Rim Blu-ray a couple of weeks ago that we’ll be watching this weekend!

SpidermanTurnOffTheDarkOh, whilst I was in NYC, my hubby and I also got a chance to catch Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway. It was pretty decent and the theatrics was pretty entertaining, and Justin Matthew Sargent was good as the lead. I do think Marvel’s web slinger is much more suitable as a feature film, plus they made some changes to the story that I wasn’t too keen on. The music by Bono is not bad, though the only one I really dug is Rise Above, here’s a sample:


I’m glad I saw it, but unlike say, The Phantom of the Opera, it’s not a show I’d want to see over and over again.


Movies of the Month:

I knew it would be hard for me to pick just ONE Movie of the Month in October, there are simply too many excellent films. Well, after much deliberations (in my head that is) it came down to a tie between these two:

AugustOsageCty_Collage12YrsASlave_CollageInteresting that both feature a star-studded ensemble cast, and both has Benedict Cumberbatch in it. I didn’t plan on that (nor did I plan on seeing THREE films this month that stars the awesome and mighty popular Brit, not that I’m complaining). Both films feature a brutally-honest look into its subject matter, both physically and emotionally, and at times it’s tough to watch. Kudos to directors Steve McQueen and John Wells for their daft hand in crafting such challenging films.

As for the performances, the true star of August: Osage County and 12 Years A Slave are Meryl Streep and Chiwetel Ejiofor, respectively. I have a feeling Streep is a shoo-in comes next year’s Oscar, but I sure hope Ejiofor would get a shot, he sooo deserves it. I hope to review both of these soon and will post ‘em when the embargo is lifted, but I highly recommend both films which will surely get a lot of mentions come award season.


Well, that’s my monthly recap folks. What’s YOUR favorite film you saw in October?

Five for the Fifth: AUGUST 2013 Edition

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Hello folks, welcome to the 8th Five for the Fifth of the year!

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item, observation, trailer, actor/director spotlight, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. August 5th is Neil Armstrong‘s birthday. The first man on the moon would’ve been 82 today. When he died almost exactly a year ago on August 25 (see my music-themed tribute here), some articles (like this one) reported on an [inevitable] biopic on his life. Not sure what have become of that project, which is baffling to me as Hollywood LOVES biopics, and Armstrong seems to have a story worth telling, aside from his accomplishments in space engineering.

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This Guardian article from 2008 had some casting ideas, but I think some of those might be moot at this point. One name they threw out was Viggo Mortensen, which would be awesome, even if at 54 he’s too old to play Armstrong when he first landed on the moon, which was 38.

Thoughts on this project? Who do you think would be a good fit to play Neil Armstrong?


2.  In my June Five for the Fifth, I mentioned about 2 Guns in my question about Mark Wahlberg. Well, that movie tops box office this weekend with $27 mil. Not bad considering its budget is only $61 mil. I guess both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg can open a movie on their own, so combine the two together, I’m not surprised the film does well.

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The movie is more of a rental to me though. Terrence gave it a 3 out 5 stars, so it’s not horrible, but not something I have to see on the big screen. I quite like buddy action flicks though, that’s a tried-and-true genre that relies on the charm and chemistry of the cast. Some of my fave buddy action/comedy flicks are Lethal Weapons, Tango & Cash, The Other Guys, Hot Fuzz, and most recently, 21 Jump Street.

How about you, what are YOUR favorite buddy action flicks?


3. Some of you who’ve read my July Recap knows that The Act of Killing documentary is my Movie of the Month. I’m still mulling it over after seeing it last week.

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After chatting with the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer and attending his Q&A at Walker Art Center this weekend, I have a better appreciation of the filmmaking process, though it’s certainly a film one would be hard pressed to comprehend. I will post my review and interview w/ Joshua later this week, but here’s the trailer:

So far the film has garnered all kinds of accolades and awards from all over the world. It’s Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently 97%, the summary reads like this: Raw, terrifying, and painfully difficult to watch, The Act of Killing offers a haunting testament to the edifying, confrontational power of documentary cinema. Trust me, it’s no hyperbole and it’s easily THE most haunting documentary I’ve ever seen, and I’m not saying that because the subject matter focuses on my homeland Indonesia. I can’t recommend this enough folks, especially if you like history or simply compelling stories that’s told in an inventive way. I certainly hope it’d be nominated for an Academy Awards next year.

Speaking of recommendations, what has been the most memorable documentary you saw in the last 12 months?


ChrisEvans_incar4. Actors venturing into directing films are nothing new. We’ve certainly seen some movie stars garnering accolades for directing AND starring in their films (George Clooney, Ben Affleck, etc.), and now Chris Evans is attempting to do just that. Per SlashFilm, the Captain America star reportedly will direct and star in a romantic drama called 1:30 Train. Here’s the initial plot of the film:

Two strangers who meet in Manhattan and spend one night together as the conflicts in their own lives become the basis for their exploration of each other and themselves.”

Some sites are describing it as being in the vein of Richard Linklaters’ Before Sunrise, which intrigues me, Hollywood needs more compelling romantic dramas instead of rom-coms. Now, I’m warming up to Evans as an actor, I mean he’s not a stellar actor by any means but I like that he tries to mix up different genres. He’s fitting in an apocalypse thriller Snowpiercer (hopefully it’ll get a US release date soon), and now this, in between his Avengers gig. Curious who’d be cast as the love interest, but in any case, I wish him the best of luck on this project!

What do you think of Chris Evans’ directorial debut idea? Does the film appeal to you?


5. Now, I know it’s only August, nominations isn’t going to start for another four months. But hey, since they’ve already announced that Ellen DeGeneres will host the Oscars next year (which is awesome as she’s FUNNY without being mean-spirited!), I think it’s fair game to talk about Oscar predictions… or wish list.

The one film that’s a shoo-in come award season is Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave. 

12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.  Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity.  In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.

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The cast is incredible, but I’m especially thrilled to see Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role!! I’ve been championing the talented Brit for years, he was on my list of foreign actors to watch (along with his co-star Michael Fassbender!). I’m sincerely hoping that this film would come to Twin Cities Film Fest in October (ahead of its limited release on December 27), as MN-native Bill Pohlad is one of the film’s producers.

Oh man, I cried just watching the trailer! I better pack a box of tissue when I watch the film. I LOVE that Benedict Cumberbatch is in this as well, this is the second time he’s doing a slavery-themed film, the first one was Amazing Grace, which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen yet.

Our resident Oscar expert Josh @ Classicblanca has put up his Oscar predictions last week, and I’m thrilled to see he’s predicting Ejiofor under the Best Actor noms. I’d love to see Fassy get a nom in Best Supporting Actor category too, since he was overlooked last year, but I REALLY want Ejiofor to finally get his dues after years of memorable, supporting performances. I know that after seeing him in Endgame, he’s definitely a capable leading man.

P.S. In the Best Actress category, I’d love to Cate Blanchett get a nom as well. I mean, just from seeing a trailer and clip of Blue Jasmine, she’s certainly in top form being the chameleon actor that she is!

Well, now my last question to you is: Which actor (or actress) would you love to getting a nomination come award season?


That’s it for the AUGUST 2013 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these subjects.

TEN Notable Foreign Actors to Watch – Where Are They Now?

I first published this list back in November 2009, and I’ve been wanting to do an update in a while, thanks to the suggestion from Iba @ ILuvCinema.

As I said back then, this kind of list is a matter of opinion/preference, and it’s impossible to please everyone. This one in particular is not meant to be a prediction of ‘the next big thing,’ whatever the heck that means, but more of an indication that these non-American actors have been generating some buzz for current or upcoming flicks, or accolades for their performances as of 2009.

FlixChatter's Top Ten Foreign Actors to Watch

FlixChatter’s Top Ten Foreign Actors to Watch

The criteria was that at the time, these actors were virtually unknown to the average movie-going public (even if they had seen their movies), but are definitely on the radar of cinephiles and movie bloggers alike. To help narrow things down, I kept the age range between 20-40 years old (as of the time I made the list).

Well, so how are they doing now, almost three years later? Take a look below on how each of the talent’s career has taken them:

Tom Hardy, 34

Thanks to Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie, Tom Hardy’s name has perhaps become a household name by now. Since I made the list, I’ve seen him in three additional films: Inception, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises. As I said before, I quite like his comic skills in Rocknrolla, but since his roles have showcased his dramatic chops and a penchant for the theatrics for his role of Bane. No, I haven’t seen him in This Means War yet, though I have not ruled that out yet.

What’s Next? He’s currently starring in the prohibition-era thriller Lawless. I look forward to seeing him in the new Mad Max action adventure Fury Road with Charlize Theron.
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Sam Worthington, 36

Now this is quite unfortunate. Though I was initially keen on the Kiwi actor after Terminator Salvation and Avatar, now I’m actually not as fond of him. Blame the awful Clash of the Titans for that, I guess, and also some dismal reviews for Man On Ledge, which didn’t sound too promising from the start. But no doubt Worthington’s career continues to be on the rise. I mean, heck, he’s now got another franchise besides Avatar as the sequel to ‘Clash‘ was released this past Summer.

What’s Next? He’s signed on for several movies out next year, but the one I’m most curious about is Thunder Run that’s reportedly on pre-production. The Iraq-war thriller about the surprise assault on Baghdad also stars Gerry Butler and Matthew McConaughey.
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Carey Mulligan, 27

After seeing her fabulous performance in An Education, she wowed me again in Never Let Me Go. I haven’t seen Drive and Shame, but those two movie caught a lot of buzz with critics and moviegoers alike. Seems like the talented Londoner (one of my faves born in the UK capital) is perfectly suited for both indies and more mainstream fares like Wall Street: Money Never Sleep.

What’s Next? Too bad The Great Gatsby‘s been pushed back to next year from this Christmas. I think she’d make a compelling Daisy Buchanan in the tale of tragic romance amidst the lavish world of Jay Gatsby. On a personal front, Carey has also now been married Marcus Mumford, the lead singer of Mumford & Sons band last April.
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Tobey Kebbell, 30

As I said before, it’s pure coincidence that three actors on this list have been in Rocknrolla! I guess Guy Ritchie’s pretty good at spotting real talents. I’ve since only seen Kebbell in one other film, War Horse, but his scene was easily one of the most memorable. Unlike Hardy though, Kebbell’s career hasn’t really quite taken off. Perhaps because his two films following Rocknrolla (The Conspirator and Prince of Persia) weren’t really well-received nor become box office hits.

What’s Next? His upcoming film The East with Alexander Skarsgård and Brit Marling sounds interesting, but I doubt it’ll be his big break as it’s a low-budget movie. Kebbell is still young though, so there’s still time for his career to hit it off.
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Chiwetel Ejiofor, 39

Since I just saw a movie with him in the lead role in Endgame, I’m so glad I put him on my list! He had a memorable role in Children of Men and also American Gangster. Even in brief screen time as Keira Knightley’s groom in Love, Actually, it’s hard not to notice the handsome London-born actor (born of Nigerian parents). I wish he had been as prolific as fellow British/African Idris Elba, as both are charismatic and talented actors. As displayed in Endgame, I am convinced Ejiofor can carry a movie as a leading man. He’s obviously very easy on the eyes, but also got that intellectual, sophisticated vibe that’d make him suitable for a variety of roles.

What’s Next? He’s starring with Thandie Newton in a film set around Nigeria’s independence, Half of a Yellow Sun. And hopefully starring in the Steve McQueen’s historical drama Twelve Years A Slave would also boost his career even more.
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Michael Fassbender, 35

Well I think this Irish-German actor’s career has been on a meteoric rise in the past three years, wouldn’t you say? He nabbed nominations left and right for his performance in Shame, though he was egregiously snubbed by the Academy Award. Since 300, I’ve loved his performance in Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class and Prometheus. I think it’s safe to say Fassbender has ‘arrived’ in Hollywood, and I’m glad to see him getting more prominent roles.

What’s Next? Fassbender will be collaborating with London-born director Steve McQueen for the third time in Twelve Years A Slave that I’ve mentioned above. He’s also co-starring with Brad Pitt in the Ridley Scott’s drug-trafficking thriller The Counselor set for next year.
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Abbie Cornish, 28

I have to admit I haven’t seen Cornish in anything new since Bright Star, apart from watching her in A Good Year with Russell Crowe. She’s obviously VERY talented, and she could perhaps have the career of fellow Aussie actresses like Naomi Watts or Mia Waskikowska, but yet she’s not as well-known. She’s quite in demand though, she’s starring in five new films in the next couple of years.

What’s Next? She’s been cast in the much-beleaguered RoboCop reboot alongside Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) and Gary Oldman. This seems to be the most high profile she’s involved in as the others seem to be small-budget fares.
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Sharlto Copley, 38

I LOVE his performance in District 9, that’s why he’s on this list. But it seems to be a slow-burn rise for the South African actor, as he hasn’t starred in anything since the A-Team reboot a few years ago. Not sure why that is but perhaps he’s busy working on the District 9 follow-up Elysium with Neill Blomkamp, even though it seems that it’s Matt Damon who’s got the starring role in that movie.

What’s Next? He’s listed on IMDb as having five upcoming projects, including the Sleeping Beauty spin-off Maleficent with Angelina Jolie and the Korean cult favorite Oldboy remake with Spike Lee. Not sure how big his role is in those two films. I do hope he gets another starring role in a sci-fi movie, he certainly has the chops to carry a film.

Gemma Arterton, 26

Now, out of the ten actors I put on the list, Gemma is the only one I wish I hadn’t. I guess I’m just too fond of her. I probably would rather put fellow Brit Hayley Atwell in her place. It’s interesting that she was Sam Worthington’s co-star in Clash of the Titans, whom I initially liked but now I’ve grown cold on. Like Worthington, Arterton is also in quite a high demand, she even played a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace and balancing smaller-budget fares (Tamara Drewe) and blockbusters (Prince of Persia).

What’s Next? You might’ve seen her in the recently-released trailer of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (if not, you can see it here), just one of the four projects she’s got in 2013. None of them I’m really interested in however, that Hansel and Gretel one looks like crap.
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Ben Whishaw, 31

The UK actor has since been on my radar since his leading role as John Keats in Bright Star and a small role in The International. I’ve been meaning to rent the ensemble-cast Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There in which he portrayed Arthur Rimbaud, but haven’t got around to it. Needless to say, I haven’t seen him in anything since but I’m hoping to see him in two films before year’s end: Cloud Atlas and Bond 23 Skyfall as the new, young and hip Q!

What’s Next? There’s nothing else listed for him in IMDb after Skyfall, but he’s also starring in a BBC four-part miniseries The Hollow Crown (you can read all about it here on Dezzy’s blog) Hopefully this massively talented actor gets a leading role sometime soon!


Honorable mentions:

  • Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21, Fifty Dead Men Walking)
  • Rupert Friend (Cheri, The Young Victoria)
  • Idris Elba (Rocknrolla, The Losers, Prometheus)
  • Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Dorian Gray)
  • Ben Barnes (Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Dorian Gray)

Again, I made this original list three years ago. Now, with hindsight, I would’ve probably swapped a couple from the main list, such as Idris Elba and Rebecca Hall. Especially for Idris, I’m psyched that his career continues to rise now, he deserved it!!


Well, that’s it for the updates folks. Thoughts on any of these actors and/or their projects?