Everybody’s Chattin’ – Reviews Edition + Brief Hiatus Announcement

Happy Friday everybody!

Aren’t you excited the weekend is here? For us in the US, it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving already, it’s nuts how fast time flies! Well this year my hubby and I are spending Thanksgiving apart, actually it’ll be thousands of miles apart as he just flew to Jakarta whilst I’ll be visiting my BFF in San Diego, hence I’ll be taking a blog hiatus next week, well apart from a special Thanksgiving post for next Thursday :D

Well, I figure that for this month’s edition of Everybody’s Chattin‘, I’d highlight some great reviews from my fellow bloggers that I haven’t seen or written the review yet. So here we go:

New Releases

12YrsASlave_ReviewsSati, Terrence and Keith reviewed 12 Years A Slave

Philomena_ReviewChris reviewed Philomena

EnoughSaid_reviewEric reviewed Enough Said

DallasBuyersClub_reviewRyan reviewed Dallas Buyers Club

SavingMrBanks_ReviewMark H. reviewed Saving Mr. Banks

AboutTime_reviewJosh reviewed About Time, whilst Nick and Colin talks time-travelin’
in their Double Team Review

Now, some older films, classic and otherwise…

Moon_reviewMark reviewed Moon

MUD_reviewZoë reviewed Mud

ONtheRoad_reviewNick reviewed On The Road

PrinceAvalance_reviewJames reviewed Prince Avalanche

TheApartment_reviewSteven reviewed The Apartment
(one I REALLY should’ve watched by now!)


Well, this weekend I’m going to skip the cinema again, I’ll wait until my hubby is back in town so we can watch Hunger Games: Catching Fire together. So it’s home cinema all weekend, I’m actually planning to watch Mary Poppins! Can you believe it I’ve never seen that before? I figure I should see it before the Saving Mr. Banks screening next week :D


So what’s your weekend viewing plans, folks? Whatever you do, have a fabulous weekend!

FlixChatter Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY

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One of the power of great movies is that it gives us ‘escapism,’ a relief from whatever problems we have in our daily life for an hour or two. But a truly great film gives us something more… more to take in, to marvel at, and to reflect on. Gravity, to me, is one of those films.

When the film starts, we’re introduced to the two main characters of the film, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer in her first space mission, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney being his gregarious self), a veteran astronaut who’s much more comfortable being in space. They’re working on repairing a space shuttle and things seem to be working just fine. The mood’s playful as Kowalski’s talking to the folks down in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) and joking around. It’s an effective exposition that help the audience get acquainted with these two characters before their real journey begin.

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Suddenly Houston warns them to abort their mission as an exploded Russian satellite comes speeding through their orbit. There’s barely any time for the crew to move to safety when flying debris rips their shuttle to shreds and Stone ends up drifting into space, spinning uncontrollably. When I first saw the trailer, I have to admit I wasn’t immediately intrigued by it. It looks like just another space thriller, I thought, but when I saw it in context, I had a totally different reaction. The suspense felt all too real that I remember feeling panic-stricken like Bullock’s character in the film as things go haywire on screen, made even more tense by the haunting score.

Gravity is one of the most immersive cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time. I feel like I was being transported to another realm as I was watching the film. There are some humorous moments to help ease tension, but the action sequences were quite relentless and kept me at the edge of my seat. In fact, there are a few genuinely terrifying scenes that made me gasp for breath a few times. Yet there is a deep spiritual quality about it in its quieter moments as we’re alone with the character. As I learn more about Dr. Stone and being with her in her desperate hour, the humanity of the story becomes even more palpable. This isn’t a film about space as it’s about people, reminding us once again what truly makes us human. The ‘detachment’ and ‘letting go’ themes are metaphors for what we too encounter in our journeys on earth. We take so much for granted the simpler things in life, but after seeing this, even just inhaling air into our lungs feels like an amazing privilege.

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Cuarón may not be the most prolific filmmakers out there, as his last feature film was Children of Men in 2006. It’s one of my favorite science fiction films and is already a sci-fi classic. You’d think would be hard to top but somehow the Mexican director managed to do just that with this one. I can’t put into words just how striking this film is, the long takes throughout the films are stupendous to behold. We might’ve seen images of earth from above from various space documentaries, but somehow cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki makes the view look even more dazzling. I can’t speak about the technical aspects of the special effects but Cuarón has a way of making us feel as if we’re actually there, in space, with the astronauts. The degree of the visual realism is so incredible that it looked as if the film were actually shot in space. It’s hard to explain but during the detachment scene, there’s a subtle technique that enables us to “sense” the surroundings from Dr. Stone’s point of view.

On top of the visual artistry, the use of sound is unlike any other. I feel like the whole theater rattles a bit as the music roars but then the silence feels just as deafening. Kudos to Steven Price for his magnificent score, as it adds so much to the film. It starts off with a clasic orchestral style but then it switches to a heart-pounding, nerve-rattling tone as the terror unfolds on screen. I don’t describe hardly any film as being hypnotic, but I think it’s an apt sentiment to use here as I was absolutely transfixed.

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Despite its striking beauty and spectacular special effects, Gravity doesn’t fall into the trap of ‘style over substance.’ In fact, it’s one of those films that give you as much food for thought as feast for the senses, allowing us to marvel at the beauty of our universe but also the power of the human spirit. As a person of faith, I really appreciate the theme of rebirth and letting go of the past that serves as our own personal ‘chain’ if you will.  There’s a message of hope that resonates deeply with me, that in my darkest hour, I’m not really alone.

Another outstanding aspect of the film is the performances. Though Clooney’s name is on the marquee too, it’s ultimately Sandra Bullock‘s film and she owns the role of the brilliant but vulnerable Dr. Stone. Apparently she’s the third choice after Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman both passed on the film, but now I can’t picture anyone else in that role. I have always liked her as an actress and certainly has the talent and versatility to do well in both comedy and drama. Under certain guidance though, a director could take an actor’s performance to another level and that’s the case here. Suffice to say, her performance here easily surpasses everything else she’s done to date. I don’t think people would be crying foul when once again we’d see her name amongst 2014 Oscar’s Best Actress nominees.

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Speaking of Oscar, this will be the film I’d be rooting for. It’s a family project of sort as as Alfonso collaborated with his son Jonás Cuarón on the script. It’s definitely a career-best for pretty much for the Alfonso Cuarón, and this would easily be one of those films people would be studying in the future.

Final Thoughts: I’m running out of adjectives already to describe this film. One final observation – for a film set entirely in space with its harsh, dangerous environment, this is not a cold film. It’s perhaps one of the most emotionally-gratifying film I’ve seen this year, and it also boasts a finale that makes you want to get up and cheer. A triumphant film through and through. See it and experience it for yourself, on the biggest screen you can possibly find. For once I actually recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D, trust me, it’s worth it.

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5 out of 5 reels

Anybody else’s seen this yet? I’m very interested to hear what you think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Everybody’s Chattin’ – April Reviews Edition

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Happy Friday everyone! It’s gonna be in mid 60s today, so that’s sure gonna add an extra step in my Spring. Finally it actually feels seasonal this weekend :D

Well, it’s time for another Everybody’s Chattin’ post and this time I want to highlight reviews some of you fine bloggers have written recently. I specifically want to focus on films that I haven’t seen yet, either new releases or older ones already out on dvd. Without further ado, here we go!

Mark reviews In the Mouth of Madness, John Carpenter’s psycho thriller starring Sam Neill.

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To The Wonder

Nick from Cinema Romantico gave a beautiful review of Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder… calling it a ‘rapturous testament to the fleeting nature of love and life

I had just seen the trailer for this and was very intrigued. Then I head over to Bonjour Tristesse and saw that he has reviewed Wong Kar Wai’s latest, The Grandmaster.

Now, I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence and sometimes I’d make an exception for ‘some’ horror movies if it intrigues me enough, but Keith‘s review of House at the End of the Street convinces me that I shouldn’t bother with this one.

Two of my favorite Chris-es (from FilmHipster and Terry Malloy Pigeon Coop) in the blogosphere recently teamed up to bring us an excellent, succinct review of A Dangerous Method, which despite the two fantastic lead actors, isn’t as compelling as it could’ve been.

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Animal Kingdom

Kevin has been ‘traveling’ to Australia lately for his ‘Wizard of Oz’ series and he sang the praises for what he call ‘a supreme piece of filmmaking’ that is Animal Kingdom.

Now, I’ve only seen one Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film (The Tourist), but unfortunately it was such a departure (NOT in a good way) from his first film. Tyson recently reviewed Donnersmarck’s excellent debut The Lives of Others, which I hope to catch soon!

This is one of the critically-acclaimed indies I have yet to see, but Stephanie’s recent review of Martha Marcy May Marlene makes me extra curious, even if it’s just to see Elizabeth Olsen’s performance.

Now, I know this is one of the indie new releases everyone is excited about, and Roshach has some really positive things to say about The Place Beyond the Pines. I’m not a huge fan of the cast but I’m intrigued enough to rent it.

GoT_Season3Ep4_PicLast but certainly not least, Lady Sati‘s been um, preoccupied with HBO’s massively popular Game of Thrones lately, as you’ve likely have seen from her GoT posts on her blog. Though I don’t watch the show, I still enjoy reading her reviews/commentary with all the gorgeous photos, such as this one on Season 3, Episode 4 And Now His Watch Is Ended.


Well, my MSPfest viewing mini-marathon continues with In A World and The Hunt this weekend. I saw Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist last night which I was quite impressed with, especially with Riz Ahmed‘s performance. Stay tuned for the review of that next week and my thoughts on I, Anna coming later this weekend.


Well, before you’re off to any of the links above, tell me, what’s your weekend viewing plans?

New Releases Double Reviews: Jack Reacher & Django Unchained

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Thanks to Ted for these reviews as I was on vacation when the screenings took place.

Jack Reacher

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Tom Cruise continues his “comeback” on the big screen with another action thriller after the success of last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this time he’s playing another super-spy type in Jack Reacher. It’s based on one of Lee Child’s popular series of novels, One Shot. The film starts out with a mysterious person who randomly shot and killed five people in a public place with a sniper rifle. With the recent tragedies in real life, this opening sequence was a bit eerie, so just a warning if you’re still too upset about what happened in Connecticut, I don’t recommend you go see this movie. Now the scene was well shot and staged and to me it didn’t glamorize the violence but I can definitely understand if someone can get upset when they see it. Later an ex-marine sniper named Barr (Joseph Sikora) was arrested for the crime and during an interrogation he asked the detective on the case Emerson (David Oyelowo) and district attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) to get him Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).

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Director Werner Herzog as the Russian mobster known as ‘The Zec’

Emerson and Rodin decided to look up Reacher but couldn’t find anything on him. A few moments later Reacher showed up at their office and asked to see Barr. But Barr is in a coma because he got beat up badly by some other inmates while in custody. So Reacher met with Barr’s lawyer Helen (the gorgeous ex-Bond girl Rosamund Pike). Reacher told her that he’s there just to make sure Barr is behind bars because he believed Barr did the shooting, he and Barr had a history together back when they were in the army. But Helen convinced Reacher to help her investigate what really happened and as both of them dig deeper into the case, they got in trouble with some local thugs, Charlie (Jai Courtney aka John McClane Jr.) and his mysterious boss known as The Zec (the great director Werner Herzog).

Performance wise, I thought everyone did a good job. Especially Cruise who was in the command of the role. I’ve never read any of the books but I know some fans weren’t too thrilled that he was cast as Reacher. But I think many of them will find out that Cruise did well here.

The film is a straightforward procedural thriller; there aren’t any major surprises that will wow you. The humors are well-placed and they didn’t feel forced into each scene. The action sequences were pretty great, I’m so glad that the filmmakers decided to shoot action scenes where we can actually see them. Some directors tends to forget that when we go see action films, we want to SEE the action, not trying to figure what’s going on during a scene or get dizzy from it. Christopher McQuarrie who wrote and directed this film, did a tremendous job with his sharp dialogues and action sequences.

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The climatic shoot out was probably one of the most meticulous action scenes I’ve ever seen. The way he laid out each sequence and edited were quite astonishing to me. Then the mano-a-mano showdown between Reacher and Charlie was well staged and looked like a “real” fight between two grown men. Of course this being an action film, it needs a car chase scene and it was well done too. It reminded me of the chase scene from Bullit but I kind of wish it ended similar to that film, if you saw the trailer then you know how the chase ended. I thought it’s too cheesy and didn’t really make sense.

In the end I thought it was a well made action thriller that didn’t take itself too seriously and I like the fact it has that old school 70s thriller feel to it. I would definitely love to see more of Jack Reacher films in the future.

4 out of 5 reels

Django Unchained

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Having read the script last year and loved it, I was very excited to see this film. (Read my script review here.) Surprisingly the film is very close to the script, only a few scenes didn’t make it to the screen. Quentin Tarantino is obsessed with spaghetti westerns and he tends to pay homage to that genre in some of his films, particularly Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. Well now he’s finally made a film that truly pays homage the genre but he also mix in another genre, blax-ploitation, mostly the slave related subject that were popular back in the 70s, the most popular film from the genre was called Mandingo. Anyone who likes 70s films as much as I do will probably have seen some of these films; even though they were considered “trashy” by most critics, I somehow enjoyed them. It also burrowed a lot of elements from Sergio Corbucci’s films, especially Django and The Great Silence; if you’ve seen either of those films, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The film opens with a “dentist” named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) looking for a slave who can identify three fugitives for him. We then meet Django (Jamie Foxx) who said he knows these three fugitives, so Schultz decided to buy Django from his owners but they refused. Well, Schultz being an educated man tried to reason with these clowns but they still won’t budge. So he used his skills with a pistol to convince them. Django is freed and both of them set out to find the three fugitives. After they hunt down the fugitives, Schultz was quite impressed with Django skills so he asked if Django would like to be a bounty hunter like him and join him in the hunt. In return Shultz will help Django with anything he wants. Django agreed and said he wants to find his wife who’s been taken away from him. The first half of the films was about Schultz teaching Django how to become a good bounty hunter and sharp with a pistol.

A few months later, Schultz found out where Django’s wife is being kept. She’s at a plantation known as Candieland which owns by Calvin Candie (Leo DiCaprio). So in order to rescue her, Schultz came up with a plan by pretending to be a rich German who’s interested in purchasing a Mandingo fighter and Django is his Mandingo expert. The rest of film took place at Calvin’s Candieland plantation.

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I thought the performances by the lead actors were great, especially Waltz and DiCaprio. Jamie Foxx surprised me, I was skeptical when he was cast in the title role but he did a good job. Apparently QT wrote the part specially for Will Smith but Smith turned him down, I was hoping QT would cast someone like Anthony Mackie or Idris Elba. Also, the cinematography by Robert Richardson was excellent, from the snowy landscape of Montana to the muddy streets of Mississippi, every shots looked spectacular. The action sequences were great, there’s a shootout scene that’s similar to the carnage scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 where the Bride took down the Crazy 88s.

Now I’m going to talk about why I was very disappointed with this film. As mentioned earlier, I read the script (which I reviewed here) and loved it, but somehow the actual film just didn’t deliver in my opinion. It’s clear that QT really needed his long time editor the late Sally Menke to work on this film with him. I thought the first half of the film was sloppily-edited and just wasn’t coherent. The music selection was kind of odd too. I always love the music QT used in his films but when you hear a Tupac song during a shootout scene in this one, it sort of take you out of the film. Now I understand why QT cast a not so well known actress in the role of Broomhilda, Django’s wife, she hardly spoke in the film. She either screams, cries or look scare in each scene she appeared in.

This was one of the films I most looking forward to see this year and unfortunately it was a major disappointment to me. Now I plan to see it again soon since I saw it almost a month ago, so I might change my mind when I see it again. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, it just didn’t lived up to my expectations. I know that I might be in the minority since after the private screening, many people in the theater thought it was great. If you’re a huge QT fan, you might enjoy it. Just a warning though, the film is violent and very bloody. The N-word were uttered constantly by pretty much everyone in the film, so if you’re easily offended, I don’t recommend you go see this film.

In an interview, QT mentioned that he might release a longer extended cut of the film down the road. At one point his producer Harvey Weinstein tried to convince him to split the film into two parts like they did with Kill Bill but QT vetoed that idea. I assume he shot many scenes that were in the script but decided cut them out. I don’t know if a longer version will improve the movie, I mean most of the scenes left in the cutting room floor were probably just violent and rape scenes. I’m assuming here of course because those sequences were in the script.

2.5 out of 5 reels

– reviews by Ted S.


What are your thoughts on these films? Did they live up to your expectations?

Guest Reviews from fellow TCFF Bloggers: Frankenweenie and The Master

I was away at an interactive design conference all day today, folks, but I wanted to introduce you to two fellow TCFF bloggers who’ll be covering the film fest with me. June actually covered TCFF last year for her Girl Producer blog, but this will be the first time Emery will be covering the film fest. She’s currently studying film at the U of M Film.

Thanks June and Emery for your reviews!


FRANKENWEENIE 

Ah a beloved story of a child and his dog mixed with Ghoulish looking people, black and white theatrics, and animal zombies. Wait… what?

Frankenweenie started at a short film that got Director Tim Burton fired from Disney. Yep, fired. So it is only fitting that years later he is hired back and given a chance to revisit his old tale now embraced by Disney.

So what to say about the film? It is definitely true to the Burtonesque nature of things with it’s dark theatrics and beloved stop motion claymation and snappy humor that you have to be quick to catch. And in old Disney fashion there is something for both kids and adults to enjoy. Having seen the short years ago I was excited to see how things played out in the feature version. The thing about Burton is that he always creates fascinating abstract characters and that remains true in this film.

This is a great Halloween film that the whole family can enjoy, just be aware that there are some darker moments in the film that may be unsuitable for those really young.

– review by June Neely

…..

3 out of 5 reels


THE MASTER

The Master is a period piece, set directly after WWII, it focuses on a veteran named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who is returning home. Either the war wreaked havoc on his mental state (a victim of PTSD) or he is inherently a troubled person. Whatever the reasoning is for his behavior/personality there isn’t a place for him in this post-war environment. This is the case until he meets Lancaster Dodd (the always lovely Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), who are the founders and leaders of The Cause; the Cause is a theologically-based group that exhibits traits of a sophisticated cult.

Lancaster recognizes that Freddie needs help and takes him in, believing that he can fix him. The two men’s personalities are dissimilar to such an extent that all of their interactions put you on pins and needles. Each character brings their own tension, and each interaction creates new discomfort – laughter seems to be the most appropriate reaction. Considering Paul Thomas Anderson’s past work, if it wasn’t unsettling and confusing, many viewers would be disappointed.

Over the course of the film, The Cause becomes more and more questionable. Before the release of this film, there were rumors that this was going to be a Scientology movie– P. T. A. based The Cause and Dodd’s character loosely off of L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) and his original group of followers. Despite resemblances, any connection with the current religion has been denied.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a highly acclaimed writer-director; he is responsible for a mere six feature films, yet all of them have numerous accolades. The acting is award-worthy, but I doubt that this will rake in the awards like 2007’s There Will Be Blood, but fans of PTA will be far from disappointed.

This is not a movie – as in something you would want to see in your leisure for quick (mindless) entertainment – this is a film. The cinematography is breathtaking (I saw it in 70mm – every shot looks like a photograph); this film is driven by its characters, which are genuine and memorable, and though the narrative takes a back seat, it is far from dull.

One of the quirks of Freddie Quell’s PTSD is that he’s a raving alcoholic, and there are a few points during the film where Freddie is shown making his own product. I have found an interview from the Vulture website that discusses the plausibility of distilling and getting intoxicated with household chemicals (worth a read after you go see The Master).

The R rating is deserved; Freddie has bad habits and the audience is given a full serving of his mature lifestyle. I walked out of the theater with my faith in today’s film industry totally restored. I am trying to give away as few plot spoilers as possible, while whole-heatedly advocating everyone to go see this. Waiting for it to come out on DVD is fine and dandy, but missing an opportunity to see this on the silver screen would be foolish.

Fun fact about the film: The Master grossed an average of $146,000 per theater during its limited release (sep. 15 and 16)– the second-highest total for a limited-release live-action film.

– review by Emery Thoresen

4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts about either one of these films? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Counting down to TCFF: ‘Ruby Sparks’ Review and Q&A

In about three months time, one of the most exciting event in my neck of the woods is touching down. YES, the Twin Cities Film Fest starts on FRIDAY, October 12 through Saturday, Oct. 20!

For more info, click on the banner to go to the official site and also LIKE TCFF on Facebook!


I’ve always loved a movie about writers. And the premise of Ruby Sparks no doubt intrigues me:

A novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

Now, what writer hasn’t dreamed of having this happens to them? Especially when one of your characters has all the criteria of the man/woman of your dreams ;) But as Calvin Weir-Fields finds out, it’s a lot trickier than you think. At first glance, this movie shares some similarities with Stranger than Fiction, but with a few twists on its own. Whilst the Will Ferrell movie focuses on the character who finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear, this one focuses more on the writer.

Paul Dano stars as Calvin, a young writer who’s under pressure to relive his shining moment of having a New York Times best seller before he turns 20, but now suffers from a massive writer’s block. The way he portrays that agony is spot on and I immediately empathize with his character. One day Calvin sort of got his mojo back after having a vivid dream about a girl. Ruby Sparks is the name of that ‘dream’ girl, the protagonist of Calvin’s narration – a vivacious, bubbly red head, played with an infectious zest for life by Zoe Kazan. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, there she is! A living, breathing person who looks and sounds just like how he’s imagined her.

The moment Ruby enters Calvin’s life, hilarity ensues. Calvin is downright flabbergasted but Ruby is baffled by his reaction and acts as if she has always been living in his house the whole time. It’s a hilarious and endearing, funny and touching at the same time. Both Dano and Kazan played their part convincingly.

Some of the funniest moments also comes from Calvin’s married brother, Harry (Chris Messina), a stereotypical guy’s guy who thinks Calvin ought to get out more. He’s the only one who’s read Calvin’s unpublished draft about Ruby, so the moment they all meet over dinner is a hoot! They find out that Calvin can make Ruby do ANYTHING he wants, just as soon as he types it into the story. She can speak French, be a gourmet chef, etc. and of course the first thing Harry thinks of is all the um, physical alterations Calvin can do on Ruby, and basically whatever a man would want their dream girl to be and do for them.

Whilst it has plenty of amusing moments, things aren’t always so rosy. In fact, there’s a lot of dark moments here that merits its R rating. In many ways, the tone and themes are similar to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ 2006 debut, Little Miss Sunshine where thigh-slapping humor are seamlessly mixed with intense pathos and emotional anguish. In fact, there is a fight scene towards the end of the film that is so raw, intense and utterly gut-wrenching.

The acting is top notch here. The two young cast, Dano and Kazan, definitely carry the film with aplomb. They have amazing chemistry together, Ruby’s spunky-ness perfectly balances Calvin’s awkward, somewhat socially-inept self. The supporting cast add richness to the story: Annette Bening plays Calvin’s sympathetic, free-spirited mom, Antonio Banderas as her warm, carpenter boyfriend and Elliot Gould as his therapist. Steve Coogan and True Blood‘s Deborah Ann-Woll had bit parts but are memorable despite their brief screen time.

My only issue with the film is the predictable and rather saccharine-sweet ending. I feel like if it had ended just a few minutes before the final scene, it would’ve been perfect for me. I kind of like a little bit of uncertainty at the end, where things are not always neatly tied with a big, red bow. Still, Ruby Sparks is a well-written, engaging love story.

Final Thoughts: I highly recommend this one, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and definitely enjoy the performances. As Dayton and Farris used to be music video directors, the use of music is also compelling here, I’m sure the soundtrack is equally charming. Props for Zoe Kazan for writing an offbeat love story that feels refreshingly authentic, which is rare to see. It reminds me a bit of (500) Days of Summer, but to me, Zoe Kazan is far more endearing than Zooey Deschanel.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Summary of the TCFF Q&A with the filmmakers and leading cast:

I saw this last Monday July 16, and what a pleasant surprise to see both filmmakers and the two leading cast, Zoe and Paul were in town to promote the movie! I knew TCFF had announced there’ll be a Q&A afterwards but I didn’t think the cast would be there. TCFF executive director Jatin Setia moderated the event.

One question from the audience was about the believable chemistry between the two leading cast. Well, straight from Paul himself, apparently he and Zoe are dating. Zoe is just as bubbly in person as she is in the film, which is cute to see. I realized shortly afterwards that she is the grand-daughter of Elia Kazan! Obviously she shared his talent and I do think she has a bright future in Hollywood.

Paul seems more introverted and shy, and this is the second time he collaborates with the husband-and-wife directing duo as he previously starred as the reclusive, Nietzsche-obsessed teen in Little Miss Sunshine.

I asked Paul how he portrayed the novelist persona so convincingly, especially in conveying the writer’s block with such agony. I told him that though I knew he was an amazing actor, I wonder if he did any extensive research on that, y’know, like following a real novelist for a week or something like that.

Well, apparently he didn’t. Paul explained in his modest manner that he as an actor, he could easily empathize with a writer’s plight as he put it, ‘we’re artists who live and die by their work.’ He said that it can be extremely agonizing for an artist to be required to produce something creative, whether it’s a narration or performance, in a given allotted time in order to meet deadline. I thought that was a cool answer!

One insight I got from the filmmakers on the music was the fact that their experience as music video directors comes in handy in that they’ve become quite efficient in their film productions. They also understand the importance of music in film, so even on a paltry budget of $8 million, they had a 60-piece orchestra for the soundtrack!

Paul Dano complimented the filmmakers in that on top of being musically and visually gifted directors, Dayton and Farris also have a keen talent for story and character, which definitely shows in Ruby Sparks!

What’s next for Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan?

Paul’s been steadily turning up great work in a relatively short career. He’s worked with renowned directors like Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) and Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are). At the Q&A he said that from Minneapolis he’d be off to Louisiana to film Twelve Years A Slave with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch (wow!) for British director ‘du jour’ Steve McQueen. He’ll also be seen in Looper with equally gifted young actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

This is the first time I saw Zoe Kazan on film, but she’s got almost two dozen TV/movie work under her belt. She’ll be starring with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in an upcoming romantic comedy The F-Word.

Ruby Sparks filmmaker/cast with TCFF staff

Thanks to TCFF and Allied Integrated Marketing for bringing such a special screening to Minneapolis!


Thoughts on the movie and/or the talents involved? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Monthly Roundup: March Movie-Watching Recap

Though I’ve been blogging for over 2 years now, I’ve never actually done a monthly movie-watching recap before. But I’ve been inspired by EricAndy, Diana and Andina so from now on, I’m going to do this on the first or second day of the month.

Like Diana said on her post, I too feel so diminutive seeing how many more films my fellow bloggers see in a given month! I count myself lucky if I got to see four movies in a week, and this weekend I was hoping to see Carnage or Whistleblower but ended with a big fat zero as I was busy all day Friday and went to an Indonesian Festival at the University of Minnesota on Saturday.

Anyway here are the movies I saw in March:

  1. My Week with Marilyn
  2. Hunger Games
  3. Casablanca
  4. Three Musketeers
  5. Lambent Fuse
  6. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  7. Senna
  8. Breaking Dawn
  9. Puss in Boots
  10. Contagion

Re-watch:

Favorite March Movie:

I’d say it’s a tie between Casablanca and Senna, they’re two very different films but both made a tremendous impression on me. I still plan on doing an appreciation post for Casablanca sometime this month.

So this month I only saw a total of ten new films [gasp!] with about three that I re-watched, bringing the total to a whopping… thirteen! [wince] Yes I know, it’s VERY low for even a common moviegoer, let alone a movie blogger!! I am hoping to see more movies each month and maybe even add one or two movies on week nights. Well the nice thing is, I was actually able to review most of the films I saw, whilst I still haven’t got around to reviewing a few of the movies I saw around the holidays (December/January), such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. I’ll do mini reviews of those films I mentioned in the near future.

Well, my goal is to watch 100 new films by the end of the year (by *new* I mean films I had not seen before, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a contemporary film released in 2021). So far I’ve seen 19 of those this year, which means I have to see an average of 10 films every month if I were to hit my goal :D


Well, surely the lot of you saw way more films than I did. So what’s your favorite film(s) you saw in March?

Double Screening Reviews: Jeff Who Lives At Home & Salmon Fishing in The Yemen

Happy Thursday all! Today I bring you two mini reviews that my friend Haley and I saw at an advanced screening this week.

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Directors: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Stars: Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Judy Greer

Let me preface by saying I’m no writer, in fact a sheer sense of panic set in when Ruth asked me to write a review for her blog. I’m also no film connoisseur, but I am a visual person and movies are stories in pictures, I love that. Also, someone once told me that life begins when you step outside your comfort zone, so here goes…

So last night, I went with a group of 5 to a screening of Jeff, Who Lives at Home at the Lagoon Cinema in Uptown, Minneapolis. I must say, it was a far cry from Steve McQueen’s Shame I saw a couple of weeks prior that left me feeling uncomfortable, dirty and a overwhelmingly unsettled. But this isn’t about Shame…I still don’t know how I feel about that one.

The consensus for Jeff, Who Lives at Home was determined unanimously over post-movie drinks to be “Almost great”. Although it all left us with warm fuzzies and wondering what signs in our lives we may have been ignoring, it certainly wasn’t what we had expected. So many movies these days market themselves as comedies, cause everyone likes to laugh and feel good, but this was a different approach and may very well have been the best way to get people into the theater with a cast of comedians. It was funny, don’t get me wrong, and there was probably even one too many jokes about the unusually large size of Jason Segel, but definitely more of a drama than a comedy.

One of my friends proclaimed “Well, I liked it and I usually hate most movies”, so even with the toughest critics it seemed to hit some sort of chord. Despite not being great and not quite what we were expecting it was good. And as much as the yogi in me wants to trust in everything and have faith in the universe that eventually our destiny will be revealed I also sympathize with the skeptics and realists in the world that have been burned too many times by trusting in their optimism.

So if you are looking to be uplifted, laugh a little and almost shed a tear at the end, then this movie is for you. If you ever find yourself wondering if that little seemingly insignificant thing that happened to you today meant something more, than this movie is for you. If you have ever found yourself searching for meaning in life and know you were meant for great things that just haven’t revealed themselves yet, then this is for you. If you are looking for a naked Jason Segel and toothless Ed Helms then you may be somewhat disappointed. But for all the dreamers and optimists (or wannabes) in search of inspiration and happiness we so desperately need in our lives, this is a flick that shouldn’t be missed. Not to mention, I’ve always secretly wished Susan Sarandon was my Mom.

3 out of 5 reels

Review by Haley K.


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Director: Lasse Hallström
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, Kristin Scott Thomas

This movie is one of my most anticipated films I listed on this post, so when I got advanced screening tickets from my pal Ted, I was very excited. Thankfully it did not disappoint!

The one thing that grabbed me right away is the bizarre story, based on a novel of the same name by Paul Torday. I mean Salmon fishing in Yemen?? I mean how could the species that thrive in cold water survive in the hot climate of the Middle East??

Well, the protagonist Fred Jones (McGregor), a fisheries expert for the British government, ponders the exact same thing when he receives this peculiar request. His first meeting with a rep for a wealthy sheik (Blunt) at her office is quite a hoot to watch, especially the scene of him illustrating the impossibility of this project and making up some incredibly high amount of money (50 million Pounds!) in attempt to dissuade the sheik. But obviously money is no object and the sheik is willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen.

The sheik (Waked) mentions the notion of faith frequently to the atheistic Jones, challenging him that there’s more to life than ‘facts and figures.’ It’s not so much faith in religious terms so much as a conviction and believing that something could happen against all odds. The Egyptian-born Waked is so darn charismatic and charming, perfectly cast as a kind and wise Arab royalty who actually has a purpose for this seemingly preposterous project and not simply to indulge on his salmon fishing hobby.

This film is quite tricky to categorize, I mean it’s sold as a rom-com but there are elements of environmentalism, foreign relations and even terrorism, though not in a way you’d expect. In fact, it’s a rare film where a wealthy Arab is portrayed in a positive light and breaks the stereotype that not all of them want to blow up the West.

The casting is definitely a strong point here. McGregor and Blunt have a sweet chemistry together, and their slow-burn romance is wonderful to watch. Blunt has a more emotional performance here, which works pretty well against the more deadpan McGregor. I definitely enjoy seeing Scott Thomas in a comedic role as an over-zealous Britain Press Secretary. She’s so sarcastic it’s downright cruel, bossing everyone around including her own boss the Prime Minister. The iPhone chat between the two is pretty funny, but her reaction seeing the Arab guards dressed in Scottish kilts at the sheik’s castle prompted the most laughter, ‘Oooh, happy birthday Patricia!’

Aside from the few surprising twists and the quirky premise, this movie doesn’t really break new grounds. A lot of the scenes are quite predictable, but Swedish director Lasse Hallström’s direction made for an enjoyable and heart-warming movie. There are also gorgeous scenery of the Scottish highlands (and the sheik’s sprawling estate) and also Morocco which subs for Yemen.

So yeah, Salmon Fishing in Yemen is a fun catch (pardon the pun). It probably won’t be as fondly remembered as Chocolat, but I don’t even mind renting this again one day on DVD.

4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen any of these? If not, do either of them appeal to you?

Rental Pick: Bride & Prejudice (2004)

This review is part of Impassioned Cinema‘s Romance February Event. Check out this hub page for more romance films’ reviews from other bloggers.

As a fan of the Austen’s most celebrated novel, naturally my interest is piqued when I first heard about this project. I’m actually not a big fan of Bollywood musicals, even though it’s massively popular in my home country, but as Roger Ebert put it, this is not a Bollywood movie, but a Hollywood musical comedy incorporating Bollywood elements. It’s an amusing review as Mr. Ebert seemed to be distracted by miss Aishwarya Rai‘s beauty as he’s writing it, but really, who can blame him??

Former miss Word 1994 Rai lights up the screen as the Indian Lizzy Bennet, she gained 20 pounds to play this role in order to look more ‘plain,’ though like the Keira Knightly in the Joe Wright version of Pride & Prejudice, she is a far cry from being a plain jane. Despite that, I think Rai is able to capture the strong-willed as well as vulnerability of Lizzy Bennet and there’s certain warmth about her in the scenes with her sisters.

I like Gurinder Chadha’s previous work, a soccer rom-com Bend It Like Beckham, which also deals about bending the rules of society. This time Chadha takes on Austen’s classic tale, in which the protagonist’s mother is eager to find suitable husbands for her four unmarried daughters. Chadha stayed pretty closely to the original story, even the Indian names for the characters are somewhat similar – the Bennets are now the Bhakshis, Mr. Collins is Mr. Kholi, and Bingley is Balraj, etc., only Darcy and Wickham are the only names kept for the original.

This is the first time I saw miss Rai on film as it’s her first movie done entirely in English and found her to be very charming and stunning beyond belief. I think Julia Roberts once called her the most beautiful woman in the world and it’s a fitting title. New Zealand actor Martin Henderson with dimples to die for is convincing enough as Mr. Darcy though he doesn’t have the charisma of Colin Firth or even Matthew MacFadyen. Still I think the two protagonists have a sweet chemistry.

Another thing I love about this movie is the hilarious supporting cast, especially actors playing Mrs. Bakshi and the Bakshi’s distant relative who’s matched up with Lalita, Mr. Kholi (Nitin Ganatra). Ganatra is especially hilarious as the Westernized businessman who prides himself in his success as a hotelier in L.A. The way he’s trying to woo Lalita will have you in stitches! Fans of the TV series LOST and ROME will recognize Naveen Andrews and Indira Varma playing brother and sister. Naveen is such a charismatic actor and a pretty awesome dancer as well!

One thing that wasn’t done as well is the relationship between the devious Mr. Wickham (Daniel Gillies, you might recognize him as Kirsten Dunst’s fiancee in Spider-man 2) and Lalita. Chadha took much more liberty on that storyline what with the chase that involve the London Eye and scuffle between Darcy & Wickham, but still the essence of the story about him running off with Lalita’s younger sis was there.

The filmmaker doesn’t take things too seriously, silly moments of grandios proportion are done in tongue-in-cheek fashion, such as the scene on the beach when Darcy and Lalita took a stroll, suddenly a ridiculously large gospel choir serenading them, joined by a group of California surfers swaying their surfboards! The hilarious cultural comedy when Lalita’s youngest sister performed the cobra dance that almost gave Darcy a heart attack is a hoot, too!

Any fans of Austen should be entertained by this movie. It’s a classic comedy of manners done in the most jubilant way. The script is skillfully written to account for not only the class systems. If you think the poster looks vibrant and festive, the movie lives up to it. There are quite a few song and dance sequences and characters do burst into song and dances in the middle of the scenes, but they’re balanced by a witty script and a dynamic pace. Incredibly colorful and unabashedly effervescent, no matter what mood you’re in, it’s tough not to be buoyed by the feverish energy of this movie. I like this movie so much that it’s one of the 8 movies I’d bring if I were stranded on a desert island.

Check out the trailer below:


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