2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

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As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ‘em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

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I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing ;) In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

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Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

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Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

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Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

gg_5014 gg_8780 gg_4411Thanks to Sati for letting me borrow her pics of Amy Dunne

It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

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If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

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Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

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Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

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These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

Casting News Roundup: Chris Pratt, Rosamund Pike, Keanu Reeves & Mel Gibson + Andrew Garfield

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Boy I’ve been meaning to do a post on casting news but for some reason just never got around to it! Well, I might make this more of a weekend bi-monthly series as there’s never a shortage of casting news :D

Chris Pratt to star in graphic novel adaptation Cowboy Ninja Viking

Pratt_CowboyNinjaVikingLook at the smirk on this guy! When I read the description of the graphic novel created by writer A.J. Lieberman and artist Riley Rossmo, I think Chris Pratt fits the role nicely. Per Collider, The story revolves around an assassin with Multiple Personality Disorder who possess the skills of a cowboy, a ninja, and a Viking, and works for a secret government program. Pratt is to play the protagonist Duncan, and I think it’ll be fun to see him manifest into those three different personas. No director is attached yet, though some names including Marc Forster was circling the project at some point, seems that this project has been in development for some time.

Rosamund Pike joining Charlie Hunnam in ‘The Mountain Between Us’

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One of the year’s breakout female star probably has a slew of offers coming at her. I kinda wish she’d be cast in the lead instead of co-lead with a male actor. In any case, sounds like she’s joining Charlie Hunnam in an adaptation of Charles Martin’s book of the same name. The story revolves around two people who survive a plane crash in the mountains where they are forced to trust each other and find safety while badly injured. Rosamund Pike plays a successful writer who’s flying East to get to her much anticipated wedding, whilst Hunnam plays a surgeon on his way back East after a medical conference for a slate of surgeries he has scheduled for the following day. So based on the book description in Amazon, it’s kind of like a romantic version of Alive and perhaps The Grey, I guess I could see the casting work for the story though I’m not sure about this one until I see at least a trailer.

Keanu Reeves in Talks to Star in Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Panopticon’

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Though Keanu never really left Hollywood, seems that he’s sort of got a career resurgence following the success of John Wick. I’ve always liked the guy so more Keanu casting is awesome in my book ;) So he’s been cast in the sci-fi thriller Replicas which sounds right up his alley: After a car accident kills his loving family, a daring neuroscientist (Reeves) will stop at nothing to bring them back, even if it means pitting himself against a government-controlled laboratory, a police task force, and the physical laws of science themselves. (per The Wrap).

Well, seems that he’s also in talks to team up with Tarsem Singh in an action thriller The Panopticon, but the premise seems wholly generic to me: “The Panopticon” follows a seemingly ordinary man who receives a mysterious package containing a pre-recorded message from himself, warning that the world is about to end and only he can save it. He must race against the clock to piece together the puzzle before time runs out for mankind. Meh, I’m kind of tired of this ‘one man left on earth to save the world’ premise. It’s so stale, derivative and hackneyed that it’s REALLY hard to actually make a good film out of it. But then again, John Wick‘s premise isn’t exactly groundbreaking either but the film still turned out fresh and fun. Judging from Tarsem’s past work though, it’d probably be more of a visual feast than an absorbing story.

Boy, Keanu is one busy dude. Per The Wrap, he’s recently wrapped Eli Roth‘s “Knock Knock” and the courtroom drama “The Whole Truth,” and he’s currently filming the indie “Daughter of God.” Oh and supposedly he’s also working on Bill & Ted‘s 2?

Mel Gibson to direct Andrew Garfield in a WWII drama?

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Now this last one is intriguing to me as Mel Gibson hasn’t directed any film since Apocalypto nearly a decade ago. Regardless of how you feel about the actor/director, I think he’s a talented filmmaker.

DesmondDoss_HacksawRidgeI’m curious about his next project which is a WWII drama based on the true story of Corporal Demond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the US congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman. Per Comingsoon.net, Doss was drafted into World War II at age 23. Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, he refused to kill or carry a weapon and, as such, became stationed as a medic. The center of the story is likely to focus on 1945′s three-month military assault Operation Iceburg, also known as the Battle of Okinawa. “Hacksaw Ridge” was the name given the location of a particularly brutal two-week confrontation wherein United States troops faced off against Japanese soldiers on the rocky cliffs of Okinawa.

If the deal went through, Gibson would reteam w/ Braveheart‘s screenwriter Randall Wallace who co-wrote it with Robert Schenkkan. Look-wise, Andrew Garfield seems to have the right physique and age to play the role and I think it’d be good to see him in something that’d really display his versatility as an actor.


Ok so what do you think of any of these casting news and/or the projects mentioned above?

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FlixChatter Review: GONE GIRL (2014)

GoneGirlBnrFew films this year got as much feverish anticipation as this one. To be honest, I got a bit worried this film wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also glad that since I haven’t read the book, I managed to avoid any spoilers about the plot so it was nice to be surprised by the twist and turns as I’m watching the film.

The opening is quite provocative, as it opens with a shot of a beautiful blond woman, along with a male speaking voice saying how it would be nice to crack open her skull to see just what’s inside her head, to see what she is thinking. There’s an air of mystery around her which sets the tone of the entire film. Now, on a different film, we might chalk that narration up as a figure of speech. But in this case, given the title of the film, it definitely makes you think the worst. Well, Gone Girl definitely keeps toying with our perceptions throughout, and that’s part of the fun.

GoneGirl_Still1In case you don’t know anything about the basic plot, here’s the gist: On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) left his home in the morning to a bar he co-owned with his twin sister. When he came back, he couldn’t find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) anywhere in his sprawling house, and there’s obvious signs of a break in. So he reports his wife missing and before he knows it, there’s a growing media frenzy on his case that puts extra pressure on him on top of the also-growing suspicion from the police that he’s killed her.

Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, this film deals more about the psychological aspect of the crumbling of a seemingly-blissful union and how Nick & Amy deal with their mounting problems. The issue behind the marriage dissolution itself isn’t at all uncommon, lots of us can relate to the issue of layoffs and growing apart when expectations no longer aligns with reality. But of course, this story takes a sinister turn that leaves you wondering just what the heck happens. The beauty of the film is that, it doesn’t rely on the twist [a la M. Night Shyamalan’s films] to shock or entertain you. Instead, it’s more of a character study of a married couple – who probably shouldn’t be married in the first place – as well as a commentary of the worst side of media frenzy that toys with the public’s perception about a given story.

GoneGirl_Still3Despite the dark subject matter, this film isn’t overly bleak or depressing. Thanks to the taut screenplay by first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who happens to be the author of the best-selling author novel it’s based on. I’m glad David Fincher agreed to work with her instead of hiring a more experienced screenwriter. I think having been ‘living’ with these characters on her head for so long definitely help make them more fleshed-out. Apparently Flynn actually studied his films as she’s writing the script which explains the synergy going on here. Fincher’s direction is solid all around, the story is clearly tailor-made for him. I like the timeline marking of how many days Amy has been gone, and the use of flashbacks are seamless and effective. The journal entries from Amy’s diary gives us a bit of insight into Amy’s side of the story, yet it wasn’t overdone that it’d actually grind the film to a halt. Fincher’s almost surgical precision is apparent in how he sets up every scene. Just like any real-life crime investigation, painstaking eye for details is absolutely critical.

Fincher’s longtime collaborator Trent Reznor provides a cool and eerie score to go with that somber color-scheme. At first I felt like his score was a bit intrusive in the first scenes when Nick & Amy met, but I think it might’ve been intentional. In some key moments, the vigorous & ominous score definitely gets your heart pounding! Another longtime Fincher collaborator is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual sensibility works with Fincher’s style and therefore helps set the mood. The naturalistic style used here fits the tone of the film and the Midwest setting nicely.

GoneGirl_Still2Bringing the story to life are Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, two beautiful people forming a marriage from hell. For once, Affleck just might get some accolades for his acting instead of directing. I do think he was excellent in Hollywoodland, and in a way there’s some similarities between Nick and George Reeves as he was also at his lowest point professionally. The film however, belongs to the girl in the title role. Pike was nothing short of well, amazing. I’ve seen her in about five films so far, but mostly in supporting roles, and I’ve never seen the kind of range she displayed here. She was perfect as ‘Amazing Amy’, a brilliant ice princess type, the embodiment of her parents perfect image in the book series named after their daughter. At times she reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For, but there’s still a vulnerability about her that keeps you from truly despising her. I knew the British beauty could handle the sinister aspect of her character, but still I was floored by how good she was and her American accent is pretty convincing as well. I so hope she’d get some nominations come award-season, she’s definitely the breakout female performer of the year for me.

The supporting cast includes some rather off-the-wall choices playing against type. Tyler Perry is quite amusing as Nick’s top-notch lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend. The latter threw me off a bit as I somehow didn’t know he was part of the cast. Given Harris’ personal life, it took me a while to see him as a straight guy being obsessed over a girl, but I think he pulled it off. I also have to mention Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens as Nick’s sister and the detective, respectively. Both were excellent playing key roles in the story. Interesting casting of Sela Ward as a TV reporter here given that she played the murdered wife in The Fugitive where the husband was accused of killing her.

GoneGirl_Stills4Spoiler alert [highlight text below if you want to read it]
I feel that Amy might’ve gotten away w/ murder too easily. There’s a moment at the police station when Nick immediately knew she had deliberately killed Desi. “How did she manage to find a box cutter when she’s tied up all the time?” He quipped, but the male cop who’s always disliked him brushed him off. But also there’s the issue about all the blood that was mopped up in the kitchen. If she said she had been hit by her abductor, wouldn’t the cops at the very least try to corroborate her story and find some kind of proof that her story checks out? It’s not a huge quibble but it did bother me after I saw the movie.

So what’s the verdict? Well, Gone Girl definitely lives up to the hype. It’s more entertaining than I thought it would be. This will likely end up in my top 5 favorite Fincher films, perhaps between Fight Club and The Social Network which also have some humorous moments sprinkled throughout. I love it when a movie sparks a lot of discussions and makes you ponder about your own life situation. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment if the film is better than that or not, but I think it works in the big screen format. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining.

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So what do you think of Gone Girl? Did it live up to YOUR expectations?

Everybody’s Chattin’ & Question of the Week on Breakthrough Performer of 2014

Happy Thursday everybody! I’m going to hit two birds with one stone again today, combining two post *series* in one. I want to highlight some of my fave posts from the past week, as well as pick your brain on the topic of the week: Breakthrough Performer of 2014  :D

EverybodysChattinOk, so let’s start with the links, shall we?

  • Mark reviewed Frank which he calls a wonderful one-of-a-kind, whilst Natalie reviewed Cronenberg’s latest, Maps to The Stars
  • FincherTheGuardianAs Sati‘s been hugely anticipating Gone Girl, she kept up her David Fincher series by ranking his films.
  • Speaking of Gone Girl, Katy wrote this great article about the The Strangely Brilliant Career of Ben Affleck
  • Michael reviewed Tales From Earthsea, a thought-provoking fantasy film from Studio Ghibli and Melissa reviewed the recent thriller The Drop.
  • Cindy‘s perceptive eye is what keeps me coming back to her blog. This week she compares Kubrick’s stares vs Spielberg’s faces in their films
  • There’s been a lot of interesting blog series lately, check out Fisti’s Twice a Best Actress Bloggers roundtable, great discussion with my fellow movie bloggers
  • As I’m anticipating Twin Cities Film Fest in two weeks, my pal Melissa has been busy covering San Diego Film Fest! Check out her latest review of this coming-of-age drama Laggies.
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  • A few notable September recaps w/ some great recommendations from Kristin, Chris and Steven.
  • Last but not least, A couple of classic reviews worth checking out: Paula‘s review of PULP for her Mickey Rooney Blogathon, and Stu‘s review of early 50s noir The Hoodlum.

Now for Question of the Week!

RosamundPike_GoneGirlWell, it’s inspired by the release of Gone Girl, more specifically the buzz Rosamund Pike‘s been getting in the role of Amy, I thought this would be an intriguing topic. Now that we’ve only got three months left in the year, we might have a few favorites of performances from this year’s movies. Now, they could either be from *new* actors who’ve never acted before on the big screen, or someone’s who’s been acting for a while but just recently caught your attention. I think the latter is far more interesting and Pike might fit the bill for a lot of people. She has been acting for some time in the UK and has been churning some great performances here in Hollywood as well, but Gone Girl might launch her career on a whole new level.


So my question to you is:

Which actor(s) do you think gives the breakthrough performance of the year?

P.S. I shall be launching a new mini-series highlighting some great performances of the year, so stay tuned! :D

Weekend Roundup: Jack Reacher and Muriel’s Wedding

Happy Tuesday all!

It’s quite a memorable weekend for me as my hubby and I celebrated our 10th anniversary on Friday. We had a wonderful dinner Friday night and went shopping for a new ring on Sunday afternoon as my anniversary present :D

Since we’ve already seen The Great Gatsby early in the week (check out my review), it’s home cinema time. Looks like a lot of you did go see Baz Luhrmann’s literary adaptation as it managed to make about $50 mil (which is about half of its production budget), but not great enough to top Iron Man 3 which made $72 mil to top box office for its second week.

Anyway, I’m only going to do a mini review of both of these films. So here goes:

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Jack Reacher (2012)

I’ve been wanting to check out Jack Reacher for a while and it’s finally available to rent this weekend. I’m not going to review it here as Ted already written one here. Here’s an excerpt:

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.

I think I’d agree with Ted’s 4/5 rating. I thought it was an engaging thriller that’s more focused on the who-dun-it story instead of just some overly fast-paced but vapid shoot-em-ups. I agree that the action scenes were well-directed and that you could actually SEE the action as director Christopher McQuarrie  didn’t employ the overused fast-cuts with dizzying blurry effect. I think Cruise’s performance here is much stronger than in Oblivion, but then again, there’s more focus on character development here than simply showing pretty visuals.

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Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo and Werner Herzog

It’s interesting casting to see two Brits playing American in this movie: David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, who are both pretty good here. I’d say Oyelowo even upstaged Richard Jenkins but can’t really fault Jenkins as his role is actually pretty boring. But the scene-stealer is Werner Herzog, simply because he just lends such as sinister portrayal of the main villain who was a former POW at a Soviet Gulag. He’s menacing but more in an amusing kind of way.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

We didn’t plan on watching a wedding-themed movie for our anniversary, but we ended up seeing an Australian coming-of-age comedy Muriel’s Wedding. I’ve been wanting to see this for a while as I quite like Toni Collette as an actress. She’s so talented but quite underrated IMO, as you probably could attest if you’ve seen her performance in Emma, The Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. This is the first of her earlier roles that I saw, which not only displayed her versatility but also her dedication to her craft as she had to gain 40 pounds to play Muriel!

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Set in Australia, the protagonist is a misfit girl named Muriel who always wants to escape her miserable life in a fictitious town called Porpoise Spit. The title of the movie refers to Muriel’s obsession with getting married, even to the point of snapping photos of herself in wedding gowns. Collette owns her role as Muriel, featuring a bravura, no–holds–barred type of performance from start to finish. Despite some cheesy and even cringe-worthy moments, overall this movie is an amusing journey about self-acceptance and also a celebration of friendship. Rachel Griffiths is wonderfully spunky as Muriel’s BFF Rhonda, who endured a pretty drastic sudden change that’s heart-wrenching to watch.

One of the major highlights is of course, the wedding scene. If I had seen it before I made my top 10 movie wedding list, I’d have included the one here. I’ve always wondered why the groom has that befuddled look on his face in all the photos from this scene, and now I know why!! If you’re a fan of 70s music, particularly the Swedish band ABBA, then you’ve got to rent this movie. I find myself humming Dancing Queen and Fernando a lot the past couple of days, ahah.

I’d readily recommend both of these movies so give it a go next time you’re looking for something to rent!


Well, that’s my weekend roundup folks. What did you see this weekend? Anything good?

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?

Conspicuous Trailer & Poster of the Week: Made in Dagenham

I’ve been watching quite a few movies set in retro UK lately—Nowhere Boy, An Education—it’s an interesting period of time and this one is no different. Made in Dagenham is based on a real life event in 1968 where a group of female workers at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant went on strike for equal pay and against sexual discrimination. It’s a serious subject matter but delivered with humor to entertain as well as inspire.

It so happened that yesterday was Bob Hoskins’ 68th birthday when I came across this movie. He plays a sympathetic union representative in this comedy drama, along with a strong female cast led by Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, and Rosamund Pike. Hawkins and Pike are actually both in An Education but they didn’t share a screen together. Hawkins won a Golden Globe last year for Happy Go Lucky, which I still hope to see one of these days. The movie I did see her in was BBC’s latest adaptation of Persuasion which was decent but not nearly as good as the 1995 version with Ciaran Hinds. I haven’t seen Nigel Cole’s previous movie Calendar Girls either, which I heard was a hoot. He also did the off-kilter comedy Saving Grace starring Craig Ferguson which was pretty hilarious, judging from the trailer, looks like this one captures the same whimsical spirit.

The poster is cheerful yet defiant. She may be feminine and dainty, but her pose suggests her no-nonsense attitude and of course, red is a bold, valiant color. I love the vignettes behind the main focal point, it balances things nicely and the vibrant color scheme looks so fresh and playful. This is one to watch for the fun 60s costumes, too!

Looks like fun. I might check it out with one of my girlfriends when it’s out on limited release on November 19. How about you?