A Tropical Holiday… and Movies I Watched During My Vacation

Hello everybody! Hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas break. It was nice to be home for Christmas, we purposely planned to avoid being at the airport during the holiday craze so coming back last Saturday was perfect timing for us. Thank the Lord that our trip went smoothly. Despite the long layovers, not a single flight was delayed and no major travel headache for us to complain about, so we were indeed very blessed.

AlwaysRoomForFamilyWe had a mellow Christmas eve, went to a joyful Christmas service at our local church. I love this year’s theme… There’s Always Room for Family… so true isn’t it? Since I just spent time with my family in my hometown, it definitely holds a special meaning for me. Afterwards we’re invited to dinner at a friend’s family home where we had a super-delicious-but-not-so-conventional Swedish-Indonesian cuisine :D

Baby it’s cold outside.
It’s quite a drastic 50+ degree swing from our tropical vacation. We went from 90-degree climate of Jakarta to about low 80s in Kauai to well, barely 15° F with a sub-zero windchill here. Brrrrrr!
Anyway, here are some pics from my two-part vacation to Jakarta and Kauai. Pardon the picture quality in Jakarta, I took all of them on my iPhone. The Kauai pics are the ones my hubby took with his digital SLR, so they’re definitely much better.
One of the highlights from my Jakarta trip is that I got to meet I’m super excited that I’ll be meeting up with some of my fellow Indo bloggers next week: Andina from Inspired Ground, Novia from Polychrome Interest, and FC contributor Cecilia! It was fun chatting with all of you ladies! I was especially thrilled to see Novia’s huge smile when she received the Mighty Boosh Special Edition DVD :D
From left: Novia, Cecilia, Andina and yours truly! Somehow Novia and I wore matching yellow to our meet-up, we must be kindred spirits!

From left: Novia, Cecilia, Andina and yours truly. Somehow Novia and I wore matching yellow to our meet-up, we must be kindred spirits!

For more pics and a complete recap from our Indo bloggers meet-up, do visit my friend Novia’s post.
The view from my hotel room... the sky is always hazy in Jakarta because of the polluted air :(

The view from my hotel room… the sky is always hazy in Jakarta because of the polluted air :(

Since we visited during monsoon season, it’s almost always overcast here but the temperature remains hot, around 90+ degrees every day. The relatively high winds did help cool things a bit but the torrential downpour wreck havoc on the already super-heavy traffic as flash floods pop up everywhere, especially in low-lying areas.

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From top left: Ivan & I at Ancol Beach City, the wooden boat we’re on, and various ‘macet’ (extreme traffic jam) views that constantly plague Jakarta.

A trip from point A to point B that would normally take 10-15 minutes would take 90-120 minutes, that’s on a normal weekday and NOT during rush hours. Just add at least an hour to your commute if it’s during AM or PM rush hour. My brother said that in Jakarta, there are only two congestion type: heavy or extreme traffic jam… so either you’re crawling at 5-10 mph or basically at a standstill for a good hour or so, barely moving an inch, whilst a throng of motorcycles zip by all around you. I really don’t know how people could endure that day after day.

Suffice to say, we didn’t get to visit too many places in our 6-day trip to Jakarta. Though it was fantastic to spend time with my family and eat my favorite food growing up, by the end of the week, we were ready for our real vacation to Kauai :D

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View from our resort in the Princeville area, the northern part of Kauai.

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Poi’pu Beach (on the south side of Kaua’i) … that’s me on the left taking a stroll on the gorgeous sandy beach

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Another view of Poi’pu Beach

The most magnificent rainbow at Waimea Canyon!

The most magnificent rainbow at Waimea Canyon!

It just rained briefly before this picture was taken and we were about to leave. Fortunately I overheard a girl yelling loudly about a rainbow so we promptly went back to the Lookout area. Lo and behold, the most spectacular rainbow suddenly appeared in the canyon. The rainbow was so vivid that all the photos we took looked like they’ve been Photoshoped! We saw a few more rainbows on the way back, in fact, I think we saw at least one every single day!

Various shots of Molokaa Beach, a secluded beach we got to during our Kauai Photo Tour

Various shots of Moloa’a Beach, a picturesque secluded beach in the north shore we went to during our Kauai Photo Tour

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A wild white cat kept us company at Moloa’a Beach

The serene Anini beach in the North Shore near our hotel. It actually rained just a few minutes after we took this picture so we had to run to our car!

The serene Anini Beach in the North Shore near our hotel.

It’s a pretty windy day as you can see. It actually rained on Anini Beach just a few minutes after we took this picture so we had to run to our car! It rains quite a bit in Kauai in the Winter months, but fortunately it was mostly passing rain, so we could just wait it out for a few minutes and it’d be sunny again :D

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Not sure which beach this was. Ivan and I sort of stumbled upon it from the Marriott Kauai Lagoons Golf Course in Lihu’e

Last but certainly not least… on our last day in Kaua’i, we took the helicopter tour to Jurassic Park Falls. The chopper ride was really smooth and we got an amazing view of the entire island from above, like this view of the majestic Napa’li Coast…

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Can’t get over how blue the ocean was from above…

More views of Napa'li Coast from the helicopter

More views of the mystical Napa’li Coast from the helicopter…

The only way to get to the pristine beach above is through a rocky Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile of arduous hike that includes a very narrow paths over cliffs that are hundreds of feet high!

We went with Island Helicopters as they’re the only chopper company that has the permit to land on the island. So here it is… the crème de la crème of our trip…

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Ivan and I at the base of the Manawaiopuna Falls (aka the Jurassic Park Falls) in the Hanapepe Valley

The chopper landed just a few hundred yards from the 360-foot Falls. It’s a bit of a movie geek moment when they played the glorious Jurassic Park theme as the chopper descended down onto the island… I literally got goosebumps! The pilot told us that only three years ago Island Helicopters was able to purchase the permit to land there, which took about five years to obtain. He showed us the remains of the concrete slab where the Helipad from the first Jurassic Park movie was used. Apparently it was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the biggest tropical storm that hit the island. According to this article, several storm scenes in the 1993 movie are actual footage of Iniki.

So that’s my vacation recap… hope you enjoyed the pics :D

Movies watched during my vacation

Pretty much the only time I had to watch movies was during my long flights to and from Minneapolis. I watched a total of four movies and one documentary just on our 15+ flying hours to Jakarta!

  • Bringing Up Baby
    Cute rom-com with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. I’ve got the worst headphones ever, I could barely hear a thing! The movie itself is not bad, kinda silly and absurd but enjoyable.
  • Pride & Prejudice (rewatch)
    l was in the mood for something romantic so this was a perfect choice. I still think Keira is too pretty as Lizzy Bennett but she was all right. At least the chemistry between her and Matthew MacFadyen was right, I especially love the proposal scene. Hence it’s one of my favorite movie rain-scenes!
  • The Dark Knight Rises (rewatch)
    I never made it to a second cinema viewing of this one so I couldn’t help but watch it on the plane. The giant plot holes I mentioned in my review still made me laugh, but darn it’s still one heck of a superhero flick! 
  • InBrugesPosterIn Bruges
    I’ve been curious about this movie for so long I’m glad I finally saw it! My hubby actually saw it right after I did and I couldn’t help peeking at some of the scenes again. LOVE this film! The acting is top notch, full of witty dialog, plus the scenery is so gorgeous. It could practically doubles as a tourism video for the capital of Belgium. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have an effortless chemistry together, and man that final scene packs a punch! Ralph Fiennes has quite a memorable supporting turn as well. I definitely should rent Seven Psychopaths, the latest from writer/director Martin McDonagh.
  • This Means War
    Every time I came across this one on Netflix my hubby always scoffed about it so I figure I’ll just watch it on the plane when I came across it, for one reason only and that is Tom Hardy ;) The preposterous level is off the charts and Reese Witherspoon is hardly believable as a girl these two guys would fight to the death over, but still it was fun watching the charismatic Hardy and Chris Pine bantering. Not a bad rental, even better when it’s free!
    ,,,
  • National Geographic TV show Megastructures on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa
    You can watch this one on Youtube, it’s quite fascinating even if you’re not an architecture buff.

HemingwayGellhornOn the way to Honolulu, I also saw the HBO TV movie Hemingway & Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. It focuses on the tumultuous affair of the renowned writer and the war correspondent. I thought it was a decent film, and I think Owen captured the boisterous, untamable nature of Hemingway. He may be a great writer but boy, I wouldn’t ever want to be married to someone like that. Apparently their romance is the inspiration for his book For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Later this week I’ll have reviews of The Hobbit & Playing For Keeps, and also guest reviews of Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, courtesy of my pal Ted S.


So what have you been watching the past week, folks?

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt Special: Premium Rush & Looper Reviews

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

Premium Rush (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Review by Cecilia R.

…..

3 out of 5 reels


Looper (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 out of 5 reels


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

Somewhere In Time … Everybody’s Chattin’

Happy Friday everyone!

It’s kind of a short week for me as I took Wednesday off but still it feels hectic so I’m definitely glad the weekend is just around the corner. I found time to re-watch one of my old time favorites last night, I guess I was feeling rather melancholy, but I wanted to watch something with gorgeous music and Somewhere In Time fits the bill perfectly.

I love the Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour match-up… both of them are so ridiculously stunning but it’s Chris’ earnestness that really won me over. It proves that he’s sooo much more than just a Superman actor. This gorgeous film is no doubt one of the most heartbreaking time-travel romances ever made and John Barry’s music is sooo hauntingly beautiful.

Well, it’s time for links! I’ll start with the ladies first of course…

Lesya’s New York City in Genres
I always love a great blog-a-thon and in this one Lesya @ Eternity of Dream invited a bunch of bloggers to share their recommendations of a variety of films set in New York City.
Kristin asks a great question whether comic book films should be serious, or not so serious
As a fan of superhero movies, I certainly think there are room for both interpretation. But what do YOU think?

Lady Sati’s August Movie of the Month EARRINGS
I’m attempting to hit two birds with one stone here… one of my favorite bloggers Lady Sati just posted her review of another talented cinephile and burgeoning filmmaker Alex from And So It Begins blog. Check out his short film debut EARRINGS and its production notes here. Congrats Alex!
Fogs’ Top Ten Comic-Book Superhero Movies
Now this is my kind of list!! I can’t believe I haven’t made one like it yet but I agree w/ a lot of his picks. How about you?
Michael’s review of Field of Dreams
This is perhaps the only movie about baseball that I like. I still have no clue about th sports but I like the story and Kevin Costner’s performance. Plus, a post with an awesome word like felicitous is certainly going to get a link love from me! :)
Mark’s gave Gladiator another shot!
Hurray! Most of you know how much I LOVE this film, so I’m so thrilled that my pal Mark was willing to give this film another go despite not being wowed by it the first time. He now has a better appreciation for it, find out why.
Ryan’s review of To Rome With Love
How does Woody Allen’s latest love-story-ensemble-cast-set-in-a-European-city fare? Is it as delectable as the best Gnocchi alla Romana on Thursdays? Ryan investigates.
Nostra summarized the results of the fun-tastic Movie Confessions blog-a-thon
Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks Meryl Streep is a bit overrated and there are others who have not seen anything by Kurosawa.


Now lastly… are you on Facebook? Then so is FlixChatter! :D


So what are you going to see this weekend? Whatever you do, hope you have a good one!

Monthly Roundup: July Movie Watching Recap

Happy August everybody! Actually scratch that, how is this August already??! Summer blockbuster months are practically over, even though there still a few movies I’m looking forward to before the weather turns cold, such as The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall, oh and Henry Cavill’s thriller The Cold Light of Day that was supposed to be released last April!

As far as blogging go, well there are a couple of major developments this past month. One is FlixChatter is now a member of Cinematic Consensus Group that’s started by the awesome Aussie blogger Rodney of Fernby Films. Hence I display this Member Badge proudly on my sidebar:

My friend Ronan of the fabulous blog Filmplicity also invited me to be a part of the MercatorNet family, that is Popcorn … a MercatorNet blog on the Movies. Check out Ronan’s welcome post and I hope you check out the Popcorn blog from time to time :)

As for the blog of yours truly, here are some of the posts you might’ve missed from the past month:

July is a pretty busy month at the cinema, I saw four movies on the big screen, including one advanced screening. I think about a dozen movie a month is pretty much I could really fit in my life right now, I wish I could watch more, but ah well, what can you do?

Movies I haven’t seen before:

The Dark Knight Rises
The Amazing Spiderman
Moonrise Kingdom
Ruby Sparks
21 Jump Street
Despicable Me
Mirror, Mirror
Angel (2007)

Re-watch:

  • The Living Daylights (1987)– Timothy Dalton is my favorite Bond and I really enjoy watching this film, good thing Joe Don Baker don’t get a lot of screen time, but this movie really would’ve been perfect with someone else as the villain.
  • Dr. No (1962) – I LOVE watching Sean Connery and I could see why people still regard him as his favorite but the movie is just so darn slow and silly. The highlight is the first time we hear Sean said that famous line: ‘Bond, James Bond’ inspired by a woman, no less!
  • The Dark Knight – Part of the countdown to The Dark Knight Rises, and it’s still the BEST of the trilogy.
  • One More Kiss (1999) – One of Gerry Butler’s earlier films set in Scotland is a bittersweet movie. I’d love to see him do a story like this again with talents but with a more compelling co-star like Cate Blanchett or Rachel Weisz.

Favorite July Movie:

Even though I didn’t give it a full rating, The Dark Knight Rises is still the highlight of my July movie viewing as it looks positively glorious in IMAX and really, all things considered, I think this movie does live up to the hype. A close second would be Ruby Sparks. Meeting the filmmaker and cast was definitely icing on the cake, especially having Paul Dano answer my question in person :)


So, how many films did you get to watch in July and which one is your favorite?

Special Birthday Post: Ranking Christopher Nolan’s 7 Feature Films

As part of my Inception-countdown series, I ranked five of Christopher Nolan’s movies. Well, now he’s got two more under his belt, making his total of feature-length film to seven [excluding Following which wasn’t widely distributed].

Just a quick bio per Wikipedia:

Born in 1970 in London, Nolan was one of three sons of a British father, who owned an advertising business, and an American mother, a flight attendant for United Airlines. Nolan and his brother Jonathan spent their childhood in both London and Chicago. He began film-making at the age of seven using his father’s Super 8 camera and his toy action figures.

For his undergraduate, Nolan studied English Literature at University College London Union (UCLU). He chose it specifically for its film-making facilities, which consisted of a “Steenbeck editing suite (real film, real spools) plus a couple of 16mm cameras.” Nolan was president of the college film society from 1992 to 1994; a contemporary described him as talented and focused on learning as much as possible about the mechanics and technology of film-making.

His big break in Hollywood came with Memento, starring Guy Pearce, which was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best screenplay.

So in honor of his 42nd birthday, I thought I’d rank those seven Christopher Nolan feature films in order of favorites. By favorites I mean those that have the best re-playability value to me, as I do think all of these seven are great-to-excellent. So far, there is none of his films that I didn’t like, and Nolan is the only director whose ALL of his work I have seen.

Without further ado, here…we… go:

1. Batman Begins (2005)

The ultimate origins story and I think it’s still the one to beat in terms of the um, inception of a superhero goes. Christian Bale is perfectly cast as the dark, tormented caped crusader and he’s surrounded by a slew of top notch actors such as Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy, etc. The movie also benefits from a fantastic script and a formidable villain in Ra’s al Ghul (Demon’s head in Arabic). I’ve always loved a villain that starts out as friends of the hero, and Neeson’s makes that transformation from fatherly mentor to sinister nemesis convincingly. I’d even overlook the miscasting of Katie Holmes on this one, it’s THAT good!

2. Inception (2010)

Perhaps Nolan’s nod to the Bond franchise, Inception is one of those films that gets better and more satisfying with each repeated viewing. The cast is top notch, with scene-stealing performance from Tom Hardy and fun, rousing action set pieces. What I love most is the intriguing ‘idea heist’ sci-fi concept, and whilst the romance between Cob and Mal wasn’t as compelling as I would’ve liked, I’ve warmed up to it a bit more than I did the first time I saw it.

3. The Dark Knight (2008)

It’s rare that a sequel lives up to the original, especially when one already sets the bar so high, but Nolan did just that! It’s nothing short of casting genius to have Heath Ledger play the Joker, though a lot of people were skeptical at first, the late Aussie actor’s iconic performance forever defined that character that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing that role (neither did Nolan as he said here he won’t bring back the Joker character for Batman 3). The complex story and the level of character development in this film makes me forget this is a superhero film! Gone are the circus-y and frivolous-ness of the previous Batman flicks, as both Nolan’s versions become the quintessential thinking person’s superhero movie. This is definitely a welcome trend for this genre!

4. The Prestige (2006)

As I said in this post, I wasn’t blown away by this film on initial viewing. But about a year later I rewatched it and wow, I was riveted. We’ve got a brilliant tale of two magicians who become friends as well as rival, which intensified when one of them came up with the ultimate magic trick, and Nolan cast two great actors in those roles: Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Nolan’s good luck charm Sir Michael Caine also has an important part, and plus who doesn’t get a kick seeing David Bowie’s cameo as the genius inventor Nikola Tesla!

I have a whole new appreciation for it after the second viewing and felt that I could connect to the characters more, especially with Borden (Bale). The whole twist and turns are utterly perplexing (in a good way) and that ending is just WOW! Set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century London, Nolan did a fine job in setting up a beautifully-shot period piece with gorgeous cinematography, costumes and wonderfully-rich atmosphere.

5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Now that I’ve seen all three, I think The Dark Knight Rises is my least favorite, though by a very small margin. If you’ve read my super long review, then you’ll know that there are quite a bit of issues I have with it that no amount of cool action pieces would solve. That said, I have only seen it once by now so there’s a chance I might change my mind :D I do think visually it just gets better and better, this latest film does boast a visual spectacle that’s meant to be seen on IMAX.

Seriously though, I think Nolan’s Batman trilogy is ace and no doubt I’d buy the Blu-ray box set when it comes out. I think that’s quite a feat considering Nolan didn’t envision a trilogy when he first signed on to do Batman Begins, at least that’s what I learned from various interviews.

6. Insomnia (2002)

Did you ever notice Nolan’s really skimpy when it comes to his movie titles? His one-word-titled movie starting with an ‘i’ is a small film with a budget of less than $50 million. Under less capable hands, the story of two Los Angeles homicide detectives set to investigate a methodical teenage murder in Alaska might’ve end up to be a run-of-the mill thriller. But the smart, twist-ridden script and excellent performances from the cast made this into something memorable and thrilling to watch. Al Pacino as the increasingly unhinged LA detective and Hilary Swank as the young cop who adore him work well together, but it’s Robin Williams’ as the creepy nutcase who’s the scene-stealer. I think comedians actually make for the eeriest villains. Despite the title, Nolan certainly kept the audience wide awake with this one.

7. Memento (2000)

One of the most original story and most innovative narrative structure, it’s one that rewards with multiple viewings. Nominated for two Oscars for Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay, this is the first time mainstream audiences are introduced to Nolan’s genius work. A tale of a man who, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. Guy Pearce is astounding as Leonard, it’s a shame he was snubbed of any major acting nods! As #28 in IMDb’s Top 250 Movies(along with three other Nolan’s movies), this movie is etched in many people’s memories for years to come. That said, this is perhaps the one film from Nolan that I have yet to see again and I’m not as keen to revisit it as I do the others.


Well, I’m sure everyone will have their own ranking of Christopher Nolan movies, so let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: The Dark Knight Rises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what doesn’t work here?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts:

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

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

4 out of 5 reels

SPOILER ALERT!

Highlight the text below to read this section:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Good:

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

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

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

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

The Not-So-Good:

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

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

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

– review by Ted S.


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

Scenes Spotlight: The Dark Knight’s Interrogation and Harvey Dent Dinner scene

It’s only been four years since The Dark Knight opens, but it feels like ages. I’m watching it as I’m typing this, though this post has been in my draft folder since I read this Hero Complex article a few months ago. Well, since I’m hugely anticipating the final installment of Christopher Nolan‘s supremely lucrative Batman trilogy, it seems like it’s as good a time as any.

Hero Complex editor Geoff Boucher asked Nolan to pick his favorite scene from The Dark Knight and he answered quickly,

Nolan: To be honest, it’s pretty easy for me. The scene that is so important and so central to me is the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in the film. When we were writing the script, that was always one of the central set pieces that we wanted to crack.

This is the scene where Batman nearly lost it… he’s pushed to the limit like he’s never been before. In the article, Nolan shared that he couldn’t find a moment “…where you actually worry that Batman will go too far. A moment where his rage might spill over and he would break his rules.” But The Joker clearly had such power to get into anyone’s skin, including our dark knight. He’s just so ruthless and has absolutely nothing to fear. And all for no real motive, just like Alfred’s story about the Burmese ruby, it proves that indeed ‘some men just want to watch the world burn.’

Even his outlandish appearance makes you squirm, the way he moves, constantly licking the side of his made-up mouth… it’s all very disturbing. And I think it’s amplified tenfold in this scene.

This might be one of the most bright-ly lit scene in the whole entire movie. Instead of the common dark interrogation room, we’ve got a stark room with a harsh, bright light and you see every single detail of both Batman and The Joker. Nolan said that the Batsuit was specifically designed for the scene in a way that it would hold up to the scrutiny of that glaring light.

What I like about this scene is that it’s got humorous elements – hence an easy target for a spoof just on Batman’s voice alone – but it’s also highly sinister, wicked, merciless as The Joker holds the answer to the lives of two people our hero holds dear. So it’s extremely personal for Batman, I mean, one doesn’t go THAT berserk if it weren’t personal, and you just feel for him, his agony. No wonder he’s all ‘bottled-up fury’ as Mr. Boucher said in the interview. I mean, most people might not survive such pressure! Both Heath Ledger and Christian Bale are in top form here.

I like what Nolan said at the end of that article that sums up this scene perfectly: How do you fight someone who thrives on conflict? It’s a very loose end to be left with.

***

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain

That’s one heck of a great quote… and Aaron Eckhart is just brilliant in this role, absolutely brilliant. I feel like his character, just like Bale’s himself, is drowned out by people’s adulation for Ledger. And while that’s warranted because his Joker’s performance is truly iconic, there are other memorable characters that makes this film so rich.

Now, there’s a plethora of favorite scenes from The Dark Knight that would warrant its own top ten list, that truck flip scene is one of my top 20 scenes I could watch over and over, it’s just pure adrenaline rush! But the dialog is what makes a movie stand the test of time, and the conversation in this dinner scene is most fascinating to me. It’s not only the first time two of Gotham’s most powerful meet: Bruce Wayne and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Unbeknownst to him, Dent ends up defending the masked vigilante right in front of the man himself, and he believes that the Bat-man is on Gotham’s side. Thus, for the first time Bruce is hopeful that perhaps one day his city might not need Batman. That night he too, believes in Harvey Dent…


I LOVE this scene! It makes it all the more tragic what happens to Dent at the end… nobody at the table knew that philosophical quote he uttered here is the harbinger of things to come.


So have you been watching Nolan’s first two Batman movies before The Dark Knight Rises? What would you be YOUR favorite scene(s) from The Dark Knight?

Music Break: The Dark Knight’s End Credit Score

Happy almost weekend, folks!

I’m flying to Chicago Friday night for a few days to attend my best friend’s graduation, so for this week’s music break, I choose one of my favorite movies filmed in that city. That Nolan film is extra special as my hubby and I were actually in town when they were filming some of the scenes. I’ve posted the behind the scenes photos when I was on the Wendella’s Architecture Boat Tour along the Chicago River. They actually stopped the boat for about a half hour as they were filming the chopper scenes, and I kept hoping that Christian Bale would actually came down in a harness or something onto our boat. Yeah, dream on, right? :D Still it was nice to see all those tanks and cars with Gotham markings on them!

Anyway, I LOVE The Dark Knight soundtrack and the one used in the finale really gives me goosebumps. This music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard just fits PERFECTLY with the scene of Batman disappearing into the night, cape flowing in the wind, as the Gotham police chase him down. He took on the blame from Harvey Dent in order to restore hope that the city desperately need. It’s such an emotional scene and the music has that morose tinge to it that gets me choked up every time. Though chased like an escaped convict, to Gordon and his young son — and to us watching in the audience — our dark knight certainly exemplifies what true heroism is all about, giving up his reputation for something he truly believes in, for the sake of the people he loves.

He may be batty, but one can’t accuse him for not giving his all he could to the people of Gotham… though according to the Dark Knight Rises trailer, he hasn’t given ‘everything’ yet. Listening to this makes me anticipate the final film of the trilogy all the more, can’t wait to see how it all comes together.


Thoughts on the soundtrack and/or the movie? Are you as pumped about TDKR as I am?

The year of ensemble-cast movies – which one is your favorite?

With The Avengers kick-starting the Summer movie season, 2012 is shaping up to be the year of blockbusters. The year of ensemble cast blockbusters to be exact, as The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit are all vying to be amongst the ‘billion dollar club’ of the decade.

Avengers’ cast in the London premiere

An ensemble cast: a cast in which the principal performers are assigned roughly equal amounts of importance and screen time in a dramatic production.

A couple of years ago I listed my top five ensemble cast films from the past decade. Now, it’s not as simple as just hiring a bunch of actors in one movie, as some dismal movies like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve did. A good ensemble formula is when the assembled players actually work well together and elevate the story, instead of just getting ‘butts in seats’ for their name’s sake.

The ensemble cast films aren’t limited to just the mega blockbusters, however, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love also boast a large troupe of actors for their films. There’s also the 80s action heroes ensemble that is Expendables 2, and comedy ensembles What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Movie 43 from the Farrelly Brothers which I talked about last March [it's apparently has been pushed out 'til next January]. On a smaller scale, there are these two independent projects I’m highly enthusiastic about:

  • At Swim Two Birds with the Irish ‘dream team’ of Gabriel Byrne, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Michael Fassbender, and Jonathan Rhys Meyersthat’s hopefully out this year as well.
  • All Things to All Men with Gabriel Byrne, Rufus Sewell, Toby Stephens, Elsa Pataky (Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth’s wife), Leo Gregory, Julian Sands and James Frain. I will blog about this as soon as I have more info about the project, but in the meantime, check out this comprehensive post on Byrneholics site.

Ok, these three films represent three of my favorite ensemble cast from this year’s release (apart from The Avengers that is):

Moonrise Kingdom

  • Edward Norton
  • Bruce Willis
  • Bill Murray
  • Tilda Swinton
  • Harvey Keitel
  • Jason Schwartzman
  • Frances McDormand

Norton, Willis and Murray… what a trio! The trailer looks like a hoot as well. This might be another Wes Anderson movie I like since The Royal Tennenbaums!

The Dark Knight Rises

  • Tom Hardy
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Christian Bale
  • Liam Neeson
  • Anne Hathaway
  • Gary Oldman
  • Marion Cotillard
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Michael Caine

The Dark Knight‘s cast is already ace, but the additional cast (especially Hardy and Gordon-Levitt) just makes it even better!! I’ve never even heard of Josh Pence before (last photo on the 2nd row) but curious how he’d fare as young Ra’s Al Ghul.

The Hobbit

Click image to see a larger version

  • Luke Evans
  • Hugo Weaving
  • Elijah Wood
  • Martin Freeman
  • Cate Blanchett
  • Evangeline Lilly
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Christopher Lee
  • Ian McKellen
  • Andy Serkis
  • Richard Armitage
  • Ian Holm
  • Lee Pace
  • Billy Connolly

Now, is it any wonder I actually dreamed about being on the set of this movie??! Again, I already LOVE the cast of the Lord of the Rings trilogy but Peter Jackson seems to have upped the ante even more as The Hobbit is chock full of my favorite UK/Aussie actors!! A lot of them are from UK TV shows so I wonder if PJ are a big fan of BBC? :D You already know this but I’m looking forward to seeing Richard Armitage as Thorin the most, but also Lee Pace as Thranduil the Elven King!

Added 12/3

HONORABLE MENTION:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – I LOVE the all-British cast, especially the two Dames: Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. But it’s also nice to see the likes of Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy amongst the cast as well.


Inspired by my pal Terrence’s Time to Vote Tuesday, I figure it’d be fun to have an interactive post for today :)

So which of these ensemble cast is your favorite? Please cast your vote below (you can pick 2) and do share why in the comments :)

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