Happy Fall! 🍂 My Favorite Autumn Scenes in YOU’VE GOT MAIL

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Happy First Day of Autumn, everyone!

I almost forgot about today, even though I had planned on doing a post on Autumn Equinox, which happens to be on Sept. 22. (it’s afternoon here in US Central Time as I’m writing this).

Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL is one of my all time favorite rom-coms ever and it remains timeless even though the technology is long been outdated. I still get a giggle listening to the loud sound of modem as the characters try to go online, I’m old enough to still remember those times… fun times, NOT! 😀

There are SO many wonderful scenes I adore in this movie… I’ve highlighted my favorite Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes…

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… but for some reason I have not highlighted the wonderful Fall scenes. There’s nothing more enchanting than Autumn in New York City… I was lucky enough to visit NYC in the Fall and it’s spectacular! The Fall foliage is just sooo gorgeous and the streets just look magical with the changing leaf colors.

I love how Ephron highlights the beauty of the city in these two scenes, shot by DP John Lindley. This particular scene shows the serendipitous encounter as the two protagonists Meg Ryan + Tom Hanks walk to work in the morning and pass each other on the street without realizing it. The choice of song of Dreams by The Cranberries makes it even more perfect!


I also love this whimsical scene of Hanks’ Joe Fox hanging out with his unconventional American family (these two kids aren’t his niece and nephews, they’re his aunt and brother, ahah!). Ryan’s Kathleen’s book store is absolutely the cutest, decorated with Fall leaves on the window. I love that the entire film was shot on various location in Manhattan, this one looks like somewhere in the Upper West Side.

Ahhh… Autumn is in the air… the temps is actually very Fall-like here in Minnesota already, and it’s so welcomed after such a sweltering hot Summer.


Hope you enjoy these Fall scene spotlight. Which are some of YOUR favorite movie Fall scenes?

FlixChatter Review: The High Note (2020)

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I’ve never seen any of the 50 Shades movies, but I’ve seen quite a few of Dakota Johnson‘s films and I quite like her as an actress. So she’s the main draw for me to see this one which reminds me a bit of Cloud of Sils Maria, where Kristen Stewart (another talented young actress famous for being in a huge, lucrative franchise) plays a dedicated personal assistant of a famous celebrity.

I enjoy this movie thoroughly and I find it engaging from the start. Both Tracee Ellis Ross as the superstar singer Grace Davis and Dakota as her overworked assistant Maggie fit the characters nicely. Obviously Tracee channelled her very famous mom Diana Ross for the role, but I think she made the role her own and she also has a wonderful singing voice. Dakota has a certain charm & cool factor that makes her so watchable, and she’s proven herself to be quite a versatile actress.

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Just like Nisha Ganatra‘s previous movie Late Night, this movie also explores the power dynamic of two talented women, but tackling it with wit and humor. At the same time, it’s also not afraid to tackle important subject matters such as sexism AND ageism in the music industry. Despite her fame and success, Grace still can’t break free from the expectations of her manager and music label. She wanted to record new music (as does Maggie), but her manager wants her to just ‘cash it in’ by doing residency like other big name singers like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, etc. There’s a conversation between Maggie and Grace in a bathroom is a memorable one and I find it inspiring that Grace doesn’t want to play it safe despite what the record label thinks she should do because of her age. 

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Maggie herself is an aspiring music producer herself and despite her demanding boss, somehow found time to discover a new talent in David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at a party. Dakota really sells it as someone who’s absolutely passionate about music, and the scene of her in a studio recording session is a memorable one. Ice Cube is always fun to watch though he gets to be a bit over the top here as Grace’s manager. There are two amusing cameo roles here, there’s Bill Pullman as Maggie’s radio DJ dad who instills the deep love of music in her; and Eddie Izzard as a music star Maggie reach out to for Grace’s album release party. Too bad we don’t get to see Izzard perform though, would’ve been cool if he’d done a Glamrock-style number.

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The movie does feel rather formulaic in parts. I feel the romance between Maggie and David is so unnecessary and the film would’ve been more intriguing without it. There’s also a twist at the end that really came out of left field, and a serendipitous moment that feels all too convenient. Still, this movie hits mostly the right notes. Tracee’s performance feels authentic in that you believe her as a bonafide music superstar, and Dakota brings Maggie’s own personal journey in a believable way. You could do much worse than a feel-good movie with likable characters and wonderful music.

3.5/5 Reels


Have you seen THE HIGH NOTE? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Den Skyldige (The Guilty – 2018)

A few days ago I saw the trailer for Netflix production of The Guilty starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Soon I learned it’s actually a remake (surprise, surprise) of this Nordic version which won the Audience and Grand Jury Award at Sundance. Thankfully this movie is available in HULU, so I decided to give it a watch.

This film is a study in minimalism that less is more. The set is pretty austere, just a small dispatch call center with a few call operators, that’s it. The premise itself is a simple one as well… police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) has been assigned to dispatch duty, but things unexpectedly escalates when he answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman. I love the slo-burn build up that Swedish writer/director Gustav Möller sets up here, working from a script written by himself and Emil Nygaard Albertsen. He’s got the self assurance of a more seasoned filmmaker even though this is his feature directorial debut. He’s only got one other credit directing a short film, which is even more impressive.

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The night starts out pretty routine, as Asger answer calls from people who got mugged at the red light district which displays that he’s not the most empathetic dispatcher. It make sense once it’s revealed this isn’t Asger’s regular job and that he’s got a court appointment the next day. What that court appointment is for isn’t revealed until later, but for most of the film, the drama revolves around the conversation between Asger and a woman named Iben (voiced by Jessica Dinnage). At first, everything points to a kidnapping… a woman in a domestic violence situation kidnapped by her abusive husband, leaving their young daughter and a baby boy alone at home. Asger even gets to speak with the daughter, Mathilde (voiced by Katinka Evers-Jahnsen) as it confirms his suspicion further than Iben is in extreme danger under the clutch of a violent man. Well, or so he thought.

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Nothing is what it seems in this film, even the title itself had me pondering as I was watching it… who is actually the guilty person? As Asger breaks protocol in trying to help Iben, he asks for help from his partner Rashid (voiced by Omar Shargawi) which drops subtle hints as to what the court appointment is all about. Well, the answer emerges as the film reaches its climax. I gasped as the truth was revealed as to what was actually happening. The deceptively simple script tackles not just one but two concurrent narratives Iben’s and Asger’s, and makes it a pretty gripping ride.

The entire time, all we see is Asger who only has the phone as his only connection to the outside world. The entire thing is contained in a single location, the protagonist only moves from the main call center to a smaller office a few steps away. Cedergren delivers a solid performance that manages to keep my attention here as pretty much the only face on screen. The set-up reminds me of a similar film starring Tom Hardy called Locke, where all we see is him in a car talking to unseen people on the phone for about 90 minutes. Cedergren isn’t quite as charismatic as Hardy but he’s definitely effective in portraying the evolution of his character.

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Films like this only works efficiently when you’ve got a sharp, astute script… how refreshing to see a film where the writing is the best special effects. Even without seeing the supposed crime being shown on screen, the dialog between the characters allow our imagination to fill in the details. Kudos to Möller for keeping the suspense level high all throughout the third act, with subtle emotional touches throughout that feels organic without resorting to over-sentimentality.

I’m very curious how the Netflix film will top this one. Apparently the streaming giant spent $30 mil for the rights to this thriller, on top of the actual budget to get Antoine Fuqua as director and the star studded cast. Nordic thrillers are quite popular in Hollywood, hence the countless remakes from Danish productions, but star power and bigger budget don’t always translate to better films. As The Guilty proves, the minimalist approach can make a great impact when a shrewd script and superb performances meet.

4/5 stars


Have you seen THE GUILTY? I’d love to hear what you think!

This Just In! Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Nightmare Alley’ Trailer

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It’s been four years since Guillermo del Toro won a Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water, and this is the first feature film he’s worked on since. Of course it’s not the only film that had to shut down because of the pandemic. Per this Indiewire article, they stopped the shoot when shooting was halfway done in the Spring of 2020.

Though he’s known for his horror films, I’m intrigued by the fact that Nightmare Alley is a noir thriller. The story is based on a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946. Per Wiki, it’s a study of the lowest depths of showbiz and its sleazy inhabitants—the dark, shadowy world of a second rate carnival filled with hustlers, scheming grifters, and Machiavellian femmes fatales.

Full synopsis:

An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

Behold it’s first trailer:


Now this is the kind of film I’d watch just for the cast! Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, and David Strathairn. Wow!! Apparently Cooper replaced Leo DiCaprio in the lead role, which is fine as I quite like the pairing of him with Blanchett who looks sultry as a femme fatale psychiatrist.

Is he man or beast?

Willem Dafoe’s narration repeatedly asks that question about one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe… the carnival world is inherently bizarre and mystical, filled with freaky ‘wonders of nature.’ But perhaps there’s a twist here? Sometimes it’s the ones considered regular/ordinary who turns out to be the ‘beast.’ I love that this trailer keeps us in suspense and not give anything away.

Now, I haven’t seen the original film, but I watched the trailer 1947’s version last night, starring Tyrone Power. This one reportedly isn’t a remake of that, but a re-adaptation of the novel. I love how from the film has that Old Hollywood look about them, I bet even it would look just as stunning in black and white.

One thing for sure, it’s going to be a visual feast!! The production design alone is freakin’ amazing, which is to be expected for del Toro… everything he’s done always look so hauntingly beautiful. As a big fan of period films, I can’t wait to marvel at the set pieces, costumes, lighting, etc. when it comes out.

Nightmare Alley is scheduled to be released on December 17, 2021… I can hardly wait!! This is definitely the film to go to the cinema for!


What do you think of the trailer? 

FlixChatter Review: HERE TODAY (2021)

I was on a flight recently and I was feeling tired after a pretty hectic vacation that I wanted to watch something to lift up my mood. In Here Today, Billy Crystal stars as the protagonist Charlie Burnz, a veteran comedy writer living in NYC. The film is inspired by a short story by one of the original Saturday Night Live’s writers Alan Zweibel who co-wrote the screenplay with Crystal, so it’s unsurprising that the popular sketch comedy show Charlie works at is pretty much modeled after SNL.

Every day Charlie walks from his brownstone Brooklyn apartment to the studio taping of the show, and we see him work alongside much younger writers. The interactions inside the writers’ room feels pretty authentic given the writers seem to have a grasp of the industry they’re depicting and it doesn’t feel like they’re satirizing the material.

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There’s a certain routine that Charlie lives his day-to-day, in fact he takes the exact same route to work and he’d even say to himself where to turn at an intersection. At first I thought he’s just very particular, like someone with OCD where everything has to align just so in order for him to function properly, but later the real cause of this behavior is revealed. Charlie’s routine is about to be shaken up when she meets Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish) who won a lunch with him at an auction. She quickly reveals it’s his ex who won it, as he happens to be an aspiring writer, but that she’s never heard of him, ouch!

Haddish has that matter-of-fact delivery and no-holds-barred attitude that can be annoying or amusing. I’m not that familiar with her work, but I find her funny and likable here. The food allergy scene is the kind of broad, predictable comedic trope, but somehow Haddish and Crystal manages to make it hilarious. Charlie helps her out with the hospital bills but days later, Emma turns up at his apartment days later to pay him back. I appreciate that the film avoids the ‘white savior’ trope or any kind of tiresome savior trope for that matter.

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The film shows us just how accomplished Charlie is through Emma’s eyes when she gets inside his spacious apartment. It’s filled with awards, plaques, play posters, etc. from Charlie’s past work, but it also gives hints of his memory loss. Emma astutely picks up on that when she sees Charlie tapes names of his kids and other family members under various family photos. The film takes its time to reveal Charlie’s dementia, and the script injects some levity in the devastating conversation between Charlie and his doctor (Anna Deavere Smith). I also like the fact that the film takes time for Charlie to find out more about Emma, going to her band’s performance on a street concert where she gets a chance to get back at her cheating ex-boyfriend.

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Before long, Emma becomes quite an integral part into Charlie’s life. He invites her to go to his granddaughter’s Bat mitzvah where she breathes life into the party with a rendition of Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart. No doubt Charlie’s son and daughter (played by Penn Badgley and Laura Benanti) are suspicious about Emma’s relationship with their dad. At first, it’s not entirely clear if their relationship is romantic or platonic, especially when they have a slow dance at Charlie’s balcony, serenaded by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman no less (one of several famous cameos in this movie). But the script handles the did-they-or-didn’t-they romance question quite amusingly when Emma ends up in Charlie’s bed following a rainstorm.

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Yes, there are certain formulaic elements that the film goes through, certain comical clichés are engineered for laughs. But thankfully the two leads are genuinely funny. I enjoy even the sillier bits when they visit the Madame Tussauds museum and take endless selfies. One of the most hilarious, which ironically is also the most devastating, moment is when Charlie has a breakdown during a LIVE taped episode. He goes on a tirade against a cast-member and engages the audience in the process. What’s thought of as a brilliantly-improvised performance ends up going viral, but soon the team and show runner finds out that Charlie’s been sick.

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Comedy and tragedy often goes together, and so is the case with Charlie’s story. From the start, he’s always haunted by a painful memory which is peeled off slowly thanks to Emma’s persistence. I do feel the constant flashback of Charlie’s love life with his late wife Carrie (Louisa Krause) is too repetitive however. It has its touching moments, but ultimately the scenes between him and Emma tend to overpower his other relationships, including the one he has with Darrell (Andrew Durand), a young show writer he mentors.

Overall though, I enjoyed the movie despite its uneven tone that veers more towards melodrama in the end. Aside from Charlie himself, the rest of the characters are paper thin, even Haddish’s Emma feels like she only exists to drive Charlie’s narrative forward. That said, Crystal is a wonderful performer, and he + Haddish definitely make for a winning comedic pairing, so I’m glad I saw this one.

3.5/5 Reels


Have you seen HERE TODAY? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter: MALIGNANT (2021)

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Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Akela Cooper (screenplay)
Story by: James Wan, Ingrid Bisu

It’s officially spooky season! Okay, maybe it’s a little early to start carving pumpkins or hanging up fake cobwebs, but for me, as soon as September hits and the weather dips below 75 degrees, I go into full Halloween mode. To kick that off, I decided to check out the new James Wan horror film, Malignant, and while it was very different than what I was expecting, it was still a great way to start my favorite time of year.

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In Malignant, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins having visions of violent murders following a traumatic event of her own. She quickly realizes the visions are not just in her head but actually happening in real life- and could be connected to a terrifying repressed secret from her childhood. 

Based on the few commercials I saw before seeing this movie, I never would have expected Malignant to be campy, but that’s the word that kept popping into my head the whole time I was watching it: the acting is melodramatic, there are lots of borderline-cheesy zoom-ins on characters’ faces and overblown musical stings, and the big reveal toward the end of the movie feels like something straight out of a 1950’s horror/sci-fi B-movie. It’s a unique combination with the modern setting, the dark glossy style we’re used to seeing in a lot of today’s supernatural horror, and the industrial score, but I liked the mash-up of styles. There are a couple moments where the camp feels unintentionally funny, but for the most part, it’s effective in keeping the tension high and bringing a new tone to a modern horror movie.

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Despite the camp, there’s plenty for lovers of modern horror to appreciate. The movie doesn’t shy away from blood and gore, and there are some very creative and shocking kills throughout the film- unsurprising, considering Wan is the writer/director who brought us Saw. Despite there being some especially violent scenes, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. There’s some CGI that feels a little dated in a big fight scene toward the end, and there’s a bit at the movie’s big reveal that looks a little silly, but overall the special effects look great.

Lastly, the cast is stellar. Annabelle as Madison and Maddie Hasson as her sister Sydney have excellent chemistry, as do George Young and Michole Briana White as cop partners Kekoa Shaw and Regina Moss. Ingrid Bisu as CST Winnie is funny, likable, and memorable despite having such a small role. And Marina Mazepa, the physical performer for Gabriel, must be made of rubber, because the way she contorts her body in this movie is impressive and horrifying. 

I know a lot of people didn’t enjoy the unusual tone in Malignant, and while I can understand that, I personally loved the blend of styles. It’s not like any other horror movie I’ve seen, and in the wrong hands, it could have felt like a bad straight-to-streaming movie, but with excellent writing, directing, and acting, as well as plenty of creative body horror, this might be one of my favorite new original horror films, and I’m already looking forward to watching it again. 

4/5 stars

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

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FlixChatter Review: WORTH (2021)

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I can’t believe that this weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack. There’s no other major disaster that’s etched in my memory like 9/11… I still remember exactly what I did when I first heard of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. I was driving to work and while sitting in traffic I heard the morning radio DJs talking about what they thought was an accident, but of course once the second plane hit the second tower, everyone knew it was a deliberate attack.

This film started with the protagonist, Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) on a train en route to his Manhattan law firm office… at first he was oblivious with his noise-canceling headphones on, as fellow passengers were in a frenzy as they saw huge smoke coming out of the twin towers. It’s hard not to feel emotional watching the characters stare out of the train window in horror… which I think is an effective opening for a film about the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The film is based on Feinberg’s book titled What is Life Worth?, in which the renowned mediation attorney described the eight-part plan in figuring out who gets what from the fund.

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I kept thinking what a thankless and impossible job it is for anyone, I mean, as the title implies… how does one measure a human being life’s worth? Is there even such thing as ‘fair’ compensation when it comes to a loss of a human life? Not to mention the ethical issue of compensating victims/their families in exchange for their agreement not to sue the airlines. You would think Congress would have an arduous time finding a special master for the fund, but in this film, Feinberg himself volunteers to do it pro-bono. Feinberg works with his law firm’s head of operations Camille (Amy Ryan) and a team of young attorneys for the months to allocate the right ‘number’ for each victim. At first Feinberg approach things in pragmatic, logical manner… which in most business circumstances is the right way to go about it. But he soon realizes one can’t exactly apply the same economics rationale when it comes to human tragedy.

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On the side of the victims, we’ve got a community organizer Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) who lost his wife in the tower attacks. At first it appears as if Wolf was ‘rescuing’ Feinberg when a few victims berated him during the Compensation Fund meeting, but Wolf later introduced himself as his biggest nemesis. Wolf actually started a protest website called Fix The Fund as he has serious issues about it, which proved to be far more popular than the Compensation Fund website. Both Keaton and Tucci were in another biographical drama dealing with a heavy subject matter, Spotlight, but they didn’t share screen time together then. The interactions of these two very different people is one of the main highlights of the film and I can’t help but sympathize with both sides throughout the film. Given that both are such terrific character actors, their roles could’ve been flipped and it would’ve worked just as well.

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Sara Colangelo, directing from a screenplay by Max Borenstein, approaches this highly-emotional subject matter with sensitivity but yet not in a heavy-handed way. There’s an appropriate amount of levity that keeps the movie from being too gloomy. In fact, I find the film quite engaging from start to finish, which is quite a feat considering the movie consist of mostly people talking in a room and not much else happening. The pace is just right in that it doesn’t rush in explaining things and allow time for mere mortals like me to process and weigh in on this complex situation. There is a lot of numbers thrown around in this movie that in a lesser film I could’ve easily been completely lost. I honestly didn’t remember much about this Victim Compensation Fund, and there are still things I’m not entirely clear about, but that’s not really the point.

I had just seen Keaton in The Protegé recently and though he is a highly versatile actor, I think he’s more effective in this role where he can emote even without saying a word. Ryan is always first rate in any film, and she believably portrays an empathetic attorney who’s deeply affected by the stories she hears from various victims. Shunori Ramanathan as Priya, one of the new hires at the firm, is quite memorable here as well as she’s the one who reaches out to Wolf during one of his community meetings.

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If I have one quibble it would be the way the film focused a bit too much on a particular victim (played by Laura Benanti), a widow of one of the firefighters who perished in the tower. As it involves the dead husband’s brother and past affairs, the film descends into melodrama a bit. I suppose the filmmakers are trying to show Feinberg’s emotional transformation, but I think the interactions between him and Wolf are more compelling without resorting to over-sentimentality. 

Overall though, I think Worth is a solid, poignant drama that’s carefully handled and wonderfully-acted. Now, without researching the real Feinberg, I’m not sure if he’s as likable as he’s being portrayed here. Of course he’s still to be commended for carrying out such an intricate task, facing pressure from all sides–the government/corporate bureaucracy that’s all about number-crunching and the victims who are stricken with grief. The ending tells the audience that by the end of the deadline set for the fund, $7 billion was awarded to 97% of the families. That makes Feinberg a hero for the government and especially the airlines as the families couldn’t sue them. As for the victims, well the film itself says it properly… there are no winners here.

3.5/5 Reels


Have you seen WORTH? I’d love to hear what you think!