FlixChatter Review: MADE IN ITALY (2020)

I’ve been in the mood for films that transport me… given the nature of the pandemic that grounds most of us. So when there’s a screener for Made In Italy available, I jumped at the chance to see it. It’s also a unique film where Liam Neeson plays a father who isn’t rescuing his child from some criminals or exacting wrathful revenge of some kind.

I’m also intrigued by the fact that the writer/director is British actor James D’Arcy in his feature film debut. It’s a father-son relationship dramedy where the son character is played by Neeson’s real life eldest-born, Micheál Richardson. Side note: Apparently, Micheál changed his surname to Richardson in 2018 to commemorate the memory of his late mother Natasha Richardson. Now, it’s worth pointing out that this plot has an eerie resemblance to their own personal story.

Neeson stars as Robert Foster, a bohemian painter who’s now living as a recluse and estranged from his gallery-manager son Jack. In desperate need of cash, Jack and Robert takes a trip to their Tuscan home to try to sell the house. As it turns out, the once beautiful villa on a hill is now in a sorrow state of disrepair. The two had to work together to figure out a way to restore the home in a relatively short amount of time, which proves to be quite an insurmountable challenge at first given neither of them is particularly handy.

The restoration theme is obviously a metaphor for the restorative story between the father and son. It’s revealed when they arrive in Italy that the villa once belong to Robert’s deceased wife whose ‘presence’ linger throughout the movie despite the character never being shown. Robert is still haunted by the memory of her as well as the house, while Jack feels he’s so disconnected to his own family, for reasons that is later revealed in a rather melodramatic episode.

Now, I think this film certainly tackles some heavy themes of loss, regret, reconciliation, etc. but at times the comedic tone makes it more flippant than it should be. Even Lindsay Duncan‘s character Kate, a British ex-pat who now makes a living selling Tuscan villas, has a rather somber past, but most of her scenes are so playful, even frivolous. I do adore Lindsay and she’s a great actress, so this jarring tonality is more of the fault of the director. The one issue I have is the seemingly tacked-on romance between Jack and a local restaurant owner Natalia (Valeria Bilello) that I feel is completely unnecessary and utterly predictable.

It’s obvious that D’Arcy is still new in his directing craft, certain moments feels off both in the way the scene plays on, especially in the emotionally-heavy scene between the father and son. The rom-com trappings abound in the romantic scenes, complete with characters ‘falling’ into a lake and promptly start kissing… which is my pet peeve in movies that automatically assume people would get all warm and fuzzy when they’re all drenched to the bone!

The gorgeous Tuscan location certainly helps in the escapism factor, and I appreciate the chemistry of the two central characters. Perhaps because of their own personal connections, to each other AND to the story of loss (of a wife and mother) that must have resonated well with them, I enjoy watching Neeson and Richardson together. They’d been in a movie together, but never in such capacity where they share almost every scene together. Richardson holds his own against his more experienced dad, and it’s nice to see Neeson’s dramatic and softer side. To be fair, he started out as a dramatic actor before TAKEN launched him into a full-blown action star.

All in all, it’s not the best or most memorable films set in Italy. I think given the inherently poignant story, it could’ve been more meaty and heart-wrenching instead of a frothy movie with a few overly melodramatic moments peppered in. That said, I still think this is a pretty decent debut from D’Arcy. The restorative theme is one that anyone can relate or at least identify with, and the performances of the two central cast made their journey worth watching.


Have you seen MADE IN ITALY? Well, what did you think?

Encore Review: The Lost City of Z (2016)

I had blogged about this three years ago, but upon seeing some new stills from Netflix’s upcoming horror film The Devil All The Time, which stars Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland in supporting roles, it made me think of this underrated biographical adventure drama.

Based on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, “The Lost City of Z” tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region.

It’s too bad the film didn’t do well in the box office, as I think people were expecting a full-blown adventure film a la Indiana Jones. This one is more of reflective adventure drama that focuses on the struggle of the protagonist, British explorer Col. Percy Fawcett with his obsession to find the lost city. Writer/director James Gray, who adapted the 2009 book of the same name by David Grann, wasn’t just interested with the Amazonian adventure itself. He took the time to explore the characters’ motivations, the complexity of the political climate of British Imperialism and the toll it takes for those who went against the tide of convention. I appreciate the family drama aspect of the story as well, which often gets overlooked in adventure films.

Charlie Hunnam is impressive here as a soulful and complex protagonist, which proves that he’s much more than a brute hunk. Glad Brad Pitt passed on the role though he still signed on as producer. Hunnam has the rugged look, presence and vulnerability that made me identify with his role and easily empathize with his character.

Robert Pattinson‘s appearance as Fawcett’s aide is relatively small here, but I think it’s pretty memorable. I appreciate him taking on more understated supporting roles (and barely recognizable under a full beard) despite being an A-lister after Twilight. Another two actors I’m impressed with are Sienna Miller and Tom Holland as Fawcett’s wife and son, respectively. This is perhaps one of Miller’s most memorable role to me. She portrayed someone who’s more than another devoted wife, but she actually has quite an integral role here in an era where women barely had a place in the conversation.

Holland is quite a versatile young actor. He didn’t appear until past the halfway mark but he was memorable. I like the scenes between him and Hunnam who convincingly played his dad despite only being 15 years apart in age.

I’m glad I got to see this film on the big screen (oh how I miss going to the theatres!) The visuals are pretty striking, thanks to cinematographer Darius Khondji and meticulous production design by Jean-Vincent Puzos. The film looks absolutely stunning, with lush tropical forest and river scenes (filmed in Columbia) which looks pretty authentic. But at the heart of it is an engaging story, and an inspiring message against bigotry and racial supremacy that is more timely than ever.

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s available to rent for free if you have Amazon Prime, and it’s also on iTunes. It’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting one day. Yes it’s 2 hours 20 minutes long, but we do have the benefit of time nowadays and this film would reward your patience.


Have you seen The Lost City of Z? I’d love to hear what you think!

Netflix FIRST LOOK: The Devil All the Time + Rebecca – coming this Fall

Well, it seems streaming content is in our future for a long, long time. If this THR article is to go by, this pandemic isn’t slowing the streaming giant at all. In fact, Netflix continues to spend a gazillion dollars for original films/shows. Well I ain’t complaining!! I’m grateful that my home cinema setup makes it enjoyable for me to watch movies at home.

Here are two I just read about in the past couple of days, both happens to be gothic thrillers, got me super excited! So fall movie seasons isn’t going to be too bleak after all.

THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME

Adapted from the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, the screenplay of this Southern gothic thriller is written by director Antonio Campos (Christine) and his brother Paulo Campos.

In Knockemstiff, Ohio and its neighboring backwoods, sinister characters—an unholy preacher (Robert Pattinson), twisted couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), and crooked sheriff (Sebastian Stan)—converge around young Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) as he fights the evil forces that threaten him and his family. Spanning the time between World War II and the Vietnam war, director Antonio Campos’ ‘The Devil All the Time’ renders a seductive and horrific landscape that pits the just against the corrupted.

Now, I’m not typically into horror movies, but man, check out THIS cast!

  • Robert Pattinson
  • Tom Holland
  • Sebastian Stan
  • Bill Skarsgard
  • Riley Keough
  • Jason Clarke
  • Haley Bennett
  • Mia Wasikowska

While the movie is set in Ohio and West Virginia, it was actually shot in Alabama. Per EW, Campos said “It was a challenging shoot just because there were so many locations and we were really spread out over a large portion of northern Alabama… The nice thing is Alabama hasn’t been filmed in very often, so it’s not as recognizable as some other places that have been filmed in and photographed thoroughly by various films and TV shows.”

Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson have previously worked together on The Lost City of Z, in supporting roles. It’ll be nice to see them team up again, and now Holland is a legitimate movie star since playing Spider-man. Oh, and speaking of Marvel superhero, initially Chris Evans was to portray Sheriff Lee Bodecker, but was replaced by his bff Bucky, er Sebastian Stan in the role.

The movie is scheduled to hit Netflix on Wednesday, September 16th, 2020.


REBECCA

Now this one is something many people should be familiar with, especially if they’re into Hitchcock classics. The most famous adaptation of the 1938 Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in 1940.

After a whirlwind romance in Monte Carlo with handsome widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), a newly married young woman (Lily James) arrives at Manderley, her new husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast. Naive and inexperienced, she begins to settle into the trappings of her new life, but finds herself battling the shadow of Maxim’s first wife, the elegant and urbane Rebecca, whose haunting legacy is kept alive by Manderley’s sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

I also LOVE the cast on this one…

  • Lily James
  • Armie Hammer
  • Kristin Scott Thomas
  • Keeley Hawes
  • Sam Riley

Armie and Lily are such an intriguing pairing and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers is just brilliant! Based on this Daily Mirror article, Kristin’s so believable in the role that she terrified her co-star. I’m a huge fan of Sam Riley too, always glad to see him in any role!

The article also mentions how the Manderley house is a character in itself, as it should be! It’s got Oscar-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood who did Atonement which also has a memorable English estate in it. I’m curious to see Ben Wheatley in this, as he’s someone mostly known for his shoot-em-up action flicks like Kill List and Free Fire.

Reportedly REBECCA will premiere on October 21 on Netflix.


Can’t wait for these two! What about you?

FlixChatter Review – The Secret: Dare to Dream (2020)

I have to admit that prior to seeing this film, I had never heard of the self-help book series called The Secret, which apparently was born out of a 2006 documentary film about the great mystery of the universe by Rhonda Byrne. The books, also written by Byrne, have become such huge best-sellers, endorsed by Oprah and translated into 50 languages. Evidently I don’t really Oprah, nor do I subscribe to the Law of Attraction way of thinking, which claims that thoughts can change a person’s life directly.

When I saw the trailer, I was more curious than intrigued, but I decided to give it a shot. The movie centers on a down-on-her-luck young-ish widow Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) with three kids under the age of 16. Though she’s dating her wealthy store-owner boss (Jerry O’Connell, playing an unmemorable stock character), Miranda is broke, so broke that she can’t afford to fix her leaking roof or even pizza for dinner.

As luck would have it, one fateful afternoon she runs into (literally!) a mysterious guy during a fender-bender incident. Instead of being upset, Bray Johnson (Josh Lucas) offers to fix her front bumper AND her roof! Let’s just say his sheer positivity, and his way of dealing with her kids, pretty much charm his way into the Wells’ family. With a title called The Secret, naturally you expect that there’s something that connects Miranda and Bray, and the movie is far from subtle in its eventual revelation.

While watching the movie, I strive to suppress my cynicism and really enjoy the film for what it is. One thing I appreciate from the start is Miranda’s relationship with her three kids–they actually flow quite naturally and doesn’t make me cringe. I often find these kinds of Lifetime or Hallmark-inspired dramas to be chock full of cringe-worthy acting, now it’s not entirely devoid of it, mind you, but the kids are actually rather charming. Sarah Hoffmeister as Missy, Aidan Brennan as Greg, and especially Chloe Lee as Bess the youngest all have some cute moments in the movie. Veteran actress Celia Weston is truly the comic relief here as Miranda’s mother in law.

I haven’t seen Katie Holmes in anything memorable since oh I dunno, Batman Begins? To be fair though, she’s actually pretty decent here and believable as a caring mom who’s trying to make ends meet. It’s Josh Lucas that I have the biggest issue with, in regards to how his character’s written and his smarmy acting. He started off okay and I was even willing to go with his robust positive energy, dimpled smile and aw-shucks grin, but it was like eating candy when you’ve got a horrible cavity (you’ll know why I use this analogy when you’ve seen the movie). He’s like Mr. Perfect and even after a sliver of his past and the big secret was revealed, his character stays pretty much the same from beginning to end. Speaking of the ending, the saccharine sweet level was through the roof!

I think I’d have liked it a bit a lot more if the movie hadn’t been so predictable. My husband sat down with his laptop for the last half of the movie and he guessed who the character was that showed up towards the end, even though he wasn’t really following it closely. There are certain sincere moments, such as between Bray and Miranda’s son, but those are too few and far between to balance the plot contrivances and cheesy bits. This is far from being Andy Tennant‘s best work. He’s done much more memorable romantic dramas and rom-coms–Ever After, Hitch, even Sweet Home Alabama (which stars a less smarmy Josh Lucas). Ok so this one is slightly more watchable than The Bounty Hunter, but I blame Gerry Butler for that, ha!

I guess if you’re into Nicholas Sparks movies or those Hallmark rom-coms, this might be the movie for you. In the time of uncertainties amidst a pandemic, I welcome a film with a hopeful and uplifting message, sadly this one is pretty much drowned out by its own schmaltz.


Have you seen The Secret: Dare to Dream or read the books? I’d love to hear what you think!

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FlixChatter: THE RENTAL (2020)

When Ruth asked me if I wanted to cover The Rental, I said yes as soon as I saw that Dan Stevens was in it; I enjoyed him in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and my boyfriend and I have been on a Downton Abbey kick (we just finished season three and I am HEARTBROKEN), so I thought it could be fun to see him in a horror movie. Unfortunately, while he (and the rest of the cast) give great performances, there’s not much else that’s fun about it.

Dan Stevens with Alison Brie

In The Rental, married couple Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand) rent a vacation home for a weekend trip. While the weekend should be fun and relaxing, personal tensions mount, and the group might not be as alone as they thought.

This movie is a weird mashup of a romantic drama, psychological thriller, and slasher. That’s not to say that a movie can’t incorporate all of these genres, but The Rental doesn’t do it well. Rather than blending them together, the first half of the movie focuses on the relationship drama, the next chunk turns into a thriller, and the last ten-ish minutes is a lazy slasher. It’s a clunky, jarring way of telling the story and makes the end feel somewhat underwhelming after the buildup earlier in the movie.

There’s also a decision a couple of the characters make that is obviously there to move the thriller part forward, but it’s incredibly dumb to the point of being unbelievable. I don’t like being too nitpicky about plotholes, and I understand suspending my disbelief is important to a certain point, but if characters act more stupid than people would in real life, especially when the characters have seemed relatively intelligent up until that point, it’s disappointing.

Alison Brie in The Rental

Despite the underwhelming and frustrating writing, the cast does well with what they’re given. Dan Stevens is both funny and infuriating, and it’s kind of fun hearing him use an American accent. Allison Brie is likeable and sympathetic, as is Jeremy Allen White. Sheila Vand gives an understated but intense performance. And Toby Huss as Taylor, the creepy caretaker of the rental home, is excellent; he keeps you guessing whether he’s just a weird, unpleasant guy or if he has more nefarious intentions. The fact that they had a competent director must have helped too; Dave Franco does well in his directing debut here. Not only are the performances well done, but there are some well-composed shots that help keep the suspense high. It’s just unfortunate that his (and the other writers’) screenwriting skills weren’t as impressive.

Overall, The Rental is an underwhelming and messily-written movie. If you especially like any of the actors, maybe check it out; otherwise, I would recommend skipping this one.

laura_review


Have you seen The Rental? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

I heard about the new Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga much sooner than most casual Netflix streamers and American audiences. The reason for this was my loyal following of the Eurovision Song Contest, or just “Eurovision” – a contest that started in Europe in the mid 1950’s, around the time of the formation of the European Broadcasting Union. It is the European Broadcasting Union that puts on the yearly contest, starting with just seven countries in 1956 and expanding each year to a maximum of 44 countries participating at once. I had first heard of Eurovision back in 1998, when Dana International, a transgender singer from Israel won the contest with the song “Diva.” Since she won the contest, Israel won the rights to host the contest the following year in 1999. That summer, I was on a summer trip to Israel and all I heard about was that spring’s 44th annual Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Jerusalem.

Fast forward 20 years, the year is 2018 and the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Lisbon Portugal. This year even my birth country of Bulgaria is taking part in the contest, even though the favorite to win the contest is a performer named Netta from Israel with her me-too-movement themed song call “Toy.” It was a hard fought contest with a singer from Cyprus, but Netta ended up winning the contest and bringing back the Eurovision Song Contest to take place in Israel the following year. So as events moved along in 2019, I had heard that Will Ferrell – yes that Will Ferrell from SNL and countless movies – was going to Israel to shoot a comedic movie about the entering the Eurovision Song Contest. That movie would later be titled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and it would star Ferrell as Lars Erickssong and co-star Rachel McAdams as his best friend Sigrit Ericksdottir, making music together as the band Fire Saga.

The two best friends live in the small Islandic town of Húsavík, and perform for the locals in the town their music, especially a local favorite called “Jaja Ding Dong” which is great to sing, dance and drink beer to. But Lars’ dream has always been to represent Iceland in Eurovision, and it finally becomes a reality when they become the only contestants available, due to some unfortunate circumstances. The Islanding broadcasting committee has no choice but to send Lars and Sigrit to the contest, taking place in Ireland. *While we know, from earlier, that Ferrell and Rachel McAdams shot scenes with the live audience in Israel at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, director David Dobkin and producers Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, and Chris Henchy decided to switch the location of Eurovision to Edinburgh, Scotland. When the duo arrive in Edinburgh, they are greeted by other contestants, including Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyant singer representing Russia. At one point, Lars and Sigrit have a great sing-a-long at a mansion party with other seemingly current Eurovision singers. Those singers are in-fact some previous real life Eurovision Song Contest contestants and winners such as Jamala, Conchita Wurst, Salvador Sobral and Netta.

Watching from home is Lars Erickssong’s widowed father Erick Erickssong (Pierce Brosnan), who is always disapproving and disappointed with Lars. When others at the bar want to watch Lars and Sigrit perform at Eurovision, all Erick wants to do is drink and watch soccer. But when Lars and Sigrit seem to be having a decent performance, all hell breaks loose and the wheels start to come off the truck, quite literally. Lars starts feeling quite embarrassed and humiliated and storms out, leaving a distraught Sigrit behind. Before Lars could be found, Sigrit learns to her shock, however, that Iceland is voted through to the finals on a sympathy vote. Lars is long gone; already back on the plane to Iceland.

Once back in Iceland, Lars talks with his father and confesses his love for Sigrit, and Erick tells him to go back and fight for her love. SPOILER [highlight to read]: Lars makes it to the grand finale just in time to perform, after hitchhiking with some initially unwilling American tourists. Instead of their official entry, Lars encourages Sigrit to perform a song she has written for him. Fire Saga are disqualified for changing their song during the contest, but both Lars and Sigrit have lost interest in winning the competition, realizing that their relationship is more important and they finally share a kiss.

Back in Iceland, Fire Saga is performing at a wedding when Lars ask if they should perform their Eurovision song or the popular “Jaja Ding Dong” to which the crowd chants “Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong!” While the movie is not groundbreaking or visually unique, it does provide plenty of laugh-out-loud and sing-along moments with the cast. It did provide me personally with nostalgia from watching the actual Eurovision Song Contest, which got cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was a great movie for Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams to star in and play off each other in the musical performances. Also, it was fun to see Pierce Brosnan act in a comedy and play opposite Ferrell. But most definitely, it’s Dan Stevens who steals the show as Alexander Lemtov, who cannot express his sexuality and fears the fact that his country does not accept homosexuality. Stevens plays the role almost to perfection and become much more vulnerable than in any previous role he has played.

While Netflix is probably not going to see very many new subscriptions solely from the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, they will leave their audience satisfied (for at least that night). I was pleasantly surprised at the way the movie pulled at the heartstrings and made you feel compassion and sympathy for Ferrell’s character Lars. It’s probably the only time I’ve had those feeling when watching a Will Ferrell movie. So, next time you’re sitting at your couch, I would suggest everyone check this movie out when scrolling through the seemingly endless list of titles, and catch this flick on Netflix.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Eurovision Song Contest? Well, what did you think? 

Thursday Movie Picks: SECRET DOORWAYS/WORLD

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… SECRET DOORWAYS/WORLD.

When I saw the topic for this week, I immediately thought of ‘Narnia!’ so naturally I had to include that in this list. There is something so wonderfully escapist about films that take their characters into a different world. As we’re all in stay-at-home mode during this endless pandemic, the movies have become our not-so-secret ‘passageway’ to another world.

In any case, here are three of films I like containing a secret passageway:

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

A young soprano becomes the obsession of a disfigured and murderous musical genius who lives beneath the Paris Opéra House.

One of my all time favorite tragic disfigured characters is Gaston Leroux’s Phantom. Though the 2004 movie version’s not perfect, there are tons of things I love about it, and I think Joel Schumacher’s artistic rendition is appropriately seductive and eerie, which goes perfectly with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s haunting music. I especially love this scene where Christine (Emmy Rossum) first met her disfigured ‘angel of music’ (still remains Gerard Butler’s most seductive scenes of his career) who lured her to his secret underground lair through the mirror.

Yes, in real life it’d be creepy to have some guy behind the mirror who can spy on everything you do in your dressing room, but in a fantastical opera, it sure has a mesmerizing effect.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Four kids travel through a wardrobe to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free it with the guidance of a mystical lion.

Who hasn’t said the word ‘Narnia!’ whenever one sees a giant wooden closet/wardrobe? I know I do. Though I hadn’t read the Narnia books when I saw the film, the scene when Lucy discovered this secret world while playing hide and seek with her siblings are so indelible. I wish I’d discover a hidden magical land somewhere that I could escape to without fear of some virus or some violent act… I find that my dreams during this pandemic has become so vividly strange and bizarre at times, perhaps that’s my brain trying to find ways to ‘escape’ this physical confinement, ha!


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

An orphaned boy enrolls in a school of wizardry, where he learns the truth about himself, his family and the terrible evil that haunts the magical world.

It’s been ages since I saw this movie, but this scene still puts a smile in my face. Crazy how the kids have grown now, ahah. I spent some time in a boarding school as a kid, but man I wish we had a magically-concealed platform to take me to school like these Hogwarts students! There’s something about train stations that I always find magical, as it conjures up the idea of travel and adventure.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?