FlixChatter Review – WITHOUT REMORSE (2021)

WithoutRemorse-poster

The journey of turning Tom Clancy’s WITHOUT REMORSE into a film was a long one. Originally, it was supposed to hit the big screen way back in holidays season of 1995. John McTiernan as attached to direct and Keanu Reeves, hot of the success of SPEED, was offered the lead role. Reeves was reportedly offered a salary of $7-10mil, pretty high for the time but he didn’t want to do back-to-back action pictures and declined the offer. Then Gary Senise, still in high demand because of his role in FORREST GUMP was attached to star as the lead and Lawrence Fishburne also signed on to be the second lead. But the production was shut down because Savoy Pictures, the studio that was producing the film, went bankrupt. In the 2000s, the late director John Singleton tried to revive the project, he was looking to cast Joaquin Phoenix as the lead, but the project never came to fruition. In the 2010s, Christopher McQuarrie was assigned to write and direct with Tom Hardy being eyed as the lead. But again, the project just couldn’t get off the ground.

Now almost 30 years later, Clancy’s second action hero (behind Jack Ryan) is finally getting his own film.

WithoutRemorse-michaelbjordan

A group of Navy SEALS is Syria trying to rescue an American prisoner, one of the SEALS named John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) feels there’s something fishy going on. He thinks that CIA operative John Ritter (Jamie Bell) is hiding something from his team. The only person that’s on his side is SEAL’s leader Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith). Despite his protests, the team did rescue the prisoner, but it turned out the bad guys weren’t Syrians but a bunch of Russians. Kelly wanted to know what’s really going on, but Ritter basically told him it’s out of his pay grade. A few months after the rescue mission, members of Kelly’s SEAL team were assassinated.  When the assassins came to kill Kelly, he was able fend them off but not before his pregnant wife was killed during the attack at his home. Filled rage and vengeance, Kelly is on a mission to find who’s behind the attack that killed his unborn child and wife.

WithoutRemorse-turnersmith-jordan

Loosely based on Tom Clancy’s early 90s novel, the movie has little resemblance to the novel. The only similarity was that Kelly’s wife and unborn child were killed in the beginning of the story and that’s it. The screenplay is credited to Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples. By stripping away all of Clancy’s source material, there’s not much that we haven’t seen before in this kind of story. Sheridan even repeats himself here by writing a plot that’s similar to the last SICARIO film. The most sinful thing the writers commit on this script was that they didn’t include a central villain. A good action film needs a good antagonist and here we don’t really find out about the villain until the last 10 minutes of the film. And I’m pretty sure most audiences can figure out who’s really behind the attack on Kelly’s SEAL team. I don’t mind that the writers decided to come up with their own version of this story, but I thought Clancy’s novel could be adapted into a great action thriller. There’s so much material in the novel that’s still relevance in today’s world.

WithoutRemorse-jamiebell

Director Stefano Sollima, who directed the underwhelmed SICARIO sequel, didn’t really elevate the not-so-exiting script. His style of direction is very mundane and by the number. A story like this need someone that can inject energy into the picture. But Sollima either don’t have that kind of talent or didn’t really care to make this into an exciting action thriller. Even the big action scene was lacking creativity and excitement.

Jordan really poured his heart and soul into this role and he’s great as John Kelly. Unfortunately, his co-stars were miscast. I didn’t believe that a young-looking Jamie Bell is a seasoned CIA operative and Turner-Smith just didn’t look tough enough to be a SEAL leader. I’m glad that her character is not a romantic lead or damsel in distress, and she can take care of herself. Guy Pearce has pretty much played that same sleazy character for the last 10 years or so and again his role as the sleazy politician in this film is no different.

WithoutRemorse-guypearce

Clancy’s Without Remorse is one of my favorite novels and I’ve been waiting to see film version for a long time. Despite some good talents involved in this film version, it’s an underwhelming and disappointing adaptation. If the proposed sequel Rainbow Six do happen, I hope they’ll hire a better team of writers and director.

2Reels

TedS_post


So have you seen WITHOUT REMORSE? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks: Period Dramas

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! 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… Period Dramas.

Ahhhh! This is one of my all time favorite genres and those who read my blog regularly knows I have a soft spot for Jane Austen, specifically Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. But beyond that, I watch a TON of period dramas and so in order to narrow things down to just FOUR, I’m only selecting TV MINISERIES based on books. I actually love the miniseries (or limited series) format as it allows more time for character development and unpack the story in a deeper level. I happen to own ALL of these miniseries, that’s how much I love them!

So here they are in the order of release:

North & South (2004)

NorthandSouth-2004-bbc

North and South is a four part adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s love story of Margaret Hale, a middle class southerner who is forced to move to the northern town of Milton.

Call me old fashioned but I feel like a lot of romances these days are all about instant gratification. I think the pent-up passion, the waiting, the stolen glances, etc. are what makes period romances so irresistible to me. I’ve seen my North & South DVD countless times and it never gets old. The casting of Daniela Denby-Ashe (Margaret) and Richard Armitage (John) are superb and they have a palpable chemistry, especially towards the end. I’ve even dedicated a post for John Thornton character in this post.

Similar to Pride & Prejudice, Margaret and John didn’t get off on the right foot initially, there’s also a proposal that didn’t go over well, which of course adds to the drama! I love that this story is SO much more than just a love story (though it’s the best part about it), but it also shows the changing economic landscape of the north and south of England during the Industrial Revolution, hence the title.


Jane Eyre (2006)

JaneEyre-2006

A young governess falls in love with her brooding and complex master. However, his dark past may destroy their relationship forever.

There are a whole bunch of Jane Eyre adaptations both on films and TV. Up until 2006, my favorite miniseries is the 1983 version starring Timothy Dalton that I’ve talked about here. Now, there are parts I still prefer the 1983 version, but overall I think this is a more compelling adaptation with a much more superior production quality. I love the fact that it’s a female-driven series both in front and behind the camera–directed by Susanna White from a screenplay written by Sandy Welch, surely a first in a Charlotte Brontë adaptation.

I love Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as the brooding Rochester who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s not as stiff and stoic as previous Rochesters (Dalton excluded) that I’ve seen previously, which makes for a more fun dynamic. The banters between the two are lovely to watch, and I can see how Jane falls for her much older boss despite her better judgment. Stephens often comes across as too playful in the role but somehow it works well here and the emotional scenes between them are really heart-wrenching. Jane says Rochester is the only one who’s ever treated her like an equal and the filmmakers did a good job showing that.


Persuasion (2007)

Persuasion2007

Anne was in love with Frederick, who was rejected by her snobby parents 8 years ago. They’ve now hit hard times and rent out their mansion to his brother-in-law. He returns a Royal Navy captain. Will he remember Anne?

Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel, which is her last novel she fully completed before her death. The main protagonist, Anne is considered ‘old’ at 27 and has lost her bloom, while the man she rejected eight years ago is now a war hero and a wealthy man. Now, I have to say that the 1995 version is a much superior adaptation, but this one has its charms. I like the way Sally Hawkins portray Anne and Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth, while Anthony Head is hilarious as her vain and stuck-up father obsessed with his status in society. The scenery is gorgeous as it was filmed on location in Bath. The direction by Adrian Shergold is a bit baffling in parts, I don’t know why Anne is the only character who breaks the fourth wall, and I wish he didn’t have Anne run all over town to see Wentworth in the end. Overall I enjoyed this adaptation though, and I love this scene when they meet in Bath by chance during a rainy afternoon.


Death Comes Pemberley (2013)

DeathComesToPemberley-cover

Elizabeth and Darcy, now six years married, are preparing for their annual ball when festivities are brought to an abrupt halt. An adaptation of PD James’s homage to Pride and Prejudice.

It’s Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie! Somehow Pride and Prejudice is one of those classics that’s quite extendable. Now, unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this one is pretty much a continuation of the story of Lizzie and Darcy, who somehow still can’t escape the shadow of the dastardly Wickham. I LOVE Matthew Rhys as Darcy, this Welshman is masterful in any role and here he portrays the more mature, conflicted Darcy brilliantly. I was a bit skeptical about Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth but I’ve grown to appreciate her portrayal and the fact that she’s actually more plain-looking as Lizzie is supposed to be in the book. As P&P fans, it’s always intriguing to imagine the life of our beloved couple past their blissful wedding. The way the script explores the Darcys relationship during this tumultuous time is quite fascinating.

Now Matthew Goode as Wickham is absolutely perfect casting, esp. in displaying his vulnerable side as he stand accused of murdering his own best friend. He also never looked more ravishing in his red uniform, yowza! Jenna Coleman is quite irritatingly hilarious as the over-the-top Lydia, and I love the pairing of Eleanor Tomlinson (as Darcy’s younger sister) and James Norton who are besotted with each other. The production values are incredible, gorgeous set pieces, costumes, and especially the legendary Chatsworth House as Pemberly estate. I can’t recommend this enough for anyone looking for a good mystery and intrigue in a costume drama.


Have you seen any of these? Which are YOUR favorite period dramas?

MINNEAPOLIS ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL opens this week!!

MSP Film Society announces the complete line-up of films in the 40th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), running Thursday, May 13 through Sunday, May 23 as a hybrid festival. MSPIFF is Minnesota’s largest film festival and, at 40 years running, a Minnesota cultural institution. MSPIFF40 will present 180+ films by both veteran and emerging filmmakers from around the world, available virtually to audiences throughout Minnesota—and over half available throughout the US!—at MSPfilm.org, plus a selection of special outdoor screenings in

MSPIFF40 opens with a special outdoor screening of SUMMER OF SOUL. Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, SUMMER OF SOUL presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record—created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion.

summer-of-soul-mspiff

The film will also be available to screen virtually for 48 hours, beginning at 7pm on Opening Night, at MSPfilm.org. SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

MSPIFF40’s CLOSING PRESENTATION on SATURDAY MAY 22 is AFTER ANTARCTICA, directed by Tasha Van Zandt.

after-antartica-mspiff40

In 1989, Will Steger traversed Antarctica, the longest and most treacherous crossing of the continent in history. Now, over 30 years later, director Tasha Van Zandt follows him again across the continent, which is slowly coming apart due to the global warming crisis.


The Milgrom Tribute (named after the founder of the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society, Al Milgrom) recognizes the eminent, politically-minded, multi-award winning Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland. Ms. Holland is known as a trailblazing artist whose storytelling often elevates outsider perspectives and whose work as an auteur in the cinematic world is widely recognized as deeply personal and historically significant.

Ms. Holland is known as a trailblazing artist whose storytelling often elevates outsider perspectives and whose work as an auteur in the cinematic world is widely recognized as deeply personal and historically significant. I’ve reviewed one of her films, Mr. Jones, about the Holodomor, that is the man-made famine-genocide in Ukraine in early 1930s, and I look forward to seeing her other films screening at the festival: Europa Europa and Charlatan.

Here’s the trailer for EUROPA, EUROPA with Holland explaining her lighter approach to the holocaust story:
I’ve signed up for the FREE discussion featuring Holland and film critic David D’Arcy live via Zoom this Sunday, May 16 at 2:00pm CDT. 
Minnesota Made Films

MSP Film Society continues our commitment of year-round support to Minnesota filmmakers in multiple ways, from waiving submission fees to MSPIFF, to highlighting the selected films in MSPIFF’s publicity efforts, and offering weeklong theatrical runs and one-off screening opportunities at St. Anthony Main Theatre for festival favorites. Most recently, we have begun to offer our virtual platform so filmmakers can securely screen their films to audiences throughout Minnesota.

One of the feature films screening this year is SAY HIS NAME: FIVE DAYS FOR GEORGE FLOYD.

The incomprehensible police murder of George Floyd on May 25th, sparked a global uprising, the epicenter in Director Cy Dodson’s Minneapolis neighborhood, revealing an immersive observation of unrest in the days between the killing of George Floyd and the charges filed against police officer Derek Chauvin.


You can browse the entire MINNESOTA-MADE lineup here, which includes narrative features, documentaries and short films. Speaking of short films, one of the shorts that I had the privilege to produce is screening at the festival as well!

Written and directed by Julie Koehnen, MASTER SERVANT centers on an ambitious, young railroad executive comes face to face with his own moral decay in his blind pursuit of wealth and status. You can watch the trailer on its official website

Master-Servant_MSPIFF40

Julie’s follow-up to Master Servant, AWAKENING, which is also set in the Gilded Age, is also screening at the festival. Glad to see fellow MN filmmakers and actors I’ve become acquainted with whose short films made it to the festival, such as AWAY WE GO, THE LAST STATION and PIT STOP.

women and films

Naturally I’m always excited to see women-directed films, and there’s a special Women & Films program you can filter on MSPIFF online schedule!

I’ve already mentioned two films by Agnieszka Holland above, so here are just a few other titles I’m excited about:

  • Holler
  • My Donkey, My Lover & I
  • I Was, I Am, I Will Be
  • The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet
  • Love, It Was Not (doc)
  • The Translator
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit*
  • Women is Losers
  • Dream Horse

Holler has been making waves in various film festivals and its director Nicole Riegel was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2020. Check out the trailer:

I actually got an early screener of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and I absolutely love it. Stay tuned for my review of it sometime next week!

In the documentary category, there’s LOVE, IT WAS NOT which centers on a taboo romance between a Jewish prisoner and an Austrian SS officer at Auschwitz.


There are a few films starring big-name actors who were recently nominated for Oscars (Riz Ahmed) or stars in a film that won an Oscar this year (Mads Mikkelsen).

MOGUL MOWGLI

MC Zed (Riz Ahmed) is a talented and angry young man, a British-Pakistani rapper seemingly at odds with the world and his family in equal measure. He’s channeled that anger into music, but on the cusp of stardom, his own body betrays him.

RIDERS OF JUSTICE

Military man Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), returns home to care for his teenage daughter after his wife is killed in a tragic train accident. But when a survivor of the wrecked train surfaces claiming foul play, Markus begins to suspect his wife was murdered.

UNDINE

Lastly, I’ve been a huge fan of German writer/director Christian Petzold ever since Phoenix and Transit. Here he collaborates again with Transit’s Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer once again. I like both actors and this story looks intriguing!

Undine works as a historian lecturing on Berlin’s urban development. But when the man she loves leaves her, the ancient myth catches up with her. Undine has to kill the man who betrays her and return to the water.


MSPIFF lineup

Which of these MSPIFF movies are you looking forward to?

FlixChatter Review: Wrath Of Man (2021)

wrathofman-poster

The reason I was curious to see a screener of this is for the Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham reunion, which is their fourth since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver. I haven’t seen that last one, and I barely remember the first two, but I like Ritchie’s The Gentlemen, so I was expecting a fun action thriller.

Well, to be sure, Wrath of Man lives up to its title in that it’s a hyper-violent revenge thriller. Hell hath no fury like Statham scorned, and though he appears cool as a cucumber, there’s a simmering rage beneath this mysterious tough guy named Patrick Hill, nicknamed H. The guy who calls him ‘H’ also goes by a nickname, Bullet (Holt McCallany), his new co-worker at Fortico Security, an armored truck company where H just starts working at. I won’t delve into the plot as it’s a run-of-the-mill revenge story you’ve seen done loads of time before.

Since I skipped Revolver, this is the first Guy Ritchie flick set in the US, Los Angeles to be exact. At the beginning of the film, we see a brutal cash truck robbery that turns deadly. It’s not clear just who’s who in this scenario, and the details begin to slowly unfold via intermittent flashback mode that also explains H’s backstory. It was engaging enough at first and I was curious to see just who the heck H is and the connection to the cash truck robbery. I have to say though, the ominous music by Christopher Benstead is aggravating and makes the movie seem way more somber than it needs to be. Overall, the script also takes things too seriously that it takes the fun out of it. In fact, there’s a serious lack of sense of humor that I often associate with Ritchie’s action flicks. In fact, my husband commented even early on that it doesn’t feel like a Guy Ritchie’s movie, even though he’s credited as one of the writers along with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson.

I remember halfway through the movie, my mind wander to a hilarious scene in SPY where Statham was poking fun at himself that he’s such a f***ing tough guy that he’s impossible to kill. I miss his sarcastic sense of humor here as some of the supposedly funny banters here just falls flat. Perhaps I was too busy scratching my head as to the point of Josh Hartnett’s character. To say his character is underwritten is a huge understatement, it’s just so pointless. Other familiar faces like Jeffrey Donovan and Eddie Marsan are also pretty much wasted here. As for Scott Eastwood, honestly I just don’t think he’s a strong actor who’s neither exciting nor menacing. SPOILER ALERT: I kind of laugh when I realize he’s the main villain here, I just don’t believe him as a sly guy able to be the last man standing amongst his rag tag crew. Let’s just say, Scott is nowhere near as magnetic as his dad, and I feel like this flick could truly benefit from an actor who can believably go toe to toe with Statham.

At nearly two hours long, the movie also moves along at a sluggish pace while the lead actor seems to be sleep-walking for a good part of the movie. I wish it were at least a half an hour shorter as it overstays its welcome midway through. The plot is simple but yet it feels convoluted, filled with extraneous characters that barely register nor add any meaningful value to the story. It’s also an extremely macho movie where women barely has a place in it–the only time a woman is present, she calls H a very nasty British curse word that starts with a ‘c’ and I kind of think he deserves it. The shoot-em-up at the end is perhaps the only thrilling part of the movie, but that’s because the rest is so grim and lethargic. The action isn’t worth writing about as Statham is pretty much in pensive mode the entire movie. I mean, that’s NOT why we see a Jason Statham movie. The guy is at his best when he’s in full fighting mode. Still, the movie is bloody and hyper-violent, but one that grows more predictable as the movie progresses.

Apparently Wrath of Man is an English-language remake of the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur (literally translates to Cash Truck) starring Jean Dujardin. I wish Hollywood would stop making European remakes! I heard Another Round is going to be remade with Leo DiCaprio in place of Mads Mikkelsen, I mean WHY??!! This movie adds nothing new to the action thriller genre and overall is a complete waste of time. I like Statham generally but he’s just so boring here. If you’re a fan of his, just re-watch The Transporter (still my fave action movie with him as the lead). Heck, even Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is still far more watchable than this turd.

1.5/5 Reels


Have you seen Wrath Of Man? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: LIMBO (2021)

LIMBO-movie

There have been some titles of certain films lately that leave me scratching my head, but this is one of those occasions where this one word title perfectly describes the story. The people in this film are literally in limbo, they’re in a forgotten place and state, uncertain of what to become of their fate as this new arrivals in a fictional remote Scottish island await results of their asylum claims. 

The main protagonist is Omar (Amir El-Masry), a well-educated Syrian musician who carries his grandfather’s Oud everywhere he goes. He ends up sharing a room in a rackety house with Farhad (Vikash Bhai) from Afghanistan, who somehow still remains chirpy after having been on the island for about three years. The contrasting personality often creates an amusing exchange between them, especially as Farhad suddenly decides to adopt a chicken from a nearby, unattended farm. I suppose when one has absolutely nothing to do and barely anyone to talk to, having a pet seems like a good idea. There are also two West African refugees Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) along Omar’s journey who I initially thought as brothers. Each have their own dream and life goal, as we all do, but let’s just say how one of the characters end up is quite heartbreaking.

limbo-movie-still

The vast Scottish Western Isles landscape is beautiful but feels desolate, which makes it even more evocative. As they say, sometimes the location becomes the character. The Scottish landscape truly helps you get into the characters’ head as they wait, and wait, and wait… with no hint or assurance whatsoever if their asylum papers would ever be granted. The culture class taught by husband/wife team Helga and Boris (Sidse Babett Knudsen and Kenneth Collard, respectively) offers absurd humor that’s both sad and amusing.

limbo-refugees

Ben Sharrock, in his sophomore feature effort, is definitely a filmmaker to watch. Limbo is a study of restraint as everything moves at a measured pace. The film has minimal dialog but it’s highly atmospheric. The slow-ness is deliberate, the camera takes its time following a character walking down a field or lingering for minutes as a character talks on the phone inside a phone booth. Sharrock acutely depicts a sense of loneliness and isolation that’s palpable and moving. In a sea of action films that just want to get your adrenaline going with endless high-octane action sequences, it’s actually refreshing to watch something that really allow you to immerse yourself in the story and the journey the characters are going through. I think some people might find the whole affair a bit too tedious, but I find it quietly absorbing given how it reminds me of my own life as an immigrant. Granted my experience before I finally became a US citizen were vastly different from Omar’s or Farhad’s, but I remember being in limbo while I was waiting for my H1B visa approval.

limbo-movie-omar-farhad

I love that Sharrock didn’t spoon feed us too much details of each character’s situation, but gave us enough hints to empathize with them. For example, the way he revealed Farhad’s situation in his home country, in just a simple sentence I understand why he didn’t mind the wait as he simply cannot go back. Small gestures of kindness involving a fellow refugee working at a small grocery shop is done really well that makes a seemingly obscure scene deeply memorable and meaningful. 

I feel like by the end of the film I’ve spent time with real people instead of watching actors playing a part. Of course that is part of the beauty of not having big-name stars, but later on I recognized El-Masry from his supporting role in BBC’s miniseries The Night Manager. I really like his performance here, there’s a quiet grace and compelling vulnerability about his performance. He’s got a nice rapport with Bhai who’s also able to balance the humorous and earnest moments nicely.

There are plenty of films about the refugee experience, but LIMBO definitely stands out from the pack for its unusual wry approach. The film isn’t afraid to be melancholic without resorting to over-sentimentalism. It even veers into surrealism involving Omar’s brother. The musical number towards the end wonderfully celebrates Omar’s musical past and I find it so moving. Though the ending isn’t neatly tied in a big red bow with some questions remain unanswered, it does end in a hopeful note, which I think is as perfect an ending as one can get.

4/5 stars

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

Thursday Movie Picks 2021: Oscar Winners Edition – Best Director

ThursdayMoviePicksThe 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… Oscar Winners Edition – Best Director.

It’s another Oscars edition! This year’s ceremony is already in a distant memory now, though I’m happy to see Chloe Zhao making history as the first woman of color to win best director (for Nomadland) and only the second woman ever to win the award since Kathryn Bigelow did in 2009 for The Hurt Locker. So for this edition, I’m actually not going to pick this year’s winner, actually I’m walking down memory lane and only pick films released prior to 1980.

In any case, here are my four picks in order of film release:

Victor Flemming – Gone With The Wind (1939)

gwtw-poster

I realize that many people find this film problematic but certain art form is a product of its time and just because we appreciate this film doesn’t mean we have to condone its racial prejudices. Now, I was barely a teenager when my late mother brought the VHS and we watched it together, and to this day, every time I watched it, I’m still in awe of its sheer scale. I often wonder just how they did certain complex scenes, with SO many extras… and this was in 1939!

Whether people like the film or not, it’s hard to brush off the monumental artistic achievement in filmmaking in terms of production design, cinematography, sound, etc. and of course, the amazing ensemble cast. we like the film, or not, one has to recognize the greatest achievement, perhaps, of the creative talent of the people working in the movie industry. I’ve talked about this film in this tribute post, I dare say it’s a magnum opus for Victor Flemming and everyone involved. It’s a towering directorial achievement to be sure, I mean the fact that he survived working with powerful, boundary-pushing uber-producer David O. Selznick is quite a feat!

Interesting Trivia (courtesy of IMDb + Wikipedia):
Reportedly, one of the reasons stated by David O. Selznick as to why he fired George Cukor as director was that Cukor, who’s gay, would be unable to properly direct the love scenes between Rhett and Scarlett; hence he was replaced by macho director Victor Fleming. Although he was dismissed from the production, Cukor continued to privately coach both Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland at their request on weekends, unbeknownst to both Selznick and Fleming.


Michael Curtiz – Casablanca (1944)

casablanca-poster

I talked about seeing Casablanca for the first time in 2012 and was worried that given all the build-up, my expectation for it was so high that I was a bit worried I would be let down. Well, I’ve since seen this movie three times and it’s easily my favorite film about love during wartime. Even as time goes by, Casablanca remains an indelible masterwork. I’m glad I got to see this in the theater during the TCM re-release, it still looks phenomenal on the big screen!

Now, per Wiki, Curtiz was already a well-known director in Europe when Warner Bros. invited him to Hollywood when he was 39 years of age. He had already directed 64 films in Europe, and soon helped Warner Bros. become the fastest-growing movie studio. He directed 102 films during his Hollywood career, where he directed ten actors to Oscar nominations, including Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains.

Curtiz-on-set-casablanca
Bogart and Ingrid Bergman with Curtiz

Fun Trivia:
Director Michael Curtiz’s Hungarian accent often caused confusion on the set. He asked a prop man for a “poodle” to appear in one scene. The prop man searched high and low for a poodle while the entire crew waited. He found one and presented it to Curtiz, who screamed, “A poodle! A poodle of water!”

Apparently there is a biopic on him aptly titled Curtiz on Netflix, it’s description says ‘Driven and arrogant, film director Michael Curtiz deals with studio politics and family drama during the troubled production of “Casablanca” in 1942.’ Might be worth checking out for fans of this film!


William Wyler- Ben-Hur (1959)

benhur-poster

I’ve often talked about this film on my blog over the years as this is one of the earlier Hollywood films my late mom introduced me to. I’ve seen it countless times and still bowled over by it every single time. Same with GWTW, the scale of it is simply astounding and this was the time long before CGI was possible. Specifically the chariot scene requiring 15,000 extras!! I had done extras casting for a short film with about 25 people, I can’t even fathom managing THAT many people in five whole weeks!!

It’s not just about the epic action sequences though, I LOVE the quieter scenes that pack an emotional punch, such as the Jesus-giving-Judah-water scene that I’ve talked about in this post. There are SO many indelible scenes I still remember vividly from this Biblical epic that I can’t imagine anyone else but William Wyler winning that year.

Wyler-on-set-benhur
Charlton Heston + Stephen Boyd with Wyler on set

Fun Trivia:
William Wyler was so impressed with David Lean‘s work on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) that he asked Lean to direct the famous chariot race sequence. Lean would have received full screen credit for the job–“Chariot Race directed by David Lean.” He declined the offer, knowing that Wyler was a truly talented director and could certainly pull it off himself.

The chariot race required 15,000 extras on a set constructed on 18 acres of backlot at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome. Tour buses visited the set every hour. Eighteen chariots were built, with half being used for practice. The race took five weeks to film

David Lean – Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

lawrencearabia-poster

I guess I have a penchant for epic classic Hollywood movies! I wish I had seen this one (as well as GWTW and Ben-Hur) on the big screen. Sir David Lean is known for his legendary long shots, eps. the mesmerizing intro of Omar Sharif‘s character slowing emerging from the mirage. Naturally the film made a star out of Peter O’Toole who’d only been several tv series and smaller films.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to manage filming such a behemoth of a film on location with thousands of extras, the director also have to deal with demanding producers, esp. Sam Spiegel, a notorious perfectionist and micro manager who apparently often complain about Lean wasting money on the project. The two had worked on together on another Best Picture winner, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Lean-on-set-LawrenceArabia

Fun Trivia:
To capture Jordan’s grandeur, Lean decided to shoot the movie in Super Panavision 70mm. He wanted the largest frame possible.

To film Omar Sharif’s entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the “David Lean lens”. It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since.


What do you think of my Best Director picks? Have you seen any of these films?

Happy Star Wars Day! Ranking the Star Wars (live-action) films

happy star wars day

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! Now, to preface this post, I should say that I’m not exactly a SW super fan, despite having grown up in the 80s with two older brothers who loves the franchise. They were only seven years old when the first film was released in 1977, but I remember they watched the VHS tapes repeatedly years later. So I was familiar with the franchise early on, but I actually didn’t watch the entire original trilogy until my college years. I have since watched ALL of the live-action feature films to date.

Now, I’m excluding the animated feature Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) as I have not seen that one, so we’ve got eleven live-action films total including the spin-offs. Of course with ANY list, it’s all subjective so the ranking is really in order of our FAVORITES 😉

– As to be expected with a list like this, there’ll be spoilers galore – 

I’m inviting my friend + loyal FC contributor Ted Saydalavong to join the fun as well, so let’s start with his ranking.

stormtroopers

TED’s Ranking

Ted’s ranking is based on re-watchability, creative storytelling and most importantly, entertainment value. So here it is from BEST to WORST.

  1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    Yes, this film tends to be on top of many Star Wars fans and I think it’s still the best in the series. Great storytelling with a dark and twist ending.
  2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
    The original film still entertains by today’s blockbuster standards. Sure some of the effects and dialogs are a bit cheesy but it’s still an entertaining film.
  3. Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
    I still would like to see the original and darker cut of this film but I think it’s the best one in the newer Star Wars films.
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
    It’s basically a remake of the original Star Wars film but it’s very entertaining. The film has lots of weaknesses but as a fan, I can overlook those flaws.
  5. Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (2019)
    Same can be said of this last film of the so-called Skywalker saga, it has tons of flaws but I was entertained.
  6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
    Hate to keep repeating myself but this one also has tons of flaws and to me, it’s the least entertaining of the new trilogy.
  7. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
    The weakest of the original trilogy but it’s still very entertaining and the speeder chase is one of the best action sequences in the franchise.
  8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
    A show off of what CGI can do in films and Lucas had a lot of fun with this prequel. Now if only he never included Jar Jar Binks and wrote a better script for the actors, this one could be higher on my list. Still this one might have the best action sequences in the entire series. The Pod race and Duel of Fate are two of the best action scenes in the series.
  9. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
    Lucas tried to create an emotional send off for the final film of the prequel but sadly he didn’t know or care to write or direct dramatic sequences. The movie has great special effects for its time but the acting was atrocious and I cringe every time the words were spoken by the actors.
  10. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
    Again, here Lucas tried to create some dramatic and romance for this film but the writing and acting were atrocious. The only things I liked from the film were the action scenes. I love the climactic battle near the end of this film. I think Lucas only wanted to show off the special effects and cool action scenes for the prequel. He should have hired additional writers to fix his scripts for these prequels. Also, this one was shot in the early form of digital filmmaking and it has that flat and dull look that you see in early days of films shot with digital cameras.
  11. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
    This is on the bottom of my list because it’s the most boring and unimaginative of all the films in the series. I actually fell asleep halfway through the film when I saw it in the theater. Gave it another try when it came out on disc and I wish I hadn’t done that, I was not entertained at all.

RUTH’s Ranking

Same with Ted’s criteria for ranking, I too feel that re-watchability + creative storytelling (instead of just plain fan-service) are key, and obviously they’d have to be fun to watch. Anyway, here’s my ranking:

  1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
    I actually go back and forth between this one and the first one, aka A New Hope (now I feel like George Lucas should just leave the original title Star Wars). In the end, this one wins as it’s got the most iconic, emotional moments (the ultimate hero/villain, father/son duel) that is so indelible even people who don’t watch the films know the ‘I Am Your Father’ reference.
  2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
    I remember really enjoying this one and was in awe of how George Lucas launched such a behemoth franchise that span five decades and beyond with this first film. It’s the first time I heard that amazingly iconic theme song by John Williams and being transported into a galaxy far, far away. After re-watching this a few more times, I was still invested in the journey Luke, Leia, Han and the whole space opera gang.
  3. Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
    I love this one the most out of the spin-offs. I like Gareth Edwards’ direction and Felicity Jones as the lead. It’s got plenty of fun and humorous moments (esp. Donnie Yen’s scenes!) as well as emotional resonance I’m looking for. I wish Edwards had stayed on to direct some of the Skywalker saga movies.
  4. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
    I have to say I’m just not fond of Jabba the Hut at all, I tend to fast forward his scenes a lot whenever I re-watch this one. The whole sequence with the Ewoks aren’t my faves either, though I enjoy the Leia + Han romance and the adventure with Lando Calrissian, etc. So overall still a great end to the first trilogy that leaves so much room to expand the story.
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
    I’m baffled by all the hate towards this one. I guess haters are gonna hate, which is a prime example of toxic fandom. I personally enjoyed Rian Johnson’s take on this franchise, adding some surprising twists whilst still staying true to George Lucas’ legacy. I know many fans hated the direction of Luke in this film but I appreciate the deconstruction of such a titular character of why he’s a legend, who gets to have the Force, etc.
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
    Unlike Ted, I don’t find this boring at all and I like the fact that it’s a space heist flick. I actually like Alden Ehrenreich as Han and enjoyed all the bits between him and Donald Glover’s flamboyant Lando. I’ve rewatched it on Blu-ray since seeing it in the theater the first time and still enjoyed it a great deal.
  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
    This movie reminds me a lot of Superman Returns where Bryan Singer just paid homage to Richard Donner’s Superman. JJ Abrams did the same thing with this one, as Ted said above, It’s basically a remake of the original Star Wars movie. There’s a sheer lack of suspense and even the death scene involving a beloved character didn’t give me the emotional resonant I expected. I do love the introduction of Kylo Ren who provides some of the unexpected hilarious moments of rage, ahah. I also love Rey when she was just a petulant, defiant desert dweller, that is until Abrams abominably ruins her character in Rise of Skywalker!
  8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
    I guess I can’t blame George Lucas in wanting to give us the backstory of his space opera, esp. his most famous character that is Darth Vader. If only he’d hire a good writer or collaborate with one to execute his vision. I mean, there is no excuse for such an irritating character like Jar Jar Binks! I do like Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor as the two powerful Jedis and I think their casting save the film for me. Like Ted, I also enjoy the action scenes of the Pod race and Duel of Fate. I actually love the music of Duel of the Fate scene so much that I used that particular score for a re-cut of Face/Off I did in a video editing class!
  9. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
    I actually just rewatched the last battle scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin and it’s so heartbreaking! I remember tearing up during the last moments, esp. when Obi-Wan screamed ‘You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!’ Ewan McGregor is so good as Obi-Wan, I’m glad he gets to reprise it soon 16 years later! Overall though, Anakin’s journey to the dark side under the wing of Emperor Palpatine could’ve been more compelling. I think what makes the last scene of Anakin becoming Darth Vader so poignant because we know just how evil this lost kid could become. 
  10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
    As I mentioned, I hated the fact that Abrams practically ruined Rey’s character by making her the grand-daughter of Palpatine, ugh! Plus the entire movie consists of SO much nostalgia. Now, while I enjoy seeing beloved actors from the franchise, seeing them distracts me from the actual story. Fan-service rarely make for good movies and that is the case here. I also think Abrams gave the talented Adam Driver such a disservice by making his character into nothing more than a conflicted man-child. As funny as emo Kylo Ren is, in the end he isn’t really a compelling character.
  11. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
    I honestly can’t remember much about this movie other than the cheesy dialog between the two lovebirds Anakin and Padme. I totally agree with Ted that Lucas should have hired good writers to fix his scripts for the prequels.
may the force be with you

Well, what do you think of our rankings? How would YOU rank the eleven STAR WARS movies?