FlixChatter Review – Thoroughbreds (2018)

Directed By: Cory Finley
Written By: Cory Finley
Runtime: 1h 32min

In Thoroughbreds, high school friends Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) rekindle their friendship after going through their own personal crises. As their friendship grows, the girls hatch a plan against Lily’s unpleasant stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks), enlisting the help of drug dealer and local deadbeat Tim (Anton Yelchin).

I had high hopes for this film going in after seeing the cast list, and I was not disappointed. I was already impressed with Anya Taylor-Joy‘s performances in 2015’s The Witch and last year’s Split, and seeing her in this cemented her as one of my new favorite actresses. She goes from being relatively sweet and naive to ruthless and unhinged seamlessly throughout the movie, so gradually that it doesn’t seem forced or over-the-top. Olivia Cooke is excellent as well, making the cold and emotionless Amanda funny and surprisingly sympathetic. Lastly, Thoroughbreds is a reminder of the talent and charisma we lost in the late Anton Yelchin; he makes a character who is completely infuriating and sleazy hilarious while maintaining a sinister undertone.

Despite the strong acting, Thoroughbreds is not a particularly memorable movie. I’ve seen a few ads and reviews hailing it as the new Heathers, but besides the fact that both films are dark comedies with teenage girls as the leads, the two aren’t that similar. While the writing isn’t bad, and the cast delivers the deadpan, rapid-fire dialogue deftly without making it sound like a Gilmore Girls script, it’s not as enduringly quotable as the 1988 film it’s being compared to. It’s still a suspenseful story, and it could be an interesting exploration into mental illness, given a little more time and focus, but it’s just not strong enough to be iconic.

While Thoroughbreds isn’t a film you need to see in theaters, it’s a good showcase of some serious young talent. It’s only an hour and a half long, so if you’re bored, scrolling through Netflix and want to see some impressive performances, give it a watch.


Have you seen ‘Thoroughbreds’? Well, what did you think? 


FlixChatter Review: Death Wish (2018)

I hate using the word “guilty pleasure” when talking about films that I enjoy but I think the old Charles Bronson‘s Death Wish films are definitely my guilty pleasures. Of course, with Hollywood pretty much refusing to make any films that resemble any kind of originality, a remake of the 1974 film was inevitable. The remake was originally going to star and be directed by Sly Stallone, but he left for creative differences. Then Joe Carnahan took over the project but left because he didn’t agree with the studio’s choice of casting Bruce Willis as the lead. The project somehow landed in the hands of, of all people, Eli Roth, whose previous films were all torture porn.

Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is living the good life, he’s got a great job, a big house that he shares with his beautiful wife Lucy (Elizabeth Shue) and daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone). One night while he’s away at work, thieves broke into his house, murdered his wife and left his daughter in a coma. Kersey’s world has now been turned upside down and when the authority couldn’t find his wife’s killers, he decided to turn into a vigilante. I think most movie goers are familiar with either the original film or this kind of story, it’s been told several times before and unfortunately there’s nothing new here in the remake.

Joe Carnahan gets the full credit for the screenplay but apparently Roth and another writer rewrote much of what Carnahan wrote but the screen writers guild gave all the credits to Carnahan. He probably wish his name doesn’t appear in the credits because the story is quite generic. I’ve never read the novel that it’s based on so I don’t know how close it is to the source material.

I’m not a fan of Roth’s work, I don’t find his kind of horror films entertaining. I was skeptical about him doing an action picture and fortunately he did an okay job. He didn’t try to make it into a dark and serious action picture. But he never elevated the material to anything special either, the only thing he added was the extra gore during the action scenes. Also, I don’t think he really knows what kind of picture he wanted to make. Does he support vigilantism or is he against it? A lot of scenes sort of contradict each other.

The performances by the actors were fine, I think Willis tried to add some depth to his character but it didn’t really work. He’s kind of flat on many scenes. His character started out as someone who tried to avoid conflicts but he became John McClane once he lost his family. The only shining performance was Vincent D’Onofrio who played the brother of Kersey and the voice of reason in the story. All of the supporting actors were pretty generic.

At a time where gun control talks are dividing people in this country, this film doesn’t really need to be made. To be fair though, the film was finished way before the mass shootings that happened within the last few months here in the States. For the people don’t like gun violence, you best to stay away from this film. But anyone who like trashy B-action films, then you might enjoy it.


So have you seen Death Wish? Well, what did you think?

Quick thoughts on Oscars 2018 & the winners

It’s almost 10 o’clock when I started writing this post so this is not gonna be a comprehensive post. I have a busy day ahead tomorrow as my department at work is having a musical chair moment moving a bunch of us to new cubicles. Plus there’s also a snowstorm coming tomorrow (gah I sure hope I can still go to that Wrinkle In Time screening!).

Around this time last year, as I was watching the Oscar ceremony, I was still making changes to my short film Hearts Want for the zillionth time. So as a first time filmmaker, this year I got quite emotional as I heard the speech of Best live action short winner (The Silent Child), and she did the sign language as her film is about a deaf child.

Here’s the trailer for that short if you haven’t seen it already:

No comment on the red carpet as I tuned in rather late and I generally don’t care for red carpet stuff anyway. But there are some great frocks out there, these are some of my faves…

Well, the ceremony was ok overall, I enjoyed the retro-styled BW intro. ‘Armie Hammer was born when a witch puts a curse on a Ken doll’ ha!

I quite enjoyed seeing clips of classic films being used throughout the ceremony too!

It’s the 90th year of the Academy Awards, I love the segment celebrating 90 years of timeless movies!

I gotta admit I teared up a bit watching that… and it certainly made me want to go to the movies!!


As for the winners…

They’re all VERY predictable. I posted my predictions on Friday. I got ALL of the acting winners right so there was zero suspense in that department. The film I was rooting for this year, The Shape of Water, ended up getting FOUR Oscars out of the 13 it was nominated for, including Best Director AND Best Picture!

– Glad to see Sam Rockwell won, even though I have yet to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. To have THREE actors nominated from a single film is quite something and two of them won!

Dunkirk won for Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, as well as Best Editing. Well deserved on all three!! Dunkirk was a moviegoing experience like no other and largely because of the sound AND the way it was edited.

– Yaassss on The Shape of Water winning Best Production Design… the amazing, meticulously-designed set pieces truly transports me to 1960s Cold War era.

Allison Janney pretty much won every award there is for Best Supporting Actress…

– The one category I was rooting for Phantom Thread to win DID win!

– The venerable James Ivory (who made all those Merchant-Ivory films!!) won Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me By Your Name. Now, I’m even more surprised that this is his first win! Wait, what??

– And the one nominee practically everyone was rooting for… I bet even first time female DP nominee Rachel Morrison herself was probably ok w/ Mr. Deakins winning!

This tweet sums it all…

The Shape Of Water swept me off my feet in so many ways, including its beautiful, melancholic, romantic theme… so yeah, no problem whatsoever with it winning Best Score! Congrats Alexandre Desplat!

– I have been Team Shape of Water all the way, which happens to be the last film I saw in 2017! It’s films that I connect with emotionally that I love and remember the most, and this film did that and more. It was pure movie magic filled with amazing creativity and imagination… and heart. I LOVE his speech too, about dreaming big and believing in his own vision.

– This is the year for Character Actors!! Gary Oldman is a consistently-fantastic performer, an actor’s actor, who I’m always stunned to learn he’d never won an Oscar! Well, he FINALLY won one!

– Now, for the FINAL award of the night, I gotta say it was a bit suspenseful … but also humorous seeing Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty back on the podium presenting the same category they messed up so spectacularly last year!

But hey, they didn’t bungle it this year and I’m thrilled to hear the name of the film I’ve been rooting for…

I truly think The Shape of Water deserved the Best Picture win!

You can see full winners list here.

Fave Moments

Every year the host always does something fun that was rather unexpected, such as Ellen handing out pizza, Kimmel bringing tourists to the ceremony. Well this year Kimmel kind of did something similar where gathered a team of Oscar presenters/nominees to hand out snacks to unsuspecting moviegoers watching Wrinkle In Time. That was fun!

I haven’t really caught on who Tiffany Haddish was until recently. I can see why she’s so beloved, she is a hoot! I’d be down to have them present the Oscars next year!

This has got to be my favorite Oscar musical performance in a long time… not only was it a powerful performance by Mary J. Blige but the lyrics was like an anthem for the representation/inclusion/equality movement we’re having now. What a mighty performance!


I love this trio from The Last Jedi! I hope this role isn’t just a one off for Kelly Marie Tran, she’s just a delightful woman and surely a good actress too if given a chance!

Well, speaking of which, I know someone who’d agree with me on that…

And THAT speech! I love Frances McDormand‘s defiant, feisty attitude and her powerful, inspiring speech of representation and inclusion.

If you’re like me and had no idea what she meant by ‘Inclusion Rider’ in her speech, well, she kindly explained backstage…

Bravo Frances!! And congrats!! I hope to see Three Billboards next weekend, hopefully!

Ok, THIS is just hilarious!! Thanks whoever captured this moment of del Toro double checking that he indeed won!!


Biggest surprises of the night…

… not exactly a welcome one it seems.

I didn’t know about Kobe’s sexual misconduct allegations, but still I find it odd that he’s now an Oscar winner. I mean, it took how long for people like Roger Deakins to finally got his?? And SO many talented filmmakers still has ZERO Oscars!

I think this category could very well be the biggest surprise of the night. I haven’t seen Get Out yet as I’m not a big fan of horror films, but now I’m really curious to see it! Definitely another historical moment for Jordan Peele, what a year for him for getting a trifecta nominations at the Oscars with Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay.

I’m quite surprised that Lady Bird won zilch! I thought it’d win at least the screenplay category for Greta Gerwig. Having just seen it this weekend, I thought it was excellent and well-written. I’m glad it lived up to the hype!

Anyway, here’s the tally:

So that’s it folks, I gotta go to bed at some point.

What are YOUR thoughts on Oscars this year?


The obligatory Oscar 2018 predictions post: Who will win & who should win

Are you ready for the Oscars this weekend? Well like tax season, it’s not like we have a choice, it’s here whether we care about it or not. Well, it’s the year I have to do TWO filings, thanks to our short film Hearts Want, my hubby and I have to file business (LLC) tax on top of our personal one :\

What a year it has been for the film industry… I’m especially thrilled there are more discussions (that’s the start anyway before real change can take place) about women’s role and contributions that often constantly get overlooked. Before I get into more of that, check out this article on The Hollywood Reporter where THR commissioned A-list artists, sculptors and designers to reinterpret the coveted gold statuette for the #MeToo era. These are so cool, I especially LOVE #3, 11 and 12.

Jimmy Kimmel is back as the host of the 90th Oscars, I certainly hope he’d be entertaining. Check out the video of him poking fun of that crazy Best Picture mix-up, I certainly remember that moment as clear as day. Well mostly I remember how upset I was when I heard La La Land instead of the rightful winner, Moonlight! (you can see my reaction in last year’s Oscars blog recap)

Honestly, even though it’s Oscar week, I hadn’t really been thinking much about the Oscars. I didn’t even get a chance to see many of the Oscar-nominated films I’ve missed, though I did see The Breadwinner, which is one of the animated films nominated. Suffice to say, I think the nom is well deserved!

Anyhoo, I’m not predicting ALL of the categories though, and given that I haven’t seen ALL of the nominees, some predictions are merely based on what I’ve read and general buzz of the films/talents. Per tradition, I have my picks for who I think will win and the one I want to win. Click on this handy Oscar ballot from Vanity Fair if you want to see the full nominees.

So here we go:


Who will win: The Shape of Water
Who should win: The Shape of Water

Every year I have one film I’ll be rooting for. Last year it was Moonlight (which deservedly won) and this year it’s The Shape of Water. A film that swept me off my feet and one I can’t wait to see again. Like my personal favorite I championed back in 2016, Mad Max Fury Road, it’s such a singularly unique film that’s spectacularly-crafted all around. So yeah, with 13 nominations, plus a Producers Guild Awards & Directors Guild Award win already in the bag, this Guillermo del Toro’s film is surely the one to beat.



Who will win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Who should win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

I feel like this could very well be the year Oldman gets his due. He’s such a stellar actor that I’m astonished he’s only been nominated one other time before, which was in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Like McDormand, he’s won SAG, Golden Globes and BAFTA this year and Oscars always love actors portraying real life personas. I’ve only seen Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in Phantom Thread in this group, and there’s a chance they might give it to him since it’s supposedly his last role before he retires from acting. If it’s not Oldman’s year again, I actually would rather see Timothée Chalamet just based on what I’ve read about his performance so far.


 Who will win: Frances McDormand,
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Who should win: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

No doubt Frances McDormand is the frontrunner in this category, and her odds are strong here having won the Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA and a slew of other awards. She is a fantastic actress and I’m glad she’s getting a meaty role here that merits all the praise.

I do have a soft spot for Hawkins’ emotional performance as a mute janitor in love with a sea creature in The Shape of Water. It’s such a sweet, poignant yet bold performance that tugs my heartstrings unlike anything I’ve seen this year. It made me think of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Her, which is also about an unconventional love story.



Who will win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
Who should win: Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Though I really want Jenkins to win this one, I certainly wouldn’t be upset if Rockwell win it. Most likely he would given he’s swept every other major award like Golden Globes, SAG, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA. He’s a consistently good actor, but like his co-star McDormand, doesn’t always get the credit he’s due. I have heard great things about Christopher Plummer so he might prove to be the upset of the night, especially given the short time span he had replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World.



Who will win: Allison Janey, I Tonya
Who should win: Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

I’m always glad to see character actors finally getting the recognition they deserved. So in this category, I’ll be happy with whomever walk away w/ the statue. My absolute favorite is Octavia Spencer, who always enliven everything she’s in, but despite her tremendous performance in The Shape of Water, I have to hand it to Lesley Manville. Her astute performance in Phantom Thread is simply amazing, an incredibly nuanced and quiet style of acting that is so difficult to pull off. It may not be flashy, but understated can be oh so unforgettable.



Who will win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Who should win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

This is a really tough category to predict. The Academy seem to always give Best Picture and Best Director to two different films, so either The Shape of Water wins Best Picture or del Toro will get Best Director, but not both. Dunkirk is an amazing accomplishment mostly because of the way it’s directed, taking something that could’ve easily been a run-of-the-mill war action film into something cutting edge and a movie-going experience like no other. Paul Thomas Anderson could be the upset in this category, and though I admired Phantom Thread but not in love with it, I do think it’s an exquisitely-crafted filled with stunning attention to detail.



Who will win: Blade Runner 2049
Who should win: Blade Runner 2049

I feel like every year I keep predicting that Roger Deakins will win and once again I was let down. He’s now on his 14th nominations (come on Academy!!), I mean what more visual mastery does the man have to produce to finally win this thing??! I am thrilled that this year we finally have a woman join the rank as a nominee in cinematography (Rachel Morrison for Mudbound), and she might as well be the wild card in this category. But as much as I love seeing a woman breaking new ground, I really, really wish Deakins would NOT walk away empty handed again.



Who will win: Coco
Who should win: The Breadwinner/Loving Vincent

I think Pixar just might snatch the big win here, though I personally would rather see the female-directed, female-led The Breadwinner, a poignant tale about a young girl pretending to be a boy in war-torn Afghanistan. Loving Vincent is groundbreaking in that it’s the first fully painted feature film. It took a team of 125 painters to create 65,000 frames made of oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh. That’s impressive filmmaking in itself and it’s quite a beautiful film.



Who will win: Phantom Thread
Who should win: Phantom Thread

This is the only category I’m rooting for Phantom Thread to win. And for a film that’s practically a love letter for the art of costume design, I’d think this is a shoo in. The attention to detail for each piece by Mark Bridges is exquisite, it’s almost every dress on Vicky Krieps tells a story, you could say the costumes are a character in itself in this film.



Who will win: The Shape of Water
Who should win: The Shape of Water

This is Alexandre Desplat’s eighth nomination and he’s already won one for Grand Budapest Hotel in 2015. But his ethereal, romantic score is absolutely magical. It’s as magnificent and otherworldly as the film, a perfect complement to the beautiful visual and story. It’s my fave score amongst the nominees by far, and one of my faves of the year. My second favorite would be Phantom Thread, followed by Dunkirk.



Who will win: This Is Me, Greatest Showman
Who should win: Mighty River, Mudbound

The only one I have actually listened to is This Is Me, and it seems it has a pretty good chance of winning despite the song writers have already won for La La Land last year. It seems in terms of its message, it resonates well in the #MeeToo era, and it IS a catchy tune. I really don’t know who I’d want to win since I haven’t listened to the others, but for argument’s sake, how cool would it be to see Mary J. Blige win this? She has already broken ground as the first person to be nominated for acting and music in the same year for Mudbound!



Who will win: The Shape of Water
Who should win: The Shape of Water

Oh man, this is this year’s Fury Road for me hands down. Though each nominee deserved its place for its amazing production design, this fantasy romance truly transport you to the Cold War era. Having just been to the del Toro’s exhibit at Museum of Arts in Minneapolis, here’s a filmmaker whose invested painstaking detail to create the universe in each film he created. I love this article how The Shape of Water transformed Ontario into 1960s America.



Who will win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Who should win: War for the Planet of the Apes

I just realized Dunkirk wasn’t nominated in this category but Kong Skull Island was, huh?? Well, amongst the nominees, I am rooting for the excellent War for The Planet of the Apes. They should’ve created a special category for Andy Serkis for his spectacular mo-cap work! I’d have loved to see this amongst Best Picture nominees even, it’s THAT good. So I’d settle for it to win this category, as it truly deserved it.



Who will win: Call Me by Your Name
Who should win: Logan

As a writer, the screenplay category is actually the toughest for me to predict. Though I haven’t seen it yet, I feel like Call Me by Your Name has the strongest shot of winning, given James Ivory’s practically an esteemed figure in the industry. I do admire the fact that Logan managed to score a nomination given the Academy’s usually ignore the comic-book genre. Well, I’m glad it did as it’s an amazing script about a scarred hero finding redemption. It felt more like a Western Noir than a superhero film, an emotional storytelling that’s concerned with character/story than mere spectacle.



Who will win: Three Billboards
Who should win: Lady Bird

I am ashamed to say I have only seen The Shape of Water out of the five nominees. So this prediction is purely based on what I’ve read so far, and Martin McDonagh seems to have a pretty strong chance of winning this. Of course I’d love to see a woman win this category, and it’s very likely Greta Gerwig will win for her screenplay rather than her directing work.


I have a feeling this year there might not be a single film that’ll sweep all of the awards, but if that happens, I hope that’ll be The Shape of Water!

I LOVE Oscar trivia!

The GoldDerby site has compiled some interesting tidbits about this year’s nominations. Here are a few of my favorites …

  • Love LOVE Octavia Spencer in practically everything, including ‘The Shape of Water’

    Octavia Spencer‘s nomination for The Shape of Water makes her the first performer to earn three Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations in a single decade since Cate Blanchett did so in the 2000s.

  • Though Jordan Peele is not the first time an African-American director is nominated for their directing work (he’s the 5th), he IS the first African American to be honored with a trifecta nominations at the Oscars with Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay for Get Out!
  • Speaking of firsts, Dee Rees is the first African-American woman to be recognized for her screenwriting work for Mudbound in the Best Adapted Screenplay category!
  • Another ‘first’ for Mudbound, as DP Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever nominated for Cinematography!
  • And most people knew this already… Meryl Streep is an actor with the most nominations overall. Her work in The Post marks her 21st nomination, wow!

So that’s it folks. I’m only predicting 15 out of the complete 24 categories. We’ll see how many I’d get wrong Sunday night 😉

Ok, so what are some of your Oscar winner predictions for this year?

FlixChatter Review: The 15:17 To Paris (2018)


Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dorothy Blyskal
Running Time: 1h 34min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

Clint Eastwood‘s latest movie The 15:17 to Paris takes us back to August 21, 2015, what was a warm late afternoon/evening ride aboard a high speed train to Paris, France. Three young American friends decided to meet each other in Europe and visit some of the marvelous cities in Italy, Holland and France. While on the train to Paris, they encountered a real life emergency situation when a gun-carrying terrorist starts walking the aisles of the train with the intent to indiscriminately start shooting the unsuspecting train passengers, in an attempt to create a mass casualty event.

One of the three Americans, U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, who plays himself in the film, jumps to his feet and springs into action in an attempt to subdue the terrorist. His friends Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler (who also play themselves here) are there to assist Spencer before other passengers jump to aide the three Americans. I think the real life heroes were great at portraying their real life story and hope they have successful careers, in acting or otherwise. It was a unique thing for them to play themselves in the movie and I think it added to the experience.

For their efforts to subdue the terrorist and save the lives of the passengers on board the train, Spencer, Alek and Anthony were recognized as heroes of the French Republic for their gallantry and bravery. They were awarded the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his act of courage, by French president Francois Holland and the award ceremony is the final scene in the movie.

About two thirds of the movie focuses on Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler growing up in in the same town, attending the same school and how they’re often sent to the principal’s office for disciplinary action. They are shown to bond over their interest in guns, and make plans to serve in the military when they grow up. Later, they are shown to work part-time at a local smoothie shop, playing video games and making plans to lose weight. Unfortunately these scenes are not very interesting and I believe that director Clint Eastwood does a disservice to his viewers by showing them to us, as they are mostly-irrelevant portion of the American heroes’ lives.

By the time the events of what is now known as the ‘2015 Thalys train attack’ roll around, the viewers have been subjected to around an hour’s worth of pointless and dare-I-say-boring parts of the three protagonists’ lives. For me, this was precious waste of time that could have been used to shed light on what was happening on a larger scale in the world, and how this one event played into an overall image of bravery, resilience and heart. For this reason, I cannot recommend this movie and think its a big stumble for the usually reliable director.

Have you seen ‘The 15:17 To Paris’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – ANNIHILATION (2018)

Directed By: Alex Garland
Written By: Alex Garland
Runtime: 1h 55min

Annihilation, based on the book trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) join a group made up of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist to investigate mysterious environment after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns from an unexplained year-long disappearance. Lena, along with Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), and Josie (Tessa Thompson) soon learn that the laws of nature don’t apply in this strange and dangerous location.

This movie made me want to read the books immediately, because the screenplay is so well-written, and I can only imagine how fantastic the source material must be. It’s such an imaginative and suspenseful story. It’s tense and unpredictable without feeling messy. I especially like that it’s a female-led sci-fi movie, which is rare. It’s not the focus; it’s commented on once toward the beginning of the film, but otherwise the characters are interesting and well-developed without being defined by their gender. The fact that they’re portrayed by phenomenal actors makes it even better. The group has amazing chemistry, and they all give strong performances, although Gina Rodriguez as Anya is definitely the stand-out; she goes from likable to terrifying to heartbreaking seamlessly.

This film is visually stunning as well. The CGI is incredibly detailed, but not overused to the point of being over-the-top. The designs are beautiful, unsettling, and in some cases, horrifying. Even the more mundane scenes are beautifully shot; there’s a moment with a close-up of Lena holding Kain’s hand, filmed through a glass of water distorting the image, that is so subtle but so effective.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. There’s a subplot about Lena cheating on Kane with her colleague, Daniel (David Gyasi) that doesn’t really have any effect on the overall plot and doesn’t fit the movie’s tone. Maybe it’s more important in the books, but it doesn’t feel necessary in the movie, and the time wasted on it could have been better used developing the alien nature the group is exploring.

I was also a little distracted by how many times different characters exclaimed over how impossible everything in this alien area is. I understand expressing surprise and initial disbelief, but they are so adamant about things being impossible that it’s kind of ridiculous. I wanted to yell “You just saw a mutant crocodile attack your friend in a fairy garden swamp, all surrounded by a shiny bubble of science fiction! Maybe accept that everything you’ve learned until this point doesn’t apply anymore!” Maybe I’m being nitpicky, though.

Overall, though, Annihilation is excellent. It’s beautiful, it’s frightening, it’s brilliantly acted, and if the two-hour movie is that good, I can only imagine how amazing the story is when it’s fleshed out over three books. Definitely check this out.


Have you seen ‘Annihilation’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Black Panther (2018)

I had been looking forward to write a review of this film since I saw it a week ago. By now practically everyone has seen this film, as it broke all kinds of box office records. Normally I don’t really care for numbers for a big tentpole films like this one, but I am thrilled for the success of Black Panther because simply it’s a terrific film that deserved to be seen on the big screen.

The film’s storyline is set just right after the events in Captain America: Civil War (a film I also admired a lot) where T’Challa, the then heir of a fictional African country Wakanda, lost his father. The young King of Wakanda returns his technologically-advanced and supremely wealthy home. It isn’t easy to be king however, as his ascend to the throne faced many challenges. Unlike many superhero films where the villains are mostly maniacal figure hell-bent to rule/destroy the world, T’Challa’s advisory turns out to be a personal one.

I won’t go into too much details about the plot as it’s best to go into this blindly as I did. The story takes place mostly in Wakanda, but it started off in a familiar urban setting in Oakland, California. I love how relatable the story is, and you truly feel for the dilemma of the characters involved. Rich in vibranium, the indestructible metal that’s used to make Captain America’s shield, Wakanda isolated themselves from other African nations and posed as a Third World country. Run by the King’s sister Shuri, her state-of-the-art tech lab would make even Tony Stark and Bond’s Q envious! This is a country that truly can stand alone in the universe and would never need any other nation’s help in any way. Therein lies the dilemma. Why doesn’t it help other nations and fellow Africans in need? The themes of refugees and the role (and responsibility) of a powerful nation is so fitting given the current global refugee crisis.

There is even a mid-credit scene that seems to directly address the current administration with its message about building bridges instead of barriers in times of crisis. The film doesn’t shy away from the current political climate, yet somehow it isn’t preachy and the story is still organic within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s admirable in and of itself the fact that the plot fits perfectly within MCU but yet manages stands alone and in many ways, be ahead of the pack. Because the conflicts are so personal to our hero, even when the action sequences are huge and bombastic, it never overpowered the story and there are real human lives at stake.

Let’s talk about the fantastically-diverse ensemble cast that made this film so great. From its intro in Captain America: Civil War, I already loved Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, but here we get to see his dramatic chops. The charismatic actor’s got an effortless regal vibe about him, plus he looks just as spectacular as a monarch as he is a superhero! He’s surrounded by a phenomenal cast, from veteran actors like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, to relatively-new-but-accomplished young stars like Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira. I have to admit I had a gleeful smile watching two of the Tolkien white guys, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, reunited in this movie. The latter had more to do here and he provided some of the comic relief along with Wright’s Shuri.

Kudos to writers Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole for writing a villain who is multi-dimensional and someone we actually empathize with. Jordan displayed a layered performance as well as a towering physical magnetism as Erik Killmonger. Both he and Boseman are such strapping [read: hot] lads that their fight scenes are quite breathtaking to behold, but the action actually mean something instead of just a gratuitous display of destructive force [*cough* Man of Steel *cough*]. The filmmakers also created a conflict that has political/cultural significance that raises the stakes, yet keeping it grounded with human emotion.

I’d say the film might pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, considering the number of female characters with a real arc instead of used merely as accessories. The real MVPs are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and a Wakandan spy, and Danai Gurira as Okoye, a Wakandan general of the all-female special forces. Gurira’s army of bad-ass women easily give Wonder Woman‘s Amazonians a run for their money. So gratifying to see SO many heroic women of color on screen who are strong in terms of physical strength as in their intellect and resolve. Nakia is an especially inspiring character worthy of the King’s love and admiration, and Nyong’o has an amazing screen presence. Forget Black Widow, I’d love to see a spinoff with Nakia and Okoye in their own standalone Marvel movie!

This is what I called ‘fun with substance’ kind of movie, which is what Marvel has excelled at by hiring indie filmmakers to helm their blockbusters. The film showed off the huge $200 mil budget in terms of visuals and action set pieces, but the best part of it is still the story and its characters. But man, what a feast for the eyes it truly is! Apparently Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige spent more $$$ on this film to get the wealthy-beyond-measure world of Wakanda just right (according to Vulture). The towering skyscrapers, the hi-tech trains/spaceships, not to mention the incredibly rich costumes that would hopefully earn Ruth E. Carter some Costume Design nominations. They look stylishly-futuristic while still honoring its tribal African roots.

I love that Black Panther has a ton of girl power both in front and behind the camera. Its cinematographer Rachel Morrison has just broke new ground as the first female DP ever to be nominated for an Oscar (for Mudbound)! Her stunning visual work here is quite Oscar-worthy as well. There’s such colorful vibrancy in this film that’s complemented by the lively score by Coogler’s longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this film. The stakes felt real and there were moments of genuine sadness, but it also didn’t forget to have fun because hey, it’s still a superhero movie. I LOVE the exhilarating car chases that shows off Black Panther’s prowess. Basically the entire scene in Busan, South Korea is just so freaking cool! I mentioned Shuri reminds me a bit of Bond’s Q, well, some of the action scenes here at times feels like a Bond film but thankfully without the male chauvinism aspect.

Now, it’s not a perfect film as there are some pacing issues and some parts seemed to go on longer than necessary. But really, those are really small quibbles in a largely masterful work by director Ryan Coogler. He’s joined a growing number of indie filmmakers like the Russo Brothers and Taika Waititi who’ve stepped up to the task of making such quality superhero films for Marvel. I’m glad that they now have a fruitful career ahead of them, as I want to see more of their work.

Diverse representation alone doesn’t make a film automatically good. But Black Panther did the diverse cast justice by giving them something worthy to do in a well-written, thought provoking film. And THAT is definitely something worth praising about. I hope Hollywood would finally realize that racial diversity and inclusion does pay at the movies! It may not be the first black comic-book-based movie, but it certainly the biggest and best one to date.

A friend from work put it best, ‘Forget about Marvel universe, give me a Wakanda universe!’ Hey I’m down with that! #WakandaForever

So have you seen ‘Black Panther’? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF Insider Series: NOBODY’S SON short film & my interview w/ filmmaker Brian Austin

It’s time for another Twin Cities Film Fest INSIDER SERIES event! One of the perks of being a member of TCFF is you get to see various indie films on the big screen AND also get to partake in the Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards.

This February, TCFF is showcasing a dramatic short filmed in Ely, a beautiful town in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Thanks to TCFF’s managing director Bill Cooper and filmmaker Molly Katagiri, who worked as script supervisor on the film, for arranging the interview with writer/director Brian Austin.


Dillon (Jared Ivers) has been moved again. A familiar life of being passed from one household to the next, but this time it’s much worse. Dillon struggles with speaking up, in order to expose his abuser. He reaches out to any adult that may hear ; but will anyone really listen?

This event will take place on
Monday, Feb. 19 7:30PM*

1625 West End Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55416


RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!

What’s the inspiration for this film? Is there something personal in the story in any way?

I went through a terrible upbringing and I wanted to relive it and put it on screen.

Tell me a bit about your creative process. Did you write the script? If so, how long did it take you to write it and how did Nobody’s Son project come together?

I am a somewhat good writer and with my other writers Charles Dutka and Gerald Dahling, I composed a very good script that I needed to make as a film. I wrote the script myself with Gerald Dahling for LA Film School for my Associates in Film in LA, California Hollywood.2 I had to take two script writing classes and my first script my teacher didn’t like and I only had a few days to finish the second one so I came up with my childhood experiences growing up because it was easy to remember those trying days and I wanted to have a interesting and compelling story to tell.

Would you tell me a bit about filming in Ely? I believe you went to school in that town?

I decided to make the film where the events happened initially… I knew it would be more expensive but money was no big deal.  I went to Ely Elementary school till 2nd grade then moved to a nearby town .. my experiences in ely were mostly bad.. especially since I was raised by my cousin and her husband.. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.. and it was a very difficult childhood.. the only thing that helped me escape mentally was baseball. I turned out to be a great baseball player (pitcher) at a young age and that was my love.

How long was principal photography? What’s the biggest challenges for you as an indie filmmaker?

It took 9 days to shoot .. we were up by 5 and stopped around 1 or 2 in the morning.. the biggest challenge was to feel confident in my abilities as a director.. I was relying on a Assistant Director for too much of the shoot because I didn’t believe I could do some of the things necessary to make a quality movie. As I progressed through the days, I decided to fire the AD and work by myself and my DP and script writer to help come up with he shot lists for the next day. I felt very comfortable directing after I fired that AD… ha ha 🙂

Brian with lead actor Jared Ivers who played Dillon

Lastly, what’s next for you? Specifically in regards to Nobody’s Son, or in general about your filmmaking career?

I am making a feature finally.. It will most likely be filmed in LA and should take a few months to shoot.. it will be a very expensive film to make but sometimes you can’t skimp on quality and need to pay for what you get in the movie industry.  I am still trying to pitch Nobody’s Son as a series on TV or Netflix.. We have been with my script writers.. writing several episodes of the tv series already and plan on pitching it soon as a pilot first for tv.

Molly and Brian on the set of NOBODY’S SON

Thanks Brian for taking the time to chat w/ me!

GET TICKETS to Nobody’s Son screening

RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!

*6:30pm Reception | 7pm Red Carpet Interviews/Photos
7:30pm Film Screening | 8:15pm Post Film Q&A

Valentine Special – A tribute to the film-related influences that inspire ‘Hearts Want’

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Today is actually the only night where I don’t have somewhere to be this week which is a treat for me. So my hubby and I are going to get some takeout from one of our fave restaurants (most likely Thai) while my hubby treat us w/ some chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert. #yum

I often post something romance-related on V-day, such as favorite unconventionally-romantic films, cinematic romances or favorite romantic couples. But for this year I thought, since my short film is an indie romance, why not share some of my film influences (whether it’s authors, filmmakers, talents or films) over the years. My short film is a subset of the feature screenplay of the same name. It centers on former lovers Lily & Jacques who reunite for a play by their drama teacher after seven years apart.

If you haven’t seen it yet, below is the teaser to my short film…

Jane Austen

This is no surprise at all to those who’ve read my blog regularly or follow my filmmaking journey. I mentioned in my the film’s crowdfunding campaign that the story is partly inspired by my favorite Austen novel, Persuasion.

There’s something so timeless about long lost love and second chances… and how the heart doesn’t always fully recover no matter how long time has passed.

A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman… He ought not. He does not.
– Captain Wentworth

Seven years has passed when Anne Elliot were reunited with Captain Wentworth, but he hasn’t forgiven the fact that she had broken their engagement. The agony of repressed feelings and fear of losing the ones they truly love is something so relatable even in modern society… and the fact that the story is told from Anne’s perspective, a woman, makes it all the more significantly poignant.

I love that in Persuasion, Anne pointed out to Wentworth’s friend Captain Harville that many literary works in that day were all written by men. ‘Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story’ Anne says. That’s all the more reason I wanted to tell Hearts Want from the woman’s perspective, who also has to own up to the decision she made seven years prior when she left the man she loved.

The beauty of Austen’s work is that they’re filled with wonderful, fully-formed female characters! Yes there are iconic men like Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth, but for me, it’s the inner strength of Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood that always inspire me. Their patience and endurance seems like a lost art in today’s world, but don’t let their demure demeanor fool you, nor mistake their perseverance for weakness. As I’ve mentioned in this post, Elinor loves ardently but she’s also fiercely realistic and principled, and she perseveres despite her emotional suffering. In essence, she is a survivor.

Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Though I don’t go to the theatre as much as I would have liked, I’ve always been fascinated by the world of theatre. I have seen Phantom of the Opera three times on stage, including the not-so-successful sequel Love Never Dies in Adelphi Theatre, London.

The critics panned this cinematic adaptation but I LOVE the lush visuals and sensuality of this POTO adaptation. There’s such a titillating mystery of love in a historic, vintage theatre. The setting of where a film is set can add so much to the atmosphere and mood of the film, especially in a romance. That’s part of the reason I set the love story of Hearts Want in a theatre and I insisted that we filmed it in 100+ year-old The Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. It may not look like it from the outside but the inside could’ve been an antique theatre somewhere in Europe.

Amma Assante’s Belle

As a fan of period dramas, I’ve seen a boat load of them, but it’s rare to see a strong woman of color at the center of the story. Belle is a historical romance set in 18th century England, so naturally it’s scandalous for a prominent figure in London society to take in a mixed-race girl as an adopted daughter.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in ‘Belle’

I love that Belle is an intelligent, elegant and headstrong woman who isn’t afraid to speak her own mind. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is exquisite in the title role and her beauty definitely inspires my female protagonist Lily, who’s a mixed-race woman born in London.

Jane Eyre

True love is never easy. It doesn’t get more tumultuous than Jane & Rochester’s gothic romance. As the old adage says… “If you love someone set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t, they never were.” Easier said (or watched) than done, surely.

Every time I watched a Jane Eyre adaptations (the 1983 with Zelah Clarke & Timothy Dalton and 2006 version with Ruth Wilson & Toby Stephens are my personal faves), I’m always in awe of Jane’s resolve to stick to her principles.

Inspiration can truly come from many forms. I don’t usually listen to pop music, my car radio is always tuned to Classical MPR, so I often come across certain songs from YouTube. I remember seeing this music video of 1983 Jane Eyre set to a song called The Reason. I thought the lyrics about being sorry for the hurt one’s caused and wanting to start anew resonates with me so much… we all have made mistakes in the past, don’t we all wish we get a second chance to make things right?

Stanley Weber

Every writer needs a muse 😉 This dashing Frenchman isn’t exactly the first actor who’ve inspired me in my literary journey. A certain Scotsman actually inspired me to write a novel that I never got around to finishing.

But Stanley is the first actor who’ve inspired my first screenplay! It just so happens I had seen him in a British rom-com (Not Another Happy Ending) as I just started writing my script and I was instantly smitten.

Photo by Madame Figaro magazine

Yes, the tall, wavy-haired, blue-eyed actor is extremely easy on the eyes, but the more I learned about him, the more I was intrigued by his versatility as an actor (juggling theatre, tv and movies in his native France and beyond) as well as his zest for life. I’d think that people who has such a passion for life would just be as passionate about love when he falls for someone. The Parisian also seems like a free spirit with a voracious love for the ocean (hence the sailing scene in Hearts Want), motorbikes, and traveling. Heck even his Instagram photos are inspiring!

If I had a time machine, I’d transport myself to Théâtre de l’Atelier in Paris to see Stanley on stage in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. Interestingly enough, the play has a Minnesota roots as the protagonist is from St. Paul! There are similarities between the play’s male character Mat Burke to Hearts Want‘s Jacques, in fact, my feature script opens with a scene from this very play!

So yeah, thank you for the inspiration Stanley… he’s definitely my dream leading man if I ever get to make the full version of Hearts Want 😉

Casablanca/Roman Holiday

The ‘love is letting go’ theme is perhaps more beautiful to witness in the movies than to experience in real life. Few romances are as heart-wrenching as the love story of Rick and Ilsa set during WWII. The WWII-themed play at the beginning of Hearts Want‘s short was partly inspired by this film, though the leather bomber jacket Jacques’ sporting is directly inspired by Gregory Peck’s 12 O’Clock High.

Speaking of Mr. Peck, some of you might know I was at one time obsessed with him. In fact I still owned a bunch of his dvds. The one that gets played a ton is Roman Holiday, and that beautiful but bittersweet finale gets me every single time.

I’ve mentioned that exquisite scene in my tribute to Roman Holiday

Joe walking alone in the empty palace corridor as everyone has left, his steps echoing as he reluctantly leaves the building. As he passes the two guards, he still takes a glimpse towards the stage once more. Empty. The music swells up, forcing us to realize they’re never going to see each other again. Joe keeps on walking towards the camera and disappears, carrying the memory of that day in Rome that he too will cherish for as long as he lives. Best. Finale. Ev-er.


I remember seeing this film on a nearly empty theatre at a press screening and I almost couldn’t move when the end credits rolled. It’s the story of a lonely writer dealing with an impending divorce who finds love when he least expects it. There’s such a captivating male vulnerability in Joaquin Phoenix’s soulful performance as he slowly but intensely falls for his AI Samantha (voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson).

The euphoric joy and intense sadness he feels for Samantha is so palpable, it’s perhaps one of the most emotional love story I’ve ever seen. Just because the love story is not between two human beings doesn’t make it less emotional. Samantha said it best…

“Falling in love is a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a socially-acceptable form of insanity.”

Age of Innocence

I recall a review that says something about the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain depicted in this film. It’s certainly one of the most painfully-exquisite portrayal of unrequited love.

Newland Archer: You give me a first glimpse of a real life, and you ask me to carry on with a false one. No one can endure that.

Ellen Olenska: I’m enduring it.

This may not be a violent film from Scorsese in physical term, but it’s certainly a vicious one in terms of matters of the heart. Visually-ravishing as well as a visceral depiction of the agony of love. I guess I’m a sucker for tragic tale of impossible love, which has been done countless times, but few are as beautifully-crafted as this one.

Notting Hill

Last but not least… I have to include at least one rom-com and nobody does the genre as well as Richard Curtis! The Anglophile in me naturally gravitates towards the London scenery, which is practically a character in itself in the film! It really makes me want to set my story in England, though I ended up choosing a small seaside town south of London that has a prominent theatre Hearts Want, it’s called Chichester. There is one a similarity between Julia Roberts’ Anna Scott in that my protagonist Lily is a successful actress, but of course the circumstances of the story is completely different.

In any case, I thought the opening scene is the perfect introduction to the film’s protagonist and the world he lives in.

Ok so I don’t necessarily count Shakespeare as one of my major influences, despite having seen quite a number of his plays. But I’ve always admired playwrights, hence I have a playwright (Martin) as a prominent character in my feature script and Hearts Want is the name of his play that reunited Lily & Jacques.

The Bard certainly knows a thing or two about writing romances. As he says in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…

The course of true love never did run smooth.

Thoughts on these talents/films? What are some of your own film influences?


FlixChatter Review: 12 Strong (2018)


Review by: Vitali Gueron

The movie 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers is based on author Doug Stanton‘s book Horse Soldiers, which tells the story of U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary officers sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Peña, 12 Strong follows the group of Task Force Dagger who is sent to Afghanistan to fight with General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Afghanistan Northern Alliance and dispatched to a mountainous region of Afghanistan to conduct unconventional warfare against the Taliban forces who had occupied the region.

Hemsworth w/ Navid Nagahban

Hemsworth, (best known for playing Thor, the hammer-wielding god of thunder) plays Captain Mitch Nelson, a character inspired by real life Green Beret commander Mark Nutsch who led the covert, horse-mounted mission that saw his 14-man Green Beret team unite with his Afghan allies’ horsemen to break out of the Hindu Kush mountains, seize a symbolic ancient shrine, and overthrow the Taliban regime. Nelson befriends and gains the trust of General Dostum (played by Navid Nagahban) and the General offered the Green Beret Special Forces team crucial “hooves on the ground” support.

Michael Shannon

According to the declassified story, General Dostum asked his American allies of what sort of help they could provide to destroy the Taliban forces blocking their exit from the mountains. It was at this time that Mark Nutsch taught them of the satellite-guided bombs. Nutsch and the Green Berets acted as ground spotters to call in precision strikes from giant B-52s flying high overhead coming from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. As the bombs fell on Taliban tanks and positions, General Dostum’s men charged through the bomb smoke on horseback wiping out the remaining Taliban.

The film is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who has given us such classics as Black Hawk Down, Top Gun, and Armageddon, and co-produced with Alcon Entertainment and Black Label Media. Bruckheimer presents us with a riveting story in our recent history that many Americans might not know about. He also jam-packs 12 Strong with big-screen military fireworks that he is all too well known for. This is where we lose some key depth of storytelling and character development for more intricate action sequences and extravagant explosions on a massive scale.

Overall, the movie acts as tribute to soldiers whose contributions went unheralded for years. Even though it doesn’t have the strong emotional connection of other war movies such as Black Hawk Down or Hacksaw Ridge, this one is still a remarkable true story of great heroism that we should all keep in our memory and be grateful for the real life heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice and risked their lives for our American freedoms.

Have you seen ’12 Strong’? Well, what did you think?