Netflix Original Movie: The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

Oh where do I begin with this one… frankly, I’m still a bit discombobulated by what I just watched last night. When I saw the trailer over a week ago, The Last Thing He Wanted looks like an intriguing political thriller, and the fact that acclaimed writer/director Dee Rees is at the helm made me even more intrigued to see it. After I watched the film, I found out it’s based on Joan Didion‘s Orange Prize-winning novel, the UK’s ‘s most prestigious literary prizes. Well, despite SO much going for it, plus a star-studded cast, this movie still doesn’t amount to much.

The film actually started off to a pretty riveting start. We see Anne Hathaway‘s Elena McMahon, a veteran DC-based reporter who’s covering El Salvador’s political crisis in the early 1980s with her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez). They barely escape with their lives as paramilitary troops storm the press office and started shooting. But as soon as she’s back in DC, her editor ends up sending her to cover Reagan’s re-election campaign. She took it begrudgingly, only after Alma encouraged her to take the assignment as a way for her to interrogate top ranking politicians. One of them is George Shultz (Julian Gamble), a then Secretary of State of the Reagan administration, whom she suspects is involved in weapons smuggling in Nicaragua.

During the campaign trail, she gets a call from her absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) who turns out to be ailing in the hospital. It’s when Dick asks her daughter to be his sub to complete a ‘deal of a lifetime,’ which involves flying to a mysterious location with a huge amount of mysterious cargo, that things start to really go awry. The place she lands turns out to be Nicaragua and finds out her Dementia-suffering father is actually an arms broker. Soon things spiral out of control and it’s clear Elena is out of her depth.

I have to say the plot is actually not that convoluted on paper, but somehow the muddled script and haphazard direction makes it feel that way. About a half hour in, I was already pretty frustrated with the movie… and growing even more irritated by Hathaway’s melodramatic acting. Initially, I sympathized with Elena and rather enjoyed seeing a plain-looking Hathaway in a role I don’t normally see her do. But her narration and [over]acting style here quickly becomes more and more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the camera work with its random focus-shifting style makes me a bit dizzy. I don’t know if the DP is trying to add tension in the many scenes of people having conversations, but it’s quite distracting.

Then there’s Ben Affleck (who reportedly replaced Nic Cage) in a role of a mysterious ambassador. As a comic-book fan, obviously I get a slight kick out of seeing former Batman and Catwoman on screen, but soon I also get irritated by Afflecks’ lethargic acting style though his screen time is pretty minimal. Then suddenly there’s a scene that comes out of nowhere that takes me out of the movie entirely. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): What’s with the half-boob nudity?? Is Dee Rees trying to brazenly show a nude woman who’s a breast cancer survivor?? I think we got that point across from her expository dialog with her dad earlier on.  By that point, my hubby and I just looked at each other, completely aghast by this befuddled, incoherent mess that’s unfolding before us on screen. I have to say Affleck’s expression is basically the same throughout the movie, whether in bed with a naked woman or eating pie with his colleague.

Now, I’m not familiar with Didion’s work but I’m willing to bet the novel is far better than its screen adaptation. In fact, I still think it’s an intriguing story that when done properly, would be a potent international thriller. But the way it’s adapted here, screenplay written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, feels disjointed with an uneven pacing from start to finish. The central character Elena is nearly impossible to relate to as a human being, and her motives are incomprehensible. Her relationship with her father is an odd one that doesn’t ring true. Even the way the film tries to paint her as a caring mother who’s constantly on the phone with her young, unhappy daughter in a boarding school barely registers.

The supporting cast is pretty much wasted here, though not because of the actors’ performances. The one character I find intriguing is Perez’s Alma and Edi Gathegi‘s Jones, but both characters are so underwritten. There’s also Toby Jones appearing towards the end as an expat who runs the hotel Elena is staying at. Now, I like Toby Jones, he’s a great character actor, but their scene here feels so disconnected from the rest of the movie and goes on way too long. Speaking of the ending… well, as if the rest of the movie weren’t enough of a head-scratcher, the finale is one big WTF moment. To add insult to injury, the finale also feels like a ‘Minnesota goodbye’ where it just went on and on, complete with all kinds of slo-mo and over-drawn narration.

Now, I’ve described this film in the worst possible way and it pains me to do so. This is the third* feature by Dee Rees, and I know just how tough it is for a female director of color to get a job in Hollywood. I suppose every director should be allowed to have a misstep or two, heck, most male directors continue to get job after job even after making multiple misfires. In any case, I wouldn’t use this one as a film that define Rees’ work, but it’s truly unfortunate that this movie is as bad as it is given all the elements–story, setting, cast–seemingly in place.

* I incorrectly said this was Rees’ first feature in my original post, but she had done two features prior to this, Pariah and Mudbound.


Have you seen The Last Thing He Wanted? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks #23: Love in the Tech Age

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I can’t believe it’s been five years since I participated in this weekly Thursday Movie Picks blogathon that’s 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… Love in the Tech Age.

For this particular post, I’m going to keep it brief and share some of my fave scenes from the film:

HER

In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need.

This film just breaks my heart!! This is one my top 10 films of 2013 (check out my review) and I still think it’s one of the greatest Joaquin Phoenix’s performances of all time, in fact, I would even say it’s one of Scarlett Johansson‘s best performances despite not appearing physically on screen. Hey, voice acting is still acting, folks. It’s a deeply emotional film that’s exquisitely beautiful and heartbreaking, perhaps much more so than many romantic films between two real humans. These two scenes are my favorites, though the entire movie is filled w/ memorable moments.


WALL*E

In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.

Clearly humans aren’t always necessary for memorable cinematic romances. Wall*E and Eve are the cutest non-humanoid couple ever put on screen, complete with its own adorable meet-cute! Rivaling the marriage scene in Up, this could be the most romantic Pixar movie ever, while still delivering a potent environmental-conscious message.


You’ve Got Mail

Two business rivals who despise each other in real life unwittingly fall in love over the Internet.

Oh how I miss Nora Ephron! This rom-com staple is no doubt one of the best films directed by women. Though the technology might be totally dated, the story is still so timeless. I love rewatching this and feeling nostalgic about using modem [ha! just kidding!] I guess Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have mastered building chemistry without actually meeting in person, though I’m glad there are more scenes of them together here than in Sleepless in Seattle. Bonus points for having Jane Austen’s reference here as the characters were discussing Pride & Prejudice in the cafe scene.


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

BEST OF THE DECADE LIST: 10 Best TV Shows of 2010s

I’ve seen a lot of people on the internet list their favorite films from the 2010s, but I don’t see many lists their favorite TV shows from the last decade. With the popularity of comic books-based films at the beginning of 2000s, Hollywood has decided to abandon any original ideas for films. They also decided to reboot or remake their past popular franchises, heck they’ll willing to start a franchise on any film that they deemed “profitable”, no one asked to see a sequel to Sicario, but it happened anyway. So, anyone who wants to see anything that resembles original ideas, television is the place to go.

The last decade were full of great shows that it’s hard to just pick ten but here are my 10 favorite/best shows from the 2010s:

10. BALLERS, aired from 2015-2019

A show about an ex-football player (Dwayne Johnson) hustling his way to the top of the NFL world. It’s kind of similar to ENTOURANGE but it’s about football players and coaches in the NFL instead of actors and filmmakers in Hollywood. With him being such a high in-demand actor for big studio films, I don’t know how Dwayne Johnson was able to squeeze in his time to star in this show for 5 seasons but he’s great in each season and never looked like he just phoned in like other actors when they appeared in TV shows. The show introduced me to John David Washington who played a diva wide receiver.

9. HARRY’S LAW, aired from 2011-2012

The only show from a major network, NBC, that’s on my list here. It’s a short-lived show that lasted only 2 seasons, I was not happy when NBC decided to cancel it. The show’s about a once highly paid patent lawyer, played by the great Kathy Bates, who lost drives in her career and got fired from her firm. She then decided to start her own firm and hired a bunch of misfits. Their goal is to help the little people in the worst part of the city of Cincinnati. The show was created by TV power producer and writer David E. Kelley but it never found its audience and I was hoping Netflix, Amazon or Hulu would pick it up, but it never happened. I’m not surprised the show never found success in the ratings since it’s kind of unusual TV drama and doesn’t have the usual happy ending in each episode.

8. SILICON VALLEY, aired from 2014-2019

A hilarious show about a bunch of tech nerds trying to start the next big tech company in Silicon Valley. Created by Mike Judge, who worked in tech world himself, it’s well-written and very accurate look at the super rich and powerful community that for a long time not too many people knew about. Having worked in the tech start-up companies for most of my career, I can concur that a lot of things happened in the show also happened in real life. The show recently ended its run and I wish they would continue for at least two more seasons. But it’s one of the few shows that I thought its last episode was quite good.

7. BILLIONS, airing 2016-Current

A show about two powerful figures in NYC who’s trying to take down one another and will do anything to accomplish their goals. It’s full of great twists and the performances by the two leads, Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis are spectacular. My only wish is that the show ends on a high note and I think the upcoming season should be its last.

6. BLACK MIRROR, airing 2011-Current

While not every episode worked but this modern-day Twilight Zone show about how our current technology can ruin our lives is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It’s cleverly written and full of great performances well known actors. I thought many of the episodes looked like a mini movie since they were well shot and directed. White Christmas is definitely my favorite episode. The latest season episodes were quite disappointing but at least they tried to come up with something clever. Hopefully the next season will be better.

5. STRANGER THINGS, airing 2016-Current

A love letter show to the sci-fi thriller films of the 80s and it’s Netflix biggest show. While I wouldn’t call it the most original show, the combination of great performances and well written story lines really makes it one of the best shows in TV right now.

4. THE AMERICANS, aired 2013-2018

Set in the cold war era of 1980s, two Russian spies pose as the average American family in the suburbs of Washington DC. They have two kids who doesn’t know that they’re Russian spies. It’s full of great twists and turns and great performances by the two leads Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys. It’s one of the shows that ended with a very good last episode.

3. GAME OF THRONES, aired 2011-2019

Yes, the last season of this show was disappointing, but I don’t think that should taint the previous seasons of great story and performances. A mix of fantasy and our current political climate, it’s full of great twists and unexpected deaths of main characters. It’s one of the few shows that kept me on the edge of my seat every time I watched it.

2. BREAKING BAD, aired 2008-2013

This show actually started in the late 2000s, but it didn’t end until 2013, so I think it’s safe to put it on my list here. There’s not much to say about this show because it won several awards during its run and I think many people have seen it, so I assume you’d agree with me that it definitely belongs in the best shows of the 2010s list.

1. JUSTIFIED, aired 2010-2015

Probably the most underrated show of the decade and I was surprised that it lasted for more than one season. But I’m glad it did because I really love this show and I hope to see it on the big screen someday. I’ve seen Timothy Olyphant in films where he’s the side character and I was a never a fan of him. But then I started watching this show and his performance as U.S. Marshal Raylan Given became one of my favorite fictional heroes. This was a well written and executed show that got better in each season. I also loved the last episode, a well-constructed conclusion to a great show.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

WESTWORLD, airing 2016-Current 

I probably would’ve put this show on the list but currently it only has two seasons, but I think it’s one of best thing currently on TV.

 

 

THE WALKING DEAD, airing 2010-Current

The first 5 seasons of this show was one of the best on TV, but I stopped watching it about 3 years ago. The writing has gone downhill and they killed off so many of the characters that I cared about, it’s hard for me to keep watching it.

– Post by Ted Saydalavong


Those are the shows I thought were the best from the last decade. I know that I left out some other well-known shows.

What are some your own favorite shows of the past decade?

FlixChatter Review – OLYMPIC DREAMS (2020)

After its World Premiere at the 2019 SXSW, Jeremy Teicher’s movie Olympic Dreams made its Minnesota premiere at TCFF. The movie stars Nick Kroll as Ezra, a dentist who’s come to volunteer his dentistry skills at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It also stars Alexi Pappas as Penelope, an American cross-country skier who has qualified to complete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games but doesn’t know any of the other athletes in the athlete village and also feels awkward around most of them anyways. Penelope is disappointed after a less than desirable finish in her competition and meets Ezra in the cafeteria of the athletes village and a friendship starts to develop between the athlete and dentist, who is more than ten years her elder.

Alexi Pappas + Nick Kroll

When Penelope tries to pursue Ezra as something more than a friend at first, Ezra rejects her pursuit, telling her that he has a sort-of girlfriend at home. This leads Penelope and Ezra down a rocky path, filled with spending some time apart, and Penelope meeting another athlete — real life free style skier Gus Kenworthy, who makes sure to quickly inform Penelope that he is not interested in being more than friends with her since he is gay. Gus helps Penelope and Ezra reconnect and they end up going outside the Olympic Village on a tour of the local culture, sights and restaurants of PyeongChang. But will they ever become anything more than friends? To find out, you’ll have to catch the movie from IFC Films when it come out early next year.

Pappas + Gus Kenworthy

Olympic Dreams is the first narrative film ever shot in a real Olympic Athlete Village — the entire film was shot on location during the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The director, Jeremy Teicher, also acted as the movie’s cinematographer, and sound recorder in addition to directing the movie, according to his website. It is charming, funny at time and beautifully-shot. It reminded me of why I love the Olympics and makes me think that anything is possible when attending the Olympic Games, including starting a physical relationship with someone. Gus Kenworthy shares in the movie (*unclear if this was real or not) that one of his buddies lost his virginity at the last Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I had a blast watching this movie and came out of it with a huge smile.

The movie was written by the trio of Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher, and Nick Kroll; and mostly succeeded in guiding this gentle love story in the backdrop of one of the most well know world-wide sporting events we have in the history of sports.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen OLYMPIC DREAMS? Well, what did you think? 

New Teaser + Poster Spotlight: A24’s The Green Knight

It’s not every week I do a post about an upcoming movie. But hey, after Oscars wrapped this past weekend, I’m just looking forward what’s in store this year. I had never even heard of this movie before, but when I saw this provocative poster came across my Insta, courtesy of A24, I knew I had to post about it!

It’s funny that I actually just talked about Dev Patel w/ a fellow blogger Brittany from Rambling Film blog and that we’re both crushing on him right now 😉 How awesome to see that he’s actually the leading man of this movie, in a Medieval fantasy no less!

Here’s the premise, thanks to Paste Magazine:

An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. From visionary filmmaker David Lowery comes a fresh and bold spin on a classic tale from the knights of the round table.

Behold the new trailer!

Glad I read a little bit about the story of the poem it’s based on, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, whose original writer is unknown. Sir Gawain is a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, and of course King Arthur is an extremely popular literary subject that’s been adapted countless times on film and other forms of media. Right away it gives me a bit of Game of Thrones meets Tarsem’s Immortals vibe. The fact that it’s A24 developing it makes me extra excited for it… it looks ominous + mysterious, and a foreboding score. Not sure if it’s going to get an R rating, but looks like it’s likely pretty violent. Now, if only we can have Sean Harris play a mute for once? Sorry but I can’t stand his hoarse voice, ugh!


As I mentioned, I love Dev Patel’s casting, who over the years has proven himself to be a versatile actor who can play virtually any role. He isn’t the first actor I’d imagine to play a heroic Medieval knight, but why shouldn’t he be? I love how many theaters in the Twin Cities have incorporated many actors of colors in many literary classic adaptations of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, so why can’t they do the same in films and tv works? The important part is the actor captures the ‘essence’ of the character. Most recently Patel also played a famous literary character by Charles Dickens in The Personal History of David Copperfield.

The rest of the cast includes Alicia Vikander (Lady Bertilak) and Joel Edgerton (Lord Bertilak), as well as Barry Keoghan, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, and Ralph Ineson. As for the filmmaker, I’ve only seen Pete’s Dragon (which I love) by David Lowery, but his most recent film The Old Man & the Gun starring Robert Redford is highly acclaimed by critics.

I’m glad I’ll be seeing more of Patel this Spring. The the David Copperfield movie is to be released on May 8 and per IMDb, The Green Knight is released on May 29.


What do you think of THE GREEN KNIGHT?

New Trailer + Poster Spotlight: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

Something super fun just arrived in my inbox today! I was in the middle of a rather long, tedious training for my new job, but upon opening this email, a huge smile formed on my face!

Ooooh!! I absolutely adore this poster, I wish I could have it to hang on my wall right now! Wes Anderson‘s upcoming movie has The Adventures of Tintin vibe to it, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé that I grew up reading religiously as a kid.

Here’s the premise…

THE FRENCH DISPATCH brings to life a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city. It stars Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.

What a cast!! I know lots of [thirsty] people are going nuts over ‘it boy’ Timothée Chalamet writing naked in a bath tub 🤣 – I didn’t even notice him until an article specifically mentioned about it in the headline! In any case, I wonder if he’ll actually be speaking French in the movie? The internet would probably spontaneously combust!

Upon further reading, the Tintin vibe seems intentional given Tintin is a globe-trotting reporter. Per Wiki, the film has been described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city”, centering on three storylines.

When speaking to French publication Charente Libre last year, Anderson noted: “The story is not easy to explain, [It’s about an] American journalist based in France [who] creates his magazine. It is more a portrait of this man, of this journalist who fights to write what he wants to write. It’s not a movie about freedom of the press, but when you talk about reporters you also talk about what’s going on in the real world.”

Per tradition of Wes Anderson’s movies, it’s another awesome ensemble cast, many of whom have worked with the Texas-born filmmaker. The screenplay was written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman.

Now here’s the trailer! 

It’s classic Wes w/ his usual visual flair, distinct camera work and quirks! I love it!! It looks so much like Grand Budapest Hotel and I saw some of the cast are back as well. I can’t wait to step into this world of global journalism filled w/ intrigue and idiosyncrasies.

It’s scheduled to be released on July 24.


What do you think of The French Dispatch?

Musings on 2020 Oscars – The Good, the bad + the WTF

Per tradition, I don’t really watch red carpet show, I just sort of let it play on my iPad while I was making dinner.

If I had to make one comment about fashion though, it’d have to be Natalie Portman‘s … what a statement she made with her outfit she wore to the Oscars!

Here are the snubbed female directors embroidered on Natalie Portman’s cape:

  • Scarfaria (Hustlers)
  • Wang (The Farewell)
  • Gerwig (Little Women)
  • Diop (Atlantics)
  • Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
  • Matsoukas (Queen & Slim)
  • Har’el (Honey Boy)
  • Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

Now, I’m glad I’ve properly sat down by the time the opening song/dance started with the Janelle Monáe celebrating some of 2019 biggest hits… many of which weren’t nominated (Midsommar, Dolemite Is My Name). Miss Monáe almost had a wardrobe malfunction of sort, but she recovered well and delivered a fantastic rousing performance!

First Oscar is oh-so-predictable… I have no issue w/ Brad Pitt but honestly, I don’t really get all the fuss about his performance in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood [shrug] I suppose Brad’s done plenty of great things as a producer and championing diverse storytelling, so I’m not totally upset by his win.

So here are some of the highlights…

THE GOOD

Both screenplay winners go to filmmakers of color. Woo wee!!! So happy for Bong Joon Ho and Taika Waititi!

///

 …

Now, I haven’t even seen 1917, but still that doesn’t mean I can’t be rooting for Roger Deakins! I saw this featurette and a few other BTS videos of 1917 and just amazed at that man’s creativity!


It’s fitting that these three amazing women introduced the first ever female composer to conduct the 42-piece orchestra… Eímear Noone, the Irish conductor and composer behind the World of Warcraft scores, made history tonight. Then THIS happens…

Now, I thought initially Joaquin Phoenix was hight and he’d go all Brando on us… but I thought towards the end his speech was quite moving… he also gave tribute to his late brother River who introduced him to acting.


THE BAD

I’m gonna keep it positive and not dwell too much on the bad, but I have to mention a couple…

  • I’m not gonna bother embedding the video in order to spare you the agony… honestly, I’m glad I haven’t seen FROZEN II but what is with that horrendous song?? And am I the only person who can’t stand Idina Menzel’s voice? I appreciate inviting many singers performing the song in different languages, but they all sound off-key to me.
  • What is with the horribly redundant and unnecessary introduction of every single nominees, on top of the 3-min montage!! I honestly would rather see winners getting an extra 30 seconds for their speech than dragging the winner announcement this way, ugh!

THE WTF

  • Ok we’re all swooning for Keanu Reeves… and rightly so, the dude is all kinds of awesome. But what’s up w/ Diane Keaton walking down memory lane?? A little tipsy perhaps?
  • Now this is a WTF but not necessarily in a bad way… apparently Eminem’s Lose Yourself won Oscar in Best Original Song in 2003. He didn’t attend the ceremony but now, 17 years later, he got to finally perform it! The reactions from some celebrities in the audience is pretty fun to watch too.

  • Now THIS is the best WTF ever!!! PARASITE made history!!!

And I LOVE the wonderfully real and moving speeches by its female producers giving tribute to the supporting Korean community. This film has been unanimously embraced by the world, and it absolutely deserved ALL the kudos!

What an ending to a largely uneventful Oscar telecast!! Such a refreshing surprise after the highly predictable acting winners. I was flabbergasted when I heard Jane Fonda said the word PARASITE… I’m convinced that 1917 would’ve won since it’s rare to see a Best Foreign Language winner also winning Best Picture!! But hey, if there was gonna be a big upset of the night, I’m glad it’s THIS one!

Go party, Bong Joon Ho and Parasite team!


SO what are your thoughts on Oscars 2020 winners (and losers for that matter)?