Conspicuous Trailers of the Week: Waking Sleeping Beauty Doc & Toy Story 3

Happy Friday, folks!

I happened to stumble upon the Waking Sleeping Beauty documentary last night and I just had to share. I’ve always been a fan of all the Disney’s animated features ever since I was little. Say what you will about the company, but one can’t deny their place in animation history. To this day, I still love all the Disney’s princesses (my bath towel I use every day has The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel on it!), as well as other classics like Bambi and The Lion King. So, no doubt I’m intrigued to see what really went on behind the scenes to bring those masterpieces to life.

The synopsis:

From 1984 to 1994, a perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever. Waking Sleeping Beauty is no fairytale. It is a story of clashing egos, out of control budgets, escalating tensions… and one of the most extraordinary creative periods in animation history. Director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider, key players at Walt Disney Studios Feature Animation department during the mid1980s, offer a behind—the—magic glimpse of the turbulent times the Animation Studio was going through and the staggering output of hits that followed over the next ten years. Artists polarized between the hungry young innovators and the old guard who refused to relinquish control, mounting tensions due to a string of box office flops, and warring studio heads create the backdrop for this fascinating story told with a unique and candid perspective from those that were there. Through interviews, internal memos, home movies, and a cast of characters featuring Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy Disney, alongside an amazing array of talented artists that includes Don Bluth, John Lasseter, and Tim Burton, Waking Sleeping Beauty shines a light on Disney Animation’s darkest hours, greatest joys and its improbable renaissance.

With Alice in Wonderland being released the first weekend in March – which is three weeks before this doc’s arrival – it’s fun to see Tim Burton working at a drawing board in his early days. I didn’t even know he used to work at Disney before, interesting stuff.

In the mid 90s, 1995 to be exact, the first Pixar feature film Toy Story was released, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. I had no idea Joss Whedon – the creative guy behind Buffy & Firefly series – was one of the writers for that film! Fast forward to 2010, we’re awaiting the release of Toy Story 3 this Summer. Can you believe it the second sequel was a decade ago? Time flies, man! Well, the trailer looks good, as Toy Story 2 was even better than the first one, we’ll see if this one is even better yet!

Rex the goofy dino is still my favorite, but the new toys look like fun. The Ken-Barbie snippet gets a giggle every time… can’t get any more cheesy than that ‘Take My Breath Away’ song! I guess they’re going pop-culture with having Barbie and Ken in there, but who knows, the geniuses at Pixar can make it work somehow. I love it when Ken protests adamantly, “I’m not a girl’s toy. I’m not!” Ha!

But, but… where is Timothy Dalton’s voice?? Apparently Mr. Pricklepants – the hedgehog toy with thespian tendencies – has yet to be released on the Disney site, as well as a few other new toys. Perhaps the next trailer will feature his silky smooth voice 🙂 Anyway, a Pixar-fanatic at SlashFilm posted a whole list of all the little easter eggs that the animators/designers hide in the films. It’s really quite fascinating.

What do you think, folks? Are you pumped to see either one of these?

Upcoming Projects Spotlight: BBC’s Aurelio Zen & War of the Gods

I’m excited to hear about these two projects involving two talented but underrated British actors.

Rufus Sewell is set to play Aurelio Zen in BBC’s new detective series

Special thanks to Prairiegirl for the tip. Based on the best-selling novel by the late Michael Dibdin, Rufus will play the fictitious Italian detective that’s set in Rome. According to BBC Press Release the producers behind the BAFTA award-winning Wallander is making the three feature-length dramas with John Alexander (Small Island, Sense And Sensibility) at the helm, and Simon Burke (Sons And Lovers, White Teeth) as the writer who will adapt three of Dibdin’s novels: Cabal, Ratking, and Vendetta.

I’ve never heard of this novel before but it sounds pretty gripping. Here’s a quick synopsis of Vendetta: An impossible murder is recorded on the video system at Oscar Burolo’s Sardinian fortress. Aurelio Zen’s life is endangered as he attempts to resolve the case.

In The Guardian article, an exec producer of the film described the Aurelio Zen novels as “… much loved and they are great detective stories which are both very entertaining and full of insight into Italian life. Zen is handsome, humorous and romantic and Rufus Sewell is the perfect choice to play Didbin’s delightful creation. People love to see Italy on screen and there is a huge appetite for Italian style and culture.”

Well, one thing for sure they’ve cast the right man for the role, the Englishman’s got a versatile dark look about him that makes him fit to play diverse characters, so no doubt he could pass as an Italian. Ever since Eleventh Hour‘s canceled, I’ve been hoping to see Rufus do a really compelling project, whether it’s TV or movies, so this is good news indeed. It’s also nice to see Rufus breaks out of his villainous/bad guy roles (The Illusionist, The Holiday, The Legend of Zorro), even the actor is glad to be playing a nice guy, “I’m thrilled to be a part of this project with the opportunity to play such an intriguing, complex and likeable character.”

I’m all for Rufus in a romance so my eyes perked up when I read about the series overview: Zen’s romantic relationships have been as complicated as his cases. Although he and his wife were separated, they remained legally married for many years. For Aurelio this situation was more or less acceptable because it helped him slip out of relationships, yet he seems an expectant, hopeful lover and not at all exploitative. His romances trail off, but the women never totally disappear from his life; stray tendrils from their worlds are still tangled in his. Gemma, a glamorous, well-off divorcee with her own history, has had a longer run than most of the women because she is not particularly possessive. All of this is very Italian.

Filming will begin on location in Rome this Spring. As Prairiegirl said, our fave actor in our fave city, what more could we ask for?? Can’t wait to see this one arrive in the US courtesy of PBS Masterpiece.

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Will War of the Gods finally put Henry Cavill on the Hollywood map?

Frieda Pinto and Henry Cavill

I talked about War of the Gods (which could be retitled as Dawn of War) as far back as last July, at the time I thought it’d be made around the same time as Clash of the Titans. As it turns out, whilst Clash will be released in 3D this April, there wasn’t much news about this one until now.

SlashFilm reported that Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto has joined the cast alongside Henry Cavill (The Tudors). She’ll play Phaedra, an oracle priestess who must join young warrior Theseus (Cavill) to as he leads his men into battle with the immortal Greek gods in order to … what else, save mankind. If you think the story is identical of Clash, well, it probably is, as the same article also said that Warner Bros at one point considered buying the Gods script for their remake of the Sam Worthington movie. Apparently this one will be filmed in similar style as 300, no surprise I guess as it’s produced by the same studio, Relativity Media, and its producers Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton previously partnered with 300 director Zack Snyder.

Now, the reason this movie was on my radar in the first place was because of Tarsem Singh, the Indian-born director behind the visual spectacle fantasy flick The Fall (if you haven’t seen this already, add it to your Netflix queue pronto!). I was really impressed with that movie, which starred Lee Pace, another actor I wish to see more of. A year ago, Tarsem told Empire about his vision of this Greek epic:
“It’s turning into, basically, Caravaggio meets Fight Club,” he said. “It’s a really hardcore action film done in Renaissance painting style. I want to see how that goes; it’s turned into something really cool. This guy who I really love, who’s the only one person in it right now, is the brother in The Tudors, Henry Cavill. I’m going for a very contemporary look on top of that so I’m kind of going with, you know, Renaissance time with electricity. So it’s a bit like Baz Luhrman doing Romeo + Juliet in Mexico; it’s just talking a particular Greek tale and half contemporising it and telling it.”

WOW! That sounds so bizarre, in a good way, and after seeing The Fall, I have confidence we’ll see something extraordinary from this guy. We might even see this in 3D also, which could be the reason for the movie’s year-long delay. The 3D production cost could add about $15 million to the already hefty budget of $115 million. As much as I’m eager to see what Tarsem will bring to the table with this one, I’m more curious if this’ll be the breakthrough role for Henry Cavill. As I mentioned before, Cavill previously lost out to Daniel Craig (James Bond in Casino Royale), Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), Christian Bale (Batman Begins) and Robert Pattinson (Edward in Twilight). Yikes! That’s four iconic roles, enough to make any actor bitter. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case here, and I’m hopeful this project will boost his career.

Now, Clash has some big name thespians like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes playing the Greek gods, I wonder if War will add the same caliber actors to the cast? Perhaps someone like Brian Cox, Derek Jacobi or my ultimate wishlist: Alan Rickman? A girl can dream! 🙂

Random Thoughts: What critical darlings you can’t sing praises of?

Happy Tuesday, readers!

Critics everywhere seem to fall all over themselves in declaring The Hurt Locker a landmark movie-making achievement, giving director Kathryn Bigelow one major award after another, which in and of itself is a record as she’s the first female director who’ve won some of these awards. I finally saw it this past weekend – with my my expectation set quite high given all the positive buzz – and well, for the life of me, I can’t figure what’s all the fuss is about.

As I started working on my review, I kept thinking how underwhelming it was. I mean, I thought it was just okay… you could even say it’s a good film, but a milestone? Hmmm, I don’t know about that. I guess this isn’t the first time I disagree with the critics, a couple other recent movies that I had really high hopes for didn’t quite deliver: Up and Bright Star (read my full review). I don’t know if I’ll ever get to writing a full review for The Hurt Locker and Up, but let me just say that despite some great scenes and performances that perhaps merit some acknowledgments, overall I don’t think they’re worth all the critical praises (both of them are almost 100% fresh on rottentomatoes!) and all the awards they’ve reaped.

Let’s talk about The Hurt Locker as it’s still fresh in my mind. Castor at Anomalous Material highlighted some of the preposterous scenarios in the movie, which practically echoes the sentiments voiced in this Huffington Post article. Now, I don’t claim to know much about military facts, so my critique is more about how the movie’s done and whether it works as an engaging/stimulating cinematic experience for me. The answer to that is not quite. In the end, it just didn’t leave that big of an impression on me. Sure it’s got some intense, edge-of-your-seat thrills, but I didn’t come away forming any emotional attachment with any of the major characters (in fact, I was easily distracted by the cameos of big-name actors such as Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes). For instance, I have no idea why the protagonist was indulging in such risky behavior (somewhat recklessly at times as he risked his fellow soldiers’ lives), is it because he’s addicted to the adrenaline rush of war (like the opening line of the movie suggested) or was there something more? I find that another war-themed movie that shares a similar sense of realism and grittiness, District 9, tugs at my heart strings more. Somehow I felt more ‘connected’ to and thus care more for Sharlto Copley’s Wikus than Jeremy Renner’s James, it’s that bond with the character that I find lacking in The Hurt Locker.

Hmmm, I guess that’s a cliff-notes version of my review. What I meant to do with this post is to pose this question to you readers: what critically-acclaimed movie(s) have you seen lately that are somewhat of a letdown? Whether the hype is from film critics/bloggers or perhaps the movie is from your favorite genre or by a director you love, so you’ve been somewhat predisposed to liking. And, on the flip side, are there movie the critics trashed that you actually like? Let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: Inglourious Basterds

InglouriousBasterdsPoster
Ok, 2 down, 10 more to go. As I mentioned in my Oscar nom musings, I’ve got twelve movies to catch up on by Oscar time (both nominated for Best Picture and those that feature Oscar-nominated performances). In the past 2 weeks, I finally caught this one and The Hurt Locker, here’s what I generally think of it.

Since the movie is divided into five chapters, I thought I’d break down my review into five main parts just for the heck of it. Now, I’m not hugely familiar with Tarantino’s work, nor did I know much about his movie influences as this LA Times article pointed out. I have no qualms with him ‘borrowing’ certain aspects from obscure or foreign movies, as long as he’s able to make those scenes his own with his own actors and approach/style, which is exactly what he did in this movie.

Before I continue, here’s the plot:

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds”, led by Lt. Aldo Raine, are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis.

PART I: The Story

Before I saw this I expected it to be an ultra-violent anti-Nazi flick, a revenge fantasy with Tarantino’s brand of panache and style. Well it was all that indeed, but it’s also so much more. The Basterds are absolutely hell-bent on revenge, but there’s more to the story than what Lt. Aldo (Brad Pitt) and the gang are up to. Their mission is cleverly interwoven with the story of Soshana Dreyfuss (Melanie Laurent), the sole survivor when his family was ambushed early on. There are many layers to the story, one knotty predicament after another — thanks to the shrewdness of Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz) — keeps on unfolding until it builds to a gratifying climax.

PART 2: Direction

It’s quite obvious that Tarantino must’ve paid homage to old-school film-making style in the opening sequence. It’s a long continuous shot of just two people – a French farmer and Col. Landa – conversing. That scene runs for a good 10-15 minutes with the camera focusing between the two characters and not much else, yet the dialogue (switching from French to foreign-accented English) and the expression of the French farmer  is immensely tense. This is one of the three segments of the movie where I literally had to get away from the room and distract myself in order to calm my nerves. Of course after my husband assured me it wasn’t “that bad” that I came back and he re-wound the scene for me to watch. It’s an absolutely brilliant opening sequence that pretty much establish Christoph Waltz as one extraordinary actor. I was in for a surprise how much dialog-centric the script was, not so much a gore-fest merely to satisfy fans of the Saw franchise, despite Hostel director Eli Roth’s involvement. Yet, even the more talky scenes are so charged with suspense that my every nerve was stretched to its snapping point.

PART 3: Acting

The marvelous Christoph Waltz

There’s no doubt that Christoph Waltz is a revelation in this movie. He practically steals every single scene he’s in, he’s got that delicate combination of being comical yet deranged, a Nazi Patrick Bateman, but with less affinity for business cards surely. Many times during the movie I actually stopped and marveled how good his performance was, and the Austrian actor’s  knack for languages is even more mind-boggling, such a talent that’s as potent a weapon as any rifle. I could write an entire post on him the way I did for District 9‘s Sharlto Copley, he really is that good! According to NY Times, the Tarantino admitted “I knew Landa was one of the best characters I’ve ever written and probably one of the best characters I will ever write” and  thus “I literally had to consider I might have written an unplayable part.” Without Waltz, Tarantino might’ve given up making this movie and I agree, under less capable hands, Col. Landa would’ve been nothing more than a sadistic caricature villain. No wonder he’s nabbed just about every award given out this year, with last night’s BAFTA being the latest, and he’s definitely a shoo-in for Oscar.

Besides Waltz, the rest of the cast is also terrific. It’s no secret that I’m not a Brad Pitt fan, but he actually suited his character perfectly. Just like Ben Affleck, he’s got a real gift in comedy as I liked him more here than his more serious roles. Diane Krueger proves she’s more than a pretty face here, but it’s French actress Melanie Laurent that truly stands out to to me. Her scenes at the restaurant is such an exquisitely-controlled and affecting performance, her expression as Col. Landa finally leaves the room is one that stayed with me for a long time. She’s definitely overlooked in this year’s award season. Major eye candy Michael Fassbender is fantastic here and his bar scene is soooo full of suspense. LOVE a man in uniform and he definitely looks great in one. German actor Til Schweiger is quite good as one of Basterds’ allies, oh, even Mike Myers has a pretty memorable cameo.

Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender

PART 4: Accent, accent, accent

If I wrote this post about movie accents after seeing this movie, I’d have listed it as one of the best examples of using subtitles. The way a person speak is an integral plot point here so naturally the actors have to pull off the various accents believably. I really enjoyed listening to the different languages spoken here (most notably by Mr. Waltz who speaks French, German, English and Italian fluently), it makes the movie all the more richer and adds a tinge of ‘foreign film’ flavor to it. Accent truly becomes a matter of life and death during the meeting point of “Operation Kino” at the basement of a French tavern, it’s one of the most nerve-racking and violent scenes in the movie, but the dialogue is absolutely to-die-for. Best movie sequence I’ve seen in a long time!

PART 5: Other observations: music and costumes

1940s costume is utterly fabulous!

The music is as quirky as the film itself. It doesn’t exactly fit the period but it certainly fits the scene and when put together, it just works. I mean, you’d never think of pairing renowned composer like Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso) with cuts from David Bowie, that’s exactly what Tarantino did. This L.A. Times blog wrote about the method of how the Tennessee native went about choosing the right song for a particular scene, and how unlike other directors, he doesn’t work with a songwriter to custom-made a song for his movies, “… he handpicks each song and painstakingly injects them into scenes instead of simply hiring a music composer to do the work.”

Tarantino also pays careful attention to the beautiful costumes in his first period film, as costume designer Anna Sheppard said in this interview. The fabulous 1940s fashion provides a nice distraction from all the violent scalping and shooting scenes, there’s almost a Cinderella moment (with a nasty twist of course) with Col. Landa slipping on her pump on Bridget von Hammersmark’s delicate foot. The red dress that Melanie Laurent wore at the pivotal night at the cinema is almost as memorable as her iconic performance.

All in all Inglourious Basterds is a glorious film that truly exceeds my expectation in many levels. If you have reservations about this as you’re not really a ‘Tarantino fan’, give it a chance. Trust me, you’d be glad you did.


What are your thoughts of this film?

Happy Birthday Alan Rickman!

Mr. Rickman turns 64 today.

Thought I’d give a short tribute to him as he’s one of my favorite British actors. I first saw him as the captivating villain Hans Grubber in Die Hard, stealing scenes from action hero Bruce Willis. He also plays another memorable villainous role as the tyrannical Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, again nearly outshining the lead actor Kevin Costner. But he’s just as wonderful in his more tender roles, as the romantic ghost in Truly, Madly, Deeply (thanks to my ESL teacher who introduced me to that film) and of course my all-time favorite, as the noble Col. Brandon in Sense & Sensibility. How could Marianne fall for the young, impetuous Willoughby when she’s got such a regal man with silky, smooth voice like Christopher Brandon swooning over her?!

Just the way he looked at Marianne here practically melts the heart of every woman everywhere:

To prove his versatility, Rickman also shines in his comedic roles, most notably in the hilarious sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest. He’s also adept at singing in Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp. Is it any wonder he’s chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#34) in 1995? We can see hear him next as the voice of Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

Here’s wishing for a lasting acting career for Mr. Rickman!

Friday Guilty Pleasure Flix: The Man in the Iron Mask

Happy Friday, everybody! It’s a short week since I got Monday off but boy has it been a hectic one.

Back in November, I revealed one of many guilty pleasure flix, and since Shutter Island opens today in theaters after being delayed for four months, I thought it’d be fun to feature one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s work. In anticipation of the Scorsese’s film, my blogger friend M. Carter has started a countdown ten days ago, Rotten Tomatoes featured DiCaprios’s top ten best movies and another blogger wrote a fan-appreciation post for the 35 year-old actor. Now, The Man in the Iron Mask is unlikely to end up in such best list, or even merit an honorable mention. But isn’t that the point of a guilty pleasure? You love it anyway even if it’s ‘rotten’ 🙂

Anyway, if you haven’t seen this one, the story is basically a follow-up to the legendary tale of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas where Leo plays a dual role of the cruel King Louis XIV as well as the imprisoned secret twin brother Phillipe. Curiously, this is his follow-up movie right after Titanic, when he was pretty much the Rob Pattinson of his day. What’s impressive about this movie is the cast. I mean, it’s mind-boggling how many Oscar and Golden Globe winners/nominees are in this flick: Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu make up the musketeers: Aramis, Athos, Porthos; Gabriel Byrne as the courageous d’Artagnan; Hugh Laurie as the King’s advisor and Peter Sarsgaard as Raoul, Athos’ only son.

I gotta admit I saw this movie because of Leo Jack Dawson (like most girls I too fell under his spell, just briefly though, I find him too boyish looking now). But in this flick, I totally fell for Gabriel Byrne as the dashing and regal d’Artagnan. Though billed as a DiCaprio movie due to his massive popularity, Byrne’s the heart & soul of the movie, his performance as the conflicted man carrying a pivotal secret is absolutely terrific, he brings a surprising depth to this archetypal character. The rest of the cast was great too, John Malkovich is a bit over-the-top at times but hey, it’s John Malkovich, what do you expect? Jeremy Irons play his Jesuit priest with wit and whimsy and Depardieu is the fun comic relief. Leo himself is pretty convincing playing the tricky dual roles, especially as Louie where he often has to act with his eyes alone. It’s not Oscar worthy by any means, but enough to prove he is one pretty boy with acting chops to boot. It also proves DiCaprio can’t do accent, a French king with barely a hint of a French burr, and he sounds exactly the same as both characters.

The script is cliche-laden and the story is all too familiar, but there are some amusing dialogue here and there, especially between the three musketeers who have good chemistry with each other. The movie’s also gorgeous to look at (except perhaps Leo’s ghastly haircut), lush setting + beautiful costumes, especially at the grand masquerade.

I find this movie highly entertaining and the soundtrack is pretty great, too. Hmmm, I wouldn’t mind re-watching this one again soon!



Have you seen this one folks? Well, what did you think?

Conspicuous Trailer of the Week: CENTURION

I’m all for swords & sandals flicks, so naturally I’m intrigued by this Roman empire feature Centurion when I first read about it in Empire a couple of months ago. The fact that it stars one of my top ten actors to watch Michael Fassbender doesn’t hurt, either. I first noticed the rising German/Irish star as Stelios in 300, which was then followed by acclaimed indie projects Hunger and Fish Tank, and more prominently Inglourious Basterds. In this movie, he’s starring alongside another 300 alum Dominic West, both seem to have better success retaining their buff physiques than King Leonidas himself (but I still love you Gerry Butler!) 😉

Anyway, the trailer arrives last week, check it out below:

Synopsis: Based on the legend of the Ninth Legion, an army of 3000 unstoppable Roman warriors who vanished without trace, Centurion is the tale of their vicious conflict with a murderous adversary, the Picts. Quintus Dias (Fassbender), a Roman corporal, is taken hostage by the Pict King, Gorlacon and the Ninth are charged with bringing him home and ending Pict domination of Britain. Led by General Virilus (Dominic West) and guided by a Pict prisoner and warrior woman named Etain (Olga Kurylenko), the army marches towards enemy territory and finds itself in the midst of a perilous battle with a mysterious foe.

Most blogs featuring this trailer raved about it, but my initial reaction is meh, it’s like a poor man’s Gladiator. I mean I’m not dissing it for it’s low-budget as a movie obviously doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. I just feel like I’ve seen it all before, and again the Romans are depicted as the good guys here. The beginning reminds me of the opening scene of the Ridley Scott epic when the Maximus-led Romans attacked Germania, it’s probably was filmed in the exact same forest! The intensely brutal fight sequences are to pretty typical in this genre, though given the director Neil Marshall is known for bloodthirsty/gory flicks like Doomsday and The Descent (neither of seems like something I’d enjoy watching), the level of savagery level might be off the charts.

The cliché-laden catchphrases are kind of ho-hum, “We live united or die divided!” and “I’m a soldier of Rome! I will not yield!” They just don’t carry the same gravitas as “At my signal, unleash hell!” or “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” Then there’s every male’s favorite tough-chick Olga Kurylenko, who didn’t impress me much in Quantum of Solace (and even less so in the dreadful Hitman). She seems nothing more than eye candy for the dudes and from the reaction of the male bloggers out there, that’s probably all she needs to be.

Fassbender looks like he fits the part well, but it’s hardly a far-reaching role for him. I’m more interested to see him as Rochester in the latest Jane Eyre adaptation, which has lined up a pretty impressive cast, apparently Judi Dench, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) and Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) have just been added.

Anyway, no US release date is set for Centurion, but the UK release is April 23, 2010. What do you think, folks? Yay or nay for you? It’s definitely a rental for me just on account of Fassbender.