Question of the Week: Who gave your favorite performance(s) of 2013 so far?

Hello everyone! Well, April has been quite an eclectic movie watching month for me, as you’ll see in my monthly roundup is coming tomorrow. Since I’ve been working on a bunch of indie reviews lately, I feel like taking a bit of break today. Instead, I’d like to pick your brains a bit my fellow cinephiles and awesome movie bloggers. You’ve likely been watching a bunch of movies and/or TV shows the past four months, and for me, one of the highlights as a movie blogger is discovering ‘new’ talents or at least talents you haven’t seen before. In fact, it could also be actors you might have seen previously, but didn’t realize what they’re capable of until you see them in certain films.

For me, the two performances that stood out to me recently happen to be from films I saw at MSP Film Fest. Both performances are from non-Hollywood actors: Danish Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt (review coming later this week), and London-born (from Pakistani heritage) Riz Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

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Mads Mikkelsen and Riz Ahmed

Now, granted Mads has been in blockbuster films like Casino Royale (hello Le Chiffre!) and even the abominable Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers, but his indie cred is still very much intact, as he continues to mix things up with smaller projects like the taut Danish thriller The Hunt which was produced in his home country.

LakeBell_directingIn any case, I was muy impressed by these two actors, not only in their leading man charisma, but also in their ability to convey a layered emotional performance with their quiet, introspective sensibilities. It’s interesting that they’re both playing ‘regular guys’ who are unfairly judged in the court of public opinion.

I was also impressed by Lake Bell in her directorial debut of In A World (review also coming later this week), a comedy about the voice over industry. She turns out to be quite a triple threat as she wrote, directed and acted in her film (which was well-received at Sundance). Roadside Attraction has since acquired the film (per Deadline) so I’m hoping more of you would be able to see it. I sure hope she continues to act and direct, as we definitely need more good female filmmakers in Hollywood.


Now it’s your turn folks, in the spirit of sharing your recommendations, please share YOUR pick of excellent performances you’ve seen so far in 2013.

Feel free to leave links/clips, etc. in the comments. Thanks in advance and do spread the word 😀

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Indie Weekend Roundup: The Reluctant Fundamentalist review

It’s the last weekend of MSPfest and it’s been great watching a bunch of indie films. Saw The Hunt last night and this is my initial reaction:

Now, two of the last three films I’m reviewing this week happen to be are directed by women. It’s interesting that they’re two VERY different genres, this one is a dramatic thriller and the other one I’m finishing up on, In A World, is a comedy, but both are highly recommended.

Anyway, on to the review:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

ReluctantFundamentalistPosterA young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family’s homeland.

I happen to see the trailer just a week before I saw the MSPfest schedule so I signed up to see it right away. This is the kind of film that will likely raise some eyebrows and some people might have strong feelings about it, whether good or bad. I guess that’s to be expected given the subject matter involves terrorism, though this film is not so much about an extremist attack, but the reaction when such a heinous event occurs. This film also works as a character study of an intriguing character named Changez, who like many immigrants, often is (or feels) torn between two worlds.

The film opens with the kidnapping of an American college professor off the street in Pakistan, and somehow Changez, a fellow university teacher, appears to be right in the middle of the Pakistani/American conflict. That’s what Bobby, an American journalist, alludes to when he interviews Changez at a cafe. “I only ask that you please listen to the whole story, not just bits and pieces…” Changez said to Bobby, to which the journalist agrees and as the tape recorder rolls, we’re taken to Changez’s life ten years prior. We saw that he came from a rather privileged background in Lahore and that he was as a prodigious student at Princeton. With the potent combination of extraordinary intellect and tenacity, it’s no surprise he soon attain the American dream when he’s hired at a high-powered consulting firm Underwood Samson. He seemed to have it all, even his love life seems to be going well when he met a free-spirited American girl Erica. But then, 9/11 happened, and from the moment Changez witnessed the footage of the plane hitting the twin tower, things aren’t going to be the same for him.

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Now, there have been countless films on that subject, but I feel that The Reluctant Fundamentalist manages to tackle the side not often explored but certainly worth telling. As an immigrant, I empathize with Changez even if I don’t necessarily agree with his decisions. In fact, the whole time I was watching the scenes of him literally being harassed by counter-terrorism officers and TSA agents simply because of his nationality, I kept thinking of a Pakistani college friend of mine who actually share a very similar background as Changez. I’d imagine watching this film would perhaps hit too close to home for him.

I appreciate that the film doesn’t really take sides, in fact, it challenges me to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and to see a complex human emotion at play where things aren’t always so black and white. In the midst of such a tense story though, I also find the film to be surprisingly witty and humorous. Changez making a droll reference to CSI Miami to Bobby and the one that got the most laugh, his nonchalant quip about wanting to be a dictator of a middle eastern country with nuclear capabilities when his workmates ask him about what he wanted to be in the next ten years. Even in its humor though, the filmmaker is well-aware of people’s natural prejudices when faced with a character like Changez.

I was very impressed with London-born Riz Ahmed as Changez. The Oxford-educated actor is also a rapper under the name Riz MC. Apparently I had seen him before in a small role in Centurion, but this is the role that really showcase his talent as an actor. He’s effortlessly believable as an intellectual, a charismatic leader, and a romantic lead, which is a testament to his versatility. Ahmed’s melancholy yet expressive big, black eyes say so much, and I can’t help being drawn to his character up until the very end.

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Brunette Kate Hudson is quite good here as Erica, herself a tortured soul because of a past incident that killed her former boyfriend. The two have a convincing chemistry, though from the start it’s clear the relationship is built on feeble ground. Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber offer decent supporting performances. It’s interesting to see Mr. Jack Bauer NOT playing some CIA officer in a story that could’ve easily been an extended episode of 24.

Overall, I’m impressed with BAFTA-winning Indian director Mira Nair‘s film adaptation from Mohsin Hamid’s novel. How one receives this particular film is likely going to vary from person to person, but I do think it’s well worth a watch as a cultural drama about a subject that’s sadly always going to be timely.


4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on this film yet? Is this something you’re intrigued to see?

Indie Review: I, ANNA starring Charlotte Rampling & Gabriel Byrne

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I must say that the main draw for me to this film is are the pairing of Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne. As it turns out, the casting remains to be the strongest thing about this film from newbie director Barnaby Southcombe, who happens to be Rampling’s own son.

The film opens with the protagonist Anna, a beautiful but lonely divorcee living with her daughter and granddaughter, on yet another singles night event. There’s a humorous exchange in the ladies room between Anna and an older lady who happens to be Honor Blackman (a.k.a. Bond’s Pussy Galore!) We later learn that her daughter has been encouraging her to get out there and meet someone new. The two seems to have a friendly relationship but at the same time there’s a certain distance I can’t put my finger on, but then again, Anna is such a mysterious figure and continues to be as the film progressed.

Her story is interwoven with a pending murder case, which is where Detective Bernie Reid (Byrne) comes in. Reid is an insomniac dealing with his own relationship problems, in fact he’s living in a hotel since his marital separation. So when the two lost souls meet, it seems inevitable that they’d somehow connect later on. They meet by chance, in the elevator of the building where the murder case happens, and for a while, it seems nothing more than a coincidence. Or is it?

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As a slow-burn mystery, the film does work in keeping us in suspense, or at least in a state of curiosity, as the truth of what’s happening is slowly revealed in a series of hazy vignettes. At times the film plays like a procedural TV episode with the cops getting a lead on the suspects, etc. though the notion that ‘things are not what it seems’ plays out in a rather predictable way.

As I said before, the strength of this film is in the performances. Rampling and Byrne both brought their A-game to this film. Byrne is appropriately grizzled as a jaded detective who’s clearly smitten by this mysterious woman. It’s always a delight to watch the talented Irish thespian on screen, though this isn’t his best role by any stretch. The star of the film is definitely Rampling—who was 66 when she made this film. She still looks perfectly believable as a femme fatale, her steely gaze and seductive smile are contrasted by a palpable vulnerability. She carries the role with absolute conviction right down to the emotional finale. Though I never quite warmed up to Anna, she was certainly captivating to watch. Hayley Atwell is completely wasted as Rampling’s daughter, however. It’s a shame that she wasn’t given hardly anything to do here, and neither was Eddie Marsan as another detective working on the case.

Sometimes a certain expectations can greatly affect how we feel about a film and this is one of those occasions. The plot synopsis that reads like this “A noir thriller told from the point of view of a femme fatale, who falls for the detective in charge of a murder case.” Boy, that just sounds so juicy, and yes the film seems to have the elements of a noir, right down to the classic trench coat of the protagonist. I also appreciate the fact that a mature woman, and not just some pretty young thing, is at the center of the story. Alas, the idea of this film ends up being far more riveting than the film itself.

Though I didn’t know that this was Southcombe’s feature film debut, I kind of sense that from the way this film was directed. The pacing was much too slow for my liking and whilst the atmospheric cinematography style was intriguing at first, I felt like it was overdone, perhaps to cover up its thin plot. I suppose it’s still worth a watch if you’re a fan of the noir genre, I just wish it could’ve been a lot more compelling given the cast involved.


3 out of 5 reels


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

Everybody’s Chattin’ – April Reviews Edition

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Happy Friday everyone! It’s gonna be in mid 60s today, so that’s sure gonna add an extra step in my Spring. Finally it actually feels seasonal this weekend 😀

Well, it’s time for another Everybody’s Chattin’ post and this time I want to highlight reviews some of you fine bloggers have written recently. I specifically want to focus on films that I haven’t seen yet, either new releases or older ones already out on dvd. Without further ado, here we go!

Mark reviews In the Mouth of Madness, John Carpenter’s psycho thriller starring Sam Neill.

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To The Wonder

Nick from Cinema Romantico gave a beautiful review of Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder… calling it a ‘rapturous testament to the fleeting nature of love and life

I had just seen the trailer for this and was very intrigued. Then I head over to Bonjour Tristesse and saw that he has reviewed Wong Kar Wai’s latest, The Grandmaster.

Now, I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence and sometimes I’d make an exception for ‘some’ horror movies if it intrigues me enough, but Keith‘s review of House at the End of the Street convinces me that I shouldn’t bother with this one.

Two of my favorite Chris-es (from FilmHipster and Terry Malloy Pigeon Coop) in the blogosphere recently teamed up to bring us an excellent, succinct review of A Dangerous Method, which despite the two fantastic lead actors, isn’t as compelling as it could’ve been.

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Animal Kingdom

Kevin has been ‘traveling’ to Australia lately for his ‘Wizard of Oz’ series and he sang the praises for what he call ‘a supreme piece of filmmaking’ that is Animal Kingdom.

Now, I’ve only seen one Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film (The Tourist), but unfortunately it was such a departure (NOT in a good way) from his first film. Tyson recently reviewed Donnersmarck’s excellent debut The Lives of Others, which I hope to catch soon!

This is one of the critically-acclaimed indies I have yet to see, but Stephanie’s recent review of Martha Marcy May Marlene makes me extra curious, even if it’s just to see Elizabeth Olsen’s performance.

Now, I know this is one of the indie new releases everyone is excited about, and Roshach has some really positive things to say about The Place Beyond the Pines. I’m not a huge fan of the cast but I’m intrigued enough to rent it.

GoT_Season3Ep4_PicLast but certainly not least, Lady Sati‘s been um, preoccupied with HBO’s massively popular Game of Thrones lately, as you’ve likely have seen from her GoT posts on her blog. Though I don’t watch the show, I still enjoy reading her reviews/commentary with all the gorgeous photos, such as this one on Season 3, Episode 4 And Now His Watch Is Ended.


Well, my MSPfest viewing mini-marathon continues with In A World and The Hunt this weekend. I saw Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist last night which I was quite impressed with, especially with Riz Ahmed‘s performance. Stay tuned for the review of that next week and my thoughts on I, Anna coming later this weekend.


Well, before you’re off to any of the links above, tell me, what’s your weekend viewing plans?

A Trio of Casting News I’m Excited About: Viola Davis + Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Lee Pace

Now, if only the three of them would actually be starring in ONE film, that’d be an even more spectacular casting news. But hey, I’m just glad that those three are getting more prominent roles and I’m particularly excited about Viola’s news because it involves one of my favorite directors!

Viola Davis & Chris Hemsworth – Michael Mann’s untitled Cyber Thriller

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Now, the concept of the film itself sounds intriguing and it’s something right up Mr. Mann’s alley. He hasn’t done a feature film since Public Enemies back in 2009. That film was sadly quite disappointing, but I still very much regard him as one of my favorite directors. I’ve seen seven out of ten of his feature films, with Heat, The Last of the Mohicans and The Insider being my all time favorites.

According to the Playlist, the film “…will follow a Balkan hacker operating out of South Asia who has an American and Chinese task force on his tail.” Sounds intriguing and with this cast and filmmaker, I’m so game! Not sure which role Chris Hemsworth will play, but I’ve been reading that the Oscar nominee Viola Davis might play an FBI agent. I do hope she’s got the lead role instead of just a supporting character, she’s certainly a charismatic actress with a chameleon-ability to play just about any kind of roles. The hot and in demand Aussie Hemsworth is always watchable in my book, so yeah, I’ll be keeping an eye on this project!


Now, I didn’t mean this to be a THOR reunion of some kind, ahah, but Hemsworth brotherly nemesis in that film is equally in demand. Btw, check out the latest Thor: The Dark World trailer on Tim’s blog.

Tom Hiddleston in The Crow and Robert Capa biopic?

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Looks like Mr. Hiddleston might be clad in skinny leather pants once again, not that I’m complaining 😉 Truth be told, I wasn’t really paying attention to all the rumors about The Crow reboot, though I’m surprised it’s taken them so long to do so. Surely it’ll be tough to forget Brandon Lee in that role, who was tragically shot during filming, but the concept of The Crow is an intriguing one and with Hiddleston [possibly] on board, naturally I’m intrigued. I certainly would rather see him than Bradley Cooper as Eric Draven!

According to The Wrap, “Hiddleston recently had dinner with producers and sent them a makeup test that he did on his own in London. He will undergo a proper makeup test in the coming days, as the character’s appearance is important to fans of the franchise…”

Fingers crossed this will actually happen!

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Now, this one sounds like a done deal and the concept is more grounded in reality. Hiddleston will play renowned war photographer Robert Capa in the pending biopic, with Paul Andrew Williams directing. Interesting that I had just seen the film by Williams, Unfinished Song. Whilst it’s not a bad film, I sure hope this one would be a lot more compelling.

I’m particularly intrigued by the romantic theme of the film, as the story will focus on Capa’s two-year romance with Spanish war photographer Gerda Taro, which will be played by Hayley Atwell. I really like this casting, Atwell certainly looks the part and no doubt the two would have a nice chemistry together. Funny enough, I actually saw Capa being portrayed on screen not too long ago (by Venezuelan actor Santiago Cabrera) in Hemingway & Gellhorn, and I remember thinking how his life deserved a biopic on his own, ahah.


Lee Pace lands the villain role in The Guardians of the Galaxy

LeePace_GuardiansGalaxyI ‘ve mentioned some casting in this film a while back in the Five for the Fifth post. On that post, I said that I’m not exactly interested in that movie yet, but if Lee Pace ends up being cast, now that’s a different story. Well, talk about dreams come true!! I know a fellow blogger who’s just as enthused about this news.

The Playlist reported that the gorgeous Oklahoma native is indeed going to play the main villain of the Marvel superhero series. Now, I still would prefer that he plays The Flash as he’s my top casting choice and he certainly has the look and personality to pull it off, but hey, just seeing him getting prominent role is always good news to me.

Of course I’m also looking forward to more screen time of him as Thranduil the last two Hobbit films: Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. So there’s at least two movies I’ll be looking forward to from Pace, wahoo! I’m still hoping that he’d also land a real career breakthrough in the future though, I’d love to see him lead a drama or thriller as he’s definitely got screen charisma, talent AND rugged good looks like his peers Bradley Cooper or Ryan Gosling who’ve made it big. In fact, I’d rather see Pace ten times over than those two!!


Well, which one of these casting news intrigue you? Feel free any other recent casting news that make you jump for joy!

Indie Review: Caesar Must Die (2012)

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Inmates at a high-security prison in Rome prepare for a public performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

I have to admit I haven’t seen too many Shakespeare’s plays in my day but even if I did, this would probably stand as the most unique of all of them. That’s because it’s set in Italy’s Rebibbia Prison and performed by its inmates. Directing brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani was apparently inspired by a prison production of Dante’s Divine Comedy which prompted them to go back to that facility and work with its resident theater director Fabio Cavalli. Mr. Cavalli plays himself in the film and the performers in this Julius Caesar play are all convicts or former convicts [per NPR]

The film began with the conclusion of the play, which gets a standing ovation from the audience. Then it goes into flashback mode to several months earlier to show us how the play was constructed. The film switches from color to stark black and white, not sure why but perhaps to contrast that with the actual performance itself. The mood of the film is dark and unsettling, though the audition part is quite lively and at times hilarious. During the audition, we learn their names, where they’re from and the serious crimes that got them to this high security prison, which includes drug trafficking and even murder. The rest of the film capture the rehearsal process, which takes place in various parts of the prison—the corridors, cells, courtyard—as they’re being watched by the other inmates. At times during the rehearsal, one of them would ‘break’ out of character and reflect on his past.

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The entire time I was watching this I kept pondering how the inmates must’ve been feeling. I was struck by the contrast of how liberating it was for them to be able to perform and express themselves, but yet they’re constantly reminded of their confined lives. I think the striking dichotomy is what makes this film inherently intriguing and it kept me engaged despite the rather slow pace. The finale is definitely a rousing one. The inmates are ecstatic and jubilant seeing how well-received their performance was and it felt so refreshingly real that we can’t help but being happy for them. Then comes the contrast that each and every single one of those performers must return to their cell. It’s heart-wrenching stuff.

I was struck by how good these inmates are as actors. Even during rehearsals, with the way the scenes are filmed, it’s hard to separate them from their characters. It’s said that the performers could use their own Italian dialects/accents for their own character, but since I don’t understand any Italian, I don’t really notice the difference. The Caesar assassination scene, which I’ve seen numerous times in TV shows and films, has a dramatic impact unlike any other. I think the actors playing Caesar, Brutus and Marc Antony stand out the most, but among the three, Salvatore Striano as Brutus is my favorite. I guess he’s the most experienced actor of the bunch as he has also starred in Gomorrah.

Caesar Must Die is certainly one of the most unique films I’ve seen, both in concept and execution. It’s definitely worth the hype and merits the Berlinale’s Golden Bear win.


4 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen this film yet? If not, what are your thoughts of this concept?

Guest Post: TV Show Fails and Wins – Replacement actors who made or broke their shows


Hi everyone! Taking a bit of a break from movies, today we have a special TV-related guest post from Lindsay Mcmahon. Her interests are entertainment, television, parenting and health but she is constantly extending her field of view to incorporate interesting news suggested to her by her readers. Her favorite flick is ‘Fight Club’, a great classic combining action and philosophy. When it comes to TV, she’s an absolute Fantasy freak, having ‘Game of Thrones’ sitting at the top. She currently works for Direct2TV.com.


TV shows have the unique problem of cast retention. Unlike most industries, once a TV character is signed onto a show, they are almost required to remain for the entire run of the show. If they do not, or are unable to for some reason, then the TV network must scramble to replace that character. Sometimes, the replacement is able to keep the fans of the show, but in most cases, the show soon ends after the cast replacement.

KutcherThreeAndaHalfMenAshton Kutcher in Two and a Half Men

The most famous replacement in recent years is the replacement of Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men. Two and a Half Men is currently in its 10th season, after starting in 2003. The show followed two brothers, one rich and single, one divorced and with a kid. The series focused on the romantic pursuits of the brothers.

Over the years, Charlie Sheen fell deeper into drug addiction, which eventually led to his being fired from the show at the end of season 8. His replacement was Ashton Kutcher. The show has continued for two years after Charlie Sheen left, and has been able to hold its viewer ratings.

DIckSargentBewitchedDick Sargent in Bewitched

Bewitched is famous for its switch of Samantha’s husband halfway through the series. After the 5th season, Dick York quit the show to pursue other interests. The replacement was Dick Sargent.

Surprisingly enough, the show made no mention of the fact that the husband was now a completely different man. While this bothered many viewers, the show continued to run for an additional 3 years, giving the show a total run-time length of 8 years.

CharlieSheenSpinCityCharlie Sheen in Spin City

Charlie Sheen has had many different projects over the years, and one of them was a replacement for Michael J. Fox on Spin City. It was a show about the mayor’s office in New York, featuring the relationships of the various employees- and specifically Fox’s character.

When Fox started exhibiting severe signs of Parkinson’s disease, he had to leave the show. The series made it look like a regular job switch, and replaced Fox with Sheen. The show ran for a total of 6 years, 4 with Fox and 2 with Sheen. The ratings fell dramatically during the last two seasons.

KristieAlleyCheersKristie Alley in Cheers

Cheers featured a fun cast of several characters who own the bar or visit regularly. The show ran for a total of 11 seasons, and was one of the highest rated shows in the 1980s. During the first 5 seasons, Shelly Long played a waitress at the bar. She left after season 5 and was replaced by Kristie Alley. Alley’s forceful personality and charm gave the show new life, and it was able to continue for 6 additional seasons until 1992.

All of these shows had replacement actors with varying success. The shows that did the best were the ones that replaced characters in a logical way with an actor that had an extremely likable personality. The shows that did worst tried to ignore the difference or replaced the original actor with someone who was much less likable.


Thoughts about TV’s cast retention dilemma? Are you a fan of any of the shows and/or actors?

Weekend Viewing Roundup – OBLIVION Review

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Photo courtesy of StarTribune.com

The weekend is coming to a close as I’m writing this, hope y’all had a nice one… especially in the weather department. It’s really the kind of “Spring” that does NOT add an extra spring in your step, unless you want to slip on ice and fall over into a puddle 😦

I mean, just look at this photo from a couple of days ago!! THAT’s the reason I couldn’t see Mud last Thursday! And this is the kind of stuff we could expect for this week, courtesy of our local meteorologist at the Star Tribune:

A rain/snow mix tomorrow evening – but temperatures boomerang to near 70F by Saturday afternoon, maybe even a few severe T-storms late Sunday? Something for the entire family.

[sigh]

Anyway, I did see quite a few new films this past week, five to be exact:

Disconnect, Unfinished Song (both reviews are up), Caesar Must Die, I, Anna and Oblivion. Stay tuned for the reviews of the other two, but now, here’s my thoughts on…

OBLIVION

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Post-apocalyptic science fiction films are a dime a dozen and there seems to be no shortage of it. Even before the start of this film, there are trailers for a couple of them (After Earth, Elysium) and the world we live in is almost always depicted in a state of doom, with humanity facing extinction with the rest of well, what’s left of our universe.

OBLIVION begins with a voice over exposition courtesy of Jack Harper (starring the virtually ageless mega star Tom Cruise) who now lives in a high tower above the earth, Tower 49, which looks like a very expensive high rise penthouse, complete with built-in swimming pool underneath. Not a bad living quarter for a ‘mop-up crew,’ that’s what Jack refers to himself and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They’re only two weeks away on completing their mission of drones repair on earth before they could join the entire remaining human population in their new home in Titan. Now, you’d think he’d be excited for that but Jack still can’t let go of earth & his earthly house by the lake, and he’s also still haunted by his memory of a woman from 60 years ago as they walk up to the Empire State Building [is this like the only romantic rendezvous place for New Yorkers in the movies??].

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Well, what do you know. On a routine mission, Jack ended up meeting that very woman who was in one of the delta-sleep pods that crash landed on earth as Jack was relaxing by the lake. Now, the arrival of ‘Julia’ who claims to be his wife, and then later meeting a group of human survivors hiding underground, led by cigar-smokin’ Morgan Freeman, Jack’s life quickly begins to unravel as he discovers just who his true identity is. He starts to question the things we’ve also been curious about from the start, and the last half of the film follows Jack in that journey of self-discovery… and more.

Now, all of this is intriguing stuff and director Joseph Kosinski builds this film with so many beautiful vistas and cool-looking robots to mesmerize us, but the plot leaves way more questions than the film could even begin to answer. Now, I don’t want to discuss ’em here without revealing a bunch of spoilers, but let’s just say I have similar questions as this guy in Film School Rejects post. Well, I don’t really care about ‘why was Beech [Freeman’s character] is always wearing sunglasses’ but the rest are definitely valid plot holes issues. I feel that my beef with Kosinski’s first film, Tron Legacy, where it’s mostly style over substance, also applies to this one. The one advantage is that this one he has a far more charismatic protagonist than Garrett Hedlund (more on that latter). But similarly, Kosinski seems far more concerned with building cool looking stuff than he is about crafting a real ‘meaty’ story that goes beyond a mere ‘intriguing concept.’

That said, I still find this film entertaining and I’ve got to admit I was wowed by the visuals. Everything from the bluish-hued barren landscape of earth in ruins, to the ultra sleek sky tower and Jack’s collapsible Bubbleship [apparently the design was a hybrid of a jet fighter and a Bell 47 helicopter – per We Are Movie Geeks], there are visual eye candy aplenty for the sci-fi geek in all of us. I saw this in 2D which was perfectly fine, but I bet this film would look pretty stunning on IMAX.

The pace is pretty good and I never find myself bored in the entire two hours. I also think there’s a balance of quiet moments and full-throttle action, which makes it more effective when it does happen. The aircraft chase with the drones in the narrow canyons remind me too much of so many other sci-fis, most notably The Phantom Menace. But then again, this film borrow a lot of sci-fi concepts from other films so I shouldn’t be surprised by that. Despite all the plot holes though, I’ve got to give props to the filmmaker for at least attempting to inject some humanity into the story.

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As I’ve alluded to earlier, Tom Cruise is still more than capable to carry this film. I don’t think Jack Harper would make my top 10 Tom Cruise roles, but still he’s very watchable. Some of the flying sequences made me think of this movie as Top Gun meets Minority Report, it’s amazing Cruise still looks pretty much the same as he was in Top Gun which was released 27 years ago!! One of Cruise strengths is that he is believable in the action as well as the more emotional scenes. Interestingly enough, the part of him reminiscing on earth—recalling his old days of watching baseball, playing sports in his back yard and listening to old records—are more effective than the ‘romantic’ scenes of him and his female co-stars however. I don’t exactly know why that is, though I give Cruise some credit for not looking creepy romancing actresses nearly half his age!

Speaking of the actresses, I was impressed with Andrea Riseborough once again (she was also in Disconnect), she’s truly a star on the rise [pardon the pun] with a chameleon-like ability. I don’t think Olga Kurylenko is as versatile, but she actually impresses me more here than she did in Quantum of Solace. She has an earthy and mysterious quality about her and though she is stunningly beautiful, she doesn’t come across as flighty. Morgan Freeman of course adds gravitas to his role, Beech is the kind of ‘cool but eternally wise’ character he’s played in so many films that it probably doesn’t require much effort on his part. Hunky Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also has a small part as Freeman’s cohort, but I think he’s more capable than that.

Final Thoughts: I don’t think Oblivion will be a sci-fi classic. I appreciate it for what it is, which is popcorn entertainment, but not profound enough to be memorable. I don’t mind watching it again down the road though, even if it’s just to gawk at the marvelous visuals. It’s the kind of escapist entertainment that’s tailored to maximize Cruise’s massive star power. The film’s box office prowess will prove that Cruise’s certainly still got it.
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Three and a half stars out of Five

3.5 out of 5 reels


Well, what did you think of this film? Did you enjoy this more than I did?

Double Indie Film Reviews: Disconnect + Unfinished Song

This past week, I had the chance to watch a couple of indie films through MSPIFF and press screening. It would’ve been three films but the blizzard last Thursday kept me from going to the MUD screening. Yes it’s such a bummer but really, in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to what’s going on in other parts of the world, it’s really not that big a deal to miss a single movie, I’ll just catch it when it’s released in the cinema. In any case, here are my mini reviews I was fortunate to see:

Disconnect

DisconnectPosterA hard-working lawyer, attached to his cell phone, can’t find the time to communicate with his family. A couple is drawn into a dangerous situation when their secrets are exposed online. A widowed ex-cop struggles to raise a mischievous son who cyber-bullies a classmate. An ambitious journalist sees a career-making story in a teen that performs on an adult-only site. They are strangers, neighbors and colleagues and their stories collide in this riveting dramatic thriller about ordinary people struggling to connect in today’s wired world.

Right from the trailer, it’s easy to just regard this as a cautionary tale for the internet age, but as the story unfolds, it’s really about more than that. And at some point, we’ve either read about or even have a personal connection with the real life tragedies that happen to the characters in the film. Something that’s seemingly trivial like being constantly on one’s cell phone, something I definitely could relate to, can have dire consequences if it actually mean we’ve become ‘disconnected’ from the world and people around us. All three loosely-interconnected stories seem like something ripped from the headlines and director Henry Alex Rubin doesn’t pull any punches in showing the truly ugly side of humanity, the kind of hurt and tragedy that can happen when we think of everything as simply fun and frivolity. The most heart-breaking story involves the cyber-bullying by a couple of mindless teenagers posing as a female admirer on Facebook to trick a particularly forlorn fellow classmate. The eerie part is I was just reading about a teen driven to suicide for similar reasons just a day before I saw this film. You know that the ‘fun and games’ would not end well, but it still makes your skin crawl watching the situation culminating into that harrowing moment. A friend of mine warned me that this film contain a lot of nudity, which I sort of expected given the subject matter. I still question whether it’s necessary to portray teen nudity even if it’s integral to the story, but fortunately this film doesn’t dwell on it and the script did its part in conveying the painful message across. At times I feel that the buildup is a bit too drawn-out though, I think a more careful editing might’ve made this a more taut and efficient thriller.

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A couple of performances jump out at me right away, one is Andrea Riseborough who pulls a ‘Jessica Chastain’ on me as I had no idea who she was a few weeks ago and this week I happen to see two of her films playing two very different roles! Here she plays an ambitious reporter who runs a career-making story on teenage sex-cam prostitution who ended up being drawn to one of the male prostitute, Kyle (Max Thieriot, whom I have never heard before either but was quite good here). Oh it’s interesting to see designer Marc Jacobs playing the sex-cam pimp, I had no idea he’s got acting aspirations but I recognize him right away from the fashion magazines. The other standout performance is Jason Bateman in a rare serious role as the overworked father who’s trying to put the pieces together after almost losing his son. He’s believable as a dad who’s ravaged with guilt, but then became too obsessed with the case he risk of losing his whole family.

I also want to mention Frank Grillo who impressed me in Warrior as Joel Edgerton’s trainer. I find him to be a compelling but underrated actor, I wish he’d get more prominent role as he’s got quite a leading man charisma. Not overly impressed with Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård as the married couple, I mean they’re ok but aren’t as memorable as the rest. This is quite a tough film to watch, in fact I feel drained at the end of the film as there’s barely any humor injected here to break up the intensity. But it’s one of those films that is definitely worth a watch as it makes you think about the seemingly-trivial things one does in life. As the tagline says: Real life is on the line, it certainly makes me appreciate those close to me and remind me not to take the time we have with them for granted.


4 out of 5 reels


Unfinished Song [Song for Marion]

Grumpy pensioner Arthur honors his recently deceased wife’s passion for performing by joining the unconventional local choir to which she used to belong, a process that helps him build bridges with his estranged son, James. SongForMarionPoster

I don’t know why they changed the title to Unfinished Song as it’s not as appealing as Song for Marion to me. The film is really about a ‘song’ for Marion, a terminally-ill woman who’s loved by the community choir class she attends to regularly. Now, her curmudgeon husband Arthur obliges in taking her to these classes but he never pretends to enjoy it. In fact, at some moment of the film, Arthur really struggles in simply enjoying life, such a contrast to his wife’s sunny disposition even in her darkest moments when her cancer came back and she only had weeks to live. The main draw of this film for me is the cast, especially Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave as an elderly couple Arthur and Marion who love each other despite their major differences. It’s also nice to see an uplifting film amidst the mostly dark premise of the films I’ve signed up for at MSPIFF. There’s also something enchanting about seeing the lives of seniors, and the musical aspect reminds me a bit of Quartet with Maggie Smith as a retired opera singer. Though Marion is in the title, the film is really more about Arthur and how the last days of his wife’s life ends up being a life-transforming moment, in more ways than one. It’s never fully explained why Arthur is so grumpy, but Terrence Stamp seems fittingly-cast here as he has this inherently icy aura. He’s the kind of actor who’s amusing to watch even if you aren’t fond of the character he’s playing. I guess that’s what one would expect from an actor who’s famous for playing bad guys. Gemma Arterton takes a break from being a femme-fatale type and plays a sweet music teacher Elizabeth spends most of the time either with the young students at her school or with her more um, mature students in her spare time. Other than that, there’s no depth in her character however, the film never tells us why she has no friends her own age. There’s a friendship that develops between her and Arthur, but it seems rather forced at times despite the actors’ best effort. UnfinishedSong_Pics Now, I wish I could say I LOVE this film but I feel that the predictable premise is made worse by the overly emotionally-manipulative direction which prevents it from being truly engaging. I think the main issue is the script as director/writer Paul Andrew Williams obviously has a stellar cast at their disposal. The family dynamics between Arthur and his estranged son (Christopher Eccleston) isn’t as compellingly-handled as it could’ve been, either. That said, there are some tender and warm moments that end in a feel-good finale. The musical aspect is definitely amusing, and Mr. Stamp wowed me with his vocal chops in more than one occasions. I think this one is worth a rental if you’re a fan of the cast and you’re willing to tolerate the sentimental stuff. It’s moving enough to appreciate and enjoy, one thing for sure its heart is in the right place.


3 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on either one of these films/cast? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Top 10 favorite Tom Cruise’s film/performance … and vote for your own top 3

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When people ask me who’s my favorite actor, I would always say without hesitation that Tom Cruise is my favorite. Then people would ask why or say that’s gotta tough liking Cruise. I respond back and say, why is that? He’s one of the most prolific leading men working in Hollywood today. But ever since the couch jumping incident on The Opera Show and his interview with Matt Lauer a few years back, it’s very fashionable to dislike him now. People tend to forget that many of his films in the 80s, 90s and early part 2000s were event films. In fact, studio would always release in films in either the prime summer or holidays season. Sure his box office power is not what it used to be now but he’s one of the few actors in Hollywood who can still convince any studio big wigs to green light a film if he’s involved in it. It took several years before Jack Reacher made it to the big screen and the reason why was because Cruise had agreed to star in it. In an interview with Reacher’s author, Jim Grant, he and the film’s producers tried many years without any luck to get the first Jack Reacher film into the cinemas. Finally Cruise got a hold of the script, he liked it and convinced Paramount to invest in the film.

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I feel Cruise never gave less than 100% in all of his films, even the bad ones, I thought he tried his best to give the film some life and that’s why I really like him as an actor. A good example was Knight & Day, a dreadful film but you can tell Cruise really tried hard to save that movie. You can’t say that to a lot of actors in his age group nowadays (Mr. Willis are you listening?) With his new film, Oblivion, opening later this week, I’ve decided to come up with my ten favorite films he starred in. I’ve seen all of his films except two, Rock of the Ages and Lions for Lambs. The criteria for this list doesn’t have anything to do with box office numbers or Oscar nominations but let’s face it, most of these films were either huge of office hits or received many Oscar nominations.

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10. Jack Reacher in Jack Reacher

I went into this movie with no expectations what so ever and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. Yes Cruise’s not the Jack Reacher fans of the book wanted but I thought he was great in the role and without him, the film would’ve been just another average action thriller. (Note: I haven’t read any of the Jack Reacher books so I can’t comment on how good or bad Cruise was compare to his character from the novels.)

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9. Dr. William Hartford in Eyes Wide Shut

This may have been the most un-Tom Cruise role he’d ever played. His character is someone who’s obsessed with sex and well the whole film was about sex. My favorite part in the film is when his wife told him she had a fantasy about having sex with another man and would leave him and their daughter just to be with this man. The expression on Cruise’s face was pretty darn accurate of how a man would feel if his wife/girlfriend would confess something like that to him.

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8. Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man

I think this is the role he’s born to play. A young selfish, arrogant and all around douchebag. The film came out during the prime of his career and it made over $170mil at the box office! I highly doubt the film would’ve made that much without him, yes Dustin Hoffman was still a big named star back then but I don’t believe the film would’ve been as successful without Cruise.

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7. Mitch McDeere in The Firm

Another film I believe wouldn’t have been as successful if not for Cruise’s involvement. The film was based on a hugely popular novel by John Grisham. When the film version was announced and Cruise got the lead role, Grisham was not too happy about it. In the book, McDeere was a tall, blonde and blued eyes; someone how looks more like Matthew McConaughey. Of course when the film came out and was a box office gold, Grisham changed his tone a bit and said Cruise did a great job.

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6. Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men

Okay I don’t like to repeat myself but without Cruise, this film wouldn’t have earned more than $140mil at the box office. No doubt the film’s a great court room drama and his scene with Jack Nicholson was truly a classic scene. But I guaranteed if the lead role was played by someone else, the movie wouldn’t have a huge hit.

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5. Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder

This film was one of most highly anticipated summer flicks of 1990 and unfortunately it tanked at the box office. It’s Cruise’s first box office disappointment but I still thought he’s great in the role. I used to watch this film constantly when I was younger, I just love those racing scenes and car crashes. I know it’s a silly movie and very cheesy but it’s a reunion of the crew of Top Gun, directed by Tony Scott and produced by the powerful team of Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson.

A little fun fact, the crew was also set to reunite again in the late 90s for Enemy of the State but because Cruise was stuck shooting Eyes Wide Shut with Kubrick, he had to back out. It’s too bad that he never got to do a movie with Tony Scott again.

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4. Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves

High school drama was a quite popular genre back in the 80s and here Cruise played a high football star who’s desperate to leave his hometown. The writing and directing weren’t that great but I thought Cruise carried the entire movie even though he’s so young. I particularly like the scene when his team just loss a heartbreaking game and his confrontation with his coach played by Craig T. Nelson was quite excellent. If you’re a fan of Cruise, I highly you seek this movie out if you’ve never seen it.

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3. Ethan Hunt in all of the Mission: Impossible films

One of the most popular franchises in films and I felt Cruise always gave his best even for action genre. I mean who’s crazy enough to climb the tallest building the world without a stunt double? I don’t think many actors would do that. After the disappointment box office of the third film, many thought the franchise was dead but Cruise was smart enough to bring in Brad Bird to re-energize the franchise and M:I-4 was a big success. I’m looking forward to the fifth film.

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2. Jerry Maguire in Jerry Maguire

Another role that he’s born to play, an arrogant sport agent who’s all about the money. But I think the chemistry between him and Renee Zellweger that mad this film a fun watch. Of course who can forget the “Show me the money!” scene with Cuba Gooding Jr.

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1. Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July

I think Cruise should’ve won an Oscar for his performance in this film. It’s powerful and great performance, I don’t remember who were the other actors he was up against in that year’s Oscar but I thought he got robbed. I hope he’ll get to play a role like this again soon and maybe he’ll finally get that Oscar statue that he truly deserves.

– Post by Ted S.


Ruth’s note:

I agree with most of Ted’s picks here, but my top ten would definitely include these roles that aren’t on Ted’s list:

  • Vincent, Collateral
  • Chief John Anderton, Minority Report
  • Nathan Algren, The Last Samurai

Those are our favorite Tom Cruise’s films/performances, do share yours in the comments section. Of course if you’re a Cruise hater, then feel free to trash his films too. 🙂


Now your turn! Pick three of YOUR favorite Tom Cruise roles out of over three dozens of his feature films!