September Movie Watching Recap and Movie of the Month

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Hello October!
Oh I so love Autumn. It’s my favorite season ever and one of the perks of living in Minnesota is we’ve got such a gorgeous foliage here. I’m glad that the sweltering hot & humid days are now behind us, I just hope the white stuff won’t arrive for at least a couple of months yet.

Fall movie season is now in full swing too, there are at least a dozen films I’m still looking forward to, half of them are in Josh’ September Oscar Prediction. I’m also excited for TCFF, can’t believe it’s only 3 weeks away! October is surely going to be one super hectic month, but hey it’s a great time to be a movie blogger as there’ll be no shortage of movies for me to watch 😀

Well, here are some of my posts this past month:

New-to-me Films Watched:

Batman_DarkKnightReturns

The Dark Knight Returns Part I

DonJonDon Jon (full review)

EverybodysFineEverybody’s Fine

TheFamily
The Family (full review)

GravityGravity (review coming later this week)

ParklandParkland

WWZWorld War Z (full review)

Now that I think about it, I didn’t see too many films this month. In fact, I didn’t pay for any cinema viewings at all so all of the new releases I saw were from press screenings. We were planning to see RUSH this weekend but somehow it just didn’t work out. Perhaps this weekend we’ll go see that, the good reviews really got me curious about that one. Speaking of which, I’ll be working on my review of Gravity this week, easily the best one I saw this month.

On the TV front, well I hope there’ll be two shows I’ll be watching regularly this Fall. I like the pilot of Agents of SHIELD so far, but what I look forward to most is Almost Human with Karl Urban! I posted the trailer of that show here.

AgentsOfSHIELDSAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (pilot review)


Rewatches:

ManIntheIronMaskThe Man with the Iron Mask

Face_OffFace/Off

LivingDaylightsThe Living Daylights

SeptRecap_SleepingBeautySleeping Beauty

Nine_musicalNine (see my Music Break post)

LoveActuallyLove, Actually

Apart from Nine, all the movies I rewatched I could easily see once a year. It’s been ages since I saw Face/Off but it’s as awesome as the first time I watched it. I actually just rewatched Love, Actually last night, though I fast forwarded most of Bill Nighy stuff as he swore way too much. I forgot how much lovely but also frustrating the segment with Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro was, and Andrew Lincoln is so adorable as the ‘man with the sign’ who’s in love with Keira Knightley. Of course I also just realized that three Austen heroes/heroine are in this movie: Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth), Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) and my personal fave, Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman)!


Movie of the Month:

GravityMovieOftheMonth
(full review)

The buzz for this film has been strong from various film festivals but I can happily report that it’s worth the hype! It’s only 90-min long but it’s such an intense and emotional roller coaster ride that speaks about our humanity. ‘Don’t Let Go’ the tagline says, well the film certainly grabs you right from the start and doesn’t let go.


Well, that’s my monthly recap folks. What’s YOUR favorite film you saw in September?

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FlixChatter Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut Don Jon

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My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.

The film begins with Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Jersey-accented voice over as Jon Martello, a New Jersey bartender nicknamed Don Jon by his buddies for his ability to pull ’10s’ types of girls every weekend at the club. The film starts off with a glimpse of Jon’s daily life that’s mapped out with almost a military precision. Right away we know that Jon is an obsessive-compulsive, he wants everything JUST SO, from the way he washes his dishes, makes his bed every morning, his workout routine, all the way to how he consumes his ultimate obsession: porn.

Bedding even the most beautiful women in chronic one-night-stands just doesn’t cut it for Jon. Only porn can satisfy his erotic itch, prompting him to sneak up to his laptop in the middle of the night, even with his sex partner of the night still sleeping on his bed! Let’s just say that I’d never hear that ‘bong’ sound of a Mac boot-up the same way ever again. Gordon-Levitt films Jon’s daily routine is in full-on satire mode. Even with the crude sexual imagery projected on screen, however revolting they are, it’s never without a twinge of hilarity and heartbreak. It’s sad to see how a Jon’s practically drowning in his addiction and being further away from making a real human connection.

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Then enters Barbara Sugarman, a voluptuous blond who’s exactly Jon’s type. It turns out Barbara is quite an elusive catch. He has to wait for sex for what may seemed like an eternity for such a Lothario. Soon Barbara has Jon wrapped in her well-manicured little finger in her hard-to-get seduction game. Initially it seems that perhaps Barbara would be the making of Jon, the way she pushes Jon to realize his potential by encouraging to go to night school. She is repulsed by Jon’s porn addiction which doesn’t suit her image of what a perfect man should be. Apparently men who do their own chores is also a big no-no, as at one point Barbara berates Jon for wanting to buy a mop. ‘When we move in together, don’t you ever do your own cleaning,’ she firmly declares.

Her ideal romance is the happy-ever-after kind she sees in rom-coms, which Jon despises. The scene where she drags Jon to see stereotypical chick flicks (featuring cameos by Channing Tatum, Anne Hathaway and Cuba Gooding Jr.) is hilarious, but also very telling just how doomed this relationship is from the start. In the third act, we’re introduced to an older woman Esther (Julianne Moore) from Jon’s night class. Their encounters are amusing at first but there are some genuine drama and poignant touches as well.

Kudos for Gordon-Levitt for tackling a tricky subject matter with aplomb, even if it’s not as profound as he perhaps intended it to be. He doesn’t pull any punches with the porn imagery though, which was cut down from NC-17 to get a hard R rating. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see this film if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut. I’m glad I gave it a shot but it’s not something I’d likely want to see again. The foul language also makes my ear burn but I guess it comes with the nature of this character. But the ugly stuff is shown to make a point and I for one don’t find any of the vulgar scenes sexy at all. In fact, it has the opposite effect, it’s as repulsive as seeing people snorting heroin or injecting drugs into their veins. There’s a not-so-subtle jab against the Catholic Church as well, but I think it says more about the superficial life of the protagonist. His “faith” is more about fulfilling a set of ritual instead of a genuine spiritual relationship.

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The 32-year-old actor assembles a great cast for his debut, starting with casting himself. He’s always been a consistently excellent actor, but he takes it up a few notches here in a bravura role. I’m glad he didn’t end up casting Tatum as he originally planned which would change the tone entirely I think. Not only is Gordon-Levitt’s newly-buff physique adds to the believability of the part, he’s also got the swagger to match whilst still maintain his likable charm. Scarlett Johansson looks the part as the sexy, gum-snapping starlet, complete with her perfect manicures, hoop earrings and Joisey accent. Apparently Gordon-Levitt wrote the part for her specifically and the two have quite a scorching chemistry. At times her Jersey girl portrayal is so over the top that it verges on caricature territory however, but I think the issue is more about how her character is written.

Another quibble I have is with Moore’s character, which could’ve been a bit more developed. A moment where she reveals about her past feels a bit rushed to me, which I think is a missed opportunity. The ending also feels a bit too neatly-placed and perhaps oversimplified. That said, Moore delivers quite an indelible performance as Esther, wise but vulnerable at the same time. Their scene towards the end conveys a crucial turning point for both her and Jon. It’s amusing to see Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s hot-headed dad, playing against type for those who know him as the sweet dad in Who’s the Boss. Brie Larson as Jon’s teenage sister doesn’t seem like she has much to do, but when she does, you’ll certainly take notice.

Final Thoughts: This is quite an impressive debut from Gordon-Levitt. There’s a certain style in the way he uses repetition to illustrate various point which I think is quite effective. The interesting camera work and use of sound and music in certain scenes are also worthy of note. It remains to be seen whether he’d be as good a filmmaker as he is an actor but his work here is certainly shows plenty of promise.


Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


So what do you think of DON JON and/or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular?

Rental Pick: Gothic Fantasy SOLOMON KANE starring James Purefoy

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SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Director: Michael J. Bassett
Writers: Michael J. Bassett, Robert E. Howard (character)
Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alice Krige, Mackenzie Crook, Patrick Hurd-Wood, Jason Flemyng
Genre: Action Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Adventures, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rating: R
Run time: 104 minutes

Release dates: World premiere on September 16, 2009 at the Toronto Film Festival. United Kingdom theatrical release was on February 19, 2010. Limited release in US theaters September 2012. US DVD and Netflix streaming released July 2013.

Waiting for Solomon

It took three years for Solomon Kane to appear on a North American movie screen. What took so long? Really, I had this film in my Netflix “Saved” queue for three years, forever it seemed. When I checked my Netflix list last month and saw it moved out of Saved and into my live queue, without the dreaded red type saying “long wait,” it felt like Christmas in July. The fantasy-action genre isn’t usually at the top of my list, but just about everything James Purefoy does (ahem, Rome) draws me in (the major exception is the Fox TV show soon starting its second season, The Following, where JP plays a serial killer. Turns out that’s not something I enjoy viewing, even though JP is at his ‘evil’ best). I was apprehensive at the start of the film, but soon was totally wrapped up. Everything about this film is of the highest quality, even though the budget was a fairly modest $45 million.

Background

JamesPurefoySolomonKaneSolomon Kane is an epic action film based on the pulp magazine character Solomon Kane created in 1928 by Robert E. Howard. Despite optioning the rights in 1997, filming did not begin until January 2008. It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy.

It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy. Reception was generally favorable, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 65% following the UK/US release; the film’s atmosphere and Purefoy’s acting attracted the most acclaim.

Storyline

A once-murderous sea captain – Solomon Kane – is holed up in a monastery in retreat from the devil, whom he fears is coming for his soul. Kane soon learns, however, that the path to redemption lies in defending those who are weak. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer’s murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

Character First

Fans of Robert Howard’s Solomon Kane books won’t recognize this screenplay. In Howard’s books, Solomon Kane is already a fully-formed character. But here, writer Michael Bassett creates a prequel – the character and story are his vision of how Kane changes and grows. He’s successful in laying out Kane’s background and how Kane, his family, and the destructive forces in his life come together.

Michael says, “If you’re not interested in the character, you’re not interested in the movie,” and “character first, character, character, character.” Yes, Michael Bassett really says “character” three times in a row. See for yourself. Check out this fascinating interview with James Purefoy and Michael Bassett from 2012 ComicCon:

James Purefoy

James Purefoy is the ONLY reason I wanted to see this film. I doubt if it would have even been on my radar at all if it wasn’t for him in the lead. James is simply brilliant in this role. He convincingly morphs from being a ruthless murderer to a quiet penitent in a monastery, from a man of determined nonviolence to, finally, according to James, an “early 17th Century Puritan avenger.” His costumes morph right along with him. Why do I suddenly want the Solomon Kane action figure, complete with wide-brimmed hat and swirling cloak?

SolomonKane_Stills1

I’ve never been overly intrigued by an action or superhero (sorry Superman, Batman, Spiderman). But thanks to James, I’ve got one now. I’m completely hooked on Kane. What can you expect from the movie? Well, James manages to turn a simple answer to that question into a performance in and of itself. He tells us, in less than two minutes, at 2009 ComicCon:

Author Robert E. Howard

RobertEHowardSolomon Kane is just one of Howard’s creations. He also created Conan the Barbarian, a character whose cultural impact has been compared to such icons as Tarzan, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and James Bond. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard created the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning many imitators and giving him a large influence in the fantasy field. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted. I was very surprised and saddened to find out he committed suicide at only 30 years of age, and his most success with his writing career was only about seven years.

DVD commentary

The commentary turns out to be one of the very best I’ve ever listened to, right behind Roger Ebert’s Citizen Kane (wow, two Kanes!). Writer/director Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy are easy to listen to and are spot on discussing exactly what you’re seeing on the screen, and they let us in on some very interesting details of the film.

One of my favorites is when Solomon rides up to a destroyed and seemingly deserted chapel. Kane dismounts and tethers his horse to a post. James says he gets annoyed when an actor jumps off his horse and drops the reins without making any effort to secure them. He insisted on doing it as part of the scene. I laughed and just about fell off the couch, because I notice that behavior with horses in movies all the time… it’s one of my pet peeves too! Michael starts giving JP a good-natured hard time about it… he jokes that JP just wasted five seconds of screen time. I love it when JP reminds Bassett that those five seconds remain in the film.

Speaking of horses, there is an exciting scene (you’ll see it if you watch the trailer) where two pursuers on horseback in full gallop flank Kane on both his left and right side. As soon as they are all parallel, Solomon raises two pistols, outstretches both arms to full length and blasts both baddies off their horses at exactly the same time. I can’t recall ever seeing a stunt on a horse like that. James is brilliant for having pulled it off (he does almost all his own stunts in this film). In the commentary, he tells how releasing the reins from both hands at the same time so he can shoot, all the while racing through rough, forested terrain is quite an unnerving experience. I would say so!

SolomonKane_Stills2

The Verdict

I whole-heartedly agree with this comment from IMDb:

Deserves much higher recognition, superb.

As an avid reader of Gothic fantasy I am not easily pleased when it comes to big screen versions of these kinds of stories. After so many disappointments in the past when stories falter or special effects either take over the screen or are shoddy and laughable I always feel as apprehensive as I do interested when I start watching a film like this.

However, I can honestly say that this film is one of the best I have ever seen. I wish I’d seen in it a cinema, but hadn’t heard of it. As soon as the final credits rolled I wanted to watch it all over again, and instantly went online and bought the DVD, something I rarely do.

Everything about this film blew me away, from the atmosphere of gritty cold despair, the incredible (British!!!) cast, to the imagery and beauty of some of the scenes. I could wax lyrical about so many parts of this film that I’d basically be commenting on virtually every scene. I don’t know where I’d start, and once I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Fantastic. Just utterly made of every kind of Win imaginable.

The Solomon Kane DVD quickly became part of my movie collection too. If ever there was a trilogy I’d anxiously look forward to, it would be Solomon Kane. Here’s hoping for two more.

TRAILER:

Check out the trailer below:

fourreels
4 out of 5 reels

Special thanks to BECKY K. for this excellent in-depth review!


Hope you enjoy the in-depth review. So what do YOU think of Solomon Kane?

Musings on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Pilot

AgentsOfShieldBanner

Finally got around to watching this one as I missed the pilot on Tuesday. I was initially anticipating this but honestly, I kind of forgot about it for a while.

Whedon_SHIELDwritersYou gotta hand it to Marvel studios in their shrewd strategy in marketing/releasing their films. The Avengers stands as the highest-grossing superhero blockbuster of all time with over $1.5 Billion worldwide gross, so naturally the comic book studio would want to capitalize on that. It’s another proof of the studio’s shrewdness in marketing their products. Joss Whedon, who’s now the creative supervisor of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, heads back to his TV roots with creating this TV series. This time it’s a family affair too, he’s working with his brother Jed Whedon and Jed’s wife, fellow screenwriter Maurissa Tancharoen.  S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), led by Agent Coulson, is tasked with handling cases that involve the “strange and the unknown.” Seems that it’s got tons of potential to expand the Marvel universe, so did the pilot deliver?

A few quick thoughts on the pilot:

The setting takes place after The Avengers, post Battle of New York in the finale of the movie. I was a big fan of HEROES in the first couple of seasons but then the ‘freaks of the week’ storyline kind of get old. Now, I’m hoping it’d be different with Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. given its ties with characters I already know and love.

Welcome back Agent Coulson!

I love Clark Gregg! He’s just so darn likable you can’t help but root for him. I might’ve seen him in numerous supporting parts but the last show I saw him before he was part of Marvel universe was the sit-com The New Adventures of Old Christine. Wow, he’s certainly has come a long way since then, glad to see him finally leading a show of his own! Clearly he’s having a great time as Coulson, he has this constant smirk on face he can’t seem to shake, ahah. Nice intro on his character too:

Coulson_WelcometoLevel7

“Welcome to Level Seven.”

“Sorry, that corner was really dark and I couldn’t help myself”

Just how’s Coulson’s back from the dead?

If you haven’t seen The Avengers by now, you probably just aren’t interested. So I don’t consider this to be a spoiler. We all know Coulson stopped breathing when Loki stabbed him with a giant scepter. Now, I don’t know how far back was the plan to bring him back for this show, but even in the movie, Nick Fury and agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) sort of hinted that perhaps Coulson survived. Something about his bloodied baseball cards weren’t in his pocket in all that.

So it’s for the purpose of team building that Fury kept the truth from the Avengers to energize the team for the imminent battle. On the show, Coulson briefly explains just how he comes back to life… and the keyword is Tahiti.

MariaHill_Coulson_SHIELD

 “Tahiti. He really doesn’t know, does he?” Dr. Streiten (Firefly alum Ron Glass) whispered to Maria Hill.

“He can never know.” Hill replied.

Oh I love how Whedon keeps the mystery alive as to the real truth behind the whole ‘back to life’ ordeal and I’m curious what he’d do with that!

The crowd-pleasing snappy dialog…

I was getting tired of the ‘Don’t touch Lola’ quip that’s been played over and over again in every single promo of the show, but fortunately those aren’t the only quotable stuff from the show. There are actually not-so-subtle nods and references that geeks, esp. Whedonites, would totally eat up. Thanks to TVFanatic for these quotes!

Agent Ward: “I don’t think Thor’s technically a god.”

Agent Maria Hill: “Well you haven’t been near his arms”

The self-referential stuff are fun, like poking fun at the key audience of the show itself.

Agent Ward: She’s a groupy, all the hacking into SHIELD, tracking powers. She might as well be one of those sweaty Cosplay characters crowding around Stark tower.

Skye: WHAT?! I would… [whispers] it was just one time.

Cool Set Pieces + Special Effects

I’m not sure how big the budget is exactly but I’m sure it’s a boatload. Looks like after the behemoth box office success of The Avengers, Whedon could have anything at his disposal. The set pieces are top notch, the slick-looking headquarter, the SHIELD plane, state-of-the-art technology, etc. are as much eye candy as the pretty cast. That plane still can’t hold a candle to the geekgasm-inducing helicarrier but still it’s pretty sweet!

No shortage of action sequences and slick tech gizmos to um, marvel on, that’s for sure.

Planeinterior_SHIELD

Girl Power!

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise coming from Whedon. After all he’s created one of the most iconic female heroine with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Love Ming-Na Wen casting … did you know she’s going to be 50 years old this year? You’d never know it by looking at her! Crazy that the last film I saw her in was The Joy Luck Club 20 years ago and there’s definitely no ass-kickin’ in that one. Here she’s like a slightly softer version of Michelle Yeoh but yeah, she’s bad ass and managed to still looks elegant doing it, too. I’d love to see how her character arc develop over the course of the show, she certainly is my favorite character after of course, Coulson.

The rest of the cast

Chloe Benet manages to surprise me as Skye, in a good way. In the pilot she looks like another pretty young thing but she actually has pretty decent comic timing. I like that she’s a rebel, albeit a goofy one, and her obsession with superheroes is endearing. She’s recruited for her computer hacking ability, and judging from her scenes with agent Ward, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two’ll hook up. I just hope they’d keep the romantic stuff to a minimum as it can get really lame, fast. Especially when you don’t have strong actors to pull it off, which brings me to …

Skye_Ward_SHIELD


Brett Dalton
as the tough guy Agent Ward. Well, he is just as bland as he looks in all the promos. Skye referring him as T-1000 is quite spot on considering how robotic his acting style is. He just gives me a Soap Opera-ish vibe (NEVER a good thing), like he just steps out of Days of Our Lives or All My Children, arched eyebrows and pout intact. Not much to go for on IMDb as far as acting cred, which makes me wonder just how he convinced Whedon on his audition? Hopefully he’d step it up in the future episodes but right now, he’s just tall, dark and meh to me.

TechGeek_SHIELD

Oh I’m also not terribly fond of the two Brits who make up the tech experts Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker). Yeah ok, catchy moniker but the two actors are pretty bland and when they try to be funny it makes me cringe! Maybe I’ll warm up to those two but right now they kind of annoy me.

How long will this keep me interested?

Well, so far it’s got enough going for it to keep me tuning in for the next one. The storyline involving Project Centipede should be familiar to those who’ve seen Iron Man 3. It could’ve been more compelling but I’m having mixed feelings the neat resolution at the end.

But hey, I can’t help but geek out at flying LOLA!

FlyingLola_SHIELD

I mean how could Skye ever say no to the offer of joining SHIELD now?? I literally clapped when that scene came on, it was pure geek-gasm stuff. Forget KITT (I probably date myself here, ahah), Lola is by far THE coolest TV car ever. Boy, if Whedon already shows something THAT awesome in the pilot, I’m hoping he’s got even cooler stuff in store for us in future episodes!

So I guess the answer to my question above is: we shall see. It’ll take a few more episodes before I can decide if I want to keep watching.


Ok so that’s my two cents on the show so far. What do you all think? Let me know your favorite and least favorite parts of the show.

Music Break: Marion Cotillard’s musical segments in NINE

I was browsing Netflix Instant yesterday when I saw the cover of NINE flashed by. I remember seeing that film a few years back and I even reviewed it. Overall I wasn’t fond of the film, it felt extremely indulgent and vapid. Despite Daniel Day-Lewis’ best effort and the spectacular female cast, Rob Marshall’s musical just didn’t wow me.

The two scenes that did make an impression on me, were the two musical segments performed by Marion Cotillard. She played Luisa Contini, Guido’s former-film-star-but-now-abandoned wife. Cotillard is also the only cast member who has two musical numbers in the movie, and I adore both of them. Kudos to composer Maury Yeston for writing such beautiful melody and lyrics of all the songs in the film.

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Luisa laments about husband’s obsession with making movies, and bedding his actresses, in the sequence My Husband Makes Movies. It’s such an emotional song and Cotillard conveys such pathos in the way she sings the song. I like that the scene also shows the first time Guido meets Luisa during her audition. It adds so much to the sentiment of the moment. The song such a gorgeous melody that has a sad, haunting quality. It’s quite a heartbreaking song that it actually made me tear up every time I hear it.

Her second musical sequence Take it All is far less demure. In fact, it’s quite a seductive number as Luisa shimmied down the catwalk in sparkly stripper getup. The spirited sequence is decidedly sexual and provocative, but it’s just as sad as the first one as she bares it all, body and soul, for her husband to see just how much she’s kept on giving.

NINE_TakeItAll

I love how passionate this song is, it’s both sexy and heartbreaking at the same time. Marion’s performance is nothing short of brilliant, I think her character is definitely the scene-stealer of the film. I dare say that she even outshone Day-Lewis every time she appeared in the film.

I still need to see her Oscar-winning performance as French singer Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. In her IMDb trivia, it’s said that ‘if she had not been an actress, she would have liked to become a singer’ No doubt Marion would have a flourishing career in that as well, heck she could probably do both. Another actor I wish would venture into singing is Ewan McGregor, LOVE his voice in Moulin Rouge!

So yeah, if you haven’t seen NINE yet, I’d say it’s worth a rent. The soundtrack however, should be worth buying.


What do you think of NINE and/or these two musical numbers?

Spotlight on Bill Murray & my Top Five Favorite Roles

BillMurrayBday It was Bill Murray‘s birthday this past Saturday, he turned 63. I know it’s a bit late but I can’t resist making a tribute to the comedian whose practically a legend. I’ve always been a big fan of the Illinois native, he’s perhaps my favorite SNL-grad (he’s one of the original members) who’s made it big in Hollywood. Murray’s one of those comedians who’s just naturally funny. His deadpan expression alone is just hilarious, which he certainly puts to good use in various roles that have achieved cult status over the years. He’s apparently not just quirky in his roles, but Mr. Murray seems to be just as amusing in real life. You’ve got to check out this awesome infographic that I found on HuffingtonPost site Click the larger image to view the entire thing.

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There’s also a site aptly called BillMurrayStory.com… with a tagline ‘no one would ever believe you‘ 😀 Very few actors have become a cultural phenomenon of sort. I remember reading how people all over the states were making banners to invite Mr. Murray to their parties as he’s been known as a party crasher! Now, before I posted clips of my favorite roles from the 6’2″ actor, here are some interesting trivia that you might not know about (thanks to IMDb):

BillMurrayLostInTranslationSofia Coppola wrote the lead role of Bob Harris in Lost in Translation (2003), with Murray specifically in mind. She did not know the actor and even enlisted the help of her famous father, Francis Ford Coppola, to track down the sometimes quite elusive Murray. Once he finally read the script, though, he agreed to do it on the spot. Murray and Sofia Coppola are now good friends.

He has rubbed some collaborators the wrong way because he has a tendency to re-write and improvise his way through scripts until many of his scenes barely resembles the original versions. Most collaborators ultimately find, though, it’s to the improvement of the films.

Has no agent, no business manager, or favorite hair and make-up artist. He travels without an entourage.

Was considered for the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in the 1989 Batman film when it was set to be identical to the 1960s TV Series before Tim Burton came along. He’s also considered for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars (1977).

Turned down Steve Carell’s role in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), which became one of the few choices in his career that he regretted.

Was considered and tested for the voice role of Sulley in Monsters, Inc. (2001), but the director, Pete Docter, said that when the filmmakers decided to offer it to Murray, they were unable to make contact with him and took that to mean “no”.

Was a frequent collaborator with Harold Ramis throughout the 1980s, but their working relationship ended during the filming of Groundhog Day (1993) due to differing views on what the film should be: Ramis claims that Murray wanted the film to be more philosophical, while Ramis himself simply meant for it to be a comedy. Ramis also cites that Murray’s personal problems at the time (namely the ending of his first marriage) had a negative effect on his work ethic, causing him to be uncharacteristically harsh during filming, as another reason for the end of their working relationship.

Appeared in Zombieland (2009) as a favor to Woody Harrelson, movie co-star and big “Bill Murray” fan.

Now, I can’t really remember when I first saw Bill Murray. Most likely it’s in Ghostbusters (1984) as my brothers were a big fan of that movie. I still need to see a lot more of his films, especially the two by Wes Anderson that I missed out on: Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But out of about a dozen roles, here are five of my favorites (in alphabetical order):

BROKEN FLOWERS

This is the only film by Jim Jarmusch I saw so far. Murray plays a womanizer who received an anonymous letter from a former lover informing him that he has a son who may be looking for him. This is kind of a road film of sort following his journey to visit his old flames. The female cast is pretty awesome here, esp. Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone and Tilda Swinton. Murray’s performance is quite restrained here and more reflective, but his deadpan mannerism is perfect for the role of Don Johnston who’ve lived his life on auto pilot. This scene with Lange and her cat is particularly amusing. http://youtu.be/kRg5-TIF9LQ

GHOSTBUSTERS

You can’t talk about Bill Murray’s career and not mention his early iconic role. I saw this years ago as a kid but his role with fellow SNL cast member Dan Aykroyd is always fun to watch. Murray plays a lovable wiseguy like nobody’s business and Peter Venkman got the best lines in this Ivan Reitman’s comedy classic.

GROUNDHOG DAY

This is one of his films that never seem to get old! As someone who’s made a career out of sarcastic and insolent antiheroes, his performance as Phil Connors is downright iconic. His dry ironic humor is full on as the frustrated weather who find himself living the same day over and over. It’s absolutely hilarious but at the same time, the poignant and philosophical aspect makes this a compelling watch worth revisiting year after year. This is one of my favorite scenes ever! http://youtu.be/6VF5P7qLaEQ

LARGER THAN LIFE

The premise of this movie, about a guy who inherits a circus elephant, lends itself to hilarity. Bill Murray manages not to be upstaged by the adorable Vera the elephant. The funniest parts are when Murray’s character Jack and Vera hit the road in order to deliver the elephant to a San Diego zoo. Along the way, they encounter a psychotic truck driver, played by an unhinged Matthew McConnaughey in perhaps his best comedic role he’s ever done. The scene at the truck stop alone is worth a watch! http://youtu.be/XVV18VB9cFo

LOST IN TRANSLATION

I think if I could only name one BEST Bill Murray performance, I’d have to say this one. I mean there are some truly hilarious scenes but there’s a layer of vulnerability that he captured as the faded movie star Bob Harris that’s just as compelling to watch. His tentative relationship with a young woman who’s disillusioned with her new marriage is wonderfully written. I always say this is my favorite role of Scarlett Johansson as well. Seems that this film isn’t for everyone though. I actually recommended this film to a couple friends who didn’t find it enjoyable nor funny. For me though, the two scenes below at the photoshoot and in his hotel room with a Japanese female escort had me in stitches! I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role. http://youtu.be/gXGXZiX0pCA http://youtu.be/lPQ6VQzuyxU

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  • The Royal Tennenbaums
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Moonrise Kingdom


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So what’s YOUR favorite Bill Murray role(s)?

Weekend Viewing Roundup and World War Z review

Hello all, hope you have a great weekend. Today is the Autumnal Equinox, that is the first day of Fall! I’m sooo lovin’ the crisp, cool air of Autumn! 😀 So did you hit the theaters this weekend? Perhaps you went to see PRISONERS, billed as the first adult drama of the Fall season. If you’ve read Ted’s review from Friday, sounds like it’s worth a watch despite the long running time of more than 2.5 hours! As for me, I’d rather rent that film later on because of that running time.

Gravity_ThumbnailI did see Gravity last week and this is my quick thought on that film:

It’s perhaps THE best 3D film I saw all year and it’s one of those films that’s best to experience on the big screen or even IMAX. I can’t review it until its US release date of October 4 but let me just say it lives up to the hype. Always nice when that happens!

HTTYD_ThumbnailI also rewatched How to Train Your Dragon, which was as much fun as the first time I saw it. This is the fourth time we watched our Blu-ray, so the re-playability value is great. It always made us regret that we didn’t get to see this on the big screen! So when the sequel comes out next year, we’ll make sure to catch it on IMAX. The flying sequences with the Night Fury a.k.a. Toothless is spectacular!

Now here’s my review of…

WORLD WAR Z

WWZ_banner On Friday night, we managed to watch the unrated version of World War Z. I had been curious about this movie for some time and I heard complaints from people the fact that the film has a PG-13 rating. Now, having seen the unrated version which shows some of the really brutal scenes, including a hand getting chopped off with blood spluttering all over, I’d think that the film would probably make less of an impact in its toned-down version. Ted has posted his full review a few months ago so I’m not going to rehash the plot again. Besides, all you need to know is that a virus has somehow turned a large population of the world into the undead and it’s quickly spreading as every person who got bitten immediately turns into a flesh-eating zombie! Now, as a non-fan of the Zombie sub-genre, I wasn’t too keen on this film initially. But the more I read about it, including the numerous production issues and multiple rewrites, I’m curious how this film would turn out. Well, I actually quite like this one. I think the scale of just how catastrophic the zombie attacks are, devouring major cities in a matter of minutes, is pretty well-done. The personal story of Brad Pitt‘s character and his family isn’t as compelling as I had thought, and I agree with Ted that Mireille Enos‘ role who seemed intriguing at first ended up being nothing more than just the worried wife as her husband is out saving the world. WWZ_stills The film also has a pretty strong third act at a W.H.O. facility, which gives us a nice break from the herd of zombies as a small band of human survivors try to outsmart remaining zombies in a deserting wing of the UN building. Interesting to see Scottish actor Peter Capaldi as “W.H.O. Doctor.” As you know, a couple of months after the film’s release, the BBC announced he would be portraying the title role in Doctor Who. Pretty uncanny, huh? [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text below to read] One of the gripes I have with the movie is regarding the demise of the young virologist Andrew Fassbach who’s on mission to South Korea to find the source of the zombie outbreak. I mean seriously, with all of those zombies all around him, he actually perished when he tripped on the plane’s rear door and accidentally shot himself!! Unbelievable! Is this one of those last-minute rewrites that they didn’t even bother to figure out a decent way to go for the doctor?? I thought that was pretty lame that it took me out of the movie for a bit. Anybody else bothered by that?? I also heard that this finale is a result of one of those rewrites, which gives the audience a more hopeful ending. My impression is that the finale is a bit too good to be true, but I guess it’s got a perfect set up for a sequel. Props for Marc Forster for delivering an action-packed zombie thriller that’s both thrilling and suspenseful. Instead of a typical monster horror flick, World War Z is more in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion which also deals with an infectious disease that spreads quickly. I think the scariest part is that those two films make me think that this kind of calamity is perhaps not so implausible. Maybe we should give this CDC article a read then, you just never know, ahah.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU see this weekend?

FlixChatter Review: PRISONERS

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When I first saw the trailer of Prisoners, I thought it looked like a made for TV movie that you’d see on TNT or some cable network. So I didn’t really have much interest in seeing it on the big screen, well after reading several high praised reviews online, I changed my mind.

The movie starts out with hunting trip between a father Keller and his son, Keller and Ralph Dover (played by Hugh Jackman and Dylan Minnette respectively). They caught a deer and drove home, during the ride back, Dover gave a speech to his son about survival of the fittest and such. Basically the filmmakers wanted us to know that this is a tough guy who worked very hard for everything he has gotten in his life and for his family. Also, he’s God fearing, a true patriot and a bit of a paranoia. Later, his whole family, including his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) walked over to their friends and neighbors’ home for a Thanksgiving dinner. Here we’re introduced to their friends Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Voila Davis), they too have two young kids.

While the parents were prepping dinner, the kids went outside and walked around the neighborhood. They came upon a suspicious looking RV, the two young girls wanted to play with it but the older kids told them not to go near it since they heard someone’s voice inside. Later after dinner, the two young girls wanted to go back to the Dovers’ home and pick up a toy, their parents told them they need to get the older kids to walk back with them. The girls said yes and left the room. Minutes later the parents couldn’t find their young ones and went down to the basement to ask the older kids where their sisters are? They said they haven’t seen them since dinner. Of course everyone got panicked and eventually they called the police.

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We then were introduced to Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s having dinner alone at a Chinese restaurant and tried unsuccessfully to hit on the waitress there. He got a call from his boss about the missing girls and was told about the RV. The police patrol men were able to find the RV and Loki arrived at the location and arrest the driver, a simple minded looking young man Alex Jones, played wonderfully by Paul Dano. Loki questioned Jones for hours but he refuses to tell him anything. Also, the forensic team couldn’t find any traces of the girls in Jones’ RV. So of course without any evidence to keep him, the police eventually have to let him go free. Dover heard the news that the police was going to let Jones go and decided to confront Jones while he’s leaving the police station with his aunt Holly (Melissa Leo). Upon the confrontation Jones mumbled something to Dover and he’s convinced that Jones is the person who took his daughter and her friend. I think people already know what happens after that since the trailer pretty much gave it away, so I won’t go much deeper into the plot. And to be clear, I’ve only described the first 30 minutes of the film, it’s two and a half hours long, I think you should go see it with as little knowledge as possible.

I mentioned earlier that the movie feels like a made for TV movie and I still believe that it is. But since it’s made for the big screen, the scope is much larger and with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins behind the cameras, the movie looks great. Deakins was able to the capture the dark and gritty feel that fits the tone of the movie. He was able to somehow made the usual boring American suburb neighborhood into a very creepy place, kind of reminded me of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Kudos also goes to Denis Villeneuve‘s direction, I’ve never seen any of his other films until this one and he did a good job of creating tensions and excitement. There were talks about how dark and violent the movie was, well I didn’t think it was that bad. Yes there were some intense moments but they didn’t show much, which is good. I thought it’s pretty tame compare to some other films in this genre, such Se7en or Silence of the Lambs.

Prisoners_Stills2

As for the script, it’s the usual by-the-book whodunit thriller and if you’re paying attention, you’ll able to figure who did it early on, but you’ll still enjoy the ride even though you won’t be surprise by it. There’s no M. Night’s “twist” ending here if you’re expecting that kind of thing.

Despite it being promoted it as a Hugh Jackman‘s vehicle, the main the protagonist’s actually Jake Gyllenhaal‘s character. I thought Gyllenhaal was serviceable as the lead detective but somehow I can’t buy him playing that role. I think I would prefer maybe an older or some not-so-well-known actor playing this role. Same goes with Jackman’s character, he really poured his heart and soul into the role but I still kept thinking of him as The Wolverine every time he got angry. When he started screaming, I expected to see those claws to come out. Again, maybe with a less-known actor who hasn’t played a superhero, he might work better as the hard working all-American suburban dad. As for the supporting cast members, Howard and Davis got their fair shares of screen time and they did a good job with their respective roles. Maria Bello unfortunately was relegated to just being the worried mother and didn’t have much to do. I thought Paul Dano was excellent as the main suspect, he didn’t have many lines in the movie but what he did with his eyes and body fit quite well of the kind of perverts and child molesters you see on TV.

My biggest gripe with the movie is the running time. I know they wanted to give all the famous actors some screen time but at two-and-a-half hours long, that’s way too much for this kind of movie. They could’ve cut out a couple of unnecessary scenes and made the movie a bit tighter. Despite the long run-time and the miscasting of the main leads, I still thought the movie was a very good suspense thriller. If you enjoyed movies like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone or Zodiac, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like this one.

Just a warning for parents out there, you might not want to take your young kids to see it, they might get nightmares. At the screening I went, some parents brought their kids to the movie, I just went “WTF!”, did they think it’s a kind of movie their children would enjoy!? Seriously, what the heck is wrong with some of these parents?

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


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What are your thoughts of this film? Let’s hear it!

Happy Birthday Jeremy Irons + James Lipton! Watch their conversation in Inside the Actor’s Studio

Jeremy Irons turns 65 and James Lipton, the host of Inside the Actors Studio, turns 86 today.

I’ve always been fascinated by the 60-min interview because it feels more relaxed and intimate and you really get to know the actor Mr. Lipton is conversing with. And that’s the thing, it feels more like a guest speaking candidly to a host instead of a staged interview.

InsideActorsStudioIn the early 1990s, Lipton was inspired by Bernard Pivot and sought to create a three-year educational program for actors that would be a distillation of what he had learned in the 12 years of his own intensive studies. In 1994, he arranged for the Actors Studio – the home base of “method acting” in the USA for over 60 years – to join with New York City’s New School University and form the Actors Studio Drama School, a formal degree-granting program at the graduate level. After ending its contract with the New School, the Actors Studio established The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in 2006. (per Wiki)

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Check out the interview below. Mr. Irons even serenaded the audience with his guitar! 😀


Jeremy John Irons was born in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, which is a small island just off the south coast of England.

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Quick Bio:
He trained at the Bristol Old Vic School for two years, then joined Bristol Old Vic repertory company where he gained much experience working in everything from Shakespeare to contemporary dramas. He moved to London in 1971 and had a number of odd jobs before landing the role of “John the Baptist” in the hit musical “Godspell”. He went on to a successful early career in the West End theatre and on TV, and debuted on-screen in Nijinsky (1980). In the early 80s, he gained international attention with his starring role in the Granada Television serial adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel “Brideshead Revisited” (1981), after which he was much in demand as a romantic leading man. He went on to a steady film career. (per IMDb)

I’ve always admired Mr. Irons, though I’m guilty that I haven’t seen a lot of Irons’ earlier works, but if I were to list top five roles of those I have seen, I’d probably list The Mission (check out my Music Break spotlight of Gabriel’s Oboe), The Lion King, The Man in the Iron Mask, Stealing Beauty, and Margin Call. Yes I know he’s not on for very long in the last film, but when he does, it was definitely the most memorable parts of the film. On top of his considerable talent and classical training, the tall thespian also has a gift of screen presence. It’s impossible not to notice him when he’s on screen, and when he opens his mouth, he absolutely commands attention.

TheLionKing_ScarHis vocal performance as Scar in The Lion King is downright iconic. His rich, haunting voice works absolutely brilliantly. The only person I could think of in this role would be Alan Rickman. Interestingly they played brothers in the Die Hard movies (Hans & Simon Gruber), though never share a screen together. Now, you’d think it’d be impossible to match the iconic booming voice of James Earl Jones, but Irons’ sinister raspy voice is indelible in its own right. The way Scar whispered ‘Long Live the King’ before throwing his own brother Mufasa off a cliff remains one of the most heart-wrenching death scene ever filmed, not just in animated features, mind you. I always tear up whenever I watch it and I remember hating Scar with a passion. Apparently the Disney animators were so impressed with Irons’s performance that they worked his features into Scar’s face!

His singing segment of Be Prepared with the Nazi undertones is perhaps the most memorable Disney villain songs ever. I guess Irons will always be known for his deliciously evil roles as he’s not afraid to take risks in his career.

Speaking of devilish roles, he’s recently wrapped the SHOWTIME series as Pope Alexander VI in The Borgias, which follows the Borgia family as they rise to power in the Roman Catholic church. The tagline says: Sex. Power. Murder. Amen. ‘Nuff said. His next project is a Western Thriller A Magnificent Death from a Shattered Hand, a directorial debut from… Thomas Jane?? Color me intrigued 😀


Let’s wish Jeremy Irons a happy birthday. What’s your favorite role by the British thespian?

Question of the Week: Are you looking forward to AVATAR sequels?

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It just dawned on me that it’s been over four years since AVATAR was released. I remember it was quite a big deal back in 2009. I remember getting advanced screenings (this was before I was on the press list, mind you) and I was soooooo excited! I even had a countdown post like I did before Man of Steel came out. I had barely any blog followers back then either, so most of you probably never read my review of the movie. Yes, I actually loved it. Yes I know it’s basically the story of Pocahontas with blue people, but I couldn’t help being caught up in the spectacle of it all. Visually, it was a thrill that at the time, I hadn’t experienced before. My hubby and I even went to the Avatar exhibit at EMP Museum in Seattle, so yeah, I was obviously a fan 😀

But it seems ages ago now. I haven’t even rewatched it in a couple of years though we did get the Blu-ray. It’s not as exhilarating visually when you didn’t see it on 3D or IMAX, and this is one of those movies where the visual does matter. In any case, I sort of have forgotten about this movie, but yesterday I saw a bunch of tweets about Arnold Schwarzenegger possibly joining Avatar 2 as a villain.

I’d think Arnie’s probably playing a general/leader role similar to Stephen Lang. It’s been a while since he collaborated with Cameron in those Terminator movies and True Lies (which I’ve been wanting to rewatch for some time!), though at this point I don’t really care. Heck, I used to actually like Sam Worthington, he was even on my list of 10 Notable Foreign Actors to Watch, but apart from maybe The Debt, I don’t really care for him as an actor anymore. Yeah, blame it on the abominable Clash of the Titans!

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The Abyss

What I am curious about is if Avatar 2 would actually take place underwater as was reported early this year. This is what Cameron said to LA Times Hero Complex about what the setting of the sequel,

Part of my focus in the second film is in creating a different environment – a different setting within Pandora. And I’m going to be focusing on the ocean on Pandora, which will be equally rich and diverse and crazy and imaginative, but it just won’t be a rain forest. I’m not saying we won’t see what we’ve already seen; we’ll see more of that as well.

Of course they’d use the latest technology for the motion capture and stuff, that’d be interesting to see how that’d work underwater. The Abyss is one of my favorite sci-fi, which was filmed underwater. Surely the technology has improved tremendously since 1989 that we should expect something even more breathtaking.


So what do you guys think about AVATAR sequels, are you a fan of the first film?