Happy Thanksgiving! 28 Movies I’m thankful for in 2013

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Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s the first time I’m spending Thanksgiving apart from my dearest hubby, as he’s in Jakarta, Indonesia and I’m here in sunny San Diego, but I’m thankful nonetheless. It’s been such a blessing to spend time with my BFF whom I’ve been friends with since Junior High! I should make a list of Great Friends in Movies in her honor, kind of like what I did for my loving hubby a couple of years back: What I’m Thankful For – My Loving Husband and also my list of Wonderful Movie Husbands. Did you notice that Christian Bale‘s John Rolfe in The New World kept popping up? I mentioned him again on this Breaking Emotions: Smiles 😀

Now, I’m thankful to be a movie blogger and I’m especially thankful for the friends I’ve made through blogging, and getting press accreditation that gives me access to advanced screenings (Thanks to everyone at ALLIED!). So with those, as well as the two Film Festivals in town: TCFF and MSP Int’l Film Festival, it’s truly been a great year for me as a movie lover. I’m not as hugely prolific as other bloggers but still, there are probably far more films I could list here. But since it’s the 28th today and that number represents a good 2013* sampling based on what I’ve seen so far, let’s just go with that.

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Here they are in alphabetical order:

12 Years a Slave
A harrowing and unflinching depiction of human cruelty but it also offers us the beauty and power of the human spirit. I’m thankful for Steve McQueen‘s skillful direction and Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s brilliant performance.

August: Osage County
This film makes me thankful for my family, no matter how nutty and chaotic we think we have it. Beauty amidst chaos. There’s something so out there yet relatable about this dysfunctional family tale, and the amazing performances made this so disquieting yet entertaining.

Austenland
I had so much fun watching this on the big screen. It was hilarious and sweet, yes it’s cheesy and goofy at times but that’s kind of the point. It’s an homage AND a spoof in one, and as a Jane Austen fan, it was a blast to watch.

Captain Philips
There are stories that truly made me grateful for being alive and well, and this is one of those films. It’s wonderful to see an old favorite performer (Tom Hanks) in top form and a brand new face making his mark for the first time (Barkhad Abdi).

Disconnect
A story that really makes you take stock and reflect at our own lives and what’s going on around us. It also introduced me to an amazing British actress Andrea Riseborough who impressed me in all three films I saw her in (the other two were Oblivion and Shadow Dancer)

Fast & Furious 6
Not every movie has to aim for an Academy Award. This one sets out to be a thrilling action with over-the-top spectacle and it delivers! I also like the underlying message about taking care of one’s friends and family.

Gravity
A technical marvel that offers one of the most emotionally-gratifying story I’ve seen this year. We take so much for granted the simpler things in life, but after seeing this, even just inhaling air into our lungs feels like an amazing privilege. Thank you Alfonso Cuarón for making such a masterful work we’d appreciate for years to come.

Her
A movie I barely knew anything about yet I was floored by how much this affected me. It’s such a unique love story. It’s disturbing, thought-provoking, soul-stirring, with a haunting quality that would linger long after the credits roll. I’m always thankful for films that remind us what it means to be human, so thanks Spike Jonze for making this, and Joaquin Phoenix for your soulful performance!

In A World …
Lake Bell‘s debut is real comedic gem! I really like the story of the voice over industry, which I’m surprised it hasn’t been tackled before as that material makes for a comedic gold. I hope she continues to make movies, as Hollywood could use more female filmmakers.

Iron Man 3
To be honest I was rather blase about this one but somehow Shane Black managed to still inject a fresh approach into this bankable Marvel franchise. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves why he’s the best paid Marvel superhero as his charm and wit never fails to entertain. Plus Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley add so much to the fun playing baddies.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler
The themes of racial injustice is how much we have overcome but also that the US still have a long way to go. I was so moved by Cecil’s journey as a person as well as a loyal Butler serving under five American presidents. It’s a poignant, touching and heart-warming portrayal that’s also humorous and lively.

Man of Steel
I’ve seen it three times by now and though I didn’t fall in love with this one as I did with Donner’s first Superman film, there are still a lot to love here. For one, Henry Cavill‘s version the kind of Superman I can actually identify with, his hu-MAN aspect is actually far more intriguing than his SUPER one and his relationship with both his Kryptonian and earthly family are beautifully-realized.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
I know I’ll always be thankful for any film with Idris Elba in the leading role. Especially when it’s a role that showcases his chops and versatility as an actor. I have to admit I feel a bit guilty drooling over him as he’s playing Mandela, but really can you blame me? Who knew Mandela was so darn hunky? 😉

Monsters University
Thanks Pixar for taking me back to the adorable citizens of Monstropolis! Sully, Mike & co. are still a blast to watch, especially little Mike Wazowski as a dorky green-eyed monster in grade school, complete with his teeth retainer! It really made me appreciate the gift of friendship as the movie took us into the journey of how Mike & Sully first become friends.

Mud
There’s something so gratifying to see a talented actor gets a comeback of sort and seeing Matthew McConnaughey in the past couple of years is like seeing him making the most of his second chance at [acting] life. This beautifully-shot film also features marvelous portrayal of unlikely friendships between two young boys and Mud, a man w/ a shoddy past.

Nebraska
Yet another film that makes me appreciate the intricacy of family, that there’s grace even in the most complicated and frustrating relationships. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this film as much as I did, so that’s always something to be thankful for. Bruce Dern and Wil Forte are such an unlikely pairing that paid off big time. The father-son relationship is as convincing as it is endearing. Plus June Squibb is a hoot with her irreverent frankness.

Pacific Rim
Thank you Guillermo Del Toro for such unabashedly fun action movie that’s entertaining to watch over and over! I have seen this movie five times already and I still get this big grin on my face every single time. Yes it’s cheesy but it’s GOOD cheese, so I’m not ashamed that I’ve become a Jaeger groupie 😀 Special thanks to Ramin Djawadi for his super awesome, electrifying score!

Rush
It’s a movie that literally lives up to its title for giving us an adrenaline rush from start to finish. The racing sequences are amazingly-shot and gives us a sense as if we’re right there where the action is, but the dramatic story between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda are just as intriguing to watch.

Star Trek Into Darkness
I already said before that I was thankful to JJ Abrams for making me care for the whole Star Trek universe. I’m especially thankful for Benedict Cumberbatch casting as a sexy villain, he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. It’s also fun to see Capt. Kirk and the Enterprise crew, certainly one of my favorite ensemble cast of recent memory.

Stoker
I had trepidation about watching this as the director had made some really violent films in the past, but I’m glad this one was still within my comfort level. Stoker is a gorgeous thriller with an eerie atmosphere that REALLY gets under your skin.

The Act of Killing
No doubt one of THE most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, yet I’m thankful that director Joshua Oppenheimer made this eye-opening documentary that exposes my home country’s darkest past. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen and in a land where originality is as hard to find as needle in a hay stack, this is a film that every cinephile should make a point to see.

The Angels’ Share
I had the privilege of seeing this Scottish indie gem just a day before my interview with its writer Paul Laverty. It was a joy to watch newbie Scottish actor Paul Brannigan shine in a heist comedy of sort, funny with plenty of heart.

The Armstrong Lie
A well-made documentary that’s as eye-opening as it is beautiful to look at. Alex Gibney got an unprecedented access into one of the biggest sports scandal in history. Yet as disturbing as Lance Armstrong’s doping violation was, it’s the abuse of power and ugly betrayals that struck me the most.

The Hunt
If you want a roller-coaster emotional ride, look no further than this astutely-made Danish film. It’ll make you in awe of its beauty (the acting, cinematography) as well as incredibly angry at how cruel humanity could be as director Thomas Vinterberg immerses you in the protagonist’ plight. Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely brilliant in his understated yet intense portrayal of a man being persecuted publicly for a crime he didn’t commit, and more heartbreaking of all, cast aside by his own friends.

The Kings of Summer
This film made me so thankful of the beauty of nature and friendship, however fragile it can be. A beautifully-shot coming-of-age story that’s peppered with meaningful and hilarious moments. Great script, performances, scenery and soundtrack — it’s got all the ingredients to make an entertaining film that I don’t mind watching again.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
It’s always nice to see a new face on screen, especially someone as charismatic as  London-born Riz Ahmed. He shines as the protagonist in this cultural drama under Indian director Mira Nair‘s careful direction. Though it deals with a political/terrorism theme of 9/11, this is ultimately about a journey of a brilliant Pakistani young man caught between two worlds in a time where prejudice and distrust runs rampant.

Thor: The Dark World
A robustly entertaining film that’s also thigh-slapping-ly hilarious.  Any movie that features the undeniable charismatic Tom Hiddleston is something to be thankful for, in fact I’d be even more grateful to Marvel Studios if they’d just make a Loki movie already… and soon! 

World War Z
I never thought I’d put a zombie flick on my thankful list, let alone one with Brad Pitt in it! But I quite enjoyed WWZ as it’s more of a political thriller than a slasher/horror flick. The story was intriguing enough that I’m actually interested to see how the planned sequel is going to pan out.

* Note that a few of these films might’ve been released in 2012 outside of the US but I went with the US release dates which were all in 2013.


So HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all my friends who are celebrating! But you don’t need to have a Thanksgiving holiday to be grateful about something.

So what are some of the 2013 movies you’re most thankful for [so far]?

FlixChatter Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hi everyone! We’ve got another review from FlixChatter’s newest contributor Ashley Steiner. Check out her bio if you haven’t already.

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To make a long story short, I loved it! Wired.com is calling The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the The Dark Knight of young adult films. Let me liken it in a different way. Catching Fire is to The Hunger Games as Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2 were to the Harry Potter films. This is the point in the series were the themes, actions and motivations of the characters make the “young” in young adult, disappear. Gone are the poignant heartfelt scenes (e.g. Katniss singing Prim to sleep after a nightmare, Katniss volunteering in Prim’s stead and Katniss’ reaction to Rue’s death). This film means business. It’s darker, grittier, and meatier.

Now that Jennifer Lawrence is an Academy Award winning actress, I had my reservations about how her performance would live up to her newly acquired title. I wasn’t disappointed. She greatly improved upon her character from the first film and really dug deep to pull off the tortured, traumatized and, quite frankly, pissed off character that is Katniss Everdeen.

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The film gave a respectful nod to the world Gary Ross built in The Hunger Games; however, new director Francis Lawrence wasn’t afraid to bring his own interpretation—and it paid off. I think fans of the series will sleep better knowing Lawrence (director) will be returning to finish his work for the remaining two films. It’s truly regrettable they couldn’t secure him from the start.

 One of the biggest critiques from Ross’ direction was the lack of a love story between Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Plus, let’s not forget the not-so-wise shaky camera syndrome. I agree wholeheartedly. I’ll admit; I’m Team Peeta, but watching their chemistry, or lack thereof, unfold in the first film was a joke. Ross didn’t help Lawrence and Hutchinson foster enough of a relationship for the audience to even understand there was an internal struggle for whom Katniss should love. That’s not the case in Catching Fire. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) definitely gets a run for his money! Attaboy, Peeta!

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I understand the director’s choice to be cognizant of children killing children, but the novel already laid out all of the horror this entails. Out of the dark, darker and darkest themes from the novel, it just seemed Ross was afraid to really show the inhumane corruption of the government, and, instead, chose to focus on the themes of poverty, hunger and deprivation. To be fair, his tributes were all noticeably much younger children; whereas, in Catching Fire, we are dealing with previous victors, that are mature adults (some well into their 60s), with the exception of Katniss and Peeta.

I could tell the other audience members had a great respect for Lawrence’s (director) choices as well. There were no, “That wasn’t in the book!” shrieks from 15-year-old girls, or squeals whenever Gale (Liam Hemsworth) came on screen. People were watching this movie with such anticipation and anxiety, almost as if they were watching a stand-alone non young adult film. There was drama, intrigue and perfectly timed comic relief. However, once in the arena, it was almost hard to catch your breath after repeatedly getting hit over the head with roadblocks and new psychological challenges.

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Now let’s talk about the brilliant editions to the already rock star cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee), and Sam Clafin (Finnick Odair). The first film primarily cast no-name actors—and it worked. However, this film covers significantly darker subject matter, and I’m not sure that’s something inexperienced actors can pull off in a film of this magnitude. Nonetheless, this cast was amazing! A special shout-out to Jena Malone, who, if she’s anything like her character, needs some serious mental help.

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Jenna Malone as Johanna Mason, Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Donald Sutherland as President Snow & Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee

While we were introduced to the bizarre and frightening world of the Capitol in the first film (e.g. crazy neon hair, skin mutations, out-of-this-world makeup, and Oompa loompa-ish costumes) the makeup and costume designers went above and beyond. Katniss’ hair was purposely darker (almost jet black) and her makeup was more bold and daring to match the darker themes of the film. It was almost as if you were watching a fashion show of nightmares.

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Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci are back as Effie Trinket and Caesar Flickerman

All in all, Francis Lawrence and the cast really hit this one out of the park. I encourage you to see the film—even if you aren’t a HG fan. I’m already planning when I can see this again.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels

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So folks, did you see this movie? Would love to hear what you think!

Everybody’s Chattin’ – Reviews Edition + Brief Hiatus Announcement

Happy Friday everybody!

Aren’t you excited the weekend is here? For us in the US, it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving already, it’s nuts how fast time flies! Well this year my hubby and I are spending Thanksgiving apart, actually it’ll be thousands of miles apart as he just flew to Jakarta whilst I’ll be visiting my BFF in San Diego, hence I’ll be taking a blog hiatus next week, well apart from a special Thanksgiving post for next Thursday 😀

Well, I figure that for this month’s edition of Everybody’s Chattin‘, I’d highlight some great reviews from my fellow bloggers that I haven’t seen or written the review yet. So here we go:

New Releases

12YrsASlave_ReviewsSati, Terrence and Keith reviewed 12 Years A Slave

Philomena_ReviewChris reviewed Philomena

EnoughSaid_reviewEric reviewed Enough Said

DallasBuyersClub_reviewRyan reviewed Dallas Buyers Club

SavingMrBanks_ReviewMark H. reviewed Saving Mr. Banks

AboutTime_reviewJosh reviewed About Time, whilst Nick and Colin talks time-travelin’
in their Double Team Review

Now, some older films, classic and otherwise…

Moon_reviewMark reviewed Moon

MUD_reviewZoë reviewed Mud

ONtheRoad_reviewNick reviewed On The Road

PrinceAvalance_reviewJames reviewed Prince Avalanche

TheApartment_reviewSteven reviewed The Apartment
(one I REALLY should’ve watched by now!)


Well, this weekend I’m going to skip the cinema again, I’ll wait until my hubby is back in town so we can watch Hunger Games: Catching Fire together. So it’s home cinema all weekend, I’m actually planning to watch Mary Poppins! Can you believe it I’ve never seen that before? I figure I should see it before the Saving Mr. Banks screening next week 😀


So what’s your weekend viewing plans, folks? Whatever you do, have a fabulous weekend!

Breaking Emotions Blogathon: Smiles & Thrills

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Last week I took part in Mettel Ray‘s BREAKING EMOTIONS blogathon on Tears and Surprise. Check out my entry if you haven’t already. It was a lot of fun to do so naturally I’m game to do another one. Now the emotions for this week are …

SMILES and THRILLS

Continuing with the theme of two opposites, this week’s first emotion is SMILES – now, I had put down laughing at first but again, I’m a bit of a weirdo and I ended up liking the word smiles a bit more. But the idea is still the same, I’m looking for scenes that have made you laugh and smile in the most happiest way possible. May it be the two lovers finally coming together, may it be a dog or a cat being all cute – everything positive and joyful will be suitable for this emotion.

Second one is a bit more dangerous and it’s that THRILL one gets watching a movie, it’s that inner excitement (again a word I wanted to use but it was too long) that will get you on the edge of the seat. Maybe it’s an explosion or a car chase or just the villain entering the building, what scene gets your blood going with adrenaline while sitting in the theater or at home. The dictionary I have says that thrilling itself means shaking, so, what makes you shake in awesomeness with a word “wow” running through your mind.

Check out Mettel Ray’s post on Breaking Emotions: Smiles & Thrills


It should be obvious for posts like these, but just in case, if you haven’t seen any of these, BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Ok, so here are my picks:

SMILES

Casino Royale Bond and Vesper’s banter in the train

I absolutely adore this scene! It’s one of my favorites even amongst the dozens of Bond movies I’ve watched over the years because for once Bond is genuinely dazzled and stirred by a woman’s intellect as well as her beauty. Vesper barely revels any skin in this scene, but yet she oozes sex appeal. Vesper ‘overcompensates by wearing slightly masculine clothing’ as Bond puts it, and later the table is turned as Vesper nonchalantly makes a sarcastic remark about Bond’s ‘perfectly formed ass.’ It’s a stimulating banter that Daniel Craig and Eva Green performed with aplomb. Such a fantastic scene that never fails to bring a smile to my face every time I watch it.

How to Train Your Dragon –  a touch of friendship

I always love stories of unlikely friendships and there is nothing more unlikely than a little boy and a dragon. Toothless is unbelievably adorable that I wish I could have one as my own pet! The scenes where Hiccup slowly gets to know the Night Fury dragon are the best, especially the drawing scene … Toothless is trying to draw Hiccup using the tip of a tree branch and as Hiccup walks closer to him, Toothless makes a gesture ‘don’t step on the line!’ The moment Toothless lets Hiccup’s hand touches his face is so sweet and deeply moving, it’s as if Toothless gestures to him ‘I trust you now.’ John Powell’s score makes the whole scene even more awesome!

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The New World – Pocahontas & John Rolfe

The last 20 or so minute of this 2.5-hour film with John Rolfe and Pocahontas brings such joy to me as I LOVE the tentative relationship between the two. It’s such a contrast to the more passionate yet tumultuous relationship between her and Captain Smith. After Pocahontas married Rolfe and goes to England, the supposedly-missing Smith was able to track her down. Rolfe lets his wife goes and meets him, though in one scene Rolfe is shown to be in torment, perhaps fearing the worst that his wife would leave him now that Smith is back.

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The way Terrence Malick sets up this scene is just brilliant in its minimalism. There’s barely any words spoken but the body language speaks volumes. The moment Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) catches up to Rolfe as she walks back into the house, she just hugs his left arm from behind, clutching it so tight as if to say I’m here… with you… and nothing would keep us apart. Rolfe’s subtle reaction when she does this is priceless… he pauses as if he couldn’t believe his luck. It wasn’t a celebratory reaction where he suddenly takes her in his arms and kiss her or anything like that but it’s apparent that he’s ecstatic…  It’s apparent how much Rolfe loves his wife, and the fact that she now has chosen him after all must’ve brought such indescribable euphoria. Though it’s a small role, I consider this one of my all time favorite Christian Bale performance… I wish he’d do more romantic roles like this one!

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THRILLS

Now for this emotion, I decided to forgo any kind of ‘chase’ scene, be it car, boat, planes, horse, what have you. I might actually made a separate list specifically on thrilling chase scenes at some point 😉

Inglourious Basterds – Opening interrogation scene

You don’t always need an action scene to create a thrilling sequence. This opening scene is basically just two people sitting on a table talking… but the way this interrogation scene is set up is so darn intense that my nerves was stretched to its snapping point. Col. Hans Landa is a rather soft-spoken Nazi officer but his polite mannerism actually makes it the scene all the more suspenseful! It’s the quintessential ‘edge of your seat’ scene that had me gripping the arm rest and my poor husband’s arm. The bar scene in this movie qualifies as well, but I chose this one as I like the sheer simplicity, but yet so meticulously-crafted to maximize its impact.

Jurassic Park – We’re back in business!

There are SO many thrilling scenes in this film that it’s really tough to choose from. I was going to put the Raptor in the Kitchen scene as that one was unbelievably gripping, but I like that this one was going back and forth between the Laura Dern’s character Ellie trying to get the electricity back on and her husband Alan (Sam Neill) with the two kids as they’re climbing the temporarily-off electric fence!! I couldn’t sit still watching this scene, and when you think things are under control — ‘We’re back in business!’ — your worst nightmare just jumps right at you! Spielberg is relentless in piling up thrill after thrill here that still holds up even 20 years later.

Mission Impossible 4 – Burj Khalifa scene

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Even though I know full well Tom Cruise is not going to plunge into his death, this scene still makes my palms sweaty! Far more gripping than any car/chopper/train/boat chases Agent Ethan Hunt’s ever been involved in the previous three movies. Now THIS is worthy to be called Mission Impossible and Cruise is such a daredevil actor himself that he actually did his own stunts! It never fails to give the ultimate adrenaline rush every single time I watch it, makes me wish Brad Bird is back doing MI-5 again!


What do you think of my picks? Which scenes would YOU pick for smiles and/or thrills?

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite sophomore directorial films?

Since I just posted a review of Ralph Fiennes’ second film that he directed, The Invisible Woman, I thought I’d turn the focus on other sophomore directorial efforts over the years.

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Interestingly, as I was working on this post, I came across this article that talks about the slump of directorial sophomore efforts in 2013. The article argues that a lot of the second films released this year didn’t live up to the director’s debut. The first thing that came to mind for me was Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, which I thought was just ok, but a downgrade from the excellent District 9. On that list, the writer listed some less-than-stellar second films, but one thing that surely is even better than his first (The Company Men, which I actually like) is John Well’s August, Osage County. Another sophomore film that’s released this year is Oblivion, now I think the sci-fi actioner slightly better than Joseph Kosinski’s sleek–but–disappointing debut TRON: Legacy.

Now, over the years, there have been a ton of great sophomore films that not only beat the director’s first film, but has become a classic in its respective genres. Many of the films pictured above fit that category, some have become my personal favorites. It astounds me what those filmmakers have achieved with their second film, as the level of proficiency makes it seem as though these directors have been making movies for years! Some of these films also launched the filmmakers’ career, proving that they’re a force to be reckoned with. In fact, the likes of Tarantino, Fincher, Cameron, Nolan, etc. have now become cinematic icons in their own right. Now, I don’t know much about sophomore efforts from classic directors, so perhaps you can enlighten me of some of those I should check out?


So folks, I’d love to know which sophomore directorial films are YOUR favorites? Surely you have more than one, so feel free to make a list if you’re so inclined.

Guest Review: Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman

Hi everyone! Today we’ve got a review from a new FlixChatter contributor Ashley Steiner.
We both share an appreciation for period dramas, so today we’ve got her review of one of them,
straight from Telluride By The Sea Film Fest in New England. Thanks Ashley!


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It was a happy coincidence I was able to attend the 15th annual Telluride by the Sea film festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in September. Most of the films came straight from the Toronto Film Fest, and 12 Years A Slave was already generating Oscar-worthy buzz; however, I chose to see The Invisible Woman. I’m such a sucker for period film dramas, and, admittedly, not knowing much about Charles Dickens’ personal life, I couldn’t resist. I wasn’t aware of this beforehand, but the film was based on Claire Tomalin’s book, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. The film focuses on Dickens’ (Ralph Fiennes, who also directs) early success as a novelist and showcases his desire as an aspiring playwright and actor. Dickens meets Nelly (Felicity Jones), an 18-year-old struggling actress, along with her traveling acting troupe, consisting of her mother and two sisters, beginning Dickens’ and Nelly’s torrid and long-term love affair.

The film moves back and forth between Nelly’s present and her memories of Dickens, albeit somewhat jarringly. At the beginning we are introduced to an agitated Nelly, furiously walking, alone, alongside the seashore, while simultaneously receiving flashes of children preparing for a school play. Dramatic 19th Century classical violin music accompanies Nelly’s inner turmoil. During her walk, she unexpectedly bumps into an older gentleman, who starts probing her about her work and rumors of her acquaintance with Dickens. Thus begins the confusing and rather long 111 minute The Invisible Woman.

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We soon learn Nelly is a depressed and frustrated married schoolteacher, and is plagued by her past with Dickens. Through her memories, we see glimpses of their time together, starting with the first time they met: acting together in a play. Nelly soon becomes enamored by Dickens’ passion for writing and his vigor for acting. After a few not so subtle hints from Dickens’, Nelly has a heart-to-heart talk with her mother about becoming his mistress, the implications and how her life will change, essentially she would become an invisible woman to society. Nelly concedes and becomes Dickens’ mistress and ultimately muse for Great Expectations. All the while, his wife and multitude of children are left to suffer the aftermath through heated rumors and scandalous tabloids exposing Nelly and Dickens’ affair. Nelly’s gilt is short lived when she discovers she is pregnant with Dickens’ love child. Learning the happy news, Dickens’ publicly separates from his wife, burns any letters or legal documents pertaining to his marriage and whisks Nelly away to France to live our her confinement. Sadly, she miscarries and they are brought back home to England. Through some great epiphany, unbeknownst to the audience, Nelly decides she’s had enough of Dickens’ and we are thrust back into her present, never to see Dickens again.

Things are obviously strained and tense between Nelly and her husband; however, the audience is still subjected to an unnecessary and jarring love scene. We witness more walking scenes, where it’s half heartedly suggested she works out her guilt and marital frustrations. However, as the film nears a drawn- out conclusion, Nelly seems to make her peace with her affair and admits her true relationship with Dickens to her husband. All seems to be forgiven, and at the very end we learn Nelly has had another son, and he is the star of her play, coincidentally written by Dickens.

In summary, provided that the script, storyline and direction were lacking, the actors rose above the road blocks and were exceptionally good. However, I truly believe Fiennes should’ve stuck with acting rather than overextending himself as the director. The cut scenes were clumsy and downright harsh, and the flip between Nelly’s present and her memories didn’t quite weave a strong enough thread for viewers to jump to a conclusive ending. All in all, this film is, at best, a 2.5 out of 5 reels. If you’re curious to know more about Dickens’ life like I was, feel free to add it to your Netflix queue, but it probably wouldn’t be a shame if it’s #180.


2.5 out of 5 reels

PostByAshley


Thoughts on this film? Would love to hear what you think!

Weekend Viewing Roundup and The Book Thief review

How’s your weekend everyone? Hope it was a good one. I skipped the cinema this weekend and opted to rewatch Man of Steel as I finally got my Blu-ray last week. I still like it but unfortunately the replayability value of the BD is probably not going to be very high, well for one, the audio conversion quality is pretty terrible as the background sound/music overwhelms the dialog. There are other issues that I might blog about at some point.

But hey, my most-anticipated TV show finally premiered tonight after being delayed a few weeks!!

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I’ve blogged about Almost Human here and since most of you know I’m a big fan of Karl Urban, naturally I’m excited for the FOX sci-fi series. Well, the first pilot was pretty good! Yes it’s a mixture between Robocop and Minority Report, but y’know what, there’s still a fresh spin to it that’ll keep me tuning in. For one, I like the bromance of sort between Urban and his droid partner Michael Ealy known as Dorian. I might do a proper review after second part of pilot airs tomorrow, but for now I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed!

Now here’s my review from my latest screening:

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The Book Thief is based on a novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. Set during the era of Nazi Germany, the protagonist is 11-year-old Liesel Meminger who upon her young brother’s death is adopted by housepainter Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa. The narrator of the story is Death, who describes the WWII era as being an extremely busy time for it.

Naturally, it takes some time for Liesl to adjust in her new foster home, but Hans’ patience with her slowly wins her over. Starting with the book dropped by the grave digger who buried her brother, Hans teaches Liesl how to read and write. Liesl soon becomes quite a voracious reader in a time where books have become scarce with the Nazi’s penchant for book burning. Time after time, it’s books that become her refuge, it’s a key part in her journey, a link to the past and her future. But then things get complicated when a Jewish man from a family Hans knew well stops by and ask for a refuge as the Nazis are starting to raid the Jews and sending them to concentration camps.

The story of Liesl is definitely worth-telling. I particularly like the point of view from a young girl in one of the world’s darkest hour. Perhaps not exactly as desperate as Anne Frank, but there are certainly dark moments in her life that no child—or adult for that matter—should ever have to experience. For a relative newbie, French-Canadian Sophie Nélisse is pretty good in the lead role, though she’s not as expressive as she could’ve been, something that’d usually come from experience. What sold me about this film is Geoffrey Rush‘ casting as Hans, and to my pleasant surprise, Emily Watson also has a prominent role as Liesl’s foster mom. I especially enjoyed the scenes between Rush and Nélisse, the father/daughter relationship serves as the heart of the film. Rush and Watson certainly elevated Brian Percival‘s direction from being too much like a Saturday Afternoon Special.

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Despite some heart-wrenching moments though, at times the film just feels rather superficial in the way it explores the narrative and characters. Along the way, we’re introduced to a few people who enter Liesl’s life, but the initial build-up between the characters, we’re left wanting more. In regards to Max especially, the Jewish young man hiding under Hans’ basement, there’s barely any character development on him though he seems pretty integral to the plot. There’s also the friendship between Liesl and her schoolmate Rudy (Nico Liersch) that starts off sweet but it just never seems to gain much traction. The heavy melodrama and slow pace also threatens to grind the film to a halt on several occasions, though fortunately it never derailed it entirely.

The cinematography is gorgeous though, I like the look of small town Germany and the Wintry shots. The look isn’t exactly gritty, but a meticulous attention to detail to the costumes and set pieces are lovely to behold. The score is done by the legendary John Williams, which adds to the solemn atmosphere of the film. It’s nowhere as memorable as his gut-wrenching score as Schindler’s List though, but then again, neither is the film. I guess what I’m trying to say is this film could’ve been far more profound, for a lack of a better word. I doubt that this film would reach nearly the same level as the celebrated novel, which won numerous awards and was on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks. (per Wiki)

That said, there’s a certain honesty and charm that I find quite pretty stirring and delightful. The message about the power of words, reading and creativity is certainly an admirable one for both children and adults. Despite my quibbles, the film’s heart is in the right place and there’s enough going for it here to warrant a recommendation.

Three and a half stars out of Five
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So what did you see this weekend, folks? Anything good?

Breaking Emotions Blogathon: Tears & Surprise

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When I first read about this blogathon, it was Sati’s post on Breaking Emotions: Fear I knew I had to take part! Thanks Mettel Ray for spearheading this awesome blogathon!

Here’s the BLOGATHON idea and rules:

Well, the idea of the Breaking Emotions blogathon is actually really simple: breaking down the most memorable scenes in movies that create the emotion(s) given to you during that particular week into a list of 3 or 5. Meaning, each week I will post two emotions (there are 8 all together) and all the participants can choose if they want to do both (3 scenes each) or just one (5 scenes).

The lists can be just words, images, videos, all of the above or simply the movie title and the description of that specific scene – it is all up to each participant themselves to decide. I just simply want to know what are the movie scenes that create these emotions and if there are any universal moments in movies that everybody seems to relate to emotionally.

Now here’s this week’s emotions and what Mettel Ray’s idea about them:

TEARS and SURPRISE

Now I know TEARS isn’t exactly an emotion but I just like the sound of “breaking tears” over “breaking sadness” and since I’m pretty sure tears are the most emotional thing a person can have, you guys won’t mind. Last time there were some questions regarding the emotions so I’ll try to explain the best as I can this time around – tears = sad. Yes, there are happy tears but I’m not looking for positive scenes, I’m looking for those soul cracking, heart breaking, Simba’s father dying kind of teary scenes.

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To balance the sadness, let’s try to break SURPRISE as well – that’s an emotion I rarely have myself because I feel so many movies are becoming predictable but there are some special scenes out there I’m sure. So basically, I’m looking for a plot twist scene that surprised you, or a character’s decision that surprised you, or finding out that somebody is actually somebody’s child kind of surprise – dig deep and find those scenes that surprised you in a jaw dropping way.

Check out Mettel Ray’s post on Breaking Emotions: Tears & Surprise


It should be obvious for posts like these, but just in case, if you haven’t seen any of these, BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Ok, so here are my picks:

TEARS

Toy Story 2When She Loved Me

Jesse pours her heart out to Woody about how she was cast aside by her owner Emily when she became a teenager. The scenes of Jesse being found under her bed after being there for years, only to be put into a charity donation box is just heartbreaking! Every time I heard that Randy Newman’s song When She Loved Me song, I can’t ever NOT cry! The sheer devastation of being abandoned just tears me to pieces. Yes I know she’s just a toy, but that’s the beauty of Pixar in creating something that’s SO relatable. Surely we’ve felt discarded at some point or another.

Indecent Proposal finale

A married woman – with her husband’s consent – agrees to a proposal from a billionaire to sleep with her for a million dollars. They see this is as a way out of their financial dilemma, but it threatens to destroy their relationship.


This is actually not a sad scene per se, I think poignant is a more apt word. I included it here as what this couple’s gone through is quite heartbreaking. As someone who’ve been married for a decade, I realize just how crucial it is trust is in a relationship, and an emotional wound is a lot tougher to mend than a physical one, and the two are so interconnected. As I watched this, I was so saddened and moved by the fragility of the human heart. I feared that in they might never be able to survive their own gut-wrenching decision. They risked all that they’ve built together for money… This scene always made me bawl my eyes out thinking what it could’ve been, so much emotion are going through me and John Barry’s beautiful music just adds so much more to this poignant scene.

AtonementThe revelation about what really happened to Robbie and Cecilia

Earlier in the film we saw that the lives of Robbie n Cecilia are irrevocably changed when Cecilia’s sister Briony told a lie out of jealousy. In the last scene when Briony Tallis finally revealed during an interview about her new book, she finally revealed the tragic fate of both Robbie n Cecilia, one died of septicimia n the other in a bomb blast afew months later. So the happy reunion never happened, it was merely Briony’s way to somehow give Cecilia and Robbie their chance to be together in her book, if not in real life.

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I was sobbing uncontrollably during this scene. I’ve seen tales of lost love before but there’s something so heart-wrenching abt this story that pierces my heart. Robbie’s cold, pale face as he’s dying from his infected wound lingers haunts me long affer fhe film ends but it’s also the crushing reality that Briony has had to live with that burden of not being able to really atone for her sins.

SURPRISE

The Sixth Sense ending

It’s rare these days to be thoroughly n absolutely surprised by a movie’s plot, esp with the social media running rampant. When I saw this film in the theater I was totally floored when I finally realized who Bruce Willis’ character was all along. I haven’t rewatched it since but I often thought about all the clues I missed along the way (especially the dinner scene with his wife). Such a startling revelation that I still vividly remember to this day as it was such a strong emotional response. I wish Willis would do more understated roles like this one.

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Deep Blue Sea – Samuel L. Jackson’s demise

I wanted to include a scene that surprises me but in a rather comical way. Well this one fits the bill. Ok it’s not a great movie or anything but worth a watch if you like shark thrillers (who hasn’t?.) This one is truly a huge WTF moment that happened as Sam Jackson’s character is giving a speech to his team about survival, but before he could finish the sentence about sealing off the pool, the giant fish just grabbed him n ate him alive! It was like WHOA!!! Ok so it’s not exactly funny to see someone get eaten alive by a big fish, but I just can’t help laughing hysterically at the irony of it all.

L.A. Confidential – Rollo Tamasi scene

Captain Dudley Smith: Don’t start tryin’ to do the right thing, boy-o. You haven’t the practice.


The complex roller coaster ride of this noir is delightfully dizzying. I remember that my head was spinning trying to process it all but the dialog, acting, cinematography was SO good I was mesmerized. This one scene features a great dialog between James Cromwell (Capt. Dudley Smith) and Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), but what happens next totally came out of left field that it made me jump out of my seat. It was what you call a breathtaking moment, well for Spacey’s character, it’s a literal one.


What do you think of my picks? Which scenes would YOU pick for each emotion?

Musings on Dolby Atmos Cinema Sound Technology

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Dolby Labs has been supplying Hollywood films with their audio system for years, the first film to have use its technology was Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. By the mid 70s most major Hollywood films started using Dolby sound and today it’s still the most widely use surround sound system in theaters across the world. It’s also a stable in home video such as DVD and Bluray discs. Although the last couple of years, Bluray have been using Dolby’s competitor, DTS or Digital Surround Sound as the primary sound coding for movies in that format. DVD still uses Dolby Digital.

Dolby always try to come up a new surround sound format to get the audiences back into theaters, throughout the 70s and 80s, Dolby Surround Sound were used in most Hollywood produced and some foreign films. But in the early 90s, they came out with a new sound format simply called Dolby Digital and the first film to have been recorded in that format was Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. My first experience hearing Dolby Digital was in 1995 when I saw Crimson Tide, right then and there I fell in love with this new surround sound. A few years later, they came out with another surround sound format, this one was called Dolby Digital EX and the first film to have used that sound was Star Wars Ep.1 and I was fortunate enough to have experience hearing that sound in a theater and again I fell in love. Well fast forward to 2012 and Dolby decided to introduced the world to another surround sound format, this one is called Dolby Atmos and the first movie to have been encoded with this new sound was Pixar’s Brave.

I’ve been reading about this new format for months now but since I don’t live in a big city, I wasn’t able to experience it until our local theater Showplace ICON here in Minneapolis, MN decided to revamp the theater and included Dolby Atmos. The movie I saw was Gravity. So what is Dolby Atmos you might ask. Well if you really want to know all the technical stuff about it, you can check out Dolby’s site where they explain in more details.

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Basically, a typical theater have a 5.1 or 7.1 surround speakers set up, center, left/right and sub-woofer speakers are hidden behind the screen and the surround speakers are placed on the left/right and back of the theater. But with Atmos, they included additional speakers on ceilings to make it a more immersive experience (see image at the top). Now before I experienced this new sound format, I didn’t think I would hear any difference from other surround sound, to me I still think IMAX’s loss-less surround is still the best in cinemas today. Well after experiencing it, I think it may be one of the most immersive surround sound I’ve ever heard. I first saw Gravity at digital IMAX theater and I thought the surround sound there was perfect. Boy when I went to see it with the Atmos sound, it totally blew me away.

“Just as 3D offers added visual dimension, Dolby Atmos creates a virtual reality of sound, which fully immerses the audience in the aural journey,” Gravity‘s director Alfonso Cuarón said in a statement, as quoted by LA Times.

The separation of each surround channel was so discreet and clear that I felt I was in space with the character in the movie. The opening scene where the music came on and then the title of the movie appears was loud (not in a bad way) and clear that I felt the sound in my stomach and chest, it’s hard to explain but you have to experience it to know how it feels. Also, when some of the characters speaks, the sound was able to place their voice where it should be. For example when Clooney’s character was talking in one scene, he’s in top left corner of the screen and we hear his voice from the top left corner of the theater, it’s pretty cool! I know most surround sound can do that effect but with Atmos, you feel like his voice was right behind you, it’s so clear and didn’t feel like gimmicky to me at all. I think this sound format goes well with the spectacle you see on the screen, especially 3D effects. The explosions and clashes also sounded so realistic that you’d think you’re in the space ship with Sandra Bullock. If there’s a theater in your area that’s equipped Dolby Atmos, I’d highly you go check it out, it’s an quite an experience. Now I think this kind of surround sound only work with spectacle movies like Gravity, Thor, The Hobbit and other big tent pole pictures. I don’t think it would sound any different if they use it for comedies or dramas.

Currently Dolby Atmos is only available at the cinemas, there’s been some discussions that Dolby might consider bringing it to home theater and I can’t wait for that to happen. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to see more movies with this new soundtrack. Now I still think IMAX’s lossless surround sound is still the best but maybe I’ll change my mind once I see more movies with Atmos sound. In fact, I’m looking forward to comparing the two when I go see The Hobbit 2, it will be shown at both IMAX and Atmos equipped theaters.


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Well that’s my thoughts on Dolby Atmos, have you seen a movie with this new surround sound format? Would love to hear what you think of it.

Top 10 Favorite Scottish Actors

Today’s Gerry Butler’s birthday. For the past three years I’ve been making all kinds of tribute posts to my former crush. But y’know what, I don’t think any of you would be surprised that I won’t be doing a tribute for him this year, instead, I figure I’d finish the list that’s been sitting dormant in my draft folder for some time. I was originally going to post this shortly after I posted my picks of Top 10 Favorite Irish Actors which was three years ago!

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As you know, I have a penchant for the Scots. But really, can you blame me? There’s got to be something in the water in Scotland that churn out an endless supply of talented, AND handsome blokes. To top it off, they seem to have a charming personality to go with ’em too, and of course, there’s the irresistible Scottish burr. I’d say there aren’t enough Scots working in Hollywood right now, especially since Connery’s been out of the game for some time. In any case, here are my current faves right now in alphabetical order [Yes Gerry, you’re still on the list… for now] 😀

Billy Connoly

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I’ve only seen him in a few movies but some have become my favorites. Love him in Mrs. Brown alongside Judi Dench, in Dustin Hoffman’s debut Quartet, as well as his voice work in the recent Pixar feature film BRAVE. He’s got such a charming but mischievous personality that I often associate with Scottish men.

Brian Cox

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Brian Cox is easily of the most underrated actors working today. It’s one of those actors you wonder why he hasn’t gotten an Oscar yet given his consistently excellent performance. Even in small roles, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Dundee-born actor, i.e. The Bourne Supremacy, Rob Roy, X-Men 2Red, etc. I even like his performance as Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter more than Anthony Hopkins’ in The Silence of the Lambs.

Craig Ferguson

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Ok so now he’s switched to be a talk show host on CBS, but Ferguson is quite a great comic and voice actor. He was a hoot in Saving Grace with Brenda Blethyn, a hilarious British crime comedy. I also enjoy his voice work in How To Train Your Dragon as well as Brave, and once in a while I’d tune in to The Late, Late Show and watch his gregarious monologue and hysterical interviews!

Dougray Scott

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I think a lot of moviegoers probably only know him from Mission Impossible II or as the actor who missed out on the role of Wolverine in the X-Men franchise. But he’s actually a pretty good actor. I like him as the Handsome Prince in Ever After, as well as in smaller movies like Enigma and Ripley’s Game. Who knows, his breakthrough role could be just around the corner.

Ewan McGregor

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Perhaps the most prolific Scottish actor in Hollywood today, McGregor is as hard working as he is talented. He’s quite versatile as well, playing different types of roles and moving from one genre to the next. Just this year alone he was in The Impossible, Jack The Giant Slayer and August: Osage County, which couldn’t be more different from each other. He’s also got a beautiful singing voice too, as displayed in Moulin Rouge! I’d totally buy his album if he ever decide to be a recording artist!

Gerard Butler

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Ok Gerry, I guess I still have a smidgen of hope that you’d star in something I REALLY want to see again. The ‘Die Hard in the White House’ movie sequel London Has Fallen and that video game movie based on Kane & Lynch aren’t likely to top my must-see list 😦 He did impress me in Coriolanus and Machine Gun Preacher, both of which are grossly overlooked, so he’s still got it in him if the role calls for it. I think he ought to take a page from Matthew McConaughey’s book of career re-invention. I wrote this role for him in an espionage drama with Timothy Dalton as his dad and James McAvoy as his half brother. I’d SO love to see him in an ensemble cast like that by a stellar director, even if he’s only doing a supporting part.

James McAvoy

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I always think that he looks so much like Gerry Butler’s younger brother, but the one with the better acting chops. The first time I saw this Glaswegian native was in The Chronicles of Narnia as Mr. Tumnus, but since then he’s had been on a roll in Hollywood, balancing small/medium indies (The Last Station, Atonement, The Last King of Scotland) to big blockbuster movies like Wanted and X-Men: First Class. He’s also not afraid to take on unsympathetic anti-hero roles, Trance, Welcome to The Punch and Filth, all of which are released this year alone.

Robert Carlyle

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Yet another great but underrated Scot. Mr. Carlyle has had an illustrious career since the early 90s. His breakthrough role in Trainspotting got him noticed, and since he’s juggling a TV and film career, some of which don’t seem to deserve his talent [*cough World is Not Enough *cough]. He’s also the best thing in the ABC show Once Upon a Time as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin. Let’s hope he gets more meaty film roles in the near future!

Peter Mullan

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I think I’ve noticed Mr. Mullan in his supporting role in Braveheart, but it was his role in Boy A as a surrogate father to Andrew Garfield that really made me a fan. He’s also memorable in War Horse though his performance is easily overlooked by the younger supporting cast the likes of Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch. I still need to see On a Clear Day and Sunshine on Leith that my Scottish friend Mark Walker highly recommends.

Sean Connery

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Ok so technically he’s retired, but really you can’t have a Favorite Scot list and not mention THE most iconic of them all. Yes the Edinburgh-born actor is the first and to most people, he’s still the best James Bond, but I also like his roles post 007. The Hunt for Red October, Finding Forrester, Rising Sun, Just Cause, The Rock, to name a few, as well as two of my personal favorites: The Untouchables and Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. He’s not only a distinguished actor, but he’s also got one of the most recognizable accent in all Hollywood.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Billy Boyd
  • David Tennant
  • Iain Glen
  • John Hannah
  • Robbie Coltrane

Now, these five men are talented Scots as well, I just haven’t seen enough of their work to put them on my list. I’d love to see all these actors get more work in Hollywood, especially David Tennant who obviously has got quite a career in British TV. Perhaps that Broadchurch remake would be his American breakthrough. As for Iain Glen, I first saw him in the first Tomb Raider movie and I thought he made a charming villain. He’s also very memorable in BBC’s Spooks, love all his episodes with my Brit crush Richard Armitage! I’ve been slow going catching up with Downton Abbey, but I’m looking forward to seeing Glen’s performance in it, too!


Hope you enjoy my list of great Scots! Who’s YOUR favorite Scottish actor?