Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014! Year-end recap, Favorite Things, Blindspot and a note of THANKS

NewYear2014Another year has come and gone! Wow, what a year 2013 has been. There’s been ups and downs in my personal life, with me losing my dear brother this past Summer being one of life’s biggest blows. But I believe God never gives us more than we can bear, and there are certainly many, many things to be thankful for. It was such a blessing to see my sister in-law got married this year, and I also got to spend Thanksgiving with my best friend in San Diego which was awesome.

Blogging-wise, it’s been a pretty busy and fruitful year. Thanks to the press screenings via ALLIED Integrated Marketing, plus the two film festivals in town, I got to see over 65 new releases from 2013, not counting some films released prior to this year that were screened at TCFF or MSP Film Fest. There are dozens of older films plus all the rewatches that I simply can’t keep track on, yes even with a movie blog, ahah.

JoyeuxNoel_2005This Christmas weekend I stumbled onto a 2005 French film called Joyeux Noël which was about the truce that took place on December 24, 1914 during World War I. I don’t know why I haven’t seen that one sooner as the premise intrigued me right away and the fact that it was based on a true story made it even more worth seeing. Once again I was impressed by Daniel Brühl, so that’s three this year with RUSH and The Fifth Estate. I also love the performance of Guillaume Canet, Benno Fürmann and Diane Kruger. Such a wonderful film that shows an uplifting lesson in humanity, though the truce is such a brief one and the troops from three countries had to pay the price for their disobedience. I’m glad I finally saw it and it’s become one of my favorite Christmas-themed films!


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TOP 10 list is coming later in the week or this weekend. I’ve got at least five shoo-ins but I think the last half would be tough to pick. There’ll be some surprises (to those who follow my blog regularly anyway), some good, and some bad. January will be full of list posts, as I’ll be compiling Favorite Performances list, etc. from 2013. In the meantime, here’s …

Top Three Brits I Love in 2013… whom I will likely still adore in 2014 (and beyond!)

Richard ArmitageYup still obsessed w/ the dashing Richard Armitage… but really, can you blame me?
He’s moved to NYC recently so my wish for 2014 is to see more projects from Richard, TV, miniseries, movies, whatever, come on Hollywood!!

Tom Hiddleston
The oh-so-charming Hiddles… Tom Hiddleston ought to do a musical soon, the man oozes charisma… plus the dude can sing & dance! Check him out doing an impromptu Karaoke of Stand By Me!

Benedict CumberbatchIt’s Benedict Cumberbatch‘s banner year, even his voice made headlines as Smaug the dragon. Looking forward to see more of this uber-talented Brits on both movies & TV (hello Sherlock season 3!)

Suddenly obsessing again over …

2004_PhantomOfTheOperaMovieThanks to Cameron Macintosh’s new stage production of The Phantom of the Opera, which I saw twice at The Orpheum this month, I’ve fallen in love again with this gothic romance. Andrew Llyod Webber is such a musical genius, all the songs still have that power to haunt me after all these years. Though I LOVE the stage production, it also makes me appreciate the 2004 Joel Schumacher’s movie. Despite how I feel about his recent casting choices, I shall forever treasure Gerry Butler’s mesmerizing performance as Phantom. The chemistry with young Emmy Rossum (who’s 18 years apart in age!) is positively scorching and she made for an innocent yet sultry Christine.

I saw this movie three times on the big screen when it came out, and I would go again in a heartbeat if it ever got a re-release. It still captivated me so much that I too rewatched the Blu-ray twice in one weekend! Watch for a special appreciation post in the coming year 😉


BLIND SPOT series

One particular blogathon that has eluded me the past couple of years is the Blind Spot series. Originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and so when I saw Dan at Public Transportation Snob and a few others posting their list, I thought why not join the fun?

I’ve always said that I need to catch up on more classic movies, so this is the perfect way for me to get on that. The idea of this blind-spot series is to come up with twelve acclaimed films for the year — so one film per month — and write a post on it. Ryan has designated the final Tuesday of every month to post his entries, I might as well do the same.

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1. All the President’s Men
2. Double Indemnity
3. Mr Smith Goes to Washington

4. How the West Was Won
5. Time Bandits
6. The Apartment
7. The Philadelphia Story
8. The Sting
9. Purple Noon
10. Rebel Without A Cause
11.
It Happened One Night

12. Rebecca

Btw, I haven’t decided when I’ll be seeing each of these films, so the list is set in random order. I figure I’ll surprise you which one I’d pick for the month 😀


And last but certainly NOT least, I just want to say…

THANK YOU!

… to all my blog contributors this past year:

Ted S., Kevin G., Ashley S., Becky R. and Dave W.

… everyone who has visited and commented on this blog:

Shout out to my top 20 frequent commenters Keith, Mark, Fernando, Josh, Chris aka Terry Malloy,  Michael (thanks for kindly retweeting my posts, too!), Sati, Novia, Eric, Terrence, Dan aka CMrok93, Paula, Dan Stephens, Tim, Chris, Niels, Asrap, Rodney, Nostra, and Ckckred.

… new people I *met* this year whom I’ve enjoyed interacting with:

Steven (Surrender to the Void), James (JJames’ reviews), Zoë (The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger), Katy (The Drama Llama), V (The Verbal Spew), Chris W. (This is Madness), Gene (Let There Be Movies),Kim (Tranquil Dreams), Mikey (Screenkicker Blog), Mark (Three Rows Back), and Cindy (Cindy Bruchman’s Blog). Hope to see more of all of you here in the coming year 😉

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making FlixChatter one of your online spots to talk about movies! I look forward to connecting with you more in the coming year. There are a bunch of movies I’m looking forward to which I’ll surely be blogging about, and stay tuned for my Top 10 list from 2013 coming soon! 😀


Here’s wishing you all the best in 2014… and beyond!

So any plans for New Year’s Eve/Day? Whatever you do, I wish you peace, love, and great movies! 😀

NOT-SO-SECRET SANTA REVIEW SWAP BLOGATHON: Gimme the Loot (2012)

ckssrs_secretsantaThis post is part of Cinematic Katzenjammer‘s NOT-SO-SECRET SANTA REVIEW SWAP blogathon. This is the second installment of the blogathon where you “gift” a movie and then get one in return. I did this back in July with my review of Tremors (1990). I welcome this kind of blogathon as it gives me a chance to step out of my comfort zone as it were, as you don’t know what movie you’ll be gifted. Fortunately Nick gave me something that’s available on Netflix streaming.

Gimme the Loot (2012)

When their latest work is buffed by a rival crew, two determined graffiti writers embark on an elaborate plan to *bomb* the ultimate location: the New York Mets’ Home Run Apple.

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Director/Writer: Adam Leon
Cast: Ty Hickson, Tashiana Washington


I remember reading a review of this a while back and though I was intrigued, I kind of forgotten about it. So I was glad to get this one as a ‘gift.’ I was prepared to see something that’s off-the-beaten path, and this one certainly offers that, for better or for worse.

The premise isn’t something I’m familiar with, as I’m not a baseball fan nor do I know much of anything about the world of graffiti. Apparently the term *bomb* here refers to the act of graffiti writing, nothing to do with explosives, but that’s obvious from the start. The story focuses on two Bronx teens Malcolm and Sofia, a pair of graffiti artists who embarks on a whirlwind quest to bomb the NY Mets home-run apple. I didn’t even know what that place look like that I had to Google it. The very idea was sparked by rival graffiti artists from Queens who tag their work, so basically it’s a turf war of sort even though it centers more on how these two kids come up with $500, which is the amount of money needed to gain access to the stadium.

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Though the film is set in NYC in English, I feel like watching a foreign movie as I could barely understand the thick Bronx accent with VERY colorful language. As you know, I’m not a fan of foul language, but in this case, it’s just the reality of how the people in this subculture talk in their daily life. It’s a bit tricky to follow what’s going on at times because of this reason though, but fortunately we’ve got quite a likable duo here with Ty Hickson as Malcolm and Tashiana Washington as Sophia. I’m especially fond of the latter, she’s definitely a talented actress I hope to see more of.

These kids are made tough by situation, and I can’t help but really feel for them as I learn just how significant this goal is for them. It seems that Sophia end up having a far worse day of the two. I mean she got robbed and swindled several times over the course of 24 hours! Granted they’re not saintly themselves, I mean Malcolm is a drug dealer and the two are petty thieves in their own right, but it’s clear these kids had it rough. The story feels rather all over the place however, there’s an odd encounter between Malcolm and a blond girl Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze) when he made his drug delivery. The acting is rather awkward though it could be because all of the actors don’t have a lot of experience. Ginnie becomes part of their scheming later on, which involves a rather elaborate plan involving a tattooed-fellow named Champion (Meeko). He’s an interesting character who turns out to be not so much a champion after all as he fails to pick a lock which is the key to Malcolm’s master plan.

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What I do like is the effortless friendship between the two and the way the camera follows them around as they manage to come up with the cash anyway they can has a bit of a documentary feel to it. New York City itself is almost a character on its own right, as the film shows the non-glamorous side of the Burroughs and street corners we don’t usually see in mainstream movies. Their frank conversation between Malcolm and Sophia—however vulgar and uncouth—has a certain charm and humor. I’m especially taken by Tashiana Washington‘s performance. Her Sophia is definitely the strongest character between the two, and serves as the voice of reason throughout the film despite their dire situation.

Overall I quite enjoyed this one, so I’m glad I saw it. I just wish there’s more to the story and the ending was more sharply-written. The denouement just feels incomplete somehow, perhaps it’s deliberate but it just wasn’t working for me. I do like the fact that there wasn’t a forced romance written into the plot, which makes it rather refreshing. Not a bad debut from Adam Leon on a shoe-string budget.

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3 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen this movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: American Hustle

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Based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late 1970s, con-artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser are forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.

When I first heard David O. Russell was making this film, I was immediately drawn to it mainly because of the cast. It’s combining the best of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and just like many of O. Russell’s films, this one is one wild but entertaining ride. Right from the start, the movie gives me the giggles as it shows a good 10 minutes or so of Christian Bale‘s Irving Rosenfeld meticulously putting on his toupee. That alone is worth the price of admission if I were to pay full price at the cinema. I mean, it’s as if retro Mr. Bruce Wayne has been enjoying too much of his um, retirement. Bale is in his transformative role once again, gaining 55 pounds for the role, going the opposite route of what he did for The Fighter. He’s convincing as always, what with the Jersey accent and full-on con-man smarmy-ness, though at times his amazing transformation actually takes me out of the story a bit.

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The film shows how Irving became the con-man that he was, which he seems destined to be since he was a kid. It’s as much a story about Irving as it is about Sydney Prosser, his lover and partner in crime, played with wild abandon by Amy Adams. Posing as a British national, Sydney is seductive and perhaps even more cunning than her lover. Inconsistent British accent aside, Adams totally disappears into her role. Hard to believe this is the very same innocent Giselle from Enchanted. She also has a sultry chemistry with Bale, in fact, I tweeted right after the movie that there’s more sparks between her and fat, balding Batman than with the Man of Steel earlier this year 😉

As Irving and Sydney’s cunning schemes grew bolder, inevitably it caught the attention of the Feds and ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) soon got both working for him, hustled them into exposing Jersey power brokers and mafia underworld. It seems like an enchanting proposition but of course things are never as simple nor easy as they seem. It’s later revealed that Irving has a sexy but unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who makes things even more complicated as the plan progresses. The 22-year-old once again displays that she could effortlessly portray someone much older than she is and hold her own against actors twice her age. Her deliberately campy performance steals scenes every time she appears, especially the bit involving a microwave.

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The story seems to shift the focus between the developing relationship of Richie & Sydney, as well as Irving and Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The latter ends up revealing Irving’s sense of humanity, what’s left of it at least, as he gains more sympathy for Carmine. The film plays like an ensemble cast of sort, with not one but a trio of protagonists (Irving, Sydney and Richie) with power plays entwining between the three of them. Though Cooper still has a long way from becoming one of my favorite actors, I’ve grown to appreciate him more and he does have dramatic as well as comic timing. There’s a cameo from Robert DeNiro which is one of the film’s highlights, though Michael Peña is the scene-stealer here in a brief but hysterical supporting role. I’ll let you see it for yourself what role he’s playing. Oh, stand-up comedian Louis C.K. is a hoot as Richie’s boss as well, that was an interesting casting that works pretty well. I think the cast is what makes this movie so enjoyable. I know a lot of people compare O. Russell’s direction style to Scorsese’s. Now, even if there’s some similarities, I don’t know why someone of O. Russell’s stature would ever need to copy someone else’s work.

What I think is the flaw of the film is the slightly off pacing and lack of emotional gratification. Through all the topsy-turvy scenarios, I don’t really have any emotional connection with any of the characters. Though the 1970s set pieces, costumes, vibe, etc. is convincingly retro, I didn’t always feel so immersed in that world as I had hoped. So in the end, it never became anything more than a fun and amusing ride featuring solid performances. Given the premise, there are crazy situations involving sex, drugs and a whole lot of scheming, but having seen The Wolf of Wall Street though, that one makes American Hustle looks like a PG-13 movie!

“I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated, didn’t Jesus say that? Also, always take a favor over money. Effin’ Jesus said that as well.” – Irving Rosenfeld

The screenplay was originally titled American Bullshit by Eric Warren Singer and was listed at #8 on the 2010 Black List of un-produced screenplays. O. Russell ended up co-writing the script for this one, which features some riotous dialogue and fun use of music. I especially enjoyed the scene of Rosalyn cleaning her house whilst singing Live and Let Die, complete with vinyl yellow gloves on. I had fun with this one, it’s as amusing as you’d expect and more freakishly hilarious as I thought it’d be. I don’t even mind watching this again when it’s out on dvd.

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4 out of 5 reels

So have you seen American Hustle? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

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When it comes to films based on a real life person, I tend to not be that interested in them but when a master filmmaker like Martin Scorsese decided to make one, I won’t miss it for the world.  As with most films based on real events, not everything you see on the screen are true but then this movie was based on a book written by a real life stockbroker Jordan Belfort, I have to believe that some if not all of the things happened on the screen were true. I mean I’ve worked at a financial institution a few years ago and heard stories of how the big wig executives partied and I can’t help but laugh when I saw this movie.

Just like some of Scorsese’s films, the main character Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) narrates the story throughout and even talked directly to the audience once in a while. It starts out with flashback of how he got started in wall street, he worked at some brokerage film in NYC, there he met his mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) who taught him the trick of the trade. After the stock market crash in 1987, Belfort loss his job but later found work at a small brokerage firm with a bunch of sales guys who have no idea how sell stocks. With his experience working at a big firm, Belfort was able to sell stocks of basically non-existent companies to bunch of regular schmucks. Later Belfort decided he wanted to start his own firm and met his future business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) at a local dinner. They rented a garage to set up as an office and recruited their friends to work for them. The film basically chronicle the rise and fall of Belfort and his gang and since it’s a 3 hours long, I won’t go into any plot details for this review.

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This is the fifth collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorsese and I think this one might be DiCaprio’s best performance ever. He commands the screen every time you see him and the things did in this movie, I’m not sure many actors can pull off. There’s a scene in which he was so drugged out of his mind and he had to crawl to get to his car was probably the most hilarious thing I’ve seen in a while and it’s kind of sad too because I’ve seen people behaved like that in real life. Jonah Hill was pretty good as the second lead, although there were a couple of times where I thought he really “acted” instead of playing the role, hope that made sense. Even though McConaughey only appeared in the movie for just a few minutes, he stole the scene and I kind of wish to see more of his character. Newcomer Aussie actress Margot Robbie did a decent job as Belfort’s trophy wife, I’ve never seen her in anything before this movie, but she might have a good career Hollywood since she’s also drop dead gorgeous. I also have to give a shout out to Rob Reiner who plays Belfort’s father, I haven’t seen him on the screen in a while and glad to see him working again in front of the camera.

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To me though the person who truly deserves the credit is Scorsese, I don’t think this film would have worked as well as it did had other director made it. Seems to be he’s back in his old form again after some so so films the last few years. Even though I loved The Departed, I just felt it wasn’t a “Scorsese Picture” since it’s remake. Here he incorporated all of the skills that have made him famous and respected in the industry, from the fast editing to great cinematography, I have no complaint about his direction. He was able to show how despicable these people were and he pulled no punches showing us their debauchery behaviors and how they cheat their way into “success.” Some might say it’s too much but that’s the point of the movie, these greedy people will do anything to get rich and didn’t care who they hurt as long as they get what they wanted. Of course this being a Scorsese film, there has to be scene where some guy gets the crap beat out of him and don’t worry, there’s a scene in this film where some unfortunate guy got the crap kicked out of him. I was expecting to see Joe Pesci show up as a cameo and play the guy who beats up this person. I don’t mean to sound exaggerated but I think this film might be on the same level as Goodfellas or Taxi Driver. Now I do think the film could’ve use some trimming, at 3 hours it’s a bit long and I thought some scenes could’ve been shorten. But I was so involved in the story, it didn’t feel like 3 hours to me.

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Of all the films I saw in 2013, this one’s probably my favorite. It’s great seeing a true Scorsese’s picture again and along with great performances, this one is highly recommended. Just a warning though, this film is for adults only, please don’t bring young kids to see it. If you get easily offended by foul language, the F-words were mentioned many times, you might want to stay away from it. Also, there were many scenes of sex acts and drug use throughout most of the film, again if you’re easily offended by these kind of scenes, you won’t enjoy the film.

I think if you’re a fan of either DiCaprio or Scorsese or both, you’ll enjoy this film. It’s a kind of tragic story of how greed can make people so evil and the last shot of the film was a proof that yes many of us will do anything to get rich and have a better life. That’s the American dream right?

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


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What do you think of The Wolf of Wall Street and Scorsese + DiCaprio collaboration?

Top 10 inspiring Biopics to see this holiday season… or any time of the year

Christmas is always a special time for me. It’s not just another holiday, as there is someone’s birth I am celebrating for His gift to humanity. So as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, it’d be most appropriate to focus on the theme of inspiration. The word itself came from the Latin word inspīrāre which means ‘to breathe upon or breathe life into.

inspire (ɪnˈspaɪə)
— vb
to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Certain films have a power to inspire us, especially those that are based on a real person. Of course Hollywood often takes creative license with the films, but so long as the essence of the story is there, it can still very much inspire us. Note that I’m limiting the list to films from 1980s and up just to help narrow things down.

So without further ado, here are 10 biopics I have seen so far that I find the most inspiring (in alphabetical order):

Amazing Grace (2006)

The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

I saw this a while ago and I wish more people had seen this. This movie’s release coincided with the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the first anti-slave trade bill, ending 400 years of slave trading. The main protagonist, William Wilberforce is a faithful British member of Parliament. Ioan Gruffud is excellent in the title role, conveying the emotional and physical struggles battling illness and one setback after another in the two decades he fought to end slave trading in England.

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Along the way, he’s encouraged by his mentor John Newton (portrayed marvelously by Albert Finney), the author of the beloved hymn of the movie’s title, a repentant former slave trader. He’s also helped by his allies, PM William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), a scholarly former slave Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour), as well as his loving and influential wife, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Though it’s heavy on the history and political aspect, but the redemptive values aren’t lost in the process. It’s one of those rare Hollywood films with a deep passion for goodness and virtue that’s entertaining as well as inspiring. The performances of mostly-British talents, which also includes Ciaran Hinds and Rufus Sewell, are top notch, but ultimately it’s the profound message and inspiring story that makes this a winning feature.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.

It’s one of those sports biopics that is so much more than the sports itself. Both Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both gifted Olympic-worthy sprinters, but what set them apart is the motivation behind each athlete. Abrahams has something to prove to himself and those around him, and Liddell runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

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The rivalry between the two isn’t so much about who’s better or more righteous, as both stood for what they believed in. Each of them is motivated by their own personal values and convictions, nary of any political agenda nor hostility, that alone is inspiring. The physical and spiritual conflicts presented here made for a rich human drama with plenty of teachable moments. For one, there is a good message about one’s preoccupation of winning at any cost that ultimately lead to empty victories. Hugh Hudson‘s brilliant direction, David Watkin‘s exquisite cinematography and Vangelis’ powerful score made this film a classic, one that can be passed down from one generation to the next as it’s the kind of timeless stories people of all ages can appreciate.

Conviction (2010)

A working mother puts herself through law school in an effort to represent her brother, who has been wrongfully convicted of murder and has exhausted his chances to appeal his conviction through public defenders.

Just like Amazing Grace, this is another overlooked small-budget-with-big-story that I highly recommend. Featuring two excellent performances by Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell as Betty Anne and Kenny Waters, I was inspired by Betty Anne’s undeniable love and loyalty for her brother, which leads to her unrelenting quest to get upturn his conviction, even getting a law degree whilst struggling to support her own family.

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It’s quite heart-wrenching to see the struggles Betty Anne had to go through, helped only by her sympathetic lawyer friend Abra (Minnie Driver). Coping with one setback after another, yet she kept on hoping and trying even when Kenny himself seemed to have given up. It’s a compelling drama about the power of love that triumphs even in the most difficult circumstances.

Finding Neverland (2004)

The story of J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan.

It’s one of those heart-warming stories of unlikely friendships that is beautifully presented on screen. Johnny Depp at his most charming yet understated role and Kate Winslet is lovely as always as the frail Sylvia, but it’s Freddie Highmore who’s quite the scene-stealer.

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I was really won over by how life-transforming this friendship was for everyone involved, especially between Mr. Barrie and Sylvia’s youngest son Peter. All the performances are lovely, including supporting turns from Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. This film celebrates the gift of imagination and creativity and its emotional healing power.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.

One of the hardest films to sit through yet has the best lesson to take away from. Paul was an ordinary man who’d never make himself out to be a hero. Yet the indescribable atrocities around him compelled him not to simply stand in the sidelines. This film shows the worst of humanity, how the world failed the people of Rwanda, but out of all that wickedness and evil, there is always a glimmer of light peeking through. It reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” and that’s exactly what Paul did, which proves that even one person could change the world.

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Don Cheadle delivered a remarkably powerful and moving performance and Sophie Okonedo is quite remarkable as Paul’s wife. In a brief role, Joaquin Phoenix as a photojournalist delivered a line that is perhaps the most convicting of all, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say Oh, my God, that’s horrible. And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” We definitely are guilty of that, whether we want to admit it or not. Paul Rusesabagina shows us what it means to actually care and not simply shrug things of and say that it’s other people’s problems.

The Insider (1999)

A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco.

Sometimes an ordinary person can be a hero when it’s willing to risk it all for the good of the public. Jeffrey Wigand is a research chemist who makes a good living working for a tobacco company, but yet he risks losing it all, even his own family, when he became a whistle blower exposing the fatal danger of smoking.

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It’s a gripping story that’s full of suspense without a single shootout or car chases. The real beauty is in the script and performances, esp. by Russell Crowe as Wigand and Al Pacino as investigative journalist Lowell Bergman. At the core of the story is a riveting David vs. Goliath story that carries the themes about honesty, loyalty, integrity, as well as what it means to selflessly put others first.

The Intouchables (2011)

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Phillipe and Idris couldn’t be more different from each other in terms of background and social status. Yet the two strike an unlikely friendship that spark a journey to self-healing when they least expect it. What I love most about this film is the honest dialog between the two characters and how Idris never see the paraplegic Phillipe as a ‘lesser’ person because of his condition.

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It’s a sincere and incredibly poignant depiction of human relationship that celebrates the human spirit. Though their circumstances perhaps don’t change much in the end, their friendship certainly is life-affirming.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

With the South African leader being laid to rest earlier this month, this film’s timing is unbelievably timely. Yet I believe the story of personal courage and benevolence shall stand the test of time. This is not the first film about Mandela I saw, nor would it be the last, but his life story never fails to move and inspire me.

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This film shows the personal toll it took on Mandela for the sake of equality and human rights. “It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he declared, and as the film title says, it sure was a long and difficult walk, having to endure 27 years behind bars in Robben Island. He lost his freedom but also his family, not being able to see his wife and kids which ultimately cost his marriage to Winnie. So many things about Mandela are inspiring, but perhaps most of all, is his ability to forgive those who put him in jail. It’s the ultimate manifestation of love,  the love for his people and his nation, that enables him to put aside his own pride and personal vendetta. Now that folks, makes Mandela better than any Hollywood superhero.

Schindler’s List (1993)

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

The contrast of how the Nazis value human life and how Schindler sees it towards the end of the film is tremendously striking. “I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…” Schindler weeps in one of the many, many heart-wrenching scenes of the film. He comes to value how precious each human life is, and that monetary success no longer means anything to him when there are human sufferings all around him.

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Few films strikes deep to the core of your soul like this one, and John Williams’ exquisite score has a transcendental quality that haunts you for a long time. The quintessential ‘inspiring movie,’ Schindler’s List is considered a masterpiece for a reason. Perhaps the best and most personal work by Steven Spielberg, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t think he could do the story justice.

Veronica Guerin (2003)

The story of Irish journalist who exposed some of Dublin’s most powerful crime barons in 1996 and later gunned down by assassins hired by the same criminal drug lords she exposed.

One of the first Cate Blanchett films I saw and I was so deeply moved by it. The Australian actress is absolutely convincing with her Irish accent and truly disappeared into the role of the Irish journalist.

Her single-minded pursuit which endangers her life and her family can be considered reckless, but one can’t help but admire that incredible courage. On top of that, her lack of apathy towards the evil around her is to be commended, as most people would just turn the other way. Guerin’s husband pleaded for her to drop the case yet she refused to succumb to the criminals’ threats that prove to be fatal.

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It’s painful to see that time and time again, it takes a tragedy for lawmakers and the power that be to finally wake up and fight the crime they should’ve been fighting for from the start. There are memorable supporting turns from Irish actors Ciarán Hinds, as well as then-unknown Colin Farrell in a cameo role. Director Joel Schumacher is known mostly for his bad films like Batman & Robin, yet his smaller gems like this one sadly got overlooked.


Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

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Surely there are more inspiring biopics beyond what’s on this list. What are some of your favorites?

Forgotten Christmas-themed Movie: Fitzwilly (1967)

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Merry Christmas, all and sundry!

Taking a brief respite from the strategy of “What?”s and “When?”s in regards to baking family Christmas gifts. I’ve fallen back upon a request from our Hostess regarding favorite holiday-hemed films. While A Christmas Story and It’s A Wonderful Life hold their proper place high in the firmament. And have been critiqued to death. I’ve opted for a later film directed by Delbert Mann.

Whose sublime detail in its many sets firmly ensconce this work in the still glamorous world of 1960s Old Family wealth. And the continuous, often humorous sub rosa and covert scams and grifts employed to maintain it. All under the subtle of of the unassuming family butler.

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Imagine if you will a cabal of Old School and generational full liveried staff and servants attached to Old Family Money all along the East Coast. Loyal to a fault and quite content their positions, lifestyles and standing. Yet, also often willing to bend the rules of social propriety (The Law) to maintain that standing. And the rather relaxed and elegant lifestyles of their respective “families”.

Put that concept in the more than competent hands of director, Mann. Allow him access to a stellar cast of then up and coming character actor and television talent. Back that up with an exceptionally harpsichord and brass heavy orchestra under the touch of an equally up and coming Johnny (John) Wiliams’ Ladle on opulent oaken and maple home estate and high end department store sets. To reinforce the carefree confidence of more the than financial stability of a half century ago.

Then put it all in the hands of Claude Fitzwilliam. (Dick Van Dyke. Rarely better!) A generational manservant and honors graduate of Williams College and completely devoted to the welfare and care of Miss Victoria Woodworth (A very spry and sharp, Edith Evans). Who enjoys the life of elegant luxury. While indulging in esoteric hobbies. Like a dictionary of phonetically misspelled words. Or dabbling in her and her family’s rather racy memoirs. Completely oblivious to (Or is she?) the goings on of her staff of footman, Albert (John McGiver). A bevy of maids and attendants. Chauffeur, Oliver (A very young Sam Waterson) and Fitzwilly. As Oliver guides a rather posh Rolls Royce Silver Cloud into Manhattan. On a walking and rather slick plundering tour of Bergdorf’s, Neiman’s and other high end establishments.

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Checking off items on Fitzwilly’s shopping list: Silver cutlery, forks, spoons, sugar tongs on one level of Altman’s. Antique mirrors and leaded crystal one floor up. Television consoles on the ground floor. Vintage wine at another location. With Fitzwilly affecting a different voice, accent, infliction and body language for each purchase. Billing each to a fictitious family. Then calling the Shipping Department for a cohort (Noam Pitlick) to send on their way to St. Dismas Charitable Fund and its many thrift shops.

While Miss Vickie is otherwise occupied and in need of an assistant. In the shape of initially bookish, smart and bespectacled, Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon in her first and best film role!). Graduate of Business and Literature from Smith college. Expanding her repertoire with Post graduate work at Columbia and wanting to branch out on her own.

Fitzwilly and Ms. Nowell do not hit it off right away. As her evening arrival and interview had been arranged by Ms. Vickie and against his wishes. Creating an possible unwanted intrusion into the butler, staff and other familiar monied families’ staff operating under Fitzwilly’s umbrella. A solution is sought. And found in the holiday remodeling of a Palm Beach manse. Whose $15,000 budget (What roughly a half million would be today! Remember, this is 1967.) is placed into the hands of Byron Casey (Stephen Strimpell). Who wishes to spend as little as possible. And pocket the rest. A quick meeting with Fitzwilly and staff reveals all sorts of possibilities in keeping hold of Casey’s proposed half of the total budget. While procuring a Steinway Grand Piano, Crystal, Silver, Entertainment systems and other accoutrements of the idle rich.

Plans are discussed and set. Along with contingencies to keep Miss Vickie occupied along with Ms. Nowell. Who, besides being terribly efficient. Is also blessed or cursed with the curiosity of a cat. And finds Fitwilly’s and staff’s basement “work shop”. Full of paper stocks, printing presses, inks, pens, labeling machines, letterheads, mimeograph machines. All of the recently used tools of the illegal arts had been used to begin shipping items from north to south.

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A confrontation is to be had as Ms. Nowell kind of misreads what she’s seen. And kind of doesn’t. After quickly executed biblical bar grifts (Sampsom and Delilah) are executed across upper and mid town establishments to cover unexpected shipping costs. Made worse by Ms. Nowell accidentally mailing out Casey’s $7,500 “retainer” check to a charity Fitzwilly has no control over. And can not intercept or stop its payment.

Others would see this as a irredeemable catastrophe, but not Fitzwilly. Who enjoys a challenge and come up with “one last caper” to cover the loss. And perhaps, turn a profit. With Altman’s being an optimum target. Along with a few other reputable firms.

All these plans, schemes, times and places of execution are known by far too repentant Albert (John McGiver). Who is snatched up in the middle of the Christmas Eve rush. And is more than willing to bare his soul as Miss Vickie politely crashes the interrogation between Albert, store manager, Oberlatz (Norman Fell) and Assistant District Attorney Eliot Adams (Dennis Cooney). Who want to nail Albert and company’s hide to the closest wall. As Miss Vickie; who knows Eliot and his family. Begins very polite, yet scandalous negotiations which focus on poster boy, Adam’s less than stellar past in boarding, prep schools and colleges. Watching and listening to the grand old dame effortlessly knocks back proposed felony charges to misdemeanors is a singularly memorable thing of insinuating and groveling beauty.

Clearing the decks for a Happy Ending. Whose details I’ll avoid while avoiding Spoiler Territory.

Now. What Makes This Film A Notable Favorite?

One of the last, most meticulously detailed and executed examples of being rich in the 1960s. And how the rich behave, though little of that has changed over the decades. Used to a certain level of comfort and discretion few may attain. And never apologizing for it.

Part of the film’s humor is in seeing how dropping the right name. Or having the right looking work orders. The right clothes. Behaving in certain cultured, mannered effete ways. Opens doors that most thoFitzwillySoundtrackrough background could never accomplish. Especially when Fitzwilly and his crew in brand name logo coveralls allows them to wrap up and walk out with a full blown African Safari floor display from a top line department store for Miss Vickie’s “Platypuses”. Her version of a rich kids’ Boy Scouts.

This film also possesses one of the best and most helpful soundtracks I’ve enjoyed in a while. Gently enhancing the austerity of Miss Vickie’s posh estate one moment. Then lightheartedly advancing suspense the next. Kudos to young Mr. Williams for so cleverly making an early mark before being “the go to guy” with the creation of later blockbusters.

Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc is lush and opulent. Everything one could ask for. Indoors and out. Sets have already gotten their due. Costume design and execution by Donfeld are flawless. From Mr. Van Dyke. To Ms. Evans and Ms. Feldon’s early penchant for knit scarves and turtlenecks on down.

Overall Consensus:

This is a film for Mr. Van Dyke to carry, if not take the lead on. Setting well inside the template started with Bye Bye, Birdie and Mary Poppins. Having fun with playing different characters, no matter how briefly. While Ms. Evans delicately manages to steal every scene she is in.

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The chemistry between Mr. Van Dyke’s Fitzwilly and Ms. Feldon’s Juliet is fun to watch from the start. Equals in more way than one. Matching talents and wiles in a film that features the buyers’ insanity of the last minute Christmas season. Though is not centrally themed around it.

Note: This film has finally been getting some proper air time on Turner Classic Movies and is available to be viewed Full Length on YouTube.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews



Have you seen Fitzwilly? We’d love to hear what you think!

Weekend Roundup and Disney’s FROZEN review

‘Tis the weekend before Christmas. Hope all of you have gotten all your Christmas shopping done and not have to endure long lines at the mall!

Well, I went to the cinema to see FROZEN, but sounds like more people went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, perhaps some were repeat customers. Bilbo ended up beating Ron Burgundy as The Hobbit 2 made $31 mil while Anchorman 2 earned $28 mil, which is rather low considering their super aggressive marketing campaign.

In any case, I saw The Wolf of Wall Street this past week, Thursday to be exact, which was good but boy was it ever dark and filthy. Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio pulled all the stops in portraying the worst of human corruption based on a crooked Wall Street banker’s memoir (review upcoming). Well, by Friday I needed a palate cleanser if you will, something truly lighthearted and wholesome to erase all those gross and vile scenes from the day before. FROZEN did the trick beautifully.

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This film wasn’t in my radar until I started seeing reviews of it popping up everywhere. Seems that Disney didn’t market this one as aggressively as say, Tangled from a couple of years ago. In any case, I loved this one as much as Tangled, if not slightly more.

Though the film is set on a Kingdom in a far away land and there are princesses involved, the story is not quite what you would expect. Two sisters, Anna and Elsa, grow up in the kingdom of Arendelle and the film opens with the two of them playing together in the snow… but inside the palace. Y’see, Elsa has a certain powers that can turn anything to ice and snow, so as kids, it was obviously fun for Anna to have an older sister who can create their own Winter Wonderland, complete with a snowman they named Olaf. That is until an accident occured that their parents had to lock themselves away in their castle in order to conceal Elsa’s powers. It’s especially devastating for Anna that Elsa has isolated herself from anyone including her own sister, that year after year she sings ‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ in front of Elsa’s door. But every single time, her door remains closed.

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When the time comes for Elsa’s coronation to be Queen of Arendelle, Anna is ecstatic (naturally!). At first the story seems to have gone to a predictable route to a ‘boy meets girl’ variety, complete with exaggerated love songs that they’re destined to be together. But fortunately, there is more to it than that, in fact, Anna’s journey is just beginning.

The heart of the film is the epic journey for Anna to find Elsa, who’s driven away from the castle when her powers got discovered. As she flees, she has inadvertently set her kingdom to eternal Winter. Along the way, Anna encounters a rugged mountain guy Kristoff with his beloved reindeer Sven, as well as Olaf, the snowman from her childhood fantasy. I have to admit that I’m not always fond of silly sidekicks in animated movies as they can grow irksome pretty quickly. Thankfully Olaf is irresistibly lovable and hilarious, the sequence of ‘snowman in Summer’ is a real hoot! Kristoff is an easy fellow to root for as well, but the real star here is Anna (voiced by the adorable Kristen Bell) as the protagonist of the film. A fearless optimist with a big, big heart, she is definitely one of those people ‘worth melting for.’ Ever since she was a wee girl, you can’t help but love her.

What I love about this film is how Disney has taken the typical princess romance with its ‘true love’ concept and turns it on its head. It’s really a film for the whole family in that it celebrates the love between family, specifically sisterhood and the complicated relationship that often comes with that. There’s theme of competitiveness and jealousy, but ultimately, it’s centers on the bond and love between the two of them.

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I absolutely enjoyed this film from start to finish. For a film called Frozen, it’s definitely NOT a cold movie, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s a fun adventure filled with hilarious moments and genuine, heart-warming moments. I saw this in 2D as that’s the showtime worked best for us but I think the fantastic special effects would’ve made the 3D worthwhile. I absolutely loved the scene when Elsa built her ice palace, the visuals is so breathtaking that even though I’m already so sick of Winter at this point, I can’t help but admire the beauty of snow and ice crystals. Oh and of course you can expect the beautiful songs in Disney movies. I think the key song here is Let It Go as it’s Elsa’s defiant song about accepting who she is, but my favorite is Anna’s rendition of For the First Time in Forever that’s played twice in the movie.

I didn’t know Kristen Bell could sing so beautifully, truly I was pretty impressed by her vocals, plus I think her personality fits the character of Anna perfectly. Broadway star Idina Menzel did a great job as Elsa, and both Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad as Kristoff and Olaf did a smashing job as well. The strong female themes is always nice to see, and it turns out Jennifer Lee (who wrote the splendid Wreck-It Ralph) served as screenwriter AND director (along with Chris Buck in the directing chair).

I’m sure glad I saw this on the big screen. It’s one of the most enjoyable and emotionally-gratifying movies I’ve seen all year. My hubby had a great time watching this as well and we both agreed we will be buying the Blu-ray once it comes out!


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P.S. The short film Get a Horse! in the beginning is awesome in that John Lasseter puts a fresh spin to a vintage Disney animation.


So what did YOU see this weekend? I’d love to know your thoughts about FROZEN as well, so let’s hear it!