Farewell 2014! Random Best/Worst Cinematic Recap of the Year

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Wow, where has the time go?? I still can’t believe it’s already the LAST day of 2014. But y’know what, I’m actually looking forward to the new year, both in terms of film as well as personally and professionally speaking.

This past week I started thinking about some cinematic items I like and don’t like, so for the fun of it, I’ll just make a random post with whatever categories that come to mind. I took to Twitter for people to help me come up with something but got only one reply, but if you have suggestion in the comments, I can add them on here. Ok let’s get to it

Best Robotic Characters

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Baymax (Big Hero 6) & TARS (Interstellar)

Best mo-cap performance

Andy Serkis – Caesar (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

Best Movie Sidekick

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Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson/Falcon (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Best voice work

Benedict Cumberbatch – Smaug (The Hobbit trilogy)

Best surprisingly bad-ass female character

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Emily Blunt – Rita Vrataski (Edge of Tomorrow)

Worst supposedly-bad-ass-but-turns-out-annoying female character

Amber Heard – 3 Days To Kill

Best surprisingly bad-ass male character

Dan Stevens – ‘David’ (The Guest*)

* I actually haven’t seen the movie yet but based on the trailer alone, Dan looks so bad-ass!!

Worst supposedly-bad-ass-but-turns-out-annoying male character

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Lee Pace – Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)

 

Best bravura performance (female)

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Beyond the Lights

Best duo reunion

James McAvoy + Michael Fassbender – Erik Lehnsherr/Charles Xavier (X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Best [and most artistic] Regional Movie Posters

The above posters are of various US cities, they also created some International Cities version. ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!

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Best Movie Quotes

“Bruce Wayne? Who’st that? Sounds like a cool guy…” – Batman (Will Arnett), The Lego Movie

“Apes. Together. Strong!” – Caesar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.” – Drax (Dave Bautista, Guardians of The Galaxy)

Best use of a slo-mo in an action scene

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Quicksilver’s kitchen scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

Best/Most Inspired Casting

Michael Keaton – Riggan Thomson (Birdman)

Best Use of a Great Ensemble Cast

The Imitation Game and Birdman (tie)

Worst Use of a Great Ensemble Cast

The Monuments Men

Best comedic performance by a typically-serious actor 

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Ralph Fiennes – Mr. Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Honorable Mention: Chris Pine – Cinderella’s Prince (Into The Woods) – simply for his hilarious Agony rendition

Best Movie Mustache

Ralph Fiennes – Mr. Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Underrated Breakthrough Performance (Male)

Tony Revolori – Zero Mustafa (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

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Tony Revolori & Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Best Underrated Breakthrough Performance (Female)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Dido Elizabeth Belle (Belle)

Best serious performance by a comedic actor (also Best Use of Prosthetics)

Steve Carell – John DuPont (Foxcatcher)

Best ‘WTF that was bizarre’ movie

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Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy

Best Shootout Scene

Keanu Reeves’ John Wick at a Night Club

Best Car Chase Scene

Worst use of a screen legend

Ben Kingsley –Exodus: Gods & Kings and Night of the Museum 3 (as a Jewish slave AND Egyptian royalty, respectively)

Worst movie haircut [not just 2014, probably of the DECADE]

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Colin Farrell’s (Winter’s Tale)

Best Honest Trailers of 2014

Best Fake Movie Poster

Worst time spent at movie theater all year

Transformers: Age of Extinction [at IMAX no less!]

Best Outrageous Costume

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Noni’s outfits (Beyond the Lights)

Best Performance by an actor under 15

Isaac Andrews – Malak (Exodus: Gods & Kings)

Best Movie set in a confined space [and best use of a car interior]

Locke

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Best One-Man-Show Performance

Tom Hardy (Locke)

Worst movie(s) that didn’t live up to its hype

Godzilla & Interstellar

Best 2014 characters deserving of a spin-off

Sam Wilson/Falcon (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Lego Batman + Good Cop/Bad Cop (The LEGO Movie)

Effie Trinket (The Hunger Games)

Best Food Movie of the Year [that’s also a surprisingly GOOD movie!]

Jon Favreau's CHEF
Jon Favreau’s CHEF

Worst movie starring one of my actor crushes

Into The Storm (Sorry Richard Armitage but it was dreadful!)

Best film news

SPECTRE announcement

Worst film news

The whole SONY hack debacle

Best new TV show (that I saw for the entire first season)

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Best directorial debut 

Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler*

* I actually haven’t seen this yet but this is based on all the reviews I’ve read

Worst directorial debut (that results in possibly the WORST movie of the year)

Akiva Goldsman – Winter’s Tale

Best comeback role

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

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Best return-to-form performance 

Edward Norton (Birdman)

Best bromance

Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street)

Best romantic duo

BestRomanticDuo

James McAvoy & Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby)
Gugu Mbatha Raw & Sam Reid (Belle)

Best May-December romance (that doesn’t make me cringe)

Guy Pearce & Felicity Jones (Breathe-In)

Worst May-December romance (that does make me cringe)

Kevin Kline & Dakota Fanning (The Last of Robin Hood)

Best unintentionally-hilarious 2014 trailer

It just never fails to bring a chuckle every time I watch it. Mr. Neeson certainly has the gift of unintentional comedy!


Those are some of the random categories I can think of for now. Feel free to submit category suggestions in the comments below.


Farewell 2014, now bring on 2015!!
HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!

Last Blindspot film of the year: The Sting (1973)

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In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.

This turns out to be second George Roy Hill movie I saw, whom I didn’t know was born in Minnesota. The first film of his I saw was Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, in fact, it’s the pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman that was the main draw for me as they have a great rapport together. I could see why this movie was popular, a box office hit and a critical darling, even winning three out of ten nominations: Best Picture Oscar, Best Director and Best Screenplay for David S. Ward. It’s a fun and entertaining caper movie set in Chicago during the Great Depression.

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Despite the light and humorous tone, there’s some emotional and moving scenes, especially when the main lead lost his good friend who’s killed by the mob, Doyle Lonnegan. That incident leads to the two leads on a vengeful quest in conning the mob boss out of his money. Redford plays a small time grifter Johnny Hooker who teams up a once-great conman Henry Gondorff (Newman) to teach him the big con. Given the 11-year difference, it make sense that Newman is playing more of a mentor role to Redford.

The plot is a bit complicated, but not overly convoluted that you’re too confused to enjoy the movie. It’s quite fun to see how they plan each trick, whilst still keeping it unpredictable. Hill broke the film down in chapters with its own title, i.e. The Set Up, The Wire, etc. which I find to be quite unique in and of itself. It’s worth noting too that the movie’s two leads are NOT good guys, they’re con artists after all, but yet you’re rooting for them right from the start. The pairing of Redford/Newman are played down a bit here compared to Butch Cassidy. In fact, we don’t even see Newman until after about 25 minutes in and he has less screen time overall than Redford. His intro of him waking up with a huge hangover is pretty fun to watch though.

The film focuses more on the tricky scheme itself that involves a great ensemble of supporting actors. There are many familiar faces, i.e. Robert Shaw (most remembered for From Russia With Love) who plays another icy villain here. The guy who played Luther looked strangely familiar to me as he looked so much like James Earl Jones, sure enough that’s his father, Robert Earl Jones. Of course there’s also Dana Elcar (Pete Thornton on one of my fave 90s shows MacGyver) as the FBI agent.

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The Sting‘s got everything going for it in terms of entertainment value. First-rate production quality down to those sharp suits, fast-paced direction, good acting by the two great-looking leads, AND it’s got a fabulous featuring ragtime music by Scott Joplin. It’s a hugely popular song I’ve heard time and time again, but I had no idea it was featured in this film. Apparently composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin’s tune The Entertainer for the film and it made Joplin’s music popular again in the 70s and beyond.

I’m glad I finally saw this one. I appreciate the fact that Hill didn’t make this caper a dark, brooding and somber affair like most crime thrillers. No unnecessary romance to over-complicate matters either, thank goodness. There’s not too many action scenes here, but there are definitely some tense and surprising moments that got me on the edge of my seat. Overall it’s a fun, thrilling and suspenseful ride from start to finish. That said, I wouldn’t call The Sting a masterpiece of cinema or anything. It’s more of a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite make a lingering emotional impact afterwards, but a perfectly satisfying piece of entertainment I certainly don’t mind seeing again.

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Have you seen The Sting? Let me know what you think!

[Last 2014] Weekend Roundup + Mini Reviews of The Trip To Italy, The Immigrant, Exodus: Gods & Kings and Into the Woods

Hello hello! Hope you had a lovely long Holiday weekend. It’s quite a nice and relaxing holiday for me, though it ended up being a pretty busy one hanging out with friends. I did fit in some movie-watching, even went to the cinema for Exodus though it was more of a last-minute decision when some friends invited us.

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Just a quick thought on each of them as I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to review them…

The Trip to Italy
It’s not as fun as the first film, The Trip. Perhaps I’m just getting tired of Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon‘s schtick and they’re really not very likable characters. The impersonations are getting a bit repetitive, but some are still fun to watch, especially when they’re talking about all the Bond actors. The Italian scenery and food imagery are truly drool-worthy however.

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The Immigrant
The main draw for me is the cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard. Two things that this movie have going for it are the performances and the intriguing story. I’m not generally fond of Jeremy Renner and here he’s just ok, not as compelling as the other two actors. The star is definitely Cottilard who remains alluring no matter how destitute they made her up to be. Now, if only the pace and direction had a bit more life to it. It felt overlong and tedious, even if the actors were able to hold my attention for the most part. The finale did pack an emotional punch, but I wish it had been more evenly-handled throughout, especially since the story strikes a chord with me.

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Exodus: Gods & Kings
Now, Ted’s given a full review of this but since I just this earlier today, I figure I’ll give my own two cents. Well, I ended up enjoying this more than I thought. Perhaps having a very low expectations helps, but I’m glad to say I didn’t find it boring even if it certainly lacking that *epic* touch I expected from Ridley Scott. Performances are good, especially the two leads Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, but Scott took way too much liberty with the story and character of Moses. There are too many to mention here but let’s just say this story is more inspired by the Biblical tale than an actual adaptation. It’s one thing if a reimagining of the centuries-old story actually enhances the adaptation, but in this case, the alterations are much to its detriment and much of it just don’t make sense. Still, I don’t think this was an abomination as some critics describe it but I think keeping the integrity of the story would’ve served this film better.

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I have to admit I’ve actually never heard of Stephen Sondheim‘s play before this film, apparently it’s been around for nearly 3 decades. But since I grew up watching a ton of Disney fairy tale movies, the idea of reimagining some of Brothers Grimm fairy tales intrigues me. I’m all about crafting a twist to a classic story, so long as they do a good job of it. Alas, I feel that Into The Woods might be a much better fit as a stage performance as it’s all about showmanship instead of a compelling narration.

The main players are comprised of the Baker & his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), and the wicked witch (Meryl Streep). The rest are basically supporting characters: Jack and his mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Johnny Depp’s in a glorified cameo.

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Not a bad cast at all, and I must say they all did a good job singing and performing the songs. Some fare better than others of course, Kendrick could’ve done well on the stage version of this with her beautiful voice and Streep also has quite a lovely voice. Much have been said about her performance as the witch, but seems that at this point she could just be reading a restaurant menu poetically and they’d shower her with a plethora of awards. I think she’s rather over-the-top here, though that’s perhaps the direction she was given. Her song has the most memorable melody of the entire movie, but I don’t think her performance itself is THAT extraordinary. I think my favorite has to be Pike & Magnussen’s (the two Prince brothers) hilarious and unabashedly campy rendition of Agony. Ironically, it’s the least agonizing rendition of the rest and it got the whole theater cheering for its flagrant goofiness. Corden has the most screen time aside from Streep and I think he’s a good and likable actor that’s able to hold his own. He has a nice chemistry with Blunt, who’s always lovely to watch no matter how little she has to work with.

Overall though, I just can’t get into the story. It’s convoluted for no apparent reason and the third act just got too somber and dark for its own good, which seems disconnected from the lighter scenes that precede it. In fact, the stories don’t feel well-connected at all, they just seem randomly thrown together for amusement sake. Much like the equally star-studded ensemble of Nine, Rob Marshall seems more adept at assembling a bunch of fabulous crews and actors but he’s inept in making the most of the performers to tell an engaging story. I’ve only seen three of his work, including the overrated Chicago which I don’t think deserve the Best Picture Oscar. In fact I wish it hadn’t, as it encouraged Marshall to think he’s a great director.

As I walked out of the theater, I wonder if it had been ill-advised to adapt this material on the big screen. I mean if they absolutely had to adapt it, perhaps Disney should’ve gotten someone who’s more of a bold visionary filmmaker. Someone who could breathe some real sparkle (to match all that fairy dust) into this adaptation and make it entertaining in the process. As it is now, the movie is mere window dressing with gorgeous set pieces, pretty costumes and lovely songs, but it inspires more of a ‘huh?’ reaction than ‘wow.’

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Well, have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

Everybody’s Chattin’ + Good/Bad Movie Surprises of 2014

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It’s the day after Christmas and I’m taking a bit of a blogging break so I can catch up on reviews. I couldn’t help starting a bunch of year-end lists though, I’ll be posting them towards the end of the year and spill over into January. It’s always fun making lists and I was inspired by Ms Mariah’s comprehensive list of Best/Worst of 2014. So speaking of inspiring posts …

… here are what blogger’s been chattin’ about this past week:

Let’s start with the Christmas-themed posts. Josh shared his Top 10 Christmas Songs, whilst Chris shared some of his to get you in the festive mood. Meanwhile, Dell shared about the movie he grew up with: A Christmas Story.

Now, while some are still thinking about their 2014 lists, Steven‘s already set his mind on movies he’s anticipating from next year. Check out Part 1 of his Most-Anticipated list!

My pal Cindy once again posted a thought-provoking topic that bring back lots of movie memories, this time she focuses on Memorable Opening Scenes.

Margaret’s Rambling Friday is always a lot of fun! In this week’s edition, she posted first footage from Game of Thrones season 5 and offered her quick thoughts on SONY’s The Interview

Lastly, Mark reviewed British indie thriller ’71 starring this year’s young rising star Jack O’Connell; while Melissa and Dan posted their thoughts on two indie movies that I enjoyed from this year: Chef and Begin Again 


Speaking of those year-end lists, I was thinking about some of biggest movie surprises of 2014. I’m just gonna list a few just to keep the discussion started, so let’s start with the positive.

GOOD SURPRISES

These three movies took me by surprise as I wasn’t even anticipating them, yet I ended up enjoying the heck out of them and would easily see them again.

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John Wick

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Edge of Tomorrow

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Big Hero 6

NOT-SO-GOOD SURPRISES

On the contrary, I had been anticipating these and there’s plenty of hype surrounding them, but they all pretty much let me down. These aren’t the worst films I saw (there’s a separate list for that later), I just expected so much more but found them to be rather meh, boring even. It’s too bad as all of them had such a stellar cast!

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The Monuments Men

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Interstellar

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


So, what are your good and bad movie surprises from 2014?

Merry Christmas! Reminiscing on the alternative Christmas classic: Batman Returns

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It’s December 25 and I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are. It’s not quite a White Christmas here in Minnesota. The snow that’s supposed to hit us today seems to have shift to Friday, which is a bummer as for once I don’t mind having a snowy Christmas day as I don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s been a while since we actually have a truly mellow Christmas where we get to relax at home, eat home-cooked meal and watch movies in the comfort of our own home.

After church on Christmas eve, we wanted to see a Christmas-themed movie. At first we’re going to see Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but ended up rewatching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, as this TOR.com blog cleverly dubbed …‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas...

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Hey, even Alfred’s getting into the Christmas spirit putting up the Christmas tree in the Wayne Mansion whilst Bruce snuggles up by the fire. It’s the calm before the storm, as it were. The real action begins as soon as miss Selina Kyle enters the picture…

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(although a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it…)

I had seen it ages ago but I couldn’t remember much of the details other than Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning and iconic portrayal as Catwoman. She still is one of the best things about this film, and I don’t think anyone’s topped her performance yet in that role [sorry Anne Hathaway, you’re good but not THAT good].

The Christmas setting in Gotham City is gorgeous to look at and definitely got me a bit nostalgic of spending time in New York City last year.

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The festive Christmas lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza is basically modeled after the giant tree in Rockeffeler Center, and there’s even that lavish holiday masked ball where Bruce Wayne gets to slow dance with Selina Kyle and discovering who their real identities are.

Keaton and Pfeiffer had quite a scorching chemistry, more so than Christian Bale did with any of his female co-stars. It’s a complicated and ultimately doomed relationship that’s beguiling and surprisingly emotional.

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“Does this mean we have to start fighting?”

Tons of great performances too, Danny Devito is effectively creepy yet funny as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch as the slimy businessman Max Shreck. Danny Elfman‘s score is absolutely terrific, too, I should feature it in the next Music Break 😉

Though I’ve come to love Nolan’s Batman’s trilogy that’s more solemn and realistic, I have to admit I enjoyed Burton’s decidedly more circus-y and theatrical approach. Glad I rewatched this tonight, Batman Returns is definitely a fun albeit bizarre alternative Christmas flick if you’re not in the mood to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the zillionth time. Though the story may be dark and even tragic, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Christmas movie. In fact, the finale ends on a hopeful note, with a subtle hint that the Christmas spirit isn’t entirely lost on them …

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Good will toward men… and women.


So folks, once again I wish you a MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS.
What’ll you be watching this Christmas break?

Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014

Top10FaveFilmScores2014I’m so behind on my year-end top ten lists, but hey, I think January is still a great time for those lists right? 😉 I was listening to NPR two nights ago and caught host Robert Siegel interviewing composer Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Road To Perdition, Wall•E, etc.) and naturally I started thinking about some of my favorite scores from 2014.

Well, there are a few that I know would make my list, but it was pretty challenging to settle on the last three or four of them. If you’ve been keeping up with my Music Break posts, you might not be surprised by some of my picks here. Now, for this list, I’m focusing on instrumental film scores instead of songs. Thus you won’t see soundtracks of The Guardians of The Galaxy for example, though I think that’s awesome! I will cover the Top 10 Songs in a separate post.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

1. Belle – Rachel Portman

For some reason I had never paid attention to Rachel Portman‘s work before, though she had quite a stellar resume scoring for Emma (that won her an Oscar), Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, Never Let Me Go, etc. I absolutely adore her lush and elegant score she did for Belle and it just suits the tone of the film so well. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack and loved every second! If you read my review, you know how much I adore this film and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Portman’s music somehow captures Belle’s emotional journey as well as the romantic side of her relationship with John Davinier.

2. Breathe In – Dustin O’Halloran

After I saw this film, I was inspired to do a list of memorable piano moments on film, but I haven’t posted the score from the film. I’m not familiar with composer/pianist Dustin O’Halloran at all, but after this one, I definitely will keep an eye (and ear) out for him. There’s a bit of Philip Glass’ influence in his work here, and sure enough, when I checked on his Wiki page, he’s influenced by Glass as well as another favorite composer of mine, Ennio Morricone. I grew up listening to piano music as my mother’s a huge fan of French pianist Richard Clayderman. There’s something so ethereal about this score that makes me swoon. The film is atmospheric and intimate, and this music complements that tone beautifully.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Henry Jackman

One of my favorite Marvel superhero movies also have one of my fave soundtracks ever. Henry Jackman should just score every Marvel movie as I LOVE LOVE his X-Men: First Class soundtrack. I thought that Alan Silvestri’s fantastic job for the first Captain America film was hard to top, yet I think Jackman managed to do an equally phenomenal work here. The first one had a strong retro vibe with unabashed patriotism that’s fun and infectious. This one the nationalistic sensibilities is toned down a bit, but the score is still dynamic but a little darker and more ominous. It’s as if the music reflects Captain’s more conflicted moral sense as he navigates the more complex and intricate world he’s suddenly thrown into.

4. Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

I’m not always fond of electronic music but there’s something so hypnotic about the somber sound of Gone Girl’s score. It’s as beautiful as Amy Dunne, but just as unsettling. This Technically, Missing track is perhaps my favorite of the entire album. It’s spine-tingling yet lush, melodious yet haunting, exactly how you’d feel about this story. Every time the repetitive three notes are played, it always takes me back to that big sprawling house where the doomed couple descend into madness. This is Reznor/Ross’ third collaboration with David Fincher and they seem to be even more adept at capturing the psychology of his work.

5. Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat

I first heard of the Desplat when he worked on The King’s Speech back in 2011, and ever since then I’ve become a big fan of this prolific and brilliant composer. I LOVE the more classical-tinged style of his work like The Painted Veil or Tree of Life, but I can’t help being entertained by the playfulness of this score. Just like the film, it’s just so quirky and whimsical and it definitely has a strong eastern-European sound. Desplat incorporates Russian folk songs and pieces and some were performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra.

6. How To Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell

I LOVE John Powell‘s work for this animated feature. I actually love the score for the first film more, but the score of the sequel is equally excellent. I have featured the soaring Beyond the Clouds track before in a Music Break post back in June. Now this one is just simply a lush track including the sweet choir sound that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s truly an amazing and inspiring work that I love listening to time and time again.

7. The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

It’s incredible how different this score is from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this one sounds more like something I’d expect from Desplat. I love classical music and there’s definitely a lot of classical influence in his work. This particular score somehow captures that enigmatic and mysterious quality of the subject matter that is Alan Turing. It also has a tinge of sadness that really hits you in the gut as you listen to it. The repetitive quality somehow makes me think of the Turing Machine and its mechanical process. It’s amazing that according to IMDb, Desplat only had three weeks to score this film, and that’s that’s three weeks from signing on to finishing the last recording session! He said he had the same amount of time to score The Queen, too. Wow, they certainly got a genius to score a film about a genius.

8. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of a genius, is there anything Mr. Zimmer can’t do? Seems that no matter what genre, Zimmer somehow could create a music that complement the subject matter. Now, I’ve mentioned in my Interstellar review that I didn’t like how overpowering the music was when it’s played over scenes with dialog. But when I listened to it afterwards, I fell in love with it. Now that I think about it, I think I love the soundtrack much more than the film. It’s like a love letter to space exploration in musical term. It somehow captures the more grounded familial love theme of the story, as well as the grandiose cosmological journey that the characters – and us the viewers – experience. The entire soundtrack is phenomenal, but I like the slower, more introspective music than the more intense versions like the one used in the docking scene.

9. John Wick – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard

Yet another electronic style music I’m loving from this year. This soundtrack, and this track in particular, has become a staple during my workout routine. It always adds a dose of adrenaline rush whenever I’m not feeling that motivated to get on the elliptical machine. There’s a retro vibe to this soundtrack that adds to the cool factor. It’s one of those pulsating soundtracks that a DJ could spin in a dance club, as John Wick himself performed lots of his dance of death in nightclubs or discotheques.

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10. Maleficent – James Newton Howard

In keeping with the darker, more mature story of Sleeping Beauty’s villain, gone are the chirpy and dreamy-like music of the original. Once Upon A Dream is one of my all time favorite Disney songs, and Lana Del Rey’s rendition will surely end up in my favorite 2014 songs list. Now, the score itself still retains that magical/fairy-tale quality with the composer commanding a large orchestra with a full choir. It’s lush and playful at times but not too Disney-fied the way say, Frozen was. This Maleficent Flies score, complete with the fairy dust sound effects, is just so ethereal and gorgeous. It’s easily my favorite and the one I remember most from the film.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Howard Shore

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I – James Newton Howard

 …


So what do you think of my picks of favorite 2014 scores? Feel free to share your own favorites!

007 December Blogathon – 10 Reasons Why Licence to Kill (1989) is one of my all time favorite Bond films

007-december-blogathonMost of you who read this blog regularly knows I’m a huge Bond fan as I grew up watching them with my two brothers. Over the years I’ve become more partial to Timothy Dalton’s portrayal as Bond and I always appreciate both of his Bond films. I only wish he had the chance to do a third (which was he was under contract for until MGM legal battles delay production for six years!)

I’ve recently rewatched Licence To Kill again for MovieRob’s Bond December Blogathon, and still thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve done a special appreciation for Dalton in the film, but this post will highlight TEN reasons why the film itself is one of my favorite Bond films of all time.

ltk_movieposter10. The hard-edged but also hugely personal storyline, interwoven with the Japanese Ronin tales with Bond as a rogue agent avenging the death of his friends. People complain that Bond might’ve been too dark but perhaps Licence to Kill was way ahead of its time as with Skyfall, people didn’t seem to mind the personal angle of the story. It’s a grounded, more realistic tale that doesn’t pit Bond as ‘savior of the world’ that’s become cliched and derivative.

9. Memorable opening scene that thrillingly and effectively sets up to the origin of Bond’s personal vendetta and the kind of ruthless gangster he has to contend with. It later featured a high-flying action as Bond and his CIA ally Felix Leiter captures drug lord Frank Sanchez by hooking his plane like a fish, literally!

8. Michael Kamen’s score – I’m a huge fan of John Barry’s work with the Bond franchise but as he was unavailable at the time. Given that the film’s released in the late 80s and Kamen’s scored other successful action franchises like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, he seems to be the perfect composer for the job. There’s even a bit of John Barry’s elegant sound to it, but mixed with a darker tone and heart-pounding up-tempo style for the action scenes.



7. Memorable Bond girls who are more than mere eye candy
– with interesting but believable names, not preposterous ones like Dr. Christmas Jones or Pussy Galore. I especially love Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier, a beautiful and strong former CIA pilot who’s saved Bond’s ass many times over. Talisa Soto is perfect as Sanchez’s sultry mistress and though she may seem Bimbo-like at times, her character actually has a purpose in Bond’s quest to get close to Sanchez.

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6. Great character reinvention – as this is longtime Bond director John Glen’s final Bond outing and the fact that Dalton’s keen on returning to Ian Flemming’s work, Licence to Kill feels like Bond of a new era, a complete break of the Moore’s mischievous style in every way. There is nothing whimsical about Licence to Kill, though I wouldn’t say it’s devoid of humor. Q’s intro to the film is actually quite hilarious, but it’s not just humor for the sake of it.

5. Gritty set pieces and spectacular action. Dalton did most of his own stunts, even when he was high up in the air in the ‘plane hooking’ scene, and the climactic truck chase is still as bad ass and riveting by today’s standards. If you look at the featurette, the scene isn’t crafted by CGI, but they used real tanker trucks and feature incredible stunts in the dangerous and supposedly haunted twisty highway of Rumorosa, Mexico. Sure there aren’t many of Q’s gadgets in this movie, but who with thrilling stunts like these, who needs ‘em?

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4. A formidable villain in Robert Davi. Frank Sanchez breaks the mold of the typical sociopath hellbent on ruling the world. There’s no over-the-top plan to recreate the human race and all that, Sanchez is simply a power-hungry and greedy mafia-type who strives to be a cocaine billionaire. Davi is one of my fave Bond villains because he’s menacing, brutal and cold-blooded killer but he’s also suave and sophisticated, one of those rare villains that’s as charismatic as Bond himself. Oh and who could forget one of his loco henchmen Dario in the form of young Benicio Del Toro.

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3. Suspenseful interaction between Bond & Sanchez – In many Bond films, when Bond meets his villain, usually they know he’s the enemy [which then calls for one of his henchmen to go after him]. But in this case, Bond enters Sanchez’ world as an ally, a trusted friend. I love their first meeting when Bond offers himself to Sanchez as someone who’d be good for someone of his stature… he’s not just a problem solver, but ‘more of a problem eliminator.’ As Bond sneaks out to infiltrate his organization and slowly tear it apart, there’s always tension that Sanchez will suspect something and he’d get caught at any moment.

2. Great climactic scene – not only is the CGI-free action stunts are incredible, but it’s such a pivotal moment between two men that’s been built up from the start. Thanks to strong character development between Bond and Sanchez, this climactic battle feels deeply personal to both of them. In a strange way, you also feel for Sanchez in that up until Bond showed the silver cigarette lighter from Leiter, he had no clue why Bond betrayed him. It’s a fiery finale, in every sense of the word, but it’s also a satisfying one and definitely one of the most memorable villain deaths.

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1. Timothy Dalton – Bond with substance, bad-ass but refined, gritty without being thuggish and he can be menacing and vulnerable in a matter of seconds. Case in point, when Bond confronts Pam Bouvier in the hotel room, he was angry enough to pull the trigger on her, but when she reveals the truth that ‘there’s more to it than his personal vendetta,’ Dalton’s expression immediately immediately softens and the remorse is palpable on his face as he hands her gun back to her.

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Nice to see the glamorous playboy actually fights out of love and loyalty and the story utilizes Dalton’s Shakespearean training perfectly. He’s not a super spy that people can’t relate to, but he’s plays Bond as a human being with real angst and real feelings, but as it’s said in the poster, he’s got a real dangerous side to him that is both intimidating and sexy. He’s believably ruthless, too, as when he threatened a beautiful woman “Make a sound, and you’re dead!” we believe that he actually could pull the trigger. The tall and lean Dalton is both a physical and cerebral Bond and he has that understated swagger that effective but isn’t showy.

So there, I’ve made my case for both Licence to Kill and Dalton as Bond. It’s a pity this film is known as the lowest-grossing Bond film but I think it’s so criminally underrated and I urge people who haven’t seen this to give it a shot. I’d say people who like Daniel Craig’s Bonds will appreciate the tough-edged story and exhilarating action. Not to mention a fantastic performance from both actors playing Bond and his nemesis. What else could you ask for?


So have you seen Licence to Kill? Let me know what YOU think!

Musings on the final Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Seems like it was ages ago since I saw the first Hobbit film. But in fact it was exactly two years ago that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released. There were – and still are – quibbles about how a 320-page book warrants a three-film adaptation, and I was actually one of those people who didn’t mind it. I LOVED the Middle-Earth universe that J.R.R. Tolkien built, and The Lord of the Rings is perhaps my favorite film trilogy ever and so in my mind it was a worthwhile journey. The second film introduced us to the best CGI-dragon ever conceived on film, and so The Desolation of Smaug was even more exciting second chapter in The Hobbit journey. I listed 10 reasons why I loved that movie, with the wine barrel sequence and of course Smaug himself being the major highlights.

For some odd reason though, the third and final film just didn’t give me as much of a rush as the first two. I mean, I saw the trailer, then the second one, but I wasn’t feverishly anticipating it. In fact I didn’t even post hardly anything about it until I finally saw it early this month at a press screening. Perhaps I’m not the only one who’s feeling meh about the final Hobbit. Per EW, though the film won the box office this weekend with $56 mil, compared to the rest of the Hobbit films, The Battle of the Five Armies didn’t fare as well: The first film in the trilogy made $84.6 million its opening weekend while the second took in $73.6 million. The studio marketing machine emphasized on the phrase “One Last Time” and how one feels about such sentiment depends on how one feels on this franchise. As for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed the excursion to Middle Earth, there and back again as it were, I was ready to bid my farewell to Bilbo & co.

There are a few things that I love about the first two films that I still like this time around, so let’s start with those…

  • I still love Martin Freeman as Bilbo, he’s just so easy to root for. He pretty much is the most selfless character in the whole Middle Earth, and he pretty much risk his neck every time he goes out of his way to prevent war. I’ve always liked his casting and not only he has a believable resemblance to Ian Holm but he has that manic energy and whimsical antics that makes him so fun to watch.TheHobbit3_Bilbo
  • The character arc of Thorin is a strong one here, and Richard Armitage shows that inner conflict convincingly. The role takes advantage of the actor’s specialty of projecting ‘dark, brooding, conflicted’ in a magnetic way. The scenes where he struggles with the dragon sickness is one of the main highlights in the film, though how he recovers from it seems too quick and too easy, and perhaps there’s more of it that’s left in the cutting room floor?
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  • The slithery Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is still awesome to behold. I’d say if there is one thing that makes it worthwhile to see The Hobbit movies in 3D glory, it’d be to see Smaug. Too bad the fire-breathing dragon didn’t quite have much screen time despite that awesome cliffhanger we saw in the second film. The action-packed sequence in Lake Town, involving Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) doing what he does best, is thrilling to watch. The special effects with Dolby Atmos sound is especially incredible in this sequence and I have to admit I wish Smaug had more screen time. But of course, he’s done his duties… that is to lead everyone to the main event: The Battles of the Five Armies.

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Now, people who have been anticipating the battle sequences, this movie certainly delivers. It’s amazing how in the book, the only reference to the battle only amounts to a sentence, but here we’ve got at least a whole hour worth of battle sequences. We’ve got the Dwarves, Laketown people, and the Elves fighting a whole bunch of Orcs and Goblins, including a whole army of the Dol Guldur Orcs that are supposedly VERY scary and powerful.

That brings me to the not-so-good things about this film:

  • You’d think that the battle would be the most exciting part of the film, I mean I was expecting something in the vein of Battle of Helms Deep in LOTR: Two Towers, which was one of the most amazing rain scenes ever filmed, but it’s not even close. Somehow I find the whole sequence to be rather boring and by the end of it, I was getting so battle fatigue I couldn’t care less who wins. It’s hard enough to keep up with the current participants as it is, we’ve got Thorin’s cousin, Dwarves of the Iron Hills, joining in. Led by Billy Connolly whose accent is so distracting it’s hard to concentrate on what the heck is going on. I have to admit that my mind wandered for most of the battle scenes. In fact, I started noticing the strange looking codpiece that Azog, the Orc chief, is wearing. Seriously, I never noticed that before but I couldn’t stop giggling once I noticed that.
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  • I think the battle would’ve held more meaning to me if I had a firm grasp just what’s really at stake here. But even those lovable dwarves in the first two films just aren’t so fun here as they’re barely even in the movie! Even the dramatic tension surrounding the Arkenstone of Thrain, that is THE single most important gem of the whole Erebor’s vast treasure, just wasn’t as compelling as I’d imagine. I get that it’s a family heirloom for generations until it’s lost to Smaug, but somewhere along the way, its significance to the people is dwarfed (pardon the pun) by the overwhelming visual spectacle and action extravaganza. What’s worse is that the two main characters, Bilbo and Gandalf, often end up in the sidelines during most of the action. I don’t know why Peter Jackson would rather give a lot of screen time to Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the conniving servant of the Laketown Master, that doesn’t serve the story much at all. He sort of became a comic relief by the end before he disappeared and never to be seen again.
    … 
  • The unnecessary and uninvolving romance between Tauriel and Kili is once again aggravating because it’s yet additional filler on top of the already piled-up filler to make up the three films. I literally roll my eyes every time they appear on screen and the repeated farewell scenes. No offense to Evangeline Lily and Adrian Turner but really, I feel nothing for their characters and their supposed *relationship.* Meanwhile, Legolas (played by the eternally youthful Orlando Bloom) is reduced to nothing more than a Ninja Elf with his Matrix-like moves. Never mind the character inconsistencies with the follow-up movies, when the fight scene was over, some people actually applauded him in the theater.
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  • Despite all of those thrilling fight and battle sequences, I was left feeling meh and unfazed. Even when one major character perished, followed by yet another seemingly-endless farewell, I still remain emotionally-detached. I mean I cried when Boromir met his end and I still get teary-eyed thinking about that scene. Now, it’s no fault to the actors in The Hobbit as I think they all did a good job in their respective roles, but more of a problem with the script (done by no less than FOUR writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro).
  • The scenes with Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman as they battle the evil Sauron seems disconnected with the battle of the five armies. I don’t know if it’s the choppy editing or that simply an issue that there are just too much going on. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear who the main enemy is, but The Hobbit trilogy overall lacks the focus that gives the quest real meaning.
  • [SPOILER WARNING]
    Towards the end, there’s all these references to The Lord of the Rings. Thranduil (Lee Pace) told Legolas to find Aragorn, even though he didn’t specifically mentioned his name, it’s obvious who he’s referring to. Now, I don’t know how old Aragorn is supposed to be during The Hobbit timeframe, but this scene just feels forced to me. Pretty much every reference to LOTR, whether it’s Bilbo playing with the ring, the appearance of the demon Sauron, feels like nothing more than nostalgia. I suppose the continuity is to be expected, but it just further proves how much The Hobbit as a franchise just won’t hold up on its own and it reinforces the fact that they don’t measure up to LOTR movies.

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In summary, the final Hobbit does have its moments and some of the action sequences are pretty entertaining. The attention to detail is amazing too, there’s really a lot to marvel in terms of visuals, and I remember ooh-aahing Thranduil’s Elven Elk with its majestic antlers. But overall, there are more bad than good here, which is pretty disappointing. I expected something more epic in terms of story, not just visual spectacle. It’s actually the shortest of all the Hobbit movies, only 144 min compared to 169 and 161 min of the previous two films, yet I checked my watch the most often whilst watching this. I’d think that even the most ardent Middle Earth fans should feel relieved that it’s finally over, if only it could’ve ended on a much higher note.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting the Hobbit movies anytime soon, but for what it’s worth, it does make me want to rewatch my Lord of the Rings extended box-set.

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Well, what did you think of the final Hobbit movie? 

2015 BLIND SPOT series: My 12 film picks

2015BlindSpotOk so I’ve completed my first Blind Spot series! Well ok I might’ve missed a couple for one reason or another – Time Bandits and How The West Was Won – but I’d still watch them at some point. The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

It’s been great catching up on classic films that’ve somehow eluded me all these years. Most of them have ranged from good to excellent. Now, I try to cover a variety of genres here, and include at least one that I don’t normally go for. In this case, I include a silent film, Wings, which happens to be the first silent film to win Best Picture Oscar back in 1927. I ended up including two Hitchcock films. I had picked Rear Window initially, but upon reading Cindy’s review of Marnie, I just had to include that, too. And thanks to Michael for helping me decide which film noir to include, The Big Sleep.

Anyhoo, here’s my 12 picks in alphabetical order:

  1. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)
  2. A Place in the Sun (1951)
  3. A Star Is Born (1954)
  4. The Big Sleep (1946)
  5. Breathless (1960)
  6. Giant (1956)
  7. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)
  8. Marnie (1964)
  9. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
  10. Rear Window (1954)
  11. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
  12. Wings (1927)


Boy, it’s a lot tougher than I thought to put this together, but I’m excited to finally getting around to watching them! Like I did this year, I will just pick at random which film I want to see in a given month.


Well, have you seen any of these? Which one(s) are your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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It’s been nearly a month since I saw this film, but I’m still thinking about it. In fact, I was just telling a friend over coffee this weekend how the more I think about this film, the more I like it.

The story revolves around Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton in an art-imitating-life sort of a role as he’s famous for playing Batman in the late 80s/early 90s. Riggan is a has-been actor, most famous for playing a successful comic-book franchise, Birdman. But instead of opting to take an easy paycheck out of the fourth installment of the franchise, Riggan attempts to reinvent himself and reclaim his past glory by directing/starring an off-Broadway play. Not a light undertaking, especially when one problem after another starts popping up, threatening to grind his play to a halt. It also doesn’t help that Riggan is still haunted by his Birdman character, literally, who constantly berates him in his dressing room.

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The way Alejandro González Iñárritu frames his story is captivating and unequivocally surreal. The camera is told from Riggan’s point of view and the camera often follows him in one long, continuous take. From the cramped dressing room through the narrow corridor all the way to the stage, the film takes place mostly in the confines of the theater’s backstage. The neon sign of Phantom of the Opera is often visible in NYC’s Theater District across Riggan’s theater, one of the things that grounds the film in reality amidst all the surreal elements. Slipping back and forth between reality and fantasy, and often blurs the line between the two, the film manages to keep me entertained and engaged throughout.

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It certainly helps that all his actors perform with equal dexterity. Nice to see Edward Norton get a role worthy of his talent. He’s a method actor who’s a bit of a diva and his on-and-off screen antics are fun to watch. There’s an amusing brawl backstage between him and Keaton that’s worth the price of admission. Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Emma Stone all provide memorable supporting role, with Stone perhaps having the flashiest part as Riggan’s daughter. Her performance, especially memorable for her heated monologue, has already earned her a Golden Globe and SAG nomination. Even Zach Galifinakis, an actor I never quite warmed up to, was quite good here as his often-hysterical theater producer. British actress Lindsay Duncan has a small but important role as the critic who could potentially make or break Riggan’s career.

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The real star here is Michael Keaton in a welcomed come-back role as a leading man. I’ve always been a fan of the underrated actor as he can deliver both serious, menacing and comical performance convincingly. He gets to do both here in equal measure as he truly embodies his character. He’s a natural in the more um, batty scenarios, but also genuinely sympathetic in the quieter moments that display Riggan’s vulnerability. Perhaps the fact that he has a similar personal experience helps him in the role, so it’s definitely inspired casting here that works wonderfully for the film.

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This is Iñárritu’s third film that I have seen so far. It could very well be my favorite and one I don’t mind seeing again. He strikes a perfect balance between drama and humor, at times hilarious and off the wall, and others heart-rending and poignant. The film’s a not-so-subtle mockery of Hollywood’s preoccupation with superhero franchises – and some of the real-life actors who’ve been in them– but yet it’s not done with disdain nor contempt as it’s all part of Riggan’s personal story. The movie also provides an interesting commentary on social media and how that affects celebrity culture in this day and age.

On a technical level, Birdman is simply phenomenal. The stunning and unique camera work make you think ‘how did they do that?’ without being too distracting. The percussion music isn’t really my style but it works in the context of the film. Emmanuel Lubezki, who won an Oscar for his astounding cinematography work for Gravity, will likely get another nom for this. I read somewhere that he shot this without artificial light due to space constraints of the cramped theater.

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I have to admit I still don’t know what to make of that WTF finale that seems deliberately left open for interpretation. It certainly makes for a fun discussion afterwards and it’s been fun reading all kinds of theories about it. I won’t say another word on it as it’s best that you discover that for yourself. Despite all the bizarre scenes and all its dream-like eccentricities, the film somehow still feels personal and human, even relatable in a strange way. No surprise that Birdman‘s become the critical darling of the year and has been raking a bunch of nominations left and right. I for one think the accolade is well-deserved as Iñárritu pushes the creative boundaries of story-telling to a new level.

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Have you seen Birdman? Well, what did YOU think?