March 2015 Blind Spot: WINGS (1927)

Wings1927PosterI was pretty excited to finally watch this movie. I’m not usually into silent films, but this one came highly recommended. The film starts off with a light, whimsical tone in small town America where Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers) is working on his beloved car and dreaming of flying. The girl next door Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with Jack but he is blind to her affections. But he’s not the only one with unrequited love, as Jack is in love with Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) who actually loves David (Richard Arlen).

Most of the film is about World War I, featuring some impressive aerial scenes as well as some intense ground battles that seem less bloody as the film is shot in black and white. Per IMDb trivia, real soldiers from the army’s 2nd Infantry Division, stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, were used as extras. It’s really astonishing what they’d accomplished here long before CGI was used. Apparently the actors were actually working the planes themselves with a camera strapped to the engine cowling. IMDb trivia also noted that actors had to get the plane up in the air, keep it up, fly it so that clouds or German fighter planes could be seen in the background, operate the (motorized) camera and land the plane and act at the same time. Here’s the scene of the first Dogfight scene:

The story focuses primarily on the relationship between two fighter pilots Jack and David from two different walks of life. What began as a rivalry, as they’re in love with the same woman, turns into a genuine friendship. Despite being from a privileged family, David is really likable and even noble young man. He could’ve easily just told Jack that Sylvia didn’t love him but he couldn’t bring himself to let his friend know that Sylvia only gave Jack the locket with her picture as she felt sorry for him. 

Wings1927_RogersArlenThe most heart-wrenching scene was when David’s dying, as his plane was shot by Jack himself. He had stolen a German plane after his plane crashed, and of course Jack didn’t know it was David piloting it so he kept shooting at it. It’s especially tragic as just before their mission, David had told Jack he had a hunch he wouldn’t be coming home.

Wings1927_DeathbedKissThe film featured the first kiss between two men, but it’s really not as controversial as people might’ve made it out to be. The scene is about a deep, profound friendship between the two men, as well as Jack being overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and sadness. It’s really quite a moving scene, in fact, I couldn’t help tearing up watching it. The scene that followed when Jack had to tell David’s parents is equally heart-wrenching. I think the film succeeds in showing the true brutality of war, not just in the bloody war scenes, but in the scenes where families are crestfallen when they learn their loved ones have perished.

The film is rated PG-13 for the brutal war scenes, as well as a brief scene of nudity as a girl was changing her clothes. I think some of the violence are quite graphic for its day – pilots getting shot and bleeding to death, soldier getting crushed by tank and frequent shots of blood spurting out as people get shot. Surely it’s nothing compared to today’s war films though.

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Now, you can’t review this film without mentioning Gary Cooper. Yes he’s only got a 2-minute cameo but apparently his brief appearance here launched his career. Can’t say I’m surprised, I’m sure both men and women would’ve said ‘Who’s THAT?’ when he came on screen. He’s absolutely striking and even the scene of him just woken up… sleepy eyed, clenched jaw, and messy hair… he’s really quite mesmerizing. It’s fitting as the two characters who shared the scene with him were also captivated by Cooper’s Cadet White. I think he’s the only classic actor who could give even Gregory Peck a run for his money, and undoubtedly the two actors were often compared to each other in terms of looks and acting style. [note to self: watch more Gary Cooper films] 😉

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There are lots of love going on during filming as the Arlen & Ralston got married shortly after filming and Cooper had a longtime affair with silent star Clara Bow. The silent film star was pretty fun to watch with her cherubic face and big, expressive eyes. Her scenes are a bit sentimental, consisting mostly of her crying and fawning over Jack. I thought there’d be more to her character considering miss Bow had been quite famous by the mid 20s. The whole bar scene where she tried to seduce Jack who’s completely wasted is pretty silly, but the scene when they’re alone in the room must’ve been quite risqué for that era, not to mention the brief breast-flashing scene. This was pre-Hayes code as this was released a few years before censorship was enforced starting in 1930.

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Despite the nearly 2.5-hour running time, I wasn’t bored watching it. The cinematography is quite stunning, and the aerial stunts live up to the film’s title! Director William Wellman had about 80+ films to his credit but this is the first film of his I’ve ever seen. Well I might have to check out more of his work now. I also like the music, which is always key in silent films, and I read that the entire score was written and recording using Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. Wings won the first ever Academy Awards and it also won Best Engineering Effects, akin to Best Special Effects in today’s Oscar. I do think it merit both awards, though I think both Rogers and Arlen were good enough to be nominated in the acting category.

Glad I finally saw this one. It’s not perfect as the story is a bit melodramatic at times, in fact, the film tries to incorporate the love-during-wartime story but the romance isn’t as convincing to me. The war aspect certainly works better, but still it’s more emotionally-engaging than I had expected, especially the friendship between the two leading men. I think it’d have looked pretty amazing on the big screen too, given the masterful digital restoration by Paramount to coincide with its 100-year anniversary celebration. You can watch a 15-min video of the restoration on Youtube, the process of cleaning up, fixing all the scratches, tinting, etc. whilst maintaining the level of authenticity of the original art. The restored sound work makes the war scenes felt really suspenseful… sounds of planes flying, bullets spraying, bomb exploding, they definitely adds to the realism of the piece. Wings definitely takes flight, in more ways than one.

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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.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


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

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Traveling Through Cinema – Antarctica: A Year On Ice documentary

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I was supposed to see this film a couple of years ago during the Twin Cities Film Festival, but for some reason I couldn’t make it to the screening. The film won Best Documentary from TCFF and rightly so. Well, after finally witnessing this spectacular documentary this weekend, I’m even more gutted I missed it on the big screen. To say that it’s a visual feast is putting it mildly, it’s a surprise my jaw didn’t get stuck on the floor as I was watching it. As I’m not sure if I ever get to visit earth’s Southern Hemisphere in my lifetime, I can always live vicariously through New Zealand’s photographer/filmmaker Anthony B. Powell and his team who spent a year in the icy continent.

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The description on IMDb reads: A visually stunning chronicle of what it is like to live in Antarctica for a full year, including winters isolated from the rest of the world, and enduring months of darkness in the coldest place on Earth. I thought it’d be a typical nature documentary with jaw-droppingly beautiful imagery and some insightful facts about the continent, but what sets this film apart is how affecting and personal the journey is, as told from the perspective of the filmmaker Powell, as well as some of the interviewees who gave us insight into what’s it like working in Antarctica. Ranging from helicopter pilot, fireman, firehouse dispatcher, cook, store clerk, operations manager, etc. they share the psychological perspective of how the extreme weather affect them as a person and how life-altering their experience is. The film takes place in the New Zealand’s Scott Base or United States’ McMurdo Base where most of the crews were stationed at.

Most of the people interviewed seem to have a positive experience, in fact most of them have gone back time and time again, even enduring the Antarctica winter year after year. I said the word endure because that’s a perfect description for it, as one must have a certain endurance power to be able to survive such a harsh condition. It’s interesting that I watch this as Winter is coming to a close, I should’ve watched this in January as it’d make even the harshest Minnesota Winter like a walk in the park! As I was watching the film, it made me wonder if I could survive living in Antarctica. I mean, it’d be a treat to see those adorable penguins up close, but there’s also tragic sights of dying seals who froze to death. Of course there’s the extreme climate itself where four months out of the year you’d be engulfed in complete darkness with temps reaching −89 °C (−129 °F) and even colder windchill. Not to mention the monstrous storms that could freeze anything in sight in a matter of milliseconds.

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The film doesn’t just show the glamorous side of living in Antarctica… the obvious homesickness and missing family members, but there are also times when some of the workers couldn’t even go back home to attend the birth of their sister’s first child or their father’s funeral. On the bright side, Powell himself found love during his time in Antarctica, as the film showed his wedding to Christine Powell who helped him make this film. So there are heart-wrenching and contemplative moments in the film that gives the film an emotional substance on top of just something beautiful to look at. There are also humorous moments, such as when interviewees share about the T3 Syndrome which happens during winter when the T3 hormone in the brain is reassigned to the muscles of the body in an effort to protect it against the extreme cold. You’re probably more familiar w/ the term brain freeze, though most of us probably don’t have their excuse 😉

It took Powell 10 years to make this film, it’s pretty much a passion project for him as he also wrote and produced it, and his wife Christine is credited as second unit director. I’m glad I finally saw this film, if I were to rate it I’d give it a 4.5/5 reels. Featuring plenty of amazing time-lapse photography, it’s one of the most stunning film you’ve ever seen that’s also thought-provoking and inspiring. One of the few female interviewees, who happens to be from rural Minnesota, remarked that many nations get along better in Antarctica than any other parts in the world, now that should also gives you something to ponder. Highly recommended.

Check out the trailer:


With this post, I’m relaunching the Traveling Thru Cinema series that
I launched two years ago
with In Bruges

I hope to keep up with this series at least every other month from now on.


Have you seen this documentary? If so, what did you think?

Trailer Spotlight: SPECTRE first teaser is here!

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I normally hate the adverts for a trailer, but at least it’s not an actual trailer for a trailer. But when I saw a tweet from @007, I gotta say I couldn’t wait to see it!

As a longtime Bond fan, I’m always excited when a new Bond movie came out, well except for the last two Brosnan movies as they look as dumb even in the trailers. Daniel Craig‘s Bond films not only brought back the grit and fortitude lost in Brosnan era, it’s also got that real sense of mystery and mystique, which is what one would expect in an espionage genre.

This teaser captured that sensibility perfectly:

A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

With Bond 24, I love that the filmmakers brought back the enigmatic nefarious organization we’ve seen in the earlier Sean Connery movies. Yet there’s still that continuity of storyline from Casino Royale, the fact that we see Mr. White once again, still as cryptic and ominous as ever despite looking like he might’ve lost his eyesight.

“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane Mr. Bond.”

Then of course we’ve got Christoph Waltz there towards the end. I’ve mentioned in my Spectre post here that he’s not playing Blofeld, but he’s obviously a powerful figure that might’ve had a key tie to Bond’s past as well. Can’t wait to see him going toe to toe w/ Bond.

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Glad to see Sam Mendes back for directing duties. He shared on 007 official site a bit more about the plot of SPECTRE:

“The reasons I’m doing the second Bond movie are the reasons I would do any movie, really, which is all to do with the story. And in this movie, SPECTRE, what you have is a movie entirely driven by Bond. He is on a mission from the very beginning,” he says. “It’s about whether or not to pursue the life he’s always pursued, whether he matters and is he going to continue or not. And you’re going to have to come to see the movie to find out whether he does.”

Even from this teaser, we can expect to see an amazing cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema whose impressive work you can see in Her and Interstellar. Nice to see Thomas Newman scoring this too. Wish we didn’t have to wait until November to see it!


Well, what do you think of this teaser so far? Are you excited for SPECTRE?

Thursday Movie Picks #37: All in the Family Edition – Mother-Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

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Happy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today the theme is… 

Mother/Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

This week’s TMP topic is a bittersweet one for me. I had a loving, albeit brief relationship with my late mother. In fact, we were very close up until she died on my 16th birthday. I have to admit at times I feel a pang of sadness whenever I see a mother and daughter depicted on screen, I often still wonder how life would be life if she were still around. In any case, for my three picks, I try to have a variety of mother/daughter relationship, so here are my three picks:

BRAVE (2011)

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Pixar’s first *Princess* movie centers on a headstrong n spirited girl who like many of today’s girls her age tend to rebel against what’s expected of her. I love that the movie is centered on her relationship with her equally headstrong mother, Queen Elinor, instead of the typical romantic pursuit. I LOVE Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson who provide the voice work for Merida and Elinor. In case some of you still has seen this movie, let’s just say there’s a magical physical transformation that happens that drastically changes how they have to relate to one another. Through it all, the two end up forging a bond that’s even stronger than ever before. It’s quite an adventure that’s full of humorous & even peculiar moments, but also poignant ones that made me laugh and cry. It’s definitely one of my fave cinematic mother/daughter relationship that truly moved me.

1000 Times Good Night (2013)

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Juliette Binoche plays a war photographer who often risks her life on the job, but even after a nearly fatal accident, she still can’t give up her career. Her eldest daughter Steph looks up at her and is obviously drawn to her mom’s globetrotting career that certainly looks cool and glamorous on the outside. The daughter in this film is a young teen and so immediately picture myself in her shoes, as my late mother was an amateur photographer. She kind of had the same free spirit personality and I always thought my mom was fearless. One key scene is when she ended up tagging along with her mom to Africa, much to the chagrin of her marine biologist dad. A traumatic incident made Steph realize just how dangerous her profession really is. The mother/daughter moments in the scene that followed really connected with me, and there’s a wonderful chemistry Binoche and Lauryn Canny who plays Steph. Here’s my full review of the film, which is now on Netflix.

August Osage County (2013)

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Now this is an example of the kind of mom I’m glad I didn’t have. Meryl Streep‘s Violet Wetson is a venom-spewing, pill-popping mother of three daughters who seem hellbent on driving a stake between her and everyone around her. That also includes her own husband, and the film takes place during his funeral. Violet has mouth cancer, partly due to her years of chain smoking, but even so it’s really hard to sympathize with her. Out of the three, Julia Roberts’ Barbara is the one who has the biggest conflict with her mother. The fact she herself is dealing with her own issues with her estranged husband and angsty teenage daughter adds to her exasperation. The Wetson family is as dysfunctional as they come  – they constantly bicker with each other, and the more things are said, the more secrets are revealed that made things worse. The screaming match are quite overwhelming, and it made me appreciate my own family. The craziest scene is when Barbara literally hurls at her mother trying to prevent her from taking any more pills, it was pretty bizarre and quite hilarious. I think it’s an especially interesting film to watch for mother and daughter, if anything, it’d make each of them think of what NOT to do to one another.

BONUS PICK:

Beyond the Lights

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This is one of my fave films I saw last year, and the casting of Minnie Driver and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as mother/daughter is one of the reasons I love it. Glad Paskalis included this movie on his list, I couldn’t believe I almost didn’t include that here. An ambitious and driven single mother who wouldn’t take failure as an option, Macy succeeds in turning her daughter into a star. But at what cost? Macy’s controlling behavior ultimately drives Noni away and there’s a heart-wrenching moment when Noni finally said enough is enough. It’s not that Macy didn’t love her daughter, but sometimes, some people just don’t know how to love. Apparently, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s search for her own birth mother was the catalyst of the mother/daughter story in the film (per this indiewire article).


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films?

FlixChatter Review: Cinderella (2015)

CinderellaPosterGrowing up watching Disney fairy tale movies, I have to admit Cinderella wasn’t my favorite heroine. Over the years though, as there are more and more adaptations of this quintessential underdog story (more so than any other Disney “princesses” it seems), the more I appreciate the animated classic. Lately the cinematic trend is reinvention, giving a classic tale a new twist or perspective, such as Snow White & the Huntsman and Maleficent, and so naturally I thought we’d see the same thing with Cinderella. Well, it turns out that this film stayed true to its classic story, you could even say it paid tribute to the animated film, with some surprises thrown in. But by going the conventional route doesn’t mean it’s dull and boring, in fact the opposite is true. There’s something so lively and refreshing about Kenneth Branagh‘s vision that even some of its most sentimental moments aren’t without charm.

Being that it’s the origin story of Cinderella, the movie begins with young Ella whose blissful existence is cut short when her dotting mother suddenly fell ill. Before she passed away, she instilled in her daughter to ‘have courage and be kind,’ a life motto young Ella takes to heart. And so, as life kept coming at her with one terrible blow after another, especially after the arrival of her stepmother and two step-sisters, Ella never gives up hope. I was skeptical at first about Lily James‘ casting in the titular role, but I quickly warmed up to her. There’s a pleasant countenance about her that makes her believable as a benevolent and sweet-tempered girl equipped with inner strength to face the cruelty inflicted upon her by her new *family.* Instead of running away from her problems, she choose to endure.

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Ella’s no damsel in distress either. I love how the sweet and swoon-worthy meet-up with the dashing Prince, who refers to himself as Kit to hide his true identity, reveals her independent spirit. “Just because it’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done,” she tells Kit in protest of him hunting deer for sport. The prince was immediately smitten by her, perhaps he’s also impressed that she rides her horse without a saddle! Richard Madden effortlessly steals Ella’s heart, and every maiden in the audience, with his impossible good looks and almost indecent sex appeal. As if the filmmakers weren’t sure of that, they had to outfit him in those distractingly tight white pants! I don’t know why they need to digitally enhanced his blue eyes though, I mean he’s already hunky enough with his eyes the way God made ’em!

Cinderella_PrinceCharming cinderella_prince_firstmeetIn any case, I like that he fell for her whilst Ella’s still dressed as a maid, though I actually think she’s the most attractive this way, so fresh-faced and full of life. Unlike the animated version, the Prince also gets a back-story here, and the father/son relationship depiction is quite moving. The Ella-Kit meet-up is my favorite scene of the entire movie! Yes, more so than the entire ball scene or even the transformation scene. In fact, I’m not too fond of Cinderella’s look for the ball — her hair is huge, the ball gown is huge, it’s just overwhelming. Overall there’s more chemistry between her and the Prince in that brief meet-up.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be Cinderella without the wicked stepmother and Cate Blanchett is an absolute delight to watch in the role. Looking as stunning and regal as ever, the great Cate was scene stealing all the way through with her elegant icy-ness. The Aussie thespian is obviously having fun with the role, there’s a twinkle in her eye and sense of mischief as she relish in being bad.

Holliday Granger and Sophie McShera are ok as the two vile stepsisters, they’re a bit over the top at times, yet not nearly as memorable as Cate was even when she was standing still. It’s fun seeing Helena Bonham Carter being the comic relief as the fairy godmother and the film’s narrator. Derek Jacobi adds Shakespearean gravitas as the Prince’s ailing father, whilst Ben Chaplin is affecting as Cinderella’s doting father. In attempt to making the cast a little more diverse, Branagh cast Nonso Anozie as Captain (who’s in his previous movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and the guests at the ball are racially-diverse.

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The production design is really something to behold. This is easily one of the best looking movie I’ve seen in a while, and I’m not just talking about the beautiful cast. The costume design by Sandy Powell is simply amazing, especially Cate’s jewel-toned, richly-embroidered dresses, blending 1940s with 19th century style. Everyone’s talking about Cinderella’s gorgeous ball dress – and Lily James’ teeny-tiny waist – but I think Cate’s outfits are equally breathtaking to look at. Oh and those glass slippers… well, that’s fairy tale for ya, the funniest bit was when the fairy godmother say they’d be comfortable, ha! Apparently they’re made of real Swarovski crystals fit only for mannequins. So the scene of Cinderella having those on is made possible by the magic of CGI.

Chris Weitz‘s script might seem simple and conventional, but it’s quite challenging to somehow make the story fresh without making it unnecessarily dark or edgy just for the sake of it. I’ve been a longtime fan of Patrick Doyle‘s gorgeous music and Branagh’s longtime collaborator once again delivered! The music fits the genre perfectly, it has that elegant, sweepingly lush feel to it, but also with a bit of whimsy.

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But the biggest kudos has to be given to Kenneth Branagh and his impeccable directing style. He somehow made something *old* feels new again. I think it starts with his vision for the main characters, with an empowered Cinderella who, despite being mistreated, remains true to her moral principles. In this article, “[Branagh] likened it to the nonviolent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi.” Ok so that might’ve been a bit of a stretch, but I get the point. The love story feels richer and more emotionally involving because you believe there’s more than just the obvious physical attraction. Branagh’s quoted in the article as saying, “When you watch this film, you see Cinderella is such an amazing woman. My biggest thing was how do I create a man that is worthy of her?” I came away from the movie thinking that Cinderella rescues the Prince just as much as he rescues her.

I enjoyed this movie so much I just might see it again on the big screen as it’s such a visual treat. But I wouldn’t say it’s style over substance, there’s a nice balance of drama, humor, and even action to please the young and the young-at-heart. Though the movie is infused with such an infectious sense of optimism with its bright, lush colors and lavish set pieces, there are genuine poignant moments to keep it grounded. The scene when Ella receives news of her father’s sudden passing is one of those scenes that made me tear up.

If you’re on the fence about this one, I’d say give it a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised. I think I’d get the Blu-ray as I could see myself enjoying this for years to come.

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Have you seen Cinderella? Well, did you like it more or less than I did?

Weekend Viewing Roundup + The Two Faces of January (2014) review

Well last Friday was the first weekend of Spring but Winter’s still not done with us yet as it was the Winter Wonderland again Sunday night. I didn’t think the snow was going to stick but here’s what my neighborhood looked like as I left work this morning! I do love those snow-covered branches!

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Skipped the cinema again this weekend, but rented a few things from Netflix: Shaft (the 2000 version with Samuel L. Jackson – review upcoming) and The Two Faces of January. Apparently The Phantom of the Opera (2004) w/ Gerry Butler and Emmy Rossum is now on Netflix streaming so of course I had to rewatch that again. In fact, I also watched half of the 2006 BBC Jane Eyre w/ my dahling Toby Stephens. Wintry night in is meant for viewing indulgences 😉

RoyalDeceitOh, on Thursday night also rented what’s supposed to be a Danish re-telling of Hamlet called Royal Deceit. I couldn’t believe how horrible it was, it’s simply ghastly in terms of direction, script (if you can even call it that), production design, as well as acting. I only saw it because of the stellar cast: Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Tom Wilkinson AND a young Any Serkis (this was apparently his film movie), all of them were absolutely wasted in one cringe-worthy scene after another. I honestly thought the cast might’ve lost a bet or something to star in this movie, what a criminal waste of talents! If I were to rate it, it’d get a big fat ZERO reel as there is nothing redeemable about it.

Anyway, here’s my review of …

 The Two Faces of January

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A thriller centered on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who flee Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective.

This film seems to have the making of a great psycho thriller, given that it’s from the writer of great mystery thrillers The Talented Mr Ripley Strangers on a Train. I haven’t read Patricia Highsmith‘s novel, but I’d think the book might’ve been more exciting. It has its moments but it suffers from a rather sedate beginning and sluggish second act before it finally picks up in its third act.

I haven’t seen Viggo Mortensen in anything new in a while so it’s always nice seeing him here, playing an older, elegant businessman Chester Macfarland traveling with his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). Mortensen is a solid actor and he does a great job here, but I find myself drawn to the tour guide/con-artist Rydal (Oscar Isaac) with his brooding good looks and dark, enigmatic eyes. There’s a palpable sexual chemistry between Isaac and Dunst, and Isaac also has some great dramatic scenes with Mortensen, especially towards the end.

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The breathtaking cinematography in Athens and Crete is practically a character in itself and it serves as a fine distraction during some of the film’s slower parts. The finale’s foot-chase scene in Istanbul was stylishly shot and that’s definitely the most exciting part of the entire film. Iranian director Hossein Amini made this film with a Hithcockian flair to it, and the use of light is quite dramatic, especially in the night time scene in a Greek ruin. Apparently this is Amini’s feature film debut so that might explain the uneven tone, but I think he did a pretty good job for a first timer and I’m curious what he’d do next.

I think the strength of the film lies in Mortensen and Isaac, and the film’s main conflict is ultimately between these two. Mortensen convincingly displayed the jealousy and paranoia that constantly haunted Chester, whilst Isaac’s character couldn’t seem to shake his lust for Colette that sucked him deeper and deeper into this dangerous predicament. I’ve been a fan of Isaac for some time and I sure hope he’d get more leading roles as he’s got such an effortless screen magnetism.

Given the intriguing plot and the cast, this could’ve been a really compelling and riveting noir thriller. As it is now, the film dragged in parts and felt longer than its 96-minute running time. It’s also hard to care about the unlikable characters, even if there’s a hint of redemption in the end. But overall I still think it was well-worth renting, especially if you’re a fan of Highsmith and Hitchcock and/or any of the cast.

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So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen The Two Faces of January, I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Gunman (2015)

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Sean Penn has been out of the limelight for a few years, so in order to get people talking about him and promotes his new movie; he decided to tell some lame joke at the Oscars. Kudos to his PR team, after the so-called “offensive” joke, Penn is relevant in Hollywood again. Now it remains to be seen if his off color joke will get people to go see his new action picture.

The movie opens with a flashback to 2006, Jim Terrier (Penn) is a humanitarian working in Congo with his buddies Felix (Javier Bardem) and Cox (Mark Rylance). Terrier also has a girlfriend named Annie (Jasmine Trinka), she’s also part of his team of do-gooders. What she doesn’t know is that Jim, Felix and Cox are a bunch of assassins working undercover. They’ve been assigned to take out an important political figure that their boss wanted to get rid of. After he assassinated Congo’s Minister of Mines, Jim disappeared and told Felix to look after Annie.

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Fast forward to present day, Jim is still working as a do-gooder in Africa, but things got dicey when some armed men came after him, of course being a super assassin, he took them out easily. Alarmed after the attack, Jim sets out to London to see his old buddy Cox, who’s now working as a top executive at some big corporation. Jim suspects that their mission back in 2006 has been compromised and it’s the reason why he’s being targeted. Cox is skeptical but assured Jim that he’ll look into this matter. After a brief stay in London, Jim heads to Spain to see Felix, who’s now married to Annie. Things got messy when assassins showed up at Felix’s house and now Jim and Annie are on the run. The rest of the movie is about Jim trying to figure out who’s after him and keeping Annie safe. This being an action movie, there has to be some shootouts and explosions between the boring scenes. And that’s the problem with this movie, it’s so boring! There’s nothing interesting about the plot or any of the characters, by the time the true villain is finally revealed, we the audience already figured out before the hero did. Not only was the movie boring, it also took itself way too seriously.

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Not known for being in action pictures, Penn was actually decent as an action hero. It’s obvious he worked out for a long time to prepare for this role, because he can’t seem to keep his shirts on in a lot of scenes. He also looked good in fight scenes, particularly a brutal hand-to-hand combat in the climatic sequence. But again he seems to take the role too seriously and doesn’t look like he has any fun with it. Being that he’s also the producer and co-writer, he must’ve demanded that he’s on the screen 99% of the entire run of the movie. I’ve never seen Jasmine Trinka in anything before this movie and she was okay as the damsel in distress, but it’s kind of creepy seeing her as the leading lady to a man who’s old enough to be her father. Bardem pretty much phoned in his role since it’s nothing more than a cameo. Ray Windstone might be the only one who seems to get what the movie should be about and had a lot of fun with his sidekick role. Fans of Idris Elba will be disappointed, he didn’t show up until the last 20 minutes or so of the movie and he’s more like a cameo. Although for those who wants to see him as 007, the filmmakers did give a little wink by naming his character with initials JB.

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I don’t know how much control director Pierre Morel has during the production, but he was going for the 70s espionage thrillers mix in with the Jason Bourne flicks and the result was a disaster. The pacing was very slow, about 20 to 30 minutes should’ve been edited out. What’s worse was that he shot most of the action scenes in that shaky cam up close style that I can’t stand. I still don’t understand why some directors still uses this kind of style, what’s the point of making action movies if you’re not going to show the action? The only good action sequence was the bloody hand-to-hand combat between Penn and an assassin. I won’t even go into the script because it’s so generic that most people can figure out what’s going on.

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This could’ve been a good action thriller if it didn’t take itself too seriously because I think Penn was believable as the action hero. But it’s obvious he has hidden agenda by making this movie. By masking it as an action picture, he probably thought he could get the message out to a wider audience. Unfortunately though, the movie was poorly written and directed. With a better script and tighter editing, it could’ve been good.

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Have you seen The Gunman? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: FRANK (2014)

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Jon, a young wanna-be musician, discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank.

I have heard so many great things about this film and the quirky aspect of the story appeals to me. I have to say that Michael Fassbender‘s casting intrigues me most as he spends 99% of the movie wearing a giant papier-mâché head. Thankfully, that part wasn’t just a silly gimmick, but there’s an intriguing story behind it.

The film took its time in revealing what the story is with Frank (Fassbender) and why he refuses to reveal his face. Yep he even sleeps and shower with it, which drives Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) bonkers with curiosity. In fact, since the story is told from his perspective, we identify with Jon in how he feels about suddenly being thrown into this quirky mix of people. Frank is an enigmatic figure to be sure, but he’s actually the most likable personality of the entire band who pretty much treats Jon like dirt. I get that he had to earn his place in the band, but still, the contempt was quite uncalled for.

FRANKmoviestillsIn the first two acts, we pretty much spend time with the band as we witness their creative process in a remote cabin in Ireland. It’s full of quirky moments, some works and some don’t, and plenty that leaves me scratching my head. But it’s the third act where things sort of goes off the rails. As it turns out, Jon has been posting their recording sessions online and been tweeting about it constantly. Somehow that got them an invite to South by Southwest and it’s here that we learn just what’s really going on with Frank. The third act at SXSW is where I felt that the film went off the rails a few times, though the finale did reveal more about the main character in a way that still surprised me.

I have to admit that my initial response to this movie by Lenny Abrahamson was not overly positive. I was left irritated and frustrated by the pacing, the mostly unlikable characters and how sometimes the weirdness seems more gimmicky. I’m a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but here her character seems to go out of her way to be utterly unlikable. That sex scene is absolutely mental and I have to admit, it’s a bit revolting. But the more I think about this movie and read some articles on it, I appreciate it a bit more. Props to Fassbender for giving such a nuanced performance without the use of an actor’s main asset – his facial expression. Aside from Gleeson, who’s got a natural charm about him, Fassbender is truly the star here.

FRANKmoviestillThe story’s so much more than just about music, but more of the creative process, as well as a commentary about true art vs commercialism. The use of social media here is interesting too in how that could give people a false sense of fame and notoriety. I wish I had been as invested in the story however, the only time I found most emotionally involving was the finale. There are intriguing and memorable moments throughout, but I’d say that the movie itself is less than the sum of its parts. If you’ve been curious about this one though, I’d say give it a shot.

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Have you seen FRANK? Well, what did you think?

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Thursday Movie Picks #36: Movies adapted from a Young Adult Novel

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple:
Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. Today the theme is… 

Movies adapted from a Young Adult Novel


How I Live Now (2013)

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An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.

I saw this film three years ago at TCFF. It’s definitely one of the darker young-adult adaptations that sort of flew under the radar. I didn’t give it a stellar review as it seems more elusive than suspenseful but I think it’s worth a look for it’s intriguing survival story in a doomed distant future based on a YA novel by Meg Rosoff. I’ve always been impressed by Saoirse Ronan and her casting was the main draw for me to see it. She didn’t disappoint, even if the uneven tone of the film prevents this from being a truly compelling film.

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

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Four kids travel through a wardrobe to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free it with the guidance of a mystical lion.

Seems that it’s been ages since I saw this movie but I remember being enchanted by it. There’s mystery, adventure and magic, a proper fantasy film of good vs evil filled with interesting characters. One of those characters is no doubt Mr. Tumnus, played by then-unknown James McAvoy. The child actors were wonderful but it’s the supporting cast who are the truly memorable, especially Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and Liam Neeson‘s voice lending gravitas to the godly lion Aslan. This is director Andrew Adamson‘s live-action debut, but I think he did C.S. Lewis’ beloved work justice.

Harry Potter films (2001-2011)

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Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I got into the Harry Potter franchise rather late, in fact it was around the time the first of the two final movies was released that my hubby and I started watching. Well, the first few were good but thankfully they got better in future installments, and I’d say my favorite is The Prisoner of Azkaban when Sirius Black appeared. Even amongst a stellar all-British cast, Gary Oldman still stood out in the role. It doesn’t hurt that the film was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. I have to give props to Daniel Radcliffe and the rest of the young cast for being so watchable across 8 movies and made me care about their journey. The last two Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows final films are adventurous, properly dark and emotionally-engaging. I might revisit these movie again and this May I’m actually visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Universal Studios 🙂


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films?

Everybody’s Chattin’ and Music Break: Awesome songs from P.S. I Love You

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Happy Wednesday all! March almost ran away from me again and I just realized I haven’t done a community post yet this month. Well, did you do anything fun on St. Paddy’s Day? Or should I say, have you recovered from all the parties & green beer? 😉

Well I didn’t do much last night since I’m still recovering from this stubborn cold. I saw a fantastic episode of The Flash, which is my hubby and my favorite show right now. Then I watched The Importance of Being Earnest which was fluffy good fun. Somehow I thought I had seen that movie but turns out I hadn’t.

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

SherlockPugV celebrated St Paddy’s Day by posting a vid of The Story of St Patrick, along w/ adorable pics of pugs!

Mark confirmed my dread about Chappie, whilst Natalie reviewed a charming drama X+Y about an autistic math prodigy.

Abbi compiled some mini reviews for Film Friday, including Woody Allen’s Manhattan, meanwhile Stu let us know what he thinks about Dirty Dancing which he just saw for the first time!

Irene reviewed Playroom, a drama about dysfunctional families, and Dell reminisced about a movie he grew up with: Coming to America

Last but not least, Ryan gave us a preview of Hot Docs 2015. I wish I had more time to watch documentaries, as he said, truth is often more interesting than fiction.

 


Now time for some awesome music …

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This movie is still fresh in my mind as I included it in my St Patrick’s Day post. I have no qualms in saying that P.S. I Love You is one of my favorite rom-coms. Yes even now that I’m no longer a fan of Gerry Butler, I still LOVE this movie and his performance here. Straight out of being a lethal bad-ass King in 300, he made an effortless transition into a romantic hero, albeit an unconventional one.

Besides the gorgeous NYC and Ireland’s scenery, there are plenty of eye candy in this movie! I’d say, a movie featuring both Gerry Butler AND Jeffrey Dean Morgan (as Irish lads no less!) and have both of them sing with such passion can’t be a bad movie! 😉 Heck, I went to see it at the theater with my hubby and a guy friend, and BOTH of them admittedly enjoyed this flick!

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One thing I LOVE about this movie is the awesome soundtrack. I actually got the CD in my car as I love listening to most of the songs in the album. I don’t even usually like James Blunt’s voice but I like his song Same Mistake here. Now, the Camera Obscura song wasn’t included in the CD, which is a shame as that’s such a lovely song played in the movie’s opening sequence.

Five Fave Songs:

Kisses & Cake theme by John Powell

On top of the songs, the instrumental theme is gorgeous! John Powell‘s one of my fave composers, who’s done a bunch of work for animated films like How To Train Your Dragon (another fave of mine), Ice Age, Rio, etc. But looking at his resume, he’s also done a bunch of action genres like The Italian Job, X-Men: The Last Stand, as well as the Bourne films.

 


Hope you enjoyed the music break!  Have you seen P.S. I Love You?