FlixChatter’s TOP 10 Films of 2017

Ok let me preface this with a confession that there are still a ton of critical darlings I haven’t seen yet… Get Out, Lady Bird, Mudbound, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, etc. 2017 proved to be one of the busiest, craziest year ever for me. In fact it’s been a pretty crazy whirlwind ride for me. So being a first-time filmmaker meant your priority had to shift a bit (or a lot) and for the past year, my life as a blogger kind of took a backseat.

In any case, everyone’s list is going to be different anyway, even if we all saw the same movies in a given year. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so sometimes I feel like a film deserves to be on my list because it was masterfully-crafted, whether or not I connected with the story. But generally, my criteria is that a film makes a lasting impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Replay-ability is a factor I take into consideration as well, though I don’t necessarily want to rewatch every single film on my list.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. Lost City of Z (full review)

Charlie Hunnam & Tom Holland as father and son

This film opened the Minneapolis St Paul Film Festival and I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen. I think it’s a massively-underrated adventure drama about a British explorer who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s. I also think Charlie Hunnam is a terrific actor and here he truly shows his dramatic chops. I like that the focus is on his psychology as he grew more obsessed with finding Z, taking a toll on his family despite the support of his loyal wife (Sienna Miller). Director James Gray‘s biopic feels authentic and involving, and the jungle visuals are appropriately lush and gritty, both stunning and dangerous. I also enjoyed Tom Holland‘s performance, memorable despite his brief screen time.

9. Thor: Ragnarok (full review)

This isn’t the first time I have a movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe on my top 10 list. I think the fact that Taika Waititi took on the third installment of a so-so franchise in the behemoth MCU and pushed it to forefront in terms of critical + audience reception AND box office take is something to be admired. I’ve been a huge fan of Taika’s work since What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople and he brought his zany sense of humor to Thor as well. The brilliant cast are all fun to watch and they looked like they had such a fun time doing it that’s contagious. Cate Blanchett relished in her naughty, playful side, as did Chris Hemsworth who showed off his comedic chops. But it’s Taika’s witty humor that made the film, even his own character Korg deserves its own spin-off. There’s so much to love about this movie, including the rousing 80s music and the hilarious cameos!

8. Their Finest

Interesting how the Brits suddenly keen on telling the Dunkirk story all within a single year. We’ve got Dunkirk of course, then The Darkest Hour specifically from Churchill’s perspective. But one that’s the least flashy of them all is a pretty brilliant film with a charming cast led by Gemma Arterton. She played Catrin, a newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films during the London Blitz of WWII. I always enjoy stories involving a film within a film and this one has both joy and pathos mixed together given the wartime setting. The sexism Catrin faced in the misogynistic workplace and how she stood up for herself feel quite timely. There’s also a sweet-but-not-saccharine romance in the air that’s well-handled, and fun humor courtesy of Bill Nighy as a famous actor whose fame is eluding him. It’s perhaps my favorite film from Lone Scherfig to date, beating even the terrific An Education.

7. Wonder Woman (full review)

Another female-directed movie of 2017 that left a lasting impression on me. Even in a year with a plethora of superhero films, Patty Jenkins‘ movie stands out because it’s fun & entertaining as well as heartfelt and inspiring. It’s also visually striking, especially the scenery in sunny Themyscira before Diana sets foot in a gritty urban setting in WWI London. And that fight scene of the Amazonians vs German forces took my breath away every time!! Gal Gadot absolutely rocks as the mighty heroine, balancing her earnest, valiant, yet compassionate side. I also love Chris Pine‘s casting as Diana’s sympathetic comrade/love interest, and their scenes together could make the best superhero rom-com. This movie couldn’t have come a better time too given the surging women empowerment in Hollywood fighting for gender equality.

6. War for the Planet of the Apes

Who knew that the ‘Apes’ movie trilogy ended up being one of the strongest trilogies out of Hollywood. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was on my Top 10 list of 2014, which was also directed by Matt Reeves. Glad he’s back to helm this one again, what a terrific conclusion to the Apes’ charismatic leader Caesar (Andy Serkis in another phenomenal mo-cap performance). His struggles to avenge his kind while being torn to his loyalty to humans is heart-wrenching. This time we’ve got a genuinely hilarious addition to the Apes’ cast with Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), plus a tragic villain The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). I look forward to rewatching the entire trilogy once again, but the last two sequels under Reeves are definitely the most brilliant.

5. Phantom Thread (full review)

I’ve just reviewed this one and it’s also the last film I saw that ended up on this list. Though it’s an emotionally cold film, I still think it’s masterfully-crafted and brilliantly-acted. One thing I should mention about this film is its intimate feel, it’s as if you’re getting a sneak peek into the life of an artistic genius. It’s a gloomy and twisted affair, but also tantalizingly honest. Daniel Day Lewis is superb as always, but it’s Vicky Krieps who’s quite a revelation as his unlikely equal. With Lesley Manville as her headstrong loyal sister, the three actors makes quite a fantastic trio. I mentioned that I didn’t quite fall in love with this film, but undoubtedly I admire it greatly.

4. Blade Runner 2049

It’s a bummer this film didn’t do well at the box office, and puzzling too given the buzz surrounding it. It may not be as iconic as the original by Ridley Scott, but it’s still one heck of an epic film. Denis Villeneuve is becoming one of my favorite filmmakers since Sicario. Though his films are always so beautifully-shot, it’s never style over substance. I’m glad I saw this on IMAX, man I hope Roger Deakins gets his overdue Oscar this year! As the quintessential sci-fi that ponders what it really means to be human, the story lingers for days after you watched it. Ryan Gosling delivered a quiet, soulful performance, while Harrison Ford reprised his role memorably with endearing curmudgeon-ness he’s famous for.

3. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is one of the rare filmmakers whose complete work I have seen and this is perhaps one of his ambitious one yet. He set out to create an experience rather than simply showing what happened on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Instead of just telling the narratives in a linear way, Nolan told the story from three different perspectives: land, air and sea. There’s no huge movie stars in this film, the most famous one is Tom Hardy in a practically wordless but charismatic performance as a pilot. Fresh out of an Oscar-winning performance in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance once again did an outstanding job as a common sailor who became one of many unlikely heroes. An immersive experience that truly made us feel the horror of war, as intense and thrilling as a war film could be, without resorting to blood and gore. This memorably tense film is not your average blockbuster.

2. Logan

My hubby and I just rewatched LOGAN this weekend since we’ve bought the Bluray a while ago. This time we opted to watch the b/w noir version. WOW we’re blown away once again, this film is actually better on second viewing! James Mangold redeemed himself after his oh-so-promising-but-turns-out-meh The Wolverine as writer/director. He and his co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green scored a groundbreaking Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, a unique landmark for superhero stories, as it became the first film based on superhero comic books to be nominated in that category! Well it’s so well-deserved as the writing is truly amazing and it doesn’t feel much like a superhero film at all. It’s a character-driven piece that relies heavily on the relationship between three key characters: Logan, the now ailing Professor X (the venerable Patrick Stewart) and a new young mutant girl Laura (Dafne Keen, sensational in her debut role).

It’s also a very emotional film albeit perhaps too violent at times. The fight scenes definitely made you wince, not only because of how brutal they were, but because what each of the beating meant for the once-invincible hero. Hugh Jackman‘s portrayed the tortured soul for seventeen years, but you’ve never seen him like this before. Every line on his face, every bloody wound, brings Logan closer to what only mere mortals get to experience. That last dialog between him and Laura is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve seen this year. This is not a happy and fun superhero movie, but not somber & dour for no reason (*cough* Justice League *cough*), but it’s one I know I’ll remember for ages. What a spectacular farewell from Jackman to a role that made him famous, he’ll be sorely missed.

1. Shape of Water (full review)

Once in a while came a film that tickled your fancy and ended up sweeping you off your feet. This year that film is The Shape of Water. Yes it’s perhaps it’s the romantic in me, stories of star-crossed lovers always gets me and it doesn’t get more unlikely-matched than a human + sea creature. But Guillermo del Toro could inject so much humanity into his monsters. In fact, the real ‘monster’ in the film is the human who wants to keep the two lovers apart for his own gain.

A dark fairy tale of a beautiful love story and friendship that’s gorgeous to look at. Led by an empathetic performance by Sally Hawkins as well as a slew of terrific supporting cast, The Shape of Water is emotional, thrilling, funny, suspenseful… everything one would want in a period romance, and then some. On my review I also mentioned how there’s such a dreamy quality to the whole production, yet something I can connect with it emotionally. All in all a superb film I’m glad I got to see just before 2017 was done!


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I always make room for those that didn’t quite make it to my Top 10 but still made a lasting impression on me. Some of these actually came very close to being on my top 10. Thanks to Twin Cities Film Fest for screening some of the films that ended up being some of my faves of the year, Darkest Hour (w/ phenomenal Gary Oldman as Churchill), Breathe (wonderful directorial debut of Andy Serkis featuring sublime performances from Andrew Garfield & Claire Foy), Last Flag Flying (what a cast!), Walking Out (Matt Bommer is more than a pretty face), and The Bachelors (Josh Wiggins is a fantastic young actor, the world shall know who he is soon!).

  1. Darkest Hour
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. A United Kingdom
  4. Last Flag Flying
  5. Let Me Go
  6. Baby Driver
  7. John Wick 2
  8. Colossal
  9. Loving Vincent
  10. Breathe
  11. Walking Out
  12. The Bachelors
  13. Logan Lucky
  14. Pilgrimage
  15. What Happened To Monday

So what do you think of my Top 10? Which of these are YOUR faves of the year?

FlixChatter Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Ok, firstly a confession: this is my intro to Paul Thomas Anderson (known as PTA to cinephiles). Secondly: It’s a film I appreciate but not love. Wait, what? Yes I know, this film has garnered unanimous adulation. Critics as well as fellow filmmaker I know (including my short film director) calling it exquisite, masterpiece, sublime.

Now, I don’t disagree with them. On a technical level, the film is superb. Even the story is intriguing, impossibly elegant and mysterious. The painstaking attention to detail is amazing and amazingly-stylish, which is fitting considering it’s a film about an obsessive fashion designer.

On an emotional level however, it just doesn’t resonate with me. It feels like a cold film. Perhaps it’s intentional and perhaps PTA himself intentionally kept viewers at arms’ length, as that’s how the film’s protagonist Reynolds Woodcock keeps his lovers. Played with elegance aloofness by Daniel Day-Lewis, it made me wish he isn’t serious about retiring.

Even playing such an unlikable character, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing. There’s something so precise about his acting, and being a method actor that he is, he makes you believe he is whoever he is playing. But equally mesmerizing is Vicky Krieps as Alma, who’s pretty much Day-Lewis’ equal. It’s fitting given that Alma’s pretty much Reynold’s equal despite her initial meek demeanor. I haven’t seen miss Krieps before, but the Luxembourg-born actress has quite a resume. I just wish there’s more to her character, it’d be more interesting to see more of her backstory.

This is the kind of film that makes you ponder for days. What is it about exactly? There are many themes being explored here, and one that comes to mind immediately is obsession, specifically Reynold’s obsession with perfection. But he’s also a narcissist, a mama’s boy and frankly, a demanding big baby in terms of how he conducts his work. Everything has to be just so–no noise on the table as he eats his breakfast–or his entire day would be ruined.

He seems obsessed with Alma likely because she’s nurturing, yet she’s also headstrong like his loyal sister Cyrill. The always-reliable Lesley Manville is perfectly icy cool as Cyrill. There’s one particular scene between Cyrill and Reynolds that’s quite funny. The few darkly comedic scenes didn’t exactly offer respite from the gloomy spirit of the film however. I likened it to a chilly, windy, foggy day in London, perfectly tinged with melancholy.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy this film as much was because I sat on the front row at the screening, so it was uncomfortable having to tip my head back the entire time to watch it. I don’t know if I would feel differently on second viewing, this isn’t something I’m keen on rewatching. Though it may appear like a romance drama, the film isn’t particularly romantic. It’s elegant yes, and tantalizing at times, but not really romantic. As I mentioned in my Shape of Water review, I love films that connect with me emotionally and this one didn’t really do that.

Despite my quibbles, I still give it high marks because I think it’s competently-done. PTA also did the cinematography on this and shot it on 35mm hence the rather-grainy quality. There’s not a lot of action in the film, but yet PTA made even the seemingly mundane act of sewing, cutting fabric, and especially cooking, so intriguing… and suspenseful. You won’t ever see mushroom the same way again after this. The style and camerawork suits the narrative and period well, complemented by Jonny Greenwood‘s evocative score. He’s a composer I’m also not familiar with, but his music here adds a hypnotic quality to the film.

So yeah, I can see why people admire PTA’s work and I’m glad I finally got to see one of his films. My film friends have all suggested that I check out his previous films, so I’ll do that eventually as I’m especially intrigued by Magnolia. As for this one, well I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, it’s certainly a good looking film.


So did you see Phantom Thread? Let me know what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

Once in a blue moon I fell in love for a film just from the trailer. It happened with The Shape of Water sometime last Fall, but it took a few months before I finally saw it. Forbidden love stories are my thing, but this isn’t just a typical star-crossed lovers. Guillermo del Toro created a romance unlike any other… and like Elisa with the Amphibian Man, I was smitten by this film.

I LOVE the fact that I saw Sally Hawkins in two movies in the span of a month. As fellow Jane Austen fans know, she was Anne Elliot in BBC’s Persuasion, a story that’s dear to my heart. I’ve been a fan of hers since and she’s perfectly cast here. It’s a bold role and rather fearless performance I must say, quite a departure from the roles she’s done in the past. The mute Elisa is the beating heart of the film…

When he looks at me, he doesn’t see me as incomplete.
He sees me as I am.”

… well isn’t that how we all want to be seen?

It’s the stuff fairy tales are made of. Elisa was living a mundane, lonely life as a janitor at a research facility… until one day she meets someone that changes her life forever. The sea creature was more than just an ‘asset’ the way the top secret government facility sees it… he was her everything. Del Toro captured this heart-wrenching love story so beautifully… it’s emotional, thrilling, funny, suspenseful… everything one would want in a period romance, and then some. Yes it has some disturbing and violent moments that warrants its R rating. I remember how some scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth was so shocking. This one isn’t quite so brutal but it does have its dark, scary moments, yet its beauty is spectacularly breathtaking. There’s such a dreamy quality to the whole production, and there’s something so organic and lush, it’s as if you could touch and smell the universe it’s set in.

Just like any good fairy tale, there’s also a freakish monster of a villain. No, not the sea creature, the monster in this film is the one who wants to tear Elisa away from the love of her life. Michael Shannon has played a lot of menacing characters, and he’s never more revolting here as Strictland. He’s the government official tasked to deliver the ‘asset’ to a high ranking general, as the creature is deemed advantageous to the US during the 60s Space Race. He’s so devilishly vile and creepy he makes your skin crawl.

The film’s visual effects are enthralling, but so are the supporting characters. I always LOVE seeing Octavia Spencer on screen, she elevates every scene she’s in and she’s delightful as Elisa’s sympathetic friend. Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are two terrific character actors and they both provide memorable performances here as Elisa’s neighbor and lab scientist. I have to give props to Doug Jones who played the Amphibian Man for bringing the character to life.

I recall listening to an NPR interview of Del Toro who said he spent three years and his own money to design the creature. ‘I wasn’t designing a monster, I was designing a leading man.’ That really hit me and that’s perhaps what made this story worked. The filmmaker created a character we could relate with despite where he came from and what he looked like. It’s a message of tolerance tailored for the time we live in with the whole migrant, refugee crisis, but at the same it wasn’t on the nose or preachy. The terrific script makes the 2-hour plus running time feels like a breeze, kudos for Del Toro and his co-writer Vanessa Taylor.

Now, it’s not a perfect film. Strictland felt a bit like a caricature as there’s a lack of background about his character and Shanon’s evil-ness is borderline over-the-top at times. I also wonder some things about the creature that doesn’t seem to add up (spoiler alert – highlight to read: he’s a powerful being (even considered a god where he came from) and could heal himself & humans from even being fatally shot, yet why is he powerless when he was chained in the lab?). But none of those bothered me much, nor did it take away from the plenty of stuff that did work. I love the humorous (the one with the cat is hysterical!) and playful moments in Del Toro’s homage to classic movies. The scene of Elisa and her neighbor watched a musical and they began tapping their feet together is one of those sweet movie moments I’d watch over and over. There’s also a gorgeous musical segment that’s unabashedly sweet and romantic.

In the end, it’s films that I connect with emotionally that I love and remember the most. As a fan of classical music, I also adore Alexandre Desplat‘s ethereal score that adds so much to the film. It’s a masterpiece bear revisiting time and time again. I’m glad I saw this on the big screen before year’s end. It’s the last film I saw in 2017… what a way to end the year!

P.S. Just hours before this review’s posted, the Oscar nominations are announced, which you can check out on my friend Paul’s blog here. Keith also posted his Oscar commentary here. Thrilled to see Del Toro, Taylor, Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer all got nominated.


Have you seen The Shape of Water? Well, I’d love to hear what YOU think!

Sundance Thoughts and 10 Sundance films I’m looking forward to

Happy Monday everyone!

I’ve been dreaming of Sundance all weekend. Well I always dream of going to Park City around this time of year, but last year was the first time I had the audacity to submit my short film Hearts Want to Sundance Film Festival. Hey, dream big and shoot for the moon right? Well, I got the templated rejection email from Sundance Director John Cooper, which was courteous but it still stings no matter how nice they tried to word it… (basically it’s a big fat NO). They got over 13,500 submissions this year (about 8000 of them are short films!), so to say competition is fierce is putting it mildly! So on Sunday afternoon, before the big NFC game of Vikings VS Eagle, I listened to this insightful Adobe interview w/ Mr. Cooper and he’s got some inspiring words for new filmmakers.

I was following Twitter’s #Sundance hashtag and IMDb for the buzz-worthy films. I’m not doing a comprehensive Sundance post, but here are 10 films I’m looking forward to seeing:

* Signifies films directed by women

  1. Wildlife

    A boy witnesses his parent’s marriage falling apart after his mom finds another man.


    It’s Paul Dano‘s directorial debut and starring Carey Mulligan & Jake Gyllenhaal. Pretty strong reviews so far and why am I not surprised, so many great talents here in front and behind the camera. I’m always curious by actors’ directorial debut, too.

  2. Half the Picture (Doc)*

    HALF THE PICTURE is a documentary about the dismal number of women directors working in Hollywood, using the current EEOC investigation into discriminatory hiring practices as a framework to talk to successful women directors about their career paths, struggles, inspiration and hopes for the future.


    I don’t think I need to explain why I’m interested in this documentary. It’s as timely as ever and as a first time filmmaker, I definitely want to learn some insights and be inspired.

  3. Juliet, Naked

    Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie, the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan, and her unlikely transatlantic romance with once revered, now faded, singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who also happens to be the subject of Duncan’s musical obsession.


    I love this cast and the storyline appeals to me immediately. I think these three actors would bring the wit and laughters. I always like a good rom-com which is a rarity.

  4. Holiday*

    A love triangle featuring the trophy girlfriend of a petty drug lord, caught up in a web of luxury and violence in a modern dark gangster tale set in the beautiful port city of Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera.


    I read a review on Twitter saying it’s the darkest film at Sundance this year, oh my. Even this photo of a pretty woman in a bikini with bloody foot is so chilling.

  5. Puzzle

    Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined.


    Nice to see underrated Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald in a leading role. Plus the story of someone discovering a new world is always intriguing.

  6. Colette

    The story of a marriage, Colette shows the lengths one woman must go to escape her husband’s control and claim her voice as an artist.

    Keira Knightley in ‘Colette’

    Always up for a good period drama and Colette is story of a woman who has been long denied her voice going to extraordinary lengths to reclaim it. Stories of female empowerment is always worth seeing.

  7. What They Had*

    A woman must fly back to her hometown when her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother wanders into a blizzard. The return home forces her to confront her past.


    Been a while since I saw Hilary Swank in anything and though Michael Shannon is everywhere these days, he’s an actor I’m always curious to see.

  8. Ophelia*

    A re-imagining of Hamlet, told from Ophelia’s perspective.


    Ah, finally a Hamlet adaptation from the perspective of the woman, the most famous Shakespeare women no less. I’m curious to see Daisy Ridley as Ophelia and Naomi Watts as Gertrude, the queen of Denmark and Ophelia’s mentor.

  9. The Kindergarten Teacher*

    A kindergarten teacher in New York becomes obsessed with one of her students who she believes is a child prodigy.


    Maggie Gyllenhaal
    seems suited for complicated woman roles such as this one. Based 2014 Israeli film of the same name, it’s a rare remake I’m actually intrigued by.

  10. Yardie
    Adaptation of the 1993 novel ‘Yardie’ about a young Jamaican’s rise from the streets of London to the top of the drug-dealing underworld

    Another actor directorial debut I can’t wait to see! I didn’t even know anything about this project, but given I LOVE Idris Elba as an actor, I’m super curious to see his talent behind the camera. He was born in Hackney where the story is set, and the title refers to a slang name originally given to occupants of “government yards” — social housing projects with very basic amenities.


So have you been following Sundance this year? Which film(s) are you most looking forward to?

FlixChatter Review: JUMANJI: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

guestpost

Review by: Vitali Gueron

When people utter the word Jumanji, they can’t help but think of the 1995 fantasy adventure movie Jumanji, starring the late Robin Williams, and adapted from the 1981 children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. The film stars Williams as Alan Parrish, a man who is trapped in a board game for 26 years, until 1995 when the brother/sister pair of Peter and Judy find the dusty old board game in their attic. When they start playing it, they inadvertently release a swarm of giant mosquitoes, some monkeys, a lion and a 26-years-older Alan who has been surviving the animals and jungle of Jumanji. While Alan, Peter and Judy all survive, so does the game and we last see it on a beach as it lies partially buried in the sand.

Fast forward twenty-two years, we are introduced to the direct sequel of Jumanji called Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The movie starts off in 1996, a year after the events in the original movie, when a father discovers the same half buried board game while jogging along the beach. He removes it from the sand and bring it home for his teenage son Alex Vreeke to play with. But Alex, being the mid-90’s teenager that he is, is not interested in board games but rather video games and heavy metal music. As he throws the game aside, the game morphed into a video game cartridge – the kind that fits right in his video game console which is hooked up to his bedroom television. The game is now all but daring Alex to play it and having no choice, Alex begins to play it and gets sucked inside the video game.

We jump to present day, now twenty years later, where we are introduced to four delinquent high school students, all given detention for various infractions throughout the day. Nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) is caught writing essays for his former friend and football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), self-centered cheerleader Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is all-but-glued to her cell phone and does not want to stop using it during class, and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) is a shy bookworm who refuses to participate in physical education. All four teenagers are sent to clear out the junk from the school’s basement, and soon-there-after the four find Jumanji, now a five-player action-adventure console game.

The teens decide to start the game, choosing the four remaining video game characters, as one is already in play. Spencer chooses the avatar of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a very rugged and muscular explorer who is also an archaeologist. Fridge chooses the avatar of Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short in height zoologist and weapons specialist, when Fridge mistakenly reads the character’s nickname as “Moose”. Martha chooses the avatar of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a commando, martial artist, and dance fighter and Bethany is left with no choice but to pick the avatar of Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and paleontologist. Bethany originally believes that her avatar “Shelly” is female but as soon as they find themselves in a jungle, she realizes that Professor Sheldon Oberon is actually an overweight, middle-aged man. She also has an amusing stint at first as she discovers her avatar’s male genitalia.

The teenagers, now avatars in the game, soon learn that each of their avatars also comes with special skills and weaknesses (some are quite hilarious and provide for the adult humor in the movie). Each avatar has three lives and if they lose all three, the teens will actually die in real life. Professor Oberon is almost immediately eaten by a hippo (a well-made CGI creature) and as his next avatar comes into the game from the skies above, he conveniently lands upon Franklin Finbar, who breaks his fall with his who body. This is where the trio of Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson make Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle an absolute blast to watch. We are soon introduced to the film’s villain, Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), who has developed the ability to control the dark and creepy creatures of Jumanji.

An encounter with a snake – which the avatar initially try to outwit in a staring contest – makes for an absolutely hysterical scene with Black, Hart, Johnson and Karen Gillian all screaming for their lives as the CGI snake after them. They soon meet Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas), the avatar of Alex Vreeke (the fifth player) whose’s a skilled pilot. They also learn that Alex has survived for twenty years in the game but is down to his very last life. With Alex’s help, the group now has the chance to escape the game, but first the players must return a jewel (captured by Van Pelt) to an enormous jaguar statue and call out “Jumanji”. While I will not reveal how the film ends, I will just say that all’s well that ends well and we do see teenagers back in the real world again, along with a now-adult Alex.

The best part of the sequel is the humor that the avatars portrayed by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillian gave to the plot of the movie. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle becomes a more refined Central Intelligence (the 2016 Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson action comedy) meet Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the 1984 Steven Spielberg classic). The combination of actors, storyline and CGI actually work pretty well in this movie and the high school aspect makes it empathetic and relatable to the target audience.

While director Jake Kasdan closes the door to the idea of there being another sequel, it thankfully doesn’t mean that Jumanji will forever disappear as it has managed to survive in various forms for many years, both as a game inside the movie and as the real life movie, watched again and again by the next generation of kids and teenagers. The sequel to Jumanji is worth a revisit to the jungle, and would make Robin Williams proud, but above all, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle makes for one heck of a good time!


Have you seen ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘? Well, what did you think? 

2018 Golden Globe Awards: Commentary on winners, #TimesUp movement, highlights of the night

Can’t believe award season is officially in full swing! Honestly I didn’t even realize Golden Globes was this weekend until I heard something in the car as I was driving around. Fortunately I did have time to actually sit down and watch (and live tweeted) the event, though I tuned in late as I usually avoid the red carpet stuff.

Well this year’s ceremony is different than in recent memory… what with the #TimesUp movement and everyone banding together to support women who’ve been sexually-harassed/abused by wearing all-black at the red carpet.

More on that later… as I do want to introduce a friend of mine, Shivani Yadav, blogger extraordinaire of Critic-Corner which offers reviews and fun celeb fashion, as we tag team on Golden Globes commentary this year! I thought that since the Golden Globes was all about women supporting each other, it’s the perfect time to collaborate. Shivani – it’s an honor to have you guest blog on FlixChatter!

Now, to start things off, here’s the video of Seth Meyers’ opening montage in case you missed it…

Glad he captured the #TimesUp movement in his monologue and rightly blasting the biggest sexual harassment perpetrators Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen. I think overall Seth did a good job as host. He didn’t irk me like some previous hosts and he certainly wasn’t as mean-spirited as Ricky Gervais.


Red Carpet

Shivani:

This was probably the best Golden Globes ceremony, in recent memory. So many amazing moments took place and great speeches were made. My day could not have started in a better way (it was 4:30 AM when it started here in India).

On the fashion front, with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement going on, celebs opted for black ensembles and I was all up for it. I know the point here was of solidarity and trying to get a message out but at the end of the day, it was through fashion. And a person who writes fashion reviews daily, at first I was a bit skeptical about to decision but after tonight, I can confidently say that this was one of the best red carpets I have seen since I started writing. With the help of one color, the message came out much more clearly – of equality, sisterhood and not taking anybody’s sh*t!

I just wish more men were speaking out about the issue. Red carpet hosts could have done a better job in making them a part of the conversation by asking them how things can be better and in general, voicing out their opinions. Hopefully, we’ll see improvement on that side in the more coming award shows.

As for my fashion favorites, this is probably the first time I don’t have any. Sure, I have opinions about every look (and for that you can read my blog), but generally as a whole, I’m so pleased and overwhelmed with everyone, fashion-wise, that my conscience is not allowing me to pick favorites.

Ruth

The #TimesUp and #MeeToo movement was quite unprecedented. As a woman of color, the message of solidarity in the spirit of equality and representation is one that’s dear to my heart. Of course it remains to be seen if this movement will actually make a real lasting impact in Hollywood and beyond… I sure hope women don’t just get heard because it’s part of a zeitgeist… that it’s more than just a ‘trend’ but something that would bring out real change.

I skipped the red carpet stuff, but I did read some comments how the hosts didn’t seem to be grasping the movement seriously and still make it all about the fashion instead of having meaningful conversations. If that’s the case, it’s truly a missed opportunity, especially since many celebs brought activists with them to the event.

Now, out of a sea of all-black ensembles, there are still truly stunning outfits. I think limiting the color made designers more creative with the style. For me though, the queen who slayed them all has got to be Viola Davis… #ibowtothee


Main Event Highlights

Shivani

The first highlight for me was obviously Oprah‘s speech. I’m not even kidding, tears were literally pouring down my eyes by the sheer power of it. Breathtaking!

Love the fact that Natalie Portman and Barbra Streisand pointed out the all-made director’s category. Somebody had to do it and HFPA wasn’t exactly listening so doing it to their faces was kind of important!

And seeing Kirk Douglas with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta Jones was quite a delight too.

Ruth

I so agreed that Oprah‘s speech is definitely a highlight. It was such powerful, definitive, empowering and inspiring. Now, I’m not one of those who worships on the altar of Oprah, but y’know what, it’s undeniable she is a powerful self-made woman and last night she used her power for good like nobody’s business.

I feel for anyone who had to follow THAT speech to deliver the Best Director award, and that ‘honor’ went to Natalie Portman and Ron Howard. But y’know what, Portman seized the moment by cheekily quipping ‘and here are the ALL MALE nominees!’

I know some people have issues with the timing of that comment that seemed to undermine the accomplishments of the nominated filmmakers. But I don’t think she meant it that way, and y’know what, she too was caught up in the moment after Oprah’s speech and she seized it. It was a spot-on comment and I felt that it needed to be said. I thought Howard’s expression was priceless, and at least he was a big enough man to realize it wasn’t a slap against male directors, but the male-dominated filmmaking club that wasn’t conducive for women to be a part of.

There are many powerful speeches last night by women, but the one I was really taken by was Laura Dern‘s. I love how sincere her delivery was, empowering but delivered with a dose of humility and grace.

I LOVE the spirit of female solidarity displayed all night, especially by the female-led show Big Little Lies that won big last night, including Best Miniseries or TV Film.

Well, since I live-tweeted the event, I might as well just post some of my tweets here…

Case in point…

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 07: 75th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS — Pictured: Actor Chris Hemsworth (L) and director Taika Waititi arrive to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Thoughts on Winners/Losers

Neither Shivani and I barely watch any TV shows this year, so we only post comments on the film winners. Ironically, the year I became a filmmaker last year also meant I had little time to watch films so there are a ton of films nominated here that I had missed.

In any case, here’s our comments on the the nominees and winners (listed in bold) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker

Shivani: I’m sure most people expected [Ronan] to win. Not a surprise! I like how her mom was on face-time. That was cute!

Ruth: I’ve been such a huge fan of Ronan that despite not having seen Lady Bird yet (I know, I know, hopefully soon!), I’m thrilled she won. I think she’s deserved awards for so many of her past performances (Atonement, Hanna, Brooklyn, etc.)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Shivani: Same here. No surprise!

Ruth: Again, haven’t seen Franco’s performance but I was kinda rooting for Kaluuya’s just based on what I’ve read on Get Out. I like the brotherly love Franco displayed when he won though the whole thing w/ Tommy Wiseau was just so odd. Plus I think it’s rude to shove him away like that, even if they were good friends now.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks, The Post
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Shivani: I was rooting for him so much. I know Timothée is awesome and everything, but Gary literally never gets his due. It’s his time!

Ruth: Indeed it’s a well-deserved win!

Glad that Oldman gave props to his co-stars. I thought Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn were both absolutely terrific in the film. Good enough even for a Best Supporting nod!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Shivani: God this lady is fierce. There’s literally no match for her!

Ruth: I love how effortless and no-nonsense McDormand was. I love that she doesn’t seem like someone who loves to schmooze (unlike most in Hollywood) and doesn’t take any bullsh*t from anyone either. Three Billboards is yet another film I’ve missed but hope to see that soon!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Shivani: In my opinion, the actual competition here was between Allison and Laurie. I’m happy either way, I love all of the nominees!

Ruth: I loooove Octavia Spencer and The Shape of Water, so naturally I was rooting for her. But that’s not fair as I haven’t seen the other performances. Janney is a force so I have no problem w/ her winning. Plus, I love the diversity on this category.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: No one could really tell here who would win, so I would have been happy for anyone. But yeah, Sam is extremely underrated and I’m happy he got some recognition.

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
The Disaster Artist
The Greatest Showman
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Shivani: I’m just happy for the crew. Greta Gerwig is so adorable!

Ruth: I probably am in the minority here the fact that I have not seen Lady Bird nor have I seen any of Greta Gerwig‘s films, either. Not sure why, just haven’t gotten around to it. But hey, always happy to see a female filmmaker getting accolades, so yay!

Best Motion Picture — Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: This was quite a surprise. I thought The Shape of Water would have won, but nevertheless, I’m happy that they recognized the film!

Ruth: Having only seen Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, I have no idea which one would win in this category but I thought Call Me By Your Name would win.

Best Animated Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Ferdinand
Coco
Loving Vincent

Shivani: I don’t think anybody was surprised with this win!

Ruth: Yep, not surprised at all though this is the first year where I hadn’t seen any of the animated features! I did blog about Loving Vincent a while ago, that looks absolutely astounding.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
The Shape of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Molly’s Game

Shivani: I was quite positive that Lady Bird would win, and was surprised once again. It’s just that Three Billboards isn’t a type of movie that would normally get recognized by award shows. I’m happy that it is!

Ruth: Can’t really comment here as I have only seenThe Shape of Water, but sounds like a really strong category here with solid picks. I wanna see every single one of these I’ve missed!

Best Director – Motion Picture
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Ridley Scott, All The Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Shivani: Another underrated director (by the voters)! I loved it when he asked them to lower the music. “It’s taken 25 years. Give me a minute” Awesome!

Ruth: Happy for del Toro’s win, too! The Shape of Water was a singular and extremely creative original film. I love filmmakers who truly gave his all for his creation and del Toro spent a lot of his own money and considerable time even just to design the sea creature! Still, I was flabbergasted and saddened that Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins were snubbed, esp. Gerwig considering the critical rave Lady Bird received.

Best Original Score
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
Phantom Thread
The Post
Dunkirk

Ruth: I adore Desplat’s score for The Shape of Water. It’s as magical, ethereal, romantic and mysterious as the film. Absolutely beautiful stuff that sweeps me off my feet.

Best Original Song
“Home,” Ferdinand — Nick Jonas, Justin Tranter, Nick Monson
“Mighty River,” Mudbound — Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson
“Remember Me,” Coco — Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Star,” The Star — Mariah Carey, Marc Shaiman
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman — Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Shivani: I was really disappointed with the fact that they did not nominate Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon from Call Me By Your Name so I’m kinda mad at them for that. This Is Me is a good enough song, but if it were up to me, it would not have gotten my vote.

Ruth: I had to look up the two songs that Shivani mentioned. Both of those songs are lovely, I totally understand why she loved them. I think This Is Me  is a rousing song though, definitely more of a crowd pleaser.


Let me end the post with this article that offers an astute observation of the night… it’s as if the #TimesUp movement weren’t really a thing for most of the men, aside from what Seth Meyers said in his opening monologue “Good Evening, Ladies & Remaining Gentlemen.” The silence is deafening and frankly, disheartening.


So, what are YOUR thoughts on the 2018 winners & favorite moments of the night?


FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

guestpost
Directed By: Trish Sie
Written By: Kay Cannon, Mike White based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Runtime: 1h 33min

I’ve had mixed feelings on the Pitch Perfect movies. As a choir nerd, I appreciate the music. As a film fan, I’ve been unimpressed with the writing, finding the plots forgettable and the comedy (with a few exceptions) underwhelming. I didn’t go into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn’t think I’d like it any better than the first two.

In Pitch Perfect 3, we see the Barden Bellas a couple years out of college, struggling to find their places outside of the world of competetive a capella. At a performance of the younger Bellas (led by Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily), the group decides to participate in the U.S.O.’s annual European musical tour and relive their glory days. Once there, they discover that they will be competing against three other musical groups for a coveted spot opening for DJ Khaled at the tour’s final performance- and, for the first time, they will be competing against musicians who use instruments.

While the third installment isn’t by any means a brilliant movie, I was still pleasantly surprised, mostly by how much the cast has improved. Individually, there are plenty of talented members, but I never felt like the girls had any real chemistry until now. They genuinely seem like a good group of friends and their quirky personalities mesh surprisingly well. While they all give solid acting performances, the stand-outs for me are Hana Mae Lee as Lilly and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lee’s delightfully weird Lilly barely has any lines, and the few she does have are barely audible, but her physical comedy is on point. Wilson’s performance in the first two movies underwhelmed me, but I think that’s more the writers’ fault than hers; the majority of her “funny” lines were about her weight, and that much one-note humor is really only good for a few trailer highlights; it’s not enough to support a whole film. However, they give her a little more to work with in this film, and it shows; while she still shines comedically, she has a few more dramatic moments that show a more serious, sincere side of her, and she handles it incredibly well.

Despite the stronger acting, however, the writing still struggles a bit in this movie. It’s unsurprising that the story centers around a singing competition again-they’re a competetive a capella group- but the way the musicians the Bellas are competing against aren’t very well-handled. At first, it seems like they’re being set up to become friends (or, at least, not enemies) with the Bellas, when the three other acts (Saddle Up, DJ Dragon Nutz, and Evermoist-led by Ruby Rose‘s Calamity) all start performing together during their riff-off against the Bellas, implying that it’s more fun to sing together than to sing against each other. However, they quickly fall into the catty, condescending competitor trope pretty quickly afterwards. The fact that, past the riff-off and the first concert, we never see them perform again, makes this tense competition lose some of its edge as well. It’s a shame, because while the Bella’s numbers are all well-done, it would have been fun to hear more of the other groups than just the couple numbers at the beginning.

There’s also this weird B-plot involving Amy and her supposedly-reformed criminal father (played by John Lithgow doing a pretty awful Australian accent) in an attempt to add a little action to the movie, and while some of it is entertaining (especially this Mission Impossible-esque scene of Amy sneaking through a yacht), it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or the series as a whole. Its inclusion kind of reminded me of the Spice World, but with less commitment to the ridiculousness. It’s a change from the other movies’ formula, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The biggest problem is that, while it feels like all of the Bellas get more equal focus than they have in the previous two, the script tries to fit in too many individual backstories and conflicts in one movie, leading to clunky exposition and shoehorned-in resolutions-some, like Anna Camp‘s Aubrey, not even wrapped up until after the credits start rolling. I admire that they’re trying to add a little more dimension to the characters, but the movie isn’t well-paced enough to do so.

Despite all of this, Pitch Perfect 3 might be my favorite of the series, thanks largely to, of course, the music. As usual, the soundtrack is as fun, pretty, and polished as the Bellas’ costumes, hair, and makeup (seriously, I want to invest in a few sparkly dresses after seeing the wardrobe in this movie). While all of the performers are capable singers, Anna Kendrick as Beca especially shines with her clear, bright tone, and is given plenty of opportunities to do so. And as talented as the Bellas are, the musical highlight for me is the “Riff-Off” mash-up with the other bands, showcasing and blending the musicians’ different styles in a creative arrangement.

If you’re not a musical fan, you may want to skip this, but if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll definitely like this one. The acting is strong, more jokes land than in the first two, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The final installment of Pitch Perfect 3 certainly ends on a high note.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Pitch Perfect 3’? Well, what did you think?