FlixChatter Review – Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

The Mission: Impossible film franchise is one of the few that somehow got better and better after its third sequel struggle to make a dent at the box office. Not only did the later sequels were financially successful, they’re also critically darlings. Looking at Rottentomatoes.com, Mission: Impossible 4-6 received mid to high 90% rating.

After a mission gone wrong and three nuclear missile heads are in the hands of a new group of terrorists known as The Apostles, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his teammates Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) must retrieve the weapons. When Hunt was getting an intel briefing from his boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), as to where he can find the nuclear weapons, they’re both got interrupted by a new CIA director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett). Sloan is upset that the IMF team lost the nuclear heads and insists that her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) must go with Ethan to retrieve them.

First on their task is to capture and impersonate a man named John Lark (Liang Yang) and meet with a mysterious woman named White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), in Paris who has the connection to the Apostles. But when Hunt and Walker met with White Widow, she insisted that they must break out an international terrorist and Hunt’s nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) from prison or they won’t get the nuclear weapons. Of course this complicates the mission but both Hunt and Walker went along and helped Lane escaped. Along the way, Hunt ran into an old friend Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). She’s also has her own mission and that is to eliminate Lane for good. Well, things never go as planned and Hunt must use all of his skills to try to save the world from chaos and also save those who he cares about.

For the first time in franchise history, the same director and writer Christopher McQuarrie of the previous film has returned and take charge of this new mission. To my surprise, McQuarrie has exceeded what he created in the last picture. He crafted a complexed storyline that’s full of twists, drama, humor and big action sequences. By hiring new crew members, notably a new cinematographer and composer, he was able to differentiate this film from the last one. It’s clearly that he used Nolan’s The Dark Knight as his inspiration for this outing. The film even contains a big chase that’s very similar to a chase sequence from The Dark Knight. A big bathroom brawl, a spectacular motorcycle and car chase through the streets of Paris and a helicopter chase are the highlights of the set pieces.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy is having a good year. He shot the excellent Annihilation for Alex Garland earlier this year and again for this film, he did a tremendous job. This film contains so many wide shots in the series since Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2. This is good because we the audience can actually see the action and not trying to figure out what’s going on super chaotic scenes. Shout out also goes to composer Lorne Balfe who apparently is the understudy of Hans Zimmer. So, of course this film’s score sounds like it’s was composed by Zimmer. There’s still the well know Mission: Impossible theme but Balfe made it sounded like something very original. Just a little trivia, Hans Zimmer did compose a Mission: Impossible film, he worked on the second one.

With three box office bombs in a row, Cruise poured all of his performance into this film. He did the usual crazy stunts but was willing to show his character’s age and flaws by having him get his ass whooped a few times in the film. The rest of the cast members were pretty good too. I was afraid Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust might just be nothing more than a cameo but her role was an integral part of the story and as usual she saved Hunt’s life couple of times in the film. Simon and Luthor didn’t really have much to do except to be comic relief. Luther did have a touching scene with Ilsa, I really liked that scene. I liked the addition of Alec Balwin’s character and he even got involved in one action scene with the team members. Bassett and Cavill were a nice addition and I hope we see more of Bassett’s character in the next Mission film. Kirby’s White Widow is an interesting character and I thought she played the role quite well even though she didn’t get a lot of screen time.

Having seen the film twice already, I can declare Fallout is the best Mission: Impossible film yet. It’s full of humor, great tensions and spectacular actions sequences. If there’s an IMAX, Dolby Cinema or other large vendor theater near you, go see it there. It’s definitely my favorite film of the summer and maybe even of the year.


So have you seen Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well, what did YOU think?

Music Break: ABBA’s songs in Mamma Mia!

Happy midweek everyone! It’s kind of a sleepy Wednesday even though just exactly a week ago I was extremely busy casting for my upcoming short film project, Master Servant. It was my first time holding auditions (as I didn’t have to do that Hearts Want) and let’s just say it was quite an experience. I have even more appreciation for actors (especially working actors) and what they have to go through to land a part.

In any case, well I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week… it had been such a whirlwind few weeks that I needed a crowd-pleaser type of movie and it definitely did the trick. It’s funny but when the original first came out, I didn’t even bother to see it and wasn’t really interested. But my friend in San Diego has the DVD so I ended up watching it when I visited her. I actually grew up listening to ABBA (who’s my brother’s fave) and it was fun nostalgia hearing the catchy tunes once again. As for the movie, well I don’t think it would’ve worked at all without ABBA’s music to be honest. It’s the kind of contagiously rousing songs you can’t help but being drawn to it, heck the songs have been stuck in my head for days since I saw the sequel! Plus having Meryl Streep and a pretty phenomenal cast doesn’t hurt. Amanda Seyfried is pretty good as Sophie (Streep’s daughter) but it’s Julie Walters and Christine Baranski who’s truly light up the screen. I wish we all had them as our besties!

Oh and the scenery!! Honestly, I was gawking at the amazing Greek islands (filmed on location on Skopelos, Skiathos and Damouhari Pelion) which surely have become a major tourist attraction now thanks to the movie. Who hasn’t fantasized living in such a incredible place, running a hotel with your handsome boyfriend and your three dads consist of Mr. Darcy, James Bond and Thor’s Dr. Selvig?? I mean, come on!!

Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan as Sophie’s three dads

It’s the kind of movie to just put off your thinking caps and be ready to groove! So here are some of my fave songs and/or scenes from the original and the sequel:

Ok yes it’s a silly movie, but I couldn’t help but tearing up a bit hearing this rendition of The Winner Takes It All (darn you Meryl!)

Donna looked so believably devastated in this scene… I wish the sequel had more oomph in showing her romance with Sam in the flashback scene. I feel like this scene in the original was far more emotional than the entire scene of young Donna & Sam in the sequel.

Oh man, what an end credits!! Such a hoot to see all the three dads in full disco gear. Looks like the entire cast had such a great time making this that they totally went all out in the bohemian spirit of the movie!!

I’ve been a fan of Lily James since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Cinderella, she’s instantly likable and apparently this girl can sing! I actually like her rendition of this melancholy song… yeah she’s my current girl crush.

I really, really enjoyed this scene and the song Why Did It Have To Be Me. I adore Lily James as young Donna (not an easy task playing the young version of a character originally played by Meryl Streep, but she did a fine job!) and Josh Dylan (young Bill) is my fave of the three young actors.

Well one of the highlights of the sequel is Cher (natch!)… and her fans would likely NOT be disappointed. She only appears at the end but her rendition of Fernando (a duet with Andy Garcia), as teased in all the promos, is pretty darn amusing.


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Well, which ABBA song(s) is your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: EQUALIZER 2 (2018)

With such a long and successful career, it’s hard to believe that Denzel Washington has never starred in a sequel until now. The first Equalizer film was a modest success at the box office, but I didn’t think it warrants a sequel. But then again, this is an era in Hollywood when every movie can be turned into a franchise.

Retired secret agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) still lives under the radar and uses his special skills to help the helpless. As the story begins, he rescued a little girl from her evil father and returned her to her mother. After the successful mission, McCall is back in Boston where he works as a Lyft driver. He lives a mundane life and try to stay out of the limelight as much as possible. One day he was notified that his friend and ex-colleague Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) was murdered while investigating an assassination of an asset who worked for the CIA. He realized someone from his past is trying to get rid of his teammates and he must use his skills to find out who’s responsible. He enlisted the help of his old partner Dave York (Pedro Pascal) and the two must work together again to find out who’s behind the killings.

Written by Richard Wenk, who also wrote the first film, the story is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any surprises or anything that hasn’t been done in this kind of genre. There are couple of subplots that didn’t really add much to the narrative. One involves McCall trying to help an old man reunite with is long lost sister and the other involves him trying to help his young neighbor kid from gang violence. These two subplots just slowed down the main plot of the story and made the film a lot longer than it should’ve been.

With not much of a deep plot, you’d think director Antoine Fuqua would fill the void with big action scenes after another, but surprisingly the film lacks big thrills. The film contains only couple of fight scenes and a big climatic sequence that takes place during a hurricane. Now I don’t know if Fuqua couldn’t get enough money to shoot more action scenes or he just wanted to make this one more of low key action film. I do have to give shout out to director of photography Oliver Wood, who I think is very underrated, this film looks pretty great. The aforementioned hurricane sequence was one of the best shot action scenes I’ve ever seen. He and Fuqua did a great job of combining practical effects and CGI.

Washington again commands the screen and he’s great as usual. He’s able to convey a character who has all these special skills and willing to help people, but his personal life is nothing special. Here’s a man who’s trying to escape his past and trying to atone for whatever he did by helping others, but he can’t seem to help himself. The rest of actors were kind of just there to fill the screen so Washington to interact with. None of the supporting cast members stood out to me.

The film is way too long and needed better pacing. Hopefully for the third sequel, they can come up with a better story and give us more action. I still enjoyed this one, just like the first film, I don’t have the urge to see it again anytime soon.

TedS_post


So have you seen EQUALIZER 2? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SKYSCRAPER (2018)

guestpost

Review by Vitali Gueron

I was eagerly anticipating the release of the movie Skyscraper, partially because it is not a sequel and it is one of only a few blockbusters coming out this summer that aren’t part of a franchise. The movie is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Will Sawyer, an amputee who is forced to save his family from terrorists inside a burning building. Sawyer walks with a prosthetic leg due to a hostage situation gone wrong that costs Sawyer his leg while working as an FBI agent. This is how the movie opens, and in all places, a fictitious remote town in Minnesota in the middle of winter.

We next see Sawyer 10 years later, as a security expert consulting for the Hong Kong skyscraper known as “The Pearl.” The structure is billed as the tallest building in the world, easily eclipsing the real life tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and nearly tripling the height of the Empire State Building in New York City, at a height of over 3,500 feet. The signature touch of the building is the spherical object at the crest of the tower, looking just like a freshly-plucked, shiny pearl form the bottom of the sea. Sawyer also brings his family to Hong Kong, including his wife Sarah (played by Neve Campbell) and two grade school children. They are put up in the yet-to-opened residential section of The Pearl, on the 98th floor of the gigantic building. While Sawyer gets ready for his security presentation to The Pearl’s owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), along with his fellow former FBI agent Ben (Pablo Schreiber) who has set up the meeting, his wife and kids set off to visit the famous local panda bears of Hong Kong.

When Ben leads Sawyer to an offsite apartment in Hong Kong, we realize what Ben’s true intentions are and soon enough we realize that he is not on our side. Speaking of bad guys, we are introduced to a team of villains, led by the menacing Kores Botha (Roland Moller), who have broken in to the building with highly flammable chemicals and intend to steal something belonging to Zhao Long Ji inside his penthouse, 220 stories above ground level. The situation intensifies when Sawyer’s wife Sarah calls him to tell him that they’ve returned to The Pearl after one of his kids wasn’t feeling well. When Botha’s men ignite the highly flammable chemicals on the building’s 90th floor, and manager to turn off the building’s fire suppression system, Sawyer’s family becomes trapped on the 98th floor of a burning skyscraper in the middle of Hong Kong Island. It is then up to Sawyer to return to the skyscraper and try to rescue his family before the whole building is engulfed in flames.

This is when the movie begins to completely fall of the rails as Dwayne Johnson scales a nearby construction crane – over 90 floors and without a harness – and uses the crane’s hook to break a window of the nearby skyscraper so that he can swing in – or jump inside the building, all while being chased by and shot at by the Hong Kong police who actually think he is the bad guy (I guess they’ve never seen a Dwayne Johnson movie). At times, the movie looks more like a modern day Die Hard with explosive sequences rather than a situation where it could potentially happen. But the character Will Sawyer is no John McClane, and as the action gets increasingly absurd, most of the suspense and excitement dissipates, mostly because it’s clear that neither Sawyer, nor his family are in any real danger. Although, this cannot be said for building owner Zhao Long Ji, who becomes trapped in his penthouse on the 220th floor, and when his security staff is taken out by the team of villains, he has to rely on Will Sawyer to save him. Don’t worry! The billionaire owner of The Pearl knows who to trust at the end of the day.

While Dwayne Johnson has been relatively successful in his recent movies Rampage(see Ted Saydalavong’s review from earlier this year) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (see my review from last year), Skyscraper becomes just another film that squanders Johnson’s movie-star charisma and witty sense of humor. Apart from a few scenes where Will’s resourceful and bad-ass wife (with just a few on-screen minutes from Neve Campbell) almost single-handedly saves the day, the over-the-top CGI sequences that could have been converted to 3D and added during post production (but were not for whatever reason). The film left me wanting something more than what this scorched skyscraper disaster flick had to offer. The faster they tried to top other films in this genre in terms of sheer spectacle, the harder it became to take seriously, even as Sawyer’s children stay trapped inside the towering inferno (pun intended) facing all but certain doom. I was certain this movie was void of any character, emotion and soul from early on and sadly I was never proven wrong by the end.


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

Indie Sci-Fi Film Spotlight: HOVER – Review + Q &A with director Matt Osterman

HOVER takes place in the near future, where environmental strain has caused food shortages around the world. Technology provides a narrow path forward, with agricultural drones maximizing the yield from what land remains. Two compassionate care providers, Claudia and her mentor John, work to assist sick farmland inhabitants in ending their lives. After John dies under mysterious circumstances, a group of locals helps Claudia to uncover a deadly connection between the health of her clients and the technology they are using.

Starring: Cleopatra Coleman, Shane Coffey, Craig muMs Grant, Beth Grant
Written by: Cleopatra Coleman
Directed by: Matt Osterman

Available on VOD (Amazon) and iTUNES: July 3, 2018
Running Time: 1h 26min
Rated: Not Yet Rated

FCInterviewBanner

It’s always a pleasure to chat with writer/director Matt Osterman. He suggested we went to a boutique coffee shop called KOPPLIN’S in St Paul’s Merriam Park Neighborhood. We chatted over the refreshing Iced Chai about his new sci-fi film HOVER. It’s been over two years since I chatted with him about 400 Days, which he wrote and directed. It’s always fun to chat about movies with someone who’s passionate about storytelling and the filmmaking craft. Just like Debra Granik, Matt also lives ‘off the grid’ away from Hollywood, as he and his family resides in a Twin Cities suburbs, but that hasn’t stopped him from making movies wherever it takes him.

Quick Thoughts on HOVER:

Hover is a sci-fi thriller set in the near future. The two main characters we saw are Claudia (Cleopatra Coleman) and John (Craig muMs Grant), two caregivers who help terminally ill farmers ‘transition’ as they call it. There’s an air of mystery that something isn’t quite right, which gives that unsettling tension throughout the movie. Without giving too much away, soon Claudia has to face her suspicion about the flying drones and uncovers a conspiracy that’s more sinister than meets the eye.

What I like about HOVER is that the film doesn’t feel like a sci-fi in the traditional sense. The characters inhabit a world we’re familiar with, with a few futuristic elements thrown in. The fact that it’s set in a rural dystopia, it sets it apart from most sci-fis that are set in urban areas and immediately feels more grounded. It helps too that both Coleman and Grant are instantly likable, which makes you want to know more about their journey.

There’s genuine tension in the initial built-up, the flying drones hovering above certainly gives that voyeuristic feel. In the world we live in now, there’s that fear of ‘Big Brother’ watching over us that is relatable. There is also a subplot about Claudia involving someone she works with that adds more complexity to her character.

I do wish there’s more to the characters. It’d be great if the relationship between Claudia and John is explored a bit deeper. Shane Coffey and Beth Grant turned up midway though the film, and both add interesting dynamic to the story, though the finale gets a bit too bombastic for my taste. The flying drones also don’t seem all that menacing, though the design itself is pretty cool looking, as is the way it kills (or you could say ‘fry’) its prey.

Overall HOVER is an enjoyable sci-fi that at 86 minutes moves at a relatively breezy pace. It’s a cautionary tale about the misuse of technology, especially deadly when mixed with corporate greed, without making it feel too heavy-handed. This is the first time I saw Cleopatra Coleman and she’s certainly got a charismatic presence on screen, as well as screenwriting talent. I certainly would love to more of her work in the future.


Here’s my Q&A with Matt:

How did you become involved in this project?

I was sent the script by a producer by the name of Travis Stevens. I’ve known Travis, we’re friends of friends for a few years. He’s kind of a big deal in the indie genre world, he’s got a great taste and he’s been producing stuff that pushes the boundaries so I’ve always wanted to work with him. He approaced me with the script and later on SyFy got involved. I had heard of Cleopatra Coleman, and when I read the script I knew I wanted to play in that world, in that sandbox, so that’s why I signed on.

So Cleopatra Coleman wrote the script and did you collaborate with her?

Yes she had written the entire thing, she built that world. When I got the script, both Travis and Cleopatra said to me, ‘Hey we need some input. We’re running into some problems here, we want to flesh this out more, etc.’ So it’s a great team approach to take it to the next level.

The theme of rural dystopia is not something that’s rarely explored in sci-fi films. Movies of that genres tend to be set in a metropolitan or large cities. What’s the inspiration behind setting this story in a rural area, especially in farmlands?

Part of it is the fact that we don’t see things set in rural areas. I mean it’s easy to set things in the future in an urban setting and I find it boring. We want to make something that showed the haves and the have-nots, something that plays out in today’s society. People who have one foot in the future, one foot in the past, we wanted to explore that kind of dichotomy a little bit further.

Cleopatra actually started with these two care providers that helped transition people, but then in the rural environment there were these farm drones. She thought those farm drones were pretty interesting and she started exploring more about the drones and how they’re affecting the farm community.

So I’m curious about how you worked with this cast, especially given the fact that the lead actor also wrote the film. How did the collaboration process go in this filmmaking scenario?

Well to be honest, that was my first concern. It could go sideways in a hurry. If you butt heads, how do you work your way out of it? But luckily for us in this case, she’s an amazing collaborator. She’s totally open to ideas. On set, performances comes first for her and that’s how I wanted it to be. Every now and then, a problem or an opportunity came along and we’d have a little powow and discuss ‘Hey what can we do here? What can we do for that? So it works in our favors quite a bit and she’s able to wear multiple hats.

Cleo came from an improv background y’know, having been in the show Last Man on Earth, so she’s really quick to turn on a dime. Because she knows her character so well, having written it, it’s easy for us to play. It helps that she’s already inhabit her character when she wrote it.

Let’s talk about the drones. They look like something we’d see in the world today, it’s not too futuristic. Did you help design the drones, capturing the movements and all that?

Yeah. We wanted the technology in this world to feel utilitarian y’know, like it’s actually being used. It’s not as if some production designer just sketched something really cool and say, let’s make that a thing. We wanted the world in our movie to feel lived in and real, because when you talk about fantastical things like killer drones, we have to ground it in as much reality as possible. So we ended up hiring a technology designer, a great artist Calder Greenwood out of L.A. He built the drones, hand-built them out of found objects. The ‘eyes’ are lens from a camera, the rotors are from slide projectors, so he built them by hand. He was able to found parts so he could build multiple of them. We have a bunch of puppet drones that we could move them around in different ways, some on a string, or on a different rig and obviously the CG drone. So they did a 3D scan of the practical drone and they built things with CGI.

Where did you film this?

Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lots of Agriculture down there. I lobbied to shoot it in the Midwest but we were shooting in February and March. It’s perfect to shoot there in that time, it’s not too hot but the bugs aren’t out yet. The shoot was 21-22 days so things happened pretty fast.

What’s been the biggest challenges on set of HOVER?

The first day, there was lightning storm nearby. And when there’s lightning, you have to stop and wait like 60 minutes before you do anything. This is the first time I shot Louisiana so I didn’t know if it’s going to be a daily thing. Luckily it only happened a handful of times, but an hour is kind of a big deal when you’re filming. But I would say the hardest part was dealing with all the action stuff, you always want more time and more money to do those. We used every tools in the books to shoot those truck chase scenes. We used actual drones following the truck, but we only shot that scene in less than a day!

Is this film a cautionary tale about technology? What message does the film want to convey about today’s technology and where it’s heading?

Yes and no. First and foremost, it’s a movie and we want to have fun with it. There’s a lot of liberties you can take with a movie, because y’know, it’s a movie, it’s entertainment. At the same time, we’re entering a pretty scary period in terms of technology. There are some people in power using technology in ways that can be awfully scary.  So if there is a message, it’s about unchecked technology and people in power without repercussions can lead to some pretty bad things. I mean, just how fast technology is moving right now, I think it’ll get worse before it gets better. I’m a technology guy, I want to see progressive technology happen ‘cause it can make the world a better place. Some people say it’s already being used for its intent and purposes, it’s gonna get more powerful, faster, smaller… well, it can get creepy. I’m not really a tin foil-hat type of guy but when it comes to drones… I’m a little nervous.

Rightly so, I feel the same way. Now, I’d like to switch gear a bit and talk about you as a filmmaker. You live here in the Twin Cities, but you make films out in L.A. or elsewhere. How do you juggle your filmmaking career and being a dad/husband?

Yeah, the hardest part outside the production is finding a way you live your life while keeping all the plates spinning at the same time, so to speak. Luckily I have an amazing wife and cool kids. They get it you know, daddy has a job and he’s not a coal miner with black lungs, he’s not a soldier going overseas. He gets to make movie, which is not so bad and they can come and visit. They came once because they have school and my wife also has to work. It’s not easy during [filming] but the rest of the year, I mean I’m a writer first and foremost and you can do that from anywhere. Staying outside of the L.A. bubble also has its advantages too, so you can bring something fresh and original.

Lastly, any advice for aspiring and emerging filmmakers, esp. those living in the Twin Cities, away from the filmmaking hub of LA/NYC/Atlanta.

This industry is filled with ego-driven jerks. Don’t be one of those. Be grateful, communicate and most importantly, finish something. There’s so many people that start projects, they ask for help and support and they don’t finish. Then those people are hesitant to help them again, or anybody else. You’re just wasting people’s time. You gotta walk the walk. Lots of people come for the glory, for the fame, but you gotta come in [to the entertainment business] for the right reasons and work your tail off. It’s not easy, so don’t expect things to happen overnight.


Don’t miss the Twin Cities Screening!

Friday, July 13th, 2018
6:30pm – Red Carpet Interviews/Photos
7pm & 9pm – Screenings

 Q&A with Director after each screening

Location
Emagine/Willow Creek Theater
9900 Shelard Pkwy.
Plymouth, MN  55441
TICKETS
Earlybird (13+ yrs of age) – $10
Same Day (13+yrs of age) – $12
(TCFF Members receive complimentary admission – must pre-register)

Get Tickets »

*TCFF Members receive FREE entry. Another reason to become a member today!

HOVER is currently available on Amazon, iTunes, and VOD

FlixChatter Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

I can’t believe it’s been three years since Ant-Man came out. Perhaps because we saw the character in Captain America: Civil War, it felt like I had just seen him recently. This movie actually takes place following the aftermath of Captain America 3, which explains why Ant-Man isn’t fighting with his fellow Avengers in Infinity War.

The immensely likable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang and here he grapples with the consequences of being a superhero and a dad. I love the opening sequence of Scott playing with his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) at his well-equipped home as he’s in house arrest (due to his involvement with the Avengers). He’s only days away of being a free man when suddenly he’s dragged back into his life as Ant-Man and re-team with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

I’m not going to mention what the urgent new mission is, but those who saw the first film could probably guess what it is. Speaking of which, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as a prominent character and she’s always lovely to watch. I wish the film would just focus more on that storyline, instead of overcrowding it with multiple plots. In fact, one of the main plots involving a ghost named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase through objects is so boring and the serious tone feels off compared to the rest of the movie. Thankfully, for the most part Peyton Reed succeeded in creating yet another fun-filled Marvel adventure, thanks to the fantastic cast.

I love that this time Ant-Man sort of play second banana to The Wasp in many ways, especially during the action scenes. Hope is such a take-charge woman-with-a-mission character that she’s a natural born leader, while Scott is always one step behind. The dynamic works well and makes for some hilarious moments. Rudd is such comedic gold, even just him doing ordinary things around the house is funny! I truly can’t imagine anyone else in the role (another spot-on casting that Marvel Studios have done, just like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man). The supporting cast are a hoot just like the original. I gotta say Randall Park as an FBI agent & Lang’s parole officer and Michael Peña (with his mad rapping style) as one of Lang’s bff/business partners are especially hilarious.

The quantum realm ‘science’ of the shrinking and expanding of the characters is never clear to me but what I love is that this movie knows that full well and uses it to its advantage. “So you just put quantum in front of everything?” Scott Lang quipped at one point during the discussion w/ Hank Pym’s former assistant played by Laurence Fishburne (ahah so now we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson‘s arch rival joining Marvel too, awesome!) I think the movie’s low point is the villains, what’s with Walton Goggins playing yet another lame villain after seeing him in the Tomb Raider reboot. He plays a low-level blue-collar criminal who wants to steal Pym’s technology to sell it on the black market. He’s once again outsmarted by a woman here as his character is absolutely idiotic. That said, and even with the plots and subplots piling up, this movie still moves along at a breezy pace with dynamic action scenes. I don’t normally care for 3D but this time I didn’t mind as it actually looks good.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the action scenes, especially the main chase scene through San Francisco, showcasing some of its landmarks. All of the shrinking and expanding scenes are hilarious and a joy to watch, especially when big Ant-Man rides a pick-up truck like a kiddy scooter! Oh and I’ll never be able to stop giggling every time I hear the name Antonio Banderas now 😛

I gotta hand it to Marvel Studio honcho Kevin Feige, under his leadership the Studio really thrives in creating a plethora of movies that have its own individual style yet ties in as a whole to the Avengers’ story. Like Thor: Ragnarok, this movie is mostly a comedy but more family-friendly instead of the more sardonic style of Taika Waititi’s humor.

The Ant-Man may be tiny but this sequel sure is a huge dose of fun! I don’t even mind watching it again on the big screen. Definitely check this out if you enjoyed the first one, but even if you hadn’t seen the original, I think you’d still enjoy it. Oh and Marvel fans, you want to stay for the mid-credit scene 😉

4Reels


So have you seen Ant-Man and The Wasp? Well, what did you think?

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Leave No Trace’ review + interview w/ writer/director Debra Granik

It’s been a few months since I had the privilege to interview Debra Granik. I’m posting this today to coincide with the Twin Cities release of her latest film, Leave No Trace, tomorrow (July 6).

Thank you Minneapolis-St.Paul International Film Festival for the amazing opportunity to chat with the Oscar-nominated writer/director (forWinter’s Bone), at the MSPIFF office no less. It’s so inspiring to speak to a filmmaker who’s all about the craft of filmmaking and lives ‘off the grid’ from the Hollywood’s hustle and bustle. It’s no surprise that her film deals with the subject of living ‘off the grid,’ as she described the characters as ‘non-conformist.’

A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living in an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.

My review:

I saw this film about three months ago and it still stayed with me. As I was writing my review, it made me wish someone like Debra Granik would make more films. Leave No Trace is a film that could potentially be done in a sensationalistic way but she opted for a understated-but-effective narrative approach. Nearly a decade since her Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone, her latest narrative feature tells the story of a young girl Tom (Thomasin Mckenzie) and her war-vet father Wil (Ben Foster). The two live off the grid, led by Will’s PTSD, which has rendered him incapable of rejoining civilian life. Instead they spend their days in the wilderness, practicing survivalist skills and keeping away from the crowds.

Yes it’s slow-burn but oh it’s so worth the journey. It’s also a very quiet film, reveling in its quiet grace of the wilderness around them. The main characters barely speak but yet their scenes speak volumes and emotionally evocative. It’s not a manipulative emotion, if you will, but raw emotional beats that linger long after you watch it. The performances are remarkable. Foster is a proven talented actor but it’s newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who blew me away. We’ve seen many father/daughter narratives but here it’s explored in an unusual way. I was quite taken aback by how things unfolds and the coming-of-age storyline is brought to life in a convincing and unpredictable way.

In my interview below, filmmaker Debra Granik (who wrote the script with Anne Rosellini) said she doesn’t want to judge her characters, that is Wil’s nonconformity. Instead she wants her film to ask questions about why he does what he does and the consequence of such behavior. It’s an evocative film that really allows you to immerse yourself in the characters, and analyze your own lives. It may not be a ‘fun’ film per se, but the emotional resonance is what I love about independent cinema. Truly a respite from the endless blockbuster offerings we’re overloaded with these days.


At the time of the interview of mid April, there was swirling news of the battle between the streaming giant Netflix and Cannes Film Festival organizers. You can read this Vox.com article that explains the controversy in details, which resulted in Cannes banning films with Netflix distribution to play in any section of this year’s festival. I can’t help asking Debra how she feels about that.

Ruth: Firstly, I’m glad that your film’s going to get [limited] distribution from BLEECHER STREET. I’m always glad when films get theatrical release. Considering the Netflix/Cannes battle going on now, what are your thoughts about the whole film distribution controversy?

Debra: Since I just came from the theatre [for picture/sound check before her film screening that night], I’d love for the communal film viewing experience not to get extinct. I’d like to ask for peaceful coexistence… why does one has to stamp out the other. Why does a certain corporate model have to disavow or negate this new attempt in the digital era? Some people say ‘oh we want to resist technology’ but part of it is ambition right? I mean we’ve accepted 90% of it [the new corporate model], why not keep 10% of something from the past?

But the other question from the filmmakers perspective is… why shoot a wide shot if you’re never going to see it on a wide screen. It doesn’t mean every movie can be on the big screen, and not every film needs to be. But I believe there’s power in wide distribution, especially in documentaries that have cultural changing material in it for example. I don’t think streaming should stomp on exhibition, I don’t think exhibitors should be bullied.

R: Now, transitioning to your film. You adapted the Leave No Trace script from Peter Rock’s My Abandonment novel. What drew you to that story?

D: There were many things, but the environment in which it was told was a huge draw for me. It’s very compelling to me. That area in Oregon has a very distinct geography and climate. It’s the largest temperate rainforests that stretches from the Pacific coast all the way to California, so it’s a really important piece of the planet’s geology. So there’s this magnificent part of the continent and there’s this story about forrest dwellers. In fact there are long tradition of forest dwelling among veterans, there’s a legacy of that from the previous wars.

I was interested in the idea of nonconforming people. Especially in the digital era, what does it mean to just actually withdraw from digital connectivity. What happens if you live even one kilometers away from it? What if you think your own thoughts, it’s a big theme in the film. I love that’s the main concern of the protagonist father in the film…how will we maintain our lives when we think our own thoughts? I love that he’s trying to relay that to his daughter. Plus I’ve always enjoyed stories about fully-fledged female protagonists, so stories involving young women in it always draw my attention.

R: That’s a great segue to my next question. You discovered Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone (where she nabbed her first Best Actress Oscar nomination at the age of 20). Now you’ve discovered another great young female talent, Thomasin McKenzie. How did you find her and know she’s right for the part?

D: Well she auditioned. I did not know Tom. She’s a New Zealander and she lives in Wellington. She’s really interested in working in film, that’s her passion. She had some people who were helping her find work and they gave her the script. She responded very strongly to it, then she took the initiative and read the novel. So our initial discussion was very rich. It’s very different than just showing up to an audition where someone told you to show up at such and such time. She had wrapped her mind around the story. I knew right away she’d be very motivated to investigate the role and learn a lot of things, she’s a very un-jaded individual.

And when you’re working with young talents, you’re concerned how they’ll get support from their family. Well, her parents were remarkable. They were supportive and allowed her to travel with a friend of the family, a legal guardian, which made it so conducive to the filmmaking process. They had worked with her a lot, I mean discuss the book with her and everything.

I was interested in the idea of nonconforming people. Especially in the digital era, what does it mean to just actually withdraw from digital connectivity. What happens if you live even one kilometers away from it? What if you think your own thoughts, it’s a big theme in the film.

R: She also has a great chemistry with Ben Foster. Was he cast prior to Thomasin?

D: Yeah, there’s a lightness to her. I think people would really enjoy their relationship in the movie.

I think Ben and Thomasin were cast almost the same time. Of course in the traditional financing sense, the adult lead actor should be someone who’s ‘investible’ … someone who can be an anchor for the film, in terms of story and marketability.

R: What would you say is the main themes you want audience to come away with? I read some reviews that comment about the parenting style of Ben’s character, some say it’s a coming-of-age story.

D: I definitely didn’t intend this to be a commentary about parenting. It’s not something I’m interested in people coming away with. This is not about finding nonconforming Americans and judging them. To me, I want people to ask questions. For any work I create, I want to open a dialog. Why is he doing that? What is it about post-traumatic stress… what happens to soldiers many years after the war when they feel alienated. When the society they come from no longer offer them things they can navigate. Or the digital era comes into play and what would happen if you simply don’t want to be a part of it? I love to ask the question about kinship and loyalty. What happens if you have to diverge very distinctly from someone who loves you? How painful that would be. In fact, coming of age sometimes involves that, or you have to force yourself to emancipate because the relationship wasn’t working, it wasn’t healthy.

What has been the role of storytelling in human history? It’s to be able to ask question about how we function. Why we do what we do. The Greeks did it, every culture has done it. Those same 26 stories are in every culture. We want to know why people treat each other well, and why we don’t treat others well. Why is that? What’s going on? Why we’re so sensitive, why we get hurt so easily? Why we experience bouts of courage? Those are all those why, we’re in permanent why state.

What has been the role of storytelling in human history? It’s to be able to ask question about how we function.

R: I love thought-provoking stories that really made you analyze your own lives. Now, it’s been nearly a decade since Winter’s Bone (2010) and this is your first narrative feature since then. I know you did Stray Dog documentary and a documentary series (Independent Lens). What has been the biggest challenge for you in finding projects to do next? Or are you really picky?

D: I am picky. I have read stuff that don’t interest me and I’ve also been in meetings or get involved extensively in a certain project, but then the way they want to make it doesn’t sync up… or the nature of who might be involved feels a bit overloaded for my circuits, it would require working in a way that doesn’t interest me. Just like the character [of Ben Foster’s] maybe, I want to remain outside of the celebrity culture, the star system. Because I feel like there are stories that are told in the margin, I think we need biodiversity. I think it requires that some of us [filmmakers] remain at the margin and make our work there.

For narratives, it requires a certain amount of money, the union crews, there’s a price tag that you can calculate, right across the board on that. So narrative films does take a long time to garner that money, but for documentaries it’s a bit more immediate  to start, so I always like to have something in that world going so that I can keep working. So I can wake up at 5 in the morning and haul heavy equipment into the world and try to do my job. You don’t want to lose that part of your chops.

R: Let’s talk about the wilderness, the woods, which is almost a character in itself. I love how atmospheric it is, I could almost feel the misty air, the dampness. 

D: To work in a rainforest, it’s almost a miraculous photogeneity. You never get tired. The local crew loves their forests. They’d be like, ‘Debra you’ve got to capture this dripping moss.’ The B cameras were extraordinary, whenever they have down time they’d roll off some shots which was wonderful. The opening scenes have a lot of their photography. Our DP (Michael McDonough, who also worked on Winter’s Bone) liked to collaborate with his entire crew, he likes everyone to have their own creative moments when they can.

R: Speaking of which, we have a lot of beautiful nature here in Minnesota. Would you ever consider filming here one day?

D: Oh I would love to! I’d love to capture snow and you wouldn’t need to get a snow machine here. I would love to do a film in Minnesota, there are limitless themes to explore here. Really, there’s not a state I wouldn’t want to film on. If I could live longer I’d love to do a film in a whole bunch of them.

R: Speaking of which, we have a lot of beautiful nature here in Minnesota. Would you ever consider filming here one day?

D: Oh I would love to! I’d love to capture snow and you wouldn’t need to get a snow machine here. I would love to do a film in Minnesota, there are limitless themes to explore here. Really, there’s not a state I wouldn’t want to film on. If I could live longer I’d love to do a film in a whole bunch of them.


Thanks so much Debra for chatting with me.


LEAVE NO TRACE is currently on limited theatrical release.
It opens Friday July 6, at the Uptown Theatre.