FlixChatter Review – AHOCKALYPSE (2018)

guestpost

Directed By: Wayne Harry Johnson Jr.
Written By: Wayne Harry Johnson Jr., Craig Patrick (story by)
Runtime: 1 hour 19 minutes

Comedy isn’t an easy film genre to get right, and horror comedy is even more difficult. Striking a balance can be challenging, and there’s a fine line between poking fun at horror tropes and being mean-spirited about them. Fortunately, Ahockalypse manages to knock it out of the park…er, hit it out of the rink.
The film follows hockey teammates Jonesy (Jesse Rennicke), BJ (Squall Charlson), Wave (Alex Galick), their host mom, Mrs. Johnson (Gabrielle Arrowsmith), and a mysterious girl (Lindsey Kuehl) as they try to make their way to the safety of the hockey rink after the town is overrun by zombies. In addition to fighting the undead, the group must contend with a pair of idiotic bullies from the opposing team (Matthew Ford and Paulo Martins), a menacing strip club owner (Kelly Wendlandt), and Jonesy’s frighteningly controlling girlfriend, Jenny (Kaylee Williams).

I do have to start out by saying the production quality is pretty low. It’s not quite as obvious in the exterior shots, but most of the film quality is rough. The special effects aren’t awful-the zombie makeup is great-but there’s a bit of computer-animated blood splatter that looks a little cheesy. The sound mixing is an issue too; there are several moments where the score, as fun and wonderfully campy as it is, drowns out the dialogue. That said, this is an independent film with an independent film budget, and Ahockalypse proves that if a movie has strong enough acting and and entertaining enough writing, certain technical shortcomings can be overlooked.

Acting-wise, the entire cast is strong. The camraderie between the teammates and Mrs. Johnson feels genuine, and they all work off of each other really well. That said, there are a few stand-out performances. Lindsay Kuehl as Girl #3, the mysterious young woman who tags along with the group for most of the movie, barely has any lines, but she still manages to get a lot of laughs without being over-the-top. She revealed in a Q&A following the movie that she originally went to the casting call to be a background zombie and ended up landing a bigger role, and the movie is definitely better for it.

Alex Galick as Wave

Kaylee Williams as Jenny is fantastic, striking a perfect balance between irritating and menacing; she especially shines in the “engagement party” scene with Jonesy and her zombie father (Chris Charais). The scene stealer, though, is Alex Galick as Wave. His comedic timing is incredible, his line delivery is hilarious, and his facial expressions are priceless. While the whole cast is excellent, he easily made me laugh the hardest.

Writing-wise, the plot is as straightforward as the synopsis makes it sound-hockey players fight zombies-but you can tell the script is a labor of love for both horror fans and hockey fans. It both pokes fun at zombie movie tropes and embraces them, which can be hard to do in a horror comedy without coming across as lazy or hypocritical.

There are a ton of hockey references in the movie as well; I couldn’t tell you a single one, because I am the least sports-y person you will ever meet, but the filmmakers mentioned in the Q&A that there were a lot of hockey references throughout the film, and the fact that they managed to include so many without alienating the non-hockey fans in the audience is a credit to the writers.

Ahockalypse is definitely worth checking out. It’s a genuinely funny, enjoyable zombie flick.

The film is now available for purchase now on DVD or
on VOD through iTunes and Amazon.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘AHOCKALYPSE’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: MILE 22 (2018)

When an action film is released late in the summer season, it’s usually a lower budget fare that studios doesn’t want to spend too much money promoting it and the movie itself is not that good. This latest team up between BFFs Marky Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg definitely falls into those categories.

James Silva (Wahlberg) is a leader of a special elite military force called Overwatch, think of this group as the ‘Impossible Mission Force’ but works with the military instead of intelligence agency. After completing a mission that didn’t go smoothly in the States, he and his team are now working in an unnamed Southeast Asian country trying to find missing deadly chemicals.

His second in command agent Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) has an asset within the local government named Li Noor (Iko Uwais), who has a disc containing information on where to find the missing chemicals. Noor will unlock the disc when he’s out of the country and on his way to the States. With no time to waste, Silver and his team has no choice but to escort Noor to an airport and keep him alive from assassins working for the local government. With the help from Overwatch’s technical team and its leader Bishop (John Malkovich, wearing a ridiculous wig), Silver and his team must navigate through the city and avoid being killed.

There’s not much of a plot here, it’s a pretty simple story and I don’t think screenwriter Lea Carpenter really care to expand much beyond it’s simple storyline. Carpenter did include tons of F-bombs in the dialog and not much else. For a movie with not much of a plot, director Peter Berg decided to ramp up the violence and made sure this movie earns its R rating. Unfortunately, Berg didn’t get the memo that it’s 2018 and not 2008. The action scenes in this movie reminded me of last decade’s unwatchable fast editing, up-close shots and shaky cam style that ruined most of action films from the 2000s. By trying to make action scenes look exciting, Berg used several camera angles and most the frantic sequences were either incoherence or just plain ugly to watch. I think directors who’s going to direct an action film should watch the last couple of Mission: Impossible films and take notes on how to shoot action scenes correctly.

As for the performances, Wahlberg is basically playing the same type of roles just like his other flicks. His character in this movie supposed to have some sort of bi-polar condition so all he did in the movie was either yelling at people or being a smart ass. I like Lauren Cohan in The Walking Dead but here she seems to be out of her elements. They did try to give her character some background, but it just didn’t work for me. Iko Uwais didn’t have a lot of dialog, he was mostly used for the hand-to-hand combat scenes. Malkovich wasn’t on the screen that much but he does appear, I tried not to laugh because his haircut just looks ridiculous.

Mile 22 could’ve been a good action thriller if they had gotten a better crew to work on it. Berg tried to make a cool espionage picture, but he also tried to make it more realistic and the results was just silly. The movie also lacks any true villains and since we’re in the era of franchise building, this one ended with a cliffhanger and twist that I think most people will see it coming way before it ended. Apparently, it’s supposed to be a trilogy and I don’t think I’d care to see anymore adventures of the Overwatch team.

TedS_post


So have you seen MILE 22? Well, what did you think?

Indie Filmmaker Spotlight: Michael Driscoll – Q&A on his short films ‘Two Black Coffees’, ‘To The Boats’ & more

Hello everyone!

Welcome to a new edition of FlixChatter Interview! Typically I’d do a spotlight on a certain film, whether it’s shorts or features, but today we have something special in that I’m showcasing an indie filmmaker and talk about his experience as a filmmaker, as well as highlight some of the projects he’s working on.

I’m thrilled to have LA-Based, British filmmaker Michael Driscoll to kicks off FlixChatter’s Indie Filmmaker Spotlight.

I’m such a big fan of the historical drama show BORGIA (the one by Canal+ which you can watch on Netflix). Watch its international title sequence below that Michael himself shot (beware, it’s NSFW given the rather graphic and provocative nature of the show):

….

This year, Michael was chosen to be a part of the BAFTA Los Angeles Newcomers Program 2018/2019, a four-year new talent initiative, recognizing and supporting international professionals and students who have recently moved to L.A. to further their development and career. He’s one of the 15 directors to be a part of this prestigious program. You can read more about it in Variety, as well as Deadline.

I had the privilege to have an extensive chat with Michael both via email as well as Skype last week. We had been planning to do the interview for months but due to his globe-trotting schedule and me working on a new short film, I’m glad we’re finally able to do it. It was already 11PM in London when we did the Skype, yet Michael was still excited to talk about his work [sign of a passionate filmmaker!] and we ended up chatting well over an hour.

Given the length of this interview, it’ll be broken up into multiple sections. We start with the conversation about his involvement with working as the 2nd Unit Director of the BORGIA series, created by Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere, Homicide Life On the Street, Oz, etc.).

Q. Firstly, I’d like to commend you on your tremendous work in BORGIA. It’s one of my fave shows ever, it’s bold, brutal, beautiful, and indelible. How did you end up being involved on that show? 

I was lucky to work on BORGIA. I had a girlfriend who was hired on the show during preproduction of season 1, so every weekend over a long summer I flew from London to Prague to see her. Naturally, I met several producers from Canal+. Before long they got to know me, and at some point I’d heard they’d seen my Gil Scott Heron documentary that I shot at RSA Films, and were impressed with it. They asked me to shoot a similar thing of Tom Fontana as promo material for BORGIA.

Before I knew it, I was on a flight from Prague to New York, meeting Tom at his office. The next stop was Paris to meet Canal+ and Atlantique productions. It was a bit of a whirlwind at first, I had no idea if I’d got a job on the show. Just before the start of shooting, I got a call saying I‘d been hired; I had to fly back to Prague immediately and get myself on the set. A baptism of fire, so to speak. Excuse the pun…

To end up as 2nd Unit director, it was a variety of reasons. Firstly, I loved the scripts, and working on the show. I was already a massive fan of Tom’s work; I watched OZ as a teenager when it was broadcast on Channel 4 on Friday nights in the UK… I was very keen to be involved in BORGIA and I think he knew that. I mean, I think my constant enthusiasm on set on a daily basis must’ve been quite irritating!

Aside from that, I was familiar with the content. Being a Fine Art graduate, I’d studied the early Renaissance, and knew about the Borgia family, including the other great houses of Italy of that time. I was already quite well versed in the subject matter and I remember being interested to see where production would take it, how far they would push it and so forth. Also, coming from a background in the Art Department, seeing the production design evolve, kept me so much in the loop and close to production. I think people knew I cared a lot about the show and wanted to contribute more.

I also think that by directing ZDF’s commercial campaign first, before doing any 2nd unit, I showed I could collaborate with the cast and crew, and handle the full strains of the responsibilities. It was intense, we were mostly handling everything separately from the BORGIA production, having to deal with the necessities that ZDF needed, yet still working around the main unit schedule. This was all with my own crew, which in a way was a kind of second unit in itself… with the success of that campaign I had confidence to do more.

During season 1, I was asked to shoot a scene with Dearbhla Walsh, a director I really looked up to. She wanted me to capture certain elements and angles for a stunt, which turned out well. When season 2 came along, I had a chat with Tom, he wanted to utilize me on a separate unit for several scenes in Italy, and it just kicked on from there. He trusted to put me on a larger role, as did Dearbhla, and other directors like Christoph Schrewe. In a way I was kind of shadowing them on set in the first place, I had become accustomed to their shooting styles and their way of working, so it felt only natural to kick on and use their advice for my 2nd Unit work, which was for their episodes as well. I definitely had my own approach to what I wanted to shoot, but I was very lucky to have the backing of Tom and the other directors. We were all so close from working together for so long, the trust was already there. We were like a huge family, working on the most amazing production in the most incredible locations, all eating together in fantastic restaurants and traveling across Europe… We were definitely spoiled.

TWO BLACK COFFEES

A desperate woman has one moment of chance to escape her domineering husband, and into the arms of her secret lover.

dgss

Q. So the cast of Two Black Coffees are all from that show. How did they get involved in this short?

TWO BLACK COFFEES was my first short film. I was inspired on many levels. I was living in Prague, an stunning city, working on BORGIA with so many brilliant actors, and a great crew, I just wanted to capture what it was like for us all to be living and working over there in such a timeless and unique location.

Having access to this cast was a real treat. It started at Art Malik’s apartment, which was in the old town of Prague; he encouraged me to start writing a script. So every weekend, after shooting BORGIA in crazy cold weather locations, I went over to his place and he inspired me to jot down some ideas. Thinking of what BORGIA cast could work for distinctive roles in the film was basically easy because we were all good friends on and off the set.

Marta Gastini

The cast were all supportive and enthusiastic about making this film. Marta Gastini was the lead, and the prime focus of the story; so without her on board I wouldn’t have done it. She was really happy to be involved, and her approach to the character was amazing. All the cast said yes immediately. Mark Ryder was probably the trickiest to convince to do the film, only because his shooting schedule on BORGIA at that time was intense, and he was worried about fully committing to this project. We ended up shooting around his availability, which added a day to our schedule. As soon as he stepped on board, he really hit his stride and made the role his own.

Working with the cast prior was a major plus for this film. Obviously, it was my first short; I had a clear visual idea and quite an ambiguous approach to each of the characters, so I relied on them to add elements themselves. At first I thought this’d be difficult, but it was the opposite – all the cast refined their roles and worked on spins for each character. I think they were also intrigued to see what I was cooking up for my first short. Marta in particular put in a lot of time and energy into the film, she was amazing. It was a physically demanding role for her; we definitely put her through her paces!

Art Malik

I was lucky that they were all keen. In fact, when word on the BORGIA set got around that we were making this short – several other actors suddenly asked me to write them parts! I actually had to turn down quite a few big-name BORGIA cast!
As soon as we got permission to use the cast by Tom Fontana and Michael Schwarz from the BORGIA production, it literally was all systems go.

How was your experience with Stanley Weber? He’s quite well known to US audiences from his work in Outlander 2. Did you have him in mind to play the bad guy because of his role as Juan Borgia on the show?

Yeah, Stanley was great, it was a no-brainer to ask him to do it. I‘d helped him shooting several of his auditions on tape when we were in Prague, so we already had fun working together. We had yet to shoot a scene together On BORGIA, at that particular stage, so it was more exciting for me to get to collaborate with him solely for TWO BLACK COFFEES.

He actually wanted to play the bad guy! He had his heart set on that role from day one, and we discussed how to refine the character with his stoic looks, malevolent actions, things like that. He had a very clear idea on his costume, which looked great in post when we had refined the grade to monochrome. He created a stylish character with real spite and dark intentions. It was great.

Stanley Weber

He was also a good laugh on set. We actually shot his bathroom scene first before anything else, which was at Barrandov Studios in Prague, directly after Stanley had shot a long day of shooting on BORGIA. I had to wait until he’d wrapped, then his makeup and hair was changed for us, and then we finally shot the scene.

On Stanley’s main shoot day in the cafe, he had a lot of fun with the role and enjoyed working with Marta. A lot of the shots in his scenes were precise and technical due to the nature of the noir feel of things. But it was great! He’s also super happy with the final film.

Q. The setting in Prague is absolutely stunning. Did you already have the script ready before you find the location or did the location drive the story?

It was all about the timing. I wanted to take advantage of the beauty of the city by shooting there. It was perfect for a film noir. All the pieces were just nicely in place for a nice short production like TWO BLACK COFFEES.

The location drove elements of the aesthetic: Prague has such a unique look and feel to it, a beautifully low-hanging light as well which highlights the architecture. It’s also really easy to film there. I found that a lot of the crew there are masters of their craft. Costumiers, lighting technicians, grips – they have a wonderful working ethic there.

Shooting across the city wasn’t a problem at all; we had no interruptions, no interference, even with the well-known actors like John Doman and Art Malik on the set. In terms of the story, yes, Prague has that moody copacetic feel to it, so we adapted the location to the script, which kept evolving right up to the shoot.

Q. What made you decide to set it in Black & White with no dialog?

I’m a huge fan of film noir and black and white movies. I don’t think there are enough these days! Perhaps there was a concern that contemporary black and white films wouldn’t get a decent box office, but there’s been a change in the trend recently. I watched the monochrome versions of Logan: Noir and Mad Max: Fury Road in ‘Black and Chrome’ and thought they were amazing. I had several influences for this film. The Third Man, elegantly shot, full of surprises, copacetic and enigmatic, has a lingering sense of dread. Coppola’s Tetro was another key reference, in terms of its slick style and deeply troubled characters. The disjointed narrative in Martha Marcy May Marlene had the audience constantly guessing. Memento was great in it’s nonlinear storytelling. The aim was to apply and combine these elements to a femme fatale story.

In terms of zero dialog – again, the aesthetic of the city helped, it made me think, well why don’t we go FULL noir and try and make it even more nostalgic?? It also gave me more control on the set – without sound department, I could just concentrate on getting the shot composition and working directly with the actors.

Q. Your short deals with a woman trying to escape her domineering husband and meeting her secret lover, but given that your film is silent. What’s the biggest challenges in storytelling sans dialog? 

There are definitely several challenges shooting without dialogue. It was a good lesson in performance direction – I was dealing with such high-level acting talent, my first short, I wanted to make it right, y’know? I wanted to make sure I could get the best performances and work on delivery without dialogue. The actors appreciated that and I think it was a good exercise for them.

Michael on set with Marta Gastini

When you shoot without dialogue, you really have to make sure the story is tight. Another important aspect was to heighten the characters reactions in certain scenes. They are literally telling the story with their actions, expressions and movements, we knew where to be expositional and where to be ambiguous with their movement. And I think they loved that. It was good exercise for them.

To make things even more confusing, this film has a nonlinear timeline. So I storyboarded everything, to make it all clear to the cast what was happening in each scene. They got it pretty much straight away.

Tell me a bit about the music used in this film, which is so perfect and adds so much to the atmosphere.

Music is extremely important, especially on a production where there’s no dialogue. I had a specific style in mind of what I wanted for the score. The fact that the film isn’t told in a linear way, made it important to highlight in the music. For this film, I was looking for something quite close to 1930’s or 40’s French jazz, but something a little colder and more hollow.

Something like Hermann’s themes in Taxi Driver. These elements needed to merge with darker synths and droning, pulsing beats.

Some references I had in mind were Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien 3 soundtrack, The New Division, who had some excellent atmospheric and almost dream-like tracks with wind chimes and harps. This kind of stuff with a Trent Reznor-feel was what I was after. Popul Vuh was also a major influence, and something our composer Nick Donnelly immediately used as a key reference.

The results are really cool. Nick had created a fantastic score, with so much atmosphere and depth. It was brilliant working with him, he was actually recommended to me by Scott William Winters, one of the actors in BORGIA. Nick and I have continued to work on two more shorts together. As for sound design, we worked with Ivan Oberholster, who did a phenomenal job in bringing everything together.

 

TO THE BOATS

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the premise about a post-Brexit civil war film? What inspired you to write that story?

Obviously, with Brexit looming on the horizon, this is a story about a worst-case scenario. In this world, it’s dystopian, it’s bleak, it’s basically our nightmares come true. A civil war! What was important when we were developing the film was that we wanted to show how divided the country would still be, even years after Brexit itself. We have characters in this story, that even in war, are extremely divided, which of course is an allegory for the current state of affairs in the UK right now. Also in this story, which I think is pretty ironic, is that immigrants are the forces who choose to rise up and fight against the British government, in an effort to take Britain back into the EU.

So we have characters that are forced into a war that they may or may not have even wanted, literally stuck in an almost apocalyptic-style country. On top of that, we wanted to show high levels of desperation in each of these characters. Another thing that was interesting to me was, if you’re at war, and faced directly with your enemy on an even level, in an isolated setting, what would you do? Would you have empathy? Would you help? We definitely wanted to address that in this short story.

The other thing that was quite inspiring was the location itself. The producers had scouted Lewes, on the south coast of England, and found some otherworldly shooting locations, which were so awesome. At the time we had a really cold Spring season, which made all these places look quite eerie on camera, it was a perfect setting.

Tell me about the casting process for this one, particularly about the lead actress Coco König?

I’m really proud of the casting for this project. It’s a small cast but worked out nicely. I’d always wanted to work on something with Danny Szam, who I met on BORGIA when he played the role of Michelangelo. In this film the role of Ben needed anxiety, paranoia and aggression, which Danny could definitely play around with in his performance. A chunk of the story is told through Ben’s perspective, who’s forced to hide his past actions. Danny was brilliant at harnessing these multilayered emotions on camera.

I met James Robinson a few years ago through Danny, and always wanted to work with him. I thought he could bring a balance of power and sensitivity to the role of Jonny. James is a fantastic actor to collaborate with, he really pushed the role and offered a broad and interesting insight into one of these torn characters.

For this project we were working with Louise Collins, a casting director I’d worked with on THE PERFECT ORCHID in California. Louise set up a casting for the role of Sam, and we saw so many different actresses. A lot of the auditions were great, but Coco König definitely stood out – she offered a completely different approach to the role, and a range that I was really impressed with, immediately she was my first choice. The character was originally written as a tough girl, almost Lara Croft type, but Coco gave us a totally contrasting portrayal that worked perfectly: a character who seems naïve, trusting and a little vulnerable at first, and then switches into something else entirely. It was precisely what we were looking for. Her performance had realistic conviction; in the script her character negotiates with two random men, so she needed to have a mixture of iron will and nervousness – and she performed this superbly. We were very happy with her work.

Coco König in TO THE BOATS

An initial idea was to not introduce the two guys to Coco before the shoot, and not do a cast rehearsal, to create a degree of separation, to see if we could get any raw animosity or heighten the element of surprise with these characters on the shoot. Louise disagreed and suggested we do a rehearsal beforehand, which was a way better idea! The cast rehearsal perfected the timing of the scenes. These characters have a lot of layers to them, and have to express that, along with the exposition of the storyline, yet obviously trying to keep some things as ambiguous as we could. The timing proved crucial because on the actual shoot day, of course due to schedule constraints we had only a certain amount of time to do their scenes together.

Some casting choices obviously don’t work out as well as you might have planned, especially in short film productions with intense quick turnovers, but for this film I couldn’t have been happier. I definitely want to work with these guys again; they’re my good friends now.


Q. What are some of your films and filmmakers influences? How do you stay inspired and motivated as an indie filmmakers?

To be honest, I try not to do the same thing twice: ideally I want all of my films to be completely different to one another. Danny Boyle is a great example of this. His films are wildly different; he is able to jump into completely contrasting genres, which I think is amazing and inspiring.

My style is constantly evolving. I started off as a visual director and now I feel I can contribute more substance to storytelling. I wouldn’t put myself in a particular bracket of style, but then it’s hard for me to judge. Obviously I’m currently focusing on several genres; mystery, thriller, noir… I’ve been told by my DPs that I have quite a classic, 1970s style approach to my camera setups, which is definitely a compliment! Most of my projects are high-tempo, high-intensity dramas with characters stuck in a scenario that gets worse, over their heads, causing them to fall into desperate measures. Maybe that’s the best way to describe my style at the moment.

I stay motivated because this is what I love doing! I can’t imagine doing anything else. I grew up in this industry, my dad and my granddad both worked in the Art Department, so it’s all I’ve wanted to do. I keep up with current trends and I’m always on the lookout for a cool story to turn into a film.

Q. What’s next for you? Are you working on another short film or tv series?

In terms of stuff that’s finished – I have another short called BE RIGHT BACK, which is a dark comedy about a really bad dad.

I’m currently working on several other projects; some are due for release in 2018. POD DAMNED, a short rom-com about a couple trying to get it on listening to podcasts, BREAK IN BREAK OUT, an 80’s themed, short horror/thriller, about a house burglary gone horribly wrong, shot in Toronto, a film I’m looking forward to finishing. It has over 150 VFX shots and a noticeable John Carpenter style to it. These two are very close to completion.

Danny Szam in TO THE BOATS

Aside from TO THE BOATS, I have one other film that I’m working on; a western called THE PERFECT ORCHID. It’s set 10 years in the future and is about the opioid issue in America. It’s shot on super16mm film on location in Joshua Tree, and also has Mark Ryder and Diarmuid Noyes back from BORGIA and TWO BLACK COFFEES. This one is going to have a really unique look to it.

In addition, we’re also in development with several projects that I’m writing and directing. Hopefully you’ll see one in a festival soon!

If you could choose only ONE of your short films to be made into a feature with a budget up to $30mil, which one would you choose to do?

That’s a good question. I think the easiest to turn into a feature would probably be the horror film BREAK IN BREAK OUT, it’s a short story that can easily be expanded, and would definitely be a very tense, suspenseful horror / thriller, which would be really cool…. But, if I had a budget of $30 million (which would be amazing), I’d probably say the best one to turn into a feature would be THE PERFECT ORCHID. It’s a western detective story with so many varied elements and complex characters; the plot would be ideal for a feature. Coupled with the fact that the storyline is about the opioid problem in America, and its set in the future, there’s so much more that could be explored in that project. I think it could be well served to expand into a full-length film; it would be really cool to see. Plus, it’d be awesome to put on the cowboy boots and shoot a western again!

HUGE THANKS to Michael Driscoll for the insightful & fun interview!


Two Black Coffees screening at Twin Cities Film Fest!

Michael with FlixChatter team Nick and Ruth at TCFF

Thanks to FlixChatter’s Media Correspondent Nick Raja for the red carpet interview with Michael just before the film’s TCFF screening on Thursday, October 25.

There’s some issues to the red carpet video, but you can take a listen to the audio interview below:



Hope you enjoyed this Indie Filmmaker Spotlight series…
there’s more to come!

FlixChatter Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Ok so first, a confession. Even though my bestie had lent me her book of Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians over a month ago, telling me to read it before the movie opened, I didn’t get a chance to do so. I finally started reading it right after I got home from the advanced screening… and suffice to say I’ve become a bit obsessed with anything CRA. In the weeks following to its release, the buzz has been strong, and it keeps building up steadily. Naturally, being that I’m likely the only Southeast Asian film blogger here in town (as well as one of the few SE Asian filmmakers), I can’t help feeling giddy about this movie.

A bunch of reports surrounding this movie has pointed out that it’s been 25 years since Joy Luck Club was released that we have a big studio-backed Hollywood film based on a book by an Asian author, featuring a mostly East-Asian cast, and directed by an Asian director. It’s impossible to dispute the historical importance of this movie in terms of representation, which comes at the perfect time as there’s growing pressure in Hollywood to feature greater diversity on screen. For me personally, it feels incredible to see so many characters who look like me reflected on the big screen!

But setting all of that aside, every film still has to be judged on its merit. Yes, it’s an important film, but is it any good?

Well I’m happy to report that (borrowing from Ken Jeong‘s line in the movie) HELLS YEAH! It’s perhaps the best rom-coms I’ve seen in a good long while. It has the exact mix of romance AND comedy, wrapped in a lavish, colorful and vibrant concoction. It’s extravagant surely, over the top even, but the ‘go big or go home’ sensibility seems appropriate here. Can love actually conquers all? When the economic and social class is SO wide, would true love suffice?

The film’s protagonist is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a NYU economics professor whose life is about to be turned upside down when her dreamy boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) takes her to Singapore to attend his bestie’s wedding. Somehow Nick’s been able to conceal the fact that his family is not just rich or filthy rich, but crazy rich. But thanks to an astute family acquaintance who eavesdropped when he was at a Manhattan, everyone in his social circle learn that Nick is coming home with his girlfriend in tow. I love the way director Jon M. Chu showcases the way the news goes viral on screen, which serves as a way to display local flavor in its expression, i.e. alamak which is an expression akin to OMG used by Malay and Singaporean people.

As someone who wasn’t born in the US but came here for college, I feel like I’m always in two worlds, never quite belonging anywhere. So Rachel’s fish-out-of-water story strikes a chord with me, and Wu deftly displays a sense of alienation in her performance. Soon she realizes who she’s dealing with. ‘I didn’t know you’re like the Prince William of Asia,’ she tells Nick, to which he quickly replies, ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous, I’m more of a Harry.’ The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this fairy tale, given we just saw Prince Harry married ‘commoner’ Meghan Markle just this past Spring. In many ways, CRA follows the familiar tropes of a rom-com, yet Chu and writers Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to transcend the genre with astute social class commentary. It’s Cinderella meets Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, but yet maintain its own uniqueness in terms of voice and style.

Wu and Golding has a sweet, charming chemistry together that makes you root for them to be together. It’s a crucial ingredient in any rom-com which this movie gets right. As the breakout star of Fresh Off The Boat, Wu seems like the natural choice, but casting Golding, an unknown talent who’s never acted before in a film, is a brave move that pays off amazingly. The British-Malaysian former travel presenter is easy on the eyes with a killer smile, even killer voice, and has that Classic Hollywood look about him. I call him the Asian Gregory Peck. I’m curious to see him in other roles in the future, certainly a fresh new leading man we could use more of in Hollywood.

The movie also benefits from a plethora of memorable supporting characters. Michelle Yeoh is perfectly icy as Nick’s strictly-principled and dutiful mother. Her resentment towards Rachel is more than just cattiness, and even when she’s at her most severe, I can’t help but sympathize with her. I have to say I can’t get enough of Awkwafina as Rachel’s hysterical bestie Peik Lin. I feel like she barely had any screen time as the token Asian character in Ocean’s 8, so I’m glad to see her show her comedic chops to perfection here. She and the notoriously farcical Ken Jeong as Peik Lin’s dad provide some of the funniest bits in the movie. The makeover scene with Nick’s ‘rainbow sheep of the family’ cousin Oliver (Nico Santos) is a hoot! All the ladies playing Nick’s relatives also provide a ton of comic relief. I do have to mention Lisa Lu as Ah Ma, Nick’s powerful grandma, who often reminds me of my own.

I absolutely adore the luminous Gemma Chan as Nick’s fave cousin/confidante Astrid. In houte couture, the jet-setting heiress is the epitome of elegance, grace and sophistication. Her crumbling marriage to her handsome-but-not-so-rich husband (Pierre Png) sends a not-so-subtle message that nobody’s life is perfect and even the ultra rich have problems like the rest of us. Chan’s performance is tinged with the right amount of poignancy and melancholy.

This movie lives up to its title in more ways than one. Obviously the set pieces, costumes, cars, palatial houses, etc. potently gives us a glimpse of how the crazy rich live. Then there’s the obnoxiously-crazy behaviors of Nick’s relatives, especially the imbecile frat-boys led by Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang). Nick practically has to escape the outrageous, hedonistic bachelor party with his groom-to-be BFF Colin (Chris Pang) which leads to a rare quiet moment in the movie.

The sheer absurdity of the crazy rich lifestyle is not lost on the filmmakers, as they unabashedly poke fun at them with zippy one-liners. There’s even a hilarious line poking fun of Donald Trump’s bathroom. The movie does an amazing job in showing the class structures within the rich society, something that Rachel isn’t at all familiar with. It’s as if we, the general audience, is living vicariously through her as she’s trying to navigate her way in this ultra-exclusive club.

What I admire most about this movie is that, amidst the world of high fashion and dizzying parties, the richly-drawn characters remain front and center. Despite the razzle-dazzle glamor, it never feels like the movie is style-over-substance because we’re always reminded of what’s at stake. The filmmakers did a good job to make me feel invested in Rachel & Nick’s story, as well as in their respective families’. The mahjong scene towards the end is an emotional one that packs so much cultural & personal significance, down to that one quick glance between the two mothers. I appreciate that Kwan’s book and the movie portray various multi-dimensional, complex women with formidable inner strength. It’s one of the rare rom-coms that is not about the girl chasing the boy, but a girl finding her self worth.

But you can’t review this movie without mentioning the amazing visuals. It’s really a treat for the senses. The cinematography by Vanja Cernjul is breathtakingly beautiful. I haven’t been in Singapore in years and it looks like a fantasy land in this movie. The music by Brian Tyler is fun, energetic but also romantic. In fact, I was enjoying the soundtrack on youtube as I was writing my review. I love Kina Grannis‘s gorgeous cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love during the wedding scene.

I don’t usually say much about box office numbers in my review. But I am SO rooting for this film to do well. Obviously, all the studio execs see is green, so there’s a lot at stake in terms of its box office performance whether they’d think it’s viable business to have make Hollywood movies with predominantly Asian cast like this one. I honestly believe the success of this movie would have a big impact in diversity and inclusion in storytelling, not just for Asians but for every content creator, talents and moviegoers of color.

On top of its historical significance, Crazy Rich Asians is a great movie, period. I laughed, I cried, sometimes both at the same time. Thanks Jon M. Chu and the phenomenal cast, it’s such a joyful experience that’s both funny AND romantic. I sure hope there’ll be a trilogy just like the books!


Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians yet? I’d love to hear what you think!
……

FlixChatter Review – The Meg (2018)

guestpost

The Meg, short for “megalodon,” refers to a massive prehistoric shark dwelling below what scientists initially believed to be the ocean floor. When a team of explorers is trapped in their submarine and at the mercy of the enormous creature, it’s up to disgraced deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to save them.

On a scale of Jaws to Sharknado, this movie is closer to the latter half. The acting quality is mixed. Leading man Statham is pretty much what you would expect. We see his abs. We have trouble understanding what he says in his gravelly voice and thick British accent. He gives a fun performance, if not necessarily memorable. Bingbing Li is a great leading lady as Suyin; she gives a genuine, dynamic, likable perfomance. The supporting cast is mostly decent, especially the delightful Page Kennedy as DJ, who has some solid comedic timing, but Ruby Rose as Jaxx is painfully boring; she’s always cast as the sarcastic cool girl and gives the same one-note performance every time, and this role is no exception. The one time she has to show any real emotion is embarrassingly bad; she has the least convincing “crying” face I have ever seen.

The movie is also a mess writing-wise, mostly due to sloppy pacing. At first it seems like the focus will be on rescuing the trio (Jessica McNamee as Lori, Masi Oka as Toshi, and Olafur Darri Olafsson as The Wall), but that is resolved surprisingly quickly and the focus shifts to finding and killing the shark, which you think will be the focus for the rest of the movie, but then (spoiler warning: highlight to read) they kill it barely over halfway through the movie only to discover there’s a second meg!

It’s a pretty lame twist to begin with, but to introduce it so far from the ending is extra weird. It would have been more effective if they had made the rescue mission at the beginning longer; not only does spending more time in the isolated setting make the conflict more suspenseful, but making it longer would help balance the “hunt and kill” portion of the story.

All that said, The Meg is visually impressive. The CGI is excellent and believable, thanks in large part to mostly showing the shark in quick, brief shots or extremely close up or in shadowy underwater shots, so it’s easy to forget it’s computer-animated. The deep sea environment is beautifully haunting and imaginative without feeling unrealistic. While releasing so many feature films in IMAX often feels overdone, it’s absolutely warranted in this case, because the visuals are so much more breathtaking.

While The Meg is by no means a brilliant movie, it’s still a cool one to see on the big screen. If you enjoy cheesy action flicks and well-done CGI, you’ll like this one.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘The Meg’? Well, what did you think? 

Twin Cities Film Fest Fall Preview Gala 2018 kicks off September 6 w/ special guest Steve Zahn!

The Twin Cities Film Fest is thrilled to announce that acclaimed actor and Minnesota native Steve Zahn will be the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented each year at the organization’s annual Festival Preview Gala which kicks off the new TCFF season.

Limited tickets is available here for the Thursday, Sept 6. dinner;  all proceeds go to the organization to support expanded programming and educational events.

Over the past 25 years, Zahn has amassed an unforgettable body of work, appearing in some of the most iconic and critically-acclaimed films of his time. From “Reality Bites” to “That Thing You Do!”, “Out of Sight,” “Shattered Glass,” “Rescue Dawn,” “War for Planet of the Apes,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and more recently “Valley of the Boom” and “Captain Fantastic,” TCFF organizers cited the range and diversity of his work in bestowing him with this year’s top honor.

“Steve Zahn is one of the most talented, successful and recognizable actors working in Hollywood today,” said TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia. “We’re so honored to be able to celebrate a Minnesota son who has run so far with his talents, and left such an indelible mark on today’s movie industry.”

In this article in Star Tribune, Zahn says that he doesn’t feel like he’s ready to accept a lifetime achievement award. But I think he deserves it and he’s definitely a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for. Can’t believe he’s been acting for 25 years (and that he’s 50 years old! He doesn’t look a day over 35!)  I enjoyed his performance in That Thing You Do!, Forces of Nature, You’ve Got Mail, Shattered Glass, Captain Fantastic, and even his voice work in War for the Planet of the Apes as the hilarious Bad Ape. He’s got such a charming likability about him that is instantaneous,  and like his That Thing You Do! director Tom Hanks, he’s got that ‘everyman’ quality about him.

I for one can’t wait to see Mr. Zahn and hopefully get to meet him in person and thank him for entertaining us all these years!


GALA DETAILS

The Festival Preview Gala, hosted this year at the Metropolitan Ballroom, is TCFF’s annual industry celebration, fundraiser and unveiling of the new film festival schedule. The program includes dinner, drinks, red carpet, silent auction, honors and select trailers for films that will screen at this October’s festival. Zahn and other honorees will be in attendance to receive their awards.

Steve will be interviewed by local TV & Radio personality Jason Matheson for an intimate reflection on his inspiring body of work. Shannon Paul will emcee the evening with her hilarious banter as your favorite cinematic non-profit reveals TCFF 2018’s most anticipated films premiering this at October’s festival, followed by an intimate evening with Steve Zahn.

6pm-7pm:
Reception
Silent Auction
Red Carpet
Live Music

7:30pm:
Dinner
Previews & Giving- Emceed by Miss Shannan Paul
Retrospective with Steve Zahn- Hosted by Jason Matheson

GET TICKETS »

VIP Table – $1,500 (seats 8 guests)
Table Host – $1,000 (seats 8 guests)
Individual Dinner – $150
General Admission – $40 (non-dinner option)

MEAL OPTIONS:

  • Option 1: Chicken Breast w/Dried Cherry Sauce on Potato Puree & Green Beans w/sweet peppers
  • Option 2: Saffron Pappardelle Pasta with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Artichokes and Wild Mushrooms

LOCATION:

The Metropolitan Ballroom
5418 Wayzata Blvd
Minneapolis, MN 55416


 

FlixChatter Review: The Darkest Minds (2018)

guestpost

Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writer: Chad Hodge
Running Time: 1h 44min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

When you think of good movies that were adapted from young adult novels, you should think of The Hunger Games films, the Divergent series and The Maze Runner trilogy. Unfortunately, you should not be thinking of the subpar movie The Darkest Minds, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, written by Chad Hodge and based on Alexandra Bracken‘s young adult novel of the same name. This movie is not evenly-paced, full of post-apocalyptic/dystopian clichés and has a very cheesy teenage romance.

The movie starts off in near-future version of America where children suddenly begin dying off from a mysterious disease. The few that do survive have some kind of enhanced/supernatural abilities, and they’re color-coded according to their creepy glowing eyes. Some are deemed safe by the government — greens have a heightened intelligence, blues have telekinetic powers, and yellows can control electricity. But a few are too dangerous to keep alive – reds that can start fires and a select few who are orange, meaning they can control minds. The government imprisons the greens, blues and yellows and kills off the reds and oranges (with the exception of a few that are kept alive to be used for the government’s diabolical methods).

The main character in the movie is Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) who has orange glowing eyes, but convinces a doctor that she is actually green, meaning that she is not killed but rather imprisoned to a child labor camp – which is unsurprisingly a total bummer. She gets smuggled out of the camp by a strange doctor named Cate Connor (Mandy Moore) who is a member of a group that fights against the government’s policies. Ruby does not believe her and escapes to find a group of three teens who just had escaped from another child labor camp – blue Liam (played by Harris Dickinson, who looks way too old to be a teenager), green Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and yellow Zu (Miya Cech). The four set off to find a secret camp, run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson), who is the president’s son – a supposed good guy who helps escaped teenagers and shelters them away for government soldiers – and is also the only other known orange alive.

Unsurprisingly, Ruby and Liam’s relationship begins to take off just in time for her to be seduced by the orange-eyed Clancy along with his unclear motives. By this point in the movie, the story is flying ahead at warp speed, and before we realize what just happened, there are government soldiers working under Clancy, who’ve captured most runaway kids at the camp. Somehow Ruby manages to escape the government trap but her group with Liam, Chubs and Zu gets split up and one member sustains life-threatening injuries rescuing Ruby. Next thing we know, Ruby is back with Doctor Cate, making a deal to spare Liam’s life. Because of the movie’s uneven pacing, our heroes move rapidly from one conflict to the next without properly ramping up or down the tension.

I don’t know what’s worst about The Darkest Minds – the way too much time given to the film’s corny romance or the underdeveloped story that has predictable twists come far too quickly to make you feel invested. Since this movie is based on a book series by Alexandra Bracken, it naturally suggests that several movie sequels are to follow. My recommendation for the studio is to cut its losses and forget about even considering a sequel. And my recommendation for potential viewers is to save almost two-hours of your life by avoiding this movie. If you are looking for a good movie that was adapted from young adult novel, try re-watching The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Don’t bother wasting your time by watching this movie – even if you are in the target demographic of being a young adult. Or you can watch the 2011 Diablo Cody-written comedy Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron.


Have you seen ‘The Darkest Minds’? Well, what did you think?