FlixChatter Review: TOLKIEN (2019)

Review by Vitali Gueron

When most people hear the name Tolkien, they might think of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, (both of which were later turned into very successful film series by Peter Jackson, earning numerous accolades and awards) or they might think of English professor J. R. R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), a poet, philologist, and academic who grew up relatively poor, never knew his father and lost his mother at a very young age. He was looked after by Father Francis Morgan, a Roman Catholic priest and former protege of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who served as Tolkien’s guardian and father figure. He attended King Edward’s School and met three of his best friends there. They formed a semi-secret society they called the T.C.B.S. The initials stood for Tea Club and Barrovian Society, alluding to their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow’s Stores near the school and, secretly, in the school library. The film Tolkien is much more about the young Tolkien, having meetings with his T.C.B.S. friends and then having to fight in World War I, and losing most of his close acquaintances as a result.

The teenager Tolkien (Harry Gilby) was at first a shy kid at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England. Having moved there from Bloemfontein, South Africa where the family was living prior to Tolkien’s father’s death, his mother Mabel (Laura Donnelly) and brother Hilary Tolkien (played in youth by Guillermo Bedward and as an adult by James MacCallum) were new to Birmingham and didn’t have the means to live a comfortable live but were provided assistance by the Roman Catholic church. After Mabel’s death, Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney) took on the responsibility of guardianship of J. R. R. Tolkien, and advised him even during his years at Exeter College, Oxford. At the age of 16, Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt (Lily Collins), who was three years his senior, when he and his brother Hilary moved into the boarding house where she lived in Duchess Road, Edgbaston. Tolkien falls in love with Edith, but is soon off to fight in World War I, leaving Edith for the time being.

While Tolkien is off fighting in the battles of World War I, he experiences first had the horrors of war, the death and destruction are just beneath his feet. He is shown throughout the film in the battle trenches and on the battle fields, fighting his own battles with trench fever. The scenes of battle, fire and death are what some believe gave him the inspiration for Mordor, the dark place where the arch-villain Sauron lives in the fictional world of Middle-earth, as told in the books of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is taken back to England and spends time at the hospital recovering and being back with Edith, but he also looses his close friends Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle) and Robert Q. Gilson (Patrick Gibson). His other friend and fellow T.C.B.S. member Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney) also comes back from war, but has many mental scars and never fully recovers from his wounds.

In the third act of the film, we see that Tolkien has married Edith and is starting to embrace fatherhood. He also meets with Geoffrey Bache Smith’s mother (Genevieve O’Reilly) and convinces her to publish some of Geoffrey’s poetry as a token to his memory. Part of Tolkien’s best memories before the war were spending time with his friends in the T.C.B.S. and forming what he later coined as the term “a fellowship” of friends. This is also the basis for the name of Tolkien’s first of three volumes in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Most casual fans of Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, might be a little disappointed in the film because it doesn’t have any of the fairytale or imaginative qualities that the fictional volumes that Tolkien wrote have. What the film does have are two strong performances by two young but compelling actors; Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. Their chemistry does not feel like its forced or out of place, and both help one another out by being interesting when sometimes the dialogue given to them is less so. I also especially like the moments when the young actors of Tolkien’s schoolboy life are on screen, headed by Harry Gilby, they form the Tea Club with fellow actors Adam Bregman, Albie Marber and Ty Tennant. These kids seem far more sophisticated and scholarly than normal kids, drinking tea at Barrow’s Stores and dreaming of worlds beyond their own.

Overall, this rather unimaginative film has a few shining moments, headlined by Hoult and Collins onscreen together. Strong followers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit might find deeper meaning in Tolkien’s life, but otherwise most audience members will be left empty-handed in understanding what really went on in Tolkien’s mind and how he was able to write such epic high fantasy novels. Maybe, just maybe, that part is up to us and in our imagination.


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

FlixChatter Review: Disney’s live-action ALADDIN (2019)

Can you believe it that the original Aladdin animated feature came out 27 years ago? To be honest, I barely remember it as I was more into the Princess movies growing up (esp. Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid). When they first announced they’re working the live-action remake, I was skeptical, which wasn’t helped at all by the ‘blue-not-blue Genie’ debacle. So I went in to the screening really hoping to be pleasantly surprised. You know what, I was!

The opening sequence of Arabian Nights sets the right mood, though it took me a little while to get used to Will Smith‘s singing. By the time we meet Aladdin (Mena Massoud) in the streets of Agrabah with his loyal monkey friend Abu, I have a good feeling I’d enjoy the movie. The Egyptian-Canadian Massoud is instantly likable and is light on his feet as he runs, jumps, leaps from building to building while flashing his movie-star smile. He can sing too, his song One Jump Ahead is dynamic and fun, offering great views of the town.

The arduous casting process for this movie paid off, not only in finding Massoud but Naomi Scott as well as princess Jasmine. The Anglo-Indian actress got so much flak because she isn’t of Arabic descent, but I think people would be impressed by her performance here. She has such a regal air about her but also a charming earthiness that made you believe Aladdin would mistake her for being the princess handmaiden. She and Massoud have a lovely chemistry as they relate to one another that they feel trapped in the life they’re born into. She too can belt a tune and actually sound fantastic together in the gorgeous duet of A Whole New World.

Now, as for Genie. The comparison with the iconic Robin Williams is inevitable, and Will Smith has such giant shoes to fill. But all things considered, I think his ‘Fresh Prince’ interpretation of the character surprisingly works. His Friend Like Me rendition has touches of hip-hop and it’s pretty catchy. The A-list star has an infectious energy that works perfectly as Genie, and some of the jokes (mostly directed at his naive master Aladdin) is genuinely funny. Massoud’s comic timing is adorable, playing up the state of being discombobulated to great effect. It mostly works as this version of Genie also has a good rapport with Aladdin and their relationship plays like an unlikely buddy-comedy with some emotional moments for good measure. I actually enjoyed Smith more when Genie is in human form, which shows up quite a bit in this movie.

It’s ironic that initially I was most excited by Jafar’s casting (Marwan Kenzari) but he’s actually the weakest link here. It’s not exactly his fault however, as he’s a talented actor based on the few things I’ve seen him in (especially The Angel on Netflix). I just think his character is underwritten and bland. The Dutch-Tunisian actor is stripped off his hotness charisma playing a trite, one-note villain. The finale when he’s got his last wish is practically laughable and way over the top as the CGI team went nuts with the magic dust effects.

As for the supporting cast, Iranian-American actress Nasim Pedrad provides comic relief as Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia (and Genie’s love interest). I also like the fact that Dalia is more of a friend to the princess which is lovely to watch. Turkish-German actor Numan Acar as chief soldier Hakim has a memorable scene towards the end, while Billy Magnussen as a goofy Caucasian prince with a hilarious accent drew plenty of laughs. I’m glad his screen time is basically a cameo as he’s so unnecessary. In any case, it’s gratifying to see a diverse cast in this movie. As someone of Southeast Asian decent, I’m always glad to see actors of color shine in a big-budget Hollywood production.

Guy Ritchie seemed a rather odd choice as director, given that he’s mostly known for his R-rated action movies set in London. But to be fair, he’s been stretching his filmmaking horizon a bit with movies like Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., etc. And as he often make movies about inner city working class people, I suppose it’s fitting that he tackles a Disney version of a street hustler. Ritchie also co-wrote the script with John August.

Stylistically, Ritchie’s trademark hyper-stylized filmmaking style of frenetic pacing, quick camera work and kinetic editing is visible in some of the chase scenes, but overall it’s tamed down a bit here. It’s definitely nowhere near as dizzying as his reimagining of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which was a major flop. The way he directed the musical numbers however, is a bit hit and miss.

I’m a huge fan of Alan Menken‘s classic songs, and those are still the main highlights here despite some of the wonky directions. For one, some of these numbers seem to be Bollywood-inspired despite the story is set in the Middle East. The Prince Ali sequence is supposed to be all festive and celebratory but at times feels more topsy-turvy. I do love the A Whole New World number atop the magic carpet which feels appropriately dazzling and romantic, boosted by the terrific aerial effects. The one that make me cringe is the main scene of Speechless, mostly in how it’s directed. I loved the new song the first time I heard it, sung beautifully by Naomi Scott. But the second time around, the musical number felt off despite the defiant message. It’s a pity as it’s such an empowering song and the lyric is organic to the story of a smart, capable woman who’s a natural leader of her Kingdom. I credit Scott’s charismatic performance that somehow she still made the scene work.

I went to the press screening with my best friend’s 12-year-old daughter. In the car she said she’s disappointed by Disney that they keep remaking old things instead of coming up with new materials. Well, she definitely shares my dread about the lack of creativity from behemoth studios. Alas, these live-action remakes are here and they’ll keep on coming whether we like it or not, but as a critic I still ought to judge each of them based on its artistic merit.

Overall Aladdin is a pretty fun movie, though overlong at 2 hours 8 minutes. The production quality is naturally top notch given the hefty Disney budget. I love the set pieces of Agrabah and especially the fabulous costumes. Jasmine’s intricate dresses are especially breathtaking. I think this princess would be a good role model for young girls as she’s not just beautiful on the outside but also has something to say. This movie is far from perfect, but it’s got enough going for it that warrants a recommendation. One thing for sure, Menken’s iconic songs still sound as wonderful as the first time I heard them, and Speechless is a great addition. I don’t even mind seeing this movie again and that speaks volumes about its entertainment value.


Have you seen ALADDIN? Well, let me know what you think!

Musings on Robert Pattinson casting + Matt Reeves’ noir vision for The Batman

It seems it hasn’t been that long ago that I was blogging about casting for a Batman movie when Ben Affleck was cast. If some of you read it, I was actually lamenting about Affleck’s casting then, but later on I came around and actually enjoyed his performance. Now, Christian Bale remains my favorite Batman – not only was he excellent as both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, his Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan is by far the best version.

In any case, just two years after Affleck donned the cape in Justice League, and months after news about him stepping down as actor/director, looks like director Matt Reeves has found the new Batman, and it’s another Brit: Robert Pattinson. Boy, surely Twilight fans, specifically Team Edward, rejoice with delight. Honestly I was quite taken aback by it at first… I’d never think of him as the Dark Knight, and the first thing that came to mind was an image of him as the sparkly vapid vampire in Twilight which is enough to make me shudder. But the more I think about it, I’m more open minded about his casting… and after reading more about Matt Reeves’ vision for The Batman (more on that in a bit). Of course, it didn’t take long for social media to erupt with reactions for the news. Some of the more optimistic fans have come up with some ingenious Photoshop work imagining what Pattinson could look like in the role, here are some of my faves…

I remember seeing this still image from David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS where Pattinson played an eccentric young billionaire. Hmmm, perhaps their casting manager (or his agent) has some kind of magic 8-ball? In a similar way like Christian Bale, Pattinson looks much better when he does NOT smile or show his teeth, but his brooding makes me think he’d make an intriguing Bruce Wayne. Pattinson is 13 years younger than Affleck at 33 (making him the youngest actor ever to play Batman), but I think Bale in Batman Begins looked about similar in age and his character was just coming into his own as opposed to a more jaded/grizzled version of Affleck’s.

Apparently two other Brits were in the running for the role, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Nicholas Hoult. I actually like both actors, but I think both are way too pretty as Batman. Hoult especially is just so sweet looking and can’t imagine him being at all menacing. I actually tried to watch his film EQUALS with coincidentally, Pattinson’s ex, Kristen Stewart, and was bored to tears I couldn’t finish watching.

In any case, I think Pattinson has a dose of madness the role requires and he’s played quite a share of those. I saw a few of his work post-Twilight, though not extensively. I liked him in Remember Me and The Lost City of Z where he’s barely recognizable (see inset pic), and even his small role in Queen Of the Desert as T.E. Lawrence. Not a fan of his work in Bel Ami (he’s woefully miscast) and Water For Elephants was meh. I appreciate that he’s been doing a ton of independent films and seeking interesting roles that don’t necessarily capitalize on his looks or fame. In a way it’s similar to how Leonardo DiCaprio was post Titanic mania where he tried to shed his heartthrob image.

Of course with a casting for such a popular superhero, there’ll be naysayers. Some have even started petitions to remove him from the role, ahah. I think people who’ve only seen his work in the YA vampire saga should give him a chance, plus that was nearly a decade ago and he’s certainly grown as a performer. I was browsing some Cannes reviews and saw many critics praising his performance in The Lighthouse. This one from The Wrap in particular intrigues me as it alludes to the Batman casting:

…Pattinson anchors things with a sturdy physical performance that will no doubt calm those concerned about a certain reported upcoming role.


Casting aside, what I am really curious about is what kind of Batman film are we going to get? I have been so disappointed by DC’s renditions of other superheroes of late (I haven’t even mustered enough interest to see Aquaman). But I was really impressed by Matt Reeves’ Apes trilogy, especially the final one War of the Planet of the Apes, that I was excited that he’s given the reign to reboot the Batman movies.

Here’s what he told THR on his take on The Batman:

It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir Batman tale. It’s told very squarely on his shoulders, and I hope it’s going to be a story that will be thrilling but also emotional. It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been. I’d love this to be one where when we go on that journey of tracking down the criminals and trying to solve a crime, it’s going to allow his character to have an arc so that he can go through a transformation.

There’s also news circulating that this version will feature a rogues gallery of villains (per THR). Apparently so far they’re working on casting Catwoman, The Penguin and Riddler, boy how cool would that be doing casting for THIS project! I much prefer Nolan’s grounded version of Batman than Tim Burton’s, but it remains to be seen what kind of style Reeves would do here. I am intrigued by his vision however, and I trust he’s the right man for the job. Warner Bros has at least given fans, well me for one, some hope to be more than cautiously optimistic.


So what do YOU think of Robert Pattinson’s casting? If you’re not keen on him, who would you like to be cast as The Batman?

 

FlixChatter Review- JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM (2019)

Parabellum is Latin for “prepare for war” and is often used within the context of the phrase Si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war.” (per Wiki). This title is absolutely spot-on for John Wick 3, which picked up exactly as the second movie left off. Our titular hero who’s beaten and bloodied is on the run, literally. There’s a lot of running in this movie… running in the rain, in the streets of Manhattan, dark alleyway, fluorescent-lit building with glass walls allover, you name it… John is either running or fighting.

Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) has less than one hour until he’s declared excommunicado by The High Table, a shadowy council of high-level crime lords, a society of well-dressed, lethal assassins. The reason for his persona non grata happened in John Wick 2, when John broke the rule of conducting deadly business on The Continental grounds, which is supposed to be a safe haven for assassins. With $14 million contract bounty on his head, naturally ALL of the world’s most dangerous criminals are on to him. Yes, initially John was all about avenging his dead puppy (given by his beloved late wife), but the previous film has shown us a bit about his backstory and his connection to this mysterious underworld society. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad and his team of four writers has crafted something quite intriguing with the High Table concept, but in the final chapter, there’s no time to delve deeper into this underworld as the focus is on action, action, and more action.

Director Chad Stahelski, a former-stunt-guy-turned-filmmaker (who used to double for Keanu himself) clearly loves action and all forms of martial arts. He relished in basically giving action fans all kinds of fight sequences imaginable. By now he’s specialized in hyper-kinetic action as a form of storytelling. There’s barely any pause in between gun-fu shoot-em-up and another well-choreographed fight sequence with swords, knife, basically anything John could find. Man, even a book is proven to be lethal in the hand of Mr. Wick! The movie is obsessed with the ballet-of-death and there’s even an actual ballet dancing in it. As an Indonesian, I have to say I was quite giddy when two Indo actors (Pencak Silat experts from the equally-violent actioner The Raid) get to fight John Wick and even uttering some lines in Bahasa.

To make life even more complicated for Wick, the High Table sent The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to declare severe verdicts to anyone who helps him. Wick’s perilous adventure takes him from Manhattan to Morocco where he goes to collect his debt from Sofia (Halle Berry), a former assassin who’s pretty much Wick’s equal. Hey she even have a pair of killer dogs she loves like her own children, definitely John Wick’s kind of woman. Debt collection is a running theme in this movie, in line with the classic themes of loyalty and allegiance that’s common in this genre. Angelica Huston has a brief but intriguing moment as a high-ranking member of the High Table that Wick encountered.

Now, John Wick is definitely made for people who love action movies, specifically the fantastical action flick in the vein of Mission Impossible, James Bond, Fast & Furious, etc. It’s an action franchise where absurdity is the norm given the sheer invincibility of the hero. It’s fitting that the trailer song is Andy Williams’ The Impossible Dream, its lyrics say ‘To fight the unbeatable foe… To bear with unbearable sorrow.‘ All the ridiculous and over-the-top action sequences are expected demanded by fans, and Stahelski & Reeves obviously knew this. They upped the ante by raising the stakes so high that blows the limit of credulity out of the water. I find myself laughing and shaking my head a lot during the craziest action scenes. The ultra-stylized action gets so overblown it’s cartoonish, but THAT is precisely the appeal of John Wick movies. The horse chase through Manhattan traffic scene in particular was a lot of fun to watch because it is absurd. I have to say though, some of the action scenes, no matter how amazingly-choreographed they are, would get repetitive. My mind glossed over quite a bit during many of the brutal, no-holds-barred fight scenes, even as I heard a lot of moviegoers wincing loudly as Wick viciously goes through one opponent after another.

Visually speaking, the movie is stunning. Danish DP Dan Laustsen created a vivid, luminous cinematography with extended long takes on the fight sequences where you can practically see every movement. That glass set towards the end is particularly beautiful to look at, which of course becomes a ‘house of pain’ for Wick as he literally crashes into one glass structure after another. Mark Dacascos proves to be one of Wick’s toughest foe in the final battle, but he provides some comic relief as well. The dynamic score by Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard (who also scored the previous films) perfectly punctuates all the action.

Gif courtesy of range365.com

In a hyper-stylized movie that prioritizes adrenaline-pumping action above everything else, there’s no room for narratives nor logic. There are so many inconsistencies in the way the High Table or The Continental is supposed to be run. Obviously the filmmakers care so much more about perfecting their action sequences than exploring the film’s own ‘mythology.’ After all of that world-building it did in the second film, I can’t help thinking that it’s a missed opportunity not to explore those further. Wick’s Russian backstory is merely hinted at and uttered in passing as if it hardly mattered. We’re constantly shown what John Wick can do, instead of who he really is and what truly drives him. Just as Wick’s opponents often get hit over the head with things, I feel like the filmmakers are hitting the audience over the head with Wick’s fighting skills. There’s only so many ways one can kill another person before we get numbed by the deafening gunfire or knife slashing sound.

That said, it’s still a fun experience to see Keanu Reeves in his element, doing what he does best. I’m always glad to see familiar faces from the previous films – Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick, the loyal concierge who finally got in on some of the action, but this movie truly belongs to Reeve from start to finish. It’s interesting that the most peaceful actor (whose known for his benevolence and humility) makes the most mercilessly-violent movies. But he’s become an action legend as this suffering hero, a role he’s clearly born to play. The super-fit 50-something star doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, and neither does this franchise.


So, what do you think of JOHN WICK franchise? If you’ve seen JOHN WICK 3, let me know what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review – THE HUSTLE (2019)

Directed by: Chris Addison
Written by: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, and Jac Schaeffer

The Hustle follows two con artists: bold and brash Penny (Rebel Wilson) and cool, calculating, professional Josephine (Anne Hathaway). The two meet when Penny travels to the glamorous French Riviera town where Josephine lives in the hopes of scoring some bigger cons, and Josephine feels there isn’t room for the both of them. The two make a bet on which one can scam a young tech millionaire, Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) out of $500,000 within a week to prove which con artist reigns supreme-and Penny has learned more of Josephine’s tricks than Josephine might realize.

My biggest gripe about The Hustle is that the story it delivered wasn’t the story that was advertised; from the IMDB plot summary to the TV and radio commercials, the movie was described as being about “female scam artists […] who team up to take down the men who have wronged them,” and that really doesn’t happen at all. That would have been an interesting twist on the con artist movie trope, especially considering this movie is already a remake of a remake (1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story). Firstly, the two barely team up; Josephine briefly trains Penny in her more sophisticated scamming ways, and the pair does scam a handful of men out of expensive engagement rings, but the team-up portion of the movie doesn’t last long; most of the focus is on the two women competing, which is a pretty tired relationship dynamic. Secondly, the women don’t target “men who have wronged them.” While Penny does focus on men who are exceptionally shallow, and Josephine briefly mentions that men underestimate women, which is why it’s easy to scam them, none of it is personal; they’re just doing it for the money and the jewelry, which, again, isn’t exactly a fresh motivation for a con artist story.

The leading ladies are the movie’s saving grace; while the material isn’t brilliant, Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway do a spectacular job with what they’re given. Rebel has proved her comedic skills time and time again, and her performance in this movie is no exception. Anne is hilarious as well, especially when she’s pretending to be someone else for a con (her German doctor persona toward the end cracked me up), although as just Josephine she is a bit one-note. The supporting cast is good as well; Alex Sharp is genuinely likable as Thomas Westerburg, and Nicholas Woodeson as Albert, one of Josephine’s employees, gives an especially funny performance despite having next to no dialogue.

While the plot and dialogue are pretty forgettable, the acting is enjoyable, so while I wouldn’t say The Hustle is worth seeing in theaters, it might be worth a watch if it’s available on Netflix or any other streaming service.

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Have you seen the latest THE HUSTLE? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Review by Vitali Gueron

From producers James Wan, Gary Dauberman & Emile Gladstone and director Michael Chaves, comes the latest movie in The Conjuring franchise. Taking place in early 1970s Los Angeles, La Llorona (meaning The Weeping Woman) stars Linda Cardellini as Anna Tate-Garcia, a mother of two children, and a social worker who investigates child abuse cases for the city of Los Angeles. While investigating the disappearance of the two children of Patricia Alvarez (played by Patricia Velásquez), Anna finds Patricia’s children locked inside a closet with a large pad lock keeping them inside.

With help from the police, Anna finds the key to the locked door and find Patricia’s two sons inside. They are scared and tell Anna to keep them in the room so they’re safe. Ignoring their pleas, Anna takes the boys to the police for safety. While at a child services shelter, the two boys Carlos and Tomas sleep walk through multiple corridors until one stops, stares and points to a small mirror in the corner where both see La Llorona. La Llorona disappears from the mirror (which cracks) and then she reappears, grabbing Carlos. That night, Anna learns of the deaths of the two boys, who have been found drowned in a nearby river.

The significance of two boys drowned in a nearby river is that towards the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to a couple who are playing with their children in a field in 1673 Mexico. It is in that scene that we are shown that one of the boys sees his mother drowning his brother in a stream. The boy tries to run away but his mother catches him and appears to drown him too. Back in present early 1970s Los Angeles, Anna takes her two children, son Chris (Roman Christou) and daughter Sam (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen), with her to the murder scene as she is a single mother and has no one to watch them. It is there that Anna sees and hears Patricia scream at her, accusing Anna of her boys’ deaths.

While the confrontation between Anna and Patricia is going on, Anna’s son Chris decides to leave their family car and investigate the crime scene. Chris hears a faint sound of weeping, as if a woman is crying behind him. As he turns around, he sees the woman, La Llorona, in a white dress approaching him. She grabs him and leaves burn marks on his wrist. Luckily Chris rushes back to the car and prevents La Llorona from reaching him inside the car before his mother comes back to drive them home. The next day we learn that La Llorona has travelled along with Anna, Chris and Sam to their house and she is now haunting them through various way; once when Sam takes a bath, the other time when Sam is walking outside by their pool.

Anna takes drastic measures and rushes, along with her kids, to church to see Father Perez (Tony Amendola), who relates the case to his previous experiences with his involvement in the case of the Annabelle doll (from the 2014 movie Annabelle which is also part of The Conjuring franchise) Father Perez says that while the church can’t help them in this case, he does refer them to a former priest named Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz) to help them get rid of the hauntings. With Rafael’s help, Anna and her children prep the house with candles and other holy items, but La Llorona attacks the family and attempts to drown Anna and Sam in the pool. Rafael creates a holy barrier at the doors to protect the family, but Patricia finds Anna’s house and while blaming Anna for her sons’ deaths, she breaks the holy barrier, allowing La Llorona back inside the house.

Sam and Chris flee to the attic while Anna is trapped in the basement. Chris tried to push back at La Llorona by displaying her a necklace that Anna took off La Llorona, which makes La Llorona briefly assume her human appearance (and we see the same woman from 1673 Mexico, who drowned her own sons in the river.) With Patricia’s change of heart, she helps Anna find her children in the attic and La Llorona’s spirit is defeated when Anna stabs her through the chest with a cross made from a Fire Tree (the one that grew by the river where La Llorona drowned her children.) Although we do see that Anna is successful in destroying her spirit, we never quite get the sense that there aren’t any more spirits around and that they could come back at any time.

While The Curse of La Llorona is one of the “middle of the road” films in The Conjuring franchise. It lacks the star power of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) but it also has that haunted house feel we love to see in paranormal movies. While most of the jumps scares are predictable, and sometimes even funny, Linda Cardellini’s performance rises above the rest and makes for one enjoyable fright. Michael Chaves uses the unstable camera to his advantage, making his audience feel ever so uncomfortable, especially in places that are meant to make you comfortable, such as the bathtub. Overall, while The Curse of La Llorona isn’t perfect, it makes adequate connection to The Conjuring Universe’s fine collection of paranormal haunting films.


Have you seen The Curse of La Llorona? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: LONG SHOT (2019)

Let me preface this review that I rarely go to R-rated comedies, particularly those with Seth Rogen in it. In fact, the last movie I saw Seth Rogen in a movie is probably 50/50 a decade ago with Joseph Gordon-Levitt which interestingly enough is also directed by Jonathan Levine. Yet there’s something about the story that appealed to me, primarily Charlize Theron‘s casting, and trailer made me laugh.

Speaking of miss Theron, her beauty and intellect suits her role perfectly here. She plays Charlotte Field, an accomplished politician, the youngest secretary of state who’s running for president. In contrast, Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a talented and free-spirited journalist who’s perhaps too idealistic for his own good. We first see Flarsky in an undercover stint involving white supremacist group, an ordeal that could’ve easily cost him his life. When he later finds out his paper is being bought by a media magnate Parker Wembley (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis, clearly lampooning Rupert Murdoch), Fred immediately quits on principle.

When Fred and Charlotte meet, it’s not exactly a meet-cute but it’s definitely a memorable one involving 90s R&B icons Boyz II Men. Apparently she was his babysitter in his early teens and she has been his crush ever since. That meet-up leads to Fred being hired by Charlotte herself as her speechwriter, despite the protests of her staff members Tom (Ravi Patel) and Maggie (June Diane Raphael). Maggie distrusts Fred from the start and she couldn’t fathom seeing her glamorous boss dates the likes of him. Charlotte feels that Fred would provide a fresh voice and improves her more serious image with his youthful idealism and in a way, he does.

I’m glad there are more of these unconventional rom-com being made, as last February we saw Isn’t It Romantic? that’s both a spoof and an homage to the romantic comedy genre. As the title suggests, Charlotte is a long-shot romantically for someone like Fred, while Charlote is a long-shot presidential contender (playing on the notion that America still isn’t ready for a woman president). For any rom-com to work, even the most unconventional one, there would have to be chemistry between the two romantic leads. I’d say Charlize and Seth have a good rapport and comedic chemistry, but to say they have strong romantic chemistry would be a stretch. That said, there’s enough going for them that made me curious about their journey.

Writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah make a point that even the most beautiful & successful people do get lonely. Theron displays a certain vulnerability that makes her relatable despite her goddess-like appearance. She also has comedic chops and made Charlotte likable enough that it’s easy to root for her. Rogen’s Fred takes a while to warm up to, even if you can’t help empathize with his fish-out-of-water experience as he goes on the road with Charlotte. Undoubtedly there’ll be friction when two people with few things in common are suddenly thrown together, but how Fred views the world is quite problematic. Most politically-inclined movies out of Hollywood are usually far-left leaning, and this movie is no different. But I appreciate that the movie doesn’t shy away from showing how people with extreme worldview inherently hold prejudices. There’s a particularly in a memorable exchange between him and his loyal friend Lance (a terrific O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) that draws laughs, but that topic is definitely thought-provoking.

The R-rating is warranted given the amount of sexual, drug-related humor and profanity. There’s also a vulgar scene where I’m glad I averted my eyes, let’s just say it conjured up a scene from a classic R-rated rom-com There’s Something About Mary. The amount of physical comedy here is so fantastical that it’s practically cartoonish as in real life those incidents would result in him being seriously injured or dead. While the film comments on the tricky, slippery nature of politics, especially as an underdog AND as a woman, at times the way it’s presented are too ludicrous or too simplistic. Some of the supporting characters are downright cartoonish as well. Bob Odenkirk plays the TV-star turned US president who yearns to be a movie star, and Alexander Skarsgård relishes his comedic muscle as a hunky-but-shallow Canadian PM.

Despite the flaws, I find myself enjoying the movie for the most part. Some of the pop-culture jokes were funny, especially when it mentions a huge superhero blockbuster movie that’s still very much on top of the box office when this one comes out. There are some predictable beats and over-the-top scenes, but Levine managed to keep the movie engaging throughout. The ending is actually more in line with a typical rom-com in that it’s a crowd-pleasing, fantastical wish-fulfillment. It doesn’t exactly ring true, but at least it was an amusing surprise. I’d say if you’re a fan of raunchy comedies, you’d likely have fun with this. But if this sub-genre isn’t your thing, you might still enjoy this if you like the cast.


Have you seen LONG SHOT? Let me know what you think!