November 2021 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

Woo wee! We’re now in the LAST month of 2021! Where has the time go?? We have been in a pandemic period for nearly two years now… and whaddayaknow, it’s far from over 😦 I’m scheduled for my booster in mid December, I suppose it could very well be our new routine, like getting a flu shot annually… it’s the new normal I suppose, better get used to it. Let’s not dwell on that though, now on to the movie report… 

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Movies That Made Us: Dirty Dancing

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I quite enjoyed this docu-series that presents the behind-the-scenes look into how great classics got made, as well as the impact of its release, which often beats expectations. This one has some really interesting tidbits, apparently Jennifer Grey who’s first cast didn’t want the producers to hire Patrick Swayze… anyone but him, she said, but hey they clearly have a great chemistry that contributes to the film’s massive success.

The Harder They Fall

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     4/5 stars
Read Ted’s Full Review

Red Notice

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    HalfReel
Full Review

King Richard

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      4/5 stars
Full Review

Forty Year Old Version*

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4.5/5 stars
Full Review

Passing*

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      3Reels
Full Review

The Marksman

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I’m not sure when I’ll get around to reviewing this, but as far as Liam Neeson‘s action flick goes, it’s definitely sub-par. I might do a summary of all the Neeson-In-Action ranking at some point, once I get around to The Commuter and Non-Stop.

House of Gucci

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    2-half Reels
Full Review

Ghostbusters Afterlife 

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Not sure I’ll be reviewing this one anytime soon, so let’s just say I enjoyed it despite not being a massive fan of the original. I mean it was a fun movie but I wasn’t clamoring to see a remake/reboot of it. But as far a fan-service type movies go, this one was done well and has fun characters, esp. Phoebe and Podcast, those two kids are the movie MVPs for me.

West Side Story

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Full Review coming soon – in the meantime, check out my
Music Break post of five favorite songs from West Side Story!


52 films by womenMovies indicated with * (asterisk) indicates those directed by women. I only saw two films directed by women in November, so I have to catch up this month to complete the 52 Films By Women challenge by the end of the year.


TV SERIES

I didn’t see as many new movies this past month, partly because I had been bingeing on multiple new shows.

FOUNDATION (2021) – Apple TV

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Despite the absolutely breathtaking visuals (definitely BEST production design of any TV series I’ve seen this year), this series was not as captivating as I had hoped. The pacing can be a bit sluggish and the various storylines seem disjointed, but I’m glad I stuck with it as the last few episodes were really good, down to the suspenseful and shocking finale… the MVP of the series are definitely the women (as I’ve mentioned in my post here), especially Laura Birn as Demerzel. I’m definitely curious for season 2!

Hawkeye – Disney+

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I have to admit I wasn’t at all clamoring to see a Hawkeye stand-alone movie/series, but here we are. I got two-episode screenings last week and decided to give it a shot. Well, I quite enjoyed the Christmas setting–and that amusing bit of Rogers The Musical–but the star is truly Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop who’ll likely take the mantle from Jeremy Renner. The two have a fun chemistry but the show is hardly the most exciting compared to the other MCU series on Disney+ so far.

The Wheel of Time* – Amazon Prime

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I’ve enjoyed the first 3 episodes so far, and the latest one definitely got me even more intrigued in the series. Check out my friend Laura’s review who’s a big fan of Robert Jordan’s books. I like the fact that there’s diversity in front AND behind the camera, as the first two episodes were directed by a female director (Uta Briesewitz) and an Asian-British filmmaker (Wayne Yip).

Only Murders in the Building – Hulu

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As everyone has been raving about this show, my hubby and I decided to watch it. Well, we are hooked! Steve Martin and Martin Short are comedic genius and Selena Gomez makes up for a fun, albeit unlikely trio investigating murder in their building. I love that the two comedic veterans are playing two creative has-beens (Martin is a former actor still holding on to his former glory and Short is a former theatre director who’s down on his luck), while Gomez is a beautiful, smart girl with a mysterious past. Two eps in so far and can’t wait for more!


REWATCHES

DUNE | X-Men | X-Men 2 | Crazy Rich Asians | The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

It’s quite an eclectic rewatches this month. Of course I had to rewatch DUNE on HBO Max before it left the platform and I enjoyed it even more than the first watch. I still adore Crazy Rich Asians on second watch and Awkwafina is still hilarious as the bestie.

Not sure why I was in the mood for X-Men, but once I watched the first movie, I was inclined to rewatch the 2nd one with the brilliant Brian Cox as Stryker. On the last day of the month, I was browsing Prime Video and I just couldn’t resist The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I LOVE the cast filled with the best of the British thespians… it’s fun seeing how far Dev Patel has come (so glad he’s not just stuck doing Indian roles), but my faves are definitely Judi Dench and Bill Nighy and their tentative relationship is just so delightful!


NOVEMBER MOVIE OF THE MONTH

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As I said in my full review, I’m still kicking myself that I missed this astounding film last year. It’s definitely the best film I saw in November, and it’s the highest rating I’ve given a film in a long time. If you haven’t seen the creative force that is Radha Blank, you must watch this immediately. Lucky for you, it’s on Netflix!


Well, what did you watch last month and what’s YOUR favorite film(s) you saw in NOVEMBER?

Music Break – Five favorite songs from West Side Story

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I am still humming the gorgeous songs from West Side Story today, as last night I had the privilege of seeing the newly-adapted musical directed by Steven Spielberg at a Dolby Cinema. I haven’t done a Music Break since last August, so I thought today would be the perfect time to highlight the timeless songs in anticipation for the new film’s release on December 10, as well as honoring the late Stephen Sondheim‘s astounding work.

Confession: I actually have not seen the original musical in its entirety, but my late mom had a CD of a bunch of Broadway songs when I was growing up so I’m familiar with most of the music. I’ve seen a bunch of the scenes since then too, so you can say I’m more familiar with the music/songs than the movie.

A few Interesting Trivia about West Side Story and Stephen Sondheim:

  • Per EverythingSondheim.org: West Side Story was Stephen Sondheim’s first foray on a Broadway stage in 1957. He was just 27 when it opened. Already eager to start his Broadway career as a composer and a lyricist, he was convinced by his mentor Oscar Hammerstein to debut as the show’s lyricist, the junior member of a team comprised of three well known artists: composer Leonard Bernstein, director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, and playwright Arthur Laurents.

Bernstein-and-SondheimSondheim (left) with Bernstein – photo courtesy of CulturalAttache.co

  • Per Google Arts & Culture:
    – Arthur Laurents taught him to write from the playwright’s perspective
    – Sondheim had been informally tutored by Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein was one of the foremost lyricists of the first half 20th century, writing the book and lyrics to such classic musicals as OklahomaCarousel, and The King and I. Sondheim describes Hammerstein as a “surrogate father” who mentored the young Sondheim in his teenage years.
  • Since West Side Story, Sondheim has received eight Tony Awards (the most won by any composer) the American Theatre Wing Award Lifetime Achievement Award, eight Drama Desk Awards, eight Grammy Awards (including one for the West Side Story 2010 revival), a Pulitzer Prize, five Laurence Olivier Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors, and the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ok so here are 5 of my favorite songs featured in the film (in random order, I can’t possibly rank them!):

AMERICA

The lyrics for this one speaks of the immigrant experience, all the struggles and advantages of living in ‘someone else’s land.’ Some of the lyrics really hit home and even decades after the first production was released, the words still resonate and relevant.

Life can be bright in America
If you can fight in America

Life is all right in America
If you’re all white in America

Here you are free and you have pride
Long as you stay on your own side

I just love the spunk of Rita Moreno in this dance sequence!!

TONIGHT

This is perhaps the one song I’m most familiar with… it’s such a powerful ballad that I hope one day I get to watch West Side Story on stage to hear this sung LIVE. In the Spielberg’s adaptation, both actors actually sang the songs… and boy, Rachel Zegler has an incredible singing voice that’s perfect for this romantic song. The 20-year-old Colombian-American actor and singer-songwriter beat out over 30,000 applicants for the role and rightly so!

MARIA

Interesting that another favorite classic musical I love, The Sound of Music, also has a song with ‘Maria’ in it. I quite like this one sung by Richard Beymer who certainly has more charisma than the current actor, Ansel Elgort. Now, I barely pay attention to ‘cancel culture’ that’s running rampant these days, and apparently he’s accused of some sexual impropriety, but my issue is that Ansel is kind of a bland actor, though his singing voice is pretty decent.

In any case, the lyrics are just so romantic and sweet…

Say it loud and there’s music playing,
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

I Feel Pretty

There’s something so fun and whimsical about this song! Now, there isn’t a clip from the current film yet, which I really enjoyed and Rachel Zegler‘s voice is so gorgeous! So I’m including this clip instead. Natalie Wood‘s singing voice is dubbed by Marni Nixon in the 1961 version. It’s such a catchy song that I often find myself humming and one tends to twirl when hearing this song, ahah.

SOMEWHERE

It’s another ballad with such a beautiful, evocative lyrics… I think it beautifully captures the star-crossed love story and also the Puerto Ricans trying to fit in America, it’s truly amazing what Sondheim did with the words of a song… and of course Bernstein’s melody is equally breathtaking. In the original, the song was a duet…

There’s a time for us,
Someday there’ll be a time for us:
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.

… but I actually prefer the one sung in the Spielberg version, sung by Rita Moreno as you can hear in the teaser. It packs an emotional wallop!


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Which song(s) from WEST SIDE STORY is your favorite?

Double Reviews: Passing + The Forty-Year-Old Version

Passing and The Forty-Year Old Version are two Netflix films I saw recently that share some similarities. Both are feature film debuts of two female filmmakers, Rebecca Hall and Radha Blank, respectively, and both deal with racial inequality, albeit set in two different periods and dealt with in very different ways.

PASSING (2021)

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“Passing” follows the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

The term ‘passing’ refers the practice of members of minority or oppressed races, religions, ethnic groups, etc., pretending to be members of the majority culture (in this case white) to escape prejudice. Apparently it’s a personal topic for actress-turned-filmmaker Rebecca Hall as her own biracial mother and grandfather both passed themselves off as white.

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The film is beautifully shot in black and white, which is a fitting artistic choice given the subject matter. At the center of the story is Irene (a sublime Tessa Thompson) whose chance encounter with a childhood friend Claire (Ruth Negga) at an upscale NYC cafe. Thompson is mesmerizing in the first 10 minutes… as she treads carefully in the way she appears in public, completely aware of her status as a black woman living in New York in the 20s. Hall shows the details of the surrounding as well as the costumes the women are wearing, as those help tell a story as well as being gorgeous to look at.

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I think Passing is an admirable directorial debut that’s both intriguing but also a bit frustrating at times. It’s not so much that it’s slow (I actually enjoy slow-burn movies), but everything is so polished that it’s emotionally-distant. The depiction of Irene’s family life with her wealthy doctor husband Brian (André Holland) and their two boys give a glimpse of the affluent lifestyle (they even have a maid) in a two-story Brookstone Apartment. They are keenly aware that most black people suffer terrible racial injustices elsewhere as they discuss people getting lynched and brutally killed in the South, a subject Irene doesn’t want to dwell on.

There’s not much exploration about Claire’s home life with her white husband John (Alexander Skarsgård) who’s an unapologetic racist. The moment he proclaimed that fact right in front of Irene definitely makes your skin crawl. There’s a really interesting buildup between Irene and Claire, but the fascination wears off rather quickly as I find myself having trouble connecting with either of them, as both are hiding under a veil to conceal their true emotions, even from each other.

Obsession, envy, jealousy are all themes explored throughout, but despite its provocative finale, it doesn’t quite mask its superficiality. The ambiguous ending actually makes me gasp as seems to come out of nowhere. It’s perhaps the boldest move of the entire film, a savage, violent end to an otherwise graceful, even delicate film. But then again, as Irene says to her friend Hugh (Bill Camp) at one point, people–and in this case films–aren’t always what they seem.

3/5 stars


The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

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Radha is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater in order to find her true voice.

I had missed this film last year, but thanks to my friend’s insistence that I finally got around to seeing it. I’m still kicking myself why it took me so long to watch this!

It’s rare to find a film that has such an authentic voice, so it’s so refreshing to see one that has it in abundance. FYOV… the acronym of the title is the same as its mantra… Find Your Own Voice, an inspiring and fitting theme for the film that lives up to it and then some! Radha Blank tells her own personal story so brilliantly! Basically playing herself, I was completely absorbed by her realness and sense of humor, navigating life as a high school drama teacher and fulfilling her dream as a playwright. Nothing is more motivating, as well as burdensome, to an artist than an early accolade, as Radha was one of the recipient of 30-under-30 award for one of her plays. It’s apparent she is struggling to live up to that early kudos, while her longtime friend/agent Archie (Peter Kim) never stops believing in her.

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I love the documentary shooting style by DP Eric Branco, which suits the narrative Radha is telling. The IMDb trivia page describes the story as a reference to the ‘Hollywood Shuffle,’ about a Black artist confronting the white gatekeepers on who gets to tell a Black story and how. I wasn’t aware of that term but as a non-white, immigrant writer, I definitely can relate to that struggle. White gaze’s eroticism on the pain of people of color’ is nothing new, but seeing it realized in this film in the form of powerful theatre producer J. Whitman (Reed Birney) is so damning and revolting. He only wanted to produce Radha’s play if she’s willing to modify it to appeal to more white audiences, and they changes so much of it she could barely recognize her own work in it.

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I enjoy the warm-yet-testy relationship between Radha and Archie. He means well but it’s obvious his ‘creative push’ for her is self-serving. When Radha finally got a possible big break on her play, Archie said ‘This is the major production you wanted’... Her reply was: ‘Do I want it this way?’ Just that conversation alone strikes a chord with me, which makes me root for Radha even more.

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The moment Radha finally did find her own voice in the form of rap is so cool and filled with a real, raw emotion. I really enjoy her rapping style and most of all her evocative lyrics, and I’m usually not a fan of rap music at all. She finds a young DJ named D (Oswin Benjamin) who she thinks might be able to help her. Despite a bit of a rough start, D actually appreciates that she’s got something to say (‘I make the beats but sometimes I need some storytelling’) and becomes more than just an artistic ally. The tentative romance also feels real and not forced, as Radha begins to open up a bit and let someone in who sees her for who she is.

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I absolutely adore this movie as it presents an artist struggle in such a real way, warts and all… even her relationship with her students is fun to watch despite the vulgar and raunchy language. This movie made me laugh and cry, it’s thought-provoking, funny, relatable and emotional, just what every movie should be! The real star is Radha herself who refuses to be put in a box and be told what kind of art she should make. That final defiant moment at the close of her opening night play makes me get up and cheer.

This movie was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance where Radha won a Best Directing prize. It’s a phenomenal debut and it stands as one of my favorite films directed by women so far! I sure hope to see more of Radha Blank’s work in the future, both in front and behind the camera.

4.5/5 stars


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This post is part of Dell On MoviesGIRL WEEK 2021 Blogathon – It’s that time of year when Dell invited his fellow bloggers to focus on women in movies. You can join the fun by posting or talking about films with females in the lead, directed by women, or feature women in some other prominent role.


So have you seen Passing or The Forty-Year-Old Version? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021)

House of Gucci is scandalous family feud set in the world of haute couture… a sensational story ripe for a cinematic adaptation. Apparently Ridley Scott has been wanting to film this since the book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden was released in 2000, which centers on the brutal murder of the heir of the Gucci fortune, Maurizio Gucci, by his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani. 

The film opens with a shot of Maurizio (Adam Driver), the heir of the Gucci fortune, looking dapper in a gray wool suit and oversized Aviators sitting at a Roman cafe. He rides a bicycle on cobblestone streets to his office and about to climb up the steps … well, the story then rewinds back as to the pivotal moment where it all began. You could say Maurizio and Patrizia’s romance began with a ‘meet cute’ at a costume party … I really think it wasn’t so much Maurizio’s looks that attracted her, but her eyes lights up when he said his name… ‘it was a name that sounded so sweet…’ indeed, Gucci is synonymous with wealth, style and power. The whirlwind romance doesn’t begin immediately, but after a bit of stalking, even down to the library where Maurizio was doing his research for his law degree, he finally falls for her… hook line and sinker.

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The first act establishes the two contrasting backgrounds of the two doomed lovers. Though not exactly poor (her stepfather actually owns a pretty successful trucking business), Patrizia always dreams of living the high life. Maurizio on the other hand, who’s been a Gucci all his life, seems unfazed by it all and was set on becoming a lawyer. In fact, he’s content with working at Patrizia’s trucking company when his snobbish, former silent-actor father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) cuts him out of the family for wanting to marry someone he deems unworthy and a gold digger. There’s a scene in the car with Patrizia where Maurizio scoffs at his dad for living in the past and that his grandpa Guccio Gucci who first started the company in Florence, started out as a bellhop London’s Savoy Hotel.

It’s Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) who actually courts Maurizio into the family business, preferring his favorite nephew over his ‘idiot’ son Paolo (Jared Leto) who just never measures up to his father’s standards. The two brothers own half of the Gucci shares each but they clearly have differing visions for the company. In one of the meet ups, Rodolfo insists on quality-over-quantity and adamantly refuses the lucrative globalization approach Aldo is keen on. ‘No malls’ Rodolfo says to Aldo who really just wants to milk the business for all its worth.

Scott captures the lavish lifestyle and glamour of the ultra rich family… the set pieces, clothes, etc. were meticulously designed and they’re fun to watch. At one point, Aldo throws a lavish party on the patio of his 16th Century historical palazzo overlooking Lake Como. It’s enough to get one intoxicated by the glam, glitzy, decadent life of the ultra rich… Patrizia is practically tipsy over being a part of the Gucci family.

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The first act starts out quite well-paced, with a good sense of intrigue and fun. There’s even hilarious moments such as the loud wham-bam, jack-hammer style sex scene in a cramped office… the full-on campiness is quite amusing as it transitions to an elegant wedding in a church set to George Michael’s FAITH. I don’t mind the anachronism style, though those songs got me somewhat nostalgic and took me out of the movie a bit.

The fairy-tale life of being a Gucci queen seems to be within reach for Patrizia, especially after Maurizio inherits his father’s fortune following his death. I think the film would’ve been more effective if it knows just exactly which Gucci tale it wants to tell. Screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna starts out as focusing on the Maurizio/Patricia romance and their rise to power, which eventually tears them apart. As the film progresses, it concerns itself too much with the business side of the fashion label.

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It loses its narrative focus about midway through, thanks to its kitchen-sink storytelling approach, trying to cram as many intersecting storylines from how the cheap fake products are devaluing the Gucci brand to Paolo’s grand ambition to start his own label. The film glaringly forgets about Patrizia early in the third act during its repeated narrative detours, as it was too preoccupied with the battle between father-vs-son-vs-cousin subplot in the race to lead the company. ‘It’s time to take out the trash…’ Patrizia says at one point. If only that’d be applied to the film itself, which could use a much tighter editing scissor to trim its fat.

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The performances did keep me engaged though it’s pretty uneven. Even from its trailer, you know it’s Lady Gaga‘s movie. She totally owns it with her undeniable screen presence, there’s a gleam of madness in her eyes right from the moment she meets Maurizio and wants him all to herself. It helps that her character has the strongest arc in the film… she’s a driven woman who knows exactly what she wants and her narcissistic & overbearing personality clearly drives her husband away.

HouseOfGucci-Driver

Adam Driver is mesmerizing as Maurizio, displaying a disquieting restlessness in a subtle yet effective performance. Despite Maurizio being underwritten, Driver manages to elevate the character and makes him more than one-dimensional. Plus he looks like a bazillion dollars in those sharp suits and the way he carries himself. There’s a hint of ruthless ambition seething underneath his calm demeanor, but there’s almost no transition from the mild-mannered, passive guy to a callous, spendthrift, power-hungry douchebag. Even the romance between him and his mistress Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin) has zero sparks and seems inconsequential despite its actual impact in the real story. Having seen how fiery Cottin is in the Call My Agent! series, this role is such a waste of her talents.

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I was hoping for something indelible when Patrizia, in a blood-red ski outfit, sits down next to Paola and delivers threatening lines like ‘I subscribe to unconventional punishment.’ Disappointingly, the whole thing goes down in an unremarkable way. Same with the ‘Father, Son and House of Gucci’ scene when Paolo asks Patrizia if she can keep a secret… it looks so deliriously juicy in the trailer, but it doesn’t have the same impact in the film.

Speaking of which, Jared Leto in a fat suit and prosthetic makeup is too busy chewing the scenery to portray someone resembling a real person. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s done a good job here portraying the much-maligned Paolo who never gets to spread his creative wings. I just think he veers way over the top in his boorish performance that the character becomes a complete caricature. I suppose Leto often goes well above and beyond the call of duty whenever he portrays a real person, though I wonder if he does it for the attention more so than a dedication to his craft.

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Interestingly enough, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino seem to have similar approaches as the actors playing their respective sons… Irons is all sinister sneering with simmering rage like Driver, while Pacino hams it up with exaggerated hand gestures that reminds me a bit of his performance in Scent Of A Woman. Salma Hayek looks like she’s having more fun here than in Eternals in a small role as a a high-society psychic who becomes close friends with Patrizia. It’s quite ironic to see her as the least wealthy character given that Hayek’s husband actually owns the Gucci brand now.

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As for the accents–everyone adopts a quasi Italian accent to varying degrees. I guess it’s to be expected as Scott never really concerns himself with getting the accents right for his characters. I mean, Russell Crowe’s Maximus is supposed to be a Spaniard in Gladiator but he speaks with more of a British accent, same with all the characters in The Last Duel who’re all supposed to be French.

In terms of direction, I have to admit that House of Gucci doesn’t feel like a Ridley Scott movie compared to his last film released this year, The Last of Duel. I’ve mentioned the script’s lack of focus, which leads to scenes feeling disjointed as some scenes get cut short as another 90s song starts again. Despite the fabulous European locations, the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski isn’t all that remarkable… I can’t even name a single one perfect shot from this movie. Neither is the music by Harry Gregson-Williams, all I remember are the 90s songs, I bet much of the large budget goes towards song licensing.

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The style MVP is definitely costume designer Janty Yates in creating the 90s looks befitting of the fashion-centric movie. I enjoy seeing the various suits and outfits worn by the cast, especially Driver who undergoes quite a style transformation from the dweeby sweaters in his college years to the sharp bespoke suits as Maurizio gains more power and drowns in debt.

It’s a testament to this outlandish tale that I still find the movie quite immersive despite its flaws. I was absorbed in the wild, crazy ride throughout its 2 hours 37 min running time. It actually took me a few days to ‘recover’ from this story, as I watched all kinds of YouTube videos about the Gucci family following the film. It is so tragic that the once-unrivaled fashion empire that’s been created three quarter of a century ago ends up being destroyed by its own family rivalry. Truth really is stranger than fiction!

Given how sensational this story is, you’d think the film would’ve been more impactful and indelible. If it were a meticulously-tailored bespoke suit, House of Gucci seems to have all the right material to put it together. Alas, the execution (no pun intended) doesn’t quite measure up.

2-half Reels


Have you seen HOUSE OF GUCCI? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter TV Review: The Wheel of Time (2021)

Reviewby_Laura

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When Ruth asked me if I wanted to review Amazon Prime’s new series, The Wheel of Time, I had to think about it. Anyone who read my JordanCon post from a few months ago knows I’m a fan of the Robert Jordan‘s books the show is an adaptation of. I don’t want to come across as biased or get too hung up on discussing the show as an adaptation, since a good show should stand on without requiring its viewers to be familiar with the source material. Obviously not all viewers will be familiar with the books, so I will do my best to review this as a stand-alone show. That said, some terms are hard to describe to people who haven’t read the books, so I want to give a special shout-out to my JordanCon friends group chat for helping me with the following summary. You’re all the best, and I can’t wait to see you in April!

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The Wheel of Time follows Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of a mysterious order of magical women called Aes Sedai, and her warder (a sort of bodyguard) Lan (Daniel Henney) as they search for The Dragon Reborn, a person prophesied to save the world or destroy it. Their search takes them to the small town of Two Rivers, where five young men and women- Rand (Josha Stradowski), Mat (Barney Harris), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Egwene (Madeline Madden), and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins)- are caught up in a dangerous and life-changing journey. 

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I won’t say this is a perfect series- with only 3 episodes available so far, there’s obviously room to grow- but it’s off to a very promising start. Its greatest strength is easily its cast. I already loved Rosamund Pike and knew her versatility would lend itself well to the role of Moiraine, and she and Daniel Henney have incredible chemistry. The relationship between an Aes Sedai and her warder is an interesting one, and the wrong actors could easily mess it up, but these two perfectly convey the platonic but deeply loving friendship between them.

The young cast portraying the Two Rivers group are fantastic as well. Despite Zoë Robins getting the least screen time of the five so far, she’s easily a stand out, giving an absolutely fierce performance. Madeline Madden exudes this quiet strength that is so perfect for her character, and I’m so excited to see more of her. Josha Stradowski gives a subtle and likable performance. Marcus Rutherford practically radiates this inner warmth in every scene he’s in. And Barney Harris has incredible comedic chops while still bringing a solemnity to his character. A different actor (Dónal Finn) will be playing Mat in season 2, and while I’m sure he’s an excellent actor, he’ll have some big shoes to fill.

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The show is visually stunning as well. The sweeping scenery and creatively designed sets are gorgeous. The Trollocs (flesh-hungry animal/human hybrid monsters) are sufficiently horrifying. I’m obsessed with the costume design; the clothing is unique but reflective of the environment the characters are in or from, and it’s so refreshing seeing an epic fantasy where the characters aren’t all dressed in generic medieval garb. 

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As I said though, the show is not perfect. There are definitely some pacing issues, especially in the first episode where the ending feels annoyingly rushed. It gets better in the next two episodes, but there’s still room for improvement. The “dead wife” motivation for one of the main characters is more than a little cliche, and having a woman killed after barely 5 minutes of screen time to drive a man’s character arc isn’t a great look. There’s also been some discussion of colorism in the casting; while there are several people of color in main roles, there are only a few actors with darker complexions, and they’re cast as either villains or victims. Even if it was unintentional, it’s understandably upset people, and hopefully more care will be taken in casting going forward.  

Overall, though, The Wheel of Time is a beautifully produced and incredibly acted show, and I’m so excited to see the rest of the season. 8 episodes doesn’t feel like enough, but they’ve already started working on season 2, so at least we know we’ll have more to look forward to. 

4/5 stars

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Have you seen The Wheel of Time yet? Well, what did YOU think?

Ranking ADAM DRIVER’s 10-best roles in honor of his birthday!

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Ahhhh… I almost missed Adam Driver‘s 38th birthday on Friday, November 19 if it weren’t for my photography-enthusiast husband pointing it out to me on Instagram. Apparently one of the photographers he follows on IG, Jason Belle, had wished him a happy birthday.

I’ve been crushing on this Indiana-native for some time now… it’s been a steady buildup for a few years but it kind of went into overdrive [no pun intended] after seeing Annette, specifically THIS shot…

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… which is quickly followed by rewatches of the Star Wars movies … I have a thing for dark, wavy, thick hair so when I first saw Kylo took his helmet off for the first time, I remember my heart skipping a beat 😍

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Adam DriverHow do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Actually no… it’ll be super long blog post if I go into that, ahah… but let me share just a few… I do love that he is a Midwestern boy… from Mishawaka, Indiana specifically (about 8 hours drive from where I live in Minneapolis suburbs… ehm) and clearly he’s still got that small-town charm given his upbringing.

I love how massive his stature is (he describe himself as a Sasquatch in the Peter Travers interview)… he’s easily around 6’3″ with strong postures and perfectly lean muscles… whoever has this idea for this striking Burberry commercial, God bless you!!

I love how he’s equally sexy and adorable in Mister Rogers sweater and in a dapper suit…

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I love his benevolence and philanthropic spirit … creating AITAF (Arts in the Armed Forces) after he had gotten out of the military (yet another reason I love him as very few actors served in the military)… and how passionate he is whenever he gets a chance to talk about it…

I love his deep, masculine voice and the way he can articulate his thoughts carefully… I was watching a bazillion interviews of him on YouTube and it shows so much of his character as a thoughtful and deep thinker, there’s no nonsense about him, not one iota of pretentiousness that you find in so many actors… it’s as if he doesn’t care about impressing anyone and THAT is sexy to me.

I love his incredibly luscious mane… I think even Ridley Scott realizes that, I love his long, beautiful tresses he’s sporting on the two movies he directed, The Last Duel and House of Gucci (review coming next week!)

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But what I love most about him is his phenomenal acting skills… I mean he truly is the most exciting actor working today, someone I would rush to see in whatever movies he’s done. Heck, I took a half day off from work for a morning screening of House of Gucci last Tuesday… and it was so worth it!

So in honor of this ridiculously-talented, Julliard-trained thespian… I’m going to rank 10 of his roles I’ve seen so far, and let me preface that by saying I haven’t seen Silence, This Is Where I Leave You and The Meyerowitz Stories. This ranking is going from my least to top favorite … and to clarify, I’m NOT ranking the movie, but his performance in it, as his performance is often the BEST thing about a movie and makes watching even so-so movie worthwhile. So here goes…

10. JUDE – Hungry Hearts

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The only reason I wanted to see this film is Adam and honestly, I don’t think I could have finished watching it the whole way through if it weren’t for him. The only lighthearted and humorous moment is the meet-cute in a Chinese restaurant bathroom, but the rest of the film was so insufferable and sorry, I simply cannot stand his co-star (Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher). Adam’s performance makes it worthwhile however, which is a testament that a charismatic actor can make people endure even a dreadful film.

9. CLYDE – Logan Lucky

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I saw this ages ago when he wasn’t really on my radar, but I still remember his adorkable performance. I wish he’d do more comedic roles as his deadpan humor is to die for! As Channing Tatum’s brother who’s an Iraq war veteran and an amputee, the role likely resonated with him given his military background. I don’t really like the sound of Southern accents but I could listen to Adam’s West Virginian twang for hours!

8. TOBY – The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

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What a crazy roller coaster ride this movie was… but then again, it’s by Terry Gilliam, which has been stuck in development hell for nearly two decades. I love Adam’s no-holds-barred performance that displays his comedic chops as well as his sexy leading man prowess. There are moments where former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko relentlessly seduces him to make love to her and he continues to elude her… it makes me think of Adam’s penchant of playing the reluctant-hero that he portrays so brilliantly throughout his career.

Adam is always magnetic in every role and he’s so fun to watch in all the insane adventures his character goes through. I love the sumptuous costumes and production design and he looks magnificent in the ornate 17th century fashion… reason enough to watch this movie.

7. KYLO REN – Star Wars Episode VII, VIII, IX

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Ahhh… the wonderfully meme-able Kylo Ren… I didn’t fully appreciate Adam’s performance initially, I actually thought Kylo is hilarious in his inability to control his rage… I remember laughing out loud watching him bash his helmet to shred that even the storm troopers shudder just even hearing him in another room.

But by the second SW movie, I was in awe of what Adam’s done with the role, a tragic character born out of two heroes who’s lured by the dark side… Watching him portray Kylo’s internal struggles is mesmerizing as unlike his grandpa, the mysterious Darth Vader, Kylo’s human side is palpable and while he’s powerful, he doesn’t quite have it all together. But of course he also looks fantastic in those long black coat showcasing his tall, slender frame… plus, there’s the luscious wavy hair [fan self]

6. JACQUES – The Last Duel

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I nearly gasped when I saw his character’s name as Jacques is the name of the male lead in my script Hearts Want, and at some point I had written him as a Frenchman. Jacques is described as a handsome nobleman and there are moments where women of nobility look upon him as if he were some 14th century French heartthrob… well he certainly looks the part.

No stranger to playing baddies, Jacques is the quintessential villain in that he doesn’t even think of his terrible deeds as something bad… and Jacques remains defiant right up to his final violent death. I mentioned that his despicable character threatens to ‘cure’ me out of my infatuation of him… it kind of did briefly which again is a testament to his astute performance, but of course it doesn’t last long.

5. FLIP – BlacKkKlansman

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It’s the role that nabbed him his first Oscars nomination in a supporting role, along with a Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Independent Spirit noms. It’s definitely a juicy role for any actor and Adam didn’t squander that opportunity. As a Jewish undercover cop named Flip Zimmerman who infiltrates a Colorado chapter of the KKK, it’s a role that requires a delicate balance of comedic and drama that he pulls off with aplomb. There’s an earnest-ness about Flip and a stealthy quality about him that makes him a good spy.

4. MAURIZIO – House of Gucci

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I saw this earlier this week so it’s still fresh in my mind. From a French knight to a member of Italian fashion royalty… Adam is convincing in ANY role. Even the House of Gucci‘s costume designer Janty Yates said he’s a shoe-in as Maurizio Gucci as he’s ‘tall and elegant.’ But it takes more than the physicality for an actor to fully embody the role. The way Adam carries himself as the heir of the Gucci fortune exudes money and power, and a hint of ruthless ambition seething underneath that transforms him from a mild-mannered, passive guy to a callous douchebag.

The movie isn’t perfect but his performance is still a highlight for me…he commands your attention right from the first moment he appears on screen… with the camera panning slowly as he’s sitting in a cafe near his office in Rome with his perfectly tailored suits and oversized Aviators. If people hadn’t been convinced of his sex symbol status by now, I think this role surely cements it.

3. CHARLIE – Marriage Story

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I saw this at the Twin Cities Film Fest and though I haven’t had a chance to fully review it, I included it in my top 10 films of 2019. I was rooting for Noah Baumbach to win Best Screenplay at the Oscars as his shrewdly-written script feels so natural and incredibly immersive. Adam’s Charlie is far from being the perfect husband and he’s got rage issues that he displays in some of the explosive scenes in the movie… some of the fight scenes with Scarlett Johansson are visceral and tough to watch, which is a testament to both of their acting prowess. I’m glad both were nominated for acting Oscars that year.

Of course one of the highlights is him singing Sondheim’s Being Alive... an utterly mesmerizing scene that resonates so emotionally. Having seen some interviews where Adam displays such aversion to singing (you could even see him panicking when he’s asked to sing), it’s incredible that he often sings in his films… further proof that he often lost himself in a role.

2. PATERSON – Paterson

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I love that Adam seeks out roles based on how he feels about the director and he clearly loves and understands Jim Jarmusch. Paterson is not a flashy role but a beautiful, soulful one that showcases Adam’s ability to act with just his facial expressions. The scenes where his poetry are written across the screen as he is doing a mundane job like driving a bus day in and day out have such a hypnotic quality. It’s not a film that concerns itself with endless action to keep people engaged and it’s such a wonderful antidote to mainstream Hollywood movies filled with random chaos. In my brief review in my Hidden Gem post, this film is a sweet celebration of life’s small joys and its oddity… I can’t wait to see this again soon.

1. HENRY – Annette

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An absolute tour de force performance that had me transfixed from start to finish. Even from the moment he appears singing with the Sparks brothers and the cast in the opening sequence, Adam was so committed in this surreal, bizarre musical. As a provocative stand-up comedian Henry McHenry, this is perhaps the most feral performance out of him. It’s also a very physical role where he uses his entire body to portray Henry’s simian characteristic… aptly known on stage as “the Ape of God.” I have to admit I was both entranced and appalled by his character, which is obviously by design.

Annette is not for everyone but if one can get past the weirdness of this sung-through musical, I love how it highlights the force of nature that is Adam Driver and I’m forever grateful. His fearless performance is truly one for the ages.


This appreciation post comes a day late… but hey, instead of having an #AdamDriverDay …. might as well make it an #AdamDriverWeekend as we can enjoy his spectacular work all weekend long!

Let me leave you with this sublime, heartbreaking performance in Marriage Story… easily my favorite scene in the film where all his emotions comes through as he’s singing it… it speaks volumes more than all his monologues and incessant yelling. Simply masterful.


So in celebration of the one and only ADAM DRIVER … what’s YOUR favorite role(s) you’ve seen so far?

FlixChatter Review: King Richard (2021)

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Even if you don’t really follow the world of tennis, you would have to live under a rock if you haven’t heard of Venus and Serena Williams. I have to admit I didn’t know much about their upbringing so when I saw the film was about their father, I was intrigued. Will Smith plays the title role, Richard Williams, a determined father of five girls living in Compton, CA. Yep, they’re straight out of Compton! (Sorry I couldn’t resist!)

The 53-year-old Smith’s is made up to look much older with grizzly beard sporting short shorts and speaking with a thick Southern drawl. The movie poster of him pushing a grocery cart with Venus & Serena + a bunch of tennis balls is perhaps the most evocative image of the year. It gets me teary eyed watching Richard collects discarded tennis balls from various country clubs. Richard’s method to get his daughters proper training is unconventional but that persistence is so inspiring. Armed with a 85-page plan, he’d visit affluent country clubs in upscale neighborhoods like Beverly Hills to convince rich members to invest in his daughters. He remains undeterred when one white guy after another brush him off. He firmly believes they will one day become tennis stars that you could tell he actually feels sorry for those naysayers for missing out on this golden opportunity. 

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Director Reinaldo Marcus Green keeps the pace lively and the script by Zach Baylin peppers the film with familial warmth & humor. But they also doesn’t shy away from the economic struggles raising five kids with both parents working, Richard works nights as a security guard and his wife works as a nurse. Not to mention the racial injustice that Richard often face, from past trauma with the police and KKK to getting beaten up by local thugs when he’s training his kids in a run-down tennis court. There is one particularly suspenseful moment when Richard sets out to avenge one of those gang members with a gun in hand.

The performances are the highlights in King Richard. Will Smith gives his best performance in years where he practically becomes the character he’s playing. I said almost as there are a few moments where the actor’s exuberant persona comes out, but Smith is so infectiously charming that I don’t mind.

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As good as Smith is though, Aunjanue Ellis is equally powerful as Venus & Serena’s mother/coach Oracene Price. She’s got such a strong screen presence and all her scenes are wonderful to watch. I especially love the part when she confronts a neighbor who unrightfully called Child Protection Services on them for making the girls train in the rain. The film’s title refers to a singular person who’s responsible for two of the world’s best tennis stars, but obviously it takes two to raise a family of champions. Price also coached Serena when Richard was busy training Venus, as well as puts up with Richard’s less than less than savory side involving his past relationships. I appreciate that the filmmakers refrain from portraying Richard as a patron saint as it wouldn’t be accurate, but despite his flaws as a man, this film’s focus is to highlight his undeniable impact to his two daughters’ careers.

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Saniyya Sidney as Venus and Demi Singleton as Serena are both outstanding here and even more impressive that they also perform all the tennis playing scenes! Tony Goldwyn and Jon Bernthal have memorable turns as Venus’ coaches, Paul Cohen and Rick Macci, respectively. There’s even a funny scene when Richard and his two girls pays him a visit as he was coaching Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. Bernthal is quite a scene stealer here, sporting a bowl haircut, his performance is so unlike the typical tough-guy persona he’s done many times before. It cements my opinion that he’s the one of the best character actors working today.

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Green did a great job filming the dynamic tennis action scenes, even capturing Venus’ famous power serve. There are some beautiful drone shots of the matches as well. But one of the most memorable scenes to me is not on the tennis court, but in their hotel room when a brash Nike exec offers Venus a “take-it-or-leave-it” deal of $3 million. It may seem like a lot of money but Richard had the vision that her daughter is worth more. The closing credits text reveals he was right as she later signed with Reebok for four times that amount. I also appreciate the quieter scenes such as a mother braiding her daughter’s hair or the family watching a movie together which I find really moving.

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Overall this is a rousing, uplifting biopic with a terrific script and spot-on performances. It was emotionally involving from start to finish and I’m glad I got to know a bit more about the journey that shaped Venus and Serena to be the superstars they’re known today. King Richard reigns supreme in the sports drama genre and will inspire many to believe in one’s dreams and work hard to achieve it.

4/5 stars


Have you seen KING RICHARD? Well, what did you think?