FlixChatter Review: 12 Strong (2018)

guestpost

Review by: Vitali Gueron

The movie 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers is based on author Doug Stanton‘s book Horse Soldiers, which tells the story of U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary officers sent to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Peña, 12 Strong follows the group of Task Force Dagger who is sent to Afghanistan to fight with General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Afghanistan Northern Alliance and dispatched to a mountainous region of Afghanistan to conduct unconventional warfare against the Taliban forces who had occupied the region.

Hemsworth w/ Navid Nagahban

Hemsworth, (best known for playing Thor, the hammer-wielding god of thunder) plays Captain Mitch Nelson, a character inspired by real life Green Beret commander Mark Nutsch who led the covert, horse-mounted mission that saw his 14-man Green Beret team unite with his Afghan allies’ horsemen to break out of the Hindu Kush mountains, seize a symbolic ancient shrine, and overthrow the Taliban regime. Nelson befriends and gains the trust of General Dostum (played by Navid Nagahban) and the General offered the Green Beret Special Forces team crucial “hooves on the ground” support.

Michael Shannon

According to the declassified story, General Dostum asked his American allies of what sort of help they could provide to destroy the Taliban forces blocking their exit from the mountains. It was at this time that Mark Nutsch taught them of the satellite-guided bombs. Nutsch and the Green Berets acted as ground spotters to call in precision strikes from giant B-52s flying high overhead coming from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. As the bombs fell on Taliban tanks and positions, General Dostum’s men charged through the bomb smoke on horseback wiping out the remaining Taliban.

The film is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who has given us such classics as Black Hawk Down, Top Gun, and Armageddon, and co-produced with Alcon Entertainment and Black Label Media. Bruckheimer presents us with a riveting story in our recent history that many Americans might not know about. He also jam-packs 12 Strong with big-screen military fireworks that he is all too well known for. This is where we lose some key depth of storytelling and character development for more intricate action sequences and extravagant explosions on a massive scale.

Overall, the movie acts as tribute to soldiers whose contributions went unheralded for years. Even though it doesn’t have the strong emotional connection of other war movies such as Black Hawk Down or Hacksaw Ridge, this one is still a remarkable true story of great heroism that we should all keep in our memory and be grateful for the real life heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice and risked their lives for our American freedoms.


Have you seen ’12 Strong’? Well, what did you think? 

Advertisements

FlixChatter Review: HOSTILES (2017)

After he finished with The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christian Bale has been busy starring in different type of roles and in smaller scope film than those big budget Batman films. While I respect his choices, I can’t say I enjoy many of those films he starred in. In fact, I hated both American Hustle and Exodus: Gods and Kings. In his new film, he reunited with Scott Cooper who directed him in Out of the Furnace.

Set in 1892, a legendary Army Captain named Joseph Blocker (Bale) is tasked with escorting an old and sick Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal land in Montana. At first Blocker is reluctant to the task since he and Yellow Hawk has a history together and he can’t stand the man. But when his superior threatened to take away his pension if he refused the job, with no choice, he obliged.

On their way to Montana, Blocker, his men and Yellow Hawk’s family ran into a widow named Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) whose family was brutally murdered by another Indian tribe. With no home and family, Blocker invited Rosalie to come along with him so she can be safe. Just like many other wester films, the plot for this one is pretty thin. The whole film is about how this group of people come together despite their differences and form a bond in order to survive the harsh land at that time.

Performances were pretty good, especially Bale. He plays a man who’ll do anything to survive but he’s also royal to his men. I don’t know if I buy how his character change of heart by the end of the film but Bale’s performance was so intense and sincere that I didn’t let it bother me too much. I was a bit disappointed that Pike’s character didn’t really have much to do once she joined the group. Same can be said of Studi’s character, in fact he didn’t have a lot of dialog in the entire film.

I wasn’t that impressed with Scott Cooper’s last two films, Out of the Furnace and Black Mass. He’s telling a familiar story again here but I thought this one turned out much better than his two previous pictures. The film was well shot but the pacing was a bit slow. I thought some of the dialogs sounded a bit preachy but thankfully he didn’t try to hit you over the head with the message he wanted say. I have to mention the excellent music score by Max Richter, it’s combination of school western theme and modern-day thriller. Again, the film looked great thanks to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi.

This a good film with a great performance by Bale, if you’re a fan of the western genre then you’ll enjoy this one. To me what’s keep it from being a great film is the lack of conflicts and not much character development of the supporting cast.

TedS_post


So have you seen HOSTILES? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Paddington 2 (2018)

Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Though I enjoyed the first movie, it wasn’t as if I was clamoring for a sequel. But hey, not all sequels are inherently bad. I loved it so much that when I got home, my hubby and I actually re-watched the first Paddington. You know what, this sequel actually surpasses the original!

I love that writer/director Paul King gave the ever lovable bear an enchanting backstory and here we’re reminded once again where he came from (Peru) and how he got his genteel manner. “If you’re kind and polite the world will be right,” that’s his mantra, which is something everyone of us should live by. This movie has sooo much heart and the kind of British humor that really tickles my fancy. All the shenanigans he runs into in various jobs are hysterical, the barbershop and window-cleaning scenes had me in stitches. But the best scene is definitely in prison, and Brendan Gleeson is a riot as the fearful prison cook with a fun name, Knuckles McGinty.

But the real scene-stealer here is Hugh Grant who embraces his brilliant comic timing and puts it to good use. He plays Phoenix Buchanan (another fun name!), a has-been theatre actor who’s now relegated to doing dog food commercial. The various disguises are hilarious, hard to pick a favorite though the nun-scene is a particularly memorable one. It makes for some fun AND funny action scenes as Paddington has to retrieve the stolen gift for his aunt Lucy, as well as clear his name.

The Brown family (with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville reprising their roles as Paddington’s adoptive parents) are fun to watch as well. It’s amusing to see the incredible range of Hawkins’ acting ability in two extremely different performances (the other one is in The Shape of Water) in the span of a single week. I love how no scene is wasted in this movie, even the seemingly-throwaway scene of each family member’s new hobby has a purpose later in the movie. Julie Walters is always a hoot as Mrs. Bird, oh and one of my fave comedians Richard Ayoade also made a cameo!

In the end, the star of the show has always been Paddington himself, voiced brilliantly by Ben Whishaw with his wonderfully soothing voice. It’s a VERY British movie and so of course the Anglophile in me loved every moment. This jolly good fun ride is accompanied by a lively score by Dario Marianelli (whose Pride & Prejudice is my listening staple). A thoroughly joyful experience, this is one franchise I hope will keep on going.


*Yep this one gets a rare perfect score from me, I can’t find a single thing wrong w/ it!


Have you seen Paddington 2? Did you love it as much as I did?

FlixChatter Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FlixChatter Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Happy Monday everyone!

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

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

* Signifies films directed by women

  1. Wildlife

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


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

  2. Half the Picture (Doc)*

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


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

  3. Juliet, Naked

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


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

  4. Holiday*

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


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

  5. Puzzle

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


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

  6. Colette

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

    Keira Knightley in ‘Colette’

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

  7. What They Had*

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


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

  8. Ophelia*

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


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

  9. The Kindergarten Teacher*

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


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

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

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


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

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

guestpost

Review by: Vitali Gueron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

laura_review


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

FlixChatter Review: The Greatest Showman (2017)

guestpost

Review by: Vitali Gueron

The upcoming original musical The Greatest Showman is directed by Michael Gracey, and written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon. First time Australian director Gracey made a wonderful decision to turn The Greatest Showman into a modern-musical, opting for modern day pop style songs over 1800s tunes. Convincing 20th Century FOX, Gracey was instrumental in hiring songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Tony award winners for the original musical Dear Evan Hansen and then Golden Globe and OSCAR winners for the La La Land song City of Stars). Pasek and Paul wrote eleven original songs for The Greatest Showman, each more emotional than the last. Their original song This Is Me, has so far been nominated for a Golden Globe and could be in play for the Best Original Song category at this year’s OSCARS.

The film is inspired by the life of circus creator and father of modern show business, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman). Supporting Barnum are his supportive wife Charity (Michelle Williams), his business partner Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the acrobat & trapeze-artist that Carlyle scandalously falls for. Broadway star Keala Settle stars as the Bearded Lady and she sings This is Me to perfection. She nearly runs away with the whole movie.

When Barnum struggles supporting his circus made up of freaks and bizarre acts, he invited and hires Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), a famous Swedish opera singer to perform in America for the first time. Barnum called Lind “The Swedish Nightingale” and she ended up being a big hit and performing over 90 concerts for him before quitting the tour and breaking her contract with Barnum. Lind had wearied of Barnum’s assertive marketing of her and that she would end up like Barnum’s circus. When Barnum returns to New York after the tour, the building housing his circus catches fire and while no one is hurt, the building is a total loss. Barnum then figures out that he doesn’t need a whole building to house the circus but rather a very large tent.

Zendaya and Zac Efron have a wonderful connection onscreen, especially when they perform the acrobatically-demanding musical number Rewrite The Stars and when he defends her in front of his parents. They share some terrific chemistry, but it’s hard to beat the moments when Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman share the screen. One of the best scenes in the film is when Barnum talks Carlyle into joining the circus, and they try to out-dance each other. They do this during the song The Other Side. There are also beautiful renditions of Tightrope by Michelle Williams and Never Enough, performed by Loren Allred who provides Jenny Lind’s singing voice in the movie.

The Greatest Showman feels a little predictable and disjoined at times, but the emotions in the movie feel true and very authentic. The movie make you want to care for Barnum and what happens with his family, so you probably won’t care if it is a little over the top – musicals are supposed to be that way. It’s the perfect film to enjoy with the whole family over the holidays; even if you’re someone who hates musicals this one might be the one that convinces you to give it a try. At least one can appreciate the hard work it is to write a whole new, original musical. I have to give them props for a job well done.


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

FlixChatter Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

I have to admit that my life has been so hectic lately I haven’t really had time to anticipate any films this holiday season like I normally do. But when the press screening invite came out for The Last Jedi, I actually got more excited despite only having seen only one trailer. Well, I’m glad that is the only trailer/videos I’ve seen of the film… it’s best to see it ‘blind’ knowing as little as possible. I don’t write reviews very often anymore, so indulge me when I go a bit longer with this one.

Force Awakens is more nostalgic and an homage to the original from JJ Abrams, and while The Last Jedi also still has to tread on familiar grounds, it somehow feels fresh and new. There are quite a few surprises that thrills, delights and tugs my heartstrings. Ok granted I’m more of a casual Star Wars fan, so I don’t have the depth knowledge like ardent aficionados, but I was quite caught up with the journey of the main characters. The story pretty much picks up where the last film leaves off, with a literal cliffhanger as we saw Rey (Daisy Ridley) meeting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) up high on a cliff by an ocean.


But before we get there, the film drops us straight into an intergalactic space battle of the Resistance fighters, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) against the reigning First Order. I enjoy thrilling aerial battles and the SFX is off the charts in a film of this magnitude, but I’m glad there’s more to this movie than just action, action, action. What I really enjoyed most from the film is the quieter, more talky scenes between Rey and Luke. Writer/director Rian Johnson delved deep into the saga’s mythology and Jedi philosophy… about what the force really is, the real power of the Jedi, etc. Those are the real appeal of this enduring franchise and what makes me go ‘ok I see why people love this saga so much and why it appeals to multiple generations.’

There are fans who might not like the direction of Luke in this film (even Hamill himself reportedly told Johnson he fundamentally disagreed how his character was written), but I personally love the deconstruction of such a titular character. Why is Luke such a legend? Just what exactly is the Force and who gets to have it? How does Luke himself sees his own power and its effect in the universe? It’s always intriguing to learn just what the fuss is about Luke, especially given how he was talked about in virtually every scene in The Force Awakens, yet we only got to see him for mere seconds! I love the grizzled, curmudgeon Luke (like Hamill was channeling the real Harrison Ford!), the salt & pepper longish hair and beard makes him look even more distinguished. The scenes between him and Rey are definitely my favorite. “This is not going to go the way you think.” Luke says at one point (it’s not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer and all over its promos)… and you know what, the film actually delivers on that sentiment!

The film is divided into three major scenarios, in which each team has to fulfill a certain ‘task’ if you will, all happening around the same time. My main quibble with the movie is that the transition between one scenario to another feels disjointed at times. One scene would be solemn and intense, then it’ll switch to something more mischievous and funky and then it’s full-throttle action. Perhaps it’s to be expected when you have such a vast narrative involving so many players but it could’ve been done more smoothly. That said though, the film has enough going for it–the energetic action, lively humor and genuine emotion–that I didn’t even mind the 2.5 hours running time.

Obviously the strength of this space saga is the characters people truly care about over the years. I feel like there’s a proper balance (a word thrown out a lot in this film) between the iconic characters and the newer ones that expand the story. The emotional tug of war between Rey and Kylo is the heart of the story here, and both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are absolutely terrific. I’ve loved Ridley’s spunky Rey from the start and I find Driver’s Kylo even more magnetic here (and not only ’cause he’s got such great mane!). Yes he’s a grandpa Vader wanna-be (and he’s still got serious anger-management issues), but there’s much more than that and the internal conflict within him is palpable. Poor Domhnall Gleeson though, a terrific actor who’s relegated to being the comic relief as the over-the-top General Hux.

On the Resistance team, pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, not to be outdone by Adam in the sexy hair department) gets more to do here. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Poe solo movie with the oh-so-charismatic Isaac, he’s just a cool guy with a reckless energy a la Han Solo. There’s less bantering between him and his bestie Fin (John Boyega). Instead, Fin is paired with another spunky maintenance worker loyal to the Resistance, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). BB-8 is still an immensely fun droid to watch, while the new avian creature Porg likely only appeals to little kiddies. I’m glad to see two new female characters with a proper arc, one is Rose and the other is Vice Admiral Holdo, played by veteran actress Laura Dern. There’s a pretty intense exchange between her and Poe, but I’m not even going to spoil it for you what it’s about. One thing I can say is the scenes of Carrie Fisher is truly bittersweet. The film is dedicated to her (naturally!) but the whole film gives a proper homage to such an iconic character.

Now onto SPOILERS territory… (highlight to read)

It was cool to see Yoda making an appearance here with Luke on the island. As Luke struggles with destroying the ancient Jedi text, Yoda just made it go kablooey. It’s not particularly a highlight for me, but it’s cool to see the apprentice and the master reunited. Another reunion that made me tear up is Luke and Leia… especially when she gave the Han Solo’s dice he grabbed from the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. I love when Leia said ‘Luke, I know what you’re going to say. I changed my hair.’ Ha! It feels like something Carrie Fisher herself would say. When Luke said to her (about Han) ‘he’s never really gone’ it feels like how Carrie herself is to the SW family and the fans. Her spirit will always be with the franchise. 

Now for those who’ve seen this? Who do you think the Last Jedi is? Is it Luke or is it Rey? Thoughts on the kid in the last scene that hints he’s got the Force with him?

My initial reaction after I saw this is it’s currently one of my favorites in the franchise! Well, after four days seeing it, I still stand by it. In fact, I don’t mind seeing this again by year’s end. It’s really got everything. Thrilling action, check. Intense lightsaber battle, check. Witty repartee, check. Emotional struggles, check. The action punctuates the story and that’s how it should be. Unlike the overwrought and mawkish prequels, Rian’s script has zest and wit, and also unafraid to poke fun at themselves. I also marvel at the cinematography by Steve Yedlin, a longtime Rian Johnson collaborator. So many iconic visuals that truly took my breath away, especially those on the island filmed in County Kerry, Ireland. And of course, John Williams’ iconic epic score still gives me the chills!

By the time the end credits roll, I am already excited to see how the story goes from there. It’s great to have a filmmaker who evidently has been a fan of the franchise since he was a kid, but still also an ‘outsider’ who dared to take the 40-year-old saga into unexpected paths. The force is certainly strong with Rian Johnson, so I have no problem having him do the next Star Wars trilogy.


So what are your thoughts on The Last Jedi? Feel free to indulge me on your own theories about what happens in the film!