Encore Review: The Lost City of Z (2016)

I had blogged about this three years ago, but upon seeing some new stills from Netflix’s upcoming horror film The Devil All The Time, which stars Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland in supporting roles, it made me think of this underrated biographical adventure drama.

Based on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, “The Lost City of Z” tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region.

It’s too bad the film didn’t do well in the box office, as I think people were expecting a full-blown adventure film a la Indiana Jones. This one is more of reflective adventure drama that focuses on the struggle of the protagonist, British explorer Col. Percy Fawcett with his obsession to find the lost city. Writer/director James Gray, who adapted the 2009 book of the same name by David Grann, wasn’t just interested with the Amazonian adventure itself. He took the time to explore the characters’ motivations, the complexity of the political climate of British Imperialism and the toll it takes for those who went against the tide of convention. I appreciate the family drama aspect of the story as well, which often gets overlooked in adventure films.

Charlie Hunnam is impressive here as a soulful and complex protagonist, which proves that he’s much more than a brute hunk. Glad Brad Pitt passed on the role though he still signed on as producer. Hunnam has the rugged look, presence and vulnerability that made me identify with his role and easily empathize with his character.

Robert Pattinson‘s appearance as Fawcett’s aide is relatively small here, but I think it’s pretty memorable. I appreciate him taking on more understated supporting roles (and barely recognizable under a full beard) despite being an A-lister after Twilight. Another two actors I’m impressed with are Sienna Miller and Tom Holland as Fawcett’s wife and son, respectively. This is perhaps one of Miller’s most memorable role to me. She portrayed someone who’s more than another devoted wife, but she actually has quite an integral role here in an era where women barely had a place in the conversation.

Holland is quite a versatile young actor. He didn’t appear until past the halfway mark but he was memorable. I like the scenes between him and Hunnam who convincingly played his dad despite only being 15 years apart in age.

I’m glad I got to see this film on the big screen (oh how I miss going to the theatres!) The visuals are pretty striking, thanks to cinematographer Darius Khondji and meticulous production design by Jean-Vincent Puzos. The film looks absolutely stunning, with lush tropical forest and river scenes (filmed in Columbia) which looks pretty authentic. But at the heart of it is an engaging story, and an inspiring message against bigotry and racial supremacy that is more timely than ever.

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s available to rent for free if you have Amazon Prime, and it’s also on iTunes. It’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting one day. Yes it’s 2 hours 20 minutes long, but we do have the benefit of time nowadays and this film would reward your patience.


Have you seen The Lost City of Z? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – The Secret: Dare to Dream (2020)

I have to admit that prior to seeing this film, I had never heard of the self-help book series called The Secret, which apparently was born out of a 2006 documentary film about the great mystery of the universe by Rhonda Byrne. The books, also written by Byrne, have become such huge best-sellers, endorsed by Oprah and translated into 50 languages. Evidently I don’t really Oprah, nor do I subscribe to the Law of Attraction way of thinking, which claims that thoughts can change a person’s life directly.

When I saw the trailer, I was more curious than intrigued, but I decided to give it a shot. The movie centers on a down-on-her-luck young-ish widow Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) with three kids under the age of 16. Though she’s dating her wealthy store-owner boss (Jerry O’Connell, playing an unmemorable stock character), Miranda is broke, so broke that she can’t afford to fix her leaking roof or even pizza for dinner.

As luck would have it, one fateful afternoon she runs into (literally!) a mysterious guy during a fender-bender incident. Instead of being upset, Bray Johnson (Josh Lucas) offers to fix her front bumper AND her roof! Let’s just say his sheer positivity, and his way of dealing with her kids, pretty much charm his way into the Wells’ family. With a title called The Secret, naturally you expect that there’s something that connects Miranda and Bray, and the movie is far from subtle in its eventual revelation.

While watching the movie, I strive to suppress my cynicism and really enjoy the film for what it is. One thing I appreciate from the start is Miranda’s relationship with her three kids–they actually flow quite naturally and doesn’t make me cringe. I often find these kinds of Lifetime or Hallmark-inspired dramas to be chock full of cringe-worthy acting, now it’s not entirely devoid of it, mind you, but the kids are actually rather charming. Sarah Hoffmeister as Missy, Aidan Brennan as Greg, and especially Chloe Lee as Bess the youngest all have some cute moments in the movie. Veteran actress Celia Weston is truly the comic relief here as Miranda’s mother in law.

I haven’t seen Katie Holmes in anything memorable since oh I dunno, Batman Begins? To be fair though, she’s actually pretty decent here and believable as a caring mom who’s trying to make ends meet. It’s Josh Lucas that I have the biggest issue with, in regards to how his character’s written and his smarmy acting. He started off okay and I was even willing to go with his robust positive energy, dimpled smile and aw-shucks grin, but it was like eating candy when you’ve got a horrible cavity (you’ll know why I use this analogy when you’ve seen the movie). He’s like Mr. Perfect and even after a sliver of his past and the big secret was revealed, his character stays pretty much the same from beginning to end. Speaking of the ending, the saccharine sweet level was through the roof!

I think I’d have liked it a bit a lot more if the movie hadn’t been so predictable. My husband sat down with his laptop for the last half of the movie and he guessed who the character was that showed up towards the end, even though he wasn’t really following it closely. There are certain sincere moments, such as between Bray and Miranda’s son, but those are too few and far between to balance the plot contrivances and cheesy bits. This is far from being Andy Tennant‘s best work. He’s done much more memorable romantic dramas and rom-coms–Ever After, Hitch, even Sweet Home Alabama (which stars a less smarmy Josh Lucas). Ok so this one is slightly more watchable than The Bounty Hunter, but I blame Gerry Butler for that, ha!

I guess if you’re into Nicholas Sparks movies or those Hallmark rom-coms, this might be the movie for you. In the time of uncertainties amidst a pandemic, I welcome a film with a hopeful and uplifting message, sadly this one is pretty much drowned out by its own schmaltz.


Have you seen The Secret: Dare to Dream or read the books? I’d love to hear what you think!

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FlixChatter: THE RENTAL (2020)

When Ruth asked me if I wanted to cover The Rental, I said yes as soon as I saw that Dan Stevens was in it; I enjoyed him in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and my boyfriend and I have been on a Downton Abbey kick (we just finished season three and I am HEARTBROKEN), so I thought it could be fun to see him in a horror movie. Unfortunately, while he (and the rest of the cast) give great performances, there’s not much else that’s fun about it.

Dan Stevens with Alison Brie

In The Rental, married couple Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand) rent a vacation home for a weekend trip. While the weekend should be fun and relaxing, personal tensions mount, and the group might not be as alone as they thought.

This movie is a weird mashup of a romantic drama, psychological thriller, and slasher. That’s not to say that a movie can’t incorporate all of these genres, but The Rental doesn’t do it well. Rather than blending them together, the first half of the movie focuses on the relationship drama, the next chunk turns into a thriller, and the last ten-ish minutes is a lazy slasher. It’s a clunky, jarring way of telling the story and makes the end feel somewhat underwhelming after the buildup earlier in the movie.

There’s also a decision a couple of the characters make that is obviously there to move the thriller part forward, but it’s incredibly dumb to the point of being unbelievable. I don’t like being too nitpicky about plotholes, and I understand suspending my disbelief is important to a certain point, but if characters act more stupid than people would in real life, especially when the characters have seemed relatively intelligent up until that point, it’s disappointing.

Alison Brie in The Rental

Despite the underwhelming and frustrating writing, the cast does well with what they’re given. Dan Stevens is both funny and infuriating, and it’s kind of fun hearing him use an American accent. Allison Brie is likeable and sympathetic, as is Jeremy Allen White. Sheila Vand gives an understated but intense performance. And Toby Huss as Taylor, the creepy caretaker of the rental home, is excellent; he keeps you guessing whether he’s just a weird, unpleasant guy or if he has more nefarious intentions. The fact that they had a competent director must have helped too; Dave Franco does well in his directing debut here. Not only are the performances well done, but there are some well-composed shots that help keep the suspense high. It’s just unfortunate that his (and the other writers’) screenwriting skills weren’t as impressive.

Overall, The Rental is an underwhelming and messily-written movie. If you especially like any of the actors, maybe check it out; otherwise, I would recommend skipping this one.

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Have you seen The Rental? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Review – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

I heard about the new Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga much sooner than most casual Netflix streamers and American audiences. The reason for this was my loyal following of the Eurovision Song Contest, or just “Eurovision” – a contest that started in Europe in the mid 1950’s, around the time of the formation of the European Broadcasting Union. It is the European Broadcasting Union that puts on the yearly contest, starting with just seven countries in 1956 and expanding each year to a maximum of 44 countries participating at once. I had first heard of Eurovision back in 1998, when Dana International, a transgender singer from Israel won the contest with the song “Diva.” Since she won the contest, Israel won the rights to host the contest the following year in 1999. That summer, I was on a summer trip to Israel and all I heard about was that spring’s 44th annual Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Jerusalem.

Fast forward 20 years, the year is 2018 and the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Lisbon Portugal. This year even my birth country of Bulgaria is taking part in the contest, even though the favorite to win the contest is a performer named Netta from Israel with her me-too-movement themed song call “Toy.” It was a hard fought contest with a singer from Cyprus, but Netta ended up winning the contest and bringing back the Eurovision Song Contest to take place in Israel the following year. So as events moved along in 2019, I had heard that Will Ferrell – yes that Will Ferrell from SNL and countless movies – was going to Israel to shoot a comedic movie about the entering the Eurovision Song Contest. That movie would later be titled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and it would star Ferrell as Lars Erickssong and co-star Rachel McAdams as his best friend Sigrit Ericksdottir, making music together as the band Fire Saga.

The two best friends live in the small Islandic town of Húsavík, and perform for the locals in the town their music, especially a local favorite called “Jaja Ding Dong” which is great to sing, dance and drink beer to. But Lars’ dream has always been to represent Iceland in Eurovision, and it finally becomes a reality when they become the only contestants available, due to some unfortunate circumstances. The Islanding broadcasting committee has no choice but to send Lars and Sigrit to the contest, taking place in Ireland. *While we know, from earlier, that Ferrell and Rachel McAdams shot scenes with the live audience in Israel at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, director David Dobkin and producers Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, and Chris Henchy decided to switch the location of Eurovision to Edinburgh, Scotland. When the duo arrive in Edinburgh, they are greeted by other contestants, including Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyant singer representing Russia. At one point, Lars and Sigrit have a great sing-a-long at a mansion party with other seemingly current Eurovision singers. Those singers are in-fact some previous real life Eurovision Song Contest contestants and winners such as Jamala, Conchita Wurst, Salvador Sobral and Netta.

Watching from home is Lars Erickssong’s widowed father Erick Erickssong (Pierce Brosnan), who is always disapproving and disappointed with Lars. When others at the bar want to watch Lars and Sigrit perform at Eurovision, all Erick wants to do is drink and watch soccer. But when Lars and Sigrit seem to be having a decent performance, all hell breaks loose and the wheels start to come off the truck, quite literally. Lars starts feeling quite embarrassed and humiliated and storms out, leaving a distraught Sigrit behind. Before Lars could be found, Sigrit learns to her shock, however, that Iceland is voted through to the finals on a sympathy vote. Lars is long gone; already back on the plane to Iceland.

Once back in Iceland, Lars talks with his father and confesses his love for Sigrit, and Erick tells him to go back and fight for her love. SPOILER [highlight to read]: Lars makes it to the grand finale just in time to perform, after hitchhiking with some initially unwilling American tourists. Instead of their official entry, Lars encourages Sigrit to perform a song she has written for him. Fire Saga are disqualified for changing their song during the contest, but both Lars and Sigrit have lost interest in winning the competition, realizing that their relationship is more important and they finally share a kiss.

Back in Iceland, Fire Saga is performing at a wedding when Lars ask if they should perform their Eurovision song or the popular “Jaja Ding Dong” to which the crowd chants “Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong!” While the movie is not groundbreaking or visually unique, it does provide plenty of laugh-out-loud and sing-along moments with the cast. It did provide me personally with nostalgia from watching the actual Eurovision Song Contest, which got cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was a great movie for Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams to star in and play off each other in the musical performances. Also, it was fun to see Pierce Brosnan act in a comedy and play opposite Ferrell. But most definitely, it’s Dan Stevens who steals the show as Alexander Lemtov, who cannot express his sexuality and fears the fact that his country does not accept homosexuality. Stevens plays the role almost to perfection and become much more vulnerable than in any previous role he has played.

While Netflix is probably not going to see very many new subscriptions solely from the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, they will leave their audience satisfied (for at least that night). I was pleasantly surprised at the way the movie pulled at the heartstrings and made you feel compassion and sympathy for Ferrell’s character Lars. It’s probably the only time I’ve had those feeling when watching a Will Ferrell movie. So, next time you’re sitting at your couch, I would suggest everyone check this movie out when scrolling through the seemingly endless list of titles, and catch this flick on Netflix.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Eurovision Song Contest? Well, what did you think? 

Netflix’s The Old Guard (2020)

I’ve been excited for this film since its trailer dropped last May… luckily, unlike theatrical releases that’s getting delayed indefinitely [even those as huge as Chris Nolan’s TENET], a Netflix release is a guarantee.

The Old Guard centers on a covert team of immortal mercenaries who’ve been living for centuries. First, we meet the group’s leader, Andromache of Scythia or Andy for short, played with her usual graceful-yet-badass self by Charlize Theron. She’s channeling her Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Furiosa here in her taciturn yet caring nature. Soon she’s reunited with three other members of the group, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli).

They get hired by former CIA operative Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue kidnapped children in South Suddan. Given that this tight-knit group’s been fighting to protect the mortal world for centuries, this sort of mission is definitely right in their wheelhouse. As it turns out, it wasn’t as much a mission as it is a trap which expose not only who they are, but what they’re capable of. While on the run, the group discovers through visions/dreams that there’s another immortal warrior out there in the world, and Andy promptly sets out to find her.

I particularly like the interaction between Theron and Kiki Layne (who was terrific in If Beale Street Could Talk) as US Marine Nile Freeman, who’s not exactly easy to convince to join the group. Nile has her own mind and naturally has a ton of questions about her own identity/ability and about this new group she’s being recruited into. There are plenty of fight scenes in this flick, but the one on the plane between Andy and Nile are pretty exciting to watch, which also serves to tell the story as Nile discovers just how powerful she is.

I like that The Old Guard isn’t so much an origin story… Greg Rucka, the author of the graphic novel who also penned the script, doesn’t reveal every backstory of the characters. In fact, Andy’s been living–and dying over and over again–for so long she could barely remember how old she is. There are moments when the characters reveal how they met. Andy and Booker met during the Crusades, while Joe and Nicky were one time enemies who actually [tried to] kill each other before they became lovers. It’s a fantastical, mythical story involving people with superhuman abilities, yet still feels grounded somehow.

The direction by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) is thrilling but not bombastic. I mean, she’s not afraid to shoot some bloody, brutal fight scenes where Theron gets to hack multiple guys with her Medieval battle axe in a dance-like motion. But she also peppers the film with some quiet, introspective moments as the characters ponder on their immortality and how it’s not as easy as we mere mortals think it is. The nomadic lifestyle, the endless loss of loved ones they constantly have to say good bye to as they go on living… these are themes that are explored well here. Films dealing with characters living forever have addressed this before, but yet here it feels really personal and organic. The scene between Booker and Nile is quite heartfelt, with Schoenaerts giving his all, is a testament to how committed all the actors were in their roles. Joe’s declaration of love to Nicky is perhaps a first for a LGBT character in a superhero film of this scale.

Relative newcomer Kiki Layne, who hasn’t done a big action flick before, is quite believable here in her role. Nile is the one with the conscience, as she struggles to kill people the way the group’s done effortlessly for hundreds of years. It’s consistent with her faith in God that she’s shared briefly on the plane with Andy… even when it’s time for her to save the day, i.e. the scene of her in the elevator before the big showdown, she doesn’t lose her humanity despite her super-heroic ability.

Now, the film isn’t flawless however. While the immortal superheroes have intriguing character arc, their nemesis Merrick is your typical greedy pharma exec with a Mark Zuckerberg complex (complete w/ his hoodie-wearing wardrobe). I’ve never seen Harry Melling before but I think he’s miscast as he looks about as threatening as a meerkat. Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Copley is morally ambivalent, he’s a man driven by a tragic past which leads to a misguided ‘solution.’ I’ve always liked seeing him in films, though he doesn’t get to do very much here.

Speaking of Ejiofor, I read an article earlier this week where he’s quoted as saying that he’s ‘…envious of Charlize Theron’s ability to tell narrative through physicality’ I have to say that it truly a gift not many actors possesses, but the South African native certainly does and she uses it well! There’s a scene in the beginning where the camera followed Andy simply walking in the streets, through a corridor, etc. All we see is the back of her head but yet we’re transfixed by her graceful yet confident style.

The big showdown at the end is kind of a mixed bag. I think the fight scenes are good, albeit with the use of contemporary songs doesn’t always work well. I didn’t completely hate it, but I wish they’d just stick to a dynamic score instead. The finale is left open-ended for a sequel, which involves a pretty important character shown in one of the longer backstory of the lead. I’m actually down to see more of this action fantasy, especially if they can retain the same director and cast. Hopefully they’d improve the music choices the next time around and find a more formidable foe worthy of these bad-ass immortal warriors.

Given that other female-directed/female-led action flicks like Wonder Woman and Black Widow are delayed this year, The Old Guard fills the void quite nicely. It’s got a heart as big as the big action pieces, and I’m sure glad to see a group of bad-ass superheroes with such a diverse cast.


Have you seen The Old Guard? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Netflix’s EXTRACTION (2020)

Netflix is trying to take on the big Hollywood studios by producing quite a bit of pricey original films within the last couple of years. While their more prestigious films such ROMA and THE IRISHMAN received rave reviews and decent amount of views. Most of their original action/adventure films didn’t do quite well, for example last year’s very expensive TRIPLE FRONTIER was a dud. EXTRACTION is their latest action film that became their biggest hit to date, viewership wise anyway.

As the story begins, we’re introduced to Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), he’s the son of a ruthless drug lord named Mahajan (Pankaj Tripathi). Mahajan is in prison but still very powerful within the crime syndicate of India. While out partying with his friends at a night club, Ovi is kidnapped by men working for Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli), Ovi’s father rival. Upon learning the news that his son has been kidnapped by his rival, Mahajan orders his right-hand man Saju (Randeep Hooda) to do whatever it takes to get his son back alive. Saju hires a mercenary team whose leader is Nik (Golshifteh Farahani), she recruits her old teammate Tyler (Chris Hemsworth) to join the team in rescuing Ovi from danger.

At first Tyler wasn’t interested because he’s still grieving the death of his son. But when Nik told him that the fee is very high, Tyler decided to join her. They traveled to Dhaka to get Ovi and once Tyler found the boy, things went south real fast. He realized that his team has been double crossed and he will need to use all of his skills to keep Ovi and himself alive from the local police and henchmen who’re all chase after them.

Based on a graphic novel named Ciudad written by Ande Parks and The Russo Brothers. The screenplay is credited to only Joe Russo and it’s decent script for an action film. The story is pretty simple and quite predictable. It did try to get too serious for its own good about half way through the story but thankfully it didn’t linger on that too much.

The biggest draw for this film of course is the action and first-time director Sam Hargrave delivered the goods. Being that Hargrave was a stunt coordinator for many of the big Hollywood blockbusters, he knows how to shoot action scenes properly. There’s a “one shot” action sequence that will blow you away, one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in recent years.

Hemsworth hasn’t had much luck in films outside of the MCU but he seems to be a good fit in this role. His 6’2″ muscular frame makes him more believable that he can take on several foes at the same time than say someone like 5’5″ Tom Cruise. There’s not much that was asked of him for the role but Hemsworth did try to give a more personal performance. Being that his character lost a son and now he’s being a father figure to a kid he doesn’t know but trying to save his life. Unfortunately, none of the supporting actors really stood out for me, they were okay in their respective roles but pretty forgettable to me.

It appears Netflix has found a franchise and a sequel has already been moved into pre-production. If you’re a fan of the John Wick franchise, then you’ll enjoy this film.

3/5 stars

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

FlixChatter Review: SERGIO (2020)


Directed By: Greg Barker
Written By: Craig Borten
Starring: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Bradley Whitford, Brían F. O’Byrne

Sergio, is a biographical drama chronicling the life and work of United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. Directed by Greg Barker, a man known for his career in television and documentary films such as Sergio (2009) and The Final Year (2017), it marks his first attempt at a narrative feature.

A decade after premiering his doc, Barker returned to Sundance with this adaptation. Making a film about a subject one has already explored so deeply could seem like beating a dead horse. Greg slows the pace, and injects this new film with a sense of poetic romanticism. Given the creative license Barker focuses on on the inner-emotions and Don Quixote like qualities of Sergio. He was a larger than life personality who believed that one could live in and create the future one wanted for tomorrow, today. And that by nations coming together we could bring about a better, brighter, freer global future. He believed the U.N. would be instrumental in achieving this dream and that he could help birth it.

Recounting the days, months, and years leading up to his death, this film’s emphasis on de Mello’s romantic life (with Ana de Armas playing the woman he loved), provides fresh insight into the life of a man many have already heard much about. After making a documentary I can understand the wish to focus on developing the personality of who Sergio was.

While it creates an engrossing story for general audiences who know next to nothing about its titular character, it conversely makes the film a bit drawn-out and lacking focus. This is disappointing for a film that is about a man who led his life with decisiveness and a singular focus.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


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