FlixChatter Review: Captain Fantastic (2016)

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The title of the film may sound like a superhero film but this indie drama is as far away from the ubiquitous genre as it can get. It made me think of The Sound of Music if Captain Von Trapp were to uproot his entire family to the Austrian Alps and homeschooled all his kids instead of hiring Maria.

Set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Ben Cash has been living off the grid with his six kids. The film opened with a deer hunting scene that’s quite graphic and intense, prompting the woman next to me to leave the theater and never came back. Perhaps she’s an animal lover or something, but I think it’s her loss that she missed out on this film because of it.

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It’s a provocative way to open a film, and an effective one as well as we get to see right away how Ben has raised his kids, Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai, with vigorous physical and mental training. They live their lives without any of the conveniences and daily luxuries most kids in modern society won’t be able to survive even for a day. Though the kids don’t follow common academic curriculum, they’re taught to be critical thinkers. Instead of playing video games or lying around listening to music all day, the Cash kids read books, play music, hunt for food, and actually spend time with each other.

It’s a really fascinating slice of an unorthodox life, anchored by a soulful yet physical role by Viggo Mortensen. There are numerous themes that are explored here. Parenting is a big one, and I think every parents (especially in America) would benefit from watching this. The scene when the Cash family visit their conventional aunt and uncle in the city (played by Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn), it shows a stark contrast of how their respective kids are brought up. The Cash kids are well-versed in the the Bill of Rights and know who Karl Marx is, while their cousins are far more knowledgeable about pop culture. If I were a parent, it certainly would make me ponder just how much (or I should say how little) kids are learning in school!

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Their lives take an unexpected turn with news of the death of Ben’s wife, Leslie. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that because that even it the catalyst to the journey the Cash family had to take. Ben didn’t spare their feelings when he revealed the news, and it’s certainly a poignant moment that’s beautifully portrayed. The Cash family have to leave their idyllic existence in order to attend Leslie’s funeral, and in the course of that journey, Ben is challenged with the idea what it really means to be a parent and brings into question all his philosophies/beliefs he’s taught his kids.

Now, one does not have to subscribe to his worldview to emphasize with Ben. I for one don’t see eye to eye with him on a spiritual level. Instead of Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day. He also vehemently opposes Christian funeral traditions, claiming that his wife had become a Buddhist believer and would rather be cremated instead. Now, while one might admire Ben’s parenting style and what his kids accomplished, no doubt they’d run into issues given that they’ve lived such a sheltered life and away from society. The kids are respectful and bright, but lacking in common social graces. “You made us freaks!” one of the kids, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), screamed at Ben. He’s got a point there and the film shows many examples of that. The scene where the eldest Bodevan (George MacKay) promptly proposes to a girl after kissing her at an RV campground is funny but rather sad as well. The film is peppered with funny and amusing moments, but a lot of the humor isn’t slapstick but laden with irony and poignancy.

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The themes of parenting and coming-of-age blend seamlessly, and in a way it’s a coming-of-age of sort for Ben as well as a father. The main conflict arises between Ben and his father in-law Jack (Frank Langella), who sternly opposes Ben’s way of life and how his grandchildren are raised. It seems at first that Jack is painted as the *villain* of the film that threatens to separate the kids from their father, but fortunately the film isn’t so simplistic. Liberal sensibilities seem to prevail here, but writer/director Matt Ross doesn’t present things in a formulaic way, and there’s a vast thought-provoking themes being explored here. He boldly presents a compelling yet flawed hero, and chose an absolutely perfect actor in Viggo to do the job.

He’s the epitome of intellectual free spirit, a Renaissance man who’s set in his ways. The intensely charismatic Viggo Mortensen bared all for the role, mentally and physically. I’d hope to see his name popping up in the Best Actor race come award season. There’s a rather amusing nude scene, made more hilarious by the reaction of the people who saw him being so nonchalant about it, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. The challenge to normalcy seems to be what the whole movie is about, and it certainly gives you plenty of food for thought.

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The movie works largely because of the talented cast. In addition to MacKay and Hamilton, we’ve got Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell as the talented young actors who play Ben’s children. Each have their moments to shine and you believe them as a close-knit family. The only thing I wish were explored a bit better is the relationship between Ben and Leslie. The only flashback scenes we get are mere glimpses of the two gazing lovingly at each other, which doesn’t reveal anything about Leslie’s mental condition or suicidal tendencies.

It’s been a couple of months since I saw Captain Fantastic, which was my JULY Movie of the Month AND it’s also one of my fave 2016 films so far. It’s a beautifully-shot film with panoramic shots of the Pacific Oceans and the Rocky Mountains region. Certainly a film that subscribe to the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination that really matters. It’s certainly one of the most eccentric films I’ve seen this year, both amusing and haunting, but definitely indelible.

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Have you seen ‘Captain Fantastic’? Let me know what you think! 

Weekend Roundup + Quick thoughts on ‘The Nice Guys’ (2016)

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Hello all! It’s been quite a whirlwind week for me, what with the TCFF gala on Thursday and also the MN filmmakers interviews on Saturday. But it was a good kind of busy and definitely excited for the 2016 TCFF lineup this year!

me_remyOne of the filmmakers I interviewed was Remy Auberjonois, whose film Blood Stripe, starring his wife Kate Nowlin who also co-wrote the film, will have its regional premiere at TCFF. The film won US Fiction Award at 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival this past June.

I’m excited to see the film, and it’s extra special for me to meet Remy because he’s also playing one of my fave characters of all time, Col. Brandon, in The Guthrie Theater’s 2016 adaptation of Sense & Sensibility! He’s still sporting the 18th century mustache for the role🙂

Well, I was so busy this past week I completely missed The Magnificent Seven‘s press screening last Monday, which I could’ve gone right after my dental appt. Oh well, my hubby & I will hopefully see it this Friday. I did finally watch this one…

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Ted has already reviewed it here, and I think I’d agree with the 3/5 rating. I’m not going to review it again so this is just my It’s pretty entertaining but overall it’s not a wholly memorable movie despite the competent two leads. Shane Black is known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies and his directorial debut was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so he’s definitely got a knack for buddy action comedies. I have to admit though, this one isn’t as good as those movies.

Interestingly enough, this project was apparently proposed as a TV series but the pilot was going nowhere. I could see it working w/ the right script and cast, as buddy action comedies seems quite popular on TV at some point. Casting Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a mismatched pair of private investigators is inspired casting, and this is perhaps the first comedic role I’ve seen Gosling do. I’d say he succeeded, though I still don’t see what the fuss is about him. I just don’t think he’s that special of an actor, both in terms of looks and talent. Crowe on the other hand, has always been a supremely talented and versatile actor, and I’d love to see him do more comedic roles!

Overall the movie wasn’t as funny as I had thought, perhaps because the funniest bits (like these below) are already in the trailer!

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The tone of the movie is very light with zippy dialog, though at times the scenarios are overly silly that it was like a spoof or something. There’s also a surreal scene involving a giant bug smoking and talking in the back seat of their car just seems weird and doesn’t work as well as it could. The shootout at the end is quite bombastic, featuring another interesting casting of Matt Bomer, sporting a giant mole and bowl haircut, as the hitman hired by Kim Basinger‘s character. Some of the scenes with him seems deliberately over-the-top. Speaking of Basinger, well it’s a rather thankless role and she barely made any impact in the movie.

That said, I’m glad I finally watched it. If you like this action comedy genre, it’s definitely worth a watch. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night!

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Oh, I also rewatched one of my guilty pleasures, the 1997 action flick The Saint w/ Val Kilmer & Elisabeth Shue. It’s preposterous and corny but I still enjoyed it😉


So how was YOUR weekend? Seen anything good?

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FlixChatter Review: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

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I have to admit I’m a bit of a sucker for romantic dramas. Not rom-coms, but a genuine heart-wrenching love story that’ll get me to cry my eyes out. Well, this film certainly fits into that category. Based on an Australian novel of the same name by M. L. Stedman, we’re first introduced to Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran. He resorts to taking a lonely job as a lighthouse keeper as he wants to be as far away from people as possible. He then meets a beautiful young girl Isabel Graysmark who’s drawn by his stoic, resigned demeanor. A courtship by correspondence slowly defrosts Tom’s heart and the two did get married. Off they go to live together in Janus Rock, a secluded island off the coast of Western Australia.

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The film takes a good sweet time to introduce us to Tom (a taciturn, reflective Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (the lovely Alicia Vikander). There’s a compelling realism to how their relationship and perhaps the fact that the two actors fell in love on set made their chemistry even more believable. But Tom and Isabel’s seemingly blissful union doesn’t last long. They’re driven to the point of despair after Isabel’s miscarriages, happening one after another. The two main actors convey the heartbreak believably, especially Isabel who was such a innocent, happy-go-lucky sweet girl when she first met Tom. Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance seems to have set up the long buildup to illustrate the mental state of the characters and so even though it was a s-l-o-w process, it didn’t feel tedious, at least to me.

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There’s something so ethereal yet mysterious about the setting at Janus Rock, the long lingering shots of the ocean and those big waves hit the rocks seem to hint of something ominous that’s about to happen. Sure enough, one day a rowboat carrying a baby and a lifeless man is adrift. Isabel sees it as a gift to their family, that the baby is hers to keep. Tom on the other hand, feels compelled to do the right thing. The moment the two contemplate this decision is quite heart-wrenching to behold. You know these characters are making a terrible decision that will haunt them in the end. At times I sympathize with them given what they’ve gone through, but towards the end it was quite frustrating.

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The emotional wallop and melodrama seems to be too much for some critics, the Rotten Tomatoes consensus says that it ‘… ultimately tugs on the heartstrings too often to be effective.’ I remember thinking that as I left the theater, that perhaps the film is a tad overly-manipulative, what with the decidedly somber scenery, sad faces and sad music. It made me recall a line from a Scottish rom-com where the protagonist is prone to ‘worshipping her own pain.’ I think you could say that about this film and the fact that there’s very little humor throughout, it can be overwhelming. I also feel that the scenes with the little girl seems rather trite as it didn’t feel true to me.

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That said, I actually think the film is made with care and the actors are committed to their roles. I also have to mention Rachel Weisz here, who appears midway through the film in a key role. This is the first Cianfrance film I’ve seen so far, but this isn’t the first time he deals with films about intense heartbreak (i.e. Blue Valentine). I can’t form an opinion yet about his skills as a filmmaker, but I think a bit less indulgence would do this film some good. At 2 hrs 13 minutes, the film drags quite a bit and trying your patience even those who are invested in the story. I think even if you’re a fan of Fassbender or Vikander, you might just wait to rent this later. One thing for sure, I’m even more impressed with the skills of the two actors and their performance made this film well worth my time.

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Have you seen ‘The Light Between Oceans’? Well what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Blair Witch (2016)

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The original Blair Witch Project came out almost 20 years ago and it ignited the found-footage genre. Personally I was never a fan of the original movie or the genre itself. I found the concept to be idiotic and lacking creativity. Initially, I wasn’t that interested in seeing this sequel/remake but when I found out that it’s directed by Adam Wingard, I was curious. First it was titled The Woods, then a few weeks before its release date, the studio revealed that the movie’s actually a sequel to 1999 hit movie.

The setup of this new movie is basically the same as the original version. James (James McCune) discovered a video showing what he thinks is his sister’s experiences in the woods of the Blair Witch. So he and his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) decided to head out to the same location where his sister disappeared. They equipped themselves with more technology than the original group, each of them wears digital camera that’s attached to their ear and they also have a camera drone. Tagging along with them are two people who lives near the woods, Lane (Wes Robinson) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry).
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Of course once they go deep into the woods, weird things start happening. On their first night, they hear weird noises and then in the morning they see a bunch of Blair Witch sticks all around their campsite. Freaked out, they decide it would be a good idea not to spend another night in the creepy woods; they start to head back to their cars but got lost. They end up arguing with one another and more weird things start happening. So basically nothing new happened in this movie, if you’ve seen the first movie then you know what’s going to happen next.

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Adam Wingard’s previous two movies You’re Next and The Guest were very entertaining and I thought for sure he’d bring something new and creativity into this one. Sadly he just remade the original movie; there are no scares or surprises. For those hoping to see the evil witch, well you might not be disappointed. But by the time the real evil shows up, I just didn’t care and wanted the whole ordeal to be over with.

None of the actors stood out and clearly they’re all amateurs. If the actors in the original movie annoyed you, then you’re going to get annoyed by these guys too.

It’s very disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t come up with anything new since I believe they can expand the story and make it scary. I don’t remember much about the other sequel, Book of Shadows, but at least they tried to do something new with the myth of the Blair Witch.

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So have you seen Blair Witch? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

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I have to admit that I didn’t know this film was in the works until I saw it on the press screening list. I had listened to Kenneth Turan’s review of the French film Marguerite on NPR, which is also a biopic of a wealthy woman who loves music and the opera but is delusional about her singing ability. In this film, the title role Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a New York heiress who’s always dreamed to play in Carnegie Hall.

In the press screening I attended, there were quite a few members of the MN Opera, and so the audience responded very well to the movie right from the start. It begins with Hugh Grant‘s character, St Clair Bayfield, acting on stage. Then suddenly we see Jenkins descending from the ceiling, suspended on a rope, decked out as a naughty Valkyrie. She goes home with her husband Bayfield, who lulls her to sleep with a poem, but their marriage is more like an act, as they live separate lives. Bayfield lives with his beautiful mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) who tolerates this arrangement to some degree. But it’s clear that Bayfield genuinely cares for his wealthy wife and he dotes on her. He’s the one who protects her reputation and sustains her life in a bubble so to speak.

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The film’s funniest moments involves Jenkins’ accompanying pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), whom she hired on the spot. The shy young man couldn’t believe his luck, earning $150 a week is more than he’d ever expect. But soon he finds out what it actually entails to work for miss Jenkins. Helberg’s expressions the first time he heard Jenkins sing (if you could even call it that) is simply priceless!! He did whatever he could not to burst into uproarious laughter and it was a hoot to watch.

The rest of the movie is pretty much an elaborate scheme to shield Jenkins from criticism. The Carnegie Hall is closed to the public, as Bayfield goes out of his way to only invite friends and those he could bribe. No doubt critics aren’t allowed to attend, as he knew an honest review would crush Jenkins. British filmmaker Stephen Frears is no stranger to directing biopics starring seasoned actresses (The Queen, Philomena) and he did a splendid job once again. This film is definitely more comedic than the two I mentioned, and the laughs just keep on coming. The humor doesn’t simply rely on an elderly woman singing off key, but I’m fully invested in the whole ruse of keeping Jenkins inside her bubble. It’s funny but also a poignant and heart-warming drama, boasted by a terrific performance by the three main cast.

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Streep is an acting virtuoso, and she did all her own singing here, which must have been a challenge as she’s actually a pretty good singer. Helberg is quite the scene stealer, as he’s in all of the funniest bits in this movie. I’ve never seen him before but he’s definitely a gifted comedian. But it’s Grant who’s quite a revelation here with his heartfelt and understated performance. He made me believe that Bayfield’s love for Jenkins is genuine and that he’s not just a gold digger taking advantage of a wealthy senior citizen. All the quiet moments of him and Streep pack an emotional punch.

It’s hard not to root for Jenkins despite her delusion of grandeur. I found myself being swept away by her and this movie. I love the look of this movie too, with beautiful 40s set pieces and costumes. It’s a lovely crowd pleaser that will make you want to get up and cheer. I saw this the day after Suicide Squad, oh what a perfect palate cleanser this turns out to be! The protagonist may be off key but the film certainly is not.

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Have you seen ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’? Let me know what you think! 

Weekend Viewing Roundup: The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) + SULLY (2016)

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How was your weekend everyone? It’s been a busy one for me, but a productive one. I actually did go to the movies, which is rare actually for me as I usually go to press screenings on week nights. But after dinner my hubby and I felt like checking out the new AMC theaters with the new reclining seats, which are indeed awesome! SULLY was the only one we’re interested in that is less than 2 hrs long, though it felt a bit eerie watching a plane crash scene in NYC on the weekend of 9/11.

In any case, on Friday night, we also rented a movie we’ve been curious about for some time…

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

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The story of the life and academic career of the pioneer Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and his friendship with his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy.

I have to say that being terrible at math, I’m not that familiar w/ the subject of this biopic. But Of course, just checking on Wikipedia, he’s an extraordinary man whose math theories are still being used today.

Stories about geniuses are popular biopic subjects in Hollywood, i.e. A Beautiful Mind, The Imitation Game, etc. The film traced his humble beginning in Madras, India and how he ended up at Trinity College, Cambridge in the 1910s. Dev Patel bears no resemblance to the real Ramanujan, but he seems to be the only actor of Indian descent working the British film industry could think of to cast. He’s a likable actor, and I think he’s quite believable in the role.

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Jeremy Irons plays G.H. Hardy, Ramanujan’s mentor who invited him to Cambridge to the first place. The film began with Hardy’s voice over saying how much he owed Ramanujan, which suggests there’s a deep friendship between the two. The rapport between the two characters is a bit of a slow built. The main friction between the two is that Hardy refuses to publish Ramanujan’s theories without proofs, whilst Ramanujan’s convinced all his theories add up. There’s also the fact that Hardy didn’t seem sensitive enough to the challenges Ramanujan faces at Cambridge, including his sense of alienation the fact that he’s an Indian studying amongst British intellectual elites.

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As far as biopics go, this one is pretty straight forward. Though the subject matter deals with theorems and formulas, I wish the film is less um, formulaic. The film could’ve been really engrossing under a skilled/experienced filmmaker, but this is director Matt Brown‘s sophomore work, so overall it’s pretty dry. It’s an intriguing journey about a brilliant person, but yet I just wasn’t as involved or moved by his story as I expected. The performances are pretty good, though I’ve seen more impressive work from everyone involved, including Toby Jones as J.E. Littlewood, one of Ramanujan’s advisers. Stephen Fry barely made a dent though as he only appeared briefly in the film.

I do appreciate the spirituality aspect of the protagonist who’s a devout Hindu. Contrast that with Hardy who’s a professed atheist, there’s a few interesting banters between them. Ramanujan said at one point that “An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.” He still prayed regularly when he’s at Cambridge, so faith certainly played a big part in his life. The film also showed his selfless nature that he hid his illness from his friend. The fact that the university was being used as a hospital during World War I, he also felt that his condition just wasn’t bad enough as the soldiers that he deserved care.

I suppose the film is still worth a look if you’re curious about Ramanujan’s story. Though it wasn’t a great film, I’m still glad I saw it and the protagonist no doubt has a story worth telling.

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SULLY (2016)

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The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

The last Clint Eastwood-directed film I saw was Invictus which was back in 2009. It also happens to be the shortest film he has directed at 96 minutes, which is the reason we picked this one when my hubby and I was deciding on which new release movie to see on Saturday night.

It really is quite a feat that a film where the ending is well-known, given that it happened only seven years ago, still manages to be quite riveting. Of course Eastwood got the best man for the job, there’s practically no other actor of his stature who’s as skilled AND as likable as Tom Hanks. He’s the perfect actor to play the quiet hero whose selfless and humble traits are something to aspire to. I also think Aaron Eckhart is pretty good here, though I wish Eastwood had given someone as talented as Anna Gunn more to do.

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I didn’t see this movie in IMAX but it was filmed with IMAX cameras so I bet it looked even more spectacular on screen. The plane landing scene on the Hudson river is as suspenseful as it is stunning to watch. Kudos to Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki for keeping SULLY afloat when it could’ve easily been a tedious based-on-a-true-event types of movie. Just remember this is a film, not a documentary. There’s likely a great deal of creative license taken in the way the NTSB investigations played out.

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So that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU watch this weekend, anything good?

FlixChatter Review: Don’t Breathe (2016)

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The home invasion thriller genre has been around a long time and while some were good, most were average to mediocre. Late summer usually is the time when studios release their crappy action or horror films but thankfully Don’t Breathe doesn’t fall in that category. In fact, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.

Set in the slums of Detroit, three thieves decided they’re going to break into a blind man’s house and steal his money in order to leave their crappy life and city. One of the thieves is Rocky (Jane Levy), she wants to move out of her home and take her young sister to LA to get away from her drunken mom and her creepy boyfriend. The other two members are Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). Dylan’s father runs a security company in the city so he’s able to have access to all of the homes they’ve robbed and Money is Rocky’s boyfriend and the muscle of the group.

After a not-so-profitable robbery, Money found out that a blind man (Stephen Lang) received a huge sum of cash from a car accident settlement and this could be their big payday that they all need. The blind man lives in a deserted part of the city and they all agreed it’s going to be an easy score. What they don’t know is that the blind man is an ex military man who was part of Special Forces and he’s good with weapons and hand to hand combat. Once the thieves broke into the blind man’s house, they realized it’s basically a trap and for the rest of the movie, the young thieves had to fight for their lives in order to escape the creepy house.

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The young actors were good in their respective roles, since it’s a horror/thriller, the hero has to be the pretty young lady and Levy fit that description. The film didn’t require a lot of dialog, so Levy had to use her face and body to make her performance believable. There’s a really cool sequence early in the film where both Rocky and Alex got stuck in a darken room and both of the actors had to act basically in the dark and both did quite well. Stephen Lang who’s been type cast throughout his career as the bad guy and here he delivered another good performance as the not-so-innocent blind man.

In most of the home invasion films, the story has always been from the perspective of the homeowners so it’s quite refreshing to see this film told from the perspective of the invaders. Written by Fede Alvarez (who also directed the film) and Rodo Sayagues, these two didn’t come up with anything new but somehow made the genre felt fresh. The story has enough suspense and scares that will satisfy those who craves a good thriller. They did throw in a little twist halfway through the story that will make some audiences squirm in their seats. Of course this being referred to as a “horror” movie, some of the actions by the characters will have people scratching their heads or just downright angry.

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Director Fede Alvarez did a great job of moving the story along at brisk pace. Since the film didn’t have a lot of dialogs, he used cameras and sounds to engage the audience. Clearly he must’ve studied the look and feel of the film from David Fincher’s underrated thriller Panic Room. A lot of shots and camera work reminded me of that film and I didn’t mind Alvarez copied Fincher’s style, heck it worked in that film and it worked here. Even though some are referring this film as horror, it hardly contains any gore or extreme violent scenes. It’s pretty tame for this kind of genre; in fact if you’re going into this film expecting to see blood and gore, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you want to see a good thriller with some few jump scare moments, then you’ll dig this film.

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So have you seen Don’t Breathe? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Das Finstere Tal (The Dark Valley, 2014)

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I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon this Austrian Western if it weren’t for my affinity for English actor Sam Riley. And for that I’m grateful to him, and he’s an unlikely-but-perfect choice in the role of a German-speaking, Texas cowboy protagonist.

It’s always a good sign when a film starts off in a captivating way that made you want to know more. In the opening scene, we see a terrified couple hiding in a basement of a lodge. We don’t know who they are except they’re on the run, but soon they’re captured and the man is severely beaten as the woman is dragged away screaming.

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The film takes place years after that incident in the opening scene. A lone rider on a horse saunters into the secluded town. It’s one of my all time favorite opening credits ever. Exquisitely shot somewhere in Austrian Alps, set to the song Sinnerman by Clara Luzia that complement the setting beautifully. It sets the tone of the film that this is a slow-burn revenge thriller, as the action doesn’t really start until about a half hour into the film. But this is the kind of films that rewards your patience.

The mysterious stranger goes by the name of Greider (Riley). He’s got a cold welcome from the chieftains of the town, that is the six sons of Old Brenner. The Brenner clan has dominated the town for generations and for some reason the townsfolk are compliant to their rule. Despite the rude welcome, the Brenners let Greider stay, and even let him take photos of the family with his daguerreotype camera. Greider is placed in the home of a woman and her daughter Luzi, whom we later learn is the narrator of the story.

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The film takes its time before Greider exact his revenge, but the moment leading up to it in the woods is brimming with suspense. One freak logging accident happens after another, and of course Greider is immediately suspected. One particular accident is quite gruesome for my feeble nerves, but it’s nothing compared to the brutal scene that happens later in flashback. The film’s plot concerns a medieval practice jus primae noctis (the right of the first night) harshly enforced by the Brenner patriarch on the young woman in the town. The third act reveals who and what happens in the opening scene, it should be obvious by then which makes Luzi’s VO explaining it seems overkill.

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The strength of Das Finstere Tal is in its eerie quietness… the seemingly serene vista and the taciturn demeanor of its hero. Greider seems a passive man, not willing to fight back when he was beaten by one of the Brenner brothers during a shopping errand with Luzi. The fact that Riley isn’t who you’d picture as a cowboy actually makes him an effective actor for the role and he more than acquits himself well here. There’s a piercing intensity in Greider’s eyes, and a suppressed restlessness. He made you believe he’s filled with rage and absolute contempt for those who’ve wronged him, but he’s not a monster devoid of humanity. There’s a particularly memorable ‘gold coins’ scene between him and a female innkeeper. He’s so consumed with anger but backs away the instant he realizes he’s stooped to the level of the Brenners. I also love that scene in the end between him and Old Brenner, it’s so emotionally-charged with barely any words spoken.

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Austrian actor Tobias Moretti as the eldest Brenner son Hans and Paula Beer as Luzi are two of the most memorable supporting cast in the film. Hans is just a vile human being, appropriately brutal and cocky in his treatment of the hapless townsfolk. There’s a moment during a wedding where he orders the bride to dance that just makes me shudder with fear and loathing. The final shootout in the woods was perhaps a bit over the top with its use of slow-motion, but it’s still fascinating to watch. Greider’s bad-assery isn’t just that he’s a great shooter, but the fact that he’s planned his revenge meticulously, down to the Winchester rifle he brought just for the occasion.

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It’s a pity this film wasn’t chosen in the Best Foreign Language category in 2015, but it was nominated for nine German Oscars (the Lolas). I also wish Sam Riley had gotten some recognition because he truly displays such masterful acting here. He conveys so much with his eyes, he can be menacing and vulnerable at the same time.

I’m not well-versed in classic westerns, but I read that Austrian filmmaker Andreas Prochaska was largely influenced by Clint Eastwood’s westerns and some even compare it to Eastwood’s Pale Rider as it’s also about a lone hero taking on a village. But the setting and style in which the film is constructed certainly sets this one apart in this genre. The cinematography and music are particularly striking that I’ve made an appreciation post for that.

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The Dark Valley is one of the most beautifully-shot films I’ve ever seen. It made me wish I had seen it on the big screen. Cinematographer Thomas W. Kiennast seems to have that David Lean touch in capturing those amazing wide shots. Filmed in the mountainous region of Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, every shot is good enough to frame. The use of anachronistic music can be very effective when used well, and I think that’s the case here. German composer Matthias Weber did a fine job in creating an ominous, haunting tone to his score that fits the eerie, atmospheric feel of the film.

I can’t recommend this enough. It might be too slow or bleak for some but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path genre film that’s as exquisite as it is haunting.

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What are your thoughts of ‘The Dark Valley?’

FlixChatter Review: Kubo And The Two Strings (2016)

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Directed by Travis Knight | Written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler

Featuring the voices of: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro and George Takei.

This latest film from Laika is a 3D stop-motion animated film. It tells the story of Kubo, a boy who comes across the ocean as a baby, adrift with his mother, fleeing some sort of great danger – one that has left him with only one eye. In hiding, he grows into a young boy and demonstrates a magical affinity for storytelling and origami. He uses this gift to mesmerize the townsfolk with tales of great warriors and monsters for a bit of money. Meanwhile, his mother, also possessing magical powers, is slipping away in a deep melancholia and fading memories. She forbids him to stay out after dark for they are being hunted by those responsible for taking his eye. As the story progresses, this inevitability comes to pass and those forces catch up to him.

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Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous film. Laika, which builds on its resume of Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, has slowly and meticulously been perfecting it’s craft in the genre. 4.3 seconds of animation was produced in a day – the film taking 5 years to complete. Its look is stylish and impressive, fooling this reviewer’s eye into thinking it was done completely in the CGI domain.

Even more impressive are the themes the film tackles: love, life, death, rebirth, grief, the idea of memory as sacred and divine, and the power of storytelling. In this sense, “Kubo” strives for Studio Ghibli territory and is much closer to Miyazaki than any Dreamworks/Pixar/Disney offerings of late. It is appropriate to describe “Kubo” as a Samurai film as it has elements reminiscent of Kurosawa especially in its depiction of evil and the supernatural, as well as the hero’s journey.


While the film doesn’t completely succeed in its efforts to address all of these themes, it doesn’t fail either. Kubo should be lauded for not dumbing down its ideas to cater to the lowest common denominator. There is a darkness and melancholia added on to the film’s optimism and humor – and this seems fitting to its execution: simple with a dash of complexity. I also found its un-sentimentality refreshing in the era dominated by the Frozens and the Finding Dorys.

Kubo and the Two Strings is not perfect but it makes a valiant effort in a mature way. The filmmakers should be commended for that.

Note: the film has some scary images and sequences and not recommended for kids under 10.

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So what do you think of Kubo and The Two Strings? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

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When I first saw the trailer of Hell or High Water a couple of months ago, I thought for sure it’s going to be one of those late summer action films that would be shown at theaters one weekend and disappeared the next. Well as it turns out, it is one of the best reviewed films of the year, maybe the best so far. According to Rottentomatoes.com, out 134 critics who reviewed it, only 2 gave it a negative review. As of this writing, it’s currently sitting at an unbelievable 99% fresh rating on the site.

Set in West Texas, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are bank robbers and as the film opens, we see their acts right away. They’re amateurs but desperate for money, especially Toby who wants to keep his family land from being foreclosed on by the evil banks. Texas Ranger Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Parker (Gil Birmingham) are on the hunt to stop these two brothers from committing any more robberies. These four characters are the center of the picture and it’s the chess match between the brothers and Rangers that’s fun to watch. This film can be described as buddy/western/road/action/thriller, it’s quite a lot to describe a film but that’s best way to explain it to anyone.

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For a film that doesn’t have a complex plot, the actors need to carry the picture and the performances by the main leads were pretty great. Jeff Bridges gets my vote for best performance of the year so far; no doubt he’ll get nominated again comes awards season for his performance here. He pretty much reprised his role from True Grit and it’s quite fun to watch. His character is on the verge of retirement and he wants to catch these thieves so he can ride out into the sunset as a hero. His constant insults on his partner Parker is hilarious and we audience know he didn’t mean what he said.

Birmingham also stood out as the partner who has to endured Hamilton’s insults but he give as much insults back to Hamilton as well. Watching these two rangers bickers gave the picture more comedic tone than you’d expect in a film like this. Pine, who probably realized he can’t rely on the Star Trek pictures to keep him relevant in Hollywood, wisely accepts this role in a smaller film. He’s very good here as a desperate man who wants his kids to have a better life than his. He also worries about his reckless brother who only decided to rob the banks just for fun. I was never a fan of Foster but he’s effective here as the reckless brother who enjoys violence and knows that his life is over once they’re done with the robberies.

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The script by actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is pretty great. Even though it’s a simple story, he was able inject some dark humor, great dialogs and some surprises here and there. I do wish he’d toned down some of the hate directed at the evil banks; yeah we get it, many people suffered because of these greedy bankers. Some of the dialogs tend to get a bit too preachy for my liking, especially when Toby and Hamilton had their confrontation.

Director David Mackenzie also did a good job of setting moving the film along as a brisk pace. It’s obvious that he took inspirations from films of Sam Peckinpah and The Coen Brothers. Some even compare this film to No Country For Old Men. While I agree there are similarities, I still think the Coen Brothers’ picture is superior to this.

Even though it sounds like I love this film, I only liked it. I thought Mackenzie did a good job of bringing a great script to the big screen, I think had it been directed by a more polished directors like David Fincher or Alfonso Cuaron, this would’ve been a near perfect film. I didn’t see any originality from Mackenzie so I can’t call a great film, just a very good one. But it does have a great script and fine performances.

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So have you seen Hell or High Water? Well, what did you think?