FlixChatter Review: Martin Scorsese’ SILENCE (2016)

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To close out his trilogy of religious theme film that includes The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, Martin Scorsese has spent over 20 years on trying to bring his latest picture to the big screen. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo and technically a remake of a Japanese film that was directed by Masahiro Shinoda from the early 1970s, it’s his most passionate film and will test the patience of many of his devout fans.

After receiving a letter from Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), detailing his difficult times in Japan when he and other priests were trying to bring Christianity to that land in the 1600s. His two students Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) decided to make a trip from Portugal to the Far East in order to find out what happened to their mentor. Upon arriving in Japan, the young priests are exposed to a secret world of local Christians who has to keep their faith under wraps because it’s consider a crime to believe in Christ. Both Rodrigues and Garrpe need to stay in low profile to avoid being seen by the Japanese authority. But soon Rodrigues was captured by local shoguns and brought before Inoue (Issei Ogata), an inquisitor who insists the priest renounce his faith by stepping on bronze image of Jesus. Refusing to break as he searches for Ferreira, Rodrigues is exposed to many horrors and extended captivity, left with only his searching, questioning mind to keep him focused on God’s love.

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Clocking in at nearly 3 hours long, it may test the patience of some of the most devout Scorsese’s fans out there. The film does feel slow at times and about 20 minutes could’ve been cut out. But on an artistic level, it might be Scorsese’s best work since The Age of Innocence. It’s beautifully shot and he even decided to not use any music in any of the more dramatic scenes, in fact I don’t recall hearing any theme music in the entire film. Anyone expecting to see some kind of graphic violent sequences will be sorely disappointed. He wisely focuses on the emotional suffering of the characters as opposed to showing the tortures in graphic details.

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Performances by the actors were great; Garfield seems to be on a roll this year. He’s been asked to carry the entire film and I thought his performance was superb. Here’s a man who truly believe in his faith and yet he has to witness some of the most horrific things that people would ever do to one another. It’s an emotional performance that I don’t believe many young actors in his generation can achieve. Driver has a smaller role and he’s decent here as a priest who seems to be questioning the existence of God. Issei Ogata gave an interesting performance as the aging shogun, he’s truly believes in his mission to eradicate any western influences to his homeland. Yôsuke Kubozuka also was very good as the slimy character that betrayed Rodrigues several times yet asked for his forgiveness. Asano Tadanobu showed up later in the film as the interpreter and tried to convince Rodrigues to renounce his faith. Lastly, Neeson gave a kind of laid-back performance but I think it fits what his character went through.

This is a heavy film and Scorsese doesn’t bring his usual stylistics to the picture, remaining more observational, relying on editing to experience the journey. Filled with beautifully-shot sequences and great performances, it’s a film that deserves to be seen but I wouldn’t call it an entertaining one.

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

Guest Review: ELLE (2016)

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Directed By: Paul Verhoeven
Written By: David Birke
Runtime: 2 hrs 10 minutes

The women’s film genre covers the spectrum of feminine empowerment to absolute degradation and several can be read both ways. Elle (2016) is an ambivalent film that can be read as a tale of self-assertion or, equally valid, about victimhood, transgressive sexuality and gender disrespect. The story is framed against the violent porn video game industry where women are routinely sacrificed to male gratification and dominance. Porn video games normalise sexual assault and other forms of humiliation and this cyber reality merges with the Elle narrative on fantasy and victimhood.

Michelle (Isabelle Huppert) is a successful Parisian video game entrepreneur who leads a company of testosterone-fueled hipsters whose job it is to hyper-stimulate young males into doing things to women in video cyber-worlds. The film’s opening scenes are both disturbing and banal: Michelle appears to be violently raped by a masked intruder and then proceeds to tidy up the mess with barely more than an air of inconvenience. No, it is not a video game, and yes, it happens again as do several other normalised sexual transgressions. For example, when she discovers the staffer who pasted her face onto a video game assault victim she asks the person to expose his genitals in her office. Rather than an opportunity for reverse humiliation or worse, she only says “pretty” and walks off leaving us wondering if she is seriously cool or seriously damaged.

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Divergent plotlines fill out the character of Michelle to explain the reasons for her impassivity. Her father is in prison for crimes against children and her mother pays for sex with younger men. She sleeps with her business partner’s husband and lusts for her neighbour, and compulsively tells lies in her twilight world between video game brutality and real-world morality. While appearing indestructible in her business life her emotional world is a fragile void that cannot be filled with normal relationships. The several scenes that dwell suggestively on her face oozing repressed sexual desire hint darkly of a deeply troubled soul.

This is a compelling film that examines the parallel universe of a woman who is both a perpetrator and a victim of sexual transgression and who lives under the guise of wealth and respectability. As such, it is also a portrait of hypocrisy and moral extremities with audience voyeurism forming the picture frame. Isabelle Huppert pushes this role to its limits while showing little emotion beyond what she can say with her expressive eyes. It is hard to judge a survivor like her, and we can only guess what keeps her head together. This film is one of many that push back the cultural envelope that has kept women’s sexuality on a pedestal.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia

 


Have you seen ‘ELLE’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

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Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Runtime: 2 hrs 7 minutes

Hollywood loves BOAT, that is, films Based On a True Story, and few are as overdue yet timely as Hidden Figures. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, it tells the story of a team of African-American women who worked at NASA and their integral roles in helping the U.S. advance during the Space Race during the Cold War era. Billed as ‘human computers,’ these women are the quintessential unsung heroes with an inspirational and important story to tell.

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Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe star as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson respectively. A trifecta of massively talented Black actresses who brought wit, grace and humor to their roles. The film is at times harrowing to watch and it made me sad and angry at the appalling treatments of Black people, especially women, during a time when racial segregation was still legally enforced in the country. The fact that this happened merely 50 some years ago literally gives me chills. Yet the film never descended into somber or depressing territory, but it was brimming with a defiant but hopeful spirit throughout.

Right from the opening scene when their car broke down and they had to deal with the white cop who arrived to question them instead of offering to help, there’s a lighthearted tone to the film. It’s not that the filmmakers are making light of the situation however, in fact, this is a crowd-pleasing film that’s told with equal amusement and gravitas. Even during a key scene where Katherine had to walk half a mile one way just to go to the colored bathrooms, drink from a separate coffee kettle marked ‘colored’ and endure constant belittlement from her colleagues, the film never felt too heavy-handed or overly-sentimental. There’s also the moment Dorothy was kicked out of the Virginia public library for venturing out of the ‘colored’ section. Spencer’s Dorothy remained dignified and defiant as she rode home on the bus with her young boys.

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It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the three female protagonists, as they’re all excellent and given an equally compelling character arc. Henson’s Katharine seemed to have the largest arc of the three and it’s such a joy to watch her in the role. She had to act several scenes writing complex mathematical formula on a board in a single long take, and she managed to do it effortlessly and believably. All three women were convincing in their roles, their portrayals felt real instead of simplistic caricatures. The memorable male characters are Kevin Costner as the director of the Space Task Group, Mahershala Ali as Katharine’s love interest and Glen Powell as John Glenn. None of them ever overshadowed the women, but adds a perspective of the gender/racial issues of the time. On a side note, this movie made me curious to check out The Right Stuff now which chronicles the space race.

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I’m glad I waited to do my top 10 list until January as this film merits a spot on there. Boasting beautiful cinematography by Mandy Walker and rousing music by Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, film also looks AND sounds great. It’s an important film to be sure, but also a well-written and well-acted piece that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining. It made me laugh and cry and an ending that made me want to get up and cheer. I certainly don’t mind watching this again.

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Have you seen Hidden Figures? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SING (2016)

GuestPost_Vince

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Directed by Garth Jennings, Christophe L0urdelet | Written by Garth Jennings

Featuring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth McFarlane, John C. Reilly, Taron Edgerton

The end of the year holiday season is always prime for finding movies kids can go to. After all, school’s out, and they need things to do to hold their attention. In my case, I needed to get them out of the house and a screening of an upcoming animated movie (courtesy of Flixchatter) would give my wife a couple hours of well-earned breathing time. My kids (7 and 9) are pretty picky about the movies we go to (my oldest held off seeing any of the Star Wars movies until after X-Mas) so I was a bit surprised after seeing the trailer that they were all-in.

Sing, directed by Garth Jennings (Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), brings us to a world inhabited by animals, namely a Koala: Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), an ambitious, if not overzealous theater owner working to keep his run-down theater afloat amid a string of failed shows and financial crisis. About to be evicted, he comes up with a plan to host a singing contest (a-la American Idol) with prize money of $1000. However, Buster’s aging and loveable Iguana assistant, Mrs. Crawley, mistypes the prize at $100,000. Animals from all over the city flock to Buster’s audition where we meet our main characters: Mike the mouse (Seth McFarlane), a devious but talented crooner; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), the punk rock porcupine; Rosalita the pig (Reese Witherspoon), a lovable domestic wife/closet singer; Johnny (Taron Egerton), a cockney accented Gorilla with the sweetest voice and finally Meena the elephant (Tori Kelly), a shy but talented singer with very low self-esteem. During and after the audition process, Buster hides the fact that the prize money isn’t what it seems and does whatever is necessary to keep the show going and revitalize his theater.

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The most interesting part of Sing is when the story hones in on the contestant’s private lives. Rosalita with 25 piglets, Meena with her encouraging family, Mike’s run in with the underworld, Ash’s arrogant boyfriend and Johnny’s criminal dad add a bit of dimension to these otherwise one dimensional characters. As with most movies of this genre, it’s filled with pop culture music references, many of which went over my head but trivial in the scope of things.

The animation is tight and frenetic. The music is loud and bombastic. There is enough slapstick to elicit the laughs and giggles throughout. However there are some key dramatic moments involving Johnny and his relationship with his father and a little bit with Rosalita and Meena that resonated with my kids in a positive way. While my youngest was up from his seat dancing to the tunes and performances, my oldest cried a bit at the tender moments with Johnny and his dad. This was a good thing in my book.

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Finally, Sing avoids the predictable and loathsome culture of winning it all (American Idol, The Voice) to its credit. There are no Simon Cowells here which is a good decision on Illumination’s part. It’s really about finding your voice (literally and figuratively) and being true to yourself that really matters in the end. While that makes Sing as cheesy as it implies, it’s true – Sing is as light and cheesy as you would expect. But sometimes, with kid’s movies, that’s just what the doctor ordered.


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So what do you think of SING? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: La La Land (2016)

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Written/Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Runtime: 128 minutes

Rarely did I respond so strongly to a film’s tagline. In fact, I mostly barely notice them. Here’s to the fools who dream… well, La La Land‘s tagline speaks to me in a profound way, as essentially, I am one of those fools. Unabashedly.

Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who works at Warner Brothers lot, serving lattes to movie stars with googly eyes. Any free time she gets she spends it on auditions. And like many other aspiring actresses like her, she gets constant rejections, and treated like dirt by casting directors. Meanwhile, there’s Ryan Gosling‘s Sebastian, a jazz musician who scrapes by playing gigs at dingy bars and Hollywood pool parties. Whilst Mia dreams of movie star greatness, Sebastian dreams of opening his own jazz club that celebrates the kind of jazz music he thinks is a dying music genre. These *fools* meet serendipitously, during a rousing opening number that harkens back to classic musicals where the actors burst into song and start singing and dancing in the midst of L.A.’s traffic jam.

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With a title like La La Land, this musical dramedy is unabashedly dreamy and stylish. It’s hard not to smile during these energetic musical numbers, though I have to admit at times my mind did wander off and my heart craved for something meaty to hold on to. Well, Damien Chazelle did give us some moments with deep emotional resonance, but it’s not necessarily from the romance. Despite the dreamy-ness of the Mia/Sebastian love story, I think the musical numbers actually take place of the emotional weight. I just didn’t quite feel the oomph of their romance, that intense longing to be together a la Romeo & Juliet or Jack & Rose (hmmm, I just realized these two stars Leo DiCaprio, I guess the guy can really sell romance!) In any case, the moment that truly got me is the audition scene where Mia sang ‘fools who dream.’ I will definitely do a Music Break of this film, though the only song I remember most is this one. I was practically sobbing watching that scene, and Emma Stone deserves all the kudos for her performance just on this scene alone. Perhaps because she identified so well with Mia’s journey, having moved to L.A. at 15 to pursue acting, that her emotion in the film feels authentic.

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As for Gosling, I think many of my blog regulars know I’m not fond of the guy. This film doesn’t exactly change my mind about him. I do think he’s good, though not nearly as strong as Stone as his co-star. I just think Gosling’s face isn’t the least bit expressive and devoid of emotion, and so to this day I still don’t get what the fuss is about him. This is the third time Emma/Ryan are paired together as lovers, and I suppose they do have chemistry, though not quite the Bogey/Bacall variety.

The movie consist of pretty much the two of them from start to finish, J.K. Simmons and singer John Legend both had small roles that are basically cameos. The talented Rosemarie DeWitt is grossly underused as well as Sebastian’s sister. Some critics point out the lack of Black characters in the movie, which as a non-White person I think it’s not always fair to expect every race is represented in every film.

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As for that ending…  SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) It’s clever for Chazelle to have his cake and eat it too. The last 20 minute or so of the movie happens about 5 years after Mia and Sebastian parted ways. Essentially they achieved their dreams, at the cost of their romance. But it ends with a dreamy sequence of the two getting together and living happily ever after, which is what the audience would hope to happen. But for me, I’m glad they didn’t end up together, just like Roman Holiday, sometimes a bittersweet ending is one you remember most.

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The critics went wild for this movie, and I agree with some who thinks this film is way overrated. I’ve had people ask me what I think of it, as I have the poster hanging outside my office at work. I’d say it’s a frothy romance with a moving story about chasing your dreams. Emotionally speaking, it’s not exactly profound and it doesn’t quite reach the poignancy of Moonlight, but there are plenty of things Chazelle did here that deserve praise. It’s stylish and beautifully-shot, with a dreamy-like quality to it that sweeps your feet away.

The music by Justin Hurwitz is certainly one of the strongest aspects of the film, one I’d remember for years to come. Some sequences, especially that opening number, is truly lovely. I also love the creative use of props for locations such as Paris, which enhances the fantastical nature of the story. It’s also nice to see such a gorgeous film that is not just style over substance.

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Have you seen La La Land? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: The Eagle Huntress (2016)

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Director: Otto Bell
Runtime: 101 min

This was one of my most-anticipated documentary of the year, so when it played at TCFF in October I was beyond thrilled. I had never seen eagle hunter doing their thing on screen, let alone an eagle huntress. It’s a world rarely explored on films, and for that reason alone I was excited to see it.

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. It seems apt that the documentary is narrated by Daisy Ridley, the bad-ass star of Star Wars‘ spinoff The Force Awakens. Within minutes, I was in awe of the beauty of the Mongolian landscape. This is perhaps one of the most beautifully-shot film I’ve ever seen, not just of this year. Not sure what the production budget was, but it certainly looks extremely-well made. I’d jokingly call it eagle-porn for all the stunning sequence of the majestic bird flying in the air, but the most incredible shots are during Aisholpan’s training to catch the bird.

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As the title role, Aisholpan effortlessly won my heart. She has such a great screen presence and charming personality. Growing up in a patriarchal community in a nomadic family, she’s very close to her eagle-hunter father, who often takes her eagle hunting. It’s no surprise that she wants to follow in his footsteps and despite the objections of the community elders who insist that eagle-hunting is a man’s job, her dad fully supports her. If you’re a parent, especially dads, this is a great film to take with your kids. The relationship between Aisholpan and her dad is genuinely heart-warming.

A key scene when Aisholpan and her dad had to snatch a 3-month-old eagle chick from its nets up high in the mountain is quite an adrenaline rush. Aisholpan’s dad literally had to dangle his daughter on a rope over a cliff during a particularly windy day. I’d imagine it’s a tricky job even for a man, let alone a young girl! But Aisholpan defied the odds and she proved the naysayers wrong time and time again as she also triumphed in eagle-hunting competition. But what I admire about Aisholpan is not just her talents and tenacity. Despite being a bit of a tomboy, she also embraced her femininity, as the film shows her wearing a bow and painting her nails. She thrives in a man’s world but she’s still very much a girl and enjoys being one.

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A good documentary immerses you in an exotic world that’s completely foreign to you and The Eagle Huntress certainly did that for me. I love the moments between Aisholpan and her eagle (the one she caught off the cliff) and how she’d talk to her the way a kid would talk to their pet cat or dog. There’s also scenes of her with her girlfriends, most of which don’t exactly share her passion for eagle hunting. It’s truly an insightful, entertaining and emotional experience watching this movie. Apparently director Otto Bell moved Heaven and Earth’ to finish this film as he said in this TIFF interview. I’m glad he did and thanks to him we got to know such an amazing and inspiring story. Kudos to cinematographer Simon Niblett in filming the stunning mountainous Kazhak wilderness, as well as capturing some of the intimate moments in Aisholpan’s journey. They used GoPro cameras to film much of the eagle-hunting action and they’re an absolute blast to watch.

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I’d have rated this film higher if it weren’t for the inaccuracies about Aisholpan being the first eagle huntress. As it turns out she’s also not the only eagle huntress around at present time and that the opposition to her vocation might’ve been exagerrated for dramatic purposes. Now, I wish the filmmaker had been truthful in presenting the story, as I don’t think the fact that there are other eagle huntress lessen the power of Aisholpan’s story. I still think she’s an extraordinary young girl whose story deserves to be told. If you’re curious to read it, this article talks about the real truth of female eagle huntress in Mongolian Kazakh society.

That said, I still highly recommend this film. Perhaps it’s more of a narrative than a documentary, but still it’s a wonderful, uplifting story that’s skillfully-told. A soaring film in every sense of the word. The visuals will no doubt wow you, but it’s the adorable & charismatic Aisholpan who’ll run away with your heart.

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Have you seen The Eagle Huntress? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Passengers (2016)

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Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Written By: Jon Spaihts
Runtime: 116 minutes

I heard about the premise of this one a few years ago when the project was still stuck in development hell and for some time it was meant to be a vehicle for Keanu Reeves. Well, now we’ve got two of the biggest young A-listers as leads, but what attracted me was still the premise of what could’ve been an intriguing psychological sci-fi thriller.

Well, if you have seen the trailer or tv spots, the studios pretty much marketed this as two passengers who’re stuck in a spacecraft traveling to a distant planet when they’re awakened 90 years early. Within 10 minutes of watching it, you’ll realize that isn’t quite the case. A giant asteroid hits a part of the spaceship, causing a malfunction that triggers Jim’s sleeping pod to open 90 years early. Apparently in the future we still age as we do today, so of course Jim is going to die of old age before he reaches his destination. The first 15 minutes or so are pretty entertaining when it was just Chris Pratt‘s Jim Preston all alone on the ship wondering why he’s the only one awaken on board. There are some funny moments, i.e. how it takes 50+ years for his SOS message to reach earth and the machine says ‘we apologize for the delay.’ Ha! It helps that Pratt has that aw-shucks likable charm that the film puts to good use, but he could only sustain it for so long before he’s starting to get on my nerves.

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When does Jennifer Lawrence enter the picture, you ask? Well, to talk about it would spoil the premise, so I’ll discuss that later in the spoiler section. I could tell you that her character’s name is Aurora Lane. Heh, the Sleeping Beauty reference is just way on the nose it’s lazy. And is ‘Lane’ meant to be an homage to Lois Lane as Aurora is a writer? [shrug] Speaking of Lois, there is a space *walk* halfway through that evokes the flying sequence in the first Superman movie… and of course Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. In fact, Passengers made me recall so many other [read: better] sci-fi movies: 2001 Space Odyssey, Sunshine, Ex Machina, etc. but in a bad way because it could barely hold a candle to those films. Oscar-winner Lawrence herself doesn’t really get much to do in this movie. She’s pretty much reduced to a damsel in distress, one with questionable principles no less, by the end of the movie.

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I have to admit the visuals of the movie, which is basically just the set design of the spacecraft Avalon, is stunning and sleek. It’s like a pristine, futuristic mega mall, complete with state-of-the-art rooms and all kinds of amenities such as bar, dance studio, swimming pools, etc. The special effects of the pool losing its artificial gravity whilst Aurora’s swimming in it is pretty cool to watch. But it’s to be expected from a movie with a $100+ mil budget, and this movie is pretty much all style no substance. Director Morten Tyldum (whose gone Hollywood since making the Danish indie film Headhunters) seems more concerned with the actors’ physicality/physiognomy than their psychology. In a dramatic moment where Aurora’s supposed to be feeling emotionally distressed, the director shows off her svelte physique in a snazzy bathing suit that tells you nothing of what she’s feeling. Apparently Jon Spaihts‘ script was from the coveted Black List, though you wouldn’t know it from the final result.


For a movie built on the romance of the characters, there’s zero emotional resonance here. Mostly it’s because most people wouldn’t be able to easily reconcile the fact that a bored, lonely man basically does something so selfless. Obsession is NOT true love, no matter how slick Hollywood tries to package the story nor how attractive the actors they hired to sell it. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): At one point Aurora calls Jim a murderer for waking her up to keep him company, and that description is absolutely justified. There’s no denying that Jim basically stalks Aurora in her pod, then proceeds to robs her out of her future and deceives her into falling for him. No matter how you look at it, he’s a creepy dude who doesn’t deserve our sympathies, yet the filmmakers want us to root for him.

Aside from the unethical decision of the protagonist, it’s hard to root for either of them as we just barely knew them. No character development than mere superficial hints of their professions prior to their space journey. There’s also no real threat for any of the characters, even at the most dire scenario when all hell broke lose in the spaceship. Don’t even get me started with the bombastic finale. The mechanical failures in the ship feels like a cop out plot to avoid facing the morality of the story, while also conveniently give the protagonist a ‘get out of jail’ free pass. As for the rapport between the two leads, well they may seem like buddies in interviews, but there’s no chemistry between them as a couple. The hyped-up sex scene is pretty lame and I never believed them for a second as two people falling in love.

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Well, I’ve described this movie in the worst possible way and I actually like it less the more I think about it. The only bright spot here is Michael Sheen as the android bartender, but he’s barely around often enough and his talents is wasted on this role. It’s also nice to see Laurence Fishburne popped up briefly, though his appearance can be considered a cameo. He did have one memorable line in the film delivered the only way he could, which only vexed me that he’s not around longer.

There’s really not much to recommend this movie. But the biggest disappointment of Passengers for me is that there’s an intriguing story here buried under studios’ meddling. It has the potential to be a haunting sci-fi that makes us ponder on our humanity, but all the thought-provoking bits gets swept under the rug [or more appropriately here, thrown out to space] in lieu of a generic space action adventure. No amount of star power can save a flawed script, pair that with studio meddling and you’ve got yourself a real cinematic misfire.


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

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Guest Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)

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Directed By: David Frankel
Written By: Allan Loeb
Runtime: 94 minutes

After reviewing a couple unimpressive comedies last week (Office Christmas Party and Why Him?), I was ready for seeing something a little weightier, so I was excited to get the opportunity to see Collateral Beauty. I was a little nervous it would be overly-sentimental, and while I did find some problems with it, I still thought it was very well-done.

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In Collateral Beauty, advertising mogul Howard (Will Smith) writes letters to Love (Aimee, played by Keira Knightley), Time (Raffi, played by Jacob Latimore), and Death (Brigitte, played by Helen Mirren) following a family tragedy. At the same time, three of his friends and work colleagues- Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) – worry that Howard’s mental state may cost them their jobs and devise a desperate plan to prevent it from happening, all while simultaneously fighting their own personal battles. I realize this is a vague synopsis, but saying more would spoil a lot of the plot.

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While I don’t think this movie will go down as a classic, it was a solid film. It was creative and handled the subjects of loss and grief well, without being too heavy-handed. The acting was, of course, phenomenal; how could it not be with such a strong cast? The stand-outs for me were Helen Mirren, who gave a both humorous and poignant performance, and, naturally, Will Smith; he barely has any dialogue in the first half of the movie, but his facial expressions and body language alone is striking, and if he doesn’t make you cry (or get a little choked up, at the very least), you are made of stronger stuff than I am. Naomie Harris as Madeline, the leader of a support group for parents who have lost their children, was excellent as well; she was able to bring both strength to the character as well as an underlying sense of grief without being too obvious.

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I did have a couple issues with this movie. One of the twists seemed way too obvious-there were too many pregnant pauses and significant glances hinting toward it- so when it was finally revealed, it felt a little underwhelming. I also thought the plan Howard’s friends come up with to prevent them from losing their jobs was really convoluted; admittedly, it was needed to get the plot moving, but suspension of disbelief can be stretched only so far.

Overall, though, Collateral Beauty was an enjoyable movie, thanks mainly to the fantastic acting. If you’re looking for a light, heartwarming film with some tearjerker moments, check it out.

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Have you seen ‘Collateral Beauty’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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I don’t call myself a Star Wars groupie and honestly I was rather lukewarm about The Force Awakens. At the same time I didn’t hate the prequels trilogy (episode 1-3) though I have to admit there were tons of problems. But the more I hear about Rogue One and that amazing international cast, the more I look forward to it. Well, if only all prequels were as good as this one.

The story is set before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) which as you might recall opens with Princess Leia aboard her starship with the stolen plans to restore freedom to the galaxy, as she’s being pursued by the evil Empire. The fact that George Lucas never explained just how Leia got those stolen plans lends itself to a great spinoff/prequel and in many ways it’s as intriguing a story as the origin of Darth Vader. At the center of the Rebel Alliance is a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), shown as a little girl sent to flee by her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) as he’s about to be captured by the Empire and finish the work he’s started, that is creating the Death Star.

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The rest of the film is quite action-packed, as Jyn tries to break free from the rebels in a rescue mission. I love the first introduction of her with K-2SO (voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk), the droid is definitely a lively character and he’s even more memorable than BB8 with his dry wit. The rest of the rebel group is made up of an awesomely-diverse international cast: Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as Imwe’s loyal friend Baze Malbus. I don’t even mind there’s no Jedi in this movie. I gotta say Donnie Yen is my fave of the bunch, he’s got the most memorable intro with his martial arts skills, but he’s also got some funny one liners! Who knew he’d be the comic relief of the movie along with Tudyk’s K-2SO.

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Because the plot revolves around a single crucial mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, the story is pretty easy to follow. All the action punctuates the story but never overwhelms it. It’s definitely more of a gritty war action film that offers plenty of dynamic battle sequences, both on air and on the ground. There’s less philosophical dialog nor extensive dramatic scenes, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks substance. At the core of the struggle is always Jyn trying to fulfills her father’s mission… “Save the Rebellion and Save the Dream.” And what a struggle it was. The third act centers on the Rogue One team infiltrating Empires headquarters in Scarif, and it’s a real team effort in order to get Jyn to steal the plans. As if that wasn’t tough enough, retrieving the plans is half the battle, there’s the virtually impossible task of actually transporting the data to the Rebel Alliance!


Director Gareth Edwards did a pretty good job directing this (much better than his last blockbuster effort Godzilla in 2014) and he stages the action pieces nicely. The scene inside the control room where the plans are kept are stunningly-shot. It was certainly a well-staged scene that gives me quite an adrenaline rush, whilst K2SO provides the hilarious bits whilst fighting off the stormtroopers. I never felt dizzy or bored watching the battle sequences and there are plenty of suspense throughout. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy has a good mix of action, drama and humor, with some emotional moments that never resort to melodrama. I really think the movie benefits from a strong ensemble cast with a capable female lead at the center. I’ve been a fan of Felicity Jones in her dramatic performances (Like Crazy, Breathe In, The Theory of Everything), but it’s nice to see her kick some butt here whilst always keeping her character grounded. She never became some action heroine or anything, which would’ve been silly.

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As for the supporting cast, every member of the Rogue One team is solid. They fight valiantly and the theme of sacrifice and hope give the story emotional gravitas. I feel a bit underwhelmed by Ben Mendelsohn as a high ranking Imperial senator though he looks sinister enough in his caped uniform. But his meeting with the big boss is definitely a memorable scene. Star Wars fans might’ve exploded in geekgasm the moment Vader showed up… then THAT voice came out of him, whoa! Who could top James Earl Jones‘ voice… it was glorious! There’s also memorable Vader scene wielding his lightsaber that made even me want to get up and cheer. Yes we’re not supposed to root for the bad guy, but man!!!

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[Spoiler alert – highlight to read] My biggest beef is the final scene with horrible CGI-ed face of Princess Leia! It’s so distracting and kind of lessens the impact of that powerful scene. Heh, the X-Men films have done a good job making Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen look half their age, so you’d think with a $200mil budget they could afford to do a better job. They could even opt for doing just a silhouette of her whilst she said the line, that’d surely make it more memorable than showing a bad CGI. Peter Cushing is also back as a CGI character as Grand Moff Tarkin, 

Despite my quibbles, it’s still a pretty darn good movie. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is quite beautiful (he’s also the DP for the gorgeous film LION), complemented by the rousing score by Michael Giacchino. I love that every time Vader showed up the iconic John Williams’ theme song came on! I really enjoyed this one and would definitely watch this again on IMAX. I might even follow up with episode 4, 5 and 6 now that the story suddenly feels fresh again.

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So, what do you think of ROGUE ONE? Let’s hear it!

Guest Review: Why Him? (2016)

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After being underwhelmed by the last holiday comedy I reviewed (Office Christmas Party), I was not particularly enthusiastic about seeing another one- especially one written by Jonah Hill and starring James Franco. Not that they aren’t both talented, but the majority of their collaborations have been stoner comedies, which have never really been my thing. However, while this movie wasn’t comedic genius, I still enjoyed it more than I expected, thanks to a strong cast of genuinely funny actors.

Why Him? follows Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), along with his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and their teenaged son Scotty (Griffin Gluck), on their visit to from Michigan to California to celebrate Christmas with their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) in order for her to introduce them to her boyfriend, gaming app mogul Laird Mayhew (James Franco). To say Laird is eccentric is a major understatement, and despite his best efforts to earn Ned’s approval, the protective father can’t understand what his daughter sees in him.

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While the film won’t be a classic by any means, it did get a lot of solid laughs throughout the screening. This is mostly thanks to a performance by a strong cast. The highlight for me was Keegan-Michael Key as Gustav, Laird’s personal assistant/life coach-type person, who cracked me up every time he was on screen. The rest of the actors were great as well; Megan Mullally was hilarious as ever, Bryan Cranston brought not only plenty of humor to his role but also some genuinely heartwarming moments (due to some great father/daughter chemistry between Zoey Deutch), and even James Franco as Laird was likable in his eagerness and genuine excitement to get to know his girlfriend’s family, even if the foul-mouthed, loveably clueless character wasn’t much of an acting stretch for him.

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This movie’s problem is that the plot isn’t original-the “overprotective parents meeting the significant other who’s not good enough for their child” storyline has been done multiple times- and if a film is going to have a clichéd plot, it had better have either a new take on it or exceptionally funny writing, and this had neither. The ending was predictable, and while the writing wasn’t bad, I couldn’t remember a single joke or one-liner from it. Fortunately, the actors were able to work well with what they were given, but it wasn’t enough to save the movie entirely.

If you’re a big fan of any of these actors, Why Him? might be worth checking out; otherwise, I’d wait until it’s available at Red Box or on TV/streaming.

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Have you seen ‘Why Him?’? Well, what did you think?