FlixChatter Review: Incredibles 2 (2018)

The Incredibles was released 2004 when the super hero genre was starting to dominate the box office. It was one of the biggest hits of that year but somehow a sequel never got made. Now 14 years later, the Parr/Incredibles family is back to save the world from bad guys.

Set not long after the events of the first movie, The Incredibles family just saved a city from a massive disaster but were arrested right after because superheroes are still considered illegal. With the help of an old friend, they were released from the authority. But now they are broke and homeless, Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) needs to figure out how they can support their young children. The thought of going back to the workforce as regular human being doesn’t sit well with Bob but thankfully their friend Lucius/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) came to the rescue. He told both Bob and Helen that he’d met a very rich man named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) who wants to make super heroes legal again and he wants to meet and offer them a new gig.

Winston runs a very successful communication firm and idolizes super heroes, he wants to convince powerful government officials to make super heroes legal and save the world from danger again. With the help of his tech expert sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Winston came up with a plan of having only Elastigirl go out and do all the heroics stuff first to prove to the government that super heroes are not dangerous to the public. Having always been the man of the house and the alpha male, Mr. Incredible was taken aback that Winston didn’t choose him for this gig. But since he loves his wife and kids and understands that the job will be their only option to make a living, he relented and encourage his wife to take the job.

As the story progresses, we see Elastigirl fights crime and save many lives while also trying to find the identity of the movie’s main villain who goes by the name Screensaver. Meanwhile, Bob is stuck at home playing Mr. Mom and not doing a very good job of it.

All of the actors who voiced each of the characters were great, Nelson, Hunter and Jackson slipped right back into their respective roles and we audience never get the sense that they’ve been gone for such a long time. Odenkirk’s Winston is a nice addition, he’s basically playing a rich and powerful version of Saul from Breaking Bad. Let’s hope they bring him back for the third sequel. But the character who steals the show is baby Jack Jack, he’s adorable baby with several super powers and got the most laugh from the audience. Pretty sure his toy will sell quite well during the holidays season.

This is a return to form for Brad Bird who wrote and directed the picture. I thought his last film Tomorrowland was one of the worst of 2015. He crafted a fun and exciting family superhero picture. There were some complaints from parents that the first movie was too violent, so he scaled back the action in this one. But that doesn’t mean the movie don’t have any good action scenes.

The highlight action scene for me was when Elastigirl was on her motorbike racing through the streets trying to stop an out of control train. Also, the big climatic finale where all of the super heroes used their power to save a city from destruction was well done and very exciting. The only complaint I have is that the main villain was pretty weak compare to Syndrome from the first movie.

Incredibles 2 may not be a good as the first one but it’s full laughs, exciting action sequences and some social commentary on our current pop culture. It’s still early in the summer movie season but it’s definitely my favorite so far.

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So have you seen Incredibles 2? Well, what did you think?

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Indie Film Spotlight: Smitten! & Q&A w/ writer/director Barry Morrow

Ahhh… romanza. One of the films I enjoyed most at Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Festival (MSPIFF) this year is this sweet, whimsical fantasy rom-com starring Darren Criss and Mãdãlina Ghenea set in the picturesque Italian Alps. Smitten! is a directorial debut from Minnesota’s own Barry Morrow, whom cinephiles might recognize as the Oscar-winning writer of Rain Man (1988). The film won four Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay for Barry Morrow.

A young New York fashion executive’s trip to Milan takes a bad turn when he is kidnapped and whisked off to an Alpine village to be held for ransom money. Little does he (or his three abductors) know that the small, rustic cottage they end up spending the night in is under a gypsy love spell. Or that when they awaken, they will be Smitten! by the first living soul that meets their eyes.

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I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation at Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel aka The Depot. We were fortunate to find an empty meeting room so we could chat uninterrupted for more than a half hour! I could’ve easily chatted with Barry all day… he’s so personable, warm, funny, and simply a delight to chat with. In fact, our interview started with him asking about me and why I have a blog. Later on I told him I have a short film screening at MSPIFF and he was curious to find out more. In fact, when I found out my press pass fell off my lanyard, he was kind enough to help me look for it! I love that Barry has such a huge heart for people with disabilities. In a way, that experience helped him in his Hollywood journey, but he has been giving back to disabled people all his life.

No wonder his film Smitten! is so joyful! He seemed like he had a blast making it, so hopefully he’ll be directing more movies in the future. So check out my interview below on Barry’s journey to Hollywood (via a TV movie that’s based on his own story), winning an Oscar for Rain Man, and making a joyful movie about love.

Q. You’re originally from Minnesota (born in Austin, MN), then you moved to teach drama in Hawaii. Would you tell me a bit of your journey to Hollywood?

I only went to Hollywood when I already had a movie already in the works. I have a wife, two little kids, plus a dog and a cat. When I left Minnesota initially, it was to teach at University of Iowa and I was there for seven years. It’s there when I wrote this story about this gentleman that my wife and I rescued, and more or less adopted him, I became his legal guardian. His name is Bill Sackter and he was institutionalized for 44 years at Faribault State Mental Health Institute. I find that Bill was an intelligent man, but that his intelligence comes in many different ways. His intelligence was reading people, he instinctively know who would shun him and who would be warm and gracious to him. So he has a deep emotional intelligence.

Q2. So the TV movie Bill (released in 1981 starring Mickey Rooney as Bill – ed) basically brought you to Hollywood?

Yes, at the time I was living in Iowa. So I said to Bill, ‘Look, I help you get a coffee shop, and now I need a career.’ I’m going to try to go to Hollywood, see how this movie works and see if I could continue to be a writer. Well I asked if he wanted to come with us and he said ‘Buddy, I hate to disappoint you but I’m happy here and lots of people need my coffee. So you’re on your own now.” So my wife and I went to California and we ended up winning an Emmy for Bill, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television. (Mickey Rooney also won an Emmy and Golden Globe for playing Bill – ed).

Q. So did you already start writing Rain Man by then? 

No. Bill was still alive then. The movie became so successful we made a sequel in 1983 (Bill: On His Own) and he died just before it was released. I think what Bill would’ve said was, “Oh I don’t need to see the sequel, I lived it.” By the way, when Bill saw the movie for the first time with me, we had a private screening for him in New York at CBS, he said “You know what buddy, Mickey Rooney has a rough life too.” He couldn’t distinguish that Rooney was playing him.

So after Bill passed away, I started volunteering at various organizations dealing with disabilities. I was in Texas on a committee for the Association for Retarded Citizens (now called the ARC) and that’s when I met the real Rain Man, Kim Peek. His father was there and when I saw him he was reading some books. He was reading this book upside down and I heard him groaning while I was in the hallway. I said “Can I help you with anything?” and he said, “Don’t bother me, I’m reading.” Well I found out later from his father, that he could read books upside down. I was in the room at the NASA Medical Research Hospital in Monterey CA and the scientists said after reviewing Kim’s brain scan that they’d never seen anything like it. His brain is so unique so he’s considered to be the world’s greatest mega savant. He has the largest memory capacity of probably anyone who’s ever lived. That’s how Rain Man started.

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in ‘Rain Man’

Q. I read on IMDb that during filming, both Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise doubted the movie’s potential. Of course little did they know it went on to win awards, and Hoffman winning an Oscar for Best Actor.

Well it’s because of the subject matter. I mean nobody’s ever done a TV or movie with a starring role about a mentally-retarded man until Bill happened. Eunice Shriver said to me, “You know what you’ve done don’t you, Barry? Bill is the most sympathetic portrayal of a mentally-retarded person in television history.” Then Rain Man came along and nobody thought it’d held up to its potential. It’s two guys driving in a car and one hardly talks and doesn’t have much emotion, how’s that gonna work?

In a way it’s the same about Smitten!, I’m doing an old fashioned love story in a time where nobody does this kind of story. I like to call it ‘an analog movie in the digital age.’

Darren Criss and Madalina Ghenea

Q. That’s a perfect segue to Smitten! Now 30 years later, after years of writing dramatic projects, you not only wrote but directed a rom-com. What inspires you to do that? 

The message. This is what I’ve learned in nearly 70 years living on this planet: Everybody needs love, every wants love, but love is hard. It’s full of disappointment. Your heart will be broken more times than it’s mended, but still we pursue it, we can’t help it. I think love is in all my movies. It’s in Bill, in Rain Man. Love is there, I just never took a comedic angle.

Q. What I find particularly interesting about Smitten! is its magical realism aspect. I’m curious if there’s a certain event that happened that inspired you?

There’s actually very specific thing that happened. I have a friend who speaks and writes fluent Italian. I said to him that I’m looking for something to do in Italy as I love that country. It wasn’t even to direct a movie, I just want a good story. Then one day he sent me an obituary column in Italian. It’s about a young lady, 16 years old, on the cusp of World War I. Her boyfriend was about to go to war the next day, so they spent one night together in an old abandoned cottage. The next morning she woke up and he’s gone and never returned. He was killed in the war presumably. But she never married, she never fell in love again. She was smitten from that moment and so when she died at the age of 90, she left a small fortune to the village where that cottage was, that every year they’d have a Festival of Love to honor love. But what happened was, as the mayor was getting ready for it, the lawyer ran off with the money, he stole the money and they never got him. So I said, ‘that’s terrible!’ If we were to make a movie of it, I’d grant this woman his dying wish. So we did it, Smitten!, at least in my heart is dedicated to her.

Barry on set in the stunning Italian Alps

Q. How did the casting of Mãdãlina Ghenea and Darren Criss came about? Did you do audition for the main roles?
We first learned about Madalina Ghenea, who moved to Italy from Romania as a teen, through Lilia Trapani, our amazing casting agent in Rome. Lilia, in fact, found all of our cast’s great Italian actors, too. She knew that the film’s role of “Rosalia” required someone of striking beauty, one of the film’s conceits, and Madalina, an international super model, was certainly that. So the bigger surprise upon our first lunch meeting was to discover her vulnerable side, but most of all her inner beauty. She is a spirited but decent soul, which I believe she inherited from her mother, who visited us on set. Her mom was, and still is, a veterinarian in the small Romanian village where Madalina was raised, so farm animals and small town life is something in their family DNA. All of this came together in a kismet sort of way, so there was no doubt in my mind that Madalina was our Rosalia, and she accepted the role on the spot.

My producing partner Jules Rask and I had a more strategic way of approaching Darren Criss. Darren wasn’t on our radar when we began our search, but the more we learned about this guy, the more we knew we had to have him. What we didn’t know, and had to laugh about later, was that Darren had spent time in Italy studying acting and spoke fluent Italian. We never found a way to use that in the film, but it sure helped with all the singing and dancing and carousing we did together after work or on weekends, and of course our cast parties.

To watch and hear Darren and our Italian cast members belt out songs together in Italian was just one of the many magical moments we shared during filming. Darren, of course, has gone on to make a big splash in the recent The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and has an excellent shot at a Emmy for his role as spree killer Andrew Cunanan.  On a more personal note, everyone fell in love with Darren’s beautiful girlfriend and now fiancé, Mia Swier, as well as Darren’s parents, Bill and Cerina.  You might say we were all smitten.

Q. Many of your supporting cast are Europeans. Was there ever a language barrier or culture clash during filming?
Our cast and crew were at least 90% Italian, so we did face the inevitable language and cultural barriers. But not many. When in Italy, you can almost bypass language altogether by using gestures, facial expressions, even pantomime, and when you’re working with the caliber of talent that I had, reading one other was not a problem.

Our main shooting location was in a tiny village in northern Italy, formerly a part of Austria, so German was the dominant language there. There are still a bit of strain between the two cultures due to this history, but we overcame that almost instantly. Some credit for that, perhaps, had to do with the film we were shooting, which was light-hearted and all about love. At least I’d like to think so. But mostly it was about the people we picked to work with, and those who picked us. Everything about the making of Smitten! seemed to be fated that way.

Barry with Angela Molina and Madalina Ghenea

Q. Lastly, what tips do you have for aspiring writer/filmmaker trying to break into the business?

You’d think that after nearly 40 years of working in film and television, I’d have some sage advice for young filmmakers looking for their big break. But I don’t.  Every road to success, or failure for that matter, is a personal one, often a painful and lonely one, but everyone must find his or her own way. I can only offer a few platitudes. Work hard. Be the best you can possibly be. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Never quit. If I can think of anything else I’ll let you know. I’m still learning.


Thanks so much Barry for taking the time to chat with me! 

FlixChatter Review – Hereditary (2018)

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Directed By: Ari Aster
Written By: Ari Aster
Runtime: 127 minutes

Hereditary begins with Annie Graham (Toni Collette), her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and her children Peter (Alex Wolf) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) coping with the recent death of Annie’s mother. Strange and terrifying events quickly begin to occur following the family matriarch’s passing, hinting at a dark family secret that might not have died with her.

This is one of the most suspenseful and unsettling horror movies I’ve seen in a while, and that tone is maintained the whole way through. The pacing is excellent; it works so well in building the tension. The beginning takes plenty of time establishing the characters’ backgrounds, but it doesn’t feel like it drags, because the exposition all feels very natural, thanks to a combination of strong writing and and stellar acting, especially from Toni Collette. The real inciting incident of the film (which is horrifying) takes so long to build up and is so drawn out, but it’s so effective.

Visually, this film is very creative, and not necessarily due to over-the-top special effects. The majority of the effects are practical rather than CGI, and for the most part, they’re pretty understated. This, combined with a good use of lighting and clever camera work, makes for a terrifying viewing experience.

I only have a couple complaints about this movie. Firstly, there isn’t much to Gabriel Byrne‘s character. I’ve enjoyed him in other movies, and I know he can act well; he just isn’t given much to work with here. He doesn’t really interact much with the rest of the family, which makes his chemistry with them so awkward that I initially thought he was the stepfather and not the actual father. It’s not that he seems emotionally distant, which I could almost understand, because it would make the tone feel even more uncomfortable. He just feels unnecessary. I know Annie and the kids are the real focus of the movie, but his character could have been removed and the film wouldn’t have lost anything vital.

Secondly, the ending kind of gives me tonal whiplash. It’s not a bad ending- it’s foreshadowed well, and it has a Rosemary’s Baby vibe that I appreciate- but it also feels more bizarre than the rest of the movie does; still twisted, but in a different, kind of jarring way. It’s a weird note to go out on.

Overall though, this is a fantastic horror movie. It’s well-written, the acting is mostly excellent, the visuals are skillfully done, and it will stick with you long after you leave the theater. If you enjoy scary movies, definitely check out this one.

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

TV Chatter – Musings about Netflix’s ALTERED CARBON

Hello everyone! It’s been ages since I actually blogged about a TV series, but recently my hubby and I just binged on this Netflix Original Series ALTERED CARBON. As we’re waiting for Westworld Season 2 to wrap (as we prefer to binge on a series than following it week by week), we’re in the mood for a mind-bending sci-fi.

Now, the first time we watched Altered Carbon, we weren’t wowed by it. In fact, we thought it was meh. Honestly, I’m not too keen on Joel Kinnaman as the lead. He seems like a generic tall, blond hunk that’s lacking any kind of charisma while the far-more-magnetic Will Yun Lee (who’s essentially playing the same character) is relegated to a small role in flashback scenes. So it’s not until about a week later that my hubby and I decided to give this show another shot (largely because I like James Purefoy!), and by the end of episode 2, we were hooked!

ALTERED CARBON is set in a future where consciousness is digitized and stored in cortical stacks implanted in the spine, allowing humans to survive physical death by having their memories and consciousness “re-sleeved” into new bodies. The story follows specially trained “Envoy” soldier Takeshi Kovacs, who is downloaded from an off-world prison and into a combat-ready sleeve at the behest of Laurens Bancroft, a highly influential aristocrat. Bancroft was killed, and the last automatic backup of his stack was made hours before his death, leaving him with no memory of who killed him and why. While police ruled it a suicide, Bancroft is convinced he was murdered and wants Kovacs to find out the truth.

If you’re a big sci-fi fan, this show is well worth a watch. The series is based on a novel by British science fiction and fantasy author Richard K. Morgan released in 2002. In 2003, the U.S. edition received the Philip K. Dick Award (so I wonder if ppl with a middle name starting w/ a ‘K’ might be good at writing sci-fi?). The film rights for the book sold for a reported figure of $1,000,000 to film producer Joel Silver (per Wikipedia). The Netflix series’ creator Laeta Kalogridis, is one of the executive producers of many sci-fi films Avatar and Terminator Genysis, as well as TV shows (Birds of Prey and Bionic Woman).

In Wiki, there’s a quote from Morgan that I found particularly interesting… “Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the majority whom the system oppresses.”

That’s essentially is the world of Altered Carbon… set 300 years from now, in the 25th Century. It’s a rather bleak vision of our future, as well as our humanity. But my favorite sci-fi films are those that really made me think about what it really means to be human. Such as the sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner which I actually just re-watched 8 years ago and prompted me to write this post. Speaking of that film, when I first saw the pilot episode, I thought Altered Carbon is basically a rip-off of Blade Runner. But upon a second look, the story is actually very different, but just as thought provoking in that it also made you ponder what it truly means to be human.

I’m not going into details in this ‘review’ of sort, so I won’t be commenting on each episode but more about the series as a whole. Basically, I just want to talk about three aspects of the series… and what I think of the ending [obviously SPOILER territory).

The Premise 

I’m often intrigued to check out a brand new show because of the filmmaker or cast. But in the case of Altered Carbon, where there’s really no major stars in it, I was drawn by its premise. As I already mentioned above, I LOVE sci-fi films that analyze and explore our humanity in a creative way. I mentioned Blade Runner above which is about engineered droids that look and behave like humans that it’s tough to tell them apart. Altered Carbon deals with something just as eerie (if not more so), that is, digitizing the soul.

The show also has a procedural element that actually is a more typical whodunnit story, but it’s this mind-bending scifi concept that kept my interest. According to IMDb, this was originally going to be adapted as a film, but the original book’s 26th century universe was too dense to be contained into two hours. I think the story that’s wise as there are indeed SO many interesting to explore from the book that would get oversimplified (read: dumbed down) in a 2-hour film.

I find the very idea of storing one’s consciousness into a chip (stack) that can be placed into another body is extremely fascinating, unsettling and terrifying all at the same time. Does it mean one’s soul, one’s memories, basically everything about who we are as a human being, is no longer attached to our physical bodies? Many Christians have asked this question… when those who believe in Heaven die and enter God’s Kingdom, will they have a spirit body or a physical body? But in this futuristic world, there are two kinds of deaths… the sleeve death (when the fatal blow only affects the body but not the mind, so the stack still intact) and real death (when the body and stack is destroyed).

This is one of those shows where you need a cheat sheet to understand. I didn’t read it until after I finished season 1, but still helpful to read it after. Y’know the expression ‘walk a mile in her shoes’? Well, this goes many steps further that one can essentially live one’s life in an entirely different form. You could be an elderly white man in a body of a black female teen, or in the case of this show, a Hispanic grandma in a body of a big, bald, heavily-tattooed white man. It sounds cool of course, as how many of us haven’t dreamed of looking like someone else for a day? But on the show, if one is re-sleeved too many times, that person will go insane (the mind rebels, the personality gets fragmented). And that’s why the ultra rich (the Meths as they’re called on the show) would clone themselves many times so they can basically be immortal as their sleeve remains a certain age forever.

The Visuals

The reality in Altered Carbon universe is reminiscent of Blade Runner, even more so in the sequel, BR 2049. In the 25th century, supposedly there are pulsating 3D ads, prostitute holograms and super sleek flying cop cars. Heck even the police station looks state of the art, so obviously they get their funding from the Meths!

The visuals are quite stunning. Set in what’s formerly San Francisco, it’s all pops of neon lights and gritty streets, though they still look too ‘clean’ to me that it’s obviously a set. Shot in Vancouver, by cinematographer Neville Kidd, it looks properly futuristic noir.

It’s no surprise that Kidd was the cinematographer behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s gorgeous Sherlock as well as Outlander for Starz. I think he ups the ante in this scifi dystopia world and scifi geeks like me constantly gawk at the cool set pieces. I mean Bancroft’s mansion is magnificently opulent and the state-of-the-art Raven Hotel (with its hidden weaponry) is practically a character in itself.

In season 7 though, it’s nice to get a bit of respite from all that neon city to a lush forest where we get the backstory of Kovacs’ life with his Envoy group. There’s also a super cool looking interrogation room in that episode.

So yeah, this show is visually ambitious and one reviewer even said every shot seems to have been tailored for the One Perfect Shot Twitter account, ha!

The Characters

I LOVE reading articles about the show that breaks down the terminology in Altered Carbon universe. My hubby sent me this one from Thrillist explores some of the questions posed by the show. I found this interview with a neuroscientist about consciousness, memory, and what makes us who we are. This comprehensive article clearly spells out who’s who on the show. Really fascinating stuff!

I also like how diverse the show is. Though it’s improved over the years, it’s still quite rare to see Asian actors in US shows these days. So I’m thrilled to see Korean-American actors Will Yun Lee in a prominent role, as well as Hong Kong-American actor Byron Mann whom I’ve seen in a bunch of shows. Nice to see a Latina actress playing a prominent part as well which celebrates her heritage. Given the nature of the ‘sleeves’ the color of one’s skin doesn’t really matter in this universe, which gives an opportunity for diverse casting and interracial relationships.

I have to say that despite how I initially feel about Joel Kinnaman, his character Takeshi Kovacs is captivating. I was thinking perhaps if we have someone like say, Tom Hardy, the show be a heck of a lot more watchable. But hey, Joel kinda grew on me the more I watched it and the concept of the character itself was enough to hook me. Having seen Joel in RoboCop and Suicide Squad, the Swedish actor seems to have been typecast of sort in sci-fi projects. He looked ultra ripped on this show, he’s basically shirtless 80% of the time here even when he’s not doing the sex scenes! I wish he had more range though, he’s basically just all morose and sulky though I have to admit he can be pretty tender in the romantic scenes.

Speaking of ripped, I really wish they had given more screen time to Will Yun Lee who not only looked amazing physically, but he’s also got this quiet grace and soulful charisma. I’m glad he’s basically the lead in episode 7 as it plays out in flashbacks of his life as an elite soldier (called the Envoy). I like the relationship between Kovacs and the fierce Envoy leader Quell Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry), which is supposed to be the heart and soul of the show but it left me wanting more. Also, it’d have been cool to see the two ‘lives’ of the protagonist and contrast the two. [SPOILER: highlight to read] Given its trippy nature, why not have the two Kovacs (the original AND the new sleeve) intersect more somehow or maybe have Joel and Will meet and even fight each other?? That’d have been so trippy cool!

James Purefoy is nicely cast as Laurens Bancroft, perhaps the wealthiest of the Meths, who are so powerful they can afford endless backups and self cloning to live forever. The character is a reference to Methuselah, a biblical patriarch and a figure in Judaism and Christianity who’ve lived the longest of everyone in the Hebrew Bible at the age of 969.

The whole Bancroft storyline and their relationship with Kovacs held some interest at first, but after a while it gets less and less intriguing. I didn’t care for the affair between Kovacs and Bancroft’s seductive wife (Kristin Lehman). Even the gratuitous sex scene was ho-hum, and the father/son bit in this dysfunctional ‘family’ (they had 21 children!!) is meh as well. Laurens is an intriguing character on paper, and there’s a particular scene with a big crowd that utilizes Purefoy’s acting talent, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near his best role. He’s much more captivating in HBO’s ROME and fans of Mr. Purefoy would be happy to see he sort of um, re-enacted his famous nude scene from that show 😉

I have to say that one of my favorite character is Poe! A centuries ­old, highly ­evolved AI who is currently inhabiting the psyche of Edgar Allan Poe and runs the luxury, well-equipped hotel The Raven (natch!) which Kovacs often hangs out at. I was certain the actor who played him is a Brit (I usually have a good hunch about this) but Chris Conner is actually from New Mexico! I enjoy all the scenes with Poe in it, he’s kind of like Q in Bond movies but with a more biting wit and distinguished sense of style.

Like Kinnaman, it took me a while to warm up to Martha Higareda who played Detective Kristin Ortega. She seems to overact a bit in the pilot in the way she abhorred Kovacs. But I love that the show explored her Mexican heritage in her character, there’s even an extensive scene of her celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with her very-Catholic family. Her mother is especially devout and opposes the re-sleeving after the original sleeve/body dies. I thought that the whole discussion around the dinner table reveals the core message of the show’s concept and discusses what it means to ‘play God’ and messing with the nature of humanity. As the show progresses, Ortega’s character trajectory gets more interesting and we find out just why she despises Kovacs. It’s kind of predictable but there’s one particular scene between them that tugs my heart strings.

The last character that’s worth talking about is Reileen Kawahara (Dichen Lachman). I can’t talk about it without going into SPOILER territory however… so highlight to read: I was quite flabbergasted to learn Reileen is Kovacs’ sister but I guess the show has sort of hinted at it with the scenes of the two Asian siblings. At first I thought it was brilliant but it quickly descend into sentimental melodrama mixed with absolutely preposterous and hyper violent fight scenes! 

I had seen Dichen in the indie drama Too Late a few years ago and the Australian actress sure is talented. Hope she gets her own show one day, maybe together with Will Yun Lee? 😉

I have to mention briefly about Ortega’s mentor Samir Abboud (Waleed Zuaiter) who didn’t have much screen time but still memorable.

The rest of the characters aren’t all that memorable. I think my least favorite character is Lizzie Elliot, whose subplot is the most boring and has least consequence to the whole story. I was amused by her mom Ava, a Black woman sleeved in a pale, redhead white male.

How about that ending?

While the show already suffered too many plots in a single season, the finale is even more egregious in trying to solve too many puzzles in a single episode! I really think the formulaic whodunnit of ‘who killed Bancroft’ plot could’ve been resolved in the episode before that, so we could focus more on Kovacs’ story and his relationships. They’re treating it like the ‘who killed JR?’ in Dallas when in fact it’s lacking any emotional resonance. Honestly, I don’t really care who killed him as he’s not that sympathetic, nor interesting, character.  SPOILER – highlight to read: I honestly couldn’t care less about the father/daughter story of Vernon and Lizzie. It’s just boring and even silly at times, which makes Lizzie’s appearance as the ‘unlikely hero’ in the end even more pointless and irritating.

I don’t know what the budget of the show is but I bet a lot of it goes to the Head in the Cloud (aka flying brothel) set. But again, the ending veers into too much melodrama even with the intense fight scenes. SPOILER – highlight to read: The slo-mo of the entire floating house crashing down is so operatic but lacking any emotional gravitas. At this point I was also worn out by the brother & sister love/hate relationship. I feel like the show doesn’t know what to make of Reileen, the Puppet Master. Yes she seems to truly love her brother and she desperately wants to find him. But at what cost? One take away I get from Takeshi and Rei is that some people just don’t know how to love.

The parting of Kovacs and Ortega could’ve a more emotional depth, but it felt too abrupt to me. I do like the final shot of the original Kovacs with the love of his life Quell, which again, is the heart of the film for me.

A more focused plot with less balls in the air would’ve made a more arresting finale.

In Summary

It’s also one of the most violent and sexually explicit show I’ve seen. Yes granted I haven’t seen Game of Thrones yet, but a colleague who’s seen both actually said Altered Carbon is often more violent and sexually vulgar than that show! I mentioned how Joel Kinnaman is practically shirtless 80% of the time but the women had it worse. I also have issues with how much violence are directed at women here which is disappointing since it’s show-runner is a woman. In fact, this could’ve been the most expensive show done by a female creator, perhaps even more than Westworld which has a woman as its co-creator.

At times the nudity becomes almost cartoonish and all out ludicrous. From violent aerial fight-to-the-death, MMA style, Kung Fu, to nude sword fights, there’s every kind of intense fight scenes under the sun on this show. The fight scenes are well-choreographed but definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. I had to look away during most of the fight scenes, but especially the torture scenes in episode 4. It’s virtual torture but still tough to watch.

Overall though, I’m glad I gave this cyberpunk series another shot and it’s one I actually still think about, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with this extensive post! But the series’ biggest weakness is the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach, cramming way too many plots in a single season. After every episode, I feel dizzy with information overload as the plot gets more and more unnecessarily convoluted. Some of the subplots are less interesting than others, in fact, some are quite irritating as they don’t seem to tie in well with the storyline we actually care about.

Will there be Season 2? I haven’t heard news about that yet but I’m only tentatively interested. Maybe if Will Yun Lee is back then I’ll be more enthused. We shall see, but I’m not clamoring for it at this point.


Well, have you seen Altered Carbon? I’d love to hear what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review – SOLO: A Star Wars story

Another year, another Star Wars movie. Now that Disney owns pretty much everything, it’s to be expected that they’re going to milk the lucrative SW and Marvel franchise for all its worth. Honestly I haven’t been following much about all the behind-the-scene dramas, apart from the fact that the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired after several months of production. They still get producing credit but ultimately it’s Ron Howard who gets directing credit as he was brought in for reshoots and finish the movie.

As a casual SW fan, I have enjoyed the newer movies (The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi). So after seeing this one, my favorite is still The Last Jedi, but I really quite enjoyed SOLO. The movie opens with the traditional “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” line and we learn that the galaxy is in disarray, ruled by organized crime syndicates competing for the valuable hyperfuel known as Coaxium. On planet Cornellia, Young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to escape planet Cornellia for good and we’re treated a pretty thrilling chase scene. Soon we learn how our titular hero gets his name, in a scene that’s treated rather nonchalantly to make any real impact.

The rest of the movie takes place three years later on another planet. Han (sans Qi’ra) encounters a gang of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrleson) and his cohorts Val (Thandie Newton) and a four-armed alien Rio (Jon Favreau). Soon we learn how Han first meet his hairy BFF Chewbacca. Not quite a meet cute but a hilarious and fun intro to the most famous bromance in the galaxy. I have to say the relationship between Han and Chewy lends to a lot of favorite parts of the movie. There’s such a rush of nostalgia the first time Han and Chewy are on the cockpit together.

Everyone pretty much already loves Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian even from the trailer and he delivers! Glover is an effortlessly charismatic actor, but he also didn’t overshadow Alden and the movie is still about Han’s journey. I do enjoy the banters and rivalry between the two, especially involving their most prized possession the Millennium Falcon. Lando’s droid ‘friend’ L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is quite the scene stealer. A feminist, sarcastic robot with a mind of her own, she’s definitely light years away from the cute and submissive droids we’ve seen in the galaxy. There is one particularly hilarious moment between her and Qi’ra that got the whole theater laughing.

Now, how about Alden as Han? There are reports an acting coach had to be brought in to help his performance. Well, I don’t know if swagger is something you can teach, but I certainly think Alden’s got enough charisma and that devil-may-care smugness you expect from the role. I know he’s got comedic chops from what I’ve seen in Hail, Caesar! but I think he’s versatile enough to be an action star. I think it’s unfair to expect him to behave exactly like Harrison Ford as he’s not yet the Han we saw in A New Hope. There is a moment in the movie where I’m like, ‘yeah I can see how he becomes the sexy scoundrel we know and love.’ I’m glad Alden made the role his own instead of just an imitating Ford verbatim. I also like the fact that the movie gives just enough background story on Han without overwhelming us with details.

The supporting cast are pretty good too. Harrelson is always a fun actor to watch and he’s got that unpredictability the role requires. I haven’t seen Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones, but I can see why she’s cast here. She may seem like a sweet, demure girl at first but there’s also whole darker side of her. Unfortunately the romance between her and Han isn’t particularly memorable here, I mean it’s serviceable at best, not even half as interesting as Han’s relationship with Chewy or Lando. Paul Bettany is suddenly everywhere (like Josh Brolin!) as he was also in Avengers Infinity War, here he plays crime lord Dryden Vos (some cape action going on here as well) who has a history with Beckett. I quite like Rio too, and I wish he had more screen time in the movie.

Overall I had a blast with this movie. It’s a proper space adventure, you can even call it a space heist flick. I enjoyed the high-octane action scenes, specifically the chase scene in Falcon. It’s fun and nostalgic. Howard may not be Hollywood’s go-to action director but I remember enjoying the car scenes in Rush, and I think he did a great job here balancing the action and humor. The story might be on the light side and lacking the profound emotional moments like in The Last Jedi, but I think it fits well in the SW universe.


Well, what do you think of SOLO: A Star Wars Story?

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MSPIFF37 – Documentary Reviews: ‘Silicone Soul’ + ‘A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey)’

I’m still playing catch-up with MSPFF a month after it’s over. Well that’s life, always a juggling act between my full time 9-5 job, blogging, writing, and just life’s business in general. I still have a few MSPIFF interviews to be transcribed, so stay tuned for those!

Today we’ve got reviews of two more documentaries I enjoyed, both have a strong MN connection, made right here in Minnesota and well worth checking out!


MSPIFF Reviews

Silicone Soul

Directed by: Melody Gilbert

When having a relationship with a real human being is too hard, where do you turn?

That’s the question this inherently thought-provoking documentary poses. The first thing that might come to your mind seeing stills or even hear about silicone dolls is perhaps not a positive one. I have to admit, it conjures up something provocative, sexual and perhaps even the word ‘icky’ comes to mind. But as great documentary filmmakers do, its role is not to label or judge their subject.

The main subjects featured in its poster John and his ‘wife’ Jackie is perhaps the most similar to Lars and the Real Girl (that fictitious film would make a good companion piece to this doc). John is a tender man who’s disappointed by his past relationships and and he treats his synthetic companion with such loving care. He’d take her to nice restaurants, the zoo, etc. on her wheelchair, and he’d shrug off people’s obvious confusion, even disgust, nonchalantly. “It is weird… but it’s good weird. Weird doesn’t mean bad.” So he’s well aware of this unusual relationship but he’s comfortable enough in his own skin that he doesn’t care what others think.

Then there’s Davecat and his wife & mistress, which is obviously a very sexual relationship. I gotta say I cringe as he talked about some of the most um, gross aspects covered in the film. In contrast however, there’s the segments where silicone babies are used to recreate the love between mother and child in senior homes. The look on the older residents, some with dementia, as they hold a ‘baby’ in their hand tugs my heartstrings. The dolls look so lifelike some couldn’t figure out they aren’t real, but the emotion they feel definitely are real.

I think one of the most fascinating segment for me is the part involving a female artist who used to work on Wall Street. I’m glad Melody included a woman as one of the human subjects because it kind of presents something entirely unexpected. The artist/photographer based in NYC uses the dolls for various artistic photoshoots in her studio, stating that the dolls are basically replacements to friendships she wished she had.

Despite the provocative nature, Melody didn’t sensationalize the subject matter, but instead captures the various stories with an astute yet tender lens. There are also some fun and insightful animation by local filmmaker Beth Peloff that really helped illustrates some of the situations the film simply couldn’t capture. The themes of love, secrets, loneliness and social acceptance…are all universal which we can all relate to and struggle with at some point in our lives.

As I left the theater though, I did ponder about the relationship between John and his female neighbor who also lives alone. She totally accepts John’s wife Jackie and she and John seem to have a good rapport together. It did make me wonder why John wouldn’t consider perhaps starting a relationship with his human neighbor instead. But perhaps that is the point of the film, who are we to judge who…or what…people choose to love?

I had the privilege of knowing about this project months months before it premiered at MSPIFF, when I attended a Film Fatales panel where filmmaker Melody Gilbert  was one of the speakers. In fact, I introduced the composer of my short film Hearts Want, Charlie McCarron, to Melody at another film event and he ended up doing the music for the film. Suffice to say, this documentary also boasts great music to go with its intriguing imagery.

Silicone Soul upcoming screening:

Duluth Superior Film Festival (Duluth, MN)
June 2, 2018 – 7pm – Zinema 2

Visit its official website for more screening location/dates and other info.


A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey)

Directed by:  Phil Harder

I had known who Al Milgrom is for a long time, but I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting the man himself last year (at another film festival event) where he asked where I was from. When he found out I’m from Indonesia, he proceeded to tell me he’s befriended some of Indonesia’s most celebrated filmmakers and actors. One thing that’d strike people about Al would be his amazing memory. At 95 he’s still as sharp as ever. He not only remembered who I am at our next meeting weeks later, but he actually remembered where I’m from!

Everyone who’s been in the film business in Minnesota likely has an ‘Al Milgrom story.’ That’s why I took a few hours off from work specifically to see this documentary. Director Phil Harder followed the 95-year-old Milgrom as he gave us a fascinating tour to his personal home in Minneapolis where he kept decades-worth of film archives. I sincerely hope one day his house would become a film museum, and if someone were to do a fundraising to make that happen, I’d readily contribute! A quintessential cinephile whose cinematic heroes include Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, John Waters, as well as classic silent filmmakers Erich von Stroheim, his deep, singular passion for films is palpable. His first intro to film is Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, which led him to become the ‘Minnesota Godfather of Cinema’ as it were. He’s the founding father of the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul itself back in 1962.

I could’ve easily watched this film again as there are so many I’ve missed. Mr. Milgrom has brought the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, and Milos Forman to the Twin Cities. There are footage of a Godard interview here in town, and there’s even sound footage of him interviewing the then still-emerging filmmaker Martin Scorsese (where Mr. Milgrom had to ask how Scorsese spell his name). Sadly, the 1970 protest documentary Scorsese was working on at the time never aired. Mr. Milgrom himself was a photojournalist for the US Army, on top of being a documentarian, world traveler and cinema pioneer in his illustrious career.

But the most fascinating parts of this doc has to be Al’s trip to Russia in 1959, which he’s still working on to this day. Hence the self-described term “The World’s Oldest Emerging Filmmaker” as he’s working on Russian Journey: The Story of a Filmmaker’s Travels Behind the Curtain. He definitely has the gift of capturing intriguing subject matters through visual medium. Those close-ups of various Russian citizens simply living their daily lives are full of intriguing untold stories waiting to be uncovered. Unfortunately, Al revealed in this doc that he’s lost the audio file to complete the project. The good news is, he (with the help of other filmmaker friends) are working on getting that resolved, so hopefully we get to see the finished film soon!

This 70-minute documentary definitely left me wanting more. I could’ve watched another half hour of just watching Mr. Milgrom give commentary about cinema, filmmaking, etc. in his museum-like home, and even commenting on some of the plethora of photos he’s taken in the past. I’m glad the filmmaker wisely chose to confine the film to just within Al’s home, which is a fascinating character in and of itself.

P.S. MSPIFF made the mistake of inserting a short documentary Influenced which is about how some MN business uses social media. It’s only 7 minutes long but its message seemed to be in such a contrast of who Al Milgrom is all about that people were chanting ‘we want Al!’ in protest!

I also got to take part of the Q&A with Al Milgrom, as well as the director Phil Harder and producer Mike Dust. It was well worth staying for!


A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey) upcoming screening:

Duluth Superior Film Festival (Duluth, MN)
Sunday, June 3rd at 3pm – Zinema

Visit DSFF website official website for more details


 

The Flixlist: 10 reasons ‘Deadpool 2’ won us over… again

Post by Vitali Gueron

In February 2016, our own Ruth wrote a review of the movie Deadpool by titling her post “10 reasons Deadpool movie won me over” and she made a top 10 list praising the movie. I went ahead and re-read her post, and then I realized – almost everything she listed in her post applies to the sequel. Deadpool 2 is all that but there are even more laughs and there is even more thought behind its writing.

Here’s my take of Ruth’s top 10 list…

Here are 10 reasons why the Deadpool 2 won me over:

1. The self-deprecating humor

Yes, there is plenty of that in Deadpool 2. Ryan Reynolds, as Deadpool, continues to relentlessly poke fun at himself, the actor playing him, and even the studio that made it. But many things have happened since 2016. Deadpool was very successful for the studio – it shattered the box office record with $150 million domestic gross and $264 million worldwide (not as impressive for 2018 with Avengers: Infinity War topping $500 million in just 15 days domestically). Then 20th Century Fox came out with the another very successful movie Logan in 2017, where the X-Men character Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) dies and was said to be Jackman’s final portrayal of the character on-screen.

The ‘original’ Deadpool w/ Wolverine in X-Men Origins (2009)

That fact is not lost of Reynolds, who co-wrote the script of this movie alongside the first Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. There are many references to the X-Men franchise, the character of Wolverine and living in the Xavier Mansion. Be on the lookout for a hilarious Logan-inspired “musical ballerina” in the first part of the movie.

2. The retro throwback to 80s pop culture

While the first Deadpool relied heavily on 80s pop culture music, including George Michael’s Careless Whisper and You’re the Inspiration by Chicago, the sequel instead brought out heavy-hitter Celine Dion with her new power ballad Ashes, played during the movie’s opening credits.

Just as in the first Deadpool, where Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning is featured during the hilariously memorable title credits, Celine Dion’s Ashes is featured as Deadpool 2 opens. In the opening scene, Deadpool decides to kill himself by blowing up his apartment while lying atop of several barrels of explosives. Cue Celine Dion!

3. That it IS a love story

Yes, Morena Baccarin returns as Vanessa Carlysle, Deadpool’s fiancée. Unfortunately, she is not featured as much in this movie as she was in the first Deadpool, but when we do see her – she makes it count!

There are other relationships explored in Deadpool 2; Brianna Hildebrand returns to play Negasonic Teenage Warhead and this time she has a girlfriend Yukio, a female ninja of Japanese origin and a member of the X-Men. Deadpool really likes and respects Yukio and clearly lets us know about it. This leads us to number four…

4. There are some bad ass women in this movie

Having already mentioned Morena Baccarin and Brianna Hildebrand, I want to focus on the other bad ass women in this movie – namely Zazie Beetz as Domino, a mercenary with the mutant ability to manipulate luck, who joins Deadpool’s X-Force team. Beetz is a fantastic addition to the movie and could easily start her own franchise if she wanted to – she is that good.

The other is Leslie Uggams, who returns from the first film as Deadpool’s elderly roommate Blind Al. Uggams is hilarious as Blind Al and continue to play the smart-ass, feisty roommate who isn’t afraid to point a gun – even if it does point in the wrong direction.

5.  I actually care about Wade Wilson

Yes, in the first movie we realized why Deadpool is a character worth caring about. But in Deadpool 2, there is another character that is worth caring about – the same character Deadpool teases during the first movie’s post-credit scene, about him being in the sequel – his name is Cable.

The Cable character (Josh Brolin) is a time traveling cybernetic mutant soldier, who returns to this exact date and time from the future to kill Russell (played by Julian Dennison), a young mutant who Deadpool tries to save. This mutant, Firefist, is portrayed as a teenager who possesses fire controlling ability. And he is the key to the storyline in this movie between Cable, Deadpool and Vanessa Carlysle.

6. The awesome opening credit

Having already talked a bit about the opening credit scene, I won’t spot it for you any further. Instead, I will focus on the post-credit scene. While I won’t tell you what it is about, let me just say that yes, it does live up to the hype – and it actually occurs during mid-credits! As previously mentioned in the self-deprecating humor section, Ryan Reynolds isn’t afraid to go after himself or any other X-Men characters.

7. Hilarious supporting characters

Having already mentioned some, there are other new and returning supporting characters that make Deadpool 2 worthwhile. First are returning characters Dopinder, the Indian cab driver (played by Karan Soni) and Weasel, Deadpool’s best friend (played by T.J. Miller).

Both help Deadpool as he recruits for his X-Force team. The other parts of that team are the aforementioned Domino, Zeitgeist (played by Bill Skarsgård), a mutant who can spew acidic vomit from his mouth, and Bedlam (played by Terry Crews), a mutant can generate a bio-EM field that wreaks havoc with electrical and certain mechanical systems. Also returning is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić), an experienced member of the X-Men with the mutant ability to transform his entire body into organic steel. All supporting characters add a new dimension to Deadpool and make him realize he is part of a team, whether it’s called X-Force of not.

8. Biting wit delivered with fun action sequences

Certainly the protagonist of the first movie – the one who is constantly wise-cracking as he shoots and makes human kabobs out of people – is back. Although director Tim Miller, who helmed the first film didn’t return, director David Leitch (John Wick with Chad Stahelski, Atomic Blonde) does use his experience as a stunt coordinator to deliver some stylish action sequences, as did Tim Miller in the first movie. Also with Reynolds as one of three credited writers, he takes more creative control with the sequel. And he makes good points about the mindless punching and grating of dubstep music cues.

9. Ryan Reynolds is perfect in the role

Ah yes, as much as it was true in the first movie, it’s even more obvious in this movie. While in the first movie we saw what Ryan Reynolds does best — showcase his comedy, Deadpool 2’s greatest strength is its restraint. As co-writer, Reynolds has less of an impulse to go for the obvious joke all the time. That being said, this sequel is funnier and filthier than the first film, and it capitalizes on its plot and supporting characters that make Reynolds shine.

10. The fact that it turns the conventional superhero formula on its head

If you can make the case that the first Deadpool was a raunchy superhero movie, Deadpool 2 is its more refined, more R-rated older brother. The film makes it a point for not taking itself or its humor too seriously, which can be harder than it looks. As Ruth said in her original review:

I think the fact that the movie IS relentlessly hilarious means the humor hits the mark. The “breaking the fourth wall” style also works well for the movie, which apparently is loyal to the comics.

Deadpool 2 continues that tradition of “breaking the fourth wall” and does it even better than the first one. Fans of the first Deadpool will not be disappointed with the sequel and by the looks of it, we have at least several more Deadpool movies to look forward to.

4Reels

A quick note from Ruth:

Having seen this last Saturday night, I definitely agree the sequel is even funnier than the original! I thought the humor would be derivative and his constant fourth-wall breaking and self-deprecating humor would annoy me but I’m glad I was genuinely tickled the entire time. The opening credits was just as hilarious as the first one, too! I like the kinetic action sequences by David Leitch (who gave us the super fun John Wick!) and so fun seeing Julian Dennison who was terrific in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (which I recently rewatched). I wonder if Reynolds even consulted w/ Taika Waititi as Julian’s character referenced some of the humor from that movie.

I also really LOVE Zazie Beetz‘s Domino! The German-African actress lives up to her über-cool name as Domino is so fun to watch and spin-off worthy! I gotta mention another new character that made me laugh: Peter (Rob Delaney) whose lack of superpower is more than made up by sheer enthusiasm! And you know what, despite all the meta zany-ness, the plot actually holds up, imagine that!

Of course, if you’re not a fan of the Merc with a mouth and his raunchy brand of humor to begin with, I’m not sure this one will change your mind.


So, what do you think of Deadpool 2?

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FlixChatter Review: You Were Never Really Here (2018)

Lynne Ramsay’s movie making career could’ve ended after she abruptly quit Jane’s Got A Gun and sued that movie’s producers. That kind of public dispute between a director and producers probably would’ve ended many filmmakers’ career in Hollywood. But after a seven-year hiatus, Ramsay is back with another dark-themed film that could put her career back on track.

As the film begins, we see Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) finishing up some sort of a task and we later found out he’s rescued a kidnapped child from some very dangerous people. With small clips of flashbacks, we learned that Joe is a disturbed person who has a rough childhood. As a grown-up, his career as a military man also scarred him. He keeps hearing the voices of the dead people he’d witnessed while in the service and constantly contemplates suicide. The only thing that keeps him going now is caring for his elderly mother (Judith Roberts). To earn a living, he uses his special skills to rescue young children from sex traffickers. For his next job, his handler John (John Doman) tells him that a senator’s daughter has been kidnapped and he’s willing to pay big bucks to get her back. Joe took the job and was able to locate the senator’s daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). But once Joe rescued Nina, things went south quickly, and he realized he’s in over his head and some very powerful people wants him dead.

Based on the short novel of the same name by Jonathan Ames, Ramsay who also wrote the screenplay, kept the story solely on Joe’s point of view and his thoughts. Some scenes played out like a dream and other times, it’s something from Joe’s memory. This is my first time seeing Ramsay’s work and I do like her style. She’s obviously channeling the films of Kubrick, Malick and especially Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. In fact, some might call it a Taxi Driver for the 21st century. While I agree these two films shared similarities, I do think Scorsese’s version is a much better film. I’ve never read the book version, so I don’t know how faithful it is to the source material, but I felt like Ramsay could’ve expanded the story a bit more and give us some details of what’s really going on. I understand this is more of a character study, but I would’ve liked to see more characters’ involvement and thicker plot. I felt like when the plot finally gets going, the film is almost over. Now, maybe I think Ramsay just didn’t want to tell a straight-up revenge action thriller story and went the opposite of what was expecting. I respect her decision, but I still prefer to see story expanded a little bit more.

Performance wise, Phoenix is very good as the silent and violent character. He tends to mumble a bit too much though. It wasn’t an over the top performance and I appreciate that. He’s pretty on the screen 100% of the time and he kept my attention. The supporting characters didn’t have much to do since the story is all about Joe, but I did like Roberts’ and Samsonov’s performances.

I also have to give praises to Jonny Greenwood’s excellent score and Tom Townsend’s great cinematography. I thought the haunting score and beautiful cinematography really helped the film.

I really had high hopes for this film and even though it didn’t meet my expectations, it’s still a solid thriller. I found it to be a frustrating film but admired Ramsay for not going the generic thriller route. Maybe with a better screenplay, it could’ve been something special.

TedS_post


So have you seen You Were Never Really Here? Well, what did you think?

MSPIFF37 – Quick Recap + Reviews: ‘Montparnasse Bienvenue’ + ‘Les Affames’ + ‘Room 213’

The last two weeks truly have been a whirlwind for me thanks to MSPIFF. Practically every single day there’s some kind of film-related activities, whether it’s watching/reviewing films, attending panels or interviewing filmmakers. And since this year is also the first time I actually have a short film playing at the festival, that means I’m also wearing multiple hats as a blogger AND filmmaker.

It also happens to be a really busy time at the office for me that prevents me from attending most afternoon screenings (on top of that crazy blizzard that grounded even the most ardent MN cinephiles!). Thankfully it was a relatively warm (50 degrees!) and sunny day for Hearts Want‘s screening last Tuesday (April 24). The Looking In Short Block turned out to be a sold-out screening so it was cool to see a packed house!

On top of showcasing over 200 films, MSPIFF also has a plethora of film-related panels available for FREE to the public. I had set out to attend three of them but was only able to make it to one of them. But to me, as a female film blogger, writer AND aspiring filmmaker, the Film Fatales panel is one not to be missed!

Members of Film Fatales, a global community of women filmmakers, reflect on the process, challenges and joys unique to directing feature films. They will discuss the structure of the organization it’s mission, goals, and their films and the filmmaking process.

Two of the panel speakers, Melody Gilbert and Dawn Mikkelson, have their films (Silicone Soul and Risking Light, respectively) made the Best of Fest! Risking Light‘s producer Miranda Wilson was also one of the panelists, as well as Maribeth Romslo, whose debut feature Dragonfly premiered at MSPIFF a couple of years ago.

The Film Fatales panel with inspiring Minnesota’s #womeninfilm

MSPIFF Reviews

Montparnasse Bienvenüe

Directed by: Lénor Serraille

It’s tradition that every year at MSPIFF I have to watch a French film w/ Juliette Binoche, but her film Let the Sunshine In happens to screen at the exact same time as Hearts Want :\ But hey, the French film I did end up watching turns out to be an intriguing one, and it’s also written/directed by a female filmmaker.

hot mess

noun

USinformal
  1. a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination.
    “this outfit is definitely a hot mess”

Few would argue that Paula, amusingly played by Laetitia Dosch, is a hot mess. She is down on her luck after having broken up (well ditched) by her now famous photographer boyfriend. The film is a character study that starts off with a bang (or thud) that lands Paula in the hospital. She’s one of those girls who simply cannot stop talking, regardless whether the person on the opposite side is willing to listen or not. So we quickly learnt that she had been in a relationship with her boyfriend for 10 years and now she’s broke and utterly lost as to what to do with her life.

Being a Francophile that I am, simply watching scenes of Paula yelling at her ex boyfriend Joachim outside his flat and stumbling around on Parisian streets with her ex’s cat is amusing to me. But Dosch herself is a fascinating actress who mesmerizes even at her lowest moments. Somehow Paula always looks chic too (she is Parisian after all) in her stolen brick-red coat and wooden clogs.

After drifting from place to place for days, she finds work as a nanny in  the Montparnasse neighborhood, hence the title. She also lands part time work at a lingerie boutique where she befriends a security guard Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye).  The more people she encounter, even a case of mistaken identity on a bus, the more we learn just how unpredictable Paula can be.

One thing I’m frustrated with however, is how deliberately vague this film is. There’s obviously a major conflict between Paula and her estranged mother, who adamantly refuses to see her, but it’s never fully explained why. The film also takes its time introducing us to Paula’s ex, which seems rather uneventful after she spends most of the movie wanting to get back with him.

But what’s certain is, by the end of the film, she’s no longer the same Paula I saw in the beginning of the movie. Whether or not she’s actually ‘grown up’ is up for debate, but then again the filmmaker doesn’t make a moral stand about her protagonist. In the end, Paula remains quite an enigma, observed through an astute but impartial lens. But the film’s charm lies in the colorful chaos our heroine often finds herself in, which reminds us how life’s riddles don’t always have a neat resolution.

Director Bio: Lénor Serraille was born in 1980 in Lyon, France. She has produced several shorts during her career, including Body (’16), which she also wrote. Montparnasse Bienvenue serves as her feature-film debut.


Les Affamés

Directed by: Robin Aubert

Les Affames takes place in a small countryside village in Quebec overrun by zombies. The movie follows a group of survivors (Marc-Andre Grondin as Bonin; Monia Chokri as Tania; Charlotte St-Martin as Zoe, Micheline Lanctot as Pauline, Marie-Ginette Guay as Therese, Brigitte Poupart as Celine, Edouard Tremblay-Grenier as Ti-Cul, and Luc Proulx as Real) as they struggle to avoid these new enemies and find a safe location.

The profile for this film on the MSPIFF website describes it as “a contemplative take on the zombie apocalypse” that “does not rely on the shock factor familiar to the popular, and some would argue overspent, genre.” I want to know who wrote this, because nothing about this description is accurate. I’m pretty sure that by “contemplative” they just mean “French” and “containing pretty shots of nature.” The description goes on to say the zombies are “a constant reflection of what has been lost,” but that’s hardly a unique concept in zombie films, and it’s not really that focused on throughout the movie.

And it certainly relies on the same shock value other movies in this “overspent genre” does. Les Affamés definitely isn’t the gore fest the Romero-type zombie movies usually are, but there are still plenty of jump scares throughout the film, although, to be fair, they mostly do these well, thanks to a sparse use of background music and some well-paced scenes. Just because they do them well, though, doesn’t make the movie less reliant on shock value than any other zombie flicks.

The biggest problem with this movie, though, is how aimless it is. There’s no clear goal or story arc. The closest we get to one is when one of the survivors mentions knowing of a bunker they might be able to run to, but once they find it, they move on for no solid reason. The majority of the film is spent watching the survivors drive, run, and hide with no real resolution.

If you like zombie movies and want to see one in a slightly different style, you might enjoy this. It is a well-shot and well-acted film, but overall, it really doesn’t bring anything new to the genre.

Director Bio: Canadian-born Robin Aubert is a diversely talented actor, writer and director. His work includes Saint Martyrs of the Damned (’05), Tuktuq (’16) and several short and television projects. His latest, Les affamés, earned the Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Fest.

Room 213

Directed by: Emelie Lindblom

Room 213 follows Elvira (Wilma Lundgren), a shy 12-year-old girl, to summer camp, where she and her bunkmates and new friends Meja (Ella Fogelstrom) and Bea (Elena Hovsepyan) begin to notice strange things happening in their room (the titular 213). Are the occurrences just adolescent pranks, or is there a more supernatural explanation?

This movie is proof that you can make a solid horror film while still keeping it kid-appropriate. It’s a simple story, but it’s incredibly well-paced and the scares are slowly built up, keeping the suspense high throughout. The movie keeps you guessing throughout whether the room is actually haunted, and that subtlety is rare in a lot of horror movies, especially in ones aimed at younger audiences. The three leads are believable and relatable, thanks in no small part to the young actors’ skills, although some of the dialogue does feel a little unnatural.

My one other critique is that the ending kind of breaks the overall tone of the film. For the most part, it’s pretty dark and subdued, but the explanation at the end feels lazy, tacked-on, and childish (spoiler ahead): the ghost, Mebel (Agnes Mikkeline), haunted the girls because she was lonely and wanted friends. It’s kind of an overly cutesy ending to a mostly grim-feeling movie. This is an adaptation of a book by Ingelin Angerborn, and maybe it’s better explained or better developed in the original format, but the film version doesn’t handle it very well.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this movie. I would have loved this movie as a 12-year-old, and I would absolutely recommend it to any budding young horror fans, especially ones who enjoy more paranormal/supernatural sub-genres.

Director Bio: Emelie Lindblom is a Swedish script writer and director who graduated from the School of Film Directing, Gothenburg University in 2011. Her latest short 2 was in competition at Gothenburg International Film Festival 2014 and was called a “masterpiece” at Seoul International Women’s Film Festival 2015. Room 213 is her debut feature film.
(courtesy of MSPIFF)


 

FlixChatter Review – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War. It’s not just a movie… it’s an event. The buzz is quite overwhelming even when I only occasionally browse Twitter & Facebook as I’ve been preoccupied with a local film festival. The nice thing about being busy is that I barely have time to read any articles on it, and given how even Marvel studio has been begging fans NOT to spoil anything, it’s best to go into Infinity War not knowing much about what’s going to happen to earth’s mightiest heroes.

On that note, I’m going to keep this review relatively brief and I won’t go into any details. I’m also not going to put the actors’ name as most of you already know who they are anyway, or you can easily just go to IMDb if you forget.

Now, there are apparently 40 characters featured in this movie, which is absolutely insane! Yep that is waaay more than in DC’s Justice League, however, the advantage of this latest Avengers film is there have been two films done previously with multiple heroes, AND many of the heroes featured here have had their own individual films (even a trilogy). Therefore, we already know quite a bit about some of their background and why we should care. That is I think, one of the reason Infinity War is not a huge jumbled mess that was Justice League. The Russo Brothers miraculously able to juggle a dizzying number of MCU heroes, and also presented an adversary that poses enough threat to warrant this huge assembly.

I’d imagine one of the toughest tasks for the directors (good thing there’s a PAIR of them, two heads are always better than one) is how the heck do they transition from one to the next? I think for the most part the transition work pretty well with using certain music and superimposing the location at the start of a scene. Some of the character entrances are better than others. I particularly love how Steve Rogers  & his besties are introduced, but then again Capt is easily my fave Marvel hero of the whole bunch. He looks even more bad ass with longish hair and scraggly beard, yowza!

It’s also exhilarating to see T’Challa and Wakanda again after having enjoyed Black Panther relatively recently, and the battle against Thanos’ army is quite exciting. You could say Thor is perhaps the MVP in this assembly, and there’s also a new character we haven’t seen before that’s made a pretty big impact in the movie. I’m going to let you find out for yourself who that is but it’s definitely a memorable one.

Another mighty challenge to get this film right is the tone. I think it’s admirable that the Russos + writing team Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely can balance the lighter tone with the more emotional scenes. Admittedly, some of the humor are on the goofy side, such as whenever the Guardians of the Galaxy posse show up. That bit when they meet Thor for the first time is quite hilarious, yep even amongst a throng of heroes, Chris Hemsworth’s physique is quite something to marvel at. The one liners and repartee between superheroes are a hit and miss, though the banter between Dr Strange and Iron Man did make me laugh. Bruce Banner/Hulk is especially hilarious here and Spider-Man also continues to be a comic relief. His relationship with Iron Man has grown to the fact that Tony Stark’s practically his adopted (billionaire) uncle. The relationship between Wanda and Vision is explored more here as well, but thankfully it didn’t make me cringe the way Black Widow + Hulk was in Age of Ultron.

For a film called Infinity War, naturally you can expect a long battle sequence. Fortunately, there’s more that happened leading up to it that isn’t all about action, action, action. That fact alone is quite a feat, but that’s been the strength of the last two Captain America films that the Russos directed. The action, no matter how bombastic, has to punctuate and support the story instead of overpowering it, and the writers didn’t lose sight of that here. Yes there are perhaps too many plot threads that at times feel overkill, but I’m glad that there is still a singular focus and that is to defeat Thanos. Now, as I mentioned above, despite that rather ridiculous chin, he is actually not just a odd-looking monster hell-bent on taking over the world, but there’s surprising ‘humanity’ to him despite his decidedly twisted logic. I remember cringing every time I see an image of Thanos in all the promos because he looks so silly to me, but fortunately, in the film he’s much more menacing.

What makes a superhero film worth watching is that there’s an actual grave threat that actually requires their superpower. The film also asks just what it actually means to be heroic? It’s not enough that one simply has a superpower, but how much is one willing to sacrifice in order to help others? For some of the Avengers, this battle is a personal one. The personal sacrifice narrative is what gives this gigantic movie its heart and emotional resonance.

Now, as far as all the suspense of which Avengers die in this movie? Well, I gotta say, I did gasp a few times and even shed a tear or two. I wouldn’t say this is a brutal film given it’s a PG-13 flick, but there are some darker moments the fact that there’s a lot at stake for even the most powerful team in the universe and beyond. For the most part, it’s a mostly-thrilling roller coaster ride for Marvel fans, though I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite in the MCU canon. Some parts are overlong and some went by way too fast. Given there are SO many plots to cover, there’s barely any time to immerse in a single one as by the time that happens, it’s already moved to the next one.

Still, I applaud the filmmakers tasked with this gargantuan task of bringing the pinnacle of 19 (nineteen!!) Marvel films. That’s a colossal ambition equal to Thanos wanting to collect ALL infinity stones! I also love the rousing music by Alan Silvestri who’s done the first Captain America and The Avengers movie). As far as the ending, well, they certainly made sure that you know that the war goes on. This is just Part I so things are deliberately left on a major cliffhanger. If you stick around for the end credits, you just might get a hint on what’s in store for the next installment.


So have you seen Infinity War? Well, I’d love to hear what you think!