FlixChatter Double Reviews: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Ted’s Review

I don’t consider myself a Trekkie, I’ve seen all of the Star Trek films but never got into any of the TV shows. I enjoyed the first two films by JJ Abrams, even the much-maligned Into Darkness. When Abrams decided to jump ship and take over the other space adventure franchise, Justin Lin was hired to direct this third sequel. Lin made his name by retooling the Fast & Furious franchise and those films made millions. Personally I thought he’s an odd choice to take over a sci-fi franchise but thankfully he delivered one of the most enjoyable Summer films I’ve seen so far.

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Three years into their five-year mission, the enterprise crew is feeling the grind of their routine space work. As the film opens, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is giving back an artifact to a group of alien creatures but it didn’t turn out well as he’d hoped. Later the crews are heading to a new advance space station to get some R & R. While stationing at the new space station, Kirk received a new job offer and contemplating leaving the Enterprise. Before he can decide to accept the new job offer though, there was a stress call from a lone survivor who needs help. Kirk and his crew set out to rescue more lives from danger but as they approach their destination, it turns out to be a trap. In a pretty spectacular sequence, a group of aliens with advance spaceships attacked the Enterprise and broke the ship into pieces. The ship crashed landed on an isolated planet and the crew got separated. Kirk must find his friends and also figure out who these aliens are and their purpose for attacking the Enterprise.
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The script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung is pretty simple, maybe too simple for my liking. The premise is basically search and rescue and lots and lots of action. But they were able to throw in a lot of funny dialogs and lighten up the mood of the film quite a bit. Speaking of action, Lin definitely delivered on that front. The space battles were well-staged and very exciting to watch. If there’s a theater near you that has Dolby Atmos surround sound, I highly recommend you see it there. Lin also was able to move the film along at a brisk pace, never linger on any subplots that might slow the story down.

One minor complaint I have is the way he shot the climatic showdown between Kirk and the main villain. He moved the cameras way too much and I wasn’t sure what was going on. I thought Abrams did a much better job in a similar scene for Into Darkness when Spock and Kahn had their showdown.

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Performances by the actors were great, since this is their third outing, I thought all of the actors look comfortable in their respective roles. Since plot have them separated from each other, many of them got equal screen time. The best pairing to me has to be Spock and Bones, their bickering were fun to watch and the two actors have good chemistry. The weakest link here though is Idris Elba’s villain Krall. He’s yet another one -dimensional evil character whose purpose is vengeance against Starfleet. Elba didn’t have much to do except scream and spouting clichéd evil dialog.

It may not be the best film in the franchise but definitely an upgrade over the too serious Into Darkness. The film contains great action sequences and a touching tribute to the two deceased actors. I’m not a trekkie but I thought this one can be considered one of the best in the franchise.

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Ruth’s Review

I wasn’t going to review this one, but seeing that I have quite a different reaction than Ted, I thought I’d post my thoughts on it as well.

Like Ted, I’m not a Trekkie either, but JJ Abrams actually managed to make me interested in the Star Trek Universe with the first film. I also enjoyed the second installment Star Trek Into Darkness that Abrams also directed, and I really dug Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous turn as Khan. I said in that post that it was a huge improvement over Eric Bana’s role in the first film. Well, unfortunately in this third installment we’re back to another clichéd, one-dimensional villain in Idris Elba‘s Krall, as Ted has pointed out above. It’s a travesty that when they hide incredibly good looking, massively talented actors under such heavy makeup and give them banal dialog on top of it.

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It’s no fault of the insanely-charismatic Elba that Krall is such a terrible villain. But he’s so terribly-written it made me cringe. But interestingly enough, the one person I thought would be cringe-worthy turns out to be quite okay. I’m referring to Sofia Boutella‘s Jaylah (who I initially thought was Rihanna), a scavenger who rescued Scotty (Simon Pegg) and took him to her home. Her house turns out to be an early generation Starfleet vessel USS Franklin, and she needs Scotty to help her fix it.

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The moments between Jaylah and Scotty are pretty fun. I quite like Jaylah, and she’s given a pretty decent character arc. The movie’s best moments to me are in the the dueling banters, whether it’s Scotty & Jaylah, or Bones & Spock. Karl Urban‘s grumpy-ness is so endearing and he’s got as good chemistry with Chris Pine as he does with Zachary Quinto. The film did boldly go where no previous Star Trek film has gone before in making Sulu (John Cho) gay, though it only amounts to barely a minute of screen time showing him with his husband and young daughter.

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Unlike Ted though, I’m not too crazy about the frenetic action sequences. I find it to be too dizzying and goes on far too long. It seems endless to me that my mind started to wander and it actually took me out of the movie. I don’t remember feeling this way in previous Star Trek films, but this one has so much combat scenes and explosions, even the USS Enterprise was blown to bits. There’s also a ton of chase sequences, so I guess I could see why they hire Justin Lin for this movie. During one of the many extended action sequences, I whispered to my husband that this is basically Fast & Furious in Space! The one part I did enjoy was towards the end when they used loud rock music as a countermeasure against the tiny ships ‘swarm’ controlled by Krall.

I guess this movie would satisfy action fans. But for me, I expect Star Trek to be a space adventure drama, more about Starfleet’s journey and the relationships of its crew members. The film touched upon that in Capt. Kirk’s opening monologue, but that’s pretty much it. I guess there’s not much room for characterization amidst the dizzying action, apart from a few fun banters here and there. Even the quiet moments of Spock mourning the passing of Ambassador Spock doesn’t elicit much emotion as it should’ve been. It did pain me every time I saw Chekov on screen though, I still can’t believe Anton Yelchin‘s gone.

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So despite some fun moments, overall it’s just hard for me to feel invested in Kirk & co.’s journey this time around. The faster the chase scene the more tedious it becomes for me. Perhaps the movie’s aimlessness has been hinted in the intro voice over of Captain Kirk… “As for me, things have started to feel a little episodic. The farther out we go, the more I find myself wondering what it is we are trying to accomplish” Yep, that’s how I feel as the audience too, Cap. The ending also feels a little too neat, resolved perfectly just in time for yet another episode (read: sequels) in a not too distant future. Not sure I’m too excited for future Star Trek movies after this one.

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So what did YOU think about ‘Star Trek Beyond’? 

FlixChatter Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

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It’s been ages since I saw the first Ghostbusters movie, which was released three decades ago in 1984. I decided to re-watch the original this weekend, but I barely remembered much of it by the time I saw this reboot. I pretty much chose to stay away from all the controversy over its all-female casting, chugging it to whiny fanboys who have too much time on their hands. I mean to say that a reboot ‘ruins your childhood’ and goes on a sexist/racist tirade over a movie, then perhaps you need to find more some meaning with your life.

In any case, I approach this movie with neutral expectations, as I usually do. Now, is it necessary to reboot this? Probably not, but seeing that all the cast members are so hilarious and talented in their own right, I expect to have a good time w/ the movie. Well, for the most part I did.

The movie starts out with a ghost sighting in a haunted mansion. That incident leads to the mansion owner seeking out Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), who vehemently denies writing a book about the existence of paranormal phenomenon as it threatens her reputation as a legit science professor. Soon Gilbert is reunited with her estranged friend and co-writer of the book, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who’s still as passionate as ever in her ghost-hunting vocation at a tech college. Her partner in crime is ab eccentric engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) reported a ghost sighting at a subway tunnel, the Ghostbusters quartet is complete. Each was given a chance to shine here and I honestly can’t pick a favorite as I like ’em all.

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This is definitely an origin story from writer/director Paul Feig (who co-wrote it with Katie Dippold), not only told the story of how the team came together, but also how the Ghostbusters logo came about. I think they’ve assembled a great cast, as the four actresses have a great chemistry together and they work well as a team. It’s awesome to see regular girls, some are nerdy and prone to fan-girling (whether it’s ghost or hot-but-dumb male secretary), get to kick ass on the big screen. We’ve seen more of supermodel look-alike heroines like Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, etc. saving the world, so it’s always refreshing to see women we can relate to have their moment this time around.

Speaking of that hot-but-dumb secretary, Chris Hemsworth is definitely game in poking fun at himself as Kevin. He’s obviously aware of his more-brawn-than-brain image and goes all out with it, though at times it feels a bit too much. He’s not quite the scene stealer here, but certainly memorable. As for the cameos of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, well they’re amusing to see but the scenes they’re in are not as funny as I expected.
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The comedic style of this new movie is quite different from the original, for one I find that the new one has more wisecrackin’ one liners. I love the fact that the movie pokes fun at the haters…

‘It’s really easy sit there and be the naysayer when you don’t actually do anything.’ – Abby Yates

… but one of the funniest moments for me was when Leslie Jones’ character jumps into the mosh pit, but falls to the ground when the crowd moves away.

“I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell!”

Comedy is so subjective, so you either love or hate ’em, but having enjoyed Spy (also written and directed by Paul Feig and stars Melissa McCarthy), this one seems to be in a similar vein. The funniest bits are when the cast are bantering with each other, even the slapstick stuff involving the myriad ghostbustin’ weaponry made me laugh. But I find the last act to be the weakest and I find myself wandering a bit as the CGI-fest is happening on screen.

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As with many recent big-budget action flicks like Batman V Superman, there seems to be an obsession with blowing up a city. It’s as if all these filmmakers are infected w/ Michael Bay syndrome or something. The fight scene at the end is once again filled with a city being blown to bits and the colossal CGI smash went on for way too long. I mentioned it in the Dawn of Justice review, it’s a sensory overload that feels like an endurance contest for the audience. Yes I know the original also has a big action scene at the end, but it didn’t feel as bloated as this new one. It also didn’t help that this movie also has a very weak and totally uninteresting villain. I can’t even remember what the guy’s name was who summons all the ghosts to wreck havoc among the living.

That said, I’m glad I saw this and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it overall. I’d say it’s a pretty good Summer escapist fun that pays homage to the original. I wonder at times whether they should’ve made this into a spin-off instead of a reboot, which would perhaps give the filmmakers more wiggle room to make it a different story that’s still about ghost hunting. Whether or not that’d be a better movie remains to be seen of course, but it’d be interesting to see that.

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Having seen both the original and the reboot within a week, I’m more convinced of how absurd the controversy is over the all-female cast. Just like the original, the talented main cast are the best thing about the movie. I personally think humor knows no gender. I suppose haters are gonna hate, I just can’t fathom the idiocy of it all.

So if you’re on the fence, give it a shot and make up your own mind. It’s not the best reboots out there, but it’s definitely NOT the worst. I wish this were a better movie but one thing for sure, the main cast made for a winning foursome.

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So have you seen the new ‘Ghostbusters’ movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

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FlixChatter Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

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The moment I saw the trailer for this months ago I was immediately sold. Anyone who’s ever owned a pet would likely be drawn to this as well, and given the popularity of cat (and dog) videos on social media, this is no doubt a winning concept for an animated movie. The movie started off well enough on the premise of pets shenanigans whilst the owner is away, seen from the life of the movie’s protagonist, a terrier dog named Max (Louis C.K.). The opening scene, set to Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York, with Max propped on a bike as his owner Katie strolls through Central Park with the city’s metropolitan backdrop is fun and vibrant. Life seems perfect for Max, that is until Katie arrives one day with a huge, hairy dog from the pound. Max takes an instant dislike to Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and it’s easy to see why.

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At first the story seems to revolve around the households of Max as well as his NYC neighbors. There’s the obese gray cat Chloe (Lake Bell), bulldog Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress), parakeet Sweet Pea (Tara Strong) and a white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) who has a crush on Max. I enjoy the intro to each of these fun characters, some of which has been revealed in the trailer. I still laughed when we see Chloe resisting temptation of eating all the food on the fridge and fail miserably, and when Buddy enjoying a delightful massage courtesy of an electric mixer. But the plot then takes us into more of a riotous adventure involving pets being taken in by Animal Control, and ends up being kind of a rescue and ‘great escape’ type of plot that is neither inventive or original. I feel like I’ve seen this type of plot before in other animal movies, most recently Shaun the Sheep.


The whole bit in the sewer with an anti-human gang Flushed Pets, led by a militant white bunny Snowball (the petite firecracker Kevin Hart) has some hilarious moments, but it feels too mean-spirited for a kids movie. Unlike the far superior talking-animal animated feature Zootopia, there’s not much emotional resonance nor depth in The Secret Life of Pets, which is a bummer as I think the concept has so much potential. The moment Duke finds out about what happens to his owner provides one of the very few emotional moments in the movie, but for the most part we get one slapstick gag after another. It also includes a rather silly musical number involving dancing sausages that seems rather pointless.

The movie is directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Chenney who have worked on previous Illumination animated movies in the past. I quite like the score too, which I realize from the credits is by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. The funniest bits to me are in the simpler moments. There’s one when Max is trying to channel his inner wolf instinct but then concludes that perhaps the ‘myth’ comes from a dog mistaking its parent saying ‘woof’ with ‘wolf.’ You have to watch it to get the full impact of the joke. I also find the aloof & sarcastic Chloe hilarious, she’s what you’d imagine a cat would be and the moment she gets her head in a tube is absolutely hysterical. I wish there were more moments like this, that is the simple shenanigans these pets get into in a normal day, instead of the grandiose escape-from-peril plan that is too busy for its own good. The simple day-to-day stuff is more of what I expect from a movie titled ‘the secret life of pets.’

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That said, I think the fun personality of the pets, thanks to a talented ensemble of voice cast, makes this movie enjoyable despite the flaws. Louis C.K. is perfect as Max, a good ol’ loyal dog who’s self-deprecating and cynical. The standout for me is Lake Bell‘s Chloe, Albert Brooks‘ hawk Tiberius and of course Hart’s hysterically-psychotic white bunny. I find the massively popular comedian hilarious in real life, his high-pitched voice, ultra-confident persona and antics are a hoot. But I can see how he might irritate some people, as comedy is so subjective. Jenny Slate‘s raspy voice as Gidget is funny too, though her Pomeranian’s character transformation is just downright preposterous. I get it that we can’t complain about things being nonsensical about a cartoon of talking animals, but I feel that the plot could’ve been much more engaging. Comparing this to other works by Illumination Entertainment, this is more akin to Minions than Despicable Me in terms of substance. There are touches of Toy Story as well, though it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to the Pixar masterpiece trilogy.

If you’re on the fence though, I think this is still well worth a watch. I don’t think it’s worth the 3D price however and I think it’d be ok to just wait for rental. I saw one reviewer say this is more humor than heart and I guess that is perfectly adequate for a kids movie. As an adult though, I kind of expect more given what Pixar, Disney and even Dreamworks have delivered lately.

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What do you think of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’?

FlixChatter Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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Did you that if you type ‘Tarzan’ on IMDb, there’d be about 200 titles popped up since 1918 all the way to 2016. So yeah, you could say that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ titular character has been adapted to death in various formats. But hey, Hollywood loves to recycle stuff over and over, and this one promises to make the Lord of the Jungle to 21st Century audiences.

What I do like about this one is how the story isn’t told in a linear way. By the time the film opens, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been acclimated to life in London as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke of Greystoke Manor, with Jane (Margot Robbie) as his wife. I’m glad this isn’t an origin story, though the film did reveal his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, director David Yates (known for his Harry Potter movies) use of flashbacks constantly throughout, showing us how he met Jane and so forth.
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Of course soon Tarzan ends up in Congo again, at the request of Belgium’s King Leopold II to visit & report on Belgian’s development on Congo. He’s reluctant at first, but American attaché George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) persuaded him to do so, suspecting of slavery of the Congolese people. There he crosses path with Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who’s in Congo on a rich minerals expedition for the Belgian king. It would’ve been a huge issue if it weren’t for the fact that Rom has been promised diamonds by the tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou, typecast once again) in exchange for Tarzan.
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I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed the adventure ride with Tarzan, with Jackson being the comic relief throughout. I gotta say that without Jackson’s hilarious antics, I might not have enjoyed this movie as much as I did, because the film tends to take itself far too seriously. On top of that, Skarsgård plays his character in such a surly, dour manner that practically sucked the fun out of the whole thing. There’s a difference between Byronically-brooding and dull, and he definitely fits more with the latter. I mentioned on Twitter before the movie started that it’d take more than a 12-pack abs to make his character intriguing. Well, it seems that Skarsgård’s too busy working out and dieting rigorously that he forgot to infuse his role with any kind of personality, let alone charm. Oh btw, those who couldn’t wait to see Tarzan’s bare torso would be pretty disappointed that he didn’t take of his shirt until about halfway point. I should mention too that Skarsgård reminds me a lot of Sam Heughan who plays Jamie in Starz’s Outlander at times that it distracted me a bit.

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Robbie did her best with what she’s given. Her Jane isn’t quite a damsel-in-distress, though there’s still the obligatory rescue when she’s held hostage by Rom. As for Waltz, well he’s better here than in Spectre, but his mustache-twirling villain-y is becoming more of a tiresome schtick. It seems his fun baddie performance a la Hans Landa is long behind him, what a pity.

There’s also the issue with the whole colonialism and slavery that critics think are tone deaf. Now, I actually think the filmmaker/writers strived to make Tarzan more than ‘another white savior’. Jackson’s character is based on a respected real life African American minister/soldier/lawyer/writer and he’s got a major role here that includes saving Tarzan’s life. Even the moments where Tarzan returns the favor is downplayed a bit and that bit when Williams climbs onto his back as he swings down from a tree vine is pretty hilarious. I didn’t expect this Tarzan movie to be some sort of buddy comedy but at times that’s how it played out, which doesn’t always work but Jackson is always a hoot. There is also a quiet moment between Williams and Tarzan when Williams reflects on his past that I think is quite memorable. There are moments that tugged at my heartstrings too, as Tarzan and Jane seem to genuinely care for the Congolese residents, both the people and animals of the jungle.

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Having just seen The Jungle Book, the cinematography here doesn’t quite match that one, and at times it appears way too dark and gloomy. But there are some beautiful shots and some of the action sequences are pretty fun to watch. The soundtrack byRupert Gregson-Williams was pretty rousing at times too, though now I could barely remember it. Somehow every time I hear the word Tarzan I always think of Phil Collins’ fabulous song You’ll Be in My Heart from the animated Disney version.

This may sound like a backhanded compliment but given my low expectation coming into this, I’m not disappointed. I guess I wasn’t expecting something truly epic and it wasn’t, but as far as Summer popcorn flick go, it offers an adequate escapist good time.

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Have you seen ‘The Legend of Tarzan’? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Casino Royale (2006)

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This review was part of Mark & Tom’s Decades Blogathon that was published back in mid May. But since July 6 is Eva Green’s birthday, I decided to post it here this week.


I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Casino Royale came out. I just re-watched it this weekend to refresh my memory for the blogathon, though I had probably re-watched it a few times in the last 10 years. It’s still as good as the first time I saw it, and I still would regard it as one of my favorite Bond films… ever. I’ve mentioned Casino Royale so many times here on my blog, in fact it’s one of my fave films of 2000s and one of the 8 films I’d take with me if I were stuck on a desert island.

Like many Bond fans, I too had trepidation about Daniel Craig casting (too blond, too short, etc.) but of course we’re all proven wrong the second he appeared on the pre-credit scene. Craig might not be the most good looking Bond actor (and he is the shortest), but he more than made up for it in charisma AND swagger. Apart from Craig’s brilliant casting, it’s the story that makes this film so re-watchable. It’s not only a great Bond film, it’s a great film, period. An origin story of sort, James Bond goes on his first ever mission as 007, and he didn’t get off on the right foot with M right away. The scene when M berated Bond when he broke into her flat was intense but humorous, a perfect balancing act the film continuously play throughout. It’s not the first time we see the venerable Dame Judi Dench as M, but I must say I LOVE the banter between her and Craig even more.

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A great Bond film has to have an effective adversary and we find that in Mads Mikkelsen‘s Le Chiffre, a cold-looking Scandinavian with a bleeding eye. It would’ve been a silly gimmick if not played carefully, but here Le Chiffre is a cool and ominous villain. The fact that he’s really not a mastermind in the likes of Blofeld or Drax, but the fact that he’s not hellbent in ruling or destroying the entire world is frankly refreshing. He is a banker to the world’s terrorists, and so his only motive is money, like most of real world villains are. And a great Bond film also needs a memorable Bond girl. Well, Eva Green‘s Vesper Lynd is perhaps the hottest cinematic accountant ever. “I’m the money,” she quips the first time she enters the screen and into Bond’s heart. To this day I’m still enamored by the train scene to Montenegro, the way Bond & Vesper banter each other with wit and sexual undercurrents is what Bond movies are all about. Vesper is no Bimbo and that automatically made her a bazillion times more intriguing than bombshells in lesser Bond movies.

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Casino Royale isn’t big on gadgetry, and as a longtime Bond fan, I actually didn’t mind it. It’s got everything else one would expect in a Bond movie – the cars, the exotic locations, the suspense, action and quick wit – it’s all there. Compared to Craig Bond movies, the Roger Moore versions feel more like a drama given how relentless and vigorous all the action sequences are. The opening parkour/free running scene apparently took six weeks to shoot and my goodness, I’m out of breath just watching it! This is one sprightly Bond and Craig did most of his own stunts, so it looks believable that he was the one doing the action in the movie. He reportedly has the injuries to prove it too! The car chase wasn’t overlong, but dayum was it memorable. The scene where Aston Martin missed Vesper by a hair and rolled over multiple times still took my breath away every time I saw it.

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But all of that action stuff wouldn’t have mattered much without a grounding story. I think the last time Bond was genuinely romantic and emotional was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was when Bond fell in love. The scene of Bond tenderly comforting Vesper in the shower is one of my favorite scenes in all of the Bond films. There is nothing erotic or sexual in this scene, instead it packs an emotional wallop that makes Bond/Vesper relationship one of the best and most convincing romances in a Bond movie. The love story in Casino Royale is core to the plot and it was woven perfectly into all the espionage intrigue.

Vesper: You’re not going to let me in there, are you? You’ve got your armour back on. That’s that.

Bond: I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever is left of me – whatever I am – I’m yours.

Bond films are known for being an eye and ear candy, and this probably ranks as one of the most beautifully-shot. The scenery in Venice as Bond stroll in the Grand Canal is especially striking, topped off by the intense fight scene in a crumbling house (shot at Pinewood Studios modeled after Venice’s Hotel Danieli). The soundtrack also ranks as one of the best, done by David Arnold with an homage to the legendary composer John Barry. I can’t get over how much I love the track City of Lovers, which I’ve highlighted for my Music Break here. The theme song You Know My Name by Chris Cornell is also one of my favorite Bond songs, and the cards-themed opening sequence is spectacularly-done.

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Per IMDb, this was the first James Bond movie to be based on a full-length Ian Fleming novel since Moonraker 27 years prior. Goldeneye‘s director Martin Campbell helmed the film from a screenplay from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. I wish Campbell would be back in the director seat again as his previous two Bond films rate as one of my all time favorites. There’s so much style & sophistication in abundance here, but never at the expense of story & character. What I also love is that the quieter moments in the movie is still just as intriguing as the high-octane action scenes. That poker game in Montenegro is brimming with elegance as well as suspense, whilst showcasing the film’s excellent production design and costume design. Vesper’s plunging purple dress is a real head-turner and I don’t think Craig has looked more suave than in his tuxedo that Vesper tailor-made for him.

I really can go on and on about this movie as it’s really a masterpiece in the 50 years of James Bond films we’ve got so far. It also made me even more dismayed that the recent film in which the plot directly followed this one was such a downgrade. Looking back at Casino Royale‘s fantastic finale with Bond introducing himself to Mr. White, I expected SO much more than what they gave us with Spectre.

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What are your thoughts about ‘Casino Royale’? Does it rank amongst your favorite Bond films?

FlixChatter Review: The Purge: Election Year (2016)

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The Purge franchise is becoming quite lucrative for Universal Studios. Produced on a relatively low budget ($10 mil for this third sequel), it tends to earn twice the amount the studio invested in. The franchise also has more room to expand its story than other franchises like Friday The 13th, Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street; mostly it relies on the concept instead of a super evil villain character. The first one was basically a home invasion thriller and didn’t really work for me. But for the sequel, the story was expanded to a citywide setting and became more of an action thriller. It also introduced a hero that we can cheer for and it worked quite well in my opinion.

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The story takes place two years after the event of the last film. Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is back as the badass hero; he’s now the head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell). Roan is touted to be the next President of the United States and vows to put an end the Purge for good. Of course the powerful people in States who benefits greatly from the Purge don’t want that to happen so they’re planning to assassinate Roan on the Purge night. Just a few hours before the Purge was set to begin, we’re introduced to other characters including a storeowner named Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his royal employee Marcos (Joseph Soria) and friend Betty (Laney Rucker).

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As the Purge begins, Roan’s house got ambushed and it’s up to Barnes to keep her safe since some of his men betrayed him. While on the run, Barnes and Roan ran into some purgers but fortunately Joe and Marcos came to their rescue. As the story progresses, it became the usual run of the mill chase action thriller. The group swore to protect Roan from would be assassins because they all want her to be the next president and they all want the Purge to end permanently. We see the usual shootouts and the eventual hero vs villain hand to hand combat for the climax.

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The film was again written and directed by James DeMonaco, who I thought went a little overboard with the film’s obvious poke at our current political climate. Some of the messaging gets a little too preachy for my liking but when chase begins and the bullets start flying, he created a nice action thriller. Although I wish he’d stop moving the cameras so often during the quieter scenes. He’s one of these new directors who thinks that shaking the cameras during dialog scenes would make them interesting or something. Some of the action scenes he shot also needed better staging, but with limited budget, I don’t really think it’s his faults.

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Performances by the actors were very good. Grillo, who’s an underrated actor, shines again here as the hero who’ll do anything to protect his boss. He doesn’t really have much to do except kick ass and shoots people. But whenever he’s on the screen, he has my attention. Mitchell was also good as maybe the hottest political figure I’ve ever seen. Her character didn’t reduce to just another damsel in distress, but of course the story dictates that she must be rescued by the heroes at some point. The most standout performance belongs to Mykelti Williamson, he’s the everyman character and he chewed every scenes he’s in and he looks to have a great time doing it.

This was another good sequel that’s on par with the second film. If you’re a fan of the franchise then I think you’ll enjoy this one, just don’t expect anything new or surprising.

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Have you seen ‘The Purge: Election Year’? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Midnight Special (2016)

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I’m a big fan of science fiction films, and the ones that are more *grounded* in our reality, meaning it’s not all sleek and drowned in special effects are usually the most compelling. Midnight Special is certainly one of those films, which in essence is a father/son story.

Right from its opening scene, this film instantly grabbed me and never let up. Two men are on the run with a small boy Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and the people in a cult organization are hot on their trail. Who the boy is and why he’s so important to the devout followers of this group is not known right away. The only thing we know from the marketing promos is that perhaps he’s from another world as we don’t shoot laser beams from our eyes, nor could we make a satellite fall from the sky. Soon the FBI arrives in the small town in Louisiana and from the interrogations with the cult members, we’re given glimpses of why Alton is so special. As if being on the run is not hard enough, there’s a certain date looming that the runaway group absolutely can’t miss.

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I feel that it’s best to experience this film knowing as little as possible. I love discovering more and more about the characters as one layer after another is peeled away. Alton has a very close relationship with his father Roy (Michael Shannon), who we knew in the beginning is his adopted dad. But who is Lucas (Joel Edgerton), the guy helping them get away? I’ll let you figure that out, as that’s part of the fun of discovering the story.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this movie and I’m so impressed by his talent as a storyteller. The story is intriguing albeit not completely original and treads some familiar grounds. It reminds me a bit of Spielberg’s E.T. but with its own twist as well as look and feel. Though the story deals with a kid’s special powers, it’s not really the main focus. Instead, it’s more about the relationship of Alton and Roy and why Roy would risk everything, even his own life, to get Alton to where he needs to go. It’s a bond that transcend understanding.

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The performances are excellent all around. I haven’t seen Lieberher in anything but despite his young age, this isn’t his first film. He’s able to convey a lot without saying anything, which is tricky even for adult actors. Shannon is truly one of the best actors working today as he’s excellent in everything I’ve seen him in so far, including this one. There’s something enigmatic about him but here he shows a tender, vulnerable side as well. He shares a convincing emotional bond with Lieberher which makes you so invested in their journey. Edgerton is another actor whose work I admire, so it’s cool to see both him and Shannon’s continued collaboration with Nichols (both are featured in his latest film, the Sundance darling Loving). Adam Driver has a supporting role as the NSA officer, sporting geeky chic glasses a la Snowden. He’s quite memorable here and at times provides some comic relief. I have to mention Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard as well in small but key supporting roles.

Though mostly serious, the film isn’t devoid of humor and some amusing scenes thanks to some of the roles some of the actor have portrayed. I’m not going to say what that reference is, but let’s just say it has something to do with a superhero from another world who’s also adopted by an earthly father. I appreciate that the film has plenty of quiet moments but by no means slow or tedious. The fact that there’s not much action happening, but when it does, it’s quite effective.


I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, there are some predictable moments that somewhat lessen the impact. The fact that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Alton by the end is a bit frustrating. Why did he end up on earth in the first place, why is the daylight harmful to him, why the cult thinks Alton is who they think they are, and so on. That said, there’s enough going for it that Midnight Special was a satisfying ride. Oh and that finale is quite a heart-pounding one. Given all the suspenseful build up, nice to see a pretty powerful pay-off.

Overall it’s an impressive film that offers a unique twist to an often-told sci-fi tale. This one is actually Nichols’ first studio film (with Warner Bros), but given that it’s budget is only $18 mil, the studio still agreed to let him have the final cut. I sure hope that he’ll continue to get as much creative control over his work even as he inevitably transition into bigger-budget films.

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So have you seen ‘Midnight Special’? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Zootopia (2016)

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Ever since Pixar’s been making movies, I always thought that their stories are superior compared to Disney in that they appeal to adults as well as children. Well, Disney’s clearly been improving year after year. Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Frozen, they all have pretty mature, thought-provoking themes with teachable moments for people of all ages. This time with Zootopia, its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

It starts out typical enough for a Disney movie. A smart and ambitious rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of becoming a police officer despite the fact that no bunnies ever did. Even her own parents didn’t initially believe she’s got what it takes and encourage her to follow her family tradition and be a carrot farmer in rural Bunnyburrow. Thankfully, Judy’s resolute enough to defy them and against all odds she does become a police officer. She’s an instantly likable character and right away I was invested in her journey.

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The story pretty much begins on the first day Judy’s as an officer in Zootopia, a city filled with anthropomorphic animals. Though she’s relegated to parking duty by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), somehow she ends up solving a crime. That leads to yet another mission to rescue a missing the husband of a female otter who’s been pleading with the police force to help her. Judy’s not only defied the odds that a rabbit can be a competent officer, but she’s proven to be a valuable asset to the force with her resourcefulness.

I love that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. It even takes a little zing at Disney itself when Chief Bogo said to Judy ‘Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.’ Ha! The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the movie’s protagonist. The team of writers (at least seven of them credited on IMDb!) keep playing with my expectations throughout, cleverly weaving the themes of widely-held stereotypes and discrimination without taking away the fun of an animated adventure. Just when I thought the story is going one way, it turns out to be another. I love being surprised when watching movies, and this movie does that time and again, and I was left in awe every time.

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The strength of Zootopia also lies in the chemistry of the two leads, Judy and the sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Disney’s no stranger to putting together unlikely pairings and this latest one is as delightful as ever. They end up finding similarities in regards to defying stereotypes of their kind, and the developing bond between them is fun to watch. Some of the funny scenes in the trailer, i.e. the one with the Sloth, is still hilarious in the movie, but I think there are even more memorable scenes than that one.

There are interesting characters we meet throughout their journey, I especially love the scene with Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) and his introduction is a hoot! Elba’s voice is always a highlight in any movie and he’s memorable here too as Chief Bogo. Jenny Slate‘s Bellwether and Alan Tudyk‘s Duke Weaselton round up the excellent voice cast. Despite not having a big musical number, it does have a fun song Try Everything featuring Shakira, who also has a cameo as popstar Gazelle.

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Just what I expect from Disney with its $150mil budget, the cinematography is absolutely spectacular. The five boroughs of Zootopia are beautifully rendered, and each has a fitting name that describes its own unique characteristics: Savanna Central, Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and Rainforest District. The chase through all the different boroughs are a ton of fun that made me wish I had seen it on the big screen!

Kudos to the trio of directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush for creating such a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. This is another winner from Disney that I don’t mind watching again and again.

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Have you seen ‘Zootopia’? Well, what did you think?
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Weekend Viewing Roundup + RIP Anton Yelchin (1989 – 2016)

It ends up being quite a somber Sunday. My hubby and I went to brunch and when I came home and checked Twitter, I was shocked to see tweets that actor Anton Yelchin had died! I couldn’t believe it. He was [was!! I’m not even prepared to refer to him in past tense] only 27 years old and learning about the freak accident that cause of his death is even more heartbreaking. Yet another reminder just how fragile life truly is.

Back in September 2011, Anton and filmmaker Drake Doremus were in town to screen their Sundance darling, the romantic drama Like Crazy. I went up to meet them at their hotel (Graves 501 which is now Loews) and they both were very friendly. I had seen Anton as Chekov in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot two years prior, which was a completely different role for Anton.

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I could tell Anton was more reserved and shy, compared to the more vivacious and talkative Drake. It’s such a privilege to chat with such talented artists, and I still regard it as one of my favorite celebrity interviews.

Like Crazy was certainly one of the best films I saw that year, thanks to Anton’s and Felicity Jones’ performances. It’s an intimate & sincere look at long distance love story. It’s the anti rom-com as it strips all the romantic clichés and the chemistry of the two leads feels genuinely authentic. I should watch more of his work, but as of right now, that is the role I’ll always remember him for.


Though I haven’t seen a ton of his films, it’s obvious Anton was a brilliant and versatile actor… somehow able to balance big blockbusters and indie films. What a tragic loss for film fans.

RIP Anton, you are already sorely missed.


As for this weekend, I didn’t go to the cinema at all but I did catch up with a couple of recent films I missed: Zootopia and Concussion.

Zootopia was fantastic, definitely one of the best Disney’s animated movies and I’d say one of the best films of the year! As for Concussion, I think it was pretty good though too formulaic to be truly memorable.

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Will Smith’s performance is good but not so spectacular that it deserved a nomination. I might review both at some point, but for now, I’d say I’d recommend both. If you haven’t seen Zootopia yet, that’s one not to be missed!


Well, that’s my weekend recap folks. What did you see, anything good?

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FlixChatter Review: Neil Jordan’s vampire drama Byzantium (2012)

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Before the vampire craze began started by a certain YA novel, Neil Jordan‘s made an epic vampire drama Interview With The Vampire in 1994. Nearly two decades later, the Irish filmmaker returned to the popular genre with another unconventional tale of the fanged one. Except that the vampires in this story don’t have fangs, instead they have sharp thumb nail that extends when they are ready to feed. The story is based on a play by Moira Buffini, who also wrote the screenplay.

The film begins with a schoolgirl, Eleanor, saying in voice over that ‘my story can never be told.’ She constantly writes in her journal, writing her life story she can’t share with anyone. The melancholy scene is contrasted with that of a sexy prostitute, Clara, tantalizing a client at a dingy club. It’s the oldest profession in the world, one she has held on for more than two centuries. The scene then turns into a big foot chase scene that ends in a bloody, grizzly murder. That incident forces Clara and her daughter Eleanor to move to another town once again. By that point I was hooked and I’m on for the ride to find out just who these two creatures are and why they are constantly on the run.

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At the core of Byzantium is a mother and daughter story, albeit a decidedly-unusual one. Gemma Arterton and Saiorse Ronan made for quite an intriguing pair as mother and daughter. Clara represents the ruthless survivor with a personal vendetta against men preying on vulnerable women. So yeah, there’s a not-too-subtle feminism commentary here. Meanwhile, Eleanor represents innocence and benevolence, preying on those she deems ‘ready’ to die. So they certainly have a very different approach to feeding human blood. The title itself initially refers to a hotel that somehow becomes a place of refuge to them, but the purported ties to the Byzantine Empire is rather forced.

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I’ve been wanting to see it for some time, but crushing on Sam Riley compelled me to rent it straight away and I’m glad I did. Sam’s part isn’t a big one but he played a dual character that plays a key role in Clara’s dark past. His scenes as a naval officer, along with a grimy Jonny Lee Miller, are some of the most compelling aspects of the film. The film takes place mostly on modern day, with extended flashback scenes that explain the origin story of Clara’s vampirism. It takes a bit too long to get to that part however, with hints peppered throughout and one secret is peeled after another in a leisurely manner. Rather indulgent perhaps, but I think the movie rewards your patience and for me, there’s enough going for it to keep me engrossed.

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The two female protagonists are fantastic in this. It’s perhaps my favorite role I’ve seen Arterton’s done so far, and though Ronan’s done superior work since, I still count this as one of her best work. Arterton’s absolutely ravishing as Clara, she uses her sensuality and seductive allure, combined with a convincing motherly love. Meanwhile Ronan’s forlorn demeanor is quietly eerie and she delivers one long monologue about who she really is that gives me quite the chills. A bit of trivia: Ronan did an intense 12-week crash course in piano lessons to be able to play the complicated Beethoven piano sonata in this film. She certainly is a dedicated performer.

I’ve seen this film twice in the past three months, and I must say I find this strangely mesmerizing. But the flaws keep this from being a truly great movie, as it doesn’t quite live up to its original concept. I still applaud it for that though, as originality is such a rarity these days in a world full of sequels and reboots. I could do without some of the scenes, i.e. the odd and pointless classroom scene with an uncredited Tom Hollander. I’m also not too fond of Caleb Landry Jones‘ casting as Eleanor’s love interest, thus their love story isn’t as appealing as it could’ve been.

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As with a mythology story, certain aspects sometimes don’t get explained very well. In this case it’s in regards to Clara’s relentless pursuers, who’s later revealed as part of the so-called Brotherhood. We don’t know much about it, but what we do know is that the ancient organization forbids women to join, and they’re ruthlessly strict about those who’ve broken that rule. It helps that there’s a Byzantium Wiki to devour after watching the movie, and I think the more I read about it, the more I appreciate the story.

Eternal life will only come to those prepared to die.

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So despite the flaws, I’d say this movie is well worth a watch. I always appreciate an unorthodox vampire story, be it comedic (What We Do in the Shadows) or what Neil Jordan‘s created so far. I’d say this film is more of a drama than a full-on horror film, which is just the way I like it. There are gory and bloody scenes, but it’s few and far between.

Stylistically, the film is wonderful to look at. Set in rundown coastal setting in the UK and Ireland, it’s an appropriately atmospheric and broodingly-mysterious for a vampire tale. Acclaimed cinematographer Sean Bobbitt added an occasional jolts of color, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It has an eerie, ethereal and mysteriously romantic feel to it, but not grotesque. The scene in the spooky island with its blood waterfall is especially striking. I also like the classically-tinged, serene-sounding score by Javier Navarrete that perfectly complements the tone of the film.

I like the ending as well, which actually is surprisingly hopeful. This is the kind of film that lingers long after the end credits. It certainly make me think about the concept and these bloodsuckers *ethics* if you will, that I never thought about before. Any good stories about monsters and mythical creatures ought to have humanistic elements and this one certainly does. Just like Jordan’s previous film Ondine, there’s more than meets the eye and has deeper significance than what the trailer suggests. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s quite mesmerizing and I now count this as one of my favorite vampire films.

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Have you seen ‘Byzanthium’? Either way, I’d love to hear what you think!

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