FlixChatter Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FlixChatter Review: Anthropoid (2016)

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I love historical-based films that really made you want to read more about the actual events. Anthropoid, based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, is one such film. WWII history buffs would surely know about the ‘Butcher of Prague’ monster that was Heydrich. He’s known as the main architect behind the Final Solution, the Nazi’s plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. “It’s assassination, not murder,” one main character said about Heydrich early in the film, “murder implies he’s got a life worth living.” 

To say this is a dangerous operation is putting it mildly. Now it would be appropriate to call this select group of Czech commandos ‘Suicide Squad’ because none of them have special powers and there’s no rescue mission after they carry out their operation. The film center on Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), a pair of Czech paratroopers who were dropped in Czechoslovakia. Right from the start, this film was suspenseful and intense. As Gabčík’s foot was injured when he landed, they had to find shelter and medication, as well as face traitors who threaten to expose them.

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The two Irish actors gave a compelling and very human portrayal of the two main paratroopers. I can’t say if their Czech accent was spot on, but at least it wasn’t distracting. I was most impressed with Cillian Murphy who always gives an understated but captivating performance. Gabčík is the more experienced of the two, and I learned later that Kubiš actually replaced the original soldier who was injured in training. I’m not as familiar with Jamie Dornan (nope I don’t care to watch that Fifty Shades movie), and at first I thought he’s too much of a pretty boy for the role. But I think he acquits himself well, showing the inner struggle and anxiety of carrying out the mission. Kubiš’ hand tremble as he tried to shoot a traitor, but later on he fought valiantly just like the rest of the resistance group.

Anthropoid is appropriately gripping and intense, but not overly somber. The two men, despite knowing it’s a suicide mission, did fall for two women whom they met during the operation, portrayed by Charlotte Le Bon as Marie and Anna Geislerová as Lenka. I was more drawn to the more restraint relationship of Gabčík and Lenka, but I’m glad the romance never overshadowed the real story or took the focus away from the main mission. Toby Jones and Harry Lloyd particularly stood out from the resistance group. It seems that Jones’ become a top choice for WWII-related roles with accents.

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There are two main parts to the story, the events leading up to the assassination event and the aftermath. Filmmaker Sean Ellis (who co-wrote the film with Anthony Frewin) stayed true to the historical event, which some critics call boring and by-the-numbers. Now, the filmmaker might lack narrative ambition, but I have no problem with the decision to stay close to the real story. I do think there’s enough drama and stylistic elements that separates this from a documentary. I find myself on the edge of my seat practically the entire time, as even the slower moments of just people talking and planning the operation itself is brimming with suspense that they could get caught at any moment. There’s also an apparent conflict within the Czech resistance group, as some fear (reasonably so) that the Nazi would destroy their country in retaliation.
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The actual assassination itself was pretty well-staged. I already knew what happened from reading about it, but seeing it portrayed on screen was still quite thrilling. I guess one lesson from this is they ought to get a proper weapon from America instead of using the British Sten gun that’s apparently prone to jamming. The group originally thought they had failed this mission, it wasn’t until a week later that they found out Heydrich’s fate. Some historians wonder if this covert operation was worth it, considering the huge cost Czechoslovakia paid in its aftermath.

Two Czech villages are leveled to the ground and over 5000 Czech people were brutally killed following Heydrich’s death. But as the famous quote says ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,’ it’s no doubt these men were true heroes. They fought bravely for their country at the cost of their own (as well as their families) lives. Even if that mission made the Nazi top officers (even Heydrich’s bosses Hitler & Himmler) think they’re not so invincible after all, who’s to say it wasn’t worth it? The sheer brutality of Germany’s reprisal also led to the Allies to dissolve the Munich Agreement.

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I wouldn’t say this is an enjoyable film given the harrowing subject matter, but I was engrossed in the story throughout. There’s a particularly brutal torture scene that warrants its R-rating but overall it’s not loaded with violence or gore. The group’s last stand at the crypt of a Czech Orthodox church is especially intense but still grounded, not resorting to typical Hollywood bombast. The sepia-toned film is beautifully-shot on location in Prague and the music adds a haunting atmosphere to the whole operation.  The 1940s costumes and vintage set pieces adds authenticity to the period. I’d say this is a pretty stylish film despite its small budget of $9 million.

I’m glad I saw this film on the big screen. It’s an important subject matter that is worth learning about and it certainly made me want to learn more about the actual events. It may not be flashy or spectacular but Anthropoid is a solid and fascinating film. Apparently Ellis started working on this film in early 2000s after seeing a documentary and his passion on this topic showed on screen. This film also made me itch to go to Prague and I definitely would visit the historical locations featured in this film.

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What are your thoughts on Anthropoid?

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Mr Robot, ‘A Hologram for the King’ & The Wine Show

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How’s your weekend everyone? It’s another glorious weekend weather-wise… Summer is so fleeting here in MN so we’ve got to make the most of our time being outside.

I didn’t go to the cinema this weekend, trying to finish up Mr Robot Season 1 and we’ve got four more episodes to go. I’ll defer my final judgment until I finish all episodes of the first season, but I’m impressed w/ it so far. It keeps me guessing just what the heck is going on and it always ends on a suspenseful cliffhanger.

It’s certainly one of the most diverse cast of a TV series, with the lead Rami Malek himself of Egyptian descent. No shortage of interesting characters in this series, Mr Robot himself (played by Christian Slater) is definitely an enigma, but the Swedish-speaking Tyrell played by Martin Wallström is the one who gives me the creeps. He reminds me of American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman with his steely gaze and violent tendencies.

Looking forward to finishing Season 1 hopefully next week!


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Saturday night I watched the new Tom Hanks drama set in Saudi Arabia. At first it made me think of Lost In Translation mixed with Learning to Drive, though it’s quite different from either. Cross-cultural stories always appeal to me, though this film is more about a personal journey for the lead character. Alan Clay is a washout American sales rep who’s sent to Riyadh to do a major pitch for his company to a wealthy-yet-elusive monarch.

I have to say I’m not sure what to make of this movie. I was amused one second, discombobulated the next. The novel by Dave Eggers (which Hanks reportedly loved) might have been very interesting, but it feels like it might not have translated as well on screen. Now, it’s not that I wasn’t entertained, there are some amusing moments and Hanks was likable as always, I just felt that the humor felt a bit forced at times. They also hired another White guy (an American) to play an Arab. Alexander Black plays the taxi driver Yousef who predictably becomes friends with Alan. There’s a running joke about him checking the hood of his car for a bomb, not in a terroristic way he said, but from a jealous husband who suspects he’s having an affair with his wife. It was amusing the first time around, but it became repetitive. I feel there’s a lack of genuine rapport between the two actors, but it’s more because of the way they’re written.


There’s a budding romance between Hanks and his female doctor, Dr. Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) who treats him for the cyst on his back. I’m not really feeling the chemistry between them however, just like Alan and the taxi driver. Oh and the scene between the two towards the end is very um, unexpected. Let’s just say I didn’t expect to see a topless underwater scene in this movie, though I don’t think that alone warrants that the R-rating. Interesting that Choudhury was also in Learning To Drive, it seems like she’s got that ambiguous ethnicity where she could play an Arab, an Indian or Italian believably. I like that her character defies the stereotype of what we, in the Western world, think of an Arab woman. There’s another female character, a Danish woman working in the region who came on very strong to Alan, but her storyline seems grossly under-developed.

The pacing of the film seems off, though the story did manage to surprise me a few times. I can’t judge how accurate its portrayal of Arab culture as I’m not from that region, but I feel that the filmmakers did attempt to do it respectfully and not resorting to simple stereotypes. Filmed in Morroco with some exterior shots of Riyadh, it blends the traditional and very modern aspect of the Arab world.  The actual hologram presentation to King Abdullah itself is a non-event, apart from a rather odd cameo from Ben Whishaw playing a Q character of sort.

Once I finished the film, I found out that the film’s director is Tom Twyker. I love his German film Run Lola Run, but his last Hollywood movie is the even more puzzling Cloud Atlas. I did praise it for its valiant effort, though I honestly don’t know if I’m going to like it as much upon rewatch. Now, what I can say for this one is, give it a shot if you’re a huge fan of Hanks (as he’s in virtually every single scene). Overall it’s lacking a certain oomph to make it a memorable movie. But at only 138 minutes, at least it didn’t overstay its welcome.

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WineShow

I saw on Twitter there’s a new reality show called The Wine Show arriving on HULU. It’s got the two gorgeous Matthews, Matthew Goode & Matthew Rhys, who played Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley. The show was originally done for British ITV. Filmed in beautiful locations all over the world, The Wine Show is informative, entertaining, humorous and surprising, with something for everyone who enjoys a glass of wine. I love that the wine expert is called Obi Wine Kenobi, ha!

I love this, definitely will be watching all 13 episodes!

 


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

FlixChatter Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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I always try to keep a neutral expectation going into a film, and it’s a lot easier when I didn’t know much about that particular movie. I had no idea that Pete’s Dragon was a remake of the 1977 movie until days before I saw it, and I didn’t see the original (which is apparently a live-action musical mixed with animated elements). Well, thankfully the constantly-advancing CGI technology enables this live-action version to have a pretty realistic looking dragon.

Now, great CGI alone does not make a movie, but Pete’s Dragon has an engaging story, lovable characters and so much heart. The movie opens with young Pete on a road trip with his parents. I knew somehow things would go wrong and it did. The car crash claimed his parents’ lives, leaving Pete (Oakes Fegley) all alone in the woods… until he found a new friend. I’m surprised how it didn’t take long before we see the creature in the title role, which Pete named Elliot. He’s not a scary, slithery dragon like The Hobbit‘s Smaug nor the ones in Game of Thrones. Elliot is a green fury dragon who can fly and breathe fire, but yet gentle and huggable. In other words, I fell in love with Elliot instantly, the same way I did with Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon.

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Now, the friendship that developed between Pete and Elliot wasn’t shown in the same manner as HTTYD. After that initial meet-up when little Pete climbs into Elliot’s huge paw, we meet them six years later and they’re already BFFs. The scenes of them hanging out in the woods reminds me a lot of Disney’s recent The Jungle Book with Pete as a Mowgli-like character. But of course the story is quite different and none of the animals can talk here, neither does Elliot. Like in Jungle Book, you also can’t overthink about how a child survives in the woods being raised by an animal.

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Elliot’s become kind of a local folklore (kind of like the Lochness monster). Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) is practically the only one who still talks about it, despite being teased by his skeptical daughter, forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s when Grace ends up running into Pete, and taking him back to civilization that the real action begins. Grace bonds immediately with Pete, who shares her wide-eyed wonder of her beloved woods, and so is her step-daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence). For the first time Pete has someone his own age to hang out with. There’s little resistance on his part to live amongst humans, but it’s obvious he misses his fury friend. Elliot too, misses Pete, and the moment he watches Pete hanging out with Grace’s family from the window tugs my heartstrings.

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Pete’s Dragon is set in the 80s, so naturally it conjures up images of Spielberg’s family movies. Interestingly, Spielberg’s latest The BFG left me underwhelmed & quite bored. But what David Lowery did here captured my imagination as well as my heart in equal measure. I cry easily in movies but I’ve never cried so much like I did here. I literally sobbed watching some of the scenes. The story isn’t original and predictable at times, but I was transported into another world and was caught up in the journey of the characters. It’s quite a feat since he hasn’t made a family feature before and his last feature effort was the R-rated crime drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

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Oakes Fegley is wonderful as Pete, and there’s so much believable chemistry between him and the CGI character Elliot. Redford adds gravitas in the role, but also has a memorable scene towards the end that makes up for his rather small screentime. Howard fares so much better here than in the other big Summer movie featuring large creatures Jurassic World. The closest to a film’s antagonist is Karl Urban‘s lumberjack Gavin, who seems rather silly and even childish as he saw Elliot as a threat but then later became very possessive of him. But I like Urban as an actor and he looks really good in his lumberjack outfit (ehm), plus Gavin did redeem himself in the end. It’s Wes Bentley who isn’t given much to do here as Gavin’s brother/Grace’s fiancé.

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The New Zealand scenery is absolutely breathtaking. For a film that utilizes a lot of CGI for the dragon scenes, it looks pretty natural and organic throughout, with seamless mix between the dragon & humans. The music by Daniel Hart helps enhance the emotional factor of the movie, though not quite as memorable as John Powell‘s in HTTYD.

So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed Pete’s Dragon. As Pete and Elliot take flight through the clouds, my heart literally soars along with it. Easily one of my favorite movies this Summer that I certainly won’t mind watching again and again.

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What do you think of ‘Pete’s Dragon?’

FlixChatter Review: Café Society (2016)

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Café Society is director Woody Allen’s latest film about old Hollywood – or sort of. Set during its golden age (30s, 40s), its main protagonist is Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a naïve young New Yorker looking to make his way by moving to Hollywood to work under his uncle Phil (Steve Carell in a wooden performance), a high powered Hollywood agent.

Leaving a loving Jewish family in New York, which includes his mother Rose (an excellent Jeannie Berlin) and a gangster older brother (Corey Stoll), Bobby arrives in LA, and taken under his uncle’s wing. To help him get acclimated to his new surroundings, Phil tasks ‘Vronny’, his secretary (Kristen Stewart) to show him the sights. Before long, a romance ensues and some rather complicated triangles come into play.


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is watchable at best, with Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous photography, its glamorous ensemble cast (Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Sheryl Lee) and Allen’s trademark impeccable pacing. However, the cast is mostly sidelined to the rafters.

Aiming seemingly for that classic, light, airy romantic comedy – the likes of Twentieth Century (1934), but without it’s creative punch and slapstick. It’s peppered with cynicism throughout, perhaps to intrigue a moviegoer discussion into the imagined realities of love and romance in the Hollywood jet-set. But it all feels a bit hollow and ultimately, forgettable.

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Perhaps Allen’s point is to stress the emptiness of the rich Hollywood life, but it’s hard to care for any of the main characters who don’t evolve much. It does feel a bit like Allen doing a monologue on Hollywood, love and death to himself. But that in itself, unfortunately, does not make a great, or even a good film.

The one redeeming quality about the film are the scenes with Bobby’s immediate family, which were too few and far in between. The family dynamic offered the most effective comedy throughout and reminded me bits and pieces of 1987’s award winning Moonstruck.

In the end, the Dofmans were the only characters I could sympathize with. And by film’s end, Bobby was most definitely not even a part of them at all.

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So what do you think of Café Society? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

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Not every year we get not one but two highly-anticipated DC superhero films where the hype is simply overwhelming. I personally have not been anticipating either movies, and I tried with all my might to avoid watching every damn clip/trailer/featurette, etc the studio releases practically every single week. Well, you already know how I feel about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now we’ve got the DC ensemble cast about supervillains instead of superheroes.

Now, it certainly helps if you have seen BVS, as this film starts out in the aftermath of that film. “What if the next Superman is a terrorist?” intelligence operative Amanda Waller (the always solid Viola Davis) asks a team of officers and general. She argues that mere mortals won’t stand a chance against such formidable foe, so she assembles a team of incarcerated supervillains and send them off on a deadly black ops mission in exchange for clemency.

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The first act of the movie pretty much consist of character introduction: hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic former gangster Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and monstrous cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They’re to be placed under the command of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), whose girlfriend June Moore (Cara Delevingne) is actually possessed by a witch known as “Enchantress.” If you think that’s already impossible to keep track, we’ve also got Flag’s bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and of course, one of the most [over]-hyped character of the year, The Joker, played by recent Oscar winner Jared Leto. Now, as tedious as the intros may be, it does help someone like me who isn’t familiar with the comics to figure out just who the heck everybody is.

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Though billed as an ensemble cast, the two leads of the film are actually Will Smith and Margot Robbie. The rest are pretty much relegated to supporting roles, with the Joker’s role ends up being nothing more than a glorified cameo. Even as I’m watching the movie, I could just feel the wrath of the Joker’s (or Leto’s) fans seeing how little his screentime is. Now Batman is barely shown here but that’s understandable as this is a movie about the villains. It seems a ton of Leto’s scenes has ended up in the cutting room floor.

Now I wonder if the filmmaker thought that the Joker is such an an overpowering figure that he easily steals the spotlight from everyone else. The longer he’s on screen, the film might no longer be about the Squad, but more about the iconic DC villain. Even the scarce number of scenes between him and his lover Harley (a case of doctor/patient relationship gone terribly wrong) is no doubt one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. I think from those deleted scenes they could probably create a Harley & Joker movie that would likely be a massive hit.

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For a movie built on ‘it’s good to be bad’ principle, I expect a lot of fun with the characters. Well, there were some amusing scenes and some that made me laugh, but overall it’s not that joyful of a ride after all. First of all, none of these supervillains are really that bad in this movie. Heck even one of them didn’t want to perform his abilities because he’s developed um, a conscience. Then there’s the drab and dour look of the movie popularized by DC’s purported *savior* Zack Snyder. Director David Ayer pretty much adopts a similar style, with occasional garish, candy-colored color-scheme in some scenes. Oh and there’s sheer lack of originality in the music department too, pretty much copying Guardians of the Galaxy in its overuse of pop music. Heck they even used the exact same song Spirit in the Sky! At least in Guardians, the music is actually part of the plot involving the lead character, but here it’s just used haphazardly seemingly just to fill up dead space.

That said, I was actually surprised that I wasn’t bored watching the movie despite its 123-minute running time. I guess that would be the one pleasant surprise about this, oh and the fact that there weren’t as many cringe-inducing scenes as BVS. Unfortunately, the more I think about this movie, the less positive I feel about it.

As for the performances, I was quite surprised that I didn’t mind Smith here despite my growing apathy towards him (interestingly enough I also quite like him in Concussion). Courtney didn’t irritate me as he usually did in other roles, and Kinnaman is pretty good despite being a rather vanilla character. It should be no surprise to anyone that the scene-stealer here is Robbie. The Aussie actress is on the brink of overexposure these days as she seems to be everywhere. But she does have talent and personality that matches her beauty.

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Her Harley Quinn is fun to watch when she’s bad, but she also has a certain vulnerability that she lets out when there’s no one around. Now, Leto’s Joker didn’t really wow me. He’s nowhere as phenomenal as Heath Ledger in the role, but I think that’s unfair to expect him to be, simply because the two Joker characters are quite different. Ledger’s more of a sadistic psychopath who in Nolan’s version ‘just wants to see the world burns.’ Leto’s version is a deranged maniac, more of a warped prankster than merciless criminal mastermind. For one, I can’t imagine Ledger’s Joker to ever be in a relationship with any human being, romantic or otherwise.

The third act of the movie is the most problematic. It’s ironic that in a movie about bad guys, the actual villain is irritatingly absurd. Whilst the enchantress starts out rather intriguing, it seems to have gotten more ridiculous as the movie goes on. Nary of a compelling backstory, this diminutive witch spews out an army of blob-headed creatures that are so gross to look at. The finale looks as if Warner Bros and Sony are sharing the same SFX department to create the effects as it looks so similar to the one in Ghostbusters! Just like Man of Steel and BVS, once again the final battle is nothing more than a mind-numbingly loud and bombastic CGI fest.

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Plagued by multiple reshoots, perhaps the movie was doomed from the start. As the writer and director of the movie, it was risky for WB to hire David Ayer, known for modest-budgeted, gritty crime dramas who has never done a blockbuster film. Now, hiring filmmakers with indie-cred can pay off (as in the case of the Russo Brothers for Marvel), but I don’t think it pays off as well here. I wouldn’t call Suicide Squad a huge mess, and it truly IS better than BVS, but really that’s not saying much.

But I think the most disappointing part is that for a movie that strives so hard to be different, the result is pretty much more of the same as the previous DC movies. Though I’m glad I did see it so I can judge it for myself, it’s not something I’m keen on watching again anytime soon. This one makes me dread the other DC ensemble movie Justice League even more, once again promoted in the post-credit scene featuring Bruce Wayne. I have said in the past that I’m more of a DC than Marvel fan, but sadly DC still has SO much catching up to do to match its arch rival.

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So what do YOU think of Suicide Squad?

FlixChatter Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

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As a fan of the Bourne trilogy, I was dismayed when in 2012, Universal went ahead with the sequel (Bourne Legacy) without Matt Damon. That fact perhaps made me more excited to see Damon teamed up again with director Paul Greengrass for a fifth (well, technically fourth) entry. I guess it’s inevitable that a franchise as lucrative as Bourne will keep on going and going like the Energizer bunny, it’s essentially the American version of James Bond.

This movie starts out about eight years after the events that took place in Bourne Ultimatum, where Bourne exposed CIA’s covert ops Blackfriar. As a result he’s been hiding out in Greece, and apparently does bare-knuckle boxing in his spare time. Whilst the previous three films followed Bourne on a journey to find out who he really is, this time around he’s aware of his identity. He knows his real name is David Webb and became the lethal assassin that is Jason Bourne when he joined Treadstone. But of course there are new revelations about his past that the CIA’s been keeping from him, and later we find out the matter is quite a personal one.
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Intense secrecy and not knowing who to trust is at the heart of any spy thriller and that’s the case here. There are obvious antagonists, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his henchman known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel), but there’s Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who heads the Cyber Ops Division who’s sort of in the gray area. On Bourne side is his longtime ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who risks herself retrieving classified files about Bourne’s late father.

Now, one major beef I have with this movie is how they handled Nicky. I feel that for someone who’s been with the franchise for that long, the writers (Greengrass & Christopher Rouse) should’ve given her a much better character arc. Heck, I’d love to see just a bit of background to her character that would at least explain why she’s loyal to Bourne. I mean, they did so with The Asset, which explains his personal vendetta against Bourne. At the very least, why not give her the same courtesy?

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But what I did like is that like in previous films, Bourne is given an adversary worthy of his prowess. Jones’ Dewey is ruthless in his pursuit to eliminate him and Cassel is one menacing guy who makes The Asset a formidable foe for Bourne. Dewey’s ruthlessness isn’t just concerning Bourne, but the fact that he’s willing to sacrifice his own people, as well as civilians at large, in order to fulfill his purposes. The film also delves into the state of current tech and geopolitical climate and woven it into the plot. Things like privacy, hacking, the political instability in Greece, etc. are certainly timely things we deal with in our world today. So the subplot involving a social media program called Deep Dream is pretty relevant, and British actor Riz Ahmed is quite memorable here playing its founder.

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The movie is basically a giant chase scene. There’s not much breathing room because of the way Greengrass shot every scene. Even the mundane office scenes are shot in a frenetic style with hand-held camera that gave me a bit of a headache at first. But thankfully after a while I was able to overcome it and it didn’t bother me as much, though I still think it’s a bit excessive.

Going into a Bourne movie, of course you expect a ton of exhilarating action sequences, and this movie delivered! The motorcycle scene through narrow streets, scaling up and down steps through a Greek city gives you such a huge adrenaline rush. But that’s nothing compared to the crazy car chase in the Vegas strip involving a SWAT truck plowing through a bunch of cars. It certainly isn’t aiming for realism, but boy was it fun! Apparently the sequence took five weeks to shoot and ended up wrecking 170 cars.

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Those wanting to see hand-to-hand combat won’t be disappointed though. There’s an extended scene of Bourne vs. The Asset that’s pretty darn intense. I noticed there’s no music going on during that scene, only the sound of bone crunching and flesh tearing to enhance the impact. Damon’s definitely still got it, Bourne is certainly one of my favorite roles of his. At 45 he’s looking more grizzled with bags under his eyes, but he pulls off the physically-demanding role once again. But of course like Bond, Bourne’s got stamina of super-heroic proportion and seems to be impervious to pain.

The finale suggests the strained relationship between Bourne & the Agency remains unchanged. Of course there wouldn’t be a Bourne franchise if the hero’s suddenly in good terms with a big, powerful organization notorious for overreaching its boundaries. Vikander acquits herself well here as the new face who might be present in future installments, and I have no problem with that.

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I think there’s nostalgic elements here that affect my enjoyment. I love that the Moby song Extreme Ways is still used, it’s certainly the defining theme for the franchise. On the whole I think Jason Bourne is on par with the trilogy even if it isn’t as impactful. It could be because the mystery surrounding his identity is no longer there, which was the secret ingredient that makes Bourne’s journey so intriguing. That said, it’s certainly still an enjoyable action thriller because I’m a big fan of this character and Damon playing him. Unlike Bond though, it remains to be seen if this franchise can have as much longevity without Greengrass and Damon.

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Have you seen ‘Jason Bourne’? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

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Absolutely Fabulous (AbFab for short) is one of the most popular British comedies in the early 90s. I’ve only watched it sporadically, but I love the wacky humor of the two champagne-loving, fashion-obsessed duo Edina/Eddie & Patsy. The comedic style is in the vein of Vicar of Dibley starring Dawn French, not surprisingly, the AbFab sitcom is based on the 1990 sketch comedy French & Saunders, the other half being Jennifer Saunders.

When I heard last year that the movie version in the works, my initial thought is how it’d translate on the big screen, especially the fact that it seems two decades too late. But y’know what, I was up for seeing the shenanigans of two BFFs Eddie (Saunders), a London PR exec, and Patsy (Joanna Lumley), a fashion magazine editor. Despite the fact that it’s inherently challenging to adapt a movie based on a half-hour sitcom, I was hopeful because Saunders wrote the script and Mandie Fletcher, who’s directed some episodes of the TV show and other British comedies, was at the helm. Unfortunately, the script just didn’t have a compelling enough story to justify this movie’s existence. It pays homage to the series, but the perhaps it’s more suitable as a one-hour holiday special.

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The script by Saunders just doesn’t have a compelling enough story to justify this movie’s existence. It’s perhaps more suitable for a one-hour holiday special. The premise of the movie revolves around the supposed demise of supermodel Kate Moss, and the movie relies on a whole bunch of celebrity cameos. Jon Hamm, Graham Norton, Stella McCartney, Jerry Hall are just some of the names I recognize. Hamm’s scene is funny but it’s already in the trailer, and the bits involving Jerry Hall is just so strange and not all all comedic. Dawn French also had a brief cameo, but I wish she had a bit more screen time. The funniest cameo for me is Rebel Wilson as the exceedingly-unhelpful flight attendant.


The two main characters are pretty much the same as in the sit-coms. They’re over-privileged, glitz-and-celebrity obsessed middle-aged women who absolutely refuse to grow up. On paper they’re hard to like but yet Saunders & Lumley have a certain eccentric charm about them that makes them so watchable. Interestingly, Eddie & Patsy’s self-delusion of grandeur and narcissism is pretty much a reflection of today’s selfie-obsessed culture. There’s some amusing moments about social media and people’s obsession with it. It’s even reflected in one of the many crazy outfits, such as the one worn by Eddie’s assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks), but the social commentary on it aren’t explored much here.

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I suppose it’s naive of me to expect some kind of depth and emotional resonance from an AbFab movie, but they could’ve deepen the characters or expand some of the themes a bit. Instead, all we get is one preposterous gag after another that produces less laughs as the movie goes on. The banter between Eddie and her responsible daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) is one of the funniest bits in the TV series because they’re such polar opposites. In this movie, Saffy is divorcee with a teenage bi-racial daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and there’s a weird joke about her ex being back in Africa that’s daft and tone deaf. The whole mother-daughter relationship between her and Lola is so half-baked and just plain awkward.

What still translates well on the big screen is the friendship between Eddie & Patsy, it’s truly the best thing about the movie. Saunders and Lumley look like they genuinely love spending time together and their rapport is both heartwarming and bizarrely-amusing. All the scenes of them being stupendously-drunk, irreverent, un-hinged self are still amusing, which is the reason why the movie is still not a complete bust. But of course that’s never enough to make a good movie, so I can’t say that I love the movie overall.

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I doubt non AbFab fans would get much out of this movie though. In fact I think they might get repulsed by all the excess and the über glamorous lifestyle and endless parties. I too find the setting in the French Riviera after the recent Nice attack quite unsettling. If you’re a big fan of the series, I suggest just wait for a rental.

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Have you seen ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’? Let me know what you think!

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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