What I’ve Been Watching During Self-Quarantine

Hello everyone! Happy Friday! Hope all of you are coping as well as can be expected during this strange and difficult time. My hubby and I have been working from home this past week until the end of the month, who knows it could be longer. Despite all this, I’m counting my blessings and keeping my spirits high as we ride out this Coronavirus pandemic!

Well, thank goodness we live in a world where we have streaming services available! These in-home entertainment helps during a time where social distancing has become the new normal. We have been watching a lot more shows/movies since we have been cooped up at home. I saw on TV Guide that some streaming services even extended their FREE TRIAL to 30 days!

So last weekend I binged on …

BEECHAM HOUSE

I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Bateman and had been waiting for quite some time for this UK show to finally make it to the US! It’s not available on broadcast, but I had joined PBS Passport member in order to watch Sanditon a month ago, so I’m thrilled this one’s finally available to watch in early March!

A look at the lives of residents living in a Delhi mansion during the cusp of 19th century.

Check out the trailer…

Set in the 1795, amidst the clashing forces of British and French militaries and the decline of the centuries-old Mughal Empire. It’s billed as Downton Abbey India, and it’s also got Lesley Nicol who played Downton’s longtime cook Mrs. Patmore, this time she’s playing one of the masters of the house as the protagonist John Beecham’s mother. Bateman is perfect as John, the conflicted former soldier who’s left the ruthless East India Company and made a living as an art trader.

I’m a big fan of filmmaker Gurinder Chadha as well, the creator of the show. I love that Beecham House is partly filmed in the UK and India, the sets in the latter is especially sumptuous, all the costumes, set pieces, actors, etc. all lend to authenticity of the show. Not to mention the opulent house itself with its magnificent details. I love the diverse cast, too! I’ve been crushing on Tom Bateman for some time (he’s terrific in Vanity Fair) and here, his charismatic yet mysterious presence has proven himself ready to be a major leading man.

Glad to see Leo Suter once again after seeing him in Sanditon… thankfully he’s got more screen presence on this show as I had complained how wasted his talents was there. He’s proven to be a versatile actor as his character is quite different from Sanditon, but I definitely fancy him more as a bit of a rascal! The Indian actors are equally fascinating. Pallavi Sharda and Shriya Pilgaonkar are both stunning as two headstrong ladies who refuse to be a shrinking violet (I say that as the English woman named Violet here is a rather silly woman). I love Viveik Kalra in Blinded By The Light, here he’s playing the house caretaker who’s loyal to John Beecham. I hope to see more of him in future projects!

I might dedicate a blog post for this show, but for now, let’s just say it’s absolutely binge-worthy!


The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science

If you like documentaries, here’s one you should check out. It’s particularly intriguing to me because I live just an hour away from Rochester where the Mayo clinic is, but given their impact all over the world, it’s worth learning about just how they got started. It’s truly inspiring stuff!


Yesterday I wanted to see something light and funny, so we watched The Secret Life of Pets 2 on Netflix. It wasn’t as funny as the original, but still entertaining for the most part. My favorite bit is the one with the farm shepherd dog Rooster voiced by Harrison Ford. He’s so perfect for the part, a grumpy, adventurous veteran who’s teaching the city dog Max on how to overcome fear.


Thanks to that TV Guide link, I can finally watch this show on SundanceNow!

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES

Diana Bishop, historian and witch, accesses Ashmole 782 and knows she must solve its mysteries. She is offered help by the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, but he’s a vampire and witches should never trust vampires.

 

It’s been around since 2018 and I remember really wanting to watch it when I saw the trailer… I mean hello, Matthew Goode!! 😍He sure makes one heck of a sexy vampire, oh la la! Interesting that the series about vampires and witches are set in the field of academia, Oxford University to be exact, and it’s actually filmed on location in various parts of the world… Oxfordshire, Scotland, and Venice. It’s definitely a great escapism for the time being since we cannot be physically traveling to any of those countries until this outbreak dies down.

I quite like Aussie actress Teresa Palmer as well, interestingly enough the first time I saw her in was in Warm Bodies, a zombie comedy. She must have a thing for movies about the undead. She looks so much like Kristen Stewart too, and she’s on that massively popular vampire movies. Apparently this one is also based on a novel, The All Souls Trilogy, by a woman writer, Deborah Harkness. I wonder why they didn’t just keep that title, , rather than what the have now that’s so long and clunky.

I’ve seen four episodes so far as of today, and I like it more and more. Story-wise, there’s enough going for it to keep me watching… there’s the enigma and mystery surrounding the Congregation which is comprised of representations of demons, vampires and witches (though the person who takes care of the location is a human, ha!)… and these species live under some strict rules.

The acting is a bit uneven, but the two leads Goode and Palmer are great and they have a good chemistry. An important factor given the core of the story is a forbidden romance, a bit like Romeo + Juliet but with warring species, not just families. I do have some issues with directing choices and the use of modern songs that kind of cheapen the show a bit, it just doesn’t jibe with the elegance of the setting. Oh, and what’s with these vampires not being affected by sunlight or even Crucifixes, and they go about like humans in their daily activity… eating, drinking, playing with their cellphones, etc. Seems all too convenient to me since they can live for hundreds of years!

In any case, I have four more to go in season 1, and I just learned that season 2 has been greenlit but according to this article, they have wrapped filming. But given some of the filming is in Italy, there might be a major delay if they have to do some more shooting done over there given the Covid-19 situation.


So that’s just a sampling of what I’ve been watching the past week and a half… 

How about you? What have YOU been watching during self quarantine?

 

Happy New Year! What’s your last viewing of 2019 + first watch of 2020?

Happy first day of 2020… and the beginning of a new decade!

Did you go to a NYE party or watch the ball drop on TV? If you did neither, well, high five… I actually didn’t bother to do the countdown as I was in the middle of watching of a movie I’ve been wanting to see in a while. As a member of OAFFC (Online Association of Female Film Critics), I had the privilege of receiving screeners. It’s perfect timing that Bong Joon Ho’s PARASITE arrived in the mail just days before!

Glad I got to see what many critics have called one of the best films of the year. PARASITE won the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, the first Korean film to win such a prestigious award. I haven’t had the chance to review it yet, but it’s one of the most indelible and suspenseful films I’ve seen in a long time and would definitely land in my Top 10 list 0f 2019!

After that my hubby and I actually couldn’t sleep right away, so we ended up watching one episode of The Man in the High Castle. We actually skipped season 2 as we finished season 1 a few years ago. Somehow we lost interest and got interested again after talking to a friend of mine Becky K. who absolutely LOVES the series (and its leading man Rufus Sewell). So we watched the season 2 recap and immediately jumped to season 3 and 4.

As of the time of this writing, we only have three more episodes left in season 4, its final season, and it’s truly been one of the best series we’ve seen this past decade. I think we’ll finish the series tonight, then off to see The Mandalorian with our 2-weeks Disney+ Free Trial.

We’re not sure yet what feature film we’d watch to kick start 2020. Most likely it’ll be a Netflix & Chill weekend and we still haven’t seen The King and that silly Michael Bay flick 6 Underground. As for a rewatch, well, Inception hits Netflix today… can you believe it was released 10 years ago?


What about you? What’s the last thing you watched in 2019? And what are you planning to see to kick off the new year?

 

 

Musings on ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD & Tarantino’s treatments of women + minorities

It’s nearly a week ago that I saw the movie, and though there are parts that I did enjoy, there are more scenes that did not sit well with me. In fact, I didn’t even feel like writing about the movie, but posted my friend Ted’s review on it this weekend. The movie has received a high praise since its premiered in Cannes, which reportedly received a standing ovation, but the one bit I remembered most about its Cannes’ premiere was how Quentin Tarantino snapped at a reporter during the film’s press junket. NY Times’ reporter Farah Nayeri, asked Tarantino about Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue in the film in which she played Sharon Tate. QT’s terse response was “I reject your hypothesis,” which in and of itself shows the kind of arrogance that he only plays by his own rules and doesn’t care how others perceive his movies.

After days ruminating on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, I feel compelled to write about my reaction on the movie. So this post isn’t so much a film criticism per se, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further. Consider yourself warned.

Now, after seeing the movie, I totally understood where Nayeri was coming from. Given that the movie’s plot (if you can even call it that) is practically a build-up to her and her friends’ gruesome murders by members of Charles Manson’s cult, Tate herself didn’t really have much to do here. Most of the 161-minute running time is spent on luxuriating on the two white male leads… they’re talking to each other, in a group, even talking to themselves, while we merely see Tate but rarely hear what she has to say. The writer of this Jezebel article says it best, “The audience learns about as much about Tate from these male characters as we do from Tate herself.” whether it’s via a male friend (secret admirer?) or via a narrator who suddenly shows up midway through explaining exactly what is happening on screen [shrug]. Thankfully, Robbie still manages to turn in a memorable performance as Tate, but her character (and the Manson family) are nothing more than a macguffin.

I suppose when you’ve got two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in one movie, you better make the most of it. Well, QT sure did, perhaps over-indulgently so. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a faded TV star navigating the changing landscape of Hollywood, while Pitt’s Cliff Booth is his loyal stunt double/lackey who’s ‘more than a brother, and a little less than a wife.’

Let’s start with Pitt’s character, which has more problematic scenes than DiCaprio’s, though both are basically antiheroes. There are countless scenes of Cliff driving recklessly through the Hollywood hills, up and down the LA streets day and night (apparently there’s no traffic in 1969??), but the scenes play up like a retro music video as they don’t seem to serve any purpose. Cliff is portrayed as a dashing, cool guy, apparently way too cool to go to jail for murder. QT’s flashback-within-a-flashback scene shows Cliff holding a harpoon gun pointing at his wife who was berating him. We never see him actually firing the gun, but to me, the scene is more than a mere suggestion that he did kill her, and somehow he got away with it. The fact that Kurt Russell‘s stunt coordinator character Randy and his wife Janet (Zoë Bell) are reluctant about hiring him speak volumes about Cliff’s reputation. Beneath the nice guy persona there’s something really dark lurking beneath. But yet QT seemingly puts the blame on the woman. The boat scene is made to look as if Cliff’s wife is an annoying, nagging wife and therefore she’s ‘asking for it’ and we’re supposed to be okay with a man getting rid of his wife because of that, in a violent manner no less.

Another scene that didn’t sit well with me is the Bruce Lee scene. Lee is played brilliantly by Mike Moh, and initially I was excited about the scene featuring the legendary martial artist who’s also a Hollywood icon. But here his depiction made me cringe. As I was watching it, I wondered how his family would’ve thought of the scene of him being insulted AND beaten by Pitt’s character, and sure enough I saw this article came through today from The Wrap. Lee’s daughter Sharon Lee was quoted as saying, “It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father,” The article mentioned her saying that ‘…her father was often challenged, and tried to avoid fights’ which is NOT how he was depicted in the film, which was all puffery and arrogance. Lee was the only prominent non-white character in the film, yet he only serves to make the white guy appear even more heroic and invincible. Even if Lee was reported as a braggart in the media, there are SO many different sides of him that are positive and admirable. Another quote from Sharon Lee in the article states that “…as an Asian-American in 1960s Hollywood, he had to work much harder to succeed than Booth and Rick Dalton, the fictional, white protagonists of the film.” As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, as I did more reading on Sharon Tate, I found several articles about how Roman Polanski once thought Bruce Lee was the perpetrator of Sharon Tate and her friends’ murders, oh my!

Speaking of Polanski, lest we forget that Tarantino once defended him for having sex with a minor in an interview with Howard Stern (an excerpt is available here) to which QT has apologized for. After reading that, I was even more disturbed by the scene between Pitt and Margaret Qualley‘s Pussycat, who’s 31 years his junior in real life, where she propositioned Cliff oral sex while he’s driving. Qualley’s presence here seems to represent the gullible, morally-loose hippies and just like Tate (and also Dakota Fanning as another Manson family member), she’s also hyper-sexualized, the quintessential male gaze. But yet again, Pitt’s Cliff is seen as a chivalrous hero who refuses this pretty young thing’s offer, hence his heroic status.

This happens to be Tarantino’s first film without Harvey Weinstein’s involvement (all his previous films were produced by Weinstein). He admitted to NY Times back in 2017 that “I knew enough to do more than I did,” about Weinstein’s sexual misconducts. This fact warrants a mention here given the topic is about his treatment of women. In a similar way, Rick is largely tolerant of his friend/confidant Cliff’s dark, violent past, as many in the biz have been with Weinstein until the allegations finally came to light.

Cliff’s ‘heroism’ culminates in the brutal finale where I had to avert my eyes several times. Just like Inglourious Basterds where we see Hitler being riddled with bullets, we’ve come to expect revisionist history once again in QT’s latest, that is in regards to the Manson murders. The gruesome crime on Cielo Drive has been reimagined to happen at Rick Dalton’s house, where the young members of Manson’s cult encountered Cliff who’s high on acid-dipped cigarette [just what the heck is that exactly?]. The whole scene is extremely violent… I opened my eyes right at the time Cliff threw a can of dog food that smashed a girl’s face. The camera lingers on her bloody, smashed-up face and it just kept getting more and more vicious.

As if the gratuitous violence weren’t enough, they’re played for laughs. It seems that in QT’s mind, if he deemed that the people on the receiving end ‘deserve it,’ we can laugh at their misery and even revel in it. People in the theater were laughing when Leo’s Dalton grabs a flamethrower, apparently a prop from one of his movies, and burns one of the Manson girls to a crisp in his own pool. You couldn’t help but giggle at the utter preposterousness of what unfolds before you, but I also couldn’t help but shudder at the gratuitous violence. Yes, the Manson cult members are criminals and should be punished for their crime, but they aren’t in the same vein as someone like Hitler. In many ways, these young hippies were also victims, of Charles Manson’s deceptions and of the era itself. Perhaps QT thinks he’s doing Sharon Tate’s legacy a favor by ‘saving her’ in his reimagined Hollywood, but yet she barely even has any involvement in her own story. This is ultimately Rick’s story, even more so than Cliff ‘s even though Leo and Brad have a pretty equal screen time. When the violent commotion came to an end, Tate’s never even seen again, we only heard her through the intercom inviting her neighbor Rick for drinks as he chats with her friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). So her only purpose seems only to fulfill the protagonist’s dream that he revealed early in the movie (that one day he’d be cast in a Roman Polanski movie).

I wouldn’t call myself a Tarantino fan, given I’ve only seen a handful of his films–Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds–the last one being my favorite of his. But from reading about his work lately, there seems to be a disturbing pattern that is often seen in his film. In this THR’s article, writer Joelle Monique said ‘Even more distressing is the fact that violence against women is generally played for laughs in a Tarantino picture’ and she listed several movies where brutality against women are done so overtly. There is always a danger that brutal scenes in movies would normalize real life violence. It’s all the more disturbing when it comes to violence against women considering the statistics of how many goes unreported. So I simply cannot ignore, or worse, enjoy films where women are depicted as if they somehow ‘earned’ the violence done to them.

It’s been reported that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, QT’s ninth movie, is his most personal. It’s apparent that the movie is full of tributes to everything QT hold dear, the spaghetti Westerns, the foot fetish, and a plethora of other classic Hollywood obsessions that his fans would no doubt notice with glee. The painstaking detail to production design is no doubt astounding, transforming LA into what it would’ve looked like in the 60s. What is definitely apparent to me, who might not be too astute in pointing out the ‘easter eggs’ in QT’s movies, is how nostalgic he is to the bygone era. As the New Yorker article points out, ‘Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else.’

QT compared Leo and Brad as the dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman. But in an era where the #MeToo and #DiversityMatters movements are gaining more and more momentum, this indulgent, nostalgic movie about the Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 60s seems, well, old fashioned. Now, I’m not saying that filmmakers can’t pay homage to a certain era, but it does bear the risk of going ‘backward’ if it isn’t done with care. It seems to be the case here with the protagonist’s constant gripe that the ‘good ol’ days’ are behind him and his reluctance to change. Perhaps it’s QT’s way of lamenting that ‘times are changing’ (with new, diverse filmmakers offering new voices and storytelling) and his fear of being viewed as a ‘has been.’

Lastly, putting all of the women/minorities discussion aside, is Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood a good movie? Visually speaking, it’s a gorgeous film shot by DP Robert Richardson. I’ve mentioned the amazing production design by Barbara Ling and I’ll say it again, it was astounding. But overall, this movie is way too long at 2 hours 40 minutes. It doesn’t help that the pacing is pretty sluggish, meandering and even disjointed at times. The ‘six months later’ jump when Cliff and Rick were in Italy seems pointless, just like many elongated scenes in this movie that go nowhere. Most of the movie’s running time is spent lingering on the outer beauty of the leads, but there’s not much depth beneath.

The one scene I did enjoy was the scene between Leo’s Rick and his 8-year-old co-star Trudi (scene stealer Julia Butters) on the set of the TV show Lancer. The young girl is the ‘mature’ one of the two and in the end, she ends up being a huge boost of encouragement the disillusioned Rick desperately needs. That’s perhaps the only meaningful male/female scene where the woman isn’t sexualized, mocked or brutalized. Acting wise, I think both Leo and Brad did an excellent job in their roles. I especially enjoyed Leo’s performance here, who’s charming and often hilarious while wallowing in self pity. I think the scene of Rick going berserk in his trailer would likely nab Leo another Oscar nomination.

In the end, it’s a stunning production to be sure, full of clever lines, gorgeous visuals and terrific performances. But it’s a soulless movie… I couldn’t really relate to the main characters and there’s barely any moment that truly moved me. Yes the film ends in a fantastical ‘happy ending,’ but it’s tough to feel joyful after such a barbaric gore-fest. Neither Cliff nor Rick were remotely changed by such a traumatizing incident, both of them pretty much stay the same from beginning to end. It’s as if it’s a commentary on QT himself. At 56, it seems he hasn’t evolved much as a filmmaker. I think the title ‘once upon a time’ is fitting here for a filmmaker who revels in the past. Reportedly QT is retiring soon? I doubt it, but I certainly don’t mind if he did.


So what are your thoughts on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood? Let’s hear it!

Musings on Robert Pattinson casting + Matt Reeves’ noir vision for The Batman

It seems it hasn’t been that long ago that I was blogging about casting for a Batman movie when Ben Affleck was cast. If some of you read it, I was actually lamenting about Affleck’s casting then, but later on I came around and actually enjoyed his performance. Now, Christian Bale remains my favorite Batman – not only was he excellent as both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, his Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan is by far the best version.

In any case, just two years after Affleck donned the cape in Justice League, and months after news about him stepping down as actor/director, looks like director Matt Reeves has found the new Batman, and it’s another Brit: Robert Pattinson. Boy, surely Twilight fans, specifically Team Edward, rejoice with delight. Honestly I was quite taken aback by it at first… I’d never think of him as the Dark Knight, and the first thing that came to mind was an image of him as the sparkly vapid vampire in Twilight which is enough to make me shudder. But the more I think about it, I’m more open minded about his casting… and after reading more about Matt Reeves’ vision for The Batman (more on that in a bit). Of course, it didn’t take long for social media to erupt with reactions for the news. Some of the more optimistic fans have come up with some ingenious Photoshop work imagining what Pattinson could look like in the role, here are some of my faves…

I remember seeing this still image from David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS where Pattinson played an eccentric young billionaire. Hmmm, perhaps their casting manager (or his agent) has some kind of magic 8-ball? In a similar way like Christian Bale, Pattinson looks much better when he does NOT smile or show his teeth, but his brooding makes me think he’d make an intriguing Bruce Wayne. Pattinson is 13 years younger than Affleck at 33 (making him the youngest actor ever to play Batman), but I think Bale in Batman Begins looked about similar in age and his character was just coming into his own as opposed to a more jaded/grizzled version of Affleck’s.

Apparently two other Brits were in the running for the role, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Nicholas Hoult. I actually like both actors, but I think both are way too pretty as Batman. Hoult especially is just so sweet looking and can’t imagine him being at all menacing. I actually tried to watch his film EQUALS with coincidentally, Pattinson’s ex, Kristen Stewart, and was bored to tears I couldn’t finish watching.

In any case, I think Pattinson has a dose of madness the role requires and he’s played quite a share of those. I saw a few of his work post-Twilight, though not extensively. I liked him in Remember Me and The Lost City of Z where he’s barely recognizable (see inset pic), and even his small role in Queen Of the Desert as T.E. Lawrence. Not a fan of his work in Bel Ami (he’s woefully miscast) and Water For Elephants was meh. I appreciate that he’s been doing a ton of independent films and seeking interesting roles that don’t necessarily capitalize on his looks or fame. In a way it’s similar to how Leonardo DiCaprio was post Titanic mania where he tried to shed his heartthrob image.

Of course with a casting for such a popular superhero, there’ll be naysayers. Some have even started petitions to remove him from the role, ahah. I think people who’ve only seen his work in the YA vampire saga should give him a chance, plus that was nearly a decade ago and he’s certainly grown as a performer. I was browsing some Cannes reviews and saw many critics praising his performance in The Lighthouse. This one from The Wrap in particular intrigues me as it alludes to the Batman casting:

…Pattinson anchors things with a sturdy physical performance that will no doubt calm those concerned about a certain reported upcoming role.


Casting aside, what I am really curious about is what kind of Batman film are we going to get? I have been so disappointed by DC’s renditions of other superheroes of late (I haven’t even mustered enough interest to see Aquaman). But I was really impressed by Matt Reeves’ Apes trilogy, especially the final one War of the Planet of the Apes, that I was excited that he’s given the reign to reboot the Batman movies.

Here’s what he told THR on his take on The Batman:

It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir Batman tale. It’s told very squarely on his shoulders, and I hope it’s going to be a story that will be thrilling but also emotional. It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been. I’d love this to be one where when we go on that journey of tracking down the criminals and trying to solve a crime, it’s going to allow his character to have an arc so that he can go through a transformation.

There’s also news circulating that this version will feature a rogues gallery of villains (per THR). Apparently so far they’re working on casting Catwoman, The Penguin and Riddler, boy how cool would that be doing casting for THIS project! I much prefer Nolan’s grounded version of Batman than Tim Burton’s, but it remains to be seen what kind of style Reeves would do here. I am intrigued by his vision however, and I trust he’s the right man for the job. Warner Bros has at least given fans, well me for one, some hope to be more than cautiously optimistic.


So what do YOU think of Robert Pattinson’s casting? If you’re not keen on him, who would you like to be cast as The Batman?

 

Musings on the Spielberg VS Netflix Debate

Hello readers! Today is the fifth and up until a couple of years ago, it’s customary that I post five random movie news/tidbits/query under the Five for the Fifth series. Well, this topic would certainly be part of that series today!

I had thought about this quite a bit since I heard about Steven Spielberg’s plan to push for the Academy to ban Netflix from Oscars at its annual post-Oscars meeting. Spielberg is the Academy Governor of the directors branch and this is what his company Amblin spokesperson is quoted as saying:

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation… He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.” (per Variety)

I didn’t know this but apparently Spielberg has said in the past that Netflix films should only be eligible for Emmys rather than Oscars. Again per Variety, this is what he said back in 2018: “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

This news was first reported by Indiewire, and it lists some of the complaints from Hollywood studios against the streaming service. Among others, the fact that Netflix doesn’t report box office and that it doesn’t respect the 90-day theatrical window. ROMA only spent spent 3 weeks in the theatre before it’s shown on Netflix.

Now, this is what Netflix responded with on Twitter a couple of days later, without mentioning Spielberg by name…


Now, when I first read Spielberg’s comment, I was already unnerved by it. My initial reaction is that he’s just a big Hollywood elite who does not like change, especially one that threatens his own status and tradition he holds dear. No doubt that ‘threat’ got bigger when Netflix’s ROMA got no less than 10 nominations at the Oscars this year AND won three, including Best Foreign Language film.

Now, I don’t have to be a filmmaker to realize how tough it is not only to get a film made, but to get it distributed. An indie filmmaker would be lucky to get even a limited theatrical release, and few could expect to get a wide release the way a standard legacy (studio) system would. The title of the IndieWire article alone says it all about what this ‘battle’ means for the underdogs, aka indie filmmakers…

The Spielberg vs. Netflix Battle Could Mean Collateral Damage for Indies at the Oscars

I recognize that many of the films Netflix campaign aggressively for Oscars were about people of color AND were made by people of color who are still very much a minority under the Hollywood legacy system… Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga), 13th (Ava Duvernay), Mudbound (Dee Rees), and Roma (Alfonso Cuarón).

So naturally, as a filmmaker of color myself who’s trying to get a feature made, I experience it firsthand how arduous it is to get the chance to make a film. Indie filmmakers don’t get the privilege to expect ANY theatrical release, and many consider getting even a streaming release as a huge accomplishment. Thus I see Netflix as an ally to independent filmmakers, and also filmmakers of color. Based on the films they’ve made/distributed, they seem committed to inclusive storytelling which can only be a good thing for film fans everywhere. But of course that’s still somehow seen as a challenge to the ‘status quo’ who only says they support ‘diversity’ if it aligns with their own success and pocketbooks.

As a film fan, I have increasingly choose to see films on my TV rather than going to the theater. Yes, as a press member I do get invited to advanced screenings, but if I miss some of those films, I often choose to wait until it’s available on VOD. Now, when I know it’s a Netflix film or an Amazon Studio film, I’m glad to know that I can see it sooner and without paying extra because I already have subscriptions to both streaming services. So to me, the quality of a film and its legitimacy to be regarded as a motion picture (read: its Oscars-eligibility) has no bearing on where it’s presented. Spielberg seems to say that there is one way to see a movie and that is on the big screen. I think that communal way of film viewing will never go away, and I still do enjoy seeing some films on the big screen (even in IMAX if it’s made specifically for that giant screen), but there is really no wrong way to see a movie.

Many Hollywood studios don’t like the fact that Netflix doesn’t report theatrical grosses. They are starting to share some metrics of audience viewerships (per BGR.com) so perhaps they’d do the same with theatrical release numbers in the future? Not that it matters to me, the audience member, nor should it have any bearing in the quality of a film.

Even before the Spielberg news came out, Alfonso Cuarón already weighed in on this subject to Variety:

There needs to be greater diversity in how we release our films. Distribution models need to be more flexible, depending on the film. You cannot impose the release strategy of a tentpole film on a smaller film. You may need fewer theaters and longer runs or models in which the so-called window is shorter. We’re thinking in one single paradigm. It’s a moment to start opening up paradigms. Right now it’s a confrontation between economic models. It’s not like one model benefits cinema, and the other does not.


Now, I’m NOT writing this because I’m on the side of a multi-billion dollar streaming company. In fact, I’ve been a longtime fan of Spielberg, but his comments shows him as being out of touch and elitist who wants to maintain his status quo. He’s a product of the studio system where minorities (women, people of color, disabled, etc) struggle to get in and tell their story.

I came across this thread from Franklin Leonard, the founder of The Black List (an annual survey of Hollywood’s executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays), and it’s hard to argue with his points…


Yes I realize some of you might argue that Netflix is not an ‘underdog’ company that deserves our sympathy. After all it spent about $50 million for Roma‘s Oscar campaign alone. So perhaps the argument should be about limiting spending on Oscar campaigns? I personally can’t stand studio’s award campaign, that’s one of the worst things about award season for me. But if the film Netflix or other streaming service is promoting is a worthy one, who’s to say it’s not eligible to be included in the Oscar race??

As I have just seen a Netflix Original Film last night, TRIPLE FRONTIER. It’s the first time I saw a Netflix film on the big screen, surely the first of many. At the film premiere, no doubt this topic was all the buzz. One of the film’s star who’s also a filmmaker, Ben Affleck, is naturally supportive of Netflix, saying that “they’re helping define the future of cinema and distribution” (per Deadline).

Per Cinema Blend, Affleck spoke of his rationale why he wouldn’t be in Spielberg’s camp in trying to disqualify streaming films (even those that has limited theatrical release) from competing at Oscars…

We certainly approached [Triple Frontier] as any other movie. There’s no difference when you’re making it between what the platform is that it’s going to be seen on. I do think Netflix is doing more interesting stuff in creating a more cinematic experience for the home. More people, more viewers, bigger TVs, bigger sound. They’re doing Dolby Cinema color correction, they do Dolby Atmos sound mixes. So they’re sort of synthesizing the theatrical with the home viewing experience in a kind of interesting way. It’s all changing very fast.


Netflix continues to work with big names in filmmaking, (One of Triple Frontier‘s executive producers is Kathryn Bigelow) and they’ve got Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman with its all-star cast (DeNiro, Pacino, Harvey Keitel) which will likely get an even wider release than ROMA. I personally think it’s an exciting time as a film fan as we have more options for content and how we want to see them.

So in conclusion, I’m glad there are streaming services like Netflix exists. I’m lucky that I live in a city where there are plenty of cinemas. But even so, there are always smaller films that I want to see that don’t get shown or they’re shown only in 1-2 theaters in Minneapolis for 2 weeks tops. I’d imagine people in rural or remote areas don’t even get that same privilege, but it’d be easier for them to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix.

In the end, I believe in options… I like to be able to see movies wherever and whenever I want. In the ideal world, the theatrical and streaming model should co-exist. Just because something has been done one way for so long doesn’t mean it has to be the ONLY way.


So what do you think of this Spielberg VS Netflix debate? Let’s hear it!

 

Musings on my childhood favorite – Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989)

Happy weekend!! Hope you’re all doing well. It’s  I’ve been quite preoccupied with a bunch of stuff this week I barely have time to write anything for the blog.

But hey, I finally did get approved by Rotten Tomatoes! Yes I know I know, I could’ve done that years ago but I guess I just never took the time, but hey, better late than never. To clarify, this blog FlixChatter is NOT a Tomatometer-approved site, but I, Ruth Maramis, am an RT approved critic 🍅So check out some of reviews I’ve submitted, A Star Is Born, Alita: Battle Angel, Cold War, etc. Oh and my first ROTTEN review: A Christmas Prince, ha!

Now, about the main topic at hand…

I actually pre-ordered the Anniversary Edition blu-ray in early February, and finally picked it up a day after it’s official release on Feb 26.

The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disney Princess movies. When it was first released in 1989, I was in my early teen. If I were to rank my fave Disney princesses, I’d say Ariel would be in my top three (along with Sleeping Beauty‘s Aurora and Beauty & The Beast‘s Belle).

It’s been decades since I saw the movie in its entirety, and to see it in its gloriously stunning, sharp HD is such a treat! The story features a precocious, fanciful teenage mermaid who dreams of being part of the human world. I can see how this resonated with me as an Indonesian teen growing up in Jakarta, as I too was dreaming of moving away from home and going to the ‘land of dreams’ that is America! Now that I’ve been living in the US for over 20 years, more than I lived in my homeland, I can still identify with Ariel.

We can all identify with kids rebelling against strict parental rules that forbids them from doing what they want. When her dad, King Triton, finds out her vast collection of human memorabilia… and worse, that his favorite daughter has fallen in love with a human, he destroyed her room (a sacred place for any teenager!). A perfect moment for the evil sea witch Ursula to snatch her into her trap. The ‘poor unfortunate souls’ are all of us who’ve succumbed to temptation throughout our lives, some of which comes with dire consequences.

Now, the part about her giving up everything she is, even her own identity, for a guy she doesn’t even know… well, that’s where the Disney princesses narrative has become oh-so-passé, even long before the #MeToo era. Basically Ariel made a deal with the devil, trading in her voice, identity and more for a pair of feet in order to get her man. That’s why I got such a kick out of Ralph Breaks The Internet‘s hilarious-but-accurate commentary on Disney princesses!

Perhaps if you compare to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, The Little Mermaid is just slightly more ‘progressive’ in that we get to see the prince–AND princess–actually get to know each other (albeit sans dialog as she’s been rendered mute). I suppose three days is better in getting to know someone than three hours (or even less in the case of Snow White!). I also think Eric is perhaps the hunkiest of the Disney princes, voiced with masculine vigor by Christopher Daniel Barnes.

This movie also boasts a memorable and rather fun villain in Ursula (voiced perfectly by Pat Carroll). I was a bit scared of her initially, ok maybe scared is a strong word, her dark underworld and witchery is rather eerie and unsettling. But watching it now, I’m hugely amused by her sassy attitude and her gravely voice. Her voluptuous octopus lower body and bold red lips and stylized white hair is like a blend between Cruella de Vil and Devil Wears Prada‘s Miranda Priestly.

Apparently Disney originally wanted to tell the original Hans Christian Andersen tale that’s got a much darker ending. But I doubt that would sit well with kids, though the altruistic nature of the protagonist in the book would appeal more to adults. In this version, the obvious problematic issue with Ariel is that despite all the privileges she has (and there are many), she can never be truly happy unless she gives up her identity and becomes another being entirely. I guess with Disney movies, one must not overthink it which would lessen the enjoyment.

I wasn’t one of those girls who’d collect every Disney memorabilia I could get my hands on, but I remember buying a Sebastian stuffed toy and kept it for a long time! Seeing this decades later, I still adore Sebastian the Crab who’s got the arduous task of being Ariel chaperon. He’s still one of my all time favorite Disney characters, and for a diminutive crustacean, Sebastian’s actually got a pretty strong character arc. I LOVE the way he’s drawn… the way his jaw drops whenever Ariel did something unthinkable, how his legs quiver when he’s confronted by King Triton… he’s SO much more than a comic relief, and thanks to Samuel E. Wright, he’s certainly one of the best-voiced character in the vast Disney universe!

Speaking of voices, Broadway star Jodi Benson‘s voice as Ariel is absolutely perfect. As I’m watching the behind the scene feature, Alan Menken & the Leading Ladies, it’s amazing how Benson still sounds exactly like Ariel 30 years later! I suppose most of the leading ladies featured there still sound like their characters, but Benson seems to have the right personality as well.

Surely the music is often the highlights of the Disney Princess movies, thanks to the genius of Alan Menken and his lyricist partner, the late Howard Ashman. I usually love the ballads that the princesses’ sing, but in The Little Mermaid, the highlight has got to be Under the Sea!

No wonder the movie won two Oscars for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. The movie is a rare double nominee in the music category as the whimsical song Kiss the Girl was also nominated!

Per IMDb Trivia, this was ‘the last Disney animated feature to use hand-painted cels and analog camera and film work. 1,000 different colors were used on 1,100 backgrounds. Over one million drawings were done in total.’ That’s truly astounding and it looks absolutely breathtaking. I LOVE the underwater world of the kingdom of Atlantica, I’d say it’s way more beautiful to look at than the recent underwater universe of Aquaman.

I have just started watching the Bonus Features, and the one I enjoyed the most is the Art of Live Action Reference where models would act out the characters in order to help the artists draw them better. It’s amazing how much the two actors who play Ariel and Eric resemble their animated characters! They also get to improvise the mannerism that we get to see in the final movie.

I love just how expressive Ariel is, her wide-eyed wonder and long, flowing red mane is iconic. Animation effects have come a looong way since then, but I think The Little Mermaid still holds up pretty well. Naturally Disney has done a great job remastering their old classics to ensure the colors look vibrant and the details are sharp, but overall the animation style itself is still a marvel to look at.

So yeah, I still very much enjoy The Little Mermaid, despite some of its narrative problems I mentioned above. It’s certainly a gorgeous movie and rewatching it was a pretty satisfying walk down memory lane.


Have you seen The Little Mermaid or seen it recently? What did YOU think?

Musings on 2019 Oscars nominations

Well it’s one of those mornings that cinephiles always wait for year after year… the morning Oscar nominations are announced. I for one don’t go out of my way to wake up early to see it live, but when I woke up, of course I immediately tried to see who’s shortlisted.

Right away I noticed that it’s perhaps the most diverse lineup of nominees… though it’s by no means perfect. The Academy’s more-inclusive picks would likely keep those #OscarsSoWhite hashtags at bay… at least for now.

So here are some obligatory random comments (good & bad) about 2019 nominations:

• Not a single female directors nominated?? 😦

The UN Women twitter pic above is downright disheartening, especially since I think there are a bunch of worthy films from female directors… Josie Rourke with Mary, Queen of Scots and Debra Granik with Leave No Trace, among others. While you’re at it, check out my interview with Debra on making the film.

Granik directing Thomasin McKenzie in LEAVE NO TRACE

Netflix is becoming even more of a force to be reckoned with… rivaling big studios in raking in nominees. It’s got 15 nominations thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s ROMA leading with 10 nods, including the coveted Best Picture. How awesome that first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio got a nod in Best Actress, she’s apparently a preschool teacher who didn’t know much about the film industry and barely spoke any English at the time. [Note to self: gotta watch ROMA this weekend!]

Speaking of a Foreign Language film that’s highly-personal to the filmmaker AND set in black & white, glad to see COLD WAR getting recognition with 3 Oscars, including Best Director for Paweł Pawlikowski.


I LOVE this sultry, intensely-passionate romance drama, which was inspired by the love story of Pawel’s own parents!

Whoa! Sixth nominations!! I thought her performance as Lynne Cheney in VICE (once again co-starring with Christian Bale) was terrific. Sadly I don’t think this is Amy Adams‘ year yet, I’m convinced Regina King will take home the statuette.

Happy to see documentary filmmaker Bing Liu getting an Oscar nom on his first film Minding The Gap, wow! I got to meet him last year when he received an award from MSPIFF, here he is with Minnesota’s own film legend Al Milgrom. I actually missed his film at the fest, that’s one I gotta watch real soon!

I know there’ll be all kinds of people hating on Black Panther getting a nomination. But you won’t be hearing it from me. I think it’s well-deserved… a masterful work by director Ryan Coogler that made it so much more than a superhero movie. I highly doubt it’ll actually win Best Picture though, but it’s already made history for being nominated. Oh and with seven nods, I have a feeling it’ll win a couple forBest Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler). How awesome would it be if both black women win in those categories!!

It’s no surprise Bradley Cooper is an Academy’s favorite, but I thought he deserved a Best Director nod as much as his acting one. Can you believe it he’s been nominated for an Oscar four times?? Just like his former co-star Amy Adams though, I don’t think this is his year to win an acting Oscar.

Where’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for Best Documentary??? The Mister Rogers biopic seems poised to be shortlisted… it certainly one of the most moving films I’ve seen all year! I’d say that’s one of the biggest snubs this year.

I know some people are outraged that If Beale Street Could Talk and First Man didn’t get more love. Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle were each other’s biggest rival two years ago with Moonlight & La La Land, and I heavily championed Moonlight to win. But this year, I wasn’t as in love with If Beale Street Could Talk though I find it far more moving and memorable than First Man. So no, no complaints from me that neither one of those movies get a nod.

Now I haven’t even seen You Were Never Really Here but based on what I read so far, sounds like Joaquin Phoenix AND writer/director Lynne Ramsay are both snubbed this year.

I have to catch up on three Best Picture nominees… BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and Roma. Of the five I have seen, my least favorite is actually The Favourite [gasp!] Now, I didn’t hate the movie [please don’t resort to hyperbole like the rest on social media], I just don’t think it was as great as the critics made it to be and I actually find it irritating at times. My friend Cindy just did a post about it which highlights some of the things that bothered me. I do think all three actresses are terrific playing such hard-to-root-for characters. I’m especially thrilled to see Olivia Colman finally getting the recognition she deserved!

Olivia Colman in The Favourite

My last comment is on a highly controversial movie Green Bookwell, I’m glad it got nominated! I’ve mentioned it on my Top 10 list post that I see this movie as a beautiful story of friendship set during the dark times in American South ripe with racial discrimination. I’m also thrilled to see Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali each get an acting nod! I’ll be torn between Viggo and Christian Bale in the Best Actor race… my gut says this will be Bale’s year to get another Oscar.

Well, there are more that could be said about this year’s nominees but if I continue, I’ll never post this thing.


The 91st Annual Academy Awards will air on Feb. 24 on ABC.


Well, everyone’s got an opinion. What are your thoughts on the Oscars nominations?