FlixChatter review: EMMA. (2020)

Jane Austen never dies… from theater adaptations, TV shows to feature films, the demand for Austen-related content remains strong. I am perfectly ok with that. I don’t count myself an Austen purist, so I welcome new interpretations/visions, even crazy mashup like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies can be highly enjoyable (hello Colonel Darcy! 😍)

This new Austen adaptation has already broken grammatical rules with adding a period at the end of the title, and it immediately looks visually-distinctive from the moment the film opens. The setting and production design is very much Georgian–Regency England, but yet it feels decidedly modern. Set in a lush country village of Highbury where our protagonist Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) has lived all her 21 years in comfort, the mood is appropriately frothy. What does a young woman living a relatively practically stress-free life to do? One must stir up “troubles” of course… and Emma happens to have a knack for matchmaking, or so she thought.

Anya Taylor-Joy with Bill Nighy

The object of her matchmaking is Harriet Smith (Mia Goth). After she influenced Harriet to refuse the hand of a young farmer, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), Emma’s set to match up her friend with an ambitious local vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor), against the wishes of her close friend Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn). Let’s just say Mr. Knightley’s instincts proves correct… things do not go according to plan. That’s all to be expected in Austen’s comedy of errors. Emma is filled with fun characters, and though not all the casting work to my liking, for the most part the ensemble is quite agreeable.

Mia Goth as Harriet

Let’s start with what I enjoy most about this adaptation… I’ve mentioned the visuals, which is definitely a strong point. Director Autumn de Wilde is a commercial photographer and music video director by trade, and here she works with DP Christopher Blauvelt to create a visually rich and strikingly beautiful. The opulent world the Woodhouse’s and Knightley’s estates are appropriately opulent and lavish, with meticulous attention to details to their costumes, carriages, interior design, etc. The lovely music by Isobel Waller-Bridge keeps the mood constantly upbeat.

Anya Taylor-Joy with Callum Turner

Anya Taylor-Joy is delightful as Emma (I actually like her more than Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1996 version). At times she feels a bit more modern in the way she behaves, but that could be because of de Wilde’s direction overall. Bill Nighy is always fun to watch and he’s quite hilarious as Emma’s obsessively-concerned-for-his-health father. I also adore Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton and he’s such a great comic relief (at least in the beginning) and not quite as creepy as Alan Cumming was in the ’96 version that made my skin crawl. Now, perhaps I like him too much as I’m supposed to abhor Mr. Elton, but it’s so fun to watch him in such a different role from the more brooding Prince Charles in Netflix’s The Crown season 3.

Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton

I think de Wilde’s direction definitely injects something fresh to this popular adaptation that it felt like I was watching this Austen story unfold for the first time. When I left the theater, a patron mentioned that this film feels a bit too ‘sitcom-y’ and I can see his point. I read in an interview that de Wilde, who grew up in New York, actually wanted to ‘…bring American screwball comedy as a style into the making of the film,’ The story itself is a bit of a situational comedy when you think about it, so the light & frothy tone is appropriate. The nimble pacing is definitely a plus as the film does not overstay its welcome, and there are definitely plenty of gorgeous visuals to distract us during the slower parts.

Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley

Now, there are things I’m not too fond of about this adaptation… one of them is Johnny Flynn‘s casting as Mr. Knightley. He just looks too much of a rock star (apparently Flynn is a rock star), complete with his blond bedhead hairstyle that is so ill-suited for that era where the upper-class is supposed to look so buttoned-up. Despite a nice chemistry between him and Taylor-Joy (particularly in the exquisite dance sequence), this Mr. Knightley doesn’t make me swoon the way oh-so-dashing Jeremy Northam did in the 1996 version. Oh, and what’s with the brief nude scene as Knightley’s about to get dressed. Is it supposed to rival Mr. Darcy’s wet-shirt scene?? I don’t know, but I just think it’s kind of silly and unnecessary. Now, I’m not a prude and the scene is not exactly sexual (he was being dressed by his servant), but it was distracting and took me out of the story a bit. I also have an issue with the nudity in 1999’s Mansfield Park, an odd choice in an otherwise wonderful adaptation.

Another meh casting is Callum Turner as Frank Churchill who comes across as extremely pompous. Yes he’s supposed to be immature and self-absorbed but Turner turns up the snobbery so much it’s utterly irritating. Fortunately he’s a minor character, he’s not on screen so much as to ruin the entire experience for me. There’s also a scene towards the end that leaves me scratching my head. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s also another moment that took me out of the movie. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a comedic scene but it comes out really peculiar and not particularly romantic.

The social class commentary is an essential aspect in the novel, and I think de Wilde is able to capture that here. The moment Emma flippantly insults Miss Bates during a picnic which she then gets scolded by Mr. Knightley is a good example. The boarding school girls, including Harriet, hold Emma in such a high regard, following her around in awe the way fans would to a celebrity, shows the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The despicable snobbery of Mr. Elton and his wife (Tanya Reynolds), and their poor treatment of Harriet further exemplifies this theme. The setting, costumes, etc. also do a great job informing us of different social structure.

Overall, I enjoyed this adaptation, but Emma always feels a bit too frivolous for me. Even with the social commentary that Austen is known for, the story doesn’t carry the kind of pathos the other novels have that are so emotionally-moving. Plus, the character herself is tough to relate to… after all, Emma is someone who’s handsome, clever and rich, nothing has vexed her in her 21 years of living comfortably and without rival. I lost my mother at 16 so I identified with two of Austen’s protagonists who lost their mother at a young age. But unlike Persuasion‘s Anne Elliot did, it’s never mentioned that her mother’s loss hit Emma particularly hard. I do appreciate that the character does grow up in the end, so the transformation is there. Just because her journey to ‘happy ever after’ is perhaps not nearly as poignant as other Austen heroines, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t earned.


Have you seen EMMA.? Well, what did YOU think?

Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019)

Written & Directed by: Céline Sciamma

Winner of last year’s queer palm at Cannes, Portrait of a Lady of Fire creates something new. By using the form of a period piece, Sciamma was able to create something contemporary. Set in the late 1700’s on a remote island, Marianne (Noèmie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel).

While the age of Enlightenment is taking place, women remain tethered by convention whether in painting, servitude or marriage the women of this film find themselves propelled by outside/social forces. For a time, these women are seemingly protected, isolated from the mainland and patriarchal society before being forced to confront the reason their lives have come together in the first place. The women of this film learn to depend on each other, finding a sense of companionship and balance only to have it abruptly end.

Hailed as a post me-to0, LGBTQ and feminist masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film most concerned with the artist and the idea of the gaze. This theory can be used a bridge between art as a medium and social theory, integrating politics and art history. While a gaze can be used to confer meaning upon a piece, the relationship of the viewer and the viewed are always in negotiation.

As best stated by [French historian and philosopher] Michel Foucault while studying the function of the gaze in the painting Las Meninas the “observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange. No gaze is stable…subject and object, spectator and model reverse their roles into infinity.” This communication is the exploration of director Céline Sciamma. The relationship between the two main characters blurs until it is unclear who is looking at whom. Through the film, the gaze becomes their mode of interaction. Intimacy and attraction grow as they share in this collaborative act and the painting’s completion serves as tribute.

Héloïse’s journey goes from being an object/the muse to someone who observes the subject and thus becomes the Marianne’s collaborator. This is a really amazing technical performance by Adèle Haenel, which destroys the traditional idea of art as a horizontal relationship to a horizontal one of give and take, or as in painting, layers of alternation.

This film also challenges the assumption that we have progressed as a society as well as in art, or at least that progress happens in a linear fashion. Choosing to place the film in the time of the late 18th century, a time known for a huge rise in female artists who were later censored and removed from art history is a very intentional choice. It is the perfect time to place a critique on the backlash female filmmakers are currently facing. This goes back to the idea of the gaze and one’s in ability to control how one is perceived by others, specifically due to culture and society. As Michel Foucault states “insofar as I am the object of values which come to qualify me without my being able to act on this qualification or even to know it, I am enslaved.”

A truly beautiful and cerebral film that will give you an exciting and new perspective on art and love. It’s a hopeful as well as critical film that offers insight into ideas of identity and personhood.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Portrait of a Lady On Fire? Well, what did you think? 

We’re going to Disney World!!

Hi everyone! This is going to be a short post as I’m about to leave to the airport in a few minutes… en route to Disney World!! It’s my husband and my birthday gift to each other, as our birthdays is about a month apart.

We’re going to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, and the two rides we cannot wait to get on is the Rise of the Resistance at Galaxy’s Edge and the Avatar’s Flight of Passage, respectively.

Photos courtesy of VisitCalifornia.com

I’ve heard so many amazing things about the Rise of the Resistance ride and I’ve watched all kinds of videos from Disney blogs out there. Per Wiki, the construction of the attraction posed unprecedented technical challenges. Not only does the ride contain 65 Audio-Animatronic figures, but the ride building itself required the largest concrete pour in the history of Disney Parks. More than five million lines of code control the various aspects of the ride. It has been called a “technical masterpiece”


I’ve also been curious about Pandora – The World of Avatar, esp the Flight of Passage ride. It’s a 3D flying simulator attraction that allows guests to take flight on a native mountain Banshee and soar across the landscape of Pandora.

Per Wiki, Avatar’s executive producer Amy Jupiter said “Everything you see in the attraction’s main show was original to this production. We were fortunate to be able to use the model and texture assets from the first film during our templating/visualization process. We were also able to use animation cycles for our [background] characters.”

There’s also the Na’vi River Journey that I’m hoping to ride on… I remember being in awe of the world of Pandora when I first saw Avatar a decade ago, so it’ll be fun to revisit that world in a whole different way!

I can’t wait to be a kid again for a few days. I won’t be posting anything until Wednesday… hey it’s my vacation, so I’m leaving my laptop at home.

Disney World, here I come!!!!


Have you been to Disney World, or taken either of these rides? If so, let me know your experience and if you have any tips, do share!

THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)

Directed by: Robert Eggers
Screenplay by: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers

In his best performance to date, Robert Pattinson plays a lighthouse apprentice assigned to a much older keeper played by Willem Dafoe. Set in Nova Scotia in the 1890’s, this film takes place in an isolated lighthouse. As a never-ending storm rages, the men fight to maintain their sanity.

By using time appropriate set and costume design, director Robert Eggers creates a film visually fitting the time it is placed. He also chose to use 35mm black and white film at 1.19:1 aspect, which is the presentation of film used at the time. This heightens the eeriness and increases the tension felt between our two players by focusing on the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in the small frame and therefore the lighthouse.

This film is beautifully shot by Jarin Blaschke (The Witch). He is highly skilled at what he does, almost to the point it doesn’t even feel like artistic choices being made. The choices all seep into the background and one is able to focus on film without being pulled out. The editing is also well done. There are times when one isn’t able to make sense of what they are seeing and it adds to the mania of the characters and the observed discomfort.

To top it off there are so many influences, the film feels a bit crowded and disjointed. From Roman mythology, classic power struggle and Jungian psychology, this film has numerous underlying themes that play off of and against one another. This makes for a difficult watch but is a very rich and worthwhile film for genre enthusiasts to tackle.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen THE LIGHTHOUSE? Well, what did you think? 

Netflix Original Movie: The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

Oh where do I begin with this one… frankly, I’m still a bit discombobulated by what I just watched last night. When I saw the trailer over a week ago, The Last Thing He Wanted looks like an intriguing political thriller, and the fact that acclaimed writer/director Dee Rees is at the helm made me even more intrigued to see it. After I watched the film, I found out it’s based on Joan Didion‘s Orange Prize-winning novel, the UK’s ‘s most prestigious literary prizes. Well, despite SO much going for it, plus a star-studded cast, this movie still doesn’t amount to much.

The film actually started off to a pretty riveting start. We see Anne Hathaway‘s Elena McMahon, a veteran DC-based reporter who’s covering El Salvador’s political crisis in the early 1980s with her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez). They barely escape with their lives as paramilitary troops storm the press office and started shooting. But as soon as she’s back in DC, her editor ends up sending her to cover Reagan’s re-election campaign. She took it begrudgingly, only after Alma encouraged her to take the assignment as a way for her to interrogate top ranking politicians. One of them is George Shultz (Julian Gamble), a then Secretary of State of the Reagan administration, whom she suspects is involved in weapons smuggling in Nicaragua.

During the campaign trail, she gets a call from her absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) who turns out to be ailing in the hospital. It’s when Dick asks her daughter to be his sub to complete a ‘deal of a lifetime,’ which involves flying to a mysterious location with a huge amount of mysterious cargo, that things start to really go awry. The place she lands turns out to be Nicaragua and finds out her Dementia-suffering father is actually an arms broker. Soon things spiral out of control and it’s clear Elena is out of her depth.

I have to say the plot is actually not that convoluted on paper, but somehow the muddled script and haphazard direction makes it feel that way. About a half hour in, I was already pretty frustrated with the movie… and growing even more irritated by Hathaway’s melodramatic acting. Initially, I sympathized with Elena and rather enjoyed seeing a plain-looking Hathaway in a role I don’t normally see her do. But her narration and [over]acting style here quickly becomes more and more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the camera work with its random focus-shifting style makes me a bit dizzy. I don’t know if the DP is trying to add tension in the many scenes of people having conversations, but it’s quite distracting.

Then there’s Ben Affleck (who reportedly replaced Nic Cage) in a role of a mysterious ambassador. As a comic-book fan, obviously I get a slight kick out of seeing former Batman and Catwoman on screen, but soon I also get irritated by Afflecks’ lethargic acting style though his screen time is pretty minimal. Then suddenly there’s a scene that comes out of nowhere that takes me out of the movie entirely. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): What’s with the half-boob nudity?? Is Dee Rees trying to brazenly show a nude woman who’s a breast cancer survivor?? I think we got that point across from her expository dialog with her dad earlier on.  By that point, my hubby and I just looked at each other, completely aghast by this befuddled, incoherent mess that’s unfolding before us on screen. I have to say Affleck’s expression is basically the same throughout the movie, whether in bed with a naked woman or eating pie with his colleague.

Now, I’m not familiar with Didion’s work but I’m willing to bet the novel is far better than its screen adaptation. In fact, I still think it’s an intriguing story that when done properly, would be a potent international thriller. But the way it’s adapted here, screenplay written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, feels disjointed with an uneven pacing from start to finish. The central character Elena is nearly impossible to relate to as a human being, and her motives are incomprehensible. Her relationship with her father is an odd one that doesn’t ring true. Even the way the film tries to paint her as a caring mother who’s constantly on the phone with her young, unhappy daughter in a boarding school barely registers.

The supporting cast is pretty much wasted here, though not because of the actors’ performances. The one character I find intriguing is Perez’s Alma and Edi Gathegi‘s Jones, but both characters are so underwritten. There’s also Toby Jones appearing towards the end as an expat who runs the hotel Elena is staying at. Now, I like Toby Jones, he’s a great character actor, but their scene here feels so disconnected from the rest of the movie and goes on way too long. Speaking of the ending… well, as if the rest of the movie weren’t enough of a head-scratcher, the finale is one big WTF moment. To add insult to injury, the finale also feels like a ‘Minnesota goodbye’ where it just went on and on, complete with all kinds of slo-mo and over-drawn narration.

Now, I’ve described this film in the worst possible way and it pains me to do so. This is the third* feature by Dee Rees, and I know just how tough it is for a female director of color to get a job in Hollywood. I suppose every director should be allowed to have a misstep or two, heck, most male directors continue to get job after job even after making multiple misfires. In any case, I wouldn’t use this one as a film that define Rees’ work, but it’s truly unfortunate that this movie is as bad as it is given all the elements–story, setting, cast–seemingly in place.

* I incorrectly said this was Rees’ first feature in my original post, but she had done two features prior to this, Pariah and Mudbound.


Have you seen The Last Thing He Wanted? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks #293: Love in the Tech Age

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I can’t believe it’s been five years since I participated in this weekly Thursday Movie Picks blogathon that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Love in the Tech Age.

For this particular post, I’m going to keep it brief and share some of my fave scenes from the film:

HER

In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need.

This film just breaks my heart!! This is one my top 10 films of 2013 (check out my review) and I still think it’s one of the greatest Joaquin Phoenix’s performances of all time, in fact, I would even say it’s one of Scarlett Johansson‘s best performances despite not appearing physically on screen. Hey, voice acting is still acting, folks. It’s a deeply emotional film that’s exquisitely beautiful and heartbreaking, perhaps much more so than many romantic films between two real humans. These two scenes are my favorites, though the entire movie is filled w/ memorable moments.


WALL*E

In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.

Clearly humans aren’t always necessary for memorable cinematic romances. Wall*E and Eve are the cutest non-humanoid couple ever put on screen, complete with its own adorable meet-cute! Rivaling the marriage scene in Up, this could be the most romantic Pixar movie ever, while still delivering a potent environmental-conscious message.


You’ve Got Mail

Two business rivals who despise each other in real life unwittingly fall in love over the Internet.

Oh how I miss Nora Ephron! This rom-com staple is no doubt one of the best films directed by women. Though the technology might be totally dated, the story is still so timeless. I love rewatching this and feeling nostalgic about using modem [ha! just kidding!] I guess Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have mastered building chemistry without actually meeting in person, though I’m glad there are more scenes of them together here than in Sleepless in Seattle. Bonus points for having Jane Austen’s reference here as the characters were discussing Pride & Prejudice in the cafe scene.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

BEST OF THE DECADE LIST: 10 Best TV Shows of 2010s

I’ve seen a lot of people on the internet list their favorite films from the 2010s, but I don’t see many lists their favorite TV shows from the last decade. With the popularity of comic books-based films at the beginning of 2000s, Hollywood has decided to abandon any original ideas for films. They also decided to reboot or remake their past popular franchises, heck they’ll willing to start a franchise on any film that they deemed “profitable”, no one asked to see a sequel to Sicario, but it happened anyway. So, anyone who wants to see anything that resembles original ideas, television is the place to go.

The last decade were full of great shows that it’s hard to just pick ten but here are my 10 favorite/best shows from the 2010s:

10. BALLERS, aired from 2015-2019

A show about an ex-football player (Dwayne Johnson) hustling his way to the top of the NFL world. It’s kind of similar to ENTOURANGE but it’s about football players and coaches in the NFL instead of actors and filmmakers in Hollywood. With him being such a high in-demand actor for big studio films, I don’t know how Dwayne Johnson was able to squeeze in his time to star in this show for 5 seasons but he’s great in each season and never looked like he just phoned in like other actors when they appeared in TV shows. The show introduced me to John David Washington who played a diva wide receiver.

9. HARRY’S LAW, aired from 2011-2012

The only show from a major network, NBC, that’s on my list here. It’s a short-lived show that lasted only 2 seasons, I was not happy when NBC decided to cancel it. The show’s about a once highly paid patent lawyer, played by the great Kathy Bates, who lost drives in her career and got fired from her firm. She then decided to start her own firm and hired a bunch of misfits. Their goal is to help the little people in the worst part of the city of Cincinnati. The show was created by TV power producer and writer David E. Kelley but it never found its audience and I was hoping Netflix, Amazon or Hulu would pick it up, but it never happened. I’m not surprised the show never found success in the ratings since it’s kind of unusual TV drama and doesn’t have the usual happy ending in each episode.

8. SILICON VALLEY, aired from 2014-2019

A hilarious show about a bunch of tech nerds trying to start the next big tech company in Silicon Valley. Created by Mike Judge, who worked in tech world himself, it’s well-written and very accurate look at the super rich and powerful community that for a long time not too many people knew about. Having worked in the tech start-up companies for most of my career, I can concur that a lot of things happened in the show also happened in real life. The show recently ended its run and I wish they would continue for at least two more seasons. But it’s one of the few shows that I thought its last episode was quite good.

7. BILLIONS, airing 2016-Current

A show about two powerful figures in NYC who’s trying to take down one another and will do anything to accomplish their goals. It’s full of great twists and the performances by the two leads, Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis are spectacular. My only wish is that the show ends on a high note and I think the upcoming season should be its last.

6. BLACK MIRROR, airing 2011-Current

While not every episode worked but this modern-day Twilight Zone show about how our current technology can ruin our lives is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It’s cleverly written and full of great performances well known actors. I thought many of the episodes looked like a mini movie since they were well shot and directed. White Christmas is definitely my favorite episode. The latest season episodes were quite disappointing but at least they tried to come up with something clever. Hopefully the next season will be better.

5. STRANGER THINGS, airing 2016-Current

A love letter show to the sci-fi thriller films of the 80s and it’s Netflix biggest show. While I wouldn’t call it the most original show, the combination of great performances and well written story lines really makes it one of the best shows in TV right now.

4. THE AMERICANS, aired 2013-2018

Set in the cold war era of 1980s, two Russian spies pose as the average American family in the suburbs of Washington DC. They have two kids who doesn’t know that they’re Russian spies. It’s full of great twists and turns and great performances by the two leads Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys. It’s one of the shows that ended with a very good last episode.

3. GAME OF THRONES, aired 2011-2019

Yes, the last season of this show was disappointing, but I don’t think that should taint the previous seasons of great story and performances. A mix of fantasy and our current political climate, it’s full of great twists and unexpected deaths of main characters. It’s one of the few shows that kept me on the edge of my seat every time I watched it.

2. BREAKING BAD, aired 2008-2013

This show actually started in the late 2000s, but it didn’t end until 2013, so I think it’s safe to put it on my list here. There’s not much to say about this show because it won several awards during its run and I think many people have seen it, so I assume you’d agree with me that it definitely belongs in the best shows of the 2010s list.

1. JUSTIFIED, aired 2010-2015

Probably the most underrated show of the decade and I was surprised that it lasted for more than one season. But I’m glad it did because I really love this show and I hope to see it on the big screen someday. I’ve seen Timothy Olyphant in films where he’s the side character and I was a never a fan of him. But then I started watching this show and his performance as U.S. Marshal Raylan Given became one of my favorite fictional heroes. This was a well written and executed show that got better in each season. I also loved the last episode, a well-constructed conclusion to a great show.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

WESTWORLD, airing 2016-Current 

I probably would’ve put this show on the list but currently it only has two seasons, but I think it’s one of best thing currently on TV.

 

 

THE WALKING DEAD, airing 2010-Current

The first 5 seasons of this show was one of the best on TV, but I stopped watching it about 3 years ago. The writing has gone downhill and they killed off so many of the characters that I cared about, it’s hard for me to keep watching it.

– Post by Ted Saydalavong


Those are the shows I thought were the best from the last decade. I know that I left out some other well-known shows.

What are some your own favorite shows of the past decade?