FlixChatter Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FlixChatter Review: Casino Royale (2006)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Eva Green! Scenes from some of my favorite roles of hers.

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I LOVE Eva Green! Though her filmography isn’t very extensive, the Parisian-born actress certainly left quite an impression to me ever since I saw her in Kingdom of Heaven. Like most of the actors I tend to obsess over, I love actresses who have a gorgeous voice to go with their beautiful faces. Eva’s got a voice and British/French accent that I can listen to for days on end, just like my other faves Cate Blanchett, Carey Mulligan and Rebecca Ferguson.

I’d watch to her interviews just to listen to her talk, whether in English or French … it’s quite mesmerizing. Here’s one talking about her recent role in SHOWTIME’s Penny Dreadful. I’ve only seen a few episodes of this (too scary for me) but I was really impressed by her performance as Vanessa Ives:

A quick bio thanks to IMDb:

Eva Gaëlle Green was born on July 6, 1980, in Paris, France. She has a sororal twin sister. Her father, Walter Green, is a dentist who appeared in the 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar (1966). Her mother, Marlène Jobert, is an actress turned children’s book writer.

She studied acting at Saint Paul Drama School in Paris for three years, then had a 10-week polishing course at the Weber Douglas Academy of dramatic Art in London. She returned to Paris as an accomplished young actress, and played on stage in several theater productions: La Jalousie en Trois Fax and Turcaret.

There, she caught the eye of director Bernardo Bertolucci. Green followed a recommendation to work on her English. She studied for two months with an English coach before doing The Dreamers (2003) with Bernardo Bertolucci.

I have to admit I haven’t seen Bertolucci’s The Dreamers yet, in which the Italian direction dubbed her ‘so beautiful it’s indecent,’ but I have no doubt she made an impression. She has no qualms about taking her clothes off, but it’d take more than just a hot body to be successful in this business. I think she can be as ravishing fully clothed, as you can witness in the scene where Vesper first met Bond on the train to Montenegro.

Here are some clips and images from some of my favorite Eva Green roles:

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

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I’m not a fan of this film initially because of Orlando Bloom’s miscasting, but I definitely remember Green’s Sibylla. Her green eyes are so mesmerizingly piercing through her veil, it’s hard to take your eyes off her whenever she’s on screen.

 

Franklyn (2008)


This is an obscure movie most of you likely haven’t heard of, let alone seen. But thanks to my crushing on Sam Riley, I actually bought the movie partly because I also love Eva. She actually has the biggest role in the film, even more prominent than Ryan Phillipe who’s supposedly the lead. That’s a good thing in my book, though of course I wish Sam has more screen time. I love that Eva can do crazy and still manages to make ’em look sexy. And I do love the few scenes between Eva’s Emilia and Sam’s Milo, I wish they’d work together again one day!

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I think most of you already know that Green’s Vesper Lynd is my all time favorite Bond girl. I’ve watched all of the Bond movies from Dr No to Spectre and yep, she’s still the reigning champ… a Bond girl who’s very much 007’s equal who’s no damsel in distress. She may’ve betrayed Bond in the end but she also saved him. She’s a multi-layered character, not just a shag subject with a body to kill for, and Green’s as smart as she is incredibly sexy. I’ve posted the scene on the train in this post, I’m including a couple others I love from CR:

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

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She shines even in a not-so-good movies like Sin City 2. In fact, she’s the only one worth watching in this movie. I’d say it’s perfect casting as I totally believe her as a dame worth killing for!

 


Hope you enjoy my tribute to miss Green. What’s YOUR fave Eva Green role(s)?

Five for the Fifth: JULY 2016 Edition

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Happy Tuesday everyone! To my American friends, how was your Fourth? Hope you had an awesome three-day weekend! For some of us, Fourth of July weekend means family time, whether it’s at a state park, beach, lake, or at the movies!

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So apparently Pixar’s latest Finding Dory threepeats this weekend, as Box Office Mojo called it, landing at #1 again at the box office for its third weekend. The Legend of Tarzan brought in about $45 million, followed by The Purge: Election Year at around $34 million and The BFG ends in fourth place with $22 million. Hmmm, I think we all know the major winner is The Purge 3 as its budget is merely $10 million, wow!

Did you see any new release movie on the big screen this weekend? 

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2. Now, in relation to this weekend’s box office. Well, The BFG turns out to be a bust, earning a paltry $22 mil in its first weekend when the budget is $140 mil!

I haven’t got a chance to review it yet as I was out and about all weekend, but I wasn’t that impressed with it. I barely remember any of it when I saw it over a week ago, but I found it a bit tedious as it took forever to get going. Variety wrote this piece wondering if Steven Spielberg has lost his blockbuster touch.

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Spielberg w/ BFG star Ruby Barnhill – image courtesy of Vox.com

I did like Spielberg’s last film Bridge of Spies, though I haven’t seen Lincoln yet. War Horse was overly sentimental despite a few moment of greatness, and I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin mostly because I adore the Belgian comics. All the way to 2000s, Spielberg’s films were still relatively successful,from A.I. (2001), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005), and of course the abominable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) still raked up over $300mil! As he gets older though, his films seem to make less money. Bridge of Spies only made $72mil (on a $40mil budget).

What are your thoughts on Spielberg? Is his box office mojo behind him now?

3. Ok, time for a few new trailers that caught my eye. I always like to mix things up so these two couldn’t be more different from each other.

Based on the extraordinary true story of Operation Anthropoid, the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution and the Reich’s third in command after Hitler and Himmler.

I always love a good WWII thrillers, and Cillian Murphy is always solid in everything he’s in. Not really a fan of pretty boy Jamie Dornan but glad to see him doing something serious instead that Fifty Shades crap.
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A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

I hadn’t even heard of this movie before, but when I saw the trailer it made me laugh! It’s obviously inspired by Mr & Mrs Smith, with two absolutely beautiful couple Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm (who’d make the perfect match for a Wonder Woman + Superman flick!). Zach Galifianakis & Isla Fisher look pretty funny here, it looks like it’ll be a hoot like Melissa McCarthy’s SPY.

I was hoping Ben Wheatley’s upcoming movie Free Fire (starring a great ensemble cast including my beloved Sam Riley) will have its trailer out by now (it’s shown with A24’s Swiss Army Man, so I’ll add it here once it hits.

What do you think of these trailers?
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4. I’ve talked about my excitement for Idris Elba’s casting as the Gunslinger on Stephen King’s The Dark Tower adaptation. Well, I just saw some pics on Just Jared from the NYC set and I just had to share!

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Oh my, he certainly looks the part doesn’t he? I certainly wouldn’t mind roaming the Old West with THIS Roland Deschain😉 I guess it’ll be a while before we’ll see a trailer, as the film won’t be released until February 17th next year. But for sure I look forward to seeing Idris in the role and Matthew McConaughey as Roland’s adversary Man in Black.

What’s your initial thoughts on ‘The Dark Tower’? 

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Zoë from Sporadic Chronicle of a Beginner’s Blogger! I LOVE that her question is in keeping what I’ve been obsessing lately, that is historical series (as I’m still nuts over The White Queen and finally finished BBC’s War & Peace this weekend).

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Here’s Zoë in her own words:

I’ve been watching a lot of Downton Abbey and Vikings lately and I’ve been loving both shows (as always). There are many shows under this genre, whether fictitious or factual, or a blend of both.

Which historical/period series are you currently watching and loving? 


Well, that’s it for the JULY edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

FlixChatter Review: The Purge: Election Year (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUNE 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

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Wow, the first half of the year has come and gone! I don’t know about you but 2016 felt like a blur to me for some reason. I gotta do a list of the best 2016 movies so far.

Well, it has been a relatively busy month for me that I was unable to make a few screenings, i.e. Central Intelligence, Finding Dory. But I am looking forward to Captain Fantastic, Ghostbusters, Absolutely Fabulous and Suicide Squad later this month!

So anyway, here are movies I saw this month:

New-to-me Movies

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Eddie the Eagle

Zootopia

Zootopia

Concussion

Concussion

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The BFG

Tarzan

Tarzan

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Midnight Special

HunkyDory

Hunky Dory


Look for Ted’s review of The Purge: Election Year, as well as my reviews of The BFG and The Legend of Tarzan next week!


TV Series

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Starz/BBC’s The White Queen (2013)
The series that got me all obsessed over Richard III…
and Aneurin Barnard!:)

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BBC Three’s Thirteen Miniseries (2016)
I ended up watching all five episodes on my laptop
in just three days. Again, thanks to Aneurin!

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BBC One’s War & Peace (2016)
I haven’t finished this yet, just watched ep. 3 last night.
All three of these series have Aneurin in it😉

Once I finish War & Peace, I might get into Mr. Robot!


 Rewatches


So basically my rewatches consist of Sam Riley in period costumes being all sexy and bad ass! He played a vampire, a zombie hunter and a vengeful American cowboy in these three movies, respectively. Talk about being versatile!


 Currently Reading

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Learning history hasn’t been this much fun. I’m almost done w/ The Daughter of Time, and of course I picture Aneurin as Richard whenever I’m reading it😉

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MOVIE OF THE MONTH

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It’s an easy pick this month. Zootopia is by far the best new release I saw this month, and will likely end up in my top 10 best list. Judy Hopps is such an awesome character, perhaps one of the best from Disney yet!


Well that’s my viewing recap of June. What’s YOUR favorite film of the month?

Music Break: Hunky Dory (2011) featuring Minnie Driver & Aneurin Barnard

HunkyDoryMovieI have to admit I stumbled upon this movie as I’m currently besotted with this freakishly talented Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard. Yep, same guy who got me all obsessed with Richard III 😉

Having enjoyed Sing Street recently and the fact that this is from the creator of Billy Elliot, I knew I’d enjoy it. To be honest though, I actually never seen a single episode of Glee (never had much interest on it to be honest), and I haven’t seen School of Rock, two things which this movie has been compared to. But the fact that this is a British (Welsh to be exact) indie is always a major plus for me. I do love Minnie Driver and I love the idea of her as a sympathetic teacher.

Set in a small town in Wales in the summer of 1976, drama teacher Vivienne fights sweltering heat and general teenage apathy to put on an end-of-term version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

This movie didn’t quite have the exuberant, vivacious energy as Sing Street, but it does have a ton of awesome retro songs. This time it’s from the 70s, so we’ve got music from David Bowie, The Beach Boys, Jeff Lynne, 10CC, etc. The title is obviously named after Bowie’s album, but it’s also a British expression that means everything is just fine.

Check out some of my favorite musical scenes from the movie:

Based on the interview from SXSW, Aneurin said that all the musical segments were filmed live, so the kids really did play those instruments and the actors actually sang the songs. I love that authenticity, so the sound and performances feel organic and natural.

I’m glad Minnie also got to sing in the film. She’s a recording artist as well as an actor, and her voice is just lovely. She also sang the song in the end credits, Goin’ Back by Carole King.

This clip below has the song from pop-rock group The Turtles, sung by actor Tom Rhys Harries in the movie. There’s also a rendition of the late English singer Nick Drake’s Cello Song that Tom sang beautifully, but I can’t find the clip for it.


The 70s songs are just awesome, here are a couple more songs from the soundtrack that Aneurin sang:

Aneurin’s an Olivier-award-winning actor (for his performance in the West End’s Spring Awakening in 2010). It’s only a matter of time that Hollywood will discover him like Hiddles, Hardy, etc., but he’ll be seen in Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk so that’s a good start!

I wish I could see him perform live one day, he looks AND sounds like an angel!! The finale is awesome and it made me want to get up and cheer! I mean you can’t go wrong with Bowie, and the kids pretty much channeling the glam rock era with the boys wearing glitter and guyliners.

Check out the trailer of the movie, which you can rent on iTunes or HULU:


Hope you enjoyed this week’s music break! What do you think of the songs, which ones are your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: Midnight Special (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

4Reels


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

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special + BBC’s War & Peace miniseries

WeekInReviewJun26

How was your weekend everyone? Hope it was a nice one. Well this past week ended up being a pretty busy one in terms of movie watching. I finished The White Queen on Tuesday and was so obsessed with the whole War of the Roses history, especially Richard III that I’ve re-watched some of the episodes again! I’ve also ordered three books on the much-maligned monarch and am currently reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.

BFGOn Thursday I went to a screening of Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, which I thought was just ok. I never read the children’s book by Roald Dahl so I wasn’t all that enthused about it. It’s kind of slow going and I find the story to be more simplistic than some of Disney’s animated features, such as the recent Zootopia, that has a pretty compelling story.

On Friday and Saturday night, my hubby and I watched two recent releases we missed on the big screen: Eddie the Eagle and Midnight Special, respectively. Both are enjoyable, but the latter is especially impressive and I’d rate that as one of the best 2016 films so far. I really wish I had seen that on the big screen, but it was well worth the wait. Jeff Nichols is on a roll right now and I’m glad we have a talented filmmaker like him working in Hollywood right now. I was so impressed with his third film Mud, but I still need to see his first two films Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter (both starring his muse Michael Shannon). I shall have my review of Midnight Special later this week.

WarAndPeace

My hubby and I’ve also decided to restart our HULU subscription so we could watch BBC’s 8-part miniseries War & Peace. We’ve only managed to see one episode so far but we like it enough we’ll keep on watching. The mostly-British cast is excellent. I’ve always liked Lily James but it’s Paul Dano & James Norton in the first episode who’ve made an impression so far. Nice bonus to see my new crush Aneurin Barnard in a small role here too. No no, I haven’t abandoned Sam Riley completely, this young Welshman is just a nice distraction😉

Speaking of which, I also started watching this British indie comedy Hunky Dory that reminds me a bit of Sing Street. I’m a big fan of Minnie Driver and she plays a drama teacher in the mid 70s, putting on an end-of-term version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Like Sam, Aneurin can also sing!! #BeStillMyHeart

Suffice to say I’ll try to catch up on more of Aneurin’s work. I’d probably spontaneously combust when I see him AND Sam together on screen in BBC’s SS-GB!! Having read the book, I knew they both will share a scene together, wahoo!


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

Musings on Brexit … thoughts from a cinephile

Brexit

We’re living in such volatile times. I checked Twitter just before I went to bed last night as the votes were pouring in for the EU referendum, not certain whether Britain will remain with European Union or leave. I woke up to this…

BrexitVote

per BBCnews


So the United Kingdom isn’t all that united after all, and clearly there’s not much unity in European Union. I’m not a UK citizen, but I am a citizen of the world who love European cinema including British cinema, and before today I don’t really separate the two. I find it impossible not to care about the result of Brexit vote. Obviously there’s significant economic impact to the world as a result, but given this a film blog and I’m not well-versed in economic nor politics, this is just my two cents as a cinephile.

I think this Deleted Scene from 500 Days of Summer kind of sums up how those who favor Britain (including a ton of British celebrities) to remain feels today…

Some of you might’ve read about the open letter from some British celebrities to urge voters to remain. An excerpt from the letter says “From the Bard to Bowie, British creativity inspires and influences the rest of the world…We believe that being part of the EU bolsters Britain’s leading role on the world stage.” (per Guardian)

I’ve been reading a ton about what Brexit means to the film and tv industry, and so far they confirm my dread:

Brexit: Seven Likely Consequences for the British Film and TV Industry

Why Brexit is bad news for ‘Game of Thrones’ 

Brexit is ‘likely to be devastating’ for UK film and TV industry

Brexit: 5 Ways It Could Impact Hollywood

Reactions from industry insiders about Brexit:

“Uncertainty is the biggest problem… Getting an independent film financed is risky enough at the best of times, this will mean spending even more on lawyers and accountants to get deals done…In 5-6 years, I’m sure we’ll be alright, until then, we’re screwed.” – Michael Ryan, chairman, Independent Film & Television Alliance and partner at GFM Films

“I think there will be discrimination now against some of the product and what it means to be European product. A lot of TV stations in Europe are under quotas. When you do War And Peace, that was accepted as European. It could be very costly in the movie and TV industry in terms of content branding. European branding is very important. It’s a big deal for these young British filmmakers.” – Harvey Weinstein

This Guardian article lists some of the potential negative impacts to British film industry specifically:

Less cash, fewer movies, meltdown: how Brexit may affect British film

I didn’t know that the EU contributes a giant wad of cash directly to British film-makers, though co-productions amongst European countries are pretty common. As a fan of British cinema, point #5 that ‘we could witness a 70s-style British film meltdown’ is quite worrisome.

PennyDreadfulcast

Penny Dreadful

Per LA Times, the London-based producer of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful Pippa Harris said this:

“Our show was shot in Ireland; our first director, David Bayona, is a Spaniard; our actress, Eva Green, is French; the costume designer, Gabriella Pesucci, is Italian… It was a brilliant collaboration across all those European nationalities. It was the very best of working in the EU.”

Does Brexit mean there’s a likely demise of multinational collaborations of European series?

What will Brexit mean for the UK TV industry?

Based on the above article from Radio Times, most TV producers found the majority of them wanting to remain with the EU because it would mean a significant drop of the export of British shows. It’d also make immigration rules more difficult for European filmmakers and talents to collaborate with British productions. There’s also the issue of funding, filming locations, etc. which will likely be impacted by this Leave vote. The Radio Times article said that much of HBO’s Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland, partly supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

battleofbastards

Battle of Bastards – Game of Thrones

How ‘Game of Thrones’ will be affected by Brexit

This is what Peter Chase, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US’ Brussels office, said:

“It might be up in the air for US studios who want to film in the UK… There are EU programs to help fund all of this. If the UK is no longer part of the EU, that has the potential to go away.”

Now, I have to say John Oliver made a compelling argument why the Leave vote is worrisome. Following a rant from a lady in favor of Brexit, he quipped “It’s now official, not everything sounds smarter in a British accent.” Ha!

This shocking vote is no laughing matter of course.

Stocks plunges more than 500 pts and who knows what the market will behave in the coming days. There are so many questions following this major breakup… does this mean more countries will leave the EU? Will Scotland (whose majority voted to remain) leave the UK soon as well? Will the United States also in for a huge voting upset come November? [yikes!!]

Whichever side you’re on, I think this revelation following the Brexit announcement could be the scariest of all…


Oh dear. Whilst some of us are worried about the implications of this historic vote, some are completely oblivious!

In any case, you know that old saying ‘May we live in interesting times,’ Well that phrase doesn’t seem more apt than right now isn’t it? Well, I suppose time will tell what this all really means, I certainly will keep watch and hope that the recession in British filmmaking the media’s been saying doesn’t actually happen.


So, what are YOUR thoughts about Brexit?