Guest Review: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Runtime: 1 hr 56 minutes

It is hard to adequately describe the opening scenes of the psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals (2016) but you will not forget them quickly. Picture, if you will, images of completely naked and generously sized women writhing rhythmically to a heavy beat with various body parts moving simultaneously in different directions. They slowly progress in size, with lighting and makeup that makes them resemble what could be described as artistically grotesque burlesque, all with the opening credits still rolling in the background.

If you are still watching, you are being prepared for a film that explores a twilight world of sexual transgression. It may help to know beforehand that there are three criss-crossing plotlines and you can easily lose your sense of what is happening. Gallery director Susan (Amy Adams) is an insomniac with a crumbling marriage and a disinterested career. Spoilt by wealth, she can indulge her sense of emptiness and her regrets over having cruelly dumped her first husband whose modest career as a writer was never going to meet her aspirations. Having once labelled him a loser, out of the blue he sends her a manuscript for a book she cannot stop reading.

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The dramatization of the book is a gripping stand-alone thriller. Formulaic but brilliantly acted and filmed, it is about a family driving on a deserted road at night who encounter a carload of crazed thugs. The driver is helpless as his wife and daughter endure horrific crimes, and the story becomes the quest for revenge or justice depending on your moral viewpoint. As Susan reads the book it triggers flashbacks about her previous marriage for which a flame still burns, and she begins to sense that the story is a vengeful metaphor for her own emotional and moral weakness. While these twin narrative layers twist and turn, Susan also struggles with her shallow life in the pretentious present tense of the Los Angeles art world.

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The narrative framework of this film can feel like a tangled mess but it is not. It shifts from one layer to another without warning to create a fine balance between logic and confusion while creating a powerful montage of haunting scenes. The converging motifs of sleeplessness and night trawlers equate Susan’s culpability with those of murderous road stalkers and hint darkly that while some wrongs are beyond the law they are never beyond primal vengeance. The story of Nocturnal Animals is told through Susan’s eyes and with a top-quality support ensemble. The cinematography is striking and many scenes could be framed as artworks in Susan’s gallery. This is a challenging and engaging film that echoes the message be careful what you wish for.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘NOCTURNAL ANIMALS’? Well, what did you think? 

Top 10 BEST Movies of 2016

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I always wait until at least the first week of January before I made my top 10 list of the year prior, and this year is no different. Now, last year I combined my top 10 best and worst in a single post. This year I will just focus on the BEST list and do a WORST (or I’d say disappointing) list in a separate post. Fortunately my worst list is far less extensive than the best one, as I can only count with one hand the worst movies I saw this past year.

Now, I selected films released between January – December 2016, including the limited releases (i.e. Hidden Figures) which opened in select cities in December. Some of these might’ve opened internationally prior to 2016, but I’m using the USA release dates or the fact that they opened at a local film festival. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. The Lobster (full review)

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One of the strangest films I’ve seen last year and it’s also one of the most original concept I’ve ever seen. Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou created an intriguing commentary on love and relationship that’ll make you ponder about it for days. I’ve loved sci-fi concepts that’s more grounded in its presentation and the world the characters inhabit in this movie certainly looks plausible. It’s not a perfect film, but still a brilliant one that earns top marks for originality and thought-provoking ideas.

9. Love & Friendship (full review)

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Most of you already know I love Jane Austen’s work, though this one is unlike her most famous work like Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. This one is based on Austen’s lesser-known work where we have a saucy protagonist who is as deviously-cunning as she is impeccably dressed. It’s the first film by writer/director Whit Stillman I’ve seen so far and it’s a delight! I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale‘s in the title role and a delightfully-hilarious turn by Tom Bennett, one of my fave discoveries of 2016. Funny, witty, and so gorgeous to look at, this is another Austen movie I could watch over and over for years to come.

8. Captain Fantastic (full review)

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When I saw the trailer for the first time I knew this is a role perfect for Viggo Mortensen who plays an intellectual free spirit, a Renaissance man who’s set in his ways. It’s a fascinating slice of an unorthodox family of seven, Viggo as the unconventional dad and his six kids, following the sudden death of his wife.Set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, themes of parenting and coming-of-age blend seamlessly. Certainly a film that subscribe to the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters. Like The Lobster, it’s one of the most eccentric films I’ve seen this year, one that definitely left an indelible impression on me.

7. Hidden Figures

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I haven’t got a chance to review this one as I just saw it last week. As soon as I’m done watching this historical drama, thought to myself that I’m glad I waited to post my top 10 list! Since this one had opened in limited release in December, it’s still technically a 2016 movie. Starring a trifecta of terrific Black actresses, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe (who was also great in Moonlight), it tells a pivotal moment in American history in a heartwarming yet poignant manner. There are moments throughout the women’s journey that made me angry and sad, but the film is brimming with such uplifting optimism and hope. La La Land isn’t the only film that spoke about dreaming big, but the difference is, the visionary trio crossed race and gender lines to achieve what’s seemingly impossible. The quintessential inspirational film that every person, young or old, should see. As some critics put it, it’s a cinematic nourishment for the soul.

6. La La Land (full review)

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Ahhh, the critical darling of the year. It might’ve been around TIFF time last Fall when the buzz surrounds this modern musical started gaining steam. It never let up since that by the time I sat down to see it in mid December, I was a bit worried it won’t live up to such a potent hype. Well, thankfully it was indeed an enjoyable experience, with fun musical numbers, gorgeous cinematography and lively music. An unabashedly dreamy and stylish affair, I could see why it swept many off their feet. For me though, the romance wasn’t exactly swoon-worthy, but it’s the ‘fools who dream’ theme that resonated with me emotionally. It’s that key audition scene performed wonderfully by Emma Stone that I remember most about this film, the one that got me bawling as I felt as if the movie was speaking to me directly.

5. Zootopia (full review)

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In a year full of animated features, Zootopia is the only one that deserves to be on my top 10 list (note: I haven’t seen MOANA yet). Disney is sort of catching up to Pixar in terms of storytelling. Its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish. I also love the fact that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the smart rabbit Judy Hopps, the movie’s adorable protagonist. It’s also chockfull of wonderful characters that are easy to root for, which made for a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. I always appreciate animated features that can cater to adults as well as kids, and Zootopia is certainly a great example of that.

4. Loving (full review)

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There are few films that came out in 2016 that couldn’t have been more timely. One is my number 7 pick, and the other is this one. Unlike the more sensational Birth Of A Nation, which was plagued by rape allegations of its creator and star), the beauty of Loving is how personal it feels. It doesn’t come across as a ‘film with a message’, though it certainly contains a stinging commentary of race in America. The story is even more powerful because filmmaker Jeff Nichols focuses on the journey of Richard and Mildred Loving, instead of being concerned about making a political statement. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed the Lovings with such quiet grace and sincerity. Theirs is a story that must be told, and the script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring that to life.

3. Arrival (full review)

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Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve are two emerging filmmakers in the past decade who have continually churned out excellent work. So it’s no surprise their latest work end up on my top 10 list. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival. It’s rare to see a film that treads a familiar ground, aliens visiting earth, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, and it’s even more compelling when the core of the story is a deeply personal one. Amy Adams ought to have swept every award this year, I think she deserved it more than Emma Stone in La La Land. Her quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. The contemplative nature of the film is far from boring, in fact it makes it even more haunting and enigmatic. It won’t be a hyperbole to call it one of the best sci-fi dramas ever produced, and I think it will stand the test of time.

2. Hunt For the Wilderpeople (full review)

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One of the biggest travesties of this year’s Golden Globes, and there are many, is that this film was NOT nominated in the Best Comedy/Musical category. Boy, I’d be hard pressed to find a funnier film than this one, made by yet another emerging filmmaker who’s a force to be reckoned with. Written and directed by Taika Waititi, it’s a riotous adventure movie I could watch over and over. Pairing a veteran actor, Sam Neill, with 13-year-old newcomer Julian Dennison made for a brilliant duo, I’d welcome a sequel with those two in another zany journey through New Zealand wilderness! It’s uproariously funny but also has a huge heart, not relying on crude gags masquerading as *comedy* Hollywood churn out these days. This is the only one of two films I gave a 5/5 rating this year, and it’s destined to be a comedy classic.

1. Moonlight (full review)

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This is the second movie of 2016 that I gave a full 5/5 rating to. A poignant coming-of-age story of a young boy living struggling with his identity and sexuality, this film is masterfully-directed by Barry Jenkins. I have no qualms calling it a masterpiece, considering the challenge of using three actors to portray a single character, Chiron, in three different stages of his life. The transition between the three time periods is handled well, it never feels abrupt or jarring. The combination of newbie actors and established ones make up one of the strongest ensemble cast of the year, led by the charismatic Mahershala Ali. 

Few films hit me as hard as Moonlight did. I was so emotionally-invested in Chiron and I often have tears in my eyes when I think about his arduous life journey. The films also deftly broke stereotypes, challenging our perceptions of what we think of masculinity, especially amongst the Black community. I was also in awe by the poignant, elegant and graceful storytelling style of a subject matter rarely depicted on screen. A triumphant film through and through.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Pretty much every movie that made my BEST list of the first half of 2016 would count as honorable mentions. So combined with those that were released in the latter half of the year, here are the 20 films released last year that I was impressed with (in alphabetical order):

  1. Anthropoid
  2. A Bigger Splash
  3. Blood Stripe
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Deadpool
  6. The Eagle Huntress (doc)
  7. Equity
  8. The Fencer
  9. The Jungle Book
  10. Lion
  11. The Magnificent Seven
  12. Midnight Special
  13. Pete’s Dragon
  14. Pride + Prejudice + Zombies
  15. Prison Dogs (doc)
  16. Queen of Katwe
  17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  18. The Shallows
  19. Sing Street
  20. Sully

What I missed in 2016

There are still some highly-rated films that came out last year that I haven’t seen, yet… Elle, Manchester By The Sea, Fences, Jackie, Kubo and the Two Strings, 20th Century Women, Neruda, Silence, amongst others.


So that’s my BEST list of 2016. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review – The good, the bad and the ugly

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By the time I sat down to write this, I’ve actually seen BVS twice in a week. Yup, you probably think I’m a masochist and I don’t blame you. But hey, it’s really out of solidarity with my dear hubby that I saw it again a second time, as we weren’t allowed to bring guests to the press screening and I actually couldn’t wait for him to see it so we could discuss this drivel movie together.

I have a lot to say here so it’s best to break things down in three categories, like I did w/ some award commentaries. Let’s start w/ the positive.

The Good

I tweeted when I sat down at the press screening that despite the title featuring two of the world’s biggest superheroes, I was mostly excited for Wonder Woman. And well, she did NOT disappoint. In fact, I was literally giddy the first time we saw Diana Prince dressed to kill in a skintight red dress at Lex Luthor’s party. The biggest audience cheer throughout the entire movie was when Wonder Woman finally showed up in costume.

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Gal Gadot slayed it, she was all badass and heroic. I wish they hadn’t revealed that exact moment in the trailer, I mean they could’ve shown ANY other WW scene besides THAT one, heh. Oh and the WW theme song, OMG I’m seriously obsessed w/ it now. The score is written by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL who just did the awesome Mad Max: Fury Road score, and this particular track has Junkie XL written all over it.

Like most moviegoers, I was more curious than excited about BVS and it’s to see the Batfleck. Ben Affleck followed up on the strong impression left by Christian Bale in the best Dark Knight trilogy, but y’know what, if we’re just judging on Ben Affleck’s portrayal alone as Batman/Bruce Wayne, I’d say he nailed it. Right from the moment we saw him driving around the wreckage of Gotham as Superman and his Kryptonian foes are wrecking havoc from the sky, we get a grizzled, world-weary and indignant Bruce Wayne. I gotta say Affleck looked damn good as Batman and his alter ego. He certainly has the gravitas of an older and wiser caped crusader, though he’s certainly far more brutal and doesn’t have qualms knocking down bad guys and even killing them. But then again, the supposedly more gracious Superman is nowhere to be found here either.

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The actual BVS battle itself was pretty fun to watch. It could be because we’ve spent nearly TWO hours waiting for the damn thing to finally happened. I was like FINALLY! The action scene here was well-staged and there were moments where I thought they could do serious damage to each other. It’s not quite the level of suspense of Batman vs Bane in TDKR however, I think Nolan crafted that sense of dread and serious peril much better than Snyder. But still, within the grim and dour universe of BVS, this scene was one of the highlights.

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Which brings me to…

The Bad

Oh dear, where do I begin.

Basically everything I didn’t care about the third act of Man of Steel is back with a vengeance. All the clanging noise that threaten to do serious damage to my eardrums are ever present as soon as Doomsday showed up. It’s an eyesore too. The world of Gotham/Metropolis are so severe and somber, and the ugliness of the Kryptonian/human monster hybrid so potent I had to look away a few times.

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Doomsday is a cross between Lord of the Ring’s Orc, the Hulk, Ninja Turtle and King Kong, also with a penchant for leaping into tall skyscrapers. That whole battle between the three heroes and this grotesque monster is a colossal CGI smash that went on far too long. It’s a sensory overload that feels like an endurance contest for the audience. If it weren’t for Wonder Woman forming the trio, I think this entire battle sequence would’ve been a total bust.

Speaking of Wonder Woman again, all of the wonderful things about her awesome intro, it is offset by the perpetual damsel-in-distress situations of all the women in Supes’ lives, be it Lois or her mother. It’s like, for one step forward in the right direction about female empowerment, there are three or more that took us back. It’s not Amy Adams‘ fault really, but I’m not fond of THIS Lois at all.

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Now, what I’m about to say is going to make Henry Cavill fans furious but y’know what, a huge fan of Superman it actually pains me to say it. Superman is actually the least interesting character of this movie, thanks to what Snyder created in Cavill. Neither Superman nor Clark Kent was a character worth rooting for. Gone is the heroic and sympathetic alien who cares deeply for humanity, he even refused to take ANY blame for all the monstrous destruction that could’ve been easily avoided if he went around the buildings instead of flying through them! Not only that, he was delusional enough that he told Bruce Wayne that nobody saw him as a liability and that the world was entirely on his side. Cavill’s Clark Kent is no longer the meek, mild-mannered reporter, as he’d rather argue relentlessly with his boss Perry White and had the worst work ethic. Yes Clark was always MIA in previous movies too, but we actually saw he had a good relationship with his boss and there’s a mutual respect between them. None of that is displayed in Snyder’s version.

Don’t get me started with the cringe-worthy scenes between him and Lois. Gone are the sweet and flirty banter between the two, instead we get cheesy lines about hope and what have you, and the supposedly romantic gestures just doesn’t compute at all because none of it felt true. And what’s with the constantly-constipated look on Cavill no matter what circumstance his character finds himself in.

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He had the same baffled/sad/forlorn/reflective (all of the above? none of the above??) whether he’s talking to his mom/Lois, at the courthouse, surrounded by strangers during Day of the Dead festival, etc. I think he only switches to something of immense rage when he’s facing Batman, which doesn’t exactly make me like him one bit as he comes across more like a bully than a wise and gentle hero we’ve seen in Christopher Reeve. What’s more, Snyder sexualizes Superman so much here it’s putting me off. There’s a scene of him jumping into a bathtub and a gratuitous scene of him cooking with no shirt on. Sorry but that had the opposite effect on me. I don’t want a sexually-alluring Superman, I want a Superman I can believe in.

The Ugly

[SPOILER ALERT]

Ok, one of the screenwriting rules I’ve read often says to steer clear of dream sequences. Unless something is hugely integral to the plot (like say, in Inception), there are very few narratives in which this structure fits. Well, guess what, there wasn’t just one but MULTIPLE dream sequences. I literally was gonna throw things at the screen when it happened, and after seeing it twice I STILL have no clue what the heck those scenes are about and how it served the story. It has no purpose being there other than to infuriate the audience. Seriously, the movie could’ve easily been trimmed to under 2 hours long without these inconsequential scenes.

The scenes of Batman in the desert fighting a bunch of goons wearing Supes’ emblems in their uniforms followed by some ethereal-looking ghost talking to Bruce, what the hell was THAT?? And the whole Superman talking to his dead earthly dad scene in the North Pole. Heh, we already know Supes has daddy issues. Same with the wholly extraneous scene of Bruce’s parents being gunned down. The whole thing is played out with the most irritating slo-motion as if seeing Thomas & Martha Wayne dying a slow death would make us care more about them. Is it so that the movie can start AND end with a funeral scene?? [shrug]

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Forget daddy issues though, this movie seems to be more about the moms. The filmmakers used the fact that Bruce and Clark’s mothers share the same name as a plot device. Good gracious, it’s not only trite, but it’s simply lazy writing. So they needed a good reason for why Batman would stop from killing Superman and that’s all they could come up with?? We’re talking about a writing duo comprised of David S. Goyer (who co-wrote the Dark Knight trilogy) and Chris Terrio (who won Best Screenplay Oscar for ARGO).

[END OF SPOILER]

That said, it begs the question whether it’s actually possible to forge a worthy script that tells SO many origin stories in a single movie with SO much going on there’s absolutely no room at all for any character development. My hubby and I were talking about it this morning on the way to brunch that this movie could perhaps work as more of a Batman story, with Superman treated as a supporting character (plus cameo from Wonder Woman) so it could be more focused on a single character whilst still serve as a launching pad for other characters in DC cinematic universe. But perhaps the studios want to appease the fans for Man Of Steel 2 being delayed indefinitely, as the ‘battle’ between these two characters, no matter how epic, just can’t make up for the messy storytelling.

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All the intriguing ideas about deity and humanity seem so half-baked and completely lost in a sea of clanging CGI death-match. I roll my eyes every time the characters are saying some philosophical mumbo-jumbo about hope and that ‘man is still good’ or whatever, because the film hasn’t earned them. The quasi-spiritual themes feel tacked on instead of being an inherent part of the narrative.

Other Observations

I haven’t mentioned Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, whose take of the villain is more of a deranged and power-hungry tech megalomaniac who likes to play god. He played it much like his Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but with more than a few screws loose. He’s hellbent on destroying these demigods, liken them to Biblical demons, but it’s never clear what he’s true agenda is. But y’know what, he’s at least amusing in his nervous ticks that he actually offered a bit of relief from all the drab and grave mood of the movie.

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Alfred is portrayed as being more of an equal as Bruce, more akin to James Bond’s Q than the traditional English butler in previous screen adaptation. I have no problem with that and Jeremy Irons rocked as the dry, sarcastic and no-nonsense Alfred who looked like he could’ve been a perfect Bruce Wayne in his younger days. I also love Laurence Fishburne as the commanding Perry White, he’s definitely a more authoritative version of the Daily Planet editor. He respects superstar reporter Lois Lane but doesn’t let her walk all over him either. Perhaps that’s what’s needed to head a newspaper in the digital age, though I have no idea how they’re still in business.

The intro of other DC characters which will live on as part of Justice League and in various stand-alone movies are handled pretty well. At least it didn’t feel jarring to me, though at that point I really didn’t care so much about them as I struggle to muster up sympathy for the characters in BVS.

Final Verdict

It’s mind-boggling just how haphazardly-constructed this whole movie was. It proves that no amount of money ($250 mil production cost) can guarantee quality. Surely it’s a challenging task for even the best director to make a smorgasbord of plots to interweave seamlessly and no director is less than up for the task than Zack Snyder. The transition from one scene to the next is so mind-numbingly jumpy and disconcerting. It’s not quite a complete disaster but still, the bad far outweighs the good for me and trust me, I already had a very low expectation for this one.

I can’t believe Warner Bros entrusted so much of DC universe to a one-note director who has absolutely no talent for storytelling. So he’s known for his visual flair, but to be honest with you, I can’t even think of a single truly spectacular scene that took my breath away. Ok so there’s the moment where Batman drives his Batmobile into his Batcave through a secret entrance hidden in a dam that I thought was pretty darn cool. But that is all I could remember from an entire 2.5 hour movie, which is saying a lot.

It’s unforgivable that Snyder & co. has made a formidable hero like Superman so tedious and impossible to root. After this, I can’t be bothered with any other DC movies in the future. The only one I’m looking forward to is Wonder Woman and that’s mostly because a female superhero on the big screen has been so long overdue. The fact that it’s NOT directed by Zack Snyder is another reason to cheer, but since Dawn of Justice hit a big box office record on its opening weekend ($170 mil), I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him yet. Alas, Snyder will still be allowed to make more movies, and that’s the real travesty of it all.

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So what did YOU think of ‘Batman V Superman’? Did you like it more or less than I did?

Thursday Movie Picks #29: All in the Family Edition – Married Couple Movies

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I’ve been seeing posts on the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog, but I haven’t been able to participate. Well until now that is.

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. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today is the the first theme for the edition… 

Married Couples

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Well, for this edition, I decided to pick three movies that feature married couples in three very different marital circumstances. Having been married for 11 years, I consider marriage a blessing I don’t take for granted, but it’s also not a walk in the park. For this blogathon, I deliberately picked three different genres just to mix things up, so here goes:

Julie & Julia

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Movies depicting a positive marriage is rare in Hollywood, perhaps they think it just doesn’t make for an interesting story. Well, I always go back to this movie as a good example of a healthy marriage as it actually features TWO loving married couples. People may only remember this movie for all the food/cooking scenes, and they certainly are scrumptious. But for me I always remember the relationship between Julie & Paul Child (Meryl Streep & Stanley Tucci), as well as Julie & Eric Powell (Amy Adams & Chris Messina). Both husbands are so supportive of their wives, and they’re depicted in such a real and sincere ways by all the actors. In fact, Paul Child made my list of Best Movie Husbands that I did for my 9th wedding anniversary.

 

Indecent Proposal

indecentproposalI saw this film ages ago with my brother, I think I might’ve been in high school at the time. I thought that the pairing of Demi Moore & Woody Harrelson worked well here and there’s a real chemistry between the two. The film shows how temptation and desire can quickly tear apart even the strongest bond between two people, and their marriage crumbles as a result. But the film doesn’t just show the fragility of marriage, but also the power of love that can piece things back together again, no matter how shattered the bond may have been. The story made such a big impression on me and to this day, the beautiful finale scene by the beach never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The heart-wrenching theme song by John Barry is one of my all time favorite.

Mr & Mrs Smith

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This is the infamous film that serves as the origin story of Hollywood’s golden couple. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie fell in love during filming and their scorching chemistry is palpable on screen. Playing two skilled assassins who kept their secret identity from each other, it’s perhaps the most preposterous portrayal of marriage, but it sure was fun to watch. The real-life couple could barely fake their disdain for each other in the opening scene at a marriage counseling session:

 


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen these films?

Weekend Roundup: Leap Year, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond & a whole lot of Toby Stephens

If someone were to ask me, “What did you do this weekend?” Well, the short answer would be “Toby Stephens.” Ahah, well ok so it came out wrong, didn’t it? I meant, my weekend pretty much consisted of watching/listening/tumblr-ing about him, my long-lifeless tumblr has been set ablaze now by Toby’s fiery charisma.

I did manage to fit in a few movies… one of which is Some Like It Hot, a Billy Wilder classic that I mistakenly thought it’s one of my Blind Spot list.

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Oh well, the good thing is I finally watch that movie as it’s a lot of fun, but the bad part is that my Blind Spot post is going to be late. I’ll just have to post a double review next month then.

As for the other two movies I saw, here’s my quick thoughts on them:

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I really don’t know what came over my hubby and I that made me want to rent Leap Year. Well my friend Ashley and I were talking about Matthew Goode earlier in the week but I wasn’t intending to watch the movie this weekend. In any case, it turns out to be such a dud. For some odd reason, iTunes listed the Rotten Tomatoes rating as 100%, which was so surprising to us to see a rom-com got a high rating but as it turns out, the real RT rating is 21%!!! Ok so I don’t always agree with the critics but this movie is everything I dislike about today’s rom-com: vapid, banal, clichéd and immensely unfunny. There’s nothing romantic nor funny about this movie, gah!

The whole thing revolves around a girl who flew from Boston all the way to Ireland to propose to her cardiologist boyfriend on leap year. Of course along the way she falls for someone else [yawn] Amy Adams‘ cute-as-a-button charm might’ve worked for Enchanted but here she comes across as dimwitted and shallow as her character is supposed to be. Goode seems bored throughout the whole movie and can’t say I blame him, his talent is utterly wasted here anyway. Right from the start, everything about the plot is so contrived that even the slight 1 hr 41 min running time was such a drug all the way to its predictable conclusion. I doubt even Toby Stephens could save this movie for me, though it’d probably make it a million times more watchable 😉

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We actually wanted to check out this one after we saw Captain America 2. Funny how Chris Evans often mention in interviews how bad his movies are, ahah. Well, this one is actually not horrible, but not exactly good either. Set in the 1920s, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a societal drama about a rebellious Memphis débutante Fisher Willow who can’t stand the suffocating Southern tradition and the narrow-minded people surrounding her. Bryce Dallas Howard looks the part and she’s pretty believable in the role. Evans play the handsome but penniless suitor Fisher hired, passing him up as an upper-class suitor to her friends. He seems ill-suited for the part despite his best effort, not to mention his touch-and-go Southern accent, ahah.

The screenplay was apparently written by Tennessee Williams himself back in 1980, not sure why it took 28 years for the film to finally got released. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is the only Williams’ work I’ve seen so far and this one definitely not as memorable, but the story is mildly intriguing. I just didn’t find Fisher’s journey as particularly engaging, the most memorable part is actually Howard’s scene with a dying woman played by Ellen Burstyn. There is an odd lighting technique during this scene where the whole room suddenly dimmed out and a spotlight appears on top of the two characters conversing on the bed. That’s really strange to see a technique used on a stage performance, not sure what that’s all about. Overall it’s not a complete waste as Leap Year, so I’d still recommend it if you’re a fan of Tennessee Williams.


Falling Madly…

Well, in case you missed my tribute from last week, I’ve been struck with a seemingly-incurable Toby-itis. Hence there’ll be a heck of a lot more Toby Stephens for the unforeseeable future 😉

I watched a myriad of Toby clips on Youtube, he’s had such a varied career, even starring in a Bollywood movie called The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey where he’s sporting a Scottish brogue AND actually spoke Hindi.I’m not talking about a couple of sentences here, but he held multiple conversations with the Bollywood actors throughout the movie! My admiration for him just went through the roof!

The two clips I watched most were Jane Eyre 2006 and Black Sails, though both are period pieces, the roles couldn’t be more different from each other. And that’s what amazes me about his chameleonic quality.

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This interview on his role as talking about his role of Mr. Rochester has broken the record as the vid I’ve watched the most in a single weekend. Don’t ask me how many times, I’ve lost count already… This interview on his role as Rochester in Jane Eyre 2006 has broken the record as the vid I’ve watched the most in a single weekend. Don’t ask me how many times, I’ve lost count already…

Thank goodness for youtube where I get most of my Toby watching as it’s really tough to get access to most of his previous work. I’ve ordered a few dvds but it’ll take a week before those get here. I never thought I’d say this either but THANK YOU Michael Bay for hiring Toby as Captain Flint in Black Sails. Thank goodness for youtube where I get most of my Toby watching as it’s really tough to get access to most of his previous work. I’ve ordered a few dvds but it’ll take a week before I got my hands on those, so I had to turn to youtube to get my Toby fix.

Toby_Flint_BlackSailsI never thought I’d say this either but THANK YOU Michael Bay for hiring Toby as Captain Flint in Black Sails.


So that was my weekend. What did YOU watch folks, anything good?

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions & Reminiscing on Best Actor/Actress Nominees’ Early Roles

TheOscarsLogoThe film industry’s biggest night is just three days away. Dozens upon dozens of award ceremonies have taken place in the past few months, culminating on Sunday with the Academy Awards! I figured I’ll join in on the fun of predicting who will win the Oscars, split into two categories. The ‘Should Win’ here who I’m championing to win based on what I’ve seen. Nothing scientific here, the winning predictions are based on what I’ve read/heard, other awards up until now, as well as pure gut instincts. So here goes:

BEST PICTURE
Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”
Should Win: “Gravity”

Have you checked out the Bloggers Roundtable Post over at Keith’s blog? Thanks Keith for inviting me to take part with my favorite bloggers!

BEST DIRECTOR
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón

BEST ACTOR
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Should Win: [Since I haven’t seen Dallas Buyer’s Club] Chiwetel Ejiofor

BEST ACTRESS
Will Win: Cate Blanchett
Should Win: Cate Blanchett

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Will Win: Jared Leto
Should Win: Michael Fassbender

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o
Should Win: Sally Hawkins

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Will Win: “Her”
Should Win: “Her”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”
Should Win: “Captain Phillips”

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Will Win: “Frozen”
Should Win: “Frozen”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Will Win: “The Square”
Should Win: “The Act of Killing”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE
Will Win: “The Great Beauty”

Should Win: “The Hunt”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Will Win: “Gravity”
Should Win: “Gravity”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Will Win: “Gravity”
Should Win: “Gravity”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Will Win: “Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Should Win: “Let It Go” from “Frozen”

Reminiscing on Acting Nominees’ Early Roles

Now, I’d like to do something different this year than simply predicting the winners. I was inspired by something I saw a couple of nights ago whilst I was at the gym. ABC always airs interviews with the acting nominees and show clips of their previous films. Well, it made me reminisce on the first time I saw each of the Best Actor/Actress nominees and how I felt about them then. For the purpose of this post, I’m only focusing on the leading category for this post. So allow me to walk down memory lane for a bit.

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Amy Adams

AmyAdamsJunebugFirst saw her was in Catch Me If You Can but for some odd reason, I didn’t remember her until much later after I saw the film. She had a small role as a Southern Belle type hospital nurse whom Leo DiCaprio’s character proposed to. But the role that really impressed me was Junebug where she also played a Southerner, a young mother to-be who thinks that her baby would solve her marital strain. It’s a bit of an odd film but I definitely remember her in that, and clearly the Academy did too, as it earned her first of five nominations.

Cate Blanchett

CateBlanchettLOTRIt was her role in the mega blockbuster The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that made me notice the Aussie thespian. I absolutely loved her voice as she narrated the story. After that I went back to watch her Oscar-nominated role Elizabeth, which to this day I still think she’s far more worthy of the Oscar win than Gwyneth Paltrow was in Shakespeare in Love. I’ve never NOT been impressed by her performance since, I’m constantly in awe of her versatility and chameleonic quality, convincingly speaking whatever accent is required of her. Balancing small films like Little Fish, Veronica Guerin to a big-budget production like The Aviator, she seems to be able to do it all effortlessly. Even in a terrible movie like Indiana Jones 4, she’s still very watchable.

Sandra Bullock

SandraBullockSpeedI might’ve seen Sandra in Working Girl TV series but for some reason I didn’t realize she’s the same girl in Speed! I didn’t recognize her with her big wavy hair, ahah. So I have to say it’s her big break in the hit action flick, which was also Keanu Reeve’s breakthrough role, that made me notice her. I liked her straight away and I’ve always been fond of her since. She might not have Blanchett’s range, but she more than make up for it in congeniality – no surprise that she made two movies bearing that sentiment as it’s so tailor-made for her. I’m one of the few who didn’t mind that she won Best Actress for The Blind Side, but her dramatic chop is stretched even further in Gravity.

Judi Dench

JudiDenchGoldeneyeOne of British finest Dames has had a long career in various stage, TV and film work before she made history as the first female M in the James Bond series. So I first noticed her as Bond’s snarky boss in Goldeneye, who aptly and memorably calls him a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur.’ Bravo! Only three years later she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in Shakespeare in Love despite being on screen for a mere 8 minutes. The one British monarch role I absolutely love her in was Mrs. Brown where she played an older Queen Victoria who found friendship in her servant Mr. Brown as she was mourning her husband’s death.

Meryl Streep

MerylStreepKramervsKramerAn acting living legend has a staggering 17 Oscar nominations (3 wins), the most of ANY performer of all time. The first time I saw her was in Kramer vs. Kramer when I was a kid, where she won her first Best Actress Oscar. That film was indelible as I remember being quite frightened by the scene where her kid fell in the playground, being carried home by her on-screen husband Dustin Hoffman. I haven’t seen a lot of her work and to be frank, she’s not really a favorite of mine even if she’s always impressive in everything I’ve seen her in. I definitely enjoyed seeing her as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, that’s really a fun role for her where she gets to be this larger-than-life meanie without being cartoonish.

…..

OscarBestActorNominees

Christian Bale

Bale_MidsummerNightsDreamI honestly can’t remember when I first saw Bale in movies. I know it’s long before he don the cape as the Dark Knight, and it wasn’t his movie big break as a child actor in Empire of the Sun as I saw that after Batman. So it could very well be his small supporting role in Midsummer Night’s Dream as I saw that one on the big screen. It’s interesting to see the ever-so-serious Bale in a Shakespearean fantasy comedy. I barely remember what the whole story was about but I remember how dreamy he was in it, hard to imagine him doing a fluffy role like that, but I think he should just to break things up from all the solemn and dark stuff he does nowadays.

Bruce Dern

BruceDernNebraskaThis is the only time in a long while where I haven’t seen any of the work of an actor prior to the one being nominated. I have heard of him but somehow I just never saw him in anything. I have to rectify that situation at some point as I was quite impressed by his performance in Nebraska. People constantly tell me he’s played great bad guys in his younger days, so I just have to check those out!

Leonardo DiCaprio

LeoDiCaprioGrowingPainsI’m always amazed and in awe at Leo’s career trajectory as I first saw him in one of my favorite series Growing Pains! He was so dorky looking but even then you knew he was special. After that I never saw any of his film roles until Titanic, in which I had a slight crush on Jack Dawson (which teen girl wasn’t?). So of course I saw a bunch of his films after that, even the really obscure one like Total Eclipse as a French poet (sans the French accent) where he even had a gay sex scene with David Thewlis. Leo even did a Western in The Quick & The Dead, though by that point I was already crushing on Russell Crowe who never looked better in a film.

Chiwetel Ejiofor

EjioforChildrenOfMenFirst time I noticed Ejiofor was in Children of Men, though I might’ve seen him in Inside Man as well before that. A year later I saw him in American Gangster, with fellow hunky Brit Idris Elba, both playing Americans on opposite sides of Denzel Washington’s character. I’m so glad he’s now getting more recognition, hopefully it’ll bring more leading roles for Ejiofor, as he obviously has the chops. Interesting that both him and Elba has also played leading roles in Mandela-related films, Ejiofor was the lead in this dramatic gem Endgame.

Matthew McConaughey

McConaugheyWeddingPlannerThe role I first took notice of this Southern hunk happens to be in one of my guilty pleasure rom-com The Wedding Planner opposite J-Lo. I thought he was sooo darn hunky and sweet in that movie. I think I might’ve seen him prior to that on Boys on the Side but I can’t remember what he even looked like in that movie. Funny that he was in a sci-fi movie about dragons with fellow 2014 nominee Christian Bale in Reign of Fire, and back then he got top billing over the lesser known Bale. I skipped a bunch of McConaughey’s movies for a while, I have to admit I wasn’t a fan until I saw him in The Lincoln Lawyer. Nice to see his career renaissance – aptly coined The McConissance – of late, he’s poised to win this Sunday.


Thoughts on my predictions? More importantly, would you share your first cinematic memory with any of the Best Actor/Actress nominees?

FlixChatter Review: Spike Jonze’s HER

Once in a while, a film you hadn’t heard much about suddenly sneaked in and took your breath away. In 2013, that film for me was HER.

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In its simplistic terms, Spike Jonze‘s sci-fi drama is about a guy who falls in love with an Operating System. Yes, that alone is downright bizarre, which at first glance reminds me of Al Pacino’s S1m0ne from 2002 but it actually couldn’t be more different from each other. No, there’s so much more to HER than meets the eye… and I have to admit, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to witness.

The story takes place in Los Angeles some time in the future (the year is not specified), but it’s a futuristic time where we can still very much identify with. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) makes a living as a writer who writes love letters for people who can’t quite express their feelings. That alone is an interesting occupation as Theodore is very good at what he does, yet he lives a lonely existence, you could even say he’s crestfallen. Having just separated from his wife, he internalizes everything and barely has any social life. One day, he purchased a talking operating system with artificial intelligence, designed to adapt and evolve like a human being. Little did he know that the OS in question, who names herself Samantha, would change his life in ways he’d never imagine.

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I have to admit that as I was watching the film, I too was quite taken by Samantha, voiced to perfection by Scarlett Johansson. As advertised, the OS’ ability to evolve psychologically and adapting to Theodore’s cerebral as well as emotional needs is astounding. She looks at the world through his eyes and learns at a rapid speed. It’s as if Samantha had known Theodore forever and that she’s the only *person* who could understand him. Samantha soon becomes a dominant part of Theodore’s life, seemingly rescuing him out of his gloom. She even sets him up on a blind date with a long time friend that his neighbor Amy has been trying to set him up with. It’s from a date snafu that Theodore and Samantha starts to talk about relationship and begins to really ask the question we as people take for granted.

This is the kind of thought-provoking science fiction story that I wish Hollywood would make more of. Sci-fi is not always about aliens or cool-looking futuristic equipments or cars or what have you, but a good sci-fi should actually makes us ponder about our own humanity. In this case, it explores how technology affects us humans in terms of our way of connecting with each other. In this day an age, with increasing number of people having far more connection with their digital devices than their living soul counterparts, the idea of dating an OS might not be so implausible after all. Fortunately, Jonze didn’t set up the whole idea as a mere gimmick. As Conor’s mentioned in his thought-provoking post, this is a great example of a true sci-fi , instead of those that are *dressed* as one.

As Theodore becomes more smitten with Samantha and vice versa, the only thing missing was the physical connection… and that is perhaps one of the most bizarre yet essential exploration of the film. I’m not going to spoil the details for you but the keyword here is surrogate. If you think the idea is downright outlandish, well wait until you see it on film. I have to admit I was squirming in my seat watching the scene unfold, but I think the scene is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. Jonze tackled the issue of sexuality in the digital age and its peculiarity in a matter-of-fact way which makes you squirm and laugh at the same time. Yet it’s also one of the most emotionally absorbing film I’ve seen in a long time.

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When I saw the film, the theater was quite empty with barely twenty people in it. So it was almost having the whole place to myself which is a good thing as I was almost sobbing a few times. The heartbreak that Theodore is experiencing isn’t any less miserable because Samantha wasn’t human. In fact, there’s a scene towards the end that was utterly heart-wrenching, I’d just imagine how I would feel when I fear losing the one person I love most as that’s what Theodore must be feeling.

Now, though the film doesn’t explore the spiritual aspect of the premise, it certainly makes me think about it quite a bit as I’m watching it and long afterwards. I remember watching Blade Runner a while back, which was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel more aptly-titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It prompted me to write this post about how droids want to be human but some humans would rather keep their feelings out of the way in their relationships. Samantha could’ve been the best girlfriend Theodore could ever have, he even comes to accepts the lack of a physical form, but how does he reconcile fact that she is without soul? It seems that Samantha experiences pain as much as Theodore does when their relationship flounder. But is it real? How could he ever know? The revelation towards the end that Theodore learns from Samantha throws him off balance… I mean, it was as much a shock to me the viewer, as I’ve come to identify and empathize with him.

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The key strength of the film is the stellar performances. Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of astounding in his soulful performance as Theodore. As the camera follows his physiognomy in various close-ups, many times he’s not saying anything at all for a long period of time, but his face and eyes convey so much. His character goes through an emotional roller coaster here and Phoenix was more than up for the task. Scarlett Johansson delivers one of the best voice performances I’ve ever listened to. Samantha is described as super intelligent and extremely confident, as an OS wouldn’t have any of the insecurities and fear that a real woman would have. Johansson seems the natural choice for the role which is odd considering she was brought in at the last minute after Samantha Morton did the original voice work. Whatever it was that made Jonze change her mind about Morton, the switch worked amazingly well as I can’t imagine anyone else in the role besides Johansson. She’s playful, charming, sexy, but also emotionally convincing when the role requires. I really think that voice work should be recognized come award season, as I’ve mentioned in this post. In terms of supporting cast, Amy Adams is terrific as Theodore’s neighbor. It proves how versatile she is considering how far apart this role is from the one in American Hustle, definitely a lot more clothes on and a lot less make-up. Remarkably, her small here might even be more profound than her performance as Lois Lane in Man of Steel. Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara both have bit parts as Theodore’s date and ex-wife, respectively. They’re both ok, but there’s nothing to write home about. Oh, I quite like Chris Pratt as Theodore’s colleague as well. At first I thought he was an odd casting choice but it worked somehow.

The look and sound complements the mood of the film perfectly, down to the rather melancholic music. Some of my faves are Arcade Fire’s Supersymmetry and The Moon Song. The latter is co-written by by Jonze and performed by both Johansson and Phoenix. I also love the futuristic setting that Jonze created, it feels familiar yet different. The luminous cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema creates a rather sterile-looking L.A. that feels strangely retro even though it’s set in the future. Even the clothes that Theodore wears have a retro look to them with the high-waisted slacks.

Final Thoughts: This has become one of my favorite films of 2013, and perhaps of all time. There are so many rich nuances in this film that I could mull over and contemplate with, it’s definitely one of those films that I’d like to watch more than once just to absorb it all again. Thanks to a meticulously sharp script by Jonze, his intimate directing style and terrific performances, her is a fascinating journey that’s as intriguing as it is heartfelt.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: American Hustle

AmericanHustlePoster

Based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late 1970s, con-artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser are forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.

When I first heard David O. Russell was making this film, I was immediately drawn to it mainly because of the cast. It’s combining the best of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and just like many of O. Russell’s films, this one is one wild but entertaining ride. Right from the start, the movie gives me the giggles as it shows a good 10 minutes or so of Christian Bale‘s Irving Rosenfeld meticulously putting on his toupee. That alone is worth the price of admission if I were to pay full price at the cinema. I mean, it’s as if retro Mr. Bruce Wayne has been enjoying too much of his um, retirement. Bale is in his transformative role once again, gaining 55 pounds for the role, going the opposite route of what he did for The Fighter. He’s convincing as always, what with the Jersey accent and full-on con-man smarmy-ness, though at times his amazing transformation actually takes me out of the story a bit.

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The film shows how Irving became the con-man that he was, which he seems destined to be since he was a kid. It’s as much a story about Irving as it is about Sydney Prosser, his lover and partner in crime, played with wild abandon by Amy Adams. Posing as a British national, Sydney is seductive and perhaps even more cunning than her lover. Inconsistent British accent aside, Adams totally disappears into her role. Hard to believe this is the very same innocent Giselle from Enchanted. She also has a sultry chemistry with Bale, in fact, I tweeted right after the movie that there’s more sparks between her and fat, balding Batman than with the Man of Steel earlier this year 😉

As Irving and Sydney’s cunning schemes grew bolder, inevitably it caught the attention of the Feds and ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) soon got both working for him, hustled them into exposing Jersey power brokers and mafia underworld. It seems like an enchanting proposition but of course things are never as simple nor easy as they seem. It’s later revealed that Irving has a sexy but unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who makes things even more complicated as the plan progresses. The 22-year-old once again displays that she could effortlessly portray someone much older than she is and hold her own against actors twice her age. Her deliberately campy performance steals scenes every time she appears, especially the bit involving a microwave.

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The story seems to shift the focus between the developing relationship of Richie & Sydney, as well as Irving and Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The latter ends up revealing Irving’s sense of humanity, what’s left of it at least, as he gains more sympathy for Carmine. The film plays like an ensemble cast of sort, with not one but a trio of protagonists (Irving, Sydney and Richie) with power plays entwining between the three of them. Though Cooper still has a long way from becoming one of my favorite actors, I’ve grown to appreciate him more and he does have dramatic as well as comic timing. There’s a cameo from Robert DeNiro which is one of the film’s highlights, though Michael Peña is the scene-stealer here in a brief but hysterical supporting role. I’ll let you see it for yourself what role he’s playing. Oh, stand-up comedian Louis C.K. is a hoot as Richie’s boss as well, that was an interesting casting that works pretty well. I think the cast is what makes this movie so enjoyable. I know a lot of people compare O. Russell’s direction style to Scorsese’s. Now, even if there’s some similarities, I don’t know why someone of O. Russell’s stature would ever need to copy someone else’s work.

What I think is the flaw of the film is the slightly off pacing and lack of emotional gratification. Through all the topsy-turvy scenarios, I don’t really have any emotional connection with any of the characters. Though the 1970s set pieces, costumes, vibe, etc. is convincingly retro, I didn’t always feel so immersed in that world as I had hoped. So in the end, it never became anything more than a fun and amusing ride featuring solid performances. Given the premise, there are crazy situations involving sex, drugs and a whole lot of scheming, but having seen The Wolf of Wall Street though, that one makes American Hustle looks like a PG-13 movie!

“I believe that you should treat people the way you want to be treated, didn’t Jesus say that? Also, always take a favor over money. Effin’ Jesus said that as well.” – Irving Rosenfeld

The screenplay was originally titled American Bullshit by Eric Warren Singer and was listed at #8 on the 2010 Black List of un-produced screenplays. O. Russell ended up co-writing the script for this one, which features some riotous dialogue and fun use of music. I especially enjoyed the scene of Rosalyn cleaning her house whilst singing Live and Let Die, complete with vinyl yellow gloves on. I had fun with this one, it’s as amusing as you’d expect and more freakishly hilarious as I thought it’d be. I don’t even mind watching this again when it’s out on dvd.

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4 out of 5 reels

So have you seen American Hustle? I’d love to hear what you think!

Musings on Man of Steel: What works and what doesn’t in the latest Superman reboot

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Oh boy, where do I begin… Some films are tough to review and I find this one to be particularly so because I feel like I’ve invested myself in this movie even long before I saw it. It’s strange I know, and perhaps I shouldn’t have been sooo incredibly pumped but if you’ve read my ‘history‘ if you will, with this character, I can’t help myself. And really, Warner Bros have done a tremendous job building the marketing for this movie and pacing the trailers to get fan boys/girls like me to wait with baited breath.

Well, at 7:30 pm last Tuesday night — after two and a half years wait, and numerous countdown posts — my hubby and I finally sat down and watch this film. I’m glad there were only two trailers before this film came out, though I wish one of them had been for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, as I didn’t want to wait a moment sooner for this film to start. Now, here’s my thoughts after a few days processing it… pardon the long post, but you know I’m rather indulgent when it comes to Superman 😀

What Works

An absorbing backstory of the hero and his planet

When the filmmakers said this is going to be an origin story, they REALLY meant it. The film opens with our hero still in his mother’s womb and his father, the brilliant scientist Jor-El, helping her deliver him. We know he’s a special ‘man’ on earth, but he’s also a special baby in his native planet, as Kal-El is the first baby born of natural conception in thousands of years. We get a glimpse of a more organic version of Krypton than I’ve ever seen. The landscape and creatures from the alien planet reminds me a bit of Avatar, brushed with much more warm color scheme than the icy, futuristic look of the Richard Donner version. We see the ‘S’ symbol as a prominent element of his family, and I like that this film gives that iconic emblem a bit more background than in previous movies as it’s such an integral part of the character.

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The send-off is an emotional one, giving us a picture of the kind of people brought Kal-El into the world, and the grim circumstances of the world he was born into. The extended history scenes was explored pretty well here, which certainly makes me think of Krypton in a different light, that’s it’s a world that’s not so entirely different from our own. It’s definitely a thought-provoking Superman film that lingers with me for days after I saw it.

Exploring the sci-fi aspect

It’s interesting that I never regarded the previous Superman as a science-fiction movie, but this time you could say that Man of Steel is a sci-fi action/drama as it really tackles the ‘science’ of the two worlds of Superman. Words like terraforming, codex, world engines, etc. are terms I never associate with Superman, and we also get vibes of The Matrix or Gattaca in earlier scenes.

There’s a scene that touches upon the fact that Superman’s no longer used to his native Kryptonian atmosphere, as his body’s adapted to earth’s oxygen after living here for three decades. It seems to have a similar weakening power the way Kryptonite does, though there’s no mention of that in the film. It’s fascinating stuff and adds a different layer to the Superman story that’s overlooked in the past.

The non-linear storyline

This is sort of a Christopher Nolan‘s trademark if you will, and I’m glad David S. Goyer decided to interweave the Clark Kent’s upbringing in flashback mode as the adult Clark is grappling with the notion of ‘Where do I come from?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ This narrative style isn’t confusing to me because well, I (as well as most people) already know the story, but it’s still good to see it being played out in a whole different way. I think it helps pace the story as well, because let’s face it, when you’re in the theater watching a Superman movie, you yearn to see Supes in THAT suit. The buildup makes the moment when he comes out of what we’ve come to know as Fortress of Solitude, with his cape billowing in the wind, all the more sweeter. Not a moment too soon, I’d say, and though I’ve seen that clip a bazillion times in the trailer, I’m still getting goosebumps watching it.

Supes ‘super’ Dads

It’s perfect timing that Man of Steel is released on Father’s Day weekend, as both of his fathers in the film are so awesome they’re even worthy of their own ‘My Two Dads’ spinoff, ahah. The reviewer at HitFix.com astutely pointed out one of the most fundamental difference between DC’s two flagship heroes “…Batman is defined by his missing parents, while Superman is defined by his surplus of parents.” That’s so true! And it’s nice to see the excellent casting for both roles. I really enjoy watching Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Supes’ Kryptonian and earth-bound father, respectively. It’s interesting that both Oscar winners have played Robin Hood and Cavill was quite the masterful archer in Immortals, I guess it runs in the family 😀

I appreciate seeing Jor-El’s character being covered in more depth, with Crowe is in top form here, as valiant and heroic as he was in Gladiator (the ‘This is madness’ line cracks me up a bit though, an homage to Snyder’s previous hit film perhaps?) Thankfully, he’s not relegated to just a talking head like Brando and he appears throughout the film in a hologram, traveling with his son in ‘spirit’ if you were, just like God the Father is in Christ the son. The Judeo-Christian theme in Superman films are always palpable, and here Clark becomes the earthly savior at the exact age of 33. Thus the father/son scenes are easily the highlights of the film for me, and Crowe’s Jor-El is perhaps my favorite character in the film next to the title role.

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Costner hits all the right notes as as the humble and wise farmer from Smallville who loves his adopted son so much he’s willing to lay down his life. I’m glad we get to see Jonathan Kent interacting with the adult Clark in one scene, which happens to be one of the most emotionally-charged moment that no doubt shapes the rest of Clark’s life. The strong moral compass in the hero’s early life is covered in great depth, which made the first half of the film the more compelling part of the movie.

Henry Cavill as Superman

Naturally, to portray someone as iconic and beloved as Superman, in the year of its 75th anniversary no less, it’s crucial that we get an actor who could bring that character justice. Let’s face it though, Christopher Reeve was a tough act to follow in the role, and the comparison is inevitable. Truth be told, Reeve’s Superman will always have a very special place in my heart, I don’t think anyone could ever take his place.

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That said, I’ve been a fan of Cavill’s casting from the get-go, obviously he looks every inch the part both in chiseled physique and down-to-earth mannerism. But the true test is really seeing him on screen, BEING Superman and interacting with the people in the story. Well, I can say with confidence and positive giddy-ness that Cavill did the character justice. Sure we didn’t get the bumbling Clark trying to get Lois’ attention, but that doesn’t mean this version is one dimensional at all. In fact, Cavill believably portrays a more layered persona, showing the vulnerable side of such a larger-than-life character. Not quite the tortured soul the way Bruce Wayne was, but appropriately solemn as a conflicted man haunted by the past dealing with a constant internal struggles within him. Seems like some critics are expecting a wisecracking character with a slew of one liners at the ready, but you know what, I’m not expecting that from Cavill. I’m glad he made the character his own instead of simply channeling Reeve. I like that he’s a man of a few words, someone who wisely prefers to listen than being heard.

Michael Shannon as Zod

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I was glad when it was announced that General Zod was going to be the main villain, and boy, did they get an excellent actor to play the part. In some interviews, Michael Shannon said that he never thought of playing a comic-book character and that he found something sympathetic about his character. I appreciate his take on the role as a staunch military leader who’s loyal to a fault. So he’s not simply a megalomaniac who enjoy making people suffer, though of course his mission to save his own kind is basically genocide, something that neither Jor-El nor his son would ever condone. Ok so his bowl cut and goatee is not exactly an attractive look on Shannon, but it’s nice to see a villain who also looks physically menacing. Shannon’s athleticism makes him a formidable foe even for the mighty buff Cavill.

The chemistry of the Cast

The fantastic ensemble cast would be for naught if they don’t have chemistry with each other. But there’s none of that issue in this film, all the performances are strong here and they play off each other well. Despite being the youngest and least experienced actor amongst the key players, Cavill’s able to hold his own effortlessly. I love all his scenes with Crowe and especially this one with Diane Lane as his earth-bound mother. It’s one of the cheeriest moments in the movie where Clark came home after being away from Smallville for some time. The mother & son moment is poignant and sweet.

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The visual imagination of the film

As I’ve mentioned above, the long opening sequence of life in Krypton shows the vast planet where Superman came from. The scene is beautifully realized, with lush valleys, caverns and water mass, with what looks like a primeval animals and wing-like creatures that serve as means of transport.

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The look of Smallville captures the picturesque small town sensibilities and the iconic Kent farm that’s apparently built from scratch looks appropriately earthy next to the massive corn fields (Kevin Costner must’ve felt a sense of déjà vu from filming Fields of Dreams, ahah). Contrast that to the design of the baby Kal-El’s rocket ship that launched him from Krypton. The key word here once again is organic, with its clean lines and a more rounded shape that forms the S-shield. Oh, and if you look closely, seems like Pa Kent’s been collecting all kinds of books about aliens, UFOs, etc. which of course leads to him saying “Youre the answer to ‘Are we alone in the universe?'” when the time comes that he can’t hide it from his adopted son anymore.

I LOVE, LOVE the costume design of this film! The texture and ornate design is just fantastic, and the armor that Jor-El wore has an interesting dichotomy of being ancient looking as well as futuristic at the same time. The iconic Superman suit is re-imagined with a darker, more monochromatic hue. Again, the sleek texture beautifully accentuate the perfectly-sculpted physique of Cavill, and certainly a heck of a lot more bad ass without the red underwear on the outside. I’d love to see Man of Steel being considered for Best Costume Design come Oscar time.

Lois Lane’s larger involvement in the story

I never thought that Lois is merely a damsel in distress in the Superman movies, I mean she’s always been a shrewd career woman. But here, the stellar reporter actually gets more to do in the story and actually gets to be a part of Superman’s mission in saving humanity. No doubt Amy Adams is perhaps the best and most ‘decorated’ actress (with her four Oscar nominations under her belt) to play that character. Though I think Margot Kidder’s spunk in the role remains unmatched, Adams is quite believable and more importantly likable, as Supes’ love interest. Despite the relatively brief screen time between them (less than what I’d have liked to see anyway), Cavill and Adams have a nice chemistry together. But seriously, what girl wouldn’t have a good chemistry with Henry Cavill! I’ve got to admit the scene of them locking lips gets me green with envy! 😉

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It’s no surprise that Snyder likes a strong female character in his films and in this one, we’ve got one on both sides of good and evil, as Zod’s right hand woman Faora (Antje Traue) is a force to be reckoned with!

Last but certainly NOT least…

The flying sequences

Flying is the quintessential powers that makes Superman different from other superheroes. So I’m glad that Snyder put a lot of effort into it and truly makes the whole flying thing SUPER cool! There’s a scene where Jor-El tells his son to ‘keep testing his limits’ as neither of them knows just how powerful the earth’s sun would fuel him. There’s even a sequence of Superman learning how to fly properly, and the scene of him flying all over the globe seemingly faster than a speeding bullet is awesome!

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At the same time, though Supes’ super strength here is magnificent, I’m glad the suspension of disbelief required of us doesn’t go beyond risible grandiosity such as turning back earth axis and turning back time. I mean, I love Superman: The Movie as you all know, but that’s just stretching the preposterous meter way too far even for a superhero movie.

What Doesn’t 

Ok, now you all know how much I want to LOVE this movie. I want to clap and cheer when the end credits roll and shout out ‘awesooooooooome!!’ at top of my lungs. Well, it didn’t quite happen at first viewing, and here’s why…

The fight scenes go on way too long

Yes I know that from the trailers and featurettes that there are going to be some significant butt-kicking sequences in this one. I mean, after such a lengthy battle-free exposition if you will, naturally people are expecting more robust stuff, but I think it ends up being a bit of an overkill as the fight scenes grows increasingly relentless. As soon as Zod descend on earth with his small band of Kryptonian army, all hell breaks lose!

The destruction in Metropolis would make Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich green with envy. It’s as if Zack Snyder is over-compensating for some people’s complaints that the previous Superman movie didn’t have ‘enough’ action. Seriously, by the time Superman fights Zod & co. for the fifth or sixth times, and it just gets tedious. There’s also an overlong scene of Superman fighting these weird alien creatures with long tentacles towards the end, it’s really hard to see what the heck is going on. It’s a case of CGI-overload, which is never a good thing.

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Seeing Supes and his nemesis going through building after building, leaving heaps of destruction in its wake, it quickly becomes pointless as we all know these Kryptonians are all indestructible. Plus, their fights actually cause more human casualties as skyscrapers are collapsing all around them.

Lacking one stand-out scene that exemplifies Superman as the ‘savior of humanity’

Ironically, with sooo many battle scenes and so much time devoted to Supes kicking all kinds of butt, there is not a single defining moment, if you will, that makes me want to get up and cheer. Superman: The Movie has that iconic chopper-rescue scene with Lois, Superman II has the battle at the end with Zod & co. that leads to the finale at the Fortress of Solitude, and even Superman Returns has that rousing plane rescue scene that earns Supes a thunderous heroes’ welcome! (Btw you can watch all of those scenes here).

The most memorable part for me is the scene where Supes first tackles Zod, destroying his helmet that protects him from being overwhelmed by his heightened senses. I think it’s brilliant that they show an insight to just how crucial Clark’s parents teaching was in getting him to control his powers. But it falls short from being a truly glorious scene, and most importantly, we never quite see Superman as being welcomed by the people of earth as their alien hero, even though the stake in this film is even greater than anything Lex Luthor ever posed to humanity. There’s only acknowledgement from a few military people and some Daily Planet employees, but most earthlings pretty much are still in the dark as who Superman is.

Hans Zimmer’s score didn’t quite hit an emotional high for me

This is really a bummer as I’ve grown to enjoy this soundtrack, and accept the fact no score is going to be as iconic as what John Williams’ has done (even Zimmer himself realized this). I’ve actually been listening to the score on its own and really enjoyed it. But somehow, I don’t really remember the music being all that memorable in the film. Perhaps it’s intentional to make the score to sort of blend in with the story, but I expected it to give me this emotional rush like it did in the previous film, but it wasn’t quite there. Perhaps on second viewing I might have a different opinion on it, but as it is now, it’s a bit underwhelming.

The Verdict?

Despite the flaws I’ve pointed out, there are still a LOT to love in this film. So yeah, I still LOVE Superman and Man of Steel certainly did not dampen my love for the character. The bold new interpretation certainly didn’t frustrate me the way Superman Returns did with the ‘Supes boy’ twist, though it could’ve been more engaging all the way through. The first half of the film before we even see Kal-El donning the suit is definitely more compelling to me than the later when Superman perform all kinds of impressive heroic stunts. I think Richard Corliss in his TIME review sums it up nicely: “The super part of Man of Steel is just O.K.; but the man part is super.”

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I do want to point out that there IS a beating heart amidst all the booming spectacle and I do think the filmmakers deliver on the promise of a ‘first contact’ story. In addition, just because it’s a darker and grittier interpretation, it doesn’t mean it’s gloom and doom. The message about hope is not lost on me here,  I think Christopher Nolan + David Goyer + Zack Snyder‘s vision certainly has the potential to launch a lucrative franchise for DC. I for one wants to see more of THIS version of Superman, surely with Henry Cavill in the title role!

So no, I’m NOT disappointed in this one. In fact, the longer it sits with me the more I appreciate it and I’m still eager to see it again (in fact I’ve already got my tickets for an encore later tonight) 😀 Well, after a second viewing, I’ve now settled with the higher score than what I’ve originally intended…

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What are YOUR thoughts on this film? Let’s compare notes on this one, folks!

Man of Steel Countdown #3: Smallville’s ‘Craving’ episode with Amy Adams

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In less than fourteen days, the wait would be over. The Man of Steel countdown has officially begun last week with Superman & Me and Superman: The Movie in 1978,The Year.

Today we’ve got Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights and Movie Nights‘ review of a Smallville episode starring miss Lois Lane herself, Amy Adams. 


When I was asked to be a part of this Superman countdown, I quickly agreed but I wasn’t quite sure at first what I would do for it. I didn’t just want to do a review of a Superman movie, especially since I’ve already reviewed almost every Superman movie out there and I didn’t just want to rehash one of my old reviews.

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Amy Adams as Lois Lane

But she also mentioned that I could do something involving one of the Superman TV series and it hit me. There is a connection between the new Man of Steel movie and one of the TV series. Interestingly enough, Amy Adams who plays Lois Lane had an early role in Smallville‘s first seasons as one of the freaks of the week in the episode Craving. So I thought I would take a look at that episode and her first interactions with the man who would become Superman, Clark Kent.

I was a big supporter of Smallville back when it first came out, and I actually had to rewrite this sentence because I had forgotten how long ago it actually was when it first came on the air. I originally wrote that both my wife and I were fans of the show from the very beginning, until I realized that it’s been over 12 years since the first season first aired, and we have only been together coming up on 10 years.

Smallville_LanaClarkAs much as I was a fan of the show, she would become the die hard fan and through the years I’d forgotten that it was actually me who introduced her to the show for the first time, probably towards the end of the second season, maybe even into the third. Of course, her love of the show was mainly focused on one character: Lana Lang played by Kristen Kreuk. After Kristen left the show during the last couple seasons, we both kind of fell out of love with the show and still have yet to watch or own the final two seasons on DVD, though we did tune in for the series finale.

But I’m getting off track here, let’s bring it back to the very first season of the show where Clark Kent was still learning his powers. At this point he had only developed his X-Ray vision alongside his strength and speed, Lana Lang was still dating the football player Whitney, and Lex Luthor was still playing at being a good guy who’s just trying to help the kid that saved his life get the girl he really wants.

And while there is the start of one of the ongoing plotlines with the Kryptonite scientist Dr. Hamilton, this is very much an episodic story that revolves around Lana’s birthday and our meteor freak-of-the-week played by Amy Adams in fat makeup whose name I’ve already forgotten. She’s the “fat” girl, and I use quotation marks because when she weighs herself the first time the scale reads around 170 pounds, and while that is a little overweight, it’s a far cry from “fat”. Of course this could have been a good opportunity to be a social commentary on the fact that in high school (or beyond for that matter) a 170 pound girl is considered to be fat by our current social standards based upon the ultra skinny models, Hollywood actresses, and vapid reality stars.

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One of the worst parts of these early episodes really is the drop-in drop-out characters who are only in one episode, but during the run-time try to act as if they’ve been there all along. Here, Adams feels like she should have been hanging out with the main group of Clark, Chloe, and Pete for the whole season as close as they are for her week. There’s also the stoner looking teenager who in Star Trek terms would be considered the red shirt, who makes fun of Adams and calls Pete a “chubby chaser”. I suppose I should mention the whole freak concept. Adams has a greenhouse where she grows vegetables in soil laced up the wazoo with Kryptonite meteors, and when she makes a diet shake with them, it speeds up her metabolism just enough to make her instantly lose weight and become closer to her ideal weight. There’s always a price, and after a while her metabolism supposedly catches up to her and she has to gorge, which usually means making a mess out of all the food in the refrigerator, but when the craving hits her at night after she has just hit a deer, she becomes this comical looking “fat vampire” where her jaw drops an extra foot wide which we’re supposed to believe allows her to suck all the fat out of the deer, and later in the episode the red shirt kid.

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As far as Adams’ role in the episode, even though it’s a very cheesy concept, she pulls it off quite well. She’s great in both the scenes where she’s hanging out with the Clark gang as if she’s been there the whole time. She also handles the dramatic moments very well, whether she’s hiding the fact that she just went through a gorge-fest, she’s calling out the red shirt on his verbal bullying, or when she’s trying to save Pete from her own cravings which she can’t control. It’s a shame that she was only cast for the weekly freak as I think she would have fit in well as a recurring character and oddly enough it does make me look forward to seeing her as Lois Lane in Man of Steel in its own small way.

Smallville_Craving_Amy3The episode itself draws some minor parallels to eating disorders, but I didn’t feel like the connection was very strong. The B story with Lana’s birthday party falls into the same old typical routine where Clark gets his chance to be with Lana, as friends, and promises that he’ll be there for her but ends up a no show because he’s busy playing the hero to save Pete. And in the end, he makes up for it with a little help from Lex’s money.

It was fun taking a look back at this early episode of a show I watched for years, it definitely has its problems, but it was fun seeing Tom Welling play his awkward Clark Kent. The cast of the show and relationships between the characters were one of the reasons why I think the show lasted as long as it did, as well as one of the reasons why I didn’t stick with it when they lost a lot of the core cast. Michael Rosenbaum, Kristen Kreuk, Tom Welling, and even Allison Mack as Chloe just work so well together even as early as this first season and really helped remind me why I loved the show.

Thanks again to Ruth for giving me an excuse to go back and revisit the show and I know I can’t wait to see Man of Steel.


Thanks again to Bubbawheat for his awesome contribution.
Check out more comic-related musings and reviews over on his blog.

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Thoughts on Amy Adams and/or Smallville? Let’s hear it in the comments!