THIS JUST IN! The Batman – DC FanDome Teaser

Wow, Robert Pattinson is everywhere isn’t he? Fresh from the release of a bunch of TENET reviews just a few days ago, now we’ve got a new teaser of THE BATMAN!

Apparently the film hasn’t even finished filming yet (yep, thanks to Covid-19), it’s supposed to resume in September. But hey, good for director Matt Reeves that he somehow managed to have enough footage to show during DC FanDome event going on today (Saturday).

Behold…

My first reaction is… I dig it. Reeves promised us ‘… a point of view-driven, noir tale that’s more about Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films.’ Well, this moody trailer certainly teased us that w/ a heavy collaboration with Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Nirvana’s song Something in the Way somehow gave it a dark, retro feel. I don’t always like the use of popular songs in trailers, but this one works quite well. Two things I’m happy about this version… it’s NOT an origin story (we do not need to see Bruce’s parents dying all over again in an alley!) AND Batman doesn’t have that ridiculous, unintelligible deep voice in the Chris Nolan’s movies.

Per Variety, in the DC FanDome panel for the film, Reeves said “The Batman” won’t be an origin story per se, but it does start in “Year Two” of Batman’s emergence, in which Batman and several other iconic characters — Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), the Riddler, and the Penguin (Colin Farrell) — are still in the early stages of their development. In exploring the corruption at the heart of the story, Batman also begins to uncover a larger story of corruption within the city, and how it may connect back to the vastly wealthy and powerful Wayne family.

Robert Pattinson Batcave - The Batman

I didn’t realize it was Paul Dano as The Riddler, which is one of the many villains featured in this version. Zoe Kravitz seems like perfect casting as Catwoman too, excited to see her! Oh and I love that Andy Serkis is playing Alfred Pennyworth, whose voice you can hear when he said ‘you’re becoming quite a celebrity.’

Btw, check this out… is this REALLY Colin Farrell?? Wow!! Whoever did the prosthetic makeup is phenomenal!

As for The Batman himself, I was actually intrigued by R-Patz as Batman when it was first announced. I think he’s a talented actor who could bring a fresh take to the role, plus I believe in Matt Reeves’ ability to do the same, given his stellar work in the latest Planet of the Apes movies, one of the best trilogy ever. Based on what I see here, Pattinson as more of a detective make sense instead of displaying a hero with sheer brute force. The one part that made me cringe a bit is when he’s punching a thug repeatedly and then says ‘I am vengeance.’ Hmmm… really? But overall I’m optimistic about his take on the role.

Robert Pattinson The Batman

Even though Batfleck is still a thing (Ben Affleck is supposed to reprise his Batman role in the big-screen version of The Flash), I’m kind of over that version.

The Batman is scheduled to hit movie theaters on Oct. 21, 2021, so we have more than a year to wait on this. Let’s hope theaters would actually be open to at least half capacity by then.


Well, what do you think of The Batman teaser?

FlixChatter Review: LONG SHOT (2019)

Let me preface this review that I rarely go to R-rated comedies, particularly those with Seth Rogen in it. In fact, the last movie I saw Seth Rogen in a movie is probably 50/50 a decade ago with Joseph Gordon-Levitt which interestingly enough is also directed by Jonathan Levine. Yet there’s something about the story that appealed to me, primarily Charlize Theron‘s casting, and trailer made me laugh.

Speaking of miss Theron, her beauty and intellect suits her role perfectly here. She plays Charlotte Field, an accomplished politician, the youngest secretary of state who’s running for president. In contrast, Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a talented and free-spirited journalist who’s perhaps too idealistic for his own good. We first see Flarsky in an undercover stint involving white supremacist group, an ordeal that could’ve easily cost him his life. When he later finds out his paper is being bought by a media magnate Parker Wembley (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis, clearly lampooning Rupert Murdoch), Fred immediately quits on principle.

When Fred and Charlotte meet, it’s not exactly a meet-cute but it’s definitely a memorable one involving 90s R&B icons Boyz II Men. Apparently she was his babysitter in his early teens and she has been his crush ever since. That meet-up leads to Fred being hired by Charlotte herself as her speechwriter, despite the protests of her staff members Tom (Ravi Patel) and Maggie (June Diane Raphael). Maggie distrusts Fred from the start and she couldn’t fathom seeing her glamorous boss dates the likes of him. Charlotte feels that Fred would provide a fresh voice and improves her more serious image with his youthful idealism and in a way, he does.

I’m glad there are more of these unconventional rom-com being made, as last February we saw Isn’t It Romantic? that’s both a spoof and an homage to the romantic comedy genre. As the title suggests, Charlotte is a long-shot romantically for someone like Fred, while Charlote is a long-shot presidential contender (playing on the notion that America still isn’t ready for a woman president). For any rom-com to work, even the most unconventional one, there would have to be chemistry between the two romantic leads. I’d say Charlize and Seth have a good rapport and comedic chemistry, but to say they have strong romantic chemistry would be a stretch. That said, there’s enough going for them that made me curious about their journey.

Writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah make a point that even the most beautiful & successful people do get lonely. Theron displays a certain vulnerability that makes her relatable despite her goddess-like appearance. She also has comedic chops and made Charlotte likable enough that it’s easy to root for her. Rogen’s Fred takes a while to warm up to, even if you can’t help empathize with his fish-out-of-water experience as he goes on the road with Charlotte. Undoubtedly there’ll be friction when two people with few things in common are suddenly thrown together, but how Fred views the world is quite problematic. Most politically-inclined movies out of Hollywood are usually far-left leaning, and this movie is no different. But I appreciate that the movie doesn’t shy away from showing how people with extreme worldview inherently hold prejudices. There’s a particularly in a memorable exchange between him and his loyal friend Lance (a terrific O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) that draws laughs, but that topic is definitely thought-provoking.

The R-rating is warranted given the amount of sexual, drug-related humor and profanity. There’s also a vulgar scene where I’m glad I averted my eyes, let’s just say it conjured up a scene from a classic R-rated rom-com There’s Something About Mary. The amount of physical comedy here is so fantastical that it’s practically cartoonish as in real life those incidents would result in him being seriously injured or dead. While the film comments on the tricky, slippery nature of politics, especially as an underdog AND as a woman, at times the way it’s presented are too ludicrous or too simplistic. Some of the supporting characters are downright cartoonish as well. Bob Odenkirk plays the TV-star turned US president who yearns to be a movie star, and Alexander Skarsgård relishes his comedic muscle as a hunky-but-shallow Canadian PM.

Despite the flaws, I find myself enjoying the movie for the most part. Some of the pop-culture jokes were funny, especially when it mentions a huge superhero blockbuster movie that’s still very much on top of the box office when this one comes out. There are some predictable beats and over-the-top scenes, but Levine managed to keep the movie engaging throughout. The ending is actually more in line with a typical rom-com in that it’s a crowd-pleasing, fantastical wish-fulfillment. It doesn’t exactly ring true, but at least it was an amusing surprise. I’d say if you’re a fan of raunchy comedies, you’d likely have fun with this. But if this sub-genre isn’t your thing, you might still enjoy this if you like the cast.


Have you seen LONG SHOT? Let me know what you think!

TCFF 2018 Interviews: Steve Zahn


Not everyday I got the opportunity one of my favorite actors… so imagine my excitement that I got a one-on-one interview with Steve Zahn! I’ve mentioned a bit about Mr. Zahn in my TCFF gala recap last week. A Minnesota native who’ve carved out a fantastic career in Hollywood, Steve is as humble and funny as you’d imagine, no movie star pretense whatsoever and he still looks incredibly young for being 50 years old (in fact he certainly could pass for 35!). Before the interview started, he remarked to me and a rep from Showplace ICON Theatres that it’s ‘f***ing’ bizarre’ to be doing the red carpet, press, etc. as he usually does the glitz and glamor stuff in L.A. and he comes home to Minnesota to be away from all that. He actually stays with his parents while he’s in town, in the same house he grew up in in New Hope (Minneapolis suburbs) instead of at a swanky hotel.

Steve Zahn with his TCFF Lifetime Achievement Award

Once we sat down, I asked him when was the last time he was in MN and he replied ‘A month ago for my 80th birthday.’ Apparently he’s also home every Christmas, splitting his time between his family ranch in Kentucky where he lives with his wife and two teenage kids. I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he’s about to receive from TCFF. It’s hard to believe he’s got over 70 projects under his belt listed on IMDb, spanning over two decades since he got his big break in Reality Bites in 1994. One of Hollywood’s best and most versatile actor, he’s a self-described character actor who can easily transition into leading roles. He’s one of those talents who’s great in everything he does. He always stands out and you’d remember him matter how small the role is.

Below is a photo of Steve receiving the award from TCFF’s executive director Jatin Setia last Thursday, Sept.6:

Thanks TCFF photographer Dallas Smith for this awesome photo!

When I mentioned the Lifetime Achievement Award, Steve had this to say… ”As an actor you do one gig and it’s over and you do another. It doesn’t connect, it’s not like it’s a continuous thing. I just got a text from my cousin. She drives snow plows in West Central Minnesota, she’s worked for the state for 30 years and she got a watch. I mean it doesn’t happen in my business. So it’s weird to look back at things you did that you think they don’t connect but they do connect in a weird way.”

 You got started doing theatre work here in Minnesota and New York City. Do you miss doing theatre work?

Oh yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s weird because of where I live, the commitment to theatre would take me away from my family too long. Film commitments are shorter. I can work for three months, and you can come home during that time and then I’m done. As opposed to theatre commitments which is like 8 shows a week and one day off. For me it’s more logistics and family [that prevents him from doing more theatre work].

Steve with Ethan Hawke in the 1993 play ‘Sophistry’ – Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizon

You have been doing a lot of TV work recently (he’s currently filming Valley of the Boom, a docudrama that’ll air on National Geographic focusing on the 1990s tech boom and bust in Silicon Valley). Are you enjoying that?

Well yes, both TV and film. It’s the trend of the business, the TV medium has expanded beyond belief. Writers have gone from film to tv to tell these intricate, character-driven stories. It used to be the opposite when films are the ones doing that, so it’s interesting to see the change. There was a time when talents sort of get labeled as a ‘TV actor’ so if you want to be a film actor you don’t do TV. It’s totally different now, that stigma is gone completely. For me, I just want to do good stuff, tell good stories with compelling characters. That’s what I look for, I don’t care what the medium is, whether it’s for the small screen or big screen, no matter what the budget is.

You’ve done SO many projects but we don’t have time to go over all of those. I have my favorites you’ve done such as You’ve Got Mail, That Thing You Do!, Shattered Glass… but one I’m curious about is Rescue Dawn. It must be super challenging. How was it working with Werner Herzog?

Oh amazing. He’s an unusual guy but that whole project one of the highlights of my career. Having to physically change and to dive into a character that rigorously. To work with someone that eclectic, y’know, he’s really an interesting guy. Really simple, he was phenomenal. Every day was completely different. The fact that there was no trailers for actors, he doesn’t really like comfort… he loves chaos, he thrives off it, that’s when he’s most creative, not when things are comfortable.

I heard you lost 40 pounds for the role? And this wasn’t a big studio project right, so you must have to have done it on your own?

Oh yeah, Christian [Bale] and I did it for Werner, and because the story was amazing.

Another film I want to ask you about is War For the Planet of the Apes because I love motion-capture (mo-cap). How did you get involved in that project?

I was doing a TV show down in Puerto Rico and [director] Matt Reeves was interested in me playing the part so we have a conversation via Skype for over an hour about Westerns and stuff and he asked me if I would be willing to read for it. So he gave me three days, and I read for him over Skype and he loved it and wanted me to do it. I just said I needed a week at home in between jobs and then I was off in Vancouver running around for a couple of weeks playing an ape. That’s the closest thing that I’ve done to theatre on film, despite the huge budget [$150mil]. It was phenomenal. It was so physical and so difficult and challenging. Mo-cap captures your performance. It doesn’t make you an ape, it makes you look like an ape. So if you don’t move like one, you’re not going to look like one.

Down to the tiniest movement, you’d have to analyze how an ape behaves. We [humans] have a lot of pretense, we hold ourselves a certain way. But apes don’t do that. When we look at something, we do it in such a way, but apes do it totally differently. So you have to embody that, then forget about it so you have to be able to play a character with emotions.

Did you work with the ‘King of Mo-Cap’ Andy Serkis who played Caesar in the ‘Apes’ franchise?

Oh yeah he’s amazing. I really think Andy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. I mean I voted for him when it was award season, it’s really difficult work. It’s harder than playing a regular cop, ‘cause now you have to play a cop that’s an ape, for example. If it weren’t for my theatre background, I really don’t think I would’ve been able to do that job.

In your illustrious career, you’ve worked with SO many people. Which of your co-stars you’d love to work with again?

Oh man, there’s so many. Ethan Hawke is a good friend of mine, all he has to do is call. Richard Linklater. Sam Rockwell, oh too many to mention.

Speaking of Ethan Hawke who’s gone into directing more and more. Is that something you would like to tackle in the future?

I don’t know. I’m not as bold… he’s an amazing artist. I mean, if there’s something I’m really passionate about, yeah maybe.

Last question. You mentioned that you lived in Kentucky, which is far from Hollywood. Is that a deliberate choice that you want to have a work and life balance?

No. It’s just another passion in life [to live as a rancher]. Even when I was doing theatre in New York I was living in a cabin in Pennsylvania. I always enjoy living outside, outdoors, I just enjoy that. I hunt, fish, farm, that’s who I am. Yet indirectly, as I get older, I think it’s nice to be able to go from one extreme to the other, that is the contrast of working in Hollywood and living in a ranch. I think it helps me as an artist. It may not be the best for someone else but for me it’s perfect. It keeps me ‘naïve’ and every time I go to every job it feels fresh, like the first time. I’m always on location in a way, I never work at home.


Soon after our interview, Steve was whisked away to the Rooftop Bar at AC Marriott Hotel. But thanks to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper who took the time to snap this photo of us before he left.

Thank you Steve Zahn for taking the time to chat with me… and Jatin Setia & Bill Cooper for the opportunity!


So what’s YOUR favorite Steve Zahn role(s)?

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FlixChatter Review: Black Panther (2018)

I had been looking forward to write a review of this film since I saw it a week ago. By now practically everyone has seen this film, as it broke all kinds of box office records. Normally I don’t really care for numbers for a big tentpole films like this one, but I am thrilled for the success of Black Panther because simply it’s a terrific film that deserved to be seen on the big screen.

The film’s storyline is set just right after the events in Captain America: Civil War (a film I also admired a lot) where T’Challa, the then heir of a fictional African country Wakanda, lost his father. The young King of Wakanda returns his technologically-advanced and supremely wealthy home. It isn’t easy to be king however, as his ascend to the throne faced many challenges. Unlike many superhero films where the villains are mostly maniacal figure hell-bent to rule/destroy the world, T’Challa’s advisory turns out to be a personal one.

I won’t go into too much details about the plot as it’s best to go into this blindly as I did. The story takes place mostly in Wakanda, but it started off in a familiar urban setting in Oakland, California. I love how relatable the story is, and you truly feel for the dilemma of the characters involved. Rich in vibranium, the indestructible metal that’s used to make Captain America’s shield, Wakanda isolated themselves from other African nations and posed as a Third World country. Run by the King’s sister Shuri, her state-of-the-art tech lab would make even Tony Stark and Bond’s Q envious! This is a country that truly can stand alone in the universe and would never need any other nation’s help in any way. Therein lies the dilemma. Why doesn’t it help other nations and fellow Africans in need? The themes of refugees and the role (and responsibility) of a powerful nation is so fitting given the current global refugee crisis.

There is even a mid-credit scene that seems to directly address the current administration with its message about building bridges instead of barriers in times of crisis. The film doesn’t shy away from the current political climate, yet somehow it isn’t preachy and the story is still organic within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s admirable in and of itself the fact that the plot fits perfectly within MCU but yet manages stands alone and in many ways, be ahead of the pack. Because the conflicts are so personal to our hero, even when the action sequences are huge and bombastic, it never overpowered the story and there are real human lives at stake.

Let’s talk about the fantastically-diverse ensemble cast that made this film so great. From its intro in Captain America: Civil War, I already loved Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, but here we get to see his dramatic chops. The charismatic actor’s got an effortless regal vibe about him, plus he looks just as spectacular as a monarch as he is a superhero! He’s surrounded by a phenomenal cast, from veteran actors like Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, to relatively-new-but-accomplished young stars like Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Danai Gurira. I have to admit I had a gleeful smile watching two of the Tolkien white guys, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, reunited in this movie. The latter had more to do here and he provided some of the comic relief along with Wright’s Shuri.

Kudos to writers Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole for writing a villain who is multi-dimensional and someone we actually empathize with. Jordan displayed a layered performance as well as a towering physical magnetism as Erik Killmonger. Both he and Boseman are such strapping [read: hot] lads that their fight scenes are quite breathtaking to behold, but the action actually mean something instead of just a gratuitous display of destructive force [*cough* Man of Steel *cough*]. The filmmakers also created a conflict that has political/cultural significance that raises the stakes, yet keeping it grounded with human emotion.

I’d say the film might pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, considering the number of female characters with a real arc instead of used merely as accessories. The real MVPs are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and a Wakandan spy, and Danai Gurira as Okoye, a Wakandan general of the all-female special forces. Gurira’s army of bad-ass women easily give Wonder Woman‘s Amazonians a run for their money. So gratifying to see SO many heroic women of color on screen who are strong in terms of physical strength as in their intellect and resolve. Nakia is an especially inspiring character worthy of the King’s love and admiration, and Nyong’o has an amazing screen presence. Forget Black Widow, I’d love to see a spinoff with Nakia and Okoye in their own standalone Marvel movie!

This is what I called ‘fun with substance’ kind of movie, which is what Marvel has excelled at by hiring indie filmmakers to helm their blockbusters. The film showed off the huge $200 mil budget in terms of visuals and action set pieces, but the best part of it is still the story and its characters. But man, what a feast for the eyes it truly is! Apparently Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige spent more $$$ on this film to get the wealthy-beyond-measure world of Wakanda just right (according to Vulture). The towering skyscrapers, the hi-tech trains/spaceships, not to mention the incredibly rich costumes that would hopefully earn Ruth E. Carter some Costume Design nominations. They look stylishly-futuristic while still honoring its tribal African roots.

I love that Black Panther has a ton of girl power both in front and behind the camera. Its cinematographer Rachel Morrison has just broke new ground as the first female DP ever to be nominated for an Oscar (for Mudbound)! Her stunning visual work here is quite Oscar-worthy as well. There’s such colorful vibrancy in this film that’s complemented by the lively score by Coogler’s longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this film. The stakes felt real and there were moments of genuine sadness, but it also didn’t forget to have fun because hey, it’s still a superhero movie. I LOVE the exhilarating car chases that shows off Black Panther’s prowess. Basically the entire scene in Busan, South Korea is just so freaking cool! I mentioned Shuri reminds me a bit of Bond’s Q, well, some of the action scenes here at times feels like a Bond film but thankfully without the male chauvinism aspect.

Now, it’s not a perfect film as there are some pacing issues and some parts seemed to go on longer than necessary. But really, those are really small quibbles in a largely masterful work by director Ryan Coogler. He’s joined a growing number of indie filmmakers like the Russo Brothers and Taika Waititi who’ve stepped up to the task of making such quality superhero films for Marvel. I’m glad that they now have a fruitful career ahead of them, as I want to see more of their work.

Diverse representation alone doesn’t make a film automatically good. But Black Panther did the diverse cast justice by giving them something worthy to do in a well-written, thought provoking film. And THAT is definitely something worth praising about. I hope Hollywood would finally realize that racial diversity and inclusion does pay at the movies! It may not be the first black comic-book-based movie, but it certainly the biggest and best one to date.

A friend from work put it best, ‘Forget about Marvel universe, give me a Wakanda universe!’ Hey I’m down with that! #WakandaForever


So have you seen ‘Black Panther’? Well, what did you think? 

Musings on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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I wasn’t going to blog about Star Wars as I didn’t think I’d have time before my East Coast trip on Tuesday. But you know what, I can’t help it. Hubby and I actually watched the original trilogy a few weeks ago, just to refresh my memory as I barely remember any of the story. We even watched the last half hour of episode III around the time the final duel between Anakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin becoming Darth Vader.

Well, naturally there’s a feverish anticipation to The Force Awakens, a decade after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005. I’m glad the film is finally here so I can actually talk about it and not worry about spoilers. Given the behemoth box office take of $238+mil, surely most of you have seen it by now? I pretty much avoided reading a lot of reviews and articles before this weekend and I’m glad I did. Well, this post is not a review per se, more of my random thoughts about the film and the franchise as a whole, so SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet.

A balance of homage & re-imagining

After refreshing the sci-fi classic Star Trek, it’s incredible that JJ Abrams ended up getting the torch to refresh yet another beloved franchise. In a way he’s the right man for the job, and he’s dealt with audience’s passion AND wrath for some of his own creation, i.e. LOST. It’s crazy to think that this is only his fifth feature film as he mostly serve as producers in a plethora of film and TV series.
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Abram’s revealed that it’s nerve-wracking to be helming such a massively popular franchise with such ardent fans who are quite tough to please. So I can see why he sort of played it safe with Episode VII and the plot was a nice continuation from where Return of the Jedi left off three decades earlier. The trio of writers, Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, were respectful to the original story whilst making it current in terms of tone and narrative for the new generation of fans.

The one major update seems to deal with the Force itself. In The Phantom Menace, the Force was measured by Midi-chlorian counts found in the cells of a human being. Anakin had a high amount of that and that’s why Qui-Gon Jinn deemed him to be the Chosen One. But he had to be trained to be able to use the force optimally, but now it seems that the Force-sensitivity is more of a mythical thing that isn’t quantifiable, as the case with Rey who doesn’t require much training to use it (more of that later).

After the Galactic Empire was defeated, a new threat emerged in the galaxy, this time it’s called the First Order. Its similarities to the Third Reich is palpable once again, down to the army formation, uniform, etc., led by the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s clear from the start who the good and evil parties are, which kind of takes away the suspense.

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What I like about it

There’s plenty of familiar faces that’s thankfully more than just for nostalgia sake, as the major players Luke & Leia Skywalker and Han Solo’s are integral to the plot. But the fresh faces add a dose of new energy to the story, and the female-driven plot is a welcome but not-surprising move coming from Abrams.

The adventure pretty much began the moment we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger in the desert planet Jakku and Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who found his conscience and escaped from the First Order headquarter. I love both Ridley and Boyega as the two young fresh faces, that’s inspired casting there to cast two unknowns who have a nice chemistry together. Ridley’s given the most to do here as the Chosen One character, both in terms of physicality and emotionally. I think overall she pulled it off. Boyega is an effortlessly likable lead who’s got a pretty strong screen presence, too. They’ve signed on to multiple Star Wars movies and I certainly welcome seeing more of them.

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Both of them have some funny and even sweet moments with the original cast, especially Harrison Ford who have the most screen time compared to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, the latter had no speaking part at all. Like an old shoe, Ford filled his role of Han Solo effortlessly, complete with his curmudgeon attitude and dry wit. His loyal companion Chewie was right there beside him up until the end and perhaps the only moment I choked up a bit was when Chewie witnessed his BFF being murdered right in front of him.

Lupita Nyong’O, whose face was never seen, added gravitas as the wise Maz Kanata, a petite pirate of some kind who’s lived a thousand years. It’s a memorable motion-capture performance and her character is a pretty important one as she seems to know the whereabouts of Luke and also has his lightsaber.

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Like in Abram’s Star Trek films, there’s an underlying humor throughout. The banter between Rey, Finn and Solo are a hoot when they’re trying to operate (and fix) the archaic Millennium Falcon. I also find Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hilarious when he’s angry. The dude has major anger management issues as he’d blast an entire control panel with his lightsaber upon hearing some bad news, ahah. He does have great hair though and what’s the secret to him NOT having helmet hair? Now that‘s a secret worth knowing about 😉 I think between him and resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), they can practically do a Pantene commercial!

My new fave characters are definitely Rey, Finn AND the spherical droid BB 8. It’s the most adorable droid yet and he’s an absolute blast to watch! Just like Baymax in Big Hero 6, I had a big smile in my face every time the droid appeared on screen and it even knew how to give a thumbs up!! So yeah, thanks Abrams for introducing such a fun new character that made me forget about that super annoying amphibious whose name rhymes with jinx.

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When I learned that the film is 2 hrs and 15 minutes long, I was worried I’d be bored stiff but I’m glad that’s not the case at all. In fact, the film felt like a breeze thanks to the dynamic pacing and fun action scenes, especially the flying sequences. That said, I didn’t think the special effects were THAT spectacular as some people have been saying. I mean, it’s to be expected from a modern movie with a humongous budget of $200 mil. It wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Mad Max: Fury Road which was made with $50 mil less and it didn’t feel so CGI-heavy as this one.

Lastly, I have to mention about John Williams‘ score which was still as awesome as the first time I heard it. The new score is wonderful and rousing as well, which mixes the old and the new, just like the film itself.

What I’m not crazy about

I mentioned the lack of suspense, well that’s how I feel throughout the movie. I can’t tell you a moment where I was genuinely surprised, let alone shocked by it. It’s also very predictable, which takes away the impact of some of the big moments of the film. I could see the death of a major character from a mile away, and I didn’t shed a single tear when it happened (and I’m a cryer!). So you could say that the film wasn’t as emotionally gratifying as I had expected.

Now, my main *quibble* that I discussed on my way home with my hubby was the fact that there are more questions than answers after seeing it. I read this article on Tech Insider on 11 biggest questions after seeing the movie and I agree with all of them. The main one is about the protagonist Rey, who we knew nothing about when the film started and she remained a mystery up until the end. Why is she force sensitive? How does the force work within her without ANY kind of training? Yes of course given that Disney is going to milk this franchise for all its worth, I said to my hubby that we probably won’t know much about her until Episode XII! Heh.

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The other main issue I had was that it was never explained why Kylo Ren had such a major beef with his parents? I’d think they’d mention a bit of that when Han and Leia talked about him, but no, we only learned that he had been trained by Luke but then got seduced by the dark side like his granddad. I kept thinking how this seems akin to those parents who learned that their sons had secretly joined ISIS. Ren himself is far from the great villain Vader was (which is obviously the point I guess, hence his constant self doubts), and he’s far too emo and prone to tantrum-throwing to be effective as an evil leader. It made me wonder how he got to be in such a high position to begin with, is it because Snode saw a potential in him given that he’s Vader’s grandson? As much as I enjoy seeing his gorgeous hair though, I think Ren should’ve worn his mask more often as he’s not at all menacing when he takes it off.

“A soap opera about family, not spaceships”

That’s a quote from George Lucas himself I read in this article. “People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems — it’s not about spaceships.” Well, that is fine and dandy because even stories that take place in space have to be somewhat relatable for it to resonate with audiences. But do they need to have familial link for every single character though?? I think if Kylo had been someone NOT blood-related to any of Star Wars’ major character, but that he somehow received training from a Jedi (Luke), I doubt that it’d make that much of a difference in the story. Yes obviously having Han being killed off by his own son, instead of some stranger baddie who happens to be a Vader groupie, has a bigger shock value (though I wasn’t all that shocked, to be honest).

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In any case, I do think the Star Wars saga is NOT just about spaceships. It’s got some Biblical values of good and evil, generational sins, and a good message about self-control, self-sacrifice and what it means to be a hero. It’s also a story about loyalty and friendship, as with Han and Chewie, as well as those droids being so loyal to their masters. The Force Awakens introduce new best friends too, Rey and Finn, Finn and Poe, and even Rey and Chewie?

So is it a perfect film?

Well, the short answer to that is NO. As I mentioned above, Abrams took a pretty safe path and made it more of an homage with a few new things added and so I feel that it’s a bit derivative and even predictable. Just as the original trilogy were best appreciated as a whole, as a stand-alone film, The Force Awakens is good but not spectacular, but it works as a continuation of a larger story. The finale hints that Luke would have a larger role in Episode VIII alongside Rey, so it’ll be interesting where the story goes from here.

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Yes it is indeed better than the prequels, and the dialog has more zing and not cringe-inducing, thank goodness. I’m glad I saw it and I think having just seen the original trilogy helped with my enthusiasm for this new film. Having said that, my hubby and I didn’t absolutely LOVE this enough to see it again on the big screen though. We might rent it again later once it’s on Blu-ray. Thus, as entertaining as The Force Awakens was, I’m actually looking forward to talking about other movies other than Star Wars in the new year.


Well, what did YOU think? Did you share my thoughts about Episode VII?

FlixChatter Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Let me preface this review by saying that I haven’t seen any of the classic Apes movies in the 60s. I did see the 2001 reboot but I can barely remember any of it. But the 2011 version won me over that I’m intrigued to see what’s going to happen next.

The story takes place about a decade after the first film. The opening sequence swiftly tells us a Simian flu and incessant civil wars have wiped out most of humanity. On the brink of extinction, the remaining survivors in pockets all over the world is now living back in a *primal* state. It’s the search of power that connects the two species, as the dam the humans need to restore power resides so dangerously close to the Apes village.

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I love that the film takes its time in the character development of the apes, which are actually more crucial than the human characters. We get a glimpse of the apes’ community that Caesar & his fellow lab objects has built in the hills outside San Francisco.  The little apes go to *school* taught by a big, gentle orangutan, the female apes take care of the household, whilst the males hunt to provide food and protect the community. It’s akin to a tribal village where all the apes live peacefully under the leadership of the strong and wise Caesar. Not long after a small group of humans encounter some of the apes in the woods, thanks to a moron with an itchy trigger-finger, the fragile peace between the humans and the apes is about to be shattered.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) creates a suspenseful and atmospheric piece here that immediately sucks you in. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film. Aided by Michael Giacchino‘s haunting score, it’s a truly immersive experience. There is genuine terror when one of the human group leaders Malcolm tries to reason with Caesar, having witnessed that he’s clearly more than just a regular ape. Jason Clarke is solid here as Malcolm, he’s not overly charismatic but he’s effortlessly sympathetic and likable. To be fair, none of the human characters are nearly as charismatic as Caesar whose screen presence is undeniable. He commands your attention and even your allegiance, as I find myself rooting for him more than for the humans.

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Right from the start, this story keeps me engrossed whilst I marvel at the amazing CGI that looks and feels realistic. Mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis never ceases to amaze me with his motion-capture performance as Caesar. I really think his performance deserves an acting award as he truly embodies the role in the same way as a live-action actor would. The craftsmanship in the digital recreation of the apes is nothing short of amazing. Every detail and all the subtle nuances of the apes’ expression are so seamless and organic, you’d think these are actual apes who’ve been amazingly-trained! The apes all have distinct facial characteristics, just like the humans do. The production design is absolutely mesmerizing. The ape village, as well as the human compound in a rundown tower looks realistically gritty and bleak. There is a very cool scene in a wrecked gas station that sticks in the mind, not just visually but emotionally as well.

The emotional gratification is what makes a big impact here. Whilst all the special effects are incredible (what with $170 production cost), it’s the characters and their conflicts that make all the difference. And we certainly get that here with Caesar and Malcolm, both of them are essentially on the same page. Both have a family and a community they care about, yet they have to contend with those in their circle who simply don’t see things as they do. In Caesar’s camp, we’ve got Koba (Toby Kebell), his right hand man ape whose hatred for humans stems from being tortured in the lab and he’s got the ugly scars to prove it. “Koba only sees the bad side of humans,” Caesar says at one point, and honestly, at times I do feel sorry for Koba. Malcolms’ cohorts are more one-dimensional. You’ve got the hot-headed jerk Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the paranoid group leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who doesn’t really have much to do here than scream and shout. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell fare better as Clarke’s son and girlfriend, respectively, though again, most of the human characters are simply not as memorable as the apes.

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I know it’s only July, but I have a strong feeling this would end up in my Top 10 of 2014 list. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating that this stands as perhaps one of the best sequels of all time, whilst at the same time it’d work fine as a standalone film. There’s a scene that allude to Caesar’s past in the first film, a poignant moment that truly tugs my heartstrings. I don’t think people need to see the 2011 film in order to get this film, but of course it makes you appreciate Caesar’s journey more. Kudos to Matt Reeves and his team of writers (five of them to be exact) for making this film a Caesar-focused story, it’s a taut thriller that’s as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. Now, the narrative is actually quite predictable, but this is not the kind of film that relies on twists so it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment for the film. Given the present conflicts all over the world, the bloodshed and social discord depicted here resonate even more.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. The technical achievements never overshadow the story, even during the action-heavy battle scenes in the third act, it doesn’t become so bombastic that we lose sight of what’s really at stake. The 3D is just okay, which is consistent with my sentiment that 2D format is always sufficient. The powerful last shot lends itself nicely to another sequel, and you know what, I for one can’t wait to see more the continuation of Caesar’s journey.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?

10 reasons The Hobbit is a worthwhile journey

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I saw The Hobbit twice already, the first time on an advanced screening before my vacation and the second time this past weekend. I enjoyed it both times, perhaps a bit more the second time around. Despite the 2 hrs 44 minutes running time, I find it to be thoroughly enjoyable. That’s not to say that I didn’t think the length was perfect, I think there are indeed some scenes that could’ve been edited out, especially some of the battle scenes. But no, I did not find it to be as problematic as critics made it out to be. It’s worth noting that I have NOT read the book so I have no complain about the extra scenes, either.

So here are ten reasons why I’m glad to be back to Middle Earth once again:

1. The world that Tolkien built... and the classic tale of good vs. evil. I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed this movie so much is that I LOVE this fantasy world, the story and its wisdom. There’s an underlying message of hope, courage and love that’s worth revisiting again and again. I’ve loved the characters in the Lord of the Rings, and I also feel a connection with the main characters of The Hobbit. (See #9)

2. The dazzling visuals … The technological wizardry enables us to experience the journey as if we’re actually there inside Bilbo’s house, or in the woods spying on Thorin & co. I saw this movie both times in the High Frame Rate (48Frames/Second) Digital 3D format (NOT the IMAX version) and I have no qualms about it. Yes it’s so crisp that it looks like watching a show on HDTV but after a while, your eyes adjust to it and I’ve come to appreciate the clarity of every little detail and the smoothness of the fast-moving action scenes. It’s such a meticulously-crafted universe, from the interior of Bilbo’s house in the Shire to the ever-so-ethereal Rivendell, which was as majestic as I had remembered it in LOTR.

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It’s obvious this movie is a labor of love for Peter Jackson and it shows. The sweeping cinematography is one to behold, it was a welcome return to the visually mesmerizing world of Middle Earth.

3. Martin Freeman as Bilbo … I’m so glad that PJ was set on casting Freeman, even to the point of reworking the entire shooting schedule (due to the BBC’s Sherlock‘s scheduling conflict) for the Hobbit films to accommodate him. I think his casting is integral to the success of the movie and his personal journey is a joy to watch. Freeman is exactly what I’d imagine the young Bilbo would be. His bumbling mannerism, the way he constantly doubts himself, and his lack of vanity are all what I love about this character. Freeman plays the heroic ‘everyman’ so perfectly, I absolutely can’t imagine anyone else in this role.


TheHobbit_Thorin4. Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield… I was thrilled when I first heard that one of my favorite Brits got a major role in The Hobbit! The English actor definitely has the right look (despite his 6’2″ stature) and sensibility as the Aragorn-like leader of the pack. As the son of the slain Dwarf king and heir of Erebor Kingdom, he’s naturally got a sullen demeanor and a fierce determination to take back his stolen homeland destroyed by Smaug the Dragon. Armitage’s got a mean (read: irresistible) glower which PJ made the most of throughout the movie. Even underneath all that beard and dwarf costume, he’s still so darn hunky. Oh and that deep voice! I sure hope there’s another singing sequence in the 2nd and 3rd movies 😉

5. The Lord of the Rings nostalgia … It’s a good thing that PJ came back to direct this movie as it’s got all the ingredients and the vibe I’ve come to appreciate about the LOTR franchise. I also LOVE seeing the characters from the trilogy reappearing here, Frodo, Lord Elrod, Saruman and especially Galadriel and Gandalf. I’ve missed seeing Cate Blanchett on screen so it was nice to see her even in her brief scenes. Ian McKellen is fantastic as usual as the wise Gandalf the Grey. His chemistry with Bilbo is especially heartfelt, Gandalf truly believes in him despite what Thorin thinks about having him around in their quest.

6. The riddle scene of Gollum and Bilbo … Easily the main highlight of the movie for me. Andy Serkis is such a mo-cap virtuoso and Gollum is even more life like than ever before. His bulging blue eyes are ever-so-expressive, it’s especially amusing when he’s frustrated trying to come up with an answer for a riddle. He’s terrifyingly creepy but yet you can’t help but feeling sorry for the poor soul when he lost his ‘precious’ one. An iconic character that never wears out its welcome.

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7. Howard Shore’s gorgeous music … it evokes the lush sound of LOTR and I love that it plays the same theme when certain scenes are revisited, such as when the ring shows up. But yet it’s got its own distinct theme that is unique for The Hobbit. The melody from the song played in Bilbo’s house you heard in the trailer is played throughout. It sounds so beautifully melancholic as a song, but it’s got a lively energy when played during some of the dynamic action scenes.

8. The merry band of dwarves (I purposely use the Tolkien spelling here)The Hobbit is decidedly more lighthearted than the LOTR trilogy, though it still carries a profound message of good vs evil. In the first viewing I felt that the introduction of the Dwarves and the huge dinner party at Bilbo’s house went on a bit too long. But on second viewing I actually enjoyed it a lot more. Their colorful personality offers a stark contrast to the reclusive Bilbo and their angst-y leader Thorin. Radagast the Brown, one of Gandalf’s fellow Wizards, is amusingly quirky as well.

9. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth – Matthew 5:5

Galadriel: Mithrandir, why the halfling?

Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

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I LOVE Gandalf answer. Bilbo is not of noble breed, nor does he have certain superpowers, in fact, he’s chosen because of his small stature and humility. In the midst of superhero movies out there, it’s nice to see a ‘regular guy’ who does heroic deeds motivated by love and empathy for others. The initially-doubtful Bilbo finally comes into his own towards the end, realizing his worth and his place in the journey to the Lonely Mountain. His speech after he escaped Goblin Town is moving and inspiring, delivered so effortlessly by Freeman without even the slightest bit of trite.
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10. Movie escapism at its best…I went in expecting to be swept away in a world so unlike my own and live vicariously through Bilbo as he goes about on his adventure and that’s what I got. Yes some of the scenes are perhaps a bit too cartoon-ish, I mean we’re talking about these dwarves falling down a cavern as the bridge they’re on breaks into fragments, and once they fell hundreds of feet below, a 500+ pound goblin king falls on them. Yet they all survive perfectly with no major injury! I suppose we don’t know the exact genetic makeup of a dwarf so their bones could be a heck of a lot stronger than humans. What else would explain Thorin survival after being whacked by the giant pale Orc Azog with a big mace with spikes on them! It’s all part of the ‘fantasy’ bit folks, so I don’t see a point in nitpicking on that front.

As for Azog as the main villain in this film, I heard some people complain that he’s a ‘weak’ villain. Well naturally he would be if you compare him to Sauron and his evil watchful eye, but the pale Orc is just one of the evil ‘minions’ if you will, employed by the powerful dark force that Thorin & co. would eventually have to face.

All in all, it’s a wonderful start of an epic journey. I really care for the characters and the quest for them to take back their homeland. I was caught up in the adventures and for me and now I can’t wait for what happens next!


So what do you think of The Hobbit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.