#BingeWatch: WESTWORLD season 2 – An Appreciation

One of the positive things about being quarantined is you’ve got the luxury of time to catch up on some of my favorite shows. I LOVED the first season of WESTWORLD when it premiered in 2018. My hubby and I finally finished season 2 Thursday night and of course I’m still thinking about it. I’m surprised I didn’t have nightmares of Halores, ahah. If you’ve seen season 2 you know what that means!

It’s truly one of the most bizarre, inventive, meta, enthralling, and addictive shows I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. It’s perhaps the trippiest show, which is made all the more discombobulating given the non-linear timeline. In fact, one of the most fun things after binging shows like Westworld is consuming ALL of the articles, theories, explanations, etc. because truly, this is the kind of shows you want to pick apart and discuss endlessly with fellow fans.

Thanks to this Insider article, I can make some sense of the timeline of the show, I said some because everything is still trippy AF and you never really know which part is real. I also love how the show keeps us guessing who’s actually human and who’s a host, aka robot.

If you haven’t caught up with season 2 yet, here’s the trailer to wet your appetite… it took me waaay too long to finally catch up with it, but it’s so well worth the wait!!

There are SO many things to appreciate about this show… so consider this an appreciation post.

The Score & Opening Credits

I absolutely love is Ramin Djawadi‘s haunting score and this stunning opening credits! TV shows have really upped their game in creating truly beautiful and memorable opening credits, but I consider Westworld’s music and graphics one of the most innovative. It truly fits the tone and eerie, mystical vibe of the show itself.

 

Genre-crossing brilliance

We’ve seen countless human vs robots movies/shows but I think Westworld still sets itself apart because it can bridge multiple different genres – this season it shows there are other parts of the theme park explored, there’s the Raj as in the British Raj period in the Indian subcontinent, Ghost Nation with the Native American tribe and Shogünworld that’s modeled after Japan’s feudal Edo period.

I was just in Disney World in early March (yup, right before there was any COVID-19 cases reported in Florida!) and it’s eerie to imagine if a theme park like this exist… man, even just thinking about it gives me the chills!

The Production Values

This show has got to be a dream not just for the cast to work with, but the crew! The ultimate sci-fi western mixing gunslinging & futuristic, lifelike androids. In every episode I’m constantly in awe of the production design that sometimes it’s distracting! I love the juxtaposition between the desert landscape of the Old West and the super high-tech, space-age technologies with its cutting edge gadgetry, weaponry… and of course the ‘host’ aka robot-building mechanisms. After all, most of the technologies and concepts explored in the series are not only totally plausible in the near future (check out this Venturebeat article), some like 3D printing, intelligent machines, etc. are already here.

I love the BTS featurettes on how the filmmakers built the stunning world of Westworld, and these two on the sets and how they created those creepy-looking drone hosts (which are actually costumes that actors wear)… fascinating stuff!

Thought-provoking concept

The show-runners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have really upped the ante and took this show to a whole different level from the 1973 movie version, directed by its own writer Michael Crichton. I haven’t seen the movie but I can’t imagine I’d enjoy it after seeing this phenomenal series. But the idea of a futuristic theme park where visitors can live out their wildest fantasies without any consequences is inherently intriguing… of course we all know everything comes with a price, and not all of it is monetary.

The running theme of ‘what is real’ and of course, ‘what it means to be human’ is at the core of every good science fiction… and that’s why I love this conversation between Dolores and Bernard, further blurring the lines between fantasy & reality, constantly flipping the roles between the creator and the creation… these scenarios that could potentially make one question one’s own existence!

What separates humans from robots is our mortality. Most of humans vs droids stories usually focus on the bots wanting to be like humans, to break free from the codes and human control as they’re often created to serve us. But what if there’s a twist? The series explores a grandiose concept that perhaps it’s the humans who want to be like the bots, to be able to live forever.

The Riddle of the Sphinx is an especially eerie one with plenty of philosophical speeches to ponder. Immortality is an often-told concept and seemingly a constant humans’ obsession with trying to cure death. I guess this is a ‘disease’ for the wealthy… I mean, no matter how much money one has, they still only have the same normal life span like the rest of us. Of course that doesn’t stop many companies in reversing the course of aging and offering us ways to ‘cheat death.’ We certainly don’t need any tv show, no matter how brilliant, to tell us it’s futile and playing God has dire consequences.

Great actor Peter Mullan as James Delos

Humans aren’t meant to live forever, let’s drink to that, shall we?

Speaking of living forever… reading this Vulture article where a futurist discuss the plausibility of AI developing consciousness in our world today is pretty eerie. Now, since we are all now living under a global pandemic and self-quarantining to save our lives, I thought about if something like Coronavirus were to happen in Westworld and spreading throughout the vast areas of the park… well, wouldn’t it be the end of humanity as we know it? I mean, as humans would start dropping like flies, the bots would live on as they’re obviously immune to organic viruses. It would be catastrophic not just for the park, but the world beyond.

Westworld Season 2 MVPs

I might do a separate blog just to talk about the cast. Man it’s really tough to pick just one as this show thrives on a talented, eclectic ensemble of phenomenal actors! It’d be too easy to pick

Ok for the sake of an argument, I’ll go with these two.

Thandie Newton – Maeve

It’s always clear from season one that Maeve Millay, a brothel madam in the local Mariposa Saloon, is much more than meets the eye. I knew she’s a special host, but just how special is she? Well, season 2 explores that brilliantly, boasting Thandie’s best performance yet. The kind of host never to trifle with and in the Akane No Mai episode in Shogünworld she proves just how mighty Maeve can be. I’m not going into details for spoiler sake, but when it happened I literally gasped! There’s also a scene where she finally get to humiliate one of her creators for constantly degrading her fellow robots, it’s one of the show’s funniest moments. Let’s just say he finally got his comeuppance.

Zahn McClarnon – Akecheta

While some sites have said the Kiksuya (which means “remember” in Lakota) is the best episode of season 2. That might be debatable, but I’d think it’s the most emotional one, which is quite a feat considering the episode consist almost entirely of expository flashback. Zahn McClarnon delivers an absolutely moving performance as Akecheta, delivering a monologue to a young child (in Lakota language no less), telling his story of his lost love and how he came to figure out just what kind of world he’s been living in. That whole bit of ‘take my heart when you go’ could’ve come out so mawkish and schmaltzy, but his performance holds it together and really made you care. It seems the show, just like the park’s creator Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins), is pro-host, and when you have character like Akecheta, it’s easy to see why.


Season 3 – beyond the park

Season 3 has started on HBO, and boy the trailer looks freaking amazing!! I’ve been waiting to see just what would happen if the hosts goes into the real, human world that they’ve been forbidden to enter. I’m salivating but I’d rather wait until all episodes are available as I prefer to binge on shows, I mean I find it torturous to have to wait a whole week to see what’s next!

Right now, I’m actually still reading all kinds of stuff about season 2! So if you have some great articles about it (NO SPOILERS for season 3 please!), please do share!

Have you seen WESTWORLD season 2? Let me know your thoughts!

Christmas Weekend Recap: Scrooged + binging on Westworld

Happy last Tuesday of the year folks! Hope you had a lovely Christmas break. Mine is relatively mellow on Christmas day, though we did go up North to Duluth Friday and spent the night there to see the Bentleyville Tour of Lights (I’ve shared the pics here).

We came back in time for Christmas Eve church service, which was wonderful. For the next couple of days, we pretty much hibernated indoors as the weather is quite frightful outside. But hey, it gave us a chance to finally watch a Christmas classic we’ve missed all these years…

SCROOGED

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Thanks to Courtney’s post on her favorite things about Scrooged, I thought it’s about time I checked it out. My hubby and I loved Bill Murray and the movie is directed by Richard Donner, who I’ll love forever for giving us Superman: The Movie. Well, the updated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a Christmas staple and it’s easy to see why. Murray is perfect as a selfish, heartless TV exec, he’s just effortlessly funny and the slapstick stuff was hysterical. Nice to see Karen Allen here too though she’s barely given anything to do. The movie itself isn’t exactly perfect but still it was a lot of fun and has that rousing ending with great music. Glad I finally saw this movie, a Christmas must-see movie I can now cross off my list.

WESTWORLD

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If you were to ask me to sum up what I did on Christmas weekend… it’d be bingeing on Westworld! My hubby and I couldn’t wait to finally have time to devote to this series, and I much prefer to binge on tv shows these days, and having a free subscription to HBO on the first month certainly helps! It took us two days to get through halfway of the first season, with just five more episodes to go.

Well, first impression is… we LOVE it!! It’s definitely the kind of sci-fi shows we like… bold, visually-stunning, thought-provoking, well-written and well-acted… it pretty much ticks all the boxes of what a binge-worthy show should be. It reminds us a bit of another sci-fi we used to binge-watch, Battlestar Galactica, an ensemble-cast series which also deals with the interactions of humans and robots but I think Westworld is even bolder and sharper in scope. I love that the show is not melodramatic or bogged down by unnecessary romantic plots, but man does it give you a ton of stuff to think about. It’s what people call a mindf*ck in the best possible way! The cast are simply astounding and most of them bring their A-game to the series. If I had to list my four favorite characters, it’d have to be these:


Anthony Hopkins effortlessly adds gravitas as the park creator, whilst Ed Harris is wonderfully menacing and cool as hell as Man in Black. He’s such a terrific actor, and he adds SO much to his role. I can see why Margaret goes ga ga over him now 😉 I haven’t seen Evan Rachel Wood in hardly anything, but she’s no doubt the heart of the show and her acting is phenomenal!! I sure hope this show will give a boost to her career as she’s clearly very talented. As for Thandie Newton, this is perhaps the strongest performance I’ve seen her in, though she was memorable in Crash and Rocknrolla.


I’m also impressed with James Marsden who I think is an underrated actor who people might not take seriously because of his good looks. Well he’s still a sight to behold here as the cowboy Teddy, but at least he gets to show his acting chops too. I’m most intrigued by Jeffrey Wright‘s Bernard, as he seems to have a hidden agenda that’s been hinted out since episode 1. But please guys, NO SPOILERS in the comment as I’ve only got to episode 5. My hubby and I couldn’t help watching fan theories on youtube after each episode, there’s really SO MUCH to ponder and analyze, that’s why we’re limiting ourselves to a couple of episodes a day even though we can’t get enough!

The Nolans sure have the brains for storytelling. Jonathan Nolan‘s written a ton of my fave films with his brother Christopher (esp. The Dark Knight). Here he teamed up with his wife Lisa Joy who’s a talented TV writer in her own right. Executive producer JJ Abrams sure has a midas touch too, is there anything that guy can’t do?? I might also check out Michael Crichton‘s 1973 film Westworld in which the series’s concept is based on. I had no idea Crichton was also a film director on top of being a best-selling author.

Well, I’ll do another summary post again once I’m done w/ the season. So far I think Westworld does live up to the hype!


So what did you watch this Christmas weekend? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Westworld too!

Everybody’s Chattin + TV News Update: HBO’s Westworld & George RR Martin’s Wild Cards

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Happy Wednesday everyone! Are y’all watching the Olympics? I missed the opening ceremony so I only caught up w/ some clips on Flipboard. I did watch the Men’s 100m backstroke as Minnesotan David Plummer, a swim coach who’s perhaps one of the oldest at 30, won Bronze.  Woo hoo!

Well I’m super excited to see Anthropoid tomorrow. I’ve posted the trailer here and yesterday I read this awesome NY Mag article that the film shows how women helped defeat the Nazis.

Ok how about those links!

A couple of Suicide Squad-related posts: Margaret lamented on the lack of Jared Leto’s Joker’s scenes, among others, whilst Jordan actually had some praises for the movie.

Jia posted a Blindspot review on one of my favorite modern noir thrillers, L.A. Confidential

Jay reviewed a movie I missed at the theaters, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I can’t wait to rent as soon as it’s available.

I hadn’t reviewed Spielberg’s The BFG yet, but it seems Mark liked the movie more than I did, whilst Zöe pretty much agreed with me in regards to Jason Bourne.

I enjoy reading ranking lists! Keith just ranked the Marvel movies from worst to first ( I LOVE his #1 pick!)

This is a movie which trailer intrigued me… Dan reviewed Indignation

Last but not least, Cindy shared some great book recommendations.


Ok, we’ve still got a couple of months to wait yet for this upcoming series, but man, everything about this upcoming series looks really good!

WestworldHBO

A series inspired by the 1973 film of the same title written by Michael Crichton about a futuristic theme park populated by artificial beings.

Now, I’ve never seen the original series with Yul Brynner, but the idea of a western sci-fi instantly intrigues me. Ok now it doesn’t always work, as in the case of Cowboys & Aliens, but we’ve got quite a pedigree in terms of its creator.

I love that it’s a husband/wife team behind this series remake: Jonathan Nolan and fellow screenwriter Lisa Joy Nolan. Oh, and JJ Abrams also serves as executive producer along with the Nolans. Check out the trailer:

Here’s just a sampling of the impressive ensemble cast:

  • Anthony Hopkins
  • Ed Harris
  • Evan Rachel Wood
  • James Marsden
  • Thandie Newton
  • Jeffrey Wright
  • Tessa Thompson
  • Shannon Woodward
  • Ben Barnes

The 10-episode season 1 will premiere on HBO on Sunday, October 2 at 9 p.m. I can hardly wait!
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As Game of Thrones‘ fans are waiting for season 7 with bated breath, its author George R.R. Martin has long set his sights elsewhere. He just may have another sprawling fantasy world on television, according to Variety.

GeorgeRRMartin_WildCards

Universal Cable (same studio behind Mr. Robot that I’m currently watching) has purchased the rights for Martin’s work. The first volume in the book series was published in 1986, with 22 volumes released to date.

Here’s the premise:

“…the shared world of the Wild Cards diverged from our own on September 15, 1946 when an alien virus was released in the skies over Manhattan, and spread across an unsuspecting Earth. Of those infected, 90% died horribly, drawing the black queen, 9% were twisted and deformed into jokers, while a lucky 1% became blessed with extraordinary and unpredictable powers and became aces. The world was never the same.”

I quite like the sound of this, so I’ll keep an eye on this project. Surely plenty of actors are salivating to be cast in this.

 


What are your thoughts about these TV projects?

FlixChatter Review – THOR : The Dark World

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Marvel Studios continues its box office winning streak with an $86 mil US domestic earnings, up about $20 mil from the previous film. It’s made nearly a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide already as it’s opened internationally a week ago. The filmmakers are well aware that most moviegoers are already familiar w/ the character, especially given the behemoth box office success of The Avengers last year. So there’s no character development needed here, and the story picks up where it left off with Loki now going to the dungeon as punishment for being a naughty boy.

So Asgaard and the rest of the planetary universe are now safe right, since the Bifröst‎s (Loki’s kind) have been defeated? Well not quite. Once again we’ve got another megalomaniac creature called Malekith from the Dark Elves race who’s hellbent on taking over the universe. The ‘dark world’ in the title refers to the state of a universe when a weapon known as the Aether is released upon them. But Odin’s father was able to stop Malekith and hid the weapon for thousands of years. That is, until somehow, it got discovered when Jane Foster and her buddies were looking for, who else, his Norse god boyfriend of course.

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Despite the title, there’s nothing dark about this film, in fact, there are never any sense of real danger with any of the characters. Even when Thor is fighting a giant beast three times his size, his loyal Mjölnir always saves the day for him. Chris Hemsworth is much more confident in the title role this time around, and a whole lot more likable as well. There’s still friction between him and his dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins), but obviously it’s a natural father/son relationship. When Heimdal (Idris Elba), Asgaard’s loyal guard who can see into all of the realms, tells him he couldn’t locate Jane (Natalie Portman), Thor visits earth once again. It’s nice to see that Jane is not merely an accessory of Thor, but her character is actually pretty crucial to the plot. But it’s not the reunion between Thor and Jane that I was looking forward to, but it’s Thor and his brother, Loki.

I felt like the time leading up to that is a bit too slow for my liking, but it was well worth the wait! Seems that every time he’s on screen, my interest level just goes up a notch because he’s just so much fun to watch. Though he’s not the main villain here, Loki still gets the best lines, delivered with aplomb by the fantabulous Tom Hiddleston. I think there’s more screen time of Loki, but really, the film could still use more of his presence. The lord of mischief makes the most of his power of illusion, and it makes for some truly hysterical moments both in Asgard and beyond. There’s even a Marvel cameo, I wouldn’t say who it is, that practically brought the house down as the whole theater erupted in laughter.

Thor2_Stills2

The women in Thor’s world are given more to do in this film as well, which is a plus in my book. I’ve mentioned about Jane, but Thor’s mom Frigga (Rene Russo) is also given more screen time here. Clearly Thor gets his bad-ass warrior trait from both parents! Kat Dennings is still a delight as Jane’s research assistant, adding even more comic relief with her irreverent commentaries. But believe it or not, Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig is actually the goofiest of the ‘Thor comedic troupe’ with his shenanigans and a penchant for stripping in public! Nice to see Idris Elba got a chance to get in on the action a bit more as Heimdal as well, and Zachary Levi apparently replaced Josh Dallas as one of Thor’s buddies, it took me a while to recognize him with blonde hair!

I knew going in that the sense of fun that we’ve come to know and love from The Avengers is going to be carried over in this film, but I didn’t expect it to be a full-on comedy. There are even more laugh out loud moments throughout, and the final battle is just hilarious. The self-referential humor is palpable as a guy witnessing the battle from a library in London quips, ‘Look, it’s Thor fighting down there, with his hammer and everything!’ Some of the subtler comedic moments are a lot of fun as well, my personal favorite is when Thor hangs his mighty hammer on a coat hook when he enters Jane’s apartment!

Whilst the film is robustly entertaining, save for the first twenty minutes or so, there are some flaws that makes this the lesser of the two Thor films. For one, Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith is a pretty lame and wholly uninteresting villain. It’s not the actor’s fault though, it’s just the character isn’t really given anything worthy to be remembered. He barely even speaks and when he does, he uses some ho-hum Elven language. I also miss Patrick Doyle’s awesome score. No offense to Brian Tyler, who’s a good composer, but Doyle’s gorgeous and rousing theme is so memorable and adds so much to the enjoyment of the movie for me. Overall I also prefer Branagh’s direction to Alan Taylor’s, as the pacing is a bit off and tonally uneven. The visuals and production design are just as superb however, Asgard feels a bit more organic here whilst the first film it looks so majestic and pristine. At times it reminds me of Star Wars though, especially the flying sequence on the Harrow as they’re escaping Asgard. The universe reminds me so much of Naboo, and the moment of Thor and Jane being lovey dovey together also makes me think of Princess Amidala with his Jedi lover, ahah.

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Kudos to Marvel for creating a universe that spans multiple films, somehow it relates to one another whilst still maintaining a unique identity, tone and look & feel. Iron Man has a hi-tech, futuristic actioner,  Captain America is more of a political thriller, whilst Thor has that medieval fantasy feel to it akin to Games of Thrones. Yet everything ties together as one Marvel macrocosm. Just like in Iron Man 3, the Avengers’ battle in New Yorkis never far from the writers’ mind, not that we’d be inclined to forget it anyway. As Loki won’t be on the sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I’m very curious if there might be a Loki film down the line. Certainly there are enough fans of Hiddleston and his nothing-short-of-iconic performance as Loki that’d warrant his own film. [Spoiler alert: Seems that the ending of this film suggests that this isn’t the last time we’d see Loki ;)]

I saw this film in 2D which is perfectly adequate. When it’s all said and done, Thor: The Dark World is lacking the depth to be a great film. I mean, it’s decent entry into Marvel’s cannon that’s fun and entertaining, but the hilarious bits are probably going to be more memorable than the film itself as a whole.


Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


So what did you think of THOR 2? Did you like it more or less than I did?

Weekend Viewing Roundup, Quick Thoughts on Comic-Con, & RED 2 review

Hello everyone! Hope you had an awesome weekend. If you happen to be at Comic-con the past few days, then I’m sure you had a blast (and you know I’m so green with envy!!) It made me feel a bit nostalgic seeing all those SDCC pics, maybe one day I’ll make it there again. Now, I haven’t read all the highlights from the big event but if I were at Hall H on Saturday, these two would’ve surely been the most scream-worthy panels!!

XMenDaysOfFuturePastCast
Click for a larger version

Just LOOK at this X-Men: Days of Future Past cast… I mean seriously!!! It’s incredible how good Hugh Jackman still looks after his breakthrough role as Wolverine thirteen years ago. Can’t wait for this movie already!

LokiComicCon2013
Thor who? Loki ruled Hall H!

I LOVE Tom Hiddleston‘s theatrical style and boy, this would’ve been the closest thing a lot of the Comic-con goers to seeing him ‘on stage.’ He certainly brought the house down with his performance! You can watch a video of it here.

Well, my weekend was ok (well considering I wasn’t at Comic-con), but hey, I got to see TREMORS, thanks to Cinekatz‘ Not-So-Secret Santa Review Swap in which I was “gifted” the monster flick from 1990 (review coming soon). I also rewatched Pacific Rim at IMAX Saturday night, which looks absolutely glorious in the giant screen. So that’s TWO monster movies in one weekend, which is a record for me 😀

Tremors
TREMORS
PacRim
PACIFIC RIM

I also got to re-watch one of my favorite superhero movies of all time. Well, even with a slew of comic-book movies since, I still rate this very high on my list. Batman Begins is one of the movies I’d bring if I were stranded in a desert island and I’d definitely pick it again in a heartbeat!

BatmanBegins
BATMAN BEGINS

Now, here’s my new release review from the screening a few days ago:

RED2poster

Though I enjoyed the first movie, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the sequel. The only main draw for me is the cast and really, that’s the main highlight of this movie and the filmmakers knew that. You don’t go into these kinds of movies looking for an engaging story or character study, but you know what, they didn’t pretend to be a bombastic, over-the-top action flick so I still end up enjoying this quite a bit.

There’s really no point talking about the plot here, as the story is set up in such a way where it actually suits the actors playing these cartoonish characters. It’s as if the filmmakers had a checklist of what they want these actors to do in the movie and so the plot is written around that, if that makes sense. Seems like the actors are hired to do what they do best, some of them even did a parody to their famous characters they’ve done in the past (you’ll know it when you see it). The Retired-Extremely-Dangerous gang is once again on the run, being chased left and right as they attempt to solve the puzzle of finding a portable nuclear device.

Red2Stills

It’s too bad Karl Urban isn’t back to reprise his role as he was one of the highlights for me in the first movie. Also, instead of Morgan Freeman, we’ve got another seasoned actor (both happen to be 76 years old!) Anthony Hopkins. Nice to see him doing a comedic role though he’s not as fun to watch as Freeman.

Bruce Willis is back as Frank, which is basically a variation of John McClane (seems like Bruce is done with playing any other characters these days). Mary Louis Parker gets more screen time this time as his love interest Sarah, which is fine by me and she, along with John Malkovich‘s Marvin are the real comic relief in this movie. Their scenes together, especially the car chase all over Paris in a white Citroën, are preposterous fun. I guess you could describe the movie in that way as well. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this movie as much if it weren’t for the actors. I love watching Dame Helen Mirren reprising her bad ass role of Victoria and her car case with Byung-hun Lee is hysterical! It’s right up there with all the outrageous action in those Fast & Furious movies.

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I think the weakest link for me is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Russian femme-fatale who used to be Frank’s lover. Her character is so darn boring and her romance with Willis’ character just falls flat. “Katja’s Frank’s ‘kryptonite,” Marvin explained to Sarah, which then drives her to do all kinds of jealous-driven shenanigans to one-up Katja. I do like charismatic Korean actor Byung-hun Lee here (not a bad replacement for Mr. Urban) who has a personal vendetta with Frank. He’s clearly hired for his awesome fighting skills and he totally delivered on that front.

Final Thoughts: The A-list cast seems to have a great time making this and it shows. Whilst it still brings the laughs and I was entertained for the most part, I do think the writing is so lazy and derivative. I hope they’re done with this movie, I mean how many franchises does Bruce Willis need?! I’m being generous here with my rating, because Mirren, Parker and Malkovich made me laugh so hard in this movie! Oh, there’s also Brian Cox in a small but memorable role, so yeah, there are TWO British thespians who’ve played Hannibal Lecter on screen!

3 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU watch this weekend?

A Trio of New Releases Reviews: Wreck it Ralph, Life of Pi and Hitchcock

Happy Friday and the last day of November, everybody! Are you going to the cinema this weekend? Well, unless you’re already set on seeing the new Brad Pitt retro crime thriller Killing Them Softly, perhaps you’re considering what else is worth a watch? Well then these reviews might help you make up your mind.

Thanks to FC contributor Cecilia Rusli and my colleague Sarah McNeal for two of the reviews.

Wreck-it Ralph

Director: Rich Moore
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Voice Cast: John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer

In almost every video game and movies, there’s the good guy, and there’s the bad guy. Wreck It Ralph tells the story of Ralph who has always been the bad guy on a video game and has the duty of wrecking people’s apartments. Every time there’s a villain, there must be the good guy or what’s-so-called  hero. Fix-it Felix is the character which repairs everything Ralph destroyed. Actually the Wreck it Ralph game reminds me of Rampage, a 90s video game where players destroy buildings. I used to play it on PlayStation while i was a kid and it indeed brings pleasure destroying stuff.

While doing his duty on wrecking apartments, Ralph suddenly wants his life to change. He wants to be the good guy who’s being loved by people. Along the way, he met Vanellope, a kid from the world called Sugar Rush. Sugar Rush with its lovable colors looks like the ones I saw at Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. A world full of sweet treats.

It turns out that Ralph has to team up with Vanellope in Sugar Rush and help her to win a car race there. A car race is also brings some video games nostalgia. One I remember pretty well is Crash Team Racing on PlayStation where we need to have a car race with Crash Bandicoot and friends. Yes, it’s a very girly video game. I’m pretty sure there are still plenty of car race arcade games nowadays. During the race scenes, the emotions building between Ralph and Vanellope is done pretty well. The connection between them is very heart-warming and yes it officially made this movie another animated feature with a heart.

Wreck It Ralph SugarRush

Wreck-it Ralph surely will amuse people who are into video games. Lots of video games characters have a cameo here that fans will surely notice and actually name during the movie. I will not do that here as it’s more fun and exciting to discover them by surprise. In some scenes I was actually concerned that people would walk in front of the screen and I’d miss seeing the cameos!

The 3D was fine. It doesn’t have much pop-up stuff but the scenes at Sugar Rush indeed looks more exciting in 3D. Overall, Wreck-it Ralph is a sweet time machine to the age of 8-bit video games. Great story with engaging characters, lovely colors and musical score surely make Wreck it Ralph one of the best animated movie this year for me. Can’t help waiting for Despicable Me 2 next summer!

– Review by Cecilia R.

4 out of 5 reels


Life of Pi is magical and marvelous

Director: Ang Lee
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

Life of Pi has been near the top of my list of favorite books for years. When I heard it was being made into a movie, I wondered how. When I heard Ang Lee was director, I knew he’d nail it.

The story is of a shipwrecked boy named Pi, sharing a life raft with a tiger named Richard Parker. And so much more. This story to me is all about choosing to believe versus choosing not to – be it in God, in magic, in journeys, in life. Sure, you can believe that life is nothing more than the cells we are made up of, and when we die, we die. Or you can believe that life is a fantastic journey, rich in detail, strife, love, endurance. Which is the better story? This is the simple question the story asks.

At the end of the movie, Pi is recuperating in the hospital when some insurance adjusters come to find out why the boat sunk. Pi tells them his incredible story, which meets with stares and more questions. They want the truth, they say, just the facts. Why did the boat sink? I don’t know why the boat sunk, says Pi, but he gives them what they want and retells the story starkly. It’s not just dull, it’s torpid. In the end, even the insurance adjusters chose to believe.

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As an animal lover, I have to say: That poor zebra. That awful hyena. And Orange Juice, the orangutan, gets dispatched way too early. But how magnificent Richard Parker is! And those flying fish! And the jellies!

As much as this review is of a marvelous book and movie, I feel I have to put it in context. I went to see it with my husband, who knew only that I loved the book, my 15-year-old daughter, and my 62-year-old sister-in-law, who is a minister. An interesting group of people, one a focus group would almost hand select to see this movie. We all found it amazing. And we are all going back next weekend to see it in 3D!

5 out of 5 reels

– review by Sarah McNeil


Hitchcock

Director: Sacha Gervasi
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel

Hitchcock is a love story between one of the most influential filmmakers of the last century, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), and his wife and partner Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). It’s set during the making of Psycho, and it also explored how Hitchcock came into working on what ended up being his most successful film.

I’m not familiar with the filmmaker and so the strong influence of his wife was quite eye-opening. In fact, Mirren has quite a substantial role here and this film explores the side of Hitchcock, most people perhaps aren’t familiar with. Apparently it was quite a tumultuous journey to bring Psycho to the screen and a lot of personal sacrifices had to be made. I always like getting a glimpse of the making of a classic, how films get made back in the day, the relationship between actors and the studio, etc. That’s the part that I find amusing with My Week with Marilyn.

In any biopic, especially someone as well-known as Hitchcock, the makeup is crucial. At times Hopkins’ look is distracting as he doesn’t seem to look quite right to me, like he’s always high-strung or something. After a while though, I managed to just accept that he’s Hitchcock and concentrate on the story, but perhaps having an unknown in that role might’ve worked better.

The casting of Helen Mirren is the main reason to see it for me. The dame is always so watchable and has always been a highlight in everything she’s done. Not only is she beautiful and still has a killer figure for being 3 years shy of 70, but she has that screen prowess like no other. I love all the scenes Alma is in, especially the part where she passionately gave her husband a piece of her mind during a heated argument.

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As for the rest of the supporting cast. Well, initially I wasn’t too fond of Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh (I think she’s perhaps more suitable to play Jayne Mansfield?) but she turned out to be ok and the filming of the shower scene where she was screaming her head off was quite the highlight. The scene of Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) meeting with Hitchcock is strangely amusing, it’s quite clear in that scene why Perkins was perfect for the role. There’s also a revelatory scene involving Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), albeit a brief one, that hints on Hitchcock’s unhealthy obsession with his leading lady. One of the most curious thing is the character of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) as the Wisconsin serial killer who’s the inspiration for Psycho’s protagonist Norman Bates. I think their relationship was supposed to be a metaphor — the way Hitchcock seems to be consulting Gein as if he were his therapist, etc. — but it’s not entirely clear to me. Aside from the two leads though, there’s little to no depth in the supporting characters for you to care for them.

I think it’s wise that the film focuses on a specific time frame of Hitchcock’s life, but even so, given the brief 1 hr and 38 minute running time, it still feels a little rushed at times. Tonally this film seems rather off as well, it doesn’t quite work as a drama or comedy and there’s little emotional resonance overall. Perhaps mischievous is the word that comes to mind to describe this film, which I suppose is appropriate given the subject matter.

Just for the record, I actually have not seen Psycho so I was a bit worried that this biopic might be a bit lost on me, but fortunately, the film is more about Alfred and Alma than it is about the film. Perhaps people who are avid Hitchcock fans might appreciate it more though, so I’m curious to hear what they think of this film.

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So overall, I’m glad I knew a bit more about this iconic filmmaker and how much his wife played a part in his career. However, the film is a bit too uneven and not substantial enough to be all that memorable. Still, I find it amusing and certainly worth a look for anyone who’s seen at least one Hitchcock film.

..

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on any one of these films? Well, let’s hear it!

Encore Entertainment’s Essential Performances of the 90s Showdowns – Game # 17

This is Part II of Encore’s World of Film & TV that was spearheaded by Andrew. I have posted GAME 13 two days ago. The goal of this tournament is to determine the single performance, chosen by you fine lovers of cinema, that is worthy to be the BEST of the decade. Andrew asked me to do a write up to a couple of the showdowns [you can see the entire bracket here].

Please take part in this well, essential blog event by casting your VOTE and make your voice heard!

Without further ado, here’s my writeup for Game 17:

Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) as Hannibal Lecter

I happened to see Silence of the Lambs in the cinema and I tell you, for a while I was so terrified of Anthony Hopkins and even the mere mention of ‘chianti’ and ‘liver’ makes me shudder. It’s no wonder his personification of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the charismatic cannibal who never blinks when he speak, was ranked #1 on the American Film Institute’s Villains in its compilation of the 100 Years of The Greatest Screen Heroes and Villains.

Much of the iconic mannerisms: the nasty slurping sound and the creepy way he speaks Clarice’s name to taunt the young FBI officer are all improvised by the seasoned actor. Yet it takes a special skill not to overdo the creepy-ness, it takes skill to avoid becoming caricature. Such a character could easily have the opposite effect of being comical instead of sinister but Hopkins avoid the potential dilemma. He manages to forge that delicate balance of portraying a charismatic figure that effortlessly pulls you in, whilst at the same time scares the living heck out of you.

VS.


Michelle Pfeffier in The Age of Innocence (1993) as Ellen Olenska

I believe Scorsese’s period drama showcases Pfeiffer’s best work and in a way proves that she is a serious actress who somehow, unfortunately, is not regarded as such by her peers. So perhaps that’s why the beautiful actress identify so well with Ellen Olenska, an outcast in a 19th century New York high society when she is separated from her husband. Raised by a single mother in a society where divorce was still a taboo, I immediately identify with her predicament.

This is my favorite Scorsese film and though it’s not violent in the physical term, it’s definitely a vicious one in terms of matters of the heart. The conversations between Newland Archer (the sublime Daniel Day-Lewis) and Olenska are heart-wrenching, their yearning and frustration that they cannot be with each other just makes my heart bleed. Yet Olenska is not just some lovesick puppy. She is a strong woman who defies society and refuses to conceal her independence, even at the risk of being scorned by people around her. That defiance spirit is magnetic and I credit Pfeiffer’s astute performance in getting that across without being overbearing. A magnum opus from a celebrated director, and I’m glad to say the film’s stunning cinematography and costume design match the equally beautiful performances. It’s rare to see a flawed heroine depicted in such a bewitching way, but Countess Olenska is surely one of them.

So…

Which of these is the finer performance of the 90s?


Please cast your VOTE on Andrew’s blog and/or let me know your pick and why in the comments.