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

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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Which brings me to…

The Bad

Oh dear, where do I begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

[SPOILER ALERT]

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

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

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

[END OF SPOILER]

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

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

Other Observations

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

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

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

Final Verdict

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

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

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

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

Throwback Tuesday: Reminiscing on great scenes from my fave Batman & Superman films of all time

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Well, it’s been over a month since my last Throwback Tuesday post and today is just the perfect March edition. Later today is the press screening of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and though I actually had been rather blasé about the movie the past year, now that the day is almost here for me to see it, I can’t help feeling slightly more excited for it. After all, I have always been a fan of both DC characters, especially Superman.

I was actually planning on seeing Superman: The Movie or Superman II this past weekend, but of course it’s sidelined by Marvel’s Daredevil season 2. Yes, the irony isn’t lost on me 😉 In any case, I did watch clips of some of my favorite scenes from the definitive Superman AND Batman movies. For me, the BEST Superman films are still the Christopher Reeve versions, most specifically the first two movies.

So allow me to walk down memory lane with me in anticipation of yet another cinematic adaptation of two of the biggest superheroes…

Superman I

This chopper rescue scene could very well be the scene I’ve seen the most time in my life, given my undying love for the movie since I was a wee girl. That John Williams‘ theme song never fails to make me tear up, perfectly timed when Supes catches the chopper midair.

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“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?”

No matter how many superhero movies have been made since, nothing can touch this one. Not a single thing.

I simply had to include a flying sequence. The song once again is just lovely, and though it’s a romantic scene, it doesn’t feel at all corny, at least not to me. I don’t think any actor could ever top what Christopher Reeve did with the role of Superman. And Margot Kidder is still an iconic Lois Lane in her own right.

Superman II

“General, would you care to step outside?” That line is still awesome, which of course followed by Zod’s famous line “Kneel before Zod!” The flying sequences are still pretty cool, I mean yes the SFX has obviously improved since then but I still love the Metropolis scenery from above as Supes fight Zod & his two minions.

I remember people were all upset when Supes broke Zod’s neck in Man of Steel. Ok so it wasn’t quite as brutal, but Supes did kill Zod in Richard Donner‘s version too, and he didn’t seem all that remorseful. In any case, Terrence Stamp‘s expression as Supes crushes his hand is just priceless!

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As for Batman, it’s got to be the Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy. Even if I end up liking what Ben Affleck brings to the role of Batman, but I think in terms of the cinematic adaptation itself, Nolan’s versions is really tough to beat.

Batman Begins

Just like that chopper rescue scene in Superman, it’s the right combination of visuals and score that makes for an absolutely perfect and unforgettable scene. This is the first time Bruce Wayne discovers the ‘symbol’ he later chooses to become, and the scene always gives me goosebumps! So beautifully shot and “It’s time my enemy shares my dread.”

Now, I know this scene doesn’t exactly show the heroics of the caped crusader, but that’s just it. It’s a lighthearted moment that gives us a bit of rest from all the dark stuff our hero is going through. And who doesn’t love that practically orgasmic look on Bruce Wayne’s face as he quipped, ‘does it come in black?’

The Dark Knight

I have dedicated a post for this interrogation scene, as it showcased such tremendous acting from both Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. It’s one of those rare superhero film that can be considered a masterpiece but I don’t think it’d be a hyperbole to consider The Dark Knight as one, and Ledger’s post-humous Oscar is absolutely well-deserved.

There are many many great action scenes in the Dark Knight trilogy but I think THIS one is the best and most feverishly entertaining sequence. Batman’s got such awesome rides and he sure knows how to use it! I get so giddy watching his cape billowing in the air as he rides that bat-pod and that spectacular wall flip after he er, flipped Joker’s truck, it’s nothing short of epic!! It was quite a feat to pull off technically but my gosh was it well worth it as we can appreciate it for years to come!

The Dark Knight Rises

Just like James Bond, Bruce Wayne’s got some awesome gadgets and in this Batman vs Gotham Police scene, he’s certainly got the upper hand. The moment the BatPlane came out of that alley was pure geekgasm stuff! I also love that the whole time Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was in the car w/ Deputy commissioner Foley, he’s defending Batman.

The first mano a mano between Batman and Bane is definitely a highlight. It sent me chills down my spine when Bane said, ” I was wondering what would break first: Your spirit, or your body.” It was tough to hear Tom Hardy‘s mumbling at times but when you can make out what he’s saying, it’s pretty darn scary.

I wonder which scene(s) I’d include from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice months down the line, but I’m guessing it’d involve Wonder Woman 😉


Hope you enjoy a bit of walk down memory lane with the two DC superheroes. Which Batman & Superman scenes from past movies are YOUR favorites?

FlixChatter Review: GONE GIRL (2014)

GoneGirlBnrFew films this year got as much feverish anticipation as this one. To be honest, I got a bit worried this film wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also glad that since I haven’t read the book, I managed to avoid any spoilers about the plot so it was nice to be surprised by the twist and turns as I’m watching the film.

The opening is quite provocative, as it opens with a shot of a beautiful blond woman, along with a male speaking voice saying how it would be nice to crack open her skull to see just what’s inside her head, to see what she is thinking. There’s an air of mystery around her which sets the tone of the entire film. Now, on a different film, we might chalk that narration up as a figure of speech. But in this case, given the title of the film, it definitely makes you think the worst. Well, Gone Girl definitely keeps toying with our perceptions throughout, and that’s part of the fun.

GoneGirl_Still1In case you don’t know anything about the basic plot, here’s the gist: On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) left his home in the morning to a bar he co-owned with his twin sister. When he came back, he couldn’t find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) anywhere in his sprawling house, and there’s obvious signs of a break in. So he reports his wife missing and before he knows it, there’s a growing media frenzy on his case that puts extra pressure on him on top of the also-growing suspicion from the police that he’s killed her.

Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, this film deals more about the psychological aspect of the crumbling of a seemingly-blissful union and how Nick & Amy deal with their mounting problems. The issue behind the marriage dissolution itself isn’t at all uncommon, lots of us can relate to the issue of layoffs and growing apart when expectations no longer aligns with reality. But of course, this story takes a sinister turn that leaves you wondering just what the heck happens. The beauty of the film is that, it doesn’t rely on the twist [a la M. Night Shyamalan’s films] to shock or entertain you. Instead, it’s more of a character study of a married couple – who probably shouldn’t be married in the first place – as well as a commentary of the worst side of media frenzy that toys with the public’s perception about a given story.

GoneGirl_Still3Despite the dark subject matter, this film isn’t overly bleak or depressing. Thanks to the taut screenplay by first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who happens to be the author of the best-selling author novel it’s based on. I’m glad David Fincher agreed to work with her instead of hiring a more experienced screenwriter. I think having been ‘living’ with these characters on her head for so long definitely help make them more fleshed-out. Apparently Flynn actually studied his films as she’s writing the script which explains the synergy going on here. Fincher’s direction is solid all around, the story is clearly tailor-made for him. I like the timeline marking of how many days Amy has been gone, and the use of flashbacks are seamless and effective. The journal entries from Amy’s diary gives us a bit of insight into Amy’s side of the story, yet it wasn’t overdone that it’d actually grind the film to a halt. Fincher’s almost surgical precision is apparent in how he sets up every scene. Just like any real-life crime investigation, painstaking eye for details is absolutely critical.

Fincher’s longtime collaborator Trent Reznor provides a cool and eerie score to go with that somber color-scheme. At first I felt like his score was a bit intrusive in the first scenes when Nick & Amy met, but I think it might’ve been intentional. In some key moments, the vigorous & ominous score definitely gets your heart pounding! Another longtime Fincher collaborator is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual sensibility works with Fincher’s style and therefore helps set the mood. The naturalistic style used here fits the tone of the film and the Midwest setting nicely.

GoneGirl_Still2Bringing the story to life are Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, two beautiful people forming a marriage from hell. For once, Affleck just might get some accolades for his acting instead of directing. I do think he was excellent in Hollywoodland, and in a way there’s some similarities between Nick and George Reeves as he was also at his lowest point professionally. The film however, belongs to the girl in the title role. Pike was nothing short of well, amazing. I’ve seen her in about five films so far, but mostly in supporting roles, and I’ve never seen the kind of range she displayed here. She was perfect as ‘Amazing Amy’, a brilliant ice princess type, the embodiment of her parents perfect image in the book series named after their daughter. At times she reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For, but there’s still a vulnerability about her that keeps you from truly despising her. I knew the British beauty could handle the sinister aspect of her character, but still I was floored by how good she was and her American accent is pretty convincing as well. I so hope she’d get some nominations come award-season, she’s definitely the breakout female performer of the year for me.

The supporting cast includes some rather off-the-wall choices playing against type. Tyler Perry is quite amusing as Nick’s top-notch lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend. The latter threw me off a bit as I somehow didn’t know he was part of the cast. Given Harris’ personal life, it took me a while to see him as a straight guy being obsessed over a girl, but I think he pulled it off. I also have to mention Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens as Nick’s sister and the detective, respectively. Both were excellent playing key roles in the story. Interesting casting of Sela Ward as a TV reporter here given that she played the murdered wife in The Fugitive where the husband was accused of killing her.

GoneGirl_Stills4Spoiler alert [highlight text below if you want to read it]
I feel that Amy might’ve gotten away w/ murder too easily. There’s a moment at the police station when Nick immediately knew she had deliberately killed Desi. “How did she manage to find a box cutter when she’s tied up all the time?” He quipped, but the male cop who’s always disliked him brushed him off. But also there’s the issue about all the blood that was mopped up in the kitchen. If she said she had been hit by her abductor, wouldn’t the cops at the very least try to corroborate her story and find some kind of proof that her story checks out? It’s not a huge quibble but it did bother me after I saw the movie.

So what’s the verdict? Well, Gone Girl definitely lives up to the hype. It’s more entertaining than I thought it would be. This will likely end up in my top 5 favorite Fincher films, perhaps between Fight Club and The Social Network which also have some humorous moments sprinkled throughout. I love it when a movie sparks a lot of discussions and makes you ponder about your own life situation. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment if the film is better than that or not, but I think it works in the big screen format. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining.

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So what do you think of Gone Girl? Did it live up to YOUR expectations?

Everybody’s Chattin’ & Question of the Week on Breakthrough Performer of 2014

Happy Thursday everybody! I’m going to hit two birds with one stone again today, combining two post *series* in one. I want to highlight some of my fave posts from the past week, as well as pick your brain on the topic of the week: Breakthrough Performer of 2014  😀

EverybodysChattinOk, so let’s start with the links, shall we?

  • Mark reviewed Frank which he calls a wonderful one-of-a-kind, whilst Natalie reviewed Cronenberg’s latest, Maps to The Stars
  • FincherTheGuardianAs Sati‘s been hugely anticipating Gone Girl, she kept up her David Fincher series by ranking his films.
  • Speaking of Gone Girl, Katy wrote this great article about the The Strangely Brilliant Career of Ben Affleck
  • Michael reviewed Tales From Earthsea, a thought-provoking fantasy film from Studio Ghibli and Melissa reviewed the recent thriller The Drop.
  • Cindy‘s perceptive eye is what keeps me coming back to her blog. This week she compares Kubrick’s stares vs Spielberg’s faces in their films
  • There’s been a lot of interesting blog series lately, check out Fisti’s Twice a Best Actress Bloggers roundtable, great discussion with my fellow movie bloggers
  • As I’m anticipating Twin Cities Film Fest in two weeks, my pal Melissa has been busy covering San Diego Film Fest! Check out her latest review of this coming-of-age drama Laggies.
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  • A few notable September recaps w/ some great recommendations from Kristin, Chris and Steven.
  • Last but not least, A couple of classic reviews worth checking out: Paula‘s review of PULP for her Mickey Rooney Blogathon, and Stu‘s review of early 50s noir The Hoodlum.

Now for Question of the Week!

RosamundPike_GoneGirlWell, it’s inspired by the release of Gone Girl, more specifically the buzz Rosamund Pike‘s been getting in the role of Amy, I thought this would be an intriguing topic. Now that we’ve only got three months left in the year, we might have a few favorites of performances from this year’s movies. Now, they could either be from *new* actors who’ve never acted before on the big screen, or someone’s who’s been acting for a while but just recently caught your attention. I think the latter is far more interesting and Pike might fit the bill for a lot of people. She has been acting for some time in the UK and has been churning some great performances here in Hollywood as well, but Gone Girl might launch her career on a whole new level.


So my question to you is:

Which actor(s) do you think gives the breakthrough performance of the year?

P.S. I shall be launching a new mini-series highlighting some great performances of the year, so stay tuned! 😀

FlixChatter Review: Runner Runner

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Runner Runner is a poker term referring to when a player needs the cards on the turn and river to win the pot. I’m pretty sure any poker player knows the term quite well and for non-poker folks, I’m sorry I couldn’t explain much better than that. I consider myself to be a pretty decent poker player, yes I’m one of those people who watch poker tournaments on TV and have played the game online and at casinos. So this film peaked my interest just a bit, I thought it would dive into the world that not too many people know about; sadly though, the film never delivers on its intriguing premise.

The film starts out with a Princeton grad student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) meeting with the Dean of the school. He’s been busted for running an online gambling at the school and the Dean order him to shut down the site or get expel from the campus. Richie is in a huge debt, you see he worked at Wall Street for a few years but when the economy went south, he lost his job and his seven figures salary. He wants to get a Master Degree in finance so he can get back on his feet again, unfortunately he doesn’t have enough money to pay for the tuition. So with only about $17,000 left in his bank account, Richie decided to play poker online with all of his savings and hoping he would win enough money to pay for his tuition. Unfortunately he loss all of his money but he realized he was cheated. So he decided to travel down to Costa Rica to confront the man who runs the poker website, Ivan Brock (Ben Affleck). Ivan agreed to meet with Richie and he was impressed with Richie’s talent, he decided to offer him a job of running his casino in town, of course being broke Richie took the offer right then and there. Richie also met up with Ivan’s girl Rebecca Shafran (ex-Bond girl Gemma Arterton). There’s this love triangle storyline between these characters that never fully developed.

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After a couple of months of enjoying the high roller life in paradise, Richie was suddenly captured by couple of thugs and brought to an FBI agent Shavers (totally miscast Anthony Mackie). Shavers wants Richie to be a mole for him, he wants to bring Ivan’s operation into a halt. Richie of course refused so Shavers threatened him by saying he could be ban from entering the States and spend most of his life in prison down Costa Rica. With no choice Richie decided to come up with his own plans of escaping the authority and Ivan’s empire. The rest of the film was about Richie trying to outsmart the FBI and take down Ivan his own way, there’s no payoff or surprises, pretty generic thriller recipe that’s been done way too many times in other and much better films.

This was the first of Timberlake’s film that I saw with him as the lead and I don’t think I want to see anymore of him. He’s good as a supporting character, I liked his take on Sean Parker in The Social Network, but he’s way out of his comfort zone here as the leading man. There were a couple of scenes that if I were the director, I may have slapped him silly and get fired because he cannot convey the emotion that those scenes required. Affleck on the other was having fun playing the villain and he chewed up his scenes to the max. Unfortunately though, his character was pretty one dimensional and any decent actor could’ve been good in the role. I don’t know why Affleck accepted this role, maybe he’s a good friends with the director or maybe he wants the studio behind this film to finance his next film project. Arterton didn’t have much to do but being the eye candy and love interest. I mentioned earlier that Mackie was a total miscast, he’s as believable as an FBI agent as me being a QB in the NFL.

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I’ve never seen any films of Brad Furman, apparently his last film The Lincoln Lawyer was pretty descent but I thought he did a poor job here. He’s one of these new crops of young filmmakers who thinks by shaking the camera, even during dialog scenes, would make the film exciting or intriguing. Seriously these guys needs to stop doing that, I’m so sick of hand held shaky cam style of filmmaking. He also copied the look and feel of the film from other directors such as David Fincher and Michael Bay, yeah I know why anyone would copy Michael Bay’s style is beyond me. As for the screenplay, it wasn’t anything special. It’s a generic plot that we’ve seen many times before, I’m actually surprised that the script got made into a big motion picture, I thought it’s better suited for a TV movie of the week.

This was a missed opportunity to tell a good story about poker gambling and how it can ruin people’s lives, instead they decided to just turn a good premise into a silly and boring thriller. With a weak leading man, script and uninspiring direction this is a rental at best. My generous 2 stars is for the beautiful scenery and cool soundtrack.
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2 out of 5 reels


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Well, what do you think of this film and/or the cast?

[Directorial] Debuts Blogathon: Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007)

DebutsBlogathon

This post is my contribution to the DEBUTS blogathon spearheaded by Chris (Terry Malloy Pigeon Coop) and Mark (Three Rows Back).

‘Debuts’ will focus on directors’ first features (shorts not included), whether that be some little known feature no-one’s heard of or a breakthrough piece that catapulted them to stardom. We (well, Mark originally) thought it’d be interesting to see how a director’s first feature film compares with the rest of their filmography.

When I first heard about this, I was initially going to do The Usual Suspects as I thought it was Bryan Singer’s debut, but I ended up settling with Ben Affleck’s first film instead, which I think is still the one to top out of the three excellent feature films he’s done. Per IMDb, this is Ben’s directorial debut in a major motion picture, although he did direct two other movies that never made it to the big screen.

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I saw this crime drama/mystery quite a while ago but I remember being quite affected by it. Set in Affleck’s hometown of Boston, starring his kid brother Casey, the story centers on an investigation into a little girl’s kidnapping, which turns out to become a professional and personal crisis for the two detectives involved. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name (who also wrote Mystic River, Shutter Island), this film has a strong cast that elevate the complex story that gripped me from start to finish.

Casey Affleck, who I think is the better actor of the Affleck brothers, plays private investigator Patrick Kenzie. He opens the story with a monologue as we get a glimpse of the neighborhood where he’s lived his whole life “I’ve always believed it’s the thing you don’t choose that made you who you are…” It’s an effective opening montage that establishes Casey’s character and puts the grim kidnapping scenario into context.

I’m not going to go into the plot as I feel that if you haven’t seen the film, the little you know about this film the better. What I can tell you is that, initially you might think the film is about one thing but slowly but surely, as details unfold, it becomes to be even more devastating that what you think it is. Another missing person case in the second half of the film inexorably shines a light to a darker world of corruption within the force. It’s not something new that we see stories about police corruption, how those who’re sworn to protect us end up betraying that trust, but the way things play out here certainly makes you stop and pause. Despite some hints along the way, the ending managed to still hit me out of left field. It’s such a simple scene but once you see it in context, Casey’s expression in that scene is just so gut-wrenching. In fact, as I re-watched it recently, it hit me how much of an emotional roller coaster this film was.

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What makes this a worthy debut?

It’s quite a bold choice for Ben to tackle as his first film, considering the complex, twisty and morally-ambiguous Lehane’s novel is. This film stays with me for quite a long time after the end credits roll. It left me speechless as I pondered, ‘OMG! What would I have done? Would I have chosen to do the right thing? And what is really the RIGHT thing?’ What if the people you consider ‘righteous’ do unthinkable things because they believe they’re doing something for the greater good? Does that justify the act?? Things aren’t always so black and white in our world, and this film certainly made a good case for that.

The way he filmed the underbelly of Boston feels authentic and raw, it’s not the typical glamorous-but-impersonal shot of the city. It turns out that the people in the backgrounds in a lot of the scenes are made of real local Boston actors and members of the local town. Ben made a deliberate choice not to cast professional extras for authenticity and it certainly worked. It’s clearly a personal project for Ben all around, as Gone Baby Gone is also his favorite novel. Now, that doesn’t automatically translates to a good film, but Ben has quite a keen eye behind the camera and he’s certainly has a way with getting great performances out of his actors. I love how layered the characters are, beautifully realized by Casey and the stellar supporting cast, especially Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Michelle Monaghan, and the oh-so-underrated Ed Harris. Ryan was nominated but I think Casey and Harris were both robbed that year IMO.

What I admire about this film, and it’s become a signature of sort in Ben’s direction, is the lengthy dialogue. They can be as thrilling and tense as any action scenes, in this case, the well-written script is fully realized by terrific performances of the cast. The conversation between Casey Affleck and Ed Harris in this clip is a great example, take a look:

Ben Affleck – the Auteur?

Ok, so maybe he hasn’t earned that label yet but he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with as a director. It’s interesting to note that Ben was at a low point in his career a few years before this… starring in forgettable to downright awful films like Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Gigli, Surviving Christmas, etc. He did ok in Hollywoodland but his career wasn’t exactly in the up and up. I think Ben made the right choice in not starring in this film and just focus on his work behind the camera. He did work on the screenplay, which is his first screenwriting credit since his Oscar win with his BFF Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting.

BenDirectingCasey_GoneBabyGoneI’ve seen all three of his feature film debuts and all of them are excellent. I think if I were to rate his films I’d go with Gone Baby Gone, ARGO and The Town. Yes, I know ARGO won Best Film at the Oscars last year and I’m good with that, but in the degree of how a film affects me, I think his first film still tops it for me.

That said, Ben’s work does improve over time as he becomes more confident behind the camera, and I like that he still maintains a certain degree of intimacy in the way he shoots his films. They don’t become ‘Hollywood-ized’ for a lack of a better term, as his films are always story and character-driven. I hope he continues that trend in the future. I like how he chose characters who are caught in situations out of their depth, they certainly make for an intriguing protagonists. Though the budget has gone up steadily from the $19 mil he got for this film, his films are still relatively small. The Town was only $37 mil, while ARGO had a $44 mil budget.

It’s interesting that after this film came out, “…[it] was perceived either as a fluke or too dark to make Affleck a candidate for bigger films.” per THR interview. Only Warners executive Jeff Robinov pursued him with absolute conviction despite the lack of financial success. “… Robinov brought me into his office and said: ‘I think you’re a hell of a filmmaker, actor. What do you want to do? Tell us, and we’ll do it.’ And I wasn’t having those meetings with every studio,” He then settled with doing The Town, which ends up earning nearly three times its budget.

I’m looking forward to Ben’s next directorial effort. It’s listed that he’s doing another Dennis Lehane’s adaptation, Live By Night, where he’s going to direct AND star. Not sure what’ll happen to that project now that he’s been contracted to play Batman/Bruce Wayne in multiple films. I do think that Ben will always be a better director than actor, but really, that’s really not a bad place to be in.

So yeah, if you haven’t seen this film yet, I can’t recommend it enough. I think it stands as one of the best directorial debut by a young director. We’ll see if one day Ben Affleck would indeed earn his status as an auteur.


What do you think of Gone Baby Gone and/or Ben Affleck as a director?

My Movie Alphabet Blogathon – Actors/Directors Edition

Thanks to Mettel Ray for starting this Movie Alphabet as part of her 400th Blog Post celebration! Her original list consists of movies, directors, actors and actresses, but to switch things up, I’d like to just focus on actors and directors for my list as I’ve done the film version in this Cinematic Alphabet a year ago. So for each letter in the alphabet, I choose to highlight those whose work and performances have become my favorite over the years. I might add honorable mentions later on but it’s taken me much longer than I thought to even just coming up with these, so without further ado, here we go:

A  – Audrey Hepburn

The epitome of beauty and class. I love Audrey ever since my mother brought My Fair Lady from her trip to Europe when I could barely speak any English. She’s such a captivating actress beautiful inside and out, I really admire her charity work outside of her iconic performance in many delightful films.


B – Ben Affleck

I never thought I’d  put Ben Affleck on any of my favorite list, but the only reason I’m putting him here is for his DIRECTING work, especially Gone Baby Gone and ARGO. I think he’s become one of the most talented directors working today.

C – Cate Blanchett

I love this beautiful and massively talented Aussie actress. I haven’t seen her in anything all year so I’m so looking forward to seeing her reprise her role as Galadriel in The Hobbit! I’m also excited to see her in Terrence Malick’s upcoming film Knight of Cups with Christian Bale! I think she might be in two films with Terrence Malick next year.

D – Denzel Washington

I just love how dignified his name sounds and he certainly is a classy actor, not to mention gorgeous. There are some films that don’t appeal to me until he’s cast, and even in so-so movies, Denzel is still great to watch. I think one of his best roles is Philadelphia and American Gangster (I have yet to see Training Day yet).

E – Ewan McGregor

Clearly I have a penchant for Scottish guys, especially the cute ones who can sing 😉 I haven’t seen too many of Ewan’s work but I LOVE him in Moulin Rouge and boy, he could’ve easily have a singing career! He also sang in Velvet Goldmine in his earlier days but his role as the romantic poet Christian stole my heart. His duet with Nicole Kidman is just lovely!

F – Frances O’Connor

I just saw this Aussie actress in Lumpy at TCFF screening and was pleasantly surprised to see her in that film. I think she’s so massively underrated, I wish she had gotten more roles in Hollywood. I absolutely love her in Mansfield Park and also in the time travel adventure Timeline.

G – Gerard Butler

Speaking of cute Scots who can sing 😉 Well I think it’s obvious who I’d pick for G right, he..he.. Seems like a lot of my crushes’ names start with G… Gregory Peck, Gabriel Byrne… but I think Gerry is the only one I’m most consistent on. It’s been interesting following his career over the years and even though he hasn’t got a hit yet lately, I think he’s a charismatic and talented actor, not to mention versatile! So yeah, I think I’ll be a GB fan for years to come.

H – Harrison Ford

It’s amazing how he almost quit acting after American Grafitti! Can’t imagine a more successful actor with so many lucrative franchises under his belt. I like him in action films, but he also shines in dramas like Regarding Henry. My all time favorite role shall always be Indiana Jones though, I mean, he’s the epitome of effortless machismo.

I – Ian McKellen

I was flabbergasted that Sean Connery turned down a high-paying job playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings franchise, but now I can’t imagine anyone else by Sir Ian McKellen in that role. His gravitas and THAT voice that can be both authoritative and soothing makes his performance so iconic. I also love his villainous turn as Magneto in the X-Men films, as well as his super creepy role in Apt Pupil.

J – Judi Dench

One of my three favorite British dames – along with Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith – the 77-year-old thespian has such a strong screen presence and an un-inimitable voice to boot! As I said in my Skyfall review, it’s the best casting decision ever to have her play M. She made the usually forgettable character so much more interesting, no wonder Mendes gave her so much more screen time in the latest Bond flick. I also love her softer side in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

K – Keanu Reeves

I love Keanu… or Chuck as my friend Mark calls him. Yes he’s not the most expressive actors but he’s got quite a screen presence and that certain unique-ness that separate him from the pack. He’s great in action flicks surely (The Matrix, Speed, Constantine, etc.), but I also love him as a romantic lead in A Walk in the Clouds. I just rewatched Point Break recently which was done 21 years ago, and seeing him in the 2012 documentary Side by Side, it’s amazing how this guy practically doesn’t age!

L – Lee Pace

Ok I just realize there are like five Hobbit-related people on this list, ahah, trust me it’s not intentional but clearly Peter Jackson has a keen eye for casting. I’m truly hoping that this highly-anticipated LOTR prequel will launch a few actors’ career, one of them is this super talented Oklahoma native who wowed me in The Fall and also Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. How this guy is not more famous than Ryan Gosling is beyond me!

M – Michael Mann

For someone as accomplished as Mr Mann, I’m surprised he’s not as prolific. He’s only got ten feature films under his belt, and out of the seven I have seen so far I’ve only been disappointed with this one. I’ve been watching his work as executive producer of the Miami Vice TV show which was one of my favorites growing up. But he’s done at least three that I’d consider a masterpiece: Heat, The Insider and The Last of the Mohicans; whilstthe other three are very, very good.

N – Nicole Kidman

I don’t always seek out every movie she’s in but she’s definitely a darn good actress. It’s quite interesting to see her transformation from a freckled-face redhead to a glamorous porcelain-skinned doll much like her character in The Stepford Wives. I really think she needs to lay off Botox or whatever it is she’s using, as I think she’s already very beautiful. She can be quite fierce if she wants to be, like in To Die For, but one of my favorite roles is the tormented courtesan Satine in Moulin Rouge.

O – Olivia Williams

There are two Olivias I was going to include here, the other one was Olivia de Havilland who played Melanie in Gone With the Wind. But I decided to go with the one I’ve seen more of. I’ve only seen the London native’s work in supporting roles (The Sixth Sense, An Education), but they’re all very good. She was particularly good in a scene-stealing role in The Ghost Writer as the wife of a retired UK Prime Minister. I’m not too fond of the film but she was memorable.

P – Peter Jackson

He hasn’t made many films, but the Lord of the Rings is one of my all time favorite franchise, hence my anticipation for The Hobbit. I’m also one of those who likes King Kong, so I might still give The Lovely Bones a try one of these days despite the dismal reviews. Even when he’s not making films, he’s indirectly contributed to major hits like X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Prometheus, etc. through his visual effects company WETA Digital.

Q – Quentin Tarantino

As I’m not a fan of violent movies, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of QT’s films but I can’t deny his talent and brutal honesty for ‘copying’ other filmmakers work whilst still making them his own. Out of the three of his films I’ve seen, I think I like Inglourious Basterds the most. It’s one of those films I never thought I’d enjoy but it was definitely a pleasant surprise despite my nerves being stretched to its snapping point in more than one occasion.

R – Richard Armitage

I think if you’ve read this blog you should notice this tall, dark and handsome Brit gets a lot of mentions. In fact, I dedicated a post when he was cast in The Hobbit as Thorin! I fell for him in the BBC miniseries North & South, but he also wowed me in other series since – The Vicars of Dibley, MI-5 and Strike Back. I sincerely hope this role in The Hobbit will (finally) catapult his career in Hollywood. He’s far too gorgeous and too talented to only be confined in TV world!

S – Sean Connery

Ok, even as a Bond aficionado, I wasn’t exactly planning on putting two Bond actors back-to-back on this list, but hey, why not? Sir Sean was perhaps the most famous Scottish movie star when he was cast as 007 and having seen Dr. No recently, he certainly has the looks and swagger like nobody’s business. The former body builder is more than just a Bond actor though, he’s great in various roles such as The Untouchables, The Hunt of Red October, Just Cause, The Rock, and of course, his scene-stealing role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!

T – Timothy Dalton

Here’s another Bond actor who’s sooo much more than his most famous role. In fact, even though he’s my favorite Bond (yes Daniel Craig is a close second), I absolutely adore him in a role that’s as far away as 007 as you can get: Mr. Rochester in BBC’s 1983 Jane Eyre. He’s wonderful in larger-than-life heroic roles like Julius Caesar, but I also love him as a baddie in The Rocketeer and the made-for-TV thriller Framed with David Morrissey. I’ve already covered how criminally underrated he is and how much I’d love to see him in a romantic thriller with the likes of a fellow seasoned Brit Helen Mirren, so I think my feelings for him is clear.

U – Uma Thurman

I haven’t seen Uma in anything lately but I quite like her in some roles. Her Oscar-nominated performance in Pulp Fiction made her a star and a cult classic status. Seems like QT knows how to tailor a role for her as she was memorably bad ass in the Kill Bill movies. She’s going to co-star with Gerry Butler in his upcoming soccer dramedy Playing for Keeps but curiously absent from all the promos for the film as they seem to only feature Catherine Zeta-Jones or Jessica Biel. Does that say something about her current star power??

V – Vanessa Redgrave

Did you know that Vanessa Redgrave was in a relationship with Timothy Dalton for fourteen years? Apparently they met on the set of Mary, Queen of Scots and were both passionate about Shakespeare, natch! I have been seeing her in a few films lately and she’s certainly a force on screen, from her younger years starring in Camelot all the way to her spectacular supporting role in Coriolanus. I love her in Letters for Juliet where she actually co-starred with her current husband Franco Nero.

W – William Wyler

Every time I go through his filmography, I’m always amazed at Mr. Wyler’s varied work. He’s one of those directors who can’t be confined into any genre as he could do tackle any one of them. Three of my favorite films of his are a Biblical epic (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ), a western (The Big Country) and a romantic comedy (Roman Holiday). I still need to see the war drama Mrs. Miniver, amongst a plethora of his other work.

X – Professor X

Ok, I don’t know of ANY actor/director with this name so I broke the rule a bit and feature one of my favorite characters instead. Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men franchise was played by two brilliant actor: Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the prequel X-Men: First Class. I LOVE both of their performances and the character itself is inherently intriguing and his relationship with his friend-turned-nemesis Magneto is the most compelling part of that franchise.

Y – Yul Brynner

Ok, there are very limited names that starts with Y so I chose Yul Brynner for his iconic performance in The King and I and The Ten Commandments. Apart from those two films I haven’t seen anything else he’s done. The Russian actor (his real name was Yuli Borisovich Bryner) has one of those ‘exotic’ look that made him quite versatile playing all kinds of ethnic characters. He’s also an accomplished photographer and often take pictures of the sets of the various projects he worked on over the years.

Z – Zhang Yimou

I had just become acquainted with his work a few years ago when I saw House of Flying Daggers and was treated to such a visual feast of vivid colors and breathtaking cinematography. His distinct visual style is legendary, which you might have seen in the Jet Li movie Hero or if you saw the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games Opening Ceremony in which he directed. His latest work was Flowers of War which I still need to see one of these days.


Well that’s my Movie Alphabet, folks. Hope you enjoy my list. If you haven’t done one already, I invite you to join in on the fun!