Quick thoughts on Oscars 2017… and that crazy Best Picture mixup!

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Well this is the first year where the Oscars almost escaped me… It’s funny, there’s a line that my lead character said in my Hearts Want script, ‘I don’t give a f*** about the Oscars…’ Well, it seems his um, lack of enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off on me a bit. Suffice to say, I’ve just been so preoccupied w/ prepping my short film that I really couldn’t be bothered. In fact I stayed past 1:30 Saturday night making updates to the script. But y’know what, though I’m exhausted I don’t feel tired, I pretty much operate on adrenaline rush these days.

Before I posted about my thoughts on the Oscars though… what a sad news 😦

Ok just a few comments on the red carpet stuff…

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These three massively talented actors slay ’em at the red carpet!


Well, I think overall the ceremony is pretty boring… and Jimmy Kimmel is annoying generally. I did enjoy that whole bit about bringing a tour bus full of unsuspecting tourists to the Oscars. Especially these moments…

The expressions on these tourists faces are priceless… go Gary from Chicago!!

And can Sunny Pawar host the Oscars with Dev Patel next year?

Ah Taraji… she’s too freakin’ adorable!!

As for the winners…

The Oscars got it right w/ the first acting award of the night…

And finally… a classy, crazy talented lady gets her overdue moment to shine…

Beautiful, emotive lyrics too… so yeah I wish the Audition song instead of City Of Stars had won instead.

Haven’t seen Manchester By the Sea… can’t say I’m all that enthused about it.

Lest we forget…

Yep Denzel… I SO share your sentiment!

Emma’s performance in the Audition scene made me cry… so yeah, I have no problem w/ her winning. And her speech felt real and sweet. Leo presenting her the Oscar made me wonder why they haven’t worked together though.

As for the award of the night…

WOW, you’d never guess what happened!! I mean I saw it w/ my own eyes and I still couldn’t believe it!! Warren Beatty is the new Steve Harvey!!

WHOA!!! Seriously this was the craziest thing I’ve seen at the Oscars… or live TV for that matter! Well, I guess you could say the night ended with a BANG…

But yaaaaasssss!!!! I had always been #TeamMoonlight all award season…

I gotta say though, the La La Land producers, esp. Jordan Horowitz, was a good sport about the whole ordeal. I mean it must’ve been so devastating, not to mention embarrassing, to have started a speech and be told someone else had won!! But hey… in the end the Oscar voters got it right when it comes to Best Picture 😀

Yep, me too Mr. Jenkins. Me too!!


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Well, I’m glad I tuned in to the Oscars tonight after all… otherwise I wouldn’t have witnessed the battiest Oscar moment in history on LIVE TV!

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Guest Review: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)

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Directed/Written By: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Runtime: 2 hrs 17 minutes

Cinema portrayals of angry people are not usually enjoyable entertainment yet we are fascinated by films that dwell entirely on simmering angst. Manchester by the Sea (2016) is such a film. Perplexing, unsettling, yet engaging, it is a story without joy that is made bearable by outstanding performances and superb cinematography.

The plotline has a simple core narrative framed by frequent and abrupt flashbacks that gradually piece together a jigsaw-like story. We meet Lee (Casey Affleck) as a handyman and depressive loner whose temper blows over at little provocation. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that he lives in self-exile because of a horrible family tragedy he caused. He has become emotionally hollowed out and unable to relate to people. Suddenly his brother has a fatal heart attack and his will names Lee as executor and guardian of 16 year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). But to accept this responsibility, Lee must move back to the idyllic seaside town of Manchester by the Sea which is full of traumatic memories, including of his attempted suicide, his divorced wife, and people who are wary of him. He stays for the funeral, drinks heavily, lashes out physically, argues with his teenage nephew, and wants to cut and run. Gradually, he becomes emotionally re-connected with family and place through the experience of caring for the typically full-of-himself nephew. Lee’s traumatic past makes way for new beginnings, new relationships, and the hope of redemption.

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If you look for originality in storytelling, there is little of it here. Painful battles with inner demons is a cliché, and fighting several at once is simply a compound cliché not something new. Half of this film is spent on assembling the narrative jigsaw so we can understand what makes Lee the way he is, and the other half is spent on standard melodrama tropes about re-connecting by caring for someone else. However, it is the casting, characterisation, and cinematography that save this film from being just another story of angry people destabilised by tragedy. Casey Affleck does trauma and ambivalence very effectively. His bemused tolerance of his nephew’s demands and sexual exploits becomes the emotional scaffold that guides his calming from pot-boiling anger to resigned acceptance that life must go on. Lucas Hedges is the perfect foil for Casey Affleck, and both are helped by a strong support ensemble.

Brilliant acting by Affleck does not hide the film’s melodramatic predictability. But this slow essay on anger would be more unsettling were it not for its joyful filming. Trauma is calmed and un-likable characters forgiven when all are nestled against beautiful images of bobbing fishing vessels lapping the shores of charming Manchester by the Sea. The camerawork visually warms the film and helps bind its elements into an engaging story of loss and redemption.

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


Have you seen ‘Manchester By The Sea’? Well, what did you think? 

Genre Grandeur – Heist Movies: Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Thirteen

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This post is part of MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur (or Guesstimation) series. Thanks to my pal Ted S. for his review of one of his favorite films of the genre.


I lost count on how many times I’ve watched these two Ocean’s films; I’m going to pretend that Ocean’s 12 never existed; the self-indulgent film was an embarrassing to everyone who’s involved in making it. Don’t get me started on the whole Julia Roberts pretended to be Julia Roberts sequence. I wanted to punch the writers and director Steven Soderbergh for thinking that we the audience would be that stupid and thought it would be a fun scene to watch.

Well speaking of Soderbergh, in the early 2000s, he’s the director every actor wanted to work with. If I remember correctly, two of his films in 2000, Traffic and Erin Brockovich were box office hits and got nominated for best picture at the Oscars. He received the golden statue for directing Traffic. So of course there were big expectations for his next picture. Opened during the holiday season of 2001, Ocean’s Eleven was one of that year’s biggest hits and spawned two sequels. Of course the cast was probably the big draw, packed with three A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts; veterans Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould and young up and coming actors such as Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.
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Recently paroled Danny Ocean (Clooney) decides to get in touch with some of his old buddies including black jack dealer named Frank Catton (the late great Bernie Mac) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt). They hatched a plan to steal money from two Las Vegas casinos during a big boxing match that could be worth more than $130mil. The casinos are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). In order to get their plan rolling, they need some funding from Benedict’s rival Reuben (Elliot Gould). With backing from Reuben, Danny and Rusty went and recruit the rest of the team.

What I love about this film was the chemistry with each of the actors; they were all believable to me as a team on a mission. I especially love the bickering between the Mormon twins (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan). The script was well written and the actual heist was very clever and fun to watch. Unlike some other heist genre film, there were no twists or backstabbing from someone in the team. They finished their mission and everyone got paid.

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After the disastrous Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh decided to fix his mistake from the second sequel and brought the team back for another heist in Vegas. In Ocean’s Thirteen, the team’s mission this time is revenge. After Reuben was left for dead by his former partner Willy Bank (Al Pacino), Danny and Rusty wanted to break Bank’s brand new casino. Unlike the second sequel where I felt the actors and filmmakers were having fun but we the audience were left out. In this film, Soderbergh brought back the fun and I had a great time with it; heck I think I liked it better than the first film. The heist itself was quite clever, instead of stealing the money from the casino for themselves, Ocean’s team decided to let everyone win big. Speaking as someone who goes to Vegas regularly and gambles there, I would have loved to be involved in this heist.

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Pacino w/ Ellen Barkin who’s quite the scene stealer in the movie

These two Ocean films aren’t the best in the heist genre but they sure are fun to watch. Maybe because it’s set in one of my favorite cities to visit Las Vegas, it’s the reason why I can’t get enough of these films.

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Well, what do YOU think of these two Ocean’s films? Which of the trilogy is your favorite? 

FlixChatter Review: John Hillcoat’s TRIPLE 9 (2016)

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I’m a big fan of crime action thrillers of the 70s, 80s and 90s, so I was excited to see this new film by Aussie director John Hillcoat. As we all know, the last decade or so the superhero genre has been dominating the box office so crime action thrillers are rarity these days.

The movie opens with a bank robbery that didn’t go as smoothly as planned. The bank robbers weren’t there to steal money but a case in the safe box. In a pretty impressive opening action sequence, the robbers were able to escape unscathed. We then learned that two of the robbers named Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Ridriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.) are cops and one is an ex-cop named Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul). The rest of the robbers are ex-military men named Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus). They were tasked to steal something very important for a Russian mob boss named Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet, sporting a very 80s hairdo and weird Russian accent). Irina has a sister named Elena (Gal Gadot), who happens to be Atwood’s ex-girlfriend.

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After Atwood delivered the steal goods to Irina, she told him that she has another job for him and his team. Atwood of course wasn’t interested but Irina told him she won’t pay him for the job he’d just finished unless he gets the second one done. With no other choice, Atwood got his team together again and try to come up with a plan to make the biggest heist of their lives. We then were introduced to a detective named Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), he’s in charge of finding the bank robbers. Allen has a nephew named Chris (Casey Affleck) who’s also a cop and Belmont’s new partner. As the story progresses we learned more about each of these characters and how they’re all some-how connected and we found out meaning of the movie’s title.

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With so many well known actors in one movie, I wasn’t sure if they’re all going to get enough screen time, but to my surprise all of the big players got equal screen time and they played their respectively role quite well. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t really have a central character you want to “cheer” for, each of the characters has their own motivation and there’s no good or bad guy in the story. I had my doubts about Casey’s casting as the supposed “hero” of the story but his character played a central role in the plot and he’s pretty convincing.

John Hillcoat is one of my favorite newer directors and he didn’t disappoint with his direction for this movie. He staged some pretty good action sequences including his signature bloody violence. What really impressed me was how he avoided making the movie into a super dark and serious tone that has plagued most action movies the last few years. This movie feels like a thriller from the 80s and 90s.


Even though I was very impressed with the performances and direction of the movie, I had some problems with the script. Matt Cook is a newcomer in Hollywood and I was surprised his script didn’t get rewrites or more polished by other screenwriters. The story is filled with so many layers that I think a well-established screenwriter could’ve made it into a great script. I’m not saying that Cook’s script is bad just that it needed a lot of fixing. My biggest beef with the script was how the story wrapped so neatly by the movie’s end. I won’t spoil anything but if you saw The Departed then you’ll know what I mean when you see this movie.

Triple 9 is a well made action thriller that could’ve been a classic had the script been more polished. Fans of the buddy cop action and crime thrillers from the 80s and 90s will be pleased with it.

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Have you seen TRIPLE 9? Well, what did you think?

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

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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?