The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 1 Review

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It’s a great week for superhero fans. I know that today DC fans are rejoicing for the #SnyderCut of Justice League. Well, even though I have enjoyed some DC superhero movies in the past, I’m not clamoring to see the 4-hour slog elongated version of what I think I saw back in 2017 that I could barely remember, ahah. I did rejoice when I saw an email from Disney saying I had a screener of episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS) earlier this week! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite film of the MCU, and also the best of my favorite MCU trilogy. The Captain America movies are all solid but I dare say The Winter Soldier, where Falcon (Sam Wilson) and Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes) first met, is more than a fantastic superhero movie, it’s a phenomenal movie period.

Ever since Disney+ launched in November 2019 in the US (boy that seemed like lightyears ago!), THIS is the series I couldn’t wait to see. Of course the pandemic delayed everything, including this one. Well, let’s just say it’s so worth the wait!! I rewatched Captain America: Civil War in anticipation for this miniseries, and even THIS scene alone made me wish there’s a movie dedicated to these two. So getting an equivalent of 3 movies but on TV is awesome!!

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This is only one of six episodes where, like WandaVision, will not have a follow-up season. I think it’s brilliant that Marvel Studio president Kevin Feige set up these miniseries so filmmakers can dive more deeper into intriguing MCU characters that don’t have their own dedicated movies. And when you’ve got terrific actors like Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, there’s plenty of opportunities to see them flex their dramatic muscles. It’s also cool to see a female director at the helm. Kari Skogland is no stranger to directing high-profile series, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Punisher, Walking Dead, The Americans, etc. though TFATWS’s $150 mil budget (for just 6 episodes!!) is no doubt the highest she’s been involved in.

TFATWS opens with a bang! A high-octane action in the vein of the opening sequence of Winter Soldier, but focusing on Falcon instead. The fight choreography is just as good as what you saw in the opening sequence, plus we see a familiar face of the antagonist Falcon is fighting against. If you love Falcon’s flying sequences (and who doesn’t?), well you’re gonna enjoy the spectacular high-flying action scene, the best Falcon flying-action I’ve seen so far! So glad to hear composer Henry Jackman back composing his kinetic score, which perfectly complements the dynamic action Even from the trailers, you can tell the production values is top notch. There’s a cinematic feel to it, which means Marvel isn’t treating these streaming-version content like a step-child amongst the MCU.

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But what I also appreciate is the slower, reflective moments for each character. Per Disney’s production brief, Skogland promises “…an epic, character-driven story. We get to go inside these characters and their world in a much more intimate way.” Timeline-wise, this one takes place six months since the events of Avengers: Endgame known as the Blip, where half of all life across the universe returned after the 5-year period where Thanos snapped them out of existence. So obviously things aren’t exactly back to normal yet for everyone, including these two Avengers. After five years in oblivion, they’re trying to find their place in a world that is no longer the same. The miniseries addresses some of those Blip ramifications in a personal way, displaying their personal baggage and inner struggles.

In terms of his home life, we get to meet Sam’s sister Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye) and his nephews who runs the Wilson Family Seafood business Louisiana. It’s a real and relatable moment seeing Sam trying to help Sarah save the struggling family business, even so far as helping her secure a loan from a bank. It humanizes the hero and show that they’re not perfect humans who are immune from ‘ordinary’ problems many of us face.

Meanwhile, Bucky’s struggles is more rooted in his identity. I mean, he’s the only Avenger who has done really heinous things such as murdering a fellow Avenger’s parents. Even though he wasn’t really himself when he did it, that is still an impossibly hard thing for anyone to reconcile with. We saw him being ravaged with guilt in Civil War even when Steve still stood by him, here we see his struggles haven’t gone away for the hero-turned-baddie-turned-hero-again. No wonder he’s in therapy, he’s been through SO much trauma! This episode explores Bucky trying to atone for his past sins, with flashback scenes of him on a mission when he was still brainwashed as the assassin Winter Soldier.

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Though Steve Rogers is no longer around in this MCU timeline, Captain America’s spirit permeates through the entire episode. There is a solemn moment where Sam paid homage to his personal friend and fellow Avenger, and we get to reflect on that memorable passing-of-the-shield moment scene in Endgame and what it means to Sam personally. Obviously it’s a huge responsibility to take on that mantle… and this interview with the miniseries’ creator Malcolm Spellman talks about how he “…saw the show as an opportunity to be frank about race in America” In regards to the shield with the American flag symbol, “…being as a Black man, is it even appropriate to have that symbol? That symbol means something very different in Sam’s hands than it does in Steve’s.” It’s certainly timely to have this conversation and I’m glad they didn’t shy away from it.

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Though the tone of trailers are more comedic filled with witty, even silly banters between the two, the start of the miniseries is more serious before Sam and Bucky meet up. I actually don’t mind it as the story is still engaging and it makes me anticipate the action-packed adventure in store for these two! I’m also curious to see how the journey of some familiar characters in this miniseries, particularly Daniel Brühl‘s Zemo, the Sokovian special forces whose vengeful tactic was to get the Avengers to fight each other. Unlike Red Skull, Zemo isn’t one of those sociopath villain hellbent on controlling the world, his evil scheme was motivated by grief when he lost his family in Sokovia. Last we saw him in Civil War, he’s confined in a German prison, so I wonder what the story is with him and why/how he’s out in the world again.

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There’s also Emily VanCamp as Agent Sharon Carter returning, and the one major new character is John Walker played by Wyatt Russell (yep, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son). In the comics, Walker a.k.a. U.S. Agent is actually a baddie called Super-Patriot. But in this miniseries, he supposedly will partner with Sam and Bucky to protect the world from a new threat. There are scenes of Falcon with a mysterious character who’s a US soldier, played by Danny Ramirez (who’s curiously missing from the IMDb page). He seems to play a prominent role but we’ll see what his story arc will be.

So yeah, so far so good! I think this episode is a strong start that ticks all the boxes for MCU fans and get us even more excited for Phase Four. I certainly appreciate that it’s not all action + explosions, it’s got a nice blend of drama, suspense and action that allow these two characters to shine. I’m also curious to see which Avenger cameo(s) we will see. The cinematography is fantastic, which I expect given the huge budget. I only wish they’d go easy on the extreme close-ups though, it’s fine if used sparingly but I really don’t need to see every strand of Bucky’s eyelash for an uncomfortably long period of time.

In any case, I won’t be reviewing every single episode, but might do a recap once the entire miniseries wraps.

4/5 stars

Here’s a sneak peek that just dropped today at the Virtual Launch:


Anyone else excited for this series? If you have seen ep. 1, well what did YOU think?

Top 10 Best Christmas Movies Relay Race

Well happy mid December everyone! This year, time has truly ran away from me… and if you’re keeping track, my life’s pace has been at lightning speed since I decided to make a movie last January! But hey, I do miss blogging and I remember how fun it was participating in my pal Nostra’s relay race posts in the past. Plus, when a good friend tagged you to do a relay race (thanks Keith!), you make time 😉 It’s a fun topic that’s perfect for this time of year, too!

So how does this work? Here’s a rundown from Nostra himself:

The rules are, just like the past relay races, very simple: The list has 10 Christmas movies (in random order) and when the baton is handed over to a new blogger, he or she has to remove one title of the list (with an explanation why) and add one new title. Once that is done a new blogger is contacted who will take the baton and run with it, doing the same (you can reinstate a title which has been previously removed). As Christmas is in three weeks I want to ask you to publish your entry as quickly as possible to make sure the list changes as much as possible before the 25th of December. Add the logo of this relay race to your post and also add links to those who came before you making it easy for everyone to find all the entries.

So here is the list of the 10 Best Christmas Movies as it stands now:

HOME ALONE

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There are a number of Christmas films that I actually watch annually and Home Alone has been one of my favorites for years. This film, written by John Hughes, has all the elements to amuse and get you in the mood Christmas. And Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are of course hilarious when the “Wet bandits” Harry and Marv.

ELF

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The film is almost fifteen years old, but the timeless story of a grown man who grew up among the elves and heads to New York, looking for his father, still is very funny and entertaining. Will Ferrell is the perfect “man child” and the short animated parts are a pleasure to watch. A real Christmas classic.

A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

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Although Charles Dickens story has been translated to film many times, this version is still my personal favorite. A film with a lot of atmosphere and the warmth of the Muppets.

DIE HARD

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Every year people argue whether or not Die Hard can be labeled a Christmas film. Yet it is very simple: Although there is a lot of action, the story takes place around Christmas. And Bruce Willis might play his best role ever.

 

GREMLINS

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Although you might not associate this horror comedy with Christmas immediately, this film is set during this period and the gremlins even sing Christmas songs. A title that can not be missed.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

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It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie which is watched by lots of people every year. Rightly so, because it is a beautiful film that fits the Christmas period.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

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Another title that I have to think about immediately during this period. Although the opinions are divided which two of the two versions is the best.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

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The clumsy son of Santa, Arthur, has to make sure that a forgotten package is delivered on time, doing this together with his grandfather. A very nice film from Aardman studios (also responsible for the Wallace & Gromit films).

EYES WIDE SHUT

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I’m using the same argument here that many Die Hard fans cling to. The story is set during the festive season and, in actual fact, most if not all scenes are introduced by depicting a Christmas tree. It’s fair to say, that it’s dark psychological mystery isn’t exactly in tune with the Christmas cheer but if Die Hard can be tenuously linked to this joyful season then so can Kubrick’s masterpiece.

A CHRISTMAS STORY (Keith’s addition)

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Few films have defined my Christmas movie watching like Bob Clark’s delightful “A Christmas Story”. Sure, I gets overplayed during the season, but it is such a fabulous concoction filled with humor and heart. So many memorable scenes, so many memorable lines, so many memorable characters. This one simply has to be here.


Deciding what to remove was a painful task. I initially considered removing Eyes Wide Shut as the blogger who chose it himself said it ‘isn’t exactly in tune with the Christmas cheer’ but I guess it can still be considered an alternative Christmas film.

So the one I’m tossing out from this list is GREMLINS. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of one of the movies but man, I can’t stand those creatures!! I think seeing them sing Christmas songs will give me nightmares. Funnily enough, my short film’s lead actor’s theatre company is called Gremlin Theatre and for the life of me I have no idea why he chose that [shrug] Sorry Nostra but if I had to choose one, Gremlins‘ definitely gotta go!

So what’s my pick to replace it?

JOYEUX NOËL

I saw it on a Christmas weekend a few years ago as it was on Netflix. It’s a 2005 French film about the truce that took place on December 24, 1914 during World War I. Now this is a film that reflect the true Christmas spirit. Such a wonderful film that shows an uplifting lesson in humanity, though the truce is such a brief one and the troops from three countries had to pay the price for their disobedience. I’m a big fan of Daniel Brühl who’s great in the film, and I also love the performance of Guillaume Canet, Benno Fürmann and Diane Kruger. I’m glad I finally saw it and it’s become one of my favorite Christmas-themed films!


Ok I’m passing the yuletide baton to…
Brittani (yes a fellow Minnesota blogger 😉 ) over at Rambling Film Blog

Guest Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016)

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Directed By: Niki Caro
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Runtime: 2 hr 7 minutes

The diversity of Holocaust-themed movies has increased over recent years as filmmakers try different storytelling approaches to keep alive our collective memory of what happened. One film that has divided the critics is The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016). While most of this genre uses graphic realism to confront large-scale human carnage and moral dystopia, this beautifully filmed story tells how 300 Jewish lives were saved by the owners of the Warsaw Zoo.

The film opens in 1939 with stunning photography of an idyllic existence in the charming Warsaw Zoo. Owners Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are devoted zoologists who love their animals and each other. There are many touching scenes of physical affection that portray trust and understanding across the human-animal divide. The peace is soon shattered by Nazi bombing and there are many disturbing scenes of animal destruction. Soon after the Nazis arrive, the Zoo’s best breeding specimens are sent to Berlin under Hitler’s zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). With Nazi soldiers needing housing, the Zoo is under threat but saved when Antonina obtains Heck’s support to convert it into a pig farm to feed Nazi soldiers. He becomes a frequent visitor to the Zoo and his sexual overtures towards Antonina means she must keep him charmed to save the Zoo. As the atrocities against Polish Jews escalate, Antonina and Jan hatch a plan to use garbage trucks to smuggle Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to freedom via Zoo tunnels. The story focuses on the dangers of hiding the Jews and the horror facing those who are loaded into cattle-trucks for transportation to Hitler’s Final Solution.

The critical ambivalence towards this film dwells on its aesthetic treatment of the opening scenes and what some argue is Chastain’s saintly characterisation of Antonina. While the cinematography is superb from beginning to end, it does adopt an excessively sugary style in the pre-Nazi-occupation part of the story. The opening scenes of Antonina cycling through the zoo, personally greeting the caged and free-roaming animals, smiling and waving to all of humanity, are both beautiful but incongruous for the story we know is about to unfold. From the extraordinary scenes of Antonina saving a new-born elephant in front of its distressed parents to the harrowing escape scenes, the film almost deifies the heroine for her goodness towards others. But these are directing issues rather than acting. Chastain’s performance is excellent across the range of emotions she portrays and she is a glowing beacon of light in a film that could easily have been depressingly bleak.

The Zookeepers Wife is a worthy addition to an honourable genre that includes the multi-award winning Schindler’s List (1993). It communicates the larger Holocaust narrative while keeping its carnage and dystopia off-screen. In an age of audience desensitisation, it is ironic that viewers can be emotionally touched more deeply by the death of animals than humans. This is a story of courage and triumph, told from a woman’s viewpoint, with top-tier production values in filming, acting, and narrative. It is also an important part of Polish history. Antonina and Jan were decorated as national heroes and the re-built Warsaw Zoo still stands as a legacy to their achievements.

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


Have you seen ‘The Zookeper’s Wife’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: ALONE IN BERLIN (2016)

guestpost Directed By: Vincent Perez
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

War films are stories writ large about aggression between nations. Few of them explore small-scale human undercurrents of suppressed dissent inside the countries at war. Alone in Berlin (2016) does this by looking at an ordinary working-class couple and their compulsion to express feelings about Hitler’s dictatorship at time when dissent meant certain death. It is also an essay on parental grief struggling to voice pain and loss.

Based on real events, the story opens in a small flat in Berlin where Otto Quangel (Brendan Gleeson) and his wife Anna (Emma Thompson) learn that their son has died in battle. In a long marriage that is under strain, the news pushes them further apart as they cannot console each other in grief. Otto had encouraged his son to join the Nazi army and now Anna blames him for their loss. Desperate to voice his rage against Hitler’s regime, he painstakingly writes postcards and secretly leaves them on stairwells and doorways where they can be seen by passers-by: he calls them “small grains of sand in Hitler’s machine”. Initially he keeps Anna away from his dangerous mission, but she insists on being involved and they both become clandestine resistance fighters whose weapons are simple messages about the evils of Nazism. They manage to write and distribute over 260 cards despite extensive investigative efforts to stop them. In the process, they resurrect their marital relationship. After almost two years of card-writing they are caught and together face Nazi justice.

This film has two parallel narratives that start in opposition and end in convergence: one is Otto and Anna’s actions, the other is the investigation. The first is focused on the smallness of the couple’s actions in contrast to the enormous risk they are taking, like a pair of mice squeaking at roaring lions. The filming, colour palette and period setting are drab and lifeless; the atmosphere is paranoid with suspicion and mistrust; and the acting is subdued and understated. Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson are actors with broad performance repertoires but here they are minimalist in expression and Spartan in dialogue, with much being conveyed through furtive glances or avoided eye-contact. It is a slow-moving story, observant of small details in an alienated world. This has the effect of amplifying the intensity of Otto and Anna’s actions. Close-ups of a pen leaving a trail of outrage on a small white card become powerful portraits of bravery that are ultimately futile as most of the cards were handed in to authorities. The couple’s nemesis is a young German investigator (Daniel Brühl) who pursues his work with ideological fervour for the Fuhrer but whose success turns into the film’s most devastating moments of despair.

This is a joyless story about humble heroism. Otto and Anna are emblematic of ordinary people dealing with tragedy and anger inside a world of fear and danger. Far from being mere victims, their small protests seriously unsettled the Nazi hierarchy and the closing scenes are a tribute to the power of two human “grains of sand”.

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


Have you seen ‘Alone in Berlin’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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The buzz over the latest Marvel blockbuster has been through the roof. It’s already made over $200 mil internationally before it even opened here in the US, so no doubt it will wipe out any competition here this weekend.

I have to say that despite my increasing superhero fatigue, I was still looking forward to this one mostly because I love the first two Captain America films, and I have faith in the Russo brothers’ direction. Like Zack Snyder with Batman V Superman, Anthony & Joe Russo had the tricky task of not only continuing the thread of the Avenger story, pulling off a large ensemble cast AND help launch/introduce individual standalone films (Black Panther, Spider-man). Suffice to say the Russos did a much, much better job than Snyder in delivering an entertaining Summer blockbuster that’s actually has depth and thought-provoking ideas. Interesting that The Avengers and Superman share a similar predicament in their effort to safeguard humanity, and how the DC and Marvel tentpole movies are dealing with the issue of accountability.

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The ‘Civil War’ in the title stems from an ideological conflict about what should be done in that issue of accountability and collateral damage, and whether a governing body (in this case the UN) should oversee them. Now, the fact that the perceived common enemy happens to be Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) BFF Bucky a.k.a. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), it’s easy to see which side the Cap is on. The events in The Winter Soldier has undoubtedly made Cap wary of big government and how a centralized power could be manipulative and corrupt. So it makes sense that he won’t be so easily persuaded to sign something like The Sokovia Accords that’d essentially put the Avengers under UN control.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Just because it’s the path of least resistance doesn’t mean it’s the wrong path. Staying together is more important than how we stay together.

Steve Rogers/Captain America: What are we giving up to do it?


Whilst the motive behind Captain firmly believing in self-regulation is more clear cut, I’m not as convinced why Tony Stark would support it with little resistance. A cameo by Alfre Woodard briefly reveals the burden of guilt on Tony’s part as the Stark companies supplies most of the weaponry (including Captain himself who was created in the lab of his dad Howard), but still I’d think he’d be more apprehensive about government interference in the Avengers.

I have to say that the film has a pretty slow start. I understand they’d have to establish the conflict and a reason for all the fighting, but it went on a bit too long for my liking and frankly, it all feels a bit tedious. Thankfully, things do pick up as soon as an incident happens at the UN meeting and before you know it, Captain becomes a hunted man wanted by the government along with Bucky. It’s there that we meet new Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)’s member Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and he certainly looks the part. This is perhaps one of the most diverse cast in a Marvel film aside from the X-Men franchise.

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I think the fact that the same writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are involved in the Captain America trilogy so far makes the film flow nicely and has a cohesive storyline. They also did a decent job showing the events in previous films to viewers who might not be familiar with the Avengers story, i.e. the battle in the fictional Eastern European country Sokovia in Avenger: Age of Ultron that caused massive collateral damage. Marvel fans would especially enjoy the references and inside jokes, especially during the actual civil war battle involving a dozen MCU superheroes. This is also the first time we see the new Spider-man (Tom Holland) as part of MCU and he’s definitely a highlight. Spidey is supposed to be a wisecrackin’ teenager and Holland’s captured that. All his comments as he’s fighting the other heroes, like referencing Empire Strikes Back and saluting Cap before he fights him, are a hoot.

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Spider-Man (to Bucky): You have a metal arm? That is awesome, dude.

The intro to the appropriately-aged character is full of good humor as he’s fanboying over Iron Man, who somehow still has time to flirt with aunt May (Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr’s co-star in the rom-com Only You) despite a brief 36-hour deadline to arrest Cap. There’s a lot of fanboy-ing going on in this movie that’s so hilarious. My fave part is when Ant-Man (the immensely affable Paul Rudd) meets Cap which got one of the biggest laughs in the theater.

Scott Lang/Ant-Man: Look, man, I know you know a lot of super people so… thinks for thanking of me.

Captain America: Civil War is commendable for having the right balance of story, character, emotion, humor AND high-octane action. The fight scenes are well-choreographed that you can actually see the action despite the sheer number of people fighting. It wasn’t so bombastic that it’s headache-inducing. The story never feels cartoonish even with SO many characters involved and the battles feel sprightly and fun without being frivolous or silly. When one character is injured, we feel the emotion of fellow team members and the sense of solidarity is definitely there. The Captain America trilogy benefits from the strong base of Steve/Bucky relationship established in the first film. I totally believe why Cap would go to such length to protect his best friend and stand by his side regardless of what he’s done, and I think Bucky would’ve done the same if the situation were reversed. I love Evans and Stan even more as they become more at ease in their respective roles, and Anthony Mackie is always so charming and fun as Falcon. I also have to mention how I appreciate Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow more and more, and the fact that she’s undeniably torn between the two sides is a testament to her intriguing character arc.

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The key in making a huge ensemble cast work is they have to have a reason for us to care for the characters. It’s getting immensely tricky here but I think keeping the focus on just a small group helps. The final battle between Cap, Iron Man & Winter Soldier is not only cool to watch but it also carries a certain emotional weight because there’s something personal that affects the three of them. It’s perhaps one of the most compelling dramatic moments from RDJ that I’ve seen in all the Iron Man & Avengers movies so far.

That said, I don’t think this film is perfect and I don’t think it’s the greatest MCU film so far, as many critics have said. I’ve mentioned about the rather sluggish start, but there are also moments that don’t really work. Daniel Brühl is a perfectly capable actor but he barely makes a dent here amongst an ocean of characters, though I think the character’s motive is a pretty decent one. The romance between Cap and Sharon Carter also feels so obligatory and the lack of chemistry between Evans and Emily VanCamp doesn’t help. Oh how I miss Hayley Atwell‘s Agent Carter who’s such a strong female character who doesn’t need any superpowers to make a difference. I also find the music unmemorable as I barely remember any of it, which is odd given I LOVE what Henry Jackman did with The Winter Soldier.

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All in all, it’s a VERY good film that ties all three Captain American movies superbly well and would rank amongst the best film trilogies. After this, I’m even more confident in the Russo brothers’ directing talent and MCU is definitely in capable hands if they continue to make Marvel movies. I love the end credits of the first two Captain America movies and they did an excellent job here as well. In terms of replay-ability value, this one ranks third after The Winter Soldier and The First Avenger, both of which I actually just re-watched last night and I still enjoyed them immensely!

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So have you seen ‘Captain America: Civil War’? Let me know what you think!

Rental Pick: Woman in Gold (2015)

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Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

Let me start by saying that Dame Helen Mirren is one of my favorite actresses I’d watch in practically anything. She’s easily one of the best things of any film, including this one.

As a woman whose torn apart from her family in Vienna, Maria Altmann is given the chance to take back what’s rightfully hers, but she must also face her dark past in the process. Woman in Gold has a historical significance, but what drew me to the story is the personal connection.
WomanInGold_Mirren_MaslanyFollowing her sister’s funeral, Maria discovered letters dating back to the 40s that prompted her to reclaim her family’s artwork. She enlisted help from an inexperienced lawyer who happened to be the son of a friend, Randol ‘Randy’ Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). I have to admit I’m not enthused on Reynolds’ casting and in the end, his performance confirmed my dread.

The film utilizes several flashback sequences of Maria’s once-blissful life with her affluent family. It’s a close-knit Jewish family but she’s her aunt Adele’s favorite (Antje Traue), who was the subject of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Woman in Gold, hence the title) is practically the Mona Lisa of Austria. Though the monetary value is clearly substantial, the personal value is what’s priceless to Maria. I find myself more drawn to the flashback scenes, I was quite impressed by Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as the young Maria. That goodbye scene with her parents was such a tearjerker.

WomanInGold_Antje_PaintingIn fact, it felt like a different film entirely as the tone is far more serious and emotional. In fact, the scenes where Maria and her then husband Fritz (Max Irons) were chased by the Nazi officers was pretty intense. In contrast to the contemporary scenes in both L.A. and Vienna, the tone is rather whimsical and at times it didn’t seem to have the gravitas the story deserves. Now, I don’t blame Reynolds entirely, as it’s more of a writing and directing issue, but his casting doesn’t help. He’s fine when the role requires him to be whimsical, but I find him entirely unconvincing in the emotional scenes. I just don’t think he’s got dramatic chops, though I suppose I should give him props for trying. It’s quite infuriating to see a perfectly capable actor like Daniel Brühl [as the Austrian journalist who helped Maria’s cause] not given much to do.

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Overall I enjoyed this film, there are some emotional as well as fun moments sprinkled throughout. Yet, whenever the film hit a particularly poignant note, the next scene strikes an entirely different note that it seems rather jarring. I understand that perhaps director Simon Curtis injected humor to make the film less heavy-handed, but the movie became so uneven in the process.

That said, if you’re intrigued by the story, this is certainly worth a rent. It’s not exactly a work of art by any means, but I definitely like it more than Monuments Men. Of course having Helen Mirren in the lead makes the film all the more fascinating. I’d still recommend this one if you like historical dramas, I find the flashback scenes in Austria to be especially compelling.

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Have you seen Woman in Gold? What did you think?

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Five new-to-me actors I’d love to see more of – based on 2013 viewings

Since I started last year, I’m going to make this post an annual thing (well, for as long as I have this blog that is). I mentioned in the first post that one of the joys of watching movies is discovering new talents. Again, I may not necessarily love the film they appear in, but the actor(s) in question could still make an impression to me to make the list. The obvious case for me this year is last year’s Honorable Mention Oscar Isaac (who in hindsight should’ve been on my MAIN list) in Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m not terribly fond of the film but I LOVE his performance and I’d love to see more of him in Hollywood.

So like last year, I’d like to focus on those I either wasn’t aware of prior to 2013, or that for some reason I just didn’t notice them until last year. Some of these actors have been working steadily and relatively well-known to some, but they were ‘obscure’ to me until recently. It’s perfect timing that I had just read the BAFTA Rising Star nominees earlier this week, and a couple of their nominees make my Honorable Mentions.

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In any case, based on my 2013 viewings (not exclusive to movies released last year) , here are five new-to-me actors I’d like to see working more in Hollywood.

[In alphabetical order]

Riz Ahmed

FiveNewFaves_AhmedI had never heard of Riz Ahmed before but apparently the British Pakistani from Wembley London is a pretty well-known actor and rapper. Well he didn’t rap in the movie I saw him in, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but he gave a pretty soulful and affecting performance as a Pakistani man pursuing the American dream. I was pretty mesmerized by the 31-year-old, though apparently he also had a bit part in Michael Fassbender’s swashbuckling actioner Centurion in 2010.

What’s Next: Well according to IMDb, he’s got supporting roles in Nightcrawler and Violent Talent, not sure yet about the release dates. I hope he’d get a leading role again in the future as he definitely has the talent AND gravitas to pull it off.

Lake Bell

FiveNewFaves_BellApparently miss Bell has been acting in various movies and TV shows like The Practice and Boston Legal, but I haven’t seen a single film of hers until her directing debut where she also starred. The film was this comedic gem In A World … which I saw at the MSP Film Festival in a sold-out showing.

The leggy and beautiful actress could’ve been a fashion model (and she probably was at some point), but she made herself to be a disheveled mess in her own movie, but yet she’s so fun to watch! I hope she does more comedies as she’s so naturally goofy and has quite a knack for physical comedy. As a voice over talent trying to break into a male-dominated industry, she proves her mettle both in front and behind the camera. I love that she explored a plot that hasn’t been explored much but definitely ripe for a hilarious comedy!

What’s Next: I just saw her in the trailer for sports drama Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm, and she’s also up for a thriller with Owen Wilson (??) and Pierce Brosnan called The Coup. But what I’m looking forward to is Bell teaming up with Simon Pegg in British comedy Man Up, now I don’t know what the premise is yet, but it sounds like fun!

Daniel Brühl

FiveNewFaves_BruhlNow, I’ve already been aware of Brühl from his memorable supporting role as a Nazi officer in Inglourious Basterds. But everyone’s performance in that movie was practically eclipsed by that Austrian Christoph Waltz. But this year, I was impressed by the 35-year-old German actor in not one but THREE films: RUSH, The Fifth Estate, and Joyeux Noël. I’m thrilled that he’s nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Niki Lauda in RUSH, but hopefully Oscar won’t overlook him.

There is a quiet charisma about him that I like, not to mention his versatility. Apparently he’s part Spanish as his full name is Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo (wow!) and he’s fluent in German, Spanish and French on top of English, of course. No wonder he’s able to pull off different accent, which is key to being offered roles of various nationalities.

What’s Next: I saw him in the John le Carré’s spy thriller A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman, but looks like he’d have a more prominent role in the drama The Face of An Angel with Kate Beckinsale.

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David Oyelowo

FiveNewFaves_OyelowoHe’s one of the trio of British-African actors I’m really loving lately, along with Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I first noticed him in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and then The Help, but last year I saw him in Jack Reacher and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Now, it’s the latter that REALLY made me take notice as the 37-year-old actor somehow can pull off playing a teenager and college freshman believably. Not only that, the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) graduate also has the on-screen charisma to match his natural acting talent.

Like many British talents, Oleyowo are often mistaken for being an American as he effortlessly pulls off various accent. In fact, most of the roles I saw him in was him playing an American. Many Brits might recognize him from earlier season of Spooks (MI-5) as well, so he’s perhaps one of the most successful Spooks-alum as Hollywood’s taken notice of him.

What’s Next: He’s got no less than seven projects listed on his IMDb page, yay! One of them is Interstellar. But what I’d love to see is him in leading roles as he surely deserves it. Sounds like he’s the protagonist in Nightingale and Five Nights in Maine, and a supporting role (rumored) in Jurassic World.
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Andrea Riseborough

FiveNewFaves_RiseboroughWhen I first saw Riseborough in Disconnect, I was blown away by her performance… only to be floored later on when I realized she’s British!! I’d say her role as an ambitious journalist was one of the most grossly-overlooked performances of 2012! Later in the year I saw her in OBLIVION where she uses her natural accent and she was truly the best performer in that entire movie!

The third film I saw her in, Shadow Dancer with Clive Owen, she plays an IRA member-turned-informant and pulls off an Irish accent beautifully. She reminds me of my favorite actress of all time Cate Blanchett, who has the same chameleon-like ability with not only her looks but her accent, demeanor, etc. The 32-year-old English actress was trained at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), so I guess we can expect quality work from this future thespian.

What’s Next: She’s part of an ensemble cast of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film Birdman (also starring Emma Stone, Ed Norton and Naomi Watts), as well as The Silent Storm with Damian Lewis. Hopefully she’s got a bigger role in the latter.


Honorable Mentions:

These five names did an impressive performance last year, though two of them (Robinson and Nyong’o had not acted before). Poulter and Nyong’o are one of this year’s BAFTA Rising Star nominees year’s nominees, too.

Tye Sheridan (Mud)

Somehow I didn’t notice him much as Brad Pitt’s son in The Tree of Life, but here he’s definitely memorable. As one of the two young boys in MUD who befriended a man with a shady past (Matthew McConnaughey), Sheridan’s character was the heart of the film. I’d love to see what else he’s got going on next.

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

It’s definitely one of the most talked-about performance of the year but her sensational performance hopefully won’t be a one-hit wonder. The Mexican-born Kenyan actress was a graduate of the Yale University School of Drama’s Acting program and she has a pretty extensive stage credits. She’s starring with Liam Neeson next in the actioner Non-Stop [sigh], let’s hope Hollywood finds a project worthy of her talent soon enough.

Nick Robinson (The Kings of Summer)

Soulful. That’s how I’d describe this newcomer. Though it’s his feature-film debut, the 18-year-old has a certain confidence and charisma to carry off a leading role. He also seems wise beyond his years which made him so perfect in this coming-of-age tale.

Will Poulter (We’re The Millers)

Here’s another young Brit who manage to fool me as an American. I totally forgot he was in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader but the tall, lanky 20-year-old was absolutely convincing as an geeky American teenager who somehow got entangled with a small-time pot dealer pretending to be a family vacationing in Mexico. His rendition of TLC’s Waterfall alone proves that this kid has amazing comic timing, it’s worth seeing just for that part (I’m sure it’s on Youtube).

James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3, Parkland)

Here’s another actor who I’ve never heard of before then suddenly I saw three of his movies in one year (same as Riseborough above). I didn’t really remember him in World War Z but he was definitely memorable in Iron Man 3 and Parkland, two VERY different roles that he pulled off nicely. In the former, he somehow reminds me a bit of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, though perhaps not quite as iconic. As in Parkland, as Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert, the 35-year-old displayed his dramatic chops. I hope he won’t get stuck playing supporting roles in the future.


Thoughts on any of these actors? Are you a fan of their work?