Rental Pick: LOVING VINCENT (2017)

In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist’s final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.

Billed as the world’s first fully painted animation feature, naturally each scene is worth framing. It’s a gorgeous film that leaves my mouth agape as I kept wondering ‘how did they do THAT?’ Well, per IMDb trivia, each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh himself, created by a team of 100 painters. It’s fitting then that title is Loving Vincent as his art was treated with such care.

Now, the story itself surprised me. I didn’t know much about Van Gogh but the ‘fact’ that he killed himself in his 30s was well-known. But did he actually commit suicide? The film traced the last days of Vincent’s life through the eyes of a young man (Douglas Booth), who happens to be the son of Vincent’s postman. The film’s filled with plenty of familiar faces (at least to me as I’m into British shows/films) portraying people in Vincent’s life (Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson and her Poldark‘s co-star Aidan Turner).

Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it’s really quite an endeavor and astonishing to behold. It’s not the strongest film in terms of narrative however, but still it’s an incredible feat to accomplish. It’s quite something to want to tell an artist’s story through his painting, to actually do it–and done it well–is astounding. Well-deserved of its Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, I was also rooting for it to win an Oscar in Best Animated Feature category. It’s definitely a must-see for art fans or really anyone up for something you’ve never seen before.

Loving Vincent left me in awe of Van Gogh‘s talents but also saddened by his troubled life. I think most artistic genius are tortured souls and he’s definitely one of them.


Have you seen Loving Vincent? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

PPZposter

Jane Austen’s brilliant work has endured over two centuries so far and it’s as relevant as ever. I’m not a purist Austen fan, as I actually enjoy alternative/re-imagining of her work, i.e. Lost in Austen, Bride & Prejudice, Bridget Jones Diary, Austenland, etc. But none are as outlandish as what Seth Grahame-Smith’s done in his book. I hadn’t read it, but when I first heard of the film adaptation back when Natalie Portman was supposed to play Elizabeth Bennet, I was already sold. Fast forward 6 years later, Portman is still attached as a producer but this time we’ve got an ensemble of up-and-coming British actors.

PPZ_Darcy_horseback

As with any mashup, it ought to offer a good balance of the two genres. Whilst I think it has a good mix of both, I do think that this might offer more for fans of period dramas as it might not be bloody/gory enough for zombie lovers. It’s heavy on action with a few jump scares and less on the horror side, which suits me just fine. It’s especially thrilling that director Burr Steers (who also wrote the script) is loyal to Austen’s text and the story is grounded in the timeless romance of Lizzie and Darcy. The social class commentary is also preserved, but of course we’ve got yet another layer beneath the lowest class, that is the undead.

PPZ_Zombie

The movie opens with the dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, perfectly-brooding AND bad-ass) who’s now a Colonel, visiting a wealthy estate in search of recently-turned zombies hiding amongst the living. Within minutes, we see Darcy’s decapitating an undercover zombie in his typical unperturbed stoicism. That scene is followed by a crafty storybook opening credit sequence that explains the fact that in lieu of the Napoleonic Wars, 19th century England is now overrun by hordes of the undead. In this universe though, people who’ve been bitten by the undead don’t immediately turn into full-on zombie until they’ve consumed human brains, hence they can still somehow hide in plain sight.

In order to survive in the world plagued by zombies, they had to be trained in weaponry and martial arts. Apparently the upper class folks have been trained in Japan, whilst those of lesser means, like the Bennet sisters, were trained in China. There’s an amusing bit where Lizzie speaks in Chinese to prove to Darcy that she’s read the proper text of The Art of War. As they say, all is fair in love and war, and thus the zombie apocalypse certainly ups the stakes for everyone involved.

PPZ_BennetSisters

Faithful to the Pride & Prejudice text, the film still has the scenes that Austen fans would expect to see. We still have the Bennet sisters spending time with the family, except that instead of knitting, they’re polishing their muskets and swords. “My daughters are trained for battle… not the kitchen,” Mr Bennet says at one point, played with dignified grace by Charles Dance. We’ve also got the formal ball where Lizzie and Darcy first meet, and it’s played out just like in the original in that they did not get off on the right foot. I must say Lily James is one formidable Lizzie Bennet, even if she is still too pretty for the role just like Keira Knightley was. Miss Bennet is already a feminist icon to begin with, here the female empowerment element is pumped up even more as she’s a Kung-fu warrior who defiantly says that she’d “never relinquish her sword for a ring” and that the right man wouldn’t ask her to.

PPZ_LizzieBennet

But of course, the two headstrong pair soon find themselves attracted to each other. It’s crucial in any Pride & Prejudice adaptation that Lizzie and Darcy has chemistry and here they have that in spades. Lizzie is no damsel in distress, and by the time she and her four sisters slash a throng of zombies in slo-mo fashion, it’s Darcy who’s hyperventilating. The entire Bennet sisters are pretty bad ass, even Jane (lovely Bella Heathcote) is no shrinking violet and gets to save Mr. Bingley’s (Douglas Booth) life here. The numerous battle of wits are intact, with some intense physical battles thrown in to spice things up even more. The epic duel between Lizzie and Darcy is definitely my favorite part of the film, it’s immensely fun to watch these typically demure characters kick and hit each other senseless, and undoubtedly release their repressed sexual frustration in the process.

PPZ_MrDarcy

This review from SFGate remarked that the zombies give Darcy a reason to brood about, and I wholeheartedly agree. I have to admit one of the issues I have with Mr. Darcy is that he’s just so enormously wealthy that he doesn’t need to work, and has little reason to justify his somber mood. But here, the titular character is given an intriguing backstory that naturally made him seem less preoccupied with finding a wife given the matters of life and death he has to face daily. There’s also an even more compelling reason why he absolutely detests these zombies (AND Mr. Wickham). I’ve never been one of those Mr. Darcy groupies, but THIS leather-clad, Samurai-wielding zombie killer extraordinaire is a hero worth swooning for, ehm. Speaking of Mr. Wickham (a charming Jack Huston), I think the major twist in Austen’s text involves his character. I won’t go into detail about his character but lets just say he’s quite um, friendly with the zombies. Heck, he even took Lizzie to a church where the patrons are not entirely alive.

PPZ_Wickham

I do have a few quibbles about the poor action sequences though. The blurry sequence during the zombie attacks/fight scene get irritating after a while, and there is some inconsistencies about the nature of the zombies as some can seem less *dead* than others. I also think Charles Dance wasn’t given enough to do and neither was his Game of Thrones’ co-star Lena Headey as eye-patch wearing Lady Catherine du Bourgh (Darcy’s aunt). She’s made out to be a fierce zombie warrior, yet we didn’t see a single scene of her battling zombies! The whole sequence of her going after Lizzie in protest of her union with Darcy is rather silly as she brought along a henchman. You’d think a woman of such stature would never be in need of one.


Despite those flaws, overall I had a lot of fun with this one. The actors are fully committed to their roles and they play it straight throughout, no wink-wink nudge nudge as if they’re doing a SNL skit. The deadpan humor is interwoven in the inherently bizarre plot and I was more than along for the ride. I think you’d enjoy this movie more if you accept the sheer audacity of mashing up these two genres from the get go. The fact that the most preposterous scenes are done with a straight face makes them even funnier. Matt Smith steals every scene he’s in as the ridiculous Mr. Collins, though he’s playing him far more flamboyantly than the previous versions. There’s always been a hint that Collins might have a thing for Darcy and it’s played up even more in this movie.

PPZ_Darcy_Collins

The set pieces and gorgeous costume design by Julian Day is delightful to look at. The soundtrack by Fernando Velázquez is also suitably elegant but with a touch of ominous brood. For fans of rom-coms, this is one where there is both romance AND comedy in equal measure. I definitely will watch this again, and on the big screen! I’m glad the movie ends on a cliffhanger as I wouldn’t even mind seeing a sequel, but only if we have Lily James and Sam Riley back as Lizzie and Darcy. I like James more here than in Cinderella and she certainly can handle the action as well as the drama. I thoroughly enjoyed Sam Riley‘s portrayal of Darcy, he might not be as refined as Colin Firth but he plays up the strong-silent-type hero perfectly. He’s said in interviews that if Firth is the Sean Connery of Darcys, he’s the Roger Moore. But considering his bad-assery and special skills in weaponry, he’s more akin to Daniel Craig’s Bond mixed with Taken‘s Bryan Mills!

So yeah, I find this unlikely mashup more than a little agreeable. I do think the reason this movie works is a testament of the genius of Austen’s writing. Not only does it stand the test of time, the core of the story is intact no matter what backdrop it’s set against.

4Reels


Have you seen this movie? I’m curious to hear what YOU think!

FlixChatter Review: JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)

JupiterAscendingBanner

This film was supposed to open in the Summer of 2014, but Warner Bros’ delayed it to give more time for post-production work. Heh, clearly they’re far more concerned with all the CGI extravaganza as what the film needed more is a script rewrite. I already had a bad feeling about this even from the unintentionally hilarious trailers. They included the dialog where Channing Tatum said he had more in common with dogs than humans, especially a supposed royalty, to which Mila Kunis replied, “I love dogs, I’ve always loved dogs.” Well, at least they’re consistent as the movie is as dreadful as the promos.

The entire film is a discombobulating and farcical mess, but what’s more baffling is the claim by The Lana Wachowski – as well as several bloggers on Twitter – that this is an *original* sci-fi. Huh?? What originality? The ‘chosen one’ type of plot is rehashed from stuff the Wachowskis themselves have done better with The Matrix, as well as a bunch of other sci-fis. Self-plagiarism isn’t uncommon among filmmakers and I’m fine with it if it actually improves on their previous work.

JupiterAscending_MilaChanningIn any case, the movie opened with the protagonist, Jupiter Jones’ narration about her life story and how she ended up being a cleaning lady in Chicago. Her late dad was an astronomer, hence the name, and a tragic event prompted her family to migrate to America. A lowly beginning to be sure, and she claimed repeatedly how she hated her life. But of course we know that’s not really her *destiny* as in a planet far, far away, three royalty siblings with a name that sounds like some household cleaning product, Abrasax, talk about claiming earth as their own now that their mother’s died. So apparently, their planet consumes earth’s resources in a process called planetary harvest, which basically is an extensive form of genocide in order for the aliens to live forever.

The first act is a long exposition telling us why Jupiter is special and why there are intergalactic bounty hunters as well as an army of weird-looking aliens are after her. But no fret, we’ve got an eyeliner-wearing man-wolf hybrid Caine Wise (Tatum, sporting a goatie & elven ears) with his anti-gravity boots to save the damsel in distress. The action sequences are cool for the first five minutes at best, but it long overstayed its welcome that it became aggravating. Cool visuals can only entertain you for so long when we barely care about the characters and their journey. So apparently Jupiter shares the same DNA sequence as the Abrasax’s late mother and that makes her special as she’s also heir to the throne and could potentially rule earth.

JupiterAscending_EddieRedmayne

This is a space opera at its most bloated and risible. It’s full of weird-looking space creatures which are humans cross-bred with elephants, alligators, etc. but they all seem to speak with British accent of course. All of them report to Balem (Eddie Redmayne), who should win a Razzie for the most annoyingly over-the-top performance, as an androgynous looking *royalty* could only whisper or scream and nothing in between. Redmayne seems to take this role way too seriously, but all the theatrical antics prompts grimace and laughter every time he’s on screen.

The protagonists fare slightly better, thought that’s not saying much really. I have to hand it to Mila Kunis, she’s not a particularly strong performer but she always comes across genial and earthy. She’s effortlessly likable though she appears mystified for much of the movie. Channing Tatum is pretty much hired for his physical prowess, as he appears shirtless for a good chunk of the time. He has zero chemistry with Kunis and he kind of has this constipated look throughout, perhaps thanks to the mouthpiece he had to wear during filming (per IMDb trivia) Heh, why they put an actor through that if it had absolutely zero purpose for his character arc nor the story as a whole??

JupiterAscending_SeanBean

Poor Sean Bean as Tatum’s friend from his military days didn’t have much to do here other than offering more exposition and saying lines like ‘Bees don’t lie.’  Oh brother! I think this tweet pretty much sums up how I feel about his involvement:

It also pains me to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a half human/deer mutation who serves as Balem’s aide. I sure wish Hollywood would recognize talent when they see them. Douglas Booth looks like he could be Redmayne’s prettier younger brother, but both he and Tuppence Middleton who formed the three Abrasax siblings are pretty much fillers. But then again, what can you expect from the supporting characters if the main protagonist doesn’t even have an arc? It may seem like there’s theme of female empowerment here but Jupiter mostly plays a passive role in her own *destiny* [yawn], as she’s whisked away from one strange place to another.

JupiterAscending_Wedding

This movie would’ve probably been slightly more palatable if it had a sense of humor. There are several attempts at it, like Jupiter using a sanitary pad to patch Caine’s wound, ewww gross!! The only true comical moment is the whole bureaucracy process Jupiter has to go through, kind of like an administrative immigration procedure if you will, with Terry Gilliam‘s cameo. I didn’t realize it was him until later and I read that it was an homage to his fantasy satire of bureaucratic society, Brazil.

This is the Wachowskis’ third under-performing film in a row after Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas (which I actually quite like). I doubt they could easily get the kind of astronomical budget like this one ($176 mil), as they’d likely struggle to make half of that given the mere $19 mil opening weekend. Heh, no amount of money and crazy CGI-fest can camouflage a terrible story.

JupiterAscending_Spaceship

Final Thoughts: Yet another style-over-substance sci-fi in the vein of Elysium which also boast some arresting space imagery. The costumes, especially Mila’s dresses, are gorgeous and the design of the planetary universe and spaceships are imaginative, if only they’d invest the same care to the story and characters. It amounts to one big dumb flick, not really a step up from those Transformers movie. Now, some dumb action flicks can still be entertaining but to add insult to injury, this movie is also quite boring, and the bombastic action/chase scenes just dragged on for far too long. I guess this one *lives up* to the reputation of being released in Hollywood’s dump month of February. Suffice to say it’ll likely end up in my worst list of the year.

1halfReels


Well, what are YOUR thoughts about Jupiter Ascending?