Christmas Weekend Recap: Scrooged + binging on Westworld

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

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

SCROOGED

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

WESTWORLD

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ok how about those links!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the premise:

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

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

 


What are your thoughts about these TV projects?

TCFF 2015: Review of ‘The Adderall Diaries’ + interview with writer/director Pamela Romanowsky

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It’s safe to assume that James Franco loves literary adaptations. The Adderall Diaries is based on a memoir of the same name by Stephen Elliot. Franco played Stephen, a writer who seems to be at the height of his career. His agent constantly calls him about various book deals and options. There’s even a new romance in the air, as he met a pretty reporter from the Times (Amber Heard) during a high-profile murder trial. Yet he’s still haunted by the ghost of his traumatic past, especially his *monster* dad who through a series of flashbacks seems like a beligerent and abusive father Neil who made his childhood a living hell. During a reading of his memoir, Neil suddenly turned up and confronted his son just as Stephen was reading from his memoir that he was deceased.

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Needless to say, Stephen’s life went on a downward spiral as the book deals quickly dried up. He descended into self-destructive behavior with substance abuse (with Adderall tablets being his drug of choice) and BDSM sessions with prostitutes, all the while his daddy-issues overwhelmed him to the point that he alieniated everyone close to him. It’s hard to tell fact from fiction in a blur of drug-induced haze Stephen constantly puts himself under. Therein lies the crux of the story: what is really fact and what is a product of his imagination? The film asks the question of what it means to tell the truth, and how we often choose to see things our own way. In the case of Stephen, all his life he incessantly sees himself as the *victim.*

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There are a lot going on in this film, but the father/son relationship is central to the story. There’s a facet of crime drama in the murder trial subplot, but it’s always seen through Stephen’s eyes and how those events bring out elements from his own past. I don’t always get what is going on in a particular scene, but the film’s pace and script remains engaging and some of the cryptic moments intrigue instead of frustrate me. Perhaps the fact that writer/diretor Pamela Romanowsky studied behavioral psychology at Macalester College in MN made her the right person to adapt this book.

The performances are ace all around. James Franco delivered a convincing performance as someone who’s totally lost and full of anger. Stephen isn’t exactly a likable character, yet there’s a layered vulnerability and real angst that made me sympathize with him. The always reliable Ed Harris is phenomenal here as Stephen’s estranged dad, the scenes between the two of them are the most intense and emotional parts of the film. The rest of the supporting cast, Amber Heard, Cynthia Nixon, Jim Parrack and Christian Slater are solid as well.

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This is a confident directorial debut from Romanowsky. There are quite a few flashback scenes in the film and at times they serve as scenes from the character’s memories. So it’s crucial that the transition isn’t jarring or become too hard to follow. I never felt lost watching the story and that’s a testament to a deft direction. Not only did the story translate well cinematically, she also brought out excellent performances from her actors.

I’m thrilled that Pamela’s next project will be writing and directing Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey. Based on this article, the novel is set in a dystopian future and involves people competing in a secret game of demolition derby, all while the world becomes an even worse place as time passes. James Franco is set to play the title role once again, it definitely sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to see what Pamela will do with that project.


TCFF Screening Time(s): 
10/29/2015  (7:10 PM)
10/31/2015  (3:00 PM)


I had the privilege of chatting with director Pamela Romanowsky about making the film, working with James Franco & Ed Harris, and the challenges being a female filmmaker in Hollywood.

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Q: How did you come on board this project?

I read The Adderall Diaries for the first time as a casual reader. It was in the window at my neighborhood bookstore in Brooklyn (which is where James signs books in the opening scene of the film), and I finished it in a couple days. It really stuck with me, in particular his insights and admissions about how we edit our memories to fit a personal narrative. Some months later in Detroit, James and I were working together on The Color of Time, a multi-director adaptation of CK Williams’ brilliant poetry collection TAR. My vignette is an adaptation of the poem “Tar” and it’s also about how memory affects our experience of the present. James asked me if I would be interested in adapting a book he’d optioned called The Adderall Diaries. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.

Q: What was the challenges of adapting a novel/memoir into a screenplay?

AdderallDiaries_novelIt’s a different set of challenges for each project. In this case, it was figuring out how to translate the book’s foundational themes and ideas into cinematic language. The form and style of the book is very different from a movie- It’s about moments and impressions more than it is a traditional story with a plot and character arcs. The quote that opens the movie is one I had pinned up on my writing board, which I think is the beating heart and central idea of the book.

Stephen says, “We understand the world by how we retrieve memories. Re-order information into stories to justify how we feel.” I’m deeply moved by that thought, both the truthfulness of it and his willingness to expose it in himself. We all know memory is an emotionally charged and unreliable thing, and that’s easy to point out as a concept, even easier to point out in another person who has a different version of our story, but few of us have the balls to point to it in ourselves.

The central conflict in the movie is that Stephen and his father Neil have organized the facts of what happened between them into very different stories. Each man has cast himself as the victim, and so he needs the other to admit some culpability so he can be right. In the movie, it takes all these other satellite characters orbiting Stephen (his girlfriend, his best friend, his muse and his editor) to get into conflict with him at the same time, before it finally clicks that if everyone edits their memory to validate an emotional position, he’s doing it, too.

It took me two years to get from first draft to the first day on set, and I was re-writing the whole way. The biggest leaps and best insights came out of the work I did with the Sundance Institute, where I was a fellow at the screenwriting, directing and sound/music labs. My experiences there changed not only how I approached this project, but how I approach my job and my voice as a writer and director in general. Michelle Satter, founding director of the feature film program, and Robert Redford, who needs no introduction, were two of my most helpful and primary advocates throughout, reading scripts, watching cuts, and opening doors.

Q: Which do you enjoy most, writing or directing?

Directing. I didn’t know what the job meant until I was in it, and I feel really lucky to have stumbled upon my dream job. It’s the intersection of all of my interests, joys and skills, and it’s never ever the same thing twice. It keeps me constantly on my toes and learning, working with brilliant people. It’s about adjusting, trying to zero in on the thing you want from different approaches (I always think of a GPS saying “re-calculating” over and over again). I love the great leap of faith into intimacy everyone has to take, especially between actors and directors. You expose a lot of yourself working scenes out, whether you talk about it overtly or not. How do you lie? How do you flirt or chase respect? How do you experience regret or sex or losing your temper or ignoring the elephant in the room? It’s all in there, and you get to know and respect each other in really deep ways.

There’s deep beauty and satisfaction in writing, too, but for me it’s much less pleasurable than directing.

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Q: You had worked with James Franco before when you did ‘The Color of Time’ while at NYU. How did the rest of the cast come on board this project?

I met James in grad school at NYU where we both did the MFA film program. He’s always felt like a kindred spirit and we became friends right away, but we hadn’t worked together until The Color of Time. We got to bond in a deeper way as collaborators on that film and even more so on Adderall, and he’s become one of my closest and most treasured friends. He’s magnetic and inspiring, and works harder and more passionately than anyone.

Ed Harris was my mentor at the Sundance Director’s lab, which felt like some kind of crazy hand-of-god fate, because I’d written the part for him without ever knowing I’d get the chance to meet him or tell him so. He was advising me the day I shot the workshop version of Stephen and Neil’s climactic scene (with the fantastic actors Luke Kirby and Dennis Boutsikaris), and at one point Ed asked if he could jump in to offer a suggestion. He hugged Luke and then tossed him over the hood of a car, and I just stood there breathlessly, seeing the character I’d imagined for so long come vividly to life. Ed is electric and that’s so exciting to be around.

Jim Parrack (Roger) is one of James’ oldest friends in real life. Their rapport, in all its competitive, loving, intense glory, is very real. My favorite scene to shoot with them was the boxing scene, because they’re trained boxers and they both learned with the great Macka Foley, who was on set, too. That day was all-in and so intense.

Amber Heard (Lana), Christian Slater (Hans), Cynthia Nixon (Jen) and Timothee Chalamet (Teenage Stephen) all came through my friend Danie Streisand, a phenomenal talent agent who I call the secret casting director of this movie. She cared about and got the project like nobody else, and with each of those actors, it was the most obvious match in the world from the moment I got to meet with them. Each actor brings something different to set, and it’s fascinating to watch how those energies intersect and change each other.

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Q: Tell me what it’s like working with Franco and Ed Harris, both of whom are committed and versatile actors working today.

Joan Darling, my acting teacher at the Sundance labs, says that a great actor is like a high speed train- even the smallest adjustment at the beginning of a scene will take you in a very different direction by the end. James and Ed are certainly high-speed trains, and it was an absolute honor and joy to work with them. They’re game to experiment, they commit entirely, they’re emotionally rigorous and they’re fiercely allergic to bullshit. Watching how they communicated and reacted to each other within the scenes was stunning. It’s worth noting that Ed and James are both directors as well- They’re smart and generous people by nature, but I think they were particularly attuned to and patient with what I needed technically and camera-wise because they’re clocking my coverage and know to advocate for that last setup we don’t really have time for but will need in the editing room. And they’re both veterans. What they’ve seen on set and in the industry, as actors and directors, is precious insight for a young director to have.

Q: Given that the gender disparity in Hollywood is such a hot topic these days, would you comment a bit about your own experience as a female filmmaker working on your feature debut?

I’m glad that gender disparity in Hollywood is a hot topic. It should be. Four percent of the top one hundred box office films are directed by women. FOUR. Many years, that number has been lower, and the numbers are similar for people of color and other minorities. How can an industry that represents and creates culture not be affected and made toxic by that obvious, shameful degree of discrimination?

The thing is, the difference between my experience as a first time indie filmmaker and a women embarking on a career in Hollywood will be very different. I’m here talking to you, so obviously I’m one of the women who made a debut feature. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but not because I’m a woman. I had the support and respect of everyone I worked with.

After this, my experience will likely change. Women who make good indie first features don’t get asked to make big studio movies like Spiderman or Jurassic Park. But men do get to take that massive leap. The same number of women and men attend prestigious film schools and write good, vetted screenplays. The first hurdle comes with financing and thus making that first feature. Only 25% of American directors at Sundance are women, skewed heavily toward documentaries. But 25% is a hell of a lot more than 4%. The real obstacle for female directors isn’t making the first indie feature, it’s the opportunity to launch from there into Hollywood. And that’s a very old and carefully guarded obstacle to move. I’m still gonna do my damndest to get there, obviously.

I’m one of the Sundance Institute’s Female Filmmaker Initiative fellows this year, and I’m eager to point to Sundance’s rigorous research and their initiatives for change, because it provides a much clearer and more detailed picture than I can. 


Thanks again Pamela for chatting w/ me last night
prior to the screening. Totally made my day!

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What are your thoughts of The Adderall Diaries? 

FlixChatter Review: Run All Night (2015)

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Liam Neeson has struck gold with TAKEN and he’s been doing the same kind of movie since. It could be that he’s now being typecast or that he prefers the big paychecks; I’m thinking it’s a little bit of both. Whatever the case, he’s great as the action hero who can take down countless baddies and he would’ve been perfect as Jack Reacher. For many action stars in Hollywood, we kind of have to suspense of belief that they can beat down a bunch of bad guys, I don’t see Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon take down anyone in real life. But Neeson I can believe he can kick ass on the big screen and in real life.

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The film opens with a wounded Jimmy Conlon (Neeson), he’s been shot and then the film flashes back 16 hours earlier. Conlon is now at some bar in NYC and asking the bar owner Danny Maguire (Boyd Holbrook) for a loan. Danny is the son of a powerful Irish mobster Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). We later learned that Conlon and Maguire are childhood friends and that Conlon is his hit man. Conlon also has a son named Mike (Joel Kinnaman) who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him because of his involvement with the mob. Mike is a limo driver and on this night happens to be driving Danny’s drug dealing partners; he drops them off at Danny’s condo and waited outside. Danny owes his partners a lot of money and since he can’t pay them back, he decided to kill them. Mike witnessed the carnage and barely escaped when Danny went after him. If you’ve seen the trailer then you pretty much know the basic story set up, Jimmy came to his son rescue and killed Danny. This of course pissed of his old friend Shawn so he sends out his henchmen, including dirty cops, to take out Jimmy and his son. True to the title, both of them ran all night.

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Unlike his role as Bryan Mills in Taken, Neeson is more of a loser in this film. But he’s still kick a lot of butts and shoots tons of people. Basically he’s a poor man’s version of Bryan Mills. Harris took his role a bit too seriously but he’s effective as the villain. I’m still not sure I like Joel Kinnaman, he’s okay in last year’s Robocop remake and he’s okay here as the sidekick. There aren’t any other memorably performances in the film, although rapper Common showing up as the main antagonist was kind of weird and interesting. Also, there’s a nice cameo from a veteran actor whom I haven’t seen on the big screen for a long time, so keep an eye out for him.

The script by Brad Ingelby is pretty generic, there’s nothing that we haven’t seen in this kind of film before. In fact I think he must’ve watched some early 90s crime thrillers before he wrote this script, the film reminded me of State of Grace, Out for Justice and Heat. There’s even a scene where the two veteran actors Neeson and Harris facing one another in a restaurant just like the scene from Heat with De Niro and Pacino. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked with Neeson previously in Unknown and Non-Stop) did a good job of keeping the action moving fast and never lingered on useless scenes. He used some interesting transitions between each scenes, not sure if I’m a fan of the technique but it’s definitely interesting. He didn’t really include any over-the-top action sequences, but I did enjoy an action sequence set in the housing project. He also shot the movie on film, a rarity these days and I think it looks great.

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This isn’t a film that’s going to win any awards and don’t expect any originality. If you like seeing Liam Neeson kicking ass then you’ll enjoy this one. It reminded me of the 90s action thrillers and most importantly, I was never bored while watching it.

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Have you seen Run All Night? Well, what did you think?

A Well Executed Blast From The Past: The Prime Gig (2000)

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having just completed a move from Suburban Maryland to more tax friendly, though a bit jumbled and busy, Falls Church, Virginia. I’ve allowed myself a few evenings of vegging out and catching up on the notable offerings from IFC (Independent Film Channel). In lieu of multiple series winding down to their last few episodes of their respective seasons.

Now, I enjoy cliffhangers as well as the next guy. Though given the opportunity to indulge in a little, highly polished glistening nugget featuring the Grand Master of Character Actors, Ed Harris. Then up and coming actor, Vince Vaughn. Creating two angles in a film full of angles, lies, distortions, half truths. And the allure of boundless wealth through telephone sales and the intrigue of The Long Con creating the third. With the aid of fetching, knowing Julia Ormond.

To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to slowly peel back the layers of one of the more intricately executed explorations into the world of trust, varying degrees of intimidation. And even more subtle alterations of perception with.

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The Prime Gig (2000)

Which begins in the rather decrepit expanded low rent apartment and Man Cave of Pendleton “Penny” Wise. An up and comer in the realm of grand dreams and intermittent talent regarding conning, cajoling and occasionally brow beating money from hapless names on printed lists. To sell questionable goods and services while slowly advancing up the always present Sales Board.

In a nutshell. All the props, bells and whistles reliant upon and present in a mid rage “Boiler Room’ operation.

And make no mistake about it. Mr. Wise, as presented and envisioned by Vince Vaughn is a go getter. Though sometimes indulging in slowly receding inner turmoil about such oddities as morals. And feeling bad at the end of the day after fleecing future college tuition and “Vegas” or “Vacation Money” totaling in the tens of thousands. Much better at it than his two low scale colleagues. Older, wiser, Gene (Wallace Shawn) and charismatic Joel (Rory Cochrane).

And at this moment in time, “Penny” unwittingly presents himself as an intriguing and vulnerable target for a much wiser and covertly admired and adored Master Telemarketer, and Guru, Kelly Grant. Magnificently played with equal amounts of bravura and “Aw, shucks!” congeniality by Master Craftsman, Ed Harris.

PrimeGig_Harris_OrmondIt seems that Kelly is slowly bouncing back from being taken to the cleaners by the Feds and the SEC. Meticulously doling out and gathering funds for another “clean and legitimate” operation. Involving the sales of parcels of land on and surrounding a gold mine in the whip sawn outback of Bisbee, Arizona.

Kelly’s approach is a thing of subtle beauty. Performed by Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond. Radiating just the right amount of business smarts and sexuality. Who catches Penny’s attention and reels him comfortably in. Before introductions are made with Mr. Grant.

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Who has all his shiny brochures, spread sheets, graphs and pie charts ready for perusal after a sumptuous dinner. Laying his soul and his plan bare. While being glowingly, honestly forthright in his plans to make other people rich.

Though a veteran of the trenches and an outright cynic, Penny obliquely asks for some time to digest it all. Penny is given a day. And the availability of Caitlin as a Point of Contact. The day arrives and Penny agrees. Only to be one of a dozen different prospects and hungry Young Turks. With nationalities divergent as the rainbow. And names ranging from Archie (George Wendt), Cheryl (Jeannetta Arnette), Sujat (Shishir Kurup), Zeke (Romany Malko) and Batgirl (Amber Benson).

All are assembled pursuing the scent of large money. And the chance to get out from under college tuition and loan debt. Or the chance to make “crazy bank”. And spend it frivolously. Each has an agenda. And a scheme. Though, in order to harness and utilize maximum potential. They’ve got to believe!

Which entails a chartered plane flight and road trip west. To see first hand the expansive excavation, digging and tunneling surrounding several hundred acres of isolated Arizona Outback. And, yes. It is a busy little and noisy microcosm regaled in hard hats, reflective vests and large earth moving equipment. Wizened, if not refreshed. Penny and company return for marathon telephone sessions under the watchful eye of Kelly Grant up his elevated Sky Box Seat. Listening and ready to cut in with advice. As Penny, Zeke and Batgirl do battle. As those who lack sterner stuff eke out the day. And week. With the victors pitched banded rolls of fresh bills as incentive for the coming day.

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A crude motivational tool, to be sure. Though it does light a fire under the bottoms of those ignored. To become bolder and progressively more brutal during their telephonic tete a tetes. Through it all, Penny is quite content and comfortable with his techniques, Especially when part of his reward is the lush Caitlin.

And it is the intrigue of their romance that adds well deserved meat to this tale of blatant and perhaps, covert duplicity. Since Caitlin is Kelly Grant’s woman. Even if there is some slack in her leash to allow outside diversions. As Penny makes more and more money, Much of which is put in a checking account. Gathering the wherewithal to possibly steal Caitlin away. Though, that will be on her terms. Not Penny’s.

Life is good. Life goes on. The coffers of Mr. Grant’s are full of other people’s money. Some of which is used to pay for the machinery and workers in Bisbee, Other monies are used to pay for lawyers, scientists and masses of their office staff.

Penny awakes and heads off the”office” for a another day of verbal battle and Blitzkrieg. Opening the door to find…..

I’ll leave it right there for spoiler’s sake.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

A well constructed and often deliberately vague screenplay, story and script. That allows glimpses and some memorable longing gazes into what you don’t see behind a far flung, major con. Centered around the day to day machinations of the long lived and reliable Ponzi scheme. Demanding major investments from the naïve and monied middle class. Who are well off, or better. Just to keep what’s happening in Arizona solvent and perhaps, productive day after day.

Though, it is on the front lines where the depths of greed and avarice are dangled like bait. And Penny and his rogues gallery are allowed to shine. Most notably in the competitions between Penny and Zeke. Who sometimes seethes with racial angst and animus, That results in many closed deals.

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Julia Ormond, in a very early role is a natural seductress. With class, poise, etiquette, a lovely Surrey accent. As well as being very easy on the eyes, Who may or may not know all of Kelly Grant’s grand scheme. But is not about to divulge any more than necessary. While Wallace Shawn, George Wendt and Rory Cochrane offer moral support to Penny. With hints of trepidation later on.

Cinematography by John A. Alonzo is often Sun hazed during outside daylight hours. And razor sharp and sparkled with far off lights at night. And wondrously, intimately tight in the Boiler Room’s Bullpens. Allowing time and space for the actors’ bodies and faces to swell with humor, anger or rage while achieving their goals.

Yet, offering a flat plain of space for discussions between Penny and Kelly Wise. An empty arena or battleground between two predators. Except Mr. Harris’ Kelly Grant has been doing this sort of things for decades. Dresses, acts and becomes the Master of Obfuscation, Misdirection and Distraction. Knows all the ins and outs and how to tap dance and patch over their flaws. While holding all the cards. The dialogue between the Sensei and gifted amateur is well worth the price of discovery and admission.

What Makes This Film Great?

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Ed Harris in charge of a scam of his own making. Staying in the background. While wisely revealing enough to keep those around him interested and at his beck and call. Keeping the lion’s share of the nuts and bolts hidden under veils of distraction. And jovially warning Penny and others that “You can’t trust a con man!”.

Pulling those around him close in their desire for more. Money. Recognition. Defining, expensive wardrobes and wheels, Because in L.A. You are what you drive. Creating a multi act play in personal greed and self destruction. Well aided by an original soundtrack by David Robbins. Art Direction by Michael Atwell. And Set Decoration by Alice Baker. Who have a knack for making spacious office space and expansive Bull Pens appear much smaller and compact and low ceilinged than at first glance. Creating possibly the best definition of the phrase “Boiler Room” in film!


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree. Disagree, Other Choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion.

FlixChatter Double Review: Snowpiercer (2014)

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Ted’s Review

After last summer’s mediocre Elysium, I wasn’t that interested in seeing another sci-fi/action picture about the poor vs. the rich set in the future. Heck even after I saw the trailer, I sort of didn’t really want to see this new film from South Korean director Joon-ho Bong at all. But thanks to so many great reviews from critics, I’ve decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did. I think it’s my favorite film of 2014 so far.

The film opens with a prologue explaining what has happened to earth. A failed global-warming experiment has killed off pretty much all living things on the planet and only the few survivors are now living in a train that can travel all over the globe. In this train, there are two classes of people, the rich and the poor. The rich gets to live in the fancy front side of the train and all of the poor folks have to stay in the back. Of course the living conditions on the back of the train is horrendous. We’re introduced to two friends Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell), right away we know they’re planning to attack their oppressors and get to the front side so they can have control of the train. That’s pretty much the whole plot of the film, Curtis and his followers battles their way into each car of the train to get to the front side. The message about our current economics system gets a little heavy handed at times but I wasn’t bothered by it as much. Yeah I know the 1% is living large while the rest of us have to suffer and so on. Basically everything that Elysium did wrong, this film got it right.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but Chris Evans has starred in two of my favorite movies of the year, the other one being Captain America: Winter Soldier. I was never a fan of his before and now I think he’s grown as actor. As the lead in another action picture, he did a good job of commanding the screen, we don’t know much about Curtis until the film’s climax and the payoff worked for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Jamie Bell in anything since the dreadful Jumper, here he’s the sidekick/comic relief and I think he did alright. Tilda Swinton looked like she had a blast playing another villainous role, I would’ve liked to see more of her character in the movie though. John Hurt played a minor role as the old mentor to Curtis and the rest of the poor folks and he’s your typical father figure type. I think I’ve seen him played this kind of role so many times that I knew what to expect from his performance. Scenes stealer belongs to South Korea actor Song Kang-ho, he was recruited by Curtis and his team because he invented the train’s door security system and he’s their key to their success. For those who’ve seen Bong’s previous work, you know that Song is his go to actor and here he didn’t disappoint. Another well known actor showed up as the train inventor and main villain, I thought he was quite effective. I don’t want to mention his name since I think most people don’t know he’s in the movie and I think it’s better for people to find out for themselves.

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To me the main reason this film worked was because of Joon-ho Bong‘s direction. He was able to elevate a silly concept and made into something that kind of original and fun to watch. The film’s actually based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige. Bong co-wrote the script with Kelly Masterson (she wrote Sidney Lumet’s last film Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead), the story had me on the edge of my seat throughout and I like the fact that they didn’t chicken out and end the film in a Hollywood fashion. Bong staged some cool action set pieces, including a brawl between Curtis’ gang and the rich folks’ army and unusual shootout between Curtis and one of the villains. For anyone who’s never seen Bong’s other films, you might find his style a little weird and un-Hollywood like. I also think he pay homage to Sam Peckinpah for this film, in fact I thought had Peckinpah ever made a sci-fi picture, it would be like this one. For a film that cost less than $40mil, the visual effects looked pretty great. I can only imagine what his next film will look like if Bong gets a budget of $150-200mil.

After witnessing the atrocious Transformers 4 a couple of weeks ago, I was glad to have seen this excellent film. It’s smart, exciting and well paced. It surely will be on my top favorite films of the year, this one comes highly recommended.

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Ruth’s Review

Science fiction thriller set in post-apocalyptic world is a dime a dozen. Seems that Hollywood is quite obsessed with this sub-genre, even young adult fares are set in this dystopian future, often with a hero/heroine who’s destined to change the world. Thankfully, Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer manages to set itself apart from the pack. This is my intro into Bong’s work, and it’s also his first Hollywood film. I’ve blogged about the furor over Harvey’s Weinsteins constant meddling with the film’s cut last year, so finally, after waiting for over two years, I got to see this on the big screen.

What strikes me right away about this film is how bleak it is. Bong’s imagined future has that gritty, soiled and grimy look as we’re shown how the poor, unfortunate souls have been living the past 17 years in the tail section of a rackety train, Snowpiercer. Given that earth is now inhabitable due to a cataclysmic accident that renders everything frozen, the train has to keep running nonstop with what’s left of humanity on board. Having been oppressed for nearly two decades with no chance to escape, it’s no wonder the lower class is hellbent on revolt. It’s futuristic Les Misérables set on a train. It’s an intriguing concept surely, but that alone doesn’t always translate to an intriguing film (Ted’s mentioned Elysium and I’d also add In Time  which are more action/adventure than a true sci-fi). Snowpiercer on the other hand, has a nice balance of action and character-driven sequences, and it’s not reliant on special effects to thrill the audience.

I have to admit it’s not the most entertaining film I’ve seen, and at times it’s too violent for my taste. It’s not as graphic as I feared it would be but I still think it’s not for the faint of heart. But I appreciate Bong’s bold vision and the way that Snowpiercer doesn’t glamorize the post-apocalyptic world, which enhances its sense of realism. Despite the fantastical concept, at times it made me think how this bleak reality might not be so far-fetched after all. The geopolitical and socio-economic allegory can be in-your-face at times so I could see why some critics have called it heavy-handed. But overall the pace of the film is good and the slow moments are a welcome relief from all the brutality. I especially like Chris Evans‘ emotionally-charged monologue towards the end which gives us a glimpse into what’s really at stake for the rebels. The confined space of a train gives a heightened sense of claustrophobia that makes everything even more suspenseful. The more we learn about the world within Snowpiercer, the more we realize that nothing is what it seems. There are genuine surprises as well that keeps you on your toes. Just when you think things are calming down, Bong would suddenly pulls the rug from under us! Unlike lot of action films that are loud, bombastic but lacking genuine tension (basically what Bayhem is all about), this one gives me a real adrenaline rush.

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The international cast is full of inspired casting. Interesting to see Chris Evans in the role of the protagonist. He’s a flawed, reluctant hero, the polar opposite of Captain America, though Evans retains that sympathetic guy-next-door persona even bloody and covered in dirt the entire film. Having seen him in Puncture, I knew he’s got dramatic chops, so I hope he makes wiser role choices from now on so we can see more of what he can deliver. Tilda Swinton once again delivers her chameleonic turn as Minister Mason, a role that’s originally written as a mild-mannered man. The most memorable characters to me are the South Korean father/daughter duo played by Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both have worked with Bong before in The Host. It’s nice to see Ed Harris in a key role, he definitely makes an impact despite his brief appearance. Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer round up the solid supporting cast.

So overall Snowpiercer is definitely worth the wait, though I wouldn’t call it flawless. There’s a certain chaotic madness in Bong’s direction that’s discombobulating, and the emotional involvement with the characters just isn’t as strong as it could be. In the end they’re all still a mystery to me that keep them at a distance from the audience. But what the film does well is that it really makes us ponder on the fascinating, though-provoking ideas whilst we marvel in the visually-arresting cinematography. The contrast between the vast and bright frozen landscape outside the train window and the cramped, crowded and dark interior is striking. The music by Marco Beltrami is also pleasing to the ear and enhances the mood.

The finale is truly something to behold, and the CGI is actually used to a tremendous effect because we’re not so worn-out by it. The lack of a glorified happy-ending is also refreshing, something that would linger long after the end credits roll and inspire countless conversations afterward. If you’re a big sci-fi fan, this one is not to be missed. It’s truly a visceral experience that manages to feel original despite the tried-and-true premise we’ve seen time and again. I’m curious to see what Bong does next, hopefully this won’t be his last collaboration with Hollywood.

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What do you think of Snowpiercer? 

FlixChatter Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY

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One of the power of great movies is that it gives us ‘escapism,’ a relief from whatever problems we have in our daily life for an hour or two. But a truly great film gives us something more… more to take in, to marvel at, and to reflect on. Gravity, to me, is one of those films.

When the film starts, we’re introduced to the two main characters of the film, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer in her first space mission, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney being his gregarious self), a veteran astronaut who’s much more comfortable being in space. They’re working on repairing a space shuttle and things seem to be working just fine. The mood’s playful as Kowalski’s talking to the folks down in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) and joking around. It’s an effective exposition that help the audience get acquainted with these two characters before their real journey begin.

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Suddenly Houston warns them to abort their mission as an exploded Russian satellite comes speeding through their orbit. There’s barely any time for the crew to move to safety when flying debris rips their shuttle to shreds and Stone ends up drifting into space, spinning uncontrollably. When I first saw the trailer, I have to admit I wasn’t immediately intrigued by it. It looks like just another space thriller, I thought, but when I saw it in context, I had a totally different reaction. The suspense felt all too real that I remember feeling panic-stricken like Bullock’s character in the film as things go haywire on screen, made even more tense by the haunting score.

Gravity is one of the most immersive cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time. I feel like I was being transported to another realm as I was watching the film. There are some humorous moments to help ease tension, but the action sequences were quite relentless and kept me at the edge of my seat. In fact, there are a few genuinely terrifying scenes that made me gasp for breath a few times. Yet there is a deep spiritual quality about it in its quieter moments as we’re alone with the character. As I learn more about Dr. Stone and being with her in her desperate hour, the humanity of the story becomes even more palpable. This isn’t a film about space as it’s about people, reminding us once again what truly makes us human. The ‘detachment’ and ‘letting go’ themes are metaphors for what we too encounter in our journeys on earth. We take so much for granted the simpler things in life, but after seeing this, even just inhaling air into our lungs feels like an amazing privilege.

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Cuarón may not be the most prolific filmmakers out there, as his last feature film was Children of Men in 2006. It’s one of my favorite science fiction films and is already a sci-fi classic. You’d think would be hard to top but somehow the Mexican director managed to do just that with this one. I can’t put into words just how striking this film is, the long takes throughout the films are stupendous to behold. We might’ve seen images of earth from above from various space documentaries, but somehow cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki makes the view look even more dazzling. I can’t speak about the technical aspects of the special effects but Cuarón has a way of making us feel as if we’re actually there, in space, with the astronauts. The degree of the visual realism is so incredible that it looked as if the film were actually shot in space. It’s hard to explain but during the detachment scene, there’s a subtle technique that enables us to “sense” the surroundings from Dr. Stone’s point of view.

On top of the visual artistry, the use of sound is unlike any other. I feel like the whole theater rattles a bit as the music roars but then the silence feels just as deafening. Kudos to Steven Price for his magnificent score, as it adds so much to the film. It starts off with a clasic orchestral style but then it switches to a heart-pounding, nerve-rattling tone as the terror unfolds on screen. I don’t describe hardly any film as being hypnotic, but I think it’s an apt sentiment to use here as I was absolutely transfixed.

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Despite its striking beauty and spectacular special effects, Gravity doesn’t fall into the trap of ‘style over substance.’ In fact, it’s one of those films that give you as much food for thought as feast for the senses, allowing us to marvel at the beauty of our universe but also the power of the human spirit. As a person of faith, I really appreciate the theme of rebirth and letting go of the past that serves as our own personal ‘chain’ if you will.  There’s a message of hope that resonates deeply with me, that in my darkest hour, I’m not really alone.

Another outstanding aspect of the film is the performances. Though Clooney’s name is on the marquee too, it’s ultimately Sandra Bullock‘s film and she owns the role of the brilliant but vulnerable Dr. Stone. Apparently she’s the third choice after Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman both passed on the film, but now I can’t picture anyone else in that role. I have always liked her as an actress and certainly has the talent and versatility to do well in both comedy and drama. Under certain guidance though, a director could take an actor’s performance to another level and that’s the case here. Suffice to say, her performance here easily surpasses everything else she’s done to date. I don’t think people would be crying foul when once again we’d see her name amongst 2014 Oscar’s Best Actress nominees.

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Speaking of Oscar, this will be the film I’d be rooting for. It’s a family project of sort as as Alfonso collaborated with his son Jonás Cuarón on the script. It’s definitely a career-best for pretty much for the Alfonso Cuarón, and this would easily be one of those films people would be studying in the future.

Final Thoughts: I’m running out of adjectives already to describe this film. One final observation – for a film set entirely in space with its harsh, dangerous environment, this is not a cold film. It’s perhaps one of the most emotionally-gratifying film I’ve seen this year, and it also boasts a finale that makes you want to get up and cheer. A triumphant film through and through. See it and experience it for yourself, on the biggest screen you can possibly find. For once I actually recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D, trust me, it’s worth it.

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Anybody else’s seen this yet? I’m very interested to hear what you think.