FlixChatter Review: Charlie’s Angels (2019)

I have to admit I hadn’t paid attention to the movie adaptations of Charlie’s Angels, though I did enjoy the original tv series. There’s no particular reason why, I just was never enticed by it. But when they announced Kristen Stewart as one of the Angels, as well as Naomi Scott who I like as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, plus Elizabeth Banks directing, my interest was piqued.

It was quite fun watching Kristen Stewart in an action movie, having seen her in mostly smaller/indie features like Clouds of Sils Maria, Certain Women and Personal Shopper. The opening sequence opened with her being a seductive bombshell (in a blond wig) in a sequence in Rio with international smuggler Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians). The mission was led by senior operative John Bosley (a code name for top leader, equal to a lieutenant, in this detective agency), played by Patrick Stewart, who we later learn is retiring.

Similar to a Bond flick, the film moves from one glamorous city to another. From Rio, they’re off to Hamburg on a mission involving a tech company that’s about to release a energy-saving device called Callisto. One of its programmers, Elena (Naomi Scott) figured out that Callisto’s flaw can be deadly, as it can be weaponized and potentially be sold to criminal organizations. Of course, given Elena is a woman (an attractive one at that), her boss undermines her and ignores her request to report her findings to the company’s founder Mr. Brock (Sam Claflin). The ‘me too’ references isn’t exactly subtle in this one, but I guess it’s to be expected in a movie that celebrates female bad-assery and girl power.

This is the first time I saw a movie that Elizabeth Banks directed (whose debut Pitch Perfect 2 was pretty well-received), and color me impressed. Apparently Banks also wrote the screenplay, based on the story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn. I gotta say the action sequences are a lot of fun to watch–it’s dynamic, energetic and quick on its feet. I especially enjoy the chase sequence in Callisto headquarter in a Hamburg skyscraper in which the Angels manages to outwit a team of [male] security guards in a whimsical fashion. Banks infuses the sequences with lighthearted humor and most importantly, lively camaraderie from her cast. It’s all about sisterhood and learning to work together as a team, and the three Angels have a nice chemistry.

I think the casting of Stewart as Sabina with two relative newcomers Naomi Scott (Elena) and Ella Balinska (Jane) work well here. I enjoy seeing the lighter, even comical side of Stewart who seems to have a blast making this movie. Balinska is easily the most physically imposing of the three, while Scott makes the most of her often-baffled role who takes a bit of time adjusting to life in the fast lane with the Angels. I like that the film shows that on top of their sheer intelligence and formidable physical prowess, these Angels are ‘just like us’ in that they want to feel supported and loved, which is what the team does to each other. While the Bond flicks have gadget guru Q, the Angels have a ‘healer’ appropriately named Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez) because no matter how much heavy artillery one has, it’s useless if you’re not in a proper mental state. Unlike the Mission Impossible series that pretty much puts Tom Cruise front and center, I like that Charlie’s Angels franchise is all about teamwork and collaboration.

While the movie has plenty of fun moments, sadly it’s also riddled with clichés and lacking any character development. The main plot is far from original, and the intrigue (if you can call it that) lacks any real suspense. Most of the guys in this movie is also reduced to three basic types: dumb/clueless, evil criminal or cute nerdy type (hello Internet Boyfriend Noah Centineo), as if women can only be strong in a world where all the guys are pathetic. Oh, I also think the henchmen Hodak (Jonathan Tucker) looks like a poor imitation of Robert Patrick (as it T-1000, still the scariest villain in all of the Terminator franchise). I think my biggest issue is with the twist in the third act. I’m not going to elaborate for fear of spoiler, but let’s just say it’s so incredulous, eye-rolling stuff that I blame it on lazy writing. A good story doesn’t always need a twist, especially when the ‘surprise’ isn’t all that clever.

That said, the movie does have its moments and is well worth seeing for the main cast alone (most notably Stewart). It sure looks gorgeous, boasted by excellent cinematography by Bill Pope (who shot The Matrix), slick production design, and fun action sequences/car chases designed for pure escapism. So yeah, despite its flaws, I still wish it did better at the box office (at the time of this posting, it bombed with a disappointing $8.6 million debut). It’s true that nobody wanted this reboot, but to be fair, there are plenty more male-oriented franchises that went on forever. The movie was sort of set up for a sequel, and I’d be willing to see it, but I doubt that would be happening.

– Review by Ruth Maramis


Have you seen Charlie’s Angels? I’d love to hear what you think.

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

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As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

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I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing 😉 In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

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Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

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Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

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Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

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It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

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If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

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Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

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Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

FlixChatter Review – Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (2014)

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I saw Mockingjay: Part 1 on opening night and I hate to admit it, but I was a bit disappointed. Granted, in my opinion, the source material wasn’t as engrossing as the first two books, but, still, I had such high hopes going into the film. Director Francis Lawrence came into THG series with such gusto, partly because he had something to prove, given the criticism of the first film. In Catching Fire, the storytelling was tight and engaging – almost leaving no room to catch your breath and leaving you on the edge of your seat. However, with the return of his sophomore film in the series, it fell short and felt flat. Here are my gripes…

SCS Pandemic
SCS or Shaky Camera Syndrome has got to stop. When done well and/or in moderation, it’s slightly annoying. But, when the majority of the film makes you feel like you’re on a Tilt-A-Whirl, it’s A) very distracting from what’s actually happening on screen B) makes me want to vomit and C) very annoying. I get some DPs want to make you feel like you’re in the action, but this is an adaptation to a YA novel – not Saving Private Ryan. The only reasons I’d actually want to feel like I’m in the film is if Daniel Craig is starring opposite me in the next Bond film, or it has anything to do with Jamie Fraser. Then, yes, throw me all the way into the film.

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Pacing
In my opinion, splitting the last novel in to two films was a mistake. It could have been easily attainable as one solid film. The first 45 minutes of the film is almost a complete snooze-fest. I was growing restless and I could hear my fellow audience members constantly shifting in their seats as well. Create some drama! You’re in a technically advanced district who’ve survived underground in a bomb shelter. That’s some pretty good material. Nope. Everything is bland, lackluster and efficient. Even Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) looked bored. Which leads me to my next point…

Lighting
I understand Katniss and gang spend a majority of their time underground, but the lighting was atrocious. In some cases, you could barely see the actors and their expressions because of 1) SCS and 2) poor lighting. Again, this district has created a self-sufficient system, throw some pizzazz into the environment!

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Miscellaneous gripes
I had some major eye roll moments and one was the unveiling of Katniss’ Mockingjay suit. By right, she is a strong heroine, who thinks for herself, is handy with a weapon and actually cares about casualties of war. HOWEVER, “they” still felt the need to sexualize her by creating a molded breast plate. Seriously? It completely defeats the purpose of who Katniss is and what she stands for. Although, the rest of the suit is pretty sick. 

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Mockingjay, both the film and novel, brings a bit more insight to Gale and Katniss’ convoluted relationship. Gale is finally a contributor in the story, rather than a spectator. Regrettably, there’s something different about how Gale appears on paper versus film. I never realized this before, but Gale, or Liam Hemsworth, is a rather pathetic character. I had an epiphany last night and likened him to Chewy from Star Wars. He’s a big lug who isn’t very useful, causes problems and awkwardly hovers over Katniss. What’s more is, Gale makes Katniss feel bad about how she deals with her PTSD. Wow, Gale, you’re a regular stand up guy.

Alright. I’m done moaning and groaning. Now, on to what I did like.

Julianne Moore
When it was announced that Julianne Moore would be playing President Coin, I was skeptical. However, I thought her performance of the cool, collected and secretive leader was spot on. At first she appeared to be sympathetic to the horrors Katniss faced, but as the film went on, she slowly started to reveal her true colors. Everything about her portrayal completely reflected the collective attitude of the ominous District 13. Coin makes tough decisions and doesn’t apologize if a few people get hurt along the way. She’s a dictator, through and through, and will do anything to see the perseverance of her people.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman with Julianne Moore

Comic relief
As heavy as THG films are, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the snippets of comic relief thrown in. Effie, who doesn’t actually appear in District 13 in the novel, is essentially a POW in the film. So, it was a fantastic move to involve her in the story. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) somehow manages to downplay the atrocities and hardships surrounding her, and make minor issues, like clothing, hairstyle and makeup seem like the biggest problems in the world.

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Plus, you get to see her wearing a jumpsuit. It’s worth it. I just LOVE her! Another happy surprise is the inclusion of Buttercup the Cat (the right one). On cue, she hisses at Katniss during the perfect moments, and provides comedy only a cat can bring: trying to catch light from a flashlight. And, obviously, it wouldn’t be a true HG film without the witty, playful banter between Katniss and Haymitch.

Okay, so obviously the movie wasn’t all bad. I’m just calling it like I see ‘em. I remember when I left the cinema last year there was an unmistakable buzz and energy from the crowd. Not so much this time around.

This film was a means to an end to prepare the audience for the epic conclusion…next year. My favorite film is still Catching Fire but we’ll see how everything comes together for Part 2!

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PostByAshley


Have you seen Mockingjay Part I? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

FlixChatter Review: The LEGO Movie

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We’ve seen a plethora of movie tie-in with the LEGO company for a long time. From the Lord of the Rings to Star Wars, there’s pretty much a LEGO version of pretty much any franchise. So it’s really a matter of time that these colorful interlocking plastic bricks have a movie of their own, I’m quite surprised it took six decades since its inception in the late 1940s.

Who says that February is only for duds? This is one of the most fun experience I had in the movies in a long time, it’s every bit as cute and hilarious as the trailers and featurettes promised us. I’ve heard the term geekstravaganza being used in one of the reviews and that’s the perfect way to describe it. But as fun as those pop-culture characters are, the movie wouldn’t have worked without a protagonist worth rooting for. Seems that I’ve been seeing Chris Pratt quite a lot lately, he had a brief appearance in Her and also as a NAVY Seals in Zero Dark Thirty a few years back. He is perfectly-cast as Emmet, an ordinary construction worker with a happy-go-lucky attitude and contagious hyper-optimistism. In a world where coffee cost $37 a cup, Emmet still thinks life is well, awesome! 😀

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The opening sequence showing him living his day-to-day life is a hoot, the simple shape of each LEGO piece comes to live in this colorful LEGO universe. The LEGO universe is ruled by President (Lord) Business (Will Ferrell), a maniacal tyrant [is there any other kind?] bent on world domination, it’s a totalitarian existence we’ve seen in many dystopian futuristic films.

A lot of the ideas in this movie’s premise is not groundbreaking, but yet the style in which its presented makes even the most clichéd concept still watchable and entertaining. Borrowing from The Matrix and countless other sci-fis, Emmet is thought of as *the one*, that is the extraordinary MasterBuilder whom the resistant group thinks would lead them to the Piece of Resistance that’d what else, save the LEGO citizens from impending doom. The member of the resistant group is led by fun characters like the Yoda/Gandalf-like Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), the beautiful fighter Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), 80s astronaut Benny (Charlie Day) and Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett). All of them are hilarious though the most inspired casting of all is Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop who’s quite the scene stealer.

I have to admit that halfway through the 100-min running time the action are happening way too fast that it’s borderline ADD. Fortunately the jokes just keep on coming. In the midst of their adventure, Emmet, Wyldstyle & co. encountered a pirate called Metalbeard who’s bent on revenge against Lord Business for taking his body parts, voiced by the always-awesome Nick Offerman. Other pop-culture characters showing up in this one big intergalactic-like conference, which offers plenty of nostalgia to our childhood for everyone born before the 80s. But the focus of the story is always on Emmet, who’s the heart of the film. The ending offers a surprising twist that connects the LEGO universe with our human world, which represents what the LEGO toy is to kids in their creativity process. I think this part is handled quite nicely, though it feels a bit schmaltzy at times but it’s not without its charm. It’d definitely inspire both parents and kids in the audience, but the message of the power of imagination is relatable to anyone of all ages.

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Props to Phil Lord & Christopher Miller and the team of animators for creating such a joyfully entertaining movie that also has plenty of heart to balance the action-packed scenes. I’m still humming the theme song Everything is Awesome, I’d dare not to let this song lift up even your grumpiest mood. Combined with the playful stop-motion animation and hilarious expressions of every single LEGO characters, it’s perhaps the cheeriest sequence you’d see all year. The attention to detail is amazing and hugely entertaining. For a shape so simple, somehow the facial expressions are pretty darn good. Oh and even something as mundane as taking a shower is so adorable when done in LEGO! The water *droplet* and the soap *bubble* are so darn cute!!

It’s no surprise that the box office take blew even the industry estimates by nearly 30% with $69 mil take. This now stands as my favorite Warner Bros. animated features since The Iron Giant. I highly recommend seeing this one on the big screen if you want a mood-lifting movie. The 3D is good though I think seeing it in 2D is perfectly acceptable as well. I’m being pretty generous here on my rating, but it really is hugely entertaining movie I don’t mind watching again.

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Thoughts on The LEGO Movie? I’d love to hear it!

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: The LEGO® Movie Fun Featurettes

Oh who doesn’t love LEGO®. The colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears are perhaps one of the most universally-loved toys in the world. I actually saw a documentary of LEGO on the inception of that company in Billund, Denmark in 1949. I doubt inventor Ole Kirk Christiansen would ever imagine that his creation would be a worldwide phenomenon!

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I’m surprised it took 65 years to finally have the first full-length theatrical LEGO adventure. But the advanced animation technology with 3D rendering allows this toys to REALLY come alive on screen.

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) the original 3D computer-animated story follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as The Special, the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously under-prepared.

It’s tough not to be perked up by its buoyant spirits. The voice cast is simply stellar!

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Will Ferrell is the voice of President Business, aka Lord Business, an uptight CEO who has a hard time balancing world domination with micro-managing his own life, and Liam Neeson is the voice of Lord Business’s loyal henchman, Bad Cop/Good Cop, who will stop at nothing to catch Emmet. Then there are Morgan Freeman as the ancient mystic Vitruvius; Elizabeth Banks as tough-as-nails Wyldstyle, who mistakes Emmet for the savior of the world and guides him on his quest; Elizabeth Banksas the mysterious Batman, a LEGO minifigure with whom Wyldstyle shares a history; Nick Offerman as the craggy, swaggering pirate Metal Beard, obsessed with revenge on Lord Business; Alison Brie as the sweet and loveable Unikitty and Charlie Day as Benny, the 1980-something Spaceman.

Check out the featurette on how they created the lego movie.


I love the main song Everything is Awesome! Can’t help humming it as it actually makes me feel happy, ahah. LOVE this cute Behind the Bricks featurette, with each LEGO character talking about the actors *playing* them, ahah. What a fun universe to be transported to.


I saw the movie last Saturday and had a blast. I’d have to agree with the critics on this one, so far it’s garnered 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes! The theme of *master builder* fits what the LEGO product is all about, and the sense of adventure will definitely please kids and the kids in all of us. It’s really a joyful film that also has a good message in the end about spurring creativity on kids and for parents to build them up instead of restricting them. I think the studio is confident this movie will do well that there’s already a sequel in the works.


What do you think folks? Are you going to see the LEGO movie?

[Arctic] Weekend Roundup & Quick Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It’s truly one of the c-cc-coldest weekend ever. It’s way too early to have an arctic weather conditions here and it lingers way too long!

CurrentWeatherMplsWe’re talking about several degrees below zero (Fahrenheit that is, so it’s a few dozen degrees below zero in Celcius!), with Wind Chill Advisory issued by National Weather Service when the wind chill is low enough that it poses a threat to human health and life if adequate protection is not taken against hypothermia and frostbite! Now, where I live, I don’t just look at the temp, but the ‘Feels like’ part is far more important, and so it feels like -21˚ out there right now. This is the time I ask myself time and time again, ‘Why the heck do I still live here?!’ 😉

Well, we didn’t stay cooped up inside because of the snow and frigid temp, so we did see Catching Fire on the big screen, finally!

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Now, my friend Ashley has written a full review of this last week and I agree with her praises on the movie. I enjoyed the first film but I’d actually give this one more of an edge. I had only read the first book so going into Catching Fire, I tried not to read any of the plot points so it was a pretty different experience. I must say I like being surprised, and there are some moments here that made me go WHOA!

Here are some of the things that I enjoyed from the sequel:

  • The darker themes explored more boldly that shows just what’s at stake for the characters, especially Katniss. Director Francis Lawrence was bolder in showing the brutality of the oppressive Panem regime (well as much as PG-13 would allow for it, that is), such as the whipping scene and the Hunger Games itself. I like political intrigue and the casting of Donald Sutherland as President Snow and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch add so much gravitas to the story.
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  • In regards to Hoffman, I feel that he elevates the film every time he appears. I sure hope he would have more screen time in the third film given what we now know about his character.
  • Speaking of supporting actors, besides Sutherland and Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci are equally memorable. Tucci never fails to entertain no matter how over-the-top his character is, if anything he makes the games’ host Caesar Flickerman so darn amusing.
  • I’ve warmed up to Peeta in this movie, seems that his character is more fully-realized and Josh Hutcherson is given more to do in the role. I like that he’s more assertive and confident with himself, but yet he’s got this inherently likable quality about him that won me over. Hutcherson has a more effortless chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence here, and I could see how Katniss is even more torn now between him and her childhood love Gale.
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    The brief scene where Peeta comforts Katniss when she has nightmares is one of my favorites. It shows just how much the stress of these brutal games take a toll on these kids.
  • All the hoopla about Jena Malone‘s scene-stealing performance as fellow tribute Johanna Mason is justified, especially the elevator scene which is a hoot! Sam Claflin is convincingly slimy as Finnick Odair, perhaps a little too convincing, ahah. Glad to see him show his chops as he’s so bland in Snow White & The Huntsman, but then again look who he had to act against, ahah.
  • Speaking of costumes, as atrocious as some of them are, the Mockingjay dress is pretty darn cool. Ok so it seems to be inspired by Black Swan but man, when Katniss twirls and the white *wedding* dress turns to black I literally gasped [I think costume designer Trish Summerville ought to be nominated for her work] Btw, when President Snow saw that and his expression immediately soured, it was a pretty chilling moment.
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  • Interesting to see the likes of Jeffrey Wright as one of the tributes. I guess it made sense that some of the tributes are older as they’re picked from a pool of past victors.
  • The set pieces are fun to watch. The arena where the tributes are being introduced to the crowd reminds me a lot of the chariot scene in Ben-Hur.
  • I like how the ‘circus freak-y’ character Effie Trinket’s humanity is revealed more in this film. I think there’s a glimpse of it in the first film but it’s more apparent here. I think Elizabeth Banks did a fine job here, and she barely gets a mention other than for all the crazy costumes and makeup she wears.
    CatchingFire_EffieTrinket
  • The games itself is beautifully-shot. I didn’t see it at the IMAX but my pal Ted who saw it there said it was marvelous. I was pretty caught-up in the games and it reminded me just how vicious and unpredictable it can be!
  • Last but not least, Jennifer Lawrence still owns the role as Katniss Everdeen. She is a heroine worth rooting for as she’s as vulnerable as she is bad ass. No doubt that a large part of the franchise’s success is due to her casting and it’s easy to see why.
    CatchingFire_KatnissEven in her already illustrious career long before she even hit 25, I think Katniss would be regarded as one of her best roles. It’s interesting to see her effortless acting alongside people close to her age (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth) but she looks just as comfortable in the presence of veteran actors like Sutherland and Hoffman. She has the confidence of someone well beyond her years but there’s also certain nuances that she brings to the role that I notice more now that I’ve seen more of her work.

Ok, there are lots to love here but I’m not saying the movie is perfect. I thought the pacing was off in the first hour. I actually glanced at my watch a few times as it felt rather long. I’m not fond of Willow Shields as Katniss’ sister Prim and their scenes didn’t quite resonate with me. There are also very little character developments with any of the tributes. Yes I know this story is more about Katniss and Peeta, but the tributes are almost an afterthought here that by the time the games begin, it felt like the games was actually lesser in scope than it’s supposed to be in the book. Also, am I the only one creep-ed out by Finnick and Mags at one point of the game? It’s just bizarre and not in a good way.

CatchingFire_GamesStartThe games itself isn’t as gripping as I expected, though there’s a big tense moment at the start of the game when everyone got dropped to the island. But overall it just wasn’t as riveting, and the fact that Katniss had so many allies right off the bat seems to lessen the gravity of the games, if you will.

That said, I’m still looking forward to the third film. Boy that ending made me wish Mockingjay will be released next month instead of a year from now!

fourreels
4 out of 5 reels

This weekend I also watched Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (read my review)


So that’s my weekend roundup folks! Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? Or you can also share what you watched this weekend.

Weekend Viewing Roundup: People Like Us, Mission: Impossible 1996 + Hansel & Gretel Guest Review

Well, it’s another Wintry weekend here in MN with snow and plummeting temps. But I’m looking forward to 30 degrees above zero this week, ahah.

Well, it’s relatively unproductive as I only saw two movies this weekend as I spent some time working on my ARGO write-up for The Lamb Devour The Oscars series.

ThiArgo_UKposters is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars.

Click on the poster to see my full post.

Do check out the other entries of the LAMB Oscar series.
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Here are mini reviews of the two films I saw over the weekend:

People Like Us

While settling his recently deceased father’s estate, a salesman discovers he has a sister whom he never knew about, leading both siblings to re-examine their perceptions about family and life choices.

PeopleLikeUs_posterBoth my hubby and I wanted to see this when we saw the trailer. The two lead actors, Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks are both likable and charismatic, and I’m glad this wasn’t another silly rom-com or a Nicholas Sparks lovey-dovey romance. Instead, the film follows the journey of two incredibly flawed characters whose paths crossed after a famous record producer died after a long battle with cancer. Sam, a brash salesman, has been estranged from his dad for some time, in fact, he despised him so much he tried to weasel his way out of going to his funeral! But when his father left him a large sum of money and left a note for him to give him to someone named Josh Davis, it led to a journey that would change his life forever.

The film is quite predictable and at times perhaps seems rather formulaic, but what I do like is the emotional resonance. One can’t help but deeply sympathize for Sam, Frankie (Banks) and her son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario). There’s also a brief but effective performance from Michelle Pfeiffer as Pine’s mother. There are a lot of honest, heart-rending dialog between the two, and all the actors believably played their roles. At times I was frustrated by Sam’s decisions in keeping the ‘secret’ from Frankie about who he really is. In fact there’s one tense moment where Frankie’s rage was justified. I kept thinking what I would do if I were in her situation.

PeopleLikeUs_stills

It’s interesting to note that this was Alex Kurtzman’s directorial debut. He and Roberto Orci are the writers of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness you just saw the trailer last night. This is quite a different role for Pine though, there’s the cool confidence he projected as Sam, but there’s also some vulnerable moments that he was able to capture as well.

Despite some slow moments, I think People Like Us is a decent drama that manages to move me. There are some great music here and interesting camera work that adds to the level of enjoyment. I’d say give this movie a shot if you’re looking for something to rent. Not a bad first effort from Kurtzman, curious to see what he’d tackle on next.

..3.5 reels


Mission: Impossible (1996) – rewatch

An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization.

MissionImpossible1PosterThanks to Ted for lending me the Blu-ray. It’s been ages since I saw this movie and I must admit I didn’t really care for it. It was just way too convoluted for its own good, and not nearly as entertaining as the latest movie. Upon second viewing though, I think I appreciate it a bit more, and it’s not as impossible to follow as I thought previously. Still, I think Tom Cruise and this franchise gets better with age.

Speaking of age, this film certainly feels dated, especially when Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) was on the plane watching the tape, ahah. It just looked so primitive! I didn’t remember how great the cast was though, especially Kristin Scott Thomas and Vanessa Redgrave, both are sadly underutilized and not on screen long enough for my liking. The star of the show, as always, is Cruise as Ethan Hunt. The special features said he apparently loved the TV series, and certainly his um, mission to bring it to the big screen has paid off given how profitable this franchise has been.

The first part of the film has quite a different tone than the finale, it even felt like it’s a whole different film. Brian De Palma framed the whole failed mission and the chase through the streets of Prague like a Hitchcockian conspiracy noir, but by the end it was on a full-throttle Michael Bay style action flick with a chopper flying inside a tunnel and exploding, of course with the main hero unscathed.

MI1_stills

Overall it was entertaining enough, the most memorable sequence when Hunt & co. tried to hack into the CIA mainframe through the roof still holds up. Jean Reno was especially hilarious in that sequence, but the rest of Hunt’s team wasn’t really given much to do. I don’t mind that there isn’t as much action set pieces here as in the other MI films, but at the same time De Palma seems to take this film way too seriously whilst the twist is actually pretty predictable. Thankfully, the franchise only gets better and the fourth film was excellent as Brad Bird could deliver a fast-paced and thrilling ride from start to finish.

Interesting that as I watched the Special Features, Cruise barely aged from movie to movie! He looked practically 17 in this movie, he’s just so boyish looking. So I guess that’s a good thing as even now that he’s 50, he actually looks about 40 which is what I’d expect Ethan Hunt to be.

3.5 reels


Hansel & Gretel : Witch Hunters

– thanks to my friend Ashley S. for her review!

HanselGretel3DposterVan Helsing meets Kill Bill in this original retelling of the classic fairytale, Hansel and Gretel.  Say goodbye to cliché fairytale nursery rhymes and hello to a badass duo, who set the record straight on being “victims” and take action into their own hands. This isn’t your average bombs and explosions action packed movie, but a blend of brutal yet simplistic medieval weaponry with sleek and highly functional modern technology. The fight scenes take place across murky waters, gorgeous forests, pious villages, and, oh yes, a candy covered house.

The makeup, wardrobe and props were spectacular! Each witch’s makeup was unique to her own evil attributes, but gave a nod to traditional folklore, without having to throw on a crooked nose and warts (burn her!).

The actors weren’t afraid to get down and dirty, either. When one is a witch hunter, one is bound to end up covered in their work—literally. There were several close up shots of the lovely Gemma Arterton covered in goop (almost as if she were being slimed), but even covered in blood, guts and dirt, she still manages to look beautiful, sigh. But what good would a period film be if we didn’t catch the main actor in only his pantaloons? Don’t worry! Jeremy Renner doesn’t disappoint and bares his chest (or more) to ease his aches and pains.

HanselGretel3Dstills

The short, snappy and dry dialogue is similar to other popular romacolypes (romantic apocalypse) movies like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. Be on the lookout for subtle and not so subtle hints of modern day culture amidst medieval inconvenience, which fits perfectly into the growing popularity of the “fairytale” genre. The movie isn’t just fantasy or action, but simply takes a classic bedtime story and turns it into something fun for every child-at-heart, adult. All in all, if you’re looking to be pleasantly surprised, have a few laughs and quite possibly be a little disturbed, this is the movie for you. It’s fun, unexpected and will leave you hoping for more movies like it to come.


Thoughts on these movies, folks? Do share your own weekend viewings in the comments.