BEST OF THE DECADE LIST: 20 Best Shots of the 2010s

Happy first weekend of the New Year, folks!

Everyone loves lists right, and since we’re entering a new decade, it’s a great excuse to make loads and loads of lists ūüėÄ I’ll be working on various Best of the Decade throughout the year, and I thought I’d start with cinematography since Brittani just listed her 10 top best of 2018 over at Rambling Film blog (hey it’s also her blog 10th anniversary so head over and wish her a blog anniversary!)

I chose these images based on instinct… the one I think is the most indelible and leaves a lasting impression, as a film likely has a bunch of beautiful visuals (esp. those shot by the legend Roger Deakins!) Most of these films have the best cinematography of the decade, but I consider these images iconic in that people would likely know right away where it’s from. Now, it’s tough to whittle it down to just 10 and as we’re entering the [roaring] 20s, there’ll be plenty of Top 20s list this year.

So without further ado, here are my picks in the order of the film’s year of release:

Inception (2010) 

DoP: Wally Pfister

Life of Pi (2012)

DoP: Claudio Miranda

Skyfall (2012)

DoP: Roger Deakins

Gravity (2013)

DoP: Emmanuel Lubezki

Ex Machina (2014) – dance

DoP: Rob Hardy

The Assassin (2015)

DoP: Mark Lee Ping-bing

Sicario (2015)

DoP: Roger Deakins

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

DoP: Robert Elswit

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

DoP: John Seale

La La Land (2016)

DoP: Linus Sandgren

Moonlight (2016) 

DoP: James Laxton

Rogue One (2016)

DoP: Greig Fraser

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

DoP: Roger Deakins

Dunkirk (2017)

DoP: Hoyte van Hoytema

Shape of Water (2017)

DoP: Dan Laustsen

Cold War (2018)

DoP: ŇĀukasz ŇĽal

Black Panther (2018) 

DoP: Rachel Morrison

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

A Hidden Life (2019)

DoP: Jörg Widmer

John Wick: Chapter 3 РParabellum (2019) 

DoP: Dan Laustsen

Hope you enjoy my list. Now it’s your turn, what’s some of your favorite shots of the past decade?

2015 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

Top10Movies2015

It’s THAT time of the year again‚Ķ time for film bloggers to rake our brains to do the tricky-but-fun¬†process of selecting the best films they’ve seen all year. I was going to post this on December 31 but due to my East Coast trip I had to delay it until I’m back home.¬†Suffice to say I didn’t see any 2015 releases since I left on Dec 22, so the last 2015 film I saw at the cinema was The Force Awakens.¬†As it wasn’t tough enough selecting only 10 films, it’s even tougher ranking them.¬†But like the years before, once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do.¬†Btw,¬†what constitutes a 2015 movie is based on US release, so even though it’d¬†say 2014 on IMDb, if a film is released in 2015 in the US, I will include it here.

In case you’re wondering about the criteria of selecting these, well I always say that¬†my¬†‚Äėtop movies‚Äô it‚Äôs sort of a cross between a ‚Äėbest of and favorite‚Äô, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being¬†entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen¬†a few of them at least twice already.

Ok well, without further ado, I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2015

10. Girlhood (Bande de filles)

Top10Films_Girlhood

I saw this at MSP film fest last April and it really made an impression on me. It’s the only foreign language film on my list, which means I didn’t get to see as many foreign films this year. Bande de filles means gang of girls, and it’s set in a low-income suburbs of Paris, which offers the unglamorous part of the City of Light I rarely see in cinema. The¬†female-centric drama¬†was¬†written AND directed by a female filmmaker, C√©line Sciamma,¬†and it centers on16-year-old girl Marime played by the mesmerizing¬†Karidja Tour√©. Let’s just say she’s one of my two French actor discoveries I’m thankful for this year. The film is on Netflix and I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for an off-the-beaten path French film that’s emotional and indelible.¬†(full review)

9. 99 Homes

Top10Films_99Homes

For some reason this film flew under the radar and it’s really a shame. Based on the strength of the two actors alone, Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, this film is well worth your time. The latter is especially electrifying in a role that really utilized Shannon’s¬†inherently ominous quality, combined with his understated but powerful dramatic style. This is my first intro to Ramin Bahrani’s work¬†and he’s made such a riveting drama about the housing crisis without resorting to sensationalizing to get the point across. A¬†timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits.¬†(full review)

8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Top10Films_MI5

I LOVE how there are two franchise films that shift the film’s focus to be more female-driven and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is one of them. Yes of course we still have the venerable Tom Cruise back as super-spy Ethan Hunt, but Rebecca Ferguson‘s Ilsa Faust has an intriguing character arc. Miss Ferguson also belongs to my list of top 5 actors I’d love to see more of based on 2015 viewing. She is as bad ass as she is shrewd, pretty much Hunt’s equal, if not better. This is a film that prides itself in its preposterous action sequences and there’s chock full of those here to entertain even the most cynical moviegoers. There are SO many awesome sequences I could watch over and over, with¬†the Vienna Opera House sequence being my absolute favorite. (full review)

7. Creed

Top10Films_Creed

I LOVE it when a film I wasn’t really interested in initially ended up blowing me away. Well Creed is one of those films and it proves that not every reboot/spin-off¬†is automatically bad. In fact, I’d consider this a gem of 2015 cinema that’d certainly please Rocky fans as well as win new ones. Michael B. Jordan hit gold once again with his second collaboration with writer/director¬†Ryan Coogler, whose excellent direction makes for a dynamic as well as emotional film. Jordan is a charismatic lead, but it’s Sylvester Stallone who’s the scene-stealer, reprising his role¬†he did forty years ago. As I mentioned in my awards musings post, it’d be cool to see him be nominated AND win an Oscar for the same role, as he absolutely deserved it.¬†(full review)

6. The Big Short

Top10Films_BigShort

Films about the housing crisis¬†have been the subject of many films as well as documentaries.¬†I have to admit that the cast that include¬†Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt¬†piqued my interest. Well, those four actors were great, especially Bale and Carell¬†who were the most memorable of the bunch. When I first saw the trailer and saw Adam McKay directing, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, this is the guy who did Anchorman and a bunch of comedies with Will Ferrell. ¬†In a way, treating this dark and even upsetting subject matter in a comedic way works and it breaks the topic down¬†to a level that’s easy to understand. The comedic style doesn’t mean it downplays the heartbreaking reality of the housing bubble crash however. There’s a similarities to 99 Homes¬†and also Wolf of Wall Street in terms of its subject matter, but compared to Scorsese’s film I actually enjoyed this a lot more. It’s immensely entertaining from start to finish, so the bold-but-risky filmmaking style paid off here.

5. The Martian

Top10Films_Martian

If you had told me that The Martian might end up on someone’s top 10 list earlier this year, I’d have laughed in their face. Somehow I just didn’t have any interest in seeing this given my disappointment with Ridley Scott’s movies lately, but I¬†had to eat my own words as I ended up loving this. The comedic tone (as well as the disco music) was so unexpected but somehow worked beautifully for the film and¬†Matt Damon is as likable as ever in the lead. For much of the film, it was mostly a one-man show with his character Mark Watney, but I remained engrossed throughout. The film also had a nice balance of his scenes in Mars and the scenes on earth with the rescue team at NASA. Jeff Daniels gave one of his two most memorable performances of the year (the other was in Steve Jobs), but kudos to¬†Drew Goddard‘s sharp script and Mr. Scott for his¬†return-to-form as a filmmaker. (full review)

4. Ex Machina

Top10Films_ExMachina

This has been quite a year for Alicia Vikander. I hadn’t even heard of her before 2015, as I had just seen Anna Karenina earlier this year where she had a small part. Well, my intro to the Swedish actress was a memorable one. She played a beautiful female AI, as fetching and seductive even when her body looks very much like a machine. Alex Garland took an oft-told story of man vs. machine and somehow made it feel organic and even personal. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac¬†delivered excellent performances as well, especially the latter, as he continues to display amazing versatility as an actor.¬†I saw this early in the year but I knew it’ll end up in my final top 10. It’s one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory, quite amazing what they achieved on a shoe-string budget of $15 million.¬†(full review)

3. Brooklyn

Top10Films_Brooklyn

This was my favorite film I saw at TCFF this year and I knew this film would make my final Top 10. Brooklyn tells a simple yet very relatable and heartfelt story of an Irish immigrant and being an immigrant myself, I definitely relate to her in many ways. I’ve been a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan for some time and this is definitely her¬†best work amongst her already illustrious career. She infused such¬†gravitas into her role¬†and able to¬†convey the internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile. I also love Emory Cohen as one of her love interests, but the supporting cast are excellent overall. Sometimes a simple, no-frills story can make a great impact, and that’s the case with this one. Brilliant work from director¬†John Crowley and screenwriter¬†Nick Hornby, certainly one I’d appreciate for years to come.¬†(full review)

2. Spotlight

Top10Films_Spotlight

I just heard about this film a few months before its release and I’ve been anticipating it since. Well it did NOT disappoint and it ranks as one of the best ensemble cast¬†AND journalism film ever. It’s the kind of good story-telling that I wish Hollywood would make more of. The captivating dialog grabs you¬†right from the start and the pacing is just right that the film never drags despite not having much action.¬†Powerful without being sensationalizing the story or emotionally-manipulative, at times it even felt like a documentary.

The fantastic cast brought the disturbing true story¬†of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church’s child molestation and cover-up scandal to life. The investigative journalism scenes are riveting, but¬†quiet scenes such as the meet-up between the Globe’s new editor and Cardinal Law was brimming with tension, and even occasional humor. I love that it subtly highlights¬†the humanity of the journalists, more than¬†just their reporting skills, without distracting from the main narrative.

The entire cast brought their A-game, especially those who made up the Spotlight investigative team:¬†Michael Keaton,¬†Mark Ruffalo¬†(who got the most screen time), Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. Also kudos to¬†Stanley Tucci¬†and Liev Schreiber, the latter had the least screen time but perhaps one of the most memorable scenes as the Globe’s editor, thanks to his understated but astute performance.¬†Tom McCarthy‘s script (co-written with Josh Singer) and his astute direction made a solid drama that will certainly linger with you for days. Definitely not the most comfortable subject but I encourage everyone to see this. Guaranteed to¬†stun and rile you up, but that’s what what a brilliant¬†retelling¬†such a grievous subject matter is supposed to do.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Top10Films_FuryRoad

This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. Now, the first two sentences were from my #1 pick of 2014 (Birdman), but it also fits perfectly for George Miller‘s masterpiece.¬†Yes I said the ‘m’ word and I don’t think it’s a hyperbole.

I wish I had seen this more than once on the big screen but I’ve seen re-watched it on Blu-ray twice and loved every minute of it. The visual effects is simply magnificent and awe-inspiring, which is more fun to watch over and over and you’d always something new to marvel at. Once you realize most of it is practical effects and not simply CGI it’d blow your mind away even more. But action alone, no matter how spectacular, doesn’t¬†make a movie, and that’s what makes Fury Road so gratifying on every level. At the heart of the film is a compelling and heart-wrenching, female-driven story. I love stories of unlikely friendship and so is the pairing of¬†fierce Furiosa and¬†the drifter, Max Rockatansky. The¬†partnership between the two lost souls is beautifully realized‚Ķ nobody needed *saving* but their shared journey ended up bringing redemption to both of them. I sure hope¬†Charlize Theron would get lots of¬†nominations for Best Actress in the role as she’s absolutely astounding. Tom Hardy‘s as cool as ever as the strong, silent-type hero¬†and I look forward to seeing more of him in this franchise.

What a rockin’ duo this proved out to be, oh and the music is equally rock-tastic [pardon the pun] and has become a staple in our car now.¬†It’s tough to find films that are such an intense feast for the eyes (and ear) but also deeply emotional and moving, but Fury Road¬†did that for me. It made me want to get up and cheer one moment and got me teary-eyed the next. Yes it’s an inherently bizarre film, but once it grabs you it’s impossible to turn away. What a ride, what a lovely ride!¬†(full review).

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these almost made my final top 10 so some of these are excellent and some have become personal faves that I’d love to watch again and again. I list this in order of personal favorites, I actually owned the Blu-ray of Cinderella and What We Do in the Shadows, so yeah, I absolutely adore those two!

  1. Cinderella

  2. What We Do in the Shadows

  3. Inside Out

  4. Bridge of Spies

  5. Clouds of Sils Maria

  6. Room

  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  8. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl

  9. Remember

  10. Mr. Holmes

  11. Cartel Land

  12. Kingsman: The Secret Service

  13. The End of the Tour

  14. Steve Jobs

  15. Spy

One film I’m surprised didn’t even make my top 25 is Macbeth, which I had been anticipating for some time. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it but suffice it to say it didn’t quite make an impression to me, in fact I found it rather tedious. I was far more captivated watching Tom Hiddleston’s¬†Coriolanus¬†at¬†the Donmar Theater on¬†National Theatre Live. It may not be Shakespeare’s most famous play, but Hiddle’s performance was gripping from start to finish.

What I missed from 2015:

45 Years, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Lobster, Love & Mercy, Mustang, The Look of Silence, Tangerine, The Revenant, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, etc.

I hope to catch these later this year.


5 Worst Movies of the Year

Now, some of these aren’t straight out horrible, there are some things I admire about Tomorrowland and Pan, I think both have interesting concepts but the execution didn’t quite work. I’d say those two still merit a rental, but I’d skip the rest. It really pains me to put Blackhat on here as I LOVE Michael Mann, but well, the movie was terrible! I wish Hollywood would realize there are other hunks besides Chris Hemsworth who can actually act! Self/Less and Jupiter Ascending are simply¬†dreadful and a complete waste of time. In fact, the latter is just SO bad it still makes me cringe every time I see a photo of it, ugh. To this day I can’t understand the appeal of Channing Tatum and I probably never will.

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Now, I probably should’ve made a separate list for Most Disappointing Movies but I’d rather not waste my time. For sure Spectre¬†and Jurassic¬†World¬†would make THAT list, as they’re not terrible¬†film per se but it sure wasn’t nearly as good as I had expected.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like Terminator Genysis, Fantastic Four, The Seventh Son, The Cobler, Chappie, Aloha, etc. I have no interest in even renting these.


So that’s my top 10 list of 2015. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

Thursday Movie Picks #53: Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each.¬†This Thursday’s¬†theme is…¬†

Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

It’s interesting that the requirement for this sci-fi genre is no space/aliens as a lot of my favorites in this genre aren’t the ones with aliens in them. In fact, I¬†love sci-fis that don’t look or feel science fiction-y, in fact, intriguing¬†sci-fis are those with rich layers of human drama that remind us what it means to be humans.

I immediately thought of including Ex Machina here, but I decided not to include something from this year. Instead, I’m¬†selecting¬†three from the past few years that have a small/modest budget (under $25 mil) that have made a big impression on me:

Predestination (2014)

The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

TMP_Predestination

As I mentioned in my review, the less you know about the plot the better the experience. Since I was just talking about directing duos, I have to mention the Spierig Brothers who also made this vampire sci-fi Daybreakers. The premise is rather bizarre and definitely not an easy one to grasp, but it’s well worth a watch.¬†I like how the film started out with a bang but then the pace¬†slows down considerably in the first act as we‚Äôre introduced to the characters played by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The odd pacing seems deliberate and I actually think it‚Äôs pretty effective and¬†engrossing in getting us to care about their journey.¬†Snook is quite a revelation here and I kept hoping to see her getting¬†prominent roles.

s I….

HER (2013)

A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.

TMP_HER

Once in a while, a film you hadn‚Äôt heard much about suddenly sneaked in and took your breath away. In 2013, that film for me was HER. That’s what I wrote in my review¬†over a year ago, and there’s still very few films that affected me emotionally the way this one did.

There are many robot/human *love* stories that’s been done time and again but what¬†Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) experienced with¬†Samantha (voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson) is quite unlike any other. For one, there’s no physical presence of Samantha in the film but yet her presence is felt so viscerally. I’m going to borrow my from my own review…¬†This is the kind of thought-provoking science fiction story that I wish Hollywood would make more of. Sci-fi is not always about aliens or cool-looking futuristic equipments or cars or what have you, but a good sci-fi should actually makes us ponder about our own humanity.¬†I realize this film isn’t for everyone as there are a few people I recommended this to that aren’t wowed by it. That said, I think you owe it to yourself to at least give this one a shot.

Never Let Me Go (2010)

A love triangle develops between three friends who came of age at a mysterious, secluded boarding school and are destined to lead brief lives.

TMP_NeverLetMeGo

This is another film where the less you know about the plot the better. If you just look at still photos or even the poster (which you can see on my review post), you’d never thought this is a sci-fi. It looks more like a mystery drama, and I think that’s the vibe director¬†Mark Romanek¬†was going for. Working from¬†Alex Garland‚Äôs script, who later made his directorial debut in Ex Machina, the pace is decidedly slow and graceful in the way things unfold.¬†The romantic drama sensibilities offer a stark contrast to the cerebral sci-fi nature of the story. I really need to watch this again, but I remember being really absorbed by this film.¬†Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield are excellent here, it’s still¬†one of my favorite performance from both of them even after seeing more of their work.¬†It’s also¬†exquisitely-shot in muted hues that perfectly match the somber tone of the film.

……


What do you think of my sci-fi picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?

 

Everybody’s Chattin’ + This Week’s Questions on Top 3 films of 2015 so far

EverybodysChattin

Happy Thursday everyone! Crazy how time flies, we’re already smack dab in the middle of Summer. So some of the biggest Summer movies have been released: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Tomorrowland and Jurassic World this very weekend. July will give us Terminator Genisys, Antman,¬†Minions and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Hmmm, I don’t know about you but it hasn’t been a stellar year¬†for Summer movies¬†eh? Apart from Fury Road,¬†no big tentpole movie has¬†REALLY impressed me yet.

There are perhaps more smaller/indie movies that made an impression, that’s why I’m excited for tonight’s screening of the Sundance hit Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. [For Twin Cities film fans, check out my FB for an advance screening pass offer]

Ok, now let’s get to those¬†linky dinky…

Nostra gives us another great ‘Many Faces Of’ post, this time on the versatile & handsome thespian Oscar Isaac¬†

Speaking of Oscar Isaac, check out Cindy‘s commentary on his and Al Pacino‘s career

Mark finally saw Mad Max: Fury Road and gave an appropriately glowing review

Speaking of which, Jordan gave a high praise to The City of the Lost Children (1995) from his fave directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet

On the flip side, Jay warned us not to bother with Unfinished Business

Wendell went down memory lane and posted about the movie he grew up with, The Last Dragon

Steven started his new Auteurs Series, this time shining the spotlight on Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu ‚Äď check out the full post on Cinema Axis

Last but not least, Irene reviewed the latest Nicole Kidman + Colin Firth’s collaboration Before I Go to Sleep


Time for question of the week!

Well, as I mentioned above, I haven’t been all that impressed with most¬†big tent-pole movies that’s been released so far. In fact, if the first five months is any indication, it’s a rather lackluster year for blockbuster movies. I can’t even pick my top 5, let alone 10 as of yet, but I think I can pick three. I’m picking those that I know I want to see again, preferably even later this year. So here goes:

Top3Films2015

  • Cinderella
    I don’t know yet if this will end up in my final top 10 but it’s definitely my fave of this year so far. It was delightful and enjoyable, something I don’t mind rewatching over and over. So yeah¬†I can’t wait to get the Bluray!
  • Ex Machina
    No doubt this one will make my top 10, maybe even top 5! Masterful work by Alex Garland… stylish, provocative and haunting. Plus it’s got Oscar Isaac in one of his most fun roles to date.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
    Well, what else is there to say? Fury Road is awesooooome!! A thrilling, fun ride with plenty of heart. As Mark said in his review, see it on the biggest screen possible. I intend to do so and hopefully this time I can find one with Dolby Atmos!

Let’s hope there’s more gems¬†in store for 2015 and that the best is yet to come!


So what would you top 3 favorite movies of the year so far?

APRIL Viewing Recap, Movie of the Month + Looking forward to 2015 Wizard World Minneapolis!

Monthly2015RecapAprilWhoah, April’s been a freakishly busy month thanks to MSPIFF! Check out the banner below to check out our reviews from the Minneapolis/St Paul Film Festival, I have this image widget on my blog sidebar for easy access as well. I’ll have my MSPIFF recap next week as well as my and Josh’s picks top three movie picks.

MSPIFF15ReviewsSidebar

Posts You Might’ve Missed

MSPIFF 2015 Film Spotlight: The Center
Interview with filmmaker Charlie Griak & lead actor Matt Cici

The Longest Ride interview with cast member
Scott Eastwood & Britt Robertson

Wordless Wednesday:
the unrequited love of The Age of Innocence

BLOGATHON:

20 Perfect Cinematic Moments ‚Äď A Fistful of Moments

The Five Senses Blogathon

Thursday Movie Picks #42: Father-Daughter Movies

April Blind Spot Pick:

A Space Odyssey (1968)

New-to-me Movies (non-MSPIFF related):

Avengers: The Age of Ultron

Furious 7 (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Not Another Happy Ending (2013)

Thérèse (2012)

Documentary – The Rise & Fall of Versailles: Louis XV

I think if I were to sum up the month of April, you could say it’s basically a split between MSPIFF and my new obsession Stanley Weber.

TomDuvall_NAHE

Yes I’m officially afflicted by the #StanleyWeber bug. Watched #NotAnotherHappyEnding a dozen times in just under 2 weeks!! #madcrush

‚ÄĒ FlixChatter (@FlixChatter) April 21, 2015

Needless to say, there’s barely time for any other rewatches ūüėõ

TV Series:

Netflix’s Daredevil (season 1)

BORGIA: Faith & Fear (season 1)

Movie of the Month

ExMachinaPosterI’m excluding MSPIFF films here as I’m going to do a separate recap. So this was an easy choice, Ex Machina is simply an excellent sci-fi… well, an excellent film in general.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was the last film I saw in April, and though there are some fun moments like the attempt to lift Mj√∂lnir scene, overall it’s pretty forgettable. I don’t know when I’ll have time to review this movie but let’s just say I agree with Kenneth Turan I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning: “Age of Ultron is made for the ‘instant gratification’ culture… It disappears without a trace as soon as it’s consumed.” Yep, that pretty much sums up my sentiment.

What I look forward to in May

WizardWorld2015MplsIt’ll be a fun weekend at Mpls Comic-Con starting tomorrow! Full programming all day Saturday, these are some of the panels I’ll definitely take part in:

11:30-12:15 ‚Äď WETA workshop: character creation through prosthetics, hair & make up

2:00-2:45 ‚Äď No ‚Äúbones‚ÄĚ about it: Karl Urban

4:00‚Äď4:45 ‚Äď The truth is out there: Gillian Anderson

 

WalkerArt_NolanLectureMy hubby and I got tickets to attend this quickly sold-out lecture at Walker Art Center with Christopher Nolan! I sure hope there’ll be a Q&A segment at the end!

In celebration of 25 years of Walker Dialogues, the Walker presents acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, one of the most innovative directors working today, in discussion with Variety chief film critic Scott Foundas. The lecture is followed by a nine-film retrospective May 7‚Äď24,¬†2015.


Whew, so that’s my April recap. What’s YOUR fave movie(s) you saw in April?

FlixChatter Review: Ex Machina

ExMachinaPosterThere have been a plethora of films about man and machine or man vs machine in Hollywood. From cult classics like Blade Runner, Terminator to most recent ones like Robot & Frank, Chappie, etc., clearly not all are created equal. I’d say that this Alex Garland‘s original story has some striking similarities to the 2013 tiny-budgeted British indie The Machine, given that the creator¬†and the machine are the main key players of the film. However, Ex Machina¬†explored the¬†eternally-fascinating topic of ‘what it means to be human’ in a much deeper and more immersive way.

The film started out with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) being dropped by a chopper into this secluded estate of a billionaire scientist in the side of a Norwegian mountain. He’s supposed to spend a week with the CEO of a large internet search engine company, but other than that Caleb has no idea what’s in store for him. As it turns out, he’s invited to participate in a breakthrough experiment in testing artificial intelligence. After meeting the mysterious¬†tech baron Nathan (Oscar Isaac), things just seem to be even more cryptic. I love the initial interaction between the two actors and the unpredictability and suspense of it all. First time director Alex Garland infused the scenes with a sense of appropriate eeriness, as well as a dose of humor that prevents the film from being too heavy handed or frigid.

ExMachina_Still3It’s when we meet the subject of the Turing test, a luminous female A.I. named Eva (Alicia Vikander), that things starts to get REALLY interesting. Even though Eva’s robotic parts are visible, unlike some other films where the droid looks fully human on the outside, she is as fetching as ever. It sparks intriguing questions about why Nathan created her with sensuality, with the ability to flirt and emote. The unhurried pace allows for a lot of reflective moments, thanks to the sharp and focused script by Alex Garland himself.

“One day the AIs are gonna look back on us the same way we look at fossils and skeletons in the plains of Africa” Are the arrival of droids and drones mean we’re on the verge of extinction? That seems far-fetched perhaps, but the way Garland made this film, this scenario seems almost entirely plausible. His idea of the future is ‘ten minutes from now’ and companies like Google or Apple are certainly capable of creating the future we see in this film even today.

The spirituality aspect, whether intended or not, is one of most thought-provoking aspect I’ve seen in a sci-fi film in a long time. Humans may think they can replicate ourselves and build something with *consciousness,* but is a soul something we can create? What these sci-fi films prove is the always-present and increasing desire of humans to become God.

ExMachina_Still1I’ve been a fan of Garland’s work as a screenwriter (especially 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go), so we know he’s a master storyteller. But I think he has a gift behind the camera as well, and perhaps because of his writer background, he’s more concerned about letting the story flow and immerse people into a certain realms, instead of bludgeoning us with action, action, action. Plus he’s got an International cast formed by three accomplished young actors to tell his story.

Guatemalan-American Oscar Isaac has been churning out one fantastic performance after another. He’s truly one of the most fascinating actors working today and it’s such a joy watching him mature even more as a performer. The best scene of the film, and one of my favorite scenes of the year, is the dance scene that’s both unsettling but hilarious. Isaac certainly has screen presence to match his acting chops.

ExMachina_DanceScene Irish Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly captures the naive curiosity of Caleb, as well as the young man’s intelligence and vulnerability. He’s effortlessly likable and you immediately projects yourself into his character as he navigates into this new environment he’s thrown into. Isaac and Gleeson have a good rapport together, and the human relationships are just as intriguing as that between man & machine. In the key role of Eva, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander couldn’t be more perfect in the role. There’s a certain innocence and fragility about her, but yet you know she’s far more sly than you think.

The film is appropriately R-rated for the graphic nudity. Now, I’d be the first to tell you that most of the time, nudity in movies is unnecessary and gratuitous. But I have to say that it’s not the case here, it feels integral to the plot. For the most part, Ex Machina is a quiet, reflective film. It did veers into mystery thriller territory towards the end but it’s a natural progression of the story instead of a forced divergence. It’s definitely a great film to see on the big screen and be fully immersed in the story and the characters’ journey.

Despite the relatively low budget (under $15 mil), the production values are fantastic. From Nathan’s¬†state-of-the-art estate and his lab where he builds these machines, as well as the mountain scenery, it’s a good looking film. I also love how atmospheric the film is, thanks to the cool, ethereal-sounding soundtrack and resplendent cinematography. But the most striking of all is the robotic look of Eva, which is both mechanical as well as organic, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. We’re as drawn to her as Caleb was in the film.

ExMachina_Still2But as evident in films like Elysium, visual flair alone does NOT make a movie. Ultimately what you remember is the story and how it affects you as you watch it, and this film certainly offers plenty for the senses. There are so many scenes that linger long after the end credits role, such as one where one of the characters has a moment of doubts about himself as a human. It’s got such a haunting quality about it that adds another layer of intrigue on the human/machine exploration. It’s further proof that one doesn’t need an astronomical budget or big stars to tell a compelling and memorable story. Dazzling, provocative and haunting… everything you’d expect from a futuristic sci-fi film. An outstanding directorial debut from Alex Garland, I’m curious what he’d tackle next, both as a writer AND as a director.

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Have you seen Ex Machina? Well, what do you think?

Weekend Roundup: Ex Machina, more Daredevil, BORGIA (2011) & a new obsession

I thought I’d take a bit of a break from MSPIFF to give you a bit of a rundown of how last week’s been going so far, which is perhaps one of my favorite weeks so far in terms of movie-viewing.

In case you’re wondering what those three movies are… well, I’ve reviewed two of them: Clouds of Sils Maria, Girlhood and the third one is Ex Machina, which turned out to be even better than I expected.

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It’s also cool to have Ex Machina‘s director Alex Garland actually answered my question hours before I saw the screening, thanks to IMDb’s Twitter Q@A using the hashtag #ExMachinaChat.

This is Garland’s directorial debut and¬†it’s¬†certainly one of the best sci-fis dealing with the ‘what does it mean to be human’ theme. Visually it looks¬†cool and the story is genuinely thought-provoking. I’ll review that when MSPIFF is over, but if you haven’t seen it yet, l¬†can’t recommend it enough!


I also saw more episodes of Netflix’s Daredevil, we only have two¬†more episodes to go and the waiting for second season will be agonizing! Man, episode 10 and 11 were especially phenomenal. I love the Nelson vs Murdock one as it showed the back story of how they’ve become friends since becoming room mates in law school. It’s an emotionally-gratifying and revelatory episode whilst the action scene continues to be as phenomenal as ever.

Daredevil_ep10_11The spirituality aspect of Matt Murdock’s story is intriguing as it’s perhaps the first superhero who’s faith is integral in his role and the show doesn’t shy away from it. I find the¬†dialog between Matt and his priest/personal confidant¬†and their discussion about¬†whether the devil truly walks amongst earth fascinating and insightful in terms of the protagonist’s motivations. Nice to see Claire (Rosario Dawson) making an appearance again in episode 11: The Path of the Righteous. I’ve always found Charlie Cox to be a gorgeous Brit but he looks¬†REALLY good on this show, and he’s clearly worked out a lot for this role, ehm. I LOVE Claire’s¬†comment about seeing Matt shirtless again. Amen to that, sista ūüėČ


Speaking of REALLY gorgeous man… I have a new obsession… some of you on Twitter might’ve noticed it ūüėČ It happened almost instantly when I saw Not Another Happy Ending precisely two weeks ago and ever since then I have watched that Scottish rom-com over a dozen times, I think that’s a record!

NotAnotherHappyEnding_CafeNotAnotherHappyEnding_finaleI will have to do a Stanley Weber appreciation post at some point, he’s¬†the¬†first French actor I’ve ever had a massive crush on … as you know I almost always go for the Brits. But the second I beheld his c’est magnifique¬†physique (and THAT irresistible wavy hair!) and heard him speak, I was a goner [le sigh] My penchant for the criminally-underrated AND the unjustifiably-obscure actors continues… why hasn’t Hollywood discover him yet? Come on!!!

Ehm, now that I got that out of the way …. inspired by¬†Margaret’s awesome list post of cinematic/TV gems she saw because of her actor’s crushes, I just might have to do one of my own. One of those gems is definitely this Canal+ production of BORGIA, not to be confused with Showtime’s The Borgias that’s also about the notorious Italian family in the 15th and 16th century. This is the one created by Tom Fontana (Homicide, HBO’s Oz) with John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia.

BORGIA_Canal+BORGIA_JuanBorgiaStanley plays one of Rodrigo’s son, Juan. I’ve only seen¬†four episodes so far and oh boy, Juan Borgia is one naughty, naughty boy. Basically his character is a psychopath and a sexual predator, which is completely¬†different role from what I’ve seen him in Not Another Happy Ending.¬†The entire BORGIA clan is morally bankrupt all around, and the actors portray them VERY well. The most infamous chapter of the history of the Catholic church certainly made for some fascinating historical drama.


What I’m looking forward to this week:

WaterDivinerScreeningBeen waiting to see Russell Crowe’s directorial debut for ages.
I first posted the trailer here over a year ago!


So that’s what I’ve been watching & obsessing about. What about you?

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