FlixChatter Double Reviews: The Monuments Men

MonumentsMenPoster

Happy Friday everyone! Today we’ve got another double review of a film which release has been delayed for a couple of months. Originally, this was to be released last December during awards/holiday season, but director/star George Clooney actually asked the studio for more time for post-production due to the special effects weren’t ready. Sarah and I went to the screening last Wednesday, here’s our take on it:

Sarah’s Review

When I was visiting Germany last year and killing time waiting for my train back to Dusseldorf from Cologne, I was struck by a postcard in one of the gift shops with a Google earth type of photo of Cologne in post-World War II Europe. The entire town was decimated by repeated bombings but somehow the 13th century Cologne cathedral still stood tall amidst all the destruction- as if saved only by the grace of God. “The Monuments Men,” the new movie co-written and directed by George Clooney, tells the story of curators, archivists and art historians from thirteen countries whose mission it was to save some of the most culturally significant works of art from Nazi destruction near the end of World War II. In a Napoleonic-like move, Adolf Hitler often ordered his armies to claim some of Europe’s greatest art treasures for his planned “Fuhrer Museum” to be built near his boyhood home in Austria. (Did you know Hitler was a failed art student? Neither did I. When George Stout, an American art conservationist played by George Clooney in the movie, shows one of his paintings to the newly assembled group, one of them remarks, “Hitler did that? It’s not bad.” However, James Granger, played by Matt Damon and based on Metropolitan Museum of Art Director James Rorimer, says, “Well, it’s not good.”) When the fall of the Third Reich became a reality, Hitler commanded his men to destroy everything and the group that has become known as the Monuments Men swung into action, embarking on “the greatest treasure hunt in history.”

MonumentsMen_Stills1
As a self-proclaimed history buff who has studied and visited many of the places in the film, I really wanted to like this movie but it felt like this great story got lost in a mishmash of a film trying to be a combination of Hogan’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan and The Da Vinci Code. Call it a movie with an identity crisis- it was like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. SPOILER ALERT! (Without giving too much away, one example is a scene where one of the Monuments Men gets shot and it’s obvious he’s going to die. However, in the next scene he is cracking jokes. Umm, hello? It’s wartime and you’re dying.) The cast, which also includes Bill Murray and John Goodman, do what they can but ultimately can’t save this one. About the only person who seems to understand the gravity of the situation is Claire Simone, the museum curator turned spy played by Cate Blanchett. When showing Matt Damon’s character some of the Nazi’s re-possessed goods, he asks incredulously, “What is all this?” “People’s lives,” she solemnly replies. Her scenes were a breath of fresh air.
MonumentsMen_Damon_Blanchett
This movie does do a couple of things well. It helps put you in the moment where these men unearth thousands of stolen, priceless artifacts. What must it have been like to gaze upon these famous artworks and know that you had a major role in securing them for future generations to enjoy? And it also provides a powerful reminder of what we were fighting for- not just art, but our culture, history and way of life. Two scenes brought this home to me: the first near the beginning of the film where you see the beautiful landscape of Paris decorated with Nazi swastikas and the second toward the end of the film where you see Nazi soldiers indiscriminately torching some of what they had stolen. Maybe it was these ideals that frustrated me the most about this movie- it was okay, but it could have been so much better.
The movie is based on a 2010 book of the same name by Robert Edsel and it did make me want to learn more about this fascinating point in history. Also, in a local connection, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has put together a self-guided tour identifying items from its own collection saved by the Monuments Men or with other World War II related stories. As our temperature doesn’t want to rise above zero lately and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free, this seems like a great idea! As for the movie, it piques your interest but doesn’t quite hold you in its grasp.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


2.5 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

When I first heard about this film, the subject matter intrigued me more than even the ensemble cast. Truthfully, seeing Matt Damon and George Clooney with their megastar smiles in the trailer, it felt like an Ocean’s Eleven heist type of flick, but with Nazis. Hmmm, it turns out that first impression wasn’t that off-base after all.

Seems that the film has everything going for it to be a truly great WWII drama. Clooney is after all a reputable Oscar-nominated director/writer/actor, a triple threat on top of being one of the biggest movie stars in the universe. He’s got the clout to assemble a bunch of Oscar-caliber International cast and crew, who are more than up for the task to bring this amazing wartime tale to life. But yet, even halfway through the film, it just left me wanting. For something so monumental in history, the film just doesn’t do the story justice.

To call this film uneven would be putting it mildly. There’s a tonal hodgepodge that makes it quite hard to really grasp the weight of the mission of the men (and women) involved. Art historian Frank Stokes, played by Clooney himself, preaches to the audience the significance of this art-rescue mission and how noble the cause was for humanity that it was worth a person’s life. Yet the way the film’s played-out lacks the gravitas of that sentiment. At times it’s just too lighthearted for its own good that it loses its impact. I’m not saying that mixing drama with comedy can’t work, I mean there are great films that finely tread the line between drama and comedy, but I’m not sure it works well here.

MonumentsMen_Stills2

There’s a scenario where one character accidentally stepped on a land mine, but it’s treated like a humorous scene. I guess there ought to be an SNL skit where the Monuments Men don’t know which foot to stand on. Seems that Clooney himself realizes the challenge of getting the tone right, as this article from The Wrap points out  “If we get the tone right it will be a really fun film …” he said. Well, the film is not without its shares of fun, but I think if the tone were right, it would’ve been a great film.

Performance-wise, seems that the cast are having a good time making this which is fun to watch. Clooney and Damon are pretty good but I’ve seen much better work from both of them. It’s amusing to see Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Bob Balaban with his deadpan humor and Jean Dujardin being his irresistible charming French guy that he is. Now, as much as I got a kick watching them, I barely knew about any of them nor any of the other characters in the film. Why did they sacrifice their lives for this mission? Is it simply their love for art, or was there something more? As a result, I couldn’t connect with any of them no matter how hard I tried. Even during the most dire circumstances, it didn’t incite lump-in-my-throat kind of emotion, and this coming from someone who cry easily at movies. I think Cate Blanchett‘s character, the only female cast who’s the most solemn of the whole bunch, is the only one who lends credibility to the story. But still her character’s not explored as well as I would like, either.

This is Clooney’s fifth directorial effort and he also co-wrote it with his screenwriting partner Grant Heslov.  Seems that the filmmakers’ heart are in the right place and the film is not without its poignant moments. I just wish those moments are more consistent instead of just in few and far between. I don’t think that even if this were released just in time for Oscar season that it would’ve been in the running. It’s not a terrible film however, I’d recommend it as a rental if you love the cast. But if you want to really know who the Monuments Men are and their mission, I’d think there are documentaries on them that’s more satisfying and compelling. As it stands, it’s quite entertaining with a tinge of poignancy, though it lacks a certain level of artistry that’d give us a lasting impression.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth

threereels
3 out of 5 reels


What do you think folks, agree/disagree with our review? Well let’s hear it!

Five for the Fifth: NOVEMBER 2013 Edition

fiveforthefifth_purple

Hello folks, welcome to the second to last Five for the Fifth of 2013!

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item, observation, trailer, actor/director spotlight, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. As you know, I have a penchant for the Scots, but it’s not just limited to men. Today’s birthday girl is Tilda Swinton, who still looks youthful at 52. The chameleon thespian is perhaps the most talented Scottish actress working today, and she came from a prestigious Scottish family. In fact, her family is one of the oldest in Scotland. Katherine Matilda Swinton is the daughter of Major-General Sir John Swinton, whose ancestral home has been within the family since the 9th century.

TildaSwintonBdayHere are a couple more interesting trivia you might not know about miss Swinton:

  • Gave birth to twins, a daughter named Honor Byrne and a son named Xavier Byrne, in November 1997. The father of her children, John Byrne, is a Scottish artist and writer.
  • Since 2004, she has been in a relationship with Sandro Kopp, a painter from New Zealand.
  • Spent two years in South Africa and Kenya as a voluntary worker in children’s schools, before studying at Cambridge. Attended West Heath Girls’ School, with Princess Diana as one of her classmates, and later Fettes College.

I still need to see more of her work (esp. We Need to Talk About Kevin, but so far my favorites would be her Oscar-winning performance in Michael Clayton, though she was fantastic playing larger-than-life characters like the White Queen in the Narnia films and the androgynous angel Gabriel in Constantine.

I can’t wait to see Only Lovers Left Alive, which I’ve mentioned in this post a while back. I mean the cast alone is a reason to see this, and I love the pairing of Tilda and rock-star vampire Tom Hiddleston! We finally got a trailer, check it out:


What’s YOUR fave role of Tilda Swinton, and are you looking forward to this film?


2.  A couple of films about racial equality and slavery have been all abuzz this year, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 12 Years A Slave. But this one comes from a female perspective.

Belle_filmposter
BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mabatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.


I don’t know if this one would open anywhere near me but I’d be sure to rent it. I haven’t seen English actress Gugu Mabatha-Raw in anything yet though I have heard of her, and the rest of the cast looks great, esp. Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson. Matthew Goode also has a brief role as Belle’s father.

What do you think of this one folks?


3. I know a lot of people are hugely anticipating the upcoming Star Wars movie. I’m not really one of them, I mean I’m just blase about the whole thing, but depending on the cast, my interest level might vary.

ChiwetelEjioforSWcasting

Well, now the rumor mill of Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s casting got started when a Times journalist Rhys Blakely met him on the lobby of Bad Robot production on his way to interview J.J. Abrams for his new book that’s got nothing to do with Star Wars. But of course, since casting has been underway for Episode VII, naturally Blakely couldn’t help inquiring about that to Abrams.

As quoted in SlashFilm, here’s what happened:

He looks at me, dead-eyed. “I can’t discuss casting,” he says. “But he’s a very talented gentleman.”

Not exactly a denial is it, and it’s not like Abrams has another HUGE film he’s working on and I doubt he’d cast the Oscar frontrunner for 12 Years A Slave for a TV project. I sure hope this wouldn’t be just a rumor. I know the casting rumor about Benedict Cumberbatch has been debunked but I still wouldn’t rule it out yet. Boy, how I’d LOVE to see the two of them together again in a movie!

What do you think about this casting rumor folks? Who’s on your wish list to be cast in this movie?


OscarSeason4. Timing is everything the say. It couldn’t be more true when it comes to a film’s release date in terms of its Oscar chance. I’m often baffled about how the whole ‘release date’ strategy work in Hollywood, though every cinephile knows the crucial role it plays for any film that wants to be considered for Best Picture. I guess that explains why the award-contenders often get released after Labor Day. Of course there are always exceptions in everything, but according to whowonOscars.com, more than 1 in 5 nominees is released in December and based on the past few years, winners tend to release around 240 days before the ceremony. Interesting stuff eh?

Well, you might’ve heard of the release date switcheroo for Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It was supposed to open in November, but then there were reports that it’d get pushed back to next year, perhaps in line with Cannes Film Festival in May. Well, now it’s back in 2013 timetable, Christmas day to be exact, the same time as another Oscar contender American Hustle. Now, it’s George Clooney’s equally-star-studded film The Monuments’s Men that’s getting pushed to 2014. According to L.A. Times, the actor and director said that the special effects wouldn’t be completed in time for its December release. “If any of the effects looked cheesy, the whole movie would look cheesy,” he reasoned.

WolfOfWallStreet_TheMonumentsMen
Well, I should think that Leonardo DiCaprio is probably smiling ear to ear now that The Wolf of Wall Street is back on Oscar race. Though from watching the trailer, I think that it increases more chances that Matthew McConaughey might get double nomination, as he’s got three solid performances in MUD, The Dallas Buyer’s Club and the one with Leo. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets one nomination each in the lead and supporting category.

So what are your thoughts about the two films above and the whole Oscar + film release date strategy?


5. Now for the last film I always like the get in the spirit of movie recommendations (or warning) amongst movie fans. Now that we’ve only got two months to go in 2013, most likely you’ve got an idea at least a few films that might end up in your Best or Worst list. I know for me some of my Movie of the Month inductees like Gravity, 12 Years A Slave might end up on my Best list and Die Hard 5 and Gangster Squad would surely be in my WORST. Fortunately I haven’t seen too many stinkers as I purposely avoid them, ahah.

Well, now my last question to you is: Name at least two films you think would be in either BEST or WORST list, or both.


That’s it for the NOVEMBER 2013 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these subjects.

FlixChatter Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY

Gravity_banner

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.

GravityPic1

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.

GravityPic2

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.

GravityPic3

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.

GravityPic4

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.

fivereels
5 out of 5 reels

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

Five for the Fifth: September 2013 Edition

fiveforthefifth

Hello folks, welcome to the first FALL edition of Five for the Fifth!

As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item, observation, trailer, actor/director spotlight, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. I always like to spotlight a filmmaker/actor who’s having a birthday on Five for the Fifth and today happens to be Werner Herzog’s 71st Birthday today.

WernerHerzogI have to admit that I actually have not seen a single film by the German director, though I have seen one that he produced, that is The Act of Killing and saw his acting for the first time in Jack Reacher. My friend Vince and I was just talking about him not too long ago, in which we talked about his interesting love-hate relationship with Klaus Kinski. In fact, he’s going to lend me the documentary My Best Fiend – Klaus Kinski.

Even if you’re not familiar with Mr. Herzog, just reading his IMDb bio would give you a glimpse into his um, enigmatic character. Apparently he saved Joaquin Phoenix once when he was on a car crash, but then vanished after calling an ambulance. Speaking of car accidents, have you seen his PSA on Texting While Driving which was sponsored by AT & T and other phone carrier companies. It’s interesting as according to CNN, Herzog doesn’t even own a cellphone! But the article says, “… he looks at the statistics for texting-while-driving incidents — as well as our smartphone obsession and its cost in simple human contact — and recognizes the necessity of saying something.” Here’s one of the PSA video:

I’m curious what you think of Mr. Herzog and what’s your favorite film that he’s done?

2. Seems that in the movie world at least, the geek shall inherit the earth… with J.J. Abrams as the geek god. Having completed two Star Trek films, now he’s busy working on the Star Wars sequels. I’ve got to admit I didn’t really pay attention to the whole Star Wars VII development… well that is until Benedict Cumberbatch is [rumored] to be cast. Boy, this has been quite a year for crazy casting rumors isn’t it, as I was quite convinced that Bryan Cranston has indeed been cast as Lex Luthor in the Man of Steel sequel and I was rejoicing in that fact! So now Cumberbatch is apparently the latest, shall we say, victim of casting rumor ran amok. Clearly some of his fans had fun making GIFs of Benedict with a lightsaber 😀

BenedictLightsaber

Alas, it’s all apparently is JUST a rumor. But I like the first line of the NY Daily News article that debunked it:

Reports that Benedict Cumberbatch was cast in “Star Wars: Episode VII” seem to be full of Sith.

Full of Sith, ahah. Ah well, that’s too bad really, as I quite like the idea of him as a Sith Lord. And I think the actor would surely take that on, as he told Total Film early this year that he’s a Star Wars fan: “I was much more connected to [Star Wars] as a kid, in the way that a lot of kids are because it’s immediate storytelling, very simple – a beautifully, outrageously simple narrative in a way – and a wonderful three-act melodrama, opera. And I loved them. I really, really loved those films and I always wanted to be Han Solo…”
 

Well, what’s your thoughts about this casting idea folks? Would you be happy with Benedict Cumberbatch joining the next Star Wars movies?


3. This question is inspired by my recent viewing of MUD, in which two boys end up befriending a drifter with a shady past. I’ve always loved films about unlikely friendships. There are quite a few films with this kind of topic, and it spans multiple genres. A lot of buddy comedies often made up of people who didn’t initially get along but ended up becoming well, buddies. That’s certainly a popular variation of that theme, but I’m focusing mainly on dramatic or thriller genres.

Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman
Richard Jenkins + Haaz Sleiman in The Visitor

Some of my favorites of such films are The Intouchables, The Visitor, The Professionals, Finding Neverland, Mrs. Brown, just to name a few. I also just read Steph’s recent review of My Afternoon with Margueritte, which I might check out.

In the spirit of recommendations, please share YOUR favorite film(s) about unlikely friendships.


GravityPoster_Bullock4. One of the Fall films that’s been generating all kinds of buzz this week is Alfonso Cuarón‘s GRAVITY. The first trailer doesn’t really give us anything other than Sandra Bullock spinning out of control in space whilst her shuttle suddenly breaks apart around her, and George Clooney‘s voice speaking to her.

This second trailer gives more background to her character, Dr. Ryan Stone, described as a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission (per Wikipedia). Clooney plays a veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky, the only one Stone is able to communicate to in her desperate hour. Pretty gut-wrenching stuff.

“Is there somebody down there looking up, thinking about you?” Kowalsky asks.

“I had a daughter,” Stone whispers, “A little girl with brown hair. Tell her that I’m not quitting.”

Check out the latest trailer below:

I’m even more intrigued now, even before James Cameron calling it “the best space film ever done,” which was all over Twitter yesterday. I’ve always liked Sandra Bullock and this is a role I don’t usually associate her with but I know she’s a capable actress. Cuarón‘s a formidable director, whose Children of Men is one of my favorite sci-fi films. Sounds like he might give us another sci-fi classic with this one.

What say you folks? What’s your level of interest on GRAVITY?


5. Last but not least, now here are two films based on TV shows that definitely piqued my interest. Both of them star sexy, crush-worthy Brits of course 😉

IdrisElbaLutherThe first one is the BBC crime drama series LUTHER starring Idris Elba. According to the series creator, Neil Cross, the movie adaptation’s script is already written. Per Total Film, speaking at the Edinburgh TV festival, Cross confirmed that a feature film is going ahead, and announced that the plot will take the form of a prequel story following Luther’s early career. Mr. Elba is reportedly set to return as the protagonist. Well I sure hope so, who’s actually going to watch if he’s NOT in it??

Now, the other one is The Man from U.N.C.L.E, which is based on the  movies based on the mid 60s TV series of the same name. I love the cast so far: Two impossibly gorgeous guys, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, are playing CIA and KGB agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, respectively. The movie could’ve been called Superman Twins or something like that as I could totally see the 6’5″ Hammer as Superman as well.

Cavill_Hammer_ManFromUNCLE

So far Hugh Grant (who’ll be playing the head of British Naval Intelligence) and Jared Harris have joined the cast as well. I’m sooo glad Henry got the role, I remember months ago that Tom Cruise was originally cast in his role. I think Henry is a better choice as he’s much closer to Armie’s age (not to mention height).

Set in the early 60s at the height of the Cold War, the film is set to begin production next week in England, with location filming in Rome and Naples (nice!). Scott Z. Burns (a Minnesota native!) who wrote The Bourne Ultimatum, Contagion, Side Effects, etc. is penning the script. I think if Guy Ritchie is making this more like a action-adventure comedy like his Sherlock Holmes films, this could be a lot of fun. 

What are your thoughts on either one of these projects? Or you can also tell me what other TV series you’d like to see being made into a feature film.


That’s it for the September 2013 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now pick one or do them all!

Double Clooney Reviews: The Ides of March and The Descendants

As part of the LAMB Acting School 101 on George Clooney, I thought I’d review two of his recent films, one of which garnered him an Oscar’s Best Actor nod. Now, the idea of this monthly LAMB event is to highlight a different actor/actress whose performances, for better or worse, have left a mark on the cinematic landscape.

Truth be told, I’m not as enamored with 50-year-old actor as most people. Yes I think he’s dashing but for some reason he’s not the kind of actor whose film I’d go see just because he’s in it. That said, I understand his appeal and he’s played his card right in the business, rising steadily from his days as a TV actor to becoming quite a Hollywood royalty if you will. Plus, the man knows how to pick good films and in the case of The Ides of March, he knows how to make a decent one.

So in honor of his Oscar nomination, here are a double reviews of his two latest films:

The Ides of March

I’m generally not a big fan of political films. Heck I’m not into politics in general, call me cynical but I feel that for the most part, there are just so much unethical stuff going on and it’s just a matter of what people can get away with and how much they’re willing to sacrifice to gain power. This political drama directed by Clooney is full of such back-alley dealings and takes its name from a historical event from the Roman Calendar. It’s a date commonly associated with the death of Julius Caesar, who was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate by a group of conspirators led by his most trusted allies and long-time friend Brutus.

There’s a loose connection between that event and what happens in this film, but a theme of betrayal is certainly ripe in the story. To understand the plot, we’ve got to meet the players:  Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney) is campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his campaign is led by a world weary campaign veteran Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his second-hand-man, an idealistic and ambitious 30-year-old Stephen (Ryan Gosling) who’s shrewd at handling the communications with the media. Morris’ biggest rival remains faceless throughout the film but his campaign is run by the cynical and ruthless Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Caught in the center of it all is one of Morris’ 20-year-old intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) who has the hots for Stephen.

Stephen ends up getting himself in two major predicaments involving Molly and Duffy, two separate occasions that both threaten not only his political career but also the career of his big boss, Morris. Loyalties are tested and the game of survival of the fittest are full on, lives are at stake and not just in political sense. This is a movie where there are no real heroes or villains, just a bunch of ruthless people who’s really tough to root for, in my opinion anyway. None of the characters are really sympathetic as they’re only concerned about themselves and how to get ahead. Perhaps the only person whom I despise the least is Paul who at least still strives to play by the book, perhaps too much for his own good.

I don’t think this film tells us anything new or fresh perspective that we don’t otherwise already know about politics. If anything it just reaffirms the ‘dirty politics’ reputation of every political party. Career victory wins over virtue, that seems to be the message, which is hardly surprising. Still I think overall I think it’s a decent film that offers intriguing dialog and a great deal of intellectual suspense. I like the subtlety of Clooney’s direction, he doesn’t show every single thing to the audition but instead scenarios are implied in a clever way, such as when Paul enters the big campaign SUVs with Morris in a back alley, it’s clear that his fate within that campaign is sealed. The face-off between Stephen and Morris in a dark kitchen of a restaurant is also shot in a sinister way that shows their faces in the shadows most of the time.

The performances are top notch and that’s another props from Clooney to draw sharp performances from his cast. Gosling is sleek and confident in this role, but I feel that he has that same cocky aura he displays in those DRIVE trailers and movie posters. Clooney doesn’t have as much screen time here but he certainly makes for a believable Obama-like figure, and seems like he’s likened his character to Obama as his campaign posters are done in the exact same way. To me, the two scene-stealers are the actors playing the campaign managers of both parties, Hoffman and Giamatti. They don’t share a screen together however, but their scenes with Gosling are quite memorable. Evan Rachael Wood proves that she’s one of today’s brightest young stars, she embodies her role with sheer drive and youthful recklessness that plays a key role in the downfall of the political candidate, as well as her own. Marisa Tomey is good but it’s a nothing special as she’s done a similar type of supporting roles in other films I saw recently.

Final thoughts:

I think fans of political films will enjoy this one and those who are already fans of the cast will definitely appreciate them all the more. I appreciate Clooney’s direction and the performances, but the film itself is not entertaining or even compelling enough for me to want to watch again.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


The Descendants

I went to see this film largely because of Clooney’s casting and the fact that he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. I’ll tell you right off the bat that I think his nomination is well-deserved, and it’s perhaps one of my favorite roles from this actor to date.

The story from writer/director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) is centered on the life of Matt King (Clooney), a workaholic attorney living in Hawaii. His life is turned upside down when his wife Elizabeth suddenly fell into a coma following a boating accident that leaves him to care for his two daughters. At the same time, Matt is also at the crossroad involving the decision to sell his family’s 25000-acre land that’s been handed down from his ancestors of Hawaiian royalty and missionaries, hence the film’s title. As the trustee of the estate, Matt torn between his family who want to sell the land and the rest of the island who wants him to preserve it.

The film opens with Clooney narrating the story, it’s done in a matter-of-fact manner refuting the common preconception that people who live in a place like Hawaii is devoid of personal problems. His friends seem to think that life in this tropical paradise must be equally perfect, not lacking anything. “Paradise? Paradise can go f*** itself.” Matt scoffs. That is such a perfect opening as it sets the tone to the whole film and how Matt’s life is definitely far from the pristine look of his surrounding.

Prior to Elizabeth being in a coma, Matt was an absentee father, he’s the ‘back-up parent’ that’s how he describes himself, thus his relations with his daughters is obviously not going to be easy, especially when he takes 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) home from her private school in the last days of her mother’s life. Alex seems like a typical rebellious teenager but when she tells her father a secret involving her mother’s infidelity, it’s clear life hasn’t been easy for her either.

This story could easily be overly sentimental and unbearably glum, but yet Payne somehow manages to inject subtle humor and the way Matt deals with his seemingly endless quandaries is often funny without diminishing the weight of those circumstances. The scene of Matt running to his neighbors’ house in a drab polo shirt, shorts and sandals is shot almost like a comic sequence even though he’s about to question them about his wife’s affair. The same with the scenes when Matt is spying on the man his wife is cheating on and when he pays him a visit. The script and Payne’s direction perfectly capture such complicated and extremely awkward situation with dexterity that makes you go, ‘wow, I sure hope I’d never end up in such predicament.’

Though I haven’t seen Payne’s previous work, I’ve read enough reviews about them that makes me think he like to incorporate all kinds of quirky characters in his films, though not to the degree of Wes Anderson. This film is no exception, Alex’s friend Sid’s stoned-like mannerism provides comic relief, but later we reveal that he too is not exempt from personal tragedy. In fact, the variety of characters in this film is what makes this film so wonderful to watch.

What I like about Clooney in this role is how far it is from his glamorous movie-star persona. In a lot of his films, one could argue that he’s just playing a variation of himself but I can’t say that it’s the case here. I feel that he’s able to epitomize the pathos and the personal hell his character goes through with precision and care. A less capable actor could easily resort to overacting, but fortunately Clooney manages to avoid that and the astute script definitely helps him achieve that. The rest of the performances is good as well, even the small roles by Beau Bridges as one of Matt’s cousins and Judy Greer as the oblivious wife of Elizabeth’s lover. I’m impressed with relative newcomer Shailene Woodley who’s done mostly TV work by this point. It’s touching to see Alex’s emotional growth that helps repairs her relationship with her dad, and that subtle transformation is believable.

The seemingly two separate storyline about Elizabeth’s coma and the sale of his family’s land somehow connect together at the end as Matt finally comes to a unexpected decisionIt’s not entirely unpredictable as we’ve sort of been cajoled to root for the King family to keep the land, but it’s a satisfying ending nonetheless. There’s no fairy tale ending but it’s a heartwarming one that definitely puts a smile in my face as tears run down my cheek.

Final Thoughts:

This neatly-paced drama boasts wonderful performances and carries an inspiring theme about second chances and forgiveness. The message about the importance of family over wealth is also quite strong which is always nice to see in today’s films. On top of that, it also boasts a beautifully-shot scenery of the island of Kauai that lends an authentic flavor to the story instead of becoming a distraction.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Well, have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them and also on Mr. Clooney.