FlixChatter Review: THE GOOD LIAR (2019)

Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russell Tovey

Advertised as the first ever pairing of Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellen, The Good Liar boasts perhaps two of film’s all-time greatest. Based on the best-selling book by Nicholas Searle (a former British Intelligence officer) and adapted to screen by (MN native) Jeffrey Hatcher, McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, an octogenarian career swindler who preys on greedy businessmen by day and conning rich, lonely widows of their retirement by night. Via online dating, he meets Betty McLeish (Mirren), a former Oxford professor and widower. She is immediately swept off her feet by Roy’s charming ways, to the chagrin of her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey) who grows suspicious of his nebulous history and character. Is he there to steal her money? Of course. But will this be an easy con, or are there twists and turns up ahead?

As expected, the two leads give a solid performance. McKellen is smooth, easy to watch and almost fun. The same can be said of Mirren, who exudes an airy, determined cool that seems so effortless. The first two thirds of the film is a slow burn of calculated intensity. The thriller unfolds with the taut directness of a Graham Greene novel. Propelled by the actors fine execution, The Good Liar engaged me throughout the first and second act.

Craftily directed by Condon (Gods and Monsters), the film, while predictable, stays focused and lets the two leads carry the weight for the most part. But it all falls apart in the third and final act. While we anticipated the oncoming twists just around the bend, some aspects of the story bordered on the preposterous and came dangerously close to being camp. The final third of the film unintentionally gave off the scent of being an exploitation film. Revenge movies of the late 60s and early seventies come to mind as well as pulp novels they were based on.

Because of Mirren and McKellen, we can forgive the unconvincing story in exchange for their screen presence. And they do give off an entertaining and unique chemistry. But I left the theatre feeling a bit swindled myself. Conned out of an ending that wouldn’t leave me feeling hollow and ambivalent. As good as they were in the film, it seems an opportunity was lost here for something that could have been really special.

The Good Liar is a slick, almost elegant (thanks to Carter Burwell’s score) but uneven film. The genius of the two lead actors mask the inadequacies of the story and screenplay, but not enough to save it from its own predictability and obviousness. It should be said that it was well-intentioned – addressing important issues regarding gender and portraying the redemption of one of its characters. But in truth, The Good Liar is so-so and just missed being great.

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So did you get to see THE GOOD LIAR? Let us know what you think!

2018 Golden Globe Awards: Commentary on winners, #TimesUp movement, highlights of the night

Can’t believe award season is officially in full swing! Honestly I didn’t even realize Golden Globes was this weekend until I heard something in the car as I was driving around. Fortunately I did have time to actually sit down and watch (and live tweeted) the event, though I tuned in late as I usually avoid the red carpet stuff.

Well this year’s ceremony is different than in recent memory… what with the #TimesUp movement and everyone banding together to support women who’ve been sexually-harassed/abused by wearing all-black at the red carpet.

More on that later… as I do want to introduce a friend of mine, Shivani Yadav, blogger extraordinaire of Critic-Corner which offers reviews and fun celeb fashion, as we tag team on Golden Globes commentary this year! I thought that since the Golden Globes was all about women supporting each other, it’s the perfect time to collaborate. Shivani – it’s an honor to have you guest blog on FlixChatter!

Now, to start things off, here’s the video of Seth Meyers’ opening montage in case you missed it…

Glad he captured the #TimesUp movement in his monologue and rightly blasting the biggest sexual harassment perpetrators Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen. I think overall Seth did a good job as host. He didn’t irk me like some previous hosts and he certainly wasn’t as mean-spirited as Ricky Gervais.


Red Carpet

Shivani:

This was probably the best Golden Globes ceremony, in recent memory. So many amazing moments took place and great speeches were made. My day could not have started in a better way (it was 4:30 AM when it started here in India).

On the fashion front, with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement going on, celebs opted for black ensembles and I was all up for it. I know the point here was of solidarity and trying to get a message out but at the end of the day, it was through fashion. And a person who writes fashion reviews daily, at first I was a bit skeptical about to decision but after tonight, I can confidently say that this was one of the best red carpets I have seen since I started writing. With the help of one color, the message came out much more clearly – of equality, sisterhood and not taking anybody’s sh*t!

I just wish more men were speaking out about the issue. Red carpet hosts could have done a better job in making them a part of the conversation by asking them how things can be better and in general, voicing out their opinions. Hopefully, we’ll see improvement on that side in the more coming award shows.

As for my fashion favorites, this is probably the first time I don’t have any. Sure, I have opinions about every look (and for that you can read my blog), but generally as a whole, I’m so pleased and overwhelmed with everyone, fashion-wise, that my conscience is not allowing me to pick favorites.

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The #TimesUp and #MeeToo movement was quite unprecedented. As a woman of color, the message of solidarity in the spirit of equality and representation is one that’s dear to my heart. Of course it remains to be seen if this movement will actually make a real lasting impact in Hollywood and beyond… I sure hope women don’t just get heard because it’s part of a zeitgeist… that it’s more than just a ‘trend’ but something that would bring out real change.

I skipped the red carpet stuff, but I did read some comments how the hosts didn’t seem to be grasping the movement seriously and still make it all about the fashion instead of having meaningful conversations. If that’s the case, it’s truly a missed opportunity, especially since many celebs brought activists with them to the event.

Now, out of a sea of all-black ensembles, there are still truly stunning outfits. I think limiting the color made designers more creative with the style. For me though, the queen who slayed them all has got to be Viola Davis… #ibowtothee


Main Event Highlights

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The first highlight for me was obviously Oprah‘s speech. I’m not even kidding, tears were literally pouring down my eyes by the sheer power of it. Breathtaking!

Love the fact that Natalie Portman and Barbra Streisand pointed out the all-made director’s category. Somebody had to do it and HFPA wasn’t exactly listening so doing it to their faces was kind of important!

And seeing Kirk Douglas with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta Jones was quite a delight too.

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I so agreed that Oprah‘s speech is definitely a highlight. It was such powerful, definitive, empowering and inspiring. Now, I’m not one of those who worships on the altar of Oprah, but y’know what, it’s undeniable she is a powerful self-made woman and last night she used her power for good like nobody’s business.

I feel for anyone who had to follow THAT speech to deliver the Best Director award, and that ‘honor’ went to Natalie Portman and Ron Howard. But y’know what, Portman seized the moment by cheekily quipping ‘and here are the ALL MALE nominees!’

I know some people have issues with the timing of that comment that seemed to undermine the accomplishments of the nominated filmmakers. But I don’t think she meant it that way, and y’know what, she too was caught up in the moment after Oprah’s speech and she seized it. It was a spot-on comment and I felt that it needed to be said. I thought Howard’s expression was priceless, and at least he was a big enough man to realize it wasn’t a slap against male directors, but the male-dominated filmmaking club that wasn’t conducive for women to be a part of.

There are many powerful speeches last night by women, but the one I was really taken by was Laura Dern‘s. I love how sincere her delivery was, empowering but delivered with a dose of humility and grace.

I LOVE the spirit of female solidarity displayed all night, especially by the female-led show Big Little Lies that won big last night, including Best Miniseries or TV Film.

Well, since I live-tweeted the event, I might as well just post some of my tweets here…

Case in point…

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 07: 75th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS — Pictured: Actor Chris Hemsworth (L) and director Taika Waititi arrive to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Thoughts on Winners/Losers

Neither Shivani and I barely watch any TV shows this year, so we only post comments on the film winners. Ironically, the year I became a filmmaker last year also meant I had little time to watch films so there are a ton of films nominated here that I had missed.

In any case, here’s our comments on the the nominees and winners (listed in bold) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker

Shivani: I’m sure most people expected [Ronan] to win. Not a surprise! I like how her mom was on face-time. That was cute!

Ruth: I’ve been such a huge fan of Ronan that despite not having seen Lady Bird yet (I know, I know, hopefully soon!), I’m thrilled she won. I think she’s deserved awards for so many of her past performances (Atonement, Hanna, Brooklyn, etc.)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Shivani: Same here. No surprise!

Ruth: Again, haven’t seen Franco’s performance but I was kinda rooting for Kaluuya’s just based on what I’ve read on Get Out. I like the brotherly love Franco displayed when he won though the whole thing w/ Tommy Wiseau was just so odd. Plus I think it’s rude to shove him away like that, even if they were good friends now.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks, The Post
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Shivani: I was rooting for him so much. I know Timothée is awesome and everything, but Gary literally never gets his due. It’s his time!

Ruth: Indeed it’s a well-deserved win!

Glad that Oldman gave props to his co-stars. I thought Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn were both absolutely terrific in the film. Good enough even for a Best Supporting nod!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Shivani: God this lady is fierce. There’s literally no match for her!

Ruth: I love how effortless and no-nonsense McDormand was. I love that she doesn’t seem like someone who loves to schmooze (unlike most in Hollywood) and doesn’t take any bullsh*t from anyone either. Three Billboards is yet another film I’ve missed but hope to see that soon!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Shivani: In my opinion, the actual competition here was between Allison and Laurie. I’m happy either way, I love all of the nominees!

Ruth: I loooove Octavia Spencer and The Shape of Water, so naturally I was rooting for her. But that’s not fair as I haven’t seen the other performances. Janney is a force so I have no problem w/ her winning. Plus, I love the diversity on this category.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: No one could really tell here who would win, so I would have been happy for anyone. But yeah, Sam is extremely underrated and I’m happy he got some recognition.

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
The Disaster Artist
The Greatest Showman
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Shivani: I’m just happy for the crew. Greta Gerwig is so adorable!

Ruth: I probably am in the minority here the fact that I have not seen Lady Bird nor have I seen any of Greta Gerwig‘s films, either. Not sure why, just haven’t gotten around to it. But hey, always happy to see a female filmmaker getting accolades, so yay!

Best Motion Picture — Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: This was quite a surprise. I thought The Shape of Water would have won, but nevertheless, I’m happy that they recognized the film!

Ruth: Having only seen Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, I have no idea which one would win in this category but I thought Call Me By Your Name would win.

Best Animated Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Ferdinand
Coco
Loving Vincent

Shivani: I don’t think anybody was surprised with this win!

Ruth: Yep, not surprised at all though this is the first year where I hadn’t seen any of the animated features! I did blog about Loving Vincent a while ago, that looks absolutely astounding.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
The Shape of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Molly’s Game

Shivani: I was quite positive that Lady Bird would win, and was surprised once again. It’s just that Three Billboards isn’t a type of movie that would normally get recognized by award shows. I’m happy that it is!

Ruth: Can’t really comment here as I have only seenThe Shape of Water, but sounds like a really strong category here with solid picks. I wanna see every single one of these I’ve missed!

Best Director – Motion Picture
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Ridley Scott, All The Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Shivani: Another underrated director (by the voters)! I loved it when he asked them to lower the music. “It’s taken 25 years. Give me a minute” Awesome!

Ruth: Happy for del Toro’s win, too! The Shape of Water was a singular and extremely creative original film. I love filmmakers who truly gave his all for his creation and del Toro spent a lot of his own money and considerable time even just to design the sea creature! Still, I was flabbergasted and saddened that Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins were snubbed, esp. Gerwig considering the critical rave Lady Bird received.

Best Original Score
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
Phantom Thread
The Post
Dunkirk

Ruth: I adore Desplat’s score for The Shape of Water. It’s as magical, ethereal, romantic and mysterious as the film. Absolutely beautiful stuff that sweeps me off my feet.

Best Original Song
“Home,” Ferdinand — Nick Jonas, Justin Tranter, Nick Monson
“Mighty River,” Mudbound — Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson
“Remember Me,” Coco — Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Star,” The Star — Mariah Carey, Marc Shaiman
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman — Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Shivani: I was really disappointed with the fact that they did not nominate Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon from Call Me By Your Name so I’m kinda mad at them for that. This Is Me is a good enough song, but if it were up to me, it would not have gotten my vote.

Ruth: I had to look up the two songs that Shivani mentioned. Both of those songs are lovely, I totally understand why she loved them. I think This Is Me  is a rousing song though, definitely more of a crowd pleaser.


Let me end the post with this article that offers an astute observation of the night… it’s as if the #TimesUp movement weren’t really a thing for most of the men, aside from what Seth Meyers said in his opening monologue “Good Evening, Ladies & Remaining Gentlemen.” The silence is deafening and frankly, disheartening.


So, what are YOUR thoughts on the 2018 winners & favorite moments of the night?


FlixChatter Review: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

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The first Fast and Furious film came out 18 years ago and no one would have predicted that it would became one of the most successful franchises in Hollywood. Heck, when I saw the third sequel The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, the worst in the series, I thought for sure we won’t be seeing anymore Fast and Furious films. Boy was I wrong, the later sequels somehow became more financially successful than the previous ones.

The eighth film in the series begins with Dom (Vin Diesel) and his now wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Cuba. While there Dom ran into a mysterious woman who turns out to be a super cyber terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron). Cipher wants Dom to help her steal some super powerful weapons from the US, Russian and German government so she can start World War 3. Of course Dom being Dom, he refused but Cipher is holding someone closes to him hostage and if he won’t do as she says, that person will be killed. That’s pretty much the basic storyline for this entry, Dom has to betray his team/family and throughout the film, there are tons of car chases, explosions, shoot outs and of course good looking people running around in skimpy clothes.

The script by franchise’s regular Chris Morgan is pretty simple, he knows his audience and fans of the series won’t be disappointed. I do have some issues with the script, I won’t spoil it here but he tried to wrap everything up from the last two films that kind of made the previous pictures irrelevant. Apparently, they’re planning to make two more films after this one. Stepping into the director’s chair this time is F. Gary Gray. I’ve enjoyed some of his previous work and it’s obvious he was chosen because he’d worked with most of the actors in this film in the past. With a reported budget of $250mil, Gray staged some pretty crazy action sequences, including a pretty fun big car chase through the streets of NYC. But compare to the previous films, especially the ones directed by Justin Lin, his action sequences lacked energy and kind of boring. A climatic chase that involves a submarine could’ve been a lot of fun but he decided to inter cut it with some silly flashback sequence that explained a “twist” that most viewers could’ve seen miles away. I think he and his editor should’ve done a better job with what I assume was the most expensive sequence to shoot for the film.

As for performances, Diesel is again took his role way too seriously and he even shed tears in one scene! I think he needs to simmer down with his performance in the next one and have a good time. On the other hand, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Jason Statham knows the kind of film they’re in and having a great time with it. Their bantering gets the most laughs and of course they look good kicking butts. I don’t remember when The Rock’s character Hobbs became superhuman but he’s somehow fights like Superman in this film. Theron is moving to more action related films in this phase of her career and she’s great as the Bondish supervillain. Heck I think the Bond producers should cast her as the main villain in the next Bond film. The rest of cast were fine as usual and they even introduced a new pretty boy to replace Paul Walker. Clint Eastwood’s son Scott is now the new team member and I’m sure we’ll see more of him in the future films. Also returning is Kurt Russell as a super secret government agent who provides Hobbs and his team with everything they need to stop WW3 from happening. Last but certainly not least is Helen Mirren who seemed to have a great time in her small a cameo role.

I have some issues with the script, mostly of the “twist” towards the end but otherwise, I had a fun time with this latest sequel. Fans of the series should be pleased with it since it delivered what they wanted to see. Big car chases, shoot outs and of course explosions. So if you’re planning to see it, go to the biggest screen you can find and hopefully it’s equipped with Dolby Atmos.

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Have you seen The Fate of the Furious? Well, what did you think?

Guest Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)

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Directed By: David Frankel
Written By: Allan Loeb
Runtime: 94 minutes

After reviewing a couple unimpressive comedies last week (Office Christmas Party and Why Him?), I was ready for seeing something a little weightier, so I was excited to get the opportunity to see Collateral Beauty. I was a little nervous it would be overly-sentimental, and while I did find some problems with it, I still thought it was very well-done.

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In Collateral Beauty, advertising mogul Howard (Will Smith) writes letters to Love (Aimee, played by Keira Knightley), Time (Raffi, played by Jacob Latimore), and Death (Brigitte, played by Helen Mirren) following a family tragedy. At the same time, three of his friends and work colleagues- Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) – worry that Howard’s mental state may cost them their jobs and devise a desperate plan to prevent it from happening, all while simultaneously fighting their own personal battles. I realize this is a vague synopsis, but saying more would spoil a lot of the plot.

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While I don’t think this movie will go down as a classic, it was a solid film. It was creative and handled the subjects of loss and grief well, without being too heavy-handed. The acting was, of course, phenomenal; how could it not be with such a strong cast? The stand-outs for me were Helen Mirren, who gave a both humorous and poignant performance, and, naturally, Will Smith; he barely has any dialogue in the first half of the movie, but his facial expressions and body language alone is striking, and if he doesn’t make you cry (or get a little choked up, at the very least), you are made of stronger stuff than I am. Naomie Harris as Madeline, the leader of a support group for parents who have lost their children, was excellent as well; she was able to bring both strength to the character as well as an underlying sense of grief without being too obvious.

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I did have a couple issues with this movie. One of the twists seemed way too obvious-there were too many pregnant pauses and significant glances hinting toward it- so when it was finally revealed, it felt a little underwhelming. I also thought the plan Howard’s friends come up with to prevent them from losing their jobs was really convoluted; admittedly, it was needed to get the plot moving, but suspension of disbelief can be stretched only so far.

Overall, though, Collateral Beauty was an enjoyable movie, thanks mainly to the fantastic acting. If you’re looking for a light, heartwarming film with some tearjerker moments, check it out.

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Have you seen ‘Collateral Beauty’? Well, what did you think? 

Week in Review: Eye in the Sky (2016) and Netflix’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

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How’s your weekend everyone? Well, it’s another warm weekend so I spent most of Saturday outside w/ hubby. I had one press screening this week, Eye in the Sky, and thankfully it’s not another bomb like London Has Fallen.

It turns out to be a double Helen Mirren week with her latest film and one of the last three Sam Riley films I haven’t seen yet, Brighton Rock (2010). She had a pretty big part in the film and she’s wonderful as always. It’s gratifying to see him as the lead AND held his own against such a screen icon like Dame Mirren (review upcoming).

So here’s my reviews of the two I saw last week:

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Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

This is the kind of film I’d watch just for the cast. The main cast is chock full of British thespians I love: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Northam and Iain Glen.

It turns out there’s more Austen connection as Colin ‘Mr Darcy’ Firth is listed as one of the producers! In any case, the film couldn’t be more different from a romantic period drama as it gets.

The film promos likens this to the nuclear war satire Dr Strangelove. Now, I wouldn’t say this has quite the impact of that masterpiece black comedy, but it certainly made us think about the cost of war in our times. With drone attacks becoming more prominent in recent years, and the fact that we can’t turn on the news and not hear about it, this topic is as timely as ever.

There are some genuinely tense moments in this cerebral thriller, and to use a military term, the ensemble cast fired on all cylinders and delivered a powerful performance. Dame Mirren is convincing as a conflicted military officer who had to navigate through such maddening protocols and bureaucracy in times of war. As the drone pilot, Aaron Paul perfectly conveyed his torment to balance his military duty and doing what is right. Glad to see Oscar nominee from Captain Philips Barkhad Abdi working again and though he didn’t have much lines here, the Somalian actor has quite a presence on screen.

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The film is far from perfect though. The way the CDE (collateral damage estimate) factor is handled, involving a 9-year-old girl selling bread just outside the gate of the terrorist compound being targeted, feels repetitive. I feel like director Gavin Hood hits us over the head with it, as if the audience were to slow to get the moral/political implication of the drone attack if the girl became a casualty.

I’m not sure that Hood also nails the tonal shift between drama, action and humor as smoothly as he could, either. The biting satire he tried to emulate from Kubrick’s antiwar film seems lost and the film seemed to descend into a farce. Thankfully he had assembled a phenomenal cast who still made the film work.

Despite the flaws though, I still think Eye in the Sky is a provocative film that lingers long after the end credits. It’s worth a watch just for Mirren and Rickman alone. It was still tough to watch Mr. Rickman on screen in his last film role he’s completed. He certainly had the most memorable line in the end, the only way he could… “Never tell a soldier he did not know the cost of war.” The way he delivered that line sent shivers down my spine.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

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Still mourning the death of Li Mu Bai, Yu Shu Lien returns to safeguard his sword, the Green Legend. Hades Dai, an underground warlord, sends his lieutenants to steal the sword , with plans to dominate the martial world. A young mysterious swords-woman and the hero with a past, Silent Wolf , comes to Shu Lien’s aid, together with a disparate band of warriors who still believe in the iron way of honor.

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This is the second movie to be released on Netflix at the same time as in theaters, just like Beast of No Nation. It premiered on Netflix two weeks ago but I hadn’t even seen its trailer. I also barely remember much about the first film, as this sequel is made 16 years after its release in 2001. I did remember that Michelle Yeoh‘s character Yu Shu Lien was in love with Chow Yun Fat‘s Li Mu Bai who died in the first film.

The legendary sword adorned with Jade gemstone once again is central in the story. Yu Shu Lien is tasked to guard it and it nearly cost her life when her carriage is attacked in the beginning of the film. The cinematography is absolutely striking from start to finish, just like The Assassin was from last year, but thankfully director Wo-Ping Yuen is not so indulgent in making the film more style over substance. Whereas that one seems too self-aware of its own beautiful imagery that it overpowers the story, this one actually serves the narrative well.

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I like how progressive this film is in terms of its treatment of women. Not only is Michelle Yeoh‘s character is a powerful woman and fighter, Natasha Liu Bordizzo‘s Snow Vase also has an intriguing character arc that’s pretty gratifying all the way to the end. Yes perhaps some of the acting, by Bordizzo in her debut role, and Harry Shum Jr. as Wei Fang, seem a bit stiff at times, but overall I think they fit their characters pretty well. The hint of romance also didn’t make me cringe, which is always a plus. Jason Scott Lee as the villain overacted a bit, though the hammy acting style plague most of the supporting cast as well.

Unlike the first film that’s shot in Mandarin, the fact that this is an American-Chinese production, the film’s shot in English and later dubbed in Mandarin. So it’s a bit jarring to hear Chinese-looking actors (some look obviously of mixed-heritage) speaking in various English accent, some American, some British. So I think that sacrifices authenticity and is also a bit distracting. I don’t know if that might explain the low rating (18% on Rotten Tomatoes) compared to the first one (97% RT score), which benefited from Ang Lee’s superior direction.

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It’s interesting to mention the Bruce Lee connection of the two main cast, as Jason Scott Lee played Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) and Donnie Yen played Bruce Lee’s master in the IP Man franchise. I wouldn’t let the low RT score discouraged you from seeing this though. Fans of martial arts films should be pleased with the Kung Fu action sequences. I ended up quite liking this, more so than The Assassin, even if it’s not perfect.

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So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think. 

Double Reviews: Trumbo (2015) & Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I generally love movies about making movies. Yes it’s like Hollywood taking a giant selfie and we all know there are no shortage of narcissists in the business. Nevertheless I enjoy watching movies about the tales of how a picture got made, especially set in the Golden Age of Hollywood where the behind-the-scenes drama is likely more intriguing than what’s on screen.

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These two films take place in a similar era and boast quite an ensemble cast. One is based on a true story and the other is a work of fiction that feels true, so I thought these two would make a perfect double review.

TRUMBO

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I was familiar with Dalton Trumbo’s story for some time but I never knew the details. As a huge fan of Roman Holiday, I knew he’s a great screen writer, but it turns out he was the best in the biz. At one point he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood and well-respected by studios and peers alike. The film started out in the late 40s with Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) at the height of his career, but then his life took a downward spiral when he’s subpoenaed for being a Communist, accused of using the movies to corrupt democracy and overthrow the nation. He’s later sentenced to a year in federal prison and the scenes of him being humiliated in prison is really quite heartbreaking.

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But what’s even worse than the jail sentence is that Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 writers were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, and not only that, they were kicked out of the Screen Writers Guild as well, which they themselves helped built. Now, I don’t think the film is all that political, it’s more focused on the character of this extraordinary talented man and his journey in Hollywood. But he’s also not perfect, obviously he’s an eccentric man who spent most of his writing in the bath tub and he practically ignored his family unless he needs help with delivering a script discreetly to the studios. The film is quite fascinating and kept my interest throughout, all the quirks of Trumbo and his friends & foes are played wonderfully by a great ensemble of actors.

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My faves are Louis C.K. as screenwriter & Trumbo’s BFF Arlen Hird, John Goodman as a B-movie studio honcho, both had some of the funniest scenes. Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas and German actor Christian Berkel as director Otto Preminger are also pretty memorable here and O’Gorman whom I knew from playing the Fili in the Hobbit movies, had a surprisingly canny resemblance to Mr. Douglas.

I love Helen Mirren in general but here I didn’t think her performance was all that great, to be honest she made a better impression in the Hitchcock film which is of similar genre. Diane Lane is quite good as Trumbo’s wife though she’s not on screen that much, as was in that era, it’s the male cast that really got to shine in this film. In any case, the real star here is Cranston and I’m not surprised he’s nominated for an Oscar. I think his performance carried the film and made it worthwhile. It’s incredible how he captured the voice and mannerism of the real life Trumbo, but more than than, I think he captured his genius as well as his eccentric personality.

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Despite the serious subject matter, the film’s tone is pretty light and fun. There were dark moments to be sure, but director Jay Roach made sure it never lasted for too long. I don’t think it undermines the story however, especially the speech at the end that made you really reflect on the whole ordeal Trumbo and his friends went through. For a film about the greatest screenwriters, the script by John McNamara (based on a book by Bruce Cook) was thankfully quite sharp. The costumes, set pieces, cinematography, and especially the performances, really brought the story to life and made me appreciate Trumbo, and screenwriters in general, even more than I already do.

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Hail, Caesar!

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Now, when the trailer first dropped, I must’ve watched it half a dozen times in one day. It’s a satire of Hollywood big studios and their big stars, told in a day-in-the-life format of a Hollywood fixer called Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is a fixer who works for Capitol Pictures in the 50s, he’s the man tasked with cleaning up after the biggest names in the industry. Ruthless though he may be, Mannix is a tormented person, so ravaged by guilt that he goes to confession more often that the priest himself care to hear. The movie pretty much picked up when the studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the set of one of a huge epic movie modeled after Ben-Hur (it even had the same tagline, A Tale of the Christ). Now, the set up promises a lot of intrigue and hilarity but in the end it only partly delivered.
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There are some genuinely hysterical moments, especially the exchange between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (as an Laurence Olivier-type director) in a film set which had me in stitches. Despite being the least known actor in the cast, Ehrenreich actually had a pretty big part in the movie and he acquitted himself well here. Heck, I think he’s better than Clooney as I actually believed him as the character, instead of just an movie star basically just playing a variation of himself. Whitlock seems like a caricature instead of a real person. I’m not sure whether or not it’s because of Clooney’s own stature and star-wattage or the way the script played out. The plot about Whitlock’s kidnapping would likely amuse (or irate) the real Dalton Trumbo, though the twist played out like something out of an SNL skit.

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Brolin’s Mannix is the most-developed character in this movie and the only one with a real arc. Thankfully Brolin was good in the role and made me care for his plight, but the rest of the ensemble cast filled with the ‘who’s who of current Hollywood establishment’ wasn’t given much to do. I feel like the fun moments peppered throughout just didn’t quite gel as a cohesive film. Many characters came and went without leaving any mark, and SO many actors were underutilized, even Tilda Swinton who played a dual role. Jonah Hill is basically in a blink-and-you-missed-him role, he’s only on screen as much as he was in the trailer. Those who love Channing Tatum‘s dancing will be pleased with him here, but the musical numbers here don’t make much of an impression to me. Now, the Coens’ regular Frances McDormand‘s part is basically a cameo, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable scenes.

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In the end the film seems too random and frivolous, and despite those hilarious moments, ultimately it’s a rather forgettable affair . Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a big disappointment as I’m actually not a huge Coens fan if I’m honest. I actually think this could be one of their most accessible films, and the light tone made it pretty enjoyable, it just lacks the gravitas one expect from the talents involved. The ending also felt anticlimactic to me, and the emotional connection is lacking overall. On a technical level, the film is gorgeous thanks to Roger Deakins’ masterful craft, and the retro costumes are nice to look at. If you’re a big Coens fan, this one is still well worth a rent, just don’t expect this to be another one of their classic hits.

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So, have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?

Rental Pick: Woman in Gold (2015)

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Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

Let me start by saying that Dame Helen Mirren is one of my favorite actresses I’d watch in practically anything. She’s easily one of the best things of any film, including this one.

As a woman whose torn apart from her family in Vienna, Maria Altmann is given the chance to take back what’s rightfully hers, but she must also face her dark past in the process. Woman in Gold has a historical significance, but what drew me to the story is the personal connection.
WomanInGold_Mirren_MaslanyFollowing her sister’s funeral, Maria discovered letters dating back to the 40s that prompted her to reclaim her family’s artwork. She enlisted help from an inexperienced lawyer who happened to be the son of a friend, Randol ‘Randy’ Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). I have to admit I’m not enthused on Reynolds’ casting and in the end, his performance confirmed my dread.

The film utilizes several flashback sequences of Maria’s once-blissful life with her affluent family. It’s a close-knit Jewish family but she’s her aunt Adele’s favorite (Antje Traue), who was the subject of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Woman in Gold, hence the title) is practically the Mona Lisa of Austria. Though the monetary value is clearly substantial, the personal value is what’s priceless to Maria. I find myself more drawn to the flashback scenes, I was quite impressed by Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as the young Maria. That goodbye scene with her parents was such a tearjerker.

WomanInGold_Antje_PaintingIn fact, it felt like a different film entirely as the tone is far more serious and emotional. In fact, the scenes where Maria and her then husband Fritz (Max Irons) were chased by the Nazi officers was pretty intense. In contrast to the contemporary scenes in both L.A. and Vienna, the tone is rather whimsical and at times it didn’t seem to have the gravitas the story deserves. Now, I don’t blame Reynolds entirely, as it’s more of a writing and directing issue, but his casting doesn’t help. He’s fine when the role requires him to be whimsical, but I find him entirely unconvincing in the emotional scenes. I just don’t think he’s got dramatic chops, though I suppose I should give him props for trying. It’s quite infuriating to see a perfectly capable actor like Daniel Brühl [as the Austrian journalist who helped Maria’s cause] not given much to do.

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Overall I enjoyed this film, there are some emotional as well as fun moments sprinkled throughout. Yet, whenever the film hit a particularly poignant note, the next scene strikes an entirely different note that it seems rather jarring. I understand that perhaps director Simon Curtis injected humor to make the film less heavy-handed, but the movie became so uneven in the process.

That said, if you’re intrigued by the story, this is certainly worth a rent. It’s not exactly a work of art by any means, but I definitely like it more than Monuments Men. Of course having Helen Mirren in the lead makes the film all the more fascinating. I’d still recommend this one if you like historical dramas, I find the flashback scenes in Austria to be especially compelling.

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Have you seen Woman in Gold? What did you think?

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