FlixChatter Review: PET SEMATARY (2019)

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Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence and John Lithgow

A year prior to graduating high school I had seen Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary in the theaters. Yeah – remember those? (I’m looking at you streaming fans). I was on a date and a horror movie seemed like a perfect choice at the time and King’s novels were very popular with the bookish kids in my grade, although I was still wading my way through the first hundred or so pages of The Stand notwithstanding (to pardon a pun). While I recall the slickness of the production, and perhaps a Ramones song or two in the film, it did its purpose but not much else. Scary it was not at the time but I enjoyed seeing Fred Gwynn in a role sans Munster makeup. He was quite good in it.

Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2019 adaptation sticks with the original premise: Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) have moved their family (daughter Ellie and toddler Gage) out to the country to escape the stresses of the big city and in Louis’ case, the pressures of being an ER doc at the city hospital. Once settled in, they discover a makeshift pet cemetery the neighborhood kids created. Apparently, as the film implies, the road that passes through the area takes many pets’ lives.

John Lithgow plays Jud, their amiable, strange and dusty next door neighbor who gives them a vague history of the place and whom Ellie strikes up an innocent friendship. On Halloween, the Creed’s cat Church (after Churchill, funnily one of Lithgow’s famous roles) is killed on said road. Rather than telling Ellie the truth, the couple tells her Church ran away. Jud, conscious of Ellie’s feelings decides to help out by leading Louis to an ancient site in the forest beyond the cemetery and instructs Louis to bury their cat. A day later, Church is reanimated and returns to the house but something isn’t quite right. This is when the story takes a terrifying turn… (I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers).

Now in 2019, as a father of two young kids, I can understand why King considered this novel as awful and terrible and one he was reluctant to publish as “it just spirals down into darkness.” The themes here are familiar: guilt, trauma, denial and grief. However, King’s story and the filmmakers’ use of them with effective means and from a cerebral level is outright horrifying. You could call it a twisted Lazarus or Frankenstein story with dashes of the Golem.

The first 2/3 of the film is all this, effective, dreamlike with a touch of simplicity. It’s a great modern day horror story in the traditional sense with great atmospherics and good performances by Clarke, Seimetz and Lithgow. The last 1/3 of the film settles into predictability but in a sense, it really couldn’t go any other way. When the campiness started creeping in during the film’s finale, I must admit I welcomed it. It gave me respite from the story’s main themes – a sense of relief. While it is a flawed film, the filmmakers’ choice to keep it simple and not inundate it with effects and adrenalized editing is commendable.

At its core Pet Sematary is a family tragedy; loving parents who with their overprotectiveness and good intentions set into motion a terrible chain of events. The worst part is that we can relate to Louis’ actions even in its insanity – above all, when loss is coupled with guilt and denial and not given the right to mourn or grieve thus preventing it from running its natural course. As a horror film, Pet Sematary works quite well. But it is the idea in King’s story that really makes it horrifying at a deep archetypical level.

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So what do you think of PET SEMATARY? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

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I initially had no desire to see this new Terminator flick; from the trailers that I saw I thought it lacked creativity and originality. But then a couple of weeks ago, James Cameron gave his blessings and said fans of the franchise will enjoy it. Being that I’m a fan of Cameron and love his two Terminator flicks, I decided to give this new sequel a chance.

Ignoring the events of the previous two films, things kick off in the future where John Connor (Jason Clarke), his best pal Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and a bunch of soldiers are battling the evil Skynet’s cyborgs. Connor has found a way to defeat the cyborgs and shut down Skynet permanently. But Skynet has a plan in place to win the war, they have created a time machine and sent one of their terminator cyborgs back in time to 1984 to kill Connor’s mom. In order to stop the cyborg and help Conner’s mom, Reese volunteered to go back in time.

Basically this opening scene was meant as a prologue to the first film. Then the film jumps to 1984 where they recreated the opening scene of the first film, we see the Terminator (young Arnold Schwarzenegger) just arrived in L.A. and was just about to kill the three punks but an older Terminator (old Arnold) came to their aid. A fight between the two Terminators ensues and then the younger cyborg was put down.

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We then see Reese arrived at another location in Los Angeles; he’s also met with another Terminator, the T-1000 (Byung-Hun Lee). When he’s about to get killed by the T-1000, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and the old Terminator came to his rescue. If you’ve seen the trailers then you pretty much knows how the rest of the movie will play out, our heroes gets chased by the evil cyborg and they have to destroy Skynet. The only difference here is that Sarah already knows what’s going to happen and she’s already prepared for Judgment Day. This is one of those films that think it’s smarter than it actually is. The writers came up with alternate timeline and time travel and just assume that the audiences have seen the previous movies. Sadly none of it made any sense and frankly I just didn’t care. The point of a reboot is to come up with something new and refreshing, here they just rehash elements of the first two films and threw in some “new” ideas. None of it worked and I was bored halfway through the movie.

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Even though he gets top billing, Arnold was just there to be the action hero and comic relief. The main leads are Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke. We’re supposed to care about these two characters like the first film but the two actors have zero chemistry. Jai might be the blandest actor since Hayden Christensen; he’s one of the current young actors that Hollywood is trying to make into the next big action hero. Clarke is no better, she’s trying to channel the brave and tough version of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah from the second film, but sadly she couldn’t convince me that she’s badass. As for the main villain, well if you’ve seen the trailers then you’ve already know that John Connor is the antagonist in this one and he’s also quite bland. If there were a great example of miscasting actors in prominent roles in a big film, this would be it. None of the actors fit into their respective roles. The only person belongs in the movie is Arnold and he’s great.

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On the technical side, the movie is flawless. Director Alan Taylor and his cinematographer did a great job of capturing look and feel of Cameron’s previous Terminator pictures. The 3D effects were very effective; the action scenes were well staged and best of all, no hand held shaking cam action sequences. Speaking of action, the franchise is known for its long action sequences but Taylor somehow decided to edit down the length of each action scenes, with the exception a helicopter chase, many of the action scenes were short and not really creative at all. Again here they tried to rehash elements of Cameron’s films and nothing else.

I guess the trend of this summer’s big films are reboots/sequels and Terminator Genisys is no different. While I thought the concept worked for Mad Max: Fury Road, it didn’t work for this movie. If you’re fan of the franchise then you might enjoy it, for newcomers you might get confused by all the references to the previous events in the past films. My two-and-a-half stars are only for the movie’s excellent Dolby Atmos surround sound and very cool 3D effects. I think it’s time for this franchise to get terminated.

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So have you seen Terminator Genisys? Well, what did you think?

Trailer Spotlight: Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ starring Christian Bale

I don’t usually post a trailer spotlight so early in the week, but I’ve been waiting for this movie since back in 2011! Knight of Cups was also on my most-anticipated films of 2013, alas it’s Terrence Malick we’re talking about here. But looks like we WILL see this one in 2015 as apparently the film will now open at Berlinale, Berlin Film Festival, next February.

I was already sold on this film when they cast Christian Bale and the incomparable Cate Blanchett. There’s something about Bale’s look in this film that really appeals to me. At the time, all that’s known about the premise is that it’s the story of a man, temptations, celebrity, and excess. Check out the trailer:


Well, per Deadline we’ve not got the full synopsis:

“Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep. Rick’s father used to read this story to him as a boy. The road to the East stretches out before him. Will he set forth?”

I must say I’m quite mesmerized by the trailer. But then again, Malick’s films are always chock full of gorgeous, poetic and evocative imagery. He’s working with his longtime cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki again so we can expect another visual spectacle.

Somehow though, this one doesn’t seem as cryptic as his previous films. The story seems to be a cautionary tale or even just a commentary about the repercussion of hedonistic lifestyle.

“You don’t want love… you want to love… experience.”

“You have love in you… I know it.” 

Of course with Malick, he tends to communicate via metaphors and such, so who really knows how accessible and comprehensible this film is.

With the bass-heavy paired with all kinds of debauchery and decadence in the first half, and later with a more soul-stirring classical style, it’s such a beautifully-cut trailer that I hope the film itself will live up to. As I’m watching it, it made me think that Malick should perhaps do a short film. I think if you take out all the reflective long shots, this story could potentially be told under 20 min. Heck, given his penchant for leaving so much stuff in the cutting room floor, you’d think short films would be his forte.

The cast is pretty eclectic, though some of them are barely featured in the trailer. For sure we’ve got Natalie PortmanJason Clarke and I hear Antonio Banderas‘ voice on there. The rest: Brian Dennehy, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Armin Mueller-Stahl and apparently, the voice of Ben Kingsley.

I’ve seen four of Malick’s films so far and I actually like all of them to varying degrees. Even though I didn’t quite comprehend Tree of Life, there are still a lot to like about it and I appreciate Malick’s poetic style. That reminds me, I should rent To The Wonder at some point. So yeah, I guess you could say I’m anticipating this now, even more so than before.


What do you think of this trailer? 

FlixChatter Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Let me preface this review by saying that I haven’t seen any of the classic Apes movies in the 60s. I did see the 2001 reboot but I can barely remember any of it. But the 2011 version won me over that I’m intrigued to see what’s going to happen next.

The story takes place about a decade after the first film. The opening sequence swiftly tells us a Simian flu and incessant civil wars have wiped out most of humanity. On the brink of extinction, the remaining survivors in pockets all over the world is now living back in a *primal* state. It’s the search of power that connects the two species, as the dam the humans need to restore power resides so dangerously close to the Apes village.

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I love that the film takes its time in the character development of the apes, which are actually more crucial than the human characters. We get a glimpse of the apes’ community that Caesar & his fellow lab objects has built in the hills outside San Francisco.  The little apes go to *school* taught by a big, gentle orangutan, the female apes take care of the household, whilst the males hunt to provide food and protect the community. It’s akin to a tribal village where all the apes live peacefully under the leadership of the strong and wise Caesar. Not long after a small group of humans encounter some of the apes in the woods, thanks to a moron with an itchy trigger-finger, the fragile peace between the humans and the apes is about to be shattered.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) creates a suspenseful and atmospheric piece here that immediately sucks you in. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film. Aided by Michael Giacchino‘s haunting score, it’s a truly immersive experience. There is genuine terror when one of the human group leaders Malcolm tries to reason with Caesar, having witnessed that he’s clearly more than just a regular ape. Jason Clarke is solid here as Malcolm, he’s not overly charismatic but he’s effortlessly sympathetic and likable. To be fair, none of the human characters are nearly as charismatic as Caesar whose screen presence is undeniable. He commands your attention and even your allegiance, as I find myself rooting for him more than for the humans.

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Right from the start, this story keeps me engrossed whilst I marvel at the amazing CGI that looks and feels realistic. Mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis never ceases to amaze me with his motion-capture performance as Caesar. I really think his performance deserves an acting award as he truly embodies the role in the same way as a live-action actor would. The craftsmanship in the digital recreation of the apes is nothing short of amazing. Every detail and all the subtle nuances of the apes’ expression are so seamless and organic, you’d think these are actual apes who’ve been amazingly-trained! The apes all have distinct facial characteristics, just like the humans do. The production design is absolutely mesmerizing. The ape village, as well as the human compound in a rundown tower looks realistically gritty and bleak. There is a very cool scene in a wrecked gas station that sticks in the mind, not just visually but emotionally as well.

The emotional gratification is what makes a big impact here. Whilst all the special effects are incredible (what with $170 production cost), it’s the characters and their conflicts that make all the difference. And we certainly get that here with Caesar and Malcolm, both of them are essentially on the same page. Both have a family and a community they care about, yet they have to contend with those in their circle who simply don’t see things as they do. In Caesar’s camp, we’ve got Koba (Toby Kebell), his right hand man ape whose hatred for humans stems from being tortured in the lab and he’s got the ugly scars to prove it. “Koba only sees the bad side of humans,” Caesar says at one point, and honestly, at times I do feel sorry for Koba. Malcolms’ cohorts are more one-dimensional. You’ve got the hot-headed jerk Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the paranoid group leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who doesn’t really have much to do here than scream and shout. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell fare better as Clarke’s son and girlfriend, respectively, though again, most of the human characters are simply not as memorable as the apes.

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I know it’s only July, but I have a strong feeling this would end up in my Top 10 of 2014 list. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating that this stands as perhaps one of the best sequels of all time, whilst at the same time it’d work fine as a standalone film. There’s a scene that allude to Caesar’s past in the first film, a poignant moment that truly tugs my heartstrings. I don’t think people need to see the 2011 film in order to get this film, but of course it makes you appreciate Caesar’s journey more. Kudos to Matt Reeves and his team of writers (five of them to be exact) for making this film a Caesar-focused story, it’s a taut thriller that’s as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. Now, the narrative is actually quite predictable, but this is not the kind of film that relies on twists so it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment for the film. Given the present conflicts all over the world, the bloodshed and social discord depicted here resonate even more.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. The technical achievements never overshadow the story, even during the action-heavy battle scenes in the third act, it doesn’t become so bombastic that we lose sight of what’s really at stake. The 3D is just okay, which is consistent with my sentiment that 2D format is always sufficient. The powerful last shot lends itself nicely to another sequel, and you know what, I for one can’t wait to see more the continuation of Caesar’s journey.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?

FlixChatter Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

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When I first heard about Baz Luhrmann‘s project to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel to life, I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Then I read that he was going to do the movie in 3D, which prompted an eye-rolling reaction and a shrug. I mean, what could we possibly gain from setting the story in friggin’ 3D?? Heh, as if his style wasn’t over the top enough. But I was willing to give Baz the benefit of the doubt, after all, I adore Moulin Rouge! and to some degree his version of Romeo + Juliet.  I feel that the anachronism and grandiose style worked for both films. Thus, going into this film, the question isn’t whether or not it’ll be style-over-substance, but how much of Baz’s signature style is going to get in the way of this classic story.

I have to preface this review with a confession that I have NOT read the book, so I can’t say whether this is a faithful adaptation or not. I downloaded the preview to my Kindle six months ago with the plan to read it before the movie is out, alas I haven’t got around to it. But many of you who had to read this in high school literature class know the gist:

Set during the roaring 20s, the story centers on the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island. Just like the book, the story is told from the point of view of a Midwestern-born Yale grad Nick Carraway who rents a small house next door to Gatsby as he commutes to his job as a bond salesman in NYC.

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The film starts off stylishly of course, right from the very second the Art Deco frame you’ve seen on all the posters come on screen to reveal the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s house just across from Gatsby’s mansion. For the first 20 min or so, we never see our protagonist, but Mr. Gatsby is featured prominently through Nick’s story to his therapist at the sanitarium that he’s checked himself into. This framing device made me, the audience, feel even more eager to meet Mr. Gatsby, especially to find out just what made Nick so enamored by this character and just what the heck happened that Summer of 1922.

To say the parties at the Gatsby are wildly lavish is a giant understatement. I’ve never seen anything like it, even from Baz himself. Most of the guests aren’t even invited but the booze, confetti and fireworks are never in short supply in this loud and crazy carnival-like soiree. I feel like I was living vicariously though Nick as he tries to wiggle through the crowd to find the elusive host. I quite like the way Gatsby was introduced, as there’s been a pretty effective built-up until that moment.

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Just like Gatsby’s party, the film has the undeniably power to enthrall and mesmerize with its opulent extravagance, but at the same time it’s so overwhelming and even headache-inducing. I know I expected the ‘more-is-more’ style from Baz, but he seems to have upped the ante with this one. Perhaps Baz is trying to illustrate just how huge a contrast is between the festive and seemingly-blissful exterior of Gatsby’s life with that of his inner turmoil. The bigger the parties, the emptier Gatsby life is. They say money doesn’t buy happiness. Well, it’s never rings truer than in Gatsby’s life.

The quiet(er) moments in this film come few and far in between, but even when they arrive, I still haven’t quite recovered from the dizzying fracas. One of those moments is when Gatsby is with his lost love Daisy, whom he fell for five years ago and the one he’s been trying to win back ever since. Their reunion scene is actually one of the highlights for me just because it’s so hilarious. Perhaps the lightest segment of the whole film, as the film turns progressively darker. That scene is also one of the most revealing of Gatsby’s character, as beneath of that massive success and wealth, he is such a broken man with such a huge insecurity complex and almost paralyzing self-doubt. At the same time, Gatsby is a man of hope, which is something that Nick admires but also cautions him for.

Carraway: “You can’t repeat the past.”
Gatsby: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

There is a fine line between hope and delusion, and Gatsby hasn’t the faintest clue where to draw it. But it’s obvious that his “hope” is more of an illusion. And so is the romance between him and Daisy. Is he in love with Daisy the woman or the idea of being with her? Unlike the romance in Moulin Rouge! where I really feel the heart-wrenching connection between Christian and Satine, I don’t quite feel that with Gatsby and Daisy. Whether that’s intentional or not I don’t know, but I think that becomes a detriment to the story for me as beneath all that longing look and love-struck poetry, mislaid a beating heart. Therein lies the crux of this film adaptation. Perhaps it’s an inherent problem that is least likely to be overcome by most filmmakers, least of whom Baz Luhrmann.

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It’s not entirely vapid however, I actually think the bromance (if you want to even call it that) between Gatsby and Carraway speaks to me more than the doomed romance. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire – who are apparently BFFs in real life – have an effortless chemistry and their mutual fondness and respect is palpable. Which brings me to the performances. The scene of just the two of them in the opulent but desolate Gatsby estate is the most heart-wrenching.

I think DiCaprio is quite convincing as Gatsby, I think he embodies the character well and does what he could with the material given. I can’t help but being reminded of his other roles such as in Titanic, Romeo + Juliet and also as Howard Hughes in The Aviator during one particularly intense scene. I think Leo is a talented actor but not exactly a chameleon. Maguire is perfectly cast as Carraway, he definitely projects that naive, Midwestern sensibility and warmth that’s perfect for the role. Now, Carey Mulligan who has impressed me in other roles is pretty good as Daisy, but she doesn’t quite jump off the screen as I expected. I mean she’s believable as someone Gatsby would fall head over heels in love with, but she just isn’t as memorable here somehow.

Clockwise from top left: Edgerton, Debicki, Bachchan, Fisher & Clarke
Clockwise from top left: Edgerton, Debicki, Bachchan, Fisher & Clarke

On the other hand, Elizabeth Debicki as the amateur golfer Jordan Baker might prove to be the Aussie actress’ breakthrough role. Fellow Aussies Joel Edgerton and Jason Clarke (who were both in Zero Dark Thirty, but the length of screen time is reversed as Clarke has a smaller role here) also turned in memorable supporting turn, as well as yet another Aussie Isla Fisher. It’s inspired casting to have veteran Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan as the Jewish businessman (most likely a kingpin) and gambler Meyer Wolfshiem. He definitely made an impression despite his short screen time.

Visually speaking, this is definitely a feast for the eyes. Baz is no stranger to creating a fantastical escapist entertainment with spectacular set design, beautiful costumes, and cinematography. Baz’s own wife and frequent collaborator Catherine Martin won an Oscar for Best Art Direction for Moulin Rouge! and she might nab some nominations for this one as well. Now despite my initial quibble about the 3D format, this one turns out to be one of the most effective use of 3D since Martin Scorsese’s HUGO. I still don’t think it’s actually necessary but at least Baz was able to do something innovative with it.

Final Thoughts: I was entertained and even enthralled by the visual spectacle and the music (especially Lana Del Rey‘s lush ballad Young & Beautiful), but ultimately, there’s not much emotional depth to really leave its mark. Whatever poignancy and real pathos in Fitzgerald’s novel is dimmed out by all that glitter, leaving the audience wanting more. “Oh, you want too much!” Daisy cried to Gatsby during one particularly heated exchange. Well, I don’t think we are asking too much as the audience to want more than a snack for our soul to go with all that visual feast.

Three and a half stars out of Five
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What are your thoughts of The Great Gatsby? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Five new-to-me actors I’d love to see more of – based on 2012 viewings

One of the joys of watching movies is discovering new talents. The movies they appear in aren’t always great, but the actors’ screen charisma and/or performances are memorable and you see their potential. This is kind of a variation of favorite performances list, such as what Keith is doing with his Top 5 of various lead and supporting performances (like this one). But for this post, I’d like to focus on those I either wasn’t aware of prior to 2012, or that I haven’t seen them act until last year. Some of these actors have been working steadily and relatively well-known to some, but they were ‘obscure’ to me until recently. Thus I’m excluding actors like Richard Armitage, Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie and Jim Sturgess who all impressed me last year, but I have been familiar with them for some time.

In any case, based on my 2012 viewings (not exclusive to 2012 movies) , here are five new-to-me actors I’d like to see working more in Hollywood.

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[In alphabetical order]

Jason Clarke

JasonClarkeThe first time I saw this 43-year-old Australian actor was in Public Enemies as ‘Red’ Hamilton, John Dillinger’s partner in crime. I wasn’t impressed with the film but I sort of remembered Clarke’s role. He apparently was in the lead role of the now-defunct police procedural show The Chicago Code on FOX. I haven’t seen Lawless yet, but he played one of the three Bondurant brothers with Shia La Beouf and Tom Hardy. But he surely made his mark in Zero Dark Thirty. It’s not a big role but he’s certainly memorable. It could’ve easily been a simple thug or bully type of roles, but there’s a certain sensitivity in Clarke’s performance that somehow made him a sympathetic character. His flawless American accent certainly proves his versatility, so I hope to see more of him getting more prominent roles. I’m excited to see him in the upcoming William Monaghan’s directorial debut Mojave.

Mark Duplass

MarkDuplassI finally caught Safety Not Guaranteed and loved it. It was a surprisingly heartfelt comedy filled with quirky but likable characters. One of those characters is Kenneth, a man who placed an classified ad for a time-travel partner. I can’t help but being drawn to Ken despite (or because of) his eccentricities, just like Aubrey Plaza’s character did. He’s currently working on a couple of TV shows, I should check out The League, a semi-scripted comedy about a fantasy football league that my pal Ted told me about.

Apparently Duplass (who often collaborates with his brother Jay) is sort of a triple-threat, he has been writing, directing and producing a few indie projects and shorts, so now that he’s acting, I guess he’s more of a quadruple-threat. He also has a small part in Zero Dark Thirty which unsurprisingly offers a bit of comic relief. I could see him doing serious roles, too. He has a naturally affable presence but there’s a certain unpredictable quality about him that makes me think he could effectively play an antagonist.

Chris O’Dowd

ChrisODowdAs you probably already know, I adore The Sapphires. It’s my favorite movie at last year’s TCFF and I had a bit of a crush on him. Not a full-blown crush, just a smidgen, but I think he’s just so lovable and sweet in that role… a sensitive rebel with a big heart. I have yet to see Bridesmaids and no way in heck am I watching HBO’s Girls just to see him, so I hope this tall Irish actor gets busier in Hollywood.

I’m excited to see his two upcoming comedy dramas, one is called Hippie Hippie Shake with Cillian Murphy and a bunch of British actors, and the other called Calvary with Brendan Gleeson, directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of In Bruges‘ Martin McDonaugh).
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Tomer Sisley

TomerSisleyThis is perhaps the most obscure of the bunch as I don’t think his movie The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch was released here in the US. I quite enjoyed the movie, it was a pretty enjoyable action thriller and this German-born actor is fun to watch. He’s actually of Russian and Yemenite origin, but has been living in France since he was 9 so he speaks four languages: French, English, German and Hebrew, wow! He’s certainly easy on the eyes and has the athleticism to could pull off all the action stunts. Then I found out he was a stand-up comic as well. He’s probably quite well-known in France and he’s got a few French movies in the works, hopefully some Hollywood casting agent would notice him soon enough.
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Benjamin Walker

BenWalkerYes, I was one of those few people who was entertained by Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter. Walker is no Daniel Day Lewis but I thought he’s quite charismatic and has the talents and screen presence as a leading man. It’s not the first time he played a US president as he was cast in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Like Sisley, he’s also got a funny bone as he did his first performing experience at the Juilliard School in New York as a stand-up comedian. I could totally see him do comedy, he shows some of that in Vampire Hunter, I think he’d be awesome. I’m surprised he hasn’t been cast yet as Liam Neeson’s son in one of his action flicks, I mean this 6’3″ actor looks so much like him!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to his next film with one of my current crushes, Henry Cavill in The Great Wall.
 

Honorable Mention:

Oscar Isaac

OscarIsaacThough he only had a tiny role in Bourne Legacy, I quite like this Guatemala-born actor and I wish he had a bigger part. Heck, he’d even make a good leading man if the producers don’t mind a non-white actor in that role. I realized later on that he played Prince John in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. He’s not only talented, but like Mark Strong, he’s also got one of those faces which enables him to play roles of various ethnic groups. Looks like he’s getting a lot of roles already, yay! He’s got at least four movies out later this year, including the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis with Carey Mulligan and Mojave with Jason Clarke. Looking forward to both of those!


Thoughts on any of these actors? Are you a fan of their work?

FlixChatter Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Apart from perhaps Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s films are often a one-time-viewing-only for me and this one is no exception. It’s not a dis mind you, it’s just that the subject matter she picks are usually so difficult to watch.

The beginning of the film took us back to September 11, 2001. With nothing appearing on screen, we hear the tape of the air controller and 911 operators responding to the people in the twin towers. It was an efficient way to remind us what’s really at stake in the investigations that take place two years later. A CIA officer named Maya has just been brought to the black site where an ongoing interrogation of an alleged terrorist takes place. It’s during the first 20 minutes of the torture and humiliation scenes, including waterboarding, that’s become the subject of tons of controversies. Kathryn Bigelow has since defended her film, saying that “…depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices.” Well said, I’d say.

This film definitely challenges us to ponder on various moral issues and as a viewer I was put into a roller coaster ride as all kinds of raw emotions run through me. At the center of it all, we have a relentless protagonist Maya, who’s become obsessed with this manhunt. What started out as an assignment straight out being recruited out of high school, her hunt for Bin Laden (nicknamed ‘UBL’ by her colleagues) quickly became a personal vendetta.

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It plays like a documentary at times in the way it depicts true events such as the various terrorist bombings, including one that Maya herself almost become a victim of at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan. Despite its claim that it was based on true events though, of course it’s still a movie so creative liberties are obviously taken. As a thriller, it definitely works. Despite the 157-minute running time, Bigelow’s direction based on Mark Boal’s script managed to keep my attention throughout. There’s not a boring moment as even the slower moments are packed with tension. There’s also some humorous moments such as when Maya relentlessly writes on the glass window of her CIA boss how many days its been since she gave out her intel but nothing has been done about it. She also delivered the most bad-ass lines to Leon Panetta (played by Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini) when he asked who she was during a meeting discussing Bin Laden’s compound.

“I’m the motherf***** who found this place, sir!”

I don’t like to cuss but that is one heck of an awesome line delivered in such deadpan perfection by Jessica Chastain. She gave a credible performance in the role. Maya’s reserved, even aloof at times, but she’s definitely a fighter and she stops at nothing to get the job done. There’s a powerful scene where she tells her boss Joseph Bradley a piece of her mind, it was a ‘you go girl’ moment and Chastain nailed it.The supporting cast delivered a solid performance as well, most notably Jason Clarke (an Aussie who always play Americans), Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong. Joel Edgerton plays one of the SEALS Team Six that appeared in the last 40 minutes of the actual raid in the compound in Abbottabad.

I thought that the whole sequence was well-directed. The views from night-vision goggles and the handheld camera movements offer quick cuts in a dark environment, but thankfully it didn’t make me feel nauseous watching it. I’m also glad that Bigelow didn’t over-dramatize the actual killing of Bin Laden with excessive slo-mo, what have you. Though we know how the end plays out, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish.

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The end of such an exhilarating, dangerous, and not to mention expensive operation ends with a solemn moment of Maya alone on an airplane as she leaves the military base. It’s the right kind of sentiment I’d expect someone in her position would have. She’s spent years at the agency to finally get to this moment, to bring justice a man who has killed thousands of innocent victims. But yet, there’s no self-congratulatory cheer, no high-fives with the troops… it’s not a moment of celebration. It was such a relief for me that the whole ordeal is over and I had only been watching it for 2.5 hours, I can’t begin to imagine how the real ‘Maya’ must have felt.

As I said in my Oscar nominations reaction, I think Bigelow was snubbed and now I’m even more convinced of it. It was a well-crafted film all around, the non-flashy, no non-sense directing style works for this subject matter, and acting-wise it was top notch. The whole film was enhanced by the terrific score Alexander Desplat. It’s minimalistic but definitely effective in setting the mood. A riveting film that certainly leaves much to ponder about for days to come.

4.5 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it.