FlixChatter Review – DARK PHOENIX (2019)


Written & Directed by: Simon Kinberg

Let me preface this review by saying I’m not an X-Men fan. That’s not to say I dislike the franchise; I just never got into it. I saw the first three movies when I was in middle and high school and liked them well enough, but I never read the comics or watched the cartoons as a kid, and I haven’t seen the newer movies. Most of what I have gleaned about the franchise beyond that is from video essayist Lindsay Ellis’s “Loose Canon” series on YouTube. That said, a film adaptation of another media should be able to stand on its own for an audience that might be less familiar with its source material. Does Dark Phoenix manage this? Not really.

In Dark Phoenix, the telepathic and telekinetic mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs what appears to be a solar flare during an outer space rescue mission. But whatever is now inside her is enhancing her already frighteningly strong powers, and she soon begins to lose control. She is pulled between her friends and colleagues who want to help her (James McAvoy’s Professor Charles Xavier, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique, Tye Sheridan’s Scott Summers/Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp’s Orono Munroe/Storm, Evan Peters’s Peter Maximo/Quicksilver, and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler), those who want to kill her (Michael Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy/Beast), and a dying race of aliens who want to use her, led by a being named Vuk (Jessica Chastain).

For a movie called Dark Phoenix, there’s surprisingly little focus on the eponymous mutant. There’s plenty of discussion and fighting among the people around her, but most of Jean Grey’s scenes are limited to her looking anxious, crying, or destroying everything–not a great use of a complex and interesting character played by an incredibly talented actress. Honestly, most of the talent in this movie feels so wasted.

The cast is incredible, but it feels like they’re giving maybe 70% at most, which might be because of how cheesy and predictable the dialogue is (including gems like “You want to fix me.” “I don’t need to fix you. Because you’re not broken,” “Your emotions make you weak.” “You’re wrong. My emotions make me strong,” and an extra melodramatic “NO!” exclaimed by Cyclops toward the end of the movie that made me laugh out loud). Maybe the cast just wasn’t feeling the script (which I can absolutely sympathize with). Maybe they just received some really weird direction. Either way, the acting is forgettable at best and cringe-worthy at worst.

Not everything about the movie is awful. The CGI is gorgeous, especially in some moments between Jean and Vuk toward the end. There are some decent action scenes. And while Sophie Turner is given a disappointingly small amount to work with, the scene at her childhood home (SPOILER – highlight to read) confronting her father (whom she believed to be dead) is both heartbreaking and nerve-wracking, thanks to some stellar acting and directing. But these few things aren’t enough to make Dark Phoenix a good movie.

If you’re a hardcore X-Men fan, maybe you’ll appreciate this movie more than I did. If you like cool CGI and fight scenes, maybe you’ll enjoy yourself. But I would advise saving your money and waiting for this one to hit Netflix if you want to see it.

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Have you seen Dark Phoenix? Well, what did you think? 

Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Leave No Trace’ review + interview w/ writer/director Debra Granik

It’s been a few months since I had the privilege to interview Debra Granik. I’m posting this today to coincide with the Twin Cities release of her latest film, Leave No Trace, tomorrow (July 6).

Thank you Minneapolis-St.Paul International Film Festival for the amazing opportunity to chat with the Oscar-nominated writer/director (forWinter’s Bone), at the MSPIFF office no less. It’s so inspiring to speak to a filmmaker who’s all about the craft of filmmaking and lives ‘off the grid’ from the Hollywood’s hustle and bustle. It’s no surprise that her film deals with the subject of living ‘off the grid,’ as she described the characters as ‘non-conformist.’

A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living in an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.

My review:

I saw this film about three months ago and it still stayed with me. As I was writing my review, it made me wish someone like Debra Granik would make more films. Leave No Trace is a film that could potentially be done in a sensationalistic way but she opted for a understated-but-effective narrative approach. Nearly a decade since her Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone, her latest narrative feature tells the story of a young girl Tom (Thomasin Mckenzie) and her war-vet father Wil (Ben Foster). The two live off the grid, led by Will’s PTSD, which has rendered him incapable of rejoining civilian life. Instead they spend their days in the wilderness, practicing survivalist skills and keeping away from the crowds.

Yes it’s slow-burn but oh it’s so worth the journey. It’s also a very quiet film, reveling in its quiet grace of the wilderness around them. The main characters barely speak but yet their scenes speak volumes and emotionally evocative. It’s not a manipulative emotion, if you will, but raw emotional beats that linger long after you watch it. The performances are remarkable. Foster is a proven talented actor but it’s newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who blew me away. We’ve seen many father/daughter narratives but here it’s explored in an unusual way. I was quite taken aback by how things unfolds and the coming-of-age storyline is brought to life in a convincing and unpredictable way.

In my interview below, filmmaker Debra Granik (who wrote the script with Anne Rosellini) said she doesn’t want to judge her characters, that is Wil’s nonconformity. Instead she wants her film to ask questions about why he does what he does and the consequence of such behavior. It’s an evocative film that really allows you to immerse yourself in the characters, and analyze your own lives. It may not be a ‘fun’ film per se, but the emotional resonance is what I love about independent cinema. Truly a respite from the endless blockbuster offerings we’re overloaded with these days.


At the time of the interview of mid April, there was swirling news of the battle between the streaming giant Netflix and Cannes Film Festival organizers. You can read this Vox.com article that explains the controversy in details, which resulted in Cannes banning films with Netflix distribution to play in any section of this year’s festival. I can’t help asking Debra how she feels about that.

Ruth: Firstly, I’m glad that your film’s going to get [limited] distribution from BLEECHER STREET. I’m always glad when films get theatrical release. Considering the Netflix/Cannes battle going on now, what are your thoughts about the whole film distribution controversy?

Debra: Since I just came from the theatre [for picture/sound check before her film screening that night], I’d love for the communal film viewing experience not to get extinct. I’d like to ask for peaceful coexistence… why does one has to stamp out the other. Why does a certain corporate model have to disavow or negate this new attempt in the digital era? Some people say ‘oh we want to resist technology’ but part of it is ambition right? I mean we’ve accepted 90% of it [the new corporate model], why not keep 10% of something from the past?

But the other question from the filmmakers perspective is… why shoot a wide shot if you’re never going to see it on a wide screen. It doesn’t mean every movie can be on the big screen, and not every film needs to be. But I believe there’s power in wide distribution, especially in documentaries that have cultural changing material in it for example. I don’t think streaming should stomp on exhibition, I don’t think exhibitors should be bullied.

R: Now, transitioning to your film. You adapted the Leave No Trace script from Peter Rock’s My Abandonment novel. What drew you to that story?

D: There were many things, but the environment in which it was told was a huge draw for me. It’s very compelling to me. That area in Oregon has a very distinct geography and climate. It’s the largest temperate rainforests that stretches from the Pacific coast all the way to California, so it’s a really important piece of the planet’s geology. So there’s this magnificent part of the continent and there’s this story about forrest dwellers. In fact there are long tradition of forest dwelling among veterans, there’s a legacy of that from the previous wars.

I was interested in the idea of nonconforming people. Especially in the digital era, what does it mean to just actually withdraw from digital connectivity. What happens if you live even one kilometers away from it? What if you think your own thoughts, it’s a big theme in the film. I love that’s the main concern of the protagonist father in the film…how will we maintain our lives when we think our own thoughts? I love that he’s trying to relay that to his daughter. Plus I’ve always enjoyed stories about fully-fledged female protagonists, so stories involving young women in it always draw my attention.

R: That’s a great segue to my next question. You discovered Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone (where she nabbed her first Best Actress Oscar nomination at the age of 20). Now you’ve discovered another great young female talent, Thomasin McKenzie. How did you find her and know she’s right for the part?

D: Well she auditioned. I did not know Tom. She’s a New Zealander and she lives in Wellington. She’s really interested in working in film, that’s her passion. She had some people who were helping her find work and they gave her the script. She responded very strongly to it, then she took the initiative and read the novel. So our initial discussion was very rich. It’s very different than just showing up to an audition where someone told you to show up at such and such time. She had wrapped her mind around the story. I knew right away she’d be very motivated to investigate the role and learn a lot of things, she’s a very un-jaded individual.

And when you’re working with young talents, you’re concerned how they’ll get support from their family. Well, her parents were remarkable. They were supportive and allowed her to travel with a friend of the family, a legal guardian, which made it so conducive to the filmmaking process. They had worked with her a lot, I mean discuss the book with her and everything.

I was interested in the idea of nonconforming people. Especially in the digital era, what does it mean to just actually withdraw from digital connectivity. What happens if you live even one kilometers away from it? What if you think your own thoughts, it’s a big theme in the film.

R: She also has a great chemistry with Ben Foster. Was he cast prior to Thomasin?

D: Yeah, there’s a lightness to her. I think people would really enjoy their relationship in the movie.

I think Ben and Thomasin were cast almost the same time. Of course in the traditional financing sense, the adult lead actor should be someone who’s ‘investible’ … someone who can be an anchor for the film, in terms of story and marketability.

R: What would you say is the main themes you want audience to come away with? I read some reviews that comment about the parenting style of Ben’s character, some say it’s a coming-of-age story.

D: I definitely didn’t intend this to be a commentary about parenting. It’s not something I’m interested in people coming away with. This is not about finding nonconforming Americans and judging them. To me, I want people to ask questions. For any work I create, I want to open a dialog. Why is he doing that? What is it about post-traumatic stress… what happens to soldiers many years after the war when they feel alienated. When the society they come from no longer offer them things they can navigate. Or the digital era comes into play and what would happen if you simply don’t want to be a part of it? I love to ask the question about kinship and loyalty. What happens if you have to diverge very distinctly from someone who loves you? How painful that would be. In fact, coming of age sometimes involves that, or you have to force yourself to emancipate because the relationship wasn’t working, it wasn’t healthy.

What has been the role of storytelling in human history? It’s to be able to ask question about how we function. Why we do what we do. The Greeks did it, every culture has done it. Those same 26 stories are in every culture. We want to know why people treat each other well, and why we don’t treat others well. Why is that? What’s going on? Why we’re so sensitive, why we get hurt so easily? Why we experience bouts of courage? Those are all those why, we’re in permanent why state.

What has been the role of storytelling in human history? It’s to be able to ask question about how we function.

R: I love thought-provoking stories that really made you analyze your own lives. Now, it’s been nearly a decade since Winter’s Bone (2010) and this is your first narrative feature since then. I know you did Stray Dog documentary and a documentary series (Independent Lens). What has been the biggest challenge for you in finding projects to do next? Or are you really picky?

D: I am picky. I have read stuff that don’t interest me and I’ve also been in meetings or get involved extensively in a certain project, but then the way they want to make it doesn’t sync up… or the nature of who might be involved feels a bit overloaded for my circuits, it would require working in a way that doesn’t interest me. Just like the character [of Ben Foster’s] maybe, I want to remain outside of the celebrity culture, the star system. Because I feel like there are stories that are told in the margin, I think we need biodiversity. I think it requires that some of us [filmmakers] remain at the margin and make our work there.

For narratives, it requires a certain amount of money, the union crews, there’s a price tag that you can calculate, right across the board on that. So narrative films does take a long time to garner that money, but for documentaries it’s a bit more immediate  to start, so I always like to have something in that world going so that I can keep working. So I can wake up at 5 in the morning and haul heavy equipment into the world and try to do my job. You don’t want to lose that part of your chops.

R: Let’s talk about the wilderness, the woods, which is almost a character in itself. I love how atmospheric it is, I could almost feel the misty air, the dampness. 

D: To work in a rainforest, it’s almost a miraculous photogeneity. You never get tired. The local crew loves their forests. They’d be like, ‘Debra you’ve got to capture this dripping moss.’ The B cameras were extraordinary, whenever they have down time they’d roll off some shots which was wonderful. The opening scenes have a lot of their photography. Our DP (Michael McDonough, who also worked on Winter’s Bone) liked to collaborate with his entire crew, he likes everyone to have their own creative moments when they can.

R: Speaking of which, we have a lot of beautiful nature here in Minnesota. Would you ever consider filming here one day?

D: Oh I would love to! I’d love to capture snow and you wouldn’t need to get a snow machine here. I would love to do a film in Minnesota, there are limitless themes to explore here. Really, there’s not a state I wouldn’t want to film on. If I could live longer I’d love to do a film in a whole bunch of them.

R: Speaking of which, we have a lot of beautiful nature here in Minnesota. Would you ever consider filming here one day?

D: Oh I would love to! I’d love to capture snow and you wouldn’t need to get a snow machine here. I would love to do a film in Minnesota, there are limitless themes to explore here. Really, there’s not a state I wouldn’t want to film on. If I could live longer I’d love to do a film in a whole bunch of them.


Thanks so much Debra for chatting with me.


LEAVE NO TRACE is currently on limited theatrical release.
It opens Friday July 6, at the Uptown Theatre.


FlixChatter Review: Passengers (2016)

passengers

Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Written By: Jon Spaihts
Runtime: 116 minutes

I heard about the premise of this one a few years ago when the project was still stuck in development hell and for some time it was meant to be a vehicle for Keanu Reeves. Well, now we’ve got two of the biggest young A-listers as leads, but what attracted me was still the premise of what could’ve been an intriguing psychological sci-fi thriller.

Well, if you have seen the trailer or tv spots, the studios pretty much marketed this as two passengers who’re stuck in a spacecraft traveling to a distant planet when they’re awakened 90 years early. Within 10 minutes of watching it, you’ll realize that isn’t quite the case. A giant asteroid hits a part of the spaceship, causing a malfunction that triggers Jim’s sleeping pod to open 90 years early. Apparently in the future we still age as we do today, so of course Jim is going to die of old age before he reaches his destination. The first 15 minutes or so are pretty entertaining when it was just Chris Pratt‘s Jim Preston all alone on the ship wondering why he’s the only one awaken on board. There are some funny moments, i.e. how it takes 50+ years for his SOS message to reach earth and the machine says ‘we apologize for the delay.’ Ha! It helps that Pratt has that aw-shucks likable charm that the film puts to good use, but he could only sustain it for so long before he’s starting to get on my nerves.

passengers_pratt

When does Jennifer Lawrence enter the picture, you ask? Well, to talk about it would spoil the premise, so I’ll discuss that later in the spoiler section. I could tell you that her character’s name is Aurora Lane. Heh, the Sleeping Beauty reference is just way on the nose it’s lazy. And is ‘Lane’ meant to be an homage to Lois Lane as Aurora is a writer? [shrug] Speaking of Lois, there is a space *walk* halfway through that evokes the flying sequence in the first Superman movie… and of course Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. In fact, Passengers made me recall so many other [read: better] sci-fi movies: 2001 Space Odyssey, Sunshine, Ex Machina, etc. but in a bad way because it could barely hold a candle to those films. Oscar-winner Lawrence herself doesn’t really get much to do in this movie. She’s pretty much reduced to a damsel in distress, one with questionable principles no less, by the end of the movie.

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I have to admit the visuals of the movie, which is basically just the set design of the spacecraft Avalon, is stunning and sleek. It’s like a pristine, futuristic mega mall, complete with state-of-the-art rooms and all kinds of amenities such as bar, dance studio, swimming pools, etc. The special effects of the pool losing its artificial gravity whilst Aurora’s swimming in it is pretty cool to watch. But it’s to be expected from a movie with a $100+ mil budget, and this movie is pretty much all style no substance. Director Morten Tyldum (whose gone Hollywood since making the Danish indie film Headhunters) seems more concerned with the actors’ physicality/physiognomy than their psychology. In a dramatic moment where Aurora’s supposed to be feeling emotionally distressed, the director shows off her svelte physique in a snazzy bathing suit that tells you nothing of what she’s feeling. Apparently Jon Spaihts‘ script was from the coveted Black List, though you wouldn’t know it from the final result.


For a movie built on the romance of the characters, there’s zero emotional resonance here. Mostly it’s because most people wouldn’t be able to easily reconcile the fact that a bored, lonely man basically does something so selfless. Obsession is NOT true love, no matter how slick Hollywood tries to package the story nor how attractive the actors they hired to sell it. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): At one point Aurora calls Jim a murderer for waking her up to keep him company, and that description is absolutely justified. There’s no denying that Jim basically stalks Aurora in her pod, then proceeds to robs her out of her future and deceives her into falling for him. No matter how you look at it, he’s a creepy dude who doesn’t deserve our sympathies, yet the filmmakers want us to root for him.

Aside from the unethical decision of the protagonist, it’s hard to root for either of them as we just barely knew them. No character development than mere superficial hints of their professions prior to their space journey. There’s also no real threat for any of the characters, even at the most dire scenario when all hell broke lose in the spaceship. Don’t even get me started with the bombastic finale. The mechanical failures in the ship feels like a cop out plot to avoid facing the morality of the story, while also conveniently give the protagonist a ‘get out of jail’ free pass. As for the rapport between the two leads, well they may seem like buddies in interviews, but there’s no chemistry between them as a couple. The hyped-up sex scene is pretty lame and I never believed them for a second as two people falling in love.

passengers_sheen

Well, I’ve described this movie in the worst possible way and I actually like it less the more I think about it. The only bright spot here is Michael Sheen as the android bartender, but he’s barely around often enough and his talents is wasted on this role. It’s also nice to see Laurence Fishburne popped up briefly, though his appearance can be considered a cameo. He did have one memorable line in the film delivered the only way he could, which only vexed me that he’s not around longer.

There’s really not much to recommend this movie. But the biggest disappointment of Passengers for me is that there’s an intriguing story here buried under studios’ meddling. It has the potential to be a haunting sci-fi that makes us ponder on our humanity, but all the thought-provoking bits gets swept under the rug [or more appropriately here, thrown out to space] in lieu of a generic space action adventure. No amount of star power can save a flawed script, pair that with studio meddling and you’ve got yourself a real cinematic misfire.


Have you seen Passengers? Well, what did you think?

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November Viewing Roundup + What I watched during my hiatus

NovRecapHello hello! Miss me? Well I’m not exactly back yet, I’m extending my hiatus probably until after Christmas. I’ve been diligently working on my script daily and I don’t want to lose momentum. I might still do a post here and there if I have time and feel like doing it, so don’t forget me 😉

Well, we’ve been watching a ton of great movies, both new releases and rewatches, thanks to the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Here they are in alphabetical order…

New Releases

  • Disney Short Films Collection
    DisneyShorts
    Worth seeing if you love Disney and short films. It’s a pretty eclectic collection and some of them you might’ve seen. The Little Matchgirl one got me bawling, it’s such a heartbreaking story. I remember seeing a stage adaptation of that as a kid and even that stayed with me for years!
  • Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
    MockingjayPart2
    This was one of the craziest press screenings ever with thousands of people, mostly teens, lining up for hours at a local IMAX theater. But the movie was so ho hum, I could barely remember anything about it now and it was so darn predictable. It just reinforced me what a terrible actor Liam Hemsworth truly is and honestly I’m bored at seeing Jennifer Lawrence‘s face, which was practically in every single scene. It still pains me to watch the late Philip Seymour Hoffman though.
  • Legend

    If I were to review this movie, it’d just be a collection of pictures of how Bond-like Tom Hardy looked in most of the scenes, well when he’s playing Reggie that is. Ron, not so much. But he’s really the reason to see it, otherwise it’s a pretty standard gangster flick.

  • Mr Holmes
    MrHolmes
  • Night Owls
    NightOwlsmovie
    A witty indie comedy/drama that takes place over a single night. The dialog is sometimes raunchy, but there’s a genuine chemistry between the two leads and the script is refreshingly honest and has a natural flow to it. Definitely worth a look. Stay tuned for my interview with writer/director Charles Hood on Wednesday!
  • Spectre
    SpectreMovie
  • Spotlight
    Spotlightmovie
    This film about the uncovering of the sexual abuse scandal by Catholic priests in Massachusetts will certainly rile you up and stay with you for days. This fine ensemble cast certainly lives up to its stellar reviews. It’s a riveting, disturbing, and emotionally-gratifying from start to finish. Terrific script and top notch cast that’s thankfully NOT wasted. Definitely one of the best investigative journalism film of all time, right up there with All the President’s Men.
  • Trumbo
    TrumboMovie

    I LOVE films about Classic Hollywood and if you’re a fan of Bryan Cranston, then it’s an absolute must-see. He’s electrifying as Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10 screenwriters who were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.

Theater

CoriolanusTomHiddleston

I had the pleasure of seeing Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus during a National Live Theater presentation at a local cinema last week. It was a powerful and mesmerizing performance from the Shakespearean actor. I wish I could’ve seen it live on stage, which would’ve been amazing to watch considering how intimate the Donmar Theatre was, it seats only 250!

TV Series

Man in the High Castle (season 1)

MITHC

I have to do a whole post on this series as I have a lot to say about this Philip K. Dick’s adaptation. But for sure Rufus Sewell is one of the highlights here, if only the producers realized that and give him more screen time in future seasons.

Rewatches

I rewatched a ton of movies this past month, which turns out to be quite an eclectic collection now that I think about it. Hey, I love the action stuff as much as the romantic love stories 😉

  • Anna Karenina
  • Batman Begins
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Cinderella
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Not Another Happy Ending

 


Movie of the Month

SpotlightPoster


Well, that’s my November update. What about you, what’s your favorite film you saw last month?

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

AshleyBanner

    MockingjayPartI

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

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

MockingjayPartI_Running

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

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

MockingjayPartI_Bunker

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

MockingjayPartI_KatnissOutfit

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

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

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

MockingjayPartI_Hoffman_Moore
Philip Seymour Hoffman with Julianne Moore

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

MockingjayPartI_Effie

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

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

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

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PostByAshley


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

Everybody’s Chattin’, X-Men: Days of Future Past mini review and Holiday Hiatus!

EverybodysChattin

Happy Weekend everyone, and to my fellow Americans, Happy Memorial Weekend!

Well, by the time you read this I’ll be on my way to Amsterdam, then Bruges and of course, Paris! So naturally I’ll be taking a blog break for the time being, but before that I’d like to share some of my favorite posts from my fellow bloggers and my quick thoughts on X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Let’s start with the reviews:

Keith and Tim reviewed Godzilla 

Mark reviewed Enemy

Brian over at Vic’s Movie Den reviewed one of my sci-fi faves District-9

Natalie, Mikey & Dan reviewed X-Men: Days of Future Past

As for the rest …

Nostra is back with another edition of Many Faces Of – this time on Clint Eastwood!

Another CinSpec Award post is up from Josh, this time the focus is on 1952

Michael highlights the opening title and song of one of the best modern noirs ever, L.A. Confidential

Sati’s Rambling Friday is here! I even enjoyed her Game of Thrones’ coverage though I don’t even watch the show. That Pedro Pascal guy needs to get more roles! I actually noticed him when he was in BBC’s Robin Hood, man there are sooo many hunks playing supporting roles on that show!

Oh and lastly, check out Ted’s entry to Katy’s BLOGBUSTED B-Movie Blogathon: Action Jackson (1988) & Dark Angel (1990).


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I’ve been wanting to see this one for ages. It’s perhaps my top 3 most-anticipated movies of the year. Well, I’m happy to report that it’s well worth the wait! In short, I loved it. I’m a big fan of the X-Men franchise, yes even the worst one (X-Men The Last Stand) is still quite watchable. I recall how excited I was when I first saw the X-Men movie trailer 14 years ago in 2000, that’s still one of my favorite superhero films to this day before the genre became so ubiquitous.

My favorite X-Men characters, Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine, are the major players in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the complicated relationship between Charles & Erik is one of the main highlights once again. What I love about the X-Men movies is the social themes of prejudice and alienation that are thought-provoking and even relevant to our world today. This film adds a layer of complexity to the story of humans vs mutants struggle with the time travel aspect. The X-Men sends Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both species.

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I’m not going to go into details about the plot on this mini review, but I just want to point out that I was a bit worried at first that the whole time travel aspect would be confusing, but it turns out to be pretty easy to follow. Despite the back and forth between multiple dimensions, somehow the pacing and transition helped me figure out just what the heck is going on. Kudos to Bryan Singer for still retaining all the things I loved about this franchise in the first place and adds an extra dose of cool factor in some of the big action moments. And most importantly, he’s able to tell a complex story in a compelling way, whilst at the same time not forgetting that this is after all a fantastical comic-book movie that ought to be escapist fun.

PeterDinklageXMenDOFPThe ensemble cast are simply awesome! The five actors that make up the major players, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart + Ian McKellen are excellent as always, and Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine is definitely much more fun to watch in an ensemble. Peter Dinklage is memorable here as well as the new cast member, but I’d have to say Evan Peters as Quicksilver was quite the scene stealer. His scenes of him in action are the most fun in the movie!

As far as superhero movies go, this one has everything that makes going to the movies so gratifying. Emotional drama and complex relationship are mixed together well with witty humor and thrilling, dynamic action. Similar to Nolan’s Batman films in some ways, it’s character & plot-driven. The dramatic tension gives a context and reason for all the action spectacle. In other words, it’s much more than just popcorn cinema that’s roaringly-loud but doesn’t really have anything to say.

I posted 40 reasons why I loved X-Men: First Class, I might do the same with this one at some point. I mentioned the soundtrack on that list and I love the score here too by John Ottman (Singer’s longtime collaborator). Can’t wait to see this one again, though I probably skip the 3D as it didn’t really add much to the experience. I think fans of the franchise might get more out of this film than those who’ve never seen any X-Men movie before. The nostalgia factor and the fact that I’m already invested in those characters adds so much to my enjoyment. That said, I think newbies might be intrigued enough by this one to check out the previous movies (well, you can just skip the Wolverine movies).

4.5 out of 5 reels

So did you enjoy X-Men: Days of Future Past? 


Adieu

See you in a couple of weeks, folks! 

2014 Oscar Nominations: The Good, the Bad and the WTF

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WOW, has it been a year already?? I felt like I was just doing this Oscar prediction thing not that long ago! Well, the stars might not have even recovered from the Golden Globes, for better or for worse. Methinks there’d be a mix of old veterans and newcomers all vying for taking the golden bald dude home.

As I’ve been doing the past couple of years, this is the fun time for movie bloggers to scrutinize the nominations to death, ahah. I actually woke up extra early so I could catch the telecast of the nomination itself, with Thor erm Chris Hemsworth making the announcement with the Academy’s president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

I didn’t make a post of my nomination predictions this year, I only tweeted who’d be nominated for Best Picture. I guessed that it’d be 8 nominations instead of 9 last year, but apparently the number ended up being the same.

So apparently I was off by one and I had guessed that Blue Jasmine would make it, instead it’s Philomena. I haven’t seen either one though, so I can’t say which one I’d prefer. The other nom I haven’t seen is Dallas Buyers Club.

Oscars2014BestPicNoms

  1. Gravity
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. American Hustle
  4. Captain Phillips
  5. Her
  6. Nebraska
  7. Dallas Buyers Club
  8. The Wolf of Wall Street
  9. Philomena

 Anyway, you can see the full nominations here. Below’s my thoughts:

The Good

  • I’m most pleased seeing Spike Jonze getting three nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Song The Moon Song, which was sung by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson in the film.


  • Happy to see Christian Bale getting a Best Actor nomination, didn’t see that coming. But it truly was an excellent performance and an Oscar-worthy role from the consistently stellar actor.
    Bale_Abdi_Oscars2014
  • Congrats to Barkhad Abdi for as close to being the Christoph Waltz of the year, he’s been nominated by pretty much every major awards out there: BAFTA, Golden Globes, SAG, and now Oscars! It’s even more impressive as this is his first EVER role in any format, as he’s never done a stage or even TV acting before. I sure wish him all the best and hope that this would NOT be the last time we see him on screen!
  • YES for The Hunt up for Best Foreign Language Film! Thank you the Academy for not overlooking that one, now if only we could get a win out of that one as well, it’d make up for not seeing Mads Mikkelsen in Best Actor category. I’d think he’s eligible even if the film is not amongst the main Best Picture noms? I don’t know, maybe an Oscar expert can enlighten me on this one?
  • Joshua with one of The Act of Killing's producers Werner Herzog
    Joshua with one of The Act of Killing’s producers Werner Herzog

    I’m thrilled to see The Act of Killing was shortlisted for Best Documentary! I remember talking to director Joshua Oppenheimer last August in my interview that he would be submitting his film to the Oscars. It’s one of my Top 10 films of 2013, and I can’t recommend it enough. Trust me, you’d never see a documentary like it before.

  • Overall I agree with pretty much ALL of the Best Actor nominations, though I haven’t seen Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club (the only one I’ve missed so far), I really think he warranted the nom and perhaps the frontrunner of the pack. Of course I’d rather see Joaquin Phoenix amongst the nom, as I for one didn’t think too highly of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Yes the physical comedy bit was hysterical but overall it’s not THAT different from other performances he did where he played an unhinged character. I think he’s done better performances in the past that might’ve merited the nom more than this one.
  • YES for Frozen in the Best Animated Feature category! It’s like last year’s Brave as my favorite animated film of the year, one I don’t mind seeing over and over again!
    Frozen_BestAnimOscars
  • I’ve seen all of the films in the Best Cinematography category except for Prisoners. Sorry Roger Deakins, I know this marks your 11th nomination, but I’d love to see Emmanuel Lubezki win this thing as his work for Gravity is absolutely superb.
  • I’m rooting for William Butler and Owen Pallett for their score for Her. I honestly didn’t think John Williams‘ work is all that great in The Book Thief , but I really respect his work as a composer so I’m not going to complain too much.

The Bad

  • As I’ve said above, I had been rooting for Joaquin Phoenix to get a nom 😦
  • EmmaThompson_SavingMrBanksOh and where is Emma Thompson?? Come on Academy! You’d rather give it to Meryl Streep for the 18th time?? Ok so she was good as the pill-popping, toxic-spewing matriarch of the Weston family in August: Osage County but there’s as much scenery-chewing in that performance than actually good acting. Thompson is more deserving to be included here! A bit of trivia here according to Josh the Oscars expert, whilst this is Meryl Streep’s 18th nomination, it would’ve been Emma Thompson’s FIRST nomination in 18 years 😦
  •  Hoyte Van Hoytema is robbed for his amazing cinematography work in Her. Seriously, it’s one of the most enchanting visual storytelling I’ve seen in a long while that enhances the story so much. I found this article talking about Hoytema’s process of capturing the right mood for Jonze’s film, “Van Hoytema used an array of glass that would allow him to capture the intimacy of the characters’ relationship, as well as the physicality of light, something the cinematographer says was integral to the character Samantha’s experiences of seeing things for the first time. I was literally in awe and mesmerized by the distinctive look of the film as I was watching it, more so than any other film nominated in this category.
  • Speaking of being robbed, seriously, where is Daniel Brühl??! Yeah I know he’s probably going to lose to Jared Leto, I mean without seeing the performance, if I were a betting woman I’d put my money on Leto. But at the very least Brühl should’ve been in the running. Even Niki Lauda himself would’ve vouched for him as he wasn’t simply imitating the F1 star with his fantastic performance. Jonah Hill‘s flashy performance is sooo overrated it’s not even funny! Heck, I’d rather see Will Forte get a nomination instead of him as he was pretty darn good in his first dramatic role in Nebraska. No scenery-chewing necessary.
  • WOW, no love at all for Lee Daniels’ The Butler?? I thought it was a solid drama, even better than Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom which I’m not surprised nor bummed it didn’t get a nomination. Hmmm, I wonder if The Weinstein Company’s snafu over the title could’ve been one of the reasons?

The WTF

I think most people who care about the Oscars are likely to care as much about who gets snubbed than those who got in. Some of them I’ve mentioned above but these list are dedicated for the dishonor of the award season. Once again, look no further than the Directing category…

  • Last year the *honors* went to Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow for being snubbed for ARGO and Zero Dark Thirty respectively. This year it’s Paul Greengrass! His excellent thriller Captain Phillips made the Best Picture list but he’s not amongst Best Director noms. Heh, good thing the American Cinema Editors recognized his work, he’s to be awarded its filmmaker of the year award on February 7 (per Variety).
    HanksGreengrass_OscarSnub
  • Speaking of the Captain, neither is Tom Hanks! I’d rather see Hanks get in than Leo personally, yes even at Joaquin Phoenix’s expense I would not have minded as much. In the same camp is Robert Redford, who everyone seems to have been praising, but I haven’t seen All Is Lost so I can’t say.
    ///
  • As for the rest of the acting snubs, according to Indiewire, Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks and Daniel Bruhl all got nods from SAG, BAFTA, the Globes and the Critics Choice. To get all four of those and still miss out on Oscar is a very rare occasion.
  • Sad to see one of my favorite songs of the year Young and Beautiful got overlooked again! It’s such a gorgeous song… here I’m putting this again though I had posted it in my Music Break post:


  • So the F1 thriller/drama RUSH was pretty much left out of the track all together. I’m not as bummed about Ron Howard not getting a nod than not seeing Daniel Brühl, as I’ve mentioned above. He’s far better than both Bradley Cooper AND Jonah Hill!
  • OscarIsaac_OscarSnubNow, I wouldn’t have put Inside Llewyn Davis amongst Best Picture nominees, but Oscar Isaac should’ve been in the running for Best Actor! He’s an incredible actor who’s proven his talents many times before and I was hoping this would’ve been his real big break! His name IS Oscar AND capable of Oscar-worthy performances, heck he should’ve won one by now!
  • Another snub for Inside Llewyn Davis is in the Best Score and Best Song category! Man, I thought the music is phenomenal, certainly my favorite part of the film aside from Isaac’s performance.
  • Lastly, I quite enjoyed American Hustle but truthfully, I don’t know if it’s THAT good to lead the nomination pack with 10 nominations (tied with the far more deserving Gravity?!) I sure hope Jennifer Lawrence won’t win Best Supporting category.

    Yes I know it’s perhaps more far-fetched than the premise of Her, but I’d have liked to see Scarlett Johansson getting a surprise nod for her amazing voice work as the OS Samantha. It’s so integral to the success of the film. But oh well, since she’s not even in the running, I’m rooting for Lupita Nyong’o. My second preference: June Squibb.


The 86th Academy Awards will air March 2 from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, it’ll be shown live on ABC.


Well, that’s my reaction to the 2014 nominations. What are your Oscars-related delights and gripes?