FlixChatter Review – IT Chapter Two (2019)

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman

It Chapter 2 takes place 27 years after the first film. When children again start mysteriously dying in Derry, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls his childhood friends (James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh, Bill Hader as Richie Tozier, Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak, and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris), to return to their hometown and finally defeat the fear-hungry entity that terrorized them in the form of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) all those years ago.

The highlight of this movie is absolutely its stellar cast. Everyone has excellent chemistry and genuinely feel like lifelong friends, especially Bill Hader and James Ransone. The actors clearly studied their younger counterparts thoroughly, because past just looking similar to them, their mannerisms mirror those of their younger counterparts incredibly well; my cousin pointed out that James McAvoy is slightly duck-footed when he walks, the same way young Bill (Jaeden Martell) is. All of the actors give impressive performances, but Bill Hader is the stand-out; while he’s as hilarious in this movie as anyone who has seen him on SNL would expect, he also gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance toward the end.

(L-R) Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan

My main complaint with this movie has to do with its length. It’s nearly three hours long, and while the first one was pretty long too-about two and a half hours-this one felt much more padded. There were several flashbacks to the kids having additional encounters with It, and while the scenes were mostly well-done, and it was nice having more screen time with the talented young actors, it felt like the filmmakers were just trying to squeeze in more scares. This is especially frustrating when the time focused on unnecessary flashbacks could have been used to flesh out parts that were mostly glazed over-Bill’s relationship with his actor wife Audra (Jess Weixler), Bev’s struggles with her abusive husband Tom (Will Beinbrink), and pretty much all of Mike’s background.

One of my main problems with the first movie was how little development they gave to Mike, and I had hoped that would change in the sequel, since he’s the only member of the friend group who stayed in Derry and is responsible for bringing them back, but he’s once again sidelined; I’m pretty sure we go nearly an hour without seeing him onscreen after the group’s reunion. Even his big scene from the book with former school bully/current psychiatric hospital escapee Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) is cut very short.

That last bit brings me to my other big complaint about the movie: there are several parts played for laughs that shouldn’t have been, especially most of the scenes with Bowers. His brief attack on Mike is handled more seriously, but the majority of his scenes, as bloody as they are, have this weird comedic tone that doesn’t mesh with this character that has been established as a genuinely intimidating figure. It’s not like this movie lacks for comedy-as scary as it is, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments-so I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt the need to inject humor into non-humorous situations.

While I have my issues with trying to pack in extra scares in this movie, I did still enjoy them. There are plenty of slow burning, suspenseful scenes, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and creative and unsettling imagery. The famous fortune cookie scene is frenetic and terrifying, Bev’s unnerving encounter with the strange old woman (Joan Gregson) in her old apartment is exquisitely tense, and there’s a moment toward the end involving young Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) that really made me shudder.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoyed It Chapter 2. It’s scary, funny, heartfelt, and well-acted. While I think the first movie is a little better (or at least more succinct), the second movie is a satisfying follow-up and a wonderful conclusion to a great horror story.

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Have you seen IT Chapter Two? Let us know what you think!

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? 

Guest Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016)

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Directed By: Niki Caro
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Runtime: 2 hr 7 minutes

The diversity of Holocaust-themed movies has increased over recent years as filmmakers try different storytelling approaches to keep alive our collective memory of what happened. One film that has divided the critics is The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016). While most of this genre uses graphic realism to confront large-scale human carnage and moral dystopia, this beautifully filmed story tells how 300 Jewish lives were saved by the owners of the Warsaw Zoo.

The film opens in 1939 with stunning photography of an idyllic existence in the charming Warsaw Zoo. Owners Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are devoted zoologists who love their animals and each other. There are many touching scenes of physical affection that portray trust and understanding across the human-animal divide. The peace is soon shattered by Nazi bombing and there are many disturbing scenes of animal destruction. Soon after the Nazis arrive, the Zoo’s best breeding specimens are sent to Berlin under Hitler’s zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). With Nazi soldiers needing housing, the Zoo is under threat but saved when Antonina obtains Heck’s support to convert it into a pig farm to feed Nazi soldiers. He becomes a frequent visitor to the Zoo and his sexual overtures towards Antonina means she must keep him charmed to save the Zoo. As the atrocities against Polish Jews escalate, Antonina and Jan hatch a plan to use garbage trucks to smuggle Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to freedom via Zoo tunnels. The story focuses on the dangers of hiding the Jews and the horror facing those who are loaded into cattle-trucks for transportation to Hitler’s Final Solution.

The critical ambivalence towards this film dwells on its aesthetic treatment of the opening scenes and what some argue is Chastain’s saintly characterisation of Antonina. While the cinematography is superb from beginning to end, it does adopt an excessively sugary style in the pre-Nazi-occupation part of the story. The opening scenes of Antonina cycling through the zoo, personally greeting the caged and free-roaming animals, smiling and waving to all of humanity, are both beautiful but incongruous for the story we know is about to unfold. From the extraordinary scenes of Antonina saving a new-born elephant in front of its distressed parents to the harrowing escape scenes, the film almost deifies the heroine for her goodness towards others. But these are directing issues rather than acting. Chastain’s performance is excellent across the range of emotions she portrays and she is a glowing beacon of light in a film that could easily have been depressingly bleak.

The Zookeepers Wife is a worthy addition to an honourable genre that includes the multi-award winning Schindler’s List (1993). It communicates the larger Holocaust narrative while keeping its carnage and dystopia off-screen. In an age of audience desensitisation, it is ironic that viewers can be emotionally touched more deeply by the death of animals than humans. This is a story of courage and triumph, told from a woman’s viewpoint, with top-tier production values in filming, acting, and narrative. It is also an important part of Polish history. Antonina and Jan were decorated as national heroes and the re-built Warsaw Zoo still stands as a legacy to their achievements.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘The Zookeper’s Wife’? Well, what did you think? 

Everybody’s Chattin + Casting News w/ Idris Elba, Jessica Chastain & Jake Gyllenhaal

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Happy Thursday, everyone! The nice thing about going to a work conference on Monday & Tuesday is the week feels shorter than it is, so tomorrow is Friday already, yay!

I got to see Jason Bourne press screening last Tuesday. I enjoyed it quite a bit though I think it falls short of the excellent trilogy. I’ll review it next week but I’m still a bit giddy for THIS scene in Vegas, whoah!

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Ok how about those links!

I’ll be seeing Suicide Squad next Tuesday, and Harley Quinn is likely going to steal every scene. Check out Margaret‘s tribute for Margot Robbie‘s character.

Jordan reviewed a new Aussie Western Goldstone

Boy I had no idea this movie even existed! Allie talks about Star Wars Holiday Special as part of Christmas-In-July blogathon

Mark and Getter‘s reviewed Independence Day: Resurgence. Not surprisingly, neither was impressed with this movie though I was surprised to learn Getter actually think Liam Hemsworth was good in it

Having just seen Jason Bourne, I totally agree with Nick that the Bourne movies are equally defined by the obligatory government antagonist. Check out the five actors he’d like to see in the role.

Steven reviewed Richard Linklater’s latest Everybody Want Some!

Let’s top it off with two awesome list posts! Alex posted his top 10 films of 2016 so far, whilst Dan posted his picks of 10 favorite French rom-coms of the 21st century.


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Life must be good to be Jessica Chastain. I love her, she’s gorgeous, talented and a bit underrated. Glad to see her continue getting roles and man does she have the best male co-stars or what! Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, Oscar Isaac… just to name a few, and now Idris!!! [yes clearly I’m green w/ envy] I’d LOVE to see her co-star with my crush du jour Sam Riley one day 😛

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Per The Playlist, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is going to have his directorial debut and he’ll also write the screenplay. His film is titled Molly’s Game and Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba have been cast as the leads!

Molly’s Game is the true story of Molly Bloom (Chastain), a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally is her criminal defense lawyer (Elba), who learns that there’s much more to Molly than the tabloids lead us to believe.

I really like the sound of this! Chastain and Elba such talented actors and it’s a role that would suit them both. No talks of romance between the two but that’s actually refreshing! Though the idea of a love scene between the two sounds pretty scorching 😉 I just hope they won’t ever hide that gorgeous face of his under a ton of makeup like they did in Thor or Star Trek Beyond.

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Now this one doesn’t seem exciting on paper as I don’t really care for video game movies. But with this cast it just could be watchable. Per Variety, Jake Gyllenhaal is producing a video game adaptation based on Ubisoft’s The Division.

Set in a dystopian New York City in the aftermath of a smallpox pandemic, the player is an agent of the Strategic Homeland Division. That agent is tasked with helping to rebuild the Division’s operations in Manhattan, investigating the nature of the outbreak and combating criminal activity in its wake.

Not sure which roles Jessica Chastain will be playing. Of course it’d be neat if Jessica is the agent and Jake plays her ally, or villain? Speaking of video game movies, we have Assassin’s Creed starring Michael Fassbender out in December and Tom Hardy’s Splinter Cell out next year. It remains to be seen if any of those would actually be worth watching.


What are your thoughts about the projects and/or casting news?

FlixChatter Review: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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It’s been almost a decade since Guillermo del Toro made a fantasy/ horror picture; Pan’s Labyrinth put his name on the map as a big time filmmaker. After two big budgeted sci-fi action films, he’s back with a smaller fantasy/horror thriller that made him famous.

Set in turn-of-the-century New York, a young ambitous woman named Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is trying to become a serious writer in the field dominated my men. She’s written novels about love and ghosts, you see Edith believes in ghosts because she saw her dead mother visited her when she’s very young. Ever since then, she can see ghosts everywhere.  CrimsonPeak3

Her written work would get turned down by publishers and some even mocked her writing. One day she met an Englishman named Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) who’s in town to try and raise money for his clay mining business from Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver) and other business men. Thomas has a sister named Lucille (Jessica Chastain) who doesn’t seem to care much for everyone in town, especially Edith. After Edith’s father rejected his business pitch, Thomas decided to romance Edith in order to get money from the family.

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Local doctor Alan (Charlie Hunnam) also tried to woo Edith but she’s clearly smitten by the new Englishman in town. After a tragic incident, Edith married Thomas and they moved back to England to stay at his old mansion. Here’s when things got worse for Edith as she’s being haunted by spirits in the mansion.

CrimsonPeak1For the first half of this movie, it felt like a period romance drama so for those looking for a spooky ghost story, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Del Toro took his time with the story and didn’t show the horror stuff until later in the movie.

Being that Del Toro is technical expert, this was one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in a long time. Kudos also go to the set and costume designers, they did such an amazing job that I felt I was in that period of time while watching the movie. Performance wise, all the actors did a fine job, no complain for me here.

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Unfortunately the script by Matthew Robbins and Del Toro was quite generic and predictable. This was the kind of story that’s been told too many times in other horror/thriller. There were no surprises or twists that you won’t see coming. Another thing I thought didn’t work were the CGI ghosts, they looked fake and not scary at all. Speaking of scary, this was supposed to be a spooky horror movie and I was not once felt scared or spooked while watching this movie.

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Despite the great cinematography, performances and set design, this movie couldn’t overcome its lack of scares and originality.

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So have you seen Crimson Peak? Well, what did you think?

 

FlixChatter Review: The Martian (2015)

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It’s a testament of a truly good film when two weeks after I saw it I’m still thinking about it fondly and can’t wait to see it again. I mentioned in this post that I had been anticipating this film for a couple of reasons, but deep down I still wished it’d be good as I like Ridley Scott. Well, glad to report that the 77-year-old British thespian certainly still got it.

If the plot makes you think of Saving Private Ryan because it involves saving Matt Damon, well you wouldn’t be wrong, but the similarities pretty much end there. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to the part when Mark Watney is left alone in Mars following an accident that made his teammates presumed he’s killed. It turns out he survives the accident but that’s only the beginning of his journey being stranded in a desolate planet. The first act pretty much contains scenes of Watney dealing with the concept of surviving on whatever resources is left on the space station, as the next Mars mission would take at least four years.

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There are similarities to Gravity and Interstellar, but I think The Martian is a heck of a lot more entertaining than both. It’s an intelligent crowd pleaser that doesn’t dumb down the audience, but it also doesn’t bog us down with scientific mumbo jumbo or bludgeon us with over-sentimentality. Even the scenes in NASA with a terrific ensemble cast doesn’t feel at all boring or obligatory and has its share of amusing and fun moments. The emotional moments throughout the film feels natural and not at all manipulative, a testament to the shrewd script by Drew Goddard and Scott’s direction.

The whole concept of an astronaut growing potatoes inside a space station certainly make for some amusing and highly entertaining scenes. Whether it’s actually possible or not doesn’t really matter, and that’s what I find about this film. I find that I don’t pick apart the science as much as I did with say Interstellar, as I was completely invested in Watney’s journey from start to finish. It helps too that the script is really focused about the ‘bring him home’ storyline and keep it frill-free from unneccessary subplots.

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As for that ensemble cast, I’ll mention those who impressed me most, starting with Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. He made him memorable even though he’s not the most interesting characters. The same could be said with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as two lead scientists tasked to help bring Watney home. Sean Bean is always great to watch but there is one particularly memorable scene involving a very famous fantasy trilogy that made his casting even more perfect. They actually have more to do in the film than Watney’s fellow team mates including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, though they are all pretty good in their roles. Donald Glover also has a brief but memorable role as a young genius astronomer who provides a key theory for the recovery mission. But the real star here is obviously Damon, who has the most screen time and most of his scenes are basically a one-man-show of him talking to the camera.

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The Martian looks phenomenal and has some breathtaking *aerial shots* by Dariusz Wolski of the red planet, shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red-colored desert. That said, it’s not a style-over-substance film, in fact, it’s a story and character-driven piece, which is what every film should be. It must have been hellish for Watney to be stuck up there on his own, but thankfully, watching him being stuck there isn’t. The survival story is more akin to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, given the humorous tone and amazing survival skills of the protagonist. This is perhaps one of my favorite roles of Matt Damon, and he’s as likable and funny as he ever as astronaut Mark Watney.

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As with any survival story, there is an element of inspiration that make you appreciate what you have on earth, from profound things like spending time with your family to seemingly-trivial things like duct tape. But the film does it in such a droll and fun way, which seems to be faithful in terms to tone to Andy Weir‘s sci-fi novel, described by one book critic as “…sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery” (per Wiki). I also love that The Martian is not dark and brooding despite the rather grim subject matter of a man being trapped alone in space. It’s also not nearly as violent as Scott’s other sci-fi film, apart from an earlier scene that definitely made me avert my eyes. This could very well be the most enjoyable theatrical experience from Ridley Scott since Gladiator, so yeah sir, we’re definitely entertained. And thanks for making another epic film that I can watch and appreciate for years to come.

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Have you seen The Martian? What did you think?

Fall Movie Spotlight: Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You’re probably wondering why I’m suddenly blogging about this film, with just two weeks before its US release (October 2). UK folks actually will get this two days sooner on Sept. 30. In all honesty, up until fairly recently, I had been mostly blasé about this film, given my disappointments with Sir Ridley Scott‘s movies lately. I even skipped The Counselor but I somehow got around to seeing Exodus despite my dread, and though I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, it still was such a letdown.

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But y’know what, the relentless campaign somehow succeeded in getting me more intrigued about this one and it seems that the reviews suggest that this could be a return to form for the 77-year-old prolific filmmaker. The Rotten Tomatoes summary said the film is “Smart, thrilling, and surprisingly funny…” hmmm, I’m most intrigued by the surprisingly funny part, esp. given the 141-min running time, a bit of humor goes a long way.

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

As for the casting, well I have to admit I was rather meh about Matt Damon casting, but perhaps because I was one of those who don’t care for his casting in Interstellar and he’s playing an astronaut yet again here. But yes I realize it’s a totally different character and I am intrigued by the MacGyver style survival story in space.

I do love the supporting cast! Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara … nice to see a trio of actresses in prominent roles. I’ve always liked Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan and Chiwetel Ejiofor, so that’s very cool too. Interesting to see Ejiofor playing an Indian character, but apparently Irrfan Khan was originally cast but had scheduling conflict. Hey, even Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie whom I like in Headhunters is here, too!

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Another piece of trivia per IMDb, Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay for the film, was also at one point set to direct, but left that role to go direct the Sinister Six film. After that, Scott read the script and jumped into the project, rather than making a Prometheus sequel (I think that’s wise). I also didn’t realize that the writer of the novel Andy Weir first published his book for free on his own site as a blog for fun. Then people asked him to put it in a downloadable form, then people asked him to put it on Amazon for Kindle download which he did at the then min price of $0.99.

So apparently this movie had the coolest premiere ever… in the International Space Station! I guess that made sense as NASA was consulted while making the film in order to get aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, with the most accuracy.

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Well I’m seeing the film later tonight, and I thought I’d post three featurettes from the film. The marketing budget for this film is pretty massive, so we’ll see if it pays off.


So are you looking forward to seeing The Martian?