FlixChatter Review: The Lost Daughter (2021)

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The Lost Daughter marks another directorial debut from a terrific actress. Earlier this year I saw Passing from Rebecca Hall, and this time it’s Maggie Gyllenhaal behind the camera and also wrote the script based on Elena Ferrante’s novel.

Olivia Colman plays Leda, a middle-aged professor of comparative literature vacationing in a Greek island. It’s never revealed where teaches at, though she said she lives in Cambridge, near Boston which means she likely teaches at Harvard. It’s clear from the way she carries her books and papers with her to the beach that she’s devoted to her work even during her vacation. But her wish for a quiet, peaceful holiday takes a different turn when a large boisterous family descends abruptly and practically takes over the entire beach. 

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Leda doesn’t hide her annoyance, in fact, when one family member asks her to move her chair, she wouldn’t budge. The disruption ends up with Leda getting to know some of the family members, notably Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk) who’s pregnant with her first child.

The topic of motherhood is clearly a point of focus, as Leda is fascinated by Callie’s sister Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother attending to her toddler daughter, Elena. One day, Elena was playing with her doll and the next minute she went missing, leaving Nina absolutely frantic. Now, given the film’s title, one would be inclined to think that the rest of the film is about this missing daughter. Well, without spoiling it for you, it’s actually so much more than that. 

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Even before Elena goes missing, just watching Nina being with her daughter brings back memories of Leda’s past. The film starts to shift back and forth between past and present, showing young 20-something Leda juggling post-graduate school while taking care of her two young daughters. The decision she made decades ago suddenly is back to haunt her. 

I saw an interview with Gyllenhaal recently where she talks about society’s perceptions, expectations and even myth of motherhood that every mother absolutely loves being one. In many ways this film dispels the myth that motherhood is something every woman craves. It offers an honest portrayal of a mom who struggles with the responsibility that comes with raising kids, and perhaps feeling lost in the midst of it all.

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Now it doesn’t mean the film excuses all of Leda’s misbehavior though, in fact it shows the consequence of a terrible thing she did to Nina’s family, involving Elena’s beloved doll. At the same time, it also doesn’t condemn Leda for her decision even if society at large would shun her for it.

I was immediately intrigued to see this because of the three main female cast, Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley. Well all of them lives up to the hype. It’s a trifecta of terrific performances. Leda is not exactly a sympathetic character but Colman makes her relatable and human. At times she is overwhelmed by her memories as much as Nina is often bombarded by her daughter’s demands for attention. I’m so thrilled to see Colman being on the forefront of the awards race once again, her range is astounding and this is a juicy role that’s not wasted on someone so talented.

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Johnson is perfectly cast as well as a beautiful yet vulnerable young mom and the flashbacks shows some similarities between Nina and Leda’s younger self. Buckley is an actress I’ve only seen in a couple of things but she’s really impressive here. One can’t help but feel for her exasperation, likely feeling trapped by her responsibilities.

As for the notable male supporting cast, it’s always nice to see Ed Harris, especially in a rather playful role where he gets to sing and dance for a bit. Harris plays a playful innkeeper who takes a shine on Leda, though their relationship remains ambiguous. Gyllenhaal’s husband Peter Sarsgaard also has a small but memorable part as a scraggly but charming lecturer.

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The fact that Gyllenhaal is an actress herself might have aided her in getting the kind of performances needed for the story. She has a good grasp on the story and imbues the film with mysterious & unsettling tone throughout. The visuals seems too dark at times and the Grecian island doesn’t look as lush and panoramic as one would expect, but I feel that it’s perhaps intentional on DP Hélène Louvart’s part. The rather gloomy look seems to match what Leda’s experiencing.

I’m still on the fence about the ending which feels a bit anticlimactic, but I appreciate the fact the unpredictability aspect and that Gyllenhaal keeps the suspense up until the end. Yes it’s slow going at times with not much happening, but it proves to be a rewarding experience. The Lost Daughter is a bold and even defiant film that tackles a taboo subject that’s rarely depicted on screen. That alone is quite a feat and it was directed with a deft hand. It’s impressive debut by all accounts and I definitely hope Maggie Gyllenhaal keeps on directing in the future.

4/5 stars


Have you seen the latest THE LOST DAUGHTER? Let me know what you think!

Film News I’m excited about – Olivia Colman, Helen Mirren, Julia Roberts + George Clooney

It’s been a while since I actually curated recent movie/casting news that I’m excited about. I was reading one after another involving filmmaker/actors I love so I thought I’d include them here. 

Sam Mendes, Olivia Colman Team for Love Story Empire of Light

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Per THR, the Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes will be directing his own script (his first solo outing as a screenwriter), with Olivia Colman set to star in what sounds like a romantic drama. Mendes will once again be teaming up Roger Deakins in this feature project, the acclaimed cinematographer he worked with on 1917, Skyfall and Revolutionary Road.

The premise is described as a love story, “set in and around a beautiful old cinema, on the South Coast of England in the 1980s.”

Aawwww…. I absolutely LOVE the sound of Empire of Light… even the title sounds enchanting. With Deakins as the DP, surely the film would look absolutely beautiful. Nice that they’re making love, not war, this time around.

I also love seeing love stories involving women in the prime time of their lives (not gonna say older woman, as she’s only a year older than I am, and women in mid 40s are NOT old). I wonder who they’ll cast opposite Colman. I actually like the pairing of her with Rufus Sewell in The Father, though they barely shared a scene together.

 Searchlight Pictures is the studio behind this and the movie is set for a Fall 2022 release. Can’t wait!!


Helen Mirren to Play Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in ‘Golda’

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Another intriguing biopic starring one of my favorite leading ladies!! Per The Wrap, Dame Helen Mirren will play another iconic historical figure, this time it’s as Israel’s only female Prime Minister, Golda Meir.

Guy Nattiv, an Israeli director (Oscar winner for the short film Skin) will direct the film from a screenplay by Florence Foster Jenkins‘ writer Nicholas Martin. The film is called Golda and focuses on the intensely dramatic and high-stake responsibilities and decisions she faced during the Yom Kippur War.

Here’s the full synopsis:

On October 6th, 1973, under cover of darkness, on Israel’s holiest day and during the month of Ramadan, the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan began a surprise attack on the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Outnumbered and outgunned, Golda Meir confronts the immediate, clear and present danger of a ticking time bomb that she hoped never to face. Surrounded, isolated, and frustrated by the infighting of her all-male cabinet, with little hope of rescue, one woman is in a race against time to save millions of lives on both sides of the conflict.

Per the article, Nattiv was born during the Yom Kippur War, so naturally this is a personal story for him. Apparently during the final chapter of Meir’s life where this deadly surprise attack occurred, she was undergoing secret treatments for her illness. I personally am not familiar with the legendary leader, known as the Iron Lady of Israel, so I’m looking forward to seeing her story brought to life!


George Clooney & Julia Roberts re-teaming in rom-com Ticket To Paradise

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Two of my favorite rom-coms are Notting Hill and One Fine Day, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney, respectively. The two had only done the Ocean Eleven movies and a thriller called Money Monster (which I haven’t seen), so I like the idea of seeing them together in a romantic comedy!

Per Variety, director Ol Parker (the Mamma Mia movies) will direct this from a script he co-wrote with Daniel Pipski. Here’s the premise:

Clooney and Roberts will play a divorced couple that teams up and travels to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago.

I was wondering if the film will be shot on location in Bali (an island in my home country Indonesia), but apparently it will in Queensland, Australia. Obviously they have good tax incentives there from the Australian federal government and from Screen Queensland’s Production Attraction Strategy. In any case, this sounds like a fun movie!


Now, as a film as well as theatre lover, THIS is something I cannot wait to watch!! National Theatre Live brings the best of British theatre to cinema screens all over the UK and beyond and this time they’re adapting another Shakespeare classic.

The National Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet

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This stylized film of Shakespeare’s masterpiece from the National Theatre celebrates the theatrical imagination. In this contemporary retelling, a company of actors in a shuttered theater bring to life the tale of two young lovers who strive to transcend a world of violence and hate. Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley star as Shakespeare’s immortal star-crossed lovers. Check out the trailer below:

Another actor from The Crown continues to be making waves I’ve been enchanted by Josh since he played Prince Charles in The Crown. I’ve only seen Jessie in a couple of movies and she’s pretty memorable, so this is quite an intriguing pairing. I notice British actor Adrian Lester in the cast as well, love his work. Per PBS’ website, Great Performances Executive Producer David Horn is quoted as saying “During the ongoing performance shutdown in London and New York, we’re delighted to participate in this compelling hybrid of theater and film that brings an exciting contemporary perspective to one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays.” 

The production of this modern Shakespeare adaptation looks positively mesmerizing!

Romeo & Juliet Premieres Friday, April 23 at 9/8c on PBS.


Are you excited about these projects?

FlixChatter Review: The Courier (2021)


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I love spy movies, so I was immediately intrigued by The Courier which is set during the Cold War. It’s based on a true story of Greville Wynne, a middle-class businessman whose frequent travel to Eastern Europe got him recruited by CIA and MI6 as their spy. There’s a John Le Carré feel to the trailer and the fact that unlike the Bond movies, it shows the non-glamorous side of espionage. I really like A Most Wanted Man and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latter also starred Benedict Cumberbatch. This time, he plays the title role.

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It all started with a letter from Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a member of the Soviet Intelligence Agency (GRU) who was concerned for world safety as he felt his country, under Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership, was on the brink of nuclear war with the US. His intel set the motion for MI6 and CIA to join forces and recruit an unlikely spy. The idea is to get a British salesman to pose as Penkovsky’s business partner as a cover while they work to gain intel relating to Soviet missiles being transported to Cuba.

All of that sounds really intriguing on paper, even the trailer made it look really captivating and suspenseful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate to the actual movie. Even the way Wynne was recruited didn’t play out as interesting as one would expect. Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan may look the part as MI6 and CIA agent respectivelly, but they aren’t that convincing in their roles. Brosnahan in particular, seems like she hasn’t quite escaped her Marvelous Mrs. Maisel role which makes her feel out of place in this movie. The way they often blurt out highly-classified information loudly in public also feels unrealistic.

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Director Dominic Cooke, working from a script by Tom O’Connor is a theatre director and this is his sophomore feature effort. I don’t mind the slower pace and the fact that it started out slow, unfortunately it never quite gained momentum. The espionage scenes aren’t particularly gripping or suspenseful enough until the end, which feels a little too late. There’s also the undercooked drama between Wynne and his family that’s supposed to illustrate the underlying marital tension, but it all feels flat and rather emotionless.

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Now, most of the performances are actually good. While he’s done eccentric flashy roles like Sherlock and Dr. Strange, I think Cumberbatch is suitable to play the ‘everyman’ character as he does here. I’m not going to give too much away but he’s so committed in this role that he went the Christian-Bale route towards the end. His character’s transformation and sudden zeal of bravery seems to have come out of left field though. The script never really explore his motivations and his friendship with Penkovsky seems superficial in the way it was portrayed. As for Ninidse, I’ve never seen the Georgian actor in anything before, but he definitely gives a strong and empathetic performance here as Penkovsky. Rising star Jessie Buckley as Wynne’s wife also have her moments that elevate her from just being an ordinary housewife. Unfortunately, there’s a profound lack of character development, particularly in regards to Wynne that it’s hard to get fully invested in his extraordinary journey.

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I think the real issue is in the script, direction and overall aesthetic… in that order. The Cuban Missile Crisis is obviously a captivating subject matter, add the humanistic element to it and you should’ve gotten something really special. Yet, this movie is serviceable at best, with boiler-plate production design that offers the bare minimum to pass as believable. It’s quite surprising given the star power. I can’t even remember any particularly memorably shot from the film either, but overall the film feels dark and drab. I think a more capable filmmaker that’s well-suited for this genre could’ve made this much more exciting and meaningful.

Oh, and the original title is Ironbark (Penkovsky’s code name) which is much more interesting than the generic title they go with now. Well, The Courier ends up being a generic and ho-hum spy film that recall similar, much more memorable movies set during the Cold War. I’d say it’s worth a rent only if you’re a huge fan of the cast, but they’re way better in other films.


Have you seen The Courier? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: JUDY (2019)

If you have not seen Judy Garland play Dorothy Gale in in the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz than please stop reading this review now and go watch it! For everyone else, you know just how much fame and glory Judy Garland got for being the lead in the movie. But many don’t know about Garland’s last and most painful chapter in her life, just months before her death at age 47. The 2019 film Judy, directed by Rupert Goold and adapted for the big screen by screenwriter Tom Edge, is based on the Tony-nominated West End and Broadway play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. The film stars Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland and takes up back to the year 1969, when the famous singer and actress arrived in London for a five-week run of sell-out concerts while struggling to come to terms with depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.

The film starts with a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939 when she was only a teenager. She is told my MGM head Louis B. Mayer that the only thing that makes her special is her voice. He controls what she eats, when she sleeps, and practically all aspects of her life while filming The Wizard of Oz. Flash forward to 1969, Judy and her two kids Lorna and Joey are set to perform for a crowd in Los Angeles for a mere $150. After being kicked out of one hotel, Judy has no choice but to leave her children with their father Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) while she goes off to London to perform at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Shortly before she leaves, she meets Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) at a Hollywood party and he promises to come see her in London one day.

Renée Zellweger & Finn Wittrock

When she arrives in London, she is introduced to her new assistant, a proper but charismatic Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) and to concert show-runner Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) who is eager to show her off to the sold-out English crowds. Judy is less than thrilled to perform, still taking a steady diet of a pills, the same ones Louis B. Mayer had forced her to take to reduce her appetite and to help her sleep. She performs her first concert with a charming bandleader Burt (Royce Pierreson) and is greeted after the show by two fans who happen to be a middle aged gay couple. They end up going their apartment when all of the restaurants in London happen to be closed after midnight, leading one of them to make a royal mess of scrambled eggs, ones that even Judy could not fix but ends up eating anyway.

Finn Wittrock as Mickey Deans

On day, after a concert Mickey Deans surprises her in London and their instant emotional attraction to each other is evident. He promises her the world, and most importantly that she could come back to the United States with money and be with her children. They are married in London and Rosalyn and Burt gift them an insanely amusing yet dangerous display of indoor fireworks and firecrackers. We soon realize that Mickey’s promises are pretty worthless and the anxiety causes Judy to show up drunk at one her performances, as she is unable to perform and is booed off stage. Delfont is not pleased and chooses English singer and guitar player Lonnie Donegan (John Dagleish) to replace her as headliner. Devastated, Judy feels even stronger the pain of being away from her children. Sidney Luft comes to London to try to work out a custody agreement but that leads to nowhere.

Having been replaced as headliner of her own concerts, Judy begs of Donegan one last song before she departs the state, and she ends up being loved by the crowd, singing multiple songs including an absolutely breath-stopping performance of “Over the Rainbow” with the help of the crowd. I am not sure if it was Renée Zellweger’s version of the song, or the absolute sorrow that Judy Garland herself must have been feeling during that performance, but it is absolutely the moment of the movie and will probably be used in clips for her eventual run to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  Zellweger herself carries the movie quite well, even when there are slower and less important moments, but she is also aided tremendously by the brilliant supporting cast of Jessie Buckley and Finn Wittrock.

It’s hard not to be very emotional by the end of the movie, with Zellweger wearing her heart and emotions on her sleeve, and her desire to go out with the best possible performance she is able to garner. Judy Garland’s status as cultural and film star can’t be overshadowed by the final dark days of her career, but at least we can learn to be compassionate and continue to love and admire her as much as we do today. She is a true legend and this film cements that legacy. This film also may cement the legacy of Renée Zellweger, as she also deserves much the same redemption as Judy Garland deserved by the end of the movie.


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