Five for the Fifth: FEBRUARY 2017 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Whoa, the first month of 2017 has come and gone! Well, I actually almost forgot to do this month’s edition as I’ve been busy finishing my short film script. Well, so this February edition will be more of a reflection piece, if you will, so no First Look or new trailers. With that in mind, I’d like to pick your brains a bit to get to know you better as a cinematic blogger/reader friends!

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What single movie do you believe has had the single biggest impact on making you into a film buff and why?

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2. Thanks to SlashFilm for this awesome find of a video! When I saw this beautiful video compiled of clips from every film to have won best cinematography at the Academy Awards, from 1927 to 2015, I knew I just had to feature it here. Interesting to see the evolution of cinematography over the years… crazy that the last three years had been dominated by Emmanuel Lubezki, and yet not a single clip from Roger Deakins!! 😦

What’s your favorite(s) from this amazing cinematography collection?

3. It’s only just one month into 2017 and we’ve already lost yet another acting legend 😦 The venerable John Hurt , the gravelly-voiced British actor who garnered Oscar nominations for his roles in Midnight Express and The Elephant Man, has died at the age of 77. He’s done so many varied roles in his illustrious career, but perhaps best known for the chest-busting scene in Alien.

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The roles I remember him most are in V For Vendetta, Harry Potter, Brighton Rock, Immortals, Snowpiercer, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The quintessential character actor, he always turned in a memorable performance even in small roles.

What’s your favorite John Hurt film(s)?

4. Since my head has been buried in screenplays lately (and hopefully forever), I paid more attention to that category more than the others. Out of the ten nominations in original and adapted screenplay categories, there are four I still haven’t yet: Hell or High Water, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Women and Fences. 

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Now I personally think Loving deserved a nom, more so than La La Land. Glad to see The Lobster getting recognized, now THAT is an original idea, bizarre, heartfelt, provocative AND funny!

Which 2016 movie you think deserve an Oscar Best Screenplay nomination?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is another great blogger from Down Under, Richard from CineMuse. I love his thought-provoking and ever-so-timely question…

Given the peculiar trait in American culture that makes certain topics appropriate for public discussion only if a movie is made about them…one often feels that the Academy Awards offer opportunities for expressing political sentiments that otherwise remain repressed.

(“The Politics of the Oscars”, Jonathan Rosenbaum)

The politics surrounding the Oscars threaten its legitimacy and is triggering an existential crisis: “The widespread protest over lack of diversity among this year’s acting nominees all but drowned out the usual pre-awards frivolity, and with no-shows, boycotts and “tune-outs”, on top of already declining TV viewing figures, the Oscars was, for the first time, contemplating its own irrelevance.

(The Guardian)

It is often argued that the Oscars is the most self-aggrandising and politically-loaded ritual of the film year. The reason is that the Oscars does not know if, as the Harvard Political Review puts it, “is it to recognize art or entertainment value.”

What’s your thought on that sentiment?


Well, that’s it for the FEBRUARY edition of Five for the Fifth. Hope you’ll take part!

FlixChatter [Guest] Review: HERCULES (2014) & Spotlight on Rufus Sewell as Autolycus

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I love going to a movie when I’m really not going there to see the movie. This can only mean one thing – Rufus Sewell is once more on the big screen. He played one of Hercules’ band of mercenaries, Autolyclus, and wow, did he ever buff up for this role. He also got to shed his typecast “bad guy” role that he’s keen to be rid of. You gotta love men’s Grecian/Roman wardrobe, Ruf wears them well. Too bad I missed out on bidding for his costume on ebay. The winning bid only $1,090? I would have easily coughed up more than that  ;-D.

Rufus himself on his character, Autolycus

I promised Flixy this review would be short, but when I found this excerpt from the film’s production notes on The Rooftop where Rufus talks more about his role, that promise just went out the window:

Autolycus might lack for Hercules’ astonishing strength, but he has more than made up for it with the sharp blade of his wit, ultimately becoming Hercules’ master strategist. Rufus Sewell, the English actor recently seen in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” takes on the role of Hercules’ wisecracking friend.

“Autolycus and Hercules go way back, and they’ve got each other’s backs,” Sewell explains. “They have a kind of communication that goes beyond words. They’ve always worked together, and that’s a source of great pride to Autolycus, that he knows Hercules better than anyone else.” At the same time,

Autolycus has a cheeky side Sewell found a lot of fun. “He’s a bit of a wheeler dealer,” Sewell confesses. “He’s got a sarcastic tongue and a real sense of humor with Hercules. He not only is the brains of the operation but he’s also the one who is always thinking about the gold coinage. He does have a good heart, but he often keeps it hidden.”

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In battle, Autolycus utilizes a series of blades to his advantage – which for Sewell, meant he knew he had to start training the minute he accepted the role. “You know there’s going to be a lot of training when you have to stand next to Dwayne Johnson, and be even remotely believable as the same species,” jokes Sewell. “I did fight training, weight training and weapons training. Since we’re mercenaries, the fighting in the film is very much to the point. There isn’t a lot of fancy footwork. At the same time, what I love about the film is that it has so much humor and humanity.”
“Every set was like something out of Cecil B. DeMille, with that kind of scope,” recalls Rufus. “It makes a big difference to actors because you’re reacting to a real environment.”

More on Autolycus

Oh, and what about his acting, you say? His character is not a cliche, but one with strong emotions: sincerity to rage, matter-of-fact to tongue-in-cheek. He likes playing well-rounded characters, so I imagine this one fit the bill for him perfectly. Rufus, along with Ian McShane, provide comic relief. He does love his gold, which causes him to almost abandon the cause, but in the end he stays loyal. Favorite line from Autolyclus: “Don’t just stand there… kill someone!”

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On the Movie

And just in case you think I’m writing this only to talk up Rufus, you’re almost correct, but here’s what I actually thought about it. Since I didn’t go in with ANY expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. The plot is perfectly uncomplicated but never boring, the battle scenes weren’t “shaky” and included battle strategies that were quite unique to me, and the wide-shot aerial cinematography was sweeping and scenic and CGI didn’t seem to be overused. Hercules’ superhuman strength is illustrated by a horse and rider being tossed into the air, not by any mythical creatures.

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I don’t really go out of my way to see Dwayne Johnson flicks, but he really was perfect for this role. And boy, do I ever like his look when he’s got beard and hair. The rest of the cast fill their roles well. To hear more about the them, check out this video feature with director Brett Ratner and Dwayne:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22dlvr_hercules-featurette-uk-talent-2014-rufus-sewell-john-hurt-ian-mcshane-action-movie-hd_shortfilms

Bottom Line

I don’t go to many summer PG13 action adventure films so Hercules may be lacking for some more jaded and sophisticated movie goers (Yes, Ted S., I know who you are… you’re at the very top of this list!), but Hercules gets a solid 3.5 reels from me. And even though Flixchatter ratings only go up to five, Rufus, of course, as usual, gets a perfect 10.

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Now, what do you think of Hercules?

FlixChatter Double Review: Snowpiercer (2014)

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Ted’s Review

After last summer’s mediocre Elysium, I wasn’t that interested in seeing another sci-fi/action picture about the poor vs. the rich set in the future. Heck even after I saw the trailer, I sort of didn’t really want to see this new film from South Korean director Joon-ho Bong at all. But thanks to so many great reviews from critics, I’ve decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did. I think it’s my favorite film of 2014 so far.

The film opens with a prologue explaining what has happened to earth. A failed global-warming experiment has killed off pretty much all living things on the planet and only the few survivors are now living in a train that can travel all over the globe. In this train, there are two classes of people, the rich and the poor. The rich gets to live in the fancy front side of the train and all of the poor folks have to stay in the back. Of course the living conditions on the back of the train is horrendous. We’re introduced to two friends Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell), right away we know they’re planning to attack their oppressors and get to the front side so they can have control of the train. That’s pretty much the whole plot of the film, Curtis and his followers battles their way into each car of the train to get to the front side. The message about our current economics system gets a little heavy handed at times but I wasn’t bothered by it as much. Yeah I know the 1% is living large while the rest of us have to suffer and so on. Basically everything that Elysium did wrong, this film got it right.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but Chris Evans has starred in two of my favorite movies of the year, the other one being Captain America: Winter Soldier. I was never a fan of his before and now I think he’s grown as actor. As the lead in another action picture, he did a good job of commanding the screen, we don’t know much about Curtis until the film’s climax and the payoff worked for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Jamie Bell in anything since the dreadful Jumper, here he’s the sidekick/comic relief and I think he did alright. Tilda Swinton looked like she had a blast playing another villainous role, I would’ve liked to see more of her character in the movie though. John Hurt played a minor role as the old mentor to Curtis and the rest of the poor folks and he’s your typical father figure type. I think I’ve seen him played this kind of role so many times that I knew what to expect from his performance. Scenes stealer belongs to South Korea actor Song Kang-ho, he was recruited by Curtis and his team because he invented the train’s door security system and he’s their key to their success. For those who’ve seen Bong’s previous work, you know that Song is his go to actor and here he didn’t disappoint. Another well known actor showed up as the train inventor and main villain, I thought he was quite effective. I don’t want to mention his name since I think most people don’t know he’s in the movie and I think it’s better for people to find out for themselves.

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To me the main reason this film worked was because of Joon-ho Bong‘s direction. He was able to elevate a silly concept and made into something that kind of original and fun to watch. The film’s actually based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige. Bong co-wrote the script with Kelly Masterson (she wrote Sidney Lumet’s last film Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead), the story had me on the edge of my seat throughout and I like the fact that they didn’t chicken out and end the film in a Hollywood fashion. Bong staged some cool action set pieces, including a brawl between Curtis’ gang and the rich folks’ army and unusual shootout between Curtis and one of the villains. For anyone who’s never seen Bong’s other films, you might find his style a little weird and un-Hollywood like. I also think he pay homage to Sam Peckinpah for this film, in fact I thought had Peckinpah ever made a sci-fi picture, it would be like this one. For a film that cost less than $40mil, the visual effects looked pretty great. I can only imagine what his next film will look like if Bong gets a budget of $150-200mil.

After witnessing the atrocious Transformers 4 a couple of weeks ago, I was glad to have seen this excellent film. It’s smart, exciting and well paced. It surely will be on my top favorite films of the year, this one comes highly recommended.

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Ruth’s Review

Science fiction thriller set in post-apocalyptic world is a dime a dozen. Seems that Hollywood is quite obsessed with this sub-genre, even young adult fares are set in this dystopian future, often with a hero/heroine who’s destined to change the world. Thankfully, Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer manages to set itself apart from the pack. This is my intro into Bong’s work, and it’s also his first Hollywood film. I’ve blogged about the furor over Harvey’s Weinsteins constant meddling with the film’s cut last year, so finally, after waiting for over two years, I got to see this on the big screen.

What strikes me right away about this film is how bleak it is. Bong’s imagined future has that gritty, soiled and grimy look as we’re shown how the poor, unfortunate souls have been living the past 17 years in the tail section of a rackety train, Snowpiercer. Given that earth is now inhabitable due to a cataclysmic accident that renders everything frozen, the train has to keep running nonstop with what’s left of humanity on board. Having been oppressed for nearly two decades with no chance to escape, it’s no wonder the lower class is hellbent on revolt. It’s futuristic Les Misérables set on a train. It’s an intriguing concept surely, but that alone doesn’t always translate to an intriguing film (Ted’s mentioned Elysium and I’d also add In Time  which are more action/adventure than a true sci-fi). Snowpiercer on the other hand, has a nice balance of action and character-driven sequences, and it’s not reliant on special effects to thrill the audience.

I have to admit it’s not the most entertaining film I’ve seen, and at times it’s too violent for my taste. It’s not as graphic as I feared it would be but I still think it’s not for the faint of heart. But I appreciate Bong’s bold vision and the way that Snowpiercer doesn’t glamorize the post-apocalyptic world, which enhances its sense of realism. Despite the fantastical concept, at times it made me think how this bleak reality might not be so far-fetched after all. The geopolitical and socio-economic allegory can be in-your-face at times so I could see why some critics have called it heavy-handed. But overall the pace of the film is good and the slow moments are a welcome relief from all the brutality. I especially like Chris Evans‘ emotionally-charged monologue towards the end which gives us a glimpse into what’s really at stake for the rebels. The confined space of a train gives a heightened sense of claustrophobia that makes everything even more suspenseful. The more we learn about the world within Snowpiercer, the more we realize that nothing is what it seems. There are genuine surprises as well that keeps you on your toes. Just when you think things are calming down, Bong would suddenly pulls the rug from under us! Unlike lot of action films that are loud, bombastic but lacking genuine tension (basically what Bayhem is all about), this one gives me a real adrenaline rush.

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The international cast is full of inspired casting. Interesting to see Chris Evans in the role of the protagonist. He’s a flawed, reluctant hero, the polar opposite of Captain America, though Evans retains that sympathetic guy-next-door persona even bloody and covered in dirt the entire film. Having seen him in Puncture, I knew he’s got dramatic chops, so I hope he makes wiser role choices from now on so we can see more of what he can deliver. Tilda Swinton once again delivers her chameleonic turn as Minister Mason, a role that’s originally written as a mild-mannered man. The most memorable characters to me are the South Korean father/daughter duo played by Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both have worked with Bong before in The Host. It’s nice to see Ed Harris in a key role, he definitely makes an impact despite his brief appearance. Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer round up the solid supporting cast.

So overall Snowpiercer is definitely worth the wait, though I wouldn’t call it flawless. There’s a certain chaotic madness in Bong’s direction that’s discombobulating, and the emotional involvement with the characters just isn’t as strong as it could be. In the end they’re all still a mystery to me that keep them at a distance from the audience. But what the film does well is that it really makes us ponder on the fascinating, though-provoking ideas whilst we marvel in the visually-arresting cinematography. The contrast between the vast and bright frozen landscape outside the train window and the cramped, crowded and dark interior is striking. The music by Marco Beltrami is also pleasing to the ear and enhances the mood.

The finale is truly something to behold, and the CGI is actually used to a tremendous effect because we’re not so worn-out by it. The lack of a glorified happy-ending is also refreshing, something that would linger long after the end credits roll and inspire countless conversations afterward. If you’re a big sci-fi fan, this one is not to be missed. It’s truly a visceral experience that manages to feel original despite the tried-and-true premise we’ve seen time and again. I’m curious to see what Bong does next, hopefully this won’t be his last collaboration with Hollywood.

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What do you think of Snowpiercer?