FlixChatter Review – BOMBSHELL (2019)

Directed by: Jay Roach
Screenplay by: Charles Randolph
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow

Bombshell follows a group of female news anchors as they confront Fox CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment and attempt to dismantle the toxic atmosphere he created as head of the network. Previously they all had served as clone-like soldiers in Ailes’ army of perfectly manicured blonde newswoman army. Each was complicit in and helped to build the culture, however they are eventually forced to decide which side they will take, pursuing the truth or following the network and Ailes.

From its opening scene, our lead character addresses the camera/audience directly (in news-like fashion) breaking the 4th wall. Bombshell toys with the “uncanny valley” hypothesis. While it is trying to warm you to the main characters by bringing you into the story both literally and figuratively (giving you a behind the scenes look at the inner workings at Fox) it leaves much unexamined. This choice was made to protect the Women whose testimonies were used to create this film, as all who participated in the settlement with Fox were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Director Jay Roach also wrestles with this through his characterization of real life people he is portraying. Charlize Theron is uncanny as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell. She is well known for blending into a character and becoming unrecognizable and she once again does a stellar job as Megyn. There is a lot of empathy given to her character as she faces her many pitfalls over the course of 2016 which leads to this amazing performance. But at times it also feels a little creepy watching Charlize as Megyn.

The dichotomy of wanting to tell the story while protecting sources creates an underdeveloped narrative. The film isn’t able to fully delve into the complicated emotional nature of this subject as well as it should. Which in turn contributes to a lack of central structure throughout the film. This in no way affects how well the film is acted or how important it is to highlight these women but left me feeling like Fox was not being properñy held accountable.

Although it affected the film’s flow, I think this choice rang very true. Everyone who suffers sexual harassment suffers some silencing or minimizing of their experience. They must make a choice about how much they will share and how much backlash they can take when sharing their experience. In the end this film is very much about autonomy and commodification, selling sex as a brand, selling a candidate, as well as your identity/story, and the truth.

What Megyn Kelly did was very brave, especially in a pre-Weinstein, pre-#MeToo era. This is compounded because she is a hard working ambitious person who knew exactly what she was putting on the line by speaking up. The risk to her career and reputation was very real. There are so many moments that are so familiar, this film clearly portrays the way women have to navigate predators with power. It does a really good job of highlighting the grey areas of this morally complex issue. A person can be a mentor, a father figure, someone you respect and still act problematically. Each person ends up negotiating their limits and ultimately trying to do the right thing.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


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

FlixChatter Review: LATE NIGHT (2019)

I watched Dame Emma Thompson on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where she described this movie as a science-fiction given that her character is a late-night talk show host. Ba da bing! She definitely has a point there, a jab at the establishment she delivered rather stealthily the only way she could.

Thompson’s character, Katherine Newbury, is the only woman ever to have a long-running program on late night in a male-dominated field, just like real life. However, the award-winning late-night talk show host has been losing her mojo. In fact, her ratings is declining so much that her network threatens to replace her with a younger, more hip male host. Portrayed as a sarcastic British icon who’s notoriously principled and detached, she’s also, as her producer points out, has a reputation as a ‘woman who hates women.’ All her writers, which Katherine herself barely even knew, are all white males. Along comes Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former quality control expert from a Pennsylvania chemical plan, who’s swiftly hired to fulfill the gender diversity quota.

It’s amazing how timely this film is right now, so much so that you can’t help but cringe at some of the humorous bits. Not cringing because the jokes were bad, but because they feel so true. There’s a scene when Molly came in to an office full of guys who refuse to even give her a chair to sit on that she had to sit on trash bin. Not to mention the blatant male chauvinistic remarks and how they constantly made her feel that she doesn’t belong. I find myself astonished at how Molly seems impervious to those remarks and how she’s able to deflect those harassments. But of course in real life, it’s the kind of thing many people of color have to deal with and I for one, can definitely relate to her.

The fact that Katherine and Molly are from very different backgrounds and have led extremely different lives are played to great effect here. Naturally, culture clashes is always a potent subject for comedies, and in the right hands, they can be poignant, eye-opening as well as hilarious. Thompson is a legend on and off screen and I can’t imagine a more perfect actor for the part (apparently Kaling wrote this character specifically for her). Katherine is quite a difficult person to like at first, but then again, it’s not like she gives a hoot if you actually like her or not (so long as you watch her show), yet she made you care about her journey. Molly on the other hand, is someone you utterly sympathize with from the start, but soon you realize she doesn’t want/need your pity. She doesn’t need a savior, thank you very much. A message that’s delivered brilliantly in the ‘white savior’ bit in Katherine’s show where she basically forces herself to ‘save’ people of color in various circumstances such as hailing a cab. It’s delivered with glee but the message is utterly powerful.

The world of late-night TV feels really believable. Now, I don’t know how it actually works behind the scenes with the writers, etc. but it felt like the filmmakers spent a great deal researching it to present something that felt true. Director Nisha Ganatra keeps the flow at the right pace while balancing the funny bits with genuine emotional moments. The parts between Katherine and her husband Walter is deeply moving. John Lithgow‘s performance elevates him far above the token supportive husband role. Hugh Dancy is quite convincing as the pretty boy home-wrecker, while Reid Scott and Max Casella have some memorable scenes as two of Katherine’s writers.

Kaling and Thompson plays on the the ‘odd couple’ type that you don’t often see on screen. What an intriguing and powerful new dynamic duo who actually displays character resilience and inner strength that’s truly inspiring. It’s also refreshing to see a ‘coming of age’ story about a woman in her 60s for a change. As in real life, it’s never too late to reinvent oneself and it takes courage to admit one’s mistake and own up to it. I also appreciate the ending that offers a subtle nod to the burgeoning relationship between Molly and Scott’s character, without pandering to the fact that the leading lady wouldn’t be complete without a man in her life. We need more movies like Late Night, it proves just how satisfying AND enjoyable a movie can be when women get to be in charge of their own narrative.


Have you seen LATE NIGHT? Let me know what you think!

 

FlixChatter Review: PET SEMATARY (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

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Directed By: Trish Sie
Written By: Kay Cannon, Mike White based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Runtime: 1h 33min

I’ve had mixed feelings on the Pitch Perfect movies. As a choir nerd, I appreciate the music. As a film fan, I’ve been unimpressed with the writing, finding the plots forgettable and the comedy (with a few exceptions) underwhelming. I didn’t go into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn’t think I’d like it any better than the first two.

In Pitch Perfect 3, we see the Barden Bellas a couple years out of college, struggling to find their places outside of the world of competetive a capella. At a performance of the younger Bellas (led by Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily), the group decides to participate in the U.S.O.’s annual European musical tour and relive their glory days. Once there, they discover that they will be competing against three other musical groups for a coveted spot opening for DJ Khaled at the tour’s final performance- and, for the first time, they will be competing against musicians who use instruments.

While the third installment isn’t by any means a brilliant movie, I was still pleasantly surprised, mostly by how much the cast has improved. Individually, there are plenty of talented members, but I never felt like the girls had any real chemistry until now. They genuinely seem like a good group of friends and their quirky personalities mesh surprisingly well. While they all give solid acting performances, the stand-outs for me are Hana Mae Lee as Lilly and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lee’s delightfully weird Lilly barely has any lines, and the few she does have are barely audible, but her physical comedy is on point. Wilson’s performance in the first two movies underwhelmed me, but I think that’s more the writers’ fault than hers; the majority of her “funny” lines were about her weight, and that much one-note humor is really only good for a few trailer highlights; it’s not enough to support a whole film. However, they give her a little more to work with in this film, and it shows; while she still shines comedically, she has a few more dramatic moments that show a more serious, sincere side of her, and she handles it incredibly well.

Despite the stronger acting, however, the writing still struggles a bit in this movie. It’s unsurprising that the story centers around a singing competition again-they’re a competetive a capella group- but the way the musicians the Bellas are competing against aren’t very well-handled. At first, it seems like they’re being set up to become friends (or, at least, not enemies) with the Bellas, when the three other acts (Saddle Up, DJ Dragon Nutz, and Evermoist-led by Ruby Rose‘s Calamity) all start performing together during their riff-off against the Bellas, implying that it’s more fun to sing together than to sing against each other. However, they quickly fall into the catty, condescending competitor trope pretty quickly afterwards. The fact that, past the riff-off and the first concert, we never see them perform again, makes this tense competition lose some of its edge as well. It’s a shame, because while the Bella’s numbers are all well-done, it would have been fun to hear more of the other groups than just the couple numbers at the beginning.

There’s also this weird B-plot involving Amy and her supposedly-reformed criminal father (played by John Lithgow doing a pretty awful Australian accent) in an attempt to add a little action to the movie, and while some of it is entertaining (especially this Mission Impossible-esque scene of Amy sneaking through a yacht), it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or the series as a whole. Its inclusion kind of reminded me of the Spice World, but with less commitment to the ridiculousness. It’s a change from the other movies’ formula, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The biggest problem is that, while it feels like all of the Bellas get more equal focus than they have in the previous two, the script tries to fit in too many individual backstories and conflicts in one movie, leading to clunky exposition and shoehorned-in resolutions-some, like Anna Camp‘s Aubrey, not even wrapped up until after the credits start rolling. I admire that they’re trying to add a little more dimension to the characters, but the movie isn’t well-paced enough to do so.

Despite all of this, Pitch Perfect 3 might be my favorite of the series, thanks largely to, of course, the music. As usual, the soundtrack is as fun, pretty, and polished as the Bellas’ costumes, hair, and makeup (seriously, I want to invest in a few sparkly dresses after seeing the wardrobe in this movie). While all of the performers are capable singers, Anna Kendrick as Beca especially shines with her clear, bright tone, and is given plenty of opportunities to do so. And as talented as the Bellas are, the musical highlight for me is the “Riff-Off” mash-up with the other bands, showcasing and blending the musicians’ different styles in a creative arrangement.

If you’re not a musical fan, you may want to skip this, but if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll definitely like this one. The acting is strong, more jokes land than in the first two, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The final installment of Pitch Perfect 3 certainly ends on a high note.

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Have you seen ‘Pitch Perfect 3’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Accountant (2016)

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It’s kind of an interesting choice for Ben Affleck to do this movie in the same year as Batman V Superman. Some people call this one as an unconventional superhero movie about an autistic accountant, and it wouldn’t be wrong as there’s certainly traces of Bruce Wayne in the film protagonist, Christian Wolff. Heck even his name sounds like a superhero alter-ego, though I whisper to my hubby during the movie ‘Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be caught dead in a Ford F-150!

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From the time Christian was a boy, he’s a whiz with numbers. The movie opens with him working on a puzzle at a child psychiatric office with his parents and his younger brother. There’s constant flashback on him being taught by his military dad, and the film makes a point to contrast him with his more ‘normal’ sibling. Though he works at a small town CPA office in a nondescript strip mall, of course our protagonist is more than meets the eye. As it turns out, he’s been offering freelance services to some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. The head of the Treasury Department’s crime unit, Ray King (J.K. Simmons), has been investigating Christian for some time and with the help of his new protégé Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), he’s closing in on him.

accountant_simmons_robinson One of the most amusing moments is when Christian takes on a job with a robotics company where he meets Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), an accounting clerk who discovered a discrepancy involving millions of dollars. Naturally the accounting whiz only needs a single night 15-years worth of bookkeeping to figure out the exact sum. Kendrick’s vivacious personality is a fun contrast to Affleck’s forlorn and subdued’s character, though the supposed ‘romance’ between the two can only be described as awkward. Yes Christian is supposed to be socially impaired but the scene comes across as completely weird that it takes me out of the movie. Too bad Kendrick’s role is actually pretty small here as the movie could use a bit more of her dynamic energy.

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The concept is actually interesting but the overwrought script by Bill Dubuque (who also wrote the tedious The Judge) packed way too much into a 2-hour film. There are countless flashbacks that become repetitive real fast, especially when practically every single character gets a backstory. The scene when King talked about his encounter with Christian could’ve easily been trimmed down considerably as it threatens to grind the movie to a halt. The way Marybeth investigates Christian also plays out like an episode of Law & Order or CSI. This is the second film from Gavin O’Connor I saw, the first time being Warrior which I think is an excellent drama also involving a pair of brothers. Can’t say I’m impressed with his work here, it made me think if the film would’ve been better had Affleck himself had directed this.

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The third act is when we get Batfleck vs. Punisher, as Jon Bernthal played the head of security of the company Bat… er Christian is hellbent on taking down. Somehow it escaped me that Affleck has played Daredevil once too, so the fight scene at the end is also Daredevil vs. Punisher! Ok so as a superhero fan, the casting makes the mano a mano more amusing than it otherwise would, but the twist might actually harken memories from BVS, though it’s not quite as insipid as the ‘Martha’ fiasco. I just think it’s so on-the-nose that it took the thrill of finding out the twist and it’s actually quite cringe-worthy the more you think about it. I do like Bernthal here though, no doubt he’s great in action scenes but his character is actually not devoid of personality. At least he gets his chance to shine briefly unlike John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor whose talents are largely wasted.

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Overall I feel that this movie has a lot of potential that’s not fully realized. Just as some teachers would say to students that they’re not applying themselves, I feel the same about this movie. Despite all that clutter and sluggish pacing, there are some entertaining moments, hence my generous rating. That scene where we first see Christian in action at a farmhouse involving two hired goons is probably my favorite part in the movie. I guess I have a thing for nerdy superhero and this is practically Affleck’s version of Clark Kent. I read somewhere that Warner Bros wants to create a franchise out of this movie. Meh, that’d be so ill-advised given how incredibly bloated the superhero genre has been, and really, we already have Affleck playing a sullen, wealthy, bad-ass superhero who clearly has issues.

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Have you seen ‘The Accountant’? Well what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

As I said in my weekend roundup post, this film was such a pleasant surprise as I really wasn’t that interested in seeing it. In fact, when the trailer came out a few months ago, I quickly dismissed it, saying that it looked ridiculous and so darn obvious that the apes will go y’know, ape-sh*t if they were made to be intelligent, I mean, we’re talking about wild animals here.

But I’m glad my husband persuaded me to see this film as I ended up really enjoying it!

You’re probably already familiar with the story when man’s experiments with genetic engineering gone wrong as the intelligent apes end up embarking in a war to gain dominance in society. This latest version is an origin story of how the apes got to be ultra smart to begin with, thus a prequel to the 1968 version with Charlton Heston where humans in the Planet of the Apes have become inferior beings.

The star of the film is no doubt the Ape itself, Caesar, played by the motion-capture virtuoso, Andy Serkis. This is not the first time he played one on film, having portrayed the king of all cinematic primate, King Kong, in 2005. Caesar is raised from the time he was an infant by scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), who is working on a cure for Alzheimer at Gene Sys Corporation. By taking home baby Caesar, he defies orders from his boss to shut down the drug project after one of the apes injected with the drug wreak havoc inside the company’s headquarter.

Will’s dad Charles, who’s suffering from Alzheimer (John Lithgow) welcomes Caesar wholeheartedly and he soon became part of their family. The first act of the film shows the bond between the ultra intelligent chimpanzee growing up in the attic, treated more like a child instead of a pet, but sheltered from the outside world. The movie moves along at a proper pace, allowing us to sympathize with Caesar but there is always this unsettling atmosphere that things will eventually go awry. As you perhaps have seen in the trailer/clips, things did go wrong… and we’re treated to one of the most disturbing yet emotional scenes in the film.

The film’s mood grows more sinister as Caesar is moved to a primate shelter owned by the Landon family. Right away we’re shown that the place is no haven for these apes, and Caesar is definitely having a hard time from both his fellow apes and the mistreatment of the caretaker (Tom Felton, taking on another ‘villainous’ role after playing Draco in Harry Potter series).

From this moment on, the apes pretty much dominate the screen, led by the ever so expressive and capable Caesar. To say he steals scenes is putting it mildly, Caesar was mesmerizing and there are moments where he literally took my breath away. Those who’ve seen this film know which part I’m talking about. The apes’ eventual escape is predictable of course, but Caesar’s brilliantly calculated plan was great to watch.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an impressive movie that it kept me engaged from start to finish, there’s no slow or ho-hum second act, or unnecessary ‘fillers’… I feel that every single scene in this film is worthy to be included. The special effects are as impressive as Serkis’ affecting motion-captured performance, I’d love to see both the SFX wizards and the English actor get some nods come award season. The movie also has nice balance between fast-paced action and emotional moments throughout, even the bombastic third act still offers plenty of heart. Now, I don’t know what that say about me when I felt like rooting for the apes, but really, you can’t help it 😀

As for the um, human performances, well I have a few nitpicks, but let’s start with the positive. James Franco‘s melancholy demeanor is perfect for this role, I feel like he genuinely cares for this apes and especially Caesar, but he’s of course torn by all that’s happening. John Lithgow is wonderful as well, and his scenes with Caesar is one of the highlights of the film for me.

Now, the not-so-good. I’ve read some reviews that said Freida Pinto wasn’t given much to do than looking pretty, well I think it’s the other British actors in this movie that really wasn’t given much to do. It’s a pity to see great character actor Brian Cox being so criminally underutilized, his character lacks any real motive and he barely has any screen time. Felton also got the shorter end of the stick as the ‘bully’ with no character nuance whatsoever, the same with David Oyelowo as a one-dimensional corporate exec who’s all about the bottom line.

In any case, I still don’t think those minor quibbles derail the film in any way. I commend UK director Rupert Wyatt—a relative newcomer with only two previous feature films under his belt—for creating such a satisfying film with a ‘whoa’ kind of ending. I think that last quote by Caesar is one for the ages… man, that was a good one!

It’s inevitable there’s sequel talks already given its box office success, and the ending definitely leaves plenty of opportunities for a follow up. Well, I’m game if Wyatt is at the helm. Borrowing a term from a reviewer Jim Napier who I follow on Twitter, this movie is ‘chimptastic!’ 😀

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Well, have you seen the movie? Please share your thoughts about the movie below.