FlixChatter Review: LUCY IN THE SKY (2019)

You may have heard about a newsworthy story back in 2007, when an a NASA astronaut drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida (roughly 900 miles) in record time to (and allegedly wearing an adult diaper the whole way) in order to confront and kidnap a fellow female NASA astronaut who was involved in a sexual relationship with a fellow male NASA astronaut, whom the first NASA astronaut was also having an affair with. To put it bluntly, NASA was entangled in an “Astronaut Love Triangle,” which put a dark stain on the seemingly perfect life of NASA astronauts and also led NASA to create its first astronaut Code of Conduct. And more importantly for this review, it led to co-writer and director Noah Hawley to come up with the screenplay for Lucy In The Sky, which is also marks the directorial debut for Hawley and is loosely based and inspired by the “Astronaut Love Triangle” from 2007.

Lucy In The Sky stars Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut who has just returned from a space mission aboard one of NASA’s now-retired space shuttles. During the opening credits, we see her outside the space shuttle, starring deeply into the atmosphere and onto the lights of the world’s cities that shine brightly from outer space. As she returns home, her husband Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) tells her that her teenaged niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) was dropped off at their house to be cared for due to her absent parents. Being childless, Lucy and Drew, both employed by NASA, are used to his as they often have to look after her. Drew is a frail soul, and can’t open jars without his wife Lucy’s help. The family is also devout Christians, giving thanks to Jesus before starting their meals. Portman delivers lines in a thick southern accent, the way a lifelong Texan would, and sports a haircut resembling professional ice skater Dorothy Hamill. Lucy has spent her entire life to be the best in school, not having an Ivy League education, and overcoming other challenges, including the type of household she was brought up in (more on that later).

After returning from the out-of-this-world mission to space, Lucy returns to daily life at NASA, running laps, doing carpool and continuing to train for her next mission. The movie’s director shows us this less-than-exciting life style by cutting the aspect ratio of the on-screen frame to a “square-ish” 4:3 from the original and glorious 2.35:1 widescreen space scenes show just minutes prior. This leads Lucy to find alternate way to fill the void of leading an exciting astronaut lifestyle so she beings to have an extramarital affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who has also had a profound experience in space and is also looking to rebound on his single lifestyle and use his newly acquired title as space astronaut to satisfy his love life. The problem is that Mark is not only involved with the married Lucy but also with another younger and more attractive single astronaut Erin Eccles (amazing actress Zazie Beetz, who is fresh off her minor and insignificant role in Joker).

While not being involved in an extramarital affair with her fellow astronaut, Lucy Cola also has to take care of her grandmother Nana Holbrook (Ellen Burstyn, who literally steals the show right under Portman and Hamm), an ailing old woman who smokes, swears a bunch and packs a pistol in her purse to boot. A typical opinionated Texas granny, Burstyn isn’t afraid to tackle this role head on, providing some much needed comedic relief while the movie screens are dragging on. “I’m back” says Lucy to her Nana. “Oh, did you go somewhere?” asks Nana, seeming unimpressed with her astronaut granddaughter’s most recent trip to space. “Up and down,” replies Lucy as she remembers her trip into outer space aboard the space shuttle. There is also somewhat of a running theme that includes a butterfly being born out of a cocoon. After her nana passes away, things are set into motion that leads Lucy to take Blue Iris on a trip across the country to intercept the astronaut pair of Goodwin and Eccles. In the end, its Lucy’s niece that saves the day and has the brightest future, having learned from her aunt that she can do something different than her deadbeat parents did – change the course of her own life.

Natalie Portman is spectacular in the title role of Lucy Cola, but she also dragged down by a slow-paced and lackluster screenplay. Even the likes of Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz and Ellen Burstyn can’t save this film from its own factual inaccuracies and over-the-top climax. While the story of an astronaut gone crazy or full of lust can seem appealing at first, the sensationalism portrayed in the film does not make it more exciting or climactic. In fact, it does the opposite – making it seem that the director just decided to tell the story as close to what may or may have not happed as possible, without exploring why Lucy snapped the way she did. Was it a desire to get back into space and retaliating at those who were trying to prevent it, or was it that she just that her desire to be the best at everything suddenly overcame her rationale and her ability to made correct decisions? Regardless of the answer, we are left to wonder what the real human experience of Lucy Cola might have been. Even the close-up scenes of Natalie Portman in space can’t make up for the overall lackluster of the film.


Have you seen Lucy In The Sky? Well, what did you think? 

Weekend Roundup: Quick review of BABY DRIVER (2017)

Happy [almost] Fourth of July weekend! It’s not really a long weekend for me as I’ll be working both Monday AND Wednesday, though the office is pretty much dead today with everyone taking a day off.

Last week was a pretty hectic one, hence I hadn’t even posted anything other than my short film update. Well, as if making movies wasn’t nerve wracking enough, I also launched a crowdfunding campaign is Kickstarter campaign last week. We had a good start but we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal.

Shout out to Paula, Shivani, Mark, and Nostra for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

This weekend I did manage to fit in a movie night… and it was a ton of fun!

Move over Guardians of the Galaxy. I think the movie w/ the best retro soundtrack this year belongs to Baby Driver. It’s also one helluva heist action flick that gets your blood pumpin’ from start to finish.

I like Edgar Wright and his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (especially Hot Fuzz!) but for some reason I haven’t been paying much attention to Baby Driver. I think I only read an article a while back when it was a hit at SXSW and then of course I was intrigued by the stellar reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) So naturally I had a high expectations going into this movie. Fortunately it didn’t disappoint!

I dig car chases!! I grew up w/ two brothers and played with matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls as a kid so I always enjoy a thrilling car chase in the movies! Man, what an opening scene!! You can watch how they made it in this featurette. That’s perhaps one of the best car chases since the first Transporter flick, but this time we’ve got a kid at the wheel with a cutesy name Baby (Ansel Elgort). Yep it’s B-A-B-Y. Hence the title.

It’s obvious Wright himself is a big fan of heist movies and crazy car chases, and it shows. He’s also got an ear for music, and music is truly the fuel for this exciting ride. You go see this for the action, but there’s also a pretty compelling story and a character worth rooting for. Elgort isn’t the most charismatic young actor but he acquits himself well here and it’s easy to root for Baby who’s had a tragic past and wants out of the crime business. He’s surrounded by a fun supporting cast: Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James as Baby’s love interest. I’d say it’s quite inspired casting, especially in regards to Jon Hamm. The romance between Lily and Ansel seems deliberately too cutesy, cheesy even, but it’s kind of sweet, too.

In a way, Baby Driver is a heist flick & coming-of-age movie in one. And that makes it refreshingly original, as we see this kid who gets picked on and taken advantage of finally breaking free and coming into his own. The rather restrained ending is quite a pleasant surprise to me given how many blockbusters seem to go for deafeningly-bombastic finale.

So if you’re in the mood for fun music, crazy action and some sweet little romance, you can’t go wrong with Baby Driver.This movie’s also got heart to go with all the cool moves. And of course, plenty of Wright’s cheeky brand of humor too.

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Have you seen ‘BABY DRIVER’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

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Absolutely Fabulous (AbFab for short) is one of the most popular British comedies in the early 90s. I’ve only watched it sporadically, but I love the wacky humor of the two champagne-loving, fashion-obsessed duo Edina/Eddie & Patsy. The comedic style is in the vein of Vicar of Dibley starring Dawn French, not surprisingly, the AbFab sitcom is based on the 1990 sketch comedy French & Saunders, the other half being Jennifer Saunders.

When I heard last year that the movie version in the works, my initial thought is how it’d translate on the big screen, especially the fact that it seems two decades too late. But y’know what, I was up for seeing the shenanigans of two BFFs Eddie (Saunders), a London PR exec, and Patsy (Joanna Lumley), a fashion magazine editor. Despite the fact that it’s inherently challenging to adapt a movie based on a half-hour sitcom, I was hopeful because Saunders wrote the script and Mandie Fletcher, who’s directed some episodes of the TV show and other British comedies, was at the helm. Unfortunately, the script just didn’t have a compelling enough story to justify this movie’s existence. It pays homage to the series, but the perhaps it’s more suitable as a one-hour holiday special.

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The script by Saunders just doesn’t have a compelling enough story to justify this movie’s existence. It’s perhaps more suitable for a one-hour holiday special. The premise of the movie revolves around the supposed demise of supermodel Kate Moss, and the movie relies on a whole bunch of celebrity cameos. Jon Hamm, Graham Norton, Stella McCartney, Jerry Hall are just some of the names I recognize. Hamm’s scene is funny but it’s already in the trailer, and the bits involving Jerry Hall is just so strange and not all all comedic. Dawn French also had a brief cameo, but I wish she had a bit more screen time. The funniest cameo for me is Rebel Wilson as the exceedingly-unhelpful flight attendant.


The two main characters are pretty much the same as in the sit-coms. They’re over-privileged, glitz-and-celebrity obsessed middle-aged women who absolutely refuse to grow up. On paper they’re hard to like but yet Saunders & Lumley have a certain eccentric charm about them that makes them so watchable. Interestingly, Eddie & Patsy’s self-delusion of grandeur and narcissism is pretty much a reflection of today’s selfie-obsessed culture. There’s some amusing moments about social media and people’s obsession with it. It’s even reflected in one of the many crazy outfits, such as the one worn by Eddie’s assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks), but the social commentary on it aren’t explored much here.

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I suppose it’s naive of me to expect some kind of depth and emotional resonance from an AbFab movie, but they could’ve deepen the characters or expand some of the themes a bit. Instead, all we get is one preposterous gag after another that produces less laughs as the movie goes on. The banter between Eddie and her responsible daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) is one of the funniest bits in the TV series because they’re such polar opposites. In this movie, Saffy is divorcee with a teenage bi-racial daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and there’s a weird joke about her ex being back in Africa that’s daft and tone deaf. The whole mother-daughter relationship between her and Lola is so half-baked and just plain awkward.

What still translates well on the big screen is the friendship between Eddie & Patsy, it’s truly the best thing about the movie. Saunders and Lumley look like they genuinely love spending time together and their rapport is both heartwarming and bizarrely-amusing. All the scenes of them being stupendously-drunk, irreverent, un-hinged self are still amusing, which is the reason why the movie is still not a complete bust. But of course that’s never enough to make a good movie, so I can’t say that I love the movie overall.

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I doubt non AbFab fans would get much out of this movie though. In fact I think they might get repulsed by all the excess and the über glamorous lifestyle and endless parties. I too find the setting in the French Riviera after the recent Nice attack quite unsettling. If you’re a big fan of the series, I suggest just wait for a rental.

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Have you seen ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Congress (2013)

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An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn’t consider.

I’ve been wanting to check this movie out of sheer curiosity. The idea of mixing animation with live-action is tricky, and I always wonder how a filmmaker would pull this off. This is from the same filmmaker who brought the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, and I must say The Congress is an ambitious and absolutely bizarre film. Whether or not the film works for you depends on how much the eccentricities bothers you, plus the structure of the film is also not straightforward to make it digestible. But the way I see it, I’m glad I saw it and the thing with certain art form is, one can still appreciate it even if we don’t fully comprehend it.

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The story is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress. In the film, Robin Wright plays a fictionalized version of herself as an aging actress and single mother of two, and her son’s hearing and eyesight are slowly deteriorating. A Hollywood mogul from Miramount (Miramax & Paramount) offered to buy the film rights of her digital image so in the future studios could make films using only CGI versions of her, provided that she’d never act again anywhere.

It’s twenty years later when her contract’s about to expire that the animated adventure came alive. At the entrance of Abrahama City, where Robin is to attend Miramount’s “Futurological Congress,” she’s given a chemical so she transform into an avatar of herself in order to enter the strict animated zone. Trippy is the word I would use here and I can’t even begin to explain what the plot is about.

TheCongressStill3In fact, when the movie’s over, I thought ‘what the heck was it that I just watched??’ Part of the film seems to be a commentary or satire on the mercenary nature of Hollywood, but other times it’s a mother-son story, and then there’s a love story between Robin and Dylan (voiced by Jon Hamm), who claims to be her animator. It’s hard to tell what it’s about, it’s really quite discombobulating as things get more colorful and more surreal. You’ll notice a bunch of famous people in the animated world, from deity, famous entertainers, sports figures, etc.

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The fact that the film somehow still retains my interest is Wright’s heartfelt performance, even in her animated format she’s always engaging and sympathetic. The supporting cast are excellent too, Harvey Keitel as Robin’s agent, Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son, and Danny Huston as the studio mogul. The most emotionally engaging moments are between Robin and Paul Giamatti who plays the kind doctor who treats her son.

The altered sense of realism is to be expected in a live-action/animation hybrid format, but messy structure of the film highlights the narrative problems. I kind of knew going in this film would not be an easy watch however, but still it can be frustrating. I think some people would have serious issues with the film, much like they would with say, Holy Motors, and I can’t say I blame them. But there are some enjoyable and funny moments, I always appreciate originality even if it’s a little on the bizarre side. I’d love to connect more with it and the characters, but overall it’s got enough going for it to warrant a recommendation from me.

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Have you seen this film? Well, what do you think?

FlixChatter Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)

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We all know Disney is capable of creating compelling stories, and Million Dollar Arm is no exception. While some may prematurely write this off as just another sports flick, they’d be missing the opportunity to see a fun, light-hearted film. Million Dollar Arm is based on a true story about two young Indian teenagers who were plucked from obscurity and thrown in to the sports spotlight.

JB (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent who once was mingling in the upper echelons of athletic society but now is struggling to sign clients and make ends meet. After losing out on a deal that would save his lifestyle and business, JB is offered a Hail Mary. Flipping between the channels, “Britain’s Got Talent” and a game of cricket catches JB’s eye. (Fun fact, the footage of BGT is of Susan Boyle’s iconic rendition of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables.) JB, initially prejudiced against the game, is flabbergasted by the bowler’s speed, even if the form is a little nontraditional. After a creative stroke of genius and with the help of an investor, Hamm strikes a deal to run a talent contest in India. The two most promising candidates will not only have the chance to win $1,000,000 but also come to America, in order to be groomed for a professional baseball tryout. Hence the name: Million Dollar Arm.

As I said, the film is primarily light-hearted, but it also touches on the poverty in India. It doesn’t do a deep dive by any means, but goes from one sweep of the Taj Mahal and wider shots to show the disparaging shacks and murky communal waters. With that said, I was thrilled the film didn’t go in the opposite direction by showing uber cheesy Bollywood stereotypes. The brief glimpses we do see of India, gives a good sense of what the culture and people are actually like. Some parts are quite humorous (“we never bribe in India, we just pay money to bypass the system”) and others are very emotionally charged. The village, where the two boys are from, has what appears to be a religious dedication/blessing ceremony. We see traditional dancing, Hindu marking and the fact that it literally takes the entire village to properly see them on their way. These themes are carried throughout the entire film.

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The two young boys, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) captured my heart. On one hand they were typical teenage boys interested in the goings on of the girl next door, but on the other hand showed maturity well beyond their years. These boys were thrown into something so far beyond their comfort level and experience, but they handled the pressure with grace. Another fun fact, we learn neither one of them like cricket and had never thrown a baseball in their entire lives!

I absolutely loved Brenda (Lake Bell), and thought she offered the perfect mix of comedic relief and concerned mother. She actually befriends the boys and learns about their struggles with not only learning American customs but also trying to perfect the techniques of baseball in only a few months’ time. We see her participating in yoga sessions and offering late night/early morning advice (she’s a night-time RN). Brenda is the moral compass of the film, while the boys are the heart and soul.

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Jon Hamm; however, I do enjoy Mad Men. I felt like his portrayal was too similar to Don Draper, and found his performance a bit distracting to watch on screen. I think someone like Aaron Eckhart may have been better suited for the role. Eckhart has proven he can play the suave jackal and redeeming father figure (think Thank You For Smoking). With that said, it was fun to watch Hamm’s character arc from selfish ladies’ man to surrogate father.

Overall, this movie does not disappoint, and offers a little something for everyone. And, as a bonus, the score and/or soundtrack was super fun. The sound was a hip hop/Bollywood fusion. Million Dollar Arm is humorous, serious and, even though it’s a true story, will have you on the edge of your seat!

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What do you think of Million Dollar Arm?