Guest Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)

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Directed By: David Frankel
Written By: Allan Loeb
Runtime: 94 minutes

After reviewing a couple unimpressive comedies last week (Office Christmas Party and Why Him?), I was ready for seeing something a little weightier, so I was excited to get the opportunity to see Collateral Beauty. I was a little nervous it would be overly-sentimental, and while I did find some problems with it, I still thought it was very well-done.

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In Collateral Beauty, advertising mogul Howard (Will Smith) writes letters to Love (Aimee, played by Keira Knightley), Time (Raffi, played by Jacob Latimore), and Death (Brigitte, played by Helen Mirren) following a family tragedy. At the same time, three of his friends and work colleagues- Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) – worry that Howard’s mental state may cost them their jobs and devise a desperate plan to prevent it from happening, all while simultaneously fighting their own personal battles. I realize this is a vague synopsis, but saying more would spoil a lot of the plot.

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While I don’t think this movie will go down as a classic, it was a solid film. It was creative and handled the subjects of loss and grief well, without being too heavy-handed. The acting was, of course, phenomenal; how could it not be with such a strong cast? The stand-outs for me were Helen Mirren, who gave a both humorous and poignant performance, and, naturally, Will Smith; he barely has any dialogue in the first half of the movie, but his facial expressions and body language alone is striking, and if he doesn’t make you cry (or get a little choked up, at the very least), you are made of stronger stuff than I am. Naomie Harris as Madeline, the leader of a support group for parents who have lost their children, was excellent as well; she was able to bring both strength to the character as well as an underlying sense of grief without being too obvious.

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I did have a couple issues with this movie. One of the twists seemed way too obvious-there were too many pregnant pauses and significant glances hinting toward it- so when it was finally revealed, it felt a little underwhelming. I also thought the plan Howard’s friends come up with to prevent them from losing their jobs was really convoluted; admittedly, it was needed to get the plot moving, but suspension of disbelief can be stretched only so far.

Overall, though, Collateral Beauty was an enjoyable movie, thanks mainly to the fantastic acting. If you’re looking for a light, heartwarming film with some tearjerker moments, check it out.

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Have you seen ‘Collateral Beauty’? Well, what did you think? 

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Mini Reviews: Hitman Agent 47 | Seeking A Friend For the End of the World | The Last Flight

I wrote some of these reviews last week, but just haven’t got around to posting ’em. I haven’t got much time to write reviews lately, as I’d rather devote my time to my script. But at the same time, I do have something to say about some of the movies I saw, so why not write about ’em, right?

So here we go:

Hitman: AGENT 47 (2015)

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I quite enjoyed this but I realize it’s an easy target for critics who probably expected too much from this video-game adaptation. It’s a popcorn action flick, something that doesn’t demand much from you intellectually, so just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. I had a low expectation but I thought the story was pretty decent and at 96-min-long, it moved along pretty swiftly.

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I quite like Hannah Ware whom I’ve never seen before. Nice to see that her character is actually the heart of the movie. Style-wise it’s got plenty, I mean you watch this kind of movie to see the high octane shoot-em-ups, so I wasn’t disappointed. Rupert Friend makes for a pretty efficient, if not wholly-charismatic killing machine, but I think he fits the role well. Zachary Quinto is pretty much playing a similar character to Sylar in the Heroes series, but he’s watchable enough. I actually like this one overall than the previous Hitman movie, so definitely NOT as horrible as critics made it out to be.

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Seeking A Friend For the End of the World (2012)

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I was mostly curious to see this for the pairing of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and on that front I enjoyed this quirky comedy/drama. As the title says, an asteroid threatens an apocalypse and a man (Carell) whose just been jilted by his wife decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart, Knightley plays the neighbor who somehow ends up tagging along.

SeekingAFriend2SeekingAFriend1 The two surprisingly have an interesting chemistry, but the movie is kind of uneven and at times I couldn’t really get into the story. Fortunately the ending is pretty sweet and it wasn’t as predictable as I had dreaded. So overall, it’s worth a look for the cast and the fact that it breaks the stereotypes in terms of casting, not just the two leads but some of the characters they meet along the way.

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The Last Flight/Le dernier vol (2009)

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This is another film I was curious about because of the pairing of the actors, Marion Cotillard and her real life partner Guillaume Canet. I LOVE Cotillard, she’s one of those actresses I’d watch in practically anything. Here she plays an aviator Marie Vallières de Beaumont who goes on a journey to find her lover after his plane disappears in the Sahara. In her quest, she encountered a French lieutenant Antoine Chauvet who loves the Tuareg people and even speak their language and has a Tuareg lover. In the course of their arduous journey, they develop feelings for each other.

TheLastFlight2 Now, the story is VERY loosely based on a real life adventure of British aviator Bill Lancaster, but they pretty much only used his name and a small part of his life for this film, the rest are fiction. I wish they had actually adapted Lancaster’s real story, it’s far more compelling and has more drama! Sometimes truth IS stranger (and more interesting) than fiction.

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This French film has gorgeous visuals of the desert landscape, filmed in Morocco. Director Karim Dridi seem to be a big fan of Lawrence of Arabia as some shots look like an homage to that David Lean classic. But the pace is s-l-o-w and the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere and a little bit of the intense pieces seem disjointed from the rest of the film. If it hadn’t been for the performance of the two leads, I might’ve turned this off halfway through. There’s a line from the film that says “I’m afraid I’ve taken you nowhere.” Well, the same could be said for the film itself. I don’t regret watching this one, but still I wish it were a lot better.

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So have you seen any of these? Let me know what you think!

Music Break: Pride & Prejudice + fave scores from Dario Marianelli

I don’t normally do a Music Break post on the weekends but I’ve been listening to the 2005 Pride & Prejudice score lately so I figure it’s as good a time as any.

A little bit about the composer…

DarioMarianelliDario Marianelli was born on June 21, 1963 in Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. He studied piano from the age of six, and also sung in a boy’s choir from that age. In his mid twenties he moved to London, where he enrolled at the National Film and Television School.

He’s worked with director Joe Wright on four films, some of which have become my favorites. Apparently he’s introduced by one of the producers of Pride & Prejudice where he and Wright hit it off straight away. One of the producers, Paul Webster, remembered the work I had done for him on The Warrior, a few years earlier. He introduced me to Joe Wright, the director of Pride & Prejudice, and we hit it off straight away. Per M Online interview, in their very first conversation they ended up talking about Beethoven early piano sonatas which became a point of reference and starting point for the score.

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

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The score for Joe Wright’s feature film debut has become one of my favorites ever, and so it’s about time I feature it here on Music Break. It’s as lush as the landscape in Derbyshire, England, as swoony-romantic as the classic love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I’d think if Jane Austen were to listen to this score, a smile would form on her face.

I had to include the score used in the helicopter-shot scene when Lizzie standing on the precipice of a large cliff, the wind blowing her hair and the sun shining down… it’s an iconic scene made even more perfect by this score.

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And of course, the dawn scene… it’s the kind of scene that just never gets old for me. I’ve seen it countless times and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lizzy and Darcy more ravishing than in this very scene. I LOVE how Wright filmed Darcy walking in his long, cape-like robe towards Lizzy… you could practically breathe the crisp morning air in this scene… the scenery & the music… it’s just absolutely luscious.

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Pride & Prejudice remains my favorite of Marianelli’s work so far, followed by Atonement which he deservedly won an Oscar for, two years after his first nomination for Pride & Prejudice. In 2013 he’s nominated again for Anna Karenina. I remember seeing one comment somewhere, might’ve been on youtube, that says how an Italian guy could make the perfect Russian music. Well, according to that article above, Marianelli regarded it as his best work as he said he learned a lot from that experience.

So here are four more scores I love from Marianelli… so definitely made beautiful music in all of his collaboration with Wright. I thought they’d be working together in Wright’s next film PAN, but my other favorite John Powell is scoring that. Marianelli is working on a film where Keira Knightley appears once again, EVEREST.

V For Vendetta (2005)

Atonement (2007)

The Soloist (2009)

Anna Karenina (2012)


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Hope you enjoyed today’s music break. What’s YOUR favorite score(s) from Dario Marianelli?

Thursday Movie Picks #42: All in the Family Edition – Father-Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today the theme is… 

Father/Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

I actually don’t really have much experience or memories of father/daughter relationship, as my dad was never really part of my life after my parents split when I was three. I was raised by my late mom and strong-willed grandma, the latter was a successful businesswoman revered by her family and peers. So in a way she’s as close to a father to me given her strict rules and occasional anger outbursts that used to petrify me but now that I look back, I find it kind of endearing.

Despite not having a biological father present in my life, I certainly appreciate father/daughter relationships in movies, here are three that left a big impression to me:

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

ToKillAMockingbirdI didn’t get to see this film until my intense Gregory Peck obsession days, but it’s truly the moment when the actor became the character. Talk about a dream dad. No matter how busy he is, town attorney Atticus Finch always have time for his kids and he genuinely enjoys their company — he doesn’t see time for family as a chore.

I remember tearing up a few times as I watched Atticus interacting with his vivacious young daughter Scout (Mary Badham), displaying his affection and sharing his wisdom in the most natural way. It’s obvious that Scout needs her dad just like any young kid needs their father, but I think those moments are crucial for Atticus too, beyond just the familial bond. Being with his young daughter must’ve reminded Atticus of the purity and goodness of life amidst the darkness and brutality he faces every day in his job. I live vicariously through Scout in her moments with her beloved dad, and I certainly take his wise words to heart…

“…you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them…”

Apparently the father/daughter bond between Peck and Badham carried over beyond the film set. The two became close in real life and kept in contact for the rest of their lives, Peck always called her Scout.

Regarding Henry (1991)

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People remember Harrison Ford mostly for his iconic action roles as Han Solo or Indiana Jones and granted he’s fantastic in those roles. But I absolutely love his performance in Regarding Henry, which is a wonderful story about second chances. One of my favorite moments in the film are the ones Henry spend with his young daughter Rachel (Mikki Allen).

In his *old* life prior to the event that transformed him, Henry barely had time for his family. Suffice to say he didn’t really know his one and only daughter, he’s too busy being a hot shot lawyer and having affairs with his secretary. Interesting that Henry’s also a lawyer like Atticus but clearly he’s got his priorities out of whack. But he’s given a second chance to make it right and his daughter helps him do that. I LOVE all the scenes where she teaches him the most basic things like reading, as he’s back to being a kid again, literally. Ford and Allen have a wonderful chemistry, their scenes together are endearingly funny and so full of heart.

Pride & Prejudice (2005)
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Whenever one hears Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, naturally we think of Elizabeth & Darcy’s relationship. But in Joe Wright’s film adaptation, I love the depiction of Lizzie (Keira Knightley) and her dad Mr. Bennett (Donald Sutherland). Clearly she’s her father’s favorite and he understood her much better than her mother ever did.

I LOVE this quote when Lizzie’s mother insisted that she married Mr. Collins…

Mr. Bennet: Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins… And I will never see you again if you do.

The scene towards the end when Lizzy asked her father’s permission to marry Darcy is also wonderful…

Lizzy: He and I are so similar.. we’ve been so stubborn

Mr. Bennett: You really do love him don’t you?

Lizzy: Very much

Mr. Bennett: I can’t believe that anyone can deserve you.  It seems I am overruled.  So, I hardly give my consent. I could have not parted with you my Lizzy to anyone less worthy.

Veteran actor Sutherland portrayed Mr. Bennett so perfectly, with such calming wisdom and compassion. The scene of him crying is so utterly moving, once again the chemistry of the cast work beautifully here.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films?

 

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

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As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

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I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing 😉 In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

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Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

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Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

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Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

gg_5014 gg_8780 gg_4411Thanks to Sati for letting me borrow her pics of Amy Dunne

It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

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If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

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Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

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Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

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These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

2014 Recap: Top Five Favorite Movie Songs

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Ok so I started making my Top 10 Films list, in fact I have my top 9 ready to go with just one more left to include. But y’know what, I realize I should wait until later this week as I have one press screening of a 2014 film on Tuesday.

Now this one is a much easier list to include, and four of the five have pretty much been decided long ago. The fifth one I’m including here is from an earlier 2014 movie I’ve just seen recently, Begin Again. In case you missed it, I’ve posted the Top 10 Favorite Film Scores list back in December, which surprisingly doesn’t have any overlap. What’s indeed surprising to me is that two of the songs here are sung by the lead actresses of their respective films, which means I should really update my five-year-old list of actors who are surprisingly good singers. As for I’m Not In Love, I’ve actually been a fan of that song (which was released in 1975) for some time, but I had to include it here as it’s my fave song from the awesome Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. It might not be as catchy as Hooked on a Feeling but it doesn’t get old as quickly as that one.

So anyhoo, here’s my top 5:

Blackbird – Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights)

Everything’s Awesome –Tegan and Sara with The Lonely Island (The Lego Movie)

Once Upon A Dream – Lana Del Rey (Maleficent)

I’m Not In Love – 10cc (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Like A Fool – Keira Knightley (Begin Again)

 

Honorable Mention: 

Agony – Chris Pine & Billy Magnussen (Into The Woods)

I have to include this one as this scene is easily my favorite of the entire film! You can take a look at the hilarious clip here (it’s fuzzy as it’s recorded on the big screen) but I’m including the official song below because the quality is much better.


Thoughts on my picks here? So what’s YOUR favorite songs from the past year?

FlixChatter Double Reviews: Beyond the Lights & Begin Again

Neither one of these two indie films were even on my radar but I’m sure glad I got to see them!  Beyond the Lights is currently out in select theaters and Begin Again are now available on VOD.

Beyond the Lights 

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The first time I learned about this movie was when I saw a photo of Gugu Mbatha-Raw in full S&M getup with purple hair and I thought, is that the actress from Belle? I absolutely loved her in that movie so she’s definitely the main draw for me to see this.

The film introduces us to the protagonist Noni Jean when she’s in her early teens. Raised by her driven & ruthless single mother Macy (Minnie Driver) who took her to various talent contests, it’s apparent that failure is not an option for her. Fast forward over a decade later, Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has blossomed into a Rihana-like pop star on the brink of superstardom. She’s just won a Billboard Music award as part of a hip-hop duo with Kid Culprit (played by real life rapper Machine Gun Kelly). Noni is seemingly at the top of her game, being touted as a hot new artist with fans and paparazzi and throng of fans hot on her trail. But the pressure of fame drives Noni to the point of self destruction, as the more famous she becomes, the more she feels invisible. Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), a young cop who’s assigned to be her security that night saves her just in the nick of time. ‘I see you,’ he says, and somehow that gives Noni just enough hope in her to keep going.

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Noni and Kaz are inevitably drawn to each other, and it’s no brainer that the two end up together. Some people compare this film to The Bodyguard but I honestly never thought of that movie the entire time I was watching this. For one, the relationship between the two characters are more on equal footing as Kaz isn’t technically working for Noni here and Noni herself isn’t quite in the same level as Whitney Huston’s character who’s already reached superstar status.

Though at first glance this film may appear as a romantic drama, it’s actually so much more than that. Yes there are romance and romantic scenes, but it’s all part of Noni’s journey of self-discovery and being able to stand on her own two feet. It’s also a commentary on the image-obsessed music industry that exploit female sexuality to sell records. The outfits that Noni wear in the movie would make even Lady Gaga blush [or maybe not], there’s one particular outfit where her upper body is only covered by a string of chains and nothing else. It’s a not-so-subtle hint that Noni is metaphorically and literally in chains, the fact that she’s always in the shadow of her rapper partner and is also controlled by her mother within an inch of her life.

BeyondtheLights_StillsBy the same token, Kaz’s life is in a way also controlled by external influences who push him for a political career. He’s also got an ambitious police captain father (Danny Glover) with his powerful allies and the pressure is getting to him as well. It’s an interesting parallel life story but the movie is more about Noni, which is truly the beating heart of the movie.

Mbatha-Raw is astounding in yet another career-making performance that shows her acting chops and versatility. Noni requires a tremendous physical as well as emotional commitment from the actor, and the British actress totally owned her role. I certainly hope she’ll get some kind of recognition come award season and that Hollywood continue to cast her in prominent roles. I also love the casting of Minnie Driver here, who I think is an underrated actress. Though I don’t agree with Macy’s actions, I don’t see her as a *villain* and the film does give us a glimpse into her character’s motivations.

The film itself is not perfect, there are moments that feel awkward or too schmaltzy. Pacing also feels a bit off as some scenes feel more drawn-out than they should be. The scene of Noni & Kaz on the plane makes me cringe, and Nate Parker‘s constant shirtless scenes also feel gratuitous that it made me laugh. That said, I’m impressed by Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s direction and the story kept me engaged and fully-invested in the main character. Last but not least, the music is definitely the highlight here, thanks to Mark Isham‘s emotive score. The song Blackbird holds a special meaning to Noni and by the time she sung a rendition of it towards the end, I wanted to get up and cheer for her!

This film seems to be under most people’s radar but I really hope that people would give it a look. I know I’d readily watch this again and the soundtrack is definitely worth buying!

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Begin Again

BeginAgainBnrThis movie wasn’t even on my radar until fairly recently, and I haven’t seen Once yet which was Director John Carnet‘s critically-acclaimed debut. Well, I like Carney’s storytelling style and he’s assembled a great cast to tell the story.

Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a distressed record producer of an indie label who’s been having a very bad day. Clashing with his business partner that leads to him losing his job and feeling estranged from his ex-wife and teenage daughter, he ends his day at a bar to drink his woes away. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley‘s Greta is nursing a broken heart having just split from his musician boyfriend and was dragged to perform a song by his BFF in attempt to cheer her up. Well it’s not exactly a meet cute, but you know that their encounter somehow would change their lives profoundly.

BeginAgainStillsThe film is told partly in parallel between the two characters, giving us a glimpse into their lives and how they intersect. The acting felt so natural and right away I connected with the two leads and their journey. This might be one of my fave Keira Knightley‘s performances and nice to see her portraying a plain and relatable girl, a role she seems to relish and have fun playing. Ruffalo is a reliable and charming actor and he’s just so likable and endearing here even at the moment of a life crisis. He embodies an artistic and idealistic guy who can *see* and feel music so deeply and he’s so convincing at it. The film took us on a ride with Dan & Greta sharing music on their iPods and hanging out together around NYC (which could double as the city’s tourism video). Music is infused throughout the film and so there are lovely musical moments here. Two of my fave scenes are featured in this week’s music break, but there’s also a fun one when the group play on a rooftop.

I LOVE the spontaneity and adventurous spirit as Dan assemble a group of amateur talents to make up a band for Greta and the recording process in various places – in an alley, rooftop and even a subway station – is fun to watch. This movie is so enjoyable and engaging that I even tolerate seeing Adam Levine playing a douche bag (convincingly, natch) but I have to admit he’s pretty decent here and I could see why they cast him. James Corden and Hailee Steinfeld also lend memorable supporting roles as Keira’s BFF and Mark’s daughter respectively, though Catherine Keener is a bit underutilized. Overall though, this is Dan and Greta’s story and both Ruffalo and Knightley shine in their roles.

The finale isn’t tied up in a neat little bow which I think gives the story even more poignancy, the way Roman Holiday was to me. Of course parts of me want a happy ending, but the more I think about it, I like it the way it is and there’s a genuine element of surprise when things don’t go as you expect it. I can’t recommend this movie enough, and trust me folks, you won’t be disappointed!

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Have you seen these films? Well, what did you think?

Music Break: Beyond the Lights & Begin Again

This past week I saw two wonderful music-themed films and the soundtracks have been playing in my head since. So I figure why not feature both of them in one post since I’m planning to post a double review of them later in the week.

Both films feature a female protagonist and both stories offer interesting commentaries on the music industries from two VERY different spectrum. So take a listen at my favorite tracks from both films …

BeyondtheLightsPosterThis one is my absolute favorite… it’s emotive and stirring, especially when it’s sung by Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s Noni towards the end of the film. It’s a defiant song that becomes the unofficial anthem for her at a pivotal point in her life. I love love the melody of the song and the beautiful arrangement by Mark Isham, it’s perhaps one of my favorite songs of the year so far. I was already so impressed by Gugu in Belle, but she totally blew me away here. Her transformation into a pop-star persona is incredible, and she clearly has the vocal chops to actually be a recording artist for real!

This second one is pleasant but more familiar, perhaps because it’s written by Diane Warren, who’s responsible for so many movies’ romantic ballads. It’s performed by Rita Ora.

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I knew there’ll be some awesome music featured in this one, as Margaret already featured them in her Soundtrack Wednesday post. I still want to feature ’em again here, especially the two soulful ones sung by Keira Knightley. I had no idea she could sing so well and with such raw emotion. I LOVE this scene when Mark Ruffalo‘s character first saw her singing in a bar and his reaction to her singing is so endearing.

I had to include this awesome video posted by Interscope Records. It’s a cute & poignant scene featuring Keira and James Corden as they record a song together as a voice mail message. The melody is wonderful but the lyrics are so moving and really, who can’t relate to a broken heart? We’ve all been there, if only I knew how to turn my feelings into such beautiful music!


Hope you enjoyed the music break! Have you seen either one of these films?

TCFF 2014 Wrap Up & Final Awards: The Imitation Game, Time Lapse, Stray Dog Doc, Solitude & More!

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Oh boy, what a thrilling, fun and exhilarating 10 days it’s been!! Pardon the late Closing Night recap, I stayed up pretty late last night at the Closing Night party, as I missed the past few years’ festivities. It’s so awesome that this year we’ve got a great spot for our Nightly Mixer at the Shops at West End, just a few doors down from The Showplace ICON Theatres! It’s definitely been a great success once again, woot woot!

This is the fifth year I’ve been covering TCFF and I have to say this is truly the BEST year I’ve had. Of course it seems that I say that every year but this year is absolutely amazing. I’m so glad I got the chance to chat with many great filmmakers and talents who are all gracious and friendly that made every interview such a joy. Special thanks to Haley Lu Richardson, Rik Swartzwelder, Drea Clark, Jonathan Ehlers, Patrick Ward-Perkins, Molly Ryman, Tyler Noble, George Finn & Bradley King for taking the time to chat with me during the Film Fest! I’ve always got butterflies in my stomach before I go into any interview, but my qualms/nervousness quickly disappear as soon as I met each talent. It’s been a blessing to be a part of this great organization, so Jatin, Bill, Steve, Dani, Naomi, etc. I really mean what I said in my tweet last night …


I also want to thank all the blogging contributors Sarah Johnson, Josh Petitt and Adam Wells. I wouldn’t have been able to do all those interviews AND do every single review, so MASSIVE THANKS for all your help, guys!

So here are this year’s winners of TCFF 2014 Awards!

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The Twin Cities Film Fest bestowed eight films, two artists and one local community leader with awards late Saturday evening during a star-studded ceremony in downtown St. Louis Park. Leading the roster of winners was The Imitation Game, the World War II espionage thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician Alan Turing that is widely considered to be a frontrunner for the year-end awards race. The film took home the festival’s trophy for Best Feature Film. (See the festival’s complete list of 2014 finalists, which were announced Oct. 23)

Also honored: Keira Knightley, winner of the TCFF North Star Award for Excellence for her performances in two official festival selections: Laggies and The Imitation Game. “When you see this body of work paired together, there’s no denying the acting force that is Keira Knightley,” said TCFF Artistic Director Steven Snyder. “There’s such a range of talent on display here – funny, heroic, vulnerable, defiant, haunted, and always compelling. She breathes life into personalities and perspectives that are worlds apart – and yet proves charming, charismatic and irresistible every time out.” Hear, hear!

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The independent sci-fi thriller Time Lapse walked off with the festival’s Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award. Debra Granik’s Stray Dog – the director’s follow-up to her Oscar-nominated narrative film “Winter’s Bone” – won Best Documentary. And Andrew Kightlinger’s Destroyer was selected as the year’s best short film.

Local film industry legend Al Milgrom was also honored Saturday evening, bestowed with a star on the Minnesota Walk of Fame, in recognition of a career spent importing and celebrating world cinema for the Twin Cities film community. Milgrom founded Minneapolis’ University Film Society in 1962 and later launched the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in 1983.

Dani Palmer with Al Milgrom at Closing Night Party
Dani Palmer with Al Milgrom at Closing Night Party

Saturday evening’s ceremony marked the culmination of the 10-day festival, which screened more than 75 titles – a mix of independent premieres and Hollywood sneak peeks – at the Showplace ICON Theatres. In addition to the annual October festival, the Minnesota-based non-profit organizes year-round programming, as well as industry networking events and educational opportunities. Learn more at twincitiesfilmfest.org.

The complete list of 2014 winners:

Best Feature Film: The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum)
Runner-Up: Ink & Steel (dir. Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins)
Audience Award – Feature: Solitude (dir. Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden)
Runner-Up: The Last Time You Had Fun (dir. Mo Perkins)
Audience Award – Short: Sad Clown (dir. Jason P. Schumacher)
Runner-Up: My Last Breath (dir. Cy Dodson)
Audience Award – Documentary: Scouts Honor: Inside A Marching Brotherhood (dir. Mac Smith & Tom Tollefsen)
Runner-Up: The Syndrome (dir. Meryl Goldsmith)
Indie Vision Award – Breakthrough Film: Time Lapse (dir. Bradley King)
Runner-Up: BFFs (dir. Andrew Putschoegl)
Indie Vision Award – Breakthrough Performance: Haley Lu Richardson, Actress “The Well” and “The Young Kieslowski”
Runner-Up: Eliza Coupe, Actress, “The Last Time You Had Fun”
Best Short Film: Destroyer (dir. Andrew Kightlinger)
Runner-Up: My Last Breath (dir. Cy Dodson)
Best Documentary: Stray Dog (dir. Debra Granik)
Runner-Up: The Immortalists (dir. David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg)
TCFF North Star Award for Excellence: Keira Knightley, for performances in “The Laggies” and “The Imitation Game”
TCFF-Minnesota Walk of Fame Award: Filmmaker Al Milgrom
Twin Cities Community Change Maker Award: Vednita Carver, executive director of Breaking Free. (BreakingFree.net)

 


Well the film fest may be over but I’ve still got a few more reviews I’ll be posting (The Imitation Game, Wild, Time Lapse, etc.) as well as my interview with The Last Time You Had Fun producer Drea Clark + George Finn & Bradley King from Time Lapse!


Thanks so much to all who have been reading my TCFF coverage!

Gearing up for Twin Cities Film Fest 2014 – Indie & Documentary Spotlights + Meet the talents in attendance

Finally! Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) is coming tomorrow!! In the next 10 days, movie lovers in Twin Cities and beyond rejoice as TCFF features nearly 80 films, with a fun mix of highly-anticipated studio releases, with a bunch of indie films of various genres, some with homegrown Minnesota flavors! I’m glad TCFF has made a home in Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres in St. Louis Park, which has been my cinema of choice for the past few years!

TCFF2014posterI have highlighted some of the lineup in this post, including documentaries and short films, broken down by themes in a block of a half dozen or so. There are still many more films I want to highlight, but before that, I’d like to draw your attention to TCFF Membership ….

At Twin Cities Film Fest, members enjoy several events per year that benefit both film lovers and filmmakers alike. The following benefits are available to all members beginning at just $100/year, which you can write off your tax as our organization is a 501(c)3 non profit. There are LOADS of benefits listed here, but I think the best one is the fact that TCFF members will enjoy year around programming with free screenings for members +1 guest. I mean, that alone makes your membership practically pays for itself.

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Great News! The Pohlad Family Foundation has offered a 1 to 1 match for all new TCFF Memberships! Yep, That means they will donate $100 for every new $100 Membership. TCFF Members receive exclusive benefits – like discounted tickets and festival passes in addition to  Members-Only Screenings and special offers from TCFF Sponsors.

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FULL SCHEDULE is now online as well, click the image below to download a handy schedule in PDF format.

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In addition to screening films, Twin Cities Film Fest also have a bunch of great panels where you get to meet and learn from filmmakers and actors in attendance. Here are just a sampling of the actors who’ll take part in the Red Carpet festivities, check out this Red Carpet schedule, and some would also take part in the Actor Panel.

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Saturday, October 18th, 4-5pm ICON Theatre Lobby

The workshop will include working actors with films screening at the 2014 Twin Cities Film Fest.  They will discuss their journey, training, projects, and the ups and downs of establishing and maintaining an acting career in both film and television.

Panelists include:

  • Haley Lu Richardson – Lead Role in The Well and The Young Kieslowski
  • Sean Maher – Lead Role in BFFs
  • Ryan Kiser – Lead Role in The House of Manson
  • Marisa Coughlan – Moderator, Space Station 76, Freddie Got Fingered, Super Troopers

TCFF14BannerI hope you’ll stop by FlixChatter in the next couple of weeks as a team of bloggers bring you TCFF coverage. I’ll be interviewing some of the talents, starting with Haley Lu Richardson on Friday AM. So stay tuned! 😀


Indie Spotlights

On top of the studio releases such as Men, Women & Children, The Imitation Game and Wild, there are a boatload of intriguing indie narratives you absolutely should check out! I’ve highlighted seven of them already [you can see all the trailers here], but there are so many more, starting with this latest addition:

Laggies (Sat, Oct. 25th, 3:00pm)

Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast:
Keira Knightly, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockell

In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, Megan panics when her boyfriend proposes, then, taking an opportunity to escape for a week, hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika, who lives with her world-weary single dad.

Big Significant Things (10/17 – 3:00pm, 10/24 – 2:30pm)

Director: Bryan Reisberg
Cast: Harry Lloyd, Krista Kosonen, Sylvia Grace Crim

A week before they move across the country together, Craig lies to his girlfriend in order to go on his first road trip — to the south. Alone.

Old Fashioned (10/18 – 2:00pm, 10/22 – 4:30pm)

Director: Rik Swartzwelder
Cast:
Rik Swartzwelder, Elizabeth Roberts, LeJon Woods

A former frat boy and a free-spirited woman together attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America.


BFFs (Sat, 10/18 – 6:00pm)

Director: Andrew Putschoegl
Cast:
Tara Karsian, Andrea Grano, Sean Maher, Larisa Oleynik

Kat and Samantha have been best friends for years. Kat is given a couples weekend workshop as a birthday gift by her mother (never mind that her relationship with her ex-boyfriend has been over for six months). Samantha never seems to have a problem finding men to date -they just never seem to last. Samantha convinces Kat to take advantage of the idyllic retreat by pretending to be lovers – how hard could it be? They expect some down time by the pool and maybe a few good stories to bring home with them. What they don’t expect is to get immersed in a world where they are surrounded by couples who are fighting to keep their relationships strong, and by default, make Samantha and Kat face their own shortcomings as they find themselves having to work on their relationship that isn’t really a relationship.

 

The Young Kieslowski (Sun, 10/19 – 3:00pm)

Director: Kerem Sanga
Cast: Ryan Malgarini, Haley Lu Richardson, Joshua Malina

Audience Award Winner, Los Angeles Film Festival: Grand romantic gestures need not apply in this comedic tale of star-crossed young love. Instead, freshman Brian Kieslowski displays endless reserves of bumbling awkwardness as he goes home with a girl for the first time… and then learns that he got her pregnant… with twins… all while she’s going through a rather inconvenient Christianity phase. Could it be that being the good guy and doing what’s right are two very different things? With writer/director Kerem Sanga presenting a seriocomic gauntlet for them to negotiate, Ryan Malgarini and Haley Lu Richardson deliver delightfully nimble performances, hitting all the right off-notes as two kids in just over their heads, whose luck seems as bad as their instincts. The fates may have conspired to prematurely drag them into adulthood, but they intend on going kicking and screaming.

Wild Canaries (Sun, 10/19 – 6:00pm)

Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine, Sophia Takal, Alia Shawkat

A Brooklyn couple suspects foul play when their rent controlled neighbor suddenly drops dead.


Solitude (Tues, 10/21 – 8:45pm)

Director: Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden
Cast: 
Armin Habibovich, Victoria LaChelle, Brent Latchaw, Alex Cotant, Glen Stone, Kelly Lavasseur, Amy Correll

After his mothers death, James Erikson discovers an old storage locker she had, that is filled with journals and newspapers of his family’s history. As he researches it, he finds out about the evil that his family has tried to contain for several generations.

 

Comet (Wed, 10/22 7:00pm)

Director: Sam Esmail
Cast: Emmy Rossum, Justin Long

Set in a parallel universe, Comet bounces back and forth over the course of an unlikely but perfectly paired couples six-year relationship.

No trailer available but here’s Emmy’s interview at LA Film Festival:


Ink & Steel (Sat, 10/25 – 5:30pm)

Director: Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins
Cast: Marc Basch, Jason Beckmann, Dennis Blazek, Molly Ryman

In this upstate New York drama, when a turf war engulfs the city, aging mob enforcer Michael retrieves the Don’s troubled son from his college partying. After they survive an attempted hit on the road home, Michael seeks refuge at a rural farm, imposing on a single mother and her teenage son living there. As violence escalates in the city, Michael is ordered to wait it out, keeping the boss’ son safe while coexisting as unwelcome house guests. But, when dark pasts threaten to collide, Michael, a man more comfortable solving problems with force, must find a way to keep the peace, and decide if he should break the Don’s son free of the cycle of violence which has haunted the family for generations.


Documentaries Spotlights

I always catch some intriguing docs during film festivals and this year is no different. I’ve mentioned three documentaries I’m planning to see, here are two more exciting ones I’ll be checking out:

Where The Trail Ends (Thurs, 10/23 – 5:00 pm)

Director: Jeremy Grant

“Where the Trail Ends” is a film following the world’s top free-ride mountain bikers as they search for untraveled terrain around the globe, ultimately shaping the future of big mountain free riding. This unparalleled story, told in glorious, gobsmacking high-definition, documents man’s challenge of mother nature and himself showcased through a cast of colorful characters. One of the most ambitious extreme sports documentaries ever attempted.

 

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (Thurs, 10/23 – 8:30pm)

Director: David Zellner
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard

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Kumiko lives in a cluttered, cramped apartment in Tokyo with her pet rabbit, Bunzo. She works as an office lady, robotically preparing tea and fetching dry cleaning for her nitpicky boss. But on her own time, she obsessively watches a well-known American film on a weathered VHS tape. Rewinding and fast-forwarding repeatedly, she meticulously maps out where a briefcase of castaway loot is buried within the fictional film. After hours of intense research—convinced that her destiny depends on finding the money—Kumiko heads to the United States and into the harsh Minnesota winter to search for it.

[No trailer available yet]

….


Meet the TCFF Bloggers!

Both Sarah and Adam are back to contribute reviews for you dear readers. Feel free to peruse the TCFF Archive page to read some of the films they’ve reviewed here, including We Are What We Are and The Liability starring Tim Roth.

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And look who’s the new kid on the block this year! It’s Josh from JJames Reviews who’ve been long absent from the blogosphere [we miss you man!]. Well, he’s helping me review a whole bunch of indie films this year, woo hoo!

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And of course, yours truly 😉

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TCFF’s Silver, Gold & Platinum Passes are now available!

TCFFPasses(Silver and Gold Packages do not include Opening or Closing Tickets).

GET THEM EARLY
(while supplies last)

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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org

2014 Ticket Prices are as follows:
General Admission $10; Opening Gala $25 (proceeds going to local charities); Closing Gala $20.

 


Hope you’ll stop by during FlixChatter’s TCFF coverage!