Trailer Spotlight: Christmas Dark Comedy SILENT NIGHT (2021)

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It’s almost mid November and Christmas mood is definitely in the air… in fact it’s been in the air for some time if you look at retail stores everywhere as early as late September, LOL! Well, I haven’t quite put up my holiday decorations yet but I know I will be in the mood for Christmas movie-watching soon, and this UK dark comedy definitely piqued my interest!

In true British fashion, (while the rest of the world faces impending doom), a group of old friends reunite to celebrate Christmas in the comfort of an idyllic country home.

Oh boy… it’s not exactly the most wonderful time of the year, is it? Not sure about the timing given we’re pretty much still in a pandemic. According to IMDb trivia, its star Keira Knightley said the film was finished shooting just before UK’s first Covid and they had to reshoot it in September of last year.

To be honest, I hadn’t read the premise when I clicked on the trailer… well it sure seems that way at first as we see a beautiful family doing a Zoom chat with granny and then getting ready for a Christmas dinner with friends. Though of course something seems off right away when Keira’s character said ‘Here’s to the lives that we’ve shared!’ and another says something about the ‘Queen is in a bunker somewhere filled with tins of baked beans and dog food.’ Say what?!

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Well, the Brits are known for their dark humor and what could be more wacky than a Christmas apocalypse… it’s not Santa coming down from your chimney, it’s the angel of death in the form of deadly poisonous gas. Yikes! Dark comedies are tricky, especially when you mix a hopeful, jolly time like Christmas with end-of-the-world bleakness. I read that the script was written before Covid hits, so what a twist of fate that the film ends up being released during a seemingly-endless pandemic where impending doom is not exactly that far fetched.

Not all doom and gloom though… I’m excited to see Knightley teaming up with Matthew Goode (who should be in way more movies!) … Jane Austen fans would know them as Elizabeth Bennett and George Wickham (in Pride & Prejudice and Death Comes to Pemberley miniseries, respectively). 

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There’s also Lucy Punch (love her in the series Vexed with Toby Stephens!), Annabella Wallis, Trudie Styler (yes, Sting’s wife is playing the grandma!) and Lily-Rose Depp as the only American in the ensemble cast. This is the feature-film debut for writer-director Camille Griffin, whose son Roman Griffin Davis won acclaims in JoJo Rabbit. Roman is in the film along with his two siblings, Gilby Griffin Davis & Hardy Griffin Davis

Well, the trailer promises something hilarious and heart-rending … just don’t expect the typical merry, feel-good holiday fare, though it just might make us appreciate the lives we still do have after seeing this movie!


Any thoughts on this trailer?

FlixChatter Review: OFFICIAL SECRETS (2019)

I’m glad I got to see this film on National Whistleblower Day last July. It was a very early screening to coincide with that day, which I think is appropriate as many whistleblowers are unsung heroes in my opinion, and they risked a lot to do what they do.

As did Katharine Gun, a British translator working for GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in which this film is about. The film’s storyline is based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion (a mouthful and very descriptive title!) In 2003, she leaked a secret memo to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the invasion of Iraq. Some of the illegal activities involve US National Security Agency eavesdropping on diplomats from countries (the ‘swing nations’ as it were) tasked with passing a crucial UN resolution in favor of the invasion.

The film begins with Katharine leading an ordinary day, cuddling romantically with her husband in bed, watching TV, etc. Filmmaker Gavin Hood (who directed Eye in the Sky, an effective drone warfare thriller) made a point that Katharine vehemently opposed the Iraq invasion—she commented about Tony Blair while watching him on TV. As you recall, he was deeply unpopular when he backed George W. Bush’s foreign policy at the time. Then came the day Katharine stumbled upon that secret memo, and the film shows how she was outraged by that email. There is quite a bit of political jargon and national security info that get over my head a little, but most of the film focuses on Katharine’s journey… how she wrestles with the idea of leaking the confidential memo, thus breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989.

This film could easily be one of those humdrum BOATS (based on a true story) film, but I’m glad to say it’s pretty intriguing. There are some slow parts, and some scenes were overly dramatized, but overall I was invested in Katharine’s story. She sees the Iraq invasion as illegal, and she’s a headstrong woman that she maintains her ground, and her innocence throughout the whole ordeal. She acted to prevent imminent loss of life in a war that she deemed unlawful. There are a few suspenseful scenes, notably the time Katharine was interrogated when GCHQ got wind of the ‘leaked memo’ and another one involving her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) who’s from Turkey. The fact that he’s an immigrant is being exploited by the UK authorities to get Katharine to yield. I have to admit that deportation scene is highly resonant to what’s going today and it sends a chill to my heart.

The film boasts a terrific British cast. I thought Keira Knightley, who looks nothing like the blond Katharine (they didn’t even make Keira’s hair lighter in the film) delivers a pretty convincing and affecting portrayal. It’s perhaps a less flashy role, yet one of her most nuanced performances I’ve seen so far. It’s quite a nice break to see her being rather deglamorized here. As for the all-star supporting cast, there are Ralph Fiennes as Katharine’s human-rights attorney, Matthew Goode (wish there were more scenes of him) and Matt Smith as journalists for The Observer, and Rhys Ifans as another British journalist. Though they each play a small role, I think they all provide a memorable turn as the people Katharine came in contact with. I find the whole correspondents between the supporting cast quite entertaining, perhaps because I have such a penchant for these fine British thespians!

Some say the Katharine Gun story as a morality tale of the 21st century, as her legal battle ends up exposing the highest level of government in both UK and US. Katharine was asked if she was ‘anti-war’ and she replied ‘no.’ She said some wars serve a purpose, and in hindsight, we know that the Iraq invasion shouldn’t have taken place. I for one am not a political person nor am I into overly political movies that are one-sided, but that’s not what Official Secrets is about. This thought-provoking film certainly made me ponder what I would do if I were in Katharine’s shoes, would I dare to stand up for what I believe in when it really mattered, risking everything I hold dear when the easiest to do would just to keep quiet.

I’m glad I saw this film as I didn’t really remember the actual events. As far as films about whistleblower goes, this one isn’t quite as gripping as say, The Insider (one of my fave from Michael Mann boasting an Oscar-worthy turn from Russell Crowe). Nonetheless it’s still a pretty solid drama in which the cast made it well worth a watch. I appreciate that they show the real Katharine Gun at the end of the film. I know people don’t usually go to the movies to see smaller dramas like this one, but I highly recommend it and I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.


Have you seen OFFICIAL SECRETS? I’d love to hear what you think!

…british

Advanced Screening Giveaway to OFFICIAL SECRETS

Happy Friday! We have another giveaway for this coming Tuesday!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you + a guest are invited to an advanced screening of OFFICIAL SECRETS in honor of National Whistleblower Day:

Tuesday, July 30
Alamo Drafthouse Twin Cities at 7:30 pm

RSVP using the link below, while supplies last.

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first serve and is not guaranteed.

Witness the untold true story of one woman’s fight for truth. 

She risked everything to stop an unjust war. Her government called her a traitor. Based on world-shaking true events, Official Secrets tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information.

One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun makes the gut-wrenching decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that will ignite an international firestorm, expose a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

The film also stars Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode and Matt Smith. Official Secrets is directed by Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky)

The film hits select Twin Cities theaters on September 13.


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? 

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?