Weekend Viewing Roundup: Sam Riley, Alternative Austen & Man Up (2015) review

I cannot fix the hour or the spot, or the look or the words which lay the foundation…I was in the middle when I knew it had began…

That was a quote from Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and that pretty much applies to how I feel the same way about the actor playing him… Sam Riley.

badassDarcy

I fall even more under Riley’s spell now… [le sigh]

Ok, so yeah, about that weekend roundup, well the past couple of weeks has been filled with quite a few Sam Riley movies: Control (2007), Maleficent (2014), Byzantium (2012) and Franklyn (2008). I didn’t get to see Brighton Rock (2010) yet but hopefully later this week. I’m astonished at his chameleonic ability as an actor, my appreciation post on him will be quite massive let me tell you.


I did see one new release this past week, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and got a chance to chat w/ the author of the book it’s based on, Kim Barker. Review & interview of that coming next week.

Ok, so these are my weekend viewing roundup, starting with…

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

///
So this is the first 2016 movie I saw twice on the big screen… and I could’ve gone for a third if it’s still playing for another weekend. Alas, I’d have to settle for all the fun gifs and clips on Tumblr until the Bluray comes out. As you may’ve read in my review, I bloody love this movie and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. Sam Riley & Lily James are now my favorite Darcy & Lizzie pairing amongst the plethora of P&P screen adaptations.

;;;

Austenland (2014)

///
Ok so naturally, watching an alternative Jane Austen movie makes me want to re-watch one of my faves from a couple of years ago. As far an Austen-inspired films go, I actually think this one is even sillier than PPZ movie, believe it or not. Some of the supporting characters are so out there and freakishly bizarre that it made me cringe at times (though that Captain East is one spectacular eye candy). Jennifer Coolidge is a hoot but she went waaay over the top at times, yes even by her standards. But the romance of Darcy & Jane (JJ Feild & Keri Russell) is lovely and of course all the misunderstandings and repressed emotions are all the stuff Austen movies are made of. (my full review)
///

Man Up (2015)

ManUp2015

This British rom-com has a rather unconventional pairing – Simon Pegg & Lake Bell, and that’s the reason I rented it. Bell played a single woman who inadvertently *stole* a stranger’s blind date, and the film took place over the course of a single night. Bell is a natural comedienne and here she gets to show her comedic chops, and also do a pretty convincing British accent.

It’s a pretty fun rom-com even though it doesn’t always avoid the trappings of the genre and is ultimately predictable, but the two likable leads made the movie feels fresh and genuinely funny. Rory Kinnear, who I often see in more serious movies so far, is so hilariously unhinged as Bell’s not-so-secret admirer. I LOVE the London scenery, both during the day and night, which adds to the film’s charm. The finale could’ve been a bit tighter and less verbose, but I think overall this movie is well worth checking out.

3halfReels


Well that’s my weekend recap. So what did YOU watch this weekend? Anything good?

FlixChatter Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

DawnOfApesPoster

Let me preface this review by saying that I haven’t seen any of the classic Apes movies in the 60s. I did see the 2001 reboot but I can barely remember any of it. But the 2011 version won me over that I’m intrigued to see what’s going to happen next.

The story takes place about a decade after the first film. The opening sequence swiftly tells us a Simian flu and incessant civil wars have wiped out most of humanity. On the brink of extinction, the remaining survivors in pockets all over the world is now living back in a *primal* state. It’s the search of power that connects the two species, as the dam the humans need to restore power resides so dangerously close to the Apes village.

DawnOfApesStills1

I love that the film takes its time in the character development of the apes, which are actually more crucial than the human characters. We get a glimpse of the apes’ community that Caesar & his fellow lab objects has built in the hills outside San Francisco.  The little apes go to *school* taught by a big, gentle orangutan, the female apes take care of the household, whilst the males hunt to provide food and protect the community. It’s akin to a tribal village where all the apes live peacefully under the leadership of the strong and wise Caesar. Not long after a small group of humans encounter some of the apes in the woods, thanks to a moron with an itchy trigger-finger, the fragile peace between the humans and the apes is about to be shattered.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) creates a suspenseful and atmospheric piece here that immediately sucks you in. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film. Aided by Michael Giacchino‘s haunting score, it’s a truly immersive experience. There is genuine terror when one of the human group leaders Malcolm tries to reason with Caesar, having witnessed that he’s clearly more than just a regular ape. Jason Clarke is solid here as Malcolm, he’s not overly charismatic but he’s effortlessly sympathetic and likable. To be fair, none of the human characters are nearly as charismatic as Caesar whose screen presence is undeniable. He commands your attention and even your allegiance, as I find myself rooting for him more than for the humans.

DawnOfApes_Malcolm

Right from the start, this story keeps me engrossed whilst I marvel at the amazing CGI that looks and feels realistic. Mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis never ceases to amaze me with his motion-capture performance as Caesar. I really think his performance deserves an acting award as he truly embodies the role in the same way as a live-action actor would. The craftsmanship in the digital recreation of the apes is nothing short of amazing. Every detail and all the subtle nuances of the apes’ expression are so seamless and organic, you’d think these are actual apes who’ve been amazingly-trained! The apes all have distinct facial characteristics, just like the humans do. The production design is absolutely mesmerizing. The ape village, as well as the human compound in a rundown tower looks realistically gritty and bleak. There is a very cool scene in a wrecked gas station that sticks in the mind, not just visually but emotionally as well.

The emotional gratification is what makes a big impact here. Whilst all the special effects are incredible (what with $170 production cost), it’s the characters and their conflicts that make all the difference. And we certainly get that here with Caesar and Malcolm, both of them are essentially on the same page. Both have a family and a community they care about, yet they have to contend with those in their circle who simply don’t see things as they do. In Caesar’s camp, we’ve got Koba (Toby Kebell), his right hand man ape whose hatred for humans stems from being tortured in the lab and he’s got the ugly scars to prove it. “Koba only sees the bad side of humans,” Caesar says at one point, and honestly, at times I do feel sorry for Koba. Malcolms’ cohorts are more one-dimensional. You’ve got the hot-headed jerk Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the paranoid group leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who doesn’t really have much to do here than scream and shout. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell fare better as Clarke’s son and girlfriend, respectively, though again, most of the human characters are simply not as memorable as the apes.

DawnOfApesStills2

I know it’s only July, but I have a strong feeling this would end up in my Top 10 of 2014 list. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating that this stands as perhaps one of the best sequels of all time, whilst at the same time it’d work fine as a standalone film. There’s a scene that allude to Caesar’s past in the first film, a poignant moment that truly tugs my heartstrings. I don’t think people need to see the 2011 film in order to get this film, but of course it makes you appreciate Caesar’s journey more. Kudos to Matt Reeves and his team of writers (five of them to be exact) for making this film a Caesar-focused story, it’s a taut thriller that’s as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. Now, the narrative is actually quite predictable, but this is not the kind of film that relies on twists so it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment for the film. Given the present conflicts all over the world, the bloodshed and social discord depicted here resonate even more.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. The technical achievements never overshadow the story, even during the action-heavy battle scenes in the third act, it doesn’t become so bombastic that we lose sight of what’s really at stake. The 3D is just okay, which is consistent with my sentiment that 2D format is always sufficient. The powerful last shot lends itself nicely to another sequel, and you know what, I for one can’t wait to see more the continuation of Caesar’s journey.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?

Weekend Roundup: The Americans (FX series) and The Bling Ring reviews

Happy Weekend everybody! WOW, everything’s still very much awesome for The LEGO Movie, winning box office for the third straight weekend with $31 mil. It’s now made $183 mil domestically, and with a production budget on only $60 mil, that’s quite a huge hit for Warner Bros. The McG/Luc Besson’s spy thriller 3 Days to Kill (review coming later this week) is a distant second with $12 mil but with a low production budget of $28 mil, I’d think they’d still turn a profit. Pompeii on the other hand, lives up to its subject matter, being a major box office disaster as it only made a measly 10% of its $100 mil budget, ouch!

It’s home cinema this weekend for me, catching up on some older films and TV series I’ve been meaning to check out. Here are my thoughts:

The Americans (FX series)

TheAmericansFX_poster

Two Soviet intelligence agents pose as a married couple to spy on the American government.

A few people have mentioned about this show, but finally my hubby and I had a chance to check out the pilot last Friday. We’re definitely gonna try to catch up with Season 1 as there are only 13 episodes.

I thought the concept of having two Russian protagonists in an American show is very intriguing. It certainly offers a fresh twist to an otherwise run-of-the-mill spy show. It’s set in the 80s during the Reagan-era Cold War, and according to IMDb, the show is based on a true story that broke in 2010 of Russian sleeper agents hiding in plain sites in the US for decades. So just like in the series, their children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors had no idea they were spies.

TheAmericans_Stills

Having just seen Austenland, it’s quite a change to see Keri Russell as a bad ass spy here, in the opening sequence she’s dressed like a hooker seducing an FBI agent. Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, with impeccable American accent, plays her *husband* aka spy partner. Both are excellent in the role of married couple Elizabeth & Phillip Jennings, who look like a typical suburban DC couple with a couple of kids posing as travel agents. The pilot presents quite a dilemma for the couple when their assignment involves kidnapping a defecting KGB agent whom Elizabeth had a personal vendetta. Their loyalties to Mother Russia is tested as the Jennings don’t always share the same feelings about their job. Of course things are about to get even more interesting when one of the FBI agent hot on the trail of the kidnapping suspects move in to their neighborhood! A strange twist of coincidence or is there more to it than that?? Well, I can’t wait to find out! Nice to see Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman, he’s one of those character actors I’m always impressed with every time I see him in a movie or TV series.

I think the most riveting of all is how the American audience are no doubt compelled to perceive the “enemy” of the states in a whole new light. I definitely sympathize with them more than I probably should. But really, are they really so different from our own agents working in a foreign country? The sharp script keeps me engrossed and in suspense. I love that this spy series is not about the cool action and gadget you’ll find in escapist fun like James Bond, but it’s more in the vein of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that explores the tricky adventure of espionage and really get into the intricate psyche of a secret agent.

I refrain from giving a rating at this point as I’ve only seen the pilot. But I highly recommend this one if you’re a fan of the spy genre or if you’re looking for a quality show to get hooked to.

Now switching gear to Sofia Coppola’s latest effort from last year. 

The Bling Ring (2013)

TheBlingRingPoster

At first glance I really wasn’t all that enthused to watch this film. I mean I couldn’t be more disinterested in seeing materialistic and fame-obsessed teenagers robbing their favorite celebrities. I find the whole TMZ culture so loathsome, I don’t even care to read US magazine anymore even when I’m at the salon. It’s interesting why Coppola choose to do a film on them, but perhaps there’s some kind of message she’s trying to tell us with this story. Well, unfortunately this film is as shallow as protagonists depicted here.

The film basically shows us how these teens, led by its ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard), rob one celebrity’s house after another. They’re mostly C-list celebs who are more famous for their shenanigans (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton) or those famous for being in the fashion mags instead of actual work (Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson). So apparently none of these celebs have heard of home security as even Hilton’s mansion was so easy to break into, in fact, the group barely had to break anything to access their homes. I don’t know what is more repulsive than witnessing these kids stealing things left and right or seeing the excessive decadence on display.

TheBlingRing_Stills

I have to admit I wasn’t as bored out of my wits watching this as I did watching her last film Somewhere, but I felt that even that movie perhaps had a bit more depth as at the very least Coppola tried to present some kind of redeeming quality for the disenchanted Hollywood actor. In this film, the characters only pass through time, living their incredibly shallow life in succession, simply motivated by the grand hedonistic lifestyle and self-indulgence. It’s stylishly shot but everything is so detached. Despite a few engaging and hilarious moments in a self-parody kind of way, I struggle to find a meaning – if any – that Coppola is trying to say here.

The only saving grace here seems to be Emma Watson, simply because it’s amusing to see her portray someone so different from Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Her American accent is spot on and she certainly has the gift of comedy. It’s amusing to think that the young actress is surely as wealthy – if not more – as the victims that her character rob in this movie! But even she could barely save this vapid drivel. Even though it’s only 90-min long, it felt pretty tedious by the repetitive stealing-and-partying scenes displayed over and over. It’s darn near impossible to sympathize with any of the characters the way Coppola depicted them here. I think Marc was perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film as he seems to be the only one who has the slightest bit of remorse. But really, that’s not saying much.

This is the third film by Sofia Coppola I saw, but so far my favorite is by far still Lost in Translation. I might give her other earlier films a try, hopefully The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette fare much better than this one.

twoandahalfreels


So what did you watch this weekend? Thoughts on The Americans series and/or The Bling Ring? 

FlixChatter Review: Austenland

AustenlandBanner

Oh Mr. Darcy. He’s certainly the most popular period drama hero, and not just the ones from Jane Austen’s imagination, mind you. Even those who don’t care for this genre would probably know who Mr. Darcy is, though they might confuse him with the one in Bridget Jones’ Diary, ahah. Now, he’s not exactly my favorite Austen hero, but I find stories about girls being obsessed with him so wildly amusing. I saw the miniseries Lost in Austen not too long ago and it might as well be called Lost in Darcy. Despite the similar theme, Austenland is not a fantastical tale where the characters from Pride & Prejudice actually comes to life. The title refers to a Disneyland of sort for the Austen-obsessed, as the ad says, the resort in a lush English countryside offers the world’s only immersive Jane Austen experience.

Keri Russell plays Jane Hayes, an Austen superfan whose obsession with Mr. Darcy practically takes over her day-to-day life. Her apartment rivals even the Austen museum I went to in Bath, complete with a cardboard cutout of Mr. Darcy in her living room. Her love life suffers not for lack of suitors, but it’s just the modern guys just can’t possibly live up to a dashing literary hero. I always remember the quote from the Sabrina remake of 1995: Illusions are dangerous people, they have no flaws. Thus, when an opportunity suddenly presents itself for Jane to actually live out her fantasy, naturally she jumps at the chance.

Hilarity ensues almost straight away. From the moment Jane steps out in her empire-waisted dress and bonnet her best friend gifted her just for the occasion, she draws giggles and stares as she makes her way through the airport. Then she meets a wealthy American woman (later known as Elizabeth Charming, her pseudonym at the resort) who apparently never read Austen but signs up for the trip because she knows she’d look good in those ‘wench dresses.’ Both girls are so in for a treat, or so it seems. No more ‘unlucky in love’, the owner of the Regency era resort (a bitchy Jane Seymour) promises her vacationing guests that their romantic fantasies would come true at the end of their trip, courtesy of the handsome actors on her staff.

Austenland_Pics1

Sadly, Jane (or Miss Erstwhile, her given pseudonym at the resort), has unknowingly bought the Copper package, even though she’s cashed out all her savings for this trip! So poor Jane gets the dowdy clothes and her room is in the servants wing. But she’s determined not to let that ruin her trip. In no time, Jane gets entangled with one of the staff-members Martin, who actually wasn’t hired to do the ‘oldies’ stuff, that is to pretend to be from the Austen era to woo the guests. But just as she’s fallen for Martin, the resort’s designated Mr. Darcy (aptly named Henry Nobly) provides a delightful distraction. Everyone is not who they say they are, and the characters are caught between fantasy and reality. Just like what you’d expect in a real Austen story, there are misunderstandings, romantic disenchantments, and of course, the vice of preconceived notions. But hilarity is never far behind. I love how hysterical this movie is, there’s thigh-slapping moments from start to finish and I could tell the whole theater was having a blast along with me.

Jerusha Hess, who’s no stranger to writing comedies (Napoleon Dynamite, Gentleman’s Bronchos and Nacho Libre), tackled the writing and directing task for this one. She co-wrote this film with Shannon Hale, who wrote the novel of the same name where this movie is based on. I think they did a fine job in delivering an amusing escapism, funny without being mean-spirited. There’s a lot of laughs to be had here, but romance is still in the air and the cast is quite charming. I think the tone is more Emma than Sense & Sensibility, so by no means it’s not a deep movie nor is it trying to be.

Austenland_Pics2

I don’t normally see Keri Russell in a comedic role, but ever since Waitress, I knew she has a decent comic timing. Here she portrays the awkward and starry-eyed protagonist believably, even if she might be too pretty in the role, just as Keira Knightley was as Elizabeth Bennett in the 2005’s Joe Wright’s adaptation. One thing for sure she’s instantly likable, so it was easy to root for her character, no matter how absurd.

Jennifer Coolidge is her usual hilarious bawdy self. Her blatant ignorance of anything Austen (or the Regency era for that matter) and her riotous attempt at a British accent never fails to draw uproarious laughter. She’s a natural comic actress who doesn’t even need to open her mouth to be funny, so of course she steals scenes in more than one occasions. James Callis (who’ll always be Battlestar Galactica‘s Gaius Balthar to me) provides comic relief as the flamboyant Col. Andrews who’s the object of Coolidge’s Elizabeth Charming’s affections. Hunky Ricky Whittle and fellow Brit Georgia King also provide memorable supporting turns in some of the funniest bits of the movie.

JJ Feild, once an Austen hero himself in Northanger Abbey, is suitably sullen as Mr. Nobly. He provides a nice contrast to the more outwardly flirtatious Martin (the Mr. Wickham in the story). I’m surprised to learn that Bret McKenzie who played Martin is the same guy who plays the elf Lindir in The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, AND he’s also the songwriter who won an Oscar for Best Song for The Muppets! Wow, no wonder he looked familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it where I had seen him!

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this one, it’s perhaps one of the most fun I had at the movies of late. I also appreciate the scenery and gorgeous set pieces/costumes. I don’t even mind the mindless slapstick stuff, especially in the farcical mock-theater scene towards the end. There are some cringe-worthy moments and use of vintage pop songs don’t always work well, but it’s hard not to be swept away by its buoyant spirits. The romance might be predictable, but it’s certainly not without its giddy charm. Certainly period drama fans would get a kick out of this movie, but even if you’re not, I’d say there’s enough going for it here to keep you amused and entertained.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of this movie? Are you a fan of any of the cast?

DVD Picks: Slumdog Millionaire & August Rush

I wrote these reviews before I decided on the Britastic blog series, but they work just fine because they’re both British-related. Slumdog Millionaire is directed by talented British director Danny Boyle, and Freddie Highmore who plays the title role in August Rush was born in London. They both also share a similar fairy-tale element in the storyline, but obviously these are two very different films.

Slumdog Millionaire

I finally got a chance to view the 2009 Best Picture Winner, and I’m glad to say that this one does live up to the hype. British director Danny Boyle paints a compelling and heart-wrenching rags-to-riches story that tugs at your heart right from the start.

The film centers on an unlikely teen, Jamal Malik, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. He somehow defies all the odds to win the highest prize of the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and the story of how he got there and knew all the answers is told in flashbacks as he’s being interrogated on suspicion of cheating.

Though the one of the endorsements on the dvd cover says, ‘The feel-good film of the decade,” Slumdog Millionaire is actually tough to watch at times. Boyle doesn’t pull any punches in presenting the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots, and it’s fascinating to see how movie stars there are worshiped as if they’re immortal gods. The length Jamal took to get an autograph from one of them — who arrives on the slum via a chopper no less — is bizarre and devastating at the same time. There’s also scenes of unimaginable tragedy that these two boys have to endure that force that to survive on their own.

Dev Patel & Frieda Pinto

The heart of this fairy-tale is an unfaltering love story between Jamal and Latika, who also manages to escape the massacre in their village. Somewhere along the way they get separated, but Jamal refuses to give up on his long-lost love up no matter what the cost.

Played by three different actors, all of them portray Jamal with such heart and charm, though the older they get the lesser the resemblance between the two brothers (tricky casting I presume). Dev Patel as the older Jamal captures the essence of a young man who’s seen too much too soon, yet somehow retains that seemingly-uncrushable buoyant spirit. Gorgeous Frieda Pinto is enchanting as Latika, and the two share a believable chemistry even with so little words spoken to each other.

On top of all the great points I’ve mentioned above, this movie looks and sounds good as well. The cinematography is exuberant and colorful, and the music by A.R. Rahman compliments the urban realism nicely with its high energy and edgy beat. Kudos to Boyle for creating such an extraordinary film. His versatility is quite impressive, but whether he’s tackling a zombie thriller flick (28 Days Later) or sci-fi adventure (Sunshine), he rarely disappoints.

….

August Rush

“I believe in music like some people believe in fairy tales,” Evan Taylor tells us in the beginning of the movie.

From the time the movie opens in the lush wheat field, it sets the fairy-tale tone of the movie. This is the kind of movie cynics need not bother, as it insists that you simply surrender to its sweet energy and let it touch your heart. Really, once the music starts playing, whether it’s a refined symphony or the ‘music’ of the hustle and bustle of every day life, I was ready to be swept away. Predictable? Yes. But the journey is worthwhile to watch.

The story basically revolves around Evan Taylor, an outcast in an orphanage who never stops believing that somehow, somewhere, his parents miss him as much as he misses them. That dream and the music around him keeps the lonely boy company and helps him cope with the harsh reality. The movie is none too subtle in revealing that the young dreamer’s got an extraordinary musical gift, and he knew it’s the key to finding his parents.

Highmore and Robin Williams as 'Wizard'

The rest of the movie goes back and forth between Evan’s journey to New York — which also reveals the significance of the title August Rush — and the flashback story of how music is definitely in his genes. Throughout the movie, music plays an integral part, the blending of classical, hard rock and ‘street’-music was phenomenal. In fact, the music is a tremendous factor in what make the movie so enjoyable. So clearly the filmmaker is as passionate about the music as Evan does.

Freddie Highmore — one of the best young actors working today — first caught my eye in Finding Neverland. As the title role, the 18-year-old actor who was 15 at the time looks believable enough as an 11 year old, and he is affecting with his wide-eyed tenacity and sincere longings, even without much words spoken. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Kerri Russell as the estranged parents have a nice chemistry together, though is it just me or does Rhys-Meyers looks like he’s about to cry in every single scene? Robin Williams as ‘Wizard’ is not as over-the-top as he usually is, though his character isn’t fully developed and we never really know what his real motive is.

Beautiful parents: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers & Keri Russell

This movie is a real tearjerker so have a bunch of Kleenex handy as it was hard keeping my eyes dry throughout the movie. I find this movie far more touching than another musical-themed movie The Soloist, for sure this one is far less tedious. The cinematography of places like Central Park and close-up shots of instruments being played are beautiful, though in some of the close-up shots of the Evan playing the guitar, it’s clear that it’s a mature adult’s hands, ooops!

If you appreciate music of any kind and don’t mind a little schmaltzy-ness and grand happy endings, this is a movie for you.