FlixChatter Review – UNDERWATER (2020)

In 2017, prior to its acquisition by The Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox was in production of a Sci-Fi/Horror genre film Underwater, with actress Kristen Stewart taking the leading role. Now a part of much larger studio and release schedule, the film, directed by William Eubank, would not get a release date until the start of 2020. Having a release date in the second weekend of January, it usually means that the film can face stiff completion from other films released during the 2019 holidays and still attracting moviegoers weeks later, such as Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and Jumanji: The Next Level. There is also the competition for viewers from Oscar contenders, such as 1917 and Parasite. But with a Sci-Fi/Horror genre, Underwater could have potentially gained viewers who were just seeking some fun thrills and chills.

Unfortunately, Underwater has neither thrills nor chills that amount to much of anything. The premise is quite simple; Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) works deep underwater at a drill seven miles to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. As what seems like a massive earthquake hits, a section of the Kepler 822 Station where Price is stationed starts to suffer a catastrophic breach from the pressure. One moment Price is brushing her teeth and the next moment, there is water coming from all directions. Price is able to locate a fellow mechanical engineer Rodrigo Nagenda (Mamoudou Athie) and the two of them prevent a larger breach from happening, escape the area and rescue another crewman Paul Abel (T.J. Miller). The three try to locate escape pods but find them all deployed already, and they must search go to another section of the station where there are more escape pods located.

The trio runs into Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), who takes them to a control base where they find biologist Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr.). The group decides to put on pressurized suits and walk one mile across the ocean floor to the Roebuck Station 641. This is where things start going all wrong and slowly but surely, we start losing the minor characters that Norah Price found along the way. First, Rodrigo’s helmet is faulty and cracks from the pressure, killing him instantly. Next they find a menacing hatchling creature, which does quick work of Paul by dragging him underwater before being ripping his suit out and killing him.

The remaining four survivors continue their journey by walking across the ocean floor (I mean what could possibly go wrong???), but another human-looking creature appears, and drags Smith into a cave. Captain Lucien manages to pull Smith out, but tries foolishly goes for Smith’s bolt gun, giving the creature the chance to drag Lucien quickly up through the water and away from the other three. Price manages to locate Captain Lucien, but when the mysterious creature begins ascending, Captain Lucien sacrifices himself so that Price may escape the increasing change in pressure, killing him in the process.

Price is a now alone, without knowing what happened to Smith and Haversham. She manages to reach the abandoned Shepard Station, replaces her used up pressurized suit and leaves the Shepard Station, continuing toward another even deeper station called the Roebuck. Price conveniently runs into Smith and Haversham as she approaches the Roebuck, but also notices a nest of the humanoid creatures hanging from the ceiling and they try to sneak by to no avail. A tiny pressure suit noise causes one of them to wake up and attack Price. She gets partially swallowed but is able to kill the creature and break free, and Haversham rescues Price as they continue their way into the Roebuck.

They realize that the previous earthquake was no earthquake (duh!!!) and enormous creature reveals itself and causes an explosion, which starts to damage the Roebuck. The gigantic alpha creature, which had destroyed their rig earlier, emerges from around the Roebuck surrounded by even more of the humanoid creatures. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read): The three survivors are able to reach the escape pod bay, but Price discovers that only two work, with a third being damaged and unusable. Price gives up her spot so that Smith and Haversham could take the last two working escape pods, and she stays behind. Knowing she is already going to die, Price raises the energy levels of the core engines so that they explode, killing the creatures and allowing the escape pods to reach the surface.

The Price character has many resemblances to Sigourney Weaver‘s Alien character Ripley. She seems to always have the upper hand on those humanoid creatures, and isn’t even afraid to take on the gigantic alpha creature, much like Ripley went toe to toe with the alien creature in Ridley Scott‘s 1979 sci-fi/horror thriller. The difference here is that Ripley used quite a bit of strength and her own smarts to out-power and outwit the alien creature. On the other hand, Norah Price is just a throwaway character and Kristen Stewart plays her role with more trauma and distraught, which makes you think that she is getting incredibly lucky with her decision making more than having any extraordinary abilities.

The bottom line is I’d rather watch Ridley Scott’s Alien for a billionth time rather than watch even a few more minutes of Underwater. I think it was a mistake for 20th Century Fox/ The Walt Disney Studios to finance it and release it in theaters. Perhaps they should have left it for streaming on their platform Disney+ or found another streaming partner, such as Netflix. While it would be alright to see this film sitting at home, I wouldn’t recommend anyone waste their time/money by seeing it on the big screen. Especially if you’re hoping to make any sense of the ending, its best you just go along with the ride and hope to make it out alright on the other side.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


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

FlixChatter Review: Charlie’s Angels (2019)

I have to admit I hadn’t paid attention to the movie adaptations of Charlie’s Angels, though I did enjoy the original tv series. There’s no particular reason why, I just was never enticed by it. But when they announced Kristen Stewart as one of the Angels, as well as Naomi Scott who I like as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, plus Elizabeth Banks directing, my interest was piqued.

It was quite fun watching Kristen Stewart in an action movie, having seen her in mostly smaller/indie features like Clouds of Sils Maria, Certain Women and Personal Shopper. The opening sequence opened with her being a seductive bombshell (in a blond wig) in a sequence in Rio with international smuggler Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians). The mission was led by senior operative John Bosley (a code name for top leader, equal to a lieutenant, in this detective agency), played by Patrick Stewart, who we later learn is retiring.

Similar to a Bond flick, the film moves from one glamorous city to another. From Rio, they’re off to Hamburg on a mission involving a tech company that’s about to release a energy-saving device called Callisto. One of its programmers, Elena (Naomi Scott) figured out that Callisto’s flaw can be deadly, as it can be weaponized and potentially be sold to criminal organizations. Of course, given Elena is a woman (an attractive one at that), her boss undermines her and ignores her request to report her findings to the company’s founder Mr. Brock (Sam Claflin). The ‘me too’ references isn’t exactly subtle in this one, but I guess it’s to be expected in a movie that celebrates female bad-assery and girl power.

This is the first time I saw a movie that Elizabeth Banks directed (whose debut Pitch Perfect 2 was pretty well-received), and color me impressed. Apparently Banks also wrote the screenplay, based on the story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn. I gotta say the action sequences are a lot of fun to watch–it’s dynamic, energetic and quick on its feet. I especially enjoy the chase sequence in Callisto headquarter in a Hamburg skyscraper in which the Angels manages to outwit a team of [male] security guards in a whimsical fashion. Banks infuses the sequences with lighthearted humor and most importantly, lively camaraderie from her cast. It’s all about sisterhood and learning to work together as a team, and the three Angels have a nice chemistry.

I think the casting of Stewart as Sabina with two relative newcomers Naomi Scott (Elena) and Ella Balinska (Jane) work well here. I enjoy seeing the lighter, even comical side of Stewart who seems to have a blast making this movie. Balinska is easily the most physically imposing of the three, while Scott makes the most of her often-baffled role who takes a bit of time adjusting to life in the fast lane with the Angels. I like that the film shows that on top of their sheer intelligence and formidable physical prowess, these Angels are ‘just like us’ in that they want to feel supported and loved, which is what the team does to each other. While the Bond flicks have gadget guru Q, the Angels have a ‘healer’ appropriately named Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez) because no matter how much heavy artillery one has, it’s useless if you’re not in a proper mental state. Unlike the Mission Impossible series that pretty much puts Tom Cruise front and center, I like that Charlie’s Angels franchise is all about teamwork and collaboration.

While the movie has plenty of fun moments, sadly it’s also riddled with clichés and lacking any character development. The main plot is far from original, and the intrigue (if you can call it that) lacks any real suspense. Most of the guys in this movie is also reduced to three basic types: dumb/clueless, evil criminal or cute nerdy type (hello Internet Boyfriend Noah Centineo), as if women can only be strong in a world where all the guys are pathetic. Oh, I also think the henchmen Hodak (Jonathan Tucker) looks like a poor imitation of Robert Patrick (as it T-1000, still the scariest villain in all of the Terminator franchise). I think my biggest issue is with the twist in the third act. I’m not going to elaborate for fear of spoiler, but let’s just say it’s so incredulous, eye-rolling stuff that I blame it on lazy writing. A good story doesn’t always need a twist, especially when the ‘surprise’ isn’t all that clever.

That said, the movie does have its moments and is well worth seeing for the main cast alone (most notably Stewart). It sure looks gorgeous, boasted by excellent cinematography by Bill Pope (who shot The Matrix), slick production design, and fun action sequences/car chases designed for pure escapism. So yeah, despite its flaws, I still wish it did better at the box office (at the time of this posting, it bombed with a disappointing $8.6 million debut). It’s true that nobody wanted this reboot, but to be fair, there are plenty more male-oriented franchises that went on forever. The movie was sort of set up for a sequel, and I’d be willing to see it, but I doubt that would be happening.

– Review by Ruth Maramis


Have you seen Charlie’s Angels? I’d love to hear what you think.

Guest Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Ang Lee
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Mackenzie Leigh, Steve Martin, Garrett Hedlund
Runtime: 1 hr 53 minutes

It is frustrating when a film has all the ingredients to be brilliant but ends up just a good movie. The story of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) is an original and painfully satirical study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also a film limited by all-too-obvious visual messages and clichéd one-liners that reduce a possible artwork to an emotionally tame and uneven film.

The story unfolds over a single day in America with flashbacks to a live combat incident in Iraq. A news clip goes viral when young army specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is filmed trying to save the life of his sergeant.  His Bravo squad are celebrated as heroes and given a two-week promotional tour across America to boost dwindling support for the war. The tour highlight is an appearance in a glitzy halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys game. They are ushered around like a troupe of performing monkeys with little regard for what they have been through or how glaring theatrics might affect soldiers coming straight out of battle. Meanwhile, their tour guide is trying to stitch up a film deal with the tightwad team owner (played by Steve Martin) as virgin Billy falls for a cheerleader (Mackenzie Leigh) who loves war heroes.

The storyline bears little resemblance to the typical war genre film, but this one is not about guns, bombs and bodies. Filmed in ultra-high definition with extensive shallow depth of field, Billy and the squad are often in pin-sharp focus against soft backgrounds, a technique that keeps them in a separate plane of existence to the crassly insensitive stage onto which they have been thrust. The surreal stadium scenes are a spectacular but clichéd message about commodity wars for a public wanting to ‘make America great again’. It is hard not to empathise with Billy or feel his disorientation as he watches prancing cheerleaders and hears musical fireworks exploding all around him while he struggles with flashbacks of hand-to-hand combat in the midst of a mortar firestorm.

There is much to commend in this film. Young Joe Alwyn plays a complex role with nuance beyond his experience. The cinematography is vivid (almost to the point of distraction), and the pace and casting is strong (although comic Steve Martin seems out of place). A lighter directorial hand may have produced a more naturally flowing story without the corny melodrama and trite one-liners like “that day no longer belongs to you…its America’s story now” or “we’re a nation of children who fight in other countries to grow up”. But you will long remember that stadium extravaganza as an echo-chamber for the horrors of PTSD. For that alone, this film is worth seeing.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’? Well, what did you think? 

Five for the Fifth: OCTOBER 2016 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Well, it’s October and a lot of bloggers are dedicating their sites to horror films for the entire month. If you’ve been on this blog often enough you’ll know that isn’t going to happen here on FlixChatter. I have such feeble nerves that I almost always avoid horror films, even though I have appreciated some horror films in the past, i.e. The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, Devil’s Advocate, etc.

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A scene from Byzantium

I actually quite like vampire films, i.e. Interviews With the Vampire, Byzantium, Daybreakers, etc. But seeing The Exorcist back in college still terrified me to this day so I generally avoid anything dealing with people being possessed. But I might be persuaded to see something once in a while if it isn’t overly gory or extremely disturbing.

So my first question to you is… what horror/scary thriller would you recommend to someone like me who aren’t into the genre? 

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2. As for the trailers I’m highlighting in this edition, let’s start with the Kristen Stewart‘s movie that was booed at Cannes: Personal Shopper. Interesting because just the year before, she became the first American actress to win a Cesar [for Best Supporting Performance] for Clouds of Sils Maria which was also directed by Olivier Assayas. It’s been five months since Cannes and now we finally got the trailer:

I have to admit I wasn’t Kirsten’s biggest fan, but I thought she’s terrific in Clouds of Sils Maria, so I might check this one out. I know I just said I’m not into horror films, but this one felt more like a mysterious ghost story involving her dead twin brother than a bloody/gory horror flick.

Woo hoo!! Clive Owen is back as The Driver in BMW short film The Escape trailer!

The short film is presented as an homage to the 15th anniversary of the original BMW Film series, and it also stars Dakota Fanning, Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga. It’s directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). I’ve highlighted some of my fave BMW films here. The Escape will premiere on Sunday, October 23, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. EST on BMWFilms.com.

Thoughts about either one of these trailers?

3. It’s gotta be good to be Christopher Nolan. Per THR, the British auteur is said to be getting $20 million upfront and 20 percent of the gross for his upcoming World War II epic Dunkirk. Considering that the average director salary for a studio film is in the $750,000 to $1.5 million range, depending on the number of past credits, the $20 mil payday is astounding.

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But hey, I think Nolan deserved it, though he’s already one of the wealthiest filmmakers working today thanks to the over $1 billion gross of his Batman trilogy alone.

I’ve posted the Dunkirk teaser trailer here and it looks epic! I guess we’ll find out on July 2017 just how epic it will be.

Thoughts on Christopher Nolan huge payday?
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4. This edition’s casting news feature a double from Emma Thompson and having just finished my review of Bridget Jones’ Baby this weekend (it’s still in my draft folder), we definitely need more of her in movies!

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Let’s start with the first project which will have Emma teaming up with Mindy Kaling. What a duo it’ll be! Though I actually haven’t seen her show The Mindy Project, I really like her and I’m glad she’s making her foray into films!

The story follows a venerated late-night talk show host, played by Thompson, who’s in danger of losing her long-running show right when she hires her first female writer, played by Kaling. Sources describe the film as The Devil Wears Prada meets Broadcast News. I’m so there!

Source: Variety

The second project is an adaptation of author Ian McEwan’s novel.

Thompson plays Fiona Maye, an eminent judge in London presiding with wisdom and compassion over ethically complex cases of family law. But she has paid a heavy personal price for her workload, and her marriage to American professor Jack (Stanley Tucci) is at breaking point.

Filming will take place on location in London from mid-October. Also starring is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who appears in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Dunkirk. I love Stanley Tucci too, he’s a terrific character actor, so this is another screen match up I look forward to seeing.

Source: Variety

Thoughts on these possible new projects for Emma Thompson?

5. This month Five for the Fifth‘s guest is Jay from the awesome blog Assholes Watching Movies!

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I saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children this weekend and wasn’t overly impressed. It pairs well enough with Tim Burton’s visual style of story-telling, big on surrealism and whimsy but a little lacking in actual story. Overshadowing the film, however, are Burton’s recent comments about diversity in film, and in his films in particular. As wildly inventive as some of Burton’s creations are, his films remain peopled by white characters. Casting non-whites is where his imagination draws a line in the sand, apparently. Dude with scissors for hands? Sure. Talking caterpillar? Demon barber? Obsessive candy man? All okay. Black guy playing any of those? Don’t be crazy. Or as Burton put it himself “Things either call for things, or they don’t” – meaning, if a script says “African American”, he’ll cast an African American. But if a script says “person”, Burton reads it as “white person.” And that’s exactly the kind of inherent bias we most especially have to watch for. There’s no reason why all the peculiar children were white, no reason at all. Perhaps the script did not demand it, but society does. Audiences are as diverse as they come and deserve to see themselves represented on screen. Lazy racism like Burton’s is no excuse; it’s 2016 and it’s time to stop casting like movies are segregated. Samuel L. Jackson has a sizable role in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Jackson being the first person of colour to take on a lead role in any of Burton’s films. I’d celebrate that more if he wasn’t playing a villain.

As if Burton’s all-white IMDB listing isn’t damning enough, he’s nailed himself into his own coffin with these words:

I remember back when I was a child watching “The Brady Bunch” and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.

Never mind that Blaxploitation movies were born in response to systemic racism and preached empowerment. Let’s just take his statement for what it is: white privilege, white ignorance, and an embarrassing amount of #alllivesmatter racist thinking. Tim Burton needs to pull his white head out of his white ass, and we all need to hold him accountable.

Have you seen ‘Miss Peregrine’? What do you think about Tim Burton’s racist remarks?

 


Well, that’s it for the OCTOBER edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

Five for the Fifth: SEPTEMBER 2016 Edition

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Still can’t believe it’s Labor Day weekend already! For some reason I haven’t asked this before in the previous September editions. Most Americans will get a day off today in the first Monday of September to celebrate the creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.

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It made me think of films that’s filmed in a workplace, whether it’s a factory, restaurant, 9-5 office job, etc. Having just rewatched Working Girl a couple of months ago, as well as Equity just last week, there are definitely a ton of films made about Wall Street. But there are a lot of memorable films about less glamorous jobs, i.e. Waitress, High Fidelity, Extract, Office Space, The Good Girl, Up in the Air, just to name a few. I’d also include Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. that takes place inside a scream factory.

So which workplace movie(s) is your all time favorite? 

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2. Ok, for this month FFTF, I want to feature two trailers from films by female directors. The first one stars Marion Cotillard, whose film Allied I actually featured last month. Well, as I said before, anything with miss Cotillard gets my attention!

From The Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres) trailer doesn’t have a subtitle yet but here’s the synopsis per IMDb:

Adaptation of Milena Agus’ novel, set after WWII following Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard), a passionate, free-spirited woman who is in a loveless marriage and falls for another man.

The film is directed by French actress/filmmaker Nicole Garcia also stars Louis Garrel and Alex Brendemühl. I love WWII romances, so I’m automatically intrigued by this. Apparently Sundance Selects has picked up the U.S. rights to the film back in March, and the film opens in France in mid October, but the US release date hasn’t been announced yet.

Here’s a clip that does have English subtitles:

Now this one takes place closer to home for me in the US.

Certain Women focuses on the lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.

I love the casting of the three main actresses: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart. I’m not familiar with filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, but I did remember her film Meek’s Cutoff (also starring Michelle Williams) was quite acclaimed. Certain Women is set for release on October 14th.

Thoughts about either one of these films? 

3. Well, now that the dust has sort of settled on the Summer blockbuster season, a bunch of articles are lamenting that 2016 is one of the worst Summer seasons. The New York Times lists over a dozen movies as financial disappointment (including The BFG, ID4 sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, etc. and perhaps the biggest dud of all, the Ben-Hur remake.

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But it seems that we’re only looking at big, tentpole movies. Seems that quite a few smaller movies like Lights Out, Bad Moms, The Purge: Election Year, Sausage Party, and this weekend’s box office winner for a second week in a row, Don’t Breathe have beaten industry expectations. Most of those movies’ budget are well below $20 mil, but have grossed at least twice its budget.

Which of the Summer sleeper hits are your favorite?
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4. It just dawned on me after I started watching Netflix’s Stranger Things that I’ve been watching two big 80s/90s stars making a comeback on TV. Winona Ryder is one of the stars of Stranger Things, and of course you all know Christian Slater has won acclaims for his performance in Mr. Robot.

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I don’t remember either one of those working steadily, apart from some small roles here and there. But there are some 80s/90s actors who have been working pretty steadily up until now, the likes of Robert Downey Jr. (since his comeback in Iron Man), Rob Lowe, Arnie, Sly, etc. It made me think of their peers a couple of decades ago who I haven’t seen in ages… Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Sherilyn Fenn, Molly Ringwald, and pretty much everyone in The Breakfast Club, boy those were big names when I was in high school!

So which of your favorite 80s/90s star would you like to see make a comeback on TV?

5. This month Five for the Fifth‘s guest is Mark from Marked Movies! I’ve talked about it a few times the topic here but it’s always a fun one to discuss.

What actors people take a disliking to? Not that they’re bad actors but there’s something about their style, or even appearance, that you just don’t take to.
Or alternatively, what actors people have previously disliked but over time began to appreciate them?

Well, I’m sure you have an answer for either one of Mark’s question. Let’s hear it!


Well, that’s it for the SEPTEMBER edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

FlixChatter Review: Café Society (2016)

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Café Society is director Woody Allen’s latest film about old Hollywood – or sort of. Set during its golden age (30s, 40s), its main protagonist is Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a naïve young New Yorker looking to make his way by moving to Hollywood to work under his uncle Phil (Steve Carell in a wooden performance), a high powered Hollywood agent.

Leaving a loving Jewish family in New York, which includes his mother Rose (an excellent Jeannie Berlin) and a gangster older brother (Corey Stoll), Bobby arrives in LA, and taken under his uncle’s wing. To help him get acclimated to his new surroundings, Phil tasks ‘Vronny’, his secretary (Kristen Stewart) to show him the sights. Before long, a romance ensues and some rather complicated triangles come into play.


Café Society
is watchable at best, with Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous photography, its glamorous ensemble cast (Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Sheryl Lee) and Allen’s trademark impeccable pacing. However, the cast is mostly sidelined to the rafters.

Aiming seemingly for that classic, light, airy romantic comedy – the likes of Twentieth Century (1934), but without it’s creative punch and slapstick. It’s peppered with cynicism throughout, perhaps to intrigue a moviegoer discussion into the imagined realities of love and romance in the Hollywood jet-set. But it all feels a bit hollow and ultimately, forgettable.

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Perhaps Allen’s point is to stress the emptiness of the rich Hollywood life, but it’s hard to care for any of the main characters who don’t evolve much. It does feel a bit like Allen doing a monologue on Hollywood, love and death to himself. But that in itself, unfortunately, does not make a great, or even a good film.

The one redeeming quality about the film are the scenes with Bobby’s immediate family, which were too few and far in between. The family dynamic offered the most effective comedy throughout and reminded me bits and pieces of 1987’s award winning Moonstruck.

In the end, the Dofmans were the only characters I could sympathize with. And by film’s end, Bobby was most definitely not even a part of them at all.

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So what do you think of Café Society? Let us know what you think!

MSPIFF 2015 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

MSPIFF15reviewsCloudsOfSilsMariaAt first glance, the film sounds like another commentary on the state of the entertainment industry. But it’s a rarity to see a complex female character at the center of it, and the film benefited from three excellent performances by Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz. An unlikely trio to be sure, yet each brings such authenticity to their character and they keep the film grounded despite the sometimes aimless wandering of Olivier Assayas‘ direction.

Binoche plays an international film star Maria Enders who’s at the peak of her career. She reluctantly accepts a role in a revival play, Maloja Snake, that made her famous twenty years earlier. Back then she played the role of Sigrid, a young girl who has an intense but eventually catastrophic with her much older female boss, Helena. Of course this time Maria’s asked to play Helena, which brings some sort of internal crisis as she grapples with the dark themes of the play, as well as the issue of aging and the shift of entertainment landscape in general. The dialog between Binoche and Stewart who plays her dedicated personal assistant Valentine are revelatory and amusing, I enjoy the honesty and frankness of their relationship. Val seems to understand Maria more than she’s given credit for, and despite their sometimes prickly banters, they obviously have a strong bond together.

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Some have compared the story to Birdman and All About Eve and they do share similar themes, but there’s enough uniqueness in the protagonist’s journey and relationship. Moretz’s character Jo-Ann, a Lindsay-Lohan type starlet who’s talented but self-destructive is fascinating, as you could say that it resembles Stewart who was quite the tabloid fodder during her Twilight years. During a rather hilarious conversation where Val’s trying to convince Maria that there’s more to Jo-Ann and her seemingly shallow sci-fi character, I couldn’t help but think of Stewart herself. This could very well be Stewart’s answer to the naysayers (me included) that she could act, that she’s more than just a ball of nerves who can’t stop fidgeting. I have to say that she succeeded with this role and she earned her groundbreaking César award.

I read on IMDb that the film’s premise was Binoche’s idea, she pitched that to writer/director Olivier Assayas and he wrote a script with the idea. So no wonder Binoche was perfect in the role of Maria and no doubt it’s a character the international film star herself could relate to. Even at 51, she’s still as stunning as her much younger co-stars. There’s a certain self-assuredness as well as raw vulnerability in Maria that Binoche captured perfectly. She’s frustrating at times but never irritating, at least not to me. There are also some humorous moments when she googled Jo-Ann and was shocked/amused by all her shenanigans captured by paparazzi.

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The film is shot 35-mm film and it’s simply stunning. It can practically serves as a travel video to the Swiss Alps, especially the resort town St Moritz. The Maloja Snake refers to the thick white low-lying cloud formation that *slithers* its way along the mountainsides and it’s captured beautifully on screen. The classically-tinged score is lovely too, it’s definitely the kind of music I enjoy and it fits the mood and tone of the film well. I’m really glad I saw this on the big screen and it’s become one of my favorites of the year. There are some slow moments and the ending dragged on a bit, but for the most part I was quite engrossed in the story. It’s rare to see such a well-developed, female-centric dramas these days, so kudos to Assayas for writing/directing one that also feels authentic. But the stars truly belong to both Binoche and Stewart, especially the latter who’s able to convince me that she’s an actress worth writing about.

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Have you seen Clouds of Sils Maria? Well, what did you think?