FlixChatter Review: Little Women (2019)

As a fan of period dramas with strong female protagonists, naturally I’ve been looking forward to seeing the new Little Women adaptation. I remember loving the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version, but 25 years is a long enough time to see a new adaptation from Louisa May Alcott‘s autobiographical novel about her own life with her three sisters in post-Civil War America.

After the success of Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig was undoubtedly poised to helm this adaptation that’s packed with a stellar cast: Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Florence Pugh as Amy,  Emma Watson as Meg and Eliza Scanlen as Beth. She re-teamed with Ronan once again, who apparently asked to be cast as the headstrong, modern protagonist Jo March. The film is told from her perspective as she reflects on her life in a non-linear narrative. It took some time for me to figure out which timeline is being told, as one has to really pay attention to details whether a scene takes place in flashback or present. But once the film gets going, it’s easier to follow and I was immersed in the March sisters’ journey.

Lady Bird was beloved by critics and audiences alike, but I must say I enjoyed Little Women more and Gerwig’s direction has the right amount of flair to make the story really come alive. Ronan is a consistently excellent actress, but she clearly reveled in this role. She’s so lively, passionate and fiery as Jo March, and her independent spirit shines through. The March sisterhood is endearing and emotionally moving, each woman’s journey is handled with care and most importantly, each is given a ‘voice’ that most women is deprived of in that era. Jo’s relationship with each of her sister is well-developed, especially the sibling rivalry between her and Amy. 

Pugh has quickly become one of my favorite actresses and the incredibly gifted miss Ronan has truly met her match in this casting. Of course I was as furious as Jo when she found out Amy had done that heinous thing to her (you know what I mean if you’ve read the book or seen the film). Their relationship is the most explosive, for a lack of a better word, without being over-dramatic, with each young performer fiercely holding her own. The speech Amy made about how the inequality of women of that time is a defining moment in the film. Though delivered almost in a matter-of-fact manner by Pugh, it packed an emotional punch. Apparently that whole speech was written in the last minute just before shooting, at the suggestion of Meryl Streep who played Aunt March.

In terms of casting, Laura Dern is wonderful as the kind, caring mother of the March girls. Streep is always great to watch and she even became a comic relief at times, but it’s Chris Cooper who’s absolutely devastating as Mr. Laurence. He imbued SO much heart in the role with barely any word spoken… and relationship with Beth, who reminds him of the granddaughter he lost, is particularly heart-rending.

I remember having a bit of a crush on the 1994’s version of boy next door Laurie (played by Christian Bale, natch!), but I absolutely adore Timothée Chalamet in the role. The Hollywood’s boyfriend of the moment has always been extremely watchable, but the way he looks at Jo with his longing look… oh my! And that proposal scene just breaks my heart.

Now, if I have to nitpick however, is the relationship between Jo and Friedrich Bhaer, the professor. Now, I can forgive casting a French actor (Louis Garrel) playing a German character (or someone with a German name), but I just didn’t feel much connection between the two and the scene feels rushed somehow. I remember swooning over Gabriel Byrne as Bhaer and the ‘my hands are empty’ scene was far more emotional.

Overall though, this is definitely one of the best literary adaptations and it’s a shame Greta Gerwig and the film was overlooked at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Let’s see if the Academy would rectify that. It’s a film with an inspiring message for girls and women alike, and a good one for boys as well to serve as a reminder that the journey for women equality still continues. In terms of production values, there are plenty to admire as well. The production design by Jess Gonchor is excellent, setting it in Louisa May Alcott’s family home where she wrote the novel adds so much authenticity. So is Jacqueline Durran‘s costumes that look era appropriate and fits each character well. The gorgeous cinematography by Yorick Le Saux and lush music score by Alexandre Desplat all makes Little Women a feast for the senses and one I think I’ll want to watch over and over for years to come.


Have you seen Little Women? Well, what did you think?

2018 Golden Globe Awards: Commentary on winners, #TimesUp movement, highlights of the night

Can’t believe award season is officially in full swing! Honestly I didn’t even realize Golden Globes was this weekend until I heard something in the car as I was driving around. Fortunately I did have time to actually sit down and watch (and live tweeted) the event, though I tuned in late as I usually avoid the red carpet stuff.

Well this year’s ceremony is different than in recent memory… what with the #TimesUp movement and everyone banding together to support women who’ve been sexually-harassed/abused by wearing all-black at the red carpet.

More on that later… as I do want to introduce a friend of mine, Shivani Yadav, blogger extraordinaire of Critic-Corner which offers reviews and fun celeb fashion, as we tag team on Golden Globes commentary this year! I thought that since the Golden Globes was all about women supporting each other, it’s the perfect time to collaborate. Shivani – it’s an honor to have you guest blog on FlixChatter!

Now, to start things off, here’s the video of Seth Meyers’ opening montage in case you missed it…

Glad he captured the #TimesUp movement in his monologue and rightly blasting the biggest sexual harassment perpetrators Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen. I think overall Seth did a good job as host. He didn’t irk me like some previous hosts and he certainly wasn’t as mean-spirited as Ricky Gervais.


Red Carpet

Shivani:

This was probably the best Golden Globes ceremony, in recent memory. So many amazing moments took place and great speeches were made. My day could not have started in a better way (it was 4:30 AM when it started here in India).

On the fashion front, with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement going on, celebs opted for black ensembles and I was all up for it. I know the point here was of solidarity and trying to get a message out but at the end of the day, it was through fashion. And a person who writes fashion reviews daily, at first I was a bit skeptical about to decision but after tonight, I can confidently say that this was one of the best red carpets I have seen since I started writing. With the help of one color, the message came out much more clearly – of equality, sisterhood and not taking anybody’s sh*t!

I just wish more men were speaking out about the issue. Red carpet hosts could have done a better job in making them a part of the conversation by asking them how things can be better and in general, voicing out their opinions. Hopefully, we’ll see improvement on that side in the more coming award shows.

As for my fashion favorites, this is probably the first time I don’t have any. Sure, I have opinions about every look (and for that you can read my blog), but generally as a whole, I’m so pleased and overwhelmed with everyone, fashion-wise, that my conscience is not allowing me to pick favorites.

Ruth

The #TimesUp and #MeeToo movement was quite unprecedented. As a woman of color, the message of solidarity in the spirit of equality and representation is one that’s dear to my heart. Of course it remains to be seen if this movement will actually make a real lasting impact in Hollywood and beyond… I sure hope women don’t just get heard because it’s part of a zeitgeist… that it’s more than just a ‘trend’ but something that would bring out real change.

I skipped the red carpet stuff, but I did read some comments how the hosts didn’t seem to be grasping the movement seriously and still make it all about the fashion instead of having meaningful conversations. If that’s the case, it’s truly a missed opportunity, especially since many celebs brought activists with them to the event.

Now, out of a sea of all-black ensembles, there are still truly stunning outfits. I think limiting the color made designers more creative with the style. For me though, the queen who slayed them all has got to be Viola Davis… #ibowtothee


Main Event Highlights

Shivani

The first highlight for me was obviously Oprah‘s speech. I’m not even kidding, tears were literally pouring down my eyes by the sheer power of it. Breathtaking!

Love the fact that Natalie Portman and Barbra Streisand pointed out the all-made director’s category. Somebody had to do it and HFPA wasn’t exactly listening so doing it to their faces was kind of important!

And seeing Kirk Douglas with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta Jones was quite a delight too.

Ruth

I so agreed that Oprah‘s speech is definitely a highlight. It was such powerful, definitive, empowering and inspiring. Now, I’m not one of those who worships on the altar of Oprah, but y’know what, it’s undeniable she is a powerful self-made woman and last night she used her power for good like nobody’s business.

I feel for anyone who had to follow THAT speech to deliver the Best Director award, and that ‘honor’ went to Natalie Portman and Ron Howard. But y’know what, Portman seized the moment by cheekily quipping ‘and here are the ALL MALE nominees!’

I know some people have issues with the timing of that comment that seemed to undermine the accomplishments of the nominated filmmakers. But I don’t think she meant it that way, and y’know what, she too was caught up in the moment after Oprah’s speech and she seized it. It was a spot-on comment and I felt that it needed to be said. I thought Howard’s expression was priceless, and at least he was a big enough man to realize it wasn’t a slap against male directors, but the male-dominated filmmaking club that wasn’t conducive for women to be a part of.

There are many powerful speeches last night by women, but the one I was really taken by was Laura Dern‘s. I love how sincere her delivery was, empowering but delivered with a dose of humility and grace.

I LOVE the spirit of female solidarity displayed all night, especially by the female-led show Big Little Lies that won big last night, including Best Miniseries or TV Film.

Well, since I live-tweeted the event, I might as well just post some of my tweets here…

Case in point…

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 07: 75th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS — Pictured: Actor Chris Hemsworth (L) and director Taika Waititi arrive to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Thoughts on Winners/Losers

Neither Shivani and I barely watch any TV shows this year, so we only post comments on the film winners. Ironically, the year I became a filmmaker last year also meant I had little time to watch films so there are a ton of films nominated here that I had missed.

In any case, here’s our comments on the the nominees and winners (listed in bold) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker

Shivani: I’m sure most people expected [Ronan] to win. Not a surprise! I like how her mom was on face-time. That was cute!

Ruth: I’ve been such a huge fan of Ronan that despite not having seen Lady Bird yet (I know, I know, hopefully soon!), I’m thrilled she won. I think she’s deserved awards for so many of her past performances (Atonement, Hanna, Brooklyn, etc.)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Shivani: Same here. No surprise!

Ruth: Again, haven’t seen Franco’s performance but I was kinda rooting for Kaluuya’s just based on what I’ve read on Get Out. I like the brotherly love Franco displayed when he won though the whole thing w/ Tommy Wiseau was just so odd. Plus I think it’s rude to shove him away like that, even if they were good friends now.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama
Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks, The Post
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Shivani: I was rooting for him so much. I know Timothée is awesome and everything, but Gary literally never gets his due. It’s his time!

Ruth: Indeed it’s a well-deserved win!

Glad that Oldman gave props to his co-stars. I thought Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn were both absolutely terrific in the film. Good enough even for a Best Supporting nod!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Shivani: God this lady is fierce. There’s literally no match for her!

Ruth: I love how effortless and no-nonsense McDormand was. I love that she doesn’t seem like someone who loves to schmooze (unlike most in Hollywood) and doesn’t take any bullsh*t from anyone either. Three Billboards is yet another film I’ve missed but hope to see that soon!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Shivani: In my opinion, the actual competition here was between Allison and Laurie. I’m happy either way, I love all of the nominees!

Ruth: I loooove Octavia Spencer and The Shape of Water, so naturally I was rooting for her. But that’s not fair as I haven’t seen the other performances. Janney is a force so I have no problem w/ her winning. Plus, I love the diversity on this category.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: No one could really tell here who would win, so I would have been happy for anyone. But yeah, Sam is extremely underrated and I’m happy he got some recognition.

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy
The Disaster Artist
The Greatest Showman
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Shivani: I’m just happy for the crew. Greta Gerwig is so adorable!

Ruth: I probably am in the minority here the fact that I have not seen Lady Bird nor have I seen any of Greta Gerwig‘s films, either. Not sure why, just haven’t gotten around to it. But hey, always happy to see a female filmmaker getting accolades, so yay!

Best Motion Picture — Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Shivani: This was quite a surprise. I thought The Shape of Water would have won, but nevertheless, I’m happy that they recognized the film!

Ruth: Having only seen Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, I have no idea which one would win in this category but I thought Call Me By Your Name would win.

Best Animated Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Ferdinand
Coco
Loving Vincent

Shivani: I don’t think anybody was surprised with this win!

Ruth: Yep, not surprised at all though this is the first year where I hadn’t seen any of the animated features! I did blog about Loving Vincent a while ago, that looks absolutely astounding.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
The Shape of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Molly’s Game

Shivani: I was quite positive that Lady Bird would win, and was surprised once again. It’s just that Three Billboards isn’t a type of movie that would normally get recognized by award shows. I’m happy that it is!

Ruth: Can’t really comment here as I have only seenThe Shape of Water, but sounds like a really strong category here with solid picks. I wanna see every single one of these I’ve missed!

Best Director – Motion Picture
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Ridley Scott, All The Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Shivani: Another underrated director (by the voters)! I loved it when he asked them to lower the music. “It’s taken 25 years. Give me a minute” Awesome!

Ruth: Happy for del Toro’s win, too! The Shape of Water was a singular and extremely creative original film. I love filmmakers who truly gave his all for his creation and del Toro spent a lot of his own money and considerable time even just to design the sea creature! Still, I was flabbergasted and saddened that Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins were snubbed, esp. Gerwig considering the critical rave Lady Bird received.

Best Original Score
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
Phantom Thread
The Post
Dunkirk

Ruth: I adore Desplat’s score for The Shape of Water. It’s as magical, ethereal, romantic and mysterious as the film. Absolutely beautiful stuff that sweeps me off my feet.

Best Original Song
“Home,” Ferdinand — Nick Jonas, Justin Tranter, Nick Monson
“Mighty River,” Mudbound — Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson
“Remember Me,” Coco — Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Star,” The Star — Mariah Carey, Marc Shaiman
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman — Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Shivani: I was really disappointed with the fact that they did not nominate Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon from Call Me By Your Name so I’m kinda mad at them for that. This Is Me is a good enough song, but if it were up to me, it would not have gotten my vote.

Ruth: I had to look up the two songs that Shivani mentioned. Both of those songs are lovely, I totally understand why she loved them. I think This Is Me  is a rousing song though, definitely more of a crowd pleaser.


Let me end the post with this article that offers an astute observation of the night… it’s as if the #TimesUp movement weren’t really a thing for most of the men, aside from what Seth Meyers said in his opening monologue “Good Evening, Ladies & Remaining Gentlemen.” The silence is deafening and frankly, disheartening.


So, what are YOUR thoughts on the 2018 winners & favorite moments of the night?


FlixChatter Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

I have to admit that my life has been so hectic lately I haven’t really had time to anticipate any films this holiday season like I normally do. But when the press screening invite came out for The Last Jedi, I actually got more excited despite only having seen only one trailer. Well, I’m glad that is the only trailer/videos I’ve seen of the film… it’s best to see it ‘blind’ knowing as little as possible. I don’t write reviews very often anymore, so indulge me when I go a bit longer with this one.

Force Awakens is more nostalgic and an homage to the original from JJ Abrams, and while The Last Jedi also still has to tread on familiar grounds, it somehow feels fresh and new. There are quite a few surprises that thrills, delights and tugs my heartstrings. Ok granted I’m more of a casual Star Wars fan, so I don’t have the depth knowledge like ardent aficionados, but I was quite caught up with the journey of the main characters. The story pretty much picks up where the last film leaves off, with a literal cliffhanger as we saw Rey (Daisy Ridley) meeting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) up high on a cliff by an ocean.


But before we get there, the film drops us straight into an intergalactic space battle of the Resistance fighters, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) against the reigning First Order. I enjoy thrilling aerial battles and the SFX is off the charts in a film of this magnitude, but I’m glad there’s more to this movie than just action, action, action. What I really enjoyed most from the film is the quieter, more talky scenes between Rey and Luke. Writer/director Rian Johnson delved deep into the saga’s mythology and Jedi philosophy… about what the force really is, the real power of the Jedi, etc. Those are the real appeal of this enduring franchise and what makes me go ‘ok I see why people love this saga so much and why it appeals to multiple generations.’

There are fans who might not like the direction of Luke in this film (even Hamill himself reportedly told Johnson he fundamentally disagreed how his character was written), but I personally love the deconstruction of such a titular character. Why is Luke such a legend? Just what exactly is the Force and who gets to have it? How does Luke himself sees his own power and its effect in the universe? It’s always intriguing to learn just what the fuss is about Luke, especially given how he was talked about in virtually every scene in The Force Awakens, yet we only got to see him for mere seconds! I love the grizzled, curmudgeon Luke (like Hamill was channeling the real Harrison Ford!), the salt & pepper longish hair and beard makes him look even more distinguished. The scenes between him and Rey are definitely my favorite. “This is not going to go the way you think.” Luke says at one point (it’s not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer and all over its promos)… and you know what, the film actually delivers on that sentiment!

The film is divided into three major scenarios, in which each team has to fulfill a certain ‘task’ if you will, all happening around the same time. My main quibble with the movie is that the transition between one scenario to another feels disjointed at times. One scene would be solemn and intense, then it’ll switch to something more mischievous and funky and then it’s full-throttle action. Perhaps it’s to be expected when you have such a vast narrative involving so many players but it could’ve been done more smoothly. That said though, the film has enough going for it–the energetic action, lively humor and genuine emotion–that I didn’t even mind the 2.5 hours running time.

Obviously the strength of this space saga is the characters people truly care about over the years. I feel like there’s a proper balance (a word thrown out a lot in this film) between the iconic characters and the newer ones that expand the story. The emotional tug of war between Rey and Kylo is the heart of the story here, and both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are absolutely terrific. I’ve loved Ridley’s spunky Rey from the start and I find Driver’s Kylo even more magnetic here (and not only ’cause he’s got such great mane!). Yes he’s a grandpa Vader wanna-be (and he’s still got serious anger-management issues), but there’s much more than that and the internal conflict within him is palpable. Poor Domhnall Gleeson though, a terrific actor who’s relegated to being the comic relief as the over-the-top General Hux.

On the Resistance team, pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, not to be outdone by Adam in the sexy hair department) gets more to do here. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Poe solo movie with the oh-so-charismatic Isaac, he’s just a cool guy with a reckless energy a la Han Solo. There’s less bantering between him and his bestie Fin (John Boyega). Instead, Fin is paired with another spunky maintenance worker loyal to the Resistance, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). BB-8 is still an immensely fun droid to watch, while the new avian creature Porg likely only appeals to little kiddies. I’m glad to see two new female characters with a proper arc, one is Rose and the other is Vice Admiral Holdo, played by veteran actress Laura Dern. There’s a pretty intense exchange between her and Poe, but I’m not even going to spoil it for you what it’s about. One thing I can say is the scenes of Carrie Fisher is truly bittersweet. The film is dedicated to her (naturally!) but the whole film gives a proper homage to such an iconic character.

Now onto SPOILERS territory… (highlight to read)

It was cool to see Yoda making an appearance here with Luke on the island. As Luke struggles with destroying the ancient Jedi text, Yoda just made it go kablooey. It’s not particularly a highlight for me, but it’s cool to see the apprentice and the master reunited. Another reunion that made me tear up is Luke and Leia… especially when she gave the Han Solo’s dice he grabbed from the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. I love when Leia said ‘Luke, I know what you’re going to say. I changed my hair.’ Ha! It feels like something Carrie Fisher herself would say. When Luke said to her (about Han) ‘he’s never really gone’ it feels like how Carrie herself is to the SW family and the fans. Her spirit will always be with the franchise. 

Now for those who’ve seen this? Who do you think the Last Jedi is? Is it Luke or is it Rey? Thoughts on the kid in the last scene that hints he’s got the Force with him?

My initial reaction after I saw this is it’s currently one of my favorites in the franchise! Well, after four days seeing it, I still stand by it. In fact, I don’t mind seeing this again by year’s end. It’s really got everything. Thrilling action, check. Intense lightsaber battle, check. Witty repartee, check. Emotional struggles, check. The action punctuates the story and that’s how it should be. Unlike the overwrought and mawkish prequels, Rian’s script has zest and wit, and also unafraid to poke fun at themselves. I also marvel at the cinematography by Steve Yedlin, a longtime Rian Johnson collaborator. So many iconic visuals that truly took my breath away, especially those on the island filmed in County Kerry, Ireland. And of course, John Williams’ iconic epic score still gives me the chills!

By the time the end credits roll, I am already excited to see how the story goes from there. It’s great to have a filmmaker who evidently has been a fan of the franchise since he was a kid, but still also an ‘outsider’ who dared to take the 40-year-old saga into unexpected paths. The force is certainly strong with Rian Johnson, so I have no problem having him do the next Star Wars trilogy.


So what are your thoughts on The Last Jedi? Feel free to indulge me on your own theories about what happens in the film!

Weekend Roundup + Quick thoughts on ‘The Founder’ (2017)

Hello all, happy last week of January! Well, it’s another hectic week… as some of you know if you read this post, I have my work cut out for me now that I’ve embarked on my first short film project!

Well, suffice to say I barely have time to blog these days, so sorry for my absence but I know this day would come. Thanks to my wonderful contributors to help keep FlixChatter going. Some of you might’ve noticed I’ve got some new guest reviewers, including CineMuse Films‘ Richard all the way from Down Under!

I did manage to fit in a few episodes of Black Mirror last week. It’s one of the most provocative scifi shows ever, yep even more thought-provoking than Westworld! It’s unsettling and quite bleak but it’s so intriguing you just gotta keep watching! I’ve got 5 more episodes to go on the third (last) season so far. Not sure if I’ll ever get around to blogging about it, but dayum, everyone should check out this show!

Anyway, I promise to still blog once a week, I’m still hoping to finish my review of Lion at some point. But today, here’s my quick thoughts on…

THE FOUNDER (2017)

founder

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world. The movie opens with Keaton delivering a pitch directly to camera for a multi-mixer milkshake machine, and we see him going from one restaurant to another trying to sell it. He faces constant rejections, but one day, he learns that a restaurant in San Bernardino California just ordered six of those milkshake machines. Thinking that there might be an error, he ended up driving Route 66 to see that restaurant in person… owned by Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and his brother Dick (Nick Offerman).

thefounder_lynch_offerman

It’s quite intriguing to learn how this giant fast food company got its start, as the McDonalds gave Ray a tour through their super-efficient kitchen. I find myself amused by it all, how this small restaurant revolutionized the speedy service technique in the 50s. It’s also fascinating to watch Ray’s persuasive power once he set his mind to something. He ended up convincing the McDonalds into making him the franchise manager to expand the business to other states.

thefounder_keaton

Keaton is quite effective as the driven, ruthless, and callous salesman who saw an opportunity and snatched it, letting nothing stand in his way. Yet there’s a certain charm about him that somehow I still don’t completely hate him. Glad to see him getting more meaty roles post his Birdman comeback. Lynch and Offerman were quite memorable as the McDonalds, and it’s quite an understated performance from Offerman, apart from the one scene where he trained his workers as if his restaurant were a military basecamp!

thefounder_mcdonalds

The film isn’t always engaging though, in fact it’s rather bland at times. For a movie about a fast food, the pacing could’ve been speedier. The performances are rather uneven as well. Keaton delivered quite a performance, but it’s a pity Laura Dern is wasted as Ray’s neglected wife. Still, it’s a pretty intriguing biopic about the dark, shady side of the American dream. Suffice to say, it didn’t make me want to eat at McDonald’s anytime soon.


So how was YOUR weekend? Seen anything good?

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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.

WorkplaceMovies

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? 

….
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?
….

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: 99 Homes (2015)

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Right from the moment this film was announced, I was immediately hooked by the timely premise and the cast. Set in Orlando, Florida and loosely based on a real-life events, Andrew Garfield plays a twenty-something single dad Dennis Nash who’s been struggling to find decent work as a construction worker. His family gets evicted from his family home where he’s lived since he was a kid, where he lives with his young son and hairstylist mom. Right away I sympathize with Nash as he just can’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard he tries.

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On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a shrewd, wealthy real estate broker Rick Carver, played with steely gaze and gravitas by Michael Shannon. The actor is a towering figure already at 6’3″ but there’s something inherently ominous about him that makes him so perfect for this role. It’s easy to think of Carver as nothing but a greedy bastard who’s all about making money off of other people’s misery. I mean, when he drives around the block of certain neighborhoods in his fancy car, all he sees is what profit he could make from these homes. Yet as the film progress, we see that he’s not a one-dimensional villain and there is a reason behind his madness.

Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani tackled the subject of the housing crisis with such astute and empathetic eye. The way he filmed the eviction scene is truly heartbreaking and the actors portray the grief and outrage convincingly. I read that Bahrani apparently used some non-actors playing people being evicted from their homes, but he didn’t tell the lead actors in order to get an authentic response from those scenes.

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The film is tense and suspenseful despite not having much action going on. I felt that under a lesser director, they’d probably sensationalize this story with unnecessary shoot-outs or sex scenes to drive the point across. But thankfully Bahrani chose subtlety and infuse the film with nervous energy that keeps building until a boiling point in a riveting finale. He’s definitely a director to watch and no wonder Roger Ebert called him ‘the new great American director’ in this piece from 2009. “His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all,” the article says, and indeed he accomplished that in 99 Homes. I think being the son of Iranian immigrants gave him a unique perspective on American culture and events that shape Americans.

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The strength of the film also lie in the two leads Shannon and Garfield. It’s interesting that both have just recently done a superhero movie(s), Man of Steel and Spider-Man, respectively. But you won’t even associate either of them with those roles, which is a testament to their fantastic performance and versatility. Garfield captured the anguish of his character perfectly, and he makes for a convincing young dad. There are some emotional scenes between him and his son (Noah Lomax, who bears a striking resemblance to Garfield), as well as his mom (the always watchable Laura Dern). He has a great rapport with Shannon and they play each other off so well. I have to mention Tim Guinee as well who has a small but memorable supporting role as a friend of Nash who’s driven to extremes by circumstances.

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This film certainly doesn’t paint the real estate system in a flattering light, but yet somehow Bahrani manage to present the story as it is. It’s not a preachy piece that push a certain agenda. It’s more about two characters from two opposite real estate spectrum, and how their lives end up affecting each other in ways they’d never imagine.

Like any formidable house, 99 Homes is built on a strong foundation of a sharp script and held up by intuitive direction and powerful performances. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. I can’t recommend this one enough. I definitely look forward to more films by Ramin Bahrani and more intriguing roles for both Garfield and Shannon.

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Have you seen 99 Homes? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: WILD (2014)

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Based on a memoir of Cheryl Strayed, a Minnesota native, it’s no surprise the TCFF screening last month was packed and there were a long line at the RUSH line trying to get tickets to the sold-out showing. As someone who haven’t read the book, I was intrigued by the female-driven story and was expecting to be entertained as well as enlightened. Alas, I got neither.

This movie is like Eat, Pray, Love 2.0 where a white woman in the midst of a life crisis decided to go on a journey of self-discovery. Now, instead of traveling the globe, in the mid 90s Cheryl hiked the 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long trail of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), all by herself. So the first act was quite amusing as we watched the petite Reese Witherspoon struggling to even carry her ginormous backpack twice her size and struggling to figure out how to put up a tent, cook a meal and so on. The film tells us in flashbacks who Cheryl is and how she ended up taking up such an extreme adventure. She went on such an arduous trek without much preparation, I mean the PCT is such a challenging terrain even for most experienced hikers. It seems that Cheryl went through life in a similar reckless manner, prompted by the death of her mother, played by the always affable Laura Dern.

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Though her family was poor, Cheryl’s mother was always there for her and she had such a sunny outlook on life even in the most dire circumstances. Her mother’s death from lung cancer wrecked the already-fragile Cheryl and her life went on a downward spiral. She drank, did drugs and slept with any willing man, even in a dirty alleyway. It’s no surprise her humiliated husband divorced her and even she didn’t fault him for doing so. In fact, her last name ‘Strayed’ was made up by Cheryl herself after the divorce, perhaps to signify her lost and philandering ways?

Witherspoon pulled all the stops in portraying Cheryl’s ‘warts and all’ persona, which includes posing nude, swearing up a storm, and pretty much anything we don’t expect from *America’s sweetheart.* But that’s the thing, I felt like the actress tried too hard to shed her ‘good girl’ image here, yet I feel she didn’t quite go far enough. For one I think she still looks too beautiful even sans makeup, never once did I believe her as a desperate person reaching her wit’s end. Some have said it’s a bravura and transformative performance but to me it looks superficial and bait-y, because she didn’t immerse us or make us empathize with the character.

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Perhaps an actress with a better range (like Cate Blanchett or even Emily Blunt) might’ve suited this role better. Other than Witherspoon and Dern, there are no other performances worth talking about. I only noticed Michiel Huisman as a guy she hooked up on her journey as I recognized him from some Game of Thrones stills, but he wasn’t given much to do than looking hunky.

The film itself also tried too hard to tug at my heartstrings that it felt manipulative. That is if you weren’t overwhelmed by the repetitive and at times jarring flashbacks to the point of ad nauseam. It’s worth noting that this is Jean Marc Valèe‘s follow-up film after the critically-acclaimed Dallas Buyer’s Club which was nominated for an Oscar, and the script was done by acclaimed writer Nick Hornby (About A Boy, An Education). Great pedigree to be sure, if only I had been more impressed by the result.

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The cinematography by Yves Bélanger of the PCT is perhaps the only thing I admire about this film, I mean it could double as an advertisement for the scenic trail (oh and for REI too, with its blatant product placement). Though the running time was under 2-hours, I felt like it went on for ages and I never felt more relieved to see end credits appearing on screen! I don’t mean to be so down on this movie, I suppose the themes of self-empowerment and perseverance are quite inspiring, but in the end, Cheryl Strayed remains emotionally distant to me.

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Have you seen WILD? I’m curious to hear what you think!