FlixChatter Review: GLASS (2018)

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Written & Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

I collected comic books as a kid during the late 70s through the 80s. As an introverted 8 year old, comics (from DC to Marvel, to Batman, X-Men, and eventually to graphic novels) provided a sense of wonder and mystery. Even in the post Star Wars 70s and 80s, the comic book medium elicited a kind of excitement that spurred the imagination. With all of the super powers and amazing impossibilities drawn in that wonderful half-tone of ink, words and colors, within those pages was an undeniable humanism to the drama of these characters.

As I grew older, I came to realize that the fantastic isn’t much without the human element. Comics had come to embrace a superhero based in the real-world with real-world problems (divorce, domestic issues, addiction, flawed motives, graphic violence, sex, questionable ethics and morality). M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) is a testament to this realization. Its subtle approach to the fantastic (and very human) superhero reflected the evolution of comics into the millennium.

Shyamalan used simple everyday conversation and situations for dramatic effect, all without the bombast of today’s super-hero CGI excesses that is proving fatiguing (at least to this particular moviegoer) to some of today’s audience. I admit, I still look forward to Avengers: Endgame (I need closure after watching all those other movies), Dark Phoenix (my favorite of all the humanistic superhero sagas of all time), and seeing Spider-Man:Into the Spiderverse proved that there were still creative bounds to achieve. Unbreakable went against the grain back then and still stands today as a great example of an alternate way to portray super-heroes on screen.

Which brings us to 2019’s GLASS: Unbreakable’s official follow-up and semi-continuation of 2016’s very fine SPLIT. Here we pick up where SPLIT left off and 19 years after the events of Unbreakable. David Dunn (Bruce Willis with an understated performance) is now in the private security business along with his son Joseph. Joseph knows of his abilities and assists his father in tracking down criminals. Infamously known as the vigilante “The Overseer”, David’s alter-ego tracks down Kevin Wendell Crumb aka The Horde (James McAvoy in another fine performance) who is still terrorizing the city. Meanwhile, Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass (played by the venerable Samuel Jackson) has spent the last couple of decades in a mental institution under the current care of Dr. Elle Staple (Sarah Paulson).

Shyamalan matches the feel of Unbreakable. There’s nothing flashy here. The actors move the scenes along with a mid-tempo pace that is a welcome change to today’s CGI heavy and music video editing styles we’ve expected in the genre. In the early scenes, it establishes itself “as not of that ilk” so to speak. Things starts out promising – Willis speaks very little, as we would expect David Dunn to be. Dialogue is succinct, albeit comic book like. It’s not Shakespeare – just simple language, avoiding pretense though self-consciously. The film reveals its plot slowly at first and quite entertainingly especially when Dunn finally confronts Crumb/The Horde for the first time. Then as the trailers would have it, Dunn, Crumb and Elijah Price are fated together under Dr. Staple’s care and control. Her sole purpose, to convince the three men they are not superheroes or super-villains, but merely suffering from delusions of grandeur.

And this is where GLASS starts to unravel. This preposterous scenario is handled leisurely and predictably, following the normal template of the Asylum horror flick, with orderlies snuffed out in orderly fashion (pardon the pun). 2 other major scenes detailing our characters escape (because we know they will somehow) made me scratch my head in a “Huh?” moment and not in a good way. Of course Glass wouldn’t be complete without that Shyamalan signature twist ending that was either too preposterous or too predictable. To say anymore would give it away. However, it ultimately left me feeling hollow and unsatisfied. But then again, that could very well be the point: that in this day and age of Marvel and DC motion pictures, we’ve come to expect the expected and in such spectacular fashion, particle explosions and all. Shyamalan has always leaned toward dialogue and images to make a point and it has served him well in his best films. GLASS may belong to the exception of the lot.

Shyamalan’s Hitchcockian cameo in the film seems to make a statement in itself. His line about hanging out with ‘shady types’ in his youth but now changed for the better, could be construed as a veiled letting go of the legacy of his earlier works (mostly the duds that followed The Village back in 2004), and perhaps even Unbreakable itself.

James McAvoy is terrific once again as Crumb but that is a singular positive in what feels like run of the mill performances from Willis and Jackson. In retrospect, McAvoy’s character is the most interesting and believable in the movie. It was enough to carry SPLIT. But GLASS’s fragility, shatters before us. But still I can’t help giving Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt; as if he’s done with the specter of Unbreakable’s success… That instead of that films legacy being a boon, it’s too much of a curse to live up to. That said, I’ll still look forward to what he does next…

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So what do you think of M. Night’s GLASS? Let us know what you think!

Guest Review: SPLIT (2017)

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Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 1 hr 57 minutes

M. Night Shyamalan has struggled over the years to regain his early 2000’s glory. From a movie about trees compelling people commit suicide, to a horrible adaptation of a beloved animated series, several of his more recent films have been flops. His newest movie, however, has been attracting a lot of attention, and people are wondering if it might be a return to the tense, unique thrillers that originally made Shyamalan a household name. Does it deliver? In addition, can a movie with an antagonist whose defining characteristic is a legitimate mental disorder succeed without being offensive or painfully inaccurate?

In Split, three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire, and Jessica Sula as Marcia) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin currently has twenty-three personalities who are awaiting the arrival of a new, mysterious one who is simply called The Beast. The girls must figure out which personalities they can trust or manipulate to help them escape.

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While this film had its problems, it was still one of the better ones I’ve seen out of Shyamalan in quite a while. It starts out tense and is suspenseful the whole way through; at the risk of sounding cliché, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, watching the girls’ constant attempts at escape and tense interactions with Kevin’s multiple personalities. James McAvoy gave a fantastic performance, managing to portray nine different personalities without overdoing any of them in an attempt to make them distinct. The actresses playing the kidnapped teenagers gave great performances as well, especially Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of their work in the future.

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That said, this was far from a perfect movie. There were some moments where the tone felt a little confused, and I wasn’t sure if the audience was supposed to laugh or feel unnerved. Much of the exposition comes from Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and the way it’s presented is pretty clunky. Then, of course, there is the portrayal of dissociative identity disorder. Is it insensitive or inaccurate? To answer that would spoil Shyamalan’s signature “twist,” so you’ll have to highlight this next part in order to see it [SPOILER ALERT] Based on the climax of the movie, it appears whatever Kevin suffers from isn’t dissociative identity disorder, but some sort of supernatural ability to not only be host to multiple personalities, but to change physically depending on the personality. When The Beast finally makes his appearance, Kevin’s muscles grow and his skin thickens, earning him near invincibility. He can easily climb walls and ceilings and receive multiple gunshots without being taken down. So because the antagonist doesn’t actually have this specific mental disorder, I can’t say it was portrayed insensitively, since technically it wasn’t what was being portrayed at all.

The twist doesn’t come out of nowhere- it’s hinted at during a session between Kevin and Dr. Fletcher- and, for people who are familiar with Shyamalan’s style, one could almost predict it from the plot summary alone (maybe not the exact details, but at least the general idea). As far as accuracy, Dr. Fletcher does discuss her research on physical changes in individuals with DID, some of which sounded pretty far-fetched, but upon further research (Google searches during my lunch break at work), I found that much of what she said in the movie is based on actual DID cases, so at least the little they did include regarding the actual disorder was mostly based in reality.

Split isn’t necessarily a major comeback for Shyamalan, but it’s still an interesting watch, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to see a solid acting performance

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Have you seen ‘SPLIT’? Well, what did you think? 

Thursday Movie Picks #56: Alien Invasion of Earth

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

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Alien Invasion of Earth

This month’s theme turns out to be pretty easy as there are actually not that many to pick from for me. A lot of the scifis I like are more about humans & robots, not aliens.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Independence Day (1996)

The aliens are coming and their goal is to invade and destroy Earth. Fighting superior technology, mankind’s best weapon is the will to survive.

When someone says ‘alien invasion movies,’ the first thing that came to mind is this. In fact, I asked my hubby and that’s the first thing that came to his mind as well. It’d also my pick for apocalyptic blockbuster as it’s just so much fun! I remember when I saw it on the big screen for the first time, there’s a sense of awe and intrigue when those big spaceships first appeared hovering above the sky.

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I mean, all the action set pieces like the White House blowing up, Will Smith punching the ugly, slimy alien in the face, and that bombastic aerial battle at the end are still memorably epic to this day! It’s an awesome ensemble cast too, Jeff Goldblum has the snark and swagger to make any role memorable. And of course there’s that rousing, albeit corny, presidential speech from Bill Pullman… “We won’t go quietly into the night!” There’s nothing quiet about this flick and I love it all the better for it!

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SIGNS (2002)

A family living on a farm finds mysterious crop circles in their fields which suggests something more frightening to come.

Let me preface this pick with the fact that despite the atrocity of The Happening, I actually still have hope for M. Night’s career. He’s made two excellent films you could consider a classic (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) and the other two in his resume, The Village and Signs, left a lasting impression that I thought about them for days after seeing them. I know his films have their share of ardent fans and equally passionate detractors.

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I’m not saying SIGNS is a perfect film, there are some preposterous, even laughable moments. But I like that it’s really not so much about alien invasion, but he took some of the classic elements of that genre and turn it on its head. In the same way that Sixth Sense isn’t your typical ghost story and Unbreakable offers a compelling twist in the crowded superhero genre, Signs deals with a broader theme. It’s an intimate film about a close-knit family, led by a former pastor dealing with a crisis of faith. The mystery and suspense surrounding the aliens themselves was pretty fun to watch the first time around, but it isn’t the heart of the film and it’s not what stuck with me afterwards. I like the emotional and spiritual aspect, and how a dire predicament actually helps restore a man’s soul and brings his family together. It’s been ages since I saw this but I definitely want to see this again. Excellent acting all around too by Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.

Pacific Rim (2013)

As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

I love LOVE this movie! I never thought I’d love a big monster movie THIS much but what can I say, it’s awesome. Or as one character in the movie said, “That’s two-thousand five-hundred tons of awesome!’😀 I don’t think it’d be a major spoiler to say that it’s as much an alien invasion movie as it’s a big monster flick. The Kaijus are obviously not from this world, they’re mammoth biological weapons sent by an alien colony through a portal for a specific mission: wipeout humankind. Guillermo del Toro did an amazing job making these creatures look organic like a dinosaur, but with thick, gunky blue blood that actually looks cool the bloodier the darn thing is.

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All the fight scenes between the Kaijus and the massive human-powered robots called Jaegers are wonderfully staged. But I love that we constantly see the humans powering these machines and some of the scenes are actually quite emotional. I like the father-daughter dynamic between Idris Elba‘s and Rinku Kikuchi‘s, and a flirty banter between Rinku and hunky Charlie Hunnam, as well as a slew of fun supporting characters that enrich the movie. Just like ID4, this movie doesn’t take itself seriously, there’s something so giddily-amusing about the fight scenes, like when a Jaeger named Gypsy Danger swung a huge, Titanic-sized ship and hurl it at the Kaiju. You just want to get up and cheer when those moments came on!

I saw this movie twice on the big screen and loved every minute of it. I’ve since bought the Bluray and it’s gotten a lot of play in my house.

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What do you think of my alien-invasion movie picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?

Random Thoughts: What happened to these directors’ (once-promising) career?

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DirectorsChairAs a film director wannabe, I tend to follow the careers of professional filmmakers. To me,they’re more interesting than movie stars. Yes, I’m one of the few people who doesn’t really care about stars. Years ago, I met Tom Cruise in person and all I said to him was how much I enjoyed his films and didn’t even ask for his autograph or take a picture with him, even though he’s my favorite actor. But if I ever run into Spielberg, Nolan, Fincher, Tarantino or Scorsese, I’d probably be excited and try to talk to them about their films and the movie-making business.

Movie-making is a tough business to get into and that’s why it’s kind of sad when I see some promising filmmakers career never took off or just go down the toilet. Maybe because they made some bad choices by choosing to direct a certain film or just have bad agents, their career is not once what it used to be. Below are some directors whom I thought had great promise when they burst into the scene but somehow they never became a household name like Nolan or Tarantino.

1. John Singleton

Director_JohnSingletonHe first film was a success, Boyz n the Hood, he’s only in his early 20s when he made it. Not only was he a young successful director but he’s one of the few African American directors working in Hollywood at the time. Instead of jumping into doing big budget production, he decided to stick with small budget dramas for his next few films. Then he made his first big budget film in 2000, a semi-sequel/remake of Shaft.

Apparently he had ran into a lot of problems while shooting the film, he fought with his star Sam Jackson constantly on the set and didn’t agree with tone of the film with producer Scott Rudin. The movie was a mild success and many thought Singleton would keep making big action pictures. Well his next film was another low budget drama, Baby Boy, it didn’t jell with critics or audiences. He decided to jump back into another big budget action film by directing 2 Fast 2 Furious, the worst in the series in my opinion. The film turned out to be his most successful yet at the box office.

After 2 Fast 2 Furious’ success, I thought for sure Singleton would be on his way to becoming one of the A-list directors in Hollywood. Well that never happened, his next film was an action drama, Four Brothers, it’s kind of weird movie that I’m still scratching my head as to why it even got green lighted by the studio and released in the summer time. Now, the film didn’t bomb at the box office but somehow Singleton’s career went downhill fast. During this time, he was attached to direct the long in development Without Remorse, a film based on Tom Clancy’s excellent novel. Of course the film never got made and Singleton’s last film was the atrocious looking, Abduction, an action (comedy?) starring that boy from the Twilight films [Taylor Lautner]. I do hope he makes a comeback someday because I like him as director.

2. Neil Jordan

Director_NeilJordanWhen his film The Crying Game became a hit here in the States, Jordan name was everywhere in Hollywood and he took an offer to direct a big budget adaption of Anne Rice’s popular novel, Interview with a Vampire. The film was a hit at the box office but instead of directing another big budget tentpole type of film, he decided to make a more personal film, Michael Collins. It didn’t click with the critics and not many people went to see it in theater. After Michael Collins, Jordan’s career sort of mellowed out and he didn’t make another big budget film until 2007’s The Brave One, a female version of Death Wish that I thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t see any of his films after The Brave One but I’m curious about Byzantium.

I really like Jordan’s directing style and wish he’d tackle other genre, like sci-fi or action/espionage. I don’t know if he’ll ever make a comeback and reach the status as he did with The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. I sure hope so because the man is very talented.

3. Curtis Hanson

Director_CurtisHansonHanson has been in the movie business for a long time but he didn’t get any recognition until he made L.A. Confidential in 1997. The movie scored big with critics, got a lot of Oscar nominations and was a hit at the box office. After the film’s success, Hanson’s name was everywhere in Hollywood and he got offer to do a lot of big films but he decided to make a small drama, Wonder Boys, as his next film. It’s a very underrated movie, I really enjoyed it but somehow it never garner the attention like L.A. Confidential.

A couple of years later he made a huge come back with 8 Mile starring the then hugely popular rapper Eminem. Now I think the film’s success was mostly because of Eminem’s popularity, not because of Hanson’s work. But the film was good and I though Hanson did a great job with the material. He then tried his hands at romantic/comedy in In Her Shoes, the film got some good reviews but it didn’t click with the audience.

His next film may have been his downfall, the romantic/drama Lucky You was supposed to be his next big hit. But after some bad test screenings, the studio kept pushing the release date back. Finally they decided to open it on the same day as Spider-man 3 and of course it got crushed. His last film, Chasing Mavericks, was another dud starring the king of romantic/comedy bombs, Gerard Butler. I’m not sure if Hanson will ever make a comeback again, the kind of films he likes to direct aren’t popular anymore at the box office, unless he tries his hands at popular genre like sci-fi, action/spy or comic book, he may never gain the attention like he used to back in the late 90s.

4. Walter Hill

Director_WalterHillHill is one of my favorite directors, here’s a man who was responsible for some of the great action films of the late 70s and early 80s. The Warriors, The Driver (if you’re a fan of Drive, you’ll like this one), The Long Riders, 48Hrs, Extreme Prejudice and Southern Comfort are some of his best work. He was on his way to becoming an A-list director but a film called Streets of Fire put a stop to that. The film was a big budget (for its time) rock ‘n roll action adventure that studio hoped would spawn many sequels. Unfortunately it tanked at the box office and Hill’s career never really recover. He continued to make action films throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s but none of them were hits.

To be fair, some of the films he made were pretty bad, Wild Bill, Last Man Standing and Supernova were some good examples. Don’t waste your time on those films. I haven’t seen his last film, Bullet to the Head, but from what I read it’s another one of his bad films. Not many people know this but he’s one of the producers of the Alien franchise and at one point he’s going to direct Alien 3 before David Fincher was hired. I’m not sure if Hill will ever make another great film, seems to me he sort of gotten lazy and don’t care about his work anymore.

5. Mimi Leder

Director_MimiLederLeder’s been doing TV work for a while and then got a chance of lifetime by directing Dreamworks’ studio first big action film, The Peacemaker. Apparently Spielberg was so impressed with her work on the TV show E.R. that he personally offered her the gig. The film wasn’t a big hit but it got her to direct another big film, 1998’s Deep Impact, it’s one of the biggest hits of the summer. After Deep Impact‘s success, I thought for sure she’s be doing more tent pole type of films. But she decided to do a drama, Pay It Forward, it was ravaged by critics and many people hated it, especially the downer of an ending. After this film’s failure, she went back and only work on TV series.

It’s a shame that Leder never got a chance to make more action movies since she’s one of the few female directors in Hollywood and she knows how to shoot good action scenes. That climax in The Peacemaker was one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen.

Honorable mention:

Director_MNightI didn’t want to put him on the list because it’s too obvious but M. Night Shyamalan‘s career has been on the downhill slide ever since TIME magazine put him on the cover and called him the next Steven Spielberg. Well as we all know that statement turned out to be WRONG! After I saw The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I thought he’s one of the great young directors at the time. I didn’t mind Signs like some people did, but then he made the atrocious The Village followed by an even more atrocious film, Lady in the Water. I skipped The Happening and The Last Airbender because they looked so bad and I already gave up on him. He’s now on my list of hack directors working in Hollywood today. His newest film, After Earth, doesn’t look too appealing to me and [surprise, surprise] it underperformed again at the box office.

Is there any hope for M. Night to make another good movie? I don’t know, he’s still relatively young and obviously Hollywood studios don’t mind footing the bills for his films. But I think he needs to work with some good writers and only handle the directing part.

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What do you think folks? Are you a fan of any of the directors I mentioned? Feel free to comment below.

My Movie Year: The Year 2000

Thanks to Andy for inviting me to My Movie Year blog-a-thon. This is the second time I’ve participated in Fandango Groovers’ blog event since the massively popular Desert Island DVDs. Below is the simple rule for the post:

All you have to do is pick your favourite year for movies and back I up with five classics from that year, no more no less. You can do as much or as little as you want with your selections; a simple list, images and posters, reviews, trailers. Or anything else you can think of.

It’s quite a daunting task as most of the movies I love come from different decades. I actually didn’t see all that many movies back in college, but I pick the year 2000 as this is the year where I moved in to my first ever house after living in one apartment after another in college and shortly after graduation. I didn’t watch a lot of movies on the big screen then either, but it turns out a lot of movies released in 2000 have become one of my all time favorites. So here they are:

Gladiator

I can’t possibly NOT include this movie. I mean, I’ve always LOVED swords and sandals movie ever since Ben-Hur, and this one has such a fantastic story and wonderful performances all around. I even picked this as the subject for the blog-a-thon ‘Movies that makes going to the movies suck‘ because it’s been copied so many times and studios are launching similar type of movies to capitalize on its popularity.

But this often-quoted Ridley Scott masterpiece remains on top in this genre and to this day I’m still enamored with it as the first time I saw it. It’s one of those movies that has the whole package, everything from the story, dialog, set pieces, performances, and even the soundtrack makes up for an epic entertainment.

Russell Crowe gave an iconic performance, even his name Maximus Decimus Meridius is a classic. Equally memorable are Joaquin Phoenix as the despicable incestuous Commodus, and the more I watch this movie the more I appreciate all the character actors that make this movie great, most especially Derek Jacobi with his theatrical line delivery. It’s not as popular as the others, but I pick this line as one of my favorite movie quotes of all time.

Unbreakable

I LOVE this imaginative take of a superhero movie. People tend to mock M. Night Shyamalan’s these days but I’m still willing to give him a pass because he’s made some creative work in the past, especially this one.

An intriguing concept that’s brilliantly executed, Unbreakable is a quiet but suspenseful thriller that’s rich in character development. The astute cinematography adds so much to the eerie and mysterious tone of the film, in many occasion, it even help tells the story in such a breathtaking way. That scene where Elijah falls on the stairs of the train station is such a heart-wrenching scene… it’s as if I could feel his pain as he breaks nearly every bones in his body. It’s also one of those movies where it’s not a simple good vs. evil kind of story, and we can’t help but feel sympathy for the bad guy.

Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you’re here. – Elijah Price

It shows that Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson certainly can act if they choose to. Both seem to gravitate more for the action-packed stuff and sure they’re good at it, but I’d love to see them do something more understated like this again.

Oh, and I actually do like the ending, it’s unexpected and definitely made you go ‘whoa’ the first time around. But unlike Sixth Sense, it doesn’t lose its impact even after repeated viewings.

Chicken Run

When I first saw this, I had never seen Wallace & Gromit before but I absolutely adore this Peter Lord and Nick Park’s creation. It’s odd since I’m usually not into claymation, but I think this movie is just so fun and joyful to watch. Inspired by The Great Escape, the chickens led by Ginger rebels against against the evil Mrs. Tweedy’s farm with the help of Rocky the rooster.

Right from the start, I was so enthralled and empathized with the poor ‘imprisoned’ chickens, as they’re depicted as having humanly activities like knitting, dance, bicker with one another, and seemingly having more lively existence than the humans at the farm.  The dialog is sharp and funny, with hilarious yet poignant lines like “I don’t want to be a pie.” or “We’ll either die free chickens or we die trying.” The voice cast are a hoot, especially Julia Sawalha and Mel Gibson as Ginger and Rocky.

It’s definitely one of my favorite animated features of all time. I even feel a bit guilty eating chickens for a while after watching this, especially chicken pot pie! 😀

Return to Me

I think I’ve talked about this movie quite often. It’s always on my list of favorite rom-coms, and I even dedicated a whole post for it. This movie doesn’t follow the typical formula of a rom-com, in fact it starts out with a tragedy. But yet it’s a joyful movie despite its poignant subject matter, filled with a wonderful depiction of family live, sincere friendship and a love story between two people who’ve gone through a lot by the time they find each other.

Both David Duchovny and Minnie Driver are wonderful here, they’re not your go-to actors for this genre which is a shame as they’re so natural here. Same with director Bonnie Hunt as she is quite adept with creating wonderful characters and engagingly funny dialog. It’s too bad that this is her only feature film in her resume. Oh, and the soundtrack is wonderful, too!

Check out the trailer below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

X-Men

I readily admit that I have a penchant for superhero movies, and the mythology and the allegory with the reality of our world of the X-Men universe is particularly fascinating to me. I absolutely loved it when it first came out and both my hubby and I were hugely anticipating it. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint and it’s still good after repeated viewing. Bryan Singer made superhero movies not only cool but has something meaningful to say. It’s intelligent AND fun.

The casting is key here, from hiring two British thespians as the two leaders of polar opposites — Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart — to taking a chance with a then-unknown Aussie actor Hugh Jackman as the tormented Wolverine. He may be indestructible but he’s still vulnerable and Jackman’s gruff but soulful portrayal won him many fans and launched his career. He’s got an undeniable chemistry with Famke Janssen as Dr. Jean Grey, which makes their unrequited romance quite irresistible.

It’d be nice if Singer stays on throughout the trilogy, then we’d have three solid movies in this franchise. But the consolation is that he came back, albeit as a producer, in the excellent X-Men: First Class, which has a lot of the great things I love about the original and then some!

Other great movies I like from 2000:

  • Billy Elliot
  • Chocolat
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Memento


My runner-up year: 1995

I almost picked this year because I absolutely adore Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility, plus it’s also got two other dramas I love: Circle of Friends and A Walk in the Clouds. I also like Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Usual Suspects and Se7en a lot, but in the end I feel like I have more affinity for the five movies I picked for 2000.



Thoughts about the movies listed here? Now, what year would YOU pick?

Weekend Viewing Roundup: The Happening, This Is It, The Matrix

It’s quite an eclectic weekend, movie viewing-wise. Friday night we saw The Happening and This Is It back to back and The Matrix just an hour before the Oscars begun. Why these three, you asked? Well, if you must know, after seeing Unbreakable, arguably M. Night Shyamalan’s best work, my husband and I got curious to check out his supposedly worst movie. Well, actually this one now tied with The Last Airbender as that’s the second M. Night’s movie to clean up The Razzies (you can see the full winners here).

So anyway, here’s my mini reviews of all three:

The Happening (2008)

Well I guess all those critics and the average moviegoers are in agreement with this one. But to M Night’s credit, I thought the premise was intriguing enough, which was why we were willing to give it a shot to begin with. It starts out incredibly intriguing as a mystifying epidemic suddenly strikes Central Park. Regular folks doing what they normally do in the park—reading a book, walking the dog, etc.—abruptly starting to commit suicide. One gruesome incident after another is shown, much to the horror to the people next to them, but only long enough until they themselves starting to do the exact same thing. Mark Wahlberg is a high school science teacher in Pennsylvania, and as soon as news of this catastrophe hit his town, he and his wife (Zooey Deschanel) must do whatever it takes to survive it.

I must admit this film does pack quite a bit of suspense. In the Special Features, M. Night said he set out to create ‘the best B-movie horror thriller’ and to a degree he does achieve that sense of dread, but the inept acting and lack of coherent plot just lessen its impact. Let’s start with the acting first. Now, I like Wahlberg as much as the next guy and he does convey a nice guy ‘everyman’ vibe in this one, not the usual brooding, intense action hero type. But for some reason, I feel like he’s not quite engaged nor convincing in the role of a man in peril. The sense of desperation just isn’t there. The wide-eyed Deschanel is in the same camp, devoid of much emotion even during the supposedly tender scenes with Wahlberg. Note to miss Zooey, looking terrified requires a bit more than a blank stare. It doesn’t help that the script never quite give us a good reason to care for either one of them. I think the only one I kinda feel sorry for is little girl of Wahlberg’s BFF (played by the usually-watchable John Leguizamo) that the couple is left with.

In the end though, I think the biggest beef for me is how much this movie fails to live up to all the build up. Basically the overall theme is ‘what if nature suddenly fights back?’ as the terrorism theory was debunked early on. In a not-too-subtle way, we’re told that we deserve this as we’ve been so irresponsible in taking care of our planet. Ok, so it’s a horror flick with a ‘green’ message, yet it never really get into much depth. Instead, the filmmaker is more concerned about paying homage to classic fright fest where the ‘evil’ never really goes away and in the end, the horror starts over again in a different time and different place. Perhaps M. Night is attempting to pay homage to the classic thriller The Birds for which no explanation was provided for the birds’ attack, but one thing for sure, M. Night is no Hitchcock.

1.5 out of 5 reels


This Is It (2009)

I actually got the 3D-enhanced Blu-ray as part of the purchase of the SONY HDTV a couple of months ago (we also got the animated feature BOLT but can’t watch it yet without the 3D add-on). This Is It is basically a compilation of interviews, rehearsals and backstage footage of Michael Jackson as he prepared for his series of sold-out shows in London. It starts out with interviews of the dancers auditioning for the tour and what MJ meant to them, which is an emotional segment of the piece.

Watching it is a bit bittersweet for me. I mean, he seemed to relish being on stage and doing what he loved. I mean, to call him a musical (and dance) genius is not hyperbolic at all, he is brimming with so much talent that’s still tough to match even today. It’s heartbreaking that he died so suddenly and the world would never see the spectacular efforts that he and his team put together here… Y’know all those reports/rumors that he was nervous about the tour and all that, after seeing this I thought, ‘Rubbish! He’s the KING of Pop, this man is born to perform!’ If the rehearsals were already this good, I can’t imagine what the live performance would be like.

It certainly was fun reminiscing on his past hit songs — Bad, Thriller, Smooth Criminal, etc. — they’re all still so catchy and timeless. Watching this definitely made me appreciate him so much more as an artist, it’s apparent his team of musicians and dancers revered him as they too stood in awe when he performed solo. Even at almost 50 years old, he was still at the top of his game and as nimble as ever in his dance moves alongside people half his age!

At the same time, we also see the diva-like attitude which is to be expected from stars of his caliber, it’s quite interesting to see how patient his choreographer Kenny Ortega was throughout the whole thing. If you haven’t seen this documentary, I highly recommend it. Even if you weren’t a fan of MJ (but really, who wasn’t?), you’d appreciate the level of artistry and creativity this man had and be entertained by all the song/dance sequences.

4 out of 5 reels


The Matrix (1999)

I’ve been watching quite a bit of Keanu Reeves’ old movies lately… The Replacements, Speed, and now this (I just bumped Constantine further up my Netflix queue). I’ve always liked him, though not necessarily his movies (i.e. The Lake House, sorry Ross!), but The Matrix is one that made him a superstar and I could see why.

I can’t quite recall when exactly I saw The Matrix, but I know I was hugely impressed by it, even if I thought the overly-philosophical storyline was more of a head-scratching variety. Now over a decade later, when tons of movies have copied it left and right (especially the signature slo-mo action style that’s been done to death as Castor pointed out as cliches that should be banned from cinema), I have a new appreciation for this movie.

Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, a.k.a Neo, a man living two lives as a computer programmer by day, and a sly hacker by night. When suddenly he’s contacted by a group led by Morpheus, he learns that the truth of his existence stretched beyond anything he’s ever thought or imagined. The storyline might not feel as ‘fresh’ as it did originally, but overall this movie holds up really well. Sure, the technology is now dated (especially the cell phones!), but not the concept. People will always be fascinated by an idea that asks, ‘what is reality?’ ‘What if everything we see day in and day out and the world as we know it is nothing more than an illusion that we’ve been blinded from seeing?’ It’s certainly a thought-provoking premise and the Wachoski’s brothers’ direction set the bar for a sci-fi action movies since.

The main strength of the movie is obviously the visual effects, there are lots of ‘whoa!’ moments from the innovative action sequences. They’re not just cool, they’re iconic, hence the countless imitation. But yet, I don’t see this as a ‘style over substance’ kind of movie. There are themes of self sacrifice, honesty, loyalty, betrayal, love, and ultimately hope that are weaved throughout.

The acting is great all around as well. I realize Keanu isn’t the most expressive actors out there, but he’s just downright perfect for the flawed hero Neo. I can’t imagine anybody else more suitable in that role. He’s supported by an excellent cast: Aussie thespian Hugo Weaving is phenomenal as the relentless Agent Smith (one of the greatest movie villains IMO), Laurence Fisburne is charismatic as Morpheus, and Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Marcus Chong as Morpheus’ cohorts are all compelling in their roles.

I find this a bit more satisfying than Inception that I just re-watched recently, which also deals with the theme of alternate reality. It remains to be seen if that Chris Nolan film will become a classic, but The Matrix sure is one. It’s rewarding upon repeated viewings as well, so I’m glad I own the Blu-ray. Too bad the sequels don’t live up to the original, but fortunately I skipped the third one and can’t really remember if I had seen the second.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What movie(s) did you end up seeing this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these, I’d love to hear what you think.

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Empire of the Sun, Unbreakable

Happy Monday all, and to my American friends, Happy President’s Day! Do you get the day off today? Fortunately I do, which is perfect timing as we just got dumped on more snow again this weekend. Yesterday was practically in blizzard condition right before I went to church around 11 am CST, and the snow kept on falling hard and fast until now. Well, I opt not to do a President-related post like I did last year, but if you haven’t already, here’s my top five memorable movie presidents.

Neeson & January Jones in ‘Unknown’

Well, looks like the weekend belongs to Liam Neeson as his Unknown thriller took the top spot with $21.8 mil (per box office mojo). As I pointed out on Friday, even just looking at the posters it seems as if they’re marketing this as Taken 2, and the mojo article confirmed it. I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to the promos, but article said Neeson’s second full-action vehicle was apparently billed as “Taken” meets “The Bourne Identity.” Did any of you get to see it?

Suffice to say, the snow storm pretty much grounded us to stay indoors. Here are my reviews of the two movies I managed to see:

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Even from such a young age, Christian Bale seems destined for acting greatness. This was his second feature film (the first one was the little-known Mio in the Land of Faraway released in the same year starring Christopher Lee), but you could say this is his first major motion picture, an epic war film directed by Steven Spielberg.

13-year-old Bale shone as Jim, a young English boy in Shanghai whose privileged life is turned upside down when Japan invaded the country during World War II. According to IMDb trivia, Bale was picked for the role of Jim out of more than 4,000 who auditioned and I could see why. Though the film boasts strong performances from John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers, it’s Bale who carried the film from start to finish. He believably portrayed the physical as well as psychological transformation the boy endured as a result of the war.

The film itself has quite an epic quality to it and looks gorgeous visually. But the center of it all is the story of war through young Jim’s eyes and the toll it took on him and the people around him, both the prisoners and those who hold them captive. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when the aviation-buff young boy sneaked into the Japanese airbase to touch a Japanese Zero fighter plane and as the pilots walked toward him, he stopped and saluted them. It was an emotional scene as for a moment, Jim didn’t see them as the enemy.

This film received six Oscar nominations in 1988, but there should’ve been a seventh one for Bale. I sure hope this year he finally nab the award he’s due more than two decades ago!

4Reels


Unbreakable (2000)

This is definitely my favorite and arguably the best of M. Night Shyamalan’s work. I had seen this when it was first released on dvd, but upon second viewing, I enjoy and appreciate it a whole lot more. M. Night came up with an original superhero story with a twist, citing the popularity of the comic book medium with on-screen statistics as the film opens. It’s a tale of two men at the opposite end of the spectrum physically: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a football stadium security guard who’s got unbreakable bones, and the other is Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book dealer with a debilitating brittle bone disease.

When Dunn comes out unscathed from a catastrophic train wreck at the beginning of the movie, it’s revealed early to us the viewers that there is something special about Dunn. Throughout the film we’re discovering more and more about him at the same time the lead character learns about himself. The pace is deliberately slow but not tedious, in fact, so few films — especially of the comic book genre — takes the time for character development such as this one that it’s become a lost art. The film boast a restrained and understated performance from both Willis and Jackson (which made me completely forget they had co-stared together in loud and frenetic Die Hard 3!), but each of their composed meeting and conversation packs a punch. The ending is also a rewarding one that is sort of expected but still makes you go ‘whoa!’

This is one of those movies that I admire more for the high concept than the production itself, especially being a superhero movie fan. Of course that is not to say that the movie doesn’t look good, in fact, it boasts a distinctive cinematography and peculiar camera angles that suit the theme nicely. I’m going to borrow the text from a UK college professor Dan North, who sent me his perceptive analysis in the comment section of my news post last year where I talked about a possible Unbreakable sequel: Several shots are taken upside down, partly to show the viewpoint of characters who are themselves upside down, but also to introduce a theme of perspective – his central characters are men who need to adjust their outlook in order to see the codes of predestination working around them. Mr. North’s astute observation on M. Night’s use of ‘patterns and portents’ in his films is spot-on and it definitely is what makes his films unique.

Despite what the critics and moviegoers think of him now, his earlier work and this one specifically makes me think Shyamalan could still make a comeback. Though I can’t dispute Ted’s reasoning why he’s on the hack directors list, I haven’t given up on him just yet. Perhaps he could seek out a collaboration with a visionary filmmaker who can take his original concept to great heights.

Now, back to that Unbreakable sequel, I’m kind of torn about that one. On the one hand, it’d be interesting to see Dunn’s journey now that he’s embraced the nature of who he really is, but on the other, the sequel could potentially be just another superhero film that’d lessen the merit of the original. I don’t know if this movie has a cult-following or not but it seems that everyone I talked to has a positive thing to say about this movie, which is quite a change since this was a critical bomb at the box office.

4halfReels


Anyway, what movie(s) did you end up seeing this weekend? Or if you have any thoughts about either one of these oldies, I’d love to hear it!