[Last 2014] Weekend Roundup + Mini Reviews of The Trip To Italy, The Immigrant, Exodus: Gods & Kings and Into the Woods

Hello hello! Hope you had a lovely long Holiday weekend. It’s quite a nice and relaxing holiday for me, though it ended up being a pretty busy one hanging out with friends. I did fit in some movie-watching, even went to the cinema for Exodus though it was more of a last-minute decision when some friends invited us.

LastWeekendRoundupMovies

Just a quick thought on each of them as I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to review them…

The Trip to Italy
It’s not as fun as the first film, The Trip. Perhaps I’m just getting tired of Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon‘s schtick and they’re really not very likable characters. The impersonations are getting a bit repetitive, but some are still fun to watch, especially when they’re talking about all the Bond actors. The Italian scenery and food imagery are truly drool-worthy however.

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The Immigrant
The main draw for me is the cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard. Two things that this movie have going for it are the performances and the intriguing story. I’m not generally fond of Jeremy Renner and here he’s just ok, not as compelling as the other two actors. The star is definitely Cottilard who remains alluring no matter how destitute they made her up to be. Now, if only the pace and direction had a bit more life to it. It felt overlong and tedious, even if the actors were able to hold my attention for the most part. The finale did pack an emotional punch, but I wish it had been more evenly-handled throughout, especially since the story strikes a chord with me.

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Exodus: Gods & Kings
Now, Ted’s given a full review of this but since I just this earlier today, I figure I’ll give my own two cents. Well, I ended up enjoying this more than I thought. Perhaps having a very low expectations helps, but I’m glad to say I didn’t find it boring even if it certainly lacking that *epic* touch I expected from Ridley Scott. Performances are good, especially the two leads Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, but Scott took way too much liberty with the story and character of Moses. There are too many to mention here but let’s just say this story is more inspired by the Biblical tale than an actual adaptation. It’s one thing if a reimagining of the centuries-old story actually enhances the adaptation, but in this case, the alterations are much to its detriment and much of it just don’t make sense. Still, I don’t think this was an abomination as some critics describe it but I think keeping the integrity of the story would’ve served this film better.

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IntoTheWoodsBanner

I have to admit I’ve actually never heard of Stephen Sondheim‘s play before this film, apparently it’s been around for nearly 3 decades. But since I grew up watching a ton of Disney fairy tale movies, the idea of reimagining some of Brothers Grimm fairy tales intrigues me. I’m all about crafting a twist to a classic story, so long as they do a good job of it. Alas, I feel that Into The Woods might be a much better fit as a stage performance as it’s all about showmanship instead of a compelling narration.

The main players are comprised of the Baker & his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), and the wicked witch (Meryl Streep). The rest are basically supporting characters: Jack and his mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Johnny Depp’s in a glorified cameo.

IntoTheWoodsStills

Not a bad cast at all, and I must say they all did a good job singing and performing the songs. Some fare better than others of course, Kendrick could’ve done well on the stage version of this with her beautiful voice and Streep also has quite a lovely voice. Much have been said about her performance as the witch, but seems that at this point she could just be reading a restaurant menu poetically and they’d shower her with a plethora of awards. I think she’s rather over-the-top here, though that’s perhaps the direction she was given. Her song has the most memorable melody of the entire movie, but I don’t think her performance itself is THAT extraordinary. I think my favorite has to be Pike & Magnussen’s (the two Prince brothers) hilarious and unabashedly campy rendition of Agony. Ironically, it’s the least agonizing rendition of the rest and it got the whole theater cheering for its flagrant goofiness. Corden has the most screen time aside from Streep and I think he’s a good and likable actor that’s able to hold his own. He has a nice chemistry with Blunt, who’s always lovely to watch no matter how little she has to work with.

Overall though, I just can’t get into the story. It’s convoluted for no apparent reason and the third act just got too somber and dark for its own good, which seems disconnected from the lighter scenes that precede it. In fact, the stories don’t feel well-connected at all, they just seem randomly thrown together for amusement sake. Much like the equally star-studded ensemble of Nine, Rob Marshall seems more adept at assembling a bunch of fabulous crews and actors but he’s inept in making the most of the performers to tell an engaging story. I’ve only seen three of his work, including the overrated Chicago which I don’t think deserve the Best Picture Oscar. In fact I wish it hadn’t, as it encouraged Marshall to think he’s a great director.

As I walked out of the theater, I wonder if it had been ill-advised to adapt this material on the big screen. I mean if they absolutely had to adapt it, perhaps Disney should’ve gotten someone who’s more of a bold visionary filmmaker. Someone who could breathe some real sparkle (to match all that fairy dust) into this adaptation and make it entertaining in the process. As it is now, the movie is mere window dressing with gorgeous set pieces, pretty costumes and lovely songs, but it inspires more of a ‘huh?’ reaction than ‘wow.’

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Well, have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

DVD Picks: Easy Virtue and A Good Year

Easy Virtue

I’ve wanted to see this when I saw the trailer early last year, but wasn’t fast enough to make it to the theater. Adapted from Noel Coward’s 1924 play, it’s a comedy that pokes fun at the stifling British upper class. Jessica Biel stars as a feisty American divorcee Larita who re-marries a young man from a wealthy family, and immediately causes a stir as soon as she arrives at his parents’ crumbling stately home. She’s surrounded by mostly British cast (always a good thing in my book): Ben Barnes as her young husband John, and Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas as Barnes’ parents, the Whittakers.

I have to admit, I was baffled at first by her casting but Biel is quite a revelation here. Not only does she look really good in the retro costumes – they look flattering on her bodacious figure – but she’s also quite believable in her role. Best of all, she seemed to hold her own against the more experienced actors. She did seem a bit of an outcast at times, but in this case it’s actually a good thing as as her character is meant to feel that she didn’t belong.

I enjoy the whimsical comedy and witty banters, but as the movie progresses, I find that there’s more to the story than it seems to be. Firth’s melancholic but earnest performance adds gravitas to this movie, he plays a rather glum war vet and distant husband, increasingly weary of his nagging wife. He welcomes the new addition to the family with open arms, especially because his wife detests her. Their interaction slowly sheds a light as to who he, as well as Larita, really is. Perhaps it’s Firth who brings out the best in Biel, the great repartee between them is fun to watch.

The fairy-tale-free ending isn’t quite what expected, but in hindsight I quite like it. Larita’s old secret has been revealed, which led to her being dismissed by John, leaving her all dressed up with no one to dance with at the party.  Mr. Whittaker steps in and the two wounded souls finally come to terms with their predicaments as everyone around them watch them dance the tango together passionately and defiantly. It’s a great scene not only because I enjoy the sequence itself, but because of the significance of what their action/choices mean to them and the people inside that house.

Jessica & Colin's tango scene is one of the movie's highlights

The thing I find a bit odd is how the movie switches from comedy – laden with slapstick scenes – to a more weighty subject almost abruptly. But overall it’s still a pretty charming movie. Like Firth said in the premiere interview, “it’s a substantial movie that’s surprisingly light in tone.” That about sums it up.
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A Good Year (2006)

Thanks to loyal FlixChatter reader Samantha — who shares my fondness for Russell Crowe — for urging me to see this movie. This is Crowe’s second collaboration with Ridley Scott after Gladiator, but unlike the first one, A Good Year was trashed by the critics, with most of them basically lambasting him for his lack of comedic talents. Now, Sam’s theory is that it was panned seemingly for no other reason than that people were weirded out by an Aussie tough guy actor and a director known for doing intense thrillers doing a ‘soft’ movie. She might have a point there, it’s their own expectation that prevent them from enjoying the movie for what it is. I actually enjoyed it and it’s refreshing to see the gentler side of Crowe.

Maximillian may share a similar name to Maximus, but there’s no resemblance of that Roman general here. This successful investment broker Max is self-serving, ruthless, and unfeeling. In fact, all Max cares about is himself and as his best friend says, what Max Skinner does best is make money (the kind that’d give Gordon Gekko a run for his millions). He hasn’t spoken to his only surviving family member who helped raise him, uncle Henry. One day, a letter arrives informing him of his uncle’s passing and that he inherits his chateau and vineyard in Provence. Max doesn’t think much of that gift, and inclines to immediately sell it for profit.

Marion Cottilard

But it’s when Max visits the vineyard to renovate the place that things take an unexpected turn. Despite his initial reluctance, eventually Max begins settling in with the leisurely life, buoyed by his fond childhood memories he shared with his uncle growing up. He also meets a beautiful woman whom he unknowingly ran over the road as he was fumbling with his phone whilst driving, played by the ravishing French beauty Marion Cottilard, whose almost as gorgeous as the picturesque French countryside. As luck would have it, Max’s lucrative job is suddenly put in limbo pending an investigation into a questionable bond transaction, so the seemingly ‘trivial’ inheritance could become a life-changing matter. To complicate matters though, a young California girl suddenly shows up at his doorstep claiming to be Henry’s illegitimate child (the radiant Abbie Cornish).

Based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Peter Mayle, Scott’s personal friend, the story speaks about making the most of life’s simplest joys. The critics bark at the unhurried pace of the movie, but that’s kind of expected given the moral of the story where the protagonist takes a break out of his high-intensity life and discover there’s more to life than monetary success. Besides, the quieter scenes give you a chance to marvel at the lush scenery —  it’s almost worth renting this movie just for the cinematography alone, which might compel you to book a trip to France pronto.

The excellent Aussies Cornish & Crowe

Crowe is quite charming as Max, and he’s got a nice chemistry with Cottilard. It also boast terrific supporting performances from British-Indian Archie Punjabi as Max’s saucy assistant, Tom Hollander as Max’s best bud Charlie and best of all Albert Finney as uncle Henry. I particularly liked the flashback scene with him playing tennis with the young Max (Freddie Highmore) and his wise words: “You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, uh… how much more enjoyable it is to win. It’s inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it.”

Turns out there are quite a few good things going for this movie. It might not be Scott/Crowe’s best work, but it’s definitely worth a look.

NINE Musical Trailer 3

Man, I’ve been giving so much free publicity for the Weinsteins but I can’t help myself. I thought the second trailer of the NINE musical flick couldn’t get any more awesome. Well I was wrong. In this third trailer, we finally hear the man speak. Daniel Day-Lewis is sporting a believable Italian accent as Guido Contini, perhaps because the actor did learn how to speak Italian for the movie according to IMDb trivia. If you have a couple of minutes to spare, the trivia page also lists some amazing names who were at one time either interested or considered for this movie, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger (both Chicago alums), Amy Adams, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway. George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas were also considered for the role of Guido, although I can’t imagine any of them in that role after seeing such a virtuosic performance by Day-Lewis.

Anyway, I LOVE this trailer. Though I didn’t mind the musical montages of the previous two, it’s nice to finally get the gist of the story and the kind of predicament the renowned director is in. We also get a glimpse of the roles the nine women play in his life. Is it just me but in the little snippet I heard of Nicole Kidman’s singing brought back memories of Moulin Rouge. I’m assuming most of the actress playing the starlets are doing their own singing in this movie.

So, anybody else excited to see this flick?