Genre Grandeur – Heist Movies: Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Thirteen

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This post is part of MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur (or Guesstimation) series. Thanks to my pal Ted S. for his review of one of his favorite films of the genre.


I lost count on how many times I’ve watched these two Ocean’s films; I’m going to pretend that Ocean’s 12 never existed; the self-indulgent film was an embarrassing to everyone who’s involved in making it. Don’t get me started on the whole Julia Roberts pretended to be Julia Roberts sequence. I wanted to punch the writers and director Steven Soderbergh for thinking that we the audience would be that stupid and thought it would be a fun scene to watch.

Well speaking of Soderbergh, in the early 2000s, he’s the director every actor wanted to work with. If I remember correctly, two of his films in 2000, Traffic and Erin Brockovich were box office hits and got nominated for best picture at the Oscars. He received the golden statue for directing Traffic. So of course there were big expectations for his next picture. Opened during the holiday season of 2001, Ocean’s Eleven was one of that year’s biggest hits and spawned two sequels. Of course the cast was probably the big draw, packed with three A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts; veterans Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould and young up and coming actors such as Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck and Scott Caan.
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Recently paroled Danny Ocean (Clooney) decides to get in touch with some of his old buddies including black jack dealer named Frank Catton (the late great Bernie Mac) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt). They hatched a plan to steal money from two Las Vegas casinos during a big boxing match that could be worth more than $130mil. The casinos are owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) who happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). In order to get their plan rolling, they need some funding from Benedict’s rival Reuben (Elliot Gould). With backing from Reuben, Danny and Rusty went and recruit the rest of the team.

What I love about this film was the chemistry with each of the actors; they were all believable to me as a team on a mission. I especially love the bickering between the Mormon twins (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan). The script was well written and the actual heist was very clever and fun to watch. Unlike some other heist genre film, there were no twists or backstabbing from someone in the team. They finished their mission and everyone got paid.

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After the disastrous Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh decided to fix his mistake from the second sequel and brought the team back for another heist in Vegas. In Ocean’s Thirteen, the team’s mission this time is revenge. After Reuben was left for dead by his former partner Willy Bank (Al Pacino), Danny and Rusty wanted to break Bank’s brand new casino. Unlike the second sequel where I felt the actors and filmmakers were having fun but we the audience were left out. In this film, Soderbergh brought back the fun and I had a great time with it; heck I think I liked it better than the first film. The heist itself was quite clever, instead of stealing the money from the casino for themselves, Ocean’s team decided to let everyone win big. Speaking as someone who goes to Vegas regularly and gambles there, I would have loved to be involved in this heist.

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Pacino w/ Ellen Barkin who’s quite the scene stealer in the movie

These two Ocean films aren’t the best in the heist genre but they sure are fun to watch. Maybe because it’s set in one of my favorite cities to visit Las Vegas, it’s the reason why I can’t get enough of these films.

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Well, what do YOU think of these two Ocean’s films? Which of the trilogy is your favorite? 

Throwback Tuesday: Fave scenes from THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)

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Hello friends! I thought I’d introduce a new blog series, as I’m so good at keeping up with every single blog series I’ve put together, right😉 This series is sort of inspired by Deadpool believe it or not. I just saw it last night and it’s got a lot of hilarious 80s throwbacks so I thought why not do a throwback post?

So this series is to highlight a scene/quote/photo what have you from my favorite movies that’s at least a decade or older. And since we just saw the Jason Bourne trailer during the Super Bowl, it made me want to re-watch the original trilogy (I’m not counting the lame Bourne Legacy w/ Jeremy Renner).

Firstly, look at what Matt Damon look like fourteen years ago. Yep, it has been that long since The Bourne Identity was released in 2002! I’d say he still looks pretty good now after over a decade, I mean he’s got more lines on his face which adds more character and grit. He looks like he’s even more pissed off too, which made him scarier, ahah.

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Damon as Jason Bourne in 2002 and in 2016

Look at that baby-faced Damon in the first Bourne movie. Who’d have thought he’d be a highly-efficient killing machine?? I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of Damon before Bourne. I mean, I didn’t dislike him or anything, I just didn’t think he was anything special. I never would’ve thought he’d be good in a role like this so imagine my surprise that not only did I LOVE the first Bourne movie, it also changed my opinion about Damon in that he can be super bad-ass!

Now, there are a ton of awesome action sequences here, but I always LOVE a good chase scene. Especially set in one of my favorite European city! This was directed by Doug Liman who recently did Edge of Tomorrow.


Who doesn’t love Clive Owen. It’s absolutely brilliant to see him (the man who could be Bond) as the strong-silent-type villain opposite Bourne? I think the finale is fantastic, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet you might not want to watch this.



Are you a fan of the Bourne franchise? What’s your memory of the first time you watched The Bourne Identity?

Music Break: The Martian’s DISCO Classics

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One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed about The Martian was the lighthearted tone of the film, despite the obviously dire subject matter of someone being stuck in Mars. And one of the funniest bits in the film involve something totally unexpected… DISCO music!

Matt Damon‘s character Mark Watney initially hated it, but he’s not only stuck in Mars but he’s also stuck with his colleague Melissa Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) disco collection. “My God, Commander Lewis… couldn’t you have packed anything from this century?”

Disco + Mars?? Who’d have thought?? When I left the theater I immediately turned to my hubby and said that it certainly has the Guardians of the Galaxy vibe with its 70s retro music compilation. Per Billboard mag, ‘…The ‘70s music theme is taken directly from Andy Weir’s best-seller upon which the movie is based. Screenwriter Drew Goddard wrote song choices into the script and Scalia says the majority were kept, although a few were switched for other tunes…’

I also enjoyed the score itself by composer Harry Gregson-Williams. He’s quoted on Billboard saying that “Scoring The Martian involved ducking and diving around some pretty neat classic disco songs that were woven in to the fabric of the film.” That’s just brilliant!

As The Atlantic article aptly puts it… “It’s hard to become too depressed by Watney’s situation when “Hot Stuff” is playing in the background.” Indeed. Depending how you feel about disco music though, beware that after watching this, you’d be humming (and even dancing) to them before you even realize it!

So here are five awesome disco classics featured in the movie:

Hot Stuff by Donna Summer

Turn the Beat Around by Vickie Sue Robinson

Love Train by O’jays

Waterloo by ABBA

This one plays in the end credits and of course it’s just perfect!

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

 


Did you enjoy the music in The Martian?

FlixChatter Review: The Martian (2015)

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It’s a testament of a truly good film when two weeks after I saw it I’m still thinking about it fondly and can’t wait to see it again. I mentioned in this post that I had been anticipating this film for a couple of reasons, but deep down I still wished it’d be good as I like Ridley Scott. Well, glad to report that the 77-year-old British thespian certainly still got it.

If the plot makes you think of Saving Private Ryan because it involves saving Matt Damon, well you wouldn’t be wrong, but the similarities pretty much end there. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to the part when Mark Watney is left alone in Mars following an accident that made his teammates presumed he’s killed. It turns out he survives the accident but that’s only the beginning of his journey being stranded in a desolate planet. The first act pretty much contains scenes of Watney dealing with the concept of surviving on whatever resources is left on the space station, as the next Mars mission would take at least four years.

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There are similarities to Gravity and Interstellar, but I think The Martian is a heck of a lot more entertaining than both. It’s an intelligent crowd pleaser that doesn’t dumb down the audience, but it also doesn’t bog us down with scientific mumbo jumbo or bludgeon us with over-sentimentality. Even the scenes in NASA with a terrific ensemble cast doesn’t feel at all boring or obligatory and has its share of amusing and fun moments. The emotional moments throughout the film feels natural and not at all manipulative, a testament to the shrewd script by Drew Goddard and Scott’s direction.

The whole concept of an astronaut growing potatoes inside a space station certainly make for some amusing and highly entertaining scenes. Whether it’s actually possible or not doesn’t really matter, and that’s what I find about this film. I find that I don’t pick apart the science as much as I did with say Interstellar, as I was completely invested in Watney’s journey from start to finish. It helps too that the script is really focused about the ‘bring him home’ storyline and keep it frill-free from unneccessary subplots.

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As for that ensemble cast, I’ll mention those who impressed me most, starting with Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. He made him memorable even though he’s not the most interesting characters. The same could be said with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as two lead scientists tasked to help bring Watney home. Sean Bean is always great to watch but there is one particularly memorable scene involving a very famous fantasy trilogy that made his casting even more perfect. They actually have more to do in the film than Watney’s fellow team mates including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, though they are all pretty good in their roles. Donald Glover also has a brief but memorable role as a young genius astronomer who provides a key theory for the recovery mission. But the real star here is obviously Damon, who has the most screen time and most of his scenes are basically a one-man-show of him talking to the camera.

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The Martian looks phenomenal and has some breathtaking *aerial shots* by Dariusz Wolski of the red planet, shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red-colored desert. That said, it’s not a style-over-substance film, in fact, it’s a story and character-driven piece, which is what every film should be. It must have been hellish for Watney to be stuck up there on his own, but thankfully, watching him being stuck there isn’t. The survival story is more akin to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, given the humorous tone and amazing survival skills of the protagonist. This is perhaps one of my favorite roles of Matt Damon, and he’s as likable and funny as he ever as astronaut Mark Watney.

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As with any survival story, there is an element of inspiration that make you appreciate what you have on earth, from profound things like spending time with your family to seemingly-trivial things like duct tape. But the film does it in such a droll and fun way, which seems to be faithful in terms to tone to Andy Weir‘s sci-fi novel, described by one book critic as “…sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery” (per Wiki). I also love that The Martian is not dark and brooding despite the rather grim subject matter of a man being trapped alone in space. It’s also not nearly as violent as Scott’s other sci-fi film, apart from an earlier scene that definitely made me avert my eyes. This could very well be the most enjoyable theatrical experience from Ridley Scott since Gladiator, so yeah sir, we’re definitely entertained. And thanks for making another epic film that I can watch and appreciate for years to come.

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Have you seen The Martian? What did you think?

Fall Movie Spotlight: Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You’re probably wondering why I’m suddenly blogging about this film, with just two weeks before its US release (October 2). UK folks actually will get this two days sooner on Sept. 30. In all honesty, up until fairly recently, I had been mostly blasé about this film, given my disappointments with Sir Ridley Scott‘s movies lately. I even skipped The Counselor but I somehow got around to seeing Exodus despite my dread, and though I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, it still was such a letdown.

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But y’know what, the relentless campaign somehow succeeded in getting me more intrigued about this one and it seems that the reviews suggest that this could be a return to form for the 77-year-old prolific filmmaker. The Rotten Tomatoes summary said the film is “Smart, thrilling, and surprisingly funny…” hmmm, I’m most intrigued by the surprisingly funny part, esp. given the 141-min running time, a bit of humor goes a long way.

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

As for the casting, well I have to admit I was rather meh about Matt Damon casting, but perhaps because I was one of those who don’t care for his casting in Interstellar and he’s playing an astronaut yet again here. But yes I realize it’s a totally different character and I am intrigued by the MacGyver style survival story in space.

I do love the supporting cast! Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara … nice to see a trio of actresses in prominent roles. I’ve always liked Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan and Chiwetel Ejiofor, so that’s very cool too. Interesting to see Ejiofor playing an Indian character, but apparently Irrfan Khan was originally cast but had scheduling conflict. Hey, even Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie whom I like in Headhunters is here, too!

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Another piece of trivia per IMDb, Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay for the film, was also at one point set to direct, but left that role to go direct the Sinister Six film. After that, Scott read the script and jumped into the project, rather than making a Prometheus sequel (I think that’s wise). I also didn’t realize that the writer of the novel Andy Weir first published his book for free on his own site as a blog for fun. Then people asked him to put it in a downloadable form, then people asked him to put it on Amazon for Kindle download which he did at the then min price of $0.99.

So apparently this movie had the coolest premiere ever… in the International Space Station! I guess that made sense as NASA was consulted while making the film in order to get aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, with the most accuracy.

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Well I’m seeing the film later tonight, and I thought I’d post three featurettes from the film. The marketing budget for this film is pretty massive, so we’ll see if it pays off.


So are you looking forward to seeing The Martian?

Musings on Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR

InterstellarBannerI’ve been a big fan of Christopher Nolan‘s work, in fact I’ve seen all of his work and they’ve pretty much range from great to fantastic. I’ve been looking forward to Interstellar like most movie fans, but to be honest with you, for whatever reason, a couple of weeks before the film opened and as the hype reaches its tipping point, I started to feel… indifferent. In any case, I went to see it Saturday night anyway and instead of a straight review, this is more of my reaction to the movie… what I like and don’t like about it, so pardon if I’m rambling a bit…

The film is essentially about a small group of people going on a space travel adventure to save mankind. Well that’s the elevator pitch version anyway, but at the heart of it is a father/daughter relationship that transcend through space and time. I don’t remember seeing a specific year mention but the story is set in the future when the earth as we know it is dying, food is scarce as dust bowls continually wipe out farm crops. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widower & former NASA test pilot who’s now taking up farming with his father in-law and his two kids, Tom & Murphy. Cooper hasn’t quite given up his space aspiration as when he and his kids spotted a drone flying close by, Cooper gets all giddy and drives through those supposedly precious corn fields to chase after it.

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I discussed some crucial plot points here, so beware if you haven’t seen the movie

It’s perhaps one of the only truly joyful moment in the film, and it’s obvious that his 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) shares his enthusiasm for science and space. Soon Cooper is reunited again with NASA in its secret hideaway. How did he get there? Well apparently a dust storm through an open window spells out the coordinates of its location in morse code. Say what? Well, that’s just one of the mind-boggling things about this movie and we’re just getting started. When Cooper gets to NASA, the elder professor Brand (played by Michael Caine, natch) tells him of a possible solution to humanity’s crisis and that is they’ve got to find a sustainable planet on the other side and Cooper is the only man for the job. Hmmm, wouldn’t you think that if he’s truly the only person for this crucial mission, NASA would’ve sought him out instead of waiting for him to somehow stumbles into their base? I mean, Cooper lives pretty much just down the road and they know he has the skills to pilot their ship.

Following the NASA encounter, the film doesn’t waste any time to shoot Cooper into space. Discussions about this movie would likely involve wormholes and black holes which frankly go way over my head, but there are a plethora of plot holes as well to contend with. The one I mentioned in the above paragraph is just one example. Apparently famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson have been tweeting about the ‘Mysteries of #Interstellar’ which you can find here. I kept nodding as I read each tweet, especially the one where Cooper cracks his helmet on one of the planet’s he visits and he’s even able to remove his gloves during a fight. Wouldn’t you think the Planet’s air is toxic to the human body??

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Now, plot holes in sci-fi movies are common, in fact, it’s kind of inevitable… I mean it’s ‘fi’ for fiction after all. Interstellar does have the appearance of being grounded in realism however, in fact, Nolan hires a real astrophysicist Kip Thorne in building the Black Hole for the movie and to ensure the depictions of wormholes and relativity are as accurate as possible. But yet, one doesn’t need to be a scientist that a close proximity to the black hole would’ve killed those astronauts instantly and thus that planet being so close to such black hole, which Cooper’s team dub Gargantua, simply cannot exist. I have to admit though, it’s been fun reading about all the stuff that don’t make sense in Interstellar. It seems that with a lot of Nolan’s movies, analyzing it is as fun as watching his movies.

That said, I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. And what a ride it was. The imagery and visual effects is nothing short of tremendous. It’s something that I’ve come to expect from Nolan’s team, and they did not disappoint on that front. Everything is so meticulously-crafted. Though I’ve seen a lot of spaceships in other sci-fi films, I’m still in awe looking at all the details of the Endurance ship and all the other set pieces. Instead of his usual collaboration with Wally Pfister (who was busy making his first film Transcendence), we’ve got Hoyte van Hoytema in charge of cinematography. The Dutch-Swedish cinematographer impressed me greatly with his work in HER, but he’s outdone himself here with his astounding work. The earth landscape rivals the beauty of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, but it’s the visuals of the outer space and the barren alien planets that’s really breathtaking. But whilst the film’s scenery is truly a feast for my eyes, my ears aren’t so lucky. Hans Zimmer‘s score is often so loud to the point of irritation and it drowns out all the dialog, especially during the NASA visit where Brand is giving Cooper a tour. Perhaps it’s intentional, as this article points out, but really, I wouldn’t care about the thematic significance when my ears are hurting, y’know. I listened to the soundtrack later on and really enjoyed it, though I still love his work on Nolan’s Batman films more.

InterstellarStill5Sometimes I feel that perhaps I’m not smart enough to get Nolan’s movies… let alone TWO Nolans working together. Christopher and his brother Jonathan ‘Jonah’ Nolan collaborated on the script as Jonah originally developed it for Steven Spielberg who later passed on the project. To say that Interstellar is discombobulating is quite an understatement. I LOVE using that word whenever I get the chance to, but I don’t necessarily enjoy being in a constant state of bewilderment. The entire sequence involving Matt Damon is completely lost on me, not only did Damon’s casting completely take me out of the movie – “What’s Jason Bourne doing here?” “Wait, is this Elysium 2.o?” – the whole storyline of Dr. Mann wanting to kill Cooper felt preposterous to me. So he goes space crazy, okay… but I really didn’t expect the sudden villain-y scenario here and it’s a subplot I could do without.

I haven’t quite recovered from Mann’s um, riddle and Nolan’s already hit me with another as the film seemingly raced towards the finale once the film passed its two hour mark. I was totally baffled by the sequence of Cooper and the robot TARS inside some kind of a tesseract portal, supposedly built by ‘future us’ [as Cooper said during his frantic mumbling] which implies there’s advanced humans in existence by then who could build such a thing. Suddenly Cooper discovers it’s him who’s actually the *ghost* that haunts Murphy’s and knocks stuff off her bookshelf. There’s too much to digest here that my mind wander a bit, admiring the gorgeous scenery of that fifth dimension portal or whatever the heck that is. The whole time I kept thinking ‘how did they do that?‘ Then suddenly Cooper is floating again in outer space and before you know it, he gets rescued and wakes up in a whole new earth. O-kay…

When I wasn’t scratching my head pretty much the entire time, there were moments that I winced at the constant sobbing scenes that reminds me of Spielberg’s schmaltz-fest War Horse. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a genuinely emotional moments. I was quite moved by the father/daughter relationship in various points of time, the tearful goodbye and the reunion come to mind, but at times, I felt like I was deluged by over-sentimentality. I don’t know, maybe Nolan felt he’s got a reputation of being a cold or emotionally-detached that he went a bit overboard trying to refute that?

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[End of spoiler section]

Fortunately, the actors are more than up for the task to bring the humanity aspect of this space drama. McConaughey is a convincing everyman here, that I’m willing to overlook his Southern accent playing a character supposedly being from the Midwest. He has an effortless chemistry with Foy who plays his young daughter. My second favorite performance is Jessica Chastain as the older Murphy, not only she resembles Foy but she carries the same sensibilities and stubbornness displayed in her younger self. I’ve never been a big fan of Anne Hathaway but I think she acquits herself well, even delivering such a such a mawkish speech as “Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space” referring to her long lost love Dr. Edmund who went on a previous NASA mission. I’ve mentioned how I feel about Matt Damon above, I really wish they’d cast someone less famous & less ubiquitous than him. Michael Caine is always reliable, though they totally botched the aging process of his character [aka he basically doesn’t age at all in 23 years!]. John Lithgow and Ellen Burstyn both delivered a memorable performance despite their brief screen time.

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The longer I mull over it, the more I feel that Interstellar is a film I appreciate but not love. It’s not because it’s too confusing because I have loved other films I don’t completely understand, Nolan’s own Inception being one of them. It’s just that in the end, I just don’t feel as much connection with any of the characters and their journey. Despite all that crying in the film, overall the film didn’t tug my heartstrings as much as I had hoped. Heck I was more affected by the relationship of the robot Baymax and its protagonist Hiro in Big Hero 6, that movie was so joyful and emotional all at the same time. Speaking of robots, I thought TARS is a hoot and perhaps as memorable as any of the human characters. And hey, for once the robots are actually loyal to the humans whilst the main enemy of man is ‘Mann’, get it?😉

The film has been called overly-ambitious and that its intellectual reach exceeds its grasp. I can’t refute either of those points, but I still have to give props to Nolan for making something bold and audaciously cerebral. I’m not just talking about dazzling us with jaw-dropping visuals but in the way he challenges viewers with stupendous and imaginative ideas. I appreciate that Nolan never asks us to ‘check our brain at the door’ or dumb stuff down to make things more digestible. But at the same time, there is also such a thing as having too many ideas and themes to process in a single film. There’s perhaps enough substance here to warrant say, a miniseries. The movie is nearly 3 hours long but it’s still not enough time to focus on one of those ideas, the result is sensory overload that threatens to suck the joy out of what’s supposed to be a piece of entertainment. I might revisit this film again later when it’s out for rental and perhaps I’d have a different opinion then.

Interstellar_TARSThis is one of the longest musings I’ve done in a movie, which is funny as I originally wanted to do a mini review of it but it proved to be impossible as there’s so much to say. Despite my gripes and what a lot of reviewers have said that it’s a beautiful-but-flawed film, I still urge you to see it. It’s the kind of film that’s meant to be seen in as big a screen as possible, as some of the sequences shot using IMAX camera are simply stunning. However you feel after you see it, Interstellar is still a worthwhile experience and it also makes for a fun discussion/reading afterwards. The Nolan brothers are certainly one of the most powerful siblings working in Hollywood today. Even if this one isn’t quite a masterpiece, they’re still a force to be reckoned with and I still look forward to what Chris Nolan will come up with next.

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So, that’s my thoughts on Interstellar. Do you agree/disagree? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Double Reviews: The Monuments Men

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Happy Friday everyone! Today we’ve got another double review of a film which release has been delayed for a couple of months. Originally, this was to be released last December during awards/holiday season, but director/star George Clooney actually asked the studio for more time for post-production due to the special effects weren’t ready. Sarah and I went to the screening last Wednesday, here’s our take on it:

Sarah’s Review

When I was visiting Germany last year and killing time waiting for my train back to Dusseldorf from Cologne, I was struck by a postcard in one of the gift shops with a Google earth type of photo of Cologne in post-World War II Europe. The entire town was decimated by repeated bombings but somehow the 13th century Cologne cathedral still stood tall amidst all the destruction- as if saved only by the grace of God. “The Monuments Men,” the new movie co-written and directed by George Clooney, tells the story of curators, archivists and art historians from thirteen countries whose mission it was to save some of the most culturally significant works of art from Nazi destruction near the end of World War II. In a Napoleonic-like move, Adolf Hitler often ordered his armies to claim some of Europe’s greatest art treasures for his planned “Fuhrer Museum” to be built near his boyhood home in Austria. (Did you know Hitler was a failed art student? Neither did I. When George Stout, an American art conservationist played by George Clooney in the movie, shows one of his paintings to the newly assembled group, one of them remarks, “Hitler did that? It’s not bad.” However, James Granger, played by Matt Damon and based on Metropolitan Museum of Art Director James Rorimer, says, “Well, it’s not good.”) When the fall of the Third Reich became a reality, Hitler commanded his men to destroy everything and the group that has become known as the Monuments Men swung into action, embarking on “the greatest treasure hunt in history.”

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As a self-proclaimed history buff who has studied and visited many of the places in the film, I really wanted to like this movie but it felt like this great story got lost in a mishmash of a film trying to be a combination of Hogan’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan and The Da Vinci Code. Call it a movie with an identity crisis- it was like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. SPOILER ALERT! (Without giving too much away, one example is a scene where one of the Monuments Men gets shot and it’s obvious he’s going to die. However, in the next scene he is cracking jokes. Umm, hello? It’s wartime and you’re dying.) The cast, which also includes Bill Murray and John Goodman, do what they can but ultimately can’t save this one. About the only person who seems to understand the gravity of the situation is Claire Simone, the museum curator turned spy played by Cate Blanchett. When showing Matt Damon’s character some of the Nazi’s re-possessed goods, he asks incredulously, “What is all this?” “People’s lives,” she solemnly replies. Her scenes were a breath of fresh air.
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This movie does do a couple of things well. It helps put you in the moment where these men unearth thousands of stolen, priceless artifacts. What must it have been like to gaze upon these famous artworks and know that you had a major role in securing them for future generations to enjoy? And it also provides a powerful reminder of what we were fighting for- not just art, but our culture, history and way of life. Two scenes brought this home to me: the first near the beginning of the film where you see the beautiful landscape of Paris decorated with Nazi swastikas and the second toward the end of the film where you see Nazi soldiers indiscriminately torching some of what they had stolen. Maybe it was these ideals that frustrated me the most about this movie- it was okay, but it could have been so much better.
The movie is based on a 2010 book of the same name by Robert Edsel and it did make me want to learn more about this fascinating point in history. Also, in a local connection, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has put together a self-guided tour identifying items from its own collection saved by the Monuments Men or with other World War II related stories. As our temperature doesn’t want to rise above zero lately and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free, this seems like a great idea! As for the movie, it piques your interest but doesn’t quite hold you in its grasp.

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2.5 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

When I first heard about this film, the subject matter intrigued me more than even the ensemble cast. Truthfully, seeing Matt Damon and George Clooney with their megastar smiles in the trailer, it felt like an Ocean’s Eleven heist type of flick, but with Nazis. Hmmm, it turns out that first impression wasn’t that off-base after all.

Seems that the film has everything going for it to be a truly great WWII drama. Clooney is after all a reputable Oscar-nominated director/writer/actor, a triple threat on top of being one of the biggest movie stars in the universe. He’s got the clout to assemble a bunch of Oscar-caliber International cast and crew, who are more than up for the task to bring this amazing wartime tale to life. But yet, even halfway through the film, it just left me wanting. For something so monumental in history, the film just doesn’t do the story justice.

To call this film uneven would be putting it mildly. There’s a tonal hodgepodge that makes it quite hard to really grasp the weight of the mission of the men (and women) involved. Art historian Frank Stokes, played by Clooney himself, preaches to the audience the significance of this art-rescue mission and how noble the cause was for humanity that it was worth a person’s life. Yet the way the film’s played-out lacks the gravitas of that sentiment. At times it’s just too lighthearted for its own good that it loses its impact. I’m not saying that mixing drama with comedy can’t work, I mean there are great films that finely tread the line between drama and comedy, but I’m not sure it works well here.

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There’s a scenario where one character accidentally stepped on a land mine, but it’s treated like a humorous scene. I guess there ought to be an SNL skit where the Monuments Men don’t know which foot to stand on. Seems that Clooney himself realizes the challenge of getting the tone right, as this article from The Wrap points out  “If we get the tone right it will be a really fun film …” he said. Well, the film is not without its shares of fun, but I think if the tone were right, it would’ve been a great film.

Performance-wise, seems that the cast are having a good time making this which is fun to watch. Clooney and Damon are pretty good but I’ve seen much better work from both of them. It’s amusing to see Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Bob Balaban with his deadpan humor and Jean Dujardin being his irresistible charming French guy that he is. Now, as much as I got a kick watching them, I barely knew about any of them nor any of the other characters in the film. Why did they sacrifice their lives for this mission? Is it simply their love for art, or was there something more? As a result, I couldn’t connect with any of them no matter how hard I tried. Even during the most dire circumstances, it didn’t incite lump-in-my-throat kind of emotion, and this coming from someone who cry easily at movies. I think Cate Blanchett‘s character, the only female cast who’s the most solemn of the whole bunch, is the only one who lends credibility to the story. But still her character’s not explored as well as I would like, either.

This is Clooney’s fifth directorial effort and he also co-wrote it with his screenwriting partner Grant Heslov.  Seems that the filmmakers’ heart are in the right place and the film is not without its poignant moments. I just wish those moments are more consistent instead of just in few and far between. I don’t think that even if this were released just in time for Oscar season that it would’ve been in the running. It’s not a terrible film however, I’d recommend it as a rental if you love the cast. But if you want to really know who the Monuments Men are and their mission, I’d think there are documentaries on them that’s more satisfying and compelling. As it stands, it’s quite entertaining with a tinge of poignancy, though it lacks a certain level of artistry that’d give us a lasting impression.

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3 out of 5 reels


What do you think folks, agree/disagree with our review? Well let’s hear it!

Guest Post: Elysium, Her & The Nature of Science Fiction

Special thanks to Conor Holt for this post. Stay tuned for my full review of Spike Jonze’s her coming this weekend!


Well, this is awkward. Science Fiction is my favorite film genre, but in 2013 one of my favorite films of the year and my least favorite film of the year…are both Science-Fiction. How could this happen?

Well, let’s go back to the Science Fiction Genre. The Science-Fiction genre is one of the more difficult genres to define, since it lacks the same visual iconography & story structure of more concrete genres, like the Western or the Gangster film (if I can remember my Science-Fiction film genre class from college correctly). The Western features cowboys, saloons, shootouts – constant, common visual cues that you’re watching a Western. A Sci-Fi film, however, could feature a time machine, or take place on a space ship, or feature a robot – any and all visuals are possible. A Gangster film almost always features the tragic rise and fall of a criminal in the urban jungle, while a Sci-Fi film could be about changing the past, or fighting aliens, or about a robot learning to be human. Science-Fiction is defined by its very diversity – any time period, any technology, any idea is possible. The only requirement is that the story address and think about that possibility.  The “what if?” of the story isn’t just a jumping off point, but the actual crux of the story.

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So, back to 2013, and two very different films. Just a few weeks ago, I saw Spike Jonze’s her, and loved it. Absolutely loved it. A tender, beautiful love story between a man and his Artificially Intelligent computer program, and the complications that arise from that. But this Summer, I saw Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium …and there’s really nothing good I can say about it. Matt Damon does his best, but even he can’t save a severely underwritten, poorly-told, simplistic, heavy-handed action film with some robots and space ships thrown in.

Both of these films are technically Science Fiction, yet I had vastly different reactions to them. Why? Well, of course, no one is going to like every film in a single genre. Hell, not every film in a genre is even going to be good – there are probably thousands of terrible direct-to-DVD sci-fi films cluttering Redboxes across the country right now. But I think an important distinction can be made between her and Elysium that address the nature of science-fiction.  “her” is about how a man could love an AI, how an AI could love a human, and the challenges they face as a couple that cannot touch each other (as well as looking at an overall world immersed in virtual activity and communication). Elysium features a floating space station for the rich, brain chips, and fancy new weapons, but it’s about a man trying to break in to a restricted area to get healed by a magical healing machine (the film never tries to explain how it works). While her makes the technology and the “science-fiction” part of the story, Elysium uses the science-fiction setting and props to dress up an action film, and a pretty silly action film at that.

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Elysium Space Station

Maybe that’s it – the fact that Elysium pretends that it’s a Science-Fiction film, but is really an action film in Sci-Fi clothing is why I hated it so much, that and the fact that it’s a poorly written, hammy over-the-top failure (such a disappointment after the terrific District 9). Good Science-Fiction takes interesting questions about technology, human nature, outer space, and seeks to explore possible answers. They can be action-packed (The Terminator) or comedic (Wall-E) or head spinning (Primer), but they have to explore possibilities in a way only Science Fiction can.

Perhaps the solution to the broadness of the Science Fiction genre is being a little bit more selective about what gets to be called “Science Fiction”. The Action-Adventure genre can have Elysium – we don’t want it. In fact, they can have Gravity too. Gravity is a tremendous film, and one of the best of the year, but nothing about it is scientifically fictitious – everything in it is real, and it takes place today. It’s not Science Fiction – it’s a survival story on a space station.

Science Fiction is a special thing – a creative space for exploring new ideas, possible technologies, unpredicted futures. If other genres want to play around in this sandbox and borrow bits and pieces, that’s fine – but the distinction of “Science Fiction” should be held only by those who truly care about and are defined by their exploration of scientific possibility.

Thoughts about the Sci-fi genre and/or the films mentioned? We’d love to hear what you think!


Conor Holt is the writer, director, and producer of multiple short films. His most recent film, A Better Life, a science-fiction drama about marriage & control, which he directed & co-wrote, played at the 2013 Fargo Film Festival and the Twin Cities Film Fest, and recently won Best Editing & Visual Effects at the St. Cloud Film Festival. He is a graduate of the Minnesota State University Moorhead Film Studies program, and currently lives in Los Angeles, working odd jobs in the film industry and volunteering at film festivals.

For more information on A Better Life, check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/ABetterLifeShortFilm. Follow Conor on Twitter.

Weekend Roundup … Dragon Knight review + Musings on Matt Damon

Happy Monday everyone!

Did you catch anything this weekend? Two R-rated films ended up winning the box office this weekend. ELYSIUM beat We’re The Millers by a slim margin with a little over $30. With a budget of $100 mil (3 times the amount of District 9 which ended up grossing $115 mil), we’ll see if having A-list cast and Hollywood studio back-up actually pays off for Neill Blomkamp. As I’ve surmised in my review, Elysium certainly doesn’t top D-9 for me, which is a far more compelling film IMO.

I opted for home cinema this weekend. A while ago, Revolver Entertainment sent me the DVD screener of Dragon Knight (Red Knight or Rencontre avec le dragon). Here’s the description at the back of the box:

DragonKnightDVD11th Century AD. In a world that burns with the heat of battle, a world torn apart by Crusades, one knight traverses the desolate wastes laid bare by bloody conflict… Prepare yourself for a descent into a brutal hell, where armies clash and blood flows like rivers, and where a sharp blade is the only means of defense against an army of evil.

Now, the film turns out to be nothing like the description or DVD cover that promises relentless battle scenes. Instead of a swords ‘n sandal epic, it’s actually more of a drama with little sword-fighting involved. Aside from the beautiful European setting of lush mountains and countryside, the production values is pretty sub-par. It’s also a rather odd film, with supernatural elements thrown in, that takes a long time to grab my interest. But I’m willing to overlook all that if it weren’t for the horrible dubbing! Most of the dubbed voices didn’t even match the actors, which makes it utterly distracting for me to concentrate on what’s happening on screen. I wish there were an option to have English subtitles instead, a MUST for every foreign film IMO.

I almost turned it off several times but I stuck it out because I was curious about this young boy named Felix who worships this supposedly legendary Red Knight, Guillaume de Montauban. Guillaume himself isn’t a sympathetic nor gripping character, in fact he kinds of irritates me. I think the story actually has potential, there’s even a love story that I totally didn’t expect. Most of the actors are French, the only one I’ve heard of is Daniel Auteuil who’ve won BAFTA and César awards.

I’d say it’s worth a rental if you don’t mind the dubbing. The film is available on Amazon.com.


Now, after having seen ELYSIUM, I thought I’d turn the spotlight a bit on…

Matt Damon

Since his acting debut back in 1988 in Mystic Pizza (which I totally forgot he was in!), the actor has done about 60 films, and counting on IMDb, about 20 of those are leading roles. I wasn’t too fond of him initially, but after the Bourne movies, I started to really like him, though he’s still not the kind of actor that’d necessarily put my butt on the seat. I usually go see his film because of other factors, so not exactly because his name’s on the marquee. Still, I think he’s a pretty good actor who isn’t afraid to mix things up, i.e. working on a role as Liberace’s lover in Behind the Candelabra in the same year as Elysium!

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Damon… in Mystic Pizza and Elysium

It’s clear that the 42-year-old actor gets better with age, no? He even looks better bald than with that dorky mop of 80s hair! He’s certainly one of Hollywood’s elite now, along with his compadres George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt. Now, I don’t usually go for movie stars, in fact, the more famous an actor gets, usually the less I like them for some reason. I’d also be the one to tell you I don’t subscribe to Damon’s über Liberal views, but at least he doesn’t annoy me the way say, Sean Penn does. As an actor he has that everyman quality, plus I respect that he doesn’t seem to have qualms about poking fun at himself! He and Jimmy Kimmel are apparently such good friends that Damon doesn’t seem to mind humiliating himself on his show. This Bourne spoof clip is one of my favorites with Kimmel’s hilarious sidekick Guillermo!


That’s probably one of Damon’s best acting role, ahah. So far, I’ve only seen about a dozen or so of his films, and if I were to list my top five favorite roles it’d probably go like this:

  1. Jason Bourne (The Bourne Trilogy)
  2. Good Will Hunting
  3. Contagion
  4. Invictus
  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley

I was initially anticipating his upcoming film that Clooney directed, The Monuments Men, but the first trailer was rather meh IMO. I’d probably still see it for Cate Blanchett though.

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So folks, what did you see this weekend? And what’s YOUR favorite Matt Damon role(s)?

FlixChatter Review: ELYSIUM

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As a big fan of District 9, I had been looking forward to this for some time. I erroneously thought this was the follow-up to Neill Blomkamp‘s sci-fi thriller set in South Africa when I did this post but by the time the trailer came out, obviously this is an original story that doesn’t involve aliens from another planet.

This sci-fi fantasy takes place in 2154, where the gap between haves and the have-nots have reached astronomical proportion. 99% of humanity’s population are still slumming in a ‘diseased, polluted and vastly overpopulated’ earth, whilst the 1% of the elite and wealthy folks live in the lush and green ELYSIUM. It’s the ultimate ‘gated community’ aboard a lavish space-station where every mansion is complete with robotic servants and magical medical beds that can heal ANY ailments, yes including cancer and a full facial reconstruction surgery in a matter of seconds! Ok, so there’s no superhero in this movie but heck, who needs one when you’ve got a SUPER healing mechanism at your beck and call. Unfortunately, the machine only works if you’re a citizen, and Elysium’s border patrol is equipped with rockets ready to fire at illegal aircrafts entering its airspace.

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Elysium VS Earth – It’s definitely better up there!

Matt Damon plays a down-on-his-luck Max, a parolee who’s dreamed of leaving in Elysium ever since he was a little boy living in an orphanage. There’s one comedic moment in the entire movie where Max had to see a mechanized parole officer, as the rest of the law officers and other service workers are in the form of robots. Things just gets bad to worse when Max gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the factory. With only 5 days to live, he’s desperate to get to Elysium. In order to get up there, Max has to somehow download crucial information from an Elysium citizen’s brain straight to his. That’s what those exoskeleton stuff you see on the film posters are for. The surgery scene is brutal, I have to shut my eyes as metals are drilled and screwed into Max’s body as if he’s a car in auto shop. When he finally comes out of it, Max practically looks like a robot with powered metals attached all over his body and a computer implanted into the back of his head.

I enjoyed watching all the fantastical futuristic elements, and Blomkamp surely isn’t lacking imagination and ambition. What this film also lacks is subtlety, just like D-9 was an allegory for apartheid, Elysium’s political and sociological themes on class warfare, healthcare and immigration are sure to divide audiences. He cites that growing up in South Africa is the main inspiration of the class division theme in this film, and despite the seemingly obvious commentary about border security and universal healthcare, he said that there’s no political agenda here. Even the über Liberal and politically vocal star Matt Damon downplays the political overtone. I think how much those stuff bother you depending on your political views and interest. For me, this is just another big Summer thrill ride that gives us a bit more food-for-thought amidst some bombastic (literally) action sequences.

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Speaking of Damon, I think he acquits himself well here though I didn’t really have as big of a emotional connection as I did with D-9’s character Wikus, who I think is a far more tragic character than Max. I also think that though Max is played out like an action hero (Bourne meets Terminator?) instead of a truly desperate and ruthless character hellbent on saving his own life at any cost. I read that Blomkamp originally wanted Eminem in the role, now I’ve never seen him act before but I wonder if he’d actually do a more convincing job. Jodie Foster as Elysium defense secretary Delacourt is distractingly awful here with her robotic acting style and absurd accent. Yes I know that Blomkamp intended the accent of Elysium residents to be an amalgam of different languages but it just makes me laugh! I wonder if having those residents speak multiple languages (like in the underrated sci-fi drama Code 46) instead of with a myriad of accents might’ve been more realistic.

It’s also too bad that Sharlto Copley is reduced to this sadistic special ops agent whose killing method of choice is blowing people up into pieces. His character can’t be more dissimilar than his debut in District 9, which proves he’s a capable actor, but his villainy role is written like a caricature.  I like the International cast here, Brazilians Wagner Moura and Alice Braga, Mexican Diego Luna, Pakistani-descent Faran Tahir, as well as veteran character actor William Fichtner made up the supporting cast.

In terms of special effects and production quality, clearly this film delivers, thanks to a much bigger budget of $100 mil. But having more money and A-list cast don’t always translate to a better film, in fact, D-9 with its uniquely organic style is still more compelling in terms of my the emotional connection I have with the protagonist. Plus, Elysium is decidedly more ‘Hollywood’ in that it’s more predictable and comes with a feel-good and simplistic ending. Yeah as if it were THAT easy to solve such an extreme class warfare. Seems that Blomkamp ends up being preoccupied packing the third half with relentless fight scenes and stuff blowing up that the finale feels rather out of sync with all the sense of realism and intriguing ideas that preceded it. At a relatively brisk 109 minutes, there’s barely room for character development either, the villains are just evil for evil’s sake with no real motivation.

Final Thoughts: Now, even though I think Elysium is a bit of a downgrade from D-9, there are still many things to appreciate. As I mentioned before, the futuristic space stuff are fun to watch and the story also gives us something to ponder even if we don’t necessarily subscribe to the idealism being presented on screen. It could’ve been a more in depth and compelling film though, alas the the typical Hollywood happy ending keeps this from being a notch above a cool Summer sci-fi escapism.

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


UPVOTE please


What are your thoughts on this movie? Did you like this more or less than I did?