FlixChatter Review: OFFICIAL SECRETS (2019)

I’m glad I got to see this film on National Whistleblower Day last July. It was a very early screening to coincide with that day, which I think is appropriate as many whistleblowers are unsung heroes in my opinion, and they risked a lot to do what they do.

As did Katharine Gun, a British translator working for GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in which this film is about. The film’s storyline is based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion (a mouthful and very descriptive title!) In 2003, she leaked a secret memo to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the invasion of Iraq. Some of the illegal activities involve US National Security Agency eavesdropping on diplomats from countries (the ‘swing nations’ as it were) tasked with passing a crucial UN resolution in favor of the invasion.

The film begins with Katharine leading an ordinary day, cuddling romantically with her husband in bed, watching TV, etc. Filmmaker Gavin Hood (who directed Eye in the Sky, an effective drone warfare thriller) made a point that Katharine vehemently opposed the Iraq invasion—she commented about Tony Blair while watching him on TV. As you recall, he was deeply unpopular when he backed George W. Bush’s foreign policy at the time. Then came the day Katharine stumbled upon that secret memo, and the film shows how she was outraged by that email. There is quite a bit of political jargon and national security info that get over my head a little, but most of the film focuses on Katharine’s journey… how she wrestles with the idea of leaking the confidential memo, thus breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989.

This film could easily be one of those humdrum BOATS (based on a true story) film, but I’m glad to say it’s pretty intriguing. There are some slow parts, and some scenes were overly dramatized, but overall I was invested in Katharine’s story. She sees the Iraq invasion as illegal, and she’s a headstrong woman that she maintains her ground, and her innocence throughout the whole ordeal. She acted to prevent imminent loss of life in a war that she deemed unlawful. There are a few suspenseful scenes, notably the time Katharine was interrogated when GCHQ got wind of the ‘leaked memo’ and another one involving her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) who’s from Turkey. The fact that he’s an immigrant is being exploited by the UK authorities to get Katharine to yield. I have to admit that deportation scene is highly resonant to what’s going today and it sends a chill to my heart.

The film boasts a terrific British cast. I thought Keira Knightley, who looks nothing like the blond Katharine (they didn’t even make Keira’s hair lighter in the film) delivers a pretty convincing and affecting portrayal. It’s perhaps a less flashy role, yet one of her most nuanced performances I’ve seen so far. It’s quite a nice break to see her being rather deglamorized here. As for the all-star supporting cast, there are Ralph Fiennes as Katharine’s human-rights attorney, Matthew Goode (wish there were more scenes of him) and Matt Smith as journalists for The Observer, and Rhys Ifans as another British journalist. Though they each play a small role, I think they all provide a memorable turn as the people Katharine came in contact with. I find the whole correspondents between the supporting cast quite entertaining, perhaps because I have such a penchant for these fine British thespians!

Some say the Katharine Gun story as a morality tale of the 21st century, as her legal battle ends up exposing the highest level of government in both UK and US. Katharine was asked if she was ‘anti-war’ and she replied ‘no.’ She said some wars serve a purpose, and in hindsight, we know that the Iraq invasion shouldn’t have taken place. I for one am not a political person nor am I into overly political movies that are one-sided, but that’s not what Official Secrets is about. This thought-provoking film certainly made me ponder what I would do if I were in Katharine’s shoes, would I dare to stand up for what I believe in when it really mattered, risking everything I hold dear when the easiest to do would just to keep quiet.

I’m glad I saw this film as I didn’t really remember the actual events. As far as films about whistleblower goes, this one isn’t quite as gripping as say, The Insider (one of my fave from Michael Mann boasting an Oscar-worthy turn from Russell Crowe). Nonetheless it’s still a pretty solid drama in which the cast made it well worth a watch. I appreciate that they show the real Katharine Gun at the end of the film. I know people don’t usually go to the movies to see smaller dramas like this one, but I highly recommend it and I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.


Have you seen OFFICIAL SECRETS? I’d love to hear what you think!

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Advanced Screening Giveaway to OFFICIAL SECRETS

Happy Friday! We have another giveaway for this coming Tuesday!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you + a guest are invited to an advanced screening of OFFICIAL SECRETS in honor of National Whistleblower Day:

Tuesday, July 30
Alamo Drafthouse Twin Cities at 7:30 pm

RSVP using the link below, while supplies last.

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first serve and is not guaranteed.

Witness the untold true story of one woman’s fight for truth. 

She risked everything to stop an unjust war. Her government called her a traitor. Based on world-shaking true events, Official Secrets tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information.

One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun makes the gut-wrenching decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that will ignite an international firestorm, expose a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

The film also stars Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode and Matt Smith. Official Secrets is directed by Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky)

The film hits select Twin Cities theaters on September 13.


FlixChatter Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

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Jane Austen’s brilliant work has endured over two centuries so far and it’s as relevant as ever. I’m not a purist Austen fan, as I actually enjoy alternative/re-imagining of her work, i.e. Lost in Austen, Bride & Prejudice, Bridget Jones Diary, Austenland, etc. But none are as outlandish as what Seth Grahame-Smith’s done in his book. I hadn’t read it, but when I first heard of the film adaptation back when Natalie Portman was supposed to play Elizabeth Bennet, I was already sold. Fast forward 6 years later, Portman is still attached as a producer but this time we’ve got an ensemble of up-and-coming British actors.

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As with any mashup, it ought to offer a good balance of the two genres. Whilst I think it has a good mix of both, I do think that this might offer more for fans of period dramas as it might not be bloody/gory enough for zombie lovers. It’s heavy on action with a few jump scares and less on the horror side, which suits me just fine. It’s especially thrilling that director Burr Steers (who also wrote the script) is loyal to Austen’s text and the story is grounded in the timeless romance of Lizzie and Darcy. The social class commentary is also preserved, but of course we’ve got yet another layer beneath the lowest class, that is the undead.

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The movie opens with the dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, perfectly-brooding AND bad-ass) who’s now a Colonel, visiting a wealthy estate in search of recently-turned zombies hiding amongst the living. Within minutes, we see Darcy’s decapitating an undercover zombie in his typical unperturbed stoicism. That scene is followed by a crafty storybook opening credit sequence that explains the fact that in lieu of the Napoleonic Wars, 19th century England is now overrun by hordes of the undead. In this universe though, people who’ve been bitten by the undead don’t immediately turn into full-on zombie until they’ve consumed human brains, hence they can still somehow hide in plain sight.

In order to survive in the world plagued by zombies, they had to be trained in weaponry and martial arts. Apparently the upper class folks have been trained in Japan, whilst those of lesser means, like the Bennet sisters, were trained in China. There’s an amusing bit where Lizzie speaks in Chinese to prove to Darcy that she’s read the proper text of The Art of War. As they say, all is fair in love and war, and thus the zombie apocalypse certainly ups the stakes for everyone involved.

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Faithful to the Pride & Prejudice text, the film still has the scenes that Austen fans would expect to see. We still have the Bennet sisters spending time with the family, except that instead of knitting, they’re polishing their muskets and swords. “My daughters are trained for battle… not the kitchen,” Mr Bennet says at one point, played with dignified grace by Charles Dance. We’ve also got the formal ball where Lizzie and Darcy first meet, and it’s played out just like in the original in that they did not get off on the right foot. I must say Lily James is one formidable Lizzie Bennet, even if she is still too pretty for the role just like Keira Knightley was. Miss Bennet is already a feminist icon to begin with, here the female empowerment element is pumped up even more as she’s a Kung-fu warrior who defiantly says that she’d “never relinquish her sword for a ring” and that the right man wouldn’t ask her to.

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But of course, the two headstrong pair soon find themselves attracted to each other. It’s crucial in any Pride & Prejudice adaptation that Lizzie and Darcy has chemistry and here they have that in spades. Lizzie is no damsel in distress, and by the time she and her four sisters slash a throng of zombies in slo-mo fashion, it’s Darcy who’s hyperventilating. The entire Bennet sisters are pretty bad ass, even Jane (lovely Bella Heathcote) is no shrinking violet and gets to save Mr. Bingley’s (Douglas Booth) life here. The numerous battle of wits are intact, with some intense physical battles thrown in to spice things up even more. The epic duel between Lizzie and Darcy is definitely my favorite part of the film, it’s immensely fun to watch these typically demure characters kick and hit each other senseless, and undoubtedly release their repressed sexual frustration in the process.

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This review from SFGate remarked that the zombies give Darcy a reason to brood about, and I wholeheartedly agree. I have to admit one of the issues I have with Mr. Darcy is that he’s just so enormously wealthy that he doesn’t need to work, and has little reason to justify his somber mood. But here, the titular character is given an intriguing backstory that naturally made him seem less preoccupied with finding a wife given the matters of life and death he has to face daily. There’s also an even more compelling reason why he absolutely detests these zombies (AND Mr. Wickham). I’ve never been one of those Mr. Darcy groupies, but THIS leather-clad, Samurai-wielding zombie killer extraordinaire is a hero worth swooning for, ehm. Speaking of Mr. Wickham (a charming Jack Huston), I think the major twist in Austen’s text involves his character. I won’t go into detail about his character but lets just say he’s quite um, friendly with the zombies. Heck, he even took Lizzie to a church where the patrons are not entirely alive.

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I do have a few quibbles about the poor action sequences though. The blurry sequence during the zombie attacks/fight scene get irritating after a while, and there is some inconsistencies about the nature of the zombies as some can seem less *dead* than others. I also think Charles Dance wasn’t given enough to do and neither was his Game of Thrones’ co-star Lena Headey as eye-patch wearing Lady Catherine du Bourgh (Darcy’s aunt). She’s made out to be a fierce zombie warrior, yet we didn’t see a single scene of her battling zombies! The whole sequence of her going after Lizzie in protest of her union with Darcy is rather silly as she brought along a henchman. You’d think a woman of such stature would never be in need of one.


Despite those flaws, overall I had a lot of fun with this one. The actors are fully committed to their roles and they play it straight throughout, no wink-wink nudge nudge as if they’re doing a SNL skit. The deadpan humor is interwoven in the inherently bizarre plot and I was more than along for the ride. I think you’d enjoy this movie more if you accept the sheer audacity of mashing up these two genres from the get go. The fact that the most preposterous scenes are done with a straight face makes them even funnier. Matt Smith steals every scene he’s in as the ridiculous Mr. Collins, though he’s playing him far more flamboyantly than the previous versions. There’s always been a hint that Collins might have a thing for Darcy and it’s played up even more in this movie.

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The set pieces and gorgeous costume design by Julian Day is delightful to look at. The soundtrack by Fernando Velázquez is also suitably elegant but with a touch of ominous brood. For fans of rom-coms, this is one where there is both romance AND comedy in equal measure. I definitely will watch this again, and on the big screen! I’m glad the movie ends on a cliffhanger as I wouldn’t even mind seeing a sequel, but only if we have Lily James and Sam Riley back as Lizzie and Darcy. I like James more here than in Cinderella and she certainly can handle the action as well as the drama. I thoroughly enjoyed Sam Riley‘s portrayal of Darcy, he might not be as refined as Colin Firth but he plays up the strong-silent-type hero perfectly. He’s said in interviews that if Firth is the Sean Connery of Darcys, he’s the Roger Moore. But considering his bad-assery and special skills in weaponry, he’s more akin to Daniel Craig’s Bond mixed with Taken‘s Bryan Mills!

So yeah, I find this unlikely mashup more than a little agreeable. I do think the reason this movie works is a testament of the genius of Austen’s writing. Not only does it stand the test of time, the core of the story is intact no matter what backdrop it’s set against.

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Have you seen this movie? I’m curious to hear what YOU think!

Question of the week: Which casting news are you excited about from the past few weeks?

Hello everyone! I’m planning of launching a Casting News Roundup series in the coming weeks, something I’d update a couple times a month. I even made the banner already 😉

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Casting can make or break a film and to me, casting is a big part of whether I want to see a certain film or not. Of course the story and genre are essential, and sometimes the directors are the ones that get me to see a certain movie. But for the most part, the actors have the biggest influence in the movie selling process to me.

Well, let me start off with a couple of casting news that piqued my interest. One is a remake of one of my favorite films of all time: Ben-Hur. I’ve blogged about the rumor that Tom Hiddleston was offered the role, well it seems that he’s passed on it and now Jack Huston has been cast as the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur.

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Now I would’ve loved to see Hiddles in this role and that’d undoubtedly put my butt on the seat but y’know what, I don’t mind seeing Huston in this role. I’ve only seen him in American Hustle, but TV fans are likely familiar with him from his role as the scary-looking Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire. Huston’s got quite an acting pedigree, being the grandson of director John Huston and nephew of Angelica Huston. I like that he’s got one of those chameleon-like face, he reminds me of a young, pre-Jack Sparrow Johnny Depp. I’m curious to see what he could do with the role and what that means for his career.

TobyKebbellMessalaNow the Messala casting came soon after, with Toby Kebbell (Mr. Rocknrolla himself) taking on the friend-turned-foe Roman soldier. I like Kebbell, he was pretty good in War Horse and he did a terrific mo-cap work as Koba in this year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Well, so far I like the casting of these two young Brits, they may not be as well-known yet but they’ve churned out pretty good performances so far. Before these two main castings were announced, Morgan Freeman was cast as Ilderim [renamed Ildarin in the new film apparently] as the Arab sheik whose chariot Ben-Hur rode in the epic chariot race. I LOVE Hugh Griffith in the original, but think Mr. Freeman would add the right amount of gravitas for the role. I just hope the film itself will prove to be a swords & sandals epic worthy of the cast and the incredible story it’s based on.


Well, TV fans should know by now about this news. More and more film actors are now coming to TV, in fact I think the lines between TV and Film actors are blurred now, and I personally think a good actor should be able to juggle multiple mediums. A lot of my fave actors balance stage, film, and TV work seamlessly.

In any case, so Colin Farrell has now joined True Detective 2.

ColinFarrell_TrueDetective2He’s quoted at Buzzfeed as saying:

I know it will be eight episodes and take around four or five months to shoot. I know very little about it, but we’re shooting in the environs of Los Angeles which is great. It means I get to stay at home and see the kids.

The article also says that Rachel McAdams and Elisabeth Moss are apparently vying for the role opposite him. I still need to see this series [yes I know, I should get on that!], but I knew it’d be tough to follow up Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Colin’s been in a bunch of hit and miss projects but generally I like him, I think he is a talented actor and he should do well in this series.


Other casting news: Apparently former Dr Who Matt Smith is going to play Mr. Collins in the Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. WOW, how long has that movie been in development hell?? I blogged about it back in 2009 when Natalie Portman was attached to play Lizzie Bennet.

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So what do you think of these casting choices? If you have other casting news you’re excited about, do share!

A Day at the Wizard World Minneapolis Comic-Con

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Whew, this past weekend was quite a whirlwind for me. I had to apply for a Schengen VISA in Chicago on Friday that’s why I had to miss the first two days of Comic-con. My friends Ashley and Anne were able to make it to Friday and Saturday though, check out their recap which includes the panels with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, William Shatner, Sean Astin, Karen Gillian, and more!

So the only day I was able to attend was Sunday. I got there around 11 am and most of the talents like Lou Ferrigno, James Marsters, Adam Baldwin, Manu Bennett (Azog in The Hobbit), Ralph Macchio, Ian Ziering, etc. were still hanging around their booths. We had to pay up to $40 bucks (I think for Fillion it was like $100 buck!) to get a photo and signature with each of them though. Heh, I can’t imagine paying that much just to have my picture taken with a celebrity, but given how I feel for Toby Stephens now, I might just be obsessed enough to do so, ha! Not that he’d ever do this kinds of thing unless he’s promoting a project or something. In any case, so my hubby and I just hung out in the exhibit hall, checking out all the vendors and cosplay-watching of course!

Proof that Toby was never far from my mind that I actually took a picture with two female pirates as I had been wishing someone would’ve put on a Black Sails‘ Captain Flint costume! Yes I know, I am hopeless 😛

Highlights:

matt-smith-the-11th-doctor-mpls-comic-con-Well the best part is definitely the Matt Smith panel, and I haven’t even watched a single Doctor Who episode with him as the Doctor. Yes I’ve actually only watched about 7 episodes total and those are the ones with Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Still, it was an enjoyable panel as he’s pretty hilarious. He seems like a good sport too, answering every single question in a jovial way, even after being asked the same questions over and over again, mostly by the younger fans. Seriously, how many times do people have to ask him about his favorite Dr Who companion?! I agree with Anne that I wish Karen Gillan and Matt Smith could have done their session together to eliminate the same boring questions, besides the two seem like they made a fun pair. I might have to start watching their Doctor Who episodes now, ahah.

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It took about a half hour into the Q&A session that someone finally asked Matt about being cast in Terminator Genesis. Unfortunately he couldn’t really say anything as he fears for his life, ahah. Typical I suppose, besides, it hasn’t even been announced who he’ll be playing yet, but for sure NOT John Connor as that role’s been filled by Jason Clarke. In any case, though I haven’t seen Matt in anything else before, I really like the guy. He’s quirky, playful and seems genuinely friendly. I sure hope he has a long career ahead of him post Doctor Who.

Oh, it’s fun to meet up with my friend Conor Holt, the filmmaker of A Better Life which was my favorite short film at TCFF last year and he’s also a contributor to FlixChatter. His short film deservedly won Best Student Short Film at Wizard World Film Fest! Here he is beaming with pride, congrats Conor!! I hope he continues to make movies in the future!


Well I’d have more high points if I had gone the entire weekend. The low point is that I miss all the highlights on Saturday, but hey, there’s always next year! Speaking of which, a Wizard World rep said in the press note that the Minneapolis event was a huge success and the next year’s date has been announced: May 1-3!

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I’m sure glad Minneapolis’ got our own Comic-con now! It’s next to impossible to score tickets to San Diego Comic-con any more, so I’m glad I was able to go a few years ago. Glad that now I don’t have to travel far to geek out 😀


So that’s my recap folks. Have you been to a Comic-con before? If so, what’s your favorite moment?