FlixChatter Review: Little Women (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FlixChatter Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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Directed by Rob Marshall | Screenplay by David Magee

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters

There are few things I hold dear to my inner child’s heart, one of them being Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964) starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Regarded as a classic, the 1964 film succeeded on so many levels. There was Julie Andrews’ groundbreaking performance as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke’s Bert the chimney sweeper is equally lovable (despite his fake cockney accent). There was innovative special effects and animation. There was song and dance and my, oh my, was there! Richard and Robert Sherman’s memorable songs took the film into new heights for a musical and it had so much heart in the performances and execution (never mind P.L. Travers’ objection to the film).

So, when Disney announced a sequel, I was excited, cynical and partly in disbelief. After all, this was the tallest order of the highest magnitude. I came in with low expectations. But that changed a bit when Emily Blunt was cast as she looked ‘practically perfect’ (referencing the perfect nanny herself) in the title role. This time around, Poppins has returned to look after the Banks children 25 years after the events from the 1964 film. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now an adult with 3 young children, is working at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank like his late father before him.

Disillusioned by the loss of his wife a year prior and financial ruin and the threat of losing their family home literally knocking at their door, Michael, along with sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) search in vain to try and find a way to pay off Michael’s loan before the bank (Fidelity Fiduciary mind you) takes their house away. Whishaw is quite good in his early scenes singing A Conversation a touching lament to his late wife. Mortimer looks quite a likeness to the younger Jane Banks so that was a nice touch. However, we don’t see much of her throughout the film. She plays a labor activist, an homage to the elder Mrs. Banks who was a suffragette.

Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack the lamplighter in parallel to Van Dyke’s chimney sweeper. Like Bert in the first movie, he plays Mary’s counterpart on their adventures and performs the opening song and rudimentary lamplighter army sequence (Trip A Little Light Fantastic). Miranda is an accomplished performer and it shows especially with the opening (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky.

Emily Blunt is stunning as Mary Poppins. She holds her own in her rendition of the title character (even to unfair comparisons to Julie Andrews) and also does justice to the material in front of her. Her shining moment is the sweet The Place Where Lost Things Go. Blunt’s dance number with Miranda on A Cover Is Not a Book is exceptional as is the choreography and production. Her performance is noteworthy in this regard and is rewarding to watch.

Mary Poppins Returns is an entertaining, albeit a templated version of the original film down to the character and plot-lines. Its predictability isn’t a total downside as we all know things will turn out all right in the end. But it does feel a bit lacking I suspect from Disney’s too-cautious efforts to make it right. The film is well-crafted down to a T but that meticulousness and dare-I-say bombastic-ness of its musical approach may be its weakest points. Marc Shaiman’s music and Scott Wittman’s lyrics do all they can to match the vivaciousness and grandeur of Richard and Robert Sherman’s work on the first film. But they weren’t able to capture that heart and subtlety that so permeated the original Mary Poppins. There’s no heart wrenching performances like the younger Jane and Michael’s The Perfect Nanny”nor the touching nostalgia of Julie Andrew’s Feed The Birds. This may be an unfair assessment as I believe Mary Poppins Returns stands on its own. But the things that made the original a classic just isn’t quite there.

The filmmakers gathered a great cast but Meryl Streep’s turn as cousin Topsy probably should have been given to Julie Walters, another great actress who plays Ellen the Housekeeper, in a wasted tiny role. But perhaps that is due to too many greats on set. In effect, it’s a valiant effort by everyone involved from the writers, actors, and songwriters. Memorable were the performances but the songs not so much. It’s a great looking film but not the classic that it could have been.

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So what do you think of Mary Poppins Returns? Let us know what you think!

Music Break: ABBA’s songs in Mamma Mia!

Happy midweek everyone! It’s kind of a sleepy Wednesday even though just exactly a week ago I was extremely busy casting for my upcoming short film project, Master Servant. It was my first time holding auditions (as I didn’t have to do that Hearts Want) and let’s just say it was quite an experience. I have even more appreciation for actors (especially working actors) and what they have to go through to land a part.

In any case, well I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week… it had been such a whirlwind few weeks that I needed a crowd-pleaser type of movie and it definitely did the trick. It’s funny but when the original first came out, I didn’t even bother to see it and wasn’t really interested. But my friend in San Diego has the DVD so I ended up watching it when I visited her. I actually grew up listening to ABBA (who’s my brother’s fave) and it was fun nostalgia hearing the catchy tunes once again. As for the movie, well I don’t think it would’ve worked at all without ABBA’s music to be honest. It’s the kind of contagiously rousing songs you can’t help but being drawn to it, heck the songs have been stuck in my head for days since I saw the sequel! Plus having Meryl Streep and a pretty phenomenal cast doesn’t hurt. Amanda Seyfried is pretty good as Sophie (Streep’s daughter) but it’s Julie Walters and Christine Baranski who’s truly light up the screen. I wish we all had them as our besties!

Oh and the scenery!! Honestly, I was gawking at the amazing Greek islands (filmed on location on Skopelos, Skiathos and Damouhari Pelion) which surely have become a major tourist attraction now thanks to the movie. Who hasn’t fantasized living in such a incredible place, running a hotel with your handsome boyfriend and your three dads consist of Mr. Darcy, James Bond and Thor’s Dr. Selvig?? I mean, come on!!

Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan as Sophie’s three dads

It’s the kind of movie to just put off your thinking caps and be ready to groove! So here are some of my fave songs and/or scenes from the original and the sequel:

Ok yes it’s a silly movie, but I couldn’t help but tearing up a bit hearing this rendition of The Winner Takes It All (darn you Meryl!)

Donna looked so believably devastated in this scene… I wish the sequel had more oomph in showing her romance with Sam in the flashback scene. I feel like this scene in the original was far more emotional than the entire scene of young Donna & Sam in the sequel.

Oh man, what an end credits!! Such a hoot to see all the three dads in full disco gear. Looks like the entire cast had such a great time making this that they totally went all out in the bohemian spirit of the movie!!

I’ve been a fan of Lily James since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Cinderella, she’s instantly likable and apparently this girl can sing! I actually like her rendition of this melancholy song… yeah she’s my current girl crush.

I really, really enjoyed this scene and the song Why Did It Have To Be Me. I adore Lily James as young Donna (not an easy task playing the young version of a character originally played by Meryl Streep, but she did a fine job!) and Josh Dylan (young Bill) is my fave of the three young actors.

Well one of the highlights of the sequel is Cher (natch!)… and her fans would likely NOT be disappointed. She only appears at the end but her rendition of Fernando (a duet with Andy Garcia), as teased in all the promos, is pretty darn amusing.


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Well, which ABBA song(s) is your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

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I have to admit that I didn’t know this film was in the works until I saw it on the press screening list. I had listened to Kenneth Turan’s review of the French film Marguerite on NPR, which is also a biopic of a wealthy woman who loves music and the opera but is delusional about her singing ability. In this film, the title role Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a New York heiress who’s always dreamed to play in Carnegie Hall.

In the press screening I attended, there were quite a few members of the MN Opera, and so the audience responded very well to the movie right from the start. It begins with Hugh Grant‘s character, St Clair Bayfield, acting on stage. Then suddenly we see Jenkins descending from the ceiling, suspended on a rope, decked out as a naughty Valkyrie. She goes home with her husband Bayfield, who lulls her to sleep with a poem, but their marriage is more like an act, as they live separate lives. Bayfield lives with his beautiful mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) who tolerates this arrangement to some degree. But it’s clear that Bayfield genuinely cares for his wealthy wife and he dotes on her. He’s the one who protects her reputation and sustains her life in a bubble so to speak.

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The film’s funniest moments involves Jenkins’ accompanying pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), whom she hired on the spot. The shy young man couldn’t believe his luck, earning $150 a week is more than he’d ever expect. But soon he finds out what it actually entails to work for miss Jenkins. Helberg’s expressions the first time he heard Jenkins sing (if you could even call it that) is simply priceless!! He did whatever he could not to burst into uproarious laughter and it was a hoot to watch.

The rest of the movie is pretty much an elaborate scheme to shield Jenkins from criticism. The Carnegie Hall is closed to the public, as Bayfield goes out of his way to only invite friends and those he could bribe. No doubt critics aren’t allowed to attend, as he knew an honest review would crush Jenkins. British filmmaker Stephen Frears is no stranger to directing biopics starring seasoned actresses (The Queen, Philomena) and he did a splendid job once again. This film is definitely more comedic than the two I mentioned, and the laughs just keep on coming. The humor doesn’t simply rely on an elderly woman singing off key, but I’m fully invested in the whole ruse of keeping Jenkins inside her bubble. It’s funny but also a poignant and heart-warming drama, boasted by a terrific performance by the three main cast.

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Streep is an acting virtuoso, and she did all her own singing here, which must have been a challenge as she’s actually a pretty good singer. Helberg is quite the scene stealer, as he’s in all of the funniest bits in this movie. I’ve never seen him before but he’s definitely a gifted comedian. But it’s Grant who’s quite a revelation here with his heartfelt and understated performance. He made me believe that Bayfield’s love for Jenkins is genuine and that he’s not just a gold digger taking advantage of a wealthy senior citizen. All the quiet moments of him and Streep pack an emotional punch.

It’s hard not to root for Jenkins despite her delusion of grandeur. I found myself being swept away by her and this movie. I love the look of this movie too, with beautiful 40s set pieces and costumes. It’s a lovely crowd pleaser that will make you want to get up and cheer. I saw this the day after Suicide Squad, oh what a perfect palate cleanser this turns out to be! The protagonist may be off key but the film certainly is not.

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Have you seen ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’? Let me know what you think! 

Guest Post: Musings on the casting for the upcoming ‘Wicked’ The Movie

Hello everyone! Today we’ve got a guest post from across the pond. Simon Harding is a blogger w/ Theatre Breaks website who writes about London’s Theatreland. As FlixChatter is primarily a film blog, today’s post relates to an upcoming musical adaptation.


‘Wicked The Movie’ On Its Way!

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We can hardly contain our excitement at the thought that one of the most popular musicals ever, Wicked, will soon be making the transition from stage show to the silver screen. The project was given the go-ahead by producer Marc Platt back in November last year, although he was definitely a bit cagey about when the movie would get the great Hollywood treatment… but no matter. It’s enough to know right now that the film will get here eventually, even if it’s in a few years’ time.

[According to IMDb, the movie’s to be directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) – ed.]

But who’s going to bag the main parts? Who are we most likely to see claiming the roles of Glinda and Elphaba?

Names like Samantha Barks, Kristen Bell, Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick have all been bandied about for the main parts in the film, and now the original Glinda – actress Kirstin Chenoweth – has chimed in with who she thinks would be ideal for some of the roles.

According to Movie Pilot, Kirsten would like to see young actress Dove Cameron take on the part of Glinda and Lea Michele tackle Elphaba if the cast is going to be on the young side. If the producers decide to cast people in their 30s instead, Kirstin would be happy to see Beth Behrs be Glinda and Zooey Deschanel come on board as Elphaba.

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Emily Blunt & Reese Witherspoon

Here at Theatre Breaks, we’d happily see Emily Blunt claim the part of Elphaba for her very own, and Reese Witherspoon as Glinda. Did you catch her turn in Walk the Line? The girl can sing!

Anyhoo, it’s a long way off yet until December 2019, so we’re sure more rumours will abound as to who will take the main parts.


If you’d like to book tickets to a Wicked theatre show in the UK, check out the prices and seat availability on the Theatre Breaks website.


Who would you like to see take on the roles of Elphaba and Glinda? Let us know who your picks would be in the comments below.

Thursday Movie Picks #37: All in the Family Edition – Mother-Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

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Happy 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. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today the theme is… 

Mother/Daughter Relationships (Biologically Related)

This week’s TMP topic is a bittersweet one for me. I had a loving, albeit brief relationship with my late mother. In fact, we were very close up until she died on my 16th birthday. I have to admit at times I feel a pang of sadness whenever I see a mother and daughter depicted on screen, I often still wonder how life would be life if she were still around. In any case, for my three picks, I try to have a variety of mother/daughter relationship, so here are my three picks:

BRAVE (2011)

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Pixar’s first *Princess* movie centers on a headstrong n spirited girl who like many of today’s girls her age tend to rebel against what’s expected of her. I love that the movie is centered on her relationship with her equally headstrong mother, Queen Elinor, instead of the typical romantic pursuit. I LOVE Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson who provide the voice work for Merida and Elinor. In case some of you still has seen this movie, let’s just say there’s a magical physical transformation that happens that drastically changes how they have to relate to one another. Through it all, the two end up forging a bond that’s even stronger than ever before. It’s quite an adventure that’s full of humorous & even peculiar moments, but also poignant ones that made me laugh and cry. It’s definitely one of my fave cinematic mother/daughter relationship that truly moved me.

1000 Times Good Night (2013)

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Juliette Binoche plays a war photographer who often risks her life on the job, but even after a nearly fatal accident, she still can’t give up her career. Her eldest daughter Steph looks up at her and is obviously drawn to her mom’s globetrotting career that certainly looks cool and glamorous on the outside. The daughter in this film is a young teen and so immediately picture myself in her shoes, as my late mother was an amateur photographer. She kind of had the same free spirit personality and I always thought my mom was fearless. One key scene is when she ended up tagging along with her mom to Africa, much to the chagrin of her marine biologist dad. A traumatic incident made Steph realize just how dangerous her profession really is. The mother/daughter moments in the scene that followed really connected with me, and there’s a wonderful chemistry Binoche and Lauryn Canny who plays Steph. Here’s my full review of the film, which is now on Netflix.

August Osage County (2013)

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Now this is an example of the kind of mom I’m glad I didn’t have. Meryl Streep‘s Violet Wetson is a venom-spewing, pill-popping mother of three daughters who seem hellbent on driving a stake between her and everyone around her. That also includes her own husband, and the film takes place during his funeral. Violet has mouth cancer, partly due to her years of chain smoking, but even so it’s really hard to sympathize with her. Out of the three, Julia Roberts’ Barbara is the one who has the biggest conflict with her mother. The fact she herself is dealing with her own issues with her estranged husband and angsty teenage daughter adds to her exasperation. The Wetson family is as dysfunctional as they come  – they constantly bicker with each other, and the more things are said, the more secrets are revealed that made things worse. The screaming match are quite overwhelming, and it made me appreciate my own family. The craziest scene is when Barbara literally hurls at her mother trying to prevent her from taking any more pills, it was pretty bizarre and quite hilarious. I think it’s an especially interesting film to watch for mother and daughter, if anything, it’d make each of them think of what NOT to do to one another.

BONUS PICK:

Beyond the Lights

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This is one of my fave films I saw last year, and the casting of Minnie Driver and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as mother/daughter is one of the reasons I love it. Glad Paskalis included this movie on his list, I couldn’t believe I almost didn’t include that here. An ambitious and driven single mother who wouldn’t take failure as an option, Macy succeeds in turning her daughter into a star. But at what cost? Macy’s controlling behavior ultimately drives Noni away and there’s a heart-wrenching moment when Noni finally said enough is enough. It’s not that Macy didn’t love her daughter, but sometimes, some people just don’t know how to love. Apparently, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s search for her own birth mother was the catalyst of the mother/daughter story in the film (per this indiewire article).


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films?

Thursday Movie Picks #29: All in the Family Edition – Married Couple Movies

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I’ve been seeing posts on the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog, but I haven’t been able to participate. Well until now that is.

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. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today is the the first theme for the edition… 

Married Couples

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Well, for this edition, I decided to pick three movies that feature married couples in three very different marital circumstances. Having been married for 11 years, I consider marriage a blessing I don’t take for granted, but it’s also not a walk in the park. For this blogathon, I deliberately picked three different genres just to mix things up, so here goes:

Julie & Julia

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Movies depicting a positive marriage is rare in Hollywood, perhaps they think it just doesn’t make for an interesting story. Well, I always go back to this movie as a good example of a healthy marriage as it actually features TWO loving married couples. People may only remember this movie for all the food/cooking scenes, and they certainly are scrumptious. But for me I always remember the relationship between Julie & Paul Child (Meryl Streep & Stanley Tucci), as well as Julie & Eric Powell (Amy Adams & Chris Messina). Both husbands are so supportive of their wives, and they’re depicted in such a real and sincere ways by all the actors. In fact, Paul Child made my list of Best Movie Husbands that I did for my 9th wedding anniversary.

 

Indecent Proposal

indecentproposalI saw this film ages ago with my brother, I think I might’ve been in high school at the time. I thought that the pairing of Demi Moore & Woody Harrelson worked well here and there’s a real chemistry between the two. The film shows how temptation and desire can quickly tear apart even the strongest bond between two people, and their marriage crumbles as a result. But the film doesn’t just show the fragility of marriage, but also the power of love that can piece things back together again, no matter how shattered the bond may have been. The story made such a big impression on me and to this day, the beautiful finale scene by the beach never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The heart-wrenching theme song by John Barry is one of my all time favorite.

Mr & Mrs Smith

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This is the infamous film that serves as the origin story of Hollywood’s golden couple. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie fell in love during filming and their scorching chemistry is palpable on screen. Playing two skilled assassins who kept their secret identity from each other, it’s perhaps the most preposterous portrayal of marriage, but it sure was fun to watch. The real-life couple could barely fake their disdain for each other in the opening scene at a marriage counseling session:

 


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen these films?