FlixChatter Review: DUMBO (2019)

It seems that every year now we’ll be treated to a live action of Disney’s animated movies. Now, I actually quite like Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Jungle Book, and I’m curiously anticipating Aladdin. As for Dumbo, I actually don’t remember much of the original. I only watched a scene of Dumbo and his mother in the Baby, Mine sequence. As for Tim Burton, I haven’t seen the last few films he’s done, including Alice in Wonderland which doesn’t appeal to me at all.

This movie doesn’t have talking animals nor musical numbers. The screenplay by Ehren Kruger is an expanded version of the 1941 animated version that’s now told from the human characters. The circus is intact of course, this time it’s called Medici Circus, owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Soon we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) coming back from the war. Once a circus star, he’s now missing an arm and his wife (also a former circus star) has died of Spanish Flu, leaving him with his two kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Holt gets demoted to caring for the upcoming baby elephant, which later becomes known as Dumbo.

One thing the movie gets right is the titular little elephant itself. Dumbo is utterly adorable – from the moment we saw him buried under a pile of hay, the large-eared CGI elephant immediately won my heart. A ‘face only a mother could love,’ Max Medici said, he couldn’t be more wrong. Milly and Joe were immediately taken by Dumbo as well, even more so when his mother was sold off to recoup a loss of a tragic incident. The devastating separation scene pierced my heart. I have similar experience when I was sent to a boarding school at the age of 7 and had to be separated from my own mother whom I didn’t see until two weeks later.

The villain of the movie comes in the form of Michael Keaton‘s Vandevere who buys Medici Circus upon learning of the flying elephant. His Disneyland-type, vas amusement park called Dreamland, with attractions like Nightmare Island, Wonders of Science, etc. It’s no surprise that the huge park is filled with dark secrets. Keaton is especially hammy here, but his character wasn’t given much to do. In fact, DeVito, Keaton and Alan Arkin‘s characters are basically just stock characters. They have no real arc at all, basically just caricatures of a circus owner, an opportunistic entrepreneur and a powerful banker, respectively. I have to say the timing for this movie is quite interesting. Its blatant message against corporate conglomeration/industry domination coming out just a week after the announcement of Disney buying out 20th Century Fox isn’t lost on me.

I feel like Colin Farrell‘s Holt is the only character resembling a real person and is someone actually worth rooting for. Eva Green is perfectly cast as trapeze artist Colette, offering her usual sexy mystique but this time with motherly touches. Nico Parker‘s young scientist aspiring to be Marie Curie message of feminism is quite on-the-nose, but she is pretty good role model for young girls. There’s also a fine message about not relying on certain ‘crutches’ to achieve big things, as Dumbo couldn’t fly initially without the prompting of a feather.

Burton’s visual flair and his imaginative mind seems perfect to helm this live-action adaptation. Aided by his longtime Burton-collaborators Danny Elfman (music) and Colleen Atwood (costume design), it’s indeed a gorgeous movie. I’d say the darker stuff is to be expected, but it’s nothing that would really scare off young children. Ultimately, in order for the movie to work, it has to convince us that an elephant can fly. The movie delivers in that regard. I enjoy all the flying sequences, especially towards the end when Dumbo flies over Cooney Island. I also love the scene where the little elephant was in a trance watching a circus act making giant balloon bubbles.

Just like its protagonist that keeps stumbling on its large ears, the movie doesn’t always get every step right either. The first half hour feels a bit sluggish, while the fiery finale seems too grandiose for its own good. I think Burton fans might complain that the movie isn’t weird or bizarre enough. I’d say for a Tim Burton movie about circuses that inherently celebrates eccentricities, this is a pretty safe one. But as a feel-good family film, I think it’s still pretty enjoyable. Is this movie necessary? Well no, but neither is any of the live action adaptations Disney’s been making. I personally would rather see more original stories being made, but judging this for what it is, I’d say it still merits a recommendation.


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

Spotlight on ‘American Assassin’ – Interview with lead actor Dylan O’Brien and author Kyle Mills at its Minnesota premiere

Welcome to another edition of FlixChatter Interview! Thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing for the opportunity to be a part of the red carpet interview on Friday night on September 8.

Because the late author of the original Mitch Rapp series, Vince Flynn, was born in St. Paul, it was nice to see the studio held the premiere in his hometown. Well it was Roseville, MN, but close enough.  Mr Flynn had died back in June of 2013 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer, but his widow Lysa Flynn was there, along with Dylan O’Brien, the star of the film, as well as Kyle Mills, the author continuing Mitch Rapp book series and the film’s producer Lorenzo Di Bonventura.

It was lovely that I got a chance to chat with Lysa Flynn. I asked her if there was any special memory of her late husband as he was writing the Mitch Rapp books. She said that Vince Flynn was always very organized about his writing. He’d make little recipe cards that were color coordinated. He’d put things together carefully for weeks before he actually started writing. She’s beyond proud and happy how the film turned out and loved Dylan O’Brien in the lead role.

Above are photos I took with my own iPhone. 

Author Kyle Mills and Dylan O’Brien posed with Lysa Flynn on September 8, 2017
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for CBS Films)


AMERICAN ASSASSIN follows the rise of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), a CIA black ops recruit under the instruction of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The pair is then enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets. Together the three discover a pattern in the violence leading them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop a mysterious operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a World War.

 

DIRECTED BY: Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger)
PRODUCED BY: Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers), Nick Wechsler (Under the Skin, The Road)
CAST: Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar


Quest review of the movie
by Vitali Gueron

Thanks Vitali for keeping me company as I waiting for everyone to show up. I wasn’t able to stay for the screening itself so I asked him to review the film for me.

The pairing of Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien as Stan Hurley and Mitch Rapp in American Assassin makes for a near-perfect duo in this action-packed thriller. After Rapp is recruited to join an elite, but secret anti-terrorism unit headed by Hurley, he must prove his worth as an spy/assassin. When things don’t go according to plans, Rapp disobeys Hurley’s direct orders so he can track down the mission’s target on his own. Thankfully, Rapp is on his way to becoming a master spy/assassin and he goes on to gain the resect of his trainer. And to our relief, by the end of the movie, Rapp makes a choice to listen to Hurley and follow his direction, just in the nick of time when an armed nuclear bomb risks the lives of thousands of Americans.

While most of the main plot points in American Assassin have been done before in other spy thrillers, the combination of O’Brien and Keaton works because they are codependent on each other. That is, each one is primarily dependent on the other person’s dependence on them. Hurley has to depend on Rapp to carry out the mission and stay alive while Rapp has to rely on Hurley to find their targets and communicate with the CIA to coordinate their efforts in order to stop the madman Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). Neither Hurley nor Rapp could accomplish the tasks on their own.

This American Assassin action thriller is here to stay, as evident from the final few shots in the movie as well as the fact that Vince Flynn had written an entire series of novels with the character of Mitch Rapp, the American Assassin. I, for one am looking forward to the next partnership of Hurley and Rapp, as well as the next onscreen performance of both Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien.

 

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After over an hour waiting for the talents to show up, my patience was rewarded as I did get to talk to ALL of them who came to the premiere. I am only posting my interviews with Dylan and Kyle below.

Q&A with Dylan O’Brien

My friend Vitali snapped this right in the middle of our interview 😛

I have to admit I didn’t expect I would actually get a chance to meet Dylan O’Brien given how many press people were waiting, most of whom were from big local news companies like KARE11, Star Tribune, WCCO, etc. Plus they seemed to be running behind and the talents had to get inside the theatre to introduce the screening. But suddenly he started making his way closer to me and his publicist said to me I’d be his last interview of the night. So yeah, it was cool to be able to chat with him for a total of two-and-a-half minutes 🙂

I have never seen Dylan in anything before, but I knew he was in The Maze Runner franchise and Teen Wolf series. I also read a couple of years ago about his massive on-set injury last year that shut down production of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Glad to see him looking well and in good spirits. He seemed genuinely cordial, sweet and professional. No movie star pretense at all despite his success as a young actor. Even though the place was loud and so many people wanted to get his attention, he was attentive to whomever he was speaking to. I enjoyed meeting him and wish him all the success in his career!

Listen below on my Q&A with the talented young actor:

Are you a big fan of the Vince Flynn books?

How did your training for this movie have to be changed due to your recovery from your injury

What was it like working alongside Michael Keaton?

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Q&A with Kyle Mills

The first person from the American Assassin‘s team I got to talk to is Kyle Mills. He’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who has written plenty of thriller novels in a similar vein as Vince Flynn’s books. He told me his father was an FBI agent for 25 years so he felt like he grew up surrounded by characters like Mitch Rapp. That made him the perfect choice to continue Mr. Flynn’s books, plus he’s also written books that were originally created by Robert Ludlum.

I made a playlist of my convo with Mr. Mills. Here are my three questions…

Q1: How hard is it taking over a book series you didn’t create?

Q2: What did you think of Dylan O’Brien’s casting?

Q2: Are you thrilled by how the film turned out?


Have you seen American Assassin? Feel free to share your thoughts about the film and/or the interviews.

Week In Review: A comedic play, Spider-man Homecoming and podcasting

How’s your weekend everyone? Well it’s been quite a whirlwind week for me, but a fun one nonetheless. I didn’t get an extra day off for Fourth of July, but still a four-day work week is better than five 🙂

I did manage to see a fun play on Friday night, a French farce called Don’t Dress For Dinner. It’s actually the opening night of the theatre company run by my lead actor Peter Hansen, in which he also starred in with five other actors.


I also got to see one of its rehearsals last week which was really fun to see. I had never been to a play rehearsal before and the fact that it’s a comedy is even more delightful to watch. Oh as if I hadn’t been busy enough w/ my film AND Kickstarter campaign, I also helped redesign his theatre website. (yep I need a vacation real bad!)

Saturday was a hot day, so after a scorching afternoon going to Art Crank in NE Minneapolis, we cooled off watching the new Spidey flick.

I have to admit I wasn’t all that enthused to see this so if it wasn’t for my hubby’s insistence, I probably would’ve waited for its VOD release. Fortunately it ends up being a pretty decent flick which is NOT an origin story, thank goodness!

It’s fun to see Peter Parker being a proper teenager and Tom Holland is perfectly believable in the role. Some of the banters between him and his BFF Ned (Jacob Batalon) seems too cutesy with all the ‘awesome’ which at times doesn’t ring true. But as the film progressed it didn’t bother me and they do have some fun memorable moments. Our young’un hero is far more eager to be a hero than in past interpretations but I’m glad actually gets to do something heroic and does it on his own account.

I hadn’t paid much attention to this film so I was pleasantly surprised to see Michael Keaton as the villain. He’s definitely one of the best villains in the plethora of Spidey movies I’ve seen over the years. My fave is still Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) from Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 2 and Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is right up there with him. I like villains who are more of a tragic character, not an all-out monster hellbent on destroying the world. I enjoyed watching Keaton as a cross between Batman and Birdman when he’s wearing the birdlike costume, but his character actually has some depth. There’s also a pretty bizarre father-daughter storyline here that I did not see coming.

The movie starts out pretty light, Peter’s fanboy-ing over Tony Stark also gets overdone, but the movie actually grows darker with a genuine sense of dread. I am however quite puzzled by the hype over Zendaya in this movie. Not because her acting wasn’t good but her character barely registers here to even make any impact. Yes I appreciate that she’s not just another love interest but I wish the slew of writers actually gave her something to do. The movie does hint that she perhaps will have a larger role in the inevitable sequels.

Despite me feeling blasé about this reboot, this movie ends up being pretty enjoyable. There are a couple of thrilling action sequences though the finale is still way too loud & bombastic. Casting-wise, Holland fits the role nicely and he seems to have fun doing it. There are fun moments of Peter poking fun at members of the Avengers which is in keeping with him being a 15-year-old kid. It was pretty fun seeing Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his chauffeur/personal assistant ‘Happy’ (Jon Favreau) as part of the story too. I’m not exactly clamoring to see more of Spidey movies though, but I suppose if they gotta make ’em at least they don’t suck.


The weekend is topped off w/ my first time doing a podcast! It was fun being a guest for an episode of The Film Pasture, hosted by my friend Vern from Vern’s Video Vortex with film blogger Kristen Lopez. Vern was kind enough to invite me to discuss our picks of Top 5 Female Filmmakers and let me promote my short film Hearts Want which I can proudly say has a strong woman of color in the lead and done by a mostly-female crew.

I will post the podcast here once it’s up. As you know I’m a big supporter of women filmmakers and having just written/produced my first film, naturally I have even more respect for those who’ve made it in the male-dominated film industry.


Well, did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen the newest Spider-man movie, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup + Quick thoughts on ‘The Founder’ (2017)

Hello all, happy last week of January! Well, it’s another hectic week… as some of you know if you read this post, I have my work cut out for me now that I’ve embarked on my first short film project!

Well, suffice to say I barely have time to blog these days, so sorry for my absence but I know this day would come. Thanks to my wonderful contributors to help keep FlixChatter going. Some of you might’ve noticed I’ve got some new guest reviewers, including CineMuse Films‘ Richard all the way from Down Under!

I did manage to fit in a few episodes of Black Mirror last week. It’s one of the most provocative scifi shows ever, yep even more thought-provoking than Westworld! It’s unsettling and quite bleak but it’s so intriguing you just gotta keep watching! I’ve got 5 more episodes to go on the third (last) season so far. Not sure if I’ll ever get around to blogging about it, but dayum, everyone should check out this show!

Anyway, I promise to still blog once a week, I’m still hoping to finish my review of Lion at some point. But today, here’s my quick thoughts on…

THE FOUNDER (2017)

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Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert D. Siegel
Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch

The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world. The movie opens with Keaton delivering a pitch directly to camera for a multi-mixer milkshake machine, and we see him going from one restaurant to another trying to sell it. He faces constant rejections, but one day, he learns that a restaurant in San Bernardino California just ordered six of those milkshake machines. Thinking that there might be an error, he ended up driving Route 66 to see that restaurant in person… owned by Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and his brother Dick (Nick Offerman).

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It’s quite intriguing to learn how this giant fast food company got its start, as the McDonalds gave Ray a tour through their super-efficient kitchen. I find myself amused by it all, how this small restaurant revolutionized the speedy service technique in the 50s. It’s also fascinating to watch Ray’s persuasive power once he set his mind to something. He ended up convincing the McDonalds into making him the franchise manager to expand the business to other states.

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Keaton is quite effective as the driven, ruthless, and callous salesman who saw an opportunity and snatched it, letting nothing stand in his way. Yet there’s a certain charm about him that somehow I still don’t completely hate him. Glad to see him getting more meaty roles post his Birdman comeback. Lynch and Offerman were quite memorable as the McDonalds, and it’s quite an understated performance from Offerman, apart from the one scene where he trained his workers as if his restaurant were a military basecamp!

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The film isn’t always engaging though, in fact it’s rather bland at times. For a movie about a fast food, the pacing could’ve been speedier. The performances are rather uneven as well. Keaton delivered quite a performance, but it’s a pity Laura Dern is wasted as Ray’s neglected wife. Still, it’s a pretty intriguing biopic about the dark, shady side of the American dream. Suffice to say, it didn’t make me want to eat at McDonald’s anytime soon.


So how was YOUR weekend? Seen anything good?

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Oscars 2015 – Recap, Reflections on Best & Worst Moments

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Quick confession: I’m not a huge fan of Oscars red carpet, or red carpet in general. So I only tuned in a half hour before the show. It’s funny but the second I turned on the TV, Michael Keaton was standing next to the chirpy blond presenter. He seems effortlessly at ease, LOVE that guy and I’m so rooting for him to the end! As I did last year, I went to Zumba, had dinner, then went down to my basement.

Well, first things first…

How did I do on my predictions?

  1. Best picture: Boyhood  Birdman
  2. Best director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood) Alexandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
  3. Best lead actor: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
  4. Best lead actress: Julianne Moore – Still Alice
  5. Best supporting actor: J.K. Simmons –Whiplash
  6. Best supporting actress: Patricia Arquette –Boyhood
  7. Best animated feature: Song of the Sea Big Hero 6
  8. Best feature documentary: Citizenfour
  9. Best adapted screenplay: The Theory of Everything The Imitation Game
  10. Best original screenplay: Birdman
  11. Best original score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  12. Best cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
  13. Best original song: “Glory” from Selma
  14. Best Make Up and Hair Styling: Foxcatcher The Grand Budapest Hotel
  15. Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  16. Best Visual Effects: Interstellar
  17. Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Well, I got 12 out of 17 predictions right. I’m actually surprised to be surprised by the winners, if that make sense at all. I mean, I honestly thought Boyhood would sweep the awards, well at least in Best Director and Best Picture. I haven’t seen the film yet so I’ve been #TeamBirdman from the start. I literally screamed at the top of my lungs [sorry neighbors!] when I heard Iñárritu‘s name called out… I was ecstatic still, I did NOT see Birdman‘s Best Picture win coming …

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Red Carpet Stuff

Firstly, can someone explain what the heck is going on here?? John Travolta is feelin’ frisky tonight eh? Scarlett Johansson‘s post-baby figure is PHENOMENAL! Dayum girl, and that haircut is bad ass!!

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These two dresses are my two favorites of the night:

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Lupita Nyong’O was my red carpet fave last year too. Wow she’s still the reigning queen of the red carpet with this amazing custom-made pearl gown. YOWZA!! Can’t beat her pearl dress, but it’s her elegant swagger that makes her so dazzling.

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Yet another gorgeous new mom,Rosamund Pike just had a baby back in December!! She’s wearing the color of blood for her first Oscar nomination, how appropriate! She looks absolutely stunning and I LOVE the rose textures all over her gown.

A few other favorites …

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Dapper men on the red carpet!

Look at the three dapper Chris-es in the center (Evans, Pratt & Pine), hmmm where’s Hemsworth??

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Forget best-dressed peoples…  these two ladies WON the red carpet with their unabashed display of affection. LOVE the spontaneity of this shot, I didn’t know Emma StoneJennifer Aniston are best buds, VERY cool!

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Favorite Speeches:

“We made a film, black and white, about the need for silence and withdrawal from the world and contemplation, and here we are at this epicenter of noise and all the tension… Life is full of surprises” — Pawel Pawlikowski, director of IDA

By far the funniest speech of the night, can’t blame him for his exuberance. I kind of feel guilty for not having seen IDA yet.

The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” – Citizenfour’s Lauren Poitras

.@johnlegend moves the crowd to tears with his powerful Oscars speech. pic.twitter.com/UhmNezO1zN

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Now, I wasn’t rooting for him but I have to admit I was moved by Eddie Redmayne’s ecstatic and his can’t-believe-I-actually-won reaction when he gripped his Oscar tightly in his hand. I predicted he’d win and I knew that no matter how much I wanted Michael Keaton to win, it just wouldn’t be in the cards. But hey, the dude seems cool about it. I think Eddie wanted to win more badly than anyone else.

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Hilarious nod to his pal Alfonso Cuarón who deservedly won last year for Gravity, in case some of you forgot.

What a great come back to Sean Penn’s uncalled for ‘green card’ comment [see below under WORST moments]. Seriously, I thought I couldn’t dislike a guy more, but Penn is relentless in being so unlikable.

Fave Moments

The LEGO Movie‘s Everything is Awesome musical number is so exuberantly fun and joyful! Some of the dancers came out carrying the LEGO version of the Oscar statuettes in response to their egregious snub. Take THAT the Academy!

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Common and John Legend‘s performance of GLORY… it was a glorious performance. Common_Legend_Oscar2015I know people are mocking the standing ovation and people tearing up over that song, but it’s uncalled for. The song is genuinely moving rendition of an important and VERY timely film. It’s a well-deserved win and followed by a defiant speech.

LadyGaga_Oscar15WHOA!! I didn’t see THIS coming …

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I can’t say I’m a big fan of Lady Gaga so I had no idea she could sing so beautifully! What’s even more beautiful is the Dame herself Julie Andrews coming on stage looking genuinely verklempt over Gaga’s performance and hugged her. LOVE it!

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Glom Gazingo! Idina Menzel, aka Adele Dazeem got her revenge on John Travolta. But this hilarious moment is also one of the creepiest. What’s w/ all the face-touching John??

Hands down my favorite moment ever from last night:

 

So how did NPH do as host?

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 Can’t say I’m impressed with Neil Patrick Harris. I think I only laughed a couple of times as he seemed so self-aware all night that the joke just seemed off. Even when he showed up in his tighty whities as a spoof to Birdman, it didn’t feel all that spontaneous compared to last year’s pizza delivery thing. I definitely like Ellen more as host, I just think she is funny without trying too hard. Oh and I didn’t care for his subtle-not-so-subtle ‘treason’ jab against Ed Snowden after Citizenfour won Best Documentary.

I did enjoy his ‘Oscar prediction’ bit but I think that’s due to the Oscar writers kind of summarizing the most amusing moments of the night.

Oh and THIS moment with David Oyelowo is pretty cute.

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Worst Moments:

Sean Penn making us wait for the final award of the night, Best Picture, only to be followed by a distasteful *joke* about green card, sheesh! Yes I know he worked with Iñárritu on 21 Grams so the two are likely friends, but still, it’s just inappropriate and offensive.

Seeing this pic of Robin Williams… still can’t believe he’s gone 😦

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So did you watch the Oscars last night? Thoughts on the winners and what’s your pick of best/worst moments?

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite MALE Performances of the Year

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Well, now that I’ve posted my Top 10 Movies of the year and picked my Top 10 favorite FEMALE Performances and Top 10 Film Scores of the year, I’m finally down to my last 2014 Recap list. It’s quite a crowded category, more so than the female counterpart, as obviously there are more roles for men as there are for women on any given year. But I’m still picking only 10 on the main list, and another 10 15 on Honorable Mentions (there are just too many to keep it to just 10). Naturally these are performances from films I got a chance to see last year. So in case you’re wondering where’s Jake Gyllenhaal, Eddie Redmayne or J.K. Simmons, well I haven’t seen Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything nor Whiplash.

Same w/ the ladies, this list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

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It’s one of those transformative roles that all actors are privileged to get but not everyone can pull it off. Well, I always think that Steve Carell is a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for and Foxcatcher‘s director Bennet Miller said during our interview that “…it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them.” But it takes so much more than just putting on a fake nose to create a convincing character. I’ve seen him in serious roles before in Little Miss Sunshine, but took his dramatic potential up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. As I’m writing this, I couldn’t help recalling his earlier role as Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty, yet I couldn’t fathom that they’re played by the same actor!

2. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

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Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing an eccentric genius on screen. But apart from being British and a brainiac, Alan Turing couldn’t be more different than his Sherlock persona. Cumberbatch effortlessly captures that brilliant intellect and that arrogant, dismissive attitude towards the world around him, but he also convincingly conveys Turing’s inner tumult. The final scenes where Turing is treated as a social outcast is the film’s most heart-wrenching moments. All the pain, anguish and utter despair is palpable on Cumberbatch’s face but without a moment of overacting. It’s no doubt the actor’s shining hour, a personal best even amongst his already impressive resume.

3. Chris Evans – Snowpiercer

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In a year when he’s truly coming into his own as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America in its sequel, Chris Evans also emerges as a capable indie leading man. Certain actors often become stuck to play certain roles because of how they look and I think Evans is one them. But Evans is more than just a pretty face & a hot body, even if his role choices are questionable at times. I saw that he has dramatic chops in Puncture but this is an even more complex role – not to mention a better-crafted film overall – and he gets to show what he can do as an actor. As a conflicted rebel leader with a dark past, Evans displays an unusually somber, soulful and heartfelt performance. I’d love to see him tackle more dramatic roles like this in the future, he certainly has it in him.

4. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Whilst Carell is comedian playing a dark role, the normally-serious Ralph Fiennes got to do the opposite. It’s such a thrill to see him being so goofy here, and he seems to relish in the character’s inherent zany-ness. Apparently Wes Anderson wrote this role specifically for him, which I think is an inspired choice that absolutely paid off. His deadpan delivery is really fun to watch here, and he has that effortless elegance about him too that fits the role of the legendary concierge M. Gustave.

5. Tom Hardy – Locke

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It takes an actor of a certain charisma to hold your attention for 1.5 hour long when all you see is him inside a car the entire time. But charisma can only go so far without the skills, but thankfully, Hardy’s got both. This is the first film with him in the leading role, after seeing him stealing scenes left and right in films like Rocknrolla, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. He was a co-lead (with Joel Edgerton) in Warrior, an intensely physical role that he offsets with layers of vulnerability. As a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life, his body is barely shown the entire movie, so he had to rely on his eyes and facial features to convey every single emotion. Suffice to say, he delivered with aplomb. It’s a mesmerizingly-nuanced performance that confirms my opinion that Hardy as one of the finest actors working today. Seems that he’s only just getting warmed up.

6. Michael Keaton – Birdman

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One of the highlights of 2014 cinema for me is definitely seeing the perpetually-underrated Michael Keaton getting a career resurgence. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, as he’s the kind of actor who can tackle hard-hitting drama as well as silly comedic roles effortlessly. In Birdman he gets a chance to tackle both and he relish in that opportunity. He’s been garnering kudos left and right and he’s the one I’m rooting for the entire award season. The fact that there are many similarities between his character Riggan and his professional acting life certainly adds a dose of amusement as well as authenticity to his portrayal. Keaton infused Riggan with such depth and genuine pathos that even during some of the film’s most bizarre scenes as Riggan descend into madness, he’s always emotionally engaging.

7. James McAvoy – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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If only you more people had seen at least one version of this romantic drama, even just to see how good both lead actors are. McAvoy’s co-star Jessica Chastain is on my Top 10 list of Female Performers from the same film. I’ve been a fan of James McAvoy since Atonement and the Scottish actor has since done an amazing job balancing big blockbusters like X-Men: First Class to small indies like this one. He’s an instantly likable actor who I vehemently believe is more talented than people give him credit for. What I love about McAvoy is that there’s always such a natural way to his acting that you instantly believe he’s that character. Here he wears his character Conor like an old shoe, a man desperately trying to somehow regain his lost love. There is a moment in the film where Conor is alone in an empty apartment and he reminisce on his marriage that is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a shame that AMPAS doesn’t even notice this film as both Chastain & McAvoy’s marvelous performances are certainly Oscar-worthy.

8. Edward Norton – Birdman

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Another highlights from Birdman and why this is truly one of the best films of the decade is seeing Ed Norton in a role worthy of his talent. It’s definitely a scene-stealing role in a film that’s already jam-packed with fine performances. Just like his co-star Keaton, Norton did a brilliant dramatic and comedic turn as a self-absorbed diva of an actor who’s more comfortable in his own skin when he’s on stage. All the scenes of him and Keaton are truly the film’s highlights as both actors not only baring their skin down to their underwear, but they also bare themselves emotionally. It’s too bad that he probably won’t win an Oscar again this year, but I sure hope the three-time Oscar nominee won’t be wasted playing second/third banana in subpar movies like Bourne Legacy ever again.

9. David Oyelowo – Selma

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I’ve made my quibbles known about one of the egregious snubs of this year’s Oscar. But if there is justice in the world, this wouldn’t be the last we see Oyelowo’s name being mentioned during cinema’s award season. Even in bit parts in a myriad of movies ranging from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, Jack Reacher, etc., I always notice his performance. He finally got to shine in a prominent supporting role as Forrest Whitaker’s teenage son in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which also deals with the Civil Rights Movement. It’s interesting that a year later he got to play the key figure in that historical movement, a role that I read he’s been dreaming to play for some time. Oyelowo didn’t just get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mannerism and speaking style right, it’s more than just a brilliant impersonation but he truly embodied the role. What’s more, he portrayed Dr. King as not just a heroic figure but as a man, flawed and plagued with doubts just like any regular person would. He is just as convincing as a powerful and persuasive orator as he is in the quieter scenes that demand subtle nuances. I can’t wait to see what Oyelowo will tackle next.

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher 

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Is there anything Mark Ruffalo can’t do? I feel like I’ve been missing out as for whatever reason I didn’t really pay attention to him until recently. I was going to list his performance in Begin Again but technically that’s a 2013 film, but man what an astounding display of versatility. His role as an Olympic pro-wrestler David Schultz in Foxcatcher couldn’t be more different than a distressed & disheveled record producer in Begin Again but he’s utterly believable in both. Ruffalo’s role is actually the least flashy compared to Steve Carell’s and Channing Tatum’s, but his character is no doubt the heart of the film. It’s a role that demands the perfect amount of nuance and subtlety and Ruffalo pulls it off wonderfully. The video interview scene alone when he’s asked to describe Carell’s character is simply masterful, I remember marveling at how good his performance was as I was watching it. I think that might’ve been what earned him his second Oscar nomination.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I truly didn’t expect to see some names would end up on this list. I honestly have never seen Tyler Perry nor Zach Galifianakis in anything other than clips of their movies, but they definitely left an impression on me in their respective films. There are some big breakthroughs here too, especially Dan Stevens and Chris Pratt, garnering a lot of buzz in their successful starring roles. There are also some perennial favorites of mine who definitely still got it (Keanu Reeves), as well as a brand new actor I’ve never seen before. Manish Dayal‘s like the male counterpart of Gugu Mbatha-Raw for me and I hope to see him more movies! As for Guy Pearce, I sure hope that he will get the recognition he deserves one day as he’s simply a phenomenal actor.

Here they are in random order:


Thoughts on these male performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

2015 Oscar Nominations: The Good, the Bad and the WTF

Oscars2015BannerSome movie bloggers (myself included) must be masochists in some ways. I mean, I haven’t quite recovered from some of the disappointments of the Golden Globes and now we’re subjecting ourselves to another disgruntlement of Oscars nominations! 😛

Same like last year, I didn’t make a post of my nomination predictions this year, I only tweeted who’d be nominated for Best Picture and a few other categories.


Well, I guessed correctly that it’d be 8 nominations, but apparently I got one wrong, which is the one film I was REALLY hoping would make the cut! (It’s the #2 pick on my Top 10 Movies of 2014)

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Here’s what the 20 acting nominees look like this year:

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Yes yes, of course EVERYONE should be nominated based merit (though at least a couple of the noms here don’t really deserve the noms). Anyway you want to look at it, the diversity gap is really quite staggering:

Anyway, you can see the full nominations here. Let’s start with the positive …

The Good

So I guess it’s a good year for Indie Films. I was listening to a critic on NPR saying that the total box office take of ALL the Best Picture nominees combined would probably only top $200 mil, which is drop in the bucket for something like Transformers.

  • Thrilled to see SELMA made the Best Picture list and got Best Original Song nomination for Glory! Sadly it’s the ONLY two good things The Academy bothered to recognize.
  • Happy to see Birdman getting a NINE nominations, yay! It’s pretty much nominated in every major category, including Best Picture, Director, AND three acting nods. Of course Michael Keaton has been a lock for some time but still happy to see him here. It’ll come down to him and Eddie Redmayne (both won Golden Globes), but fingers crossed Keaton will emerges as the winner!!
  • Congrats to Colleen Atwood for her 11th Best Costume Design Oscar nominations. Hey she’s catching up on Meryl, though she’s definitely far far more deserving than Meryl is in their respective categories. The costumes are indeed gorgeous in this movie!

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  • YAY for Marion Cotillard amongst the Best Actress nominees instead of Jennifer Aniston! I mean nobody I know has seen Aniston’s performance and from some of the reviews I heard of Cake, it’s not even a good movie. I haven’t seen Two Days, One Night, one of the two possible performances she could be nominated for, but sounds like it’s a more challenging role than The Immigrant.
  • I know that Julianne Moore seems to be the favorite to win for Still Alice, but I’m still rooting for Rosamund Pike all the way!
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  • I’m glad to see Citizenfour shortlisted for Best Documentary! Now I haven’t seen the other four that are nominated so I can’t say who’s most deserving, but still nice to see this fascinating doc getting major recognitions. It’s currently on my Top 10 of the year!
  • Overall I agree with pretty much ALL of the Best Actor nominations, though I haven’t seen Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking nor Bradley Cooper as the late sniper Chris Kyle. I just realized that ALL four nominees portrayed real-life people, except for Michael Keaton‘s fictional character Riggan Thomson. It makes me root for Keaton’s performance all the more considering how good and how unique it is.
  • Glad to see Big Hero 6 in the Best Animated Feature category! I really do love this movie, if only The LEGO Movie is nominated along with it…. more on that later.
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  • Lots of amazing talents in the Cinematography category. Roger Deakins is one of the few who weren’t snubbed for Unbroken. So this marks his 12th nomination! But I’m rooting for Emmanuel Lubezki (yes again, as I was rooting for him for Gravity last year) to win for Birdman though. Those single long tracking shots are practically iconic and is crucial to the story-telling piece. Here’s a great article on his astounding work.
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  • WOW, congrats the ever-prolific and constantly-amazing Alexandre Desplat for getting DOUBLE nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel AND The Imitation Game, both of them are on my Top 10 Favorite 2014 Scores. Also thrilled for Hans Zimmer for his 9th nomination! I LOVE his score for Interstellar, it just seems to get better the more you listen to it.

The Bad

  • Ok, let’s start with the most egregious one. It’s just a bad year for diversity. What a difference a year makes. Seems that Oscar was quite progressive last year with THREE non-white actors being recognized in the acting categories and 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture. This year NONE of the acting nominees consist of an actor/actress of color, I mean not a single one! Now, shouldn’t the noms be based on merit? Why yes course it is, and both Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are both worthy of recognition. It’s DuVernay’s direction that made Selma a powerful and stirring film and Oyelowo truly embodied Martin Luther King Jr., delivering a compelling performance that’s fiery, vulnerable and emphatically human.
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    I’d also argue that Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s stunning performance in both Belle and Beyond The Lights far surpasses Reese Witherspoon’s in Wild.
  • Seems that it’s a bad year for women too. I’ve mentioned DuVernay, but Angelina Jolie got no love for Unbroken, either. No Gillian Flynn in Adapted Screenplay category, and none in the Best Score nor Best Cinematography category. I’ve been hearing great things about the cinematography of Tracks by Mandy Walker, and I absolutely adore Rachel Portman‘s score for BELLE (one of my Top 10 Fave 2014 Scores).
  •  Everything is awesome…. NOT!

    But what’s awesome is how its director is such a good sport!!

  • Hoyte Van Hoytema is robbed once again for his amazing cinematography work in Interstellar (he was also overlooked last year for his work in Her) I mean come on!! Now, I didn’t expect Chris Nolan nor his film would get much Oscar love, but the absolutely mesmerizing visuals is one of the film’s greatest strength, and certainly one of the most memorable of the past year.
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  • Speaking of robbed, where is Ralph Fiennes?? His first ever comedic leading role, in which he was sensational, went unrecognized. The Academy must have a thing for Bradley Cooper as he’s nominated for the THIRD time in a row for Best Actor!

The WTF

  • Ok now, did The Academy has something against Gone Girl?? I mean look at the trifecta of snubs here. First there’s no love for Fincher for directing nor Gillian Flynn for writing, but the Academy also snubbed Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for their fantastically atmospheric score!
  • No offense Morten Tyldum, as I love your Danish thriller Headhunters, but sorry I can’t fathom how he’s considered a better director than David Fincher! Yes I included The Imitation Game in my Top 10, but there is no way was it as crafty and bold as Gone Girl.
  • I had the exact reaction last year about Meryl Streep‘s nomination over Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks! Well now she’s back for her 19th nomination(!!) for her over-the-top performance in Into The Woods. It’s yet another scenery-chewing performance as she did in August: Osage County as the toxic-spewing matriarch. This time she played a witch, so there’s not much difference in terms of character arc is there??! [sigh] I’d have LOVED to see Carmen Ejogo getting a nod in Meryl’s spot for her heartfelt performance as Correta Scott King in Selma.
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  • Now, I haven’t seen either one of the films but I think it’s safe to say that Jake Gyllenhaal got robbed! I mean I’ve read countless reviews praising his chilling psychotic performance in Nightcrawler. Again, was Bradley Cooper really THAT good of an actor that he warrants three Best Actor noms in a row??

The 87th Academy Awards will air on February 22 on ABC.


Well, that’s my reaction to the 2015 nominations. What are your Oscars-related delights and gripes?