Flixchatter Review: The Soloist

SoloistI almost didn’t watch this one as the Blockbuster nearby didn’t have a copy. We’ve been circling around the New Releases section twice and on to the older flicks aisles, and still couldn’t agree on something none of us had seen or wanted to watch. So my hubby and a couple of buddies of mine were close on settling on get this, Mama Mia!, but as we were about to check out, someone returned a copy of The Soloist, so after over a half hour at the rental store, we finally had something in our hands!

This is one of those movies that seemed to have all the necessary ingredients of an excellent movie. Talented actors, check. Skillful director, check. Engaging storyline based on a true story, check. Pardon me for setting my hopes high, but with talents like Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., what else was I to expect? On top of that, we’ve got Joe Wright whose last two movies, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, were critical darlings. But yet … well, I wish I could just stop there and say, it’s as melodious as the music Nathaniel Ayers plays with his violin, but the truth is, it’s rather underwhelming.

Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted musical prodigy who dropped out of the prestigious Juilliard School and ends up homeless in the streets of L.A. On the other side of his world is Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, who runs into Ayers as he’s playing his two-stringed violin. After learning about his Juilliard connection, Lopez was inspired to find out why someone so gifted ended up on the streets. The two formed an unlikely friendship, although Lopez’s motive isn’t exactly altruistic at first as obviously Ayers’ life makes for a captivating column material.

Even though there are some touching scenes in the movie, somehow I just couldn’t connect with the story nor the characters. Even the flashback to Ayers’ childhood and his days at Juilliard battling his mental condition seemed a bit melodramatic but lacked real substance. If Wright’s purpose with this film were to understand what schizophrenia is about, I don’t think he did it justice. For sure this isn’t A Beautiful Mind, which is also inspired by a true story about a gifted man suffering from the same psychiatric disorder. Sure Ron Howard danced around the real facts about mathematician John Nash, but still it was a compelling movie that did more than occasionally tug our heartstrings.

One reviewer said this film had ‘far too many notes,’ and that’s exactly how I felt! Somehow I felt manipulated into feeling emotional and empathetic by Beethoven’s scores, as if I wouldn’t have felt it otherwise. Then there’s the psychedelic or kaleidoscopic images that’s supposedly Ayers ‘see’ whilst hearing music. I was okay with it for a brief seconds, but it went on and on endlessly that it became distracting and felt all too gimmicky.

This is British director Joe Wright’s first film in America, and I read that he was intrigued by the other side of glamorous L.A., where hundreds of homeless people find shelter each night, away from the the glitter of Hollywood. What a noble intention indeed, and some scenes in the LAMP community shelter did convey genuine concern about the issue of poverty we don’t often get to see in that city. I just wish Wright knew what he wanted the film to ultimately convey. All the beautiful harmony of the music and performances simply can’t propel the movie to hit the right note.

The film’s flaws aren’t the actors’ fault, however, they did their best with the materials they were given. Both of them are still watchable despite the overly sentimental journey of their characters. In fact, if it weren’t for Foxx and Downey, it probably wouldn’t even be worth the rental fee.


Did you see this film? What did you think?

Flixchatter Review: District 9

District 9

It’s nearly eleven hours since I saw the movie and its effect lingers with me still. I haven’t been this blown away by something I saw at the movies since The Dark Knight last year. Just like that blockbuster, I can say this with confidence, BELIEVE THE HYPE.

But unlike the caped crusader tale, District 9 was an original story, based on first-time director Neill Blomkamp’s documentary-style extraterrestrial- on-earth short story Alive in Jo’burg. When I first saw the trailer a few months ago in a theater, I quickly dismissed it as some weird sci-fi flick probably way too out there for my taste, even though the name Peter Jackson did piqued my interest, having loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Then the buzz started to really hit and the more I read and heard about it, the more I intrigued I was by it. Buoyed by the promise of originality, edge-of-your-seat sequences and unusual film-making style, I went to see it with a pretty high expectation. Suffice it to say, I didn’t leave the theater disappointed. In fact, it was quite a spectacle, just as I hope it would be.

The film grabbed my attention right from the beginning—with documentary-style and realistic hand-held camerawork—and didn’t let go. We’re told from various ‘interviews’ with experts and insiders of the present day, that an alien mother ship arrived on earth 20 years ago but somehow ran out of fuel, leaving it stalled hovering above the city of Johannesburg. When the military finally went up there to find out what’s going on, they discovered a whole bunch of alien creatures stuck in the ship in malnourished and destitute condition. The government then set up an area called District 9 to quarantine over a million of these crustacean creatures—derogatorily called ‘prawns’ by humans—that resembles a slum like nothing you’ve ever seen. I read Roger Ebert’s review in which he called these aliens disgusting, and boy was he right, but what blew my mind was how realistic they look and in a bizarre way, how I came to eventually see them as more than repulsive.

The ‘hero’ of the movie didn’t start out like one, in fact, he was so much an unlikely protagonist that made his transformation to one all the more affecting. Wikus van der Merwe is nothing but a careerist in a bureaucratic Multi-National United (MNU), a private company assigned to control the chaotic population of the aliens. His boss—who happens to be his own father in-law—assigns him to lead the tremendous project of moving these aliens to a different quarter. Of course, this is more than mere ‘population control,’ there’s a pretty obvious agenda here involving the highly-advanced alien weaponry that only the aliens themselves can operate it. That’s all I’m going to say, as it’s best for you to find out for yourself why that matters.

The action pretty much starts as soon as Wikus gets infected by an alien liquid whilst on a mission to deliver the eviction notices to the aliens. It’s actually quite comical when he goes around knocking on doors and ask the aliens to put their ‘scrawl’ on a piece of paper. What I don’t get is, why in the world would these people go into such a filthy and uncharted area without so much as a glove or mask! I mean, you’d be hard-pressed not to get infected. In any case, Wikus goes from a leader all jovial and gleeful to being a ruthlessly hunted man. Now, Wikus isn’t exactly a moral man, but he’s almost saintly compared to the military people who merely sees these aliens as mere disposable objects to be exploited and would do anything to them in order to get what they’re looking for. Let’s just say Wikus finds this out the harsh way when they see what has happened to him.

Newcomer South African actor Sharlto Copley is excellent in his debut film, as the tragic character Wikus he provides the emotional core of the film as he takes us along for the out of this world ride of his life. Strangely enough, his unlikely alien cohort, Christoper Johnson (yep, that’s the crustacean’s name), also delivers some of the film’s touching and tearjerker scenes. He’s probably the most noble character in the entire film, and his interaction with his young son is just like a human father to a human son. It’s not such a novelty idea for filmmakers to make the audience care for the aliens, but this film took it further in that at the end of the film, I have more sympathy for him than for some of the humans depicted here. And eventually, so does Wikus. It’s as if he finds his humanity as he struggles to keep it. The best part is, it’s such a believable and seamless transformation, not simply because the script says so and we’re blatantly told to accept it.

This movie is billed as an action sci-fi, and it is. But it works just as well as a psychological drama and a political allegory about racism and immigration still prevalent in the world today. Yet this movie isn’t preachy, Blomkamp merely presents things as they are, well as they might have been I should say. Jackson’s company Weta Digital did an amazing job in creating this gritty and realistic-looking world, it truly felt real, it’s as if I just finished watching real news footage of an actual event.

This isn’t a film for everyone though, and definitely not for the faint of hearts. I had trepidation going in as I’m very squeamish about stuff, but even with all the brutal violence, filth and often stomach-churning scenes, the payoff is greater that makes the whole experience worthwhile. I’m so glad to have seen such a bravura piece of cinema that’s so rarely found today. It’s not without flaws, but overall it’s such a distinctly moving, poignant and provocative film that makes you ponder long after the end credits roll. It sure left me wonder as I left the cinema, if such an event were to happen in our world today, how would we react?

4Reels


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts.

DVD Picks: Love Stories for Grown-Ups: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day & Last Chance Harvey

With all the Gen Y and teenybopper flicks out there, how about a couple of poignant love stories for grown-ups?

Both of these films deal with middle-aged people finding love, even though story-wise they can’t be more different.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (2008)

pettigrewI’ve been wanting to see this for quite some time, particularly after Lee Pace blew me away with his performance in The Fall, which leads me to IMDB him (yes, that’s a word as much as google has become one) and see what else this bloke has done.

Miss Pettigrew… tells the story of a penniless London governess in desperate need of a job who ends up in the house of a glamorous American actress, Delysia Lafosse. It’s a rather fluffy fairytale story but a delightful and entertaining one nonetheless, largely because of Frances McDormand and Amy Adams‘ performance as the title role and miss Lafosse, respectively. It’s an example of how a fairly simplistic story can be so much more with perfect casting, down to the supporting casts that include two of my favorite British character actors Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds (best known as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome).

It’s fitting that fellow blogger M. Carter calls McDormand an actress that’s ‘perfect for every part.’ At first I wasn’t sure what to make of her in this, but she carries her role with aplom and a touch of whimsy, even her British accent is pretty darn good. As Lafosse’s social secretary, Guinevere Pettigrew is suddenly catapulted into London’s glitzy world. The movie shows a nice contrast between her straight-laced character and the unscrupulous Lafosse who pretty much sleeps her way to the top.

The actress lives in a fancy apartment belonging to Nick (Mark Strong), a wealthy nightclub owner, but at the same time she’s fooling around with the young son of a producer of a musical she wishes to star in. That’s not all, her third boyfriend, nightclub pianist Michael (Lee Pace) is also thrown into the mix, which forces the disconcerted Guinevere to be little creative (ok, tricky) in making sure her boss’ dalliance doesn’t cost her the musical role nor the fancy apartment. The overwhelming sequence of events happen within 24-hours (it’s like a whimsical retro episode of 24 without Jack Bauer). In that short period of time, Miss Pettigrew herself ends up finding romance in an unlikely circumstance. Her suitor Joe Bloomfield (Ciaran Hinds) is a lingerie designer from a humble beginning, whose conversation with Guinevere is one of the heartfelt and less frivolous moments of the movie.

Amy Adams is just as bubbly (if not more) here as she was in Enchanted, yet she has that rare gift that makes any character she plays so darn lovable despite her vice. She also looks as if she belongs in pre-WW II era, those teeny-tiny waisted skirts and dresses fit her perfectly. The costume design and cinematography are exquisite, see some of the images from the movie in this interior designer’s blog.

The fairy tale ending is to be expected, wrapped with a pretty red bow even an air raid warning in the brink of war can’t dampen its buoyant spirit. But hey, some movies are made for pure escapism, and on that note, this movie delivers and then some.

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


Last Chance Harvey (2008)

HarveyI saw this on the plane back from Bali. Although dealing a similar theme of ‘you’re never too old to find love,’ this one is no fairy tale. In fact, what’s great about Last Chance Harvey is its realness and honest-to-goodness quandary most of us can relate. Boasting two top-notch performers who are on top of their game, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson make a delightful and endearing couple.

Set in London, Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a divorced and workaholic jingle-writer on the verge of losing his job. He is in London to attend his estranged daughter’s wedding, only to realize how distant he is from his own family that she decides to ask her stepfather to give her away instead. Heartbroken, Harvey attends the wedding anyway, only to be interrupted by an emergency work call during the ceremony, but he ends up missing his flight and gets fired.

What a double whammy for Harvey, and it all happens within a day! But you never know when life can take an unexpected turn, that’s one of the lessons this movie tells me. It’s when he’s sulking away at an airport bar that he bumps into Kate, who’s dealing with her own bad day the best way she knows how, with a glass of wine and a book. Emma is a wonderful actress whose acting style is so natural it’s as if she’s not acting at all. Her witty, comical yet poignant banter with Dustin is what makes this movie great. No need for fancy camera work, great costumes or any CGI of any kind in this movie, as watching these two act against each other is the best ‘special effect’ there is.

Well, if there is another fantastic element that nearly stole my attention away from these two, it would be the gorgeous London scenery. I’d rent this one again just to ‘take a tour’ around the beautiful city. The location is a perfect backdrop for the love journey they share, as their chance meeting leads to lunch, a walk around the city, even going back to Harvey’s daughter’s reception together. Despite her hapless love life—illustrated brilliantly at her blind date with a younger man that leaves her out of her element—Kate is still optimistic about life, which unwittingly helps Harvey gets his ‘spark’ back as well. Just like any real-life romances, things aren’t always smooth sailing. We often run into disappointment and heartbreak, whether the circumstance is intentional or planned.Yet everyone deserves a second chance, or third or fourth, and that’s what this movie is all about.

This is a slow-paced romantic film and the storyline isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but great performances and well-written dialogue keeps it fresh and far from boring. In fact, it’s a real gem of a flick that shines brilliantly amongst all the big budget & trivial selections lining up your movie rental walls.

4 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen either one of these? If so, what did you think?

Flixchatter Review: Public Enemies

This flix was on my must-see list of this year, and I was determined not to be affected by the mixed reviews. I mean, more often than not, the critics are wrong anyway, so I went in convinced I was going to absolutely LOVE this flix!  Alas, the flix was just ok, it didn’t impress me as much as I had hoped. As I’ve hinted in my previous post about the trailers, I enjoyed the trailer ten times better than the flix, and that is such a pity because it could have been a great one.

The best thing about this flix is definitely Johnny Depp as the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. Michael Mann made Dillinger out to be such a hero even though he’s nothing more than a charming and crafty criminal. I don’t have a problem with that because it’s a movie, not a documentary, where creative liberty is an art form with the key purpose being to entertain. But what I do have a problem with is the fact that the flix never quite got me excited enough about the story nor the character. Even Depp with all his magnetism just couldn’t make me care about Dillinger without a strong script that fully fleshed out his character. On top of that, the pace was a so slow at times that I remember glancing at my watch wondering when it’ll be over. Not a good sign.

I learned as the movie progressed that Dillinger was not an enemy ‘of’ the public, but rather, an enemy ‘in’ public. He lived his live thinking he was invincible, having escaped from prison multiple times, and he reveled in being such an elusive delinquent who constantly one-uped the FBI. In fact, the coolest scenes were the prison escape scenes (especially in the opening of the movie) and when Dillinger stealthily sneaked into public places right under the Fed’s noses. Even as his photo was flashing on the movie theater screens and people were told to look around them as ‘the enemy might be sitting right next to them,’ he was virtually invisible. The camera would then zoomed in on his smug smirk and it was such a thrill because of the way Depp portrayed him.

Another issue I have with this flix was the love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette, played by recent Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. Such a beautiful couple, but despite their best efforts, they lacked a certain chemistry that’d make their emotional bond believable. I didn’t cry when Billie mourned Dillinger at the end, even as the camera focused on her tear-filled eyes. And most of my friends know I’m such a sob, I cried watching Finding Nemo for shrimp sakes, and those cute animal videos on YouTube!

Nonetheless, what’s lacking in character development, it was largely made up with style. Mann’s glossy 1930s recreation was fantastic down to the last detail: the costume design, the cars, music, etc. – they all worked well to capture the mood and sensibility of the depression era. Love the costumes of the film, all those dapper men in suits, it was like a good long retro GQ commercial!

Besides Depp, there were some notable performances: Billy Crudup was excellent as the eccentric FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; and an unknown actor Jason Clarke was quite moving as Dillinger’s buddy John ‘Red’ Hamilton. Christian Bale was okay as the ambitious but morally ambiguous agent Melvin Purvis, but compared to his other terrific roles, this one was practically forgettable. I can see now why he wasn’t in the promos for this flix. I think his next role as a crack-addict boxer opposite Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter might be something more worthy to sink his teeth into. The supporting cast was full of pretty well-known actors that was unrecognizable at first: David Wendham (Dilios in 300), Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, and jazz singer Diana Crall had a cameo as a lounge singer.

In a nutshell, this film could’ve been a classic with a stronger script. As it is now, it’s style over substance, which makes for a fairly entertaining but not memorable fare. If you’d rather see a compelling story with truly believable and affecting characters that’s also based on a true story, rent The Insider instead – my favorite Michael Mann’s flix by far!


Have you seen this film? What do you think of Public Enemies?

FlixChatter Review: The Painted Veil

This is one of the most touching and poignant movie I’ve seen in a very long time. The tag line says “Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people.” And what a journey it really is.

The story takes place in China in the 1920s, which tells the story of a mid-class doctor (Walter) who marries an upper-class woman (Kitty) and moves to Shanghai. It’s clear from the beginning that she marries him only to please her family. In Shanghai, she has an affair with a fellow ex pat (Liev Schreiber, Watt’s real life partner), which is quickly discovered by her husband. As an act of vengeance, Walter whisks her off to a remote village ravaged by cholera. It is here, amongst the deadly epidemic and tough circumstances, that they rediscover their relationship and find purpose both as a couple and as a person.

The movie is superbly acted and well-written. Ed Norton is in top form as always (he’s easily one of the best actors working today) and Naomi Watts gives a wonderful, nuanced portrayal as the initially unlikable Kitty, but she slowly earns my sympathy as the film wears on. Toby Jones as the couple’s cheery neighbor Waddington also gives a notable performance.

What I love the most is how the movie presents the characters as they are, neither heroic nor evil (like most people are), they are simply human. The film does shy away from being ‘preachy,’ such as when dealing with a Catholic orphanage, focusing instead on how the characters evolve as the story progresses. Although the pace is a bit slow at times, the ending has such a redeeming quality that it’s worth every second. It also boast a beautiful cinematography of the lush rural setting in China.

It’s rare to find a movie that tells a wonderful human drama without being too cutesy or overly romantic. Love is more than a bed of roses or candlelit dinner in fact, it’s best experienced when you’d least expect it.


Have you seen this film? Let me know what you think.