Netflix Pick: The Water Man (2020)

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I had been wanting to watch this film for some time as I’m a big fan of David Oyelowo. This adventure drama marks his feature film debut from a script by Emma Needell.

The story centers on Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) an artistic boy with keen imagination who’s working on a graphic novel Detective Knox. He just moved to a rural Oregon town with his Marine dad and loving mom who’s terminal ill. While his dad is often absent and his mom is being treated, he finds his escape through his active imagination that fills the pages of his art books… until one day he learns about the mythical Water Man who possesses the secret to immortality.

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Thinking the Water Man is the secret to saving his mom, he sets out on a quest to find him in the remote Wild Horse forest. He enlists the help of a mysterious young girl Jo (Amiah Miller) who claims to have met this mythical figure. The film has a decidedly wholesome, old school vibe …  clearly influenced by 80s family-friendly adventure like Stand By Me and E.T. (there’s even an homage to the Spielberg classic in the form of the boy’s vintage lunch box). I don’t think this one quite lives up to those movies, but there are still plenty to like here.

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Now, the journey through the forest was quite engaging thanks to the relationship between Gunner and Jo which starts out testy but ends up being a cathartic experience for both of them. There are whimsical moments that keeps even the sad moments from being too morose. The fantasy elements might not be as dynamic or edgy enough for teens who are more used to a lot darker stuff these days, but I think Oyelowo is more concerned with making a grounded story that deals with real life struggles. I for one appreciate the earnestness in the way the story is told, as well as its insistence on finding hope amidst even the bleakest of circumstances.

Oyelowo himself is solid as the tough military dad who finally softens up and learn to see his son as he is, heeding the wisdom of his wife. Rosario Dawson portrays a wise and caring mom believably, and managed to still look radiant despite the character going through cancer treatments. Alfred Molina has a small but memorable role as an author whose book inspires his adventure. Despite the relative inexperience, the two kid actors still manage to hold my interest.

I think it’s admirable that the story places a smart black young boy as the savior figure for his family, in a story that feels universal and relatable to audiences of all backgrounds. It’s lovely to see a portrayal of a close-knit black family that feels realistic instead of aspirational. At the same time, the film doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult topics like child abuse, death of a loved one, as well as the spiritual aspect, even showing a family’s praying and thanking God. That alone is so rare to see these days and something I always appreciate.

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Overall it’s an engaging directorial debut that balances heavy themes with a kid’s innocence and wide-eyed wonder. At a time where superhero movies dominate cinematic content, it’s refreshing to see an ordinary boy being the hero of his own story. I love that Gunner’s graphic novel is also given a nice resolution thanks to a creative use of end credits (if only Netflix doesn’t immediately cut off end credits to show a trailer of another movie I never asked for). I’d recommend this to people looking for a family-friendly adventure with a strong positive message.

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Have you seen The Water Man? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Trailer Spotlight: Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s BIG BUG (2022)

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It’s already mid January and I haven’t done a trailer spotlight yet. Well, I just saw this on Flipboard this morning and I just had to blog about it. It’s from Jean-Pierre Jeunet who made Amélie (2001), and I haven’t seen anything he’s done since then. I never saw A Very Long Engagement and he’s only done a couple of features (one was a TV movie) and a couple of short films in the past two decades. Not exactly the most prolific filmmaker eh, but probably Mr. Jeunet has other jobs/projects.

In any case, check out the trailer of his new sci-fi comedy:

A group of bickering suburbanites find themselves stuck together when an android uprising causes their well-intentioned household robots called Yonyx to lock them in for their own safety.

This trailer definitely has Jeunet’s quirky signature all over it. It stars prominent French actors: Dominique Pinon who’s been in pretty much all of Jeunet’s movies, André Dussollier, Claude Perron, and Elsa Zylberstein. The subject matter of robots malfunctioning & ‘smart’ tech being a threat on humanity is nothing new, so filmmakers have to be more creative in coming up with the plot to make it fresh. The bright, vivid colors and the French suburban setting with wacky, peculiar characters already sets it apart from the usual brooding, morose sci-fis involving evil androids.

The different style and shapes of the robots have an interesting variety, too. Now this one looks like an even creepier version Robocop, ahah.

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Having just seen I’m Your Man recently, I’m on the lookout for more humorous-but-poignant robot movies. This one looks pretty wild and hysterical, and like most movies about robots, usually it’s the humans who are wreaking havoc on themselves. Set in the not-so-distant future of 2050, I wonder just how advanced AI technology would be… seems plausible enough, though as the kids say in the movie, people seem to think back then that we’d have flying cars by now, ahah.

In any case, I can’t wait to see this on February 11 (my birthday!)… though it’s got plenty of competitions as there are SO many films coming out that Friday: Liam Neeson’s Blacklight, Kenneth Branagh’s long-delayed Death on the Nile, and J-LO + Owen Wilson’s rom-com Marry Me. I’m really hoping there’ll be a screening for Death on the Nile for my Brit crush Tom Bateman!


Anyway, are you interested in seeing BIG BUG?

FlixChatter Review – The Harder They Fall (2021)

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For many decades, the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and parts of the 90s, the western genre has been stable at the box office. Like what we’re seeing in today’s comic book-based films. The genre hasn’t been as popular within the last 20 years or so, there’s been some decent western that would pop-once in a while; the most recent successful one was Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED. Now we have a new western from musician-turned-filmmaker Jeymes Samuel aka The Bullits and the film is a sleek and fun homage to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s.

As the film opens, a mysterious stranger arrives at a home of a preacher when he, his wife and son are about to have a meal. The stranger proceeds to kill the preacher and his wife. He left the son alive but scarred the boy by carving the symbol of a cross into his forehead. Years later, that same boy has grown up to be a well-known outlaw named Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) who robs other bank robbers. Love has also been hunting down people involved in the murder of his parents. The main culprit he’s after is Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), a ruthless criminal and killer. Buck who is supposedly serving a life sentence in Yuma prison but is soon freed by a gang led by the sociopathic Trudy Smith (Regina King) and the very sneaky sharpshooter Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield). 

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Meanwhile, Nat’s gang has robbed a shipment of gold that originally belonged to Rufus, who needs the money to run the town of Redwood City. Rufus wants to create some sort of utopia for black people, but he wants it to be under his complete control and if anyone objects, he’ll kill them. Upon learning about Rufus’ escape, Nat teams up with Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), the lawman who originally captured Rufus, his ex-lover Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) a saloon operator and singer, Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) a tough as nail saloon guard, sharpshooter Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler), a young gunman eager to prove his superior speed with a pistol. Their plan is to head to Redwood City and take down Rufus and his gang for good.

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The screenplay is credited to Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin, it’s nothing new when it comes to the western storyline. Just like many other western films, its main theme here is revenge. Both writers tried to create an epic storyline but came up a bit short. For one, the lack of character development of the main characters was a big letdown. They wanted to just throw the audience right into the story and didn’t really give many details on either the hero or main villain.

Elba’s Buck is supposed to be this mythical villain since many characters in the film always refer to him as the devil. I’m assuming that Samual wanted this character to be like Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes in Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. But we don’t know much about him except that he’s pure evil. Majors’ Nat Love is kind of a Robin Hood character but again, we just assume that he became that way because of what happened to him when he’s little boy. This lack of characters development really hurt the climatic confrontation between the two men when there’s a big revelation. Thankfully, the three female supporting characters were more well defined.

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Samuel really wanted to show that he’s a fan of the old westerns, so many of the visual elements were burrowed from Leone’s films and the bloody climatic shootout was reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s bloodbath climax of THE WILD BUNCH. The opening dinner scene was taken directly from the opening of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. I don’t have problem with filmmakers that “burrowed” from other filmmakers from the past. As long that they can inject some of their own style into the film and I thought Samuel did come up with some of his own visual flares.

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Speaking of visual, the cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. is some of the best I’ve seen this year. The film was shot digitally on Panavision cameras and film grains were added in post-production to give the film that rustic filmic look. Since he’s musician, Samuel also composed the film and it’s a spectacular soundtrack. The theme is combination of modern hip hop mix in with Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western.

The performances by the actors were great all around. As mentioned earlier, it’s a shame that the main hero and villain just didn’t have much development. Jonathan Majors is on the roll after his excellent turn in LOVECRAFT COUNTRY. Hopefully, he’ll cast in more heroic action role, he’s great in action scenes. I’m a fan of Idris Elba and it’s a shame that he didn’t have much to do in this film except to look evil. I thought the two main female characters were much more well defined and their confrontation in the climax was so brutal and absolute blast to watch. Regina King looked like she has a great time playing a nasty villain.

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While it’s disappointing that the main characters were undeveloped, I’m still happy to have seen this film. We don’t get to see a western with mostly black actors that often and it’s great that Netflix was willing to make it happen. I’m quite sure that most major studios wouldn’t have greenlit this script unless there’s a white character that’s involved in the story, and of course that character will have to be played by a super star actor. The film is a lot of fun with excellent cinematography and killer soundtrack. If you’re a fan of the western genre, then this is a no brainer.

4/5 stars

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So have you seen Netflix’s The Harder They Fall? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – KATE (2021)

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Female super assassins seem to be a hot genre within the last year or so. Netflix has produced some well-known ones, including The Old Guard and Gun Powder Milkshake. In theaters, there were films like Ava and The Protégé. Joining the club is the newest assassin and her name is Kate.

In Osaka, Japan, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a highly trained assassin who accepts a new mission from her handler/mentor Varrick (Woody Harrelson). Her target is a mysterious figure in the Yakuza gang. Varrick also ordered Kate to take out the target’s teenager daughter named Ani (Miku Martineau). Unwilling to kill the child, Kate barely escapes the retaliation from Yakuza henchmen. Trying to regroup, Kate travels back to her home base in Tokyo and meets a stranger (Michiel Huisman) in a bar, enjoying a night of sex before she’s back to business.

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On the next day, things didn’t go well for Kate, she passed out during a new mission and woke up in a hospital. The doctor told her that she’s been poisoned and have 24 hours to live. Escaping the hospital with special shots to keep her alert, Kate embarks on a mission to reach Kijima (Jun Kunimura), the yakuza boss who wants her dead, inadvertently teaming with Ani in the process.

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Screenwriter Umair Aleem borrowed a lot of elements from films like John Wick and D.O.A. The plot is simple, Kate needs to find antidote to the poison in her body and take revenge on those she thinks is responsible for her predicament. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan decided to shoot the film in sort of Japanese Anime style. In the spirit of the John Wick films, he also included some very intense action sequences, including a brutal fight scene where Kate must take on several Yakuza henchmen at a clubhouse and a nifty shootout in an alley way.

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This film has a very dark look to it, I’m not sure what cinematographer Lyle Vincent was going for here but there were scenes where I thought there’s something wrong with my display. It’s so dark that I was having hard time seeing what’s on the screen and I watched this on my 4K television with Dolby Vision. I had to stop the movie and switch on another movie just to make sure there’s nothing wrong with my TV.

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I’ve always liked Mary Elizabeth Winstead and it’s nice to see her as lead in an action film. She has the physical built that make her a believable action hero and she’s good here. Her character starts out as cold-blooded killer but became sort of a mother figure to the young Ani. Their relationship got complicated once Ani learned that she’s the target of Kate. This is the first time I’ve seen Miku Martineau and I can’t say her performance impressed me that much. We’re supposed to have sympathy for her, but the character became kind of annoying and slowed the pace of the film down. Harrelson has a smaller role in the film, and I think most people can figure out what his motivations are before our hero does.

While Kate isn’t something new and it’s not perfect, it’s still enjoyable and if you’re in the mood for a decent action film, then this one will satisfy your appetite.

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So have you seen Netflix’s KATE? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – SWEET GIRL(2021)

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Jason Momoa is trying to establish himself as the next big action star in Hollywood but apart from his role as Aquaman in the DCEU, he hasn’t found much success. After appearing in several TV series early in his career, he landed a big title role in the remake of Conan the Barbarian, but that film was a colossal failure and tainted his rise to action stardom. He’s back on the screen again with an action movie that will end up on my list of one the worst films of the year.

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Ray Cooper (Momoa) and his wife Amanda (Adria Arjona) are living a simple life and raising their young daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced). One day, Amanda became sick and a doctor notified Ray that she has cancer. Hoping to save her with an experimental drug, the doctor assured Ray that Amanda will be one of the first cancer patients to be able to take the medicine. But suddenly the CEO of the drug company BioPrime, Simon (Justin Bartha), decided to pull the drug off the market. Once Amanda passed, Ray aimed his rage at Simon and his giant pharmaceutical company. Months later, a journalist who’s investigating BioPrime contacted Ray and wants to partner up and take down the evil company. Once Ray met up with the journalist, he was attacked by a hitman named Amos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Badly injured, Ray and Rachel must leave town and try to stay alive and keep ahead from the assassins that’s been sent to eliminate them both.

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The screenplay is credited to Gregg Hurwitz and Phillip Eisner. They sort of hit you over the head too much with the theme of an average person trying to survive in our current healthcare system here in the States. Since this is supposed to be an action thriller, the film is basically a long chase. That would’ve been okay with me since I was along for the ride but about a third into the film, the writers decided to include one the most ridiculous plot twist I’ve ever seen. I not going to reveal what that twist is but any credibility the film has up until then, it went right out the window after that scene was revealed.

I’ve seen my shares of ridiculousness in action films, and I can tolerate many of them. I accepted the fact that Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt can hang from airplane/helicopter and escape from explosions without breaking any bones in his body. Or Jason Bourne was involved in so many car clashes and yet he’s still able to walk away from those dangerous scenarios without a scratch. But those films were set in an alternate reality of action pictures, this film tried to make us believe it’s set in the real world and it’s so serious about it, too.

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Director Brian Andrew Mendoza didn’t really do much to elevate the script for the screen. He and his cinematographer shot a lackluster looking film. Mendoza also seems to be stuck living the 2000s since he shot the action scenes with the terrible shaky cam and up-close style that was popular in that decade.

Momoa really poured in heart and soul into this silly movie, and I guess it’s the only reason that I didn’t give this film a zero rating. He tried to be an everyman type of action hero, but it’s hard to believe that someone who stands 6’4 and builds like an actual superhero can be an average person. But at least he tried. This is the first time I’ve seen Merced on the screen, and she played the annoying teenager to perfection. Garcia-Rulfo is pretty good as the relentless hitman that’s pursuing our heroes. I was hoping for good mano-a-mano fight between him and Ray for the climax, but that scenario never happened because of the stupid twist.

I know Netflix has churned out many bad action films throughout the years, heck I’ve seen quite a bit of them. But this one might be the worse one yet. I would highly recommend you avoid this film at all costs.

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So have you seen Netflix’s SWEET GIRL? Well, what did you think?

Netflix FIRST LOOK: The Dig + Lupin (French series) – coming in January

We have twenty four days left in December and yet I’m already looking to January. Yes I know we still have a few things to look forward to in December, namely Wonder Woman and The Midnight Sky (directed by & starring George Clooney), but seeing these two trailer this past week got me excited to jump to what’s normally considered the dump season for movie releases.

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It’s been a while since I saw Carey Mulligan in anything, and she’ll have two movies back to back. Her revenge thriller Promising Young Woman is going to be released in theaters on Christmas Day, and this historical drama will be released on Netflix on January 29, 2021.

As WWII looms, a wealthy widow (Carey Mulligan) hires an amateur archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the burial mounds on her estate. When they make a historic discovery, the echoes of Britain’s past resonate in the face of its uncertain future‎.

Per IMDb, THE DIG reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, England. It is the site of two early medieval cemeteries that date from the 6th to 7th centuries. One cemetery had an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Most of these objects are now held by the British Museum.

I LOVE the cast and those who know me knows this is SO my kind of movie. I love movies set in Britain and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it even more intriguing. I’m not familiar with the director Simon Stone‘s work, but I have enjoyed the screenwriter Moira Buffini‘s work (Byzantium, Jane Eyre, Viceroy’s House). The pairing of Mulligan and Fiennes is a huge appeal for me, both are such terrific actors. Originally Nicole Kidman was going to play Edith Pretty, the woman on whose land they discovered the ship burial, but I’m glad Mulligan was cast instead. Lily James (who seems to be in a lot of Netflix movies lately), plus the suddenly-everywhere Johnny Flynn are in this.


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I love a fun heist flick and this one is a contemporary retelling of the classic French story about Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief and master of disguise.

TV series based on the early 20th century French detective novels by Maurice Leblanc about a gentleman thief named Arsene Lupin.

 

I love Omar Sy in The Intouchables, glad to see him in a leading role in what promises to be a lot of fun action set in the City of Light. Here he plays Assane Diop which is inspired by the fictitious gentleman thief Arsène Lupin created in 1905 by French writer Maurice Leblanc. He’s looking pretty cool and suave, like a French Idris Elba–mais oui! The first trailer I saw was a dubbed version and I’m REALLY hoping Netflix would air the original French version with subtitles (we can read Netflix, come on!!) There’s nothing more annoying than watching dubbed movies/series, I mean, you lost a lot of the language nuances of the original.

In any case, the show’s creator is George Kay, who’s written for a bunch of terrific UK shows such as The Hour, The Tunnel, Killing Eve, Criminal, etc. The character itself is popular in Japanese Manga called Arsène Lupin III which is the grandson of Leblanc’s fictitious creation.

The rest of the French cast include Hervé PierreNicole GarciaClotilde HesmeLudivine SagnierAntoine GouyShirine Boutella and Soufiane Guerrab. The director of the first episode is Louis Leterrier, which some cinephiles might remember for directing The Transporter and The Incredible Hulk.

Given the lockdown is likely to continue indefinitely until we get those Covid vaccines that prevent us from traveling the world, I’m going to live vicariously through movies/series set in European cities. I know I’ll be craving to go to Paris even more after watching this one.

LUPIN will premiere on January 8 on Netflix.


Can’t wait for these two! What about you?

FlixChatter Review – Netflix’s PROJECT POWER (2020)

With the pandemic still ravaging throughout most of the world, the summer movie season has pretty much been non-existent. Thanks to streaming services, we’re able to keep entertained with shows and movies while in lockdown. Netflix in particular has been busy churning out big movies throughout the summer season. Their latest is another take on the superhero genre and it’s also the lamest title for a movie that I can remember in a long time.

In New Orleans, a drug called Power has been going around the city giving its users superpowers for about 5 minutes. The head of the distributor is named Biggie (Rodrigo Santoro), the pills is growing popular with criminals around the city and local cop named Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is fed up and wants to put an end to the madness. He enlisted the help of a small-time drug dealer named Robin (Dominique Fishback), not only is she helping him taking down small time criminals, she also supplies him with the Power drug to enhance his abilities to fight the bad guys.

One day Robin is kidnapped by an ex-ranger named The Major (Jamie Foxx), he wants Robin to take him to the head of the drug operations. As it turns out, The Major is looking for his daughter whom he believes is somewhere in New Orleans and he ended up begging Robin for help. Things didn’t go as planned when they connected with one of the top drug dealers and The Major ended up saving Robin’s life. Now that she’s knee-deep in the whole scandal, she decided to help The Major and Frank even came along to take down the mysterious corporation that’s producing the drug and it’s being led by a doctor named Gardner (Amy Landecker).

The screenplay by Mattson Tomlin is sort of an allegory to how African Americans are being treated by the government here in the States. By setting the story in New Orleans, I assume he wants the audience to remember what happened to the residents of that city when hurricane Katrina destroyed it back in 2005. Tomlin also understands that people who’ll watch this film will want to see the actual power of the drug and there’s no shortage of that. If you’re a fan of superhero films then you’ll recognize some of the powers from other superhero films that’s being shown on the screen.

Before this film, I’ve never seen any previous work of duo directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Their style is nothing new, they pretty much copied the look and feel of Michael Bay’s films. Lots flashy cuts and heavy saturated colors on the screen. This is an action film, but I thought the action were kind of lame. Joost and Schulman tried to be “creative” when they shot the action scenes but when people watches action films, they want to see the action and not trying to figure out what’s happening on the screen.

The performances by the actors were pretty good. Dominique Fishback is the actress to keep an eye out for. Robin is the heart and soul of the story and I thought Fishback was a delight to watch on the screen. Since they’re both veterans, I thought Foxx and Gordon-Levitt did a fine job in their respective roles.

Of the recent big action films that’s been released by Netflix, this one maybe the most forgetful one to me. It’s not bad but it could’ve much better. If you’re bored on a Saturday afternoon, then you might want to check it out.

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So have you seen PROJECT POWER? Well, what did you think?