Hello hello! Miss me? Well I’m not exactly back yet, I’m extending my hiatus probably until after Christmas. I’ve been diligently working on my script daily and I don’t want to lose momentum. I might still do a post here and there if I have time and feel like doing it, so don’t forget me 😉
Well, we’ve been watching a ton of great movies, both new releases and rewatches, thanks to the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Here they are in alphabetical order…
Disney Short Films Collection Worth seeing if you love Disney and short films. It’s a pretty eclectic collection and some of them you might’ve seen. The Little Matchgirl one got me bawling, it’s such a heartbreaking story. I remember seeing a stage adaptation of that as a kid and even that stayed with me for years! …
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 This was one of the craziest press screenings ever with thousands of people, mostly teens, lining up for hours at a local IMAX theater. But the movie was so ho hum, I could barely remember anything about it now and it was so darn predictable. It just reinforced me what a terrible actor Liam Hemsworth truly is and honestly I’m bored at seeing Jennifer Lawrence‘s face, which was practically in every single scene. It still pains me to watch the late Philip Seymour Hoffman though. …
If I were to review this movie, it’d just be a collection of pictures of how Bond-like Tom Hardy looked in most of the scenes, well when he’s playing Reggie that is. Ron, not so much. But he’s really the reason to see it, otherwise it’s a pretty standard gangster flick.
A witty indie comedy/drama that takes place over a single night. The dialog is sometimes raunchy, but there’s a genuine chemistry between the two leads and the script is refreshingly honest and has a natural flow to it. Definitely worth a look. Stay tuned for my interview with writer/director Charles Hood on Wednesday! …
Spotlight This film about the uncovering of the sexual abuse scandal by Catholic priests in Massachusetts will certainly rile you up and stay with you for days. This fine ensemble cast certainly lives up to its stellar reviews. It’s a riveting, disturbing, and emotionally-gratifying from start to finish. Terrific script and top notch cast that’s thankfully NOT wasted. Definitely one of the best investigative journalism film of all time, right up there with All the President’s Men. …
I LOVE films about Classic Hollywood and if you’re a fan of Bryan Cranston, then it’s an absolute must-see. He’s electrifying as Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood 10 screenwriters who were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. …
I had the pleasure of seeing Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus during a National Live Theater presentation at a local cinema last week. It was a powerful and mesmerizing performance from the Shakespearean actor. I wish I could’ve seen it live on stage, which would’ve been amazing to watch considering how intimate the Donmar Theatre was, it seats only 250!
Man in the High Castle (season 1)
I have to do a whole post on this series as I have a lot to say about this Philip K. Dick’s adaptation. But for sure Rufus Sewell is one of the highlights here, if only the producers realized that and give him more screen time in future seasons.
I rewatched a ton of movies this past month, which turns out to be quite an eclectic collection now that I think about it. Hey, I love the action stuff as much as the romantic love stories 😉
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
For Your Eyes Only
Mad Max: Fury Road
Midnight in Paris
Not Another Happy Ending
Movie of the Month
Well, that’s my November update. What about you, what’s your favorite film you saw last month?
This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.
A Most Wanted Man
A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.
It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.
The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.
Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.
It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.
As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.
This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.
I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps?
As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.
This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.
Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?
I saw Mockingjay: Part 1 on opening night and I hate to admit it, but I was a bit disappointed. Granted, in my opinion, the source material wasn’t as engrossing as the first two books, but, still, I had such high hopes going into the film. Director Francis Lawrence came into THG series with such gusto, partly because he had something to prove, given the criticism of the first film. In Catching Fire, the storytelling was tight and engaging – almost leaving no room to catch your breath and leaving you on the edge of your seat. However, with the return of his sophomore film in the series, it fell short and felt flat. Here are my gripes…
SCS Pandemic SCS or Shaky Camera Syndrome has got to stop. When done well and/or in moderation, it’s slightly annoying. But, when the majority of the film makes you feel like you’re on a Tilt-A-Whirl, it’s A) very distracting from what’s actually happening on screen B) makes me want to vomit and C) very annoying. I get some DPs want to make you feel like you’re in the action, but this is an adaptation to a YA novel – not Saving Private Ryan. The only reasons I’d actually want to feel like I’m in the film is if Daniel Craig is starring opposite me in the next Bond film, or it has anything to do with Jamie Fraser. Then, yes, throw me all the way into the film.
Pacing In my opinion, splitting the last novel in to two films was a mistake. It could have been easily attainable as one solid film. The first 45 minutes of the film is almost a complete snooze-fest. I was growing restless and I could hear my fellow audience members constantly shifting in their seats as well. Create some drama! You’re in a technically advanced district who’ve survived underground in a bomb shelter. That’s some pretty good material. Nope. Everything is bland, lackluster and efficient. Even Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) looked bored. Which leads me to my next point…
Lighting I understand Katniss and gang spend a majority of their time underground, but the lighting was atrocious. In some cases, you could barely see the actors and their expressions because of 1) SCS and 2) poor lighting. Again, this district has created a self-sufficient system, throw some pizzazz into the environment!
Miscellaneous gripes I had some major eye roll moments and one was the unveiling of Katniss’ Mockingjay suit. By right, she is a strong heroine, who thinks for herself, is handy with a weapon and actually cares about casualties of war. HOWEVER, “they” still felt the need to sexualize her by creating a molded breast plate. Seriously? It completely defeats the purpose of who Katniss is and what she stands for. Although, the rest of the suit is pretty sick.
Mockingjay, both the film and novel, brings a bit more insight to Gale and Katniss’ convoluted relationship. Gale is finally a contributor in the story, rather than a spectator. Regrettably, there’s something different about how Gale appears on paper versus film. I never realized this before, but Gale, or Liam Hemsworth, is a rather pathetic character. I had an epiphany last night and likened him to Chewy from Star Wars. He’s a big lug who isn’t very useful, causes problems and awkwardly hovers over Katniss. What’s more is, Gale makes Katniss feel bad about how she deals with her PTSD. Wow, Gale, you’re a regular stand up guy.
Alright. I’m done moaning and groaning. Now, on to what I did like.
Julianne Moore When it was announced that Julianne Moore would be playing President Coin, I was skeptical. However, I thought her performance of the cool, collected and secretive leader was spot on. At first she appeared to be sympathetic to the horrors Katniss faced, but as the film went on, she slowly started to reveal her true colors. Everything about her portrayal completely reflected the collective attitude of the ominous District 13. Coin makes tough decisions and doesn’t apologize if a few people get hurt along the way. She’s a dictator, through and through, and will do anything to see the perseverance of her people.
Comic relief As heavy as THG films are, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the snippets of comic relief thrown in. Effie, who doesn’t actually appear in District 13 in the novel, is essentially a POW in the film. So, it was a fantastic move to involve her in the story. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) somehow manages to downplay the atrocities and hardships surrounding her, and make minor issues, like clothing, hairstyle and makeup seem like the biggest problems in the world.
Plus, you get to see her wearing a jumpsuit. It’s worth it. I just LOVE her! Another happy surprise is the inclusion of Buttercup the Cat (the right one). On cue, she hisses at Katniss during the perfect moments, and provides comedy only a cat can bring: trying to catch light from a flashlight. And, obviously, it wouldn’t be a true HG film without the witty, playful banter between Katniss and Haymitch.
Okay, so obviously the movie wasn’t all bad. I’m just calling it like I see ‘em. I remember when I left the cinema last year there was an unmistakable buzz and energy from the crowd. Not so much this time around.
This film was a means to an end to prepare the audience for the epic conclusion…next year. My favorite film is still Catching Fire but we’ll see how everything comes together for Part 2!
Have you seen Mockingjay Part I? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.
So I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.
I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.
The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.
Whilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.
As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.
Have you seen this movie, well what did you think?
It’s a pretty uneventful weekend after a busy one of last. Hubby and I opted for home cinema as I’ve already seen two of this weekend’s new releases: The Monuments Men and The LEGO movie. Click on the title to read my review of it, I actually agree with the critics on both films. It’s no wonder the latter is a big hit at the box office with nearly $70 mil, there’s really no competition for a family movie and it’s an awesome one for all ages!
I did see two very good older films I’ve missed out on: Europa Report and Pirate Radio [review coming next week]. I saw the latter partly as my attempt to see as many films of Philip Seymour Hoffman that I’ve missed out on. It can’t be more different in terms of tone and subject matter but I quite like both in varying degrees. Here’s my review of …
An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon called Europa.
This is not an action-packed kind of sci-fi movie like Elysium, so if you’re expecting that you’re probably not going to like this movie. It does start pretty slow but I quite like the realism style of filmmaking here, making it look more like a documentary that makes it look as if we’re watching real NASA footage. CEO of Europa Ventures Dr. Unger (Embeth Davitz) serves as a *talking head* of sort, explaining what happened with what’s happened in the Europa mission. The narrative switches back and forth between current time and flashback of the team of six astronauts who’re privately funded to explore one of Jupiter’s moons to see if there’s any potential sources of life.
The date on the screen shows that the crew has been on that ship for a long time, as weeks turns to months and even year. It’s fascinating to see the mood shift from the earlier time of the mission to the increasingly-dire time of their last days. There are barely any movie stars on this film, in fact there’s practically no leading role here as the ensemble cast seem to get equal screen time. I’ve loved Sharlto Copley from District-9, and there’s also Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist from the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy, plus Davitz who impressed me in Junebug and Mansfield Park. Those three are the only names I recognized in the film, but they as well as the entire International cast (Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, and Karolina Wydra), did a nice job here.
There’s genuine tension throughout, which continues building as the ship lands somewhere and the crew start collecting Europa samples. One by one, each crew member is dealt a nasty blow, and the whole sequence felt all too real. In fact, one of the scenario of two space engineers Copley and Nyqvist, doing repair to the ship look so similar to an early scene in Gravity. This is definitely one of the most suspenseful and heart-wrenching scenes to watch, beautifully-acted by both actors. Props to director Sebastián Cordero for his effort considering this is only his fifth feature film.
Now, I’d have given this film a higher score if it weren’t for the rather clichéd ending that kind of make me roll my eyes. I was expecting something a bit more um, intelligent and realistic as that’s what the build-up seems to suggest. [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text if you want to read] I think if they’d go with some kind of natural gas/chemical substance that’s native to Europa but toxic to mankind and would also disrupt the ship’s electrical system, it’d have given the story a bit more weight. The whole ALIEN killing machine has been done to death and it makes the finale less impactful somehow.
My hubby said that as if the filmmakers were running out of ideas to end the film and just threw something together at the last minute. It’s a bummer as I think a bit more originality would’ve made this an excellent slow-burn sci-fi thriller. Still, it’s got enough going for it for me to recommend it if you’re a fan of the genre. I appreciate the performances and that it’s made in the true spirit of the sci-fi genre (see Conor’s article on this topic). The production values and effects are pretty good as well for its low budget of $10 mil.
3 out of 5 reels
What did YOU see this weekend? Any thoughts on Europa Report?
It’s truly one of the c-cc-coldest weekend ever. It’s way too early to have an arctic weather conditions here and it lingers way too long!
We’re talking about several degrees below zero (Fahrenheit that is, so it’s a few dozen degrees below zero in Celcius!), with Wind Chill Advisory issued by National Weather Service when the wind chill is low enough that it poses a threat to human health and life if adequate protection is not taken against hypothermia and frostbite! Now, where I live, I don’t just look at the temp, but the ‘Feels like’ part is far more important, and so it feels like -21˚ out there right now. This is the time I ask myself time and time again, ‘Why the heck do I still live here?!’ 😉
Well, we didn’t stay cooped up inside because of the snow and frigid temp, so we did see Catching Fire on the big screen, finally!
Now, my friend Ashley has written a full review of this last week and I agree with her praises on the movie. I enjoyed the first film but I’d actually give this one more of an edge. I had only read the first book so going into Catching Fire, I tried not to read any of the plot points so it was a pretty different experience. I must say I like being surprised, and there are some moments here that made me go WHOA!
Here are some of the things that I enjoyed from the sequel:
The darker themes explored more boldly that shows just what’s at stake for the characters, especially Katniss. Director Francis Lawrence was bolder in showing the brutality of the oppressive Panem regime (well as much as PG-13 would allow for it, that is), such as the whipping scene and the Hunger Games itself. I like political intrigue and the casting of Donald Sutherland as President Snow and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch add so much gravitas to the story.
In regards to Hoffman, I feel that he elevates the film every time he appears. I sure hope he would have more screen time in the third film given what we now know about his character.
Speaking of supporting actors, besides Sutherland and Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci are equally memorable. Tucci never fails to entertain no matter how over-the-top his character is, if anything he makes the games’ host Caesar Flickerman so darn amusing.
I’ve warmed up to Peeta in this movie, seems that his character is more fully-realized and Josh Hutcherson is given more to do in the role. I like that he’s more assertive and confident with himself, but yet he’s got this inherently likable quality about him that won me over. Hutcherson has a more effortless chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence here, and I could see how Katniss is even more torn now between him and her childhood love Gale.
The brief scene where Peeta comforts Katniss when she has nightmares is one of my favorites. It shows just how much the stress of these brutal games take a toll on these kids.
All the hoopla about Jena Malone‘s scene-stealing performance as fellow tribute Johanna Mason is justified, especially the elevator scene which is a hoot! Sam Claflin is convincingly slimy as Finnick Odair, perhaps a little too convincing, ahah. Glad to see him show his chops as he’s so bland in Snow White & The Huntsman, but then again look who he had to act against, ahah.
Speaking of costumes, as atrocious as some of them are, the Mockingjay dress is pretty darn cool. Ok so it seems to be inspired by Black Swan but man, when Katniss twirls and the white *wedding* dress turns to black I literally gasped [I think costume designer Trish Summerville ought to be nominated for her work] Btw, when President Snow saw that and his expression immediately soured, it was a pretty chilling moment.
Interesting to see the likes of Jeffrey Wright as one of the tributes. I guess it made sense that some of the tributes are older as they’re picked from a pool of past victors.
The set pieces are fun to watch. The arena where the tributes are being introduced to the crowd reminds me a lot of the chariot scene in Ben-Hur.
I like how the ‘circus freak-y’ character Effie Trinket’s humanity is revealed more in this film. I think there’s a glimpse of it in the first film but it’s more apparent here. I think Elizabeth Banks did a fine job here, and she barely gets a mention other than for all the crazy costumes and makeup she wears.
The games itself is beautifully-shot. I didn’t see it at the IMAX but my pal Ted who saw it there said it was marvelous. I was pretty caught-up in the games and it reminded me just how vicious and unpredictable it can be!
Last but not least, Jennifer Lawrence still owns the role as Katniss Everdeen. She is a heroine worth rooting for as she’s as vulnerable as she is bad ass. No doubt that a large part of the franchise’s success is due to her casting and it’s easy to see why. Even in her already illustrious career long before she even hit 25, I think Katniss would be regarded as one of her best roles. It’s interesting to see her effortless acting alongside people close to her age (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth) but she looks just as comfortable in the presence of veteran actors like Sutherland and Hoffman. She has the confidence of someone well beyond her years but there’s also certain nuances that she brings to the role that I notice more now that I’ve seen more of her work.
Ok, there are lots to love here but I’m not saying the movie is perfect. I thought the pacing was off in the first hour. I actually glanced at my watch a few times as it felt rather long. I’m not fond of Willow Shields as Katniss’ sister Prim and their scenes didn’t quite resonate with me. There are also very little character developments with any of the tributes. Yes I know this story is more about Katniss and Peeta, but the tributes are almost an afterthought here that by the time the games begin, it felt like the games was actually lesser in scope than it’s supposed to be in the book. Also, am I the only one creep-ed out by Finnick and Mags at one point of the game? It’s just bizarre and not in a good way.
The games itself isn’t as gripping as I expected, though there’s a big tense moment at the start of the game when everyone got dropped to the island. But overall it just wasn’t as riveting, and the fact that Katniss had so many allies right off the bat seems to lessen the gravity of the games, if you will.
That said, I’m still looking forward to the third film. Boy that ending made me wish Mockingjay will be released next month instead of a year from now!
4 out of 5 reels
This weekend I also watched Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (read my review)
So that’s my weekend roundup folks! Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? Or you can also share what you watched this weekend.
I was recently asked by Andrew Kendall at Encore Entertainment to contribute a post for the Motifs in Cinema blogging project. 2012, a multi-site themed blogging projects of 11 writers looking at 11 motifs from films last year. When Andrew emailed me the topics for the Motifs in Cinema Project, for some reason I gravitated towards the Love and/or Marriage theme. Perhaps because it so happens that 2013 falls on my 10-year wedding anniversary. So for this purpose, I’m going to focus more specifically on marriage on films and how filmmakers have used that theme in 2012.
This is the intro for the project:
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across 22 film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilised by different artists. …
Love (and/or Marriage) in Cinema
By the time this project rolls around, I still have not seen two major Oscar contenders Amour and Anna Karenina in which the theme of love and marriage runs deep. But these eight films happen to explore marriage in varying degree, and each offers us something different when it comes to love and marriage.
[Naturally with this kind of post, I’ll be talking about some major plot points, so consider this a SPOILER ALERT!]
One of my favorite films of 2012 that’s probably get lost in the shuffle. Two members of the renowned quartet Fugue are married couple Robert and Juliette (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katherine Keener). Even though they work together, their marriage is on the brink of doom, seemingly held together by their love for their only daughter, who later on ends up wrecking havoc in the already fragile musical group.
Jealousy, lust and disillusionment threatened to break their marriage forever and I thought it’d be the case when Robert gave in to the seduction of his beautiful jogging partner. Neither Robert nor Juliette seems invested in their marriage as much as they are in their music, and therein lies the problem. Having been married for nearly a decade now, I realize how crucial it is to never take our spouse for granted, and this film is a reminder of that.
Just because it’s an animated film, it doesn’t mean that it can’t have a poignant message. As Pixar has done a few years ago with UP, that opening montage alone speaks volumes as one of the best portrayal of marriage on film. Unlike other less-fortunate Disney princesses, Merida grew up in a loving home with her dad Lord Fergus and Queen Eleanor. The queen is the one who ‘wears the pants’ in the family, so to speak, though it seems unrealistic perhaps in the Medieval era, so it’s perhaps more wishful thinking than anything. That said, it’s wonderful to see such a healthy relationship between the two, the scene where Eleanor vents to Fergus about Merida is both hilarious and moving.
The film also challenges the notion of young and arranged marriage, with Merida protesting the whole betrothal process and refusing to give up her freedom. Marriage should always be a choice, first and foremost, and that ‘happily ever after’ might not always happen. It also shouldn’t be a ‘goal’ so much as a natural procession of life when things fall into place. …
I wasn’t wowed by this film overall but I did appreciate that I got a glimpse of the marriage life of one of the world’s most famous film directors. The saying of ‘Behind every great man there’s a great woman’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), as not only Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) was supportive and willing to put up with his antics, including his juvenile crush with his leading ladies, she was crucial in his career, too.
Alma wasn’t exactly a saint, either. Lacking the attention from her husband, Alma was drawn to screenwriter Whitfield Cook who’s flirtatious with her and plays upon her own writing career aspiration. No marriage is perfect surely, but what I do like about Alfred and Alma is that they are friends as well as lovers, they can relate to each other beyond just the romantic stuff. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company and have that shared creative passion. I think that’s partly why their marriage could last as long as it did despite a few bumps on the road. Dame Mirren is the star of the show for me, and I think I learn much more about Alma here than I did about her husband. ///
One of the most delightfully quirky films of 2012 center on two 12-year-olds running away from home to be together. They claim they are in love with each other and we think, ‘they don’t even know what love is!’ Be that as it may, does it make their feelings ‘less true?’
Neither Sam and Suzi come from a healthy family. Suzi’s parents are on the brink of divorce as her mom is in love with the local Captain. Sam has been living in a ‘juvenile refuge’ as his foster parents no longer wants him living with them. But love is a universal desire even for those perhaps too young to understand, and the film offers an endearingly-naive look at marriage from fresh young eyes who aren’t yet cynical nor jaded by that concept.
I didn’t really care for this film, in fact, I listed it as one of the worst films I saw in 2012. The thing is, I’m not fond of films about infidelity, though at times there’s a teachable moment that I can appreciate. In this case, it comes from the supporting character Julie (played by the massively underrated Rosemarie DeWitt). Whilst her husband was hopelessly infatuated by a young, pretty house guest like a 12-year-old boy, temptation also came her way like a storm. She’s a therapist and the seducer is her patient who happens to be a handsome and successful actor. She could’ve given in and chalk it up to her husband being a douche bag and the fact that she had been a neglected wife, but in the end she did the right thing.
This film paints a rather bleak portrait of marriage… where things seems quiet and peaceful for this well-to-do family but yet, even the slightest breeze threatens to blow everything apart as if it had no solid foundation at all. For the time being, their union seemingly survives the whole ordeal, but it made me think… for how much longer?? What would ensure them that it would not happen again?? The main character Martine (an attractive but impossible-to-root-for Olivia Thirlby) is even more tragic, not only did she has no complete regard for people’s relationships, she doesn’t seem to value herself nor her own feelings, either. …
Despite its incredibly generic title, this movie ends up being a pretty good one. It doesn’t depict marriage between two characters in the film, instead it explores the consequences of a marital misstep, through the eyes of those who end up suffering from it. Sam and Frankie met as a result of their father’s infidelity – Sam is record producer Jerry Harper’s firstborn, and Frankie is the daughter of his mistress. Sam’s last wish before he died is to give a large sum of money to Frankie’s young son, which creates interesting circumstances for all three and their lives are never the same because of it.
In my book, infidelity is NEVER a good thing. But sometimes good can come from something bad and in this case, it’s honesty and kindness ends up righting the wrong, even if the way to get there isn’t always smooth. …
Now this one paints a very different view of marriage. In fact, it never quite enter the picture until the film almost ended. It’s marketed as an unlikely friendship between a robot butler and his master, Frank (Frank Langella), and indeed it is. But there’s also a relationship between a beautiful librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) whom he constantly flirts with. Set in a distant future where physical books are being replaced by digital copies, Frank is struggling to come to terms with the ever-changing world around him.
It’s a film about Alzheimer that doesn’t hit us over the head with the harrowing subject matter, but instead it gives us a sweet – and at times hilarious – picture of family. In the end, it’s revealed that Jennifer is actually Frank’s wife, which I didn’t see coming. That revelation made me tear up as it’s just heartbreaking but also made your heart soar at the same time. Real love knows no bounds, the heart always remembers even when the mind lost its capacity to do so… and that is one of the most beautiful and uplifting picture of marriage I’ve seen in a long while.
Marriage is the union of two people, but sometimes the breakdown of a marriage could actually brings people together. That’s what happens with Pat and Tiffany, the former lost his marriage to infidelity (and his uncontrollable rage) and the other to a tragic accident. Each of them deals with it in their own way. Tiffany tries to hide her pain by being promiscuous and Pat holds on to the hope that he could still get back together with his estranged wife Nikki.
Though they didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, their relationship slowly became the very thing that help both of them heal… and learn to love again. Pat has always wanted that love to come from his wife, but instead, it comes from an unlikely person that comes to him unexpectedly. The moment Pat felt for Tiffany, it took him by surprise and he looked away, unable to comprehend the change in his heart. It wasn’t until the finale of the dance competition that he finally chose to acknowledge his feelings and decided he needed to do something about it. Director David O. Russell kept the ending open-ended in terms of how Pat ended things with Nikki. But by then it doesn’t really matter. What matters to Pat (and us the viewers) is that he’s finally found that silver linings. …
Can’t believe 2012 has come and gone. I don’t know about you but this past year felt especially fast for me, it just flew by before I had a chance to reflect on a bunch of things. I know a lot of bloggers have been putting their stamp on whether this has been a good or bad year for movies. Now, I personally don’t know how to really judge that, I think if someone were to ask me, I’d say it’s been a pretty good year as I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of movies, both the blockbusters and the smaller indie flicks.
Now, as I’ve done in the past couple of years, this top 10 is more of a list of favorites so naturally it’s very subjective. The movies included are reserved for those released in 2012 that I saw on the big screen (whether on regular theatrical release, screenings or at a local film festival).
So here they are in alphabetical order (it’s hard enough to pick just 10 so I sure as heck am not going to rank these):
Top 10 Favorite 2012 Films:
Argo (my full review) Ben Affleck’s third directorial work makes up for a stellar ‘trilogy’ of his work. It was an engaging, edge-of-your-seat stuff and it was emotionally satisfying to boot. Great casting on John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the scene-stealing Hollywood folks set out to make a fake movie. …
A Late Quartet (my full review) One of the indie gems at TIFF that totally lived up to my expectations, especially in the performances department. If you’re a fan of Christopher Walken or Philip Seymour Hoffman, I highly recommend this one. …
Brave (my full review) I actually re-watched parts of this on the plane during my vacation and I still loved it. In a year of kick-ass movie heroines, Princess Merida is a highlight. Pixar delivers once again! …
Looper (my full review) One of the best action sci-fi I’ve seen in years, thanks in no small feat to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The make-up might be distracting but Levitt’s performance was still strong enough to overcome that. The first movie by Rian Johnson I’ve seen – this one certainly makes me want to seek out his other works. …
Silver Linings Playbook (my full review) This one was touted as the ‘centerpiece’ feature film at TCFF and glad it lived up to the hype. Another strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence (I actually like her a bit more here than in The Hunger Games) and proves that pretty-boy Bradley Cooper can definitely act. It also marks one of Robert De Niro’s best in recent memory. …
Skyfall (my full review) Thanks to Sam Mendes, his team of writers and of course the blond Bond du jour Daniel Craig, we’ve got a massively entertaining Bond film that packs both brains and heart. I love that Judi Dench’s M is sort of the unconventional ‘Bond girl’ in this one, and the gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins certainly makes this one all the more memorable. …
The Avengers The loud, popcorn blockbuster is certainly the highlight of the first half of 2012. Considering the herculean hype surrounding this one, it’s quite a feat that Josh Whedon & co. managed to still meet that, and then some! There are so much to like that I listed a top 10 reasons why The Avengers rocked. …
The Dark Knight Rises (my full review) It’s really a testament to Christopher Nolan that despite all the plot holes, I still enjoyed it immensely. I still rate The Dark Knight higher, but overall it’s a satisfying ending to an amazing trilogy! …
The Hobbit Well I just did my top 10 reasons why I loved this movie, so naturally this would end up on my top 10. Definitely a welcome return to the visually mesmerizing world of Middle Earth. Can’t wait for Part II! …
The Sapphires (see my review) Last but definitely not least. I adore this inspirational true story set in the 60s about four talented young Aboriginal girls who were plucked out of obscurity when they formed into a dynamic singing group. Such an affecting story and the music is a winner, I can’t wait to see this again soon.
10 Honorable Mentions:
These ten films are excellent, they didn’t quite make my top 10 but they’re definitely still worth checking out if you haven’t already (click each title for full review):
Dames Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren all wowed me in their roles in Quartet, Skyfalland Hitchcock, respectively. Though Hitchcock is not stellar movie, Mirren’s role is the highlight for me and her casting as the filmmaker’s wife Alma undoubtedly made the film a lot better that it otherwise would. Dame Smith and Dench were also wonderful in the delightful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which marked the second time I saw them together on screen (the first one was A Room with a View). If only these three fine dames would star in a film together one day! …
Now, I’d like to give a shout out to these 10 Movies I saw in 2012(either on a rental or on the plane) that I’d highly recommend (click each title for my full review):
Now, to even things out, I also want to list those released this year that I didn’t care for. Fortunately, there are only five of them (that I have seen) that I rated 2.5 out of 5 or below.
Total Recall Their comic-con panel (especially Colin Farrell) was a heck of a lot more entertaining than this stinker
Bourne Legacy I wasn’t a fan of Jeremy Renner to begin with and I wasn’t about to become one after this. Rachel Weisz was a lot more charismatic here, which begs the question as to why she signed up to do this one.
Playing For Keeps Well, it’s the year I say goodbye to Gerry Butler 😦 I’ve written an open letter in lieu of the review, but suffice to say this is one of the worst movie I’ve ever seen in recent memory [shudder]
Snow White and the Huntsman I couldn’t stand K-Stew but I thought I’d give her a chance in something other than Twilight. Alas, she’s as expressionless as she ever was, so my befuddlement as to why she keeps getting roles continues. The rest of the cast weren’t exactly stellar either.
Nobody Walks This was the worst movie I saw in at TCFF, I just didn’t enjoy the story at all, it actually left a bad taste in my mouth after. It turns out that one of the writers of this was Lena Dunham, so it’s highly unlikely I’d ever be interested in her HBO show Girls. …
Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.
TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.
Below is a recap and review from Friday,
Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.
Things I Don’t Understand
Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.
Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.
Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.
Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:
This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.
I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.
It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.
Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.
I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.
Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!
A Late Quartet
When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.
In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.
This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.
Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.
Problem Solving the Republic
Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.
Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:
Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.
I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.
During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.
The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.
Check out the trailer below:
Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!
Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!
Call it the Ultimate Film Fest Experience. With only 2 more days to go, there are still a bunch of great films playing at the ShowPlace ICON Theatre through Saturday. If you haven’t been able to catch any of the films during the weekdays, but you’re ready for a TCFF movie marathon this weekend, then you’re not too late!
Earlier today I sat down with Steve Snyder, TCFF’s Artistic Director—who’s also TIME.com’s Assistant Managing Editor—to list his recommendations for the last stretch of the film fest. After screening about 200 submissions including a mix of features and shots, and circling other film festivals around the country with executive director Jatin Setia, here are Steve’s picks are that you can still catch at TCFF.
I’ve mentioned this on yesterday’s post when I met with director David Spaltro. Well, this film has won Best Feature Film and Best Actress for Minnesota-born actress Molly Ryman in various film festivals. Steve calls Molly a ‘MN star is born’ and this is one of the films that he’s most thrilled about that he was able to get it screened at TCFF. Both David and Molly will be in attendance for a red carpet spotlight and Q&A after.
Having recently chatted with him, I’m even more intrigued by his film and can’t wait to see it. I will post the transcript of the interview when it’s ready, but check out the trailer below:
9pm – A Late Quartet
This is also on my most-anticipated list. I mean the cast alone should get you to rush to see it. Christopher Walken + Philip Seymour Hoffman + Catherine Keener playing members of a string quartet struggling to stay together in the face of death, competing egos and in-suppressible lust. Great thespians making beautiful music together? Steve said you can’t miss this, and I tend to agree. You can view the trailer here.
Winner of Audience Award, Documentary at SXSW 2012: In Bahia, Brazil, generations of impoverished families live in palafitas, shacks built on stilts over the ocean bay. Steve said that not only is the subject matter intriguing, but the incredible access director Annie Eastman was able to get to shoot this film gives it a uniquely intimate portrait of the individual stories of poverty shown in the film. …
This is a documentary that follows the lives of five immigrant farm worker women over a ten-year period as they labor in the apple orchards and fields of rural western New York, migrate seasonally to Florida, raise their families, and try to hide from the Bush-era immigration raids that were conducted in response to September 11, 2001. This doc is more of an investigative journalism of sort, which illuminates a community that is nearly invisible to most Americans. Director Nancy Ghertner will be in attendance.
These two documentaries are also my picks I’ve listed on this post. …
Two estranged women tread cautiously into each other’s lives and their newfound friendship creates a mirror of self-discovery in this character-driven indie drama. I actually have had the pleasure of seeing this one earlier this month and I absolutely agree with Steve that this one is definitely worth checking out. It’s rare to see a meaty role written for a woman, let alone two in one film. Both Ryan Driscoll and Elise Ivy are both fantastic here, and the revelation for both characters are quite intriguing to watch. Don’t miss Ryan Driscoll and director Scott Tanner Jones in attendance for Q&A. …
When their dad dies unexpectedly, estranged siblings Russell, Jane and their adopted brother, Alex, come home to tend to his remains. Don’t be put off by the title, even though it deals with the loss of a loved one, it’s also about a celebration of family and how they come together to achieve a proper goodbye. Steve said he’s very impressed how the actors could pull off such complex characters. He even went so far as calling it some of the best acting performances of this year. Trailer below: