FlixChatter Review – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

I heard about the new Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga much sooner than most casual Netflix streamers and American audiences. The reason for this was my loyal following of the Eurovision Song Contest, or just “Eurovision” – a contest that started in Europe in the mid 1950’s, around the time of the formation of the European Broadcasting Union. It is the European Broadcasting Union that puts on the yearly contest, starting with just seven countries in 1956 and expanding each year to a maximum of 44 countries participating at once. I had first heard of Eurovision back in 1998, when Dana International, a transgender singer from Israel won the contest with the song “Diva.” Since she won the contest, Israel won the rights to host the contest the following year in 1999. That summer, I was on a summer trip to Israel and all I heard about was that spring’s 44th annual Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Jerusalem.

Fast forward 20 years, the year is 2018 and the Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Lisbon Portugal. This year even my birth country of Bulgaria is taking part in the contest, even though the favorite to win the contest is a performer named Netta from Israel with her me-too-movement themed song call “Toy.” It was a hard fought contest with a singer from Cyprus, but Netta ended up winning the contest and bringing back the Eurovision Song Contest to take place in Israel the following year. So as events moved along in 2019, I had heard that Will Ferrell – yes that Will Ferrell from SNL and countless movies – was going to Israel to shoot a comedic movie about the entering the Eurovision Song Contest. That movie would later be titled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and it would star Ferrell as Lars Erickssong and co-star Rachel McAdams as his best friend Sigrit Ericksdottir, making music together as the band Fire Saga.

The two best friends live in the small Islandic town of Húsavík, and perform for the locals in the town their music, especially a local favorite called “Jaja Ding Dong” which is great to sing, dance and drink beer to. But Lars’ dream has always been to represent Iceland in Eurovision, and it finally becomes a reality when they become the only contestants available, due to some unfortunate circumstances. The Islanding broadcasting committee has no choice but to send Lars and Sigrit to the contest, taking place in Ireland. *While we know, from earlier, that Ferrell and Rachel McAdams shot scenes with the live audience in Israel at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, director David Dobkin and producers Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, and Chris Henchy decided to switch the location of Eurovision to Edinburgh, Scotland. When the duo arrive in Edinburgh, they are greeted by other contestants, including Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyant singer representing Russia. At one point, Lars and Sigrit have a great sing-a-long at a mansion party with other seemingly current Eurovision singers. Those singers are in-fact some previous real life Eurovision Song Contest contestants and winners such as Jamala, Conchita Wurst, Salvador Sobral and Netta.

Watching from home is Lars Erickssong’s widowed father Erick Erickssong (Pierce Brosnan), who is always disapproving and disappointed with Lars. When others at the bar want to watch Lars and Sigrit perform at Eurovision, all Erick wants to do is drink and watch soccer. But when Lars and Sigrit seem to be having a decent performance, all hell breaks loose and the wheels start to come off the truck, quite literally. Lars starts feeling quite embarrassed and humiliated and storms out, leaving a distraught Sigrit behind. Before Lars could be found, Sigrit learns to her shock, however, that Iceland is voted through to the finals on a sympathy vote. Lars is long gone; already back on the plane to Iceland.

Once back in Iceland, Lars talks with his father and confesses his love for Sigrit, and Erick tells him to go back and fight for her love. SPOILER [highlight to read]: Lars makes it to the grand finale just in time to perform, after hitchhiking with some initially unwilling American tourists. Instead of their official entry, Lars encourages Sigrit to perform a song she has written for him. Fire Saga are disqualified for changing their song during the contest, but both Lars and Sigrit have lost interest in winning the competition, realizing that their relationship is more important and they finally share a kiss.

Back in Iceland, Fire Saga is performing at a wedding when Lars ask if they should perform their Eurovision song or the popular “Jaja Ding Dong” to which the crowd chants “Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong, Jaja Ding Dong!” While the movie is not groundbreaking or visually unique, it does provide plenty of laugh-out-loud and sing-along moments with the cast. It did provide me personally with nostalgia from watching the actual Eurovision Song Contest, which got cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was a great movie for Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams to star in and play off each other in the musical performances. Also, it was fun to see Pierce Brosnan act in a comedy and play opposite Ferrell. But most definitely, it’s Dan Stevens who steals the show as Alexander Lemtov, who cannot express his sexuality and fears the fact that his country does not accept homosexuality. Stevens plays the role almost to perfection and become much more vulnerable than in any previous role he has played.

While Netflix is probably not going to see very many new subscriptions solely from the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, they will leave their audience satisfied (for at least that night). I was pleasantly surprised at the way the movie pulled at the heartstrings and made you feel compassion and sympathy for Ferrell’s character Lars. It’s probably the only time I’ve had those feeling when watching a Will Ferrell movie. So, next time you’re sitting at your couch, I would suggest everyone check this movie out when scrolling through the seemingly endless list of titles, and catch this flick on Netflix.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Eurovision Song Contest? Well, what did you think? 

Music Break: ABBA’s songs in Mamma Mia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

FlixChatter Interview with NO ESCAPE filmmakers John Erick & Drew Dowdle

NoEscapeUKposter

This past week I got the opportunity to meet up with the filmmakers behind the action thriller NO ESCAPE. So apparently the Coens are not the only brother filmmaker team from Minnesota, and the Dowdles are truly one of the nicest filmmakers I ever had the pleasure to meet. The interview was about an hour late than scheduled, apparently there was a radio interview that ran longer than expected. I was the last of six interviewers scheduled to chat with them, and I had been a bit worried they’d be tired of talking by then.

But as soon as I entered the room of the Marquette Hotel, I was greeted with a big smile from both John Erick Dowdle (director/writer) and his brother Drew (writer). I immediately felt comfortable and at ease with them as I sat down and prepared my iPhone recorder. I’d think that for people who’ve been known for their horror films (Quarantine, Devil, As Above So Below), they’d be all dark and moody, but that’s not at all the case with as they’re all smiles and full of energy.

As soon as I started writing in my notes, John noticed that my Mona Lisa pen is from the Louvre Museum. He remarked that he used to live close to it when he was making As Above So Below in Paris that his then young boy named Henry became so obsessed with the place and started to spell his name H-e-n-r-i. I had to ask about the filming at Paris catacomb, so find that at the end of the interview.


Check out my spotlight & review of their film No Escape, as well as a short bio of both of them after they both graduated from St. Thomas Academy, an all-boys, military, Catholic high school near St. Paul, MN.


FCInterviewBanner[SPOILER ALERT: Some of the questions might pertain to some plot details about the film. I’ll be sure to mark that in red to warn you]

Q: Can you elaborate more about how the idea of this story came about? You mentioned at the Q&A after the film that a coup happened whilst you were in Thailand?

JOHN: In 2006 my dad and I went to Thailand and we were traveling all around there. And right before we got there, a coup threw out the prime minister and the generals took over the country. There’s a new regime right as we got there and there had been no advanced warning or nothing like that. I started thinking, what if this… I mean, it went smoothly but I thought, what if it didn’t. What if this went very badly like Phnom Penh in 1975 (referring to the Cambodian genocide by the Cambodian Communist Forces Khmer Rouge). What if this went very badly and I had little kids with me. In my last trip to Thailand, we had two little kids with me like Lucy and Beeze, so basically these two girls (in the film) were based on our little sisters. We started building the story from there. As soon as we got back we started expanding on that. Drew and I returned to Cambodia and traveled around to gather little details to make it more authentic.

DREW: Yes our trip back to Asia was in 2008, that was for location scouting to pick up more details. But we didn’t start shooting until 2013.

DowdleBros_Thailand
John Eric [left] and Drew [right] in Thailand
Q: This question came when my husband and I were discussing the film after we saw it. The rebel group seems to have been building up for some time, like a time bomb that would explode at any moment. Now, the western corporation in the film where Owen Wilson’s character Jack Dwyer works for, they and the others seem to be caught off guard by this. Is that the case or did they know but they choose to ignore it and just left the Dwyers to fend for themselves? I’m just wondering if there’s something sinister behind that?

JOHN: No, I think so many times in these situations… there’s always someone who wants to manage the situation. When we were shooting in Thailand, there was a coup developing while we were there. The people we’re working with was like, ‘oh no, it’s gonna be fine, it’s gonna be fine.’ And literally, we left and two weeks later there was a coup in Thailand. And looking back I thought this must’ve been worse because our friends and family from the United States were like ‘Are you guys being safe over there?’ and we’re like ‘oh yeah, everyone’s fine, it’s not as big a deal as everyone’s making it…’ But I think it was. It’s just people in that situation tries to manage and deny what’s happening. We’re also guilty of that ourselves.

Q: It’s like you were in denial then? It’s like you just brushed it off, oh it’s not as bad as it looks even thought it is.

JOHN: Yeah, I mean if we have this billions of dollars at stake building this waterworks so there can’t be something that would overthrow us. So that would be the corporate mentality.

DREW: Yeah, our partners when we were shooting the movie, Time Warners, they were like ‘oh this was just newspapers, selling newspapers, it’s nothing to worry about and you believe that, you said ‘yeah ok I’ll buy it.’ In terms of the fictional situation in the movie, not only were they not aware of when this was going to happen nor that there’s this level of unrest but they didn’t take them [the rebels] seriously and what they’re capable of and what they’re capable to do.

Q: Now, switching gears a bit about the casting, because I’m always interested in that topic whenever I interview filmmakers. The casting of Owen Wilson here reminds me of the casting of Steve Carell in Foxcatcher as they’re both known for their comedic work. How about Lake Bell who’s also known for being a comedian?

JOHN: She’s amazing. I think comic actors can do anyting. If you can do comedy you can do anyting. For Owen and Lake, I mean when we cast Owen people were like, ‘are you going to give him a crew cut and make him really tough?’ and we’re like ‘no, we want Owen from Marley & Me in this movie.’ And Lake Bell was sort of the same thing. I mean you don’t usually imagine Lake crawling through the mud like she did in this movie. We like that when people don’t usually imagine an actor doing a certain thing. It took a while to convince their agents… and we’re like ‘no, it’s got to be Lake.’

Q: So you already had these two lead actors in mind for the movie?

DREW: Yes, Owen absolutely. We had been building the character around Owen for several years. Things kept falling apart but he kept saying, ‘hey I’m still with you.’ Lake’s casting came much later. But by the time we saw In A World, we’re like ‘oh it has to be her.’

DowdleBros_int2

She’s also a writer too, she wrote In A World… 

JOHN: Yes she is and she’s brilliant.

DREW: And so is Owen. He’s a brilliant writer himself [he co-wrote three films with Wes Anderson including The Royal Tennenbaums] So to have two actors who knew how to write is such a huge asset for us.

So it’s like they’re allies in the filmmaking process as they can also give you input. 

JOHN: Absolutely, there’s nothing greater for a director than having a smart actor. I mean those two kids were also very intelligent kids. It helps so much when they’re thoughtful about what they’re doing.

Q: Yes I noticed that the kids were very believable in the movie. Usually kids can look bored in scenes of peril, but here they looked like they’re genuinely scared and upset.

JOHN: Yeah, they were amazing. We read hundreds and hundreds of girls but luckily we picked the right ones. [Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare played the two young siblings in the film]

DREW: Working with Lake too, made these kids worked so much better. They knew exactly what we need and what we’re trying to avoid. In the moment it really helps get that from them.

JOHN: From the moment she was on set, she immediately adopted those two girls. She grabbed them, put them on her lap and said, ‘from now on you’re my little turkeys.

DowdleBros_int3

Q: What is the biggest challenge filming in a foreign land (in Chiang Mai, Thailand) and display such treacherous conditions on screen? Even that rainy scene towards the end look quite real.

JOHN: Oh we used a rain machine on that scene towards the end but it only had either off or torential downpour, they didn’t have sprinkles [laughs]

Q: Any memorable moment you’d like to share from filming? 

DREW: The fire was perhaps the most memorable thing. It’s not so much about Thailand, there was an accidental fire that burned a building down. It was a pretty spectacular moment on the set.

JOHN: We were filming in this government office and when the tank shoots the wall, there was a beam that’s supposed to fall and it didn’t and it started on fire. I mean we’re able to get everyone out and thankfully everyone was safe.

DREW: It was the last take of the take and the actors loved being on set and we’re playing playbacks, I mean it was the end of the day anyway. But we’re supposed to shoot the next day and the whole building was up in flames. We’re like ‘oh no, is this gonna be the end of the movie?’

Q: But other than that, did everything else go as planned?

JOHN: Yeah we shoot the next day, we just picked a different location the show must go on, y’know. It actually was fun the next day as we had limited equipments, it’s like back to basic like in film school, like Gilligan’s Island where we have the coconuts, we’re just cobbling everything together [laughs]

DREW: We had like three cameras and one monitor that smells like barbeque. I mean we got everyone out [from the burning building] but we lost some equipments and we had to order a lot of new sound equipments from Bangkok, so it was a logistical challenge. But that was sort of our own doing.

In terms of the challenge of shooting, we’re really surprised how sophisticated the crew was, we had a Thai producing partner who had to deal with all the bureaucracy there which was significant so we didn’t have to deal much with it ourselves.

JOHN: It was a very smooth film.

DowdleBros_int1
Source: Pierce Brosnan Proboards

Q: How long did it take you to shoot the film?

DREW: 39 days.

JOHN: 39 days of shooting. So it was like, in one day we’re like ‘we have THIS much to do?’ So there’s a lot of big things every day. But thank God that all the crew… I mean one the things I found interesting is that in America, all the crews was so unionized that ‘oh this guy can touch the light but he can’t touch the stand, etc.’ there are so many rules as to who can do what. Whilst in Thailand, everyone is there to help whoever needs help. It’s like there’s a symphony of motion where things happened so smoothly. I mean, there’s camera crew helping the art department when the art department needed help… I don’t know, it’s just a wonderful atmosphere to make a film. We had the time of our lives filming there.

DREW: It was so cooperative and everyone moved so fast. We got the feeling that, I mean this is such a wonderful thing for us, we got the feeling that everyone on the crew really wanted this to be a good movie. I mean there were other times when they’d do a good job but they don’t really care about the movie, they’re just punching the clock, they’re not invested in a kind of creative emotional way. Here it seems like everyone there wanted to have their creative fingerprints on this so it was nice that they really cared.

[spoiler] Q: When you’re watching the film, some people might make the generalization that it’s the natives, who’s being portrayed as evil, chasing this innocent family that happens to be from the West. But then there’s the conversation between Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan’s character that seem to offset the perceived prejudice against the enemies/villains of the film. So is that a deliberate thing you did or a natural flow of the story?

DREW: It was very deliberate.

JOHN: Yeah, we really wanted the rebels in the city to have a reason. I think so often when something horrible happened, the tendencies just chug it as ‘oh these people are evil, those people are good’ but we wanted to ask the question why. Why would somebody do this, why would somebody act this way. Not to say that violence is acceptable but these are people who are fighting for their families, their lives and their futures, too. They’re trying to get rid of the foreign influences that were hurting them so we wanted to give a rationale for them.

DREW: Yeah, to use John’s example with Phnom Penh in ’75, y’know, I mean you can’t really justify what the Khmer Rouge did in any kind of rational level, I mean they were really really violent and took a lot of lives. But there’s a reason they were doing what they were doing in terms of the foreign involvement in their country, they’ve suffered through a lot of bombings in a war they had nothing to do with. There’s reasons that caused it and again, I mean again you can’t justify their reaction to it but there’s a source to it, they didn’t just do it because they liked to kill people or that they’re just bloodthirsty. Now that’s an extreme example. In our movie, it isn’t just ALL about the natives versus the foreigners, it’s a certain subset of the natives that were in a war path to get rid of the foreigners. There were locals who helped the family and there were locals that also got killed by the rebels.

JOHN: So the Dwyers family is caught in a crossfire. I mean our focus is the Dwyers, just like in Titanic, the focus is on Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s characters but it doesn’t mean you don’t care about everyone else in the movie. But the film has to have a focal point and for us, having gone to Thailand, my focus has to be from the family.

DowdleBros_int4

I’m curious about the process of casting Pierce Brosnan and how he worked with the other cast?

JOHN: We love the idea of Pierce here. Pierce is the kind of guy who could say and do anything and you’d just love him more. He could say the worst, most horrible things and you just love him more. I mean there’s a couple lines in this movie where I think Pierce might be the only human being alive who could deliver those lines and make you like him more. We like turning that James Bond thing on its head, I mean make him an alcoholic with a beard and sort of scuzzy, so we had a lot of fun. Pierce found this documentary Beware of Mr Baker about the [Cream and Blind Faith rock band] drummer Ginger Baker who’s sort of this old surly Brit, so Pierce brought that to the character.

DREW: He’s got so much charm, we grew up loving Pierce Brosnan so to have him in our movie was like a dream.

JOHN: To meet him for the first time was like, ‘ok come on, stay calm.’

So you both were a bit starstruck then?

Oh yeah we were.

AsAboveSoBelowPosterOk last question, about your last film As Above So Below, how did you manage to get the permission from the French government to film in the Paris catacomb?

DREW: That was not easy. I mean we shot in five different parts of the catacombs and some were easier than others, but the main one that we wanted which was the roughest but the most interesting looking, we got the permission literally the night before we’re supposed to shoot. Their bureaucracy doesn’t move very quickly but thankfully we got a French producing partner but we were the first film to shoot inside the catacombs.

JOHN: And probably the last [laughs] We were down there shooting for five weeks, it was a long time to be underground.

DREW: It was cold and wet. It was a lot colder in there than we thought even thought it was in the middle of Summer. It was freezing down there.

Surrounded by skulls too.

JOHN: Yeah, it’s funny there are some parts in No Escape where we found this small space and we thought it was the perfect location and some people were saying, ‘no this is way too small, you can’t film here’ and we’re like ‘we filmed inside the catacomb, this is tons of space!’ I mean once you shoot there, you can shoot anywhere.


Thank you to John & Drew for taking the time to chat!

Me_with_theDowdles

No Escape is in US theaters now and opens in the UK on Sept 4.


Thoughts on the interview and/or No Escape?

Film Spotlight + Mini Review of Action Thriller NO ESCAPE

NoEscapePoster

When I first saw the trailer of NO ESCAPE, it definitely promises to be a highly intense action adventure. I have to admit though I was quite surprised by the casting of two actors known mostly for their comedic work: Owen Wilson and Lake Bell, but hey, we’ve got James Bond er Pierce Brosnan in it, whom I associate with this types of films. But it’s the unlikely casting that got me intrigued. The fact that the film is set in South East Asia also piqued my interest.

Well, later this afternoon I’ll have the opportunity to interview the filmmakers behind the film, John Erick Dowdle who directed the film based on the script he wrote with his brother Drew Dowdle.

Film Synopsis:
An intense international thriller, NO ESCAPE centers on an American businessman (Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city.

It’s always awesome to see Minnesota filmmakers making movies in Hollywood!

Per IMDb, John grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. After graduating St. Thomas Academy, an all-boys, military, Catholic high school, John moved to Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa. There he would make the move from writing to film. Two years later, John moved to Manhattan to attend NYU’s film program. After graduating NYU, John moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in filmmaking. John wrote and directed his first feature, Full Moon Rising (1996) just out of college. For his sophomore effort, The Dry Spell, John was joined by his brother Drew, who produced the film as John wrote, directed and edited. They now live in Los Angeles, working together as The Brothers Dowdle.

 


My mini review of NO ESCAPE

I must say that these types of thrillers are not usually something I’d see on the big screen as I have such feeble nerves. Given their horror background, there’s definitely nerve-wracking terror and sense of dread, as well as genuine jump scares in this edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Wilson_Bell_NoEscape

I think the less you know about the plot the better, and there’s definitely more emotional resonance than what the trailer/poster have you believe. I’m very impressed by Owen Wilson‘s casting, he’s not an ‘action hero’ or macho tough guy, he’s just an ordinary family man who’s driven to extremes to save his family. His ‘everyman’ persona definitely make you sympathize with him right away, and Lake Bell as his wife is quite convincing here as well, in a role I haven’t seen her portray before. Even the two little girls played by Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare are both terrific here. Kudos to John E. Dowdle for coaxing such a convincing performance out of them, to display authentic sense of terror for such young actors must’ve been very challenging.

How we feel about this survivor-thriller hinges on whether we care or not about Wilson’s family and this film definitely delivers. Pierce Brosnan‘s quite memorable here in a key role. He’s not in the film much but when he’s on screen, he’s definitely memorable. There’s a conversation between his and Wilson’s character that offer an interesting perspective on what’s going on. The film is billed as a coup-gone-horribly-wrong (as the title was going to be The Coup), but there’s more than meets the eye.
Pierce_Owen_NoEscape

The film is bloody but thankfully not gory. The filmmakers wisely choose to show the reaction after a violent act is committed, and what it means to them, rather the act itself. It makes it all the more effective and suspenseful. I think do horror/thriller fans would appreciate the filmmaking style of the Dowdles, and the convincing performances of the actors definitely immerse you in their predicament. Wilson and Bell certainly have dramatic chops on top of being talented comedians.

The scene on the roof is one of the craziest, most intense scenes I’ve ever seen. I think it’d be especially tense if you are a parent, as it’ll make you REALLY think about what you would do in such a dire situation.

The fact that the film was shot on location in Chiang Mai, Thailand certainly makes it look authentic. But the film is set in a fictitious SE Asia country as to not offend the Thai government. Given the recent bomb attack in that country though, it certainly adds to the nightmarish quality of the film. If you like the experience of having your nerve stretched to its snapping point, then this is a film for you.

3halfReels

NO ESCAPE opens in the US on 8/26 and in the UK on Sept 4.


Stay tuned for my interview post with the Dowdle Brothers!


What do you think of this film? Which film of the Dowdle Brothers have you seen?

FlixChatter Review: The November Man (2014)

TedSaydalavongBanner

NovemberManPoster

It’s been over a decade since Pierce Brosnan played a spy, his last outing as 007 in the atrocious Die Another Day probably was not the way he wanted to go out after 4 very successful Bond films, financially speaking only of course. Along with Die Another Day, I thought The World Is Not Enough is also up there with being one of the worst Bond films ever made. Brosnan is now back playing another sort of super spy and believe it or not, it might be worse than the last two Bond flicks he starred in.

This new film starts with the usual spy flick, a beautiful location in Montenegro and we’re introduced to an aging spy Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) and his young protégé David Mason (Luke Bracey). They’re in the city to protect a very important US Congressman, later there was an assassination attempt and during the chaos, Mason took out the assassin but unfortunately he also killed an innocent kid who happens to be in the wrong place. This infuriated Devereaux because the young spy wouldn’t listen to him and killed an innocent bystander. Fast forwarded a few years later and Devereaux is now retired and living in Switzerland. His old boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) showed up and asked for his help.

Apparently a very important and dangerous man named Federov (Lazar Ristovski) in Russia is going to become its next president and US government doesn’t want that to happen. There’s a mole inside Federov’s circle and she has evidence against him that can destroy his campaign of becoming the president. Hanley wants Devereaux to rescue her before she gets exposed and also he wants the evidence against Federov. As it turns out this mole is Devereaux’s old girlfriend and he still has feelings for her. Of course he accepts the mission and decided to get back in action. Unfortunately though, a top CIA executive Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) found out about this mole and wants her taken out. He ordered his agents to assassinate her, one of these agents also included Devereaux’s protégé David Mason. Of course things gets messy when Devereaux and his old pal finally meet during a botched rescue. There were shootouts, explosions and car chases.

NovemberManStills

The plot of this movie was so convoluted that I sort of tuned out because it was not interesting to me. They introduced a lot of things but never really solved them by the time the movie ended. It’s one of those movies where it thinks it’s smarter than it’s actually is. Veteran director Roger Donaldson who at one point was on his way of becoming an A-list director, doesn’t seem to know what he wanted this movie to be. And to be honest, I don’t think he really care about telling a cohesive story or even staged a descent action scene. He and his cinematographer decided to adapt the visual that’s very similar to Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne films, unfortunately their movie looks pretty ugly compare to Greengrass’. Could be that maybe they don’t have the budget as big as the Bourne films but still the movie looked just awful. Even worse the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek felt like it’s written by amateur writers. The movie was based on a Bill Granger’s  novel called There Are No Spies, I’ve never read or even heard of the book before so I couldn’t make a comparison here.

NovemberManStill1

Performances wise, the only person who shines was Brosnan, since he’s also the producer of the movie, it seemed he really put a lot of heart into his performance here. Unfortunately his co-stars didn’t do much. Luke Bracey probably went to the same acting school as Taylor Kitsch since he has no charisma and didn’t even look believable during the action scenes. Ex-Bond girl Olga Kurylengo pretty much got stuck playing the same character since Quantum of Solace, in fact her storyline in this movie is very similar to that of Quantum. I couldn’t believe it! I just thought to myself, are the writers really that lazy and didn’t think no one would notice?

It’s really unfortunate how this movie turned out, I thought after so many years out of doing action movie, Brosnan would’ve learned his lesson and chose a good script. Apparently he didn’t and starred in another lousy action/spy picture. I really tried to find something positive to say about this movie but I really can’t. It’s ugly, boring and worse of all just a waste of time. Not recommended at all.

onereel

TedS_post


Have you seen The November Man? Well, what did you think?

Spotlight on My Favorite Bond –Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill

I have James Bond in my mind today, and in case some of you didn’t know, this coming October the Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th anniversary. So for Bond month we’ll have some related posts to mark the festivities. A few sites have started a Bond-related series, such as the Bond-a-thon that MTV Movie Blog is running right now and just yesterday, the movie they highlighted was Licence to Kill, woo hoo!

I’m glad they had something positive to say about it: Unlike the majority of the movies in the series, Bond has a believable motivation. We’ve known Felix Leiter since “Dr. No,” and when something genuinely awful happens to him, we care, and we care that Bond cares, especially when it kicks off a journey for vengeance.

But what got me overjoyed was last Friday my friend Michael sent me a link via Twitter to John Kenneth Muir’s appreciation post on Licence To Kill. I have intimated in more than one occasions that Timothy Dalton is my all time favorite Bond, as you probably have read in this post, but Mr. Muir absolutely nailed the reason why I love him so…

Beyond the stunts, Timothy Dalton absolutely excels as Bond in this film. He’s called upon to undergo a series of personal crises here, and gives the audience a fully human Bond who pushes himself to the limits of human endurance, both in terms of injury (as in the finale) and in terms of control over his emotions.  Some people worried that this Dalton Bond was “too sensitive,” but his is — pretty clearly — the Bond of the Ian Fleming books.  He smokes too much, drinks too much, and when he lets himself feel his emotions, he’s absolutely off the rails.

Oh my! I couldn’t say it better myself! I have seen this film recently and it absolutely renews my appreciation for it. Here’s the Bond resigning clip that shows that Bond has a heart… but still very much a bad ass!



So today I feel like indulging a bit and turn the spotlight on the Shakespearean-trained Welsh actor in his second outing as Bond… in pictorial… because sometimes, pictures speak so much louder than words!

Now, if you think the movie is devoid of humor, then you’d be wrong. Though Licence to Kill is by definition a much darker, grittier tale that’s a departure from the Roger Moore’s Bonds, but there are some fun, lighthearted moments scattered throughout, such as this one when Q shows up in Bond’s hotel room:

How Dalton came to play Bond

Director John Glen on set with Dalton

And for those who ever thought that Dalton was a ‘back-up’ Bond (like one Variety writer said in their recent post), well they need to do better research. The actor had said in The Living Daylights documentary that Albert Broccoli had offered him the role as far back as 1968 when he was only 24! It was Dalton himself who turned down the role, saying he was far too young for the role, “Originally I did not want to take over from Sean Connery. He was far too good, he was wonderful. I was about 24 or 25, which is too young. But when you’ve seen Bond from the beginning, you don’t take over from Sean Connery.”

Wikipedia also noted that he was approached again in the late 70s but he wasn’t keen on the direction the films were taking (this was Roger Moore’s era, natch!). It’s true that he finally accepted the role in 1986 when Pierce Brosnan couldn’t get his contract out of the TV series Remington Steele, but it didn’t mean that he was the producer’s second choice as Dalton was already considered before Brosnan even entered the picture!

In any case, it really is a shame Dalton only got two Bond movies under his belt. I like Daniel Craig, I mean Casino Royale is one of my favorite Bond movies now and you know I’m looking forward to Skyfall. But Dalton’s performance, which was way ahead of his time, will always be the one I remember most fondly. I’m sure glad that it seems that more people seem to appreciate Dalton and his Bond movies more as time goes by. Rightly so!


That’s it folks. Thoughts on Dalton and/or Licence To Kill? Well, let’s hear it!

007 Chatter: Our picks of Best & Worst Bond films from each decade

In anticipation for Bond 23, a.k.a. Skyfall coming on November 9th, 2012, Ted and I are starting a new monthly series called 007 CHATTER… look for it sometime in the first week of each month.

I’ve also added a new category for this, so click on 007 Chatter on the category drop-down menu for all Bond-related posts.

As the new batch of Skyfall new pics have just been released (you can see some over at Castor’s blog), it’s time for another 007 Chatter post. This time, both Ted and I take a look at our best and worst Bond films from each decade. Now, as I haven’t watched ALL of Sean Connery’s Bonds, my list will start from the 70s and up.

TED’s LIST

The 60s:

Many Bond fans will agree that this era contains many great Bond flicks so it’s quite a challenge for me to pick the best Bond film from this decade. Here are my choices for best and worst Bond film from the 60s:

Best: Thunderball (1965) –  It was hard picking this one over On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger and From Russia With Love but Thunderball is still my favorite Bond film of all time. As I stated previously on my Best Bond films post, Thunderball has everything you ask for in a Bond film: pretty girls, beautiful locales, good action sequences and of course a villain who’s trying to destroy the world.

Worst: You Only Live Twice (1967) This is probably the only Bond film from this decade that not many people talk about and it’s for a good reason. It contained probably the dumbest idea ever put in a Bond film and there were a lot dumb stuff that appeared in many of the Bond films, this one tops them all. Sean Connery put on a make-up so that appears to be Japanese, not only did the make looked awful and Connery looks nothing like an Asian person, it was quite offensive in my opinion. Now it wasn’t as offensive as Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of an Asian man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but it’s still quite bad. Besides being offensive, this Bond flick just wasn’t that interesting. The cinematography was awful and the script was badly-written. It’s the worst Bond film of this decade by far.

The 70s:

After the poor box office returns of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which has a more serious tone, the producers were afraid the audience might lose interest in the franchise. So they’ve decided to make Bond films into more of a light action/adventure and as a result, many of the Bond films from this decade were pretty dreadful.

Best: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – Out of Roger Moore’s entire Bond films; this may have been his most serious Bond. It’s not perfect but the film was a lot of fun, it was beautifully-shot by Claude Renoir and had some cool action sequences for its time. Also, it was tightly-edited by John Glen who would later direct five Bond films in the 80s.

Worst: Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – So this was the film that kick started the silly comedic tone of the franchise and they convinced Sean Connery, well actually the producers paid a then unheard-of $1.25mil to him, to come back and play Bond again. In a rare occasion, most of this film took place mainly on US soil and it has the first American Bond girl, Jill St. John. With the exception of a nifty car chase through the Vegas strip, this film was quite dreadful. It wasn’t fun or exiting, the plot made little sense to me and Connery looked like he’d rather be somewhere else than playing Bond again.

The 80s:

So the 80s was interesting as far as Bond films are concern, we saw three different actors portrayed the secret agent and it contained two of my favorite Bond films ever. But the decade also released some really bad Bond flicks.

Best: It was toss up but I have to go with License to Kill, my other favorite from this decade was For Your Eyes Only. I thought License to Kill (1989) was a better film because it was a more realistic take on the character and oh yeah, Timothy Dalton was great as Bond. I know many Bond fans hated him but I thought he’s closer to what Fleming had written on the novels.

Worst: Again a toss-up but the worst Bond flick from this decade was A View To A Kill (1985), but my other choice was Never Say Never Again. A couple of reasons why I chose A View To A Kill: first, the film was boring and how could you cast Christopher Walken play a villain and yet his character was so weak and nonthreatening? Second, when Never Say Never Again opened in theater back in 1983, it wasn’t considered the official Bond film because it was produced by another movie studio, Warner Bros., so for that reason it gets a pass from me. It’s now considered part of the Bond family because MGM bought all the rights from Warner back in 1997.

The 90s:

Well, it took a few years before we finally saw a new Bond flick back on the big screen in the mid 90s when GoldenEye opened in 1995. A new actor took over the role of the super secret agent. There were only 3 Bond films that came out in that decade, 2 good ones and the other was quite bad.

Best: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – I’m quite sure many people would’ve chosen GoldenEye over this one but to me this film is a lot more fun. As I mentioned in my previous article, I thought Pierce Brosnan didn’t look comfortable in his first outing as 007 but he looked like he had a lot of fun in this one and was very comfortable playing Bond. The film has some really cool action sequences, such as the shootout/car chase scene in the parking ramp and the motorcycle and helicopter chase through the streets of Hanoi (it’s actually filmed in Thailand). I also like the villain in the film, he’s not another Russian who wants to take over the world, he’s just a greedy media mogul who wants to start world war 3 so he can make more money.

Worst: The World Is Not Enough (1999) – When it was announced that Michael Apted was going to direct the next Bond flick, I thought to myself why did they hired a director whose films were mostly dramas? (Okay I’m hoping Sam Mendes would prove that a dramatic director can make a great action film with Skyfall) Well, my fears came true when I finally saw it and walked out of the theater feeling like the franchise is going downhill fast. Not all of it was Apted’s fault but he directed some really boring action sequences in the film, the plot was a snooze fest and the villains were quite weak. Oh did I mention that Denise Richards played a scientist in this film? ’nuff said.

2000s:

Well in the last decade, Brosnan starred in one Bond film and we were introduced a new Bond later in the decade.

Best: Casino Royale (2006) – After a couple of very bad Bond films the producers decided to reboot the franchise, even though the last film was the highest earning Bond film ever. They cast a younger Bond in Daniel Craig and went back to his early years as a reckless secret agent. The film received great reviews and was big box office hit. It’s my second favorite Bond film of all time and Craig did an amazing job playing 007.

Worst: Die Another Day (2002) – This was the film that resulted in the reboot of the franchise. It was a huge box office hit but critics and fans all agreed that it was one of the worst Bond films ever made. To be honest, I actually enjoyed the first half of this film but the rest of the film was a disaster. I’m not a huge fan of Halle Berry so I thought she was one of the worst Bond girls ever. You might remember, MGM actually considered expanding her character into a stand-alone film. Fortunately her Catwoman film tanked so bad, the idea was scrapped. Also, Brosnan looked like he’d rather be somewhere else than playing Bond again.

RUTH’s LIST

Since I haven’t watched all of Sean Connery’s Bond flicks, I’m going to skip the 60s and goes right to the following decade.

The 70s:

Best: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – I totally agree with Ted on this one, and interestingly enough I had just read this awesome review by Dan over at FogsMovieReviews and I wholeheartedly agree it’s certainly the high point of the Moore era. If you saw my post about Mozart a few weeks ago, this is actually the movie that introduced me to Mozart’s music, ahah, what do you know right? 😀 I think I’m partial to Moore’s Bonds that have Jaws in it and he’s got quite a bit of screen time here. I also like Barbara Bach as the sexy but sophisticated Bond girl, waaay too much cleavage but I’m sure the boys don’t mind. Oh and that amphibian car is way cool even today!

Worst: It’s a toss-up between Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun – but if I have to pick just one, I’d have to go with the latter as I’m really creeped out by the dwarf from Fantasy Island as the henchman to Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga. Lee made for a pretty sinister Saruman but he’s a pretty lame Bond villain as well. Overall this just wasn’t a memorable Bond flick to me, I mean I don’t even remember who the main Bond girl was, I just knew that Maud Adams died in this one but she’s of course had a much bigger role in Octopussy.

The 80s:

As I grew up watching a bunch of Bond movies in this decade, it’s really going to be tough to pick just one favorite. This is a special year for me as there are four Bond movies I like released in the 80s, two from Roger Moore and two from Timothy Dalton. Octopussy is more of a guilty pleasure though.

Best: I LOVE The Living Daylight as it’s Dalton’s first outing as Bond, but given the awful villain in that movie (Joe Don Baker, seriously??), I’d have to agree with Ted and pick Licence To Kill (1989). Dalton is even more bad-ass as the rogue spy, but he’s tough guy with a heart as you could still see his broken heart over what happened to his friend Felix. I do think this film is so massively underrated as now people are praising Daniel Craig being so ruthless and hard-edged, but Dalton had done exactly that and more. Plus I think he looks far sexier with wet hair (well just sexier overall) 🙂 It’s also got two bonafide villains, Robert Davi and his henchman Benicio Del Toro (you can hardly recognized him as he’s so much leaner then with no heavy bags under his eyes). Davi is especially charismatic as the suave but sadistic Sanchez, and his friendly scenes with Bond up until the brutal truck-chase finale is fun to watch.

Worst: Never Say Never Again (1983). Really, there’s no contest here as Connery should never have accepted the role as Bond as he looked more like grandpa Bond, which made it all the creepier seeing him wooing Kim Basinger who’s 23 years his junior! It’s also a non-EON production so it’s not an ‘official’ Bond flick, which is why there was no James Bond theme or the gun-barrel opening sequence in this one. I saw this long ago and can’t recall much about it, just as well as it surely wasn’t worth remembering.

The 90s:

Best: Goldeneye (1995) – Though Pierce Brosnan doesn’t rank high on my favorite Bond list, I actually quite enjoyed this one. I like Sean Bean as the villain with a personal vendetta (one of my fave Bond villains in fact), and Famke Janssen certainly made for an indelible villainess with an unforgettable name, Xenia Onatopp (really, it’s right up there with Pussy Galore!). But most of all, I like this one as it’s the first time we see Judi Dench as M (love her spot-on description of Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”), which is perfect casting that continues to pay off to this day! The action scenes are pretty well-done and the customary car chase of Bond’s Aston Martin vs. Onatopp’s red Ferrari delivers its optimum good fun. Even the preposterous tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg is massively enjoyable.

Btw, the reason I pick this over Tomorrow Never Dies (though I love Michelle Yeoh as a kick-ass Bond girl) is that I can’t stand Jonathan Pryce as the villain. The idea of making the Bond villain as a media mogul is inspired but I wish they had cast a more compelling actor for the part (someone more convincingly sinister like Terrence Stamp perhaps?)

Worst: The World Is Not Enough (1999) – There are only 3 Bond movies in the 90s and hands down this fares as not only the worst of the decade but one of the worst of ALL Bond movies! As Ted already mentioned, not only is Denise Richards plays a rocket scientist, her name is Christmas Jones… Doctor Christmas Jones!! I do like Sophie Marceau as the mysterious Bond girl Elektra, but Robert Carlyle as the bullet-infested Renard is lackluster at best. He’s the least sophisticated Bond villain ever, a far cry from the regal but deranged tycoons like Moonraker‘s Drax or The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Stromberg. Mostly though, it’s just unbearable watching Denise being so far out of her elements, I really have no clue what Michael Apted was thinking casting her. Definitely THE worst Bond girl ever!

2000s:

Best: Casino Royale (2006) – I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this movie. It ranks perhaps as my favorite Bond film ever, which is such a pleasant surprise given my initial doubts about Daniel Craig. This is perhaps the most-watched Bond movies as I’ve seen it a half a dozen times and still love every minute of it. It’s not only a great Bond film, it’s a great film, period. The story is well-written, it’s got a sexy & smart Bond girl played by the stunning Eva Green, and it boasts an amazing scenery, especially the Italian location, especially the one in Venice. I know that Le Chiffre isn’t the strongest Bond villain, but I actually like Mads Mikkelsen as an actor.

Worst: Die Another Day (2002)This movie is just ludicrous from start to finish with absolutely no redemptive value whatsoever. Terrible villain, lame Bond girl (I thought the gratuitous sex scene with Halle Berry is much too vulgar for a Bond flick) and there’s the invisible cars to make the agony complete! Oh and did I mention Madonna is in this also? This movie also has the most product placements in a Bond movie, from no less than 20 companies (per Wiki).


Check out Ted’s profile and links to his other posts


Well those are our picks for best and worst Bond films from each decade. What are YOUR choices?