Thursday Movie Picks: Psychological Thrillers

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Psychological Thrillers.

This is a very popular sub-genre and I’m actually surprised how many I’ve seen. This time I’m going with a theme-within-a-theme so I’m picking mostly those with a strong female lead, and three out of four leads are nominated for Oscars. Here they are in the order of release:

Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)

sleepingwithenemy-poster

A young woman fakes her own death in an attempt to escape her nightmarish marriage, but discovers it is impossible to elude her controlling husband.

I saw this the year it was released with my older brother, my cinema buddy at the time as I was still in high school in Jakarta. Given Indonesia didn’t have regulations like MPAA, kids of any age could pretty much see any R-rated movies. I even saw risqué stuff like Basic Instinct, 9-1/2 Weeks, Wild Orchid, etc. in the theater, with my brother, no less!

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In any case, I remember this movie being quite suspenseful. I still remember when Julia Roberts‘ character pretended to drown so she could change her identity from her possessive husband. Just a year after Pretty Woman was released, she’s definitely flexing her dramatic muscle and I think she’s pretty good here. Patrick Bergin made for a pretty scary villain who’d stop at nothing to get his wife back.


Primal Fear (1996)

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An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.

I’m breaking my theme-within-a-theme of movies with a female lead, as I really wanted to include this film!

This might have been the first time I saw Edward Norton on screen, which happens to be his feature film debut. The main draw for me was Richard Gere as the Chicago defense attorney who takes on the case pro bono. It’s a role that fits Gere nicely and I think he’s a more versatile actor than people give him credit for. But the star here is definitely Ed Norton who apparently beat out over 2000+ actors who auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler, including Matt Damon.

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It turns out to be a career-making role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win. I think he was scary good in this role… his shy mannerism, stammer, etc. feels believable and like Gere’s character, you wanted to believe he’s innocent. This movie’s got one of the most chilling ending a la The Usual Suspect.

Interesting Trivia:

Pedro Pascal stated in a 2014 interview that his first ever audition was for the role of Aaron Stampler.


Black Swan (2010)

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A committed dancer struggles to maintain her sanity after winning the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”.

I’m a huge fan of ballet and even took some ballet lessons as a kid. I even remember going to see a Russian Ballet performance of Swan Lake in high school and met some of the male ballerinas backstage. There’s something so alluring and mystical about this graceful dance that takes such an insane amount of rigorous training and unrelenting dedication.

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It’s a perfect subject matter to exploit for Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker with a predilection for dark, disturbing films. It’s perhaps one of Natalie Portman’s most memorable roles since Léon: The Professional and V For Vendetta. I think her Oscar win is well-deserved, though I think Vincent Cassel‘s haunting performance is also pretty Oscar-worthy. Barbara Hershey as her dominating mother and Mila Kunis as her rival ballerina are also memorable, I particularly remember Kunis being quite the comic relief in an otherwise somber and unsettling affair.

Interesting Trivia:

Natalie Portman met her future husband, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, on the set of this film. Portman herself pointed out the irony that his character in the film scoffs when asked if he’d have sex with Nina, and joked that obviously he was a good actor.

Gone Girl (2014)

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With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

I was already familiar with Rosamund Pike as she’s one of the Bond girls in the godawful Die Another Day, Jane in 2015’s Pride & Prejudice, as well as supporting turns in An Education, Jack Reacher, etc. She’s always been good but she’s exceptional here in an Oscar-worthy role. David Fincher + Gillian Flynn colab is certainly the perfect ingredient for a solid thriller, and Fincher was on a streak as most of the actors kept getting nominated for Oscars under his direction. I was rooting for Amy the whole time, even after the reveal of what she did, which is a testament to Pike’s amazing performance as an antiheroine.

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The supporting cast is an interesting mix. Ben Affleck‘s casting is perfect here as a handsome, somewhat charming but not-so-bright husband. Then there are Tyler Perry (who I had never seen before on screen at that point) and Neil Patrick Harris. I’m still baffled by Harris’ casting to this day, especially for a scene so sexual and bloody.

Interesting Trivia:

Ben Affleck would constantly sing ’80s songs in between takes. Impressed, Tyler Perry decided to start a game that ended up lasting the entire duration of filming. Perry would start to sing the most random song he could think of to see if Affleck would start singing along. According to Perry, Affleck knew all of the words to every single song Perry threw at him, including Broadway showtunes and songs by Barbra Streisand.


What do you think of my picks? What are YOUR favorite psychological thrillers?

Music Break: Favorite songs from Garry Marshall’s classic ‘Pretty Woman’

I was still in high school when Pretty Woman came out and it was a pretty huge hit back then. I haven’t seen this movie in over twenty years, but the passing of director Garry Marshall this past week made me re-watch some of the clips. This and Beaches are my two favorite films from the late filmmaker, and no doubt this movie is one he’ll be most remembered for.

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It’s the 90s version of the classic Cinderella tale, as the protagonist’s BFF (played by the awesome Laura San Giacomo) puts it… Cinde-f*king*rella. The pairing of America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts as a Hollywood Blvd prostitute with former American Gigolo Richard Gere as the to-die-for billionaire is just perfect. They have amazing chemistry that you’re dying for them to be together. And who doesn’t love Vivian, Julia’s huge grin and infectious laugh are so adorable!

I might rewatch it again one of these days. I remember it being a funny, heart-warming and of course dreamy feel-good movie with so many iconic scenes!

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The soundtrack was a staple in the early 90s for me. Now, normally I’d be listening to a movie’s score more than the songs featured in the soundtrack, but for some reason I can’t remember the score from James Newton Howard. But the song compilation album is awesome. It must’ve been one of the CDs I actually brought to college and you know what, these songs are still fun to listen to today. It’s been great walking down memory lane listening to these songs this past week.

So here are some of my favorites… 

I’m not much into sappy love songs, but I did have a thing for the Swedish pop rock duo Roxette 😉

My brother Paul was such a huge fan of Peter Cetera, both when he was still part of the Chicago band and his solo effort. I have to admit I was a bit of a sucker for his love ballads 🙂


Last but not least, the Kiss song isn’t technically in the soundtrack, but hey don’t you just love Prince!

It’s really devastating that Prince and Mr. Marshall are gone the same year! 😦


Hope you enjoy this week’s music break! What’s your favorite ‘Pretty Woman’ song(s)?

Question of the Week: Which movie(s) are you looking forward to in March?

MarchReleases

Now that award season is officially over… we can all look forward to what else 2015 has in store for us. February is practically dead in terms of new releases, in fact I only saw Jupiter Ascending & Kingsman in the theater. But there are more intriguing stuff coming next month. I have rsvp-ed for The Second Best Marigold Hotel and Cinderella‘s screenings and Ted will be going to Chappie & Run All Night in the next couple of weeks.

I might rent Get Hard and Serena, but I have zero interest in seeing yet another Taken variation that Liam Neeson is doing, Run All Night. I mean it just looks so darn awful from the trailer, oh why’s Ed Harris doing in there?? [face palm] Oh and Sean Penn’s The Gunman is directed by the first Taken‘s director too, and so he apparently wants a piece of the action moolah from that bankable violent thriller. As for Insurgent, well I’ve completely lost interest in that Divergent franchise even though I quite like the first movie. So maybe I’ll rent that on a slow night.

Anyway, you can check out the full March Release schedule here over at IMDb, but here are some of the movies I’m looking forward to seeing:

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals – Sonny pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel.

I LOVE the first movie, the ensemble cast is simply splendid. I mean you can’t beat Maggie Smith & Judi Dench, two of my favorite Dames, together again in a movie. This time we’ve got Richard Gere to spice things up 😉

Cinderella

A live-action retelling of the classic fairy tale about a servant step-daughter who wins the heart of a prince.

I grew up w/ Disney Princess movies so naturally I’m drawn to this. Plus I quite like Kenneth Branagh as director so he’s another draw for me to see it!

The Riot Club

Two first-year students at Oxford University join the infamous Riot Club, where reputations can be made or destroyed over the course of a single evening.

All those gorgeous British boys doing VERY bad things. I dunno about you but that intrigues me 😉 Plus I’ve had a crush on Sam Reid ever since BELLE (he’s in the far right in the pic below), and Jeremy Irons’ hunky son Max is in the main cast, too. It’s from the director of An Education, which I like, so hopefully it’ll be good!

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Seymour

Director Ethan Hawke explores the life and lessons of piano teacher Seymour Bernstein.

I heard about this after I saw Predestination and it sounds like a great doc! I love that Hawke is doing a personal project like this, I hope this arrives on Netflix soon.

Chappie

In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.

I proceed this one w/ caution even though I LOVE sci-fi that deals w/ man vs robot relationships. I was quite disappointed w/ Neill Blomkamp‘s Elysium so hopefully this has more of an engaging and emotional story like District 9.


So which March movie(s) are you most excited about folks?

Rental Pick: Arbitrage (2012)

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It’s been a while since I saw Richard Gere in anything. It must’ve been a good five years or so. Well, it’s nice to see him in a meaty role that proves he’s got the dramatic chops to go with his good looks. At 63, he’s still quite a looker. Even paired with someone half his age, he somehow makes it look far less creepy than it could’ve been.

Gere plays Robert Miller, a multi-billionaire who seems to have it all. He has a successful career and a beautiful wife. He’s about to sell the seemingly profitable hedge fund he’s been managing with his daughter for a boatload of money. But of course, within minutes of the film’s opening we realize that Mr. Miller is in over his head, financially AND personally. I don’t know how this guy sleeps at night with all the lies he’s trying to cover up from everyone, especially those close to him.

One night, a tragic accident that kills his mistress propels his situation from bad to worse. Robert then turns to an unlikely person for help, which gets him even deeper into the rabbit hole, though it’s all his own doing. What I like about this film is the in-depth character study of about a person we could totally see happening in real life. Robert is not some fantastical character, there’s a ring of truth that made me think it could’ve been based on a real person. The kind of decisions he makes throughout the film reveals so much about his character and the film becomes an intriguing morality tale.

Richard Gere is in top form here, he certainly has the elite look and gravitas that makes him perfectly suited for a person of power. But he also displays a fine layer of vulnerability here that makes us still sympathize with Robert despite all the VERY bad things he’s done in his life. At times the film feels like a procedural drama when Robert is being investigated by a resolute detective Bryer (Tim Roth), but overall the film never loses its focus.

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The supporting cast is superb all around. I like Brit Marling‘s understated performance in After Earth, but here she proves her versatility as an actress. There’s an explosive scene between her and Gere that’s quite thrilling to watch. Nate Parker and French model/actress Laetitia Casta have small but very crucial roles here, and both of them did a decent job. Last but not least, Susan Sarandon once again lends a memorable performance as Gere’s loyal wife. Like Gere, the 66-year old actress still looks luminous for her age, and still has the sex appeal to hold her own against even a former Victoria’s Secret model!

Though some of the financial/investment jargon at times got lost on me, the film manages to keep me engaged from start to finish. The plot is complex enough where I didn’t see the twists from miles away, and that finale at a banquet in his honor is pretty darn satisfying. Kudos to Nicholas Jarecki who wrote and directed his debut film with such an adept hand, he’s definitely a newbie filmmaker to watch for. This film proves that you don’t need bombastic shoot outs or crazy car chases to create genuine tension.

Final Thoughts: I LOVE cerebral thrillers like this that blends mystery and morality tale, more of a slow burn but it really makes an impact when the time is right. The real thrill here isn’t the special effects or clever camera work, but more in the taut script and performances. Though the film is aesthetically-shot and full of beautiful people, the story still takes center stage and that to me, is the beauty of this film.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen Arbitrage? Well, what did you think?

August Movie Watching Recap & Movie of the Month

AugustRecap

Well, that was that, Summer is unofficially over. Yes I know the weather is still going to be pretty warm for most of us, even those in the Northern hemisphere, but once we enter the ‘ber’ month, you could say that Fall is in the air. To be honest with you, I’m ok with that. I LOVE Autumn. I love the cooler temps, the Fall fashion, the quieter movies, and of course Twin Cities Film Fest is coming soon! Check out the early look of the 2013 lineup if you haven’t already.

Well, since hits and comments are definitely down in the Summer, a lot of people are likely have missed a lot of my blog posts 😉 Here are some of my posts this past month:

New-to-me Films Watched:

DragonsKnightDragon Knight

Arbitrage

Arbitrage

ElysiumElysium

TheButlerThe Butler

JobsJobs

TheWorldsEndThe World’s End

AustenlandAustenland

Mud

MUD

ShadowDancer

Shadow Dancer

I never got around to reviewing Arbitrage, but I might still do that as a Rental Pick post. It’s a pretty good drama with Richard Gere in top form. Great performances from Susan Sarandon & Brit Marling as his wife & daughter. I was very impressed by MUD and Shadow Dancer. Two very different dramas but both featured strong performances and kind of a minimalistic-but-efficient script and direction. Both are quite emotionally-charged where the real special effects are the taut writing and top notch acting. I miss seeing Clive Owen on screen, the last film I saw him in was Gertrude & Gelhorne on the plane last December.

SharkWeek

Oh, I also watched a few episodes of Shark Week from Discovery Channel. I didn’t realize Netflix has them but we were actually looking for some Documentaries to watch but ended up watching a couple episodes of The Great White Invasion episodes. Fascinating stuff but pretty gory as well as they did re-enactments of people who got attacked in various parts of the world.


Rewatches:

Titanic_RoseTitanic

SupermanReturnsSuperman Returns

PridePrejudice2005Pride & Prejudice

I actually only got to about a third of Titanic. I was just bored one night and saw that it was on Netflix streaming, so I thought what the heck. It’s been over a decade since I saw it and boy the CGI looked so obvious on the long shots on top of the boat. Funny how I briefly had a crush on Leo when it came out, but now he just looked like a little boy next to the womanly Kate Winslet.

Not sure why I felt like watching Superman Returns last week but I stopped about 10 minutes before the ending with the ill-advised part with Supes’ kid. I still love the flying sequence and the plane rescue scenes though. Following the screening of Austenland, I felt the urge to watch Pride & Prejudice. I think I love Joe Wright’s version even more than the BBC version, and yes, I boldly say Matthew MacFadyen is my favorite Mr. Darcy as well 😉


Movie of the Month:

MUDposter

I had been wanting to see MUD since last April at MSP Film Fest. I’ve actually got the ticket in hand but I had to bail due to a darn snow storm! In any case, this film was SO worth the wait. Shrewd script & direction from writer/director Jeff Nichols, paired with a fine, career-topping performance from Matthew McConaughey. Definitely lives up to the hype!


Well, that’s my monthly recap folks. What’s YOUR favorite film you saw in August?

Weekend Roundup – Back from blogging break

Hello everyone! Hope you had a nice weekend, yeah I know it’s Tuesday already so you’ve probably forgotten all about it, ahah.

Well, I saw the Prometheus chatter all over Twitter though I did hear that it got beaten by Madagascar 3 at the box office by about $10 mil! (per BoxOfficeMojo) Man, those animated kids movies really are a force to be reckoned with, but at least the Ridley Scott alien flick still ranks 10th amongst R-rated movies with $51 mil, so not bad business at all.

Logan Marshall-Green’s uncanny resemblance to Tom Hardy is out of this world!

I haven’t got a chance to read any of your reviews, yet. I literally only had time to check my email for a half hour since last Friday night, so suffice to say I didn’t have time to blog nor watch any movies. But I really had a great time hanging out with my best friend [we’ve been good friends since we were 13!] and seeing her on her graduation from De Paul University. Walking around downtown always reminds me of Nolan’s Batman movies, too, I should probably order those tickets for The Dark Knight Rises soon!

I also got to meet my blogging friend Kristin from All Eyes on Screen blog, who is as awesome as her always well-written and original posts, like this one she did on Five Memorable Courtroom Scenes, inspired by her first-time viewing of To Kill a Mockingbird, yay! That’s right Kris, better late than never. It was lovely meeting you and chatting with you, always so blessed to meet a like-minded people who share the same passion, in movies and otherwise. I hope you’ll visit MN soon, girl, I’ll take you out shopping for sure! 🙂

Well, the closest thing I got to some movie watching is catching a snippet of several movies playing on TV: An Officer an a Gentleman, a decent Navy drama starring a young Richard Gere in uniform [yowza!] and a race-car action flick Driven starring Sylvester Stallone & Burt Reynolds, which undoubtedly deserved all the Razzie awards they were nominated for in 2002, especially for Estella Warren who has no business in the acting industry. But this TV series from the early 90s Jailbreakers should’ve won a Razzie version for TV as well, I was alternating between admiring Antonio Sabato Jr’s exquisite face to cringing on his dumb acting. I think anything with Shannen Doherty is naturally cringe-worthy. It made me chuckle to see Adrien Brody in that show, glad to see he’s come a loooong way since then.

Well, that is my lame weekend movie viewing, folks. I’m 100% certain you’ve seen far better movies than I did, ahah.


So what does your movie-viewing weekend look like? Did you get to see Prometheus?