MINNEAPOLIS ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL opens this week!!

MSP Film Society announces the complete line-up of films in the 40th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), running Thursday, May 13 through Sunday, May 23 as a hybrid festival. MSPIFF is Minnesota’s largest film festival and, at 40 years running, a Minnesota cultural institution. MSPIFF40 will present 180+ films by both veteran and emerging filmmakers from around the world, available virtually to audiences throughout Minnesota—and over half available throughout the US!—at MSPfilm.org, plus a selection of special outdoor screenings in

MSPIFF40 opens with a special outdoor screening of SUMMER OF SOUL. Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, SUMMER OF SOUL presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record—created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion.

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The film will also be available to screen virtually for 48 hours, beginning at 7pm on Opening Night, at MSPfilm.org. SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

MSPIFF40’s CLOSING PRESENTATION on SATURDAY MAY 22 is AFTER ANTARCTICA, directed by Tasha Van Zandt.

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In 1989, Will Steger traversed Antarctica, the longest and most treacherous crossing of the continent in history. Now, over 30 years later, director Tasha Van Zandt follows him again across the continent, which is slowly coming apart due to the global warming crisis.


The Milgrom Tribute (named after the founder of the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society, Al Milgrom) recognizes the eminent, politically-minded, multi-award winning Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland. Ms. Holland is known as a trailblazing artist whose storytelling often elevates outsider perspectives and whose work as an auteur in the cinematic world is widely recognized as deeply personal and historically significant.

Ms. Holland is known as a trailblazing artist whose storytelling often elevates outsider perspectives and whose work as an auteur in the cinematic world is widely recognized as deeply personal and historically significant. I’ve reviewed one of her films, Mr. Jones, about the Holodomor, that is the man-made famine-genocide in Ukraine in early 1930s, and I look forward to seeing her other films screening at the festival: Europa Europa and Charlatan.

Here’s the trailer for EUROPA, EUROPA with Holland explaining her lighter approach to the holocaust story:
I’ve signed up for the FREE discussion featuring Holland and film critic David D’Arcy live via Zoom this Sunday, May 16 at 2:00pm CDT. 
Minnesota Made Films

MSP Film Society continues our commitment of year-round support to Minnesota filmmakers in multiple ways, from waiving submission fees to MSPIFF, to highlighting the selected films in MSPIFF’s publicity efforts, and offering weeklong theatrical runs and one-off screening opportunities at St. Anthony Main Theatre for festival favorites. Most recently, we have begun to offer our virtual platform so filmmakers can securely screen their films to audiences throughout Minnesota.

One of the feature films screening this year is SAY HIS NAME: FIVE DAYS FOR GEORGE FLOYD.

The incomprehensible police murder of George Floyd on May 25th, sparked a global uprising, the epicenter in Director Cy Dodson’s Minneapolis neighborhood, revealing an immersive observation of unrest in the days between the killing of George Floyd and the charges filed against police officer Derek Chauvin.


You can browse the entire MINNESOTA-MADE lineup here, which includes narrative features, documentaries and short films. Speaking of short films, one of the shorts that I had the privilege to produce is screening at the festival as well!

Written and directed by Julie Koehnen, MASTER SERVANT centers on an ambitious, young railroad executive comes face to face with his own moral decay in his blind pursuit of wealth and status. You can watch the trailer on its official website

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Julie’s follow-up to Master Servant, AWAKENING, which is also set in the Gilded Age, is also screening at the festival. Glad to see fellow MN filmmakers and actors I’ve become acquainted with whose short films made it to the festival, such as AWAY WE GO, THE LAST STATION and PIT STOP.

women and films

Naturally I’m always excited to see women-directed films, and there’s a special Women & Films program you can filter on MSPIFF online schedule!

I’ve already mentioned two films by Agnieszka Holland above, so here are just a few other titles I’m excited about:

  • Holler
  • My Donkey, My Lover & I
  • I Was, I Am, I Will Be
  • The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet
  • Love, It Was Not (doc)
  • The Translator
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit*
  • Women is Losers
  • Dream Horse

Holler has been making waves in various film festivals and its director Nicole Riegel was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2020. Check out the trailer:

I actually got an early screener of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and I absolutely love it. Stay tuned for my review of it sometime next week!

In the documentary category, there’s LOVE, IT WAS NOT which centers on a taboo romance between a Jewish prisoner and an Austrian SS officer at Auschwitz.


There are a few films starring big-name actors who were recently nominated for Oscars (Riz Ahmed) or stars in a film that won an Oscar this year (Mads Mikkelsen).

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MC Zed (Riz Ahmed) is a talented and angry young man, a British-Pakistani rapper seemingly at odds with the world and his family in equal measure. He’s channeled that anger into music, but on the cusp of stardom, his own body betrays him.

RIDERS OF JUSTICE

Military man Markus (Mads Mikkelsen), returns home to care for his teenage daughter after his wife is killed in a tragic train accident. But when a survivor of the wrecked train surfaces claiming foul play, Markus begins to suspect his wife was murdered.

UNDINE

Lastly, I’ve been a huge fan of German writer/director Christian Petzold ever since Phoenix and Transit. Here he collaborates again with Transit’s Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer once again. I like both actors and this story looks intriguing!

Undine works as a historian lecturing on Berlin’s urban development. But when the man she loves leaves her, the ancient myth catches up with her. Undine has to kill the man who betrays her and return to the water.


MSPIFF lineup

Which of these MSPIFF movies are you looking forward to?

TCFF 2020 Reviews: The Sound of Metal

It was only my second time back inside a theater since March, but I caught one of the Twin Cities Film Fest in-person screenings yesterday. The Sound of Metal, a film distributed by Amazon Studios, is set to be released theatrically on November 20th, and will stream on Prime Video in December 2020. The film stars Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke as Ruben, a drummer and his girlfriend Lou, a singer in the punk metal band Blackgammon. They live in their airstream trailer between gigs and make a living while on tour of metal bands. Ruben, a former heroin addict and metal head, starts out in euphoria as he furiously jams out on his drums as Lou screams the lyrics to their songs. Soon thereafter, Reuben gets a slight ring in his ears, which turns into a full blown dull roar. It leaves him only able to hear all surrounding noises muffled beyond recognition.

The situation that Ruben and Lou are in leaves them no choice but to put their tour on hold as Ruben seeks help for his newly diagnosed hearing loss. When Lou leaves in a cab to catch a flight, Ruben heads to a deaf community, headed by the calm and cool Joe (Paul Raci), who tells Ruben that he reads lips. Joe, a former addict himself, also tells Ruben that he lost his hearing in Vietnam War but he insists that he and everyone living at the deaf community believe that their deafness is not a handicap, but rather a tool to build community around. Soon enough, Ruben is immersed in this deaf community and even learns sign language and makes friends with others around his age and even some deaf kids, who are supervised and taught in the classroom by Diane (Lauren Ridloff – a deaf actress who I remember with fondness from AMC’s post-apocalyptic series The Walking Dead).

Ruben is determined to return to “being inside the sound” and is found at odds with Joe, who is a religious man. Ruben, a self-proclaimed atheist, doesn’t understand when Joe tells him “those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you.” He acts on his desires and tries to reconnect with Lou, but by that time, his ability to grasp his life-altering change has completely changed the kind of person he is. Even when he is given the chance of some hearing, he is much more at peace and relishes the stillness of his new-found life. Riz Ahmed brings inspiration and passion to his performance, but his ability to showcase the character’s vulnerabilities make this portrayal very real and believable. Olivia Cooke brings a sense of loss to her character (we learn something about her mother in the movie) and how singing in a punk rock band helps her cope with her circumstances. Director Darius Marder also does a great job putting his audience in Ruben’s head, hearing — or not hearing — everything as it happens.

The film features closed captioning throughout the film which helps us as viewers understand everything happening from start to finish. I can see The Sound of Metal competing for some awards this year, especially for Riz Ahmed’s performance as the confounded punk metal band drummer. This film adds to a growing list of strong films from Amazon Studio that will have limited theatrical releases and also stream on Prime Video in late 2020 or early 2021, including other Twin Cities Film Fest titles Herself, Uncle Frank and Sylvie’s Love.


The 2020 Twin Cities Film Fest has ONE pass available for purchase that you won’t want to miss out on. The All Access STREAMING Pass will give you access to all of our 70 films for only $50, that’s less than $1 per movie! This pass can be used as many times as you would like during the 10 days of the festival (October 22nd-31st) on our streaming platform and website.


2020 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST SCHEDULE

(Only Available to Sponsors, Donors and Members – Reservation Required)

Friday Oct 30th
Herself,
Phyllida Lloyd – 6:30pm
Uncle Frank, Alan Ball – 8:30pm

Saturday Oct 31st
Nomadland
, Chloé Zhao – 6pm and 8:30pm


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org

FlixChatter Review: VENOM (2018)

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Review by: Vitali Gueron

The next Marvel Comics superhero action movie released by Sony Pictures in 2018 is Venom. The movie is the first film in Sony’s Marvel Universe, which is auxiliary to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Think The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man: Homecoming, etc.) This means that the studio intended to start a new shared universe of Marvel characters featuring those which Sony possesses film rights to and they also intend for the film to share the world of Spider-Man: Homecoming. The film is directed by Ruben Fleischer and stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom, alongside Michelle Williams as Anne Weying, and Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake/Riot.

Venom basically centers on the story of Eddie Brock (Hardy), an investigative journalist who is dating Anne Weying (Williams), a District Attorney in San Francisco. Brock scores an interview with Carlton Drake (Ahmed) who is the CEO of The Life Foundation, and their research facility in San Francisco has been hit a lawsuit regarding Drake’s use of human trials to conduct research. When The Life Foundation discovers a comet covered in symbiotic lifeforms, they bring four samples back to Earth, but one escapes and causes the ship to crash. They recover three symbiots and transport them to their research facility, but the fourth escapes and takes human hosts as it makes it way to San Francisco. Brock is approached by Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), one of Drake’s scientists who wants to help Brock expose him because she disagrees with his use of human trails. Skirth helps Brock break into the research facility to search for evidence, but a symbiote escapes from the body of woman used for human trials and transfers itself into Brock’s body. When Drake discovers Skirth’s betrayal, he kills her and sends a team to retrieve the symbiote from Brock. The symbiote takes over Brock’s body and transforms him into a monstrous creature that fights off the attackers.

The symbiote makes contact with Brock, and tells him that it is called Venom. It explains that the comet that The Life Foundation discovered is actually an invasion force that is searching for new worlds where the symbiotes can possess and devour their inhabitants. Venom offers to spare Brock if Brock helps the symbiotes achieve their goal, and he gets to possess the superhuman attributes that the symbiote gives him. Brock soon learns that the symbiote has two weaknesses: high-pitched noises and fire. Weying dumps Brock after she gets fired for helping Brock sneak into The Life Foundation but later she helps Brock when he struggles to cope with Venom’s strengths and weaknesses. Although Venom claims the Brock’s organ damage is a fixable part of their symbiosis, Weying uses an MRI machine to weaken the symbiote long enough for Brock to separate from it. Brock is then captured by Drake’s men. As the fourth symbiote Riot makes its way to San Francisco, it overpowers Drake and makes him take Riot in a Life Foundation space vessel to collect the rest of the symbiotes and bring them to Earth.

Weying reluctantly lets Venom take over her body so that they can free Brock from Drake’s capture. When Venom regains control of Brock’s body, it tells Brock that it has been convinced to help protect the Earth from other symbiotes through his understanding/connection with Brock and the human race, and they attempt to stop Riot (in Drake’s body) with Weying’s help. SPOILERS (highlight to read): Venom damages Riot’s space vessel as it takes off, causing it to explode and kill Riot (and Drake’s body). Weying also believes that Venom died in the explosion and that Brock is no longer taken over by Venom after this. However, Venom did not die and it secretly remains inside Brock and they set out to protect the city from dangerous criminals.

At the end, Brock goes back to investigative journalism and a future plot point is discussed in a mid-credit scene, featuring serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). This is probably the most interesting part of the movie, as the other parts seem like they’ve been used before in Iron Man, Thor or Captain America. I am intrigued to what Woody Harrelson’s character will bring in future installments of this comic universe. Sadly, Venom was not a very strong movie in my opinion. What made it watchable was Tom Hardy, and the crazy voice he used as Venom.

Overall, this was a fun and intriguing movie with a very long and scattered plot line. While Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams tried to make their characters seem interesting and warm, they were not very successful in doing so. Hardy should take a page out of Deadpool and write some of him own lines for Venom 2, just as Ryan Reynolds did for Deadpool 2. Perhaps Hardy’s humor could benefit him more when he is in charge of what he says. Here’s to hoping the inevitable sequel is better than the first Venom.


Have you seen ‘VENOM’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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I don’t call myself a Star Wars groupie and honestly I was rather lukewarm about The Force Awakens. At the same time I didn’t hate the prequels trilogy (episode 1-3) though I have to admit there were tons of problems. But the more I hear about Rogue One and that amazing international cast, the more I look forward to it. Well, if only all prequels were as good as this one.

The story is set before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) which as you might recall opens with Princess Leia aboard her starship with the stolen plans to restore freedom to the galaxy, as she’s being pursued by the evil Empire. The fact that George Lucas never explained just how Leia got those stolen plans lends itself to a great spinoff/prequel and in many ways it’s as intriguing a story as the origin of Darth Vader. At the center of the Rebel Alliance is a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), shown as a little girl sent to flee by her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) as he’s about to be captured by the Empire and finish the work he’s started, that is creating the Death Star.

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The rest of the film is quite action-packed, as Jyn tries to break free from the rebels in a rescue mission. I love the first introduction of her with K-2SO (voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk), the droid is definitely a lively character and he’s even more memorable than BB8 with his dry wit. The rest of the rebel group is made up of an awesomely-diverse international cast: Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as Imwe’s loyal friend Baze Malbus. I don’t even mind there’s no Jedi in this movie. I gotta say Donnie Yen is my fave of the bunch, he’s got the most memorable intro with his martial arts skills, but he’s also got some funny one liners! Who knew he’d be the comic relief of the movie along with Tudyk’s K-2SO.

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Because the plot revolves around a single crucial mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, the story is pretty easy to follow. All the action punctuates the story but never overwhelms it. It’s definitely more of a gritty war action film that offers plenty of dynamic battle sequences, both on air and on the ground. There’s less philosophical dialog nor extensive dramatic scenes, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks substance. At the core of the struggle is always Jyn trying to fulfills her father’s mission… “Save the Rebellion and Save the Dream.” And what a struggle it was. The third act centers on the Rogue One team infiltrating Empires headquarters in Scarif, and it’s a real team effort in order to get Jyn to steal the plans. As if that wasn’t tough enough, retrieving the plans is half the battle, there’s the virtually impossible task of actually transporting the data to the Rebel Alliance!


Director Gareth Edwards did a pretty good job directing this (much better than his last blockbuster effort Godzilla in 2014) and he stages the action pieces nicely. The scene inside the control room where the plans are kept are stunningly-shot. It was certainly a well-staged scene that gives me quite an adrenaline rush, whilst K2SO provides the hilarious bits whilst fighting off the stormtroopers. I never felt dizzy or bored watching the battle sequences and there are plenty of suspense throughout. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy has a good mix of action, drama and humor, with some emotional moments that never resort to melodrama. I really think the movie benefits from a strong ensemble cast with a capable female lead at the center. I’ve been a fan of Felicity Jones in her dramatic performances (Like Crazy, Breathe In, The Theory of Everything), but it’s nice to see her kick some butt here whilst always keeping her character grounded. She never became some action heroine or anything, which would’ve been silly.

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As for the supporting cast, every member of the Rogue One team is solid. They fight valiantly and the theme of sacrifice and hope give the story emotional gravitas. I feel a bit underwhelmed by Ben Mendelsohn as a high ranking Imperial senator though he looks sinister enough in his caped uniform. But his meeting with the big boss is definitely a memorable scene. Star Wars fans might’ve exploded in geekgasm the moment Vader showed up… then THAT voice came out of him, whoa! Who could top James Earl Jones‘ voice… it was glorious! There’s also memorable Vader scene wielding his lightsaber that made even me want to get up and cheer. Yes we’re not supposed to root for the bad guy, but man!!!

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[Spoiler alert – highlight to read] My biggest beef is the final scene with horrible CGI-ed face of Princess Leia! It’s so distracting and kind of lessens the impact of that powerful scene. Heh, the X-Men films have done a good job making Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen look half their age, so you’d think with a $200mil budget they could afford to do a better job. They could even opt for doing just a silhouette of her whilst she said the line, that’d surely make it more memorable than showing a bad CGI. Peter Cushing is also back as a CGI character as Grand Moff Tarkin, 

Despite my quibbles, it’s still a pretty darn good movie. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is quite beautiful (he’s also the DP for the gorgeous film LION), complemented by the rousing score by Michael Giacchino. I love that every time Vader showed up the iconic John Williams’ theme song came on! I really enjoyed this one and would definitely watch this again on IMAX. I might even follow up with episode 4, 5 and 6 now that the story suddenly feels fresh again.

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So, what do you think of ROGUE ONE? Let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

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As a fan of the Bourne trilogy, I was dismayed when in 2012, Universal went ahead with the sequel (Bourne Legacy) without Matt Damon. That fact perhaps made me more excited to see Damon teamed up again with director Paul Greengrass for a fifth (well, technically fourth) entry. I guess it’s inevitable that a franchise as lucrative as Bourne will keep on going and going like the Energizer bunny, it’s essentially the American version of James Bond.

This movie starts out about eight years after the events that took place in Bourne Ultimatum, where Bourne exposed CIA’s covert ops Blackfriar. As a result he’s been hiding out in Greece, and apparently does bare-knuckle boxing in his spare time. Whilst the previous three films followed Bourne on a journey to find out who he really is, this time around he’s aware of his identity. He knows his real name is David Webb and became the lethal assassin that is Jason Bourne when he joined Treadstone. But of course there are new revelations about his past that the CIA’s been keeping from him, and later we find out the matter is quite a personal one.
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Intense secrecy and not knowing who to trust is at the heart of any spy thriller and that’s the case here. There are obvious antagonists, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his henchman known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel), but there’s Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who heads the Cyber Ops Division who’s sort of in the gray area. On Bourne side is his longtime ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who risks herself retrieving classified files about Bourne’s late father.

Now, one major beef I have with this movie is how they handled Nicky. I feel that for someone who’s been with the franchise for that long, the writers (Greengrass & Christopher Rouse) should’ve given her a much better character arc. Heck, I’d love to see just a bit of background to her character that would at least explain why she’s loyal to Bourne. I mean, they did so with The Asset, which explains his personal vendetta against Bourne. At the very least, why not give her the same courtesy?

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But what I did like is that like in previous films, Bourne is given an adversary worthy of his prowess. Jones’ Dewey is ruthless in his pursuit to eliminate him and Cassel is one menacing guy who makes The Asset a formidable foe for Bourne. Dewey’s ruthlessness isn’t just concerning Bourne, but the fact that he’s willing to sacrifice his own people, as well as civilians at large, in order to fulfill his purposes. The film also delves into the state of current tech and geopolitical climate and woven it into the plot. Things like privacy, hacking, the political instability in Greece, etc. are certainly timely things we deal with in our world today. So the subplot involving a social media program called Deep Dream is pretty relevant, and British actor Riz Ahmed is quite memorable here playing its founder.

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The movie is basically a giant chase scene. There’s not much breathing room because of the way Greengrass shot every scene. Even the mundane office scenes are shot in a frenetic style with hand-held camera that gave me a bit of a headache at first. But thankfully after a while I was able to overcome it and it didn’t bother me as much, though I still think it’s a bit excessive.

Going into a Bourne movie, of course you expect a ton of exhilarating action sequences, and this movie delivered! The motorcycle scene through narrow streets, scaling up and down steps through a Greek city gives you such a huge adrenaline rush. But that’s nothing compared to the crazy car chase in the Vegas strip involving a SWAT truck plowing through a bunch of cars. It certainly isn’t aiming for realism, but boy was it fun! Apparently the sequence took five weeks to shoot and ended up wrecking 170 cars.

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Those wanting to see hand-to-hand combat won’t be disappointed though. There’s an extended scene of Bourne vs. The Asset that’s pretty darn intense. I noticed there’s no music going on during that scene, only the sound of bone crunching and flesh tearing to enhance the impact. Damon’s definitely still got it, Bourne is certainly one of my favorite roles of his. At 45 he’s looking more grizzled with bags under his eyes, but he pulls off the physically-demanding role once again. But of course like Bond, Bourne’s got stamina of super-heroic proportion and seems to be impervious to pain.

The finale suggests the strained relationship between Bourne & the Agency remains unchanged. Of course there wouldn’t be a Bourne franchise if the hero’s suddenly in good terms with a big, powerful organization notorious for overreaching its boundaries. Vikander acquits herself well here as the new face who might be present in future installments, and I have no problem with that.

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I think there’s nostalgic elements here that affect my enjoyment. I love that the Moby song Extreme Ways is still used, it’s certainly the defining theme for the franchise. On the whole I think Jason Bourne is on par with the trilogy even if it isn’t as impactful. It could be because the mystery surrounding his identity is no longer there, which was the secret ingredient that makes Bourne’s journey so intriguing. That said, it’s certainly still an enjoyable action thriller because I’m a big fan of this character and Damon playing him. Unlike Bond though, it remains to be seen if this franchise can have as much longevity without Greengrass and Damon.

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Have you seen ‘Jason Bourne’? I’d love to hear what you think!

Movies coming to Netflix in June – here are the ones I recommend & look forward to

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Hi folks, I’ve been meaning to post this for sometime as every weekend my hubby and I always spend way too long browsing Netflix on what to watch. Yes I know, that’s what the queue [or My List] is for but for some reason we still browse the new releases and decide which one appeals to us at that given moment. Well, at the start of the month, some sites are listing which movies get added to Netflix so I thought it might be mutually beneficial for us movie fans if we could give each other recommendations 😀

Ok, so this site breaks it down by genre and list the exact date of the month it’s going to be released, including TV shows. Well, I barely watch any TV so I’m only focusing on film recommendations. So here are

Newly Added in June

The Aviator (June 1)
I’d think most people have seen this Howard Hughes’ biopic from Scorsese by now, but if not, well what are you waiting for? To be honest though, I’m much more enamored by Cate Blanchett’s performance as Katharine Hepburn than Leo’s.

Words and Pictures (June 7)
Saw this last year at MSPIFF – stars Juliette Binoche & Clive Owen. Worth seeing just for those two alone. [full review]

Beyond the Lights (June 24)
I can’t recommend this film enough simply for the sublime performance of miss Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I’ve raved about her several times on my blog, and for good reason. The music is terrific as well, which I have also featured on my music break post. [full review]

Nightcrawler (June 10)
I saw this rather late but now that it’s on VOD, Bluray AND Netflix, really you have no reason to put this off any longer if you haven’t seen this yet. Trust me, it’s worth your time. SO good that I’ll be rooting for Jake Gyllenhaal come award season for Southpaw, it’s criminal that he was overlooked for his performance here. [full review]

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (June 27) 
Very cool that TWO of Riz Ahmed’s films are released on Netflix in the same month. He’s a darn good British actor who’s really quite versatile. His role here couldn’t be more different from the one in Nightcrawler and he’s quite mesmerizing. I wish he’d get more leading roles in the future! [full review]

Newly Added in May

I figure I’d include a few from last month that just got released, especially since it includes one of my favorite dramas of the year I’ve seen so far [Girlhood].

The ones I most look forward to seeing

I wasn’t just on the lookout for female-centric stories, but hey, no matter how [seemingly] numerous there are, it’s still not enough.

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Two Days, One Night (June 16)

Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

For some reason I missed this film last year but the premise sounds intriguing and surely would show Marion Cotillard’s acting chops!

Cake (June 20)

Claire becomes fascinated by the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group while grappling with her own, very raw personal tragedy.

I’m mostly curious to see Jennifer Aniston’s performance. Somehow I just realized Sam Worthington’s in this movie also, wonder what role he’s playing.

Grace of Monaco (June 8)

The story of former Hollywood star Grace Kelly’s crisis of marriage and identity, during a political dispute between Monaco’s Prince Rainier III and France’s Charles De Gaulle, and a looming French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s.

This one also piqued my curiosity because supposedly it’s such a train wreck. One thing for sure, not matter how much makeup they put on Nicole Kidman, she still wouldn’t hold a candle to the luminous Grace Kelly in real life.

On the Road (June 6)

Young writer Sal Paradise has his life shaken by the arrival of free-spirited Dean Moriarty and his girl, Marylou. As they travel across the country, they encounter a mix of people who each impact their journey indelibly.

Well, now that I’ve finally warmed up to Kristen Stewart thanks to Clouds of Sils Maria, I just might rent this one.

Definitely going to avoid …

The Best of Me – it’s one of those Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation, ’nuff said.

 …


So which of these movies have you seen? Recommendations are always welcome too!

FlixChatter Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

NightcrawlerPosterSeems that I might be the last person who hasn’t seen Nightcrawler and I’m even gutted I didn’t see this on the big screen. There is something so mesmerizing and disturbing about this film which is in keeping with the theme of the gawker mentality that the small-screen media capitalize on.

Set in the nocturnal underbelly of the City of Angels, the film begins with a desperate but resourceful thief Lou Bloom who can’t seem to catch a break. That is until he witnessed an accident on a highway and came across a freelance camera crew (Bill Paxton) who film crashes, fires and any kind of mayhem, that a lightbulb went off in his head. Lou says several times in the film that he’s a fast learner and he’s not exaggerating. Within days of acquiring some camera equipment and a police scanner, Lou went to work and quickly sneaked his way into the dangerous and competitive world of night-crawling – these are the people who take pictures and film horrifying events to deliver them in time for the morning news.

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“If it bleeds, it leads!”

That’s the mantra Lou lives by and he approaches his newfound profession in a mechanical precision, almost robotic way. He’s always been a methodical guy, he waters his plants, iron his shirt as he watches TV, there’s almost a certain regime if you will, in how he conducts his life. His work ethic doesn’t resemble as a human being, the way he approaches victims as if they’re nothing but soul-less objects for him to profit from. When he actually talks to a living-breathing fellow human, he also has this robotic quality in that he doesn’t see the person across from him as having any kind of emotion. His salesman-like delivery is both creepy and hilarious, in fact, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s gaunt, bug-eyed face still gives me the creeps days after I saw this film. I’m still astonished that Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated, as it’s truly a tour de force performance. I read that the 35-year-old actor literally starved himself to play the role, losing 30 pounds as he visualized himself as a hungry coyote. His look definitely gave a certain realism to his character, but there’s more to it than that. His speech delivery and the precise mannerism of how Lou behaves, such as not blinking for a long period of time, really gets under your skin.

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As Lou continues to rise to the top, he took deliberate measures to get what he wants. Along the way he recruits a down-on-his-luck young man, Rick (Riz Ahmed), as his assistant. It’s appalling how Lou treats the hapless and homeless guy like dirt, but we shouldn’t be surprised that he does so, given what we know about him thus far. Lou seems to have met his match in Nina (Rene Russo), the beautiful older news director who buys Lou’s footage. But before she even realizes what happens, Lou backs her into a corner, figuratively and literally, as he feeds off her vulnerability and fear of working in such a notoriously competitive field. That entire scene at the Mexican restaurant gives me the heebie jeebies and the script is so taut that even without Lou so much as touching Nina, the whole scene still makes your skin crawl.

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This is another astounding directorial debut in recent memory and would perhaps rate as one of the best debut by a screenwriter. Dan Gilroy co-wrote The Fall and The Bourne Legacy, which strangely enough wasn’t that great in terms of script, but here he shows not only his screenwriting chops, but also his talents behind the camera. The way he filmed mostly at night, there’s an eerie, haunting quality that adds to the suspense. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time even though there’s not that much action going on throughout.

The chase towards the end is utterly exhilarating not only because of the car chase itself, but the manic energy that Lou displays throughout. He proceeds to drive like a maniac despite Rick’s protest to slow down, and in a way we live vicariously through him in the way he views Lou. Unlike the preposterous car chases in movies like say, Fast & Furious, the scene is tinged with realism because even amidst all that action, Nightcrawler is still very much a character-driven film. When we think that the movie’s gone off the rails, Gilroy reminds us that Lou is still in control, for the detriment of those around him.

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?”

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In this Indiewire article, Dan Gilroy joked following a screening that this is “…about the triumph of the human spirit…it’s a feel good film.” Very funny Dan, as nothing could be further from the truth. I was screaming at my TV during the finale and I think the director deliberately wants us to feel disturbed by the unsettling story. But with any kind of industry fueled by consumer demand, this film is as much a commentary on the TV news business as those who choose to watch these kinds of graphic coverage.

The night cinematography by Robert Elswit is excellent in its use of ambient lighting, it adds so much to the tone of the film. It’s definitely one of the best-looking films shot in L.A., right up there with Michael Mann’s Heat and Collateral. I have to mention again the superb acting by Gyllenhaal who hopefully will score an Oscar one day, but props also to Russo and Ahmed in memorable supporting roles. Nice to see Russo in top form and actually gets a role worthy of her talent. I was impressed by Ahmed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the British actor shows his amazing versatility playing an entirely different persona.

If only I had seen this film sooner, it’d definitely have a place in my Top 10 list. Nightcrawler is a brilliantly-crafted Neo-noir that has a lingering effect long after the end credits. The film was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, written also by Gilroy. I think it merits at least a few more nominations in the acting category AND a Best Picture nod. It’s THAT good.

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What do you think of Nightcrawler?