FlixChatter Review – The Irishman (2019)

Adapted from the memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman follows the real life story of Frank Sheeran. Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro, was a World War II veteran. While working as a truck driver through the 1950s, finds himself drawn into Russell Bufalino’s inner circle. At this time Bufalino had recently been promoted to Boss of the Pennsylvania-based Bufalino crime family.

The Irishman is an old school film, epic in its scale. It is at once as nostalgic and familiar as it is relevant and timely. Visually reminiscent of Coppola and Leone. Sharp dialogue, long takes, a perfectly curated soundtrack and attention to color immerse the viewer. The shifting from grey/sepia tones in 40s/fifties to a cooler more natural reading pallet as we move to the 80s and 90s was a really nice detail that helped show passage of time. Too often in film attention is paid to styles of clothes and cars appropriate to the time but not color especially the tone.

The use of visual effects in the movie – was impressive as the film flips between the past and present day/older De Niro, (what he looks like now). Although the use of CGI is apparent, it doesn’t pull the viewer out of the film or detract from the amazing performances. This is as much a credit to Scorsese’s careful implementation as the evolution of the technology itself.

I am not a big fan of Scorsese or De Niro. I was not anticipating this film as I felt like the crime genre had been worn out. Having watched Motherless Brooklyn shortly before, I wasn’t excited to watch another crime film. However, I greatly enjoyed this film and believe this is by far the best film both have made.

De Niro plays a reserved, soft spoken deliberate man. His drawn back approach is perfect for the character. On the other end of the spectrum, Al Pacino‘s character, Jimmy Hoffa is the exact opposite. A loud, brash personality who reeks of desperation. Pacino puts every ounce of energy he has become known for into this performance, giving it a level of natural charm and charisma. Lastly, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a near silent, no nonsense character who “takes care of business”.

Although it possesses a daunting run time of 3 hours and 29 minutes, each scene felt well thought out and purposeful. Although it felt long winded it never felt bored or aimless. The editor Thelma Schoonmaker, known for cutting all Scorsese films utilizes cutscenes and splices to create tension through the movie.

Martin Scorsese, known for re-invigorating the gangster genre may also be the one to put it back to rest. His use of violence is not dissimilar from that in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I think this is partially due to the fact that both films seek to express a period of time where the older traditions gave way to a modern generation. The friction and tension felt between the generational gap is expressed through an unfiltered physical violence. Although this film follows an individual from his youth through his elderly years, it also highlights the rise and fall of the mobster/teamsters union relationship. This juxtaposition of the growth of an individual and societal shifts at large was highly effective and extremely thought provoking.

The film was stunning on the big screen but could also benefit from the ability to watch at home once it is released on Netflix. Because it is packed with small details, there were many times I wanted to pause and replay scenes. The actors gave highly nuanced performances that were quite intense and it would have been nice to take a breather.

Rumored to be Scorcese’s final film, The Irishman is a fitting end to his filmography. Not only does it encapsulate his prior body of work but also serves as a beautiful showcase of several of the greatest actors of our time.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen The Irishman? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: JOKER (2019)

There seems to be a sudden influx of villains getting their big screen treatment lately (there’s Venom last year, Birds of Prey trailer is just released highlighting Joker’s own girlfriend Harley Quinn, and Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opens two weeks after Joker). But the again, antiheroes have always made such intriguing protagonists.

In case you’re not aware of this, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker character is NOT based on the comics. It’s an origin story of man named Arthur Fleck who would later become the DC super-villain, and so exists in the same universe as his future arch nemesis Batman in a decaying Gotham City. But writer/director Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the script with Scott Silver) sets the film in the 70s and 80s, an alternate timeline where it can stand alone and wouldn’t disrupt the current (and future) DC superhero movies.

The film opens with Arthur preparing to work as a street clown, holding a sign for a furniture store promoting liquidation sale. He’s suddenly attacked by a bunch of teenage punks who break his sign and beat him up in an alley. To say Arthur is a down-on-his-luck guy would be an understatement. Calamity seems to constantly befallen him as he struggles from paycheck-to-paycheck while living in a cramped apartment with his frail mother Penny (Frances Conroy) with her own delusions of grandeur. “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” He asks a social worker. From his visit here, it’s revealed that he’s once admitted to a psychiatric department and is now on seven different medications, none of which help his distorted mind which in his own words is ‘always filled with negative thoughts.’ The first act of the movie pretty much follows Arthur encountering one bad day after another, which initially was captivating, even hypnotic, thanks to Phoenix’s committed performance.

I feel that the movie works largely because of Phoenix’s no-holds-barred approach to the role. He lost so much weight (apparently losing 53 pounds, a la former Batman Christian Bale for The Machinist)–using his physicality practically within an inch of its life. Phoenix also methodically researched patients suffering from Pathological Laughing Disorder that causes them to laugh uncontrollably, and the result is eerie. One can’t help but wince (in both pity and horror) watching him laugh maniacally, as he struggles to contain himself. As mesmerizing as Joaquin is in the role however, his magnetic quality soon wears out thanks to Phillips’ overbearing direction. There are countless scenes of him baring his skeletal frame as he descends into madness, and a plethora of extreme close-ups of his face makes me feel claustrophobic. Even in superhero films like Batman or Superman, there are moments where the hero is off-screen so you can spend time with supporting characters that helps tell one cohesive, layered story. But Philips seems as obsessed with his antihero as much as Arthur worships his idol, TV personality Murray Franklin (a somewhat brilliantly meta casting of Robert De Niro, given the heavy influences of his 70s/80s crime dramas).

But despite having such a strong supporting cast here, all of them are basically reduced to cameos. There’s no room for depth whatsoever for any of them, as the focus is always solely on Arthur. Joaquin is literally in every. single. frame. of the film… all the extreme close ups are almost suffocating, it made me wonder afterwards if perhaps it’s to hide the banality and shallowness of the plot? There are moments that are truly gripping, the stand-up scene at a comedy club (which becomes the catalyst for the final act) comes to mind, but there are also plenty of slow, tedious moments where my mind wander a bit. It doesn’t help that the soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir is often distracting in many scenes that would benefit a quieter music, creating an ominous cacophony that unnecessarily heightens the film’s bleak, joyless tone.

Stylistically, the film is impeccable. The 70s/80s setting is an homage to Phillips’ favorite gritty crime dramas such as Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, which style/tone he heavily borrowed. Even the first violent scene in the subway harkens back memory of The French Connection. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is stunning despite the decidedly grimy environment, while costume designer Mark Bridges creates a unique look that’s colorful yet dark/ominous at the same time. I also have to give props to the Makeup department team, a crucial area considering the protagonist’s reliance on face mask. Yet the makeup makes the most of Joaquin’s features without hampering an actor’s most important tool, his expressions.

Narratively however, I’m just not too impressed with. While I appreciate that the movie grounds itself in reality–at least showing a semblance of real world as opposed to something fantastical, while also toying with what’s real and what’s not, in the end it’s not as complex as it thinks it is. I believe the fact that Phillips leverages such an iconic comic-book character with such a huge appeal makes the film inherently intriguing. If the film had been called Arthur Fleck and all the Batman references taken out, I’m not sure if the reception would’ve been as strong. That said, those expecting a strong connection with the Dark Knight would be disappointed, as Bruce is just a young boy here. There is a memorable encounter between Arthur and Thomas Wayne however, and the script even toys with a preposterous idea SPOILER ALERT! [highlight to read] that Arthur could be his illegitimate child (thus making him future Batman’s half brother!!), which made me go ‘whoa!’ END SPOILER.

The ending makes it hard not to feel that the filmmakers glorify evil and his abhorrent deeds (something the studio, director and lead actor have denied vehemently). But as Arthur was ‘saved’ by a bunch of hoodlums in clown masks, having been provoked/energized by what he did LIVE on national tv, he suddenly becomes a hero for the marginalized and those ignored by society. It may not be the filmmakers’ intention to hold this character up as a hero, but it sure appears as exactly that in the finale. I find it hard to refute that notion seeing Arthur, which by then has taken up the Joker identity, dressed in full Joker’s colorful regalia and iconic bloody smile, dancing euphorically on top of a car, as throngs of clown-masked men cheer him on.

If there was a commentary about the haves and the have-nots in Gotham, it’s only mentioned fleetingly, there’s no compelling sociopolitical message to be found here. Despite his utter disdain for the wealthy, how has Arthur himself care for or support the have-nots? He’s too busy wallowing in self pity, filled with rage and hell-bent on violent revenge. He fantasizes about his crush Sophie (Zazie Beetz) down the hall, but doesn’t give a hoot the fact that she is a single mother and also barely scraping by. The filmmaker doesn’t seem to care for the likes of her either, other than for the purpose of advancing his character’s narrative. Ultimately, Arthur lives in his own bubble, trapped by his narcissistic mind that he can’t possibly see the suffering of others. Thus, it’s rather incredulous that a fraught-minded person like Arthur would become someone who could inspire the masses in this way. Thus, that final scene seems to come out of nowhere, it doesn’t feel earned nor arrives at organically.

While one could argue that Joaquin is as phenomenal as Joker as Heath Ledger was (though I wouldn’t say he topped Ledger’s performance), I’d say that the fact that Christopher Nolan chose NOT to give the Joker an origin story in The Dark Knight actually makes him more effective. He’s a true agent of chaos, as Alfred Pennyworth says he’s the kind of man who, ‘can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with… a man who just wants to see the world burn.’ There’s a calculating, sly, even sophistication in Ledger’s Joker’s megalomaniacal ways, who’s always in control and two steps ahead of his adversaries.

Arthur’s Joker however, is a tragic character… a mentally-unstable loner who supposedly becomes evil because of circumstances. This film blatantly connects his homicidal urges and violent retributions to the fact that society wronged him, i.e. being bullied, unable to get meds due to social services getting cut, etc. It’s as if the film skirts responsibility and steers the blame away from Arthur, no matter how heinous his crime, painting him more as a victim than perpetrator. One would be hard-pressed not to see the danger that such notion could be used as an excuse for certain people inciting chaos and revenge on those they deem as ‘deserving the violence,’ hence the US military issuing warning against possible shooting at Joker screenings. There’s even extra beefed-up security at the press screening, which I think is warranted.

One might argue the number of violent scenes here is actually not as much as those depicted on cable tv these days. But given the character’s sheer unpredictability, the heavy sense of dread makes it feel like it’s more vicious. I definitely discourage parents from bringing their kids to see this, not even young teens. This film earns a hard R for a reason. Now, it’s always debatable whether art incites violence, and I for one thinks it’s a slippery slope whenever there’s a call for art censorship. By the same token, every content creator must be at least being mindful of how its creation could be interpreted as, and in this case, how it could inspire something that causes harm or be used to justify vigilantism.

Setting all that aside, the big question is, did the movie live up to the hype–even my own given my excitement when the first Joker trailer was released? Well, it certainly turns out to be a chilling origin story of a tragic character, but more so because of Phoenix’s performance than the film’s direction. Yet I find it tough to root for his character, despite initially feeling sympathy towards him. It’s an unrelentingly grim and utterly bleak affair from start to finish, it’d be tough to put on a happy face after you watch it. The irony isn’t lost on me that a movie featuring a character who thinks his purpose is ‘to bring laughter and joy to the world’ turns out to mostly devoid of either. In terms of re-watchability, this is not one of those films I’m keen on revisiting.


Have you seen JOKER? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Grudge Match

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De Niro and Stallone seems to have a new movie opening every month lately don’t they? Both are their 70s and still going strong, while most of their piers either doing TV shows or take a supporting role in other big films. For example, all of Harrison Ford’s films this year, he played a secondary character, not the lead.

In this new boxing comedy, De Niro and Stallone stars as rival boxers, you can say it’s Rocky vs. La Motta. The film starts out with a flashback of the boxers in their prime, Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp are two of the best boxers in the world back in the early 80s. They’ve both fought one another and hate each other’s guts. After their last fight, which Sharp defeated McDonnen, Sharp decided to walk away from boxing. McDonnen wants a rematch but Sharp refuse to fight him again. BTW, these flashback scenes included another bad CGI effects of making the actors look younger, think of the “young” Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy, Hollywood should stop doing this because it looks weird and fake. Flash forward to present day, Sharp is now working at a factory in Pittsburg, he lives in a crappy house and doesn’t have any family, he just takes care of his trainer Lightning (Alan Arkin), who’s living in the home for the elders. McDonnen on the other hand, he’s more successful, he owns a bar and runs a couple of car dealerships in the city. He also still living like a bachelor, he drinks and sleeps with women more than half his age.

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One day the son of Sharp’s former promoter, Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), shows up at Sharp’s home and tells him he found a way for both of them to make big money. Dante’s not doing well either and wants to be a boxing promoter like his father. Apparently a video game company wants to create a new boxing game and wants Sharp’s to be part of it. Knowing he needs money to pay for the bills that he’s way behind on, he agreed. When he showed up at the video game company to have his body captured for the game, McDonnen was also invited to be part of the game. Of course since these two don’t like one another, they ended up throwing punches and a bunch of people recorded the fight and it went viral online. It received millions of views on YouTube and made the news on Sports Center. Taking advantage of their new found fame, Slate Jr. convinced both of them pick up their gloves and go in the ring for a rematch. After the announcement that these two aging boxers are going back to the ring made national news, Sharp’s ex-girlfriend, Sally Rose (Kim Basinger), shows up and wants to rekindle their relationship. But Sharp’s not interested in seeing her, she slept with McDonnen years ago and got pregnant. At the same time, a young man named B.J., (Jon Bernthal, Shane from The Walking Dead), showed up at a gym where McDonnen was training and tells McDodden that he’s his son. Since he’s never been a father, McDonnen didn’t really know how to act but B.J. told him he didn’t want anything from him, just wanted him to know that he exists.

I know the marketing for this movie made it look like it’s all about De Niro’s and Stallone’s character training for the big fight. But it’s really about the redemption for these two men who’ve made mistakes in their younger years and now they’re trying to right what they did wrong. Of course there are scenes of them training and getting ready for the rematch, there were some nods to their classic films Rocky and Raging Bull.

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I thought the performances by the actors were pretty good, De Niro looked like he had a blast playing the reckless fighter and Stallone was surprisingly effective in his role, yeah he’s pretty much playing Rocky again but he’s Rocky to many people so that’s fine by me. Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin provided the humor in the film, in fact I though Arkin stole every scenes he appeared in. Basinger did a good job of playing the “love interest” in the movie and Jon Burnthal was very good in his role. If he gets to do more films, he could be someone to watch out for, I know he’s done mostly TV work.

Director Peter Segal kept everything light, nothing was over the top and the pacing was good. I’m sure it wasn’t easy making a movie where there’s no villain and have people cheering for both of the leads. The final climatic fight scene was well staged, although De Niro looked way too out of shape but again he’s in his 70s so he did the best he could.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about this movie, it’s a heartwarming story that will entertain fans of the leads and you’ll have some good laughs. The movie never took itself too seriously and as long as you don’t go into it with huge expectations, you’ll have a good time.

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What do you think of Grudge Match and the pairing of Sly and De Niro?

FlixChatter Review: Last Vegas

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Hollywood seems to love making movies about bachelor party and here we have another one. Instead of having a bunch of young actors going to Vegas and behaving badly, this time we have a bunch of older actors going to Vegas and behaving like their younger selves. Four men in their late 60s who’ve been friends since childhood decided to go to Sin City and have a crazy bachelor party. After a brief flashback scene introducing to each of the characters, the film fast forwards to present day where each of them are now way past their prime.

Sam (Kevin Kline) is now retired and living in Florida with his wife of 40 years; Archie (Morgan Freeman) is living with his son and daughter in law and he’d just had a stroke; Paddy (Robert De Niro) is living alone, still mourning the death of his late wife. One day Billy (Michael Douglas), who’s still a bachelor even though he’s almost 70 years old, called them up and said he’s going to get married to his very young girlfriend, she’s in her early 30s. Billy it seems is the most successful of the bunch, he lives in a beach house in Malibu and is a head some big investing firm and oh yeah he also dates a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. Seems to me Douglas was playing the older version of Gordon Gekko but a nicer version of Gordon. Archie and Sam suggested they throw him a bachelor party and meet in Vegas. Billy agrees but he wants everyone to go, apparently he and Paddy have lost touch and haven’t spoken to one another in years. Archie and Sam said they’ll talk to Paddy and convince him to go.

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Once they arrived in Vegas, they ran into a pretty lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen), who works at a crappy casino. Right away she caught the attention of the men, Billy and Paddy seems to be quite fond of her. There’s a little love triangle plotline that involves these three characters that I won’t discuss here but I thought it worked out well and wasn’t as clichéd as I predicted. They also ran into a young punk at the casino (Jerry Ferrara, Turtle from Entourage), at first you think he’s the antagonist but later in the movie, he became sort of a sidekick to these men.

Each of the actors got their fair shares of screen time, Kline and Freeman looked like they had a blast in their respective roles. The movie focuses mostly on the friction between Billy and Paddy and I thought Douglas and De Niro did a great job of playing those roles. With a movie like this, you’d think these actors would just show up and earn an easy paycheck but they looked like they’re having a great time and we the audience believe that they’re friends for real.

Director Jon Turteltaub whose last three movies were big-budget action spectacles, the always fun National Treasure films and the awful looking The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; went back to his comedic comfort zone and crafted a fun film. Nothing was over the top in the movie and he kept the pace moving fast. There’s not a laugh out loud moment in my opinion but there’s enough humor in the movie that kept me entertained for 90 minutes.

If you’re a fan of any of these talented actors then I think you’ll enjoy this movie, think of it as a PG version of The Hangover and the fun vibe of the Ocean’s movies. It has some clichéd moments but they’re well-executed.

3 out of 5 reels


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What do you think of Last Vegas and/or the cast here?

Everybody’s Chattin’ … and counting down to TCFF

Happy Friday everyone!

I can’t believe I missed this post in September! I definitely will try to make up for that.

Well I’m taking a bit of a review-writing break but I’ve been seeing a ton of screenings lately as well as gearing up for TCFF that’s coming next Thursday! Can’t believe it’s been another year for another exciting film event, kudos to the organizers Jatin Setia, Bill Cooper, Naomi Dahlgren, film fest programmer Steve Snyder and other volunteers for their tremendous work!

Hope you will stick around in the next two weeks as I bring you TCFF coverage and reviews of studio films, indies, and shorts from Hollywood as well as Minnesota film community. But before I get to that, it’s time to highlight some great posts I’ve read recently.

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The master of Film Festival coverage, Bonjour Tristesse has been covering Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). So check out her Film Diary post and see which films strike your fancy.

As I’m no horror fan, you won’t find much horror-related posts even if it’s almost Halloween. But hey, I know a lot of people are a fan of the genre. So perhaps you could tell my friend Cindy Bruchman what your favorite Macabre Films are. 

There are a couple of blogathons that might be worth your while. The first one is coming next week, the Robert De Niro Blogathon that my pals Tyson and Mark are hosting (yours truly is participating of course). Make sure you bookmark this special De Niro Blog if you haven’t already. Now, the other one doesn’t start until next month, but Shah’s Movember Blogathon raises awareness about mens’ health issues whilst highlighting memorable Moustaches in Movies! Somehow the only one I could think of is Tom Selleck, ahah.

Now since I had been very impressed once again with Tom Hanks’ performance in Captain Phillips, I was intrigued by Alex’s Top 5 Tom Hanks Performances. I haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan yet but I definitely agree with the other four. I even love him in his rom-coms!

It’s always fun to learn something new about film, so I’m a big fan of Chris’ ‘What is…’ series. This time he takes a look at Film à clef, or film à clé. See if you recognize these types of films when you read the post.

Last but not least…

Now, since it’s Friday, we could always use a piece of great music! In one of his awesome series Friday Forgotten Song, Michael highlights The Doors’ Riders on the Storm. Somehow it makes me want to check out the biopic with [then-svelte] Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.


Now, as I’m gearing up for TCFF, check out this awesome trailer by WONDERVISION Production:

… and also highlights of the Studio Films premiering at TCFF, some of them have been getting Oscar buzz:


If you live in the area, don’t miss out! Check out the full 2013 schedule at TCFF Official Site and get your passes!


Stay tuned for reviews of RUSH, The Fifth Estate, and Captain Phillips coming next week!


So what’s YOUR viewing plans this weekend?

Weekend Roundup: Fast Five & Ronin reviews

How’s your weekend everyone? Weather-wise we’ve got a touch of Autumn this weekend with temps in 60s and 70s. It’s just PERFECT in my opinion, I LOVE the cooler Autumn weather. I don’t even mind if temps just stay this way all year long 😀

Well some of you know I saw The Family last week, which was dismal through and through. Of course it had no chance to beat Insidious 2 as most people probably flock to a horror movie given that it was Friday the 13th weekend. So is Patrick Wilson the King of Horror now, what with The Conjuring and now the Insidious franchise? Interesting that I first saw him as the oh-so-lame Raoul who stole Christine from the oh-so-sexy Phantom (Gerry Butler, natch!) in Phantom of the Opera 😉

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Anyhoo, it’s quite a prolific home-theater time as I ended up watching three movies, including a rewatch of one of my all time guilty pleasure The Man in the Iron Mask, which I featured a couple of years ago. I primarily love this movie for the the four actors playing d’Artagnan and the three Musketeers: Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu. Byrne stole my heart as the courageous but conflicted d’Artagnan and he remains my favorite character. I also enjoyed the music by Nick Glennie-Smith, I still hum it from time to time.

Speaking of old favorites, I also watched my favorite John Woo movie and surely one of my favorite 90s action flicks Face/Off. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta are both electrifying as each play the hero and villain of the film. Preposterous, yes, absurd beyond comprehension, but heck if it isn’t fun! Both actors clearly are having a blast playing Castor Troy and Sean Archer, and Woo also shot this beautifully, complete with his trademark slo-mo and of course, flying doves! Oh, I even love the music by John Powell, so all in all, a 90s classic!

Here are my mini reviews of the other two:

Fast Five

FastFivePosterWe’re in the mood for some action flick so my hubby and I picked Fast 5. We actually like Fast 6, which was the first of the franchise we actually saw. Ok so the plot is really not that different from the last movie, but really, I don’t think that matters here. Basically it’s an over-the-top heist movie against a Brazilian drug lord, whilst the team is also on the run from the Feds. I was expecting high-octane and ridiculous action sequences and that’s pretty much what I got… and then some!

Now, what I enjoyed most about these two movies so far are  1) the fun car chases that really got your movie adrenaline going, and 2) the unexpected familial bond between the main characters, Dom & Mia Toretto (Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster) and the former-cop-turned-conman Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker). The song ‘We Are Family’ could’ve been playing in one of these movies (maybe it did?) as Dom treats the team like family, which I thought was pretty cool. Diesel is actually capable of being sympathetic and he actually has a lot of heart beneath that massive pecks and stony exterior. Just don’t expect any top notch acting in movies like this as you won’t find it anywhere. I love what The Guardian said about Walker, “…an actor with the emotional range of a blown carburetor” Ahah, I couldn’t say it better myself!

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Dwayne Johnson plays federal agent Hobbs who’s hot on the trail of Dom & co. It’s always fun to watch him and he’s certainly in good company with Diesel in terms of acting range, ahah. He’s got charisma to make up for it though 😉

I had a great time with this one, especially the third act involving a scene of two cars dragging a massive vault through the streets of Rio, wrecking everything – cars, patio restaurants, even a bank! – in its path. That’s even more absurdly entertaining than the scene early in the movie where the car Dom & Brian’s riding went off the cliff! Justin Lin sure knows how to stage action sequences and I think that’s the recipe of success for this franchise. Now, since I haven’t seen the franchise from the beginning before Lin took over, but seems that the franchise actually got better and more profitable. Fast 6 actually made over $200 mil, while this one made about $150 mil.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


RONIN

RoninPosterSo I ended up watching two Robert De Niro movies set in France but boy, the caliber couldn’t be more different. His role here almost made me forget the one in The Family, well almost.

Ronin is the Japanese word used for Samurai without a master. In this movie, a team of outcast specialists make up for the Ronins, hired to retrieve a mysterious suitcase wanted by the Irish and the Russians. It’s more of a cerebral thriller that’s not all about action, action, action. In fact, the long opening scene where almost nothing happens in a sleepy town in France is full of suspense! John Frankenheimer did a good job creating tension without always resorting to high-octane action. But of course, when the action scenes happen, especially the pulse-pounding car chases, it was incredible to watch!

So it’s also a weekend chock-full of car chases, but those in Ronin feels different than in the Fast & Furious movies, though they’re just as preposterous and of course, fun! I especially love it when the cars weave in and out of such narrow European streets and corners, it’s just a lot more breathtaking to watch! Per IMDb, more than 300 stunt drivers were employed to give the real-time chases scene an air of metal-crunching realism. Well it certainly worked beautifully. De Niro’s face looks like he’s constipated the whole time he’s driving, but that’s probably more realistic than the unruffled look of Natascha McElhone. It’s perhaps one of the best and most memorable car chase scenes ever filmed to date!

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The third act feels a bit like a buddy action flick as De Niro and Jean Reno worked together quite a bit. It’s fun watching both of them as they had a good chemistry. The supporting cast are excellent too, Stellan Skarsgård and Natascha McElhone are quite memorable here. Oh and for 007 fans out there, you might recognize that three of the actors here have played Bond villains: Sean Bean in GoldenEye, Michael Lonsdale in Moonraker and Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies. Pryce is a lame villain here, but slightly better than his take of a Bond villain that’s neither intimidating nor charming. I like the look of the film with its muted colors and the setting itself certainly adds to the edgy mood of the film.


4 out of 5 reels

Well, that’s my weekend roundup folks. What did YOU watch this weekend?

FlixChatter Review: The Family

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Oh boy, where do I begin. Honestly, I dreaded writing this review. At first glance, the premise seems like it has potential. A mafia boss and his family under the witness protection program are relocated to a sleepy town in France for snitching on the mob. Even under the surveillance of CIA Agent Stansfield and his men, things quickly go awry as The Manzonis, er The Blakes as they’re now called, have a hard time fitting in. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks they say, especially when those dogs are a Brooklyn mob family who are so set in their ways in dealing with problems.

Now, add a dream cast, well dream trio really: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, naturally I expect at least a decent dark comedy. Alas, this turns out to be THE biggest dud I’ve seen on the big screen so far. I was pretty close on walking out a few times as the movie seemed to go on forever with barely a single laugh coming out of my mouth. Saying this movie is contrived is putting it mildly. Every single scene is seething with bad taste and every Mafia clichés imaginable, not to mention every French and Italian/American stereotypes. What’s worse, you can figure out the plot from miles away. Even the way the Brooklyn mafia clan find out where they live is so predictable it’s downright irritating.

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It’s really quite painful to watch great actors in something this terrible. Y’know, sometimes I don’t mind ridiculous, heck, I’d even tolerate absurdity. But a comedy that’s entirely unfunny — especially with THIS cast — is excruciating. Trust me, I wish I didn’t have to be so harsh but I kept hoping for one redeeming moment, but nope, that moment never came. Ok, there is one scene towards the end but it’s so self aware at its own joke that it feels so forced and exploitative. That scene too, was entirely predictable! I could tell the whole theater wasn’t enjoying it as I didn’t hear much laughter from start to finish, maybe a chortle or two… or perhaps a snicker?

De Niro has done similar comedic role that’s poking fun of the mob in Analyze This. To be honest with you, I’m kind of tired of that shtick, it’s only fun for maybe two seconds. Now, De Niro and Pfeiffer didn’t exactly phone it in here, I give ’em that, but I’d think they’d recognize a bad script when they see it by now? I’m a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones with his deadpan delivery but here he looks bored the entire time, like he couldn’t be bothered. Hmmm, perhaps that should be a warning to moviegoers?

Tonally, it’s all over the place, Besson just can’t seem to get his footing on what kind of movie he wants to make. I think he aims for a dark comedy but his approach is more like ‘shooting in the dark and see what hits,’ resulting in a misfire no amount of talent could save. It’s astonishing to read later on that Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producer, wow!

The subplots involving the Manzoni’s kids are so uninspired, but not exactly the fault of the young actors. I think John D’Leo and Glee actress Dianna Agron were serviceable enough, D’Leo is especially believable as a sly kid who learned everything from his wiseguy dad. Agron’s role as a principled virgin who takes pleasure in beating people up is so oddly-written though. In any case, the family’s German Shepherd still made more of an impression to me than those two.

His expression just about sums up my sentiment about this movie
His expression just about sums up my sentiment about this movie

There are violent scenes and profanities abound here, which warrants the R-rating. Perhaps people who are into mob movies might dig this one more than I did, but, really fans of any of the main stars here deserve better. Sorry to De Niro fans out there, but I think this Screencrush reviewer said it best: Robert De Niro‘s name on a film project is now more a red flag of warning than a sign of quality. Same with Luc Besson I guess, so don’t expect this to be remotely as shrewd as The Professional and Transporter/Taken film. If you want an action comedy from Besson that’s actually watchable, I guess just rent or rewatch The Fifth Element. By the third act, I was hoping someone would actually take a hit at the whole Blake family and spare us from our misery. I use the word complacent in my review of The World’s End and that’s a word I could use for the major talents involved here, too.

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Well, what do you think of this one? Let me know your thoughts.