Five for the Fifth: OCTOBER 2016 Edition

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Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Well, it’s October and a lot of bloggers are dedicating their sites to horror films for the entire month. If you’ve been on this blog often enough you’ll know that isn’t going to happen here on FlixChatter. I have such feeble nerves that I almost always avoid horror films, even though I have appreciated some horror films in the past, i.e. The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, Devil’s Advocate, etc.

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A scene from Byzantium

I actually quite like vampire films, i.e. Interviews With the Vampire, Byzantium, Daybreakers, etc. But seeing The Exorcist back in college still terrified me to this day so I generally avoid anything dealing with people being possessed. But I might be persuaded to see something once in a while if it isn’t overly gory or extremely disturbing.

So my first question to you is… what horror/scary thriller would you recommend to someone like me who aren’t into the genre? 

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2. As for the trailers I’m highlighting in this edition, let’s start with the Kristen Stewart‘s movie that was booed at Cannes: Personal Shopper. Interesting because just the year before, she became the first American actress to win a Cesar [for Best Supporting Performance] for Clouds of Sils Maria which was also directed by Olivier Assayas. It’s been five months since Cannes and now we finally got the trailer:

I have to admit I wasn’t Kirsten’s biggest fan, but I thought she’s terrific in Clouds of Sils Maria, so I might check this one out. I know I just said I’m not into horror films, but this one felt more like a mysterious ghost story involving her dead twin brother than a bloody/gory horror flick.

Woo hoo!! Clive Owen is back as The Driver in BMW short film The Escape trailer!

The short film is presented as an homage to the 15th anniversary of the original BMW Film series, and it also stars Dakota Fanning, Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga. It’s directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). I’ve highlighted some of my fave BMW films here. The Escape will premiere on Sunday, October 23, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. EST on BMWFilms.com.

Thoughts about either one of these trailers?

3. It’s gotta be good to be Christopher Nolan. Per THR, the British auteur is said to be getting $20 million upfront and 20 percent of the gross for his upcoming World War II epic Dunkirk. Considering that the average director salary for a studio film is in the $750,000 to $1.5 million range, depending on the number of past credits, the $20 mil payday is astounding.

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But hey, I think Nolan deserved it, though he’s already one of the wealthiest filmmakers working today thanks to the over $1 billion gross of his Batman trilogy alone.

I’ve posted the Dunkirk teaser trailer here and it looks epic! I guess we’ll find out on July 2017 just how epic it will be.

Thoughts on Christopher Nolan huge payday?
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4. This edition’s casting news feature a double from Emma Thompson and having just finished my review of Bridget Jones’ Baby this weekend (it’s still in my draft folder), we definitely need more of her in movies!

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Let’s start with the first project which will have Emma teaming up with Mindy Kaling. What a duo it’ll be! Though I actually haven’t seen her show The Mindy Project, I really like her and I’m glad she’s making her foray into films!

The story follows a venerated late-night talk show host, played by Thompson, who’s in danger of losing her long-running show right when she hires her first female writer, played by Kaling. Sources describe the film as The Devil Wears Prada meets Broadcast News. I’m so there!

Source: Variety

The second project is an adaptation of author Ian McEwan’s novel.

Thompson plays Fiona Maye, an eminent judge in London presiding with wisdom and compassion over ethically complex cases of family law. But she has paid a heavy personal price for her workload, and her marriage to American professor Jack (Stanley Tucci) is at breaking point.

Filming will take place on location in London from mid-October. Also starring is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, who appears in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Dunkirk. I love Stanley Tucci too, he’s a terrific character actor, so this is another screen match up I look forward to seeing.

Source: Variety

Thoughts on these possible new projects for Emma Thompson?

5. This month Five for the Fifth‘s guest is Jay from the awesome blog Assholes Watching Movies!

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I saw Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children this weekend and wasn’t overly impressed. It pairs well enough with Tim Burton’s visual style of story-telling, big on surrealism and whimsy but a little lacking in actual story. Overshadowing the film, however, are Burton’s recent comments about diversity in film, and in his films in particular. As wildly inventive as some of Burton’s creations are, his films remain peopled by white characters. Casting non-whites is where his imagination draws a line in the sand, apparently. Dude with scissors for hands? Sure. Talking caterpillar? Demon barber? Obsessive candy man? All okay. Black guy playing any of those? Don’t be crazy. Or as Burton put it himself “Things either call for things, or they don’t” – meaning, if a script says “African American”, he’ll cast an African American. But if a script says “person”, Burton reads it as “white person.” And that’s exactly the kind of inherent bias we most especially have to watch for. There’s no reason why all the peculiar children were white, no reason at all. Perhaps the script did not demand it, but society does. Audiences are as diverse as they come and deserve to see themselves represented on screen. Lazy racism like Burton’s is no excuse; it’s 2016 and it’s time to stop casting like movies are segregated. Samuel L. Jackson has a sizable role in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Jackson being the first person of colour to take on a lead role in any of Burton’s films. I’d celebrate that more if he wasn’t playing a villain.

As if Burton’s all-white IMDB listing isn’t damning enough, he’s nailed himself into his own coffin with these words:

I remember back when I was a child watching “The Brady Bunch” and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.

Never mind that Blaxploitation movies were born in response to systemic racism and preached empowerment. Let’s just take his statement for what it is: white privilege, white ignorance, and an embarrassing amount of #alllivesmatter racist thinking. Tim Burton needs to pull his white head out of his white ass, and we all need to hold him accountable.

Have you seen ‘Miss Peregrine’? What do you think about Tim Burton’s racist remarks?

 


Well, that’s it for the OCTOBER edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Take part by picking a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 

Thursday Movie Picks #29: All in the Family Edition – Married Couple Movies

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I’ve been seeing posts on the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog, but I haven’t been able to participate. Well until now that is.

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. Every last Thursday for the first nine months of 2015 I’m running the All in the Family Edition and today is the the first theme for the edition… 

Married Couples

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Well, for this edition, I decided to pick three movies that feature married couples in three very different marital circumstances. Having been married for 11 years, I consider marriage a blessing I don’t take for granted, but it’s also not a walk in the park. For this blogathon, I deliberately picked three different genres just to mix things up, so here goes:

Julie & Julia

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Movies depicting a positive marriage is rare in Hollywood, perhaps they think it just doesn’t make for an interesting story. Well, I always go back to this movie as a good example of a healthy marriage as it actually features TWO loving married couples. People may only remember this movie for all the food/cooking scenes, and they certainly are scrumptious. But for me I always remember the relationship between Julie & Paul Child (Meryl Streep & Stanley Tucci), as well as Julie & Eric Powell (Amy Adams & Chris Messina). Both husbands are so supportive of their wives, and they’re depicted in such a real and sincere ways by all the actors. In fact, Paul Child made my list of Best Movie Husbands that I did for my 9th wedding anniversary.

 

Indecent Proposal

indecentproposalI saw this film ages ago with my brother, I think I might’ve been in high school at the time. I thought that the pairing of Demi Moore & Woody Harrelson worked well here and there’s a real chemistry between the two. The film shows how temptation and desire can quickly tear apart even the strongest bond between two people, and their marriage crumbles as a result. But the film doesn’t just show the fragility of marriage, but also the power of love that can piece things back together again, no matter how shattered the bond may have been. The story made such a big impression on me and to this day, the beautiful finale scene by the beach never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The heart-wrenching theme song by John Barry is one of my all time favorite.

Mr & Mrs Smith

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This is the infamous film that serves as the origin story of Hollywood’s golden couple. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie fell in love during filming and their scorching chemistry is palpable on screen. Playing two skilled assassins who kept their secret identity from each other, it’s perhaps the most preposterous portrayal of marriage, but it sure was fun to watch. The real-life couple could barely fake their disdain for each other in the opening scene at a marriage counseling session:

 


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen these films?

FlixChatter Double Review –Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Ted’s Review

After a three year absent, the Transformers are back on the big screen. They still have to deal with annoying human characters, fight the bad Transformers and destroy every big city as much as they could.

The movie picked up about 5 years after the last one, we’re introduced to some new human characters Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). Yeager is a failed inventor and he’s close to being broke and lose his farm. One day he found an old truck which happens to be Optimus Prime, he’s hiding from the government. Apparently after the events of the last movie, all of the Autobots are being hunted down by the CIA. The mission is being spearheaded by a high level CIA executive Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). When Attinger finds out that Optimus Prime is hiding out at Yeager’s farm, he sends his operatives including its leader James Savoy (Titus Welliver) to bring Prime in. Of course things didn’t turn out well as they’d hoped and Yeager, his daughter and Optimus were able to get away from the agents. I was going to write more about the “plot” of the movie but let’s face it, no one go to see this movie for its plot, which by the way didn’t make a lick of sense. If you’re a fan of the previous three movies and enjoy all the explosions and robots fighting then you’re going to love this one. For anyone who can’t stand this franchise, I’d advise you to stay far away from it!

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Wahlberg stepped in as the new leading man this time and I didn’t think he was as annoying as Shia LaBeouf but he didn’t really add anything much to the movie. Since he’s done many action movies prior, the writers did write in scenes where he’s part of the action instead of just running and screaming like LaBeouf did in the previous movies. Young actress Nicola Peltz became the new eye candy in this one, when I say eye candy, I meant it literally. Bay pretty much focused the cameras on every part of her body, just like he did with the other pretty girls in the previous movies. Another young actor (Jack Reynor) showed up as her boyfriend and I think he’s supposed to play LaBeouf’s part because I found him quite annoying. Then later in the movie, Stanley Tucci showed up as this Steve Jobs type of a character. Grammer was pretty much your typical one dimensional villain, he’s bad, he’s greedy and he doesn’t about anyone but himself.

Now let’s talk about Michael Bay and his Bayhem. I don’t know if it’s possible but this movie might have had more climatic action scenes than any other movies I’ve ever seen. Bay kept blowing things up and robots smashing into one another for close to 3 hours! The man has no restrain and as long as people keeps paying to see this franchise, he’ll never stop. I remember a while back he said he’s done with the franchise but I guess the studio probably offered him money more than any average person would ever see in their lifetime.

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Now I do have a couple of good things to say about this movie. First, it’s the first movie to have been shot with the new IMAX 3D cameras and since I’m a big fan of IMAX, it’s nice to have seen it on the biggest screen. If you’re going to see it on IMAX, know that it will have aspect ratio switching. Second, the 3D effects were quite impressive, maybe one of the best I’ve seen. There were scenes where I felt like I was in the movie, Bay did a good job there with the 3D. Of course the 3D supposed to enhance the story and not be the story, so it gets tiresome about an hour into the movie.

The movie is expected to be the summer’s biggest hit and I have no doubt that it will be a big hit. If you’re a fan of the franchise then you’ll love it, but for me it’s another bloated piece of turd from a director who only cares about making money and not quality films.

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Ruth’s Review

Ok so this is not so much a straight-on review as my rant reaction to this movie [if you can even call it that]. I’ve only seen the first movie [only because I was at a friend’s party and everyone wanted to watch the Transformers movie], and frankly I had no interest in seeing any more from this franchise. The only reason I went to this press screening is because it was at the IMAX theater and this was supposedly the first film shot with IMAX 3D Digital Camera. Silly reason really, and definitely NOT a worthy one to waste three whole hours on (more if you include the bazillion trailers before the movie starts).

Pretty much the only thing one needs to know about the Transformers universe is this: the Autobots are the good alien robots and the Decepticons are the evil ones. The humans are disposable creatures, as interchangeable as the parts in a kid’s toolbox. So supposedly an epic battle had happened in the previous film that left the world in pieces, though you wouldn’t know that from looking at the shots of Chicago and Beijing as they look pretty much unscathed with all of the skyscrapers intact. For some reasons, the Autobots are now being hunted down by the CIA, whilst the top level CIA agent (Kelsey Grammer) happily makes deals with another group of alien robots as they agree to leave earth. Meanwhile, a lowly farmer inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) inadvertently discovered that a beat-up old truck is actually the leader of the Autobots, called Optimus Prime. So of course soon enough Yeager and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) become fugitives themselves as they want to keep Optimus from getting caught. That’s pretty much the gist of it.

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As if the obtuse storyline wasn’t enough, Michael Bay‘s execution and directing style makes this fourth installment so unbearable in every sense of the word. At 165-min long, it’s overstuffed yet hollow, loud and verbose with nothing to say. As the end credit rolled, my hubby and I just shook our head. Yes I know it’s not the first time Hollywood studios spent a mind-boggling $180 mil budget on such a stinker, but this one is especially horrid with barely any redeeming quality whatsoever. Now, I’m not saying I can’t enjoy a movie about monstrous alien robots. After all, I LOVE Pacific Rim, which I’ve rewatched several times and still entertained by it. Funny that the lead character’s name is Yeager sounds just like Pac Rim‘s robotic weapon Jaeger. If only this movie is even half as entertaining!

Bay’s Transformers franchise should go down in film history as the quintessential piece of garbage, as it represents the worst thing that one dreads from a Summer blockbuster… vapid, trite, overindulgent, overwrought, plus a dose of self-satisfied smug-ness. After all, Bay remains defiant, here’s his response to those who are critical of his *masterpiece*: “They love to hate, and I don’t care; let them hate … They’re still going to see the movie! [per mtv.com]. Wish he were wrong but he’s not. As I’m writing this, the movie has made over $40 mil in one DAY, on track for a $100+ mil weekend [sigh] It’s ironic that the title tagline is ‘age of extinction.’ Well, it seems that creativity in Hollywood is on the verge of extinction [if it isn’t already]. The best line of the movie comes early in the movie, inside a ruined vintage cinema, when an older man lamented how all movies these days are sequels and remakes. Was Bay poking fun at himself and what he represents? Highly unlikely, considering his comment above.

You know something is out of whack when during watching a movie, you’re thinking about why so many good actors sign on to this and wonder how much money they made for it. That is if you’re not busy counting how many product placements are scattered during the action scenes [hint: it’s too many to count]. Every actor here is utterly wasted, Wahlberg is not immune to bad movies [The Happening, anyone?] but I’m still baffled as to why he signed on to do this. You would think he’s got enough cash that he never need to do a project only for monetary reason. Talented young actors like Sophia Myles and Jack Reynor probably just want the exposure one could get from mainstream blockbusters, but it’s still painful to see them in something THIS bad. Let’s hope they pick better roles in the future. As for Peltz, she is an exact embodiment of a damsel-in-distress, yet another eye candy type for the purpose of Bay’s unabashed female objectifications. As Wahlberg’s character complained about her daughter’s skimpy outfit, Bay set up a shot from between her thighs as she stood with her short shorts that barely covered her behind. Peltz was only 18 during filming, Bay’s nearing 50. It’s really a new low even for Bay.

I don’t know what’s worse, the wooden acting or the clichéd dialog coming out of their mouths. Even Stanley Tucci who’s always watchable even in a bad movie made me cringe here. His character is a multi-billionaire Tony Stark-type inventor who has been making man-made robots from the remains of the evil alien robots Decepticons. For someone who’s supposedly a brilliant scientist, his character does the most idiotic things throughout. In the third act, the main characters resort to dragging an alien *seed* that can turn organic material into metal. You’d think they’d be more careful with something THAT lethal, but it’s as if they’re dragging a body bag. It’s like watching a slapstick comedy except that it’s neither funny nor entertaining.

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I better end my rant now as I’m running out of adjectives to describe this movie. This FilmInk reviewer sums up my sentiment perfectly: “Transformers: Age of Extinction has appalling dialogue, deplorable representations of women, un-self-aware action sequences, very little humour and racial stereotyping. In other words, it’s a Michael Bay movie.” Suffice to say, this is by far the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time, rivaled only by Die Hard 5 but even that one is still more watchable as it’s only about half as long. I actually had to make a new rating graphic for this one as I’ve never given a rating this low before. I don’t care what state-of-the-art equipment is used to make this or even how good the visual quality is. I actually took my 3D glasses off a few times just to give my tired eyes a break. It’s really a sensory overload in the worst possible way.

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Well, what do you think of the latest Transformers movie? 

Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films – In the Valley of Ellah, The Ides of March & Margin Call

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Greetings all and sundry!

Between bouts of less than strenuous snow shoveling. I’ve taken refuge within the recent fare of The Sundance and Sony Channels. To acclimate myself with some interesting contemporary offerings. And maintain a sense of loyalty to Julian of Dirty With Class. And his suggestion that I sometime stray from my comfort zone of earlier Classic Films.

To that end, I have plunged deep into titles that tickled my interest as their trailers and ads when first unleashed on the populous. Either for their visuals, tightly compressed and less than two minute story lines. Or their casts. Which, surprisingly in hindsight appeared and delivered far beyond the parameters of their assigned tales.

Allow me to introduce …

Superlative Casts Wasted In Mediocre Films

Chronologically first in line is this odd little offering from Paul Haggis and “Based on actual events” of the early Iraq War.

In The Valley of Elah: (2007) – Sundance Channel

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Whose central plot device focuses upon returning G.I. Specialist Mike “Doc” Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker). And his strange and grisly death after suddenly going AWOL after a few weeks stateside.

Enter Mike parents, Army veteran and retired Army Intel Sergeant, Hank (Tommy Lee Jones). And his stoic wife, Joan (Susan Sarandon), who has already lost one son to a helicopter crash during a Ranger training exercise..

Being the concerned father, Hank travels to his son’s home station. Starts asking questions while hitting the first defensive line of an Army stonewall. And doesn’t buy the less than orderly goings on of the Army investigation for a minute. In retribution, hank takes a look at his son’s barracks room and finds Mike’s smart phone. Hoping it may have something hidden within its high tech innards.

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Frustrated, Hank has a discussion with Joan, who channels her inner June Lockhart from the 1960’s CBS fci-fi series, Lost In Space. And sends Hank out to find some help from the local police. On the way, Hank drops Mike’s phone at a local computer shop and asks the resident nerd or geek to run a complete diagnostic and dredge up what he can.

At the police station, Hank sees Detective Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron) deep in discussion with the distraught wife of a returned G.I.. Who had drowned the family’s pet dog in the bathtub while her husband had his son watch. Detective Sanders takes the report, but there is nothing she or the police can do. And there’s even less Sanders and the cops can do regarding an AWOL soldier. Not her problem. Not her jurisdiction.

Until a few days later and a crime scene pops up with a burned and dismembered body in the middle of nowhere. The local P.D. is more than happy to lateral the scene and crime over to the Army. Since the scene is on the outskirts if the military reservation, Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

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Hank wants to stick his nose in, but the Military Police have little time and no use for a long retired brother in arms. Angered, Hank starts playing with his son’s phone. Which had suffered heat and fire damage. And its stored videos are garbled, but show images of G.I. interrogating and later, torturing Iraqi soldiers.

Hank get a call from the base and an officer takes Hank out to the crime scene. And later the morgue. Where Jason Patric‘s Lt. Kirklander starts asking questions about Mike’s possible involvement in drugs. Nudging the possibility that a cross border gang may be responsible. Since a glass pipe was found under Mike’s mattress.

Hank and Sanders return to the crime scene and determine that Mike was brutally killed and immolated elsewhere and deliberately dumped between battling civilian and military jurisdictions…

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers’ sake.

Overall Consensus:

Paul Haggis is a well respected, revered and feted screenwriter. Attached to many award winning films. And that said. He should stick to what he knows and does best!

His direction of this first of a small number of “Anti-War” films is parochial at best. He knows how to set and stage scenes. And arranges and choreographs whatever action scenes there are in a copy book or primer fashion. No scene leaps out memorably. Though, Mr. Haggis claims credit for the film’s adaptation and screenplay.Even when Tommy Lee Jones’ Hank near weepingly informs his wife that their youngest son is dead.

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Susan Sarandon does anger and the sudden bereaved mother well. But Carol Burnett did it better in the made for TV movie, Friendly Fire in 1979. Cinematography by Roger Deakins is serviceable. And a bit clever with New Mexico outlands and Morocco substituting for Arizona and Iraq, respectively. And polished by editing by Jo Francis.

Also not a fan of the heavy-handed, Boogeyman treatment ladled onto Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Something that little is known about, but quickly becomes the catch all for any tense or erratic behavior beyond what is considered the “norm”.

Which takes into the sometimes murky world of politics. In an adaptation of the play, Farragut North. Originally written by Beau Willmon, who shares screenwriting credit with the film’s director, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

The Ides of March: (2011) – Sony Channel

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Which boasts Ryan Gosling as junior political campaign manager, Stephen Meyers. Attached to the Presidential campaign of Pennsylvania Governor, Mike Morris (D), (George Clooney. Who’s not afraid to occasionally throw his weight around). Tied up in a slowly tightening race against fellow Democrat and Arkansas Governor, Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell).

Both candidates have connections and money to burn. But need the endorsement of North Carolina Governor, Franklin Thompson (Slippery Jeffrey Wright), who controls 356 convention delegates.

Now that the primary characters have been noted. The meat of this tale hangs mostly upon and is brought to the fore by secondary players. Specifically, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, in fine form!) as Tom Pullman’s manager, front man and perhaps, bag man? Who meets with Meyers in private and delivers Meyers to a sit down with Duffy’s boss. Media and message specialist, Paul Zaza, (Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Laconically used to his power and rarely raises his voice.). Who is intrigued by Meyers and is in search for a new Padawan to mentor and teach the ropes and ins and outs to.

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Meyers and Duffy talk. And Duffy offers Meyers a position on the Pullman campaign. Which Meyers turns down in an effort to curry favor with his new girlfriend, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood). Young. Idealistic. And utterly naive and out of her depth in her desire to be part of “An honest campaign, where integrity matters”.

Molly is an intern with the Morris campaign and is also the daughter of former Senator Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin) and Chairman of the Democrat National Committee.

Meyers is bounced around as offers of Sec State are made to Morris by Duffy through Pullman. Counter offers are made in return by Zaza. Just to the the juggled balls even and airborne and Thompkins’ delegates in the mix as major leverage.

No one is playing well with the other. All anxious to hold onto whatever favorable numbers are in the polls. Meyers tries calling Molly to no avail. So Meyers begins poking around where he shouldn’t. Back to Iowa and a stopover shared by Molly and Morris. Molly is pregnant by Morris. Meyers pays bag man and delivers money to Molly for an abortion. Meyers fires Molly from the campaign with orders for her to keep quiet.

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A New York Times reporter, Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) braces Meyers with what she knows about Meyers’ meeting with Duffy. And wants more. Threatening to publish what she knows unless Meyers wants to help himself. Confronted with a leak. And Molly’s sudden overdosing. Meyers decides to take on Morris. Who has just enough information and gossip to implicate Meyers in Molly’s death. And cuts Meyers off at the knees while being handed his walking papers.

Seeking revenge, Meyers talks to Duffy, who wants nothing to do with Meyers’ rogue, duplicitous activities. Paul Zaza is even less friendly. Filling Meyers in on his personal beliefs in loyalty. And Meyers coming up far short. Admitting to Meyers that he leak that sent The New York Times after him. And not really caring. Because Meyers doesn’t have what it takes for full contact politics.

I’ll not violate the Prime Directive regarding Spoilers and pull over right now.

Overall Consensus:

Having followed the rough and tumble of politics inside and just outside Washington, DC for forty plus years. And crediting everything I know about how Democrats play the game to the late, great political novelist, Ross Thomas. I just didn’t buy the premise of the entire film.

Never doubting for a moment that Mr. Clooney’s Mike Morris would win the nomination. Basically due to his hair and good looks. I also expect something more imaginative than long telegraphed twists and standard plot devices.

That said, the battle is fought exceptionally well in the trenches by Mr.Giamatti’s and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And their characters who exude worldly weariness over the daily give and take. Addicted to the give and take of power, while doing everything they can to protect their candidates. To these men, it’s a job. Which becomes a career over time. With wins and losses. As long as the wins outnumber the losses. To Ryan Gosling‘s Stephen Meyers. It’s an adrenaline charged rush. That requires, and later demands recognition.

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It might also help to use locations in Pennsylvania to help tell and sell the tale of a Pennsylvania Governor’s desires to rise in political ascension. Instead of major and outlying cities in Ohio and Michigan!

Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is noteworthy in using these sometimes cramped and uncredited locales to add a touch of damp, dour, cold, dingy winter weather to buttress a rather tame, pedestrian.story.

Which glides us to the final installment in independent story telling. Orbiting slowly and re entering in stock market crash of 2007 and its near fatal effect on Goldman~Sachs and other Wall Street firms.

Margin Call: (2011) – Sundance Channel

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Which opens to the noise, clamor, hustle and bustle of another day’s trading on the floor. Though, something new is added. Expensively suited supervisors taking busy traders aside and handing them their pink slips. With whispers to not clear their desks or offices. Just leave!

Watched in slack jawed and stunned awe by Junior risk assessment analyst, Seth Bergman (Penn Badgley). Senior Trader, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Trading Desk Supervisor, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany). Something foul is afoot as traders are escorted out. Amongst them, Peter and Seth’s boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Master numbers cruncher. Head of risk management on the trading floor. And nearly unrecognizable in a few days’ stubble.

The three subordinates watch as Dale is led towards an elevator. Peter steps close and Dale manages to pass a USB Memory Stick. With the waning “Be Careful” as the elevator doors close, Peter plugs in the stick and starts stripping the mathematical algorithms. Discovering a whole submerged iceberg of useless and junk stocks, bonds and mortgage backed securities. Far exceeding projections from any time in the past. Or present.

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The exchange house is hemorrhaging money. And drastic measures are needed as department heads decide to burn the midnight oil. each wondering if their heads will be on the block. As Senior Risk Management Officer, Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) starts going over the “Formula”‘s numbers and projections. Seth and peter call in Will Emerson. Who calls his higher up, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey solidly in touch with his inner Jack Lemmon).

The players make their entrances in whispered asides and brief encounters. As Will, Seth and Peter go to the skyscraper’s roof for a smoke or last bit of fresh air before the dawn. With Will trying to allay fears while not really knowing much of anything, himself. As a helicopter makes itself known before circling and landing on the upper, night lit helipad.

The first of several meetings is called. With Division head, Jared Cohen (Simon Baker, from L.A. Confidential and The Mentalist. Radiating smooth confidence in expensive attire) and Corporate CEO, John Tuld (Jeremy Irons. A veteran of past “hiccups” and anxious to find the limits of immediate damage). His opening soliloquy is equal parts familiarity with what may occur. And a desire for ideas. Any ideas which might help allay or soften the inevitable.

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Ms. Robertson adds to the discussion with the news that “The Formula” is real and a worst case scenario will soon be at hand. While Sam responds to Tuld’s wanting a plan of action with a dawn to dusk sale of anything and everything. At least 40% sales on stocks and shares at 85 cents on the dollar by 11 o’clock. With recalls to brokerage houses throughout the day. Starting at 65 cents on the dollar afterward and continuously whittling down as excess ballast is dumped, But to what end?

Survival, of course. Creating what is sure to be a long, hard and full day ahead. As lower tier traders go seek privacy to cry or panic. And their bosses sweat out what can be retrieved or gained.

As the man with the plan, Eric Dale is sought out for whatever other input he might be able to add in regards to sales and options. Eric is at home. In his recently purchased and refurbished house in Brooklyn. And Will and Peter have their breakfasts interrupted. And are dispatched to find whatever the can. or bring him back.

In the interim, Ms. Robertson has a tete a tete with Jared over whom is going to be asked to fall on their sword and be a sacrificial lamb. Sarah is having no part of it. While Jared knows that she is. And will be. While Sam takes the just arrived floor traders asides and delivers not exactly a pep talk, but more of a plan of strategy.
Mentioning bonuses to individual and team of traders for achieving or exceeding their assigned quotas.

The morning bell clangs and the air is alive with calls out and the sales feeding frenzy begins. With Will laying on all his charms while giving away whacking great chunks of toxic stocks at slightly better than minimum loss. That will surely approaching maximum before the day is out.

Overall Consensus:

Here we have an instance of an A-List cast being used to less than their absolute potential. In a film whose dialogue could use one or two scenes of unbridled and angry scenery chewing. We have utter, serene, near glacial calm as the bottom is falling out of a touch stone brokerage house.

The cast does what it can to add suspense with inflection and decades of experience with the spoken word. Especially Kevin Spacey’s Sam. Who has too many years in. Wants out badly, but the present opportunity offers little in return. Sam does what he does, because he needs the money.

While Jeremy Irons knows the present situation is terrible. But survivable. The only real “third wheel” is Demi Moore‘s Sarah Robertson. Who approaches the requisite anger level for such a situation. Railing against the men over her coveted position, while being brushed aside at nearly every turn.

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Surprisingly, it’s Stanley Tucci who calmly, quietly underplays and subtly manages to steal then own every scene he’s in. His talk with Will on the steps of his Brooklyn home is a wonder to follow as explains hours and days of travel saved with a bridge he’s helped design between Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Direction by J.C. Chandor is adequate and mostly shot in one of Goldman’s deserted office towers. Though his screenplay could have stood a second review and possible re-write.

Personal Notes:

I don’t mind “Bad Cinema”. Some offerings are my favorite Guilty Pleasures. What I do mind are producers (And these films’ list of producers are all excessively long) putting their money on the line to assemble A-List and ‘Dream Team’ actors saddled with less-than-satisfactory projects under the reins of less than proven directors.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree? Disagree? Your comments are welcome!

[Arctic] Weekend Roundup & Quick Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It’s truly one of the c-cc-coldest weekend ever. It’s way too early to have an arctic weather conditions here and it lingers way too long!

CurrentWeatherMplsWe’re talking about several degrees below zero (Fahrenheit that is, so it’s a few dozen degrees below zero in Celcius!), with Wind Chill Advisory issued by National Weather Service when the wind chill is low enough that it poses a threat to human health and life if adequate protection is not taken against hypothermia and frostbite! Now, where I live, I don’t just look at the temp, but the ‘Feels like’ part is far more important, and so it feels like -21˚ out there right now. This is the time I ask myself time and time again, ‘Why the heck do I still live here?!’ 😉

Well, we didn’t stay cooped up inside because of the snow and frigid temp, so we did see Catching Fire on the big screen, finally!

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Now, my friend Ashley has written a full review of this last week and I agree with her praises on the movie. I enjoyed the first film but I’d actually give this one more of an edge. I had only read the first book so going into Catching Fire, I tried not to read any of the plot points so it was a pretty different experience. I must say I like being surprised, and there are some moments here that made me go WHOA!

Here are some of the things that I enjoyed from the sequel:

  • The darker themes explored more boldly that shows just what’s at stake for the characters, especially Katniss. Director Francis Lawrence was bolder in showing the brutality of the oppressive Panem regime (well as much as PG-13 would allow for it, that is), such as the whipping scene and the Hunger Games itself. I like political intrigue and the casting of Donald Sutherland as President Snow and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch add so much gravitas to the story.
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  • In regards to Hoffman, I feel that he elevates the film every time he appears. I sure hope he would have more screen time in the third film given what we now know about his character.
  • Speaking of supporting actors, besides Sutherland and Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci are equally memorable. Tucci never fails to entertain no matter how over-the-top his character is, if anything he makes the games’ host Caesar Flickerman so darn amusing.
  • I’ve warmed up to Peeta in this movie, seems that his character is more fully-realized and Josh Hutcherson is given more to do in the role. I like that he’s more assertive and confident with himself, but yet he’s got this inherently likable quality about him that won me over. Hutcherson has a more effortless chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence here, and I could see how Katniss is even more torn now between him and her childhood love Gale.
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    The brief scene where Peeta comforts Katniss when she has nightmares is one of my favorites. It shows just how much the stress of these brutal games take a toll on these kids.
  • All the hoopla about Jena Malone‘s scene-stealing performance as fellow tribute Johanna Mason is justified, especially the elevator scene which is a hoot! Sam Claflin is convincingly slimy as Finnick Odair, perhaps a little too convincing, ahah. Glad to see him show his chops as he’s so bland in Snow White & The Huntsman, but then again look who he had to act against, ahah.
  • Speaking of costumes, as atrocious as some of them are, the Mockingjay dress is pretty darn cool. Ok so it seems to be inspired by Black Swan but man, when Katniss twirls and the white *wedding* dress turns to black I literally gasped [I think costume designer Trish Summerville ought to be nominated for her work] Btw, when President Snow saw that and his expression immediately soured, it was a pretty chilling moment.
    CatchingFire_MockingjayDress
  • Interesting to see the likes of Jeffrey Wright as one of the tributes. I guess it made sense that some of the tributes are older as they’re picked from a pool of past victors.
  • The set pieces are fun to watch. The arena where the tributes are being introduced to the crowd reminds me a lot of the chariot scene in Ben-Hur.
  • I like how the ‘circus freak-y’ character Effie Trinket’s humanity is revealed more in this film. I think there’s a glimpse of it in the first film but it’s more apparent here. I think Elizabeth Banks did a fine job here, and she barely gets a mention other than for all the crazy costumes and makeup she wears.
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  • The games itself is beautifully-shot. I didn’t see it at the IMAX but my pal Ted who saw it there said it was marvelous. I was pretty caught-up in the games and it reminded me just how vicious and unpredictable it can be!
  • Last but not least, Jennifer Lawrence still owns the role as Katniss Everdeen. She is a heroine worth rooting for as she’s as vulnerable as she is bad ass. No doubt that a large part of the franchise’s success is due to her casting and it’s easy to see why.
    CatchingFire_KatnissEven in her already illustrious career long before she even hit 25, I think Katniss would be regarded as one of her best roles. It’s interesting to see her effortless acting alongside people close to her age (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth) but she looks just as comfortable in the presence of veteran actors like Sutherland and Hoffman. She has the confidence of someone well beyond her years but there’s also certain nuances that she brings to the role that I notice more now that I’ve seen more of her work.

Ok, there are lots to love here but I’m not saying the movie is perfect. I thought the pacing was off in the first hour. I actually glanced at my watch a few times as it felt rather long. I’m not fond of Willow Shields as Katniss’ sister Prim and their scenes didn’t quite resonate with me. There are also very little character developments with any of the tributes. Yes I know this story is more about Katniss and Peeta, but the tributes are almost an afterthought here that by the time the games begin, it felt like the games was actually lesser in scope than it’s supposed to be in the book. Also, am I the only one creep-ed out by Finnick and Mags at one point of the game? It’s just bizarre and not in a good way.

CatchingFire_GamesStartThe games itself isn’t as gripping as I expected, though there’s a big tense moment at the start of the game when everyone got dropped to the island. But overall it just wasn’t as riveting, and the fact that Katniss had so many allies right off the bat seems to lessen the gravity of the games, if you will.

That said, I’m still looking forward to the third film. Boy that ending made me wish Mockingjay will be released next month instead of a year from now!

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4 out of 5 reels

This weekend I also watched Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (read my review)


So that’s my weekend roundup folks! Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? Or you can also share what you watched this weekend.

FlixChatter Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

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I’ve actually never seen any Jack and the Beanstalk movie before, but of course I’m familiar with this bedtime story. I was curious enough about this one given that it’s directed by Bryan Singer.

It starts unpredictably enough, with Jack’s father reading him a bedtime story and of course Jack always believed it’s not just a myth. Fast forward to a decade or so later and Jack’s now living with his farmer uncle. After his father’s death and on the way of selling his horse to make ends meet, he inadvertently comes into possession of the magic beans that has the power to open the gateway between human race and giants. “No matter what you do, makes sure you don’t get these wet,” said the man who gave Jack those beans. Well, that’s exactly what happen when one of them fell underneath Jack’s house and rain poured heavily one fateful night. That one small bean ends up growing into a giant beanstalk that shoot up and up to the sky… and soon, all hell break loose.

You can pretty much guess what’s going to happen next. In fact, this movie has zero intrigue as it’s as if you’ve seen this story played out in your head. Now, there are a lot of fairy tale movies where you know the story by heart but yet the fresh adaptations still manage to surprise and entertain you (Tangled is one that comes to mind, which is based on the classic fairy tale of Rapunzel). Alas, this film is NOT one of them.

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Neither the adventure nor the romance is the stuff of legend as it were, in fact, if you’re older than say seven or eight, you’ll likely be bored watching this movie. The British pair Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson as Princess Isabelle barely has any chemistry despite their best effort, but then again they never stood a chance when their dialog is so uninspired. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised this was written by Christopher McQuarrie who gave us the abysmal The Tourist!!

This film has all the elements money can buy, what with the computer-generated giants and impressive effects of the beanstalk forming all the way up to the sky, but clearly money doesn’t buy great scripts. I mean it SHOULD, but for some reason, studios seem intent on squandering their money on CGI and elaborate set pieces instead of a story and characters worth caring for.

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It’s a big waste of talents too. I mean, I think 23-year-old Hoult is a pretty decent actor and has enough leading man charisma, but for some reason he’s just not all that interesting to watch here. Tomlinson looked like she’s about to cry at every moment it’s irritating, I don’t really know if that’s the director’s fault or that’s just her acting style.

The supporting cast is an even bigger waste! Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, and Ewan McGregor are so grossly underutilized here it’s criminal! Even McShane seems bored and uncomfortable under that gold full plate armor and the only funny part involving Tucci you’ve already seen it in the trailer. The CGI giants look realistic enough, which I’m sure that’s where most of the gigantic budget cost went to, but despite their size they have no personality whatsoever other than the stereotypical gross, uncivilized behavior. They remind me of the goblins in The Hobbit, only much less amusing. The 3D is just fine, not distracting, but it doesn’t add much either. Once again it’s just another studio gimmick to extract more money when a regular format would do just fine.

Sounds like box office forecast already predicted that this movie would NOT slay the box office (it only grossed a measly $7 mil on Friday). That’s got to be a major blow for the studio, especially since this movie was supposed to open last June 2012!

Final Thoughts: I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I’d think Bryan Singer could’ve delivered a much more compelling and entertaining movie. After all, this is the director who brought us the excellent X-Men franchise before all the superhero movies came along. He’s proven that a comic book movie could be more than just fluff, you’d think he could do the same with a fairy tale story.

Unfortunately, this film is such a giant waste of $190+ mil to me. Overused plot lines, cliched characters and dialog, and every joke and line seems to have been recycled from things we’ve seen before. Kids might enjoy the CGI wonders… but adults will realize it’s a soulless piece of cinema.


2 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen this one? Do share your thoughts of this film.

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: The Coen Brothers’ Gambit remake

I haven’t visited impawards site in a while but I’m glad I did so today. How have I not heard of this film before?? I mean, hello Col. Brandon and Mr. Darcy… I mean, these are two of my all time favorite period drama heroes!! 😉

The gist:

So what’s Gambit about? Now, you comic-book fans out there might think of the X-Men character, but no, it has nothing to do with that. Here’s the synopsis from Orange.com:

Private art curator Harry Deane (Colin Firth) devises a finely-crafted scheme to con England’s richest man and avid art collector, Lionel Shabandar, (Alan Rickman) into purchasing a fake Monet painting. In order to bait his buyer, he recruits a Texas rodeo queen (Cameron Diaz) to cross the pond and pose as a woman whose grandfather liberated the painting at the end of WWII.

It’s described as a crime-comedy. Now, another thing that piqued my interest is that the screenplay is written by the Coen Brothers, who specializes in this kind of genre. But this time they’re not directing the movie, instead, it’ll be Michael Hoffman (One Fine Day, The Last Station) doing the directing duties. The story is a remake of the 1966 movie of the same name with Michael Caine as Harry. I don’t know how many remakes the Coens have done in the past, I think The Ladykillers and True Grit were remakes, but I’ve only seen the latter and that was one of my top 5 movies of 2010.

The Cast:

See my first paragraph. Obviously the two male leads Alan Rickman and Colin Firth sold me already on this movie. But add the always excellent Stanley Tucci and this automatically becomes a run-don’t-walk-to-the-theater kinds of flicks. But Cameron Diaz?? Heh, can’t say I’m enthused about her casting… but I’ve got to admit, she’s got good comedic skills, case in point: Something About Mary, and I totally could see her as a Texas rodeo queen. Besides, it could be worse… Jennifer Aniston was considered for the role of PJ Puznowski.

Looks like the pics above are snapped at Heathrow Airport. Boy, even at 40 Diaz’s still rockin’ those daisy dukes! I like the fact that the movie is filmed on location in London. No Rickman in sight though, but no matter, I just have a good feeling about this one. With the Coens’ script, this seems poised to be quite an entertaining caper comedy.

Now the bad news… for us in America anyway…

Release dates:

According to Cinemablend, Gambit has been pushed back by CBS Films from October 12th of this year to a mysterious time in “Winter 2013.” Not sure why that is, but apparently the studio is placing Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths in its slot. Looks like my UK friends are the lucky ones as they still get to see it this year on November 21.

Added 9/20:

The trailer is now here!

Man, now I’m even more excited to see this!


Thoughts on this movie folks? Are you going to see this one?