FlixChatter Review: West Side Story (2021)

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Musicals seem to be back in fashion again in Hollywood. Just this year alone we’ve got In The Heights, Annette, Dear Evan Hansen, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie… not to mention the Netflix release of Tick, Tick, Boom recently. I have to admit I wasn’t exactly clamoring to see a remake of West Side Story (I’m actually one of the last few people on earth who still haven’t seen the original), but I was curious because it’s directed by Steven Spielberg, a renowned director who has not done a musical before.

I wonder why he decided to do THIS particular one as opposed to a whole bunch of other musicals out there. Well, I read on IMDb that he had been a fan of the music since he was 10 years old and he had always wanted to direct an adaptation for it, so in many ways it’s kind of a personal dream the way Denis Villeneuve had always wanted to make DUNE since he was a teenager.

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Even without seeing the original, I knew that the story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, that famous forbidden romance between two young people from opposing families. Instead of Italy, this one is set in New York’s Upper West Side in the 1950s and instead of warring families, we’ve got two warring teenage gangs – the Jets and the Sharks. The best part about this film is definitely the glorious visuals. Right from the opening scene where we’re introduced to the Jets, the white gangs made up of teenage boys, are bold and stylish. The actors are such amazing dancers who move fluidly and confidently through the streets, and the set design does a great job depicting the urban life of 50s New York. The Jets is led by Riff (Mike Faist), a willowy punk with a huge chip on his shoulder. 

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The prime ingredients for a great musicals are definitely the choreography, music and cinematography… and West Side Story has all three. Justin Peck, who started out as a dancer with New York City Ballet, is Tony-award winning choreographer and he does an astounding job here. The dance moves are so fun to watch and had me transfixed the entire time. Another Spielberg longtime collaborator, DP Janusz Kaminski is no stranger to creating beautiful visuals for various genres and he does it again here. I love the way he lights everything and his use of shadows is just awe-inspiring, there are countless ‘one-perfect-shot’ imagery here, but especially THIS one when the Sharks and Jets are meeting to fight in the middle of the night.

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Then there’s the absolutely amazing music! The classic songs are definitely the highlight for me… it’s astounding how SO many songs are familiar to me… (I just made a list of top 5 favorites here). Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim are music legends and their music truly stand the test of time.

The performances are generally pretty good. The star-crossed lovers are made up of Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) and I appreciate that the two look young enough to pull off being a teenager. I know lots of people have called out Zegler’s performance as Oscar-worthy and she’s even won some critics’ nominations for Best Actress, but I personally think her singing is more captivating than her acting. That’s not to say she’s not a good actress, but I don’t think it’s a stellar enough performance for me if it were a regular, non-singing role.

Still, it’s an impressive feature debut and she is definitely far more charismatic than Elgort. I remember he was quite good in Baby Driver, but Elgort has a rather bland presence despite having a really good singing voice. One can’t talk about him without mentioning the sexual assault allegations, now I don’t subscribe to ‘cancel culture’ that runs rampant in the social media age of today, but I’d rather give the filmmakers/producers the benefit of the doubt that they must not have found sufficient enough reason to recast him. I do think an actor with more charisma would’ve totally rocked the role. Elgort’s Tony hardly makes my heart skip a beat.

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For me, the two MVPs of the film are Ariana DeBose as Anita and Rita Moreno as Valentina. I remember in one of the sequence featuring Anita, I turned to my husband and said, ‘this girl is so magnetic!’ I’ve never seen DeBose in anything before but I sure hope she gets more prominent roles. It’s interesting to note as Moreno had played Anita in the original film, and her character plays a huge role here, especially in THAT scene where Anita is trapped in a shop with all the Jets boys. Let’s just say if it weren’t for Valentina, it would’ve been a terrible situation for Anita. I actually watched the Rita Moreno documentary where she talked about filming that scene, and because she is Puerto Rican herself, that scene was extremely difficult for her. 

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Out of the Sharks, David Alvarez stood out as the brooding Bernardo, he reminds me of young Russell Crowe in the role. Non-binary actress Iris Menas is quite memorable as Anybodys, a former-tomboy character that’s been updated to be a transgender who worships the Jets and wants to be a part of the gang. It’s one of the more inclusive approach of this new adaptation, and I also appreciate that this version is appropriately bilingual with the Puerto Rican speaking Spanish quite often.

Spielberg directed the script written by his longtime collaborator Tony Kushner, who also worked on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012) together. In many ways, the narrative is actually pretty timely and topical given the immigration theme– the Sharks are Puerto Rican wanting to fit in and be accepted, while the territorial white boys in the Jets feel threatened by their existence and want to maintain status quo. Definitely sounds really familiar in today’s political climate.

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One quibble I have is with the ending however. Now, I’m glad that somehow the finale hasn’t been spoiled for me, as I had no idea who would live or die by the end. Yet the finale didn’t really pull my heartstring as I expected. I think I just wasn’t as emotionally involved with the star-crossed lovers, I wasn’t as moved by the ending of say, Moulin Rouge! which is another doomed-love story musical.

 In any case, I’m glad I finally saw a West Side Story cinematic adaptation and watching it at a Dolby Cinema was quite a treat for the senses! Those who see this for the first time will likely be swept up by it and fans of the classic would appreciate this version that fixes the racial issues but also honors the beauty of the original. This film further proves that Spielberg’s still got it and he is truly a master filmmaker who can thrive in any genre.

4/5 stars


Have you seen the latest WEST SIDE STORY? Let me know what you think!

Music Break – Five favorite songs from West Side Story

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I am still humming the gorgeous songs from West Side Story today, as last night I had the privilege of seeing the newly-adapted musical directed by Steven Spielberg at a Dolby Cinema. I haven’t done a Music Break since last August, so I thought today would be the perfect time to highlight the timeless songs in anticipation for the new film’s release on December 10, as well as honoring the late Stephen Sondheim‘s astounding work.

Confession: I actually have not seen the original musical in its entirety, but my late mom had a CD of a bunch of Broadway songs when I was growing up so I’m familiar with most of the music. I’ve seen a bunch of the scenes since then too, so you can say I’m more familiar with the music/songs than the movie.

A few Interesting Trivia about West Side Story and Stephen Sondheim:

  • Per EverythingSondheim.org: West Side Story was Stephen Sondheim’s first foray on a Broadway stage in 1957. He was just 27 when it opened. Already eager to start his Broadway career as a composer and a lyricist, he was convinced by his mentor Oscar Hammerstein to debut as the show’s lyricist, the junior member of a team comprised of three well known artists: composer Leonard Bernstein, director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, and playwright Arthur Laurents.

Bernstein-and-SondheimSondheim (left) with Bernstein – photo courtesy of CulturalAttache.co

  • Per Google Arts & Culture:
    – Arthur Laurents taught him to write from the playwright’s perspective
    – Sondheim had been informally tutored by Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein was one of the foremost lyricists of the first half 20th century, writing the book and lyrics to such classic musicals as OklahomaCarousel, and The King and I. Sondheim describes Hammerstein as a “surrogate father” who mentored the young Sondheim in his teenage years.
  • Since West Side Story, Sondheim has received eight Tony Awards (the most won by any composer) the American Theatre Wing Award Lifetime Achievement Award, eight Drama Desk Awards, eight Grammy Awards (including one for the West Side Story 2010 revival), a Pulitzer Prize, five Laurence Olivier Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors, and the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ok so here are 5 of my favorite songs featured in the film (in random order, I can’t possibly rank them!):

AMERICA

The lyrics for this one speaks of the immigrant experience, all the struggles and advantages of living in ‘someone else’s land.’ Some of the lyrics really hit home and even decades after the first production was released, the words still resonate and relevant.

Life can be bright in America
If you can fight in America

Life is all right in America
If you’re all white in America

Here you are free and you have pride
Long as you stay on your own side

I just love the spunk of Rita Moreno in this dance sequence!!

TONIGHT

This is perhaps the one song I’m most familiar with… it’s such a powerful ballad that I hope one day I get to watch West Side Story on stage to hear this sung LIVE. In the Spielberg’s adaptation, both actors actually sang the songs… and boy, Rachel Zegler has an incredible singing voice that’s perfect for this romantic song. The 20-year-old Colombian-American actor and singer-songwriter beat out over 30,000 applicants for the role and rightly so!

MARIA

Interesting that another favorite classic musical I love, The Sound of Music, also has a song with ‘Maria’ in it. I quite like this one sung by Richard Beymer who certainly has more charisma than the current actor, Ansel Elgort. Now, I barely pay attention to ‘cancel culture’ that’s running rampant these days, and apparently he’s accused of some sexual impropriety, but my issue is that Ansel is kind of a bland actor, though his singing voice is pretty decent.

In any case, the lyrics are just so romantic and sweet…

Say it loud and there’s music playing,
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

I Feel Pretty

There’s something so fun and whimsical about this song! Now, there isn’t a clip from the current film yet, which I really enjoyed and Rachel Zegler‘s voice is so gorgeous! So I’m including this clip instead. Natalie Wood‘s singing voice is dubbed by Marni Nixon in the 1961 version. It’s such a catchy song that I often find myself humming and one tends to twirl when hearing this song, ahah.

SOMEWHERE

It’s another ballad with such a beautiful, evocative lyrics… I think it beautifully captures the star-crossed love story and also the Puerto Ricans trying to fit in America, it’s truly amazing what Sondheim did with the words of a song… and of course Bernstein’s melody is equally breathtaking. In the original, the song was a duet…

There’s a time for us,
Someday there’ll be a time for us:
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.

… but I actually prefer the one sung in the Spielberg version, sung by Rita Moreno as you can hear in the teaser. It packs an emotional wallop!


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Which song(s) from WEST SIDE STORY is your favorite?

Thursday Movie Picks: Police Detectives

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

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

Well, there are SO many to choose from as Hollywood loves procedural movies! But there are a few that stood out to me from movies as well as TV. In fact, I’ve rewatched most of these recently and they’re still fun to watch.

In any case, here are my picks:

HOT FUZZ

One of my favorite action comedy!! Edgar Wright is basically doing a spoof and homage to American buddy action movies like Bad Boys, in fact there’s a scene of them watching that movie! Seeing Simon Pegg as a goody two shoes policeman (hence his name is Nicholas Angel) is such a hoot!! Any movie w/ Pegg + his BFF Nick Frost is always fun. Plus there’s Timothy Dalton as the villain, so perfect!!

Fun Trivia:
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright interviewed many real police officers while doing research for the film. Many lines in the film such as “I prefer to think my office is out on the street” came directly from those interviews. The stylized scenes of Nick doing paperwork were inspired by the officers noting that paperwork is a huge part of the job, but it is never depicted in cop shows and films.


SLEEPY HOLLOW

I just rewatched this a few months ago as I’ve forgotten quite a bit of it since I first saw this a while ago. I actually enjoyed it more than I did the first time, perhaps my fave Tim Burton film. Johnny Depp is fun to watch as the rather bumbling Ichabod, probably one of my fave roles of his.

Fun Trivia:
Historically, Ichabod Crane was a very unattractive man. Johnny Depp offered to add prosthetics to his face to make himself look ugly, but director Tim Burton wanted to base the character on Crane’s more unattractive personality traits, his reported squeamishness and eccentricity.


MINORITY REPORT

This is one of my all time fave sci-fi movies and somehow a lot of the technology doesn’t seem dated even though this movie is almost 2 decades old! I suppose self-driving cars, personalized ads, home voice automation and gesture controlled computers, most of those have become part of our every day lives now. Tom Cruise is in top form here, definitely one of his best roles.

Fun Trivia:
For the scene where Anderton holds his breath in the bathtub, Steven Spielberg was going to create the air bubble rising with CGI, but Tom Cruise took the time and learned how to do it himself. Both Spielberg and Cruise agreed to waive their usual salary to help keep the film’s budget under $100 million. They agreed to take 15% of the film’s gross instead.

BBC’s Sherlock

Ok so this one is not a movie, though I think they’re still planning on adapting this popular series as a feature. It’s Benedict Cumberbatch‘s huge breakout role (launching the Cumberbitches phenomenon) and he’s definitely fun to watch here. I love his friendship with his partner/assistant Watson, brilliantly played by Martin Freeman, which is one the strongest part about this series.

Fun Trivia:
Many of the crew in Sherlock (2010) are related. Sherlock’s parents are actually actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents, Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton; Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan) and Martin Freeman (John Watson) were real-life partners; producer Sue Vertue is writer Steven Moffat’s wife, and co-producer and writer Beryl Vertue is his mother-in-law; writer Mark Gatiss’ husband is the barrister in Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall (2012); Steven Moffat’s son plays Sherlock Holmes as a child in a few episodes.


So who are YOUR favorite movie/tv detectives?

Musings on the Spielberg VS Netflix Debate

Hello readers! Today is the fifth and up until a couple of years ago, it’s customary that I post five random movie news/tidbits/query under the Five for the Fifth series. Well, this topic would certainly be part of that series today!

I had thought about this quite a bit since I heard about Steven Spielberg’s plan to push for the Academy to ban Netflix from Oscars at its annual post-Oscars meeting. Spielberg is the Academy Governor of the directors branch and this is what his company Amblin spokesperson is quoted as saying:

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation… He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.” (per Variety)

I didn’t know this but apparently Spielberg has said in the past that Netflix films should only be eligible for Emmys rather than Oscars. Again per Variety, this is what he said back in 2018: “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

This news was first reported by Indiewire, and it lists some of the complaints from Hollywood studios against the streaming service. Among others, the fact that Netflix doesn’t report box office and that it doesn’t respect the 90-day theatrical window. ROMA only spent spent 3 weeks in the theatre before it’s shown on Netflix.

Now, this is what Netflix responded with on Twitter a couple of days later, without mentioning Spielberg by name…


Now, when I first read Spielberg’s comment, I was already unnerved by it. My initial reaction is that he’s just a big Hollywood elite who does not like change, especially one that threatens his own status and tradition he holds dear. No doubt that ‘threat’ got bigger when Netflix’s ROMA got no less than 10 nominations at the Oscars this year AND won three, including Best Foreign Language film.

Now, I don’t have to be a filmmaker to realize how tough it is not only to get a film made, but to get it distributed. An indie filmmaker would be lucky to get even a limited theatrical release, and few could expect to get a wide release the way a standard legacy (studio) system would. The title of the IndieWire article alone says it all about what this ‘battle’ means for the underdogs, aka indie filmmakers…

The Spielberg vs. Netflix Battle Could Mean Collateral Damage for Indies at the Oscars

I recognize that many of the films Netflix campaign aggressively for Oscars were about people of color AND were made by people of color who are still very much a minority under the Hollywood legacy system… Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga), 13th (Ava Duvernay), Mudbound (Dee Rees), and Roma (Alfonso Cuarón).

So naturally, as a filmmaker of color myself who’s trying to get a feature made, I experience it firsthand how arduous it is to get the chance to make a film. Indie filmmakers don’t get the privilege to expect ANY theatrical release, and many consider getting even a streaming release as a huge accomplishment. Thus I see Netflix as an ally to independent filmmakers, and also filmmakers of color. Based on the films they’ve made/distributed, they seem committed to inclusive storytelling which can only be a good thing for film fans everywhere. But of course that’s still somehow seen as a challenge to the ‘status quo’ who only says they support ‘diversity’ if it aligns with their own success and pocketbooks.

As a film fan, I have increasingly choose to see films on my TV rather than going to the theater. Yes, as a press member I do get invited to advanced screenings, but if I miss some of those films, I often choose to wait until it’s available on VOD. Now, when I know it’s a Netflix film or an Amazon Studio film, I’m glad to know that I can see it sooner and without paying extra because I already have subscriptions to both streaming services. So to me, the quality of a film and its legitimacy to be regarded as a motion picture (read: its Oscars-eligibility) has no bearing on where it’s presented. Spielberg seems to say that there is one way to see a movie and that is on the big screen. I think that communal way of film viewing will never go away, and I still do enjoy seeing some films on the big screen (even in IMAX if it’s made specifically for that giant screen), but there is really no wrong way to see a movie.

Many Hollywood studios don’t like the fact that Netflix doesn’t report theatrical grosses. They are starting to share some metrics of audience viewerships (per BGR.com) so perhaps they’d do the same with theatrical release numbers in the future? Not that it matters to me, the audience member, nor should it have any bearing in the quality of a film.

Even before the Spielberg news came out, Alfonso Cuarón already weighed in on this subject to Variety:

There needs to be greater diversity in how we release our films. Distribution models need to be more flexible, depending on the film. You cannot impose the release strategy of a tentpole film on a smaller film. You may need fewer theaters and longer runs or models in which the so-called window is shorter. We’re thinking in one single paradigm. It’s a moment to start opening up paradigms. Right now it’s a confrontation between economic models. It’s not like one model benefits cinema, and the other does not.


Now, I’m NOT writing this because I’m on the side of a multi-billion dollar streaming company. In fact, I’ve been a longtime fan of Spielberg, but his comments shows him as being out of touch and elitist who wants to maintain his status quo. He’s a product of the studio system where minorities (women, people of color, disabled, etc) struggle to get in and tell their story.

I came across this thread from Franklin Leonard, the founder of The Black List (an annual survey of Hollywood’s executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays), and it’s hard to argue with his points…


Yes I realize some of you might argue that Netflix is not an ‘underdog’ company that deserves our sympathy. After all it spent about $50 million for Roma‘s Oscar campaign alone. So perhaps the argument should be about limiting spending on Oscar campaigns? I personally can’t stand studio’s award campaign, that’s one of the worst things about award season for me. But if the film Netflix or other streaming service is promoting is a worthy one, who’s to say it’s not eligible to be included in the Oscar race??

As I have just seen a Netflix Original Film last night, TRIPLE FRONTIER. It’s the first time I saw a Netflix film on the big screen, surely the first of many. At the film premiere, no doubt this topic was all the buzz. One of the film’s star who’s also a filmmaker, Ben Affleck, is naturally supportive of Netflix, saying that “they’re helping define the future of cinema and distribution” (per Deadline).

Per Cinema Blend, Affleck spoke of his rationale why he wouldn’t be in Spielberg’s camp in trying to disqualify streaming films (even those that has limited theatrical release) from competing at Oscars…

We certainly approached [Triple Frontier] as any other movie. There’s no difference when you’re making it between what the platform is that it’s going to be seen on. I do think Netflix is doing more interesting stuff in creating a more cinematic experience for the home. More people, more viewers, bigger TVs, bigger sound. They’re doing Dolby Cinema color correction, they do Dolby Atmos sound mixes. So they’re sort of synthesizing the theatrical with the home viewing experience in a kind of interesting way. It’s all changing very fast.


Netflix continues to work with big names in filmmaking, (One of Triple Frontier‘s executive producers is Kathryn Bigelow) and they’ve got Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman with its all-star cast (DeNiro, Pacino, Harvey Keitel) which will likely get an even wider release than ROMA. I personally think it’s an exciting time as a film fan as we have more options for content and how we want to see them.

So in conclusion, I’m glad there are streaming services like Netflix exists. I’m lucky that I live in a city where there are plenty of cinemas. But even so, there are always smaller films that I want to see that don’t get shown or they’re shown only in 1-2 theaters in Minneapolis for 2 weeks tops. I’d imagine people in rural or remote areas don’t even get that same privilege, but it’d be easier for them to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix.

In the end, I believe in options… I like to be able to see movies wherever and whenever I want. In the ideal world, the theatrical and streaming model should co-exist. Just because something has been done one way for so long doesn’t mean it has to be the ONLY way.


So what do you think of this Spielberg VS Netflix debate? Let’s hear it!

 

FlixChatter Review – Ready Player One (2018)

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Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline
Runtime: 2hrs 20min

Before seeing Ready Player One, I had to remind myself to judge it as a stand-alone movie rather than a book adaptation. I’ve read the book several times and thoroughly enjoyed it for the most part, and I didn’t want to ruin the experience for myself by nitpicking every little difference between the book and movie. This was a good mindset going in, because it isn’t a very faithful adaptation, but it’s a decent movie on its own.

Tye Sheridan w/ Olivia Cooke, Philip Zhao and Win Morisaki

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, when the world has become an economic and environmental wasteland. To escape their dreary reality, people spend their time in an incredible virtual world called The OASIS. When its creator, Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he challenges its users to find three keys to unlock an Easter Egg that will bestow his fortune to the winner. OASIS users Wade, AKA Parzival (Tye Sheridan), Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) work together to find the Egg before the evil corporation IOI, led by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), gets there first.

My biggest issue with this film is its heavy reliance on narration, especially at the beginning. I understand that it’s difficult to fit a lot of pertinent information from a novel into a film adaptation, but the rule “show, don’t tell” is important to remember, and this movie had plenty of opportunity to do so. It opens showing people in their homes in The Stacks (mobile homes literally stacked like high rises), escaping their dreary surroundings by wearing high-tech VR goggles and accessories, then shows the detailed, fantastical, hyperrealistic virtual world of the OASIS- all of which is then explained with nearly ten minutes of narration. It’s completely unnecessary. The movie has plenty to work with visually to establish the background information, and what they can’t do visually they could set up through dialogue (which, to be fair, they do sometimes); it would have felt more natural and less lazy.

Despite this, Ready Player One is still an enjoyable movie. The CGI is impressive, and there are a lot of great 80’s and 90’s visual references, some subtle and some obvious, that will appeal to nostalgia geeks. The action is beautifully animated and really sucks you in. The soundtrack is a nice blend of 80’s rock music and original orchestration that is all the sweeping schmaltz one would expect in an 80’s adventure movie from Spielberg.

The acting is excellent as well. Despite the character of Parzival/Wade being about as bland as an un-toasted slice of white bread lightly seasoned with tap water, Tye Sheridan does well with what he’s given. I was thrilled to see Olivia Cooke as Art3mis/Samantha, especially after seeing her in another film, Thoroughbreds, earlier this year. She gives a fun, genuinely passionate performance. I don’t think she and Tye have great romantic chemistry, but that might just be a writing issue, as it isn’t very well-developed. Both TJ Miller as I-R0k and Lena Waithe as Aech have several great comedic moments. Mark Rylance is delightful as the awkward but sweet Halliday. Ben Mendelsohn is satisfyingly sleazy as Sorrento, although he’s not a particularly intimidating villain; again, though, that might be a writing issue, as Mendelsohn usually pulls off villainous roles well.

If you’re hoping for a good film adaptation of the book, Ready Player One will probably disappoint you. But if you go into it expecting a fun, well-animated adventure flick, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. Despite its problems, this movie is still entertaining.

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Have you seen ‘Ready Player One’? Well, what did you think? 

Five for the Fifth: JULY 2016 Edition

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. Happy Tuesday everyone! To my American friends, how was your Fourth? Hope you had an awesome three-day weekend! For some of us, Fourth of July weekend means family time, whether it’s at a state park, beach, lake, or at the movies!

FindingDory

So apparently Pixar’s latest Finding Dory threepeats this weekend, as Box Office Mojo called it, landing at #1 again at the box office for its third weekend. The Legend of Tarzan brought in about $45 million, followed by The Purge: Election Year at around $34 million and The BFG ends in fourth place with $22 million. Hmmm, I think we all know the major winner is The Purge 3 as its budget is merely $10 million, wow!

Did you see any new release movie on the big screen this weekend? 

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2. Now, in relation to this weekend’s box office. Well, The BFG turns out to be a bust, earning a paltry $22 mil in its first weekend when the budget is $140 mil!

I haven’t got a chance to review it yet as I was out and about all weekend, but I wasn’t that impressed with it. I barely remember any of it when I saw it over a week ago, but I found it a bit tedious as it took forever to get going. Variety wrote this piece wondering if Steven Spielberg has lost his blockbuster touch.

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Spielberg w/ BFG star Ruby Barnhill – image courtesy of Vox.com

I did like Spielberg’s last film Bridge of Spies, though I haven’t seen Lincoln yet. War Horse was overly sentimental despite a few moment of greatness, and I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin mostly because I adore the Belgian comics. All the way to 2000s, Spielberg’s films were still relatively successful,from A.I. (2001), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005), and of course the abominable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) still raked up over $300mil! As he gets older though, his films seem to make less money. Bridge of Spies only made $72mil (on a $40mil budget).

What are your thoughts on Spielberg? Is his box office mojo behind him now?

3. Ok, time for a few new trailers that caught my eye. I always like to mix things up so these two couldn’t be more different from each other.

Based on the extraordinary true story of Operation Anthropoid, the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution and the Reich’s third in command after Hitler and Himmler.

I always love a good WWII thrillers, and Cillian Murphy is always solid in everything he’s in. Not really a fan of pretty boy Jamie Dornan but glad to see him doing something serious instead that Fifty Shades crap.
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A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

I hadn’t even heard of this movie before, but when I saw the trailer it made me laugh! It’s obviously inspired by Mr & Mrs Smith, with two absolutely beautiful couple Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm (who’d make the perfect match for a Wonder Woman + Superman flick!). Zach Galifianakis & Isla Fisher look pretty funny here, it looks like it’ll be a hoot like Melissa McCarthy’s SPY.

I was hoping Ben Wheatley’s upcoming movie Free Fire (starring a great ensemble cast including my beloved Sam Riley) will have its trailer out by now (it’s shown with A24’s Swiss Army Man, so I’ll add it here once it hits.

What do you think of these trailers?
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4. I’ve talked about my excitement for Idris Elba’s casting as the Gunslinger on Stephen King’s The Dark Tower adaptation. Well, I just saw some pics on Just Jared from the NYC set and I just had to share!

Idris_Gunslinger1


Oh my, he certainly looks the part doesn’t he? I certainly wouldn’t mind roaming the Old West with THIS Roland Deschain 😉 I guess it’ll be a while before we’ll see a trailer, as the film won’t be released until February 17th next year. But for sure I look forward to seeing Idris in the role and Matthew McConaughey as Roland’s adversary Man in Black.

What’s your initial thoughts on ‘The Dark Tower’? 

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Zoë from Sporadic Chronicle of a Beginner’s Blogger! I LOVE that her question is in keeping what I’ve been obsessing lately, that is historical series (as I’m still nuts over The White Queen and finally finished BBC’s War & Peace this weekend).

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Here’s Zoë in her own words:

I’ve been watching a lot of Downton Abbey and Vikings lately and I’ve been loving both shows (as always). There are many shows under this genre, whether fictitious or factual, or a blend of both.

Which historical/period series are you currently watching and loving? 


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

Weekend Roundup + Mini Review of Bridge of Spies (2015)

What a weekend it’s been! It’s just three days until Twin Cities Film Fest kicks off Wednesday night 10/21 so naturally my week and the entire weekend is filled with preparation for the festivities.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen me tweeting up a storm about TCFF, so yeah clearly I’m excited 😛

The TCFF programmers have traveled to Austin, Los Angeles, & New York in search of great movies this year… the result is an awesome lineup of more than 100 premieres, including a bunch that have huge awards buzz. I’ve highlighted some of those must-see films here, but I’ve also made a list of MN-connected films that I can’t wait to see – from comedies, dramas, thrillers, docs, there’s definitely something for everyone, cinephiles or otherwise.


This weekend happened to be a perfect Fall day here in MN, with seasonably cool temps and ample of bright sunshine both Saturday and Sunday. So I did get a chance to get out and be outdoors before I’m cooped up inside a theater watching a whole bunch of movies. I LOVE Autumn in Minnesota… the fall colors is just absolutely gorgeous!!


BridgeOfSpies

The last Steven Spielberg film I saw was War Horse, which was back in 2011. I haven’t got around to seeing Lincoln but for some reason, I haven’t been um, compelled to see it. Spielberg is back to yet another based-on-a-true-story historical drama, about an American insurance lawyer who’s recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help arrange a prisoner swap when a rescue a pilot is detained in the Soviet Union.

Bridge of Spies is the kind of slow-burn espionage thriller in the vein of a John le Carré’s adaptation, so if you’re expecting an action-packed movie a la James Bond or Jason Bourne then you’re likely disappointed. But the lack of action doesn’t mean there’s lack of suspense and the Cold War intrigue is ever present. I don’t think a film needs to be violent to build tension, and Bridge of Spies is proof of that. The film lives up to the title as well as the pivotal scene on the Glienicke Bridge is certainly memorable.

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Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as James B. Donovan, channeling Jimmy Stewart as a virtuous and effortlessly likable everyman who’s more shrewd and skillful than meets the eye. There’s an unsubtle message about defending an American value that everyone deserves a fair shake, but yet it doesn’t feel preachy thanks to Hanks’ portrayal. Hanks is in nearly every frame of the film, but English actor Mark Rylance is equally brilliant as the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. In fact, he’s quite the scene stealer right from the opening scene. Abel’s relentlessly-unperturbed demeanor is part of what makes his character so intriguing. I love that the film also takes the time to show us the unlikely friendship of these two characters.

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Out of a decent ensemble of supporting cast, Amy Ryan stood out as Hanks’ wife, a role that would’ve been utterly forgettable in less capable hands. The script is co-written by the Coens, who infused it with a dose of wity humor to break the tension that make all those dialog scenes sprightly. Visually speaking, the set design looks realistic, especially all the Berlin scenes just right after WWII. The cinematography by Spielberg’s frequent collaborator Janusz Kaminski is stunning to look at, especially the rainy scenes that echoed a memorable scene in The Road to Perdition that also starred Hanks. The music by Thomas Newman perfectly complements the tone of the film, I’ve come to expect that Spielberg movies usually have memorable scores.

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There are slower moments, but overall this film was pretty engrossing. This is definitely another Spielberg/Hanks fruitful collaboration and clearly the two have formed a great rapport over the years. I didn’t know anything about the protagonist, but Mr. Donovan’s story is definitely worth telling. Unlike some of le Carré’s spy stories though, this film is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. There’s an earnest quality about Spielberg directing, the lack of cynicism in the way he tells the story that some people might call conventional. But I admire that sincerity that Spielberg and Hanks are known for, and there’s a great deal of measured and astute work from the both of them.

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Have you seen Bridge of Spies? Well, what did you think?