Thursday Movie Picks #305: Girls’ Trip

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. 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… GIRLS’ TRIP.

For this topic, the ones I pick isn’t necessarily about girls taking a trip together, but more about female friendships. Honestly I actually haven’t seen too many of movies about women taking a trip together, though I know there are a bunch of them. So I picked three that really resonated with me even from decades ago.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia!, Sophie prepares for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna as she learns more about her mother’s past.

I have to admit I have a soft spot for these Mamma Mia! movies. I almost didn’t even want to see it, but when I visited my best friend in San Diego, she had this DVD and we decided to watch it together. Well, I ended up really enjoying it! I like the second movie even more as it traced back Donna’s past and how the relationships she forged in the past affects her, as well as her daughter Sophie’s, present. The three of them went on a trip to the Greek island and of course Donna ended up staying and built a hotel there. I love how in the sequel you see their friendship is still as strong as ever, and passed through generations.

I adore Lily James as young Donna (and this girl could sing!) and the other two actresses who played her two besties Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn). It helps a ton if you enjoy ABBA’s songs (which I do), and it also shows the friendships of Donna’s men (aka Sophie’s three dads) which is quite amusing also. Of course the island scenery (filmed in Croatia) is to die for!


Waiting to Exhale (1995)

Based on Terry McMillan’s novel, this film follows four very different African-American women and their relationships with the male gender.

I can’t remember when exactly I saw this movie but I still remember it fondly to this day. Even specific scenes still feels fresh in my mind, I mean who can forget Angela Bassett burning her husband’s car?

Based on Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel, it has such an amazing cast, Loretta Devine, Lela Rochon, Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston, that work amazingly together. I’m actually a fan of Whitney as an actress, and she seems more comfortable here than in The Bodyguard.

As these women go through struggles in men, careers, and families that took them to different directions, it’s the bond and friendship that sustain them. Even the song Count On Me became an anthem for strong friendships… “When you are weak, I will be strong…Helping you to carry on.” 


Thelma & Louise (1991)

Two best friends set out on an adventure, but it soon turns around to a terrifying escape from being hunted by the police, as these two girls escape for the crimes they committed.

This movie has become an icon and perhaps still one of the most famous roles Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, and likely the most celebrated. I often forget it’s directed by Ridley Scott, where he’s nominated for Best Director at the Oscars.

The story of two friends who initially embarked on an adventure and ended up being on the run from police after an unexpected incident is certainly juicy. But it also features authentic and loyal friendship, as tragic and misguided they may be. I thought the ‘morning after’ scene when they both realized Thelma had been swindled by the seductive JD (still one of Brad Pitt‘s most memorable roles) was priceless! Many men think this movie is anti-men, well obviously that speaks more about themselves than about the filmmakers.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

MSPIFF14 Reviews: The Double & The Last of Robin Hood

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Review by Josh P.

The-Double-PosterThe Double follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg, who plays against type and is award-worthy superb), a meek man unrecognizable to his co-workers, one of whom is the girl of his dreams, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, terrific). Early in the film, Simon’s bleak life takes two unhappy turns. First, he witnesses a suicide, and then his doppelgänger, James Simon (also Eisenberg, this time playing to type), begins working at the same company, doing a similar job. James is more likable and confident than Simon, meaning he is more successful, despite being less qualified. 

Writer/director Richard Ayoade’s film isn’t exactly scary, and might not even qualify as creepy. Nor is it commonly laugh out loud funny or emotionally impacting. Plus, it is at least somewhat derivative, obviously resembling Brazil (1985), amongst other movies. At times, as when Simon says things like, ‘But I used to exist. I mean I exist. I’m standing right here,’ it is even reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s best work. By rights, then, The Double, should fail to register, should fade from memory, should be just another conceptually interesting science fiction movie unable to maximize its potential. 

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Thankfully, it is more than that, owing mostly to Ayoade’s fantastic production design. The film’s thematic and narrative content is dark, and so is The Double’s color palette. Here we see mostly browns and grays, with some whites mixed in; the retro computers; the televisions; the characters’ costumes; interior and exterior doors; most walls; tables; desks; and so forth. Because much of the imagery is borderline dull, the few times we see bright color (consider James’ unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt), we know something significant will soon happen. Or, at the very least, that the image is meaningful to Simon.

The movie’s retro technology and set pieces are as effective as its color palette. From the box televisions, to the copy machines with dial controls, to the small screen computers, the technology helps solidify The Double’s setting and enhance its atmosphere. Its set pieces do the same: apartments are very small, and bigger rooms are mostly filled by complicated piping connected to aforementioned machines. Before long we begin to understand Simon’s world, to feel his claustrophobia and lack of entertainment, not to mention his social disconnectedness.

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Ayoade, in other words, effectively immerses us in Simon’s reality, thereby making us care about the character and causing dread when the protagonist’s life goes horribly wrong. It doesn’t matter, in other words, that the director keeps us at psychological and emotional distance from Simon. We empathize with the character anyway. 

Which is why The Double is thematically resonant and intellectually intriguing, the sort of movie that will keep viewers thinking, even days after seeing it. What does this picture say about an individuals’ place in society? About confidence? Identity? Relationships? And more? 

Thematic power is not The Double’s only strength. The cast is terrific. Moreover, the central characters are developed well, and Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine’s dialogue is witty. Finally, the film is funny enough to always entertain. Simply put, The Double is very good.

4.5 out of 5 reels

JJamesReviews


The Last of Robin Hood

Review by Ruth M.

TheLastOfRobinHoodposterThough the title refers to the role Errol Flynn’s best known for, this film is more about his last girlfriend, Beverly Aadland. She was only 15 years old when the legendary swashbuckler and reputable lothario made his conquest. He saw her going into Warner Bros studios, looking much older than what she actually was in her form-fitting red dress. The wide-eyed teen starlet inevitably and immediately fell for the Australian actor, but she really didn’t have much choice in the matter, given Flynn’s persistence and her own mother practically pimping her in order to *assist* her career. I can’t remember if the film said something about Flynn still being married to Patrice Wymore, but I found that out after the film.

This is really a sad story, not to mention creepy. Kevin Kline who played Flynn was 67 and Dakota Fanning as Beverly was 19 when they made the film, so the age gap between them is even bigger (47 years apart as opposed to 33). But what’s even creepier is how Beverly’s mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) not only encouraged the affair, but also willingly became the third wheel as they travel together. Her own marriage crumbled as her husband vehemently disagreed with what Florence did to their own daughter, and sensibly, he didn’t think Beverly really had talents for showbiz anyway.

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And so, the 90-min film pretty much follow the three of them travel from L.A., New York, Africa, even Cuba where Flynn made a pro-Castro propaganda movie starring Beverly. It’s amusing to get a glimpse how Old Hollywood operated back then, well specifically, how a notorious Golden Age movie star lived. There’s a brief scene where Flynn tried to convince Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) to cast her alongside him in Lolita. But they soon realize that the affair didn’t really do much for Beverly’s career. The film paints a devastating picture of the ruthless desire for fame and the price people pay to achieve it. It’s not an in-depth biopic, nor a particularly emotional one either, as I barely connect with any of the characters.

All three main characters are such tragic figures in their own right, though I don’t quite have an emotional connection with any of them. I feel for Beverly the most, yet she isn’t exactly blameless in all of this. Though it seemed that Flynn genuinely cared for her, their relationship wasn’t always smooth. It lasted for merely two years when the alcoholic Flynn died suddenly of a heart attack. Seemed that beneath the devil-may-care facade, even Flynn knew that death was looming.

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The real Erroll Flynn & Kline in the role

I feel like this story is perhaps more suited for a TV movie or something in terms of its production quality. I think the performances are good, both Kline and Fanning are pretty committed to the role, and Kline’s resemblance to the older Flynn is pretty uncanny. Sarandon plays the ruthless and fame-hungry Florence convincingly, up until the end she still sought attention when she spoke to the tabloid about the whole affair. Despite Beverly’s insistence that she dropped the book deal, her book was still published.

If you’re a big fan of Errol Flynn this should be an interesting movie to rent. Even if you aren’t [like me, as I haven’t seen any of his movies], surely you have heard of him. It’s a pretty stylish film by Richard GlatzerWash Westmoreland, I think they managed to capture the era quite well. Just don’t expect anything profound or poignant, it’s merely amusing for me, but falls short from being a truly engaging biopic.

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What do you think of these two films? 

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.

IdesOfMarch_Clooney

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!

Rental Pick: Arbitrage (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


4.5 out of 5 reels

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

Labor Day Weekend Viewing Roundup

Well, it’s been a nice, mellow Labor Day weekend for us. No barbeque or picnic this time, we didn’t even go to the state fair, we’re just not too fond of those, so once every five years is plenty 🙂 I did spent some time shopping for some Hunger Games stuff for my three nieces, apparently they’re kinda obsessed with the book/movie right now. Better than Twilight I guess, ahah.

We did watch quite a bit of movies though, four movies in 3 days is pretty good for us, usually we saw that many in a week. We skipped the mainstream releases this time and went to see the documentary 2016 Obama’s America and Robot and Frank.

My hubby and I got to talking about The Crow over dinner and so we ended up renting Brandon Lee’s last film, as well as the biopic drama on his father, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. I will do a review of those two together later this month, but let’s just say we’re both were quite taken by the tragic story that happened to both father and son. Cursed or not, the mystery surrounding their deaths is very eerie.

2016: Obama’s America

Politics just isn’t my cup of tea, so I had never even heard of this film until a friend at work mentioned it to me and sent me the trailer. Not being a US citizen, I’m not able to vote, but once in a while I’d read about political stuff just so I know what the issues are being talked about. I always think that there are always pros and cons for every party, even if my social views are more conservative leaning. With Obama, I’m naturally more curious about him because of the Indonesia connection. He even went to the same umbrella school, St. Francis of Assisi where my hubby and I went, when he lived in Jakarta for a couple of years. Yet, aside from that, I hardly know anything about him and so this documentary tagline: ‘LOVE HIM. HATE HIM. YOU DON’T KNOW HIM.’ intrigues me.

It’s hard to review a film like this, but contrary to what you might’ve read, this documentary by conservative scholar and author Dinesh D’Souza is NOT Obama bashing, nor is it endorsed by a political party. It examines the question, “If Barack Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?” and it actually starts with a biopic of sort, of D’Souza himself, an immigrant from India who studied at Dartmouth College. The film even noted that there’s a lot of similarities between D’Souza and Obama, as they’re exactly the same age and both went to an Ivy League university around the same time.

D’Souza and George Obama

Directed by John Sullivan, the film is co-produced by Gerald Molen who won an Oscar for Schindler’s List. The film is largely based on D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage and also includes a substantial amount of quotes from Obama’s audio book Dreams From My Father. D’Souza traveled to Hawaii, Indonesia and Kenya to try to understand what influences might have shaped our President. In Kenya he interviewed people who knew the late Obama Sr. well, most notably Barack’s half brother George, a soft-spoken man who lived in practically a hut barely enough to fit even one person. When asked about Obama not delivering on his promise of being ‘a brother’s keeper,’ George replied diplomatically, “He’s got other issues to deal with… He’s taking care of me. I’m part of the world.”

D’Souza’s research leads him to conclude that Obama holds an anti-colonial worldview from his father as well as anti-western, socialist-leaning mentors, and that the US president actually “wants to reduce America’s footprint on the world.” Now, whether or not you agree with the film’s argument, I think the filmmakers made a compelling case for it. The production values is pretty good considering the tiny budget ($2.5 mil), though some of the re-enactment by actors feels rather clunky at times. Naturally a documentary like this is likely to be one-sided, just like Michael Moore’s anti-Bush doc and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but at the same time I don’t feel that this film was an outright attack against Obama. One thing for sure, this film is thought-provoking and justifiable asks people to do their research with an open mind before they cast their vote.

Robot and Frank

The minute I saw the trailer for this, I was quite charmed by it. It’s an unlikely heist movie and a sci-fi-themed drama that’s as far away from being science-fiction-y. Instead, it’s a character-driven comedy-drama that centers on Frank, an aging former cat burglar who’s given a robot caretaker by his son Hunter, as he refused to be put in a mental institute. Frank is suffering from an early stages of dementia and has become disillusioned with his sedate life. To everyone’s surprise, his life perks up as soon as Robot comes into his life, and despite his initial hostility towards his health-nut machine, soon Frank and Robot becomes unlikely friends and um, partner in crime.

The movie is set in a vague ‘near future’ where a library of physical books are going to be replaced with a ‘virtual experience’ as it were. The movie starts out quite slow, but grounded by Frank Langella‘s effective performance, but with the arrival of Robot, the pace picks up quite a bit. It’s a touching film that subtly delves with themes of aging and how human connection might be affected when robots exist amongst us in our daily lives. The film doesn’t go into too much depth into this matter however, such as when Frank actually prefers the robot’s company over his own daughter, which should be more disturbing than the film lets on.

Though Frank does a lot of illegal stuff and not exactly a good father figure for his kids, one can’t help but sympathize with him. Langella’s perhaps not the most charismatic actor, but I think his more deadpan style suits his character very well here. I do like the fact that a senior actor gets a leading role and the age-defying beauty Susan Sarandon also has a pretty substantial role as the librarian that Frank constantly flirts with. This is James Marsden‘s third film with Langella, so they have a natural rapport with each other, but he and Liv Tyler aren’t given much to do here than act frustrated by Frank’s shenanigans.

In that sense, the movie lives up to the title as the stars truly are Frank and his robot butler, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard. It’s quite amusing to see the palpable um, chemistry between these two. They argue constantly like old married couple, and there are also some poignant moments that actually makes you feel for the robot.

Robot & Frank is quite an enjoyable little movie on account of the talents involved, there’s also a bit of a twist at the end that’s quite poignant. However, I feel that it could’ve been a far more memorable film had it dealt with the robot vs. human connection theme with a little more conviction.

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


I welcome your thoughts on these films. So what movie(s) did you see this weekend?

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Cloud Atlas

I was researching about an upcoming post when I came across this project to be produced by the Wachowski siblings. The first thing that caught my eye was that Hugo Weaving will be playing six different characters in this movie. The Aussie actor seems to be the Wachowskis’ muse, having starred in The Matrix and V for Vendetta for them previously and will be seen as Red Skull in Captain America out next month. Then I went to the movie’s IMDb page and whoa… check out the rest of the cast: Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry, and Ben Wishaw. Man, talk about a stellar cast!

Cloud Atlas is based on British author David Mitchell’s award-winning sci-fi novel of the same name, it was published in 2004. I haven’t read it, but the premise sounds really interesting. The description on Wikipedia seems convoluted, but I like this one from Corona’s Coming Attraction site:

Six seemingly unconnected stories featuring different central characters in each one, set at different time periods from the 19th century to hundreds of years into the [post-apocalyptic] future when there are only a handful of human beings left alive.

I like the sci-fi genre and seems like a good fit from the people who brought us one of the best sci-fi actioner The Matrix. Besides the story, the format of the novel sounds intriguing as well as each story breaks off half-way through, to be followed by the first half of the next one, which then ‘goes back’ in time so that in the end, the readers will end where they started. Reportedly each actor will play multiple roles in the film, which should be very interesting to watch.

I haven’t seen Mr. Hanks for quite a while, I think his last movie I saw was Charlie’s Wilson War which I rented a couple of years ago. He hasn’t been all that prolific on the acting front – his last feature film was the Da Vinci Code follow-up Angels & Demons (neither of which I have any interest in) and his upcoming dramedy with Julia Roberts, Larry Crowne, is out this July. As for Susan Sarandon, her last movie I saw was Romance & Cigarettes back in 2005 at TIFF! I figure Hanks is quite selective with his projects, so the fact that he chose this one, there’s got to be something special and will no doubt increase the visibility of this project ten-fold.

The Wachowskis will co-direct the film with German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume: Anatomy of a Murderer, The International). I haven’t seen Perfume, but I really like his other two movies. I actually made a trailer of Run Lola Run for a video production class back in college. According to Variety, the budget is set at $140 million and it’ll begin shooting later this Summer for May 4, 2012 release.


I’m quite excited about this movie now. How about you, folks?