Netflix Original Movie: The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

Oh where do I begin with this one… frankly, I’m still a bit discombobulated by what I just watched last night. When I saw the trailer over a week ago, The Last Thing He Wanted looks like an intriguing political thriller, and the fact that acclaimed writer/director Dee Rees is at the helm made me even more intrigued to see it. After I watched the film, I found out it’s based on Joan Didion‘s Orange Prize-winning novel, the UK’s ‘s most prestigious literary prizes. Well, despite SO much going for it, plus a star-studded cast, this movie still doesn’t amount to much.

The film actually started off to a pretty riveting start. We see Anne Hathaway‘s Elena McMahon, a veteran DC-based reporter who’s covering El Salvador’s political crisis in the early 1980s with her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez). They barely escape with their lives as paramilitary troops storm the press office and started shooting. But as soon as she’s back in DC, her editor ends up sending her to cover Reagan’s re-election campaign. She took it begrudgingly, only after Alma encouraged her to take the assignment as a way for her to interrogate top ranking politicians. One of them is George Shultz (Julian Gamble), a then Secretary of State of the Reagan administration, whom she suspects is involved in weapons smuggling in Nicaragua.

During the campaign trail, she gets a call from her absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) who turns out to be ailing in the hospital. It’s when Dick asks her daughter to be his sub to complete a ‘deal of a lifetime,’ which involves flying to a mysterious location with a huge amount of mysterious cargo, that things start to really go awry. The place she lands turns out to be Nicaragua and finds out her Dementia-suffering father is actually an arms broker. Soon things spiral out of control and it’s clear Elena is out of her depth.

I have to say the plot is actually not that convoluted on paper, but somehow the muddled script and haphazard direction makes it feel that way. About a half hour in, I was already pretty frustrated with the movie… and growing even more irritated by Hathaway’s melodramatic acting. Initially, I sympathized with Elena and rather enjoyed seeing a plain-looking Hathaway in a role I don’t normally see her do. But her narration and [over]acting style here quickly becomes more and more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the camera work with its random focus-shifting style makes me a bit dizzy. I don’t know if the DP is trying to add tension in the many scenes of people having conversations, but it’s quite distracting.

Then there’s Ben Affleck (who reportedly replaced Nic Cage) in a role of a mysterious ambassador. As a comic-book fan, obviously I get a slight kick out of seeing former Batman and Catwoman on screen, but soon I also get irritated by Afflecks’ lethargic acting style though his screen time is pretty minimal. Then suddenly there’s a scene that comes out of nowhere that takes me out of the movie entirely. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): What’s with the half-boob nudity?? Is Dee Rees trying to brazenly show a nude woman who’s a breast cancer survivor?? I think we got that point across from her expository dialog with her dad earlier on.  By that point, my hubby and I just looked at each other, completely aghast by this befuddled, incoherent mess that’s unfolding before us on screen. I have to say Affleck’s expression is basically the same throughout the movie, whether in bed with a naked woman or eating pie with his colleague.

Now, I’m not familiar with Didion’s work but I’m willing to bet the novel is far better than its screen adaptation. In fact, I still think it’s an intriguing story that when done properly, would be a potent international thriller. But the way it’s adapted here, screenplay written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, feels disjointed with an uneven pacing from start to finish. The central character Elena is nearly impossible to relate to as a human being, and her motives are incomprehensible. Her relationship with her father is an odd one that doesn’t ring true. Even the way the film tries to paint her as a caring mother who’s constantly on the phone with her young, unhappy daughter in a boarding school barely registers.

The supporting cast is pretty much wasted here, though not because of the actors’ performances. The one character I find intriguing is Perez’s Alma and Edi Gathegi‘s Jones, but both characters are so underwritten. There’s also Toby Jones appearing towards the end as an expat who runs the hotel Elena is staying at. Now, I like Toby Jones, he’s a great character actor, but their scene here feels so disconnected from the rest of the movie and goes on way too long. Speaking of the ending… well, as if the rest of the movie weren’t enough of a head-scratcher, the finale is one big WTF moment. To add insult to injury, the finale also feels like a ‘Minnesota goodbye’ where it just went on and on, complete with all kinds of slo-mo and over-drawn narration.

Now, I’ve described this film in the worst possible way and it pains me to do so. This is the third* feature by Dee Rees, and I know just how tough it is for a female director of color to get a job in Hollywood. I suppose every director should be allowed to have a misstep or two, heck, most male directors continue to get job after job even after making multiple misfires. In any case, I wouldn’t use this one as a film that define Rees’ work, but it’s truly unfortunate that this movie is as bad as it is given all the elements–story, setting, cast–seemingly in place.

* I incorrectly said this was Rees’ first feature in my original post, but she had done two features prior to this, Pariah and Mudbound.


Have you seen The Last Thing He Wanted? Well, what did you think?

Musings on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

The fifth installment of the Jurassic franchise already made nearly half a billion bucks before it even opened here in North America (it now stands at over $700mil). So yeah, its financial prowess still prove to be monstrous, even as the power of its monsters continue to reach diminishing returns.

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry about spoilers as I marked them properly. But if you have seen it, you can highlight the hidden text to read ’em.

In reply to my meh comment about the movie, my co-worker said ‘it’s a movie about dinosaurs, you can’t expect it to win an Academy award.’ True. I never expected an Oscar-caliber movie, but still, it’d be nice for a blockbuster of this magnitude to at least aim for greatness. I recently rewatched Jurassic Park and still gasped when the dinos were first revealed. Alan Grant’s and Ellie Sattler’s reactions were so infectious that we’re vicariously living through their experience and seeing those dinos for the first time through their eyes. The moment Dr. John Hammond said ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park!’ still gave me goosebumps. Well, the genuine sense wonder of the Spielberg original is gone, and so are the characters worth rooting for. This article from Decider.com is absolutely correct that every Jurassic sequel forgot what made the Spielberg original so great.

The only genuine thrill for me in this movie is the opening sequence under water which felt JAWS-like (perhaps an input from Spielberg who still serves as executive producer?) But after that it’s more like Jaws 3-D. The movie overall is practically thrill-free as nearly every sequence is predictable. In the first Jurassic World, we saw the luxury theme park/resort destroyed to bits by the dinos. Well, as soon as the movie shows news footage of it with the remaining dinos now threatened by molten lava, we know they’ll be back on Isla Nubar in no time. So thanks to Dr. Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the film’s protagonist Claire is soon back to the island to save her precious dinosaurs.

Let’s try this new t-rex ride shall we?

Bryce Dallas Howard can’t seem to part w/ those darn heels, and the camera made sure (in a defiant way) that we noticed them. Never mind her choice of footwear, I just can’t fathom why Claire loves these dinos so much when she clearly didn’t mind working for a corporation which sole purpose is to profit from these creatures. But the writers didn’t bother to give any of the characters any background story or at least a semblance of real human beings. Heh, even in a fantastical universe like Star Wars and the Marvel superhero movies, you expect the characters’ drive/motivations to at least feel true. Here, the humans’ behavior are so ridiculous they should be the ones extinct!

Hello! I’m the Indoraptor, the new hybrid dino in town!

New dinos, but same old human greed. The theme of ‘greed breeds catastrophe’ is even more derivative when the novelty factor of genetically-bred dinosaurs has worn off since the last movie. As an Indonesian, I’m quite amused they keep naming the scariest dinos with ‘indo’ Indominus Rex in Jurassic World and the new one, IndoRaptor. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): the first bidder of the dino auction is from Indonesia, too, ahah.

Of course Claire’s not going back there alone without her beefcake ex boyfriend Owen. Seriously, the movie actually refers to Chris Pratt‘s character as that, complete with eye-rolling sarcasm. There is so little chemistry between Owen and Claire, but that’s not the actors’ fault as we’re given very little reason to care for either of them. Is it just me or Pratt looks bored the entire time here? And what’s with all the squinting?? Unlike his role in The Guardians of Galaxy (or even his brief appearance in Her), Owen is devoid of the wit and playful charm Pratt is known for, but then again ‘devoid’ is the perfect word to describe this movie.

Let’s heal him so he can get back to attacking all of us!

The supporting cast are basically stock characters. The wuss computer genius dude (Justice Smith) and bad ass paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda), played by a black actor and a Latina actress to fulfill the diversity quota. But since the writers (Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow) don’t even bother to give any depth to the main characters, let alone these guys. Poor Rafe Spall and Toby Jones (more terrific Brits wasted in a giant Hollywood tentpole flick) are relegated to a vanilla run-of-the-mill corporate ‘monsters’ who merely view these dinos in terms of dollar signs.

Spoiler alert: I gotta give him points though that he somehow manage to hide some freakishly scary dino under his boss’ mansion’s basement. I mean come on! You’d think its yawning sound alone would wake up anyone within 10 mile radius?? That’s not the most absurd bit of all though, that ‘honor’ would have to go to the auction scene. I mean, a bunch of billionaires gather for dinosaur auction. We’re talking about ‘the most dangerous creature that ever walked the earth’ as the auctioneer described, on full display inside poorly-constructed cages! As if that wasn’t enough, they’re selling these for a mere $10 million dollars?? Sotheby’s auctioneers would laugh in their faces. That’s even less than a penthouse in Manhattan or the Bay Area. What is this? Dinos Rummage Sale??

“Just what the heck are we doing in this movie??”

Naturally plot holes abound in this movie, but I guess logic be damned when you go into a movie about dinosaurs roaming around on earth, facing yet another extinction no less. So the sheer lack of logic is not the movie’s biggest fault (after all my suspension-of-disbelief level is already in overdrive), it’s the fact that it’s a dull movie. Not only is the ‘dinos as war weapons’ plot is unimaginative (and incredibly stupid), many of the scenes are recycled material. There are countless moments that lazily mimic the original (i.e. ‘objects in mirror are closer than they appear’ in rearview mirror, the raptors in the kitchen, etc.) yet nary any of the suspense and terror of the original.

Here we go again, dinos in the kitchen!!

I still remember fondly, vividly, the water ripple (or even the green Jello shaking) scene because of that visceral sense of dread. Here all the dino violence and gore are on full display as they trample, maim, chomp the human victims to bits, but none of it create a genuine sense of thrilling terror. Not much of emotional resonance here either (there is one scene on Isla Nubar that tugged my heart strings a bit, but even that felt like orchestrated melodrama), as the relentless action and convoluted plot pile on. Spoiler alert: That bit about the snoopy little girl being a clone thanks to Dr. Hammond’s technology is intriguing but the movie didn’t really expand much on it at all. Instead, they borrowed a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street w/ the IndoRaptor’s trying to claw her on her bed.

Dino Nightmare on Elm Street??

I gotta mention about the music. Michael Giacchino is a great composer but the music here feels so busy. It made me miss John Williams’ spectacularly-iconic score that’s only used in bits and pieces, too brief to make any real impact.

Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona have proven his chops with his smaller-budget films The Orphanage and The Impossible. I think his directing is okay, I take more issue with the absurd, criminally-vapid script that no amount of flawless CGI or mechanical dinosaurs can cover up. So Claire later swapped her heels with the more sensible boots, but unfortunately the movie itself refuse to evolve from being a formulaic, engineered money-making machine for the studios. Honestly, it left a terrible aftertaste as soon as I left the theatre. It’s a franchise that’s way past its extinction date.

P.S. If you love Jeff Goldblum… spoiler alert: Yes, he’s back as Ian Malcolm but all his scenes are in the trailers and nope, he has zero interactions w/ any of the dinos. Another criminally-wasted talent, especially considering how fun he was in the recent Thor: Ragnarok. I mean why bother hiring Goldblum if you’re just gonna have him sit in a congressional hearing the entire time?? 


Well, what do YOU think of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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FlixChatter Review – Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay)
Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes

When I found out I would be reviewing this film, I pulled up an article on it for a little background information-and made the mistake of reading the comments. They were mostly all the same, with guys accusing Atomic Blonde of being pandering and asserting that the movie is unrealistic because women are too frail and weak to be badass action heroes. It was infuriating, and it made me hope that that this movie would be amazing, just to spite the trolls. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

In Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) recounts her mission in Cold War Berlin to track down a list of double agents to MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA official Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). From the moment she meets up with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), Lorraine is plunged into danger and intrigue as she works to complete her mission.

This is an incredibly fun action movie. The fight choreography is impressive, ranging from creative and graceful to realistically graphic, and even some of that is surprisingly gorgeous; there’s one scene where blood is spattered on a large painting of a woman’s face right on her mouth, making it look almost like a messy lipstick kiss. Having it all set to a phenomenal soundtrack of 80’s rock makes it even more entertaining. 
 The technical aspects of the movie are impressive as well. The editing is tight and creative; one moment that stands out is in a scene where a body being thrown into a river, and as soon as it hits the surface, the scene cuts to Lorraine’s face breaking the water as she sits up in a bathtub. There are several gorgeous, well-balanced shots. The film overall is dark and gritty but glossy, which is perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, although the green filter is a little overused.

It can be hard to critique acting in a movie like this when so much of the focus is on the action and visuals, but Charlize Theron and James McAvoy still manage to shine in their roles. Theron is cold, calculating, and tough but still shows brief moments of panic and sadness without being melodramatic. McAvoy is so much fun to watch in this as well; he is so good at acting goofy but still a little unhinged and sinister (as proven in Split earlier this year). My one critique is some of their line reads are hard to understand, but I’m not sure if they’re mumbling or if there’s a sound-mixing problem.
 If you’re looking for a fun, beautifully-shot action movie to see this summer, you should definitely check this out. Ignore the trolls.

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Have you seen ‘Atomic Blonde’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Anthropoid (2016)

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I love historical-based films that really made you want to read more about the actual events. Anthropoid, based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, is one such film. WWII history buffs would surely know about the ‘Butcher of Prague’ monster that was Heydrich. He’s known as the main architect behind the Final Solution, the Nazi’s plan to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. “It’s assassination, not murder,” one main character said about Heydrich early in the film, “murder implies he’s got a life worth living.” 

To say this is a dangerous operation is putting it mildly. Now it would be appropriate to call this select group of Czech commandos ‘Suicide Squad’ because none of them have special powers and there’s no rescue mission after they carry out their operation. The film center on Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan), a pair of Czech paratroopers who were dropped in Czechoslovakia. Right from the start, this film was suspenseful and intense. As Gabčík’s foot was injured when he landed, they had to find shelter and medication, as well as face traitors who threaten to expose them.

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The two Irish actors gave a compelling and very human portrayal of the two main paratroopers. I can’t say if their Czech accent was spot on, but at least it wasn’t distracting. I was most impressed with Cillian Murphy who always gives an understated but captivating performance. Gabčík is the more experienced of the two, and I learned later that Kubiš actually replaced the original soldier who was injured in training. I’m not as familiar with Jamie Dornan (nope I don’t care to watch that Fifty Shades movie), and at first I thought he’s too much of a pretty boy for the role. But I think he acquits himself well, showing the inner struggle and anxiety of carrying out the mission. Kubiš’ hand tremble as he tried to shoot a traitor, but later on he fought valiantly just like the rest of the resistance group.

Anthropoid is appropriately gripping and intense, but not overly somber. The two men, despite knowing it’s a suicide mission, did fall for two women whom they met during the operation, portrayed by Charlotte Le Bon as Marie and Anna Geislerová as Lenka. I was more drawn to the more restraint relationship of Gabčík and Lenka, but I’m glad the romance never overshadowed the real story or took the focus away from the main mission. Toby Jones and Harry Lloyd particularly stood out from the resistance group. It seems that Jones’ become a top choice for WWII-related roles with accents.

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There are two main parts to the story, the events leading up to the assassination event and the aftermath. Filmmaker Sean Ellis (who co-wrote the film with Anthony Frewin) stayed true to the historical event, which some critics call boring and by-the-numbers. Now, the filmmaker might lack narrative ambition, but I have no problem with the decision to stay close to the real story. I do think there’s enough drama and stylistic elements that separates this from a documentary. I find myself on the edge of my seat practically the entire time, as even the slower moments of just people talking and planning the operation itself is brimming with suspense that they could get caught at any moment. There’s also an apparent conflict within the Czech resistance group, as some fear (reasonably so) that the Nazi would destroy their country in retaliation.
Anthropoid_Heydrich

The actual assassination itself was pretty well-staged. I already knew what happened from reading about it, but seeing it portrayed on screen was still quite thrilling. I guess one lesson from this is they ought to get a proper weapon from America instead of using the British Sten gun that’s apparently prone to jamming. The group originally thought they had failed this mission, it wasn’t until a week later that they found out Heydrich’s fate. Some historians wonder if this covert operation was worth it, considering the huge cost Czechoslovakia paid in its aftermath.

Two Czech villages are leveled to the ground and over 5000 Czech people were brutally killed following Heydrich’s death. But as the famous quote says ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,’ it’s no doubt these men were true heroes. They fought bravely for their country at the cost of their own (as well as their families) lives. Even if that mission made the Nazi top officers (even Heydrich’s bosses Hitler & Himmler) think they’re not so invincible after all, who’s to say it wasn’t worth it? The sheer brutality of Germany’s reprisal also led to the Allies to dissolve the Munich Agreement.

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I wouldn’t say this is an enjoyable film given the harrowing subject matter, but I was engrossed in the story throughout. There’s a particularly brutal torture scene that warrants its R-rating but overall it’s not loaded with violence or gore. The group’s last stand at the crypt of a Czech Orthodox church is especially intense but still grounded, not resorting to typical Hollywood bombast. The sepia-toned film is beautifully-shot on location in Prague and the music adds a haunting atmosphere to the whole operation.  The 1940s costumes and vintage set pieces adds authenticity to the period. I’d say this is a pretty stylish film despite its small budget of $9 million.

I’m glad I saw this film on the big screen. It’s an important subject matter that is worth learning about and it certainly made me want to learn more about the actual events. It may not be flashy or spectacular but Anthropoid is a solid and fascinating film. Apparently Ellis started working on this film in early 2000s after seeing a documentary and his passion on this topic showed on screen. This film also made me itch to go to Prague and I definitely would visit the historical locations featured in this film.

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What are your thoughts on Anthropoid?

FlixChatter Review: The Painted Veil

This is one of the most touching and poignant movie I’ve seen in a very long time. The tag line says “Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people.” And what a journey it really is.

The story takes place in China in the 1920s, which tells the story of a mid-class doctor (Walter) who marries an upper-class woman (Kitty) and moves to Shanghai. It’s clear from the beginning that she marries him only to please her family. In Shanghai, she has an affair with a fellow ex pat (Liev Schreiber, Watt’s real life partner), which is quickly discovered by her husband. As an act of vengeance, Walter whisks her off to a remote village ravaged by cholera. It is here, amongst the deadly epidemic and tough circumstances, that they rediscover their relationship and find purpose both as a couple and as a person.

The movie is superbly acted and well-written. Ed Norton is in top form as always (he’s easily one of the best actors working today) and Naomi Watts gives a wonderful, nuanced portrayal as the initially unlikable Kitty, but she slowly earns my sympathy as the film wears on. Toby Jones as the couple’s cheery neighbor Waddington also gives a notable performance.

What I love the most is how the movie presents the characters as they are, neither heroic nor evil (like most people are), they are simply human. The film does shy away from being ‘preachy,’ such as when dealing with a Catholic orphanage, focusing instead on how the characters evolve as the story progresses. Although the pace is a bit slow at times, the ending has such a redeeming quality that it’s worth every second. It also boast a beautiful cinematography of the lush rural setting in China.

It’s rare to find a movie that tells a wonderful human drama without being too cutesy or overly romantic. Love is more than a bed of roses or candlelit dinner in fact, it’s best experienced when you’d least expect it.


Have you seen this film? Let me know what you think.