Five for the Fifth: FEBRUARY 2015 Edition

FiveForFifth2015

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.

I don’t know if any of you noticed, but I missed posting Five for the Fifth last month due to all the holiday and year-end recap craziness :\ But now it’s baaack!

1. First off, I want to highlight one of my favorite character actors who’s as constantly prolific as he is proficient: Tom Wilkinson. The English-born actor turns 67 today.

TomWilkinson

He appeared in three films that end up in my top 10 of the year: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Belle and Selma. I honestly don’t know when I first spotted Mr. Wilkinson, it might’ve been his brief appearance as Mr. Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1995) but he’s been churning out excellent performances since, always impressive even in the smallest roles. It’s interesting that he’s played a lot of prominent American historical characters, i.e. Benjamin Franklin in John Adams, Joe Kennedy Sr in The Kennedys— both are TV miniseries — as well as  Lyndon Johnson in Selma. If I had to pick three of my favorite Tom Wilkinson’s performances, I’d say it’s Michael Clayton, The Patriot and Belle.

So what’s your favorite Tom Wilkinson’s role?

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2. I just saw this on Twitter Tuesday night as I was working on this post and I had no idea there’s even a Star Wars Spin-off in the works! Well, per THR, this year’s Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Jones is reportedly up for the lead role.

FelicityJonesStarWarsSpinOff

Apparently some actresses were reading/testing for the role last week in LA, including Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany and Rooney Mara. This is a highly secretive project obviously, as nobody even knows what the heck the plot is about or which character the film will focus on. The only known info so far is Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) will be directing & Chris Weitz (About A Boy) penning the script.

Well I’m glad that the main protagonist is a woman and Jones is a solid actress. I saw her for the first time in Like Crazy back at TCFF 2011 when director Drake Doremus talked about her sending a tape for the audition. She was excellent in it as well as in Breathe-In, so I’m sure she deserved her nomination in The Theory of Everything. Those are all dramatic parts so it’s cool that her major big break in mainstream cinema will be a sci-fi movie.

What do you think about this casting news?

3. I think most of you already know how I feel about Ryan Gosling, but I’m always curious whenever actors try their hands at directing. A year ago I posted about Chris Evans’ directorial aspiration but I’m still awaiting its trailer to drop. Well, just this week Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River, which was apparently booed at Cannes last May, just released a trailer and poster:

LostRiverPoster

The critics weren’t exactly kind on this film, you can read some of the reviews here. Variety’s Justin Chang actually summed up my initial thought of the trailer “Had Terrence Malick and David Lynch somehow conceived an artistic love-child together, only to see it get kidnapped, strangled and repeatedly kicked in the face by Nicolas Winding Refn…” Oy!

I kind of think the trailer is bizarre and cryptic, the first thing that came to my mind is it’s a tad pretentious in its artsy ambition. A good story doesn’t need overly-stylized visuals to get across, and no amount of style can camouflage a weak story. I’m quite intrigued by the cast though, esp. Saoirse Ronan and Matt Smith here, with Christina Hendricks in the lead and Gosling’s own girlfriend Eva Mendes in a supporting role.

What do you think of the ‘Lost River’ Trailer? Are you gonna see this one?

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4. Ok now I just came across this photo this morning and I had just to include it here. Have you heard about this comedy called Elvis & Nixon? Well, it stars Michael Shannon as the King of Rock ‘n Roll and Kevin Spacey back in the oval office again as Richard Nixon. Check out the first look here courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter:

ElvisNixonMoviePer THR, the film is currently shooting in New Orleans and recreates the infamous, intimate Dec. 21, 1970 meeting between Nixon and Presley where Presley asked to be named a special FBI operative. It’s directed by Liza Johnson (Hateship/Loveship) and the supporting cast includes Colin Hanks, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, and Tracy Letts.

I definitely want to see this just for Shannon & Spacey! It’s not lost on me that they both have played Superman villains (as Zod and Lex Luthor respectively). Shannon looks unrecognizable as Elvis though Spacey pretty much looks like his Frank Underwood persona in House of Cards. The fact that it’s billed as comedy intrigues me even more, the last movie I saw that has Nixon in it was the hilarious Dick w/ Michelle Williams & Kirsten Dunst, and with Knoxville in the cast, we can expect something a bit off the wall here.

What are your thoughts on this project?

5. The first 2015 Five for the Fifth’s guest is Irene from Mysterious Bibliophile blog!

MysteriousBibliophile

Recently, I’ve been blogging about movies adapted from novels and short stories. I mentioned the movie Ordinary People, which I related to as a teen. “Something about the movie and book spoke to me … That’s one of the things I love most about literature and film. That quiet but powerful voice that says ‘You are not alone.’ “

So, what movie characters do you identify with or have you identified with during crucial periods in your life?


Well, that’s it for the February 2015 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀

FlixChatter Review: BELLE (2013)

Belle_filmposter

As a big fan of period dramas, I’ve been looking forward to this film since last November when I first heard about it. Well, seven months later I finally got to see it and it’s certainly worth the wait.

The film opens with a Royal Navy Admiral (Matthew Goode) picking up a young mixed-race girl from a ship and brought her to live with his aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), where she’s raised alongside her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). Unlike the Austen/Brontës adaptations, Belle is based on a true story. In fact, filmmaker Amma Assante was inspired by an 18th century painting of the real life miss Belle. It’s also the first time I saw a period drama starring a mixed race woman, an illegitimate child no less, which no doubt made for a tricky predicament growing up in Georgian era. Lord Mansfield tried to shelter her from the horror of slavery, but not from the dismal reality of racism.

BelleStills1

How may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants and too low in rank to dine with my family?

The question above that Belle posed to Lord Mansfield (whom she called ‘papa’) sums up her situation perfectly. Though Belle is brought up in such a privileged home, she’s constantly reminded of her place in the world, which is really no place for anyone to belong to. The color of her skin also prevents her from fully participating in society traditions and especially the issue of finding a suitable husband. The fact that Belle later becomes a woman of means after she inherited her father’s considerable fortune only made it trickier. It’s as if she’s a ‘free slave who begs for a master,’ Belle said to her confidante, a dashing and idealistic son of a vicar, John Davinier (Sam Reid).

Many people are likely comparing this film to 12 Years of Slave, but I think this this film is more akin to the excellent-yet-underrated Amazing Grace, which focused on British politician William Wilberforce who endeavored to end the British transatlantic slave trade in the late 1700s. As in Amazing Grace, there’s no gory brutality of slavery being shown, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t feel the barbaric reality of such practice. Yet unlike those two films (and most films of its kind), it’s intriguing to see the story of racial inequality from a woman’s point of view. The fact that we’ve got a British female director (Amma Assante) at the helm and a female screenwriter penning the script (Misan Sagay) certainly gave the film a unique perspective.

Assante’s astute direction offers a nice balance between the moral drama and the love story, as we become more and more invested in the characters, most especially Belle. I love how Assante re-enacted the making of the painting I mentioned above, it’s one of the many highlights of the film for me. There are also a few humorous moments to break the tension of the heavy subject matter. The cinematography and art direction are beautiful, the costumes are as gorgeous as the cast, but most importantly, it’s not style over substance. The dialog feels natural and the script is laden with lots of quotable remarks that really drive the sentiments home.

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As for the performances, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle is the heart and soul of this film. I was quite taken by the English actress’ nuanced and emotional performance right from the start. This is hopefully her first of many leading roles as she is not only beautiful, but has the screen charisma to match. She’s able to convey a deep sense of hurt, but is just as convincing when she’s fiercely-defiant. The ensemble cast is chock full of the best of British thespians, starting with Wilkinson and Watson, as well as Penelope Wilson and Miranda Richardson delivering memorable supporting roles. Aussie-born British actor Sam Reid has everything you’d want in a period drama hero: dashing, gentle, kind, and with strong conviction. His Davinier is almost too good to be true, plus his scorching chemistry with Mbatha-Raw made for some breathless moments. The weak link here to me is Tom Felton who once again plays a villain of sort, all contemptuous sneer as the racist would-be suitor to Belle’s cousin Elizabeth. He’s practically playing a variation of Harry Potter‘s Draco Malfoy here.

Though the finale is quite predictable, it still packs quite an emotional punch. Now, I don’t know how historically Belle had influenced the abolition of slavery in England, but it can be presumed that she had a hand in shaping the decision of Lord Mansfield as Lord Chief Justice in his ruling over the Zong Massacre case. It’s the case where the slaves were deemed more worthy dead than alive, a reality that could very well happened to Dido herself had it not been for the ‘grace of God,’ as Davinier put it. Even with the creative license taken, the essence of Belle’s story seems intact.

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Final Thoughts: I knew this film would be good, but I absolutely loved this film and one I’d definitely add to my Blu-ray collection. I always find the social class intricacies in period dramas deeply intriguing, but Belle adds more layers to that with the race and slavery issue, whilst keeping a love story at the core. I really think that even those who aren’t fond of this genre would find this moving and inspiring. An impressive sophomore effort from miss Assante, I sure hope continues to make more films in the future!


Have you seen Belle? I’d love to hear what you think.

Rental Picks: A Separation and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Happy Friday!

What will you be watching today, folks? Are you going to the cinema to see the latest of the Disney animated feature Wreck-It Ralph (check out my pal Terrence’s review), the Kung-fu movie The Man with the Iron Fists or Denzel Washington’s Flight? Well, if you decide to rent something, here are a couple you might want to check out if you haven’t already:

A Separation (2011)

The first Iranian film which wins an Oscar. Yes that sentence is enough to catch my attention to see A Separation at the cinema. The film tells the story of a married couple Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) which have to live separately because of their differing decisions either to move out of the country for the sake of their child or to stay in Iran to take care of their dad suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Parent vs. child. It’s never an easy choice.
It all started with various daily things which need to be done after Simin move out from the house to live separately. Then Nader hires a caregiver to take care his father. The film shows in a matter-of-fact way what a separation could possibly bring to a family. The writer/director Asghar Farhadi managed to build more and more conflicts from the beginning until the very end of the movie.
The film was playing on my emotions a lot. Curious, sad, angry, sympathy. As the audience, I don’t even know on which sides they are actually on. The way this movie reveal the facts practically reminds me of Nothing But the Truth. I can’t stop questioning which fact of the movie is true. It’s a drama that turns out to be a thriller, too. Not only did the film make me think, A Separation has a great cast which really support the dramatic parts. Every main character plays a strong role to tell the whole story. One of my favorite scenes would be when Nader teaches her daughter some lessons for her school. I could see a very strong bond of how a father wants her daughter to be smart and mature.
In the end, A Separation delivers their targeted message very well. A beautiful conclusion which will let the audiences have their own thoughts about a marital separation.

– Review by Cecilia R.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

As I’ve alluded to in my review of Quartet, I LOVE films about older people’s adventure. Perhaps because I grew up with my grandmother for years, I’m not sure. Now the main draw for me to see this British dramedy is the stellar cast! It also marks Judi Dench’s third collaboration with director John Madden — the first two earned her an Oscar nomination and win for Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare In Love, respectively.

The title refers to a hotel in Jaipur, India which is advertised as a newly-restored “for the elderly and beautiful.” Well, after a lengthy and exhausting journey, all seven of the British retirees want to do is relax in their luxurious lodging, only to find the place to be well, less sumptuous than what they had in mind. The hotel turns out to be a run-down place run by a young man who dreams of restoring his family business to its pristine condition.

Each of the characters deal with this unpleasant surprise in multiple different ways, just as each of them have their own reasons to come to the country in the first place. Some of the multiple storylines work better than others. I don’t know if I’d call the direction uneven but certainly there are parts of the movie I just don’t care for.

For me, my favorite parts involve the two Dames, Judi Dench (Evelyn) and Maggie Smith (Muriel), and also Tom Wilkinson’s character who attempts to fulfill his lifelong wish to reunite with someone from his past he cares deeply about. I think Muriel has the biggest personal growth of them all, as she overcomes her own prejudice out of her encounter with a hotel’s employee who can’t even speak English. Evelyn who’s a widow not only become accustomed with the culture, she also finds a job and perhaps a second chance at love. The elderly Brits’ stories are inter-weaved with the hotel manager Sunny (Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel) whose buoyant spirit lives up to his name. He deeply clashes with his mother’s career aspiration for him, as well as the cultural expectation of arranged marriage as he’s in love with a girl who works at Evelyn’s call center.

There’s plenty of humor for sure, but the story also has some poignant moments that are pretty affecting. There are themes of cultural taboo and also outright racism that make you wince at times, but overall the spirit of the film is pretty light and colorful, just like the vibrant India setting. It’s not a flawless movie however, the pace at the beginning could be much improved, and the relationship between Dench and Bill Nighy just wasn’t handled as well as I expected. There are also some cringe-worthy moments of Ronald Pickup’s character that I don’t find it particularly amusing. But despite all that, this is quite a lovely movie and I’m definitely not disappointed by my favorite cast here, especially Dame Judi. I always enjoy watching her act and she looks particularly radiant here.

‘Everything will be alright in the end’ that’s the motto Sunny tells his guests when they’re disappointed. It’s an uplifting motto we could all take to heart.

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


Have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: The Debt

It’s nice to see a film you’ve been anticipating actually meets your expectation. I’ve been waiting to see The Debt for quite a while, and when Miramax studio was shut down by Disney last January 2010, I feared that this movie would’ve gone straight to DVD. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, so as soon as the film was released here, I went to see it on opening night.

I love the fact that they put Dame Helen Mirren front and center on the poster, that definitely appealed to me because she is an actor I admire and also because I always love to see a strong female protagonist on film.

The story takes place in flashback mode in the year 1965, when three young Israeli Mossad agents were sent on a secret mission capture and kill a notorious Nazi war criminal. Thirty years later, a man claiming to be the very same Nazi surgeon Dieter Vogel has surfaced in the Ukraine and the former agents must figure out what to do with such revelation that threatens their current reputation.

Moviegoers have seen a fair share of Nazi thrillers to date, but I’d say The Debt has got something different to offer and British director John Madden’s direction keeps the suspense going right up until the end. Even the more mellow moments when they’re holding the criminal captive, the tension doesn’t let up. The look of the movie is gritty and realistic, and the younger actors capture that sense of dread and anxiety convincingly.

It’s especially interesting to see three pairs of actors playing the older and younger versions of the same character: David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds/Sam Worthington), Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson/Marton Csokas) and Rachel Singer (Mirren/Chastain). Despite Worthington not resembling Hinds at all, it didn’t really matter in the end as the actors did a good job keeping the integrity of the characters.

Apart from Mirren, the younger actors had more to do in this film as they carry out their mission. The retro scenes were full of edge-of-your-seat moments, especially the scenes in the hospital. I’m not undermining what the two male agents did, but really, Rachel no doubt has the most difficult assignment out of the three, pretending to be a patient of the guy they’re trying to capture who’s working as an gynecologist (’nuff said). Danish actor Jesper Christensen as the sinister Vogel is evil through and through, right up there with Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.

There is a bit of an unrequited love story interwoven into the espionage plot, but it actually serves the story, so it isn’t just there for the sake of softening things up. I really feel for the characters and I’m glad to say that Worthington is actually more expressive than I’ve seen him in previous films. The rest of the cast are excellent all around, especially Mirren in the last 20 minutes or so. The last scene was brilliantly filmed as Madden kept us guessing for what about to unfold. Let’s just say the film ended with bang that made me jump out of my seat. As I’ve mentioned here, this is the first time I saw Jessica Chastain on screen and I must say I’m quite impressed with her. I look forward to seeing her other movies, which are quite a few in this year alone: The Help, Tree of Life and the upcoming Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus.

I highly recommend this film for anyone, even those who normally isn’t into Nazi thrillers like this. The violence are unflinching at times but not overly gory. The story itself is intriguing and the dialog is sharp and intelligent, which is no surprise considering it was written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class). I don’t even mind renting this one again when it’s out on DVD. It’s not every day I come across a solid espionage thriller that’s as taut and well-acted as this one.

4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think.