FlixChatter Review: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

Whenever one hears the words Guantanamo or Gitmo, it usually emits a pretty strong reaction. Honestly, I’m not usually keen on watching films that I know will depict torture, especially one based on a true story. The Mauritanian however, piqued my interested because of the filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald, and cast. French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim played Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention center who was held for over a decade without charges being filed against him. The story is based on Mohamedou’s NY Times best-selling memoir Guantánamo Diary, which according to a few book reviews is an extraordinarily vivid first-person account of his time in captivity.

The film opens shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001, when Mohamedu was called into questioning by Mauritanian police while he was at a family celebration. Though he assured his mother he’d be back soon, he was not able to return home as he was subsequently arrested and later transported to Guantanamo. He had been held there for a few years before defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch, doing his best American accent) cross path on two opposing sides. Stuart got assigned to serve as one of the prosecutors in the military tribunal vying for the death penalty for Mohamedou, and Nancy fought to get him released pro bono. Interesting to see Zachary Levi playing against type as an unsympathetic federal agent that Couch was trying to get intel from.

The film is an intriguing mix of legal drama and thriller, and despite the harrowing and captivating subject matter, the way it’s played out is a bit uneven. The procedural aspect with Nancy and her associate Teri (Shailene Woodley) feels decidedly mundane. Even the meetings between Nancy and Stuart fall flat despite the star power of the actors portraying them. The film really comes alive whenever Mohamedou is on screen, thanks to Rahim’s captivating performance. The first time Nancy and Teri meets with him at Gitmo, Mohamedou’s able to speak English with them, which apparently he learned while in detention. That’s one of the outstanding things I can’t help but being in awe of, as well as Mohamedou’s seemingly unbreakable spirit.

Macdonald’s extensive experience as a documentary filmmaker means he took great care in creating an authentic look for the film, making sure the detention camp itself is depicted accurately, etc. One thing I find most memorable is whenever Mohamedou gets his outdoor break where he gets to breathe fresh air and even ‘befriends’ a fellow detainee next to him. He’s not able to see that man, but he’s able to communicate to each other and shockingly, Mohamedou’s actually consoled him and inspired him to remain hopeful. It’s these moments showing his humanity that makes the subsequent scenes of graphic torture even more harrowing to watch. At the same time, Macdonald didn’t want to paint with a broad brush in depicting every single person who work at Gitmo as evil, as evidenced in the tentative friendship between Mohamedou and one of his guards.

While in shackles, Mohamedou was subjected to sleep deprivation, severe isolation, temperature extremes, beatings, sexual humiliation, even a mock execution as he was blindfolded and taken out to sea. Those scenes are truly hard to watch, I had to cover my eyes and ears during much of it. The guards torturing him wore halloween animal masks, and at that point it’s as if they’ve descended into animal as they behave like one. As if that weren’t horrifying enough, there’s the emotional torture of being threatened that his mother would be brought to Gitmo and be gang-raped. Obviously the filmmakers intends for the viewers to be truly appalled by what happened, considering the perpetrators is a country supposedly known for being a beacon of liberty and hope. I don’t think we need to see it in a cinematic form to realize there is absolutely no excuse for treating fellow human beings in such a savage way.

The fact that Nancy faced obstacles in her mission to free Mohamedou is not surprising, neither is the fact that Stuart eventually found evidence about his torture that render any of his ‘confessions’ inadmissible in court. What’s most astonishing and inspiring is that Mohamedou refuses to be brought down as low as his captors. Rahim’s sensitive performance never descends to over-sentimentality and is genuinely moving. As for Foster and Cumberbatch, their presence certainly add prestige to the production but I don’t think their performances are all that memorable. I mean they’re effective in their roles, but it’s Rahim that gave the film its best moments and truly the reason to see this film. I wrote this review long before Foster was even nominated for a Golden Globes, and honestly I was surprised to see her name on the list, even more so that she won (I was rooting for Olivia Colman for The Father).

In any case, what’s definitely memorable is the appearance of the real Mohamedou during the end credits, who still retains his humor and playful spirit. Cheerfully listening to one of his favorite musicians Bob Dylan, it’s hard to comprehend this is the same guy depicted as having been brutalized and held captive for over 14 years. Mohamedou is quite charismatic that a thought occurred to me while watching him if the film would’ve worked more effectively as a documentary with Mohamedou himself at the center and unknown actors to re-enact some of the scenes. As it is, I’m not sure The Mauritanian does Mohamedou’s memoir justice nor is it the best movies about post-911, but no doubt its heart is in the right place.

Have you seen THE MAURITANIAN? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Shazam! (2019)

There’s such a huge anticipation over this movie, and the early reviews have been giddily-positive. I have to say I was caught in a bit of Shazam! fever as well after seeing the second trailer, which promises a boisterous good time.

This movie is an origin story of the DC superhero that’s originally named Captain Marvel in the comics, but later renamed to Shazam! as Marvel comics held the rights to the name. I think Shazam is a more appropriate name for this given its whimsical, zany nature, though it actually started with a pretty dark sequence.

The movie took its time before we actually see protagonist in its superhero form. We see Billy Batson as a toddler getting lost in the crowd at a carnival, then later as a mischievous teenager (Asher Angel) playing pranks at cops. We follow Batson’s journey into another foster family where he meets his new friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Grazer is SO good here, I absolutely adore him as Freddy who gives equal levity and credible emotional weight when the movie requires him to. I feel like the energy level shoots up significantly once the two meet up, which only gets better after the teenage Billy gets his powers from the Wizard.

Now the movie’s MVP is definitely Zachary Levi with his unabashedly-exuberant, relentlessly-buoyant performance. I have only seen him in the first season of Chuck in which he also played an effortlessly likable, goofy character. But Shazam is clearly a role he’s born to play. My favorite parts are the superhero discovery process, when Shazam is learning the extent of his strength, how to fly, etc. Those moments are so hilarious, filled with joyful good fun. I mean who hasn’t dreamed of taking on the people who’ve made our lives difficult, so all the scenes of Billy taking on the school bullies are pure wish-fulfillment stuff. I also laughed the hardest at the references to other DC heroes, esp. when Shazam throws a Batman toy  at the villain screaming for his help. It’s even amusing now given his alter ego’s name is Batson (read: Bat’s son) 😉 What makes Shazam works is that he’s still relatable even after he gains incredible powers. He doesn’t suddenly gain a conscience the way a mature adult would and behaves in an altruistic way like Batman or Superman.

I wish the trailers haven’t given away some of the funniest bits however, but it also didn’t show some of the less-fun scenes, mostly involving Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). Heh, even his name seems tedious. Now, I have seen the British actor portray a bunch of evil bad dudes, from Kick-Ass, John Carter, Robin Hood, even in the BBC miniseries The Jury in 2002 where he beat the living hell out of [pre-Leonidas] Gerard Butler with a baseball bat. I always think of him as a strong actor (pun intended), albeit that he’s been typecast, but here I thought he’s pretty weak. In superhero movies, it’s not enough that we have a formidable hero, we also need a worthy villain to make the movie works as a whole. I just think Sivana lacks real menace, so he ends up just being infuriating and worst of all, cheesy. The scene of him and the seven-deadly-sin gargoyle creatures wrecking havoc in a board meeting is perhaps my least favorite moments, which is a shame given DC usually gives us such terrific (even iconic) villains like The Joker, General Zod, etc.

I also think that the tonal shift from the dark scenes to the lighter, goofier parts could be handled better. Some critics have mentioned that this movie has scary moments that might spook young kids. I think I’d agree with that, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. Apparently director David F. Sandberg is known for his horror films (i.e. Annabelle: Creation) which explains the scarier parts of the movie. The screenplay Henry Gayden mostly works, as it has heart in the right place. The scenes with the foster family are genuinely moving. I appreciate how the movie champions the often ‘forgotten’ people such as foster parents & foster kids, people with disability, kids who are bullied, and made them the real heroes. It also shows a prayerful family who loves and accept the kids as they are, now THAT is rare to see in a Hollywood studio movie, but gratifying to see.

In the end, I enjoyed it for the most part despite the overly bombastic action finale that somehow many DC movies can’t avoid, and other flaws I mentioned. Shazam! is definitely better than most DC movies. Yes I know that’s not saying much given their track record, but surely the DC execs are ecstatic by this positive reception. Now that we’ve got the origin story out of the way, I look forward to what Shazam will do next in the inevitable sequels.


Have you seen Shazam!? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – THOR : The Dark World

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Marvel Studios continues its box office winning streak with an $86 mil US domestic earnings, up about $20 mil from the previous film. It’s made nearly a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide already as it’s opened internationally a week ago. The filmmakers are well aware that most moviegoers are already familiar w/ the character, especially given the behemoth box office success of The Avengers last year. So there’s no character development needed here, and the story picks up where it left off with Loki now going to the dungeon as punishment for being a naughty boy.

So Asgaard and the rest of the planetary universe are now safe right, since the Bifröst‎s (Loki’s kind) have been defeated? Well not quite. Once again we’ve got another megalomaniac creature called Malekith from the Dark Elves race who’s hellbent on taking over the universe. The ‘dark world’ in the title refers to the state of a universe when a weapon known as the Aether is released upon them. But Odin’s father was able to stop Malekith and hid the weapon for thousands of years. That is, until somehow, it got discovered when Jane Foster and her buddies were looking for, who else, his Norse god boyfriend of course.

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Despite the title, there’s nothing dark about this film, in fact, there are never any sense of real danger with any of the characters. Even when Thor is fighting a giant beast three times his size, his loyal Mjölnir always saves the day for him. Chris Hemsworth is much more confident in the title role this time around, and a whole lot more likable as well. There’s still friction between him and his dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins), but obviously it’s a natural father/son relationship. When Heimdal (Idris Elba), Asgaard’s loyal guard who can see into all of the realms, tells him he couldn’t locate Jane (Natalie Portman), Thor visits earth once again. It’s nice to see that Jane is not merely an accessory of Thor, but her character is actually pretty crucial to the plot. But it’s not the reunion between Thor and Jane that I was looking forward to, but it’s Thor and his brother, Loki.

I felt like the time leading up to that is a bit too slow for my liking, but it was well worth the wait! Seems that every time he’s on screen, my interest level just goes up a notch because he’s just so much fun to watch. Though he’s not the main villain here, Loki still gets the best lines, delivered with aplomb by the fantabulous Tom Hiddleston. I think there’s more screen time of Loki, but really, the film could still use more of his presence. The lord of mischief makes the most of his power of illusion, and it makes for some truly hysterical moments both in Asgard and beyond. There’s even a Marvel cameo, I wouldn’t say who it is, that practically brought the house down as the whole theater erupted in laughter.

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The women in Thor’s world are given more to do in this film as well, which is a plus in my book. I’ve mentioned about Jane, but Thor’s mom Frigga (Rene Russo) is also given more screen time here. Clearly Thor gets his bad-ass warrior trait from both parents! Kat Dennings is still a delight as Jane’s research assistant, adding even more comic relief with her irreverent commentaries. But believe it or not, Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig is actually the goofiest of the ‘Thor comedic troupe’ with his shenanigans and a penchant for stripping in public! Nice to see Idris Elba got a chance to get in on the action a bit more as Heimdal as well, and Zachary Levi apparently replaced Josh Dallas as one of Thor’s buddies, it took me a while to recognize him with blonde hair!

I knew going in that the sense of fun that we’ve come to know and love from The Avengers is going to be carried over in this film, but I didn’t expect it to be a full-on comedy. There are even more laugh out loud moments throughout, and the final battle is just hilarious. The self-referential humor is palpable as a guy witnessing the battle from a library in London quips, ‘Look, it’s Thor fighting down there, with his hammer and everything!’ Some of the subtler comedic moments are a lot of fun as well, my personal favorite is when Thor hangs his mighty hammer on a coat hook when he enters Jane’s apartment!

Whilst the film is robustly entertaining, save for the first twenty minutes or so, there are some flaws that makes this the lesser of the two Thor films. For one, Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith is a pretty lame and wholly uninteresting villain. It’s not the actor’s fault though, it’s just the character isn’t really given anything worthy to be remembered. He barely even speaks and when he does, he uses some ho-hum Elven language. I also miss Patrick Doyle’s awesome score. No offense to Brian Tyler, who’s a good composer, but Doyle’s gorgeous and rousing theme is so memorable and adds so much to the enjoyment of the movie for me. Overall I also prefer Branagh’s direction to Alan Taylor’s, as the pacing is a bit off and tonally uneven. The visuals and production design are just as superb however, Asgard feels a bit more organic here whilst the first film it looks so majestic and pristine. At times it reminds me of Star Wars though, especially the flying sequence on the Harrow as they’re escaping Asgard. The universe reminds me so much of Naboo, and the moment of Thor and Jane being lovey dovey together also makes me think of Princess Amidala with his Jedi lover, ahah.

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Kudos to Marvel for creating a universe that spans multiple films, somehow it relates to one another whilst still maintaining a unique identity, tone and look & feel. Iron Man has a hi-tech, futuristic actioner,  Captain America is more of a political thriller, whilst Thor has that medieval fantasy feel to it akin to Games of Thrones. Yet everything ties together as one Marvel macrocosm. Just like in Iron Man 3, the Avengers’ battle in New Yorkis never far from the writers’ mind, not that we’d be inclined to forget it anyway. As Loki won’t be on the sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I’m very curious if there might be a Loki film down the line. Certainly there are enough fans of Hiddleston and his nothing-short-of-iconic performance as Loki that’d warrant his own film. [Spoiler alert: Seems that the ending of this film suggests that this isn’t the last time we’d see Loki ;)]

I saw this film in 2D which is perfectly adequate. When it’s all said and done, Thor: The Dark World is lacking the depth to be a great film. I mean, it’s decent entry into Marvel’s cannon that’s fun and entertaining, but the hilarious bits are probably going to be more memorable than the film itself as a whole.


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


So what did you think of THOR 2? Did you like it more or less than I did?

Music Break – Favorite fairy tale music inspired by ABC’s ‘Once Upon A Time’

I just started catching up on the ABC show Once Upon A Time this past weekend, so that inspired me to pick the music for today’s Music Break. I’ve only watched two episodes from the first season but I quite like it so far, though some of the acting is a bit over the top. As someone growing up with Disney fairy tale movies, the premise appeals to me so we’ll see if the show has enough going for it to keep me interested. Nice to see Robert Carlyle in it as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold. The Glasgow-native is easily the best actor on that show, and no I’m not just saying that for my penchant for Scottish actors 😉

Anyway, inspired by that show, here are three favorite fairy tale music from the classic and current fairy tale movies:

SNOW WHITE (1937)

You can’t beat the classics. Even 75 years later, Snow White is still hot property, what with two films made with that character this year alone! There are really too many to choose from as the whole soundtrack is great, but I love this finale of Love’s First Kiss. It’s enchanting, sweet and full of hope, the kind of stuff Disney music is known for, and the choir singing Someday my Prince will come really warms the heart.

Original music by Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith, with Adriana Caselotti and Harry Stockwell as the voice of Snow White and Prince Charming, respectively.


P.S. My all time favorite music from Disney ‘Princess’ movies is actually Once Upon a Dream from Sleeping Beauty, which I’ve highlighted in a stand alone post a year ago.

TANGLED (2010)

Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated feature and it boast the maestro that is Alan Menken as the composer. I grew up listening to his Disney songs, it’s amazing how he could keep churning up beautiful music for every piece that fits the theme of the film so perfectly! According to IMDb trivia, he’s currently tied with famed costume designer Edith Head for third most Academy Awards won, with eight Oscar win. He has won best score and best song for four Disney animated movies: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas (1995).

This romantic piece is by far my favorite from the film. I always tear up every time I watch it. The scenery with all those lanterns are pure Disney magic, I love Rapunzel’s face as she watches them fly to the sky. I LOVE both Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi’s voice in the duet, I had no idea he could sing so well! I was rooting for this to win Best Original Song at the Oscar, but ironically, Randy Newman’s We Belong Together for Pixar’s Toy Story 3 ended up taking the trophy.

BRAVE (2012)

I was thrilled when I heard that Scottish composer Patrick Doyle was going to work on this film! I LOVE his work in Sense & Sensibility and Thor, among others (see my tribute post). Per Wiki, in order to bring some of Scotland’s native flavor to the music, Doyle used native Scottish instruments such as bagpipes, a solo fiddle, Celtic harps, flutes and the bodhrán, with an electronically treated dulcimer and cimbalom to give it a more contemporary feel. “I employed many classic Scottish dance rhythms such as reels, jigs, and strathspeys, which not only serve the action but keep it authentic,” said Doyle.

Well the result is a gorgeous and lush Celtic music that adds so much to the authenticity of the film. I like the joyful and rousing Touch The Sky that matches the exuberance of Princess Merida, but my favorite is the instrumental piece that captures the Scottish theme so well. I LOVE this one called Legends Are Lessons, especially after the 2:35 mark when the bagpipes start playing. I wish I could be transported to the Scottish Highlands as I’m listening to it! 😀


I hope you enjoy these songs. What are YOUR favorite Disney/Pixar soundtrack?

A superhero movie I’d like to see: The Flash

I know what you’re thinking, we’ve got way too many superhero movies as it is, do we really need another one?? But let’s face it, whether we like it or not, Hollywood isn’t done with ’em anytime soon, and to be fair, some of them are definitely worth seeing. To keep from having superhero flix fatigue though, I’m being more selective in choosing which ones to see. Captain America? Maybe. Green Hornett/Lantern? No/Maybe. Batman 3? Heck, yes!

Well, the past few weeks there were reports (here and here) that the same three writers (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green and Marc Guggenheim) who are writing Green Lantern, have done a ‘treatment’ (I’m guessing it means the initial concept?) for the speedy red guy The Flash, with the possibility of one of those writers penning the script in the future. DC has been quite lacking compared to Marvel in the past few years, with the latter generating a lot of buzz for their upcoming projects: Thor, Capt. America, Spiderman and X-Men: First Class, to name a few. Besides the big two, Batman and Superman, the only other DC comic-book character I’d pay to see the movie version is The Flash.

My hubby and I happen to be a fan of the early 90s TV series of the Barry Allen version (Wikipedia listed three other interpretations of The Flash) with John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays. Not so much because it was such a great show, but more of a fondness for the character itself, who got the extraordinary ability to run at lightning speed as a result of, what else, freak scientific accident. We think it’d make a great origins story because of the simplicity of the character. Unlike Superman, he doesn’t have a gazillion superpowers he has at his disposal; and unlike Batman, he’s not a rich, privileged guy, nor does he have the tragic, complex background to contend with. Now, I have no clue what Guggenheim and co. have in mind for the concept, but I just think that the story of The Flash doesn’t need to tread into philosophical territory or a dark, fierce tale of revenge. Instead, it’d be great if they make this light and funny, taking advantage of Barry’s befuddlement upon his initial discovery of his powers and his lack of control of his powers. Such as in this clip when he ran so fast he ended up running 30+ miles into the ocean with his clothes all torn up, or this clip below that shows his enormous appetite as his powers drained all his blood sugar, and how his speed might not work for house cleaning 😀 So in essence, more Iron Man than Batman Begins.

Over lunch a couple of weeks back, we actually had an extensive discussion about who’d be perfect for the role. Well, even just by watching these old TV clips, we kept thinking Ryan Reynolds (and we’re surely not the only ones). I mean, he kind of resembles the TV actor and he can tackle the goofyl, bumbling stuff as well as the action aspect believably. Too bad he’s already signed on for Green Lantern. Another one we thought of is already taken also, Chris Evans, who’s already playing Captain America. But come to think of it, physically The Flash shouldn’t be too buff, in fact, he should be on the tall and slim side. My hubby also thinks one possibility is going with a youthful cast (under 30), with the character being kind of a juvenile brat of sort, and he has a bit of ‘growing up’ to do as he’s taking on more responsibility as a superhero.

So with that in mind, we think these five actors can look the part, as well as able to pull off the playful, humorous nature of the character.

L-R: Lee, Adam, Zach, Hugh and Matthew


Updated 2/4/2013:

Out of these five, I’m rooting for Lee Pace the most. I mean he’s American-born, 6’3″ tall, lanky and gorgeous! Not to mention he’s talented and can pull off both the heroic and comedic side of the role. How he still hasn’t got a superhero vehicle to this day is beyond me. So yeah, Lee Pace for The Flash please, Hollywood!!


Well, how do you feel about The Flash movie adaptation? Any casting ideas while you’re at it?