"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Movie Review: Machine Gun Preacher

Before watching the film, I thought Machine Gun Preacher was an odd name of the film and seeing Gerard Butler in it, who hasn't had a hit in awhile, I really didn't have any expectations.  The subject matter of the film is heavy and there are some difficult images to stomach knowing this is really based on a true story, it is well-meaning film that should be seen.

The film is a biopic of the life of Sam Childers, based on his memoirs, Another Man's War.  Childers is a former felon who goes through some really low points in his life, only to turn around and become a savior to the hundreds of children of Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda from Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).  If the name sounds familiar, it's because thanks to a lot of press and social media coverage, the atrocities committed by Kony have been made known around the world.  There are several documentaries like Invisible Children and Children of War that highlight the plight of the children of Sudan.  The sad part is this has been going on since over two decades and yet the children still roam at night looking for a place to sleep.  There is still no clear solution to the situation the children face there.  

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) first comes to know about the children in Africa when he volunteers to go there to build houses and sees firsthand the children without a place to sleep at night and the villages being burnt to the ground.  He owns a construction company and believes he can make an orphanage to give the children a safe haven.  This all occurs towards the middle of the film and before that we are shown how low Childers went. 

When he returns from jail, he finds his wife Lynn (Michelle Mohaghan), his daughter Paige (Madeline Carroll) and his mother (Kathy Baker) have all moved forward and they want him to come to church with them.  He resists and falls back into his old habits with his friend Donnie (Michael Shannon) and goes back on a drug and crime spree.  He hits rock bottom when he almost kills a drifter he and Donnie pick up. 

That's when he turns his life around, starts his own business and builds his own church.  This where the preacher in the title becomes evident.  It's what the children of Africa call him as he doesn't just run the orphanage but he also rescues the abducted children that LRA captures from the villages.  He does so with help from Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and especially through his friend Deng (Souleymane Sy Savane). 

The film shows the struggle Childers faces by showing the good days when he gathers all the money he can from the US to build a playground for the orphanage and the bad days too when because they only have one vehicle they aren't able to save all the abducted children to fall prey to LRA yet again.  He even faces a crisis in faith when his friend Donnie overdoses, he faces financial troubles and can't raise enough money for the orphanage and fights with his wife and daughter and goes back to Africa where he thinks he is need most.  While there he meets again with a young boy, previously captured by LRA, who still looks for his brother and gives the preacher a talk about expelling the hate from his heart.  It's a touching and beautiful moment in the film and it's extremely sad thinking that there must be thousands of stories like that out there.

The film ends by showing us images from the real Sam Childers, his family and the orphanage out in Africa.  The credits tell us that he is still out there trying to bring back the abducted children from the LRA's clutches.  Machine Gun Preacher is well directed by Marc Foster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball) and even though the story takes a while to get started, it's important to know Childers' backstory.  My only problem with the film was the casting.  Butler is okay here and his accent slips now and then but I really feel a stronger actor would have been better.  Same with Michelle Monaghan, she's usually more animated in other films, I really found her performance flat here.  Ignoring this, the film stands up as a look into a life of someone really trying to do their best and make a difference in the world. 

Directed by Marc Foster; Screenplay by Jason Keller; Cinematography by Roberto Schaefer; Edited by Matt Chesse; Music by Ashe & Spencer, Thad Spencer.


Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Don't be fooled by the title but The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has little to do with the actual hotel and more to do with its British inhabitants who have come to seek a promise of a better life in the warmer and more hospitable climes of India.  

The film opens in Britain to introduce us to seven different senior citizens, all dealing with various life-changing crises in their lives and to whom The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks like the best option out.  There's Evelyn (Judi Dench) whose husband has just died and has never been on her own, a high court judge Graham (Tom Wilkinson) who once used to live in India, Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) who invested all their money in their daughter's failed internet business, Madge (Celia Imrie) who's looking for her next wealthy husband, Norman (Donald Pickup) who doesn't want to be lonely anymore and finally Muriel (Maggie Smith) who looked after another family all her life and now has no one to look after her as she needs a hip replacement.  Together they all gather at the airport and onto to India where the journey begins with a bump in a road as their plane to Jaipur has been canceled.  

So instead they pile on a bus and head to the hotel where they discover the hotel is not as advertised.  Most of them adjust to the situation but Jean seems most upset and wants her money back.  No problem, says the manager of the soon-to-be-updated hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), it'll be done in approximately three months.  Here he says my favorite line from the film, "Everything will be alright in the end...if it's not alright then its not the end."  He keeps repeating it in the movie to assure the characters and also himself.  Sonny has great ambitions for the hotel and his future but his plans are just not quite there yet.

The rest of the seniors may not be so sure of Sonny but they do they do their best and move forward.  Evelyn ventures forth and gets her first ever job, Norman and Madge hang out the posh club looking for companionship, Graham goes everyday to the public records office in search of an old friend while Jean can only stay at the hotel.  While cliched, the film shows us how this very drastic change of scenery brings that much needed push in their lives for many of the characters.  

The cast is absolutely stellar with several awards amongst them.  Director John Madden maneuvers them well; they all get their moment to shine.  It reminds you, that ensemble movies, if done well are fun to watch.  But the obvious star of the movie and the one we identify the most is Judi Dench.  She and director Madden previously made Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love for which she won her only Oscar.  She is absolutely charming here in her portrayal of a widow standing on her two feet again.  She and Maggie Smith (aka Dowager Countess Grantham and Professor McGonagall) have the most character growth in the film coming so far from where we first see them in the beginning.  It was quite touching to see it.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is surprising in how good it is.  The screenplay, written by Ol Parker, has its emotional moments coming at key places that actually pushes the story forward.  The dialogues are witty with lots of laugh out loud moments.  However, my one big gripe was Dev Patel's character Sonny who has quite voluble dialogues to mouth.  For a guy in his early 20s, he sounds like he's going on 40.  No other young character in the film sounds like him.  I fear he's going to always be typecast in roles like this unless he does something drastic.

Moving to India is not an easy experience.  Trust me, I know.  But once you're here, it feels you never left and the feeling you get when you eventually know your way around.  The film managed to capture the essence of how you finally find your way and somehow belong.  

PS-I saw many people coming to watch the movie with their parents, which I thought was kind of sweet.  I myself brought my mom to see the film.  

Directed by John Madden; Screenplay by Ol Parker; Based on the novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach; Cinematography by Ben Davis; Edited by Chris Gill; Music by Thomas Newman

Additional cast: Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Sid Makkar, Diana Hardcastle and Bhuvnesh Shetty.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Looks: The Bling Ring, Les Miserables, and Django Unchained

Emma Watson (center) in The Bling Ring
(Photo: EW)
Entertainment Weekly premieres the first look at Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, based on the real life crime spree by 'The Burglar Bunch' who robbed celebrity homes of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and many more in the Hollywood area for nearly a year before being caught.  They managed to get away with more than $3 million in stolen designer goods.  Coppola's cast is lead by Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Gavin Rossdale and Kirsten Dunst.   The film will release next year.

Javert (Russell Crowe) and Valjean (Hugh Jackman)

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) with Marius (Eddie Redmayne)
USA Today has new photos of the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech).  We get our first look at Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe against each other as Jean Valjean and Javert respectively.  But they aren't the only big names in the film, the cast also features Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway (for which she cut her hair), Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks as Eponine.  I'm curious to see how the film will turn out but I doubt it can match the power of Les Miserables on the stage.  It's a real treat to watch it live and if you get the opportunity, don't miss it.  Les Miserables opens in the US on December 14, 2012.

Jamie Foxx as Django

Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz as bounty hunters.

Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio face off.

Django Unchained
Photos: Empire
And finally, Empire has some great photos and behind the scenes looks at Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.  The much-anticipated Christmas release features Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie (going bad for this film) who steals the wife (Kerry Washington) of bounty hunter Django (Jamie Foxx).  The film is about his journey to get her back.  The first teaser trailer should be arriving soon too along with the release of Prometheus.  

Cannes 2012 Winners!

Emmanuelle Riva, director Michael Haneke and Jean-Louis Trintignant
(Photo: digitalspy)
So after touting all the American films and stars that graced the red carpet over at Cannes this year, none of them or their films walked away with any award.  Instead the wealth was shared around Europe as films like Amour, The Angels' Share and Beyond the Hills received awards.  Michael Haneke's Amour seems to beloved by critics and audiences alike if you read the reviews and it looks to be the front runner for next year's Best Foreign Film Oscar unless some other film comes out with the same emotional impact.  Out of the winner's list, I'm most looking forward to newcomer Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild, a Sundance favorite as well.  The trailer looks intriguing and young Quvenzhane Wallis is simply special.  Here's the full list of winners below:

Palme d'Or

Grand Prix

Jury Prize
The Angels' Share

Camera d'Or
Beast of the Southern Wild

Best Director
Carlos Reygadas, Post Tenebras Lux

Best Actor
Mads Mikkelson, The Hunt

Best Actress
Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, Beyond the Hills

Best Screenplay
Christian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Great Gatsby Trailer

The first trailer for The Great Gatsby hit the web today and it certainly is interesting. I have a strange feeling about this film, in that, I'm either going to love it or hate it. Every scene in the trailer seems to scream 'Look at me, I'm being made in 3D!' to me and I hope it doesn't get too distracting from the actual content of the film. I was really looking forward to seeing Leonardo DiCaprio reunite with his Romeo + Juliet director Baz Luhrmann until they announced the film was being made in 3D. If it is used as well as it was in Hugo, then Luhrmann would be vindicated for shooting in 3D but until I see it, I've got a bad feeling about the 3D.

The film stars Leo as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan in the movie adaptation of the great American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Also starring in the movie are Tobey Maguire, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton along with a special appearance by Indian legend Amitabh Bachchan in his Hollywood debut. The film will release this Christmas in the US.

New The Dark Knight Rises Character Banners

The Avengers, currently dominating the box-office around the world, have a bit of competition coming up this July.  Six new character banners (of only 3 of the film's characters) are out from The Dark Knight Rises and they feature two different taglines, Rise and The Legends Ends.  So, yeah, we're definitely looking at the end of a trilogy here. I want July 20th to be tomorrow already!

 (Images: Empire and Yahoo)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trailer Time: Gangster Squad, Skyfall, and Argo

Last year was the year of Ryan Gosling with three big name films and some occasional heroism on the side.  This year, he's back with an all-star cast featuring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Anthony Mackie in Gangster Squad, a look at the 1940s LAPD and their fight against the East Coast Mafia.  It looks explosive with the lines of good vs. bad quite blurred.  The cast alone is reason enough to tune in but the premise too looks intriguing.  Directed by Ruben Fleischer, the film releases on September 7, 2012 in the US.

Bond is back!  The first teaser for the film due to release this November came out today.  The 23rd Bond film, Skyfall, has MI6 Agent Bond facing yet another threat as he helps out as M is in trouble.  Hey, if this means more screen time for Judi Dench, I'm in.  The cast includes Daniel Craig in his third outing as Bond, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe and Javier Bardem.  I watched the trailer again to see if we are ever shown Bardem's face but I think that's him at the very end.  Keeping the villain under wraps until a later date, methinks.  Oscar winner Sam Mendes is handling the directorial duties for this latest Bond film.  

Also back for third time in the director's chair is Ben Affleck after two successful well made films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town.  This latest film, Argo, has Affleck doing double duty again as director and actor playing a CIA agent who has to extract 6 Americans working at the Embassy during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.   For me, the trailer switched to a weird comedy angle midway when Affleck's character goes to Hollywood posing as a producer of sci-fi film Argo and decides the hostages will pose as his crew.  But as the trailer assures me, this is based on a true story so it must work out somehow.  I didn't like the trailer for The Town when it came out, it gave away too much of the story but it seemed fine during the film.  Here's hoping Argo goes the same way when it releases this October.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

For Your Consideration: LAMMY 2012

A couple of months ago, I joined a wonderful online community called LAMB, a great place to discuss and debate about every one's love of cinema and the experience of watching films.  It's a place to meet fellow film fans too.  They are hosting their annual awards for best blog and I'm so excited to submit my blog.  Hence the for your consideration poster!  I'm putting the blog up for the following categories, Best Blog, Best New LAMB, Best Festival/Awards Coverage for the Oscars and the Awards Season and my continued pursuit of movie posters.  Hope you guys like it.  And now, back to blogging about movies. Thank you!

Movie Review: Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs was a strange viewing experience for me.  I watched the film in dread knowing something awful was to befall the poor Albert and I didn't like being right.  Not at all.

The film begins in Morrison's Hotel in 1890s Dublin, Ireland where Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a waiter.  The big reveal and I'm not spoiling anything once you know that Glenn Close plays Nobbs, is that Albert has been masquerading as a man for years to get by as she is all alone in the world and has been since a young age after a horrific incident.

Nobbs manages to survive a lonely but efficient existence until one day when a painter Hubert Page comes to paint the laundry room.  Forced to share a room with him at night, Albert finds someone to confide in and reveal the truth.  For once, in Albert's life, hope begins to bloom.  Albert begins to imagine a life as a shop owner, a tobacconist, with a wife to man the counter and a home above the shop.  Nobbs even envisions the young maid at the hotel, Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska) might be just that person to share his dreams.

But sullen Helen already has her eyes and heart on Joe (Aaron Johnson), the roguish handyman.  He urges her to encourage Nobbs' courtship, hoping to squeeze some money out of it and she plays along not knowing that Albert really has her best interests at heart.  Everyone sees this drama unfolding and knows the outcome, everyone except Albert, that is.

The film mostly deals with the downstairs crew, the help, of the hotel and their hopes for a better life for themselves.  If you're a fan of the popular British period series, Downton Abbey, you might have been tempted to check this film out.  As was I.  Unfortunately, unlike Downton Abbey, the story is not quite as entertaining nor are the characters as compelling that you'd want to see more.  It's a shame because the cast features some big names of British film and theater and the film even scored two acting nominations for Glenn Close and Janet McTeer at this year's Academy Awards.

I definitely expected more from the two breakout young stars, Aaron Johnson (Nowhere Boy) and Mia Wasikowski (Jane Eyre) but their relationship in the film was doomed from the start; their characters acted young and selfish with not much care for anyone else.  The actors don't get much to do but be petulant about their situations.

The film is all Glenn Close (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and she is simply transformed in appearance and character to become Albert Nobbs. She previously played this same part on stage in 1982 on a off-Broadway production based on the short story by Irish novelist George Moore.  I'm not sure if the film translates well onscreen.  Maybe others might feel otherwise.  I wasn't feeling it.  Come to think of it, this movie was quite depressing and story moves along at a snail's pace.  And thus ends the tragic tale of Albert Nobbs.

Directed by Rodrigo Garcia; Screenplay by Glenn Close, John Banville, Gabriela Prekop; Based on the  short story by George Moore; Story by Istvan Szabo; Cinematography by Michael McDonough; Editing by Steven Weisberg; Music by Brian Byrne.

Additional cast: Brendan Gleeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Mark Williams, Pauline Collins, Phyllida Law, Brenda Fricker, Bronagh Gallagher


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Recommended Links: Avengers Edition!

As is the case where the whole world is a bit Avengers crazy at this point, this time's recommended links are too.  Here are some more required readings on The Avengers!

(Photo: Entertainment Weekly)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Trailer #3

Trailer #3 out now for The Dark Knight Rises and it could possibly be the last before the film releases.  More new looks and scenes of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and her alter ego Catwoman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake are revealed along with glimpses of old friends of Batman, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and ever faithful Alfred (Michael Caine).  Alfred's line, "I've buried enough members of the Wayne family," is ominous enough for the final film of trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan.

But before that, there's plenty of action to behold as it really does look like an all out war in the trailer.  Bane's (Tom Hardy) dialogues are actually discernible.  Did they actually listen to the online grumblings? But they saved the best for last.  At the end of the trailer, Catwoman tells Batman, "My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men."  To which he replies, "This isn't a car."  Cue flying engines.  Oh, how the theaters are going to explode on July 20th all over the world!

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