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

Monday, September 30, 2013

New Pixar Short: Toy Story of Terror

October and Halloween is almost upon us and it's also time for a new Pixar short.  The Toy Story gang is back with a new story to tell as Woody, Buzz, Rex, Jesse and all are put to the test when Mr. Potato Head goes missing at a highway motel on a stop on their 'fun' road trip. Cue the spooky music! There's probably a hilarious end to this but check out these brand new stills from the short Toy Story of Terror! which is releasing as a television special on ABC mid-October.  

Meet Combat Carl, a new/old character voiced by Carl Weathers

Looks like the toys have stowed away (again!) for another adventure.

What have Carl and Jesse (voice of Joan Cusack) discovered?

Mr. Pricklepants (voice of Timothy Dalton) finds a captive audience.

The A-Team aka Jesse, Buzz and Woody are on the case.

More strategizing! This time in a warmer light.  

(Stills: SlashFilm)

Movie Reviews roundup: Blackfish, World War Z, Now You See Me and more!

So I saw quite a number of movies in September and since it's almost the end of the month and I'm a bit pressed for time, here comes the cumulative review roundup of some of the films viewed.

This shocking documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite tells the incredibly sad story of Tilikum, the killer whale.  Here his name is literal as Tilikum has killed three people since he was captured. Blackfish examines the circumstances and the handling of this magnificent creature and ill-treatment he has endured over the years from the fellow whales in captivity and the humans in charge who only view him as a money making machine.  With interviews from the former animal trainers who worked with him to orca researchers to tourists who witnessed Tilikum's first attack on a swimmer, Blackfish shows how repeated behaviours over the years have been ignored.  This documentary is a must-watch for us, we must not ignore what it is saying.  The home videos (mostly from tourists) are sometimes hard to see and especially hard hitting for me was the shot of the stuffed animal orcas that are so prevalent at the marine parks. I had one too as a kid, probably from SeaWorld.  I always believed the whales liked doing all those tricks and shows and never thought about what the whales might be going through.  Until now.  Blackfish is an eyeopener. I hope it leads to more changes in the laws of treatment of animals at marine parks than just putting the animal trainers behind barriers.  That's just the start.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite; Written by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres; Cinematography by Jonathan Ingalls and Chris Towey; Edited by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres; Music by Jeff Beal


Now You See Me is light film that revolves around the world of magic and illusion featuring a cast of actors from ever dependable Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine to leads Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Isla Fisher.  A mysterious figure recruits four diverse illusionists to come together to perform illusionist events that end up robbing the rich and paying the poor (i.e. the audience).  Hard on their heels is a frustrated FBI Agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Dray (Melanie Laurent) who aren't sure how much to believe.  There are some great exchanges between Harrelson and Eisenberg with Ruffalo as the believers and non-believers clash. The magic is, of course, mostly CGI and visual trickery of the movies but as Freeman's character Thaddeus Bradley keeps insisting that everything can be explained. It usually can.  Because of its star cast and shadowy man in the dark handling all the strings, Now You See Me is a enjoyable two hours spent. You won't be bored.

PS-Brace yourselves, a sequel is in the wings after this film's surprise success.

Directed by Louis Letterier; Story and Screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt; Cinematography by Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong; Editing by Robert Leighton and Vincent Tabaillon; Music by Brian Tyler


Another great documentary that aired on PBS earlier this year was The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon. It tells the forgotten story of five men whose lives were changed by one fateful walk in Central Park one April night. It became one of the decisions that they would regret the rest of their lives.  As the world knows by now, a young woman was raped that night in the park and the young men were the suspects who were later tried and convicted for the crime. Except these young men were innocent and yet spent their formidable years in prison and juvenile centers where their spirit may have been crippled but their conviction in their innocence never was. It is astonishing how facts and logic were completely ignored as a witch hunt to convict them and find a resolution to one of the most heinous crimes in New York City grew. The last line of The Central Park Five by Anton McCray (who we only hear) will break you silently, "The truth came out." Amen.

Written and Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon; Cinematography by Anthony Savini and Buddy Squires; Editing by Michael Levine; Music by Doug Wamble


Drinking Buddies, a Joe Swanberg enterprise, tells the tale of two co-workers and friends, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) at a small beer brewery.  We see their work routines, their relationships with their significant others (Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston) and their friendship and relationship with each other.  Each time, you think something will happen, the exact opposite happens.  The camaraderie and entanglements shown in the film are very real.  I really liked the casting and chemistry between Wilde (who's also produced the film) and Johnson.  A updated and sorted look at relationships today.

Written, Edited and Directed by Joe Swanberg; Cinematography by Ben Richardson


Young Onata Aprile as Maisie is entirely appealing and endearing as the titular character in this adaptation of Henry James' 1897 novel What Maisie Knew.  Here it has been updated to contemporary New York city with Julianne Moore as Maisie's rocker mom and Steve Coogan as her absent dad.  They repeatedly claim to love Maisie and want the best for her but instead become petty and selfish in their custody separations.   However, the lone ray of hope in Maisie's life turns out to be her parent's significant others, her new step-parents (Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham).  The update works well, as in any era, the effects of neglect on a child has various consequences.  But the film eventually shows what Maisie knows, even at a young girl, that her parents may not be the best for her.  Watch for little Onata, she will steal your heart.

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel; Written by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright; Based on the novel by Henry James; Cinematography by Giles Nuttgens; Edited by Madeline Gavin; Music by Nick Urata


I had read all about the troubled production of World War Z and the various reshoots the film went through. Thankfully, the redoing does not show onscreen but I certainly felt that the length got affected because of it.  Brad Pitt is Gerry, a mysterious UN employee, who gets pulled back in the game when an unexplained virus affects the entire world.  Entire cities and countries are devastated when zombies, yes, zombies take over.  Gerry travels around the world to find Patient Zero and a cure but time is running out and no one in the world is as smart as him.  No, not really but it seemed that way to me.  Also why didn't no one else figure out that Gerry was bad luck, wherever he went, people ended up injured or dying? Anyway, what's not lacking in the film are the stunning CGI pieces of  entire cities being affected by the zombies, the sequence in Jerusalem especially.  And there's a harrowing piece set in an airplane that could only have been written by Damon Lindelof who surprise, surprise is one of the writers.  World War Z has a lot going for it but I don't know I kept feeling there was something more to be told. Unsurprisingly, I think it might be continued in the sequel. I'm still undecided if I will tune in for that.  I might end up reading the book on which its based after all.

Directed by Marc Foster; Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Godard, Damon Lindelof; Based on the novel by Max Brooks; Cinematography by Ben Seresin and Robert Richardson; Edited by Roger Barton and Matt Chesse; Music by Marco Beltrami


I also saw the horrendous The Big Wedding, but I'm saving that one for my end of the year best and worst list. No prizes for guessing where it falls.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Movie Review: Prisoners

The thriller as a genre has evolved in the last decade or so. The chase, the hunt and the suspense have all become big action pieces sequences of cars, explosions and CGI. So when a quiet thriller like Prisoners comes along, we must appreciate it for its excellent storytelling and the non-reliance of the big spectacle in the final act.

A Thanksgiving lunch among family friends leads to the disappearance of the young daughters in the families of Dover and Birch. They all handle the news differently. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is fixated on possible suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano).  Franklin (Terrance Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) Birch are experiencing the various stages of grief and anger. While Grace Dover (Maria Bello) can barely get herself out of bed. 

Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who's been assigned the case has to deal with them all while pursuing the elusive kidnapper and trying to find the girls, alive. Believe me when I tell you that no summary can do justice to the way these plotlines unfold onscreen.  Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins set the up somber, wintery mood which is accentuated with stark shadows and gloomy interiors. 

They describe how the characters are living in their own personal despair and hell as situations go out of their control. This is one of those rare films that doesn't give it all away in the trailer. There is much to discover and ponder as the film races along to the inevitable climax where it must all come to a head. 

Kudos also to the great ensemble cast of Prisoners who all bring their A-game to make the film one of the best of this fall. Hugh Jackman doesn't get enough credit for his dramatic roles and Jake Gyllenhaal is very good as the detective who has never lost a case and doesn't want this case to be the first. But you won't be able to forget Paul Dano whose character is suspicious with a capital S.  

It's been a long time since a great thriller held me from beginning to end. And the last scene will definitely make you gasp. In fact, certain parts of the film reminded me of the great Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes. I have a feeling the film's story can cause great debates about many of the characters' actions in the film especially Keller Dover's. 

Make time for Prisoners in your fall movie schedule. 

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; Written by Aaron Guzikowski; Cinematography by Roger Deakins; Editing by Joel Cox and Gary Coach; Music by Johann Johannsson


Saturday, September 28, 2013

First Photo: Meryl Streep as The Witch from Into the Woods

(Photo: Disney)

Here's a first still from Disney's Into the Woods, the film adaptation of the stage musical featuring a star cast that will drag you to theatres next Christmas.  Besides La Streep as The Witch who longs to be forever young, James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Baker and the Baker's Wife who long for a child, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince (I really like that he's referred to this way) and Johnny Depp as the Wolf.  Changing up fairy tales is really in right now and if Disney can pull it off, they'll have another musical hit on their hands.  Next up, I'm looking forward to how Depp changes his look as The Wolf.  

New Trailer: Frozen

Here's a first look at Arendelle, 'the land covered in eternal snow' in the first official trailer of Disney's Frozen which arrives in theaters this Thanksgiving.  We finally get to see the characters who reside in the world of Arendelle such as the ice man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), the prince Hans (Santino Fontana), the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and of course, the two warring sisters Anna (Kirsten Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel).  There's lots of action, lots of adventure and lots of ice and snow! I'm really liking what I see of Olaf already, he's by far my favorite character in the film.  Anna and Kristoff really remind me of Finn and Rapunzel in Tangled.  What did you think of the new trailer?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Christian Bale's Batman Begins Audition Video

With the Blu-ray of The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector's Edition signaling the end of Christopher Nolan's Batman series (and Warner Bros. moving onto Batman vs. Superman with Ben Affleck as the older, wiser superhero), it's time to look back once again at Christian Bale's tormented Batman.  In this look at Bale's audition, Nolan talks about how Christian understood Bruce Wayne/Batman and why he eventually got the role.  Fun fact: That's Amy Adams he's auditioning with. Yup, Lois Lane! Holy foreshadowing Batman!

New Divergent Poster: Tris and Four

Two new characters posters for Divergent are out putting the leads Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) front and center with a special focus on their tattoos.  In the book, Tris gets her tattoos when she joins Dauntless. Each tattoo represents a member of her family she's leaving behind, her parents and her brother.  Four aka Tobias's tattoos have a little piece of each of the factions with Dauntless right on top.  What do you think of the new Divergent posters?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Movie Review: Fruitvale Station

The much heralded Fruitvale Station about life and death of Oscar Grant is like a punch to your stomach.  I knew going in what was going to happen but when the events of that early morning New Year’s Eve unfolded onscreen, I still couldn’t help gasping out loud.

Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights) is Oscar Grant, an affable but misguided young man with a little daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and a girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) he’d like to marry.  He’s not focused and recently lost his job working at the supermarket.  But he’s a loving and caring father trying to find his way in life.  Everyone in Oscar’s life worries about him.  Only Oscar thinks everything is going to be alright.

Ryan Coogler’s film focuses on his last day of life, imagining what he might have done, from celebrating his mother’s birthday (Octavia Spencer) to helping out strangers.  After a get-together at his mother’s and the clock nears midnight on New Year’s Eve 2008, Oscar, Sophina and his friends head over to San Francisco to see the fireworks.  However, the ride home brings back the past in an ugly way leading to a confrontation with the BART police on the platform.

These scenes were extremely difficult to watch knowing what comes next.  In fact, each time the BART train loomed ominously in the background, I felt the dread pool in my stomach.  From the beginning the train foreshadows what lies ahead.   As many of you know by now, this film does not have a happy ending.  Knowing it doesn’t make it any easier. 

Coogler’s debut film is astonishingly real and has impacted audiences from Sundance to Cannes and is being touted for a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Michael B. Jordan.  Jordan embodies Grant completely, giving a peek into the man he might have become had he lived.  I was moved to tears by this film (the scenes with Octavia Spencer will break you down).  This film will fill you with deep despair that these kinds of incidents are prevalent in this day and age.  

But what is different about Oscar Grant’s story is that it does remain as a story hidden away on Page 14 of a newspaper but thanks to the cell phone footage of the horrified passengers on the BART train and this film, his story can be told so that we can never forget.  Never ever.  

Written and directed by Ryan Coogler; Cinematography by Rachel Morrison; Editing by Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver; Music by Ludwig Goransson.


Movie Review: The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox is a uniquely Mumbai story of how a wrong connection through a lunchbox brings hope and a purpose of being to two of its citizens. A lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) and a curmudgeonly accountant Saajan (Irrfan Khan) forge an unlikely friendship by way of food and letters.

As the dabbawalla points out in the movie, Harvard University has evaluated their system and says no delivery can go wrong.  Even Prince Charles stopped by for a look to see how they operate. Turns out that one of those statements is false as one in four million lunchboxes is delivered to the wrong place. Ila's lunchbox for her husband Rajeev (Nakul Vaid) lands at the desk of one Saajan Fernandes who sends back an empty box. Saajan even stops by the restaurant where he believes the food is coming from and tells them to keep the food coming. Meanwhile, Ila thinks the old adage is coming true, the way to man's heart is really through his stomach.

Both of them are delightfully wrong. Ila starts off by sending a note informing Saajan of the mix-up and thus begins their awkward, funny and insightful exchanges. Slowly but surely, they begin to reveal their hopes, their disappointments, their regrets. It begins to free them both as they don't have any other confidantes in their lives.

Saajan's wife has died and he has no friends. With a month to go to his retirement, his eager young replacement Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) cheerfully tries his hardest to break Saajan's shell. Ila, too, has no friends and gets cooking and life tips from Deshpande Auntie who lives above her.  Her only reason to go on in life is her young daughter Yashvi. So what happens when the friends finally decide to meet one day?

I'll let you find out yourself. Watch the movie for the actors' spectacular performances (Nawazuddin practically steals every scene he's in) and you'll find caring as to what happens to these characters that you've just met. I laughed many a time, I was moved and delighted by the film.  Director Ritesh Batra really captured the mood of city so well, the office life to the commute home to the kids that play ball on the many by lanes of Mumbai.    

The Lunchbox is one of those films that you will be recommending to your friends and family. At least, I know I will be.

Written and Directed by Ritesh Batra; Cinematography by Michael Simmonds; Editing by John F. Lyons; Music by Max Richter.


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