Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic (2016)

Viggo Mortensen Captain Fantastic.PNG

*some minor spoilers at end

It always baffles me that Viggo Mortensen has only received 2 Oscar nominations throughout his entire career. I have always thought he was a real talent who deserved deserved more recognition for his work in films like The Road and A History of Violence. I guess a large part of it stems from the fact that Mortensen has always been pretty low-key, and never really bothered in playing the game as some of his counterparts do. Still, I’m glad that he received his second nomination for his role in Captain Fantastic, cause oh boy, this is a fantastic performance.

And what a fantastic movie as well. I’m truly surprised that Captain Fantasic didn’t receive more recognition, cause it’s probably one of my favourite films of 2016. It is beautifully shot, well-written, and I daresay well-acted overall. I daresay I might like it more than La La Land even, which is saying something. It could have been easily a really pretentious and annoying film, but I thought it was well-grounded and believable.

In Captain Fantastic, Mortensen plays Ben, a father of 6 who raises his family in the forests of the pacific northwest. Right from the start, Mortensen captures your attention in a ritualistic moment where he declares his eldest son “a man” for successfully hunting and killing a deer. I think what makes Mortensen’s performance work is how natural he always is, despite the eccentric nature of the character. You believe that this man truly buys the bullshit he is selling to his kid – that most of corporate America is fascist, that you have to defend yourself and no one will or should be there for you, and all the philosophical theories that he drills into his children.

I think what Mortensen truly excels in here is the way he shows how Ben begins to doubt himself and his method of raising his children over the course of the film. Sometimes, he manages to do so merely through his eyes, which to me is an amazing feat in subtle acting. He also excellently portrays Ben’s increasing helplessness as his children begin to challenge his ideologies and methods.

I like how Mortensen is never afraid to make Ben an unlikeable character. Like I said, you can truly sense the conviction he has in his beliefs, and it is easy to understand why he is generally disliked by his family. His final realisation at the danger he poses towards his children is also truly heartbreaking. He manages to effectively portray the guilt he has, as well as his devastation when he decides to give up custody of his children.

Another aspect of his performance is his chemistry with his 6 children. Although his unorthodox methods can be considered child abuse, I never doubted his love for them. This, to me, adds another layer of complexity to his performance.

Overall, I think Mortensen succeeded in making his portrayal of a difficult and eccentric character seem easy. There is not one false note in his performance, and the overall transformation of his character is believable and never forced. His strong screen presence really helps too, and he becomes a strong anchor to an already strong film. 5/5.

p.s. a little busy these days, so I’m keeping these posts short and sweet, but I’ll try to write more frequently.


Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996), Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006), Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

I’ve been insanely busy for the past few months due to school, which is why I haven’t been able to catch as many films as I would like to (I’ve seen none of the films that are receiving Oscar buzz). Thankfully, I finally managed to revisit a few films on the plane last week when I flew off to Japan with my family for a short trip. These were highly popular performances that I’ve been wanting to review again for the longest time, mainly because they didn’t make much of an impact on me during the initial viewing. Generally, I really enjoyed all of them because I’m a huge fan of the actresses, but none really made me go gaga. Still, it was definitely worth rewatching all of them.

Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996)

Frances McDormand Fargo

Frances McDormand won her only Oscar to date for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo, the classic black comedy crime by the Coen brothers. I would like to begin by saying that Fargo is a masterpiece, and I really think it should have won best picture and director at the very least. The way each character’s arch was pieced together in the main narrative is simply amazing, and I was thoroughly hooked from beginning to end, even though I knew what the ending was. The film is also a perfect mix of comedy, drama and thriller, and the dialogue can truly be hilarious at times.

Frances McDormand’s performance as Marge Gunderson isn’t the most difficult one technically. Marge essentially represents the “good” in the film, and the best way to describe McDormand’s performance would be warm. She makes Marge such a kind, lovable presence in the evil world of Fargo that her appearance (which is surprisingly late into the film for a best actress winner) makes you feel reassured and happy. I mean, even her mundane interactions with her husband feels so nice to watch, even though they were just going on and on about…paintings, I think? The fact that the Coen brothers made Marge a pregnant character is also a brilliant choice as it allows McDormand to portray Marge’s maternal warmth and kindness, even when she is interacting the sleazy characters in the story.

That is not to say that Marge is a one-dimensional character. We can also see that she is a brilliant policewoman/detective with sharp instincts, and I really enjoyed the way she pieced together the clues with her partner in this matter-of-fact manner.  Another excellent aspect of this performance is the subtle humour that McDormand injects into the character. I especially loved the way she subtly throws shade at some of the characters in the story, like the two dumb hookers (“So you were having sex with the little fella then?”).

I think of this performance as one where the performer goes beyond what is written in the script and gives the character so much more personality and quirks. On paper, Marge is probably the simplest character in the story, and she could have been the most boring too, and yet McDormand makes her so much more. 4.5/5.

Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006)

Helen Mirren The Queen

Helen Mirren won her only Oscar to date for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, which I actually thought was an overall well-made film that I liked a lot more this time round. I have always been fascinated by the UK Royal Family for the wrong reasons (I find them excellent gossip material), and even though I was very young when she passed away, I actually have a fairly strong impression of Princess Diana’s legacy throughout the world.

Helen Mirren is one of my favourite actresses, and I always felt that she is a real force on screen. Granted, yes, she can be theatrical and campy (Man, I would love to watch her perform on stage one day), but to me she is always one of the highlights of her movies.

Mirren performance as Queen Elizabeth II is simply a technical achievement. She is actually a lot more restraint here than usual, but it just fits the Queen’s reserved and highly controlled persona perfectly. She is also very calculated in her acting choices, from her line deliveries to her every action (such as when she arranges the pens on the table), but to me, it is all done in a manner that is truthful to the character’s highly controlled and private personality. As mentioned in the movie, the Queen is someone who prefers to keep her feelings to herself, and Mirren perfectly captures this spirit. There is so much dignity and grace in the way Mirren carries herself as the monarch, and one can really see how she has successfully inhabited the role.

The main highlight of the performance is how Mirren manages to illustrate the Queen’s struggle between appeasing the public and the deeply rooted tradition that she is born into. Without saying much, we can see her deep concerns over her waning popularity, and also her frustrations over Tony Blair’s concern pestering. Her brief outburst at him where she lectures him about “doing things quietly and with dignity” was perfectly delivered, and I really loved how she almost mechanically puts the phone down. It’s really the small actions like this that gives the Queen so much more personality beyond the old, stuffy monarch image.

Honestly, the brief crying scene felt like it written for the sake of giving Mirren a crying scene, and yet Mirren manages to do it with such dignity and grace while still showcasing the Queen’s vulnerable side. I really loved that closeup which showed her appreciating the beautiful stag that she came across, as it really showcased her human side without any words.

I feel that this performance isn’t really that popular nowadays due to its highly quiet nature, but I think what Mirren does here is truly admirable work on a technical level. 4.5/5.

Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

nicole kidman lion.jpg

Nicole Kidman received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Sue Brierly in Lion. Lion is a well-made film that dragged a little, but I thought it was a moving story about mothers and love. Dev Patel actually gives a really good performance, although I feel like he is the lead of the film (I guess best actor was too crowded to slot him in there).

Nicole Kidman’s graceful acting style has always impressed me, and she utilises it very well here. Although the role is very limited in terms of range and screentime, there is so much warmth, love and heartbreak here that she instantly captures your attention from the moment she appears. Her big monologue scene about choosing not have children is heartbreaking and brilliant, but I actually loved her first appearance where she interacts with Saroo in the airport. She really captures Sue’s nervousness and excitement at being a mother, and I loved her little interactions with Saroo. A little OT, but I wonder if she poured in her own personal experiences with her (allegedly) estranged adopted children for this movie, because man, the way she depicted her pain as her children drifted away from her felt really real.

Overall, this is a warm and nice performance by a truly talented actress (she was truly great in Big Little Lies too by the way), and it was a nice nomination to add on to her list of accolades. 4/5.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Caey Affleck won the Bafta, Golden Globe and a bunch of other awards for his performance as Lee Chandler, a grieving man in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. I honestly have no idea who’s winning best actor this coming Sunday, but if I were to make a guess, I would give Denzel Washington the edge over Affleck.

I am indifferent towards Manchester by the Sea. I find the film pretty manipulative, despite its attempts to be a heavy, “realistic” drama. The tone shifts between realistic and quirky, especially Lucas Hedges’ scenes. I think the film’s atmosphere is pretty good, but I’m just not buying some parts, especially Lee’s backstory. Not that it’s totally unbelievable, I just felt as if Lonergan was trying to ramp up the tragic aspect so much that it becomes a bit contrived.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, the depressed, grieving janitor who takes in his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) following his brother’s death. One thing that surprised me was how quiet Affleck’s performance is, which made me wonder what drew the awards’ attention to it. Other than a few bar fights and a particularly well-acted suicide scene, the performance is actually really non-flashy.

Like the movie, I really don’t know what to feel about this performance either. I love quiet performances, and I certainly appreciate the Academy for recognising it, but this felt a bit…I don’t know, one-note to me? I get that Lee is grieving, I get that Lee isn’t much of a talker, I get that he is haunted by his past…but that’s honestly all I got out of it. There’s also his relationship development with Patrick, which I find to be the strongest part of the performance as we get to see a development from his initial frustration at being Pat’s guardian.

I suppose it is a performance that needs to be appreciated over time, but there is another problem, which is that I didn’t feel really compelled to watch the movie again. And it was at this point where I realised how little I cared about Lee and his troubles. I will give Affleck the credit of having a strong presence and actually carrying the movie. I just didn’t think it was as powerful a portrayal of grief as people said. Yes, grief can be portrayed in a quiet and powerful manner but it just felt flat to me here (Refer to Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom) 3/5.

Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)


Update: Wtf she got snubbed. Especially pissed because the performance actually grew on me ALOT since I typed this post. Happy for Isabelle Huppert, but really?

As of the date of this post, Amy Adams has been nominated for a Golden Globe, SAG and Bafta for her performance as Dr. Louise Banks in the science-fiction drama, Arrival. At this rate, it is most likely that she is going to be receiving her 6th Oscar nomination as well.

What is it about Amy Adams that makes me so drawn to her? I have heard 2 entirely opposing views about her acting that I can totally understand. On one hand, there’s the camp that finds her passable but bland in most of her roles, while on the other hand, which I’m leaning more towards, there is the camp that thinks of her as a highly capable and versatile actress. Now, I love performers who are technically brilliant, like Meryl Streep, Geraldine Page, Cate Blanchett etc. However, I am also equally in awe of actresses who act from their hearts, even if they’re technically not the best – think Diane Keaton, Emma Stone, and of course, Amy Adams. The thing about Adams is that she lives her characters not through tics and mannerisms, but through grace and soul. When I think of an Amy Adams performance, I don’t think of a defining “Oscar” scene, but the performance as a whole and her entire process as that character. We get a glimpse of that with Sister James in Doubt, but in Arrival, she manages to shine through that in a leading role.

Arrival is a very good drama that I liked a lot, but did not love. I have to say that its score is incredible and plays a huge part in creating the emotions of the story. The supporting casts are all good, like the always reliable Jeremy Renner, although I did find his character a bit pointless. Personally, I love the messages and themes of Arrival more than its actual story. I have always been fascinated with the concepts of destiny and choice, and I think they are well-explored here. The slow pace didn’t bother me at all – in fact I actually thought it was necessary to build up the story and give its leading lady a good opportunity to shine. I am just a little bit iffy on the reason why the aliens came down, and I probably have to re-watch the film to finalise my thoughts on that.

When I first watched Arrival, I instantly gave Amy Adams a 3.5/5 for her performance. My thoughts were that she was good but nothing special here. However, as I got to mull over her performance, I realised how brilliantly tricky she is here (and in most of her performances). Adams’ role as Dr. Louise Banks is almost symbolic in nature: she symbolises motherhood, intelligence, peace and love. I would think that it is hard to find a particular Oscar clip for this performance as it really needs to be appreciated as a whole. A good comparison for me would be Frances Mcdormand’s brilliant turn in Fargo, where the brilliance isn’t in a breakdown scene or a crying scene, but in how the performer lived the characters through their souls.

There are so many sides to Dr. Louise Banks that Amy brilliantly embodies. I used the word “embody” instead of “portray”, because for me, I felt these sides of the character more than I saw them. It is hard for me to identify each side through a particular scene because Adams plays them so naturally, and yet I could easily describe Louise Banks as an intelligent, warm, strong and loving soul. Even through the brief opening sequence, she manages to capture the warmth and love of a mother brilliantly. Her delicate interactions with the aliens are also surprisingly captivating to watch, and it’s easy to see why they would trust her. The darkness faced by the character isn’t played in a gut-wrenching manner, but with a beautifully melancholic style that draws you in.

I am not going to spoil the twist behind the story, but Amy plays it in a way that makes it super believable despite my own issues with it. And I think that’s why her performance works wonders here – it’s so tricky, yet never manipulative.

All in all, wonderful would be the word to describe Amy Adams’ performance as Dr. Louise Banks. It is an uplifting, sorrowful, beautiful and moving process that needs to be appreciated in its entirety. 4.5/5

p.s. I was just reading about Amy Adams acting technique that she learned from her teacher, Warner Loughlin. Holy shit, I would love to take acting classes with Loughlin, her style sounds so much better than the other techniques out there.

Sadako Vs Kayako (2016), and yes I seriously watched this shit

Sadako VS Kayako_Poster

I used to be a horror movie fan. I have such fond memories of my teenage days, where my friends and I would gather at someone’s house after school to watch a dumb horror flick to have a good laugh – and scream. Naturally, as I grew older, I started to gravitate towards other kinds of films – Oscar winning films, European dramas etc. The frequency of watching horror films dropped, although I would occasionally still write about them on this blog – very positively for some, in fact.

So, I was feeling depressed recently, which I know sounds like a weird justification to watch a horror flick. Ever since I stopped taking my antidepressants, I have been resorting to my own “methods” to stop feeling blue, and for me a stupid horror film and chocolate will always do the trick. My friend thought I was insane (“Go watch The Conjuring 2 instead wtf”) but I didn’t want a truly scary horror film – I needed a stupid one to laugh at. And when I saw the video below, I knew it was what I needed.

I mean come one!!! This was so ridiculously hilarious. The trailer for the actual film itself isn’t very promising either, and no, it is not scary.

My thought on this film are going to be incredibly brief but I thought I would write a little about my own experiences with Ringu and Ju-on. I am mainly going to refer to the Japanese versions, because the american remakes of The Grudge are damn awful movies. The Ring remake is actually pretty decent, although I prefer Ringu by miles.



Ringu is the movie that essentially made the “long-haired female ghost” a well-known horror icon in cinema. To me, the film rightfully earned its cult status as one of the greatest “urban legend” horror movies ever. One would be surprised at how different it actually is from typical horror films. It does not rely on jump scares or an overbearing track to shock its viewers, choosing to utilise atmosphere to instill dread and paranoia instead.

The movie’s main villain is Sadako Yamamura (“Samara” in the US remake), a mysterious entity who kills the viewers of her “cursed tape” within 7 days. While most horror films nowadays are quick to throw in appearances of their ghouls in every possible scene, and in the form of every possible jump scare (even from your freaking photographs), the appearances of Sadako in Ringu are kept to a minimum. In fact, unlike most horror films, the backstory of Sadako isn’t even completely fleshed out (they do explain it in the other films, but I am not focusing on those). To me, this really helps in establishing Sadako as a frightening and evil entity whom nobody knows how to deal with. We know that she is capable of “projecting images” into people’s minds and killing them with her own, but other than the fact that she seems to be a child-demon of sorts, very little is known about her. The creepy hallucinations of the cursed victims (presumably Sadako’s projections), the distorted photographs, the “hand imprints”, combined with the grim and depressing atmosphere of Ringu, gives viewers the feeling that Sadako is always present and watching. Despite having less than I daresay 5 appearances throughout the whole movie, the build-up to Sadako’s iconic moment in the film’s climax is very effectively done.

Ringu doesn’t even attempt to explain everything – and yet it works. To me, it is the best urban legend horror film around, because it is so subtly effective in its scares, allowing the viewers to believe that such an urban legend is real without explaining everything.

Of course, Ringu would be butchered in later years with the recent spate of Sadako 3D films which are just plain stupid. From a mysterious entity who barely needs to be present to scare her viewers, Sadako has transformed into a laughable ghoul who pops out in the stupidest places and uses her hair to grab her victims into the TVs because WHY NOT. Urgh. Way to go, Japan.


I was actually surprised to learn on Wikipedia that there are already 11 films in the Ju-on franchise, although White Ghost and Black Ghost was actually released as one film.

  1. Ju-On: The Curse
  2. Ju-On: The Curse 2
  3. Ju-On: The Grudge
  4. Ju-On: The Grudge 2
  5. The Grudge
  6. The Grudge 2
  7. The Grudge 3
  8. Ju-On: White Ghost
  9. Ju-On: Black Ghost
  10. Ju-On: The Beginning of the End
  11. Ju-On: The Final Curse
  12. Sadako vs. Kayako

I actually watched #1, #3, #4, #5, #6, #10 and #12 aka more than I probably should. I never “got” the appeal of this franchise, or at least the claims that the films are some of the scariest horror movies ever made. The American remakes are downright jokes, and I felt like Takashi Shimizu really sold-out and cheapened the whole franchise through awful CGI and jump scares.

Even so, I have always thought Ju-on to be more bizarre and weird than scary. I mean, I agree that Kayako is a pretty frightening looking ghost, but when you look at some of the things she is capable of doing – using her hair to hang people, using her hair to strangle people, using her hair to move around – it actually becomes quite funny. The croaking noise she makes, combined with the meowing of Toshio also becomes old after a while. While Sadako barely has to appear to make herself known, Kayako feels like the annoying classmate who is trying way too hard to prove herself.

I also never really appreciated the non-linear structure of the Ju-on films either. It was more jarring than anything for me to follow the way the storyline, or lack of, develops through the perspectives of Kayako’s different victims. That being said, I shall admit that I actually enjoyed #1, #3 and #4 quite a bit, especially #4. I could tell that they never took themselves too seriously and I have always enjoyed the “weirdness” of these films – and of Japanese horror movies in general. I mean, who can forget that scene of Kayako emerging from a freaking WIG. These movies actually do become rather creepy because of their weirdness and cheesiness, something which is missing in the American remakes that took themselves too seriously in tone.

And this brings me to…

Sadako vs Kayako

Damn, this was stupid. The acting was horrible, and the characters made little sense, especially the professor who wanted to watch the tape just to see Sadako LOL.

But at the same time, the film never takes itself seriously. It knows its premise is silly, and it serves its purpose in paying tribute to these 2 horror icons. Of course, this is still a butchered version of Sadako, but it doesn’t sink to the depths of the Sadako 3D films. It also has that typical Japanese humour that I always enjoy, from the priestess who slaps everyone who offends her, to the eccentric exorcist and his sassy blind companion. There are also some major plot-holes throughout the whole film, with the most obvious being its actual storyline –  getting two dead spirits to kill each other LMAO. Toshio also has a derp face now, yay.

I also laughed so hard at how nonchalantly everybody is telling Suzuka that she has to get herself cursed by Sadako too, especially after she witnessed her own parents being murdered by Kayako HAHA. Like the exorcist literally told her that her parents are gone, and now she has to get cursed again to let these 2 ghouls fight BECAUSE THIS TOTALLY MAKES SENSE.

I would agree with the critics that the some of the scares are actually quite well-done, especially in comparison to Sadako 3D and The Grudge. However, if you are a seasoned horror film watcher, chances are you wouldn’t find any of them remotely creepy.

But you know what? At the end of the day, this goofy film brightened my shitty day, and I really needed its stupidity to make myself feel better. It is better than what I expected, although my expectations were damn low to say the least.