July 9th, 2012

I took all the kids out on Friday night to see the Pixar movie Brave.  I had not seen many reviews but I am usually pleased with the Pixar films.  Cars 2 was one of the bigger disappointments but Finding Nemo, Up, Toy Story and others are the best in the genre.   So I had decent expectations and they were generally met.
The story is fairly basic with a princess as eldest daughter to a Scottish king.   The traditional Queen and Mother to our Princess is very set into tradition and wishes to have her daughter married off.   Our Princess is more independent than that and refuses to play any part of this formal wooing process with the neighboring clans bringing over their first born to win her hand.  This becomes a story of lack of communication and not listening to one another, and principally between Mother and Daughter.   There is love there, but there are opposing views as to how to run one’s life.   The Princess seeks to find a solution and then there are challenges and obstacles ahead.   I won’t dive into the details.   They were unexpected by me, and the kiddos.
The animation is good, remarkably so in some cases with the water and fish.  I like the Scottish accents me-self, and thought that this added a bit.   Why do they have to be Scottish?   I dunno.  Quite frrrrankly, I don’t care.  The kids enjoyed it and youngest son managed to stay put for the entire thing without a bathroom break or asking when it was over.  All good qualities in a film as far as I am concerned.
So there is no need to rush out and see this, but the young ones can enjoy this on a miserable day and parents can relax and have some fun with a family movie.   This is NOT Finding Nemo or Up or Toy Story.  Far from it.   But it has some good scenes and on it’s own it’s okay.   Enjoy.

June 6th, 2012

After reading the surprisingly good review from Roger Ebert, on Sunday night I decided to go out and see Snow White and the Huntsman (with the world apparently, in a full theatre).  Kristen Stewart was looking to get beyond the Bella role in Twilight.  I was not clear how Snow White was going to made into a kick-ass adventure hero, and after seeing it I am not entirely clear that she was.
All the reviews of this film are focusing where it is deserved and that is on the performance of Charlize Theron rather than Stewart.  Theron steals the movie as the Wicked Queen, and is over-the-top evil in the scenes that she dominates.   There is some background that is filled in here, and some twists on a tale that everyone knows which are not always expected.  But in the end, like Titanic, you know where this story is going.
I liked the elves, and the technology that allows known (predominantly British) actors to play them.  The Huntsman, who had a minor role in the Disney film, plays a more important role here and is effective.  Besides the Scottish/Irish accent, I finally recognized him as the father of James Kirk from Star Trek (when does that next installment come out?).   Anyway, Stewart plays the Snow White role and generally looks dirty and unmade up.  That “raven hair” and porcelain skin isn’t really anywhere to be found.   She is weepy and teary-eyed for much of the film.   The Braveheart-like, rouse-the-troops speech is one that I am not so sure would get me to put on the chains and helmet and ride my steed into certain death.   But it’s a story.
I did not see Mirror Mirror and my impression is that this film is more serious and dark.  It is well told and well acted by known actors.  I enjoyed it for the most part.  So should you rush out to see it?   Up to you.  Theron is also in Prometheus which is the new Ridley Scott film coming out this weekend and I want to see it.  Looks like an Alien pre-quel.   Cool!!!
I did see the last 45 mins or so My Week With Marilyn, and it was decent.  Made me want to see the earlier part.  Michelle Williams did an admirable job as the frail Monroe.

April 30th, 2012, Ebert Top 10

Ebert’s Top 10 OF ALL TIME!
My Top 10 of ALL TIME (in no particular order and likely dealing with genres) – I struggled with this mightily:
Shawshank Redemption
Jaws (thriller)
Exorcist (horror)
Monty Python and Holy Grail (comedy)
– Raiders of the Lost Ark
Ben Hur
The Notebook (romance)

February 27th, 2012 – Oscar musings

This past week I managed to get to see a couple of films.  One not-so-well known the Canadian Best Foreign Film nominee Monsieur Lazhar.  The other J Edgar.  No luck seeing the Best Picture of the year.  Seems that the Director is rather chummy with his leading lady from the telecast last night.

First comments about the show last night Oscar night.   I enjoyed it.  I had a few laugh out loud moments and I thought that Billy Crystal is a fine host.  He’s funny, he does really good bits with the existing films and he pokes fun without being nasty about it.  The presentation reminded me that I need to see again Bridesmaids.  The clips made me laugh out loud every time.  It was good to see Christopher Plummer win in what was really a Lifetime Achievement Award.   I liked Jonah Hill in Moneyball but had no issue with Plummer (the Canadian) winning!    Early technical awards given to Hugo but the big prizes went to The Artist.  Guess I need to see it.  Meryl won and gave a memorable speech I thought.  17 nominations and yet only 3 wins now from the greatest living actor.  Good to see her acknowledge her husband as she says “you have brought everything WE value into our lives and made them happen” with tears.  Well done.  I also liked the acknowledgement by Plummer to his Wife about the Nobel Peace Prize.  Excellent.  In years when some spouses get forgotten, these are made to shine and Meryl said hers first!   A nice classy touch.
Back to the movies.  Friday was Lazhar at the Bell Lightbox Theatre that I have never been to.  Very nice digs, more adult.  A bar and some restaurants at street level and then theatres more like a viewing than cement bunker.  The movie, unknown to me before my law school friend suggested seeing it was set in a Montreal classroom.  During recess one Winter’s day a female teacher hangs herself and a student finds her.  There is scrambling to hide this from the rest of the class (Grade 6).  The rest of the movie introduces us to the substitute teacher who is from Algeria and seeking asylum in Canada.  There are really good performances from the students here, and couple notably.  Plenty of emotion and some parents getting upset, and then the kids’ perspective and take on the whole thing.   This is a good story, well told.  Sorry that it did not win last night, but I had heard good things about The Separation as well.
Yesterday I watched J Edgar on DVD with my brother and his girlfriend.  This of course is the tale of the head of the FBI.  Funny that my mind always jumps back to Agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs and her desire to work work for the Bureau, and her ambition.  Here is the guy who started it all.   This movie jumps around a lot from end of life, to middle to early days.  Watch Leo’s hair and make up to keep track.  There are flashbacks and forward shots sometimes in the same sequence (like going up and down and elevator or sitting at the race track).  There is background into his relationship with his Mother, the heavy handed and opinionated Mother that shaped his life.  Another strong female influence again much like Howard Hughes played earlier by Leo in The Aviator.  I think that the movie makes some excellent points about the life of this man, with both his personal life and his professional life.  Without a doubt, he is a well accomplished man creating a bureau from nothing.  But some of the foundations and how he wishes to be remembered are shaky.  There is much that lies beneath the surface and that is not shown here but hinted.  The relationship with Tolson was not a focal point.  In truth I would think that the real book about Hoover that could be written would be by his assistant, played by Naomi Watts.   She was with him for virtually his entire career.  A good movie.  I enjoyed it and even had a couple chuckles with my brother.  If you think about the FBI and investigating crimes and subversive behaviour and anti-American activities, you wonder how the assassinations of both Kennedys and MLK take place under his watch.  Violent times I suppose.   No hint here about whether the FBI knew or was involved.  Knowledge of the FBI of the extra marital affairs for sure, including wire taps in Kennedy’s suite for a tryst.
Two good films that I am glad that I saw.

February 13th, 2012 (Valentine’s Day edition)

So Saturday night, I was looking to get out and see a movie in the theatre.  The first thought was Mission Impossible but it did not work out.  Then it was Safe House with Denzel Washington, but it ended up being Sold Out!   That does not happen very often these days.   So I ended up seeing The Grey, with Liam Neeson.
Neeson seems to be in every other movie these days.  I guess the loss of your Wife can bring you to dive back deep into your work.
I came out of the theatre here thinking that I cannot remember feeling colder at the end of a film.  Colder, that’s right.  Here is a movie set up in the north.  It’s not specified where.  If you ever watch these reality shows about flying in the north you can relate to Neeson and some collegues flying on their way to Ankorage AK.  On the way, the plane goes down and then the survivors then have to deal with the elements and how to survive.  The largest of the problems seems to be this local band of wolves who takes interest in this group.   That essentially is the story.  It is well told.  You certainly get a sense of the surroundings and the elements and the atmosphere.  I am in the middle of reading the classic sci-fi book Dune, and there you had to deal with the elements of oppressive sun and a lack of water.  But the key was the right equipment and being smart as to how you moved.   Here with few resources from the crashed plane, then you are dealing with your wits.  Query whether ever leaving the semi-shelter of an aircraft is a good idea.
The wind, the snow, the deep snow, the cold, the lack of heat and appropriate clothing all gave this a look and feel like Fargo.  Desolation.  Isolation.  In the face of a natural predator who has no fear of you, and is part of a larger pack that doesn’t have to sleep.   You do.   There are elements here of fighting for a life that on your own you were willing to walk away from.   But ultimately it’s a question of survival and getting through the elements.   It was good to see and Neeson has that toughness and ruggedness that this role demands.   It would have been an exhausting film shoot, especially the on location shots .   Technically sound, a movie that gives you a sense of what it’s like.  The sounds of the aircraft accident are startling.   It seems that Hollywood seems to be perfecting over the years the look and feel of an airplane crash.   This is not Airport ’75.   Nor is it Fearless, which did a good job with Jeff Bridges or even Tom Hanks in Cast Away with his Fed Ex jet.  For me on a plane, I am looking at the flight attendants and when they start to grab on or look nervous then I know something is up.   I have not to date.  But here was a seemingly realistic sight and sound experience of a plane going down.  There are certain moments where characters here do things where you think “you just sealed your fate”.   In the end it killed a couple hours.  It was well filmed.  You don’t get to know the characters all that well, as they are bundled up and bloodied but you will wonder about whether the people who didn’t survive the crash were perhaps a little better off!

Wednesday February 8th, 2012

I am beginning the annual catch up on the Oscar nominated films.  Ideally I get to watch ALL of the Best Picture nominees but with now up to 10 films it’s not always that easy.  This year I am done with three and now four.  I have seen The Descendants (mostly), War Horse, Hugo and now The Tree of Life.

Tree of Life:  This was a film that I had relatively no expectations.  I had read the glowing Ebert review as he reminisced about how closely this movie pulled him in with the images of the time (50s middle America).  He has written a couple interesting articles on this and it intrigued me.  The movie is not about plot and a straight lined arc in the lives of its characters.  It makes both macro and micro observations about life and life on earth in general.  Many of the connections you have to make yourself (or not).  Two heavy hitters with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are acting here, but they are really not the focal point.   On the micro level you deal with life on a planet in the universe after the big bang.  There are stunning visuals and images that are totally new to me.   You have life coming out of the seas and then other forms of life.  What I came away with the macro story is just how BIG it all is, and just how little (in comparison) that we all are.  There is also a theological discussion that takes place and questions for God.   Much of this stems from the micro level life of an ordinary family in middle America (in this case Texas) but it really could be anywhere.
Here the family starts at the more recent time and then deals with images backwards.  There has been a death in the family and there is questioning as to why.  Then the flashbacks to the times with this family.  I take away from this that life, as we experience it, is really a sum of little images and moments.  The unexpected hug from a child, the kiss goodnight, the images as perceived of a child with his parents, and how their relationship impacts them.  The family has three boys.  Pitt plays the father.  Penn plays the eldest boy Jack all grown up.   You care about these people.  You see the journey that they take but it isn’t along a straight path.  Life is a bunch of moments strung together.  And so it is.  Struggles, challenges, understanding where one fits and the place that they have.  All a part of this, as macro meets micro along the way.
This cannot win Best Picture.  Why?  Because it is just too high minded I think.  The average movie goer (the film was virtually ignored in the theaters) simply won’t “get it”.  It can be slow.  It raises as many questions as it answers, simply because it doesn’t answer that many.  It observes.  And let’s the viewer figure out the meaning.  I also think that this is a film for older and more mature viewers.  This is not a 17yo date movie.  That older crowd that watched Iron Lady would enjoy this and connect with this.  I did.  Having children, thinking about the structure that we as parents provides, makes you think about where this fits in the grand scheme.  It shows too how attitudes and actions in front of children have an impact.  What the child remembers.
I would see it again.  I would catch more and pay more attention to the beginning.  In the end, time well spent last night, where after the movie I decided to watch the Extras as well on the DVD.   The director here is painting with a broad brush and giving some real insight into human beings.  I am really glad that I saw this.

February 1st, 2012

So I did end up going to see War Horse last week.  It was a 3/4 full theatre which wasn’t bad for a Thursday night.

So what do you get when you combine Black Beauty, with Saving Private Ryan and then a little bit of Gone with the Wind (visually anyway) and Seabiscuit?   You get another Speilberg movie where he seems less focused on originality and something new, but rather something that will sell.  He is a master of the blockbuster.  There are some tremendous visual pictures on this movie.  I am not so sure that it is a Best Picture.  Then again, with 9 nominated films, could we perhaps have a B Category?   What would the shortlist be?   But I digress.
Here we have a horse that is born and witnessed by a young boy.  He and the horse grow with very little interaction until his Dad attends an auction and decides that he sees something in this horse (very Seabiscuity).  There are plenty of other sideline stories that go to show the relationships among the humans here.  Then the war comes.  WWI to be precise.  And off our horse goes to War.  There more characters are introduced and situations and our horse separates from our young boy protagonist (looks A LOT like a young Ethan Hawke IMO).  Again without going into plot details, our horse ends up with various people from time to time on various sides within the War.   He shows courage, and determination, and loyalty and a concern for others of his kind.
This was a good watch.  Spielberg is becoming the King of putting War on film.  Here he is equal to the task.  He also has a Cinematographer who takes marvelous looking pictures and vistas.  There are some obvious horse CGI moments (yes, and I did say horse) where there are some jumps and situations that a real horse simple cannot do.   Was I moved by the story?  Yes.  Did I care about the characters?  Yes.   Then it probably did what a movie needs to do.  It does not incidentally wallow in War and make it uncomfortable with blood and guts.  Some is used for effect, but generally it’s not gory.
Can’t say honestly that this was a Best Picture, but it was good.   Those who really like horses should seek it out.  To me, I get far more intrigued by watching LUCK at the horse track with Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte than this.   So enjoy your viewing.