December 28th, 2015 (Christmas edition)

I have been off for a week and catching up on my films.
I also saw a couple Shakespearian plays on film:
A Winter’s Tale is a play by Shakespeare performed on stage in London and then shown in theaters.  It stars Judi Dench and Kenneth Branaugh.   It was a story that I was unfamiliar with to begin with.   There are elements of Othello here where the King protagonist is seeing his Wife (pregnant) with another man and friend and thinks she is untrue.  The story evolves from there with tragic elements.   I enjoyed the performances and remain in awe of those who can memorize the soliloquies.   It was worth watching.

Then I saw Carol.   Two nominated performances with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.  It is a simple story of a woman in a repressive time (late 50s) who is a socialite and married with a child.  She is having marital trouble likely because she loves women.  In a time when lesbianism was considered deviant behavior.  Blanchett is the real story here and performance.  This was slow.  Plodding along with very little really said.   Much left unsaid.  Very little action.  This is not the best film of the year.

Bridge of Spies was a good film that the lawyer in me liked more than some I think.  A co-worker thought it too much Spielberg.   I disagree.   This is the story of an accused soviet spy who is defended by an Insurance lawyer (Hanks).   Then later Frances Gary Powers a U2 pilot is shot down over the USSR and they are looking to make a deal.   Trading spies.   It is an interesting case study in negotiations.   I enjoyed it.

Macbeth was the second Shakespearian play I saw and enjoyed.  Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were both very good.  This is a very bloody interpretation with some really good cinematography.  Slow motion shots with great colours.   I also thought the addition of the death sequence early for Macbeth and his wife burying a child was new.  And it made sense.   I liked this and was glad I saw it.

I also sent to see Room.  Much of this is filmed in Toronto (CN Tower included) but the film insists on calling it Akron Ohio.   Apache Burger front and centre.  I thought that was cool.  Anyway, there are two really good performances here.  The little boy is excellent.  5 year old little boy does an amazing job.  Brie Larson too is very good as the Mom under horrific circumstances.   But she makes the best of it.  There is tension and a story that moves along well.  I was engaged and cared.   This won the TIFF people’s choice award but I don’t see it as the best film of the year.   Still it was good.   Carol and Room are not big screen films really.  Nor Bridge of Spies.

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December 21st, 2015 – Force Awakens

So here it is – the review of the most hyped movie in recent memory.  And for the most part it delivers – but having said that I still feel a bit empty having seen it.  Before seeing it, I wanted and hoped for it just to “be good” and that they “didn’t screw it up”.   It does an admirable job at melding the old with the new.   You have a new, younger and fresher group (and politically correct) taking the reins of this storied franchise.

Abrams did much here like he did to re-boot Star Trek.  He borrowed heavily from the base material and mirrored previous plot lines.   You won’t need to pay attention long to see what I am talking about.   There is a great deal unsaid, and few Aha moments.   There are some “yea right” moments too – you will know those too – like just incredible coincidences!
There are also scenes and plot lines that will have you pause and scratch your head – like the whole Millennium Falcon subplot.  To say that some stallwarts like R2D2 and Luke Skywalker get short shift is somewhat of an understatement.
Still…..there is much to like here.  Characters who you care about (mostly).  A decent story and decent acting.   I liked the visuals and the scenes of older Empire ships dotting the landscape of a planet that looks a lot like Tattooine.  It’s not, but might as well be.   Our heroine has questions too, along with the baddie Kylo Ren (bad tempered and all which is actually quite refreshing).
I expect that there are at least two movies to be made here (with a three trilogies when they are done).   Expect more as Disney knows how to milk a franchise (just look at Toy Story!!)
I saw this in Imax 3D and the 3D yet again did nothing for me.   It is fun, it is escapism.   It is another chapter in this franchise that has been a part of my life since I was my youngest son’s age (11yo).   Let’s see where else they take us!
P.S> I still left the theatre feeling a little bit disappointed.   Like “is that it?!”  Such is what happens when expectations are so high.
P.P.S> I re-watched Grosse Point Blank and enjoyed.   I like Minnie Driver.   I also watched Resevoir Dogs for the first time and thought Tim Roth and Steve Buschemi were the best parts!  A movie that had eluded me until that point.   Strange.

December 16th, 2015 – Pre-Star Wars

So there are two reviews that I have seen for Star Wars Force Awakens (Globe and Mail and Roger Ebert.com) and both are positive generally about it.  I am pleased to hear that.  I did not read anything with a spoiler since I want to be going into this fresh.   I will be taking youngest son to see Star Wars this weekend at some point.

I have a number of films that I will see during the upcoming time off.  TIFF Lightbox has Macbeth.  Others include Bridge of Spies, Heart of the Sea, Trumbo, Carol and Revenant.
On Netflix I have seen a few different things.   One was a documentary about Atari and ET game in a landfill.  Honestly don’t ask me why I watched this.   No idea.  It was really rather silly, especially the ego-maniac former software developer who was responsible for the very bad game ET.
I had also caught Cinderella which was decent but nothing spectacular.   I do think that Cate Blanchett as the baddie step-mother here was not as memorable as Anjelica Huston in Ever After with Drew Barrymore.     Terence and Stamp about the Who was just silly too.
Jack Ryan – with Captain Kirk was okay but predictable,   I noted that Kenneth Branaugh directed and acted.
Disney shorts were good and interesting.
I am caught up on Downton Abbey and await the next season.
I did re-watch A Beautiful Mind last night and again was impressed by Jennifer Connolly.   She supports and allows her husband to be what he could.   And she had a number of leaps of faith that would never have been easy.   Her moment of anger in the bathroom is a priceless scene and won her the Oscar in my mind.
Lots to see.  Hopefully we can connect in the next couple weeks.

November 17, 2015 – British Spy Edition

Had to see the big screen version of Spectre (IMAX even) and shared with my daughter in Halifax.   This movie tries really hard to pick up various pieces and pull them together.  Certainly with the Daniel Craig Bond films.   For the most part it works.   But the traditional Bond stuff is really what works best.  Great chases.  Amazing cars.  Fabulous women in dresses and Bond in jackets and ties.  Oh and things that blow up real good.  All of this is there.  And well done.   Monica Bellucci is sadly under used but things move and the globe is traversed.   I appreciated just how good the writing and dialog of Quentin Tarantino is for Christoph Waltz.   Here the guy I can think as a master stroke for a villain kind of is – but he could be more evil.    Overall I am glad to see this and can recommend it.   It is fun.   It is escapism.   Enjoy.

I watched Kingsmen on Netflix last night.  I had no expectations.   It was better than expected.  There are some silly scenes but it worked.   Speaking of Tarantino, Samuel L Jackson plays a lisping baddie who wants to solve globe warming.   He has an interesting theory.   His no-legged assistant creates a stir in most of her scenes.    Yet the scene which turned it for me was a bar scene and then an over-the-top scene in a church.   It made me laugh and shake my head.   Suffice it to say that it was remarkable in a Kill Bill kind of way.   The young Cockney blue collar kid is an interesting guy and the ending was just priceless.   It’s a different kind of spy film but kind of fun.

October 26th, 2015

Beasts of No Nation.  A TIFF selection that I did not see at the festival.

Earlier last week I watched the Netflix movie with Idris Elba and it reminded me of so many other movies that were similar.   The one that came immediately to mind was City of God where these kids were on the mean streets of Rio away from the tourist areas but basically having their youth robbed from them.

Here the young boy with the tight family gets his life ripped apart by internal wars.

There are elements of Hotel Rwanda in here a bit and also Last King of Scotland.    African countries have their troubles and going from one messed up dictator who rapes and steals and pillages from the country’s wealth to another one in succession.  All through bloody battles and war where everyone else is viewed as the ‘enemy’.

Can’t they all just get along for the greater good?!  The common person in these situations is just manipulated and never has a say in governing with anyone that can add value to their lives.

The performances here from the young boys is excellent, the main one in particular.   Yet I still wonder, like with Evolution, whether I would want my child at this age to be acting in a role like this….I doubt it.  Still I was feeling the 2+ hours and was not as impressed by the outcome.   Made me feel sad inside that this is life for many of these kids.   Perhaps that was the point.

I went and saw Steve Jobs yesterday (Cheap Tuesday – $7.50) and also the recommendation from Alison.

I enjoyed this film and the performances.   It is truly a three act play and not a biopic in the traditional sense.   This is Steve Jobs at three separate product launches with various flashbacks in between.
A couple of additional observations.   He was a brilliant business man and strategist and had tremendous vision to look forward.  The entire NEXT situation (Act II) was played to perfection as he shares with Kate Winslet’s character what “The Plan” was.   He recognized that creativity and innovation was lost at Apple when he was removed.   He planned ahead for his next move.
There is a tremendous scene with Winslet and Fassbender (who if he doesn’t get a nomination here will get one soon enough – he is simply excellent) in Act III where she finally stands up to Jobs and states her grounded and well-founded opinion.  It is the culmination of years of watching and working closely with this man.   He is brilliant, and you see the vision that he had.   Amongst all the business, of course, is this relationship with the daughter, and it anchors the rest for me.   As a father with a teenage daughter off at university I was amazed at the level of control that Jobs required.
It is well written, very well acted, and insight into a man who had impacted the modern western world as much as anyone (Bill Gates too).  I would have gotten just as much out of this film on an airplane or on my TV screen at home.  This, unlike The Martian or even Crimson Peak, is a film that does not need to be seen on the big screen.    For what it’s worth.

September 21st, 2015 TIFF edition

I saw Disorder on Friday along with Louder Than Bombs.

Saturday was The Danish Girl and Legend.

Matthias Schonaerts was in both Disorder and The Danish Girl.  He was the principal actor in Disorder along with Diane Kruger.  It is a French film, and the director was there.   It was a good thriller.   The director said Matthias worked on about 3 hours of sleep for it, and for the physical stuff (fighting) he was very intense.   He scared the crew.  And he broke one of the stunt man’s nose. The movie itself is more traditional soldier back from war having PTSD issues is on security detail for a high dollar man and his wife and child.  Husband leaves town under strange circumstances and security soldier needs to protect the family.  The mayhem ensues.

Louder than Bombs was a very good family drama with Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg.   A family with Husband, Wife, and two boys.   They have horrible communication skills and never seem to say what they are really feeling.   All of them.   It was well done and I am glad I saw it.  Mom was a world renowned photographer, but then dies.  There are flashbacks that show how the same facts can be perceived differently.   This movie shows real life examples of (mostly male) behaviour of not saying and expressing how you are really feeling.

Danish Girl was long as my colleague pointed out who had seen it earlier, but I enjoyed it.   The real find here is the performance of Alicia Vikander as the Wife who is excellent and shows tremendous range for someone who is experiencing something no one ever else has before this.   I would think that this is Oscar worthy.  Eddie Redmayne is good of course, but there are longer than required scenes as he struggles with who he is, and takes on this split personality.

Finally Legend was overall a disappointment.   Tom Hardy is very good, but the East End London accent was hard to pick up, especially with the more psychotic brother Ronny.   There were some funny scenes here, but it dragged and I could feel the time more.   The Krays were certainly interesting personalities, but I think that the more remarkable aspect of the time was how inept the police and the legal system were here.   These two end up in prison and do their time but go right back to doing what they were doing once they are out.  It’s like a little vacation – although Reg had a harder prison life than Ronnie.   They were a unique pair those two.

Monday night it was the French film Evolution.
This film reminded me of the earlier TIFF film for me Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson (reviewed earlier in time but later here).  These two films could be bookends to one another.   You see one bad, inexplicable film, and then follow it up by yet another bad and inexplicable film.   It raises more questions than it answers.   Logic has to park itself at the side and have a Starbucks while you are suppose to “feel” the images here.   There is a point for me, anyway, where logic simply breaks down and the structure falls onto itself (or implodes).
In short, Evolution has a stark volcanic island with opening sequences of sea life and ocean from below.   The music borrows in feel from Under the Skin.   In the story, (STORY!!), there are young women who dress uniformly and mind young boys (all around 12-13yo is my guess).   They live in empty rooms and eat disgusting worm-like green glop.   The boys are told to drink their “medicine” since they are in a “dangerous” period of development.    The boy who is the focus of the film, is also the best part in it.    He is inquisitive and draws and pushes the boundaries of his life of routine.   Something is amiss and he feels it.   So he explores and finds out some strange behaviour.    Then there is a hospital setting with the women dressed in nurses outfifts and utilizing needles and scalpels far more than should be shown on film.   In short these boys are being used for a bizarre experiment where the ultimate end for them is not pleasant; but to what end?!    What is being evolved?  Does evolution imply “better” or a move towards increased adaptability with the environment?
The director was not available as she broke her ankle in France.   She wrote a letter of apology and it was delivered by an interpreter.   She said that this was a visual film to be experienced and she was saddened and glad (!!) not to be at the screening for questions.
Oh the questions!!  As there are no men in this picture, is this a piece that speaks to the power of women?   Does it suggest that women could create a more utopian society?   Why the experiments on these boys?   How can they know of things outside their tiny island and draw them?   If these are human boys (and they sure do look human to me) then where exactly is the physiology that allows them to do what the movie clearly shows?   There is body horror here, and that makes it extra creepy.   Both for the boys and the nurses.  And finally, where did a boat come from?
I did not enjoy this.   I don’t like needles and scalpels nor the whole hospital setting.   I don’t understand at all what the end goal was.   There was some decent cinematography under the water, but it doesn’t an implausible story.  But it is also dark.   And has a look of being desolate.
The good news is that this film, like Under the Skin is unlikely to ever see the light of day at a cineplex theatre near you.   Only on the Festival circuit does it get any viewings.   I am 0 for 1 in my choices of films this year — and I cannot for the life of me remember why this one was on my list!!
Room wins the People’s Choice award, and none of our group saw it, nor Runner Up Angry Indian Goddesses.   Spotlight which was third was not well reviewed by my manager.

October 5th, 2015 – Fall edition

This past week was a busy movie one, and seeing as I have a list of 14 films to see on my Wish List (not even counting Hard 8 from Tarantino with the amazing Tim Roth) there will be plenty of films to come and report on.

Monday was Sicario which is the new film about the Mexican drug trade that was part of TIFF.   Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro star along with quality supporting roles.   This was a film that my manager absolutely loved.  She still raves about it as a reflection on society today and how the ‘bad guys are winning’ and that staying within the legal box does not seem to work.   The performances are uniformly excellent and Del Toro is a cut above that.  Blunt shows her range in getting away from the pretty lady in a dress role.   She is an FBI agent who is without makeup and looking to do the right thing.   She is brought into a team looking to solve a problem and they keep her in the dark and on the sidelines.   It is all very intriguing and heads in directions that you don’t necessarily see.  Yet it all fits.   I don’t rave about this film, but I liked it.   There is some brutal violence, but it’s part of a violent world.  It is worth a look.
Saturday I saw the much anticipated The Martian.  It is a Ridley Scott film and as I have previously pointed out he has directed some of my most favourite films.   He can miss at times, but I do like his style and films greatly.   Sci-fi for him is particularly strong with Blade Runner and Alien and Prometheus to his credit.
Here is directing a future film (but not too far in advance) where humans are on Mars and taking samples and doing research.   A six person team is there, and things happen which end up having one of them being left behind.   In truth he was left for dead much to the chagrin of the Captain played by Jessica Chastain, who is a favourite of mine (Blunt is getting up there too).   Matt Damon is left on his own, on a planet that has no water and he has modest supplies and no communication back to earth.   The rest of the story is really dealing with that reality for him.   It is funny, with some great moments.   It is timely as it shows political correctness and a NASA commander who is thinking about how things LOOK and budget dollars are as important as doing the right thing.   Or the most expedient thing.  (By the way everyone in the theatre who is paying attention will have the solution that it takes the actors a longer time to understand).   Anyway, there are things that happen, as in life, that are not expected.   And you have a combination of Cast Away and Apollo 13 which is uplifting, exciting and interesting.   This is the movie that Interstellar ALMOST became.  But it’s better.   Well researched and focused on the real as we understand it, this film takes us to a new world and introduces us to Mars.   Very cool.    Well worth seeing on a large screen.   The 3D again, did nothing for me.   Once again you will marvel at what every man already knows about the benefit of duct tape!!  Damn I wish I paid more attention in Science class!