Touching the Void

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
March 24th, 2015 No comments

Touching the Void, 2003, UK

Touching the Void is a documentary about Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ 1985 climb of the Siula Grande in Peru. During the descent, Joe was injured, and eventually Simon was forced to make a terrible decision. The film uses interviews with both Yates and Simpson, as well as Richard Hawking, who remained at base camp, and re-enactments to tell the story of how they survived.

Documentaries that use re-enactment footage don’t often sit well with me. I find that the re-enactments are poorly acted, and make the documentary feel artificial. I strongly prefer archived footage, contemporary footage and the use of pictures to tell a story. Touching the Void feels no less real, despite the fact that the story was told through re-enactments with professional actors. The acting was excellent (Brendan Mackey was especially good as Simpson), and the quality of the make-up, and cinematography were equal to that of any feature film. I truly felt like I was watching and edge-of-your seat thriller, and I was genuinely concerned for Simpson’s well-being, despite the fact that he was narrating his own story! This was easily the best use of re-enactments in a documentary that I have ever seen. It was just wonderfully done.

Director Kevin Macdonald was wise to let Yates and Simpson tell their own stories. There’s no outside narration, and the actors themselves have very little dialogue. Instead, the story is told through narration garnered from extensive interviews with Yates, Simpson, and Hawking. It added an extra touch to hear the story told in their own words. They’re both good speakers, and they are very straightforward and blunt about their experiences. It helps that the documentary was made almost 20 years after it happened – they’ve had a chance to process what happened and make peace with it in a way. They even acted as themselves in some of the mountain climbing scenes that were shot from afar.

Throughout the film there is a sense of tension and dread. It’s really a frightening story, and a warning not to underestimate the power of nature. There’s a controversial action that happens on the mountain that many people have mixed feelings on. I won’t reveal what it is, but many feel strongly one way or another. It’s an action that is well-explained and defended in the documentary.

Touching the Void was an excellent, if stressful watch. It is available to rent through Netflix.

Cinderella

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
March 18th, 2015 2 comments

Cinderella, 2015, USA

Admittedly, I was initially hesitant to hear that this film was being made. I am not a big fan of the animated Cinderella film, as I feel that Cinderella lacks any discernible personality. I feared that this adaptation would be similar, but I’m glad to say that the film does a lot to fix the issues of the dated animated version of the story.

Ella (Eloise Webb and Lily James) lives in a beautiful home with her loving parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin). Sadly, her mother grows ill, but imparts her with the wisdom to have courage and treat others with kindness. Many years later, her father marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), a foul woman with two cruel daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera). After her father’s death, Ella is forced to act as the family maid and spends her days in solitude in the attic with her mouse friends. After a particularly bad bout of cruelty, Ella escapes into the forest, where she meets Kit (Richard Madden), the Prince, who says he is an apprentice in the castle. When a ball is announced, Ella is desperate to go so she may be reunited with Kit.

James is wonderful as Ella. She gives her a quiet sense of dignity; despite what her stepmother and stepsisters do, she will not be crushed. This incarnation of Cinderella actually has a personality, and she is driven by a desire to live the way her late parents encouraged her to. This film also improves on the stepmother, by giving her a history. We understand why she hates Ella, as misguided as it may be. And Blanchett is amazing as Lady Tremaine. We fear her, but in a way, we also pity her, because she has also faced tragedy, but instead of facing it with grace and dignity, she became embittered and cruel.

Another thing of note are the wonderful special effects. The scene where Ella’s dress transforms is absolutely beautiful. And the costume design was wonderful! Anyone who is a fan of period pieces will be grinning from ear to ear, because the costumes in this film are absolute perfection. Expect this film to receive a costume design nomination at next year’s Oscars, at the very least.

Director Kenneth Branagh managed to do what I thought would be impossible: make me genuinely love the story of Cinderella. This film is so moving and lovely that I cannot wait to watch it again. It will make you weep, but you’ll leave the theatre grinning from ear-to-ear. This is easily live action Disney film in quite some time. Do be sure to see it in theatres!

The Sound of Music

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
March 14th, 2015 No comments

The Sound of Music, 1965, USA

Yes, I hadn’t seen The Sound of Music – can you believe it? I finally made the decision to stop putting it off and watch it because I will actually be visiting Salzburg, Austria this year, which is where the film takes place. I couldn’t go to Salzburg without seeing the iconic Sound of Music! Though, apparently, the film is little known in Germany and Austria, which is understandable, given the subject matter and overall tone of the film.

Maria (Julie Andrews) is a young postulant at an Abbey in Salzburg. She’s well-meaning but has a penchant for mischief and would rather sing in the mountains than do her chores (who can blame her?!). She’s sent to work as a governess for Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and his seven unruly children. Maria manages to win over the children through song and play, and it is revealed that the children are all very talented singers. Maria and the Captain subsequently bond, leading to Maria facing a crisis of conscience concerning her commitment to the church. With the Anschluss approaching, Maria and the von Trapp family find themselves in grave danger and must make their escape from Austria.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It’s a classic, and, of course I recognized many contemporary cultural references and satires as I watched the film. The tone is a little bizarre given the subject matter, though. It’s syrupy sweet and very schmaltzy, which is fine, but the Anschluss was a pretty dark time in Austrian (and German) history. Watching it as an adult with an interest in world history and knowledge of the actual events depicted just made the latter portion of the film seem a little strange and slightly uncomfortable. But, one must remember that this is a family film, so the actual threats and danger were undermined considerably. But I do absolutely understand why this film is so little known in that area of the world, especially since it was made in the 60s, when many people who survived the events of the film were still alive. It would have been profoundly disturbing to watch such a schmaltzy film depicting a traumatizing and difficult time you lived through. Even now, I get the feeling that it could be seen as belittling the Anschluss by people from that part of the world, so I can’t see it ever being a popular film in Germany and Austria.

The songs, many of which I was already familiar with, were mostly catchy. I had a particular fondness for Edelweiss, especially the reprise, which was easily the most moving part of the film for me.

The Sound of Music airs every Christmas here for some reason. So, if you hadn’t seen it (like me!), you can probably record it on TV sometime in December. Or, I’m sure it’s available to rent almost anywhere!

What We Do in the Shadows

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
March 10th, 2015 No comments

What We Do in the Shadows, 2014, New Zealand

This movie was such a surprise for me. I’d never heard about it before seeing it in the film listings, but looked up the trailer after the description intrigued me and decided to go see it. And, I’m happy to say, this was an excellent decision on my part, because it was hilarious.

What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary, with a tone that is a fantastic blend of Christopher Guest’s films and Shaun of the Dead. A documentary crew are shooting a film about four vampire flatmates, Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham). The four vampires are clueless in the ways of modern life, and have the typical conflicts you’d expect flatmates to have, but with a vampire twist. When Petyr bites Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), he moves in, but further conflict erupts when it’s revealed that he’s crude and lacks discretion.

What makes this film work so well is the thorough character development. Viago is the neurotic one who tends to run the show, Vladislav is a washed-up shell of his former self, Deacon is the young rebel, and Petyr is the oldest one of the group. All of the development makes their interactions feel very natural and unscripted. I get the sense that much of it may have actually been improvised, which is common for films like this one. And, of course, the idea itself is ingenious: vampires dealing with the problems everyone else face, but in their own sort of way. It’s really such a funny film and the satire is very on point throughout.

And, another awesome attention to detail is the historical and cinematic homages that appear throughout. Petyr’s look is based heavily on Count Orlok, and Vladislav is clearly a homage to Vlad the Impaler. The filmmakers certainly got the documentary feel of the film down perfectly. While the audience knows rationally that this is a mockumentary, it looks and feels like a documentary throughout.

Vampires have become a bit of a tired trope in pop culture nowadays. However, I urge you to look beyond the tired trend and give this film a shot. The deadpan humour is perfect, and it’s unlike any other vampire film I’ve seen before. You can watch it in theatres now.

Eva Trailer

Movie Rating:
March 6th, 2015 No comments

I’m not sure I’ve ever posted a trailer for a film I’ve seen before! I saw and reviewed Eva last year, but at the time it hadn’t received an English subtitled release here in North America so I had to buy an imported copy. I’m happy to see that The Weinstein Company has finally decided to give this film a limited North American release. Better late than never, as the film initially came out in 2011.

I don’t love the trailer, though. It really doesn’t capture the tone of the film especially well. It’s a lovely, thought-provoking drama centred around Alex (Daniel Brühl), a shy robotics engineer and his niece, Eva (Claudia Vega). Eva bonds with Alex and helps him with the development of a free, childlike robot.

Anyways, the film was one of the best films I watched last year, so if it plays near you, definitely check it out.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

The Flat

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
March 2nd, 2015 No comments

The Flat, 2011, Israel/Germany

Filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger was clearing out his grandmother’s flat in Israel when he discovered some shocking information that had been kept secret from his mother and siblings. His grandparents had been friends with a high-ranking Nazi official, Leopold von Mildenstein and his wife both before and after World War II. Goldfinger makes it his mission to discover the details of this very well hidden friendship, and figure out why his grandparents remained friends with them even after the war.

This film gives us a mystery, and throughout it, Goldfinger acts as the detective and takes us on this remarkable journey into the history of his family, and the von Mildenstein family. Him and his mother travel to Germany to meet with the von Mildenstein’s daughter, who fondly remembers his grandparents. It never shies away from the deeply complex issues presented in the film, and we see a fascinating portrait of Goldfinger’s late grandmother. She lived in Israel for 70 years, but remained deeply tied to her German roots. She saw Germany as her home, visited often following the war, and her home was full of German books and cultural artifacts. Israel never felt like home to her. She never learned Hebrew, something that is explained early in the film, so Goldfinger conversed with her in English. We really get to know his grandmother, despite the fact that she never appears in anything other than photographs.

Goldfinger also delves into the importance of knowing your family history. His mother is more keen on forgetting and not finding the answers to historical mysteries. He explains that his mother’s generation is a bit too close to the Holocaust and that the history of that era is often too painful to research, but Goldfinger’s generation is more removed and, thus, more curious about family history. The documentary looks at the morals of digging into family history, and revealing potentially troubling information about family members. There is a controversial act later in the film that will make you think and ponder whether what happened was right or not.

The Flat is a gripping and fascinating documentary on history, family, and friendships. It’s available on Netflix.

Laggies

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
February 26th, 2015 No comments

Laggies, 2014, USA

Megan (Keira Knightley) is a twenty-something woman who has never really grown up. Despite having an advanced degree, she works as a sign holder for an insurance company and spends most days on her parents’ couch. Her friends are irritated by her immaturity. When her longtime boyfriend (Mark Webber) proposes and suggests they elope, Megan makes up a retreat and ends up asking to crash at Annika’s (Chloë Grace Moretz) place. Annika is in high school and thinks Megan is cool, which allows Megan to relive her high school glory days. Annika’s father (Sam Rockwell) discovers Megan at their house, and allows her to stay, but things are complicated when they share a mutual attraction to one another.

At first, I thought that I would hate Megan as a character. Initially she’s not particularly likable, and cringe-worthy, in fact. But she grows, because of the effect her friendship with Annika has on her. The audience begins to realize that Megan has a sort of bizarre wisdom to her – a “method to her madness”, so to speak. While we still disdain her inability to grow up and enter the real world, we do have some understanding and respect for her position. Director Lynn Shelton takes a risk when she makes Megan a sympathetic character. It would have been far easier to make the audience dislike her. But I think the decision she made was the correct one. After all: there’s something slightly off putting about a woman in her late 20s hanging out and drinking with young high school students. But the film acknowledges this and moves forward with the premise.

The film is not without its issues, however. The ending is achingly cliché – I was hoping it would go in a different, more challenging direction. It doesn’t feel realistic in the slightest.

I loved Knightley as Megan. It’s something completely different from anything I’ve seen her in before, and she was very good, and funny. She also uses an American accent, which was off-putting at first, as I don’t think I’ve ever heard her without her natural accent. She does a fairly good job of it, only slipping a couple of times. Moretz feels natural as Annika. She reminds you of yourself when you were that age: she is vulnerable, and desperately wants to be liked. I very much enjoyed her chemistry with Knightley.

Laggies is now available to rent on Apple TV.

2015 Oscar Predictions

Movie Rating:
February 21st, 2015 No comments

The Oscars are tomorrow! So, I’m continuing my annual tradition of predicting the winners. This year, I haven’t been quite as on top of things and haven’t seen some of the acting performances, so, in some categories, I won’t be picking who “should win”.

Best Picture

“American Sniper”
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Boyhood”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Selma”
“The Theory of Everything”
“Whiplash”

Will win: Birdman. It’s a Hollywood story, and the sort of story Hollywood loves. Everyone voting sees themselves in Riggan: a washed-up actor looking for a comeback.

Should win: While my personal favourite of the bunch is The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood should be winning. It’s a revolutionary film unlike any that has come before it, and it’s an excellent, and moving story.

Lead actress

Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Will win: Julianne Moore

Should win: I haven’t seen enough of the performances to properly judge.

Lead actor

Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Will win: This category is torn between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton. Either could win tomorrow night. I’m going to go with my heart and say that Keaton will get it, because of the aforementioned type of role that it is.

Should win: Keaton. Redmayne was good, but this should be Keaton’s year. Admittedly, I’ve found all of Redmayne’s wins to be somewhat surprising, because going into the award season year, I assumed he would be a non-factor in the Actor race. I knew he’d be nominated, but I didn’t think he stood a chance at winning anything. It just goes to show the power of campaigning and likability; he’s been campaigning very hard this season.

Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Will win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Should win: Richard Linklater. While Birdman undoubtedly has a unique look and style to it, and was well-directed, Linklater took a huge gamble with Boyhood, and spent years crafting the film, and working with the cast and crew.

Supporting actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep, “Into The Woods”

Will win: Patricia Arquette

Should win: Patricia Arquette

Supporting actor

Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Will win: J.K. Simmons

Should win: J.K. Simmons – it’s not even a contest at this point. His work in Whiplash was magnificent.

Animated feature film

“Big Hero 6″
“The Boxtrolls”
“How To Train Your Dragon 2″
“Song of the Sea”
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

Will win: How To Train Your Dragon 2

Should win: I felt like Big Hero 6 is the slightly stronger film. It’s an incredible story of grief, healing and trying to pick up the pieces – and it’s done in the form of a superhero movie!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Paddington

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
February 18th, 2015 No comments

Paddington, 2014, UK

Paddington (Ben Whishaw) lives in Darkest Peru with his aunt and uncle (Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon), who dream of moving to London after meeting an explorer from London many years before. After an earthquake, Paddington is sent to London and told that he will find a home with a loving family. When he arrives, he finds that London is not quite what he expected, and is eventually taken in by the Brown family temporarily. Paddington struggles with the differences between bear life and human life. But slowly, he grows close to the Brown family, and begins to feel at home with them. However, his happy home life is threatened by a mysterious taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman), who wishes to add Paddington to her collection.

This movie was such a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, I think North American society has been burned a bit by children’s films featuring CGI animals in a live action environment, so, naturally, I expected the worst with this film. Plus the trailers for the film were terrible! But then the glowing reviews came in and I decided to take a chance on it. Boy, am I glad I did. From the first moments of the film, I knew I was going to love it. Paddington is a charming, and delightful film, and one that is genuinely good for people of all ages. There’s plenty of comedy thrown in for adults (at times I was the only person laughing in the theatre), but there are also a lot of funny moments for kids. In one instance of particularly gross humour, I heard the shocked squeals and delighted laughter of the many children in the theatre. That’s not to say that this film has a lot of gross humour: just one scene that was, admittedly, very funny (though I did cringe a little). And adults: try to catch the sneaky movie references and homages throughout!

Initially, Colin Firth had been cast to voice Paddington, but he dropped out of the film after mutually agreeing with the filmmakers that his voice is not right for the role. I’m glad they came to that decision, because, as much as I adore Firth, he would not have been right for the role. His voice is just too mature, and too proper. Whishaw voices Paddington with the perfect blend of sweetness, naiveté, and curiosity. His performance was wonderful and I could not imagine anyone doing a better job in the role.

Paddington also has a wonderful retro look to it. While the film is likely meant to take place during the modern day, there is a look and style throughout more reminiscent of earlier decades. It’s a mish-mash of a variety of different eras. This gives the film a lovely “timeless” feel to it. And the CGI on Paddington looks excellent! It’s amazing how far computer animation has come in just a few years.

Paddington was wonderful and a future classic. I highly recommend it for people of all ages.

101 Dalmatians

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 2
February 15th, 2015 No comments

101 Dalmatians, 1996, USA

I remember seeing this film in theatres when I was a kid! It had been many years since I’d last watched it, so my friend and I decided to watch it on Netflix recently. Unfortunately, like so many of my childhood favourites, this film does not stand up very well to the test of time. It’s aged poorly and really isn’t a good movie.

Roger (Jeff Daniels) runs into Anita (Joely Richardson) in a park after he thinks her dog is his dog. After discovering both are ardent Dalmatian lovers, the two fall in love, and decide that day to get married (seriously). Anita is a clothing designer for Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close), who is obsessed with fur and who wants a Dalmatian coat for some reason. After Roger and Anita’s dogs have puppies, Cruella plots to steal the puppies to turn them into a fur coat.

This film uses a lot of slapstick humour – but it’s never particularly good or clever. Instead it’s awkward, uncomfortable and kind of lame. For instance, the two “bumbling” characters in the film end up with their crotches on an electric fence. You can see this coming a mile away, so you’re not laughing when it happens, but you certainly are cringing.

There are other issues with the film, too, but those are more in the realm of “nitpicking”. The English Cruella would never use the word “fries” as she does in one of her speeches: this film was obviously written with an American audience in mind. And there’s something so ridiculous about agreeing to marry someone the day you met them (and the day you both fell into a freezing pond, no less). Things seem to happen because they need to happen in the story; it’s never smooth storytelling. It all feels very forced.

It’s too bad, because I remember adoring this film as a child. I loved animals, and I had a special fondness for dogs back then (now I prefer cats), so this movie had a special place in my heart. I was also obsessed with the animated film for a time when I was growing up. I used to watch it over and over again. It’s been even longer since I last watched the animated version, so I think it may be time to give it a watch and try to repress my unpleasant memories of the live action version.

Though, in this film’s favour, Close is extraordinary as Cruella. She’s insanely over-the-top, and fun to watch. She portrays her as a self-obsessed madwoman who has lost touch with any sense of reality. She was very good.

Powered by Netfirms