The Walk

Movie Rating:
October 15th, 2015 No comments

The Walk, 2015, USA

The Walk is based on the true tory of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French street performer who dreams of walking on a tight rope between the two Twin Towers in New York. For years he plans the feat, which he calls Le Coup. Along the way he must find co-conspirators and figure out how to make his plan a reality.

This is the sort of film you should either see in IMAX 3D or not bother seeing at all. While the 3D is wasted on the first two thirds of the film, which focus more on Petit’s early life and the lead-up to the walk, once they get up to the roof of the towers, the film is extraordinary. It’s shot in such a way that you really, genuinely feel as if you are up there with the characters, and it is frightening. Rationally, you know that nothing will happen to you, and the audience likely already knows how the story ends, but you can’t help but feel uneasy as the camera zooms towards the ground.

Gordon-Levitt is wonderful as the endlessly likable and passionate Petit. The man is an artist, and refuses to compromise his vision, and you can see his drive and ambition throughout the film. His accent sounded authentic to my non-french speaking ears, as well.

Another thing the film does well is the final tribute to the Twin Towers. I feared that the inevitable tribute would feel off, given the tone of the film, which was very much that of a heist film. But the tribute works. It’s subtle and it gives the audience an opportunity to ponder their own feelings or experiences with the Twin Towers. The film uses a narrative technique that was a bit odd and one that I generally didn’t like, save for at the very end. Gordon-Levit breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience at times throughout the film. I get that we’re supposed to feel as if this is something Petit would actually do and it serves to allow us to get to know the character better. But, to me, it mostly took us out of the action, and it was probably unnecessary, save for the beginning and the very end.

If you’re interested in seeing The Walk, go to your nearest IMAX theatre and see it in 3D. As you know, it’s not often that I recommend 3D, but in this case it’s absolutely part of the story and I think the film loses some of the tension without 3D. Director Robert Zemeckis has proven himself to be a masterful user of the technique.

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The Martian

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
October 8th, 2015 No comments

The Martian, 2015, USA

Once again, the world must rescue Matt Damon in The Martian. Based on the novel by Andy Weir, Damon stars as Mark Watney, a botanist who is presumed dead on Mars after an accident during a storm. The rest of the crew make an emergency evacuation of the planet, leaving the very much alive Watney to survive on his own. Back on Earth, NASA sees satellite activity that indicates that he is alive, and Watney and the folks at NASA must first figure out how to contact each other, and then they must figure out how to keep Watney alive until he can be rescued.

You would think that a film about a man trapped on a planet alone would be a real downer, but it’s actually an inspiring and heartwarming story about survival and working together to solve a problem. Watney sciences his way out of many predicaments, and back on Earth, people are working together to figure out a rescue plan.

Damon portrays Watney as an immensely likable man whom you can’t help but root for. He has a sense of humour about the situation and his communications with NASA are often delightfully sassy. But, when necessary, you can see the emotional impact being left alone on Mars has had on Watney, and Damon handles these scenes expertly. Among the supporting cast, Jessica Chastain is especially good as Melissa Lewis, the commander of the Ares III. And a special kudos to Kristen Wiig who plays NASA’s PR person, who is handling what must be the job from hell. I mean, can you imagine having to do the PR after a person is accidentally left alone on Mars?

While the 3D is mostly unnecessary, Mars itself looks great in the film. It’s just as desolate as you would expect. While the lower gravity of Mars is not touched upon in the film, that was on purpose. Director Ridley Scott decided not to tackle that aspect of the planet’s atmosphere for practical reasons and thought the heavy suits would weigh astronauts down anyway.

As one of the first major fall releases, The Martian kicks things off with a bang. It’s a great film and one that should be seen in theatres. I can imagine it will end up with quite a few nominations for the technical awards during next year’s awards season.

Nanny McPhee Returns

Movie Rating:
October 1st, 2015 No comments

Nanny McPhee Returns, 2010, UK


Set in Rural UK during World War II, Nanny McPhee Returns follows the same premise of the first film: a group of unruly children have their lives improved by a magical nanny (Emma Thompson).

Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is at her wits’ end. She is alone caring for her three children and her niece and nephew while her husband is off fighting in the war. Her brother-in-law, Phil, (Rhys Ifans) owns half the farm and is trying to persuade Isabel to sell the other half. In steps in Nanny McPhee, who helps the children get along and teaches them five important life lessons.

Admittedly it’s been so long since I saw the first film that I don’t remember much of anything from it, so I missed all but the most obvious references to the first film. But, taken on its own, this film is charming and lovely. It handles a difficult period in English history in a child-friendly way, but also manages to keep its sense of humour. There are some very good visual gags throughout (watch for an especially funny one featuring an airplane). And, of course, Thompson is an absolute delight in the film. Asa Butterfield plays one of the children, and it took me a few minutes before I recognized him, as this film came out a few years before Hugo, which is his breakthrough role to me. He was quite good in this film, as the oldest and unofficial leader of the five children.

The film doesn’t forget the importance of a good heart, and it’s incredibly touching. You genuinely feel for the characters, even the cousins who were initially spoiled brats. Instead, the film delves into their characters and we discover why they’re so spoiled in the first place, and the audience sympathizes with them.

Nanny McPhee Returns is a lovely family film (or a movie to watch on a quiet Friday night alone, if you’re like me!), and was just recently added to Netflix.

Black Mass

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
September 25th, 2015 No comments

Black Mass, 2015, USA


Black Mass is based on the true story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) and the long “alliance” he had with the FBI, in particular John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a man who grew up with him and Bulger’s brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch). What starts as an attempt to get information on another gang turns into John offering protection to Bulger and turning a blind eye to the heinous crimes being committed by him. He becomes part of the inner circle, much to the chagrin of his wife (Julianne Nicholson).

Generally I dislike American crime films, but I chose to see one on the strength of its reviews – particularly where the performances are concerned. I actually really enjoyed it. While it moves quite slowly at times, it features two amazing performances by Depp and Edgerton. Depp is downright frightening as the psychopathic Bulger, a man who’ll murder someone for merely offending him. And Edgerton’s performance was very good, as well. Initially you want to believe that he had good intentions, but as the film goes on, and his actions become darker and more horrible, you see how easily corrupted people can be. His character was fascinating.

The film itself was a little overstuffed at times. There were plot lines that were dropped without proper resolution – Bulger’s spouse, for example. And Cumberbatch got the short end of the stick a little bit with his role as Bulger’s Senator brother. That could have been a film in itself, I think: how can a Senator do his job knowing that he has a brother in the crime business? And, with all of Boston knowing who Whitey Bulger is, and, presumably, the family relation between him and their senator, how could they vote for him? And how could they take his work seriously? Instead, Cumberbatch weaved in and out of the movie, stopping in during the holidays or to offer a bit of advice. I love Cumberbatch and he did great with what he was given, but it may have been better for the film if they had just left out that particular plot line.

Some of the best parts of the film concerned the FBI and the attempts to keep their hands clean even though they were giving leeway to a notorious crime boss. The ensemble cast of FBI employees was quite impressive, and I loved Corey Stoll’s brief but important role within the organization.

I have a feeling that Black Mass is the first of the big Oscar films of the season. It’s very much worth watching and it was a great relief to see Depp back on his game.

Colonia Trailer

Movie Rating:
September 15th, 2015 No comments

I’m intrigued by this film. It premiered at TIFF on Sunday, and I would have gone to the premiere if I actually lived in Toronto (TIFF time is the one time of year I wish I lived in Toronto!). It doesn’t have a distributor for markets outside of Germany just yet so I’m not sure when we’ll see this film, but seeing as it stars Daniel Brühl, obviously I will be seeing it as soon as it is available here. It’s about a piece of history I know very little about so it should be an interesting film.

Z for Zachariah

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
September 10th, 2015 No comments

Z for Zachariah, 2015, Iceland/New Zealand/Switzerland


This film is based on the novel of the same name by Robert C. O’Brien. Sort of. The book is about Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) and John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living together and surviving in a valley following a nuclear event that has rendered much of the earth uninhabitable. They’re the only characters that appear in the present day, and it’s a thriller about their interactions.

The film takes the premise, and these two characters and that’s about it. A third character, Caleb (Chris Pine) is added and the film contains a love triangle, whereas the book does not contain any romance whatsoever. Loomis’ personality is neutered somewhat – he’s a generally well-meaning man who is infatuated with Ann, whereas in the book he displays some very dark and sociopathic tendencies. It’s a shame they removed these characteristics from the movie, as I was eager to see Ejiofor portray Loomis as he was in the book.

Nevertheless, the movie is an enjoyable one, but one you must separate from the book as they are two very separate entities. The film is best when it is just Loomis and Ann on screen: then it’s a conflict between religion and science. Ann grew up in the south, her father was a preacher in the town church and she’s very much a woman of faith. Loomis is a scientist from the north, lacks any sort of religious beliefs and is rational and scientific in mind. The two of them are trying to get along, and compromise despite their differences, because they believe they may be the only two people left on earth. When Caleb enters the picture, it creates conflict because his upbringing was similar to Ann’s, so they have more in common and Loomis feels like the odd one out, and distrusts Caleb.

It’s a slow-moving film, but the engaging performances of the three lead actors makes it work. It’s thought-provoking, and an interesting look at a community being rebuilt from the rubble up. The film score, by Heather McIntosh, was quite beautiful, as well.

Because the two are so different, you definitely don’t need to read the book before seeing the film, but I think the book itself tells a wonderful and interesting story without any silly love triangles (which is easily the weakest aspect of the film). The book looks at how thirst for power and control can corrupt.

The Intouchables

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
September 3rd, 2015 No comments

The Intouchables, 2011, France


Driss (Omar Sy) was recently released from prison and is looking for signatures proving he’s gone to job interviews so he can collect unemployment benefits. He attends an interview for a position as caregiver of Philippe (François Cluzet), a wealthy quadriplegic man, but his willingness to speak directly to Philippe without pity impresses him, and he hires him as his caregiver. Driss is unconventional and has no experience, but him and Philippe become good friends, and find themselves improving each other’s lives.

Sy and Cluzet have wonderful chemistry and their banter is one of the highlights of the film. Their friendship is very touching. The film is a story of two social outcasts who see each other without judgment or prejudice. Philippe is often treated as if he is stupid or unable to make his own decisions – even by friends and members of his own family, simply because of his handicap. And Sy is looked upon with prejudice and fear because he is an immigrant of colour. Both lead actors were fantastic but Sy in particular was amazing. He perfectly captured the bravado but subtle vulnerability of a man in his position. The story was very much told from his perspective, which I appreciated. We got to see his struggles in his family life, his communications with his friends from the Projects, and his integration into life in Philippe’s home.

Here in North America and in other English speaking countries, the film was controversial. It was seen as condescending and racist, especially given its modern setting. I’m torn on this. I absolutely understand the criticism, as the film can be perceived as a rich white man acting as a savior to a poor black man, but we also must be aware of the cultural context of the film. This is not an American story: it’s a French story, taking place within French culture. A culture that is different than American culture, with a different history concerning immigrants and people of colour. Sy himself has said something similar: “The social context in France and the U.S. is not the same,” he said. “If there had been any hint of a racist undertone I would not have done it, obviously.”

So, ultimately, I’m fine with the film, though I do wonder if an American English language remake is a good idea, given this controversy and the potential for offense, as an English remake has been in the works for awhile now.

The Intouchables is available on Netflix.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., 2015, UK/USA


Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is a former thief turned CIA agent assigned to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) out of East Germany. Gaby is the daughter of a former Nazi scientist who has gone missing and is believed to be working with Nazi sympathizers to build a bomb. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is a KGB agent and tries to thwart Napoleon’s mission and fails. The next day, their respective superiors reveal they are to work together and head to Italy to stop the Nazi sympathizers from diffusing an atomic bomb.

The film is tremendous fun. Director Guy Ritchie is excellent at delivering stylish and entertaining films. This film genuinely feels like a film from the 60s in every possible way, from the outfits, to the tone, to the camera work and cinematography. It’s a homage to the history of that era, as well as to the films from that period.

Cavill and Hammer work well with one another, and Vikander is also quite good. I did feel that Hammer overshadowed Cavill a little bit – his character was simply more interesting. While Napoleon is, in theory, supposed to be the more charismatic character, Hammer’s Illya easily overshadowed him in most scenes. Fans of Archer will notice that Cavill looked and acted just like the title character from that show. Perhaps Sterling Archer is himself an homage to the classic TV series?

It’s really such a shame that this film is not doing well at the box office. I quite like Hammer as an actor, and desperately want to see him in a starring role in a film that is a box office success. He’s been in two flops in a row now, so one must wonder how many more starring roles he will get. He may end up having more luck on television – and TV is really in the midst of a renaissance right now so TV may be the best place for him!

One minor flaw with the film is that it really is quite predictable. I’d predicted the ending long before it came about, which tends to be the case with these sorts of films anyway. It doesn’t really leave you guessing, but it’s a fun ride, and the banter between Hammer and Cavill really make the film enjoyable.

Going Clear

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
August 19th, 2015 No comments

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, 2015, USA


Going Clear is an HBO documentary about Scientology. It interviews several notable former Scientologists, including the former second-in-command under current leader David Miscavige, and Paul Haggis, who was a member for many years. It reveals the methods of controlling members, including imprisonment in their own re-education camp, and threatening to expose secrets gathered during “auditing” sessions.

It’s a horrifying documentary. As an outsider, Scientology is a baffling cult. But the cult preys on vulnerable people by promoting themselves as a way of thinking. Once they’re hooked, they’re reeled in, their thoughts are controlled and they’re on the hook for vast amounts of money. Scientology is not a large faith by any means, but they’re hugely profitable, which is telling. Another frightening aspect of the cult is the concept of “suppressive persons”. Members are discouraged from communicating with non-members, who are seen as “suppressive persons”. People have lost their whole families when they’ve left Scientology.

As I watched it, I wondered how on Earth Miscavige remains out of jail. ‘The Hole’, the Scientology prison camp, sounds like an awful place, and I would think that keeping people there would be akin to kidnapping and false imprisonment. Director Alex Gibney uses the film to theorize that John Travolta, one of the cult’s highest profile members, remains a member out of fear. The auditing sessions all members take part in are documented, and the cult creates nasty smear packages when high profile members threaten to leave.

The documentary uses damning interviews, as well as archived footage of founder L. Ron Hubbard to craft a captivating takedown of Scientology. The cult is notoriously litigious and went on the defense prior to the film’s release, taking out ads, sending spies to watch people who were interviewed, and tearing through the film, trying to find a reason to sue. The only thing that tells the audience is that there is real truth to this film, and that the cult is frightened. And, luckily, all their actions ever did was raise awareness of the film, ensuring more people received its message and were properly swayed away from the influence of the cult.

My prediction is that, years from now, Scientology will be regarded alongside other notorious cults from recent history. It’s not a legitimate religion and it’s a dangerous presence in our world. I highly recommend this documentary.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
August 12th, 2015 No comments

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2015, UK


Taking place after the events of the first film, the residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel have settled into life in India. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has a job buying fabric, and has an awkward semi-relationship with Douglas (Bill Nighy) that hasn’t been solidified. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is managing the hotel for the clueless Sonny (Dev Patel), who is focused on trying to finalize an agreement with a large American hotel chain. The hotel company will be sending a representative to evaluate the hotel, which causes issues when Sonny thinks the evaluator is an American guest named Guy (Richard Gere).

The film is charming and amusing enough, but it definitely treads on water that was already covered in the first film. Evelyn and Douglas’ situation is a repeat of the events of the first film – neither character has really grown! And Sonny is even more annoying, if at all possible. I really feel bad for Patel, who seems to be a decent enough actor, but seems to have been typecasted as incredibly annoying characters.

But, despite its flaws, the incredibly talented cast is lovely and really make the film work. The addition of Gere and Tamsin Greig add to the film. Greig makes the most of her role as a new guest who is totally ignored while Sonny is lavishing attention on Guy. And Smith has a lot to do as Muriel. Her character was potentially the most interesting character of both films, so I appreciated the extra focus on her in the second film.

It’s nothing original, but if you were a fan of the first film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is worth a rental. Think of it like an annual visit with a group of characters you’ve slowly gotten to know – not much may have changed, but it’s nice checking in with them anyhow. You can rent it off iTunes.

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