Charlie Countryman

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
April 16th, 2014 No comments

Charlie Countryman, 2013, Romania/USA

Just a note: This film seems to have been released under a number of titles, including The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, and Kill Charlie Countryman. It’s available on Apple TV under the title Kill Charlie Countryman.

Charlie (Shia LaBeouf) heads to Bucharest, Romania after the death of his mother (Melissa Leo). In a vision, his recently deceased mother urged him to go there. While on the flight, he speaks with his seat mate, Victor (Ion Caramitru), who is returning home after visiting America. He dies mid-flight and Charlie meets his daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) after he lands. He immediately falls in love with her. He watches her play the cello at the opera house where he meets Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen), Gabi’s charismatic thug of a husband. Charlie is persistent and eager to win Gabi’s heart, despite the danger he is in at the hands of Nigel and his ban/”d of associates.

Parts of the film worked. I thought the cinematography was beautiful. There was a chase scene that was especially well executed. I also thought it was quite funny at times. Mikkelsen was perfectly charming as the villainous Nigel – he has the best lines and the film seems to come alive when he is present.

The story itself was a bit cliché. I found myself wondering if such a story would have any basis in reality. Would a young man really risk his life for a woman he just met a day or two earlier that he “loves”? I definitely don’t need a story to be realistic to enjoy it, but I just wasn’t buying the premise of this one. Charlie wasn’t a particularly well-written character, either. He was foolish, wishy-washy, and not all that interesting to watch. I’ll give LaBeouf some credit: he did the best he could with what he was given, but he sure wasn’t given a lot to work with.

Frankly, one of the more interesting aspects of the film was the doomed love story between Gabi and Nigel. There was a brief montage detailing how they fell in love, and Gabi’s realization of what Nigel was. There was more of a story in those two minutes than there was during any of Gabi and Charlie’s exchanges. Perhaps that would have been a stronger film than the story of a foolish young man falling in love with a woman caught in a dangerous situation.

That being said, the film was reasonably entertaining. It wasn’t great, but I was never bored watching it either.

Bad Words

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
April 13th, 2014 No comments

Bad Words, 2013, USA


Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) never completed the 8th grade, which means he’s technically eligible to compete in the Golden Quill National Spelling Bee. He wins a spot, much to the horror of the parents of the other contestants, the Director of the bee (Allison Janney), and the founder of it (Phillip Baker Hall). He’s sponsored by a reporter (Kathryn Hahn), who is doing an expose on Guy, and his motives for competing in a children’s spelling bee. Along the way he meets Chaitanya(Rohan Chand), a young child who is also competing. Chaitanya doesn’t have any friends, and is eager to befriend Guy, who teaches him a thing or two about life.

The film is a very dark comedy. Guy is one of those despicable characters that you don’t want to like, but inevitably root for in a twisted sort of way. He’s nasty to everyone around him, including Chaitanya, who is likable and endearing. But he’s also a character you feel tremendous pity for. He’s clearly intelligent and capable, but he spends so much energy being negative and cruel. He’s a fascinating “protagonist”. It’s a terribly funny film; at times my sides ached from laughing so hard.

Bateman also directed the film, and he did a very good job with it. It flows well, and it’s constantly entertaining, despite being rather predictable. He found a real winner in Chand, who was just delightful as Chaitanya. He’s enthusiastic, and goes toe-to-toe with Bateman’s cantankerous and nasty Guy perfectly. Their relationship was easily the highlight of the film for me. Chaitanya’s ability to see past Guy’s faults (something, truly, only a child could do) was touching, in an odd sort of way. In many respects, I was reminded of Bad Santa – the humour and themes in the stories are quite similar.

Bad Words is playing in theatres now. Watch this one either in theatres, or with a group, because it’s absolutely hilarious.

The Loving Story

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
April 10th, 2014 No comments

The Loving Story, 2011, USA


The Loving Story is a documentary about Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in Virginia in 1958 for being a married interracial couple. At the time, many states in the USA had laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings were expelled from Virginia, and after several years, they fought a court case to strike down the laws against interracial marriage.

Director Nancy Buirski tells the story primarily through the use of archive footage. There are a few interviews with people who knew them, including one of their children. I liked the use of the archive footage; there is almost no narration as the story was recording comprehensively through interviews and footage shot by their attorneys. I was actually impressed by how much archive footage they had, and how it was able to be used to tell almost the whole story. I imagine the attorneys who worked on the case must have known that this story would be a part of history, and that it was important to document it as thoroughly as possible.

I thought the documentary looked at an interesting piece of history, and was a touching story of love and devotion. There was some footage that was shocking and upsetting, particularly archived interview footage of people speaking about why segregation is necessary. One person used the “My friend is an N-word” argument to explain away his prejudice, which is an argument we’ve all heard from homophobes who attempt to explain away their prejudice. The people who spoke about segregation and why interracial marriages are bad looked foolish at best, and it made me think about today’s society. There are still people who don’t believe in marriage equality, and people who actively discriminate against LGBT individuals. In 50 years, I imagine that generation will look upon those who fight against marriage equality with the same shame and horror I felt when I watched this documentary.

Though, sadly, there are still people who don’t believe interracial relationships are appropriate. There will always be prejudiced people in this world, but the Lovings are a beautiful example of the strength and grace needed to fight back against hate. They refused to give up when an entire government was against their marriage, and they fought a fight that ensured that a man and a woman could marry, regardless of the colour of their skin.

The Loving Story is available on Netflix.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
April 7th, 2014 No comments

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014, USA

Following the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working with S.H.I.E.L.D under the guidance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). He’s struggling to adjust to living in the present-day, and regularly takes suggestions about “things he’s missed”, and records them in a little notebook. An enemy conspiracy, hiding deep undercover in Washington comes to light, and Steve must team up with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and his new jogging buddy/former soldier, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to stop it before it’s too late.

I was a little skeptical about this film when I first heard that it was a political thriller disguised as an action film. I couldn’t imagine what it would look like and how it would work. I’m happy to say that it worked beautifully, and it’s by far the best post-Avengers film yet. It also features the best villain the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had since Loki in the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). I think Marvel villains work best when there is a well-developed back-story and a sense of tragedy surrounding them, and this is certainly the case with the Winter Soldier.

Marvel has long impressed me with their world-building capabilities and willingness to “blow things up”, as it were. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a game changer in ways that I obviously can’t reveal. They went places I didn’t expect them to go, and I’m very interesting in the repercussions it’ll have within the universe itself. It’s also Marvel’s most political film yet, and works as a genuine commentary about the state of the world.

In many ways, the film is very much an old-school style action movie. There’s limited CGI, which gives it more of a sense of realism than, say…Thor has. Evans is perfect as Captain America. He has the classic boyish good looks required for the role, and he is able to subtly display the differences between Captain America and the folks of the contemporary world. He’s a man from a different time, and he’s lost the live he knew and almost everyone he loves. There’s a real tragedy in that, and he deals with it by throwing himself into what he sees as his duty. I liked his chemistry with both Johansson and Mackie. I know that Mackie will be a fine addition to Marvel’s superhero lineup, and I was thrilled to see him as Falcon.

When you see it, be sure to stay until the end of the credits. There are two post-credit sequences and the one mid-way through the credits will get you thinking and talking! The one after the credits is very much worth sticking around for, as well.

Summer movie season is up and running and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a fine way to open it. Be sure to catch this one in theatres!

A Royal Affair

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
April 4th, 2014 No comments

A Royal Affair, 2012, Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic

Caroline (Alicia Vikander) is betrothed to King Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard). She moves to Denmark from England under the impression that he was an intelligent, kind man who loves the arts, particularly acting. When she arrives, she discovers that Christian is mentally ill and that many of her books are banned in Denmark under strict censorship laws. Caroline is deeply unhappy and after they have their first child, they cease being intimate. Christian becomes ill on his travels through Europe and a German doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) is hired to act as his personal physician. Christian trusts Struensee, and Struensee’s enlightenment ideals quickly become signed into law thanks to Struensee’s guidance. Meanwhile, Caroline and Struensee fall in love and begin an affair, which must be hidden at all costs.

I’m fascinated by history, and I’m a big fan of period pieces, so unsurprisingly, I loved this film. I knew nothing at all about the story of Christian VII, Caroline and Struensee, and I purposefully did not look the true story up beforehand, as I wanted to be surprised. The subject matter was very interesting – particularly Struensee’s impact on Denmark’s laws during that time. I may be in the minority here, but I found that part of the story to be a bit more interesting than the love story. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good love story, but the story of a common German doctor weaving his way into working as the advisor for the mentally ill Danish king was just unbelievable.

I was very impressed with the performances by the three leads, Vikander, Mikkelsen, and Følsgaard. Følsgaard manages to keep Christian somewhat sympathetic, despite the fact that his character is often cruel and difficult to like. Mikkelsen is brilliant. He plays Struensee as a restrained and unassuming man. His final scene in the film is incredible and haunting work.

I do wish we’d have gotten a slightly clearer explanation of who some of the behind the scenes characters were, especially the “villains” of the film. There was a brief sequence early in the film where the characters were named, but it was done so quickly and flippantly that I missed who some of the key players were. Otherwise, I thought the political conflict was explained quite well, especially as someone who had no background information on what was happening (other than some general knowledge of the Enlightenment time period).

A Royal Affair is available on Netflix and I strongly urge you to watch it. It’s an amazingly well-done film and a fascinating story.

Muppets Most Wanted

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
April 1st, 2014 No comments

Muppets Most Wanted, 2014, USA

Muppets Most Wanted begins immediately after the ending of the last film. Upon the realization that they’re doing a sequel, the Muppets break into a cleverly self-referential song called – what else? – We’re Doing a Sequel. Deciding to take advantage of their newfound popularity, and goaded on by the sketchy Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), the Muppets decide to go on a world tour. Kermit (Steve Whitmire) is replaced by the evil Constantine (Matt Vogel), and pretends to be Kermit during the world tour, which is really a ruse to rob museums and banks across Europe. The real Kermit is imprisoned in a Siberian gulag under the watchful eye of Nadya (Tina Fey). Will the Muppets figure out what’s going on in time?

Like its predecessor, Muppets Most Wanted is full of clever gags, celebrity cameos (obvious and not-so-obvious!), and fun songs. One of my favourite parts of the film was picking out all of the cameos. I won’t spoil any of them here, and do yourself a favour and avoid any cameo spoilers out there!

It couldn’t live up to its predecessor entirely, however. And, perhaps they were well aware of it, based on the opening number. That number was actually the highlight of the film, the rest just isn’t as good. The Muppets had a ton of heart, but Muppets Most Wanted felt like a series of ridiculous sketches and musical numbers. It was almost as if they threw in too much plot, and too many characters. And – at almost two hours, it goes on too long. Towards the end, I was mentally pleading with them to just get on with it, which isn’t a good thing in a movie like this one. They could have cut a good 15 minutes and had a more fluid film.

As for the human characters, I loved Fey’s Nadya. I thought she was hilarious in the role, and it worked perfectly within the context of the film. I wasn’t so hot on Gervais’ role, but it wasn’t his fault at all. He was totally under-used, but I don’t think his character was even necessary. I think having Constantine as the sole villain would have been a better fit, instead of having a human villain that they weren’t entirely sure what to do with. He does have some very funny gags, but he just kind of felt out of place.

All of that being said, I did like the film. It was fun, and I laughed quite a bit. It’s under-performing a little at the box office, which is too bad, really. I hope they do end up doing another Muppet movie, and that it is a little closer in tone to the last film, as opposed to this one.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
March 29th, 2014 No comments

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014, Germany/United Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s latest film is perhaps his darkest, but most funny film yet. It’s a wonderful ensemble comedy/drama about a way of life that no longer exists. It’s a love letter to the elegance of the 1930s and the glory days of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Author (Jude Law) is visiting the Grand Budapest Hotel, a once grand hotel that has succumbed to the ravages of war and subsequent poverty. There he meets Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham; Tony Revolori as a young man), the owner of the seemingly doomed hotel. They meet for dinner and Zero tells his story. In 1932, Zero gets a job as a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel under the tutelage of the legendary Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave is flamboyant, and devoted to the hotel, which caters to Europe’s wealthiest. In his downtime, he provides his brand of extra-special “customer service” to a series of older, blonde women, one of whom is Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). When Madame D. dies suddenly, Zero and Gustave go to her funeral and the reading of her will, where it is revealed that Gustave has been bequeathed Boy with Apple, a priceless piece of artwork. However, Gustave has been framed for Madame D.’s murder, and is imprisoned.

I loved the look of the film. Anderson used a model for wide shots of the hotel, which gave the film a very vintage and classic sort of look, which was suitable, given when the film takes place. It was also shot in three different aspect ratios. Each time period has its own aspect ratio. The film’s cinematography was incredible.

Fiennes was remarkable as Gustave. He perfectly delivers his lines and is hysterically funny. Gustave may end up being my favourite Anderson character – a few more viewings of this film will say for sure. Gustave is a man of principles, and his friendship with his apprentice, Zero, was ultimately very moving. I can’t say I was expecting such a genuine friendship between the two of them, given Anderson’s usual pre-occupation with dysfunction, but it truly made the film. Fiennes and Revolori had fantastic chemistry. In many ways, their friendship reminded me of the lovely relationship that was at the centre of Anderson’s last film, the magnificent Moonrise Kingdom.

The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in a fictionalized Europe, but it still treads over the realities of 1930s Europe and the fact that a war is imminent. It’s one of the darker aspects of the film (along with an assassin, chillingly played by Willem Dafoe), but it works well. Edward Norton plays an officer whose company is wearing uniforms with “Z.Z” on them, who are implied to be this film universe’s Nazis. It was a small role, but an interesting one, because Henckels was generally a likable character, but the audience knows the reality of what this regime does and will do.

Anderson fans will love The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s an incredible film and I urge you to watch it.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 2
March 25th, 2014 No comments

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, 2012, USA

This film is the sequel to the surprisingly charming and entertaining Journey to the Center of the Earth. This film is based on Jules Verne’s book, The Mysterious Island, with some allusions to other Verne works.

Sean (Josh Hutcherson) is a Vernian – someone who believes that the work of Jules Verne is fact and not fiction. He discovers a coded message that he believes belongs to his grandfather (Michael Caine), who disappeared some two years previous. His stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), helps decipher the message and agrees to go with him to Palau, where they will try to find the island using the coordinates they’ve discovered. Once there, they hire Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) as guides to the island. The journey to the island destroys their helicopter, but they find Sean’s grandfather. When Hank realizes the island is sinking, the group must travel across the island to escape before it’s too late.

This film was not nearly as good as the first film. I was disappointed that Brendan Fraser did not return – I didn’t find Johnson to be quite as engaging, but he did grow on me by the end. There were some scenes he was in that were painfully lame, but that wasn’t his fault – it was the fault of the writers. He was generally charismatic and did the best he could with what he was given. Guzmán annoyed the hell out of me. His character was meant as comic relief, but the supposed jokes were childish, and consisted of really lame toilet humour. I kept willing his character to be eaten by one of the giant bugs that kept showing up.

In many respects, the film is a retread of the first one, but the characters were not nearly as entertaining. It felt like the filmmakers were content to make the same film over again; simply replacing the centre of the Earth with an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Nothing about it is particularly memorable, which is a shame, because I like the concept behind the film: the idea that Verne’s stories are actually real. It’s quite a clever way to adapt a novel, but you need more than a clever idea to make a good film.

The special effects are quite good, though. The island is beautiful, and they did a good job creating the many unusual creatures that live on the island.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is available to rent on Netflix.

The Three Musketeers

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
March 22nd, 2014 2 comments

The Three Musketeers, 2011, Germany/France/UK/USA

I rented this movie in the hopes that it would be like Van Helsing – my ultimate guilty pleasure movie. Van Helsing never takes itself too seriously, and it’s full of camp. It’s ridiculous and I adore it (even though few others share my adoration!). The Three Musketeers doesn’t work quite as well on that level, as much of the cast didn’t seem to get the memo about the tone of this film, and took a “this film is serious business” approach.

D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) is a young swordsman who travels to Paris with the intention of joining the Three Musketeers, Porthos (Ray Stevenson), Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) and Aramis (Luke Evans). However, the musketeers had disbanded a year before. After a disagreement with Captain Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), D’Artagnan runs into the musketeers and discover that they have a shared enemy in Rochefort, who serves as the muscle for Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). Richelieu serves as the King’s (Freddie Fox) advisor, but desires more power. Working with Milady (Milla Jovovich), he plots to steal the Queen’s (Juno Temple) diamond necklace and plant it in the Duke of Buckingham’s (Orlando Bloom) vault in order to start a war between England and France. It’s up to the musketeers and D’Artagnan to get the necklace back and prevent the destruction of France.

The main problem were the protagonists, especially the three musketeers. They just weren’t interesting in the least. They had zero character development, and the audience wouldn’t be rooting for them if we weren’t told that we should be rooting for them. Lerman has a little bit more to do with his character, but he plays D’Artagnan too straight. He’s too serious, and too eager to please. In other words: he’s boring. The other three protagonists had so little to do that they were essentially background players, which is ridiculous, since the film was named after them.

That’s not to say it was all bad. Mikkelsen and Waltz were incredibly entertaining in their roles, and seemed to have a far better understanding of the nature of the film. Waltz was a little underused, but he’s delightful in every scene he’s in. And Mikkelsen was fantastic as Captain Rochefort. The airship assault, and his grand speech to the musketeers was beautiful, fun and precisely what I was looking for when I rented this movie. It was worth watching just for that scene alone. You would think the other actors involved in that scene would understand that a movie set in the 17th century with a flying freaking airship isn’t a serious movie.

I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed Bloom’s performance. He was unusually smarmy, charismatic and funny. It appears he also got the memo regarding the true tone of this movie, and acted accordingly.

So was The Three Musketeers a great film? Nope, but if you’re looking to watch some actors playing villains have a damn good time, then give it a rental.

The Edukators

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
March 19th, 2014 No comments

The Edukators, 2004, Germany/Austria


Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl) are anti-capitalist activists and longtime friends. They break into large houses to re-arrange the furniture and leave messages for the occupants. They do this with the intention of frightening and “educating” the upper-class. Peter’s girlfriend, Jule (Julia Jentsch) is deep in debt after crashing into a Mercedes and moves in with Peter and Jan. While Peter is away, Jule and Jan find themselves falling in love, and together they visit the house of the owner of the Mercedes Jule’s totaled. After this break-in goes wrong, Jule, Jan and Peter find themselves in well over their heads.

I thought the film was excellent. It was a contemporary look at activism, idealism, and youth, as well as the notion of becoming what you fought against. As human beings, we’re continuously evolving, and our values at 20 may not be our values at 50. I think, as humans, that idea frightens us and we fear being perceived as “sell-outs”, but as we experience more of life, our perceptions change, and so do our political beliefs in many instances. Activism and youth were heavily romanticized in the film, and I thought it was very suitable. Yes, the characters were foolish at times, but they stayed true to their beliefs, and you couldn’t help but root for them. And, inevitably cringe at the genuinely poor judgment displayed at times. It’s a massively thought-provoking film and the ending has numerous interpretations.

As I watched the film, I found myself wondering how I would have perceived the characters ten years ago. Would I have identified more with their anti-capitalistic leanings? Like many films, I get the sense that your interpretation of The Edukators would change as you go through life. There are certain stories that need to be revisited every so often because your view of them changes as you grow older (500 Days of Summer and Lost in Translation are good examples).

Unfortunately, The Edukators was not the easiest film for me to find. I ended up ordering a copy on DVD as I could not rent it off either iTunes or Netflix (though I believe it may be available on the American version of Netflix!). It was very much worth it, though, as it is a fantastic film that I highly recommend.

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