Whiplash

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
December 18th, 2014 2 comments

Whiplash, 2014, USA

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a freshman at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. He’s a drummer, and hopes to become one of the drumming greats. He draws the attention of Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), a brilliant but ruthless conductor at the school. He’s invited to join his band. At times, Fletcher treats Andrew in an almost fatherly way, telling him stories of how the great drummers were influenced to succeed by their mentors, but this behavior is contrasted by incredible verbal and physical abuse. Andrew practices for hours and hours in an attempt to live up to Fletcher’s expectations, and as time goes on, Fletcher’s influence changes who he is and the other relationships in his life.

Whiplash brings up an interesting question: is it worth pushing a possible musical prodigy to their limit in order to bring out their gift? Fletcher’s justification of his methods is just that: by saying ‘good job’ to someone, you’re not encouraging them to push harder and reach that next level: you’re telling them they’re good enough as they are. But Fletcher is also an example of a dangerous human being: someone who is terribly manipulative and almost sociopathic in his abuse. So do the ends justify the means? It’s a question that’s left unanswered, and it’s up to the viewer to make the decision themselves.

Simmons was incredible as Fletcher, in what is possibly my favourite 2014 performance so far. He manages to put the audience on edge: one minute he’s being friendly and gentle, the next, he’s spewing out the worst, most frightening insults you can imagine. Laughter peppered the theatre at times, not because what he said was funny, but because it was so uncomfortable that you just had to chuckle to work out the pit that has settled itself in your stomach. And, as an aside, I loved the use of light in the film, and the way it perfectly highlighted his face. It added an extra dimension of power and fear to his performance. Just from the way he walks, and the way he places his coat and hat on the coat stand, you can see that he is not a man to be trifled with. He is powerful and he knows it.

Teller was also very good as Andrew. He starts the film as a young man out of his element, and ends the film as someone else entirely. It’s inspiring and entirely satisfying to watch. I’m not a musician, but I could tell that most, if not all, of the drumming was real: apparently he had been a drummer prior to making this film.

Whiplash was excellent and one of the highlights of this year. I highly recommend it.

The F Word

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
December 14th, 2014 No comments

The F Word, 2013, Ireland/Canada

In some countries, The F Word was released as What If, because of what the “f” could have stood for in the title (it stands for ‘friend’!). Luckily, in Canada, cooler heads prevailed and it was released under its original title.

Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is a med school dropout working a dead-end job after his girlfriend had an affair with their anatomy professor. He’s introverted and not particularly social, save for the occasional excursion with his best friend, Allan (Adam Driver). At a party, Wallace meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), Adam’s cousin, and he is smitten. There is an immediate connection – but Chantry has a boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall). The two decide to be friends, and regularly get together to hang out. But, their friendship is complicated by the attraction that is making itself apparent under the surface.

The F Word follows the standard romantic comedy formula in most respects. It’s quite predictable, but it stands above most films in this genre because it makes developing the characters a priority. Wallace and Chantry have a genuine connection and friendship, and every interaction feels plausible. The chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan is excellent, and really helps to sell the idea of them as a potential couple. The dialogue is well-written and funny, and I was impressed by Radcliffe’s comedic timing.

Allan, and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) are both supporting characters in the film, but neither character feels hollow. Instead, they’re a couple with real issues and complications. I did feel that Ben got the short end of the stick when it comes to character development. We are supposed to be rooting for Chantry and Wallace to get together, thus, we’re not meant to get to know the ‘competition’ as a character, but I’d like to see a more complex romantic comedy where the ‘competition’ is a more sympathetic character. He’s not a detestable character, as he would have been in most romantic comedies, but Spall is just not given enough to do.

The F Word feels like a romantic comedy for the Millennial generation. It’s realistic, charming, and funny. And – it’s set in Toronto, which is a nice touch, as well. There have been a few major films set in Toronto over the last few years, and it’s always nice to see a film take place primarily in Canada. The F Word is available to rent off iTunes.

The Theory of Everything

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
December 11th, 2014 No comments

The Theory of Everything, 2014, UK

The Theory of Everything is the story of the marriage between Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Hawking was studying Physics at Cambridge, and Jane was studying literature when they met and fell in love in the 60s. When Hawking was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease, Jane refused to let his prognosis come between them and the two were soon married. Hawking beats the odds, and becomes a renowned physicist, but his fame, and his increasingly severe handicaps soon cause strain on their marriage.

Both Redmayne and Jones were wonderful in their roles, and both deserve Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Actress, respectively. Redmayne displays absolute dedication in mimicking Hawking’s walk, speech patterns, and movements. Redmayne perfectly captures how Hawking moved through the course of the entire film, as Hawking’s condition progresses in severity. The research he undertook, as well as the strain he must have put on his body is evident, but his performance is absolutely brilliant.

Jones is just as deserving of praise for her performance as Wilde. Over the course of her marriage to Hawking, Wilde served as his caregiver, while parenting their three children, and trying to build her own career. It was a thankless position to be in, and Jones successfully captures her strain and despair. Watching their marriage struggle under the pressure it was under was immensely painful, when you know that it really wasn’t the fault of either of them: it was merely a product of factors neither one could do much about. I wasn’t sure if the film would deal with the marital strife between Wilde and Hawking, but it did, and I’m thankful for it.

The script, written by Anthony McCarten was quite good. It features a surprising amount of humour, which some could argue is a necessity when one is dealing with a life-altering condition. And it also beautifully dealt with the challenges Hawking faced being understood prior to getting a speech-generating device. It’s never condescending, and shows great respect to all of the film’s subjects. While it is being marketing as a biography of Hawking, it’s just as much Jane’s story as it is Stephen’s.

I get the feeling that The Theory of Everything could be a major player at the Oscars this year. It’s wonderfully bittersweet, funny, and features two incredibly strong performances. Go and see it in theatres.

Filth

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
December 7th, 2014 No comments

Filth, 2013, UK

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a disgusting man. He’s a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh, and he drinks heavily, snorts coke, and uses his position to take advantage of people in the worst way. Bruce is up for a promotion, but his colleagues are also up for the same promotion, so Bruce decides to engage them in “the games” – a series of cruel pranks meant to make them look bad. A young Japanese student was murdered in cold blood, and Bruce is tasked with heading the case, which he sees as an opportunity to get the promotion and make his wife, Carole (Shauna Macdonald) proud of him. But, the pressure becomes to much, and Bruce starts hallucinating, and succumbing to the allure of liquor, drugs, and sex.

Filth is a dark film. It does have its comedic moments, and I went in expecting a very dark comedy. However, I’d say it is a little closer to a drama, and it’s actually profoundly depressing. It’s rarely a pleasant film, and more one to be endured than anything.

Bruce is one of the more despicable characters to be put on screen in the last few years, but he’s also a pathetic, and sad little man. McAvoy skillfully balances between Bruce’s disgusting characteristics, and the reality that this disgusting behavior is hiding a tragic past. Bruce is an incredibly layered character, and we’re never meant to like him, but, thanks to McAvoy, we are able to feel sorry for him. By the end of the film, we have some understanding of how and why Bruce is the way he is, whereas at the beginning of the film, he was nothing more than a corrupt cop looking to get into higher management.

Eddie Marsan plays a supporting role as Clifford, Bruce’s best (and only) friend. He’s excellent as the exceedingly tolerant Clifford, who seems to be too naïve to see what Bruce really is. It was a very sad performance, at times, because he was a good man who just couldn’t see the reality of what Bruce was. In fact, most of the supporting characters in the film were quite likable, which provides an interesting contrast with the intensely unlikable main character.

Filth is now available to watch on Netflix. Don’t watch it if you’re expecting or looking for a feel-good film!

Maleficent

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
December 4th, 2014 No comments

Maleficent, 2014, USA

A trend has emerged in the last few years: telling a story (or re-telling) from the perspective of a villain. This side of the story generally shifts who the true villain is, and provides understanding and context to the action of the “villain” in question. Maleficent is one of these movies. At first, I was skeptical: how can Disney make one of the most feared and infamous villains in their catalogue into a likable character? Well, they managed to do so, with mixed success.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie; Ella Purnell as a child) is a fairy living in the Moors next to the human world. Fairies and humans have been enemies for centuries. Maleficent falls in love with a human named Stefan (Sharlto Copley; Michael Higgins as a child), but when he wrongs her terribly, she is bent on revenge. Stefan, now king, has a young child named Aurora, and on the day of her christening, Maleficent curses her. As Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) grows up, Maleficent watches her, and sees that she is, in fact, not like her father.

Jolie is excellent as Maleficent – she takes a character the audience has long been taught to loathe, and makes her sympathetic. Maleficent deals with some very dark things over the course of the film – one of which is a very specific metaphor for rape. The film handled Maleficent and Aurora’s relationship in a beautiful way, and I appreciated seeing a film where two women were the stars.

The film does falter at times, though. Understandably, as it is an epic fantasy film, it contains quite a bit of CGI. But it’s overdone at times, leading to a sense of coldness and artificiality. I was very aware that what I was watching was not real, which isn’t a good thing. The film attempted to contrast the lightness of the Moor with the darkness of humanity, but I found that it failed in that respect, as the Moor felt so overdone to me.

One area the film does succeed in is makeup. Jolie’s angular cheekbones were incredibly well done. Maleficent looks menacing, but still approachable, somehow, as if vestiges of her earlier self still remains, hidden underneath all of the pain and sorrow she has endured. I’d be surprised if the film didn’t get a nomination for its makeup work.

Maleficent is now available to rent on iTunes, and I’d say it’s worth a watch, despite some of my misgivings with it. It’s a decently enjoyable film.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Trailer

Movie Rating:
November 28th, 2014 No comments

Since the announcement of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens I’ve been very careful to keep my expectations in check. After the disappointing Prequel trilogy, I didn’t want to get excited about this film, or even get my hopes up about it. I’ve read as little as possible about the film, both to avoid spoilers, and to avoid the potential for disappointment if the film ends up not being very good.

But then they released the teaser trailer, and I started to believe. Then they showed the shot of the Millennium Falcon and I started to get excited. It was a damn good teaser trailer, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the film will be good, but I have hope that this new film could feel more like the Original trilogy and less like the Prequel trilogy.

Here’s the trailer, if you haven’t seen it yet!

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Space Jam

Movie Rating:
November 25th, 2014 No comments

Space Jam, 1996, USA

Every once in awhile I feel a compulsion to revisit classics from my childhood, to see how they stand up to adult eyes. I’ve noticed that Disney almost always holds up well, but non-Disney films are a bit more hit and miss. The last children’s sports film I revisited, The Mighty Ducks, did not hold up well, and left me longing to console myself in a bottle of something strong.

Luckily, Space Jam wasn’t quite so terrible. I think part of the reason this film was made was to capitalize on the massive popularity of Michael Jordan. He was huge. I cannot call myself a basketball fan (either now, or back then, really), but even I loved him. And – hey, it features him interacting with the Looney Toons characters and fighting a bunch of space aliens on the basketball court. Neat, huh?

Space Jam has its moments. I got more out of Bill Murray’s role as an adult than I ever did as a kid. It helps that I know who he is, so I was amused by him playing a fictional version of himself. And, the scenes where the basketball players are trying to figure out what happened to their talent was funny. I was a bit less amused by the Looney Toons stuff, unfortunately. I guess their gags are lost on me now, because I thought the humour was juvenile and irritating. But – the target audience is children, so it makes sense that I didn’t like those bits, and preferred the gags aimed more at adults.

Of course, Space Jam’s soundtrack is almost iconic at this point. As a child, I loved it, and thought the music on the soundtrack was the pinnacle of inspirational music. Now it’s more or less seen for what it is: cheesy, but somehow enjoyable.

There’s talk of doing a sequel to the movie starring LeBron James. I hope this doesn’t happen. Part of Space Jam’s charm is that it is such a 90s film, and it’s a film that really only appeals to a 90s audience. Adults who grew up with the film can appreciate it on a nostalgic level, but I can’t see our kids enjoying it because a large part of it is understanding the references to 90s culture. It’s a dated film. I can’t see childless people my age feeling inspired to go see a sequel to Space Jam, and I can’t see our children wanting to go, either. It’s just a genuinely terrible idea, all around. Had they wanted to make a sequel, they should have done it 15 years ago.

Daniel Brühl Joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

Movie Rating:
November 22nd, 2014 No comments

You didn’t think I wouldn’t blog about this…did you? Last week, it was announced that Daniel Brühl will be playing a role in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. And, rumour has it, he will be playing the big baddie in Doctor Strange, as well. One of the many advantages of having a connected film universe!

This excites me. I’m really excited – even a week after this was announced. I love superhero films, especially Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, and Brühl is one of my favourite actors. It’s a perfect mash-up, as far as I’m concerned. And, I’m thrilled because this is an opportunity for a wider North American audience to see just how talented Brühl is.

One of the things Marvel has always been consistently on-point about is casting. They always cast people who are right for their roles, and they make casting talented actors a priority. You don’t get a situation where an actor has the look, but can’t act his or her way out of a paper bag. My hope is that whomever Brühl ends up playing acts similarly to Loki (Tom Hiddleston): a charismatic, menacing, and intriguing villain who appears in multiple movies and storylines. Make it happen, Marvel!

Captain America: Civil War comes out May 6, 2016: a year and a half from now. I can’t promise I won’t barrage my followers with constant news and updates about the film, but I will promise to try to keep it to a minimum. Last week, a tweet I posted about this news was published in a Los Angeles Times article, which was hilarious and completely awesome. Marvel hasn’t had a misstep yet, in my opinion, so I’m more excited than ever about their future films.

Big Hero 6

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

Big Hero 6, 2014, USA

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: Disney is in the midst of another renaissance. Big Hero 6 is yet another in a line of successful, well-written, and engaging animated films released by Disney over the last few years.

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a boy genius who uses illegal bot fighting as an outlet for his brains and boredom. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) introduces him to his friends and shows him his college project: a healthcare bot named Baymax (Scott Adsit). Hiro is inspired and immediately applies to the college program, and is accepted with his revolutionary micro bot invention. After a tragic accident kills his brother, Hiro finds a measure of solace in Baymax, and discovers that the accident that killed Tadashi may not have been an accident after all.

Big Hero 6 handles the theme of grief in a remarkably mature and realistic fashion. Hiro is not immediately fine: he struggles through the movie with his emotions and feelings of loss, and it’s heartbreaking, despite the light moments spliced throughout. I found myself weeping, repeatedly. It may actually be the most emotional animated film Disney has ever made, which is surprising, given that I went in expecting a fun and light superhero film.

Potter does a remarkable job voicing Hiro, as does Henney, whose role is small, but powerful. You can feel Tadashi’s influence throughout. The actors who play Hiro and Tadashi’s friends are all perfectly cast, as well.

This film is Disney’s first animated film to feature Marvel comic book characters. It is a superhero film (my favourite!), but unlike many of Marvel and DC’s outputs, it’s perfectly suitable for young children. And, because it’s Disney, it’s just as suitable for adults, and includes many “aimed at grown-ups” jokes and nods.

As expected, the animation was gorgeous, as well. Baymax is adorable, and the animators did a wonderful job capturing the texture of the material he is made out of. The action sequences are thrilling, and look fantastic, especially in 3D. I especially loved the way the micro bots looked on screen. I can’t imagine the challenge of animating millions of little robots to make it look like they’re moving in unison, but they did it, and they did a great job of it.

Big Hero 6 is a remarkable film, and one that you won’t want to miss. I get the sense that this film will have the same word of mouth appeal that Frozen had. Bring your tissues, and go see it in theatres. Oh – and be sure to stick around through the credits for a fun little after-credits stinger.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

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

Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994, UK

Can you believe I hadn’t seen this film? I like Richard Curtis (both his writing and directing), and he wrote this film, so I finally decided to watch it.

Charles (Hugh Grant) and his group of longtime friends are single and wondering if they will ever get married. Charles is charming, but terribly awkward, and meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first wedding of the film. He’s smitten, and they spend a night together, but she’s heading back to America and they’re left to wonder ‘what if’. At least, until the second wedding, when he runs into her again, and discovers that she’s back in the UK…but engaged to be married.

One of the things I love most about Curtis’ work is that he does romantic comedies with well-written characters. The stories are reasonably intelligent, and the humour is always charming and witty. Four Weddings and a Funeral was hilarious, and a large part of that credit goes to Grant who nails his lines, as well as the awkward sort of charm that makes Charles so likable. Even when he’s behaving poorly, we are meant to sympathize with him. Grant has always been good at playing endearing characters.

MacDowell was enjoyable to watch, as well, though I did find that we were given fewer reasons to like Carrie. The audience is meant to see Carrie through Charles’ eyes – he loves her, so we are meant to love her.

Four Weddings and a Funeral got nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which is a bit baffling to be honest with you. 1994 was an incredible year for cinema, and while there’s no doubt this film was a lovely one, there’s no way I would have pegged it for Best Picture. Especially when you consider that back then, only 5 films a year received that nomination. That being said, the film was a cultural touchstone of its time, and launched Grant’s career, so that could explain why it received the nomination at the time.

Four Weddings and a Funeral is available to rent on Apple TV, if you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it!

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