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

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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

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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

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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.

The State of Movies Today

Movie Rating:
August 7th, 2015 No comments

I haven’t been posting as much lately and for that, I apologize. I’ve been very busy in my personal life, and I’ve also found myself feeling less drawn to the current cinematic offerings that have been released this summer. There have been a few that I’ve gone to see and enjoyed, but this last year or so, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been following the world of cinema the way I once did. There are still films I’m anticipating, of course, and I am an avid follower of the careers of certain actors I admire. But more and more often, I’m noticing that films are being released in theatres that I haven’t so much as heard of, which would have been almost an impossibility two years ago.

So what have I been focusing on instead? Television. I think TV has genuinely never been better, and over the last year I’ve been watching quite a few different TV shows. My current project is Parks and Recreation, but I’ve also watched Orange is the New Black, and Bojack Horseman quite recently. And, as most of you will know, I’m a huge fan of Hannibal. I’ve become a binge watcher, so when I’m in the midst of going through a new TV series, the cinematic offerings on Netflix aren’t really on my mind. And I don’t even have premium cable, so I’ve never watched an HBO or Showtime series, for example! So if network, basic cable, and online television is this good, imagine how good some of those programs much be. Of course, I think Hannibal is the greatest TV show that has ever been produced, on network or otherwise.

But, come September, Oscar season will be starting, and I’m hoping to be right back in the theatre! This summer has been a bit of a letdown when it comes to major blockbusters, with a few notable exceptions, so I haven’t felt a need to see a movie in theatres since Ant-Man.

How are you feeling about the world of cinema this year? Has it been a let down for you too?

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Spirited Away

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
August 1st, 2015 No comments

Spirited Away, 2001, Japan

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Can you believe I hadn’t seen this film?! Talk about an oversight. I ended up seeing it in English, but you can also watch a subtitled version of it. And, it’s also my first film by Hayao Miyazaki, which I am just as shocked by, admittedly. I’m a huge fan of animation as a film medium, and he’s one of the biggest names in animation. And it’s no wonder, after I saw what he achieved with the remarkable Spirited Away.

Chiriro (Daveigh Chase) and her parents are on their way to their new house when they happen upon what her parents think is an abandoned amusement park. This area is actually a spirit world, and once the sun sets they’re trapped – her parents having been transformed into pigs. A boy named Haku (James Marsden) instructs her to get a job in the boiler room, because if she doesn’t have a job, Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the owner of the bathhouse, will turn her into a pig as well. In signing an employment contract with Yubaba, she loses her name and is renamed Sen, and must work out a plan to rescue her parents and remember a name so they can escape the spirit world.

The film was remarkable. It’s very much a fairy tale, but it maintains the bleak underbelly of traditional fairy tales. In many respects it is a coming-of-age film set in a fantasy world. Chiriro grows up and learns self-sufficiency through the process of saving her parents. It’s frightening and moody and at times very tense. And, of course, it’s beautifully animated. I was blown away by the creativity of the various spirits featured in the film.

I appreciated the underlying themes of corruption, pollution, and greed. We’re shown that greed is an ugly thing, and that it leads to corruption and evil. Many of the bathhouse employees are looking to take more and more even if they have not earned it, whether it is gold, or food.

I think I need to see Miyazaki’s other films, because Spirited Away was just wonderful in every way.

Ant-Man

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
July 22nd, 2015 No comments

Ant-Man, 2015, USA

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Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just been released from prison on burglary charges, and is trying to rebuild his life. He can’t see his daughter, Cassie, (Abby Ryder Fortson) and he can’t hold down a job. When his friend Luis (Michael Peña) tells him about a house with a large safe, he reluctantly agrees to break in, where he discovers the Ant-Man suit. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the reclusive inventor of the technology, is impressed by Scott’s skills and recruits him to be the new Ant-Man so he can break into Pym Technologies and steal the Yellowjacket suit being developed by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the unstable former protégé of Hank’s. Helping out is Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank’s once-estranged daughter.

The first half of Ant-Man plays out very much like your typical superhero origin story. But the second half of the film is endlessly creative, with one of the best climactic fight scenes ever seen in a Marvel universe film. It’s hilarious, but no less thrilling, as it makes perfect use of the shrinking abilities of the two suits. And, despite it being, literally, on a smaller scale than battle scenes in previous Marvel films, we never feel that there is less at stake.

When original director Edgar Wright dropped out, I was quite concerned about this film. I am curious about what his vision was, though I see pieces of it remaining in the film, particularly in the latter half of it. But director Peyton Reed, with the help of Rudd and Adam McKay, took Wright and Joe Cornish’s original screenplay and made it work beautifully within the Marvel universe. From what I’ve heard, the issue with Wright’s vision is that it simply wouldn’t have worked within the MCU. But the final film does work very well. And, be sure to stick around throughout the credits for mid-credit and post-credit scenes!

I loved Rudd as Lang. He plays the typical “burglar with a heart of gold” character, but his desire to be reunited with his daughter makes the story quite moving. Ultimately I did find Pym and van Dyne to be far more interesting. I liked seeing their relationship develop and change throughout the film, as they learned how to be a family once again. And Pym is the slightly more interesting Ant-Man – I’d love to see a Cold War era prequel someday.

Ant-Man is a far stronger film than Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was ultimately a little bit disappointing. It’s a lot of fun, and a great introduction to a series of new characters within the MCU. I ended up seeing it in IMAX 3D, but I wouldn’t call the 3D necessary. It’s perfectly fine to see it in 2D – I didn’t even notice the 3D much anyway. But it’s definitely a film that begs to be seen in theatres so be sure to catch it in the theatre!

Big Eyes

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
July 17th, 2015 No comments

Big Eyes, 2014, USA

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Big Eyes is based on the true story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the painter of portraits with big eyes. As a single mother in the late 50s, she marries Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a struggling painter and real estate agent. Walter has some marketing skills and manages to find success selling Margaret’s paintings, but he passes them off as his own, as “people don’t want to buy lady art”. Margaret initially reluctantly goes along with this, but her guilt grows, as well as her desire to get recognition for her own work.

This film is director Tim Burton’s second biopic. It’s not in his usual filmmaking style, though he is an avid fan of Keane’s paintings. It’s quite nice to see Burton do something different from the films he has been churning out in the last decade. Both Adams and Waltz are good in their respective roles. I have a great deal of respect for Adams’ performance in particular. Margaret has a quiet dignity to her, and develops a strong sense of self and her own value in a time when women who divorced their husbands were looked upon with suspicion. It wasn’t money she wanted: it was acknowledgement.

As I watched the film, I could not help but think of the state of contemporary art in all of its forms. During the period this film took place, Walter’s argument against women’s art may have been socially acceptable and nowadays it would not be acceptable to say that in most circles. But, there are still precious few opportunities for women to create art, particularly in Hollywood. Just look at how few films are directed and written by women, and of those, how few are major blockbusters! I feel that through this film, Burton was providing his own commentary on the state of women’s art within Hollywood, and the need to open up more opportunities for women filmmakers. We need to embrace art created by women, consume it, and provide avenues for women filmmakers to make their voices heard.

Overall, Big Eyes is Burton’s strongest film in several years. I’d love to see him do more of this sort of film and fewer Alice in Wonderlands.

Big Eyes is now available on iTunes.

The Rover

Movie Rating:
July 12th, 2015 No comments

The Rover, 2014, Australia

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Years after an economic collapse has brought world as we know it to an end, it’s every man for himself in the Australian Outback. Eric (Guy Pearce) is a mysterious loner whose vehicle is stolen by a group of thugs. He immediately goes after them, desperate to get back what is his. He meets Reynolds (Robert Pattinson), the injured and dimwitted brother of one of the thieves, and they form a bond as they ride together.

The Rover is a very slow moving drama that examines what humanity would be like following societal collapse. Like so many others, it predicts an ‘every man for himself’ mentality, a bartering system, and a need for basic supplies such as fuel, and weapons. It’s unrelentingly bleak and dark, and doesn’t have many good things to say about humanity.

Pearce’s Eric is theoretically the protagonist of the film, but he’s never very likable. He speaks little and commits many brutal acts. In many respects, he isn’t much different from the thieves that stole his car, and we root for him merely because he is the lead character. Pattinson gives a career best performance as Reynolds, a character you can actually empathize with. He’s slow, and desperately relies on others to make it in the world. You get a sense that this young man is not built for the world he lives in, and that he could not possibly survive without Eric’s help, and the help of his brother before that.

The film is problematic in some respects. The opening few minutes are incredibly tense, but then it boils away and becomes a dry road trip sort of movie. It meanders on without purpose for a little bit too long before reaching the engaging climax. The audience, which once wondered why this car means so much to Eric, loses interest and by the time the revelation comes, no longer cares.

If you’re looking for a minimalistic post-apocalyptic film featuring engaging performances from the two leads, watch The Rover. It’s available now on Netflix.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 1
July 9th, 2015 No comments

Transformers: Age of Extinction, 2014, USA/China

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This was a hate-watch – I want to make that very clear going into this post. I knew this film would be pure trash, but occasionally when I’m in a masochistic mood, I want to watch something bad and write snarky things about it.

In the 4th edition of “robots fight other robots and blow shit up”, the original human cast is gone and replaced by Mark Wahlberg, playing a native Texan with a shockingly thick Boston accent, and his daughter, played by Nicola Peltz. Cade is weirdly obsessed with his daughter’s dating/sex life, and doesn’t take it well when she reveals that she’s dating Shane (Jack Reynor), who is supposed to be dreamy, I guess. Cade is an inventor and comes across Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and patches him up. The world has turned against the Autobots, and Optimus must prove they’re not evil. By blowing more of America and China up, of course. Because that will win them the affections of all of the people.

Transformers: Age of Extinction was by far the worst film in this already pretty poor franchise. It makes zero sense, and Michael Bay’s use of slow motion was laughable and bizarre. The worst thing is that this film plays it completely straight: it would have been enjoyable had the actors had a sense of self-awareness of what they’d signed on for and camped it up a bit, but apparently robots blowing shit up is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

Bay’s willingness to sexualize a character who was meant to be 17-years-old was also incredibly disturbing. He has a reputation for sexualizing women needlessly in his film and treating them as empty objects, and he definitely does so again in this film. It’s offensive and creepy.

And it’s also the movie that never ends. It’s almost 3 hours long, and I guarantee you will feel every minute of that time. The first half an hour or so makes a bit of sense and then all sense and respect for basic plotlines is thrown out the window in an effort to create the messiest, most explosion-ridden film in existence.

If you fail to respect yourself and your time the way I did, don’t go into this movie expecting it to make any sense. Just watch it for the explosions and the admittedly excellent special effects. And, better yet, invent some sort of drinking game out of the movie. It may actually make it an entertaining use of your time.

Inside Out

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
July 3rd, 2015 No comments

Inside Out, 2015, USA

After a few years of decent but not especially noteworthy films, Pixar has hit a home run with Inside Out. It’s a beautifully melancholy tale of growing up, loss, and change.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy-go-lucky kid who has grown up playing hockey in her beloved Minnesota. Her dad has to move the family to San Francisco for work, and her happy-go-lucky nature is challenged by the strange new environment. Her mind is controlled by five emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader). Core memories make up aspects of Riley’s personality, and are all joyful memories. When a sad memory becomes a core memory, Joy panics, and her and Sadness end up in long term memory storage, where they must get back to Headquarters with the core memories before Riley’s entire personality crumbles.

The strengths of Inside Out are the same strengths as many of Pixar’s other amazing films: they work as children’s films, but feature surprisingly adult themes and metaphors missed by younger viewers. This means their films often hit adults like a sack of bricks and Inside Out is no different. It made me weep unrepentantly during several key sequences, and I’m not the only one who was crying in the theatres. Expect sniffles to act as background noise in the theatre. Of course, there are lighter moments and great moments of humour to lighten the mood throughout.

Inside Out handles the concept of depression in an incredible way. It’s honest, and I think it will start a discussion about mental health, specifically in young people, where such things are often glanced over or underestimated. And most beautifully is that the film acts as a stunning argument for emotions, and emotional honesty. As humans, we need emotions – all emotions, and there’s no shame in feeling any emotion at any given time. Pixar’s writers, directors and animators understand emotion, but they also understand the way a young girl’s mind works.

I can’t speak for the quality of the 3D as I saw the film in 2D but the animation itself is wonderful. The emotions are all gorgeously designed – particularly Joy, who is effervescently beautiful. Sadness is her contrast in every manner: low key, melancholy, and blue (literally). Poehler and Smith are perfect in their respective roles. Watch for Richard Kind in an incredible role – one that will be remembered for years. I don’t want to say anything more than that.

There was a bit of nervousness for awhile when it came to Pixar, but they’ve shown us that they still create the most thoughtful, and creative films in Hollywood. I urge you to see this one in theatres, and rest assured that Pixar is back on top. I can’t wait for their next films.

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