Laggies

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

Laggies, 2014, USA

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

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

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

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

Laggies is now available to rent on Apple TV.

2015 Oscar Predictions

Movie Rating:
February 21st, 2015 No comments

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

Best Picture

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

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

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

Lead actress

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

Will win: Julianne Moore

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

Lead actor

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

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

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

Director

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

Will win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

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

Supporting actress

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

Will win: Patricia Arquette

Should win: Patricia Arquette

Supporting actor

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

Will win: J.K. Simmons

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

Animated feature film

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

Will win: How To Train Your Dragon 2

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

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Paddington

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

Paddington, 2014, UK

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

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

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

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

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

101 Dalmatians

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

101 Dalmatians, 1996, USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corner Gas: The Movie

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
February 10th, 2015 No comments

Corner Gas: The Movie, 2014, Canada

Several years after the events of the finale, Corner Gas: The Movie returns to Dog River. The lazy (but not quaint) town is broke after a series of bad real estate investments, and the townspeople are wondering if it is time to jump ship and move to the city. Brent (Brent Butt) leads the charge to save the town, along with Lacey (Gabrielle Miller). By entering the “Quaintest Town in Canada” contest, they have a chance to win $75,000, which will be enough to fix the water and pay off the town’s electricity bill. But can the townspeople get along long enough to win the contest?

As can be expected, this film feels very much like one long episode of Corner Gas. All of the cast members have returned, and all play a significant part in the film. Each has their own storyline, which is very reminiscent of their story lines from the TV series’. Hank (Fred Ewanuick) is coming up with hair-brained schemes to save the town, Oscar (Eric Peterson) is annoying the hell out of Emma (Janet Wright) and fighting with Karen (Tara Spencer-Nairn). But the film also closes some long running jokes in a very satisfying manner. I will say no more, but it was some funny stuff!

I do think that one would have to have at least a passing familiarity with the TV show to get full enjoyment out of the film. There are many references to the TV show and long running jokes are included throughout. I’d watch at least some of the series (which is excellent) before diving into this film. It’s one of the most popular Canadian TV shows of all time so it’s definitely worth watching, especially if you have an appreciation for Canadian humour.

The film had a brief theatrical run, which was extended based on audience demand. I didn’t see it in theatres, and there was really not much of a need to, as it’s definitely the sort of movie that is fine to watch in your living room. I recorded it off CTV sometime around Christmas and only just got around to watching it. It’ll probably be airing again at some point, or you can likely find it on a Video on Demand service.

To be Takei

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
February 6th, 2015 No comments

To be Takei, 2014, USA

George Takei has eclipsed the generations and become a cultural icon not just for people who grew up with Star Trek during its initial run, but the young people of today. He’s done this both through his LGBT and Japanese-American Internment Camp awareness activism, and through his incredibly popular Facebook page. This documentary is a biographical look at his life.

Director Jennifer M. Kroot made this film with the full cooperation of Takei and his husband, Brad. Throughout the film, we hear how they met, the story of their relationship, and we get a glimpse of their day-to-day life. They bicker…like an old married couple! We see how Brad really runs the show, and keeps track of George’s schedule and makes sure his life works like a well-oiled machine.

Much of the focus of the film is on two of Takei’s causes in life: LGBT activism and raising awareness of the Japanese-American Internment Camps in the United States (and Japanese-Canadian camps in Canada) during WWII. Takei spent part of his childhood in internment camps, which has had a profound impact on who he is as a person. He starred in Allegiance, which was based on his own personal experiences, and the film discusses the development of the musical.

As a gay man, Takei talks about why he remained in the closet for as long as he did, and how he had to hide his long-time relationship with Brad prior to coming out publicly. He shared some stories of homophobia he and Brad experienced, which was heartbreaking. But, Takei is a profoundly positive man, and lives life with a positive attitude. He’s charming, and funny, and seemingly cheerful at all times.

Overall, the film is a fairly standard biographical documentary. We do get some interesting insights into the lives of Takei and Brad. Perhaps the aspect of the film I enjoyed most was Takei speaking about how he wanted to play roles that he could be proud of, and that would show Asian-Americans in a positive light. He did his best to shun the stereotypical Asian-American roles that existed right around the time Star Trek was created. Takei has definitely been a positive role model for Asian-Americans with the length and diversity of his career over the years.

is now available on Netflix. While it is standard, it’s a fun, interesting and delightful watch.

Secrets of the Vatican

Movie Rating:
February 2nd, 2015 No comments

Secrets of the Vatican, 2014, USA

Secrets of the Vatican is another Frontline PBS documentary that is now available in Canada on Netflix. This film looks at the secret world of the modern day Catholic Church, including how Vatican officials dealt with the child abuse scandal, the secret sex lives of priests, and how Pope Francis is repairing the church’s reputation.

It’s no secret that the Catholic church has taken some hits to its reputaiton over the last few decades. A great many young children were abused by priests, only to have the priests get away with their heinous crimes. Some were even enabled by the Vatican, who simply transferred them to another congregation, where they could abuse a new set of young people. The first third of the film deals with this issue, and it’s often heartbreaking and difficult to watch. It’s infuriating how little was done to help the people who were abused, and to help other young people who may encounter these pedophiles. Pope Benedict XVI was at the desk where the child abuse cases came, and he was partially responsible for dealing with the situation, and mishandled it in an astounding way. For many years, he and the Vatican did not take action and ignored the letters and pleas of those who wrote him with their experiences at the hands of priests. It is impossible not to be enraged while watching this portion of the film.

The rest of the film tackles subject matter that is not quite as heavy, but interesting, nonetheless. We’re shown a portrait of a corrupt Vatican, where officials are power-hungry hypocrites. Many are engaging in sex acts, despite their vows of chastity, which doesn’t bother me as long as all of those participating are of legal age and in a position to consent. But it does speak to the hypocrisy in the Vatican that the film is discussing. How can you possibly condemn sex outside marriage, and same-sex relationships and intercourse when many priests are engaging in those exact things?

The final moments of the film do take a more positive turn, when the papacy of Pope Francis is discussed. Pope Francis is the best Pope is anyone’s memory, and he has done wonders at restoring the reputation of the Catholic church. The film discusses this, as well as the potential dangers of challenging Vatican officials.

Overall, it’s an interesting documentary that offers a rare glimpse into the underworld of the Catholic church.

Selma

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
January 29th, 2015 2 comments

Selma, 2014, USA

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) has just received his Nobel Peace Prize, and meets regularly with Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), who he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with. The state of Alabama is not allowing Black people to register to vote, despite laws forcing them to do so, so Dr. King picks the town of Selma, Alabama to start a march to Montgomery. In Selma, Dr. King and his fellow activists face violence, both from the townspeople and the police officers. But in the face of such terrible difficulties, Dr. King continues to preach his message of non-violent protest, and fight for equality for all.

Selma was a wonderful film. I love that writer/director Ava DuVernay chose to focus on one of Dr. King’s many achievements, instead of skimming through them all. As a Canadian, I had some knowledge of what Dr. King accomplished, but I knew nothing about what he did in Selma. I purposely did not look up the real story beforehand, because I wanted to be surprised as I watched the film, though I’ve done some research after watching the film. And, while some facts were dramatized, I have no issue with some dramatization in a fictional film based on real events.

Oyelowo was nothing short of remarkable as Dr. King. He plays him with such conviction and heart. Truly one of the best performances of last year. It’s a crime that he was not nominated for Best Actor for this performance. I was also impressed by Tim Roth’s performance as George Wallace, the prejudiced Governor of Alabama. He fully disappeared into the role, and became a person that I loathed.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about this film is that, while it takes place in 1965, the events of the film still feel very real and current. During several scenes, I thought of the many young Black men who have been killed by police officers in the US over the last few years. I thought about how these young men had no one to protect them, and how many of the officers involved were not charged, despite evidence of police brutality/excessive use of force. And I found myself thinking about how Dr. King’s message of non-violent protest still resonates so completely – not just in the American Black community, but in many other communities around the world that face institutionalized racism.

I loved Selma, and I with it received more attention during this year’s awards season. It’s an incredible, and moving film, and one that everyone should watch. In the years to come, it will be played as part of school curriculums, not just in the United States, but all over the world, as an example of people fighting for their rights through peaceful means.

Pride

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
January 25th, 2015 No comments

Pride, 2014, UK

pride

Pride is based on the true story of a group of gay and lesbian activists who raised money to support striking miners and their families during the British Miners’ Strike. They started the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners organization, and they, and the miners living in the village of Onllwyn found themselves to be unlikely allies.

This film is an uplifting and emotional journey of two groups of people learning about one another. The miners, in many cases, had never even met an openly gay or lesbian person, but throughout the film, but we saw the community members embracing their supporters. Ben Schnetzer plays Mark Ashton, one of the founders of the LGSM group. He acts at the ringleader of the movement, and his performance was excellent. I had no idea that he was actually a New Yorker until I looked him up after the film; his Irish accent was perfect. Paddy Considine is lovely as Dai, the representative of the community who meets them for the first time at the beginning of the film. Dai is a stoic, dignified sort of man, who is immensely grateful for the support they’re receiving from the LGSM, and influences the rest of the community to embrace the LGSM members and their fundraising actions.

Pride is incredibly funny at times, but it never makes light of the issues portrayed in the film: the importance of LGBT rights, workers’ rights, and the terrible prejudice LGBT people experienced in the 80s. The film is a wonderful example of the good that can come about when people work together and support each other.

After watching the film, I discovered that it was rated R, in the US, which is ridiculous. There is some language, and smoking throughout the film, but there is absolutely no reason it should have been rated R. It’s prejudice at the hands of the MPAA, simple as that. The American DVD release also makes no reference to the fact that the activists in the film are LGBT individuals, which is so incredibly disappointing. That is the backbone of the film, and such an important thing. It should be celebrated – not hidden. Shame on whoever designed and approved the content for the American DVD release for hiding such a crucial and wonderful aspect of this film.

Pride is now available for rental off iTunes. It’s an absolute joy to experience, and one I recommend highly.

The Giver

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 1
January 20th, 2015 No comments

The Giver, 2014, USA

My childhood hurts. It’s rare that I see a movie this terrible, and it’s a shame the filmmakers so thoroughly trashed the incredible material they had in Lois Lowry’s wonderful book. It was so unlike the book that you could hardly call it an adaptation. The book, The Giver, was a thoughtful book about a society that initially seemed peaceful, before the ugly reality of it comes open. It’s about the importance of emotion, of memory, and of differences. The film takes those beautiful ideas and throws them all out in favour of drone pilots and a power-crazed Chief Elder.

Part of the problem is that Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is aged up in the movie. There was something so captivating and heartbreaking about a 12-year-old boy discovering war and pain for the first time, and having the courage to do what he does in the book. Turning him into a grown man (albeit a young grown man) removes some of that emotion. An argument could be made that it might be difficult to find a pre-teen actor capable of the emotional range and maturity needed to portray Jonas effectively, but Thwaites wasn’t exactly hitting it out of the park in that regard. Frankly, I think they just wanted to cast a “hottie” so that fans of the book would find Jonas “dreamy”.

Jeff Bridges portrays The Giver, who gives memories of the old world to Jonas, the new Receiver of Memory. Bridges had wanted to make this film for about 20 years, and I have to wonder why he agreed to star in such a bastardization of a story he clearly loves so dearly. He must have known that what was being done was wrong. Katie Holmes plays Jonas’ mother, and her acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen on screen. She only seems to be capable of saying “precision of language” in a condescending tone. Her character in the novel is nothing at all like this, while she lacked genuine emotion like most of the characters in the novel, I always imagined her as a kind woman who is fond of those around her. Holmes shows none of this. It was as if she didn’t understand what she had to do with her role, so she just decided to make her character a shallow and rude person.

Meryl Streep portrays the Chief Elder, a character that doesn’t appear in the book, and one that has no reason to be there. “Hey, let’s hire Meryl Streep and make this movie REAL interesting!” is the approach the filmmakers took.

It’s been a few years since I last saw a movie as genuinely terrible as this one. If you love the book the way I do, stay the hell away from this movie. And if you haven’t read the book, drop what you’re doing and read it now.

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