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!

Interstellar

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
November 12th, 2014 No comments

Interstellar, 2014, USA/UK

One of the most satisfying things is watching an incredibly long movie that just flies by. Interstellar is 169 minutes long, but when I watched it, I didn’t glance at my watch once. Thrilling storytelling, incredible visual effects, lush cinematography, and perfect music work together to make a wonderful, fast-paced, and moving film.

Earth has returned to an agrarian society as crops begin to fall victim to blight. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former astronaut who has been reduced to living as a farmer. His daughter, Murphy (MacKenzie Foy) periodically believes she is seeing ghostly activity in her room. After a dust storm, her and Cooper discover coordinates that lead to NASA, where Cooper is talked into piloting a space craft through a wormhole into another galaxy by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway). Cooper, and Amelia are joined by a small crew, as they venture out in search of three possible worlds to replace Earth.

Interstellar focuses on the theme of human nature, and our will to live. Throughout the film, we constantly see examples of the human survival instinct. It has some profound  and beautiful things to say about the significance of love, and its immeasurability. McConaughey does good work in the film – he plays an everyman who just wants to see his children again. It’s a beautiful, and heart-wrenching thing. The highlight of the film for me was Jessica Chastain, who was remarkable, and deserves recognition for her work. She’s such a wonderful actress.

I saw the film in IMAX, and it does benefit visually from an IMAX screening. Director Christopher Nolan shot parts of the film in 70mm, and it looks absolutely gorgeous on an IMAX screen. However, the sound mixing in my particular theatre was terrible. During the action scenes, I could not hear the dialogue, or the dialogue was so muffled that I had to strain to hear it. This is not an isolated issue: I’ve heard of this being an issue in many other cinemas. It wasn’t a deal breaker: I was generally able to figure out what was being said through context, or discovered what had been said minutes later when a plot thread was picked up again, but it certainly was irritating. You might want to call your local IMAX screen and ask if they’ve had any complaints about the dialogue in the action scenes.

As a film score nerd, I was especially excited for the score of the film. My favourite composer, Hans Zimmer, scored it, and his collaborations with Nolan have generated some of my favourite scores, period. He does not disappoint: the music is amazing, and may even top the music of Inception. I really hope Zimmer wins the Oscar for Best Film Score for his work on this film. I’m just disappointed that the soundtrack does not come out until November 18th!

Interstellar may be my favourite film of the year thus far. It’s one that absolutely must be seen in theatres, so please go and watch it!

Birdman

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
November 9th, 2014 No comments

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014, USA

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a once-popular film star who is trying to revive his career by adapting a Raymond Carver book on Broadway. His daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) is his assistant. After it becomes necessary to hire a replacement actor, Riggan refinances his home to hire Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) and is broke. Mike turns out to be a nightmare, taking over creative control, behaving like a diva, and stealing the spotlight Riggan expected for himself. All the while, Riggan is hearing the voice of his popular character, Birdman in his head, and is struggling with hallucinations.

One of Birdman’s strengths is the way it was filmed. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot the film to look like one continuous shot. The camera follows the cast around, making the audience feel as if they’re on a tour of the theatre where much of the film takes place. We are flies on the wall of the Broadway play from hell. This serves to enhance the emotion of the film: Riggan and Mike’s blowouts feel even more awkward because somehow we’re involved. It was a bit jarring, especially at first, but the technique really succeeds at immersing the audience into the story.

Keaton, and Norton were extraordinary in their roles. They’re both playing characters based on their own reputations – but heavily exaggerated and satirized, of course. Keaton is famous for playing Batman, and Birdman is a similar sort of character, and then hitting a bit of a career slump in later years. Norton has a reputation for being difficult to work with and demanding creative control. Their willingness to make fun of their own reputations and essentially satirize themselves is remarkable, and is almost an Easter egg for those who are aware of what they are doing. They were both amazing. Stone gives a career-high performance as the long-suffering daughter of Riggan who is trying to bring him into the modern world.

Birdman is an often hilarious black comedy, but it’s also an incredibly on-point commentary on the nature of fame and the brutality of the Hollywood machine. It’s a strange film, and definitely not for everyone, but I quite enjoyed it.

Fury

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
November 5th, 2014 No comments

Fury, 2014, UK/China/USA

fury-movie

During the final month of the European war during World War II, the Allies are moving into Germany. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) is the commander of a tank nicknamed Fury, and has been with his crew, Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña) since the start of the war. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is brought in to replace a member of the crew who recently died in battle. Norman is a trained typist who never expected to see the front line. He’s initially reluctant to fight, and horrified by what he sees. Wardaddy takes him under his wing as they continue towards Berlin.

Fury is a rough, gritty film that stands on the excellent performances by Pitt and Lerman. Pitt plays the complex Wardaddy beautifully: he’s a man who is capable of both ugly deeds and great nobility. Lerman is the innocent of the film; initially untouched by war, he is terrorized by what he sees, but often acts as one of the moral compasses of the crew. He’s a good man. LaBeouf is also good in the film as a religious man using the Bible both as a source of comfort and justification for his actions.

Director David Ayers does a brilliant job at showing us the brutality of war: we see refugees, death and destruction. War is never glorified in this film, nor are the characters in the film. It’s an intense film, and the final battle of the film is particularly well done. We’re given an intimate insight into the characters in the tank: all state that this is “the best job they’ve ever had”, and you have to wonder what their lives were like before the war for them to say such a thing.

One issue I had with the film is that it is difficult to tell how much time passes from start to end. It couldn’t have been more than a week or two, as it takes place in April 1945, but it almost felt like the entire film took place over the course of about two days. It’s difficult to believe that Norman would have shown as much growth as he did over so few days, so I wish Ayers had done a bit more to show how far the tank traveled in Germany, or show the passing of time.

Fury is an often-painful film to watch, but it’s eye-opening and a worthwhile endeavor. It’s in theatres now.

Film Ratings

I generally find that Manitoba’s film ratings are fair, but I have a big issue with how they rated Fury. It’s rated 14A, meaning that anyone 14 and older can see it in theatres without an adult, and anyone under 14 can go with an adult. This is not a film that children should be able to see, therefore I wish they’d given it an 18A rating. The violence is brutal at times, and the consequences of war are often shown on screen in unrelenting fashion. While I absolutely believe that young people should learn about world history and war, this isn’t a film they should be able to see without an adult present in theatres. Though, luckily, I don’t imagine this is a film that would appeal to many young people.

Wings of Desire

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
November 2nd, 2014 No comments

Wings of Desire, 1987, West Germany/France

Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are two angels tasked with the job to “assemble, testify, and preserve” reality. They can’t be seen, except by children, and day in and day out they watch and listen to the woes, triumphs and thoughts of the residents of West Berlin. They’ve been on this mission since the beginning of time, and Damiel is growing weary of it. He falls in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin) and lonely trapeze artist and finds himself longing for a mortal life.

Wings of Desire was shot primarily in black and white, with a shift in colour used to signify scenes from the point of view of a mortal character. It’s a gorgeously shot film. It’s a very minimalist film, exploring the concepts of love and what it means to live, as well as the then-city of West Berlin and its inhabitants.

I found myself enraptured by the notion of longing for a mortal life when one has existed since the beginning of time. If one has been around, observing, for millions of years, then an average mortal life of 85 years would be a blink of an eye – less, even. But the idea is that a mortal life is more significant, because it opens you up to more opportunity to experience feelings such as heartache, disappointment, and love, and have real conversations with people. You aren’t just watching: you are part of the action.

There’s also a delightful subplot featuring Peter Falk playing a version of himself. I won’t give anything away about it, but it was lovely and charming.

As the credits rolled on the film, I sat on the couch for a long while just thinking about the themes of the film, and what it says about life. With this in mind, I can say that I wholeheartedly encourage you to watch this film. It is, at times, achingly slow, but it pays off in the most beautiful way. It is a work of art. And, at this point it has become a classic film, and one I’d been wanting to watch for years, so I’m glad I finally took the plunge and watched it! It’s available to rent on Apple TV.

Dark Shadows

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 2.5
October 30th, 2014 No comments

Dark Shadows, 2012, USA

Dark Shadows is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to me. Is it a campy comedy? Or is it a horror/dramatic film? It mixes elements of both, but not smoothly, and, for the most part, not successfully.

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a member of the Collins family, founders of a fishing port. He’s desperately in love with Josette (Bella Heathcote), much to the chagrin of Angelique (Eva Green), who is in love with him. Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him, and spends the next 200 years getting revenge on his family. When Barnabas is finally freed from the coffin he must adjust to life in 1970s Maine.

The film is at its best when Barnabas and Angelique are sparring on-screen. Both Depp and Green were charismatic and tons of fun to watch. Depp was also quite good at showing us Barnabas’ culture shock and adjustment to life in the 1970s. Unfortunately, a lot of the cast simply did not have a lot to do. Helena Bonham Carter has an amusing role, but isn’t given nearly enough to do, a fate that Chloë Grace Moretz also falls victim to. Another issue is that Heathcote, who portrays both Josette and Victoria; Barnabas’ 1970s love interest is terribly flat. Neither character is even remotely interesting, and Heathcote fails to show any real emotion. She was awful, and I never felt, for one second, that Barnabas had any reason to fall in love with either woman. Frankly, him and Angelique would have been a far more interesting pair.

Director Tim Burton did a great job capturing the gothic and somewhat timeless setting of Collinsport (which makes sense, as it’s one of his strengths). Unfortunately, he’s less successful at developing a consistent tone for the film. Dark Shadows dances all over the place, and I wish it had embraced the campy comedy tone throughout. I loved the campy moments, but when it delved more into the horror and the drama, I was bored. I did find that the chemistry between Depp and Green made parts of this film worth watching, though.

You can watch Dark Shadows on Netflix.

The Invisible Woman

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
October 27th, 2014 No comments

The Invisible Woman, 2013, UK

The Invisible Woman is based on the true story of Ellen ‘Nelly’ Ternan (Felicity Jones) who engaged in an affair with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) during the last 13 years of his life. Nelly is a budding actress when she catches the eye of Dickens. Both are smitten with one another but Charles is unhappily married to Catherine (Joanna Scanlan). Nelly’s mother is at first concerned by the mutual attraction, but recognizes that Nelly is not a particularly gifted actress, and a relationship with Dickens could act as a meal ticket for her, so to speak. At first, Nelly is reluctant to enter into an affair with Charles, but eventually passion wins out.

This is a film for those who love period pieces, or who are interested in the life of Dickens. I would say that its appeal is limited beyond those two scopes, as it is a slow and plodding film. It’s beautifully filmed, features lush and gorgeous costumes, and the acting is wonderful, but it is very slow moving, especially the first hour. Even as a lover of period films, I found myself slightly frustrated at times with the first half of the film. The Invisible Woman spends a significant amount of time building up to the eventual affair, but comparably little time on their relationship itself. I understand why this is the case: few knew any details about the affair, since Nelly and Charles destroyed any evidence of the affair (letters, etc). I would have loved to see more about their relationship, especially since they spent 13 years together.

Fiennes and Jones were excellent in their respective roles. She’s perfect as a young woman who is simultaneously smitten and terrified of the possibility of an affair with the wealthy and famous Dickens. Fiennes also directed the film, and he managed to capture the Victorian mindset and attitudes of the time.

If you’re interested in period films, then The Invisible Woman might be something you would enjoy. Despite its slow pace, it is a touching and interesting story, featuring some wonderful acting. It is available on Netflix.

Documented

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
October 22nd, 2014 No comments

Documented, 2013, USA/Philippines

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas came out as an undocumented immigrant in 2011. Since then he has been acting as an advocate for immigration reform in the USA through his project Define American. This documentary is just another step in his advocacy process. Through telling his story, he hopes to raise awareness of the issues undocumented Americans face, and bring forth immigration reform.

The documentary tells Vargas’ personal story. He came to America to live with his grandparents (both legal immigrants) when he was 12, and discovered at 16 that his immigration papers were fakes and that he was an undocumented immigrant. For years, he kept this secret and lived in fear of being discovered, but went through college and worked a number of jobs without his secret being discovered. Eventually, he decided to out himself, and dedicate his life to working to bring change to the immigration system.

Documented is best when we see Vargas out in the community, talking to ordinary Americans about the issue of immigration. There is a lot of misconceptions about immigration, and Vargas sought to show people that he is contributing to the American economy, and paying taxes, despite not being a legal American. This is the case for many undocumented American residents. There are also no avenues for a person of Vargas’ age to go through in order to get legal residency (the Dream Act was passed during the course of shooting this documentary and is covered in the film).

I do wish Vargas had a few more subjects with similar stories. A few undocumented immigrants are briefly shown, and he even speaks to some, but we don’t hear any detailed stories. It’s understandable why this is the case; Vargas is a public figure and immensely successful, and as a result, is unlikely to be persecuted by immigration officials. However, an “average” undocumented immigrant could very well find themselves in trouble for appearing in this film.

Vargas is a likable subject, and the audience will find themselves rooting for him, and sympathizing with his story. By being as open and honest as he is, we gain an understanding of the challenges and sacrifices Vargas and his family made. For instance, he has not seen his mother since he was 12-years-old, something that has understandably had an impact on his relationship with her.

Documented was a powerful film about a subject I knew little about. It’s available to rent on Apple TV.

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