The Salvation

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
June 27th, 2015 No comments

The Salvation, 2014, Denmark/UK/South Africa

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In the 1870s, Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) brings his wife and child over to America from Denmark. Upon their arrival, they are murdered in cold blood by associates of Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a local gang leader. Jon kills the murderers, which enrages Delarue, who embarks on a manhunt in order to find the person responsible. Jon, receiving no support from his fellow townsman, decides to pursue Delarue himself.

The Western genre is sadly out of vogue nowadays, so you don’t really see too many of them. I was intrigued by the idea of a Danish western film, and I adore Mikkelsen, so of course I had to watch this film. For anyone averse to subtitles: this film is mostly in English, save for the opening few scenes.

Mikkelsen is excellent as Jon, a man who has experienced heartbreak at the hands of cruel men, and is hellbent on justice. Eva Green is Delarue’s mute sister-in-law, and her performance is intriguing. I was disappointed that her and Mikkelsen did not share many scenes together, however. Morgan was a formidable villain, much in the vein of other classic Western foes.

The Salvation is a slow burn of a film. It moves slowly, until the final climax, which is breathtaking. It’s all the more exciting because of the slow build-up towards it. Like so many westerns before it, The Salvation really takes advantage of its landscape. It’s shot beautifully. There’s grit and dirt everywhere, offering a sense that this area is a rough, unforgiving part of the world. It’s as ugly and rough as Morgan’s face.

Kudos to director Kristian Levring for delivering a gripping Western featuring characters that felt like homages to classic western characters, yet retained their own individuality. And, in an interesting twist on the genre, it focused on the immigrant experience through Jon, and his brother (Mikael Persbrandt), Danish immigrants and former soldiers.

You can rent The Salvation off iTunes.

RIP James Horner

Movie Rating:
June 23rd, 2015 No comments

Yesterday cinema lost a real artist. James Horner died in a plane crash. Horner was responsible for some of the most iconic soundtracks of the last few decades, including Titanic, Avatar, and Braveheart.

For a number of years I’ve been really into film soundtracks, and Horner was one of my favourites. Whenever I watched Titanic, his music set the tone for the film. Everyone recognizes the music in Titanic.

Horner, like many composers, reused motifs and pieces of music from film to film. As these pieces of music are used to tell different stories, their meaning and emotion changes. From time to time, I recognized notes and small segments of music from one Horner film to another. A number of years ago, just after Avatar came out in theatres, I did hours of research into Horner’s scores and blogged about this phenomena of his. You can read this blog post here.

What a real loss – I was so looking forward to the music he would presumably compose for the Avatar sequels, as well as any other films he would craft music for.

Jurassic World

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
June 19th, 2015 No comments

Jurassic World, 2015, USA

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This movie is the culmination of my childhood dinosaur dreams. As a kid, I desperately wanted to watch Jurassic Park, but for years my parents told me I was too little and that I’d have nightmares. When I finally watched it, I was enchanted by it. It was the perfect movie: the T-Rex was the perfect type of menacing and the Velociraptors were frightening troublemakers.

So, needless to say, I saw Jurassic World opening weekend. Years after the nightmare that took place on Isla Nublar, a fully functional theme park, Jurassic World, opens. It’s an immediate hit, but Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) wants to continue to see a spike in profits, so park scientists have come up with a hybrid dinosaur, Indominus Rex. She has the park’s Velociraptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) examine the enclosure. While doing so, the Indominus Rex escapes and, predictably, wreaks havoc on the park.

Jurassic World follows the plotline of Jurassic Park a little too closely. It’s the exact same formula, down to the ‘kids in trouble’ plotline. It’s still entertaining as can be, but it is a little repetitive, and I would have liked to see the filmmakers branch out and tell a more original story.

That being said, the action is exceptional. The final climactic fight is intense, and one of my favourites from the entire series. It explores some interesting ideas, such as the attempt to ‘tame’ Velociraptors, which can be seen as a metaphor for humanity’s attempt to tame wild and dangerous creatures to use them for our own purposes. Pratt’s character exemplifies the need to respect nature, and recognize its danger.

For me, the highlight of the film was Howard. She was excellent as the Park’s Operations Manager, who is torn between her duty to her job and her need to save her nephews. She displays tremendous growth throughout the film, and I thought she was captivating to watch. I loved her performance. While, in spirit, I suppose she could be compared to John Hammond in Jurassic Park because of her job and her familial dilemma, but Howard does a magnificent job of creating her own character that genuinely could not be more different from Hammond.

I saw the film in IMAX, and I would recommend doing so if you can, because the sound quality and picture really add to the experience. There’s nothing like a giant dinosaur filling up the screen, and hearing the sound of a roaring T-Rex in IMAX quality surround sound. The 3D was less impressive, but that’s just a given, as few films nowadays are worth seeing in 3D.

Jurassic World is the blockbuster film of the summer, and one you should definitely be seeing in theatres.

Pitch Perfect 2

Movie Rating:
June 15th, 2015 No comments

Pitch Perfect 2, 2015, USA

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Pitch Perfect 2 has been a resounding success, thus far. In its opening week, it made more than the first film did during its entire run. Evidently people discovered the first film via word of mouth after it was released on DVD.

Like the first film, Pitch Perfect 2 focuses on the Barden Bellas. After Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) inadvertently flashes President Obama at his birthday celebration, they are suspended from competition. The only way to win back their dignity and their right to compete is to win the World Championship. The bad news: an American team has never won, and their competition is a talented and wildly intimidating German team. Beca (Anna Kendrick), the leader of the team, also finds herself distracted by an internship at a record label.

The film has much the same tone as the first one: the humour is similar, and it contains the same excellent musical arrangements. I enjoyed the overall theme of moving on and finding your own place in the world: many of the Bellas are struggling with the thought of graduating and having to start their careers. I also greatly enjoyed the addition of the German team, which led to some brilliant jokes, and some entertaining confrontations between them and the Bellas. Kendrick’s humour is especially on point during these scenes – and apparently she improvised more than half of her dialogue. I wouldn’t be surprised if these scenes were improvised, and they really speak to her comedic ability and timing.

Also excellent is Wilson, who steals the show once again. She’s amazing at awkward, uncomfortable humour and the opening scene is proof of that.

My only quibble with Pitch Perfect 2 is that it is a little bit overlong. It wears out its welcome just a tiny bit, and the climax of this film feels just a little too much like the climax of the first film. The journey and the main problem of both films is very similar, but that is to be expected, given the nature of this film. There are only so many stories one can tell about a capella singing.

Overall, director Elizabeth Banks has created a fantastic film and a wonderful directorial debut. I look forward to seeing more of her films.

Pitch Perfect

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
June 11th, 2015 No comments

Pitch Perfect, 2012, USA

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Beca (Anna Kendrick) is just starting school at Barden University, home of the Barden Bellas, an a cappella group. Beca’s dream is to move to Los Angeles to try to make it as a DJ, but her father insists that she join a school club and try out school for a year before he will pay for her to move out to LA. Reluctantly, she joins the Barden Bellas. The group is in disarray after leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) vomited on stage at their last competition. Aubrey and Chloe (Brittany Snow) end up picking an eclectic group of women, and they must learn to work together to beat their rivals, The Treblemakers.

Pitch Perfect is one of several female-driven comedies from the last few years. Its success (and its sequel’s current success) does my heart good, because we need to see more films, comedy or otherwise, led by women. The ensemble cast is excellent and has wonderful chemistry together. Rebel Wilson is a particular standout as “Fat Amy” – she is consistently hilarious. It’s no wonder her career has exploded since this film was released a few years back. Camp took a potentially unlikable character and gave her heart. She manages to make the audience sympathize with her, despite some of her unappealing personality traits and actions.

I have to give praise to the musical numbers, as well. They’re fun, creative and make good use of music from a variety of genres. I really enjoyed them. The plot itself is a little bit predictable, but the jokes and the musical numbers are the real highlights of the film.

At this rate, I’m probably the last person to have seen this film! Once the second film was released, I decided I was well overdue to watch it, and I’m glad I did. If, like me, you’re late to the party, Pitch Perfect is available on Netflix.

Community

Movie Rating:
June 6th, 2015 No comments

I remember when Community entered my life. I was vulnerable, and sad, stressed, and scared. It was a difficult period of my life and I think I needed the show more than ever at that time. I put it on, initially as more of a distraction than anything, but immediately fell in love with the characters and the show’s incredible humour. It’s a remarkably intelligent show, with amazing homages to some of the most popular (and obscure!) TV shows, movies, and tropes. And it’s easily the most self-aware show on television.

Last week, the 6th season finale aired. And, as fans know, the rallying cry of the series was “six seasons and a movie”. I can’t shake the feeling that the show is now done, as a series. The finale further showcases that sense, in an episode that made me weep buckets. I can’t help but feel a little sad that it’s likely over. When I needed it most, Community gave me a group of lovable misfits to watch. They’re highly relatable, and feel more like friends than characters. It gave me a Christmas special that perfectly captures my feelings during that time of year, the best Halloween special of all time, and paintball. So much paintball.

So, while I’m sad it may be over, I want to thank creator Dan Harmon, as well as the entire cast (everyone, throughout the series) for giving us this incredible show. And, I eagerly anticipate the inevitable movie. It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m so thankful for this show.

Penguins of Madagascar

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
June 1st, 2015 No comments

Penguins of Madagascar, 2014, USA

Penguins of Madagascar is a spinoff of the Madagascar films. Skipper (Tom McGrath), and his team of penguins, including Rico (Conrad Vernon), Kowalski (Chris Miller) and little Private (Christopher Knights) encounter Dave (John Malkovich), a bitter octopus who has sworn revenge on all penguins after they overtook him in popularity at the zoo. He’s created a “Medusa Serum” that he wants to use on the penguins of the world. The team meets the North Wind, a secret agency led by Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), who are hunting down Dave. Both teams must learn how to work together in order to bring down Dave before he has a chance to enact his plan.

Admittedly, I watched this film primarily because of Cumberbatch. I’ve only seen the first Madagascar film, so I didn’t have a lot of the prior story. I don’t think this really mattered, because this film is the story of the penguins. I never felt particularly lost in any way.

The strongest part of the film is the coming-of-age story. Private grows up and is finally seen as a full member of the team. This was definitely the emotional heart of the film, and I have to give kudos to Knights for his excellent vocal performance. Cumberbatch and Malkovich were also very good in their respective roles.

Other parts of the film worked less well. Dave was a formidable villain, but his plan was a little too ridiculous, even for a children’s film. Towards the very end, it falls apart a little bit. While one can’t expect realism in a film about talking animals, the climax of the film is just a little too out there for me, as well as the resolution (touching as it was). The film also struggled with direction. It’s part spy film, part coming-of-age story, part buddy comedy, and part revenge thriller, and it ends up being a little bit all over the place. This is especially true when you consider that the best moments are Private’s story, and this should have been the complete focus of the film. If this were the case, the emotional moments would have been far more potent than they actually were in the film.

All of that being said, it is a fun little film, and features some excellent animation. It’s truly magnificent what studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar are capable of doing with computer animation nowadays. The film looks great, and it was a lot of fun to watch. You can rent it on Apple TV.

Horrible Bosses 2

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
May 28th, 2015 No comments

Horrible Bosses 2, 2014, USA

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After being less than impressed with the first film, the only thing that led me to watch the sequel was Christoph Waltz, whom I adore. Unfortunately, he’s not in the film for any significant period of time, but the addition of Chris Pine greatly improves on the first film.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are in business for themselves with a brand new invention. They make a deal with Burt Hanson (Waltz) and his son Rex (Pine). When the two renege on the deal, they trio decide to kidnap Rex and hold him ransom in order to make the production costs back. Rex discovers the plan and increases the ransom amount in order to make some money for himself.

In many respects, this film is a retread of the first. The trio still can’t get along, and the jokes are similar in tone. But Pine is a hilarious addition, and he does some excellent things with his role. He has some pretty intense father issues, and he’s tremendously manipulative and controlling. He’s definitely the highlight of the film. Waltz was disappointingly underused. Why cast an actor of his caliber if you’re only going to put him in about three scenes? I was so looking forward to seeing his work in a comedy.

While many of the jokes were quite funny, I did have issues with some of the humour. It’s a common trend in comedies of this type to make jokes about male sexual assault. It’s really appalling, given that you would not be laughing at a joke about the sexual assault of a female. These jokes fell flat for me, and I wish they would have stayed away from that sort of humour altogether. That being said, this is most certainly not a highbrow comedy, and I’m not surprised these sort of jokes appeared, given that they were also in the first film.

Overall, I did like this film a little bit better than the first. I’m not sure if I was just more in the mood for lowbrow comedy when I watched it, or if the chemistry between Pine and the three lead actors was enough to improve on the formula of the franchise. The film was certainly best when Pine was in the mix, as I found the constant bickering between the three other characters to be incredibly irritating.

Horrible Bosses 2 is now available on Apple TV.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
May 25th, 2015 1 comment

Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, Australia/USA

Here’s a confession: I haven’t seen a single Mad Max film before seeing Mad Max: Fury Road. I had every intention of skipping it in theatres, but then I heard that it was a very feminist film, which intrigued me. I’m very glad I decided to see it.

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is a war rig driver for Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a twisted cult leader with 5 slave wives. She goes off-route, and it is revealed that she has escaped with his 5 wives. A desperate pursuit begins, and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a young, brainwashed War Boy, is eager to capture the wives to gain favour with Joe. He uses an imprisoned Max (Tom Hardy) as his ‘blood bank’ during the pursuit. But Max escapes and decides to help Furiosa and the women escape.

Mad Max: Fury Road is very much over-the-top and is incredibly bizarre and deranged. But it’s incredibly well shot, and the character design is like nothing I’ve seen before. Director George Miller has created an incredible action film with memorable characters, stunts, and an excellent score. There is fairly limited use of CGI for a movie of this type, so most of the stunts, and explosions were real.

Furiosa is genuinely one of the greatest characters I’ve ever seen in an action film. She’s powerful, and determined, yet painfully, heartbreakingly vulnerable. While Max’s name is in the title, Furiosa is the real star of the film and it is her story. Max is simply along for the ride. Theron was wonderful, and Hoult gives a career best performance as Nux. He’s near unrecognizable.

For a long time, the portrayal of women, particularly in action films, has been problematic. But, I think this film will go a long way towards improving the writing and inclusion of female characters in films of this type. She’s a fully fleshed-out character who isn’t relegated to the ‘token girlfriend’ role, and she’s the one who calls the shots. I cannot speak highly enough of this film for its portrayal not only of Furiosa, but the five women she is rescuing, and the other women featured in the film.

Even if you haven’t seen any of the Mad Max films, Mad Max: Fury Road is worth seeing. I know I missed some references to the previous films, as well as the details of the source of Max’s torment, but in the grand scheme of things, it was a very minor thing that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film.

Visiting Dachau

Movie Rating:
May 21st, 2015 No comments

While I was in Munich, I took a day trip to Dachau concentration camp, which was one of the longest running camps in Nazi Germany. Initially built for political prisoners, it eventually imprisoned Jewish, homosexual, Sinti/Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other people persecuted by the Nazis. Following the war, the camp was used to hold SS soldiers awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

This blog post will be picture-free, because I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take photos in such a place. There are many photos online if you wish to look them up to get a sense of what I’m talking about. During my trip, the weather was incredibly beautiful on all days…except this day. It felt suitable that there was pouring rain on a day that I visited such a sad place where terrible crimes were committed.

I decided to take a tour, because I figured a tour guide would be able to add to the experience, and I also didn’t really want to go alone, as I felt I would be very overwhelmed and sad. This was the right choice: my tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to paint a vivid and horrifying picture of life in the camps. He explained how dumb luck was often what you needed to stay alive – simply being in the right place at the right time. As we walked through the area where the barracks once stood, he said that many people died following their showers simply because the walk back to their barrack was too much for their bodies to bear.

My tour guide took the group around for about 90 minutes before he gave us an hour of time to wander on our own. Until this point I’d managed to remain composed, though overwhelmed. I wandered through the crematorium and the gas chamber, where I encountered a group of German school children – they were about 15-years-old. All German children have to visit a concentration camp as part of their education, and today happened to be that trip for these young people. As I stood there reading the information on the wall, two of the students near me began sobbing and it became too much for me, so I left and walked around the building and burst into tears myself.

There are no words to describe being in the camp. As soon as you enter, everything becomes heavy, and it feels very sad. There’s a sort of emptiness and an unsettling quiet to the area, as if the world knows that terrible things happened here. I highly recommend you visit a camp if you get a chance to do so, because as citizens of the world, I think we have a responsibility to learn about history. Dachau is a stark reminder of the crimes of a terrible regime. I’ve spent years studying World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, but visiting this place made it more real than books or photographs ever could.

One important note is that there are tended grave sites behind the crematorium/gas chamber. These spots mark where the ashes of the murdered were discarded, as well as the execution site. It was very moving visiting these spots, so be sure to do so if you visit. They’re a bit out of the way and hidden, but worth the slight effort it takes to find them.

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