Category Archives: 3.5 Star
Darkest Hour tells the story of how Winston Churchill came to be British Prime Minister at the height of WWII. I found the story quite fascinating as it’s not one that I had ever heard. I don’t think that British politics and British history were really taught in Canadian high schools, so it was interesting to learn of Churchill’s path to the Prime Minister’s office.
Darkest Hour was up for several Oscars, winning for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling and Gary Oldman took home the Lead Actor award, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design and Production design. Oldman certainly delivered an excellent performance, while heavily made-up to look hauntingly like Churchill. That Makeup and Hairstyling award was very well earned, but sometimes I’m torn when someone wins an award for playing the part of a real person, especially a famous historical figure. When the audience is familiar with the person there is an expectation of what the performance should bring. We know what Churchill is supposed to look like, how he should walk and how he should talk. Is there much room for interpretation by the artist? We would cry foul if Churchill all of a sudden spoke with a French accent or only spoke in rhyme or something else completely and ridiculously “non-Churchill”. When playing a figure like that, does the artist just have to follow the template? Oldman’s Churchill was believable to me, and he brought great emotion to the role, and I suppose that’s what any award is recognizing in a way.
The rest of the cast was very good as well, though I didn’t really know the significance or the true roles played by some of the political figures. I don’t know if Lily James’ secretary character was real, a combination of several real people who surrounded Churchill, or completely fabricated for the film, but I felt she gave an excellent performance as well. Overall the film was good, and I enjoyed the story. It was obviously quite serious but it managed to mix in some humour, and at the end some fairly emotional and heartfelt scenes. The pace was a little slow, which is kind of to be expected with the dry subject matter it was covering, but the end result was worth the wait.
Bottom Line: Spoiler alert: WWII? We win.
It’s January, and I’m behind in my reviews again! Alright, the next few days I’m going to try and catch up, but they’re going to be short, probably not sweet.
The Dark Tower is based on the series of books by Stephen King, which I have never read. After seeing the movie however, I’m interested now. When the film originally went to theatres, I had heard comments that people who had read the books wouldn’t (or didn’t) like the movie, but that people who hadn’t read them would probably like the movie. I fall into that segment. I enjoyed The Dark Tower. I watched the film at home, on Blu Ray which benefits me the bonus features. In one interview segment, King says that this movie starts the story essentially in the middle of the book series. It was done so intentionally because the filmmakers didn’t want to have it so the audience who hadn’t read the books would feel as though they were “behind” the audiences who had read the books. They say that they started in middle of series and let things grow from there. It worked for me, but as I said I haven’t read the books.
Idris Elba plays Roland, the last Gunslinger, who has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter aka the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). The Mna in Black is trying to destroy the Dark Tower, which holds the universe (and I guess some sort of multiverse) together. Walter has agents working on earth (and presumably other dimensions or planets) to find people who show signs of powers and to kidnap them, and use their abilities to destroy the tower. Most of the people are children, and it does kill them… (I think, I can’t remember, it’s been a few months since I watched it, but it seems to make sense.) Roland meets Jake (Tom Taylor), an earth boy who Walter was trying to capture because he has an exceptionally strong set of psychic powers (or “shine”), and the two set off to stop Walter, jumping back and forth from Earth to the Dark Tower dimension…
Okay, it was a pretty decent action film with some sci-fi thrown on top. I liked the performances of both Elba and McConaughey and thought the story flowed pretty well. There was humour, great stunts and effects, and the underlying story of good versus evil worked well within this framework. I’d say it’s worth watching if you’re a fan of either of the leads, or an open minded fan of the source material.
Bottom Line: There were lots of references to other Stephen King works, including It, with a rusting carnival ride labelled Pennywise.
Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) is a former CIA interrogator who now works in a London community monitoring potential threats liaisoning between the CIA and MI6. When a potential terrorist cell and plot are uncovered, she is brought in to interrogate a suspect when the original interrogator dies of a heart attack. Something doesn’t seem right though as she and the suspect are attacked by the agents who brought them both in. Double crossed by her own people, she contacts her former CIA handler (Michael Douglas) and her MI6 contact (Toni Collette) to sort out the situation. She escapes and goes off on her own, making it to a safe house where she encounters a former SAS operative (Orlando Bloom) who has turned to burglary. On the run, Alice reluctantly teams up with him to try and find out who set her up and why before a deadly bio-attack is unleashed.
Unlocked was a rather clever thriller, and even though a few things about it were easy (for me) to guess, it did surprise me with other plot points and did keep me guessing at things. I didn’t really know who was good and who was a traitor, well I knew who one traitor and one good guy were. I really didn’t know anything about this film going in, which is sometimes for the best as you have no expectations to either fail to meet or surpass. I was sold basically by the cast. While it has big names like Douglas, Malkovich, Collette and Bloom, they don’t really have large roles, the film really is all Rapace. As I really enjoy her, that’s why I decided to watch it. Her Alice was a very well defined, well developed character and Noomi Rapace delivered a very good performance. The fights, the chases, and the action scenes were all well done, and made for a very enjoyable, very watchable spy/action/thriller with multiple twists.
Bottom Line: There was a scene in an elevator that was very good, and something I hadn’t seen before or expected!
Mune, was a French cartoon that I had never heard of, but took a chance on and really enjoyed. It was a wonderful story that was steeped in mythology, beautifully rendered and humourous. What more could I ask for in an animated feature?
It’s time for the old guardians of the Sun and Moon to retire and have their proteges replace them. Sohone (Rob Lowe) is good looking, strong, cocky and celebrity-esque, he will replace Xolal (Michael Dobson), the ancient Guardian of the Sun. Leeyoon (Christian Slater) is the prim and proper apprentice to Yule (Paul Dobson) the wizened Guardian of the Moon. During the ceremony to formally select and announce the new guardians Sohone is chosen by a ray of sunlight as expected, but the lunar ewe responsible for selecting the Guardian of the Moon instead bypasses Leeyoon and chooses Mune (Joshua J. Ballard) a young faun. Irate over the disrespect, Leeyoon storms off in anger, and is visited by pale snakes who corrupt him and stir up his jealousy and hubris, getting him to pit Sohone against Mune. The snakes were sent by Necross (Davey Grant) the lord of evil in the world who wants chaos so he can steal and destroy the Sun. With Sohone distracted by the actions of an unprepared Mune, Necross sends his imps Mox (Patton Oswalt) and Spleen (Ed Helms) to steal the Sun, plunging the planet into eternal night. With Mune banished by his own people, Leeyoon takes his place as Moon Guardian and causes the Moon to crumble and break. Now it’s up to Mune and Sohone to try and work together and recover the sun and find a way to restore the Moon. Naturally they don’t get along but when Glim (Nicole Provost) a young candle girl, joins them and sets them on the right path the trio set out to save the world. Eventually they enter the underground and meet Phospho (Jeff Dunham), a former Moon Guardian himself, who has been living on the outskirts of the underworld hiding from his own past cowardice and failure. Phosphoro helps them on their way, leading them to Necross where they realize he was under the influence of the pale snakes too and had been corrupted by envy. Glim manages to find the rapidly diminishing Sun, but when she reignites it, she melts. The sun and moon are returned to the sky by their Guardians and the world returns to normal, and Mune revives and re-sculpts Glim, and the pair set out on the temple of the Moon to travel around the world, as Sohone travels on his temple ahead of them.
As I said, the film was beautifully animated. The CGI was great, but they switched gears when they entered the dream world section of the film and reverted to a hand drawn, flowing, watercolour style of animation. I loved the concepts and the originality, the candle people like Glim were incredible! Being made of wax, if she got too cold she would stiffen up, when it was too hot she could melt, leaving her really only able to move freely in the evening or dawn times, only carefully in the shadows during the daytime and virtually not at all in the night. Ironic that she and the Moon Guardian fall in love… The idea that the Sun and Moon are tethered to these gigantic beasts, who slowly march around the world acting as the temples was fantastic and in all likelihood pulled from some mythology was also incredible. I loved the world this film created.
Bottom Line: Mune may be well under the radar, but is definitely worth checking out especially if you are a fan of animation.
Even though I haven’t read any of the books, I decided to give Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie a spin, and I’m glad that I did. It was funny, well animated, well voiced and a good, silly little movie.
Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice George and Harold, two young friends who like to hang out together and draw and write their own comic books. They have also been a thorn in the side of their principal Mr. Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms) for years, constantly pulling pranks and upsetting the order he demands in his school. One day, when they’re caught and Krupp has absolute proof of their guilt, threatening to place them in separate classrooms, thus destroying their friendship the pair have to act fast. With a cereal box prize hypno-ring, they hypnotize their principal into thinking he is the greatest superhero ever: Captain Underpants (a hero of the boys’ own creation). Of course this new hero has no powers, he’s just a bald, overweight middle-aged man stripped down to his tighty-whities…and wearing his office curtain as a cape. Tra-la-laaa! Through a fluke of circumstance, mean Mr. Krupp fired a teacher and Captain Underpants’ secret identity or Mr. Krupp hires a crazed evil scientist (that wants to eradicate laughter worldwide) to replace him. It’s up to Captain Underpants and his sidekicks George and Harold to save the day from Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll).
Okay, the humour was pretty juvenile, but so is the target audience. There were a lot of good laughs, and a lot of potty humour laughs, but there was also a lot of intelligent humour hidden amongst the other jokes too, making Captain Underpants a lot of fun. Kevin Hart really has a great voice for animation, and the rest of the casting was equally impressive. Given the title, I assume they’re setting up for more films in the series which wouldn’t be a bad thing, and the way the film ended certainly invites a sequel. The whole creation of Krupp/Captain Underpants is pretty clever, (and the movie addresses this) for Mr. Krupp to become Captain Underpants under hypnosis, he must know who Captain Underpants is, so that means he’s read the comic books the boys had written. There are billion dollar super hero franchise films that don’t catch little plot points like that.
I have no idea how faithful to the books the film was, but from what I gathered it was a combination of aspects from several stories, still I think that Captain Underpants fans would be happy with the film.
Bottom Line: They’re kids books, but I’ll probably read the first one….
How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to tell us our life is not our life. It is just a story we’ve told about our lives. A story about our lives told to others, but mainly to ourselves.
One of the closing lines of the film sums the story up so well. Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a man who has retired to run a small camera repair shop in order to keep himself busy. He’s divorced, but on good and friendly terms with his ex-wife Mararet (Harriet Walter). Their daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) is pregnant and close to giving birth. One day he receives a letter from a solicitor telling him he is owed an inheritance from the mother (Emily Mortimer) of an old girlfriend Veronica (played by both Charlotte Rampling in the present day and Freya Mavor as the young Veronica). Tony tells us a story about his first love (mainly by relaying it to his last love), how they met, and how they broke up. About meeting her family, and about meeting his best friends in school. About how his friend Adrian fell in love with Veronica and about how he committed suicide. Veronica’s mother Sarah, has left Tony Adrian’s diary in her will. How did it come to be in her possession? Why did she leave it to Tony? Why is Veronica preventing him from getting it? As Tony recalls the past, and reacquaints himself with Veronica and other old school friends, the blanks are filled in, and things are not how he had remembered it, and his distorted view of history takes its true shape once evidence of the past is revealed.
This was an interesting look at how we remember the events of our own lives. We often “mis-remember” things, or embellish or omit details, especially when dealing with sensitive or painful memories. When I tell the stories, I’m pretty sure everything was my ex-wife’s fault, but if I think back and concentrate really hard, I probably can remember doing one or two things wrong too… That’s kind of what happens with The Sense of an Ending, Tony remembers a version of events that paint himself in a better light, not that it has really harmed anyone to this point, it has just been the version of history he’s been living with, and that allows him to sleep soundly at night. As we learn the whole truth (and what we assume is the actual truth) from the film, we see that there are things that went on that he didn’t even know about, but we don’t see Tony as being an evil person, who has lied his way through life. With his eyes opened, it actually becomes a coming of age story for this sixty year old man who learns how to deal with his past, and he tries to better himself in his own future.
The story was very well written, and was based on the book of the same title by Julian Barnes. It was a compact tale, but I can see how some viewers could find it a little hard to follow with the flashbacks, memories and mis-remembered memories. Jim Broadbent is tremendous as Tony and quietly delivers a powerful yet subtle performance. His Tony is a bit of a curmudgeon, but still likeable and relatable. I also really liked Freya Mavor (The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun) as the young Veronica, I just wish she was on screen a bit more. Charlotte Rampling was also excellent as the rather aloof, and somewhat nasty older Veronica. Director Ritesh Batra previously directed The Lunchbox, which I also quite enjoyed.
Quite enjoyable, and surprisingly not that heavy handed even though I guess the takeaway from the film is that we should all take an honest look back at our own lives.
Bottom Line: Hey, I’m finally caught up on my reviews!
Antonio Banderas plays Eddie, a retired army captain who has been out of work for two years since being discharged. He probably suffers from PTSD and hasn’t seen his wife and young daughter in a year either, but he finally lands a job as night security in a mall. The mall is set between two towns with high crime rates. Drugs run the towns, so the drug users regularly try to break into the mall to steal anything they can sell to feed their addictions. Eleven year old Jamie (Katherine de la Rocha) is a key witness in an upcoming trial who escapes to the mall when the US Marshall convoy bringing her to the trial is ambushed by a small army of criminals led by Ben Kingsley. The small five person security detail now have to fight off the heavily armed criminals and assassins until help can arrive, help they aren’t even sure is on the way.
This wasn’t the best movie, but I did enjoy it, even though it drew on a lot of tropes and wasn’t overly original. You had the retired military guy who has to take charge and lead the untrained troops, you had the mysterious bad guy, the super strong bad guy, the quirky and diverse group of good guys, and of course the protect a child trope. The action was pretty good and the fights, while not always believable, were action packed. It brings to live the fantasy of fighting off bad guys in a mall using anything you could find as a weapon. The defenders have a few mall issued tasers, some archery equipment from the lousy sporting goods section of a department store, they mount a webcam on a remote controlled car and basically try to become lethal MacGyvers. Banderas does a believable job taking charge of the situation and leading the security guards, and Ben Kingsley plays a fantastic and understated bad guy.
My only complaint really was the ending, and it’s not so much a complaint as something I wish they’d done, something I think could have made the movie better. Naturally the good guys come out on top, though not unscathed. At the end of the film the FBI (or the US Marshalls, I can’t remember) arrive with paramedics and take care of the bad guys and the injured. We see Eddie next in the hospital talking with Jamie about the trial and where she’ll go afterwards, then we see Eddie meeting back up with his own wife and daughter. All pretty predictable. I just wish they ended it like the old Dirty Harry movies, when Eddie is sitting at the edge of the ambulance, the cops are all there and everything is wrapped up, pull the camera back, get a big wide shot of the mall parking lot full of law enforcement and then fade to black. Leave the family resolution stuff to the imagination. Ah well, I’m not the director.
Bottom Line: Guilty pleasure admission, I really like the new rebooted MacGyver.
China meets India in the latest action/comedy/adventure film from Jackie Chan. I enjoyed Kung Fu Yoga a lot more than I did the last Chan film I watched, Railroad Tigers. This time out, Jackie is a famous Chinese archaeologist (call him Jack) who has been contracted by a university in India to discover the resting place of an ancient treasure that was lost after a battle where a Chinese general and his army assisted the true rulers of India in an war against a hostile Indian general. The treasure is naturally being sought after by two sides; the bad guy is Randall (Sonu Sood) whose character is a descendant of the bad guy from the battle thousands of years ago, the good guys are Jack, two of his TAs, Nuomin (Miya Muqi) and Xiaoguang (Yixing Zhang), a treasure hunter/tomb raider named Jones (Aarif Rahman) and the beautiful Indian archaeology professor Ashmita (Disha Patani) and her assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur). They travel from the ice caves of Tibet to the streets of Dubai to a mountain temple in India in search of even greater treasures. Randall seeks the treasure to claim power for himself, Ashmita seeks it to give to the Indian people, and Jack seeks it for its archaeological importance.
Jackie Chan’s films are interesting to say the least. There are are several different types now, in the past he did the classic kung fu, hardcore action films (New Fists of Fury, Police Story) , then he moved on and started doing family friendly action films and action comedies (Rumble in the Bronx, Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon) and recently he has done historical dramas (1911, Dragon Blade, Railroad Tigers) this was definitely in the realm of the family friendly action films, but not quite an action comedy. Sure, the CGI lion in the back seat of the car he steals for a car chase was pretty funny, and there was a lot of comic relief in the film, but there was more action to it. The hunt for the treasure leads to a big fight scene in the ice cave, and the discovery of the the first treasure. There was some double crossing as Jones steals the treasure to sell it to the highest bidder, leading to a big chase scene. The car chases were full of exotic cars and exotic scenery… and the CGI lion of course. Randall kidnaps Kyra and Nuomin, holding them hostage for the treasure, which leads to them being rescued by a reformed Jones and Xiaoguang, but the bad guys get the upper hand again and have Jack and Ashmita (who is not really a professor, but the heiress of the ruling Indian army who had the treasure originally) lead them to an even bigger treasure which leads to an even bigger fight and showdown at a golden temple. When the treasure promised by ancient prophecy turns out to be scrolls of scientific knowledge, the bad guys accept it and everyone dances! Bollywood style!
Now, I haven’t seen a lot of Bollywood movies, but do they all just end with people resolving the conflict and dancing? I guess if they do, writing the ending is a bit easier, but it seemed rather sudden. I thought quite a few things in this movie happened a bit to quickly as well. The team discovered the whereabouts of the ice cave on their first attempt, the bad guys hideout was easy to find, solving the puzzles to get to the right temple was pretty quick and easy, and then the final resolution that led to the dancing happened pretty quickly as I said. The film was clearly pulling a lot of things from the Indiana Jones stories, but even Indy didn’t get it right the first time, every time.
Chan himself was enjoyable, and while he was involved in most of the action he was involved in fewer of the fight scenes. He makes these films fun though, and that’s what I’m watching for. The rest of the cast weren’t as capable as Jackie, especially the Indian actresses. They were fine in the action scenes, but their acting wasn’t the best. The villain of the piece was rather one dimensional, but he did deliver a better performance, even though the script didn’t give him a lot to work with. And for a film titled Kung Fu Yoga there wasn’t a whole lot of yoga, even with Muqi Miya who is known as China’s most famous yoga instructor; she did deliver a good performance though. The script still was the weakest thing in the film, but I could get by that for the most part to simply enjoy it.
Bottom Line: I saw a trailer recently for The Foreigner with Jackie Chan, and it looks really good!
Based on the book by Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus follows disgraced poet Ted Wallace (Roger Allam) who is commissioned by his goddaughter Jane (Emily Berrington) to investigate a series of unexplained miracle healings that have supposedly occurred at Swafford Hall. Jane has terminal leukemia but appears to be cured after a visit to the house. Swafford is the country mansion of Wallace’s old friend Lord Michael Logan (Matthew Modine). Wallace and Michael had a falling out some years ago, but he’s still part of the family, so he is given pretty much free range over the grounds where he meets with Michael’s wife Anne (Fiona Shaw) who apparently was cured of asthma. The family is rounded out by the Logan’s teenage son David (Tommy Knight) and his older, more rational brother Simon (Dean Ridge). David who is Ted’s godson, also wants to be a poet. he house had always entertained various guests, but now they seem to be coming not for the English countryside but for the miracles. The guests who know how the miracles are performed, include a rich woman (Lyne Renee) brings her awkward teenage daughter (Emma Curtis) to be “cured”, and flamboyant theatre director Oliver Mills (Tim McInnerny) seeks a miracle for his heart condition. Ted may be a drunk, and a lousy sleuth, but he has a fine nose for people, and something at the mansion smells rotten. He soon discovers that everyone believes David has the “healing touch” and is responsible for the miracles. It first manifested years ago when he saved his mother from a near fatal asthma attack with just a touch to her chest, now he continues to heal not only with his touch, but with his divine essence, a more powerful, more concentrated application of his healing powers.
The Hippopotamus was an extremely British film; dry wit, snappy dialogue, and the absurd magnified by a stiff upper lip. Very enjoyable, but if you’re not a fan of British humour, you likely won’t enjoy it. I laughed quite a bit throughout the story. The performances were good, and I really think that Roger Allam fit the role perfectly. Even though the film was set in the modern times, it still felt like an Edwardian mystery at times and that kind of lured me in.
Bottom Line: It seems that David naively did believe in his own healing powers, but he could have just been a horny teenager knowingly seducing everyone with the lure of his “magic” semen.
Howard Hughes is one of the most interesting people in American history. Aviator, inventor, filmmaker, and possibly insane, Rules Don’t Apply opens with a packed newsroom awaiting a phone call from Hughes (Warren Beatty) who has holed up in an Mexican hotel room, to debunk a tell-all book about him, and prove to the world that he is still alive, and that he is not crazy. The film then jumps back in time and tells us the story of hired driver Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), and one of Hughes’ contract actresses, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins). Hughes of course has a strict no dating policy between his drivers and his contract actresses, but naturally sparks fly between the two, but ambitions on both sides get in the way.
She wants to be an actress, he wants to invest and develop land with Hughes. Both want to meet their reclusive boss, and when he does arrive on the scene and each does get to meet him, things get a little crazier and a lot more complicated. Beatty’s Hughes is a character I’d love to meet. He was a bit nuts, but often times he was still the smartest man in the room.
The film was enjoyable, both as a look at a bygone Hollywood age, and as a fictional biopic of Howard Hughes. Warren Beatty really stood out in the film, which is not surprising as he was screenwriter, director and star. That aside, his performance really was excellent. He walked a fine line between sanity and insanity, between genius and insanity. The film almost felt like Sunset Boulevard with Howard Hughes instead of Norma Desmond. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) had great chemistry with everybody, and I really enjoyed her singing too. The film really brought together a great cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen and Oliver Platt among others.
At times I do think that the film lost it’s course a bit and couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a comedy or a dramatic tragedy, but overall the story was light and it was enjoyable. The pieces they chose to show of Hughes’ life were interesting and they even managed to throw a few twists in that I did not see coming.
Bottom Line: I thought I should watch The Aviator to get some more Howard Hughes, but I decided to watch The Rocketeer instead. I love The Rocketeer!