Category Archives: 3.5 Star
Just a quick timeframe update, I’m now only 8 movies behind in my reviews, and am finally reviewing things I watched over the Victoria Day long weekend! Why is this significant? The films I’m talking about are still fairly fresh in my mind and I’m only a month behind! Alright, for some reason I got on a little foreign film kick which was quite enjoyable. I’d seen the trailer for The Last King on several of the movies I rented and was quite intrigued.
In the year 1206 the throne of Norway is in turmoil. King Håkon is murdered by the queen who is in league with Gisle (Pål Sverre Hagen) who clearly wants the throne for himself, but is also in league with the church, who wish to convert the country to Christianity. In order to seize power he dispatches a team of Baglers to kill the King’s illegitimate infant son, Håkon Håkonsson who is being guarded in secrecy by two members of the Birkebeiner. The Baglers (or Bagli Party) was a faction during the Norwegian Civil Wars made up principally of the Norwegian aristocracy, clergy and merchants. The Birkebeiner were another key group and at this time supported the King. Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV, who ended the civil wars in 1240 and forever changed Northern Europe’s history through his reign.
Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro) and Torstein (Kristofer Hivju) race through the snow, the mountains and the forests to get the baby to the seat of the Norwegian throne as they’re hunted by the Baglers, stopping briefly at farms and homes that are loyal to them. Along the way, we see Gisle jail his own brother Inge (Thorbjørn Harr), accusing him of conspiring for the throne and killing the King, and to cement his own path he conspires to marry Princess Kristin (Thea Sofie Loch Næss). The political scheming and intrigue are probably not much different from what they are now nearly 800 years later, just that they skied a lot more back then…
The camera work was excellent, and director Nils Gaup finely balanced the action and the drama of the moment with light humour. The action was great, and the scenery was beautiful. The fights were well choreographed, and the ski chases were very exciting, all making for a very enjoyable medieval action movie. What makes this even more impressive is that it is actually based on a true story. I’m certain the story was embellished for the screen, and what we saw was not 100% historically accurate, but I still enjoyed it.
Bottom Line: There sure were a lot of actors from In Order of Disappearance in The Last King…
After working long, early days for little pay at a fruit cart in Los Angeles (I think, I can’t remember), Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is robbed one day and has decided she needs to make a change in her life. She is also frustrated with her night job at a local gym. One day she sees a help wanted sign in the window of a sushi restaurant on her way home, and decides to apply. Having worked in restaurants before, but unfamiliar with sushi, she still feels she’s up to the challenge. Starting in the kitchen working prep and cleanup, Juana soon becomes intrigued by the culinary concept, and begins to experiment at home, recreating the restaurant’s menu with limited success for her Mexican-American family. Eventually Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), one of the sushi chefs takes her under his wing, and helps instruct her, which pays off one busy night. Making dishes in the back room for the front house chefs, Juana yearns for more, but the restaurant’s traditionally minded owner Mr. Yoshida (Roji Oyama) doesn’t think that women should be sushi chefs, especially if they aren’t Japanese. In a feel good story, Juana learns and adapts to the ways of sushi as she struggles to overcome both the racism and the sexism of the restaurant industry. When she enters an online sushi cooking competition, will she have proven herself enough to realize her newfound dream of becoming an actual sushi chef?
There is something about food movies that seems to draw me in, even though I’m not particularly competent in the kitchen myself. I’ve never had sushi before either, but I do like Mexican food, so the premise of a Mexican woman making sushi but blending the foods and flavours of her own culture into the dishes made East Side Sushi look interesting enough to me. The story unfolded as predicted, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This wasn’t a suspense thriller and wasn’t going to have surprises around every corner. It was a feel good story that was meant to entertain, enlighten and maybe teach a little. I enjoyed the performances as well as the story and how it was told, and I’ll also admit I was pretty hungry after watching.
The film hits all the usual notes and reminds us to take chances, get out of your comfort zone and to believe in yourself. All in all, a solid little indie film that was worth watching.
Bottom Line: I still haven’t tried sushi, but I did go to a great Mexican place here in town last week.
On the evening that Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) accepts a citizenship award, his son is murdered after becoming involved with a vegan gangster called “the Count” (Pål Sverre Hagen). Nils had dutifully plowed the roads of his small town after immigrating to Norway from Sweden, but now finds himself plowing through an escalating gang war as he seeks revenge for his son’s death by killing his way to the top of the criminal mountain.
Nils’ wife leaves him as she struggles with the depression brought on by the death of their son. Alone, Nils beats up and shoots low level gang members as he tries to discover who was behind his son’s death, eventually turning to his brother (Peter Andersson), a former gangster himself who points him in the direction of the Count. The Count doesn’t have it easy either though, he sees his operatives being killed and assumes it’s a turf war with a Serbian gangster named Papa (Bruno Ganz), with whom he had previously had agreed to split the town’s drug trade 50/50 to avoid violence. He’s also fighting with his ex-wife over visitation times and the raising their son. As the Serbians move into town to fight the Count, the bodies start piling up, and the Count’s son is about to be kidnapped by the Serbians and held hostage for the final reckoning in the film’s climax. Of course the boy is kidnapped by Nils before the Serbians could get him, but there is still a final reckoning. Remember that Nils is a grief-stricken father, so he actually takes care of the boy, keeping him safe and shielding him from the violence of his father’s world. This was a very well done film on so many levels. There was action, there was suspense, there was drama and even heart. There was also a lot of extremely black and extraordinarily dry humour. Each time a character is killed, there was an “in memoriam” style card on screen, with a logo to represent their allegiance in the story, which was a nice touch I thought.
Nils was actually a very relatable character for someone taking out gangland style justice, which speaks to the skill of Stellan Skarsgård. He expertly balances Nils’ violent side and at the same time his vulnerable side. The character has probably never been in a fight but is going up against seasoned killers and criminals. The film does a great job showing how easily an average person can turn into a systematic and determined revenge-seeker. Aside from Skarsgård, there were quite a few other recognizable actors. Pål Sverre Hagen was quite humorous as the Count but he also played Thor Heyerdahl in Kon-Tiki and was in The Last King (which I’ve recently watched and will review soon) which starred Kristofer Hivju as Torstein and Jakob Oftebro as Skjervald who were also both in this film. Peter Andersson played Nils’ brother Egil was Nils Bjurman in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, and German actor Bruno Ganz has been in lots of things (Remember, Night Train to Lisbon, Unknown, The Reader, Downfall, Manchurian Candidate to name a few…). The scenery and setting were wonderful, I really rather enjoyed this one. If you are in the mood for a foreign language crime drama with quite a bit of a dark humour, give this one a try.
Bottom Line: We know this in Canada, but In Order of Disappearance reminds the rest of the world that you don’t mess with the snowplow guy….though Nils was less likely to block your driveway than he was to plow your car over a cliff…
Never go back? Well, if we didn’t go back we wouldn’t get sequels to movies that we enjoyed, though sometimes the follow-up does diminish the original. I don’t think that was exactly the case with Jack Reacher Never Go Back (or Jack Reacher 2 if you prefer), but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first film. That being said, I still believe that Jack Reacher can be a successful action franchise and still put out a few more good films.
Jack Reacher has been on the road, travelling here and there, righting wrongs, bringing criminals to justice and quietly assisting the army. He’s stricken up a friendship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has his former job. Communicating by phone, it seems they will finally meet up in person and have that dinner they’ve discussed but Major Turner is arrested on treason charges. Reacher thinks the charges are just to keep her out of the way and prevent her from solving the mystery of two soldiers murdered in Afghanistan; soldiers she sent on an investigation; soldiers who were getting too close to the truth; soldiers she still feels responsible for. Reacher finds the file on Turner, and inside it is a file on him as well, a file that suggests he has a teenage daughter (Danika Yarosh) he never knew about. Naturally the girl is threatened so Reacher has to bring her along with himself and Major Turner as they cross the United States tracking down clues and beating up bad guys as they get to the bottom of the frame-up.
I liked it, but felt it was turning into a family road trip movie rather than a spy/action thriller. I signed up for a spy/action thriller. Fortunately there was enough action to carry it, and it was shared pretty well between Cruise and Smulders. Cruise as Reacher did have more action scenes, and more important ones, but Smulders’ Major Turner was quite capable on her own (Smulders herself was Deputy Director of SHIELD Maria Hill if you remember). That was great, but I thought that the addition of their teenage travelling companion really slowed the movie down though. Danika Yarosh did a good job, but the character herself didn’t seem to fit. If the premise is that Reacher thinks the bad guys will harm her to get to him, and that Reacher is the best at what he does, does it make good strategic sense to bring her along with you? Maybe once they’re “safe” call someone to pick her up, or send her off to be watched by someone he trusts? The lawyer played by Rosamund Pike in the first one perhaps? His old sniper friend (Robert Duvall) from the first movie? Wait, he might have died in that one, it’s been a few years and I can’t remember. Regardless, Reacher has contacts out there that he could call upon to keep the girl safe, which might have allowed for more action, more suspense and the the story to unfold a little better. Who knows.
I think since we’ve had films like The Transporter and John Wick where the action has been amped up so much that action movies are continually trying to outdo themselves which is getting harder and harder. Jack Reacher Never Go Back did a very good job with the fights, but I think the original was actually more “action packed”. I liked the story, and was a little surprised by one of the reveals of the plot. Not a bad film, but it played the “family” card a bit too heavily I thought.
Bottom Line: I liked Reacher a lot more when he drove a Chevelle SS…this one needed more car chases.
I’m not normally a fan of “disaster” films, but for some reason The Wave struck me as something worth watching. A town on a lake, by a mountain in Norway sits ten minutes from disaster at any given moment. The mountain is unstable, and there have been landslides before, the rock tumbling into the lake below which causes a wave that floods the town. Around the turn of the century it happened and a tsunami wiped out the town. The scientists know it will happen again.
Krisitan (Kristoffer Joner) is a geologist who has just taken a new job in another city and is preparing to move with his family (wife Idun played by Ane Dahl Torp and his children Sondre and Julia played by Jonas Hoff Oftebro and Edith Haagenrud-Sande) to somewhere inland and leave his friends who work at the station that monitors the mountain. On his last day, after the cake has been eaten, and his desk cleared out, Kristian and the team notice an abnormal reading. The team pass it off as being within safety limits, but promise the concerned Kristian they will continue to monitor it. Naturally this wouldn’t be much of a movie if the main characters all move out of town safely…. In a bit of a cliche, Kristian does worry about the data and returns to the station even though his job is done. Disaster does strike, the readings get worse, and the mountain is in motion. With his wife working her last shift at a hotel with their son in tow, and Kristian and their young daughter saying goodbye with one final sleep in their old house, the race is on as the alarm sounds and the entire town has ten minutes to get to higher ground and escape the imminent wave.
I think I enjoyed this Norwegian disaster-thriller because everything seemed plausible. The characters were smart but not supermen. Kristian was a very intelligent geologist who used his training and knowledge to detect and diagnose the shift in the mountain, but he didn’t (and couldn’t) do anything to stop it. Idun was a strong and intelligent woman, who kept her head and evacuated her hotel guests but got trapped saving her son. These really seemed like real people doing what they were supposed to do in the event of this disaster that hey knew loomed above them. They didn’t find a way to save the town, they didn’t save everybody, they didn’t escape without a scratch. The town was devastated, lots of people died (including characters that were developed so we would have an emotional attachment to them), and lots of people were injured. The disaster itself wasn’t caused by anything overly exaggerated like Godzilla, or an asteroid, or explosions, or mining, or any other sort of “man shouldn’t be doing this” situation, this was just caused by nature.
The film does a good job showing us what sort of people choose to live and visit this town that is known to be in a “danger zone”, and they are really just regular people, not thrill seekers or anything like that, but regular everyday people, living their lives but also living in a heightened state of alert. The Wave also does an excellent job building the suspense before the climactic disaster occurs. The movie really focuses on the characters and their development rather than dazzling action scenes which makes the whole thing work. The cinematography and the effects were very good, as was the score. Director Roar Uthaug did an excellent job making us care about the family, and masterfully broke the story down to three acts: calm before the storm, the wave, and the results. I really enjoyed the cast, and it was nice to see that the family involved were just a normal family, not downtrodden or divorcing or angry, just normal. They didn’t need a gimmick attached to them so the audience would care about them. Kristoffer Joner was excellent as the likeable guy at work, and as a dedicated family man. Ane Dahl Torp equalled him as his hardworking wife. I really did enjoy her, and I knew she looked familiar. I had to look it up, but Dahl Torp was in Dead Snow, the 2009 Nazi-Zombie flick!
Bottom Line: This could almost be an anti-Hollywood disaster film. Much better than the effect filled spot-fests we’ve been fed before.
Disney did it again, and Zootopia took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. Sure the animation was flawless, the characters were good, as was the story, but when I watch cartoons, I want to laugh, and I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I should have for a Disney cartoon.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny, who has wanted to become a police officer since she was a child. But bunnies are small, weak and timid, so there has never been a bunny police officer in Zootoipa, the land where animals all live together in harmony. Yes, in Zootoipa prey animals like sheep or bunnies no longer have to fear the predatory animals like jaguars or foxes. Judy fights against prejudice and works hard to become the first bunny officer of the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), but a case of missing animals comes up that she must solve within 24 hours or else she must quit the force. To solve the case she turns to a street hustler fox (Jason Bateman) for help, and the two set off reluctantly together discover how and why several predator animals have apparently gone savage. Their search leads them through all the habitats of Zootopia and brings them deeper into a web of crime and corruption than they ever expected…
The film naturally has a message as it deals with prejudice and also explores the role of implicit bias in policing, which is good, but I think might have been a bit heavy for the expected target audience. It may be something that the older kids and parents in the audience will pickup on, but would be completely lost on someone like my five year old nephew. Judy does solve the case and does get predator and prey animals to once again get along and live peacefully together but not before realizing her own prejudices. Did Zootopia really need to be Serpico with animals though? When I watch cartoons (and yes, I watch them fairly regularly and by choice as an adult), I want to go back to my childhood and be amazed and entertained and laugh and maybe even shed a tear. Zootopia was entertaining, but to me it didn’t have that magic touch.
Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) did not take her divorce very well. She turned to alcohol during her marriage when it was determined that she and her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) could not have children. Her alcoholism got the best of her on many occasions with her husband left having to explain her behaviour to everyone, including Rachel who would often wake up the next morning unable to remember what had happened the night before. Rachel’s drinking led to her husband having an affair and leaving her for Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who reside happily in the house she lived in with Tom. A house she passes every day as she rides the train to New York to a job she lost months ago. She pretends to go to work so that her roommate (Laura Prepon), effectively the only friend she has left, won’t find out she was fired. As she rides the train, to distract herself from Tom and Anna she watches the beautiful couple who live a few houses down the road, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) Hipwell. Fantasizing about how perfect their lives are and building up a story for them each day she is stunned when one day she sees the woman on her deck with a man who is not her husband. The next day she wakes up with another hangover, but also bloody and bruised and with no memory of the night before, but she knows something horrible has happened. The news reports that Megan Hipwell has gone missing, and Rachel is sure she was in the area when it happened. Did she have something to do with the case? Inserting herself into the lives of complete strangers, she passes herself off as an old friend of Megan’s to her husband to try and find out what happened to Megan, and to herself that night. If only she could remember what she saw…
The Girl On The Train was an excellent read. I read the book in anticipation of seeing the movie, both because I heard it was a good story, and because I really enjoy Emily Blunt’s work. I borrowed the book from someone at work before Christmas and read about a third of it before becoming too busy with life, the universe, and everything else. Just before the film came to DVD I finished the remainder of the book in two days, two days later I watched the film. I will say that watching the movie so soon after reading the book did effectively kill any suspense they were building because it was so fresh in my mind, but that’s my fault, not the filmmaker’s. The book uses a lot of inner monologue and that isn’t easy to translate to the screen, but the performances were strong which helped fill in those gaps. As I said, I’m a fan of Emily Blunt, and she was fantastic in this one, playing the alcoholic Rachel perfectly. The rest of the cast was very good as well, and I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. I’d say the movie was a bit more of a thriller-suspense tale and that the book was a bit more of a mystery-suspense tale, and offered a bit more into the characters, as it’s told from the perspectives of each of the three main women.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a good, and original mystery type story, I’d recommend both the movie and the book, just don’t do them as close together as I did. This was one instance I think where I’d have enjoyed the movie more if I watched it before reading the book. I might have rated it higher if I had waited some time, but the score also suffered a little due to how difficult the book was to translate to film.
I have to admit that I didn’t realize the first Statham Mechanic movie was released in 2011, I also have to admit that I don’t really remember all the details of how it ended. I assume Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) killed his back stabbing protégé and then went into hiding allowing the world of assassins to think he was dead too. That seems to jive with how Mechanic Resurrection opens up, so I’m going with that assumption.
Living a life of relative ease we find Bishop in South America where he’s suddenly attacked by a gang of assassins who have figured out that he’s still alive. Bishop wants to stay in retirement so he heads to Asia and one of the safe houses he has set up across the globe. There he sticks his neck out for a girl named Gina (Jessica Alba) who is apparently in an abusive relationship. After rescuing her he soon discovers that everything has been a trap and Gina is taken prisoner by one of Bishop’s old assassin acquaintances. He threatens to kill Gina (who Bishop has quickly fallen in love with) unless Bishop carries out three hits for him. Each hit has a time limit and each is more difficult than the last. Killing a warlord in an island prison, an arms dealer in Australia and another arms dealer (Tommy Lee Jones) who lives in an underground bunker, armed with his own nuclear submarine pen. Of course, once the hits are complete, he still has to rescue the girl, and knowing action movies like we all know action movies, he’ll have to get revenge on the guy who put him in the situation to begin with.
The stunts and fights were top notch as they are in just about every Jason Statham movie I’ve ever seen. The plot was rather simple and didn’t really offer too many surprises. Sorry, I take that back, the surprises were how creative they got with the assassinations and the stunt work, but there weren’t a whole lot of plot twists. You’re probably not watching a movie like this for plot twists though, you’re watching it for the action. While Statham carried most of the action, Jessica Alba had a few decent action sequences as well. While a lot of the fights and kills and stunts were a little unbelievable, I could suspend my disbelief for them, surprisingly I had a harder time believing in the speed of Bishop and Gina’s blossoming romance. Still it was a good movie overall.
Bottom Line: The ending was left open enough that there could be another entry in this series…
A CIA agent in London (Ryan Reynolds) is killed while trying to track down a hacker nicknamed “The Dutchman” who has gained control of the world’s missiles and plans to create havoc and initiate World War III. The only chance the CIA has to stop it all is in now dead, until they try an experimental procedure to transfer his memories into a dangerous death row convict named Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner). Jerico wakes up with Agent Bill Pope’s memories, and is supposed to adapt and continue the dead man’s mission, but the memories are scrambled and Jerico erratic, which becomes a bigger problem when he returns to Pope’s home and scares his wife and young daughter. Will the treatment work? Is it possible to map the memories and personality from one person to another? Can Jerico be stabilized enough to complete the mission?
I enjoyed the film, it had a light touch of science fiction, and some pretty good action too. The cast was very impressive; Gary Oldman was the CIA director in charge of everything, Tommy Lee Jones was the doctor who performed the procedure and Gal Gadot was Bill Pope’s widowed wife. Ryan Reynolds played Bill Pope, and really wasn’t in the movie very long. Ironically, I remember reading about the movie Self/Less where an aging Ben Kingsley has his mind put in to the body of the younger Ryan Reynolds character. I haven’t seen that one, but it does sound kind of interesting. This time of course Kevin Costner takes on the mind of the Ryan Reynolds character, so kind of sort of the reverse of the Self/Less idea. I couldn’t help but compare Costner’s Jerico to his character in 3 Days to Kill. Both were skilled spies/agents (though Jerico’s skills weren’t really his own, but Bill Pope’s), and in both instances Costner’s character was “sick” or dying. Still, the storyline overall was fairly original, and fairly entertaining; the characters were well developed, as we saw Jerico go from virtually an emotionless animal to a person dealing with having feelings for the first time; and the action was good and consistent. The film didn’t really slow down or let up. Quite an enjoyable ride.
Bottom Line: I was going to say the usual “parts of the story may have been done before” line, but it struck me how we really do seem to be running out of stories to tell…
Martha (Anna Kendrick) has gone full-on manic since her latest breakup, until she meets Francis (Sam Rockwell). They seem like a perfect match: she’s bananas, he’s bananas… and he’s also a hitman….. a slightly offbeat hitman. Just as Martha begins to realize her new beau wasn’t joking about his choice of work, things start heating up; Francis’ services are solicited by a dubious client while Francis is being sought by a former colleague masquerading as an equally dubious FBI agent (Tim Roth). As the stakes escalate and the bullets fly, Martha needs to decide whether to flee or fight for her one true love.
I liked it, it was funny and contained some decent action. Rockwell played his part perfectly, and Anna Kendrick has quirky down pat. A darkly comedic, violence filled love story that was well played by all. The characters had good chemistry, and even though Martha and Francis hit it off instantly, it didn’t feel forced, perhaps because both characters are not just quirky, but leaning a little more towards crazy. Don’t forget Tim Roth was in the film too, and though his character was definitely darker (bordering on being the main villain) he still came across as a little quirky and crazy as well.
I am a big Sam Rockwell fan and really enjoy Anna Kendrick too, so having two of my favourite actors in a film makes watching it a no-brainer, but it can also set the bar a little high. Chocolate and peanut butter don’t always make peanut butter cups. The film was fun, but I think I wanted or maybe expected a bit more because I really like both leads. Mr. Right was a little predictable — I knew exactly what path Martha would take at the end. Now I don’t know if I can really use that “predictable” argument when critiquing movies anymore because I’ve seen a lot of movies. I mean a lot. I’ve also read a fair number of books too, so finding something entirely original that totally surprises me is becoming harder and harder.
Bottom Line: Fun, and definitely worth watching mainly for the actors, but also for some pretty good, laugh out loud dark comedy.