Category Archives: 3.5 Star

The Wave – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

The Wave35

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.

Zootopia – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review


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.

Bottom Line: Okay, the Shakira song from the film is still kind of stuck in my head….as is the Rock’s “You’re Welcome” song from Moana…. curse you Disney.

Girl On The Train – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Girl On The Train35

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.

Mechanic Resurrection – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Mechanic Resurrection35

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…

Criminal – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Criminal3.5 Stars

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…

Mr. Right – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Mr. Right3.5 Stars

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.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies3.5 Stars

I’d never read Pride & Prejudice before, and never seen any of the various Pride & Prejudice films before either (probably because it was never assigned to me in high school), but for some reason I was interested in seeing PP&Z.  It was probably due to the trailers with Lily James and her film sisters in corsets…I was quite entertained by everything about the film.

A plaque has descended upon England, but not a black plague this time, but a zombie plague.  With London separated from the rest of the English countryside by a giant moat, those not living in the great town live in constant fear of attack.  The Bennett family is one of those who live in such fear, and whose five daughters are all young and of a marrying age.  Their mother is extremely anxious to marry them off lest they become penniless spinsters.  The girls are shopped to suitors at balls and dinners, where deals are almost made to marry off Elizabeth, but she wishes to marry for love and not out of convenience.  The Bennett girls are all highly trained in the fine arts: sewing, music, dance, and the martial arts too, which is helpful when there are zombies around to crash your dinner party.

Lots of action; ample amounts of romance and drama;  lots of humour actually too.  The fights were good, and varied enough that the action sequences didn’t grow boring.  Often times in zombie films or television shows, it can easily become repetitive as zombies are just shot in the head time after time after time.  Decent effects, and good acting;  Lily James was excellent, and Matt Smith was fun to watch in something other than Doctor Who.   After watching I checked out online what happened in the original Pride & Prejudice, and surprisingly, the Zombified version was quite faithful….with just extra zombie….stuff…. but it did stick to the basic Jane Austen storyline.  The zombies weren’t overplayed or overused, and I’m sure that the whole thing was just a big commentary on the class structure of England.  It all worked very well, but it did have the benefit of being based on an all time classic.

Bottom Line: I probably won’t put Pride & Prejudice on my “to read” list, but I may add Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Ashby – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Ashby3.5 Stars

Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) has just moved to town with his mother (Sarah Silverman) and is having some difficulties fitting in at his new high school.  Ed’s a good student but he really wants to play on the football team.  Soon, he makes friends with Eloise (Emma Roberts) a pretty girl who is also smart, and is also a bit of an outcast at school.  One of his school assignments is to interview an older person, and with that, Ed meets Ashby, his neighbour, who is a retired CIA assassin who has recently learned he only has a few months left to live.   The older man and the younger man don’t really connect at first until Ashby’s past comes back to haunt him.  With his deteriorating health preventing him from carrying out his final kills, he gets Ed to drive his car for him, unknowingly delivering him to his targets.  Eventually Ed learns what’s been going on, but he’s developed a friendship with Ashby, who has helped him break out of his shell, convinced him to join the football team, and guided him in other parts of life where he needed a father figure.

While Ashby was a fairly predictable coming of age story, it was enjoyable.  Not because it really did anything different, but because of the very likeable cast.  Humour was good, characters were relatable….well as relatable as a retired assassin can be.  Mickey Rourke was very good.  I’ve not seen a lot of his movies, but from what I have seen, he was a lot more subdued in Ashby.  Nat Wolff was a very likeable lead, in an interesting role.  He was supposed to be a bit of an outcast because he was a newcomer, but he was smart but not nerdy, and he was athletic but not a jock.  He was really a perfectly normal, perfectly likeable teenager that would be popular if he wasn’t the “new kid”.  It was fun to see that spin on a what could be a typical “social outcast” story.  Emma Roberts seems to have popped up in quite a few films I’ve found interesting, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Adult World, Virginia, (and I’m quite interested to see Nerve when it comes to DVD next month), and she didn’t disappoint in Ashby either.  I can’t forget to mention how good Sarah Silverman was as Ed’s mother either.  Not over the top, not just a comedian putting their standup into an acting role, though she had great comedic timing and left each scene with a smile.

A nice mix of action and humour,  with a bit of romance thrown in.  I thought that the ambiguity of whether Ed was an outcast, or a cool kid was used quite well.  Throughout the film he could have been either, and eventually he learns the necessary life lessons from Ashby to deliver us the feel good ending you knew the film would.  Maybe not an earth shattering film, but still a pleasant B-movie indie discovery.

Bottom Line: I would have liked to have met a girl like Eloise in high school….

La Dame dans l’auto avec des lunettes et un fusil – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun3.5 Stars

It’s the 1960s and Dany Dorémus (Freya Mavor) is a beautiful young woman with long red hair, who works at an office.  There she types and files for her boss Michel (Benjamin Biolay), who despite their age difference, has married Dany’s old schoolmate Anita (Stacy Martin).  While Anita lives a life of luxury, Dany lives a life of the mundane.  When her rich boss asks her to retype an important document for him at his house while he and his wife are away for a dinner party, she welcomes a bit of change in her life.  And when her boss asks her to drive he and his family to the airport and return their sportscar home she’s also more than willing to help out.  On her drive home though, the quiet and mouse-like girl takes advantage of the opportunity and instead of going straight home takes a detour for a day to see the seaside.  When she stops for lunch though people recognize her.  When she stops for gas and to use the bathroom, an unseen assailant physically assaults her, leaving her wrist injured. Several men come running when they hear her cries, but a mechanic is skeptical of her story, as he claims that she visited the station last night, and he remembered her having an injured wrist.  When she gets a hotel room, again she’s recognized, but Dany has never been to any of these places before in her life.  How can these people have such perfect recollections of her, while she has no memories of ever meeting them?  As we delve deeper into the mystery, Dany is plunged into more and more danger and soon dead bodies start to accumulate…  Are the people she meets mistaken or even crazy?  Is she crazy?  What sinister deeds are playing out that the near-sighted Dany isn’t seeing?

Very stylish, and very good, though I will admit that I had figured out what was going on very early in the film.  La Dame dans l’auto avec des lunettes et un fusil or The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun was originally a novel written by Sébastien Japrisot in 1966, so it’s entirely probable that I’d heard or seen the story (or at least the crux of it) somewhere already.  I do enjoy seeing where these ideas came from in the first place though.  And even though I had figured out the main twist of the plot, director Joann Sfar did a nice job maintaining the suspense as we got there.  The film was very easy on the eyes as was the star, Scottish actress Freya Mavor.  Kudos to her for an excellent job, which can’t have been very easy.  She was in virtually every scene of the movie, and even though she is apparently fluent in French, it is not her native tongue.

Bottom Line: I think I want to track down the book now, and put it somewhere in my ever growing pile of “things to read”…..

Break Point – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Product Details3.5 Stars

Why would I watch a tennis movie?  J.K. Simmons.  That’s why.  The man is one of my favourite actors and has never disappointed, regardless of how big or small the film or role.  This time out he’s the father/coach to a pair of estranged tennis playing brothers. Jeremy Sisto plays Jimmy, an old but immature player who should look at retiring from the game, and David Walton  plays Darren, his responsible brother who left the game years ago to become a substitute teacher.  As Jimmy burns through his latest partner on the eve of a grand slam tournament that will put him back on the doubles tour, he reaches out to his brother and childhood partner whom he dropped years ago.  Can the brothers bury the hatchet?  No, probably not.  Darren’s really not ready to forgive Jimmy or play tennis again.  But one of his students, a naive and impressionable 11-year old named Barry, talks him into trying.  The two brothers team up, begin training, fight a few times, and try to re-discover and repair their game as well as their relationship…and then they break up again and get back together again all while playing tennis.

Pretty typical stuff really, there was nothing really unexpected in Break Point.  I’d call it a “reunion” comedy maybe?  Two people who have fallen out have to find common ground and defeat the odds/enemy/whatever.  What makes Break Point better than the standard is that it is pretty funny.  The jokes are crude, and Sisto’s Jimmy gets most of the best lines to Darren’s straight man routine, but Joshua Rush as Barry makes it fresh.  He holds his own with the humour and manages to bring the heart back to the brothers’ relationship.  J.K. Simmons as well fits perfectly as their father and Jedi master figure.  Aside from the humour, the film seemed realistic.  Okay, maybe not realistic that two feuding brothers could join up and play competitive tennis again after some fifteen years apart, but their overall brotherhood seemed realistic.  The way they treated each other and the way they fought and the way they joked seemed “true” to life.

Solid laughs, a bit of heart, good cast, good acting and some tennis action? Entertaining and worth watching.

Bottom Line: are there any other tennis movies out there?  I guess there’s Match Point, but that probably isn’t as fun Break Point….well, maybe if you’re actually playing tennis a match point would be better than a break point.  I don’t really understand tennis though.

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