Category Archives: 4.5 Star

The Founder – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

The Founder45

Oh Ray Kroc, you certainly were a ruthless one weren’t you?  The Founder tells the tale of Ray Kroc, the man who built McDonalds into the international, multi-billion dollar success that it is today.  Ray (Michael Keaton) was a down on his luck travelling salesman until he met two California brothers who had a breakthrough in the fast food hamburger industry.  Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) were happy running their single hamburger stand with their “speedy system” of preparing a meal in 30 seconds, but then they ordered some milkshake machines from Ray who fell in love with their system and their restaurant.  Ray thought big, he wanted to see McDonalds restaurants from coast to coast, but the brothers were reluctant to get on board.  When he endlessly pitched them a franchising idea, eventually they finally relented.  The agreement wasn’t great, as the brothers had ultimate say over a lot of the operation, including how much money the restaurant operators could effectively make without diluting the McDonald’s brand.  Ambitious, persistent, and definitely ruthless; Ray thought big, bigger than the McDonald brothers ever could and ever would.  How he took control, right out from underneath them was both dirty and brilliant, and The Founder shows us how he did it.

The film doesn’t always paint Ray in a good light but there were times I couldn’t help but root for him.  I think that Michael Keaton’s portrayal was probably responsible for that.  His performance was easily equal to what he delivered in Birdman.  I’m not sure if he’d be eligible for a nomination at the upcoming Oscars (I’m not actually sure when the film was officially released or how the nomination process works) but I’d say he deserves one.  Offerman and Lynch delivered equally impressive performances, and the whole ensemble cast really worked together well.  I was growing as frustrated as Keaton’s Ray was as Offerman’s Dick refused to grow the business.  I felt empathy towards Lynch’s Mac who seemed to want to play peacemaker and keep both sides happy.  Laura Dern played Kroc’s first wife Ethel, who was ignored by him as he tried to build the business (and as he found a new romance in Linda Cardellini as Joan, the wife of a franchisee).  I really expected Ethel to leave Kroc, not the other way around.

Kroc, when he was approaching the top of his game, was unstoppable and really took whatever he wanted.  He wanted McDonalds, so he found way to get it.  It may have been a fluke, and he may not have come up with it on his own, but when someone told him that the real money was in the real estate, and taught him to purchase the land that the franchises were built on and to lease that out to the franchisees he had the McDonald boys where he wanted them, he was able to control how the restaurants operated on the land which raised more capital, which bought more land, which built more restaurants, all while getting him out of the constraining contract and standards Dick and Mac had imposed.

Legally purchasing the name, the processes, and everything from them was a smart business move, screwing the McDonald family out of future royalties was a dirty move, but he did it.  And if you think about it, if Ray Kroc hadn’t done all this, all the planning, conniving, and backstabbing, we wouldn’t have the McDonalds we know today.  I would never have had the chance to eat a Big Mac being up here in Canada.  Ronald McDonald House and McHappy Day, which annually supports children’s charities, would not exist.  There likely wouldn’t be any Burger Kings or similar fast food restaurants that copied the McDonalds idea. While it was Kroc’s wife Joan who was largely responsible for the charity work, you have to admit, whether you like Kroc or not, his McDonalds helped shape a lot of the world we live in.

The movie was very entertaining, and very informative with excellent performances, especially by Michael Keaton.  We’ve probably all eaten at McDonalds at some point in our lives, but I know I didn’t know the story behind it all, The Founder was a fascinating biopic that really opened my eyes to that world.

Bottom Line: I’m pretty sure that the “Big Mac” was named that just to rub it in Mac and Dick McDonald’s faces that Ray Kroc owned McDonalds.

A Monster Calls – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

A Monster Calls

It wasn’t exactly what I expected, it turned out to be better.  A Monster Calls is about a young boy who has to find a way to deal with his mother’s impending death from terminal cancer, and how his imagination helps him to cope.  The movie was directed by J.A. Bayona and based on the book by Siobhan Dowd which she began writing while she herself was suffering from cancer, but passed away before she could finish it. The book was finished by Patrick Ness who also wrote the screenplay for the film.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is the boy who’s “too old to be a child, and too young to be a man”, but is forced to become one or the other as his mother (Felicity Jones) suffers through a terminal cancer diagnosis.  The disease is rotten and evil, and what better to fight evil than a monster?  Conor doesn’t exactly call the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) at first, but it appears to him late one night when he should be asleep, and it comes ripping away the wall of his room, telling Conor that it will come to him three times and tell him three truths, and on the monster’s fourth visit Conor must tell him a story and it must be true, or he will be eaten by the towering mass of branches and leaves formed into a human shape.  The stories each parallel what is going on in Conor’s life at the time.  Each night the monster appears at 12:07.

The first story:

An old king who’s lost his entire family save a young grandson remarries a beautiful young woman many claim to be a witch. He dies before the young prince has come of age, leaving the step grandmother as regent. She rules well and fairly, but, not wanting to hand the kingdom over, plots to marry the prince and remain queen.
The prince, who has a lover, runs away with his chosen bride, planning to flee to the neighbouring kingdom. There they will marry and wait out the time until he’s of age to claim the throne. They stop and sleep under the yew tree (the monster), but in the morning, the young woman is dead. Murdered. The shocked young prince covered in blood.
He tells the villagers who find them that the queen, a witch, must have done it out of jealousy and so he would be tried and hanged for murder, allowing her to keep his kingdom. He also tells the yew tree something which calls the monster awake for vengeance.
Enraged, the commoners rally around the prince to storm the castle, and the monster follows. They capture the queen and condemn her to burn at the stake.
The monster arrives to snatch her from the fire, and carry her away to a far off land where she lives out the rest of her life.
While disagreeable and a witch, she was not the one who had killed the girl. The prince had murdered her under the yew tree in order to inspire his people to back him into overthrowing the queen.

The story somewhat relates to Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who seems like a witch to the boy, with her rules and expectations of him, but who hasn’t really done anything wrong to him.

The second story:

A greedy, ill-tempered apothecary who follows the old traditions and beliefs constantly pesters a parson to allow him to cut down the yew tree in the church yard and use it for medicinal ingredients.
The apothecary becomes less and less popular and is nearly ruined, aided by his own foul nature and the parson’s active condemning from the pulpit.
When a sickness sweeps the land and many die, the parson goes to the apothecary and asks him to save the lives of his two ill daughters after all other resources are exhausted.
When the apothecary asks why he should help a man who has turned people away from his skills and denied him the yew tree, his best source of healing ingredients, the parson begs. The parson promises to give him the yew tree, and deliver the parishioners to him as patients. In response to the parson’s promise to revoke his beliefs and give up everything if only his daughters are healed, the apothecary says that he cannot help him and the girls die.
The monster awakens from the yew tree to destroy the parson’s house and raze it to the ground as punishment.
While the apothecary was a nasty, greedy man, he was a healer and would have saved many, including the girls, if the parson had given him the yew tree when first asked. The parson, however, was a man who lived off of belief, but had none of his own and changed beliefs as it suited him and convenience. His disbelief of the apothecary’s skill caused many to die, even his children. The healing traditions followed by the apothecary require belief in order to work; without the parson’s, the apothecary was unable to treat the two girls.

At the conclusion of this story Conor is destroying his grandmother’s sitting room, her keepsakes and her treasured clock.

The third story:

There was a man who was invisible because no one ever saw him. Tired of this, he summoned the monster to ensure no one forgot to see him again. The monster made them see, but there are harder things than being invisible.

As this story ends, Conor has severely beaten the school bully.  I have to admit I loved seeing the bully getting beaten up by Conor, and being chased by Conor/the monster.  I really don’t like bullies.

The final story:

His mother has been pulled from a cliff by a terrifying creature from the darkness below and Conor must hold on to her hand to save her from being dragged down by the creature. Eventually, his grip fails and the creature claims his mother.

The final story is Conor’s truth to the monster, and he relates his nightmare to the monster.  Conor is forced to confess the truth: he loosened his grip and dropped her on purpose.  He could have held on, but he let go in order to stop the pain of having to hold on.  Conor’s desire to let her go and drop her is his secret wish that both his mother’s and his own suffering will end. Ultimately the monster comforts him, revealing that its purpose has been to heal him as his mother dies at 12:07.

First off, there were great performances by everyone involved.  Neeson was great as the voice of the monster, and managed to convey every emotion needed.  Fear, horror, love, compassion.  He was humourous, he was serious, he was perfectly cast.  Felicity Jones is fairly new to me.  I think I’ve only seen her in Rogue One, but she was excellent as well as the dying mother, giving a very powerful but subtle performance.  (I really liked her in Rogue One too, and realize I missed reviewing that a long time ago….) (and I double checked, forgot she was in The Theory of Everything! oops!)  Bringing even more power to the cast was Sigourney Weaver as Conor’s grandmother, but Conor himself, played by Lewis MacDougall really carried the film.  He gave a strong performance that showed a great mix of maturity and innocence, strength and vulnerability.

I loved the animation they used each time the monster told a story.  I’m really enjoying movies like this and like The Little Prince that are employing multiple styles of animation.  Visually the film was fantastic, not just the depiction of the monster, but the lighting of the rooms, the telling of the tales, and really everything else.  A lovely film all around that can be enjoyed by everyone I think.

Bottom Line: I got the story texts from Wikipedia, but am strongly considering picking up the original book now too…

Miss Sloane – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Miss Sloane

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a powerful, workaholic D.C. lobbyist who uses every trick in the book to achieve her goals.  But her impressive success record, is on the line when she switches sides and leaves one agency to work for another. She fights for the causes she believes in, and the causes she believes she can win for.  Originally she and her team were selected by her boss (Sam Waterston) to fight for gun activists and prevent a bill from being passed, but she is approached by the owner of a smaller, far less prestigious agency (Mark Strong) to fight against her former firm and fight for the gun control bill.  Bringing some of her team with her and joining her new team the lies, deceit, back room dealings and shenanigans of lobbying and political intrigue unfold brilliantly on the screen before us.

Wow, this was an incredible film.  It clearly had a great ensemble cast but Jessica Chastain stood out and was simply fantastic.  She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, but sadly overlooked at the Oscars.  I’d say that her performance here was every bit as good and as worthy as her previous Oscar nominations for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty.  At first I was a little leery of the film’s runtime of 2 hours 10 minutes, but it was paced perfectly and there wasn’t a wasted minute or slow scene on the screen.  There were twists and turns as you would expect, but just when I though I had Miss Sloane figured out, she bobbed and weaved away from my expectations with tremendous results.  The climax of the film was definitely something I did not see coming, and I really do love that about this film, and films in general.  I love to be surprised when I watch movies, which hasn’t happened a whole lot lately, so Miss Sloane was a special treat.

Bottom Line: A very interesting look at the complex system that is lobbying in the United States.  The film isn’t really as pro gun or anti gun as you might think, rather it’s all about the corruption and dishonesty of politics.  The film could have been arguing about the MacGuffin bill or Johnson rods and been just as effective.

Logan – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ Theatrical Review


Be warned.  There will be spoilers in this review.  I think it’s the only way I can talk about what I feel about Logan.

It’s common knowledge that Hugh Jackman (who will be 49 years old this year) has said he would be “hanging up the claws”, putting an end to his portrayal of the character known as Logan, James Howlett or Wolverine that he has played nine times since 2000.  Patrick Stewart has also announced that Logan would be the last time he would portray Charles Xavier or Professor X as he’s also been playing the character since 2000.  With that knowledge and with a few hints from the trailers, you can guess what will happen to the characters.  Logan gives us an aged, weakened, sick, and non-healing Logan, not the Wolverine who could recover from beatings and attacks in moments, and whose ferocity allowed him to dominate in fights.  When he is presented with a young mutant child who has similar powers and claws to his own, he and the very old and ailing Xavier have to try and get her safely to the Canadian border while being chased by the same people whose experiments created the girl.

Watching the movie, I fully expected Logan to die at the end, and watching the trailers I fully expected Xavier to die too (as he states in one of the trailers, he is F-ing 90!) but there were things that made me doubt this and that’s what makes for good storytelling in my mind.  I went in fully prepared for something but there were enough hints dropped along the way that made me doubt, or made me hope that something else could happen.  I suppose I like to think of myself as a “smart” comic book fan.  I like to think that I’m fairly knowledgeable in the history of the characters and things like that.  I also think I’m pretty “movie smart”, as I’ve seen a lot of movies over the years and it takes something pretty substantial to surprise me, the fact that Logan did surprise me at several turns was something special and added to my enjoyment of the film.

When the bad guys gave their X-24 experiment a serum to heal faster, my heart jumped.  If Logan got some of this would it cure him of the adamantium poisoning?  Would he heal like he used to? Would he be the Wolverine again?  Could this mean that Logan wouldn’t die and I was wrong about my “predictions”?  Would he lead the mutant children to Canada and lead the next generation of X-Men?  In the comics he did lead the school after one of Professor X’s many deaths, so it was plausible. Also: could there be enough of the juice left in him that he’s not really dead, but will just take a long time to heal?

I saw the film in theatres with some friends.  After an enjoyable dinner and some excellent conversation, we were off to the show.  Logan was a lot of “wish fulfillment” for me.  This movie was really made for the fans and my friends and I looked at each other in surprise after many of  the “wow” moments.  Everything you wanted to see in the other X-Men movies you got in the R-Rated Logan.  There were violent, violent fights and deaths.  The claws were popped (by both Logan and Laura a.k.a. X-23) in gruesome and creative ways; ways that hadn’t seen on film but had only been imagined.  Bad guys got claws through the head, through the eyes, through the throat, through the gut.  Arms were cut off, legs were removed, hands, heads, you name it, there was comic book evisceration like never before.  If you were excited by Wolverine’s attacks in X-Men 2 or in The Wolverine, they dial the intensity right up in Logan. The only thing we didn’t get in Logan was Hugh Jackman ever actually wearing a Wolverine costume.  While I guess it isn’t necessary, it would have been kind of cool to see the costume that was teased at the end of The Wolverine (though only in an “alternate ending”) even if it had only been in a brief flashback.

They also dial up the language throughout the film.  We had a few “f-bombs” in the red band trailers (and even a few in the trailers before the film (more on that below)), so it wasn’t really a surprise that the language was also quite “colourful” in the film.  I think that “The Girl Who Whispered” was a little surprised by that but for the most part I think that the language used did fit the tone of the film and the situations.  That being said, it could have been toned down a bit and the desired mood would still have been achieved.  I usually think that if you always need to use swearing to convey the emotions of your story, you should work on your storytelling, but Logan didn’t really use the language that way.  At one point Logan and Laura (Dafne Keen) are stuck on the side of the road with a broken truck and Logan swears and shouts and beats up the truck.  To me that’s very real, and something that we can all relate to.  Okay, maybe we can’t relate to being mutants with unbreakable bones who are being chased by Reavers (cyborg mutant hunters), but we can probably relate to having a car or computer or battery or some other piece of technology give out on you when you most needed it…

Both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman gave excellent performances, and there has been talk about both being nominated for Oscars, as well as the film itself.  I think that it may be a bit early for Oscar talk, but you never know.  Clearly both actors really do love the characters they play and you can see that in their performances.  Strong, emotional, heroic, and touching; they wanted to send the fans home with a lasting memory.

So, a few other things you may want to know about Logan: wisely it was set in the future, so there is the possibility (and high probability) that Wolverine will be able to appear in future X-Men (or dare we dream MCU) films.  There was no Stan Lee cameo in the film, but in several versions of the Deadpool 2 Teaser Trailer that aired before the feature there is.  For some reason the theatre I went to didn’t air that version of the trailer, apparently there are two, one with Stan and one without, and I believe they each have different music for some reason (though both have the John Williams Superman theme for obvious reasons).  Lastly there was no “after the credits” scene in Logan so if you have a full bladder you don’t have to wait around.

Bottom Line: Loved it.  I hear that they’re making a black and white version of the film as a special feature for the Blu Ray release, which I think would be pretty cool.  Black and white seems to intensify everything.  I seem to remember seeing one of the first trailers being released in black and white with the Johnny Cash song in it….but I could also be imagining that now that I’ve heard this.

Captain America 3: Civil War – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Captain America 3: Civil War4.5 Stars

This might as well have been Avengers 3, because it had everyone in it.  Steve Rogers’ Captain America (Chris Evans) battles Tony Stark’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) as the heroes pick sides after the fallout of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and the events of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier collide.  They may have saved the world (from a menace they had a hand in creating), but many innocent lives were lost.  The governments of the world and the United Nations now want to keep the Avengers in check and hold them accountable.  Cap’s WWII friend Bucky (who had been brainwashed into becoming the cold war assassin the Winter Soldier) has been framed for a new crime by Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and the two teams of Avengers set out to find him.  Captain America’s team (Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man) are trying to save Bucky, while Iron Man’s team (Black Widow, War Machine, Black Panther, Vision and Spider-Man) try to bring Bucky to justice.

The film may have been a bit of fan pandering, but it was still well constructed and entertaining to me.  We got the introduction of a few new key characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther will soon have his own film, as will Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.  Both are important additions to the ever growing MCU, and I like the potential directions that both characters/films/franchises could take.  I will admit that I’m super excited for a “proper” Marvel Spider-Man film.  What I like about the Marvel films (the proper Disney Marvel films that is) is that they really do know how to pace and lay out a story.  The first act of Civil War was the build-up and the increasing tensions between the team, as well as the hunt and mystery over the Winter Soldier.  The second act was the big battle scene that brought all the characters together and the third act resolved it all, with Captain America and Iron Man temporarily setting aside their differences to fight the common enemy that had been pulling their strings for most of the movie.  Essentially the first act was character driven, the second action and then it circled back to a character driven story again.  All of it worked, and balanced the action with drama and humour.  I have heard some people say there was too much humour, but I disagree.  When you’re dealing with gods and monsters and knights and soldiers and heroes, all fantastical things, I prefer to keep it lighter.  I also think there was more than enough action to keep the story flowing so that I didn’t mind or really realize that it was two and a half hours long.

I really enjoyed all the characters.  With a pool of characters as deep as those in the MCU, you like to see the filmmakers play with “all the toys”, or at least all the toys that they’re allowed to use.  It’s really nice to see Spider-Man back where he belongs, alongside the biggest Marvel characters.  There’s no subtlety lost in naming the upcoming film Spider-Man Homecoming.  Getting a small taste of Spider-Man in the big airport fight scene was a treat that many Marvel fans didn’t think they’d ever get, what with the complicated stories behind which studios have the rights to which characters.  That whole airport scene was a lot of fun, even if it did condense a whole “superhero civil war” down to about fifteen minutes.

There were of course comparisons between Civil War and the other big super hero film of the year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I haven’t seen BvS yet, so I can’t judge it.  I know critics didn’t like it, and I know there is a HUGE divide among the fans both on that film in particular and on the differences between the Marvel and DC film universes.  Apparently it’s become a rule that Marvel fans can’t like DC films or vice versa.  I read quite a few user reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes where it seemed like DC fans were just bashing Marvel films (and fans) while the Marvel fans seemed pretty even tempered, though to be fair, I was just checking a Marvel film, so they would tend to be kinder on those pages.  It’s entirely possible on pages for DC films that Marvel fans are bashing those too.  I guess I can’t help but wonder why the two fandoms can’t just get along?  It seems like there are a lot of negative reviews out there just for the sake of negatively reviewing something!  I like reviews to be constructive and helpful.  If you liked previous Marvel films, I think you’ll most likely enjoy Captain America 3: Civil War.  Is it better than DC, and everything Batman v Superman wasn’t?  I don’t know, that’s not something I can say without having seen both films, that would be up to you to decide if you have watched them both.

Bottom Line: This was one of the few MCU films I missed seeing in theatres.  I think the only other one was Iron Man 3….

Eye in the Sky – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Eye in the Sky4.5 Stars

“They kill 80 people we win the propaganda war, we kill one kid, they win it….”

Wow, Eye in the Sky was an incredible ride, for a suspenseful movie where you’re waiting for politics and red tape and bureaucracy and diplomatic things to get approval, it sure was exciting!  Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell, situated in England and in charge of a remote mission in Kenya where local officials are set to apprehend a team of terror suspects.  Alan Rickman plays Lieutenant General Frank Benson who is briefing  a team of diplomats in Downing Street on the same mission.  Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are the American personnel who are operating the drones used in the strike from the United States.  On the ground in Kenya is Barkhad Abdi  as Jama Farah acting as the real-time eyes and ears for the operation.  What goes from a simple capture operation escalates to a kill operation when Farah covertly observes the terrorists preparing a pair of suicide bombers.  And then the story becomes entrenched in moral conflict.  The red tape abounds as no one wants to be responsible for any collateral damage the strike may cause.  As politicians pass the buck, and calls get put on hold, the tension increases exponentially when a young girl selling bread is spotted on the edge of the terrorists hideout.  A young girl who would certainly be killed if they take action to stop the terrorists.

Eye in the Sky contrasts the necessity of military efforts to contain and reduce terrorism in the world against the freedoms and the vulnerabilities and innocence of the people who are living in that area.  The little girl is a manifestation and perfect symbol of that.  The whole film is about the moral conflict between those two things, and the audience gets to see it from everyone’s point of view.  It poses the question of how many innocent people are you willing to endanger to stop the bigger bad?  5, 10, 1?

Everybody felt like the star of the film when they were on the screen.  When Mirren was there, it was her film; when in Whitehall, it was an Alan Rickman film; in Nevada it was an Aaron Paul film, and when they were in Kenya, it was Barkhad Abdi’s film.  Abdi really did a fantastic job carrying his pieces, especially because his parts transformed this intense political-suspense-thriller into an action movie of sorts.  Eye in the Sky also did a very good job of not making Rickman or Mirren’s characters the bad guys or even unlikable.  The Nevada crew seemed more sympathetic to the situation (that being the danger to the young girl), which could have made Powell and Benson seem like monsters with their perception and decisions on the situation and seem cold, heartless and simply militaristic. The film however does not let you feel the same emotion for very long.  I think that switching locations and points of view as they did helped to keep the viewer from being able to from that opinion because in each scene each character was doing the “right” thing.  It was also a clever way to balance a large, ensemble cast.  I usually find that the “too many cooks” rule applies when you have too many big stars in a film, and that the story gets watered down so each gets enough screen time.  Ironically in this case, none of the major cast members really shared “scenes” together.  All were in separate locations and only communicated with each other by phone or video, but never in person.  The actors probably didn’t even meet on set, as they could have just acted opposite someone reading the other characters’ lines a lot of the time.

Now, with all the suspense and all the thrills, with things blowing up, and children in danger, a thought struck me as I was watching the film, and I’ll try to phrase this without giving away any spoilers.  In a critical scene of the film, Farah buys all of the young girl’s bread so she would go home and be away from the danger zone, but after buying the bread, he is chased away by soldiers and drops it.  The girl picks the bread up, dusts it off and goes back to her table, right in harm’s way and proceeds to try and sell the bread again.  Was this greed?  Or was it just a child in a terrible spot trying to make as much money as she could for her family?  Did the child’s actions (call it greed or whatever) actually put her life in peril?  Since she decided to sell the bread twice, could she now die when we know she could have been safe?  Could her choice have put other innocent people in peril?  If her presence was the only reason that the strike hadn’t been carried out yet could the terrorists have gotten away?  Those scenes really had me thinking, and playing a lot of “what ifs” in my mind, which I think really made me enjoy the film even more.  A good story should make you think and should involve you emotionally and Eye in the Sky certainly did both.

Bottom Line: I haven’t been this close to the edge of my seat while watching a film in a long time.  Superbly done and sadly the final time we got to see Alan Rickman on the silver screen.

Peanuts Movie – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Peanuts Movie4.5 Stars

Well, now that my Oscar type reviews are out of the way, I can get to catching up on reviewing the movies I chose to watch strictly for entertainment purposes, starting with tonight’s review of The Peanuts Movie.  I really do love cartoons, and they are definitely not just for kids anymore.  Some of my favourite movies in the past few years have been cartoons, and The Peanuts Movie has added itself to that list.

The story was a typical Peanuts tale as the gang was all there watching good ol’ Charlie Brown muddle through his school aged life.  Always the affable loser, nothing seems to go right in the young man’s life.  That football is always pulled away before he can kick it; his baseball team is yet to win a game (well, they’ve won a few times since the comic strip began in 1950, like here); he’s never successfully flown a kite, and will he ever be able to talk to that little red haired girl who moved in across the street?  But now, somehow, Charlie Brown has become the hero of the school by acing a standardized test!  Is the old blockhead really the smartest kid in the class?  Are things starting to look up for him?  Well, no actually.  Charlie Brown’s days in the sun are quickly blocked out by the dark clouds that are his sixty-plus years of history, but even that won’t keep him down for long.

Technically the film worked very well for me, as it successfully brought the two dimensional drawings of Charles Schulz to a three dimensional style of animation.  The way the animators achieved this was to essentially only show the characters in the front-on and profile views that we’d become accustomed to.  Showing the character as they would turn their head didn’t work, because they stopped looking like a Peanuts character halfway through the motion.

The Peanuts movie was charming and a I think did a great service to the fans of the original comic strip and it’s characters.  As I said, the whole Peanuts gang is involved, and even manages to include a separate Snoopy story into the film, as he envisions himself the WWI flying ace pitted against the Red Baron in a tale that somewhat parallel’s Charlie Brown’s own highs and lows of the film.  At the end of the day however the film is really about friendship and throughout the film Snoopy remains loyal to Charlie Brown; supporting him, caring for him, helping him and watching out for him, even when some of the other kids abandon him.  The ultimate underdog story, the ultimate story about a boy and his dog, and a great, feel good story.

Bottom Line: To me the whole film and tone of The Peanuts since their inception can be summed up by this picture:


Deadpool – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ Theatrical Review

Deadpool4.5 Stars

Are you freaking kidding me?  I went and saw Deadpool in theatres back in February and somehow couldn’t find time to put up a review?  That was like five months ago!  Almost half a year!  Wow.  I kinda suck.  Yes you do.  And I really liked this one too.  Well if you really liked it, do up a review, that’s what you’re trying to do here right?  Man, it’s been a really long time since I watched this, I may just have to watch it again before I can give my opinions.  Well, you have the Blu Ray sitting over there on the shelf that you bought from Canada’s largest independent video-music store for a low used price…  Okay, I’m going to have to watch this again quickly (you can’t watch it quickly, it’s 1 hr 48 mins long and you have no powers that enable you to make that hour forty-eight go any faster than an hour and forty-eight minutes…) and then do a review….do you hear something breaking the 4th wall of my blog? 

Wow, there sure are a lot of bonus features on the Blu Ray for Deadpool!  I always watch the bonus features whenever I watch a DVD (or Blu Ray), but I don’t think I’ve ever watched a director’s commentary.  I don’t like people in the audience talking over the movie when I’m watching, why would I want the director?  Well, maybe some directors.  Okay, on to my review.  Boy did I enjoy this film.  This was a movie that was made for the fans, and you could tell that the production crew, the writers, director, and star Ryan Reynolds were all really big fans of the character.  They took an incredible amount of care to make sure that they were doing justice to the property. 

Part origin story, part established adventure; part action film, part love story, part comedy, Deadpool was everything you thought it would be.  That may be the only thing I have a problem with.  Let me explain.  I loved the film, loved the fight scene in the SUV; the fight on the highway bridge; the scene in the bar with Weasel (T.J. Miller) where they talk about how ugly Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is after the experiment; the fight with Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) against Angel Dust (Gina Carano); oh yes, I enjoyed them all.  I enjoyed them in the leaked footage, in any of the numerous trailers, commercials and viral clips that I saw and then I saw them in the movie.  Again.  My biggest complaint about Deadpool was that it felt like I had seen 2/3 of the movie because of the extremely heavy social media push it was receiving.  Fortunately there were the “Wade” scenes that weren’t action filled that I hadn’t seen that made up a very good part of the film.

Lots of action, some blood and guts, lots of humour and lots of fourth wall breaking were exactly what this R-rated comic book movie needed to be true to it’s source material and to it’s fans.  The story was very good, and not just “very good for a comic book movie” good.  There were heroes, cameos, fights, jokes, and even a very big overreaching love story between Wade and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) who he fears he cannot be with after being disfigured.  Yes, there was a lot of violence in it, and some gore, but it wasn’t overly done, you were more paying attention to Deadpool slicing, stabbing and shooting the bad guys than you were to the bloody aftermath he would leave on the ground.  The fights and stunts were exceptionally fun.  Lots of great nods to the Marvel comic universe, and even the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as there is a scene that takes place on one of the crashed SHIELD helicarriers from Captain America: Winter Soldier.  There are only a few comic book movies that I personally think have gotten it absolutely right, Dredd was one, and now there’s Deadpool.

Bottom Line: Great cameo by Stan Lee, he joked that he was disappointed that he didn’t get to be on the set longer for it.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand the joke.  Also, a great “after the credits” scene, which makes me wonder, was Ferris Bueller the first movie with an after the credits scene?

Farhope Tower – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ NIFF Review

Farhope Tower4.5 Stars

The second half of my own personal NIFF double feature was Farhope Tower

The Unspecters are a team of paranormal investigators who are close to having their filmed exploits and investigations turned into an actual network reality show, but in order for the network to give the show the green light, they need to see something bigger from the team, and that means an investigation of Farhope Tower. Jake (John White) leads the team, with his best friend and paranormal expert Andre (Evan Williams), camera operator Judy (Lauren Collins), tech guy Simon (Tim Doiron), and rookie investigator Zoe (April Mullen) into the long abandoned Farhope Tower, which as become locally known as the “suicide tower” due to the abnormally high number of suicides that took place on the site before forcing the building to be closed.  Once they enter the building, naturally (or should I say supernaturally?) things begin to happen, as stairways appear where there should be none, doorways disappear, and noises in the dark; all forcing the team to follow the cryptic writings that appear on the walls telling them to “go up”…

Now, most of my regular readers probably know that I’m not a horror fan.  I scare easy, my house creaks a lot at night, and I don’t need to be jumping at the sound of every one of them, so I tend to avoid horror films.  I don’t like gore, and I simply don’t like being scared.  I don’t need nightmares.  That all being said, I do like April Mullen and the works of Wango Films; and that is why I wanted to see Farhope Tower in the first place.  So I put on my big boy pants and watched a horror film, and really quite enjoyed it.  I probably wouldn’t even call Farhope Tower a horror film, I’d say it was a thriller.  It was suspenseful, well paced, and well filmed.  There were some creepy moments, and some scenes of pretty brutal violence at the film’s climax (which the director warned the audience about ahead of time), but all in all it was a good film.

Farhope Tower was technically sound, with a great look and great score to the film.  But, as very few films are perfect, I did find a few small faults, though one of the faults may lie with me instead… I was a little frustrated while watching the film that Judy the camera operator for the team’s reality show wasn’t constantly filming.  How are they supposed to land this big network gig if she’s having to be told constantly to turn on her camera!?  My other problem was that there were several tropes that even I, an unseasoned horror/thriller watcher, picked up on right away.  Though, this could just be because I’ve seen a lot of movies.  As soon as one character said that another character was adopted, I knew exactly where the story was going to go.  That was one, but there was another example in Farhope Tower that had my mind grimacing for a moment because again it seemed the resolution of this particular plot point was going to be incredibly obvious. But, kudos go to the film for basically acknowledging that, and then dealing with the trope immediately so it didn’t linger around in the audience’s brain, killing the suspense by having us remember this obvious point.  One thing to note is that Wango Films did not write Farhope Tower, it was shopped to them, unlike their previous works (Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser, Gravy Train, Dead Before Dawn, and 88) which they wrote themselves.

For me the whole experience of Farhope Tower was excellent, as director April Mullen did a Q&A after the film with the audience which I believe was largely made up of crew and friends and families of the cast.  That I believe was the reason for her warning of the violent and cringe worthy climax before the film.  You don’t particularly want your mom to see things like that.  After the film closed at the theatre, April and co-star (and Wango teammate) Tim Doiron signed posters and took pictures with the fans at a bar across the street from the theatre.  As always, they were very gracious, very friendly and very accommodating with all who attended.  That’s just #WangoBaby.

Bottom Line: incredibly enjoyable, especially the Q&A and meet & greet after the show.  Plus, I watched a proper horror movie out in public and didn’t scream or cry in fear!

How To Build a Time Machine – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ NIFF Review

How To Build a Time Machine4.5 Stars

This past Friday night I went to NIFF, the Niagara Integrated Film Festival to watch How To Build a Time Machine, a documentary I was very interested in, ever since I heard of it’s conception some five years ago.  This was actually my first visit to NIFF, though I’d planned and promised myself that I would make it each of the last two years, only to have something waylay my plans.  The festival is in its third year, and still growing, showcasing international films, local Niagara area films, local shorts and even some mainstream theatrical releases.  This year, there were two films that I really wanted to see at the festival, and fortunately enough for me they were both on Friday night, and both in the same venue, one following the other.  How to Build a Time Machine was the first half of my own personal NIFF double feature.

How to Build a Time Machine is the story of two different men who were each profoundly affected by their experiences with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and follows each of them as they set out on very different paths to building their own time machines.

Rob Niosi worked for many years in the film and television industries, primarily as an animator or artist, and who has for many years been building his own full-scale replica of the time machine prop from the 1960 Time Machine film starring Rod Taylor. The film recounts a story he tells about seeing the film in a theatre where his father was working as an usher.  The film and the fond memories it evoked of the times with his father were what started Niosi on his prop making path.  Because really, what better way is there to relive your treasured memories than to have a time machine?  We see Rob’s compulsion take shape over the years that this film was being made.  Rob is a perfectionist, over-engineering his prop.  Where the actual prop builders used plastic for something, he uses brass or copper.  Where they used plain cotton, he uses velvet.  His incredible attention to detail emphasizes his love for the prop, the and the journey of making it.  Along that journey he tells us several stories from his life that actually are relevant to the time travel discussion.  In one segment he talks about how film itself is a method of time travel, and how stop motion animation works, and how by speeding up or slowing down the camera, we can affect how time plays out.

Dr. Ron Mallett is a theoretical physicist who has been conducting actual scientific research on time travel.  When he was a young boy, his father died of a heart attack, the distraught Mallett found comfort in science-fiction stories, particularly H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  After reading the comic book adaptation of the film (and book) he chose to study physics in hopes that he might one day be able to actually construct a real, working time machine so he could go back and prevent his father’s death.  Mallett eventually becomes a professor at the University of Connecticut, but he realized very early on that he would have been laughed out of the physics profession if he approached any university saying he wanted to study time travel, so instead he chose the next best thing, and focused his research on black holes since Einstein had shown that gravity can affect time, and that black holes are all about gravity.

The film follows both men on their separate journeys as they find their own answers to several very important “time travel” questions:

• “Where would you go?”  Rob said he would head to the future, Ron obviously to the past.

• “What happens if you dabble in time?” Rob didn’t really concern himself with this, but Ron realizes that if he prevents his father’s death, he also prevents the reason that his younger self would join the Air Force to put himself through college and university, to studying physics, and ultimately creating his time machine.  A paradox.  If he went back and prevented himself from following the path that led to him going back in time, could he actually ever go back in time?

• “Is time travel possible?”  Both agree that they think it is possible, but Dr. Mallett offers some important insights.  He postulates that you could only go back in time as long as the time machine existed.  That is, if a time machine was invented on January 1st 1980, we could only go as far back as that date.  Before that, there was no time machine so that past would be unreachable, unless there was some extra terrestrial time machine invented somewhere long ago.

After the film there was a brief Q&A period  with director Jay Cheel, and it was quite interesting.  I think that documentaries should teach you something but also should leave you with questions.  Having the director handy to ask these questions to was a fun way to wrap up the experience of watching the film.


Bottom Line: Very enjoyable, and I’m not just saying that because the director used to work at my store.  The film was partially funded through a crowdfunding campaign, and part of that campaign promised a Blu Ray copy of the film to donors.  Now I need my own time machine so I can go back, donate to the film and get my present day self a copy of the film…

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