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Arrival – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review


Well, this one was a real treat!  It has been quite a while since I’ve seen a really good science fiction film, and Arrival really was good science fiction.  That being said, it won’t be for everyone.  Sure I loved the latest Star Wars movies but those are really more fantasy science fiction films this was in my opinion a true science fiction film.  It made you think, and if you paid attention, things were pretty obvious and made perfect sense.

The film opens with quick clips, almost like a dream, of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, from her birth through childhood to her premature death in adolescence from an incurable disease.   Twelve alien ships simultaneously arrive at different places on Earth.  One in America, one in Russia, one in China, one in the UK, one in Australia, and so forth.  Hovering above the planet, the ships silently wait as the armies and scientists of the world approach and study them.  In America, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician lead one of the teams attempting to make the historic “first contact”.  On-board the alien crafts they meet the seven-limbed aliens, who they call “heptapods”, and they begin attempt communication first by creating a written language.  The heptapods of course don’t look like we do, don’t sound like we do, don’t breath like we do, and seemingly don’t exist in dimensions the way that we do, so it is no surprise that their written language is nothing like ours, but eventually the team finds a way to decipher the circular symbols that they use for their words.  Naturally with humans being involved the process isn’t that easy, as some groups seek to attack the aliens rather than wait to see what they want.  It’s a race against the clock between militarized factions and science, with a “gift” promised by aliens as the reward and the fate of our planet hanging in the balance.  The film asks some pretty deep questions.  What is the gift?  Are the aliens giving each area only one-twelfth of their message to force humanity to unite and work together?  Why would the aliens offer a gift to Earth?  And why is Louise dreaming about a child she has never had?

I really enjoyed this one, it won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and was nominated for seven other categories including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I really think Amy Adams deserved a Best Actress nomination, but for some reason that didn’t happen, though she was nominated for the Golden Globe.  The characters were well written, and the acting was top notch all around, as was the sound and the visual effects.  The film draws some comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact, but never feels like it is a simple derivative.  The story unfolds rather well, and for a moment, it seems like there is a massive twist in the plot, but a moment later you begin to realize there really is no twist, but just the realization that the film had already explained itself to you.  Arrival was a smart and sophisticated sci-fi that even those who don’t love sci-fi will enjoy.

Bottom Line: Arrival was based on the Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” which was first published in 1998.  Also, I really wanted to talk about the reveal here, but it’s a massive spoiler, just watch it for yourself!


The Muppets – Moonlight Movies and Music (in the park!) 5/5 stars

MMMuppets2a5 Stars

This is the second year that Open Concept Films is putting on Moonlight Movies and Music in my town, St. Catharines, Ontario.  Last year the films were all shown in Lakeside Park.  (Yes that is the same Lakeside Park that Rush sang about in their song “Lakeside Park”.)  This year the events have expanded to feature two additional parks in town: Montebello Park and Henley Island, which has hosted several world championship rowing events over the years and will be featuring the rowing events from the 2015 Pan American games.  This last Friday we were on Henley Island for The Muppets, an excellent family feature that I went to with my kids.

I hadn’t seen The Muppets yet, but my kids had and were excited to see it again, telling me that I’d love it.  Well, they were right, I did.  My favourite stories are those of the “returning hero”, where for some reason a beloved character (or characters) has been banished or shoved aside or ignored or whatever but finds a way to return and make themselves relevant and heroic again; and that was essentially what The Muppets was, it was a return.  Our felt covered friends had gone their separate ways and fallen out of touch with each other some years ago but had to get back together to save their old studio, and the only way to do it was to “put the band back together”.  With a few new characters and all the old favourites the Muppet magic returned with songs and laughs galore.  You could tell that all the celebrities who cameoed in the film were having fun, and were there because they loved the Muppets.  Jason Segal and Amy Adams were great and didn’t seem to miss a beat or a step or a laugh with their Muppet co-stars. 

I laughed, I cried, I had a really good time.  I’m giving this 5/5 stars not just for the great movie, but for the experience, the atmosphere and the hard work put in by all those who were behind making Moonlight Movies and Music a reality.


Bottom Line: go out and watch a movie in the park, any movie really.  They’re usually free, or the nominal admission fees go to a good cause (Moonlight Movies & Music admission is a non-perishable food donation for Community Care); it’s often a good chance to see a film that you missed in theatres (this Friday I’m going to see Field of Dreams sponsored by That’s Entertainment); and more importantly it can be a great night out with family and friends.

Bottom Line 2: I need to stop misting up over nostalgia…


American Hustle – Blu Ray review 3/5 stars

Product Details3 Stars

Why did people love this film so much?  Was it David O. Russell?  Was it Christian Bale? Why was there so much hype around American Hustle?  I didn’t see anything that warranted what everyone was saying about it.  Bradley Cooper plays FBI Agent Richie DiMaso who arrests con artists and lovers Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams).  Neither are really “big fish” so he makes a deal with them that if they help him make four bigger arrests they go free.  They begin to go after another con artists but soon DiMaso gets obsessed with catching a big fish and sets the group’s sights on the mayor of Atlantic City (Jeremy Renner) who they set out to entrap and eventually get in over their heads.  The wild card in all of this is Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who could derail all their plans.

In American Hustle David O. Russell unites his casts from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and delivers…an enjoyable film, but in my opinion, certainly not a great one.  American Hustle was nominated for ten Oscars: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Costume Design, Editing, Production Design, Original Screenplay, Directing and of course Best Picture.  So, with so many things clearly going right for it, why didn’t I love it?  As I was watching, I kept waiting for that moment when the film would rise to the height that countless people had elevated it to.  It never really happened.  Well, it almost happened once, but one scene does not a movie make.  Of the acting, all of the performances were good, but the only one I personally considered to be outstanding was Jennifer Lawrence who seemed to steal every scene she was in.  This girl is on fire!  (Hunger Games: Catching Fire pun unintended.)  The costume design was good but the only part of a wardrobe from thirty-odd years ago that really stood out to me was Amy Adams’ bra-less plunging neckline.  The production design also was good but didn’t seem “great” to me.  The nomination for best “original” screenplay seemed a little off to me given this film was based around some factual events, though Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and that’s a giant leap of faith as nothing he writes is “original”…  The editing and directing could have been a bit better I thought, as the film ran too long.  This story did not need to be 2 hours and 18 minutes long.  If a few of the dance sequences and musical montages were taken out, perhaps it would have held my attention better.  Maybe too much time was spent on the costume designing and music but not enough on editing?

I love to watch the special features at home, though there have been fewer and fewer of them on DVD releases causing me to pickup a second Blu Ray player so I can maximize my viewing both upstairs in my living room and downstairs with my surround sound.  Tonight I was surprised that the only special features were a short (16 minutes I believe) “Making Of” and deleted and extended scenes from the film.  Fortunately that “one scene” that I alluded to earlier was extended.  Jennifer Lawrence lip-syncing to Live and Let Die while cleaning the house was pretty incredible.  She looks like she has a lot of fun in all her movies.

Bottom Line: enjoyable with solid acting, but overall, American Hustle is just an okay film and nothing more.  It’s a fun caper film with good performances but nothing really Oscar worthy, which makes me think it was long winded and overrated. The ending is even pretty predictable and seems like it was stolen right out of The Sting.  Don’t steal from The Sting, that’s one of my all-time favourite films…and what I’m going to re-watch tomorrow night.  So I guess I can thank American Hustle for that.

Man of Steel – DVD review 3/5 stars

Product Details3 Stars

Amid much controversy and complaining, a new Superman movie came to theatres this summer. I know and admit that I am a pretty big nerd, and been a comic book fan pretty much all my life. When it comes to comics people usually fall into one of three camps, Marvel, DC or anything indie but definitely not Marvel or DC. Of course some people just like to read comics and as long as it is well written and well drawn, it doesn’t matter what company it comes from. I like to think that I fall into that last slot. I definitely prefer Marvel for my superhero fix, but I have always enjoyed Superman and Green Lantern from DC. I was never really a big Batman fan, so I haven’t even seen all of the Dark Knight’s films. One day I’ll get around to watching off Dark Knight Rises, but it’s not really high on my “to do” list. I was moderately entertained, though a bit let down by the Green Lantern movie, and really disappointed by Superman Returns. In my opinion, the only watchable part of that film was in the beginning when Superman saved the airplane and space shuttle. So, when Man of Steel was announced I; as well as a lot of fans; were quite leery.

For some reason, DC (or Warner Brothers) have not been able to put together a “great” Superman film since Superman II. And that was released in 1980… The character is a pretty simple one, he’s the ultimate superhero. He can fly; he can melt things with his eyes; he can freeze things with his breath; he has super speed, x-ray vision, telescopic vision, microscopic vision; he is moral; super strong and iconic. What’s so hard about him? He can do anything. I think though the problem with writing Superman (both comics and movies) is that people try to constantly make him “current” or updated so he’s relevant today. The problem with that is his character is based on old, now outdated values. Those values are what I personally love about the character. He’s not supposed to be dark or edgy. Superman is the “big blue boyscout” who makes it his job to help. He stands up for truth and justice. He is the perfect hero to stop an alien invasion, thwart a series of bank robberies by giant robots, art heists by thugs or save a cat from a tree. (I’m actually smiling now as I type this, remembering the scenes when Christopher Reeve “revealed” himself as Superman in the first movie, stopping crimes and saving a cat in a tree). His values are outdated by today’s audiences, and that says a lot more about us than it does about the character. I don’t see anything wrong with trying to reinforce Superman’s old fashioned, Kansas farmboy, polite, caring values on today’s world; stopping crime and villains along the way, and just, in a word, being super.

Knowing that they have a property that fans are passionate about, Warner Brothers should by now realize that they are going to stir up and alienate segments of their audience with any little change they make.  Changing Superman’s costume, losing the red trunks over the pants, not having his “S” symbol on the cape, darkening the blue, had some fans crazy and on the edge of boycott.  I personally didn’t mind the new costume, though the blue could have been a little lighter and brighter.  I think that Warner should realize that they need to give back a little bit for everything they take away.  Sometimes fans are easy to play.  Give them a few lines from the old films and they’ll be more willing to accept the changes in the current film.  For me, what I wanted; what I think they should have kept was the theme.  The real Superman theme song.  Hans Zimmer did a nice job, but to me, it needed the John Williams theme.

Now, with all that out of the way, Man of Steel the movie was alright. I enjoyed a great deal of it, but of course was disappointed by a few things as well. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean when I say the final resolution of Superman’s battle with Zod was more than a little out of character. I get that they are building for the next movies and wanted him to feel the remorse of his actions and we’ll get to see how this will affect him as a hero going forward. I still think they could have achieved this in a different manner.

The acting was pretty good, with Henry Cavill playing a good, Superman and an okay Clark Kent. I suppose we’ll get more Clark in future movies, but his Superman scenes were enjoyable. Amy Adams was a nice choice as Lois Lane, and Diane Lane and Kevin Costner were as close to perfect as you could get for Ma and Pa Kent. My only casting critisicm is Michael Shannon as General Zod. He came off a bit too screamy, and not at all suave like Terence Stamp. Shannon’s was not a Zod I would kneel before… Faora-Ul (intriguingly played by Antje Traue) is another story.  Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton was a nice nod to the Superman comics, but boy did he remind me of Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine in Captain America The First Avenger.

This may not have been the Superman film that everyone wanted, but at least this time Superman wasn’t a “dead-beat dad stalker”.  Stick to X-Men Bryan Singer.

Trouble With The Curve

Product Details4 Stars

Trouble With The Curve stars Clint Eastwood as Gus, an aging and ailing baseball scout near the end of his career.  With his judgment being questioned, his friend and boss (John Goodman) enlists Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to assist him on one last scouting trip.  Mickey is a lawyer in the middle of a presentation that could make her a full partner in her firm, but she puts her work on hold to go with Gus.  Mickey and Gus’ relationship has been strained over the years, as she feels her father has always pushed her aside all these years since her mother died.  On the road the pair meet up with a former pitcher turned scout that Gus had originally signed several years ago named Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake).

The movie had a fairly predictable plot as father and daughter eventually reconnect, daughter and the former player begin a romantic relationship, and the old dog still knows a few tricks.  That being said, I still found it to be a very enjoyable movie.  I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan, and was anxious to see him act in a movie he didn’t direct himself; that hasn’t happened since In The Line of Fire in 1993.  Eastwood hadn’t acted in four years since starring in Gran Torino.  I’m also a fairly big baseball fan.  I love the sport, I love the game.  I love to watch it, I love to listen to it, and I love my Toronto Blue Jays (who have made some amazing deals this off season, and seem to be on the verge of acquiring reigning NL Cy Young Award Winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets in the next few days…Go Jays Go).  The last Jays game I went to was a bit of a disappointment for several reasons.  August 28th, 2011: we lost on the first pitch of the game, when we served up a home run as we were shut out 12-0 and the only time we had a runner on second was from a stolen base.   With the way the game was playing out, I think probably two of my three friends who made the trip were questioning why they were there, or at least why we we stayed until the final out. Lady Luck did not accompany us that day, but at least the tickets were free from one of the reps I deal with at work.  I didn’t see any games last year, but think I’ll try to make it this year, because I think (hope) I smell playoffs.  Toronto baseball in October?  I can dream, and apparently I can go off on tangents too, because I’m supposed to be reviewing Trouble With The Curve…..

The chemistry between the lead actors was fantastic, and the dialogue was very good.  Amy Adams played off both Eastwood and Timberlake quite well, making everything look natural.  I will admit that when I heard Justin Timberlake was in this movie I was a little leery.  I didn’t like him in In Time, which was a movie that I thought I would really enjoy.  As I recall, the acting was what really brought that film down, but here in Trouble With The Curve, I was pleasantly surprised.  Timberlake seemed a perfectly natural fit in the role and I really enjoyed him.  I think a lot of younger actors really benefit when they get the chance to play opposite a veteran star like Clint Eastwood, doubly so perhaps in Clint’s case because his directorial background is just adding to the wealth of knowledge and experience he can bring to them.

This was definitely a “feel good” film to me.  I found a lot of parallels not only in the film between the lives of Gus and Mickey, but between both characters and myself.  At one point Mickey notes that “being alone sucks” and it is spooky sometimes how it seems a film or character is speaking directly to you, breaking the fourth wall.  I had toyed with the idea of going to see it in theatres, but I knew no one would want to go with me; though I did for a nanosecond think of taking my mother, who is also a big Eastwood fan, but deciding against that was probably for the best, it really would suck to be turned down by my own mother!  One day, perhaps, someone will join me in my living room to watch this sort of movie, because I do rather miss those conversations (and I seem to get very little feedback on my opinions here).  Ah well, here’s the trailer, give it a watch, it’s a good film with quite a few chuckles, a good story, and three very good actors.

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