Friday, November 13, 2015

Brooklyn (2015)

Thanks to some fortuitous circumstances and a bearer of free tickets, I was able to attend a pre-screening for the film Brooklyn.

I had seen the trailer for this movie a couple of months ago and was definitely intrigued. It combines my love of Saoirse Ronan, her amazing native Irish accent, and her great range in a proper drama. There were a couple of strange sci-fi/fantasy choices that she made that I wasn't the most thrilled with but this one is right in my wheelhouse.

Saoirse plays Eilis (pronounced Eh-lish, for us Canadians or the Fonz) a young Irish girl leaving her mother and older sister Rose to sail for America in a quest to find new opportunities. She has some support once landing in Brooklyn but finds it hard to forget her home of potatoes and Guinness (okay bad stereotypes) and start anew. She struggles socially and at work until she meets a young Italian plumber named Mario....sorry, I mean Tony. I keep getting those two names mixed up and I can't for the life of me think why. At least he doesn't have a moustache. The story follows the pair of young lovers and Eilis' internal struggle when tragedy forces her to return to Ireland.

Saoirse really shows us why she is an Oscar nominated actress. Eilis goes through so much personally and emotionally and as an audience you feel captivated by her life and sometimes forget you're not there with her. Tony (Emory Cohen) is a bit uncouth but he has a boyish charm. I think I liked the character because he's a bit goofy but also due to the crassness of his character in The Place Beyond the Pines. The supporting cast is a treat. Everyone from Jim Broadbent to Julie Walters do just what they need to nothing more, nothing less and in the best way. The supporting roles are just that and they don't pull focus from Eilis but guide her along as she grows.

I find it heartbreaking seeing Rose having to put any hope for a life of her own on hold to stay in Ireland and take care of their mother. This sort of self-sacrifice is something we see a lot in film but I don't think it's been done any better than with older brother George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. It's a character you always want to succeed but that's not their cinematic destiny. Although it did turn out pretty well for George in the end.

Upon Eilis' return to Ireland we also meet a young Irish chap, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). I found his character a bit lacking in development and I would have loved to see more of him. For a drama like this I am glad that it is under two hours but felt like it could have used more time particularly for Rose and Jim who could have been flushed out more considering their roles.

I'm sorry if this seems a bit rushed, I'm writing this when I should be getting ready to go to the airport but my priorities are clearly out of whack. I'll definitely come back to finish what I wrote here but this is a good start for now.

It has a limited release in Canada starting November 20 and although it's not action packed it really is worth the watch. It's surprisingly funny while keeping you invested emotionally. It paces well and doesn't leave you shifting in your seat waiting for the credits. Check it out for a compelling story and a great performance from Saoirse Ronan.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

It's official, the summer blockbuster season has begun! In recent years a big budget superhero movie tends to start us off and Avengers: Age of Ultron is definitely a worthy flag bearer for the flood of this year's additions.

The Rundown: After retrieving Loki's Scepter from a HYDRA stronghold Stark decides to research the scepter and finds something that might just bring peace to the world. His unfortunate mishap results in Ultron, an artificial intelligence hell bent on destroying the Avengers and the human race (villains are all the same).  

As usual, the witty comedic style we've come to know and love from Marvel was in full force. I found the opening action sequence a bit jarring and almost too animated but I could live with it. I can only guess it was made for 3D but it hurts my eyes so I opt to save the $5 or so.

Thankfully I had no such gripes later in the film. Overall the action was pretty crisp and was bolstered well by the abundance of debris from Ultron's legionnaires being utterly destroyed and blown apart in oh so many ways.

Newcomers Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson were pretty enjoyable with their generic Eastern European accents (or Sokovian as per Marvel lore). I prefer Evan Peters' Quicksilver from Days of Future Past but only just. When I first saw production stills of Taylor-Johnson's look in the role I had my doubts. The character was a little darker, a little less goofy, but all in all he brought his own in a star studded ensemble. The two were solid, late additions to the Avengers crew. It just makes you think how big the cast will be once the Infinity War starts kicking off.

I actually wrote this whole thing and forgot to talk about Vision so I am going to subtly slip it in like it was meant to be here this whole time. Vision is an android designed as the final vessel for Ultron's intelligence. Vision is created using Vibranium to bond with human cells as well as the power of the Mindstone (the Yellow Infinity Stone). Paul Bettany gets buff and painted up to play the part and it certainly wasn't as campy as I feared it could be. I spoiled the storyline a bit because I knew he would be playing the character while also previously voicing a very familiar friend to Stark.

I don't often like reading more critical and general negative reviews that oppose my own but Forbes had one that does touch on some valid points. They call Ultron "lame" but I think that is a bit harsh. James Spader gives Ultron a funny, yet diabolical whimsy but he doesn't quite instill the kind of fear or terror as would be implied in the trailers. The article also gets it right in that the movie does try to keep track of too many characters. It did need to happen though in order to ease audiences into what will be a zoo of heroes in the Infinity War films. 

To throw in a little criticism of my own, the dramatic moments with Barton, and especially those between Natasha and Bruce were a bit clumsy but the quick quips and clever one liners that were ever so cooly slipped in saved us from any lengthy discomfort. Also, the introductory HYDRA crony Baron Wolfgang von Strucker has a made up sounding name and looks like the Colonel Klink's poor, sad, and less successful younger brother. 

Is it better than The Avengers? No. Is it worse? I don't think so. In any case it has a little more awkward drama, the same style and humour, and I personally liked the polish on the action more even if it was more chaotic. 

I know you're going to watch it so no endorsement needed from me.

There is an extra scene at the end but if you've been following the Infinity War setup you won't be surprised by it. 

- The product placement was a little more blatant than usual or maybe I'm just more aware of it. Beats by Dre, Audi, Samsung, and Adidas really made their mark in this one.
- Andy Serkis is almost non-existent in his tiny role and I wish he could have done more. Julie Delpy's role is even shorter and I only caught her because I knew she was in it.
- Idris Elba looks good out of Heimdall's gold armor. It suits him better. Catch that pun?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cinderella (2015)

Kenneth Branagh has been putting his touch on big budget blockbusters these last few years. He's been taking on iconic characters and I think his take on Cinderella is safe but entertaining.

Branagh doesn't push the boundaries in many places and pretty much just sticks to the plan. From what I could see the story was pretty spot on with the Disney's first attempt 65 years prior. There are however a few major differences from the 1950's version

First, when making her dress, Cinderella does not use any of the her "family's" old clothing, her sisters and step-mother are just cruel for even fewer reasons. Secondly, the Captain played by Nonso Anozie is a new character and is basically the honorable and kind half of the Grand Duke. Which brings us to the fact that the Grand Duke isn't supposed to be evil but is portrayed so in this story by Stellan Skarsgard

Lily James put in a pretty visceral and real performance, but when you're comparing it to a cartoon it's like comparing apples and oranges. 

One thing that piqued my attention is the way they got her into the beautiful blue gown by the end. She supposedly could only eat soup because of the physical limitations set upon her by the gown. As far as feminism goes I am not particularly outspoken but Cinderella is a strong female character that is hard working, loving, and kind. She is my second favourite Disney Princess (Belle will always hold a place in my heart) and rightfully so. Lily James is not a big girl and she is beautiful and I am fine with that casting. But had they loosened the corset, would it really have killed the image? Cinderella is supposed to be a woman so stop trying to make her a cartoon.

Hayley Atwell's role as Cinderella's mother is warm and loving and you really believe it. Although, for me, her beautiful brown locks seem to suit her more than the blonde but that is neither here nor there. Drizella and Anastasia were as described but mostly forgettable as they were overshadowed by Cate Blanchett's eerie performance as Lady Tremaine. Blanchett could seemingly play many of the villainous female characters Disney has to offer. She could have easily slotted in as Maleficent as well as a remade version of Cruella de Vil (although Glenn Close was terrifying). Helena Bonham Carter is exactly as you might expect as the Fairy Godmother, absolutely, wonderfully weird. 

Finally we get to Pretty Boy....I mean the Prince. Richard Madden portrays the Prince with those piercing blue eyes and Ross Geller-inspired white teeth. Many of the Prince's scenes provide some sort of quick quip or joke and brings some levity to oppose the cruel and dark situation that befalls Cinderella. His inability to speak to Cinderella asking for the first dance is cute only in a pre-teen first "date" kind of way. It is a bit awkward but it rolls past it fast enough. 

Technically speaking I thought it looked dark. I'm not sure if that was intentional or just an issue with the projector itself. On one hand it made for a somewhat more realistic look, with a little less artificial light but on the other hand tt made some of the details muted or muffled. The images weren't quite as crisp as they could have been. 

I loved the set decoration. Towards the end is when it really started to shine. Cinderella's carriage and the interiors of the castle were simply magnificent. There were touches of computer graphics for those things but I think most of it was practically done. 

I did find the movie spent a lot of time explaining some of the minutiae of the story which was nice but they did rush over Cinderella making her dress for the ball and that was disappointing. Also, there is a lack of the magical music present in the original. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes does play but only after the credits start rolling.

Speaking of credits, I should add that there is a post-credits scene. Although my policy is to stick around until the credits are over, I succumbed to peer pressure and my friends leaving the theatre. Having only read what it entails, it's not a huge deal if you miss it but just a somewhat chuckle worthy extra snippet. 

All in all, it was fun. It isn't reinventing the story but it shows it in a different medium. I didn't feel like it was too geared towards children but it didn't have any frightening parts either (e.g. Spider Baby Head and his friends from Toy Story). I can imagine the IMAX Experience does punch up the effects quite a bit but I'm not interested in buying an overpriced ticket just for that. Regular admission is perfectly adequate but I might suggest waiting a week or two for some of the theatres to get less crowded. Besides spoilers shouldn't be an issue for those that haven't been living under a rock for the last 65 years. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Boyhood (2014) - Take 2

A few days removed and 165 minutes later I can rest easy that I am not just a warped, frustrated old man.

After a sufficient break from Oscar films and a few episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a cleanser, I returned as promised to Richard Linklater's Boyhood. I won't be backpedaling too far in this post; it's more of an update and addendum to my ever so slightly harsh words issued on the weekend. 

I stand by the fact that the first half hour is not easy to sink into. Knowing that it is nearly three hours beforehand was a detrimental piece of knowledge to have. I was actually surprised that for me, after the half hour hump, the remaining two plus hours went rather quickly.

There is no point sharing a summary because it is summed up in the title of the film.

The material itself is mundane, almost dull but relatable in many ways. As a dear friend told me, it isn't a particularly climactic movie but you can't help but start to get attached to the characters. Towards the end though, the young characters were becoming too philosophical and towards the far-left wing. It was encroaching on "My name is Rainbow. I am a gluten-free vegan and my clothes are made entirely from hemp" territory. Not that that is a bad thing, I just can't relate in terms of my own boyhood.

Ethan Hawke performed very well as his slightly grungy but lovable and charming self, which is not surprising in the least. Patricia Arquette's performance grew on me. She convinced me more as an older more settled mother than trying to play a woman in her early 30s in the beginning. She was the most consistent hitter of the actors and she has the hardware to prove it. Lorelei Linklater and her character Samantha were not that pivotal to the story and the film and it was definitely felt when she just slipped away towards the end. But again, the movie is called Boyhood not Girlhood. That would be a nice companion piece in Linklater's repertoire though.

The scenes with Ellar Coltrane who played Mason Jr. were filmed for 3-4 days each year, which is a pretty small window to capture. Yes Mason is a fictional character but as Linklater, Hawke, and Arquette sat down and wrote each year, the story, at some points had to progress along with Ellar as well as Mason.

I loved the subtle (and not so subtle) pop culture references letting us know generally what year it was without having to explicitly tell us. The music was also a nice touch, most used as a tie to the year in which it was shot. The Black Album, the works of Paul, John, George, and Ringo, made by Mason Sr. for his son, is one nice addition to the music department of the film. It is glossed over so cooly in the scene and enhanced its intrigue for me.

I'm not certain how accurate this playlist is but you can check it out here.

So after giving Boyhood its clearly deserved second chance, I can say that I liked it. I think it was one of the best movies of the year but not my favourite. That's not detracting from the film because unlike previous years I did watch all the Best Picture candidates and the competition was fierce. The Grand Budapest Hotel was my pick for best of the year. From the point of view of a novel and creative way to film a story, I am sad that Richard Linklater didn't win for Best Director. It is not however "a travesty" that neither he nor Boyhood won for their respective categories.

What I want to finish with is that while it was a slow burn I did enjoy it. The way the story is told doesn't make me want to see it again but it does make me want to see his next chapter, the 18-30 year old story for Ellar and Mason Jr. Like a TV Unfortunately, it will be another 12 years in the making. 

- Did you like that topical reference in the opening paragraph? Nothing like a 70 year old movie to stay current.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Boyhood (2014) - Take 1

I am going to disappoint some people because sadly I did not complete my quest to watch all the Best Picture Oscar nominees before the big event. 

I could not finish Richard Linklater's Boyhood but it wasn't due to lack of time. 

Call it sacrilegious, call it whatever you want. I just didn't like it. I only got thirty minutes in and let's take a look at those thirty minutes. 

(Please don't take my opinion seriously. I didn't finish it and 98% of the Rotten Tomatoes community seem to like it so I'm in the minority. Just enjoy my rant from here on out.)

We always see the divorced single parent trope in movies but rarely do we see it kids' point of view. Linklater puts a novel spin on old material and I can't fault him for that. 

I think for me the problem is that in those first thirty minutes, I hated every character that appeared on screen. I'm not saying their performances were bad but the characters just made me want to smack some people. Maybe that is what he intended. I'm certain some of them grow into perfectly respectable people but.... 

Okay let's put it this way. I compare it to watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but instead you replace every character with Dolores Umbridge. Great acting but if I had to watch that I would probably gouge out my eyes or punch my screen. A bit extreme but I am do so for the sake of being dramatic. 

I love Linklater's long term trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. It follows two lovers across an 18 year span. These movies are often mundane, unbroken, long winded, and hard to watch and I love them for it. Boyhood seems to share many of the same qualities but never hooked me. If the hook is beyond 30 minutes I'll be reticent to try to watch it again. 

I put Take 1 in the title because I will give it another chance in due time. There are a number of factors that may have driven me not to like the movie. 
  • I chose to watch this movie last of all the Best Picture nominees. That may have soiled my palette for these long dramas
  • I had just finished watching Big Hero 6, a fantastic, lovable but very unrealistic movie
  • Boyhood was overhyped
  • I am growing more critical of movies
  • or the remote possibility of it just not being good
I am surely being too harsh to it without giving it a fair chance but that is what I think right now. 30 minutes felt like two hours and 165 minutes would feel like a hammer to the temple claw side first.

I really don't have that much against the movie, it just didn't hook me. For now I will shelf it along with some other movies I haven't finished like Lincoln and Robin Hood.

- Instead of finishing the movie, I watched some YouTube videos then went to bed. I think I watched Guy Falling for 9 Seconds about 10 times.
- Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei makes you want to give her a good smack every time she does anything, says anything, or appears on screen. I do not condone child abuse but some discipline helps in the long run. Maybe that's the old fashioned talking.

Selma (2014)

I have a very limited knowledge of the work Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished during his years as a civil rights activist. Everyone knows the I Have a Dream speech but I knew little else.

I also have a very narrow and limited knowledge of much of US History. Although I know who LBJ was (if you think that stands for Lebron James you can get out now), I could never have told you much about the man, other than he was in office for a sizeable chunk of the Vietnam War. 

In that vein, I apologize in advance for any historical inaccuracies found in the this post. I love film history, not regular history.

Selma focuses on the work done by Dr. King and the SCLC in the state of Alabama and more specifically the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. The events start after Dr. King's famous speech and after he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I think it is tragic that David Oyelowo was not nominated for an Oscar. It would be hard to knock out the great men in the category but to bring to life one of the greatest orators in American history in a resounding fashion is an amazing sight to behold. Selma focuses on the injustices towards African Americans in that they are being denied the right to vote. Not only that but their is apathy and almost disdain in the highest offices in government towards the cause. Blacks are being beaten and killed and nothing is being done to stop it. MLK did not stand for that.

While it is a a HARPO Production, I'm glad I don't see much of an Oprah effect on the film other than in her brief scenes. Although Dr. King shouting, "You get a vote! And you get a vote! And you get a vote! Everybody gets a vote!!!" to the masses would have been an excellent scene.

I love how much of a loathsome bully Tim Roth plays as George Wallace. I don't know how realistic it is to the man himself but I haven't heard much to the contrary. Having those truly villainous characters makes a story oh so much more intriguing and also satisfying when they are conquered.  

The main concern in terms of historical accuracy is the complete failure that is Lyndon Johnson as he is portrayed in this film. Supposedly, Johnson was very proactive with civil rights legislation and accommodating to Dr. King in their work together. Here is a largely biased but hopefully accurate source disputing the portrayal of LBJ in the film. Tom Wilkinson does a fine job and I'm sure it is simply written that way for dramatic effect.

The story of Selma is one I had not heard before and I attribute that to why I liked it. I had a visceral enjoyment of the film and I think that is how it should be. There were some heavy moments as is to be expected but I couldn't look away. It actually made me angry even though, for the most part, the issues being raised in the story have been addressed. It was slow at times but that is the nature of biopics and historical movies. For me it was a much easier watch than Lincoln if that tells you anything.

- I'm sorry for the Oprah meme but I couldn't resist.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Birdman (2014)

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! Knocking Birdman off my list, I am six for eight with only a few days to go. That gives me plenty of time to make it there!

I felt that Birdman was as good as the sum of its parts but nothing more. 

I see traditionally shot films as an amalgamation of scenes coming together to tell a story. The scenes themselves are useless out of context and thus those films become more than the sum of its parts.  

Since Birdman was filmed to look like one long scene it meant the characters and sets made up sections of one large sum. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, because it isn't. In this case, the aesthetic director Alejandro Inarritu (sorry for any missing accents) went for is really helped by the style of cinematography and editing. 

Riggin Thompson (Michael Keaton) was Birdman (an allusion to Batman, but you all know that so we can move right along), a comic-book adapted to a few big screen blockbuster hits. Over twenty years later he is struggling to try to find his footing. He has financed, written, directed, and is starring in his own Broadway play. It seems that Murphy's Law is in effect and nothing can go quite right, but that's what previews are for. From his venomous interactions with castmate Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) to his failing relationship with ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and daughter Sam (Emma Stone), his personal life is a mess and he is falling deeper into his spiral of psychosis that metastasizes into Birdman walking around telling Riggin what they need to do. 

Keaton is outright insane and I loved every minute of it. Now that's nice and succinct for you. 

Ed Norton plays a great asshole and I really don't care about him at all, that is why it was wonderful. Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, and even Emma Stone are all mainly ancillary but Naomi Watts is what I have to talk about most with the supporting cast. 

I didn't like her, to be fair I never really do, but she overacted. She is playing a "young" woman who has dreamt of being on Broadway and acts like a child when she thinks of it slipping through her fingers. Naomi will be 47 later this year and she acts less than half her age. Amy Ryan is the same age and her character is the mother of another adult character in the movie. Yes this is Hollywood, but it's time to move on and embrace the mom roles now Naomi.

Antonio Sanchez provides a fantastic jazz drum score that was brilliant and not unlike another Oscar nominated movie, Whiplash. Unfortunately for him and the film, the Academy deemed him ineligible for the Original Score category, for which Birdman was nominated at the Golden Globes, due to the effect the classical music portion of the score had on the film. I think that is total hogwash and even after an appeal they just have to live with it.

I was going to say at the top of this post that the one take look of this movie is very reminiscent of Alphonso Cuaron's style. That is because Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki often works with Cuaron and is responsible for cinematically notable films Children of Men and Gravity, for which he just recently won the Academy Award. I see gold in this man's very near future as he is nominated again for Birdman. Along those, lines the editing was very clever but from the sheer number of transitions, the quick cut to and from darkness became a little played out. 

I loved the story even if it was fairly obvious what the climax would be. Michael Keaton and the way it was shot were the big draws for me. I enjoyed myself the whole way through but ultimately I don't need to watch this movie ever again. For me, it has very little value in a repeat viewing. For those yet to see it, let this movie sink in a little before you move on from it forever. You won't regret it.

Check out The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, and other Oscar nominees if you haven't already. You're running out of time!