Thor: Ragnarok: a review

I knew that I would be seeing this latest entry to the Marvel Universe on opening weekend when I learned that Taika Waititi was directing it. The only unknown was whether my youngest daughter would join us. Going to the theatre is always more fun with the whole family. Since she only likes super hero films that are very funny, it didn’t take much effort to convince her to come, with all the positive buzz out there. Nana joined us too and we all had a good time.

I should preface by mentioning that I saw the 1st Thor movie at the theatre back in 2011 and thought it was ho-hum. It was certainly not entertaining enough to see the first sequel, at all. My husband was of a different opinion and told me that Thor: The Dark World was just as good as the original. I did not consider this a resounding endorsement. But because I love Waititi’s previous films (especially the vampires of New Zealand mockumentary What We do in the Shadows) I knew I had to see the 3rd film in this series, Thor: Ragnarok. So I decided to dust off our copy of Thor: The Dark World, just to be up to date. I needn’t have bothered. That film truly was comparable to the first Thor film and not required to enjoy this 3rd instalment.

The plot of Thor: Ragnarok is as ridiculous as one would expect. What makes this film special (other than a brief glimpse of Chris Hemsworth’s abs) are the jokes. It is packed with physical comedy as well as humorous dialogue. I also appreciated that they did not feel compelled to shoehorn a romantic subplot into the story.

Cate Blanchett’s Hela is terrifically villainous as she tries to take over Thor’s home world, Asgard. The rest of the supporting cast is simply an abundance of talent. Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hiddleston return as Bruce Banner/Hulk and Loki respectively. Karl Urban is a delightful new addition to Asgard as Skurge. But a special shout out goes to Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a kick-ass Asgardian in exile who reluctantly joins forces with Thor and friends to help save her people.

The CGI effects are pretty good and the fight sequences are entertaining enough without dragging too long. For a 2h10min run time, this film seemed well paced. Which is good, because if you sit through to the end of the credits you will see 2 brief scenes buried within.

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The Law and Jake Wade: a review

It has been some time since I reviewed a classic film. So I thought I would talk about a favourite western starring a favourite actor of mine, Richard Widmark.

The Law and Jake Wade stars Robert Taylor in the title role as a town Marshall with a dark past.  This past comes back to haunt him in the form of Richard Widmark’s character Clint Hollister.  I don’t want to spoil anything further because I really liked the way this story unfolded and I risk spoiling the climactic showdown. The titular “good guy” Jake had a dark past that he tried to escape when he relocated and built a new life as a town Marshall. When his past caught up to him, his instinct was to leave town again. That he was in love with Peggy, a local woman complicated matters.

 

The location filming is simply gorgeous. I also liked the way this film touched upon the arbitrary rules of society, which often vary, in times of war and peace.  Other themes included loyalty in love and friendship, as well as reinventing oneself.

I really enjoyed this film’s dialogue. The verbal sparring between the two adversaries was top notch, for any film, regardless of genre or era.  The character development was good too. The deft screenplay successfully integrated the back stories, avoiding clumsy expository narrative. I liked the way Patricia Owens’ character Peggy resisted Jake’s out of the blue request that they leave town to make a new life. That she refused to blindly follow, could smell something fishy and insisted on knowing the truth was a progressive way to introduce a female character. Considering the film was released in 1958, very progressive. Sadly such depiction cannot be taken for granted, even in a modern film. As for the hero and his adversary, these 2 men were obviously very close once. We saw the villain anticipate the hero’s moves as if he was pulling the strings. The climactic showdown was still fun to watch, even after many previous viewings.

Of course I am biased, but Richard Widmark was truly electric as the villain and managed to raise evoke sympathy. His distress regarding the abandonment by Robert Taylor’s character was palpable. Some would even say their relationship was beyond bromantic. Widmark stole scenes effortlessly.  Widmark remains an under appreciated classic Hollywood actor. I am not alone in trying to rectify this. That he managed to avoid typecasting and transitioned successfully to heroic roles was a testament to his talent.

 

So if you are curious about classic westerns off the beaten path, this film is worth hunting down. It is available on DVD and iTunes. It has beautiful scenery, great dialogue (Widmark gets most of the best lines), and as an added bonus to any Trekkies out there, young DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy/Bones). He plays a member of the Widmark’s gang. This is 1 of 2 times that he starred with Widmark. The other time was in Warlock, another great film that I blogged about.

Some of my favorite quotes from this film are:

Widmark to the hot head of his outlaw gang “Sonny, I can see we ain’t gonna have you round long enough to get tired of your company.”

Widmark again (to the same guy, after his foolish act of shooting at coyotes – in Indian country no less – in response to the feeble excuse “I didn’t stop to think”) “We’ll chisel that on your tombstone”

Taylor to Widmark “Well, you like me more than I like you”

Happy Death Day: a review

 

 

At the behest of my teenage daughters, my husband and I joined them at the theatre for this recent horror film. They had all seen the trailer and were intrigued; all I knew of it was what they told me and that it was endorsed on of my favourite pop culture podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. It was billed as a Groundhog Day-esque comedic horror film. This film was an enjoyable collective laugh-out-loud experience in a sparsely populated theatre.

 

The trailer summarizes the plot pretty well but I am glad I went in without having seen it. I watched a mean college girl repeatedly living through her same birthday only to have it end in her murder. So naturally, after she stopped freaking out, she tried to figure out who wanted her dead in attempt to avert the inevitable. Sure this movie borrows heavily from Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow and even one of my favourite episodes of TV’s Supernatural. Yet it manages to be fun and fresh as it throws a few red herrings along the way to a satisfying conclusion.

The cast is is largely unknown; no matter, they do a good job. This movie reinforces that with some imagination, good humorous writing, decent acting and a modest budget, an entertaining film can be made. The violence is not really gruesome or graphic, so even the squeamish may enjoy this film. I am looking forward to watching it again on home video.

Blade Runner 2049: a review

This is a movie I knew I would see at the theatre as soon as I encountered the first trailer. Was I a fan of the original 1982 film? Or was I just a Harrison Ford fan in general? Neither, really. But my beloved husband has held the original Blade Runner (1982) as an important film of his youth and was eager to see the next chapter. I really like the sequel’s director, Denis Villeneuve, not just because he is French Canadian, but because of his recent films Arrival and Sicario. So there we were in an IMAX theatre on opening weekend.

I saw the original Blade Runner at my husband’s behest for the first time on DVD when it was re-released as a final cut version in 2007. At that time, I thought it was visually stunning, ahead of its time in its special effects, but the story was just ok. Having re-watched it a few days ago, in anticipation of this sequel, my opinion of the original has remained unchanged. Rather than reviewing that film, I will direct you to Roger Ebert here. It is as if he read my mind. A brief summary of that film for those unfamiliar follows: It was set in a dystopian 2019 and Harrison Ford was the titular character. He was a cop who hunted “replicants” or human-like androids. They were developed for purposes of slave labour and sent to other planets.  But some developed aggressive self-preservation behaviours and illegally returned to earth, in an attempt to pass as humans.

I enjoyed this sequel more than the original film. To talk about specific plot points risks spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the original film and builds upon the same themes (personal identity, free will, slavery, what it means to be alive, love). The result is a much more compelling and mysterious story with characters that seem more developed. I admired the cinematography immensely. It was a stunning homage to the visuals brought forth in Ridley Scott’s original film. The acting by Ryan Gosling in the titular role was appropriately subtle and Ford was more animated than I had seen him in a long time.

You don’t have to watch the original Blade Runner to enjoy this film. However, Blade Runner 2049 is a richer experience the more familiar you are with its world and characters. This is a great film for anyone who likes science fiction, existentialism, mysteries or just wants some  cool action sequences and flying cars. This is a long film (2hours 43min) but it didn’t seem so at the time. But pace you liquid consumption carefully because I agreed with the Runpee app which warned us that there very few opportunities to pop out to the loo. This film was well served by the biggest screen possible and I did not regret the extra expense of IMAX on this occasion. Pre-assigned seating was an added bonus!

Killjoys: a review

 

I don’t consider myself a space opera fan. Unlike 1/2 my family, I have no affection for Star Wars and Star Trek. I have tried but it just didn’t take. Despite this character flaw, I do find myself looking back on Firefly and the rebooted version of Battlestar Galactica (BsG) with longing. These 2 shows were set in space but heavily character driven with some philosophical depth and terrific action. Of course Firefly also had some memorably witty dialogue. Those shows have been off the air for so long and nothing has quite filled the void they left. However, Killjoys comes pretty close.

 

 

Killjoys is a space opera centred around a team of bounty hunters (aka Killjoys), Jaqobi brothers, Johnny (Aaron Ashmore) and D’avin (Luke Macfarlane) and their fearless leader Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), . It is an original Syfy production created by Michelle Loretta. 3 seasons have aired (10 43 min episodes in each) and it has just been given a 2 season renewal.

This show is not as philosophical as BsG and doesn’t’t pretend to be. It is a fun action romp in space with a good balance of season long plot threads that are woven with episodes that stand as individual chapters. There is good character development, fun banter, kick-ass action and techy-nerd jargon that almost makes sense. As the series goes along we watch the killjoys expand their quest beyond simple warrants in order to fight political corruption that threatens their survival. Thankfully, the overall plot isn’t too complicated to follow.

This show films in Canada and the acting and writing are top notch. At times it feels like a Being Erica reunion. Many familiar faces from that beloved show have supporting roles. I especially enjoy the diversity in casting. And I simply love Dutch as an intelligent bad-ass in chic yet sensible footwear. Throw in some dysfunctional family/sibling rivalry between the Jaqobi brothers and I am all in.

So if you are looking for a fun space romp with some witty banter and good action, you may want to check this out.

 

 

 

 

 

Double Happiness: a Contemporary Classic of Canadian Cinema

I recently watch my DVD copy of this 1994 favourite because I was in a nostalgic mood. So when Double Happiness aired on CBC TV last night, prefaced by a brief interview with writer director Mina Shum and a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of women in the film industry, I was thrilled to learn that this film still resonated with others. I was also somewhat saddened by the glacial pace of progress towards diversity in contemporary mainstream TV and cinema. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this film holds up.

Sandra Oh (in her feature film debut) plays Jade Li, the eldest daughter of Chinese parents from Hong Kong, who now live in Canada. She is a struggling actress, much to the chagrin of her traditional parents who view her artistic passion as a frivolous and futile pursuit. For much of the film we watch her navigate a punishing series of auditions as she fulfils role as dutiful daughter and supportive sister and fun-loving friend. We see her humour her parents as she is set up on numerous dates with men from good Chinese families. Ultimately we watch her figure out what she wants, rather than what her parents want.

This film shares many thematic similarities to The Big Sick, which I recently blogged about. However, this film is more drama than comedy, by design. This story is an honest portrayal of the double life that is familiar to many children of immigrants to North America. This is Sandra Oh’s film and she is a delight to watch in an authentic portrayal of a young adult dealing with culture class and a generation gap. Themes that always strike a cord with me. The supporting cast, which includes Callum Keith Rennie, is also fun to watch. I bet that this DVD is available in most Canadian libraries. It is currently also available to stream on CBC TV’s mobile app and website at the link below.

http://watch.cbc.ca/canadian-feature-films/all/41bd9e84-2271-4aeb-8395-16a579a2d330

The Big Sick: a Review

Funny and sweet romantic comedies are hard to find. The Big Sick was getting great buzz among critics and because I love writer/actor/comedian/podcaster Kumail Nanjiani for so many reasons (Silicon Valley, X-Files files), I knew I had to see this film in the theatre. I am happy to say that not only did I enjoy it, so did my husband and daughters.

 

Kudos to Kumail and his wife Emily V. Gordon! They spun a harrowing tale of her real illness into a great romantic comedy that added some new twists to an often repetitive predictable genre.

Kumail plays a fictionalized version of himself. As a struggling standup comedian he meets Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) and before you know it they are a couple. But how is he ever going to tell his traditional Pakistani parents about her? Especially when his family is fixated on an arranged marriage to a Pakistani woman. When Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail meets Emily’s parents and the result is a richness of humor, personal growth and understanding. To say more risks spoiling the film.

As a child of immigrants I really enjoyed the themes of culture clash woven with great specificity into this movie. It is easy to see why the 2 charming main characters fell for each other, so when trouble hit, the subsequent drama is that much more poignant. Authentic relationships, i.e ones to root for, are often a leap of faith in lesser films. I also enjoyed that there was no need to inject a real villain (i.e. cartoonish exes). An additional delight is a super-talented all-star cast that also includes Anupam Kher (Bend it Like Beckham), Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

This film has been in theatres for a while now. I did see it a few weeks back but was too busy to write about it until now. I just hope that if you like romantic comedies and are looking for a fresh take you can still find this playing somewhere near you.

GLOW: a review

Wow, over the course of 2 days, I binge-watched this Netflix original series (10 episodes, 30 min each) with my youngest daughter. It has been on my radar ever since it was featured on one of my favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.

My daughter was bored, we were home alone together and she was willing to learn how to make home-made pizza with me but wanted to watch something while we flattened dough, chopped veggies and laid out toppings. I swear we would starve if we didn’t have a TV in the kitchen. So I suggested GLOW and she was game.

GLOW is a period (1980’s) drama with a healthy dose of wry humour about the formation of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I should preface this review by saying that I have never actually watched wrestling, but have close friends that have (still do). In fact we don’t really watch sports in my house. Occasionally a big important game (Olympics, NHL or MLB playoffs) will grab my husband’s attention. This show’s strength lies in its ensemble of women who are figuring out their lives. Some of the struggles depicted involve their relationships with men but many of the best moments are when the women are helping with each other’s issues and forming their friendships. Each of the women are part of GLOW for different reasons. Season 1 is rather like an origin setup. Unfortunately, the short season means that some characters are better served than others. The ending begs for a follow-up season.

I won’t give away any spoilers for this character driven show. The main conflict of the first season deals with 2 ex-friends, both actors who are trying to grab a foothold on their stalled careers. Alison Brie (loved her as Trudy in Mad Men) plays Ruth (aka Koya the Destroyer) and Betty Gilpin plays Debbie (aka Liberty Bell). They are the most developed characters and we watch them struggle and grow throughout Season 1. This show has a pretty diverse cast of women, some whose life’s struggles we are also privy to.

I should mention that Marc Maron also stars as a down on his luck B-movie director. He is tasked with bringing GLOW to the small screen, with the spotty financial backing of Chris Lowell (Piz from my beloved Veronica Mars) as his man-child producer. I should also mention that I am not a Marc Maron fan either; I tried listening to his podcast a few times but it was not for me. But credit to him, he was just perfect for this sleazy role.

My daughter and I really were pleasantly surprised with the surprising developments of this show and its handling of sensitive subjects. We are hoping for a season 2. So if you are looking for a quick TV fix, love the 80’s (the hair, the makeup the fashion, and especially the MUSIC), crave a realistic depiction of complex female characters, you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy GLOW. It is worth a look.

Baby Driver: a review

To get out of the heat today and spend some quality time together, my family and I decided to go to the movies. Baby Driver has been getting positive buzz, so when Judge John Hodgman gave it a big plug on his podcast this week, I just knew I had to see it.

Wow, this was a film that left 2 middle-aged adults and their teenaged daughters  grinning from ear-to-ear. This is a beautiful action-filled, tense heist movie with a sweet love story overlay. It is brutal in its gun violence and car chases. Yes , you read correctly, this is a film full of car chases that I really really love. The ingenuity of writer/director Edgar Wright is simply a marvel.

The main character, nick-named Baby (Ansel Elgort), is a getaway car driver who is constantly listening to music on his iPod. He is trapped in a life of crime, because of a stupid youthful bad decision and when he meets the girl of his dreams, he is determined to start a new chapter in his life. But then things get complicated, as they do, when a film also stars Kevin Spacey as a crime boss and Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx as bank robbers.

I actually approached this film with some trepidation, despite all the positive reviews, because I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. I also have a serious allergy to most movie car chases, especially when it is “the same old, same old.” But I have a great love of Edgar Wright’s previous work. His knack for making me love films of genres I usually eschew is uncanny. He is also brilliant at comedy. If you need convincing of that fact, please watch the video below.

And then go watch Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End.

Wright’s attention to detail and love of music is magnificently displayed on the big screen in Baby Driver. Throughout the film the audience is privy to Baby’s playlist and the beats are synchronized to the onscreen action in a remarkably joyful style. Full disclosure, I fully admit to being someone who loves her iPod Classic and will have it on at work as often as possible. Thus this movie spoke to my soul. For some of us, music is a very important part of a working day.

This is a tense drama that is peppered with comedic moments. The imaginative stunt driving, dazzlingly choreographed fights, vivid dimensional characters and sharp dialogue make for a fabulously original film. If you are looking for an excuse to see a movie that begs to be seen in the theatre, look no further.

New Waterford Girl: a Contemporary Classic of Canadian Cinema

 

I watched New Waterford Girl on DVD again; is it the 3rd or 4th time? I have lost count. This 18 year old movie is one I absolutely adore. It is funny, quirky, sweet, kind, very specific to time and place and so very Canadian. It also has an amazing pedigree. It was directed by Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume) and features Mary Walsh (This Hour has 22 Minutes) and Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci’s Inquest), two icons of Canadian TV. Both actors give authentic portrayals as the titular character’s haggard parents. Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink), an under-rated talent, is great in a key supporting role.

 

 

Liane Balaban makes her film debut as Agnes Marie (nick-named Mooney) Pottie in this coming of age story set in 1970’s small town Nova Scotia. She struggles to be understood as the 4th of 5 children in a lovingly chaotic dysfunctional family. She is introverted, imaginative and creative and considered weird because she dreams of a life beyond her small mining town. With the help of her teacher, Mr. Sweeney (not a local) her talents are rewarded by a scholarship to a prestigious art high school in Manhattan. But how to get there? In an insular Catholic town, where anyone who comes from away is viewed with suspicion, any girl who leaves does so under a cloud of gossip. With the help of her tough new extroverted friend Lou (Tara Spencer-Nairn), an American new-comer, in exile from the Bronx, Mooney concocts a plan to realize her dream.

I really enjoy the way the film prioritizes a friendship between 2 very different teenage girls. Both Mooney and Lou are trying to figure out who they are and the actresses portraying them do a terrific job.  Both girls have to make fine adjustments in their behaviour and beliefs while determining where to draw the line. All this is done without the need for a major romantic subplot. Ok, there are hints of romance but Mooney makes it clear that she has no interest and won’t be flattered by its introduction. How refreshing and un-Hollywood is that?

Gosh, I am a sucker for films about misfits. This film also hits other themes in my wheelhouse. It deals with family dysfunction, the expectations of women in the 1970’s, small town life and the role of Catholic church. Mooney is singular in her dream of the life that she wants, eschews conformity and allows nothing to derail her. This film has a great period soundtrack featuring Canadian artists and a musical performance cameo by Ashley MacIsaac. Having lived through the 1970’s, I feel comfortable in saying this film  captured the spirit of the times in a remarkable way. The outfits, the cars, the hairstyles, the interior decor, this film just nailed it.

If you are looking for a quirky, sweet, fun, blast from the past, you might want to check this one out. I imagine almost every public library in Canada probably has a copy.

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