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

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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.

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.

Wonder Woman: a review

 

I saw Wonder Woman (in 2D) last weekend with my family; mostly at the behest of my husband. I had mixed feelings going in that never left. It was a split decision in my family. Half us liked it and the other half thought it was ok.

 

This is a war movie disguised as a superhero origin story with a hint of romance. This combination of themes left me wanting. I have my bias. I gravitate toward character and relationship-based superhero or war or romance stories featuring an underdog. Or if movies are really funny and poke fun at the usual tropes, I can be won over. This movie was just not made for me. I think I am too old and have seen too much. In a nutshell, it was fine. Because all the reasons why I feel this way about this blockbuster are better explained in this excellent review at the AV Club I am just going to make a couple of lists.

What I liked

  • Gal Gadot is very convincing as a kick-ass superhero who does not conform to gender stereotypes of this period piece.
  • Gal Gadot’s performance as a fish-out-of-water Amazonian warrior in WW1 ravaged Europe was pretty funny at times.
  • Chris Pine’s performance as a spy and romantic interest for our heroine was a good balance of chemistry, comedy and drama. I am warming up to him as an actor.
  • Gal Gadot’s costume wasn’t completely ridiculous and she had sensible footwear. Reminded me a bit of Xena.
  • A woman (Patty Jenkins) directed this film and it was a successful blockbuster.
  • Some fun slo-mo fight sequences.
  • The humorous interludes were very welcome.
  • Romance did not derail the narrative.

 

What I didn’t like

  • A generic good vs evil plot.
  • Uninspired villains.
  • Lacklustre origin story.
  • Too much time devoted to routine depictions of explosions, mass destruction and the ravages of war. None that were interesting or creative.
  • Not enough humour.
  • Terrible accents among the Amazonians.
  • Too many dark and grey scenes (so glad I did not see this in 3D), that’s ok for the WW1 trenches but does everything else have to happen at night?
  • The power of love? Seriously? UGH!

I won’t see it again and wouldn’t go to the theatre to see a sequel unless the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and gushing about humour or originality. This film didn’t have enough of either for me to generate much enthusiasm.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: a review

My family went to the theatre to see the 2nd Guardians of the Galaxy movie today, on the opening weekend. Both kids brought a friend and all 6 of us had a fabulous time. Mind you, our love for the first instalment of this franchise was documented on this blog here, almost 2 years ago. In a nutshell, if you liked the 1st film, you will enjoy this sequel.

I have recently limited my superhero movie consumption, as my tolerance for space chases and endless explosive destruction has diminished in my dotage. The only other recent superhero movies that I have watched (but didn’t bother to blog about) have been Logan (‘cuz, duh, Hugh Jackman) and Ant-Man (‘cuz it was widely reviewed as funny – and it was, I enjoyed it). This film manages to put a fun spin on action sequences, saving me from tedium. The film has a certain self awareness and doesn’t mess with the formula of its previous success.

 

 

Best of all, it is just as funny as the first film. Watching it with an audience, laughing together in a theatre, made it extra enjoyable. The current plot is not as convoluted as that in the 1st film. It serves as a necessary backdrop to watch a charming group of characters bicker like a typical family. Essentially, our beloved heroes find themselves chased for various reasons and find themselves separated and ultimately reunited. The film shows them struggling to figure out what they mean to each other while they forge a path for the future of this franchise. Along the way they interact with some new characters (friend and foe) whereby they learn about each other and themselves. On many levels this is a dysfunctional family story as much as it is a superhero film. Although the plot is largely secondary to the characters, it is better written than it had to be.

The retro soundtrack is well selected, adding to the joy. There are only hints at romance (thank goodness) that add to the fun. The introduction of Baby Groot adds a new dimension to our group. His adorable toddler-like presence contributes much of the film’s humour . He also serves as a foil, bringing out the best in our bickering band of heroes.

If you are looking for a fun film for the family and you liked the 1st Guardians of the Galaxy movie, you will definitely want to see this film. If you haven’t seen the first film, don’t worry, it isn’t mandatory viewing. You will still have a fun time with this sequel. Be sure to stick around for the credits to enjoy 5 extra scenes.

Get Out: A Genius Spooky Thriller and Satire

 

I saw this at the theatre at the behest of my husband and youngest daughter. They saw it last weekend and raved about it. Scheduling conflicts prevented me and my older daughter from joining them. I had seen trailers, read rave reviews and am a huge fan of writer-director Jordan Peele, so I was intrigued by all the buzz surrounding his directorial debut. I was also wary of the possibility of over-hype leaving me disappointed. No need to fret, last night, I took my daughter and her friend (who had no prior knowledge of the film but is a horror fan) to the theatre and had a great time.

As you can see from the trailer, this is a horror film that is a social satire about race relations. It had a marvellous balance of tension, jump scares, creepiness, humour and mild gore. The story revolves around Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time during a weekend getaway.

 

 

This is an intricately crafted screenplay that leaves deliberate clues and many twists along the way that make you go “Holy crap, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” It is a masterful cinematic cultural experience full of sly symbolism and metaphor. It has been aptly hailed as a cross between The Stepford Wives and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The satire is very well grounded and to say more risks spoiling major plot points, beyond what the trailer gives away. It is fascinating watching Chris code-switch throughout the movie and slowly come to the realization that something is truly off about these people, beyond the usual micro aggressions.

I can’t wait to watch it again. I really love the lead performances by Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams. A special shout out goes to supporting actors Lil Rey Howry as Chris’ buddy and Betty Gabriel as the maid. It is wonderfully directed and not too gory. If you like suspense but eschew horror, I would definitely give this a go.

But if horror is really not your thing, then enjoy the video below in celebration of Jordan Peele’s genius. This is a great example of code-switching humour from his beloved and sorely missed sketch comedy show.

Manchester by the Sea: a review

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I am doing my best to watch all the Oscar best picture nominees this year and just finished watching Manchester by the Sea with my husband. We both thought this was an amazing film; a real emotional gut punch. It is not for everyone but if you want a cathartic cry, this character study is the answer. It is full of humour and there is hope but have the tissues handy. Beautifully filmed in the titular New England town, this film takes you on a quiet and painful journey into what is left of the soul of a broken man. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown when his brother dies and learns that he has been named guardian to his 16 year old nephew.

Through skilled direction and deft flashbacks, we seen the man that Lee used to be and are struck by the contrast to his present self. When we learn of the circumstance responsible for his altered state, it is heart wrenching. This is a story about one man’s struggle. This film deals with the messiness of family and small town life. Yet it is a tragedy that hasn’t forgotten the importance of laughter. Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed this original film with such remarkable attention to detail. The idiocies of everyday life are woven into the narrative adding humour to a very sad tale.

This is not a typical Hollywood movie and I am glad for that. If you like character driven stories and don’t mind a good cry, this film will knock the wind out of you. I hope it gets some love at the Oscars. Sometimes sad independent films win big on Oscar night. I won’t be too upset if this wins for best picture (although Arrival is still my favourite, with this film tied with Hell or High Water for 2nd place). Casey Affleck is outstanding in his performance; this is such a multi-faceted role. If he doesn’t win best actor, I will be disappointed (not quite as disappointed as I was about Amy Adams’ snub for Arrival). I would be thrilled if any of my favourite 3 contenders would take home gold for screenplay, but I won’t hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

Hell or High Water: Western-Noir for our times, a review

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Last Saturday was movie night again at our friends’ (Karen and Steve) house. All four of us had fun watching this on a beautiful brand new entertainment system.

 

This film took us along on a suspenseful crime spree through small town Texas. We watched 2 brothers as they robbed banks and we also followed the lawmen, who were hot on their trail. This is such an oversimplification, but to say more would risk too much. The reasons for the robberies were initially unclear but gradually we understood. Boy oh boy, there was great satisfaction in watching a rather genius plan unfold. But would they get away with it? The beauty of this movie lies in the motivation of the crimes. The true heart of this film was subtle, yet it eloquently gave us a glimpse at the lives of simple folk.

The reveal is doled out in alternating moments of quiet contemplation and high stakes tension. This is a story about real lives, set in a real place. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Yes, there is quite a bit of humour in this dark suspenseful tale. I also love the way it sneaks in some scathing social commentary. The cinematography is stunning rendering Texas an important character of the film. The acting is outstanding. Jeff Bridges is nominated for a supporting Oscar in his role as a senior Texas Ranger, determined to bring the culprits to justice. Gil Birmingham is fantastic as his younger colleague  and verbal jousting partner. Ben Foster, a talented chameleon of an actor, plays the ex-con brother with charm, tenderness and unique code of honour. But it is Chris Pine who surprised me. I should preface this by stating that I am not a fan of Pine, primarily because I have seen him in the same role too many times. Mostly cocky young men, of which James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek reboot is quintessential. His acting, until now, has been just too smarmy for my taste. Finally, this film allows him to stretch in a different, more sincere direction. In this film he plays the brother who has always played it straight and for that, he seems beaten down by the world at large. The film is directed with subtle detail by David Mackenzie, who is new to me.

Special credit must be given to Taylor Sheridan, the writer of this original screenplay. Even his bit characters are magnificent. I was so happy to learn that he has been honoured with an Oscar nomination. He is also known for another tense thriller, Sicario, which I reviewed (and thoroughly enjoyed) over a year ago. He has come a long way from a struggling actor in 2010 to a celebrated screenwriter of original stories. I will definitely keep a lookout for his next project to hit the big screen.

If you like tightly plotted western or crime films, great dialogue and a story that you have never seen on screen before, then this film is worth a look.

 

 

 

 

 

La La Land, a love song to Classic Film and Musicals

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I went with my family to the theatre to watch this movie. It has many critics whispering Oscar and I was super curious. The only musicals in theatres these days are usually cartoons. I was raised on classic Hollywood film and I am a fan of musicals. I did like (not love) this film. So did my family, but I don’t think it will win anyone over who isn’t partial to musicals to begin with. But if you are a fan of either Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling (I am) and are curious about them breaking into song and dance numbers, this is worth a look.

We follow Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they fall in love and support each other through the struggle to make it against all odds in L.A. Mia is an aspiring actor and Sebastian is a jazz pianist. It is a story that honours artistic dreamers. It is a fantasy that flirts with harsh realities. It is beautifully filmed and the acting is top notch, especially Emma Stone. The dancing is pretty good but I can’t say it was as effortless as I had hoped it to be. The songs are good but didn’t exactly wow me. The singing is ok.

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I give the writer/director, Damien Chapelle A+ for effort. It takes guts to tackle a musical without a big studio system supporting you and a dearth of triple-threat talent to choose from. There were numerous overt nods to classic Hollywood films and I really liked the ending. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it. However, this isn’t the film that will convert anyone to embrace musical film. For me, that film is still Singing in the Rain (1952 starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor). I can’t help feel sad as I write this less than a day after Debbie Reynolds has died, on the heels of the tragic loss of her daughter Carrie Fisher. I think I am going to dust that DVD off now, watch it again while my husband goes out to see the new Star Wars: Rogue One movie with my eldest.

 

 

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