Lady Bird: a Review

I was so happy to learn that this coming of age indie film was playing at a theatre close by and that my husband was keen to see it with the rest of the “girls” in the family. So off we went, with a friend in tow, to see this wonderful film. Ok, I am a sucker for coming of age stories about girls, especially when their moms play an important part of the narrative. And I absolutely love Saoirse Ronan, who stars as the titular heroine. Laurie Metcalf is a revelation as her mom. Despite the love that exists between them, the friction is palpable. I absolutely adored this quiet film. My whole family did, to various degrees, in fact. Kudos to writer-director Greta Gerwig on having one of the best reviewed films on Rotten Tomatoes. It is well deserved.

 

 

In addition to the layered performances by the lead actors, in complex roles, the supporting characters were powerfully portrayed, especially Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s Dad and Beanie Feldstein as best friend Julie. The humour was gentle yet surprising at times. The heartbreak was real too, a few tears were shed and I found myself choked up at times. The themes are universal, fitting in, first love, figuring out a place in the world beyond high school. I liked the way the film addressed issues often ignored, such as families with financial struggles and how expectations are often adjusted because of this. In many ways it reminded me of another favourite film, New Waterford Girl, which I reviewed some time ago. The plot of Lady Bird is very straight forward with a few not-so-surprising revelations. I especially enjoyed its subtle story telling style. There is a lot of showing, not telling. You learn about the characters by watching their actions. This film demanded your attention and rewarded it.

I don’t want to say too much more for risk of spoiling the film. But if you like coming of age films centred on quirky girls, you should check this one out.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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