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.

 

 

Arrival: a Review

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I went to the theatre with my husband yesterday. We both had the day off work; the kids were in school and this film had a matinée showing. My husband and I were itching to see it after hearing/reading a lot of positive reviews. And I simply love the lead, Amy Adams (not enough to watch her in the most recent Superman movie, but still) and greatly admire the director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario).

Wow! I loved this film and so did my husband. In fact, as we left the theatre, he said that this was one of the best films he saw this year.

This film is not for everyone; it is thoughtful, deliberately paced (some would say glacially so) science fiction (not hard science like The Martian) with twisting emotional core. This is not an action movie. The CGI is minimalistic.

 

 

Aliens have arrived in 12 space pods, hovering above land in 12 different parts around the world. Nobody knows why. Amy Adams is a linguist professor who is recruited by the US military, along with Jeremy Renner, a theoretical physicist, to lead the attempts at communicating with these other worldly beings. During this procedural-like plot, we learn about Amy’s character’s life and how this assignment becomes so intricately woven into the person she is. To say more would reveal plot twists and be too “spoilery”. It is a very emotional journey. I had tears welling up and could hear a few sniffles around me as the credits rolled past.

This movie touches upon love (romantic and paternal), global politics, time-travel and militarism. There is no gratuitous sex or violence. Denis Villeneuve seems to enjoy immersing the viewer in the main character’s experience. This film reminded me of Sicario in that way. I was confused for the first 2/3 of the 2 hour run time, because everyone on-screen was too. My patience was rewarded. I am not a science fiction fan, in general, but I do like contemplative stories that give me hope for the future. This movie does that and is so much more enjoyable than the recent onslaught of dystopian fantasy films that have been hitting the multiplex.

If you like thoughtful films, don’t mind a slower pace and a bit of confusion, then check this one out. But get ready for your heart-strings to get tugged.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

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I went to the theatre last night with my youngest daughter to see Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. I am almost embarrassed to say we saw the first instalment in the theatre together 2 years ago, when she was perhaps one of the youngest in the audience. The communal laughter at that time was intoxicating and we were hoping to recapture that experience. Boy did we ever last night.

We wanted to laugh and this movie had plenty to laugh about. There were funny lines, physical pratfalls galore and real warmth to the story. Like most comedy sequels, the plot is rather silly and contrived at times, but if the character beats work, the flaws are easily forgiven.

 

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are in a 30 day escrow period and anxious to seal the deal on their house sale so they can move to accommodate their expanding family. Unfortunately, a group of college girls decides to move into the abandoned frat house next door. The girls are interested in partying their way, which is against the rules of the traditional “greek” community. Soon it is a full on war between the old people and the youth of today.

I found I could relate to many issues raised by both camps. I liked the way the diverse group of girls, lead by Shelby, Beth and Nora (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons and Beanie Feldstein respectively) were depicted. They were simply striving to be themselves and indifferent to pleasing the men around them. I laughed at Mac and Kelly’s struggle to be “good parents.” I even found myself somewhat sympathetic to Zac Efron’s dim-bulb portrayal of Teddy, who returns to the house of his fondest memories, trying to find a place in the world.

This was a good solid comedy with laugh out loud moments and a shocking absence of meanness, despite the retaliatory conflict. It came to a satisfying resolution and was reasonably paced. If you liked the first movie, Neighbors, then you won’t be disappointed by this. I was especially delighted by the fact that my middle school daughter said to me that she thought those drinking parties didn’t seem very fun. She would rather just hang with her friends. That led to a discussion about the substance use (alcohol and marijuana) that was depicted in the film. I am glad that we can talk about these things.

Room: a Review

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I just saw the film “Room” in a near empty theatre on a rainy afternoon all to myself. What an emotional ride! This is not to be confused with “The Room” which, to quote the linked Wikipedia page, has the dubious distinction of being selected by Entertainment Weekly magazine as the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” This “Room” is a completely different film. I recently enjoyed reading the book it was adapted from. When I learned that the novelist, Emma Donoghue, was writing the screenplay, I was intrigued. When the film started getting good reviews, I knew I had to see it.

Here is where I usually embed a trailer BUT the official ones are full of spoilers. Sigh! Am I a hypocrite? I knew the story before walking in and that didn’t ruin the experience for me. But that is because I view the movie as a way to enhance a really good novel. And it did. So I will keep this post spoiler free for those of you unfamiliar with the novel.

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The novel “Room” was inspired by a horrific real life crime and was deftly written from a child’s point of view. The movie is pretty faithful to the novel regarding major plot points. It also manages to capture the child’s point of view surprisingly well. It is a very moving story of a woman, Ma, who has been held captive in a tiny garden shed, the titular Room, for 7 years. We witness the life she has made for herself and her 5 year old son, Jack. This film is dark and tense, yet hopeful with flashes of humour. To say more about the story would risk spoiling it. This is not your typical Hollywood movie. It is grounded in a stark reality; however, I found the conclusion of the film to be very satisfying (as was the novel).

Being familiar with the source material robbed me of some of the suspense that this film delivered. But I didn’t mind. I had a great time when I read the book and wouldn’t trade that away. Brie Larson was stunning in her role as Ma. She played a woman who was in constant conflict as she clung to her sanity for the sake of her child. She had to be incredibly strong and resilient, yet demure when her captor made his nightly visits. She was visibly conflicted as she explained a world of fabricated logic to an inquisitive child. Jack’s only view of the outside world was through a fuzzy TV or a tiny skylight. Jacob Tremblay, as her son Jack, was really convincing as well. The supporting cast included Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Tom McCamus.

Kudos to director Lenny Abrahamsson for crafting a well paced, tense drama and to writer Emma Donoghue who knew just how to take the essence of her story from page to screen. This is not necessarily a feel good movie but it left me with some hope. If the premise intrigues you check it out but skip the trailer for a more satisfying experience.

 

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