Thursday, 18 August 2016

Ben-Hur



Ben-Hur, 2016
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

I think I can probably count myself as one of a small group of people under 25 that saw the 1959 Charleton Heston version of Ben-Hur. In fact, I ranked it as my 3rd favourite Best Picture winner, so I actually liked the film very, very much. So when I heard that they were doing a new version of Ben-Hur, all I could ask was "why?"

And even after finally watching the new 2016 version, I still don't fully understand the need for this remake. In fact, I'm still fairly unsure who the target audience for this even is. Is it those who saw the 1959 version? But would 3D appeal to that 65+ audience? Is this targeted at the Christian community? Is it trying to draw in new and younger viewers who didn't see the more famous (and long) version? So while I can't exactly figure out who this was aimed at or why it was even remade to begin with, I can say that this remake was much better than I had imagined it would be.

Ben-Hur, if you dont' already know, tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince living in Jerusalem. His adopted brother, Masala, is Roman, and when they are grown up, Masala leaves Jerusalem to become an officer in the Roman army. However, Judah is falsely convicted of treason by his adopted brother and becomes a slave, separated from his family and the woman he loves, Judah is driven to return and to have revenge on Masala.

While I did mention this version is much better than I expected, it is in no way a perfect film. In fact, the first 30-45 minutes are a little confusing and not well explained. There is a lot of drama with Romans vs the zealots in Jerusalem but it's not really made all that clear. As well, I feel like who characters even were was not overly explained either. It took a while for the film to eventually find it's feet. But eventually it did, and for quite a while the film was actually really good. Basically, it isn't until Judah becomes a slave that the film really picks up. However, the ending became somewhat clunky as this is the part where the story of Jesus is interwoven into the story and I don't know if the filmmaker really knows how to deal with this part. Without too many spoilers, I felt like it was much more a painting of "Jesus was a really, really good person with great ideas about how to live" instead of telling the audience that Jesus was in fact God and was here to save the world from sin and that he was much more than just a "good man". While I found the lessening of the religiousness and having it turned more into moralism to be somewhat disappointing, I was not overly surprised.

And how can I not mention the chariot scene? I saw it in 3D which was honestly pretty neat, even if my eyes kind of suck at seeing 3D stuff. I can tell this new version really tried to make the chariot scene, which is the most iconic scene from the 1959 version, much more epic, but I really feel like the original chariot scene still holds up so well and is still quite thrilling. Again, this is more a complaint of why remake something that is such a classic, but I digress. The chariot scene was well done, although I feel like most of it was Judah and Masala just grunting at each other and making faces.

Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur was quite good. He really nailed the air of a rich naive person who thinks everything can resolve nicely. And Toby Kebbell is also really good as Masala. Morgan Freeman's dreadlocks I found to be extremely distracting, but it was nice to see him around and he was solid (as usual) in his part as Ilderim, the man who makes money off these Roman circuses. Everyone was quite serviceable in their roles, and Jack Huston was actually quite good, but there was nothing that overly stood out to me about their acting.

To be honest, do yourself a favour and see the 1959 version of this film. I know not everyone agrees that it has held up, but it really is a good watch for a 3+ hour movie. However, this 2016 3D Ben-Hur is a serviceable remake of an absolute classic and isn't the worst remake of something I've seen. The pacing is really good despite the confusing beginning and clunky end, and doesn't feel nearly like it's 2.5 hours long. It's not a perfect film, but I've definitely seen far worse this summer.

6/10

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Suicide Squad



Suicide Squad, 2016
Directed by David Ayer

A secret government agency, led by Amanda Waller, begins to recruit a dream team of super villains to undergo secret missions. However, Waller may have gotten more than she bargained for with the likes of Deadshot, Harley Quinn and the others.

Honestly, I had high hopes for Suicide Squad. I really hoped this would give DC the good reviews it surely needs and get its superhero trail going. Because, if I haven't mentioned already, I don't really care for Marvel movies. For me, they're a little too light, don't take themselves seriously enough and have a little too much humor. I know, I know. I'm probably the only person who complains that Marvel movies have too much humor, but whatever. I am a huge fan of the Dark Knight trilogy and have really wanted some more superhero films like that to be made. However, Man of Steel ended up being pretty blah, and I still haven't seen Batman v. Superman, but Suicide Squad seemed to be what DC needed. Suicide Squad assembled an amazing team of actors (Viola Davis, Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto altogether? Count me in!) and even recruited a really fantastic director, David Ayer. And while critics would right now have you believe this movie is terrible, I would have to disagree.

To be fair, I walked into Suicide Squad aware of the RottenTomatoes score and having lowered expectations definitely helps when it comes to opinions on movies, for me. I knew in advance that this movie was choppy (both in story and in editing) so I found it to be less distracting because I knew it would be that way.

Yes, Suicide Squad isn't a perfect movie. It has many slightly cringe-worthy moments and the villain is absolute garbage and I'm still not sure what her plot actually was, but I still enjoyed it. This is the kind of film that I felt was rushed and, had the team behind it been given more time to write a script or even just not be terrified of repeating the criticisms of Batman v. Superman and just went for it with Ayer's vision, it would've been one of the best films of the summer. However, for whatever reason (be it too little time, or just scared of repeating the BvS fiasco), Suicide Squad was several steps away from greatness.

And while I have made several complaints, there is a lot to like about this film. The film had a lot of genuinely funny moments. I absolutely loved the inclusion of Ike Barinholtz in this cast. As a Mindy Project fan, it was so great to see Morgan in this film. While his part is small, I loved seeing him around. But more on, I really loved most of the cast. Obviously Viola Davis was such a boss. Like seriously, can we just have a superhero/super villain movie starring Viola Davis? I would so watch that. And I think it's no surprise at this point that Margot Robbie steals the show completely. I'm so happy she's finally gotten a big role like this and happy for the roles it will land her in the future. Also, I haven't enjoyed Will Smith in a movie in a while, and he was an absolute pleasure in this. And while Jared Leto isn't my favourite Joker, his rendition really fit the film and I felt he nailed what he was going for. Also, is this the first film that Jai Courtney wasn't actually terrible? In fact, he was really great and really funny. And I feel like Joel Kinneman was, every so often, trying to sound like Tom Hardy (who originally had this role before dropping out).

And it wasn't just the acting that was enjoyable, but there were a lot of great moments. The fight scenes were well done and there was a lot of great humor. I liked the balance of humor and seriousness here better than I do most Marvel movies, but again, I realize this is an unpopular decision.

Like mentioned, the biggest downer for me was how terrible the villain is. Like, honestly the villain was so confusing and I don't really know what Enchantress was trying to accomplish. It's the exact same problem I had with X-Men: Apocalypse, with Apocalypse being incredibly uninteresting and have a really flimsy purpose. It was even just really corny to watch, every time she came on screen. The movie was so enjoyable and then the villain would come on screen and I'd remember why this film is currently sitting at a 31% on RT. Which is a bummer, because the rest of the film was actually a lot of fun.

I really do wish the best for DC, but three films in and no critical hit, I really hope that the DC team takes a few steps back and lets their directing/writing team have the time they need to work on and perfect the next few films. Because had this movie had that chance, it probably would've been both a critical and box-office hit. I understand that DC wants the success Marvel has, but even I can say that Marvel has done the work to earn what they have (or at least most of the time!) Suicide Squad was just a few steps away from greatness, and had a lot of potential. And even with a terrible, awful villain, it was a fun ride while it lasted.

6.5/10

Thursday, 21 July 2016

July Blindspot: All The President's Men



All the President's Men, 1976
Directed by Alan J. Pakula

All The President's Men tells the story of two Washington Post reporters who uncover the details regarding the Watergate robbery and come to realize just how high up the scandal goes.

Honestly, I knew very, very little about Watergate. I'm not an American, nor was I alive in the 70's, so it was not something I knew much of. The extent of my knowledge was that President Nixon had illegally recorded people. Honestly, I always kind of pictured that he just had a secret tape recorder in his office and recorded people. Or someone secretly taped him in his office with said secret tape recorder.

However, our film starts with the reported break in at the Watergate complex, inside the head of the Democratic National Committee. The men are quickly apprehended but were said to have bugging equipment on them. What doesn't initially seem like suspicious details, quickly leads both Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to start digging in to the story. The farther they get, they realize they have a massive story on their hands, though they couldn't have initially imagined just how high up it goes, even if their own paper doesn't really believe in them.

I put this film on my list because of all the comparisons between this film and Spotlight. As well, I am a big fan of both Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford and it seemed like something I shouldn't miss out on. Indeed, the film is quite like Spotlight, in many ways. The thing I really liked about Spotlight is that it didn't sidetrack into the journalists personal lives and included dramas there. It only included personal things that were relevant to the investigate story. As well here, I have the exact same praise for All the President's Men. This movie is innately focused on the subject at hand and doesn't stray.

All the President's Men expertly lays down the story, unfolding piece by piece with great timing. The reveals are well-timed and again, the movie lays out how I imagine reading an article on this subject would've. Honestly, this film is just really good at pretty much everything. It's expertly told and makes it understandable to me (as someone who knows nothing about Watergate). The acting is really good here as well, and I just love Hoffman and Redford. They're a really fun pairing together.

Anyway, I'm happy I finally did watch this and wish I had watched it with my husband because I know he would've really liked it. Another great edition to the Blindspot series!

8.5/10

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Eye In The Sky



Eye In The Sky, 2016
Directed by Gavin Hood
Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi

What would you do if you have your enemies located and have your best chance of killing them? And what would you do if suddenly an innocent child enters the target zone? Is one child's life worth the risk of letting the bad guys go free with the promise of much more death and destruction? These are the kind of ethical questions Eye in The Sky asks in it's almost real-time dilemma.

The British military has been tracking several terrorist/extremists for several years in Kenya, a friendly country. They rank high up on the Most Wanted for the East African list. They are dangerous and are known to have been involved in prior large bombings in the country. However things get complicated fast when the option to capture no longer seems viable, and when the decision to kill has been made, a young civilian girl selling bread enters the target zone, what do you do? The decisions are made by people all around the world, from friendly Somali's on the ground in Kenya, to military in Nevada, Hawaii and various locations in Britain.

Eye In the Sky is the kind of war movie I really, really like. I'm not really into on the battleground type of war films. What interests me is war films that ask really strong questions. I'm a huge fan of the Hurt Locker. So Eye In The Sky was genuinely up my alley. Eye In The Sky asks us questions about how ethical drones are and what kind of sacrifices we should be making during war. While Britain and Kenya are not at war in this movie (making the decisions even more muddied), it does reflect the things that our militaries face. As well, the movie is set in imperfect real time (it's more or less real time with some shaving down of time of "trying to get in contact" with people). And I love the decision it made to do that. Eye In The Sky is tense and taut, and plays it's hand well. Like I mentioned, it's not just one room of military employees making these decisions, it's phone calls to various other locations around the world, all involved in this job. And it's a movie that about bureaucracy that is actually interesting! The characters are constantly "referring up" and it shows just how difficult these decisions are, how many people want to weigh in, and how many people do need to weigh in (including people with little to no context). The writing and direction here is excellent. We are constantly feeling the weight of the decisions that need to be made, and that hardly ever lets up.

As well, the acting here is all really great. The script of the film really let all the characters be real humans. We are given a little bit of context to their lives, but we see how these decisions affect, emotionally, many of the characters involved. Helen Mirren, as Colonel Katherine Powell is determined to do whatever it takes to complete her mission. Mirren gives Powell such a strength and is such a force. As the lead of this film, Mirren reminds me why she's as big a star as she is. And while I haven't seen as many films of hers as I would like, the character she plays here feels refreshing and an interesting choice. As well, among the cast we also have Alan Rickman, in one of his final roles, and Aaron Paul. Alan Rickman is just so solid as usual. While his character isn't a showy one, he brings a steadiness to it. Also, Aaron Paul is probably one of the most believable expressive male actors. Isn't he just so great at being constantly teary-eyed? While his role isn't overly large, he is perfect as the emotionally involved pilot who gets the job of launching the drone strike. Aaron Paul needs better film roles, and this was definitely one of them. And also Barkhad Abdi! It was so great seeing him in a film again. It's a shame this is basically his first project since Captain Phillips, but again, Abdi is just really great here and is given a large part (which is nice to see!). I want Barkhad Abdi in more things, because he really is a great actor.

Honestly, I encourage everyone to see this film. Whatever your thoughts are on drone strikes, all opinions seem to be represented here. It's thought-provoking but it's also just a really good thriller. What will happen to the little girl? Will the terrorists get away? The film is tense all the way through and is a better film for it. Go see this movie and support films like this!

9.5/10

Thursday, 30 June 2016

June Blindspot: Raging Bull



Raging Bull, 1980
Directed by Martin Scorsese

I have a big confession to make.... I really did not enjoy Raging Bull.

I know, I know. How can I not love this movie? It's regarded as one of Scorsese's best films and is a pop culture icon. However, I just really didn't care for it. I found Jake La Motta to be someone I had absolutely no sympathy for, and nor did I find I had any sympathy for any of the other characters either. And I know that was probably the point, but films like that make it a lot harder to love.

Anyway, Raging Bull is sort of an anti-biopic about Jake La Motta, a boxer with a complicated personal life. It takes us through the years with his rise to fame and his absolute crash later in life. Jake is someone who is sexist and paranoid and domestic abuser. He's angry and flippant and completely crazy. And I know this is the story of a real person, but it's hard to get behind a movie where a man beats his wives and seems to learn pretty much nothing. After getting married a second time to the extremely young Vickie, Vickie doesn't seem to be exactly innocent either. However, she's young and wants to have a life outside of her controlling and violent husband. But anytime she goes out, Jake is paranoid she's sleeping with someone else. And then there's Jake brother, Joey, who is also crazy. While less paranoid than Jake, Joey keeps things from his brother but also often encourages him. It's a messed up family and Jake is a very messed up person.

Honestly, I'm not exactly sure why I didn't like Raging Bull. I find I hardly ever enjoy boxing movies, but I did think I would like this one. However, the performances are extraordinary here. De Niro just knocks it out of the park, winning his second Oscar for this performance. Famous for being extremely method for this role and for both packing on the muscle and then packing on all the extra pounds for the second half of the film, De Niro brings absolute rage and paranoia to this film. It was almost worth sitting through just for him. But I would also be remiss to not mention Joe Pesci. Honestly, to me, he's still the robber from Home Alone, but discovering all the work he did with Martin Scorsese has been a revelation. Pesci is also so fantastic in this role. After falling for his performance in Goodfellas, he is also so spot on here as Joey. He and De Niro have a great chemistry together, both for brotherly bonding (of which there is little) and for the absolute fights (of which there are many). He absolutely deserved his nomination.

I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't like this more. However, there just seems to be something about Scorsese movies that I never seem to enjoy. Admittedly The Departed has grown on me, but I thought Goodfellas was just alright and I really didn't care for Hugo at all. So there does seem to be a trend. It's a shame I don't care for his films more, but they just don't seem to be to my taste.

6/10

The Legend of Tarzan



The Legend of Tarzan, 2016
Directed by David Yates

I don't know if I mentioned last week in my review of Free State of Jones, but I got those tickets for free for an advance screening. And apparently in this new city I live in, not as many people enter contests for advance screening tickets because I also won tickets for The Legend of Tarzan this week!

So Wednesday evening my husband and I drove across the city to see a new movie for free. I honestly didn't care too much to see this movie, but was vaguely curious what David Yates has been up to since doing the last few Harry Potter films.

The Legend of Tarzan tells the story of John Clayton III, formerly known as Tarzan by the popular media. John has been living in England with his wife Jane for the past 8 years, inheriting the family title and manor. But King Leopold of Belgium, who has colonized a large part of the African Congo, invites John to visit the locals and visit schools and villages. However, what John and Jane don't know is that this was orchestrated for a different reason. King Leopold's right hand man, Leon Rom, actually wants to trade Tarzan to a deadly African tribe in exchange for extremely rare diamonds.

Firstly, I do need to commend the film, in a way, for being about a lot more than just a man who swings from vines and was raised by apes. The film does attempt to bring a more historical context and talk about timely issues. Surprisingly, the film deals a lot with the atrocity that Belgium and King Leopold wreaked in the Congo, taking thousands and thousands of the local natives as slaves. However, despite the film touching on this, it mainly just felt like a very fluffy film. There isn't really a whole lot of plot overall, it's mainly just Tarzan and George Washington Williams, an American historian who wanted proof of King Leopold enslaving the African people, attempting to save a village and Jane who were kidnapped by Leon Rom. So there was lots of action, lots of fights, lots of jumping off cliffs and swinging on vines. But not a lot in the way of actual story.

However, while it wasn't the best movie ever made, I did find it at least somewhat fun. This is a classic popcorn flick, in that it's not all that heavy to watch but it's fun and filled with action and romance. Alexander Skarsgard was decent as Tarzan, but the standouts for me were Margot Robbie as Jane and Samuel L Jackson as George Washington Williams. Margot's Jane was not someone who stood idly by and let herself be a damsel. She's strong and fierce and has a strong sense of self. Samuel L Jackson as Williams however, was definitely my favourite part of the film. His character was like a version of someone he played in a Tarantino film, but the PG-13 version. Honestly, he was the humor in the film and it was just fun.

Honestly, this movie could've been a lot better and the fact that so many people from the Harry Potter films were behind it makes me disappointed it wasn't better than it was. It was fluff and really not all that good fluff. But at least they made it somewhat fun to watch, even if David Yates is capable of much better things. He's hoping his next directorial effort, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is much better than this.

6/10


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Free State of Jones



Free State of Jones, 2016
Directed by Gary Ross

Free State of Jones tells the little known story about a group of runaway and slaves during the American Civil War. Led by Newton Knight, a Confederate soldier who deserted, he grows this community and form an armed rebellion against the Confederates.

To be honest, Free State of Jones left me feeling not too much while walking out the theatre. I felt more appreciation for the facts it told than admiration for the story it told. What I mean is, Free State of Jones touched on a lot of interesting parts of history that I hadn't seen told on screen before, however it could've been told much more cinematically.

The first half of this film tells of Newton Knight deserting the war to deliver a young boy's body back home to his mother, the same hometown Newton is from. Already fed up with the war, he starts to empower the women who are left behind and grows frustrated that the Confederate soldiers are taking much more than the "10 percent" of homeowners food and clothing. He becomes such a nuisance in the community that he must flee and joins a small community of escaped slaves in the swamps of Mississippi. From there, the community grows into more than just escaped slaves. It becomes other men who deserted the war and others who are tired of the Confederates and want to join in a rebellion against them. Much of this is well told, and we see our characters grow and relate to one another. Newton grows close with Rachel, a woman who is a housemaid but is a large part of the resistance.

However, the second half of the film seems to try to cover too much time and doesn't concentrate enough on any point. It just sort of hop-skips to different "interesting" points without too much character develop or growth or even narrative (besides the onscreen captions telling us what happens) in between. That being said, the points they do lead to are interesting. They are parts little told about after the war and the tensions in the south after the Emancipation given by Lincoln. However, it almost seems like a montage of "important" moments that just happen to feature the same few set of characters. It's just a shame that there couldn't be a better overall narrative. While many historical films often seem to care more about their characters and their stories, this movie seems to have overcompensated. It seems to care too much about the facts and is less focused on building a good narrative or character development.

However, much good can still be said about this film. Matthew McConaughey gives a worthy performance as Newton. A sort of Robin Hood character, Newton is kind but fierce and McConaughey nails the balance. And I don't mean to undercut the character of Rachel in the above description. She is a great behind the scenes force in this rebellion. She starts by feeding the small band of escaped slaves and Newton, providing them with small knives and food. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives such emotion to Rachel. An actress who deserves much bigger roles than she's been getting is a force of gracious strength.

As well, while the narrative could've been better, the inclusiveness of everyday religious language that likely would've been commonplace back then was very well done. There was much more talk of God and Jesus, and having characters state "no one can own a Child of God" seemed much more appropriate than some other historical films are often written. As a Christian, it was encouraging to see that this film didn't shy away from that, and it felt much more authentic because of that.

Overall, like I mentioned in the beginning, I neither really liked nor really disliked Free State of Jones. I have much appreciation for the parts of history they decided to tell. The film had a lot of potential, and even reached it at points, but it's a film that would've been much better suited to be told in a TV mini-series than a two-and-a-half hour film.

6/10

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

May Blindspot: Fargo

Fargo, 1996
Directed by Joel Coen

I seriously wasn't sure if I was going to be able to find time to watch a blindspot this month. I'm currently in the midst of packing up so my husband and I can move 4-5 hours away for my husbands new job, starting this Monday. So we've been extremely busy. However, I finally did manage time to watch this movie, right before the end of the month.

However, I feel like this film is a little difficult for me to review. Without having watched this movie first, my husband and I just finished watching Fargo Season 1. So this movie and show were very similar, but Fargo the movie felt so much shorter and brief, due to the fact that Fargo the show was able to expand on it's plot for almost 10 hours. So watching the movie after the show made it feel like an incredibly shortened version of the show.

Anyway, Fargo is about crime in small town Minnesota. Jerry Lundegaard is car salesman who is in so much financial trouble that he hires two men to kidnap his wife for ransom, to be paid by his father in law (who is rich and owns the car dealership Jerry works at). However, things go wrong quickly and the situation rapidly turns from non-violent (like intended) to extremely violent and hostile. Soon, the pregnant chief of police is on the case, who is determined to solve the triple homicide that ensued.

Fargo is a film I'll need to watch again in a few months time, once I've had a bit of space from the TV show. The two were very similar in tone, music, look and story, which speaks highly of both the mediums. I really loved the first season, so I was happy to find out how much the show mirrored and reflected the original film.

Marge Gunderson, played some tenaciously by Frances McDormand, is an extremely eager and determined police chief, and what starts as a triple homicide finds her wrapped up in something larger. I'm a little surprised that Frances McDormand won an Oscar for this, but I'm pleased she has one. Her part wasn't extraordinarily large (or it didn't feel like it anyway) and it wasn't an overly "showy" performance, but she was quirky and determined and fun to watch. Those type of performances don't often win awards! As well, William H Macy was so great as Jerry. A little awkward, but crazy enough to have his wife kidnapped, Jerry is an interesting character and William H Macy played him just so well! Also, Steve Buscemi was creepy and weird but so good as well. What great casting for this one!

Fargo was a fun movie that is kind of darkly funny (something the Coen brothers are known for). It's a film I'd really like to revisit once I've gotten some space from Fargo the show. However, I did enjoy Fargo, though not nearly as much as other people do. Though that often seems to be the case with me and Coen brother movies. They always seem right up my alley, and often are, but they just don't make a huge impact on me. But we'll see once I re-evaluate this in a few months down the road.

8/10

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Top 10 Films of 2015

So now that we're getting close to being halfway through 2016, I thought it would finally be time to post my top 10 films of 2015! Yes, I know, I always post these really late, but I never get a chance to see everything I want to in theatres and several I like to watch more than once before deciding, so finally I think I have settled on my list!

2015 was an interesting year for film, in my opinion. We had a post-apocalyptic action film as one of the best reviewed films of the year, there was a 3 way race between a comedy, a journalism film and a western epic for Best Picture, an indie movie won Best Visual Effects, and we continued the trend of releasing lots of Christian/Biblical based movies. As well, we saw a year that had more female-led films at the forefront, though it was always another year of #Oscarssowhite. However, this year was a fun year for movies, and while I had fewer films I was passionate about than last year, there were lots of great films. Check out my list of my favourite 10 below.



10. Love & Mercy
I have no idea what to expect going into this movie. This was one I had heard good reviews about from TIFF in 2014, but it was like 8 months later that I picked up this DVD from the library. Like Carey Mulligan above, I absolutely love Paul Dano and am interested in basically everything he's in. Love & Mercy is the beautiful and heart-breaking story of Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys. The narrative flips from Brian in the 60's, crafting his masterpiece "Pet Sounds" while losing his grip on reality and dealing with mental illness, and Brian in the 80's, who is under the control of his guardian/therapist but falls in love with Melinda. Love & Mercy is so fantastically acted. It's such robbery that Paul Dano never managed to get an Oscar nomination for this. As well, both Elizabeth Banks and John Cusak do amazing work, and it's a shame this movie wasn't more highly recognized. The Beach Boys are a band I know literally nothing about, but this story of Brian is a beautiful one.



9. Spotlight
Spotlight is a wonderful and heartbreaking film about the sexual abuse within the Catholic church, and the Boston Globe Spotlight team who cracked the case open wide in the early 2000s. Spotlight is just so perfect in the way that it delves into the story and that's the main focus. We get offhand comments about the journalists personal lives but never much more than that. We don't have a romance storyline or a divorce storyline or really anything between these journalists except for what happens while researching the scandal. Spotlight reveals things steadily, getting more and more shocking as we go along, but never sensationalizes the topic it's dealing with. Everything is treated with sensitivity, but it's also shocking enough to make it's point. Spotlight is pitch-perfect in the way it handles it's subject matter and it's characters, balancing respect and shock. The acting is great and the pacing is just perfect.



8. What We Do In the Shadows
I love a great, quirky comedy. And this is as great and quirky as they come. From the guys who brought us Flight of the Concords, we have this horror mockumentary about a group of vampires who live as roommates in Wellington, New Zealand. I don't even really know how to describe this movie, but it's like watching the Office, but it's about vampires who live together. They've been vampires for a few centuries, so have a hard time adjusting to technology and don't understand the modern world. But they also can't see themselves in the mirror so are unable to see what they look like or how their outfit looks before they go out. This movie is honestly just hilarious and is a fantastic use of the mockumentary style. Do yourself a favour and watch this movie if you haven't already!



7. Sicario
There are a few movies out there that, right after I watch them, I know I immediately need to see it again (and I do). Sicario was one of those movies. I watched Sicario 2 days in a row, needing  second time to take in everything I had seen. Sicario is the story of idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer. She's recruited onto a government task force to fight the war on drugs between the USA and Mexico border. However, the two men she work with don't exactly do everything by the books. Sicario is an excellent thriller. Emily Blunt gives such an intense and reserved performance. Once again, it's a shame Emily Blunt was looked over when it came time for Oscar nominations. As well, Benicio Del Toro gives a chilling performance. As Alejandro, Del Toro  perfectly gives us an air of mystery, but we also know he's probably not someone Kate can trust (nor does she). Sicario is proof enough that, just because there's a female at the top of the cast, doesn't mean a film can be any less harsh, violent, serious or well-made.



6. Steve Jobs
I'm a sucker for Aaron Sorkin. I feel like I'm one of the only people who really, really enjoyed the Newsroom. So when I heard Aaron Sorkin was penning the script for a 3 act Steve Jobs movie, I was incredibly interested. As mentioned, Steve Jobs is told in 3 acts, all at 3 products launches that were big parts of Jobs career, whether for good or bad. Michael Fassbender is so electric as Steve Jobs. While he may not look all that much like him until the 3rd act, he brings such an energy to the role that's irresistible. The supporting cast as well is able to shine. Kate Winslet as Jobs's assistant Joanna is the heart and sole and the goodness of all the manipulative people around her. Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen are both given great moments to shine and really do lots with their roles. I personally think Steve Jobs was a fantastically written film, and it was just s whip-smart, snappy and smart (everything you expect a Sorkin script to be). Personally, I found it disappointing that it's only Oscar notices were for Fassbender and Winslet, it deserved a Best Picture nomination, directing and screenplay nominations. However, Steve Jobs is a risky and interesting take on an American icon, and it's incredibly well told, acted and paced.



5. The Revenant
A film that was high on my anticipation list a year before it was finally released, The Revenant is such a beautiful film, filled with spirituality, symbolism, violence and sadness. The heart-breaking story of a man left for dead by his compatriots, Hugh Glass literally crawls out from his grave and treks across the American wilderness, seeking revenge on the man who left him and killed his son. The cast here is fantastic. I can't say enough about Leo's performance in this. He's 150% committed to this role, and it definitely shows (in a good way). This movie isn't afraid to take it's time, to flesh out it's characters, to meditate on the scenery surrounding the characters and to have long stretches without speaking. Inarritu crafts such a different film from last years Best Picture winner, Birdman, and it's a film that makes your heart ache. The Revenant is just such a beautiful and heart-breaking film, I'm so glad that Emmanuel Lubezki three-peated to win his 3rd Oscar in a row. And while I don't know how often it's one I'll revisit, it's one that stays in my soul long after I've watched it.

4. The Big Short
The first time I watched the Big Short, I didn't even come close to fully understanding what was happening. So while I originally gave the film a 7/10, I knew that would likely shoot up the more times I watched it. And since first watching in December, I've watched it two more times, both of those within close proximity to each other. And while I can't say I understand everything that is discussed in this film, I've had a lot of time to come to understand the basics. And wow, what an incredibly smart movie this is. This film walks the incredible line of being a snarky and sardonic film, filled with wit and humor, to showing us how big a deal the housing market crash was going to be and how much it impacted, not just America, but the entire world. The Big Short is an incredibly smart movie, and it's films like this that undoubtedly deserve to win screenplay awards. Adam McKay is incredible in giving us a film about a topic almost no one understands, and it never feels like we're watching a dull movie that's lecturing us. He presents it to the audience in a way that will make us pay attention.



3. Ex Machina
I don't know if I can really say anything about Ex Machina that hasn't already been said. It's bone-chilling and such a psychological ride. It's an incredibly fascinating movie that explores so many interesting themes and ideas. When Caleb wins a contest to spend the weekend at his companys CEO Nathan's private estate, he finds out it's more than just relaxing at this beautiful home. He gets to do a type of Turing test on Ava, an AI that Nathan has created. However, Caleb finds himself quickly falling for Ava. The acting here is so impeccable, the cinematography stunning, and the screenplay is incredibly smart. Ex Machina is not a film for everyone, but it's definitely one a lot more people should see.



2. Brooklyn
Man, is this not the sweetest and nicest movie you've ever seen? And despite that, it's not to be taken as a less serious or well made movie. I can't remember the last time a movie this "nice" was made and was as well received as it was. Saoirse Ronan is just so incredible and could not have been more perfectly cast. As well, the true MVP of this seems to be Emory Cohen as Eilis's sweetheart Tony. Emory Cohen truly lights up the screen as his loveable and sweet Tony. But the story itself is just well told, and takes its time to let the story just stroll along.



1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Could my #1 movie be anything other than Mad Max, really? Mad Max: Fury Road was the surprise of the year for me. It wasn't until a few days before the movie hit theatres and I started to see how incredible the reviews were that I started to get interested. However, my husband and I found ourselves with a free afternoon the weekend it came out, so after debating whether to go see Kingsman at the $5 theatre or seeing this opening weekend, we made the very correct choice of seeing Mad Max. Mad Max is a movie you NEED to see if you haven't already. It's the perfect blend of action, story. It's simple in premise, but George Miller elevates this beyond it's simplicity, giving it more than meets the eye. There are so many wonderful women in power and in charge in this movie, and the relationship between Max and Furiosa is so wonderful. As well, the 5 wives are all so incredible and take charge in their situations, instead of just being damsels in distress. And Nux has such incredible growth over the course of 2 hours. It's feminist, it's hardcore, it had a guy who's blind and playing a flame-throwing guitar! Seriously, this movie is ridiculous and fun and so amazing. I can't say enough about what an absolutely perfect movie this is. It'll be redefining the action movie genre for years to come.






Monday, 9 May 2016

Mini Reviews: The Jungle Book/Creed/Sisters

Hi all! I thought I'd do a few quick reviews for you since I haven't been able to really find the time to write full reviews, but still wanted to share my thoughts!

The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book is a movie I grew up with and know really well. It's one of the few handfuls of movies my grandmother owned and we watched it frequently when my family went to visit her. So as a result, I was a little wary of the "epic" and action-filled trailers that was making the Jungle Book look more like an action-adventure than it's fairly relaxing cartoon counterpart. However, my fears were very eased upon viewing. Yes, it's more action packed than the original, but most of the action scenes were just expansion on scenes in the original. The ease of Mowgli spending time with Baloo, with Baloo and Bagheera bickering and how uneasy Kaa the snake makes us are all included. Yes, there are alterations, but I felt JOn Favreau did an excellent job of being an adaption of a well loved film, but also expanding story lines and references to the original film, and making the film able to stand on it's own.

The voice cast, as I'm sure you've heard by now, really is exceptional. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is restrained but reassuring. Lupita Nyong'o is warm and motherly as Raksha (Mowgli's wolf mother), Bill Murray is exactly as perfect as you'd expect playing Baloo, Idris Elba is terrifying as Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson is absolutely chilling as Kaa the snake and, my personal standout, Christopher Walken as King Louie. Absolutely terrifying, his voice suits this role more than I could've expected, and his rendition of "Wanna Be Like You" is incredible. As well, newcomer Neel Sethi is so precious and perfect as Mowgli. The visual effects and animation of the animals are superbly done. Jon Favreau has created a marvel here as this film is such a treat.

9/10


Creed
As a disclaimed, I do not enjoy Rocky. I watched the first one and didn't care for it. So I knew Creed was never going to be my cup of tea. However, the fact that this was starring Michael B. Jordan and directing by Ryan Coogler piqued my interest slightly, but boxing movies, especially ones within the Rocky franchise don't interest me. And while I enjoyed the movie slightly more than I thought, I still didn't think this film was overly special. Michael B Jordan is very good here, and while I did think Sylvester Stallone does a great job, I don't think he really deserved to win an Oscar for playing Rocky again. My personal standout was Tessa Thompson, as Don's girlfriend Bianca. However, she was a woman with her own agency, and wasn't just "the girlfriend" which was incredibly refreshing. Can I just get a movie about Bianca? That I would definitely watch! Anyway, Creed was able to lift itself above the stereotypes of the boxing movie genre, but it's still just not a film for me, because I wasn't really the target audience.

7.5/10

Sisters
We've all been waiting for another Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie since they last got together to do Baby Mama. However, Sisters is probably just as good as the mediocre Baby Mama. Sisters is a pretty typical story. Maura and Kate are sisters, but could not be more different. Maura is the responsible one who just went through a divorce. And Kate is the irresponsible single mother who loves to party and keeps losing her job. When their parents announce they're selling their childhood home, Maura and Kate are crushed. But when they are told to come home to clean out their rooms, they decide to throw one last party like they had in high school. Sister had some good laughs, but not enough for me to overly love the movie. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have such great chemistry though that it almost(!) makes up for how mediocre the movie is. Sisters was a movie that could've been way funnier, and even had a bit of character development, but it just didn't make it all the way.

6/10