Thursday, July 16, 2015

Quick Look: "The Flash"

Perhaps I should tag this "quick-ish look"?

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I love The Flash.

It has, in my opinion, been one of the breakout hits of the television season and I'm certainly happy it has.  While virtually all the other comics based shows on TV right now are dark and twisty, Flash has been (at least until recently) a burst of light.  Its lead is likeable and fun, the plots are straightforward and enjoyable, and the villains are funny.

The only misstep I can see is the show's insistence on sidelining one of its key characters.  It's the one part of a well handled show that's been handled poorly and I can't help but see parallels in the producers' previous outings: Smallville and Arrow.  When the main love interest is not also involved in the story they will frequently be cut for time or sidelined because they're being kept in the dark.  Smallville suffered from this with Lana Lang but managed to get around it because Lois (the real interest) comes in later and is eventually included in the secret.  With Arrow, they finally decided to let Katie Cassidy's Laurel in and let her suit up on her own...why did that take so long?  Even so, she's still being frequently sidelined. While I do feel the chemistry between Amell and Emily Bett Rickards' Felicity Smoak is more believable, I'm tired of Laurel's role being to stand places looking angry. She doesn't need to be the main love interest to be interesting, but keeping her away from the action is a tired cliche that's getting no one anywhere. But I digress.

For the Flash, of course, this character is Iris West.  Smart, interesting and sweet, Iris started off as a believable and worthy love interest and foil for our hero.  Over the course of the season, however, she has morphed into a sappy throwaway character for whom the men in her life seem to make all the decisions. Lip service is paid to Iris saving herself (she's shown beating Barry at boxing when they were kids, pre-superpowers) and she managed to stand up to no less than three super villains.  Yet even with these accomplishments, when it comes to the truth--a truth that could save her life--she is kept in the dark.

But let's not dwell too long on that because it is the one misstep in an otherwise fantastic season of television.  Kudos goes to a show that can manage to be both delightfully entertaining and silly (600lbs psychic gorilla) and heartfelt (anytime Barry and his Dad are in a room together). The show has lots of winks to the comic audience, while maintaining solid storytelling for those who don't know the history of these characters.  Ultimately it's fun, funny and I'm really looking forward to next season.

Oh and now that it's got some Emmy nominations I'd say it's a good time to check it out.  Summer IS the time for a good binge watch, is it not?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Quick Look: "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World."

This is a quick post to share my utter surprise at how much I truly enjoyed this movie.  Now I did go in with low expectations, thinking I'd maybe get a few laughs out of it and move on, but I'm actually shocked by my reaction. 

The premise here is essentially: what would have happened if Willis and Affleck had failed their mission in Armageddon?  Beginning 21 days before the end of the world (a giant asteroid is going to hit the Earth and cause an extinction level event), Dodge (Steve Carrell) whose wife has just left him meets Penny, a neighbour whose love life leaves something to be desired.  An eternal romantic who has missed the last plane back to England, Penny decides she's going to help Dodge reunite with his high school sweetheart before the end of days.  With a simple premise and two Oscar nominated actors, this was another surprisingly successful tale of "what do we do when there's nothing left to be done?" (see my note on It's A Disaster here for more on this theme).

Now available on Netflix, I really urge you to check it out.  It's totally worth a few minutes of your time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Quick Look: "A Long Way Down"

Just a quick review of an enjoyable little film that I stumbled across on Netflix over the holidays starring Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots.  Based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name the story begins on New Year's Eve as Martin Sharp, sort of famous guy who used to be on TV, decides to kill himself.  While having one final smoke for the road before he throws himself off the tallest building in London, Maureen (played by Collette) stumbles across him, also intent on ending her life.  With the mood properly ruined they strike up an awkward conversation just as two more participants enter the fray.

What follows is an unlikely and touching look at the interactions between strangers and just how much you can touch another person's life without even realizing.  At once touching, funny and sweet (without being too saccharin) the film set a lovely tone that kept me engaged throughout.  With cameos by some other well knowns (Rosamund Pike, Sam Neill), this one is worth a watch.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: "The Imitation Game"

I wanted to like this. I wanted to sing its praises, but here's the thing: it has some major problems.

The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, suffers from the same issue that has plagued many of the more recently "acclaimed" cinematic outings. It won the audience choice award at TIFF, but having seen it my sneaking suspicion is that it may have won due primarily to the strength of performance and popularity of it star. There are good things in this movie, I don't want to pretend it wasn't well-made, but there are more problems than I can comfortably overlook.

Keira Knightley, while often not my cup of tea, actually does a good job here.  Her portrayal of Joanna is both subtle and effective for the role she's meant to play within the plot. Here the filmmakers have chosen to use secondary characters primarily to drive the story of Alan Turing (played by Cumberbatch) forward, rather than to flesh out the history itself.  That's fine, but I think they do them a disservice service in that they could have easily been a far more interesting aspect of the story. Instead, relationships with other members of his team are--in some cases--entirely fabricated in attempts to show the challenge of his brilliance. It is at its heart a character study, but in service of HIS character, other aspects of the film suffer.  With a less experienced cast this could have been a disaster.

While I'm not one to get caught up on historical accuracy--most films don't pay much attention to history and those that do tend to get stuck--I do think that they've taken a lot of unnecessary liberties here. As the guardian UK has pointed out, they couldn't even be bothered to get the year that Turing was arrested correct (among other more egregious errors). This shows a general lack of respect for the original source material, in fact Andrew Hodges, the author of the book on which the film is based (Alan Turing: The Enigma), has expressed incredulity at some of the changes.  Generally the changes seem to serve no specific purpose, though in the case of the entirely fabricated policeman in the "present" who is more interested in Alan's war history than his homosexuality, I will forgive them.  Had it been done sparingly and with good purpose I could have dealt with it but when virtually nothing of the original history (save the names of some characters and the fact that they were somehow involved in Bletchly) is there we must simply look at this as a good bit of fantasy.  And it's a decent bit of revisionist fantasy.

Setting aside the historical inaccuracies and the fabricated relationships between team members, the performances put in by the cast are quite good.  In the case of Cumberbatch, I'd say exceptional.  And it wasn't until the last third of the film that it lost me.  A narrative framing technique that I mentioned earlier-- that of an interrogation by an officer during Turing's arrest in 1952--is used to drive the story forward.  The technique itself works well until the final section of the film, which switches gears in an attempt to condemn the British government's treatment of homosexuality.  It's a fine conclusion (one I support), but it belongs to a different film.  The way it's played feels like we've skipped to the end of an entirely different movie.  While it's mentioned and implied throughout the film that Alan must hide, no character actually reacts negatively to his homosexuality until he's arrested later in the film.  For me it felt like we should have been shown the danger and judgement throughout to make clear the suffering and threat under which Alan was living.  As it is, anyone he comes into contact with is either ignorant of or unmoved by his sexuality, making the extreme reaction of the policement in the "present" seem overplayed.  Unfortunately it ends up undermining the sadness and mistreatment of this man and made Cumberbatch's final scene incongruous for me.

The Imitation Game is a well made fantasy of how the war was won and an interesting way to spend a few hours.  It has a great cast and solid performances, even if the script is a bit clunky.

My rating: 3 out of 4

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Conversation: "Gone Girl"

A few months ago Matt and I had a conversation about American Hustle and we thought it went pretty well.  We're fans of switching things up so we thought we'd try it again.  Unfortunately, schedules being what they are, there was a bit of a delay before we were able to get down to business.  Here is the (lightly trimmed) conversation.

As ever, watch out for SPOILERS:


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Siobhan: I think we may have waited a little too long to do this.

Matt: Maybe--

S: It's not fresh in my mind....

M: No but what does stick in my mind is how good she was.  Rosamund Pike was just--

S: She was everything.

M: It makes me want to watch everything she's been in.

S: Yeah!  The thing is, she's one of those actors that I've seen in other things and I know her name and that I've seen her but I can't think of anything specific that she's been in.  Was she a Bond girl?

M: That sounds familiar [she totally was].  She was also in An Education with Kerry Mulligan.

S: Was she the other girlfriend that they hung out with?

M: Yes.  And she was very good in that.

S: Oh, right.  I had forgotten that.

M: Um, but Gone Girl was too long.

S: Oh yeah, hands down.  It was way too long.

M: It evolved into twist after twist, where I feel like they could have taken out some things.

S: It's true.  I mean, I liked the tone.  The pacing at the beginning it was quite good and at the the end was quite good but when put together it felt like they could have shifted it a little and made it more... sort of evenly spaced throughout.  So that both of those stories worked well and you didn't end up feeling like they'd spent too much time leading up to the climax?  It got to the point where every moment that she wasn't onscreen I was thinking, "I could be done with this now," and then she's come onscreen and I'd be like "Oh okay."

M: Yes! Like she electrified everything.

S: Right.  I mean I'd be in it for the minute or two that she was onscreen and then I'm out again.

M: Until that big twist comes when you realize what's actually going on, the movie feels like it's staggering a little.

S: Yup.

M: And then the twist happens and it ignites the film again, but now you've spent all that time waiting.  Something I find with TV and movies that have big guest stars: you know that these guest stars or secondary characters are going to play a pivotal role.  I mean why would they take this role--

S:  If there wasn't something important going on?

M: Right, so here's the beginning of the movie and Neil Patrick Harris is in the credits as a major supporting character.  Two thirds of the way through the movie, you know that the one scene that he's  been in for twenty seconds, is not going to be the only scene he's in.  And since you're already getting a little frustrated by the pacing, you're thinking, "Where does this fit in?"

S: Yeah. I think it had a lot to do with spending a bit too much time with Ben Affleck's character because he was what he needed to be, but he certainly could have been played by anybody.  And the interaction between him and his sister--who was great, the actress was great--was really well done.  That said, it felt like he was just a plot device more than anything else, which was unfortunate.  I think in the book, which is told from his point of view for a good chunk of it, he was far more compelling.  And yes, that happens when you translate a book from a movie but--

M: I think that's just his face.

S: [laughing]

M: He always looks a little dazed and confused.  And I will admit, for about half the movie I was distracted by his body, and not in a good way.

S: You know what it is, he's bulking up for Batman v. Superman I think.

M: The clothing was ill fitting, so you're watching things pull across his stomach like they don't fit.

S: Yeah, it was distracting.  Everyone else fit into their clothes and it fit the character and with him it felt like he should have been a little sloppier as an aging married guy, like he should have been less broad shouldered.

M: Agreed.  [pause] So I have to say, I have never really been super excited for David Fincher.

S: Really? I like his movies.

M:  Okay, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a waste.

S: Yeah, but that's because it wasn't the original.  I have no time for American remakes when they're not saying anything new about the story.  It's one thing to re-imagine something but it's entirely useless to me to remake a film because you don't want to watch subtitles.

M: I just feel like some of these notorious American 'auteurs'--

S: Don't necessarily have that much to offer?

M: No they have something to offer, but it's sort of like now he can make a movie as long as he wants it to be.  That editing doesn't need to be as tight and the movie gets to be two and a half hours, because, "That's his vision!"  It was forty minutes too long.

S: It for sure could have been tightened up a lot.  I mean I thought it opened really well but lost its way.  The hints they gave, and the script itself were very good, I was engaged.  But then again I like her writing, and she was adapting her own novel....

M: That's right and she did change certain things.

S: Yup.

M: I mean when you adapt your own novel you want to keep your story but change it just enough that those who love the story still have something unexpected.  

S: That's the thing, I feel like that's the major benefit to having the author adapt the story themselves, especially someone who's a strong writer like she is.  She was able to bring different aspects of the existing story to light as opposed to changing the plot points.  It's more about, 'what things can happen to show another angle to this character that I know so well?'  'What's something that I didn't get across in the book that I can get out in the movie that will make this interesting?'

M: Now I did like the script, but I feel like Amy's parents didn't fit.  They were so one-dimensional.  They were just distrusting and that was it.

S: The thing is, they were probably more of a point on which to turn the plot than anything else.  I would assume that they had a little more depth in the book but everyone understands overbearing parents, it's a pretty easy trope to get out so you don't have to worry about that, you can pull back without losing anything major and focus on the more important relationships.

M: I feel like what I take away from the movie is just Rosamund Pike.  The movie was just so much better with her onscreen.

S: Yeah, I really thing that if it hadn't been her, or someone who could turn in that powerful a performance like her then the movie would have crashed and burned.

M: I just hope that this is the point at which she starts getting better roles because she can handle it.

S: I feel that way about Lupita Nyong'o.  I mean I haven't seen any casting news for her since 12 Years A Slave and she wasn't even in the movie that much it just felt like--

M: Let's mark this moment.

S: Yes!  Like, "This is important.  What will they do next?"  I mean that's the thing with some of these amazing roles it's a little like, they actors drop off the radar.  Like, Lupita's going to be in Star Wars next?  What?! [Incidentally she's going to be in Star Wars AND the Jungle Book].

M: Right, but what has Natalie Portman done since being in Star Wars?

S: Um, Black Swan was pretty big that's true.  [a.k.a. she won an Oscar] Actually, she's been trying to get this movie off the ground for like years and years.  No one wants to be in it with her, they keep leaving, I think it's called Jane's Got a Gun.  Everytime she has a co-star they just leave.

M: [laughing] Well not everyone can be Tilda Swinton and just do whatever they want cause they're perfect.

S: F*****g Tilda Swinton.  There are no words for Tilda Swinton; who doesn't call herself an actress.

M: The funniest thing about Tilda Swinton is that on her reddit AMA, they started to refer to her by the punctuation mark, the ~ and she would then self-reference herself as the ~.

S: That's amazing.  That's like the sort of name you want to give your kid just so their teacher has to try to figure out how to pronounce it.

M: She disarms you but not in a way that makes you comfortable.

S: No.  Not even a little.  Her first role that I remember was the Ice Queen in The Chronicles of Narnia so yeah, discomforting for sure.  [pause]  So coming back to the movie at hand for a sec, I do think Gone Girl was good,  It was everything I wanted it to be but it was just a little too long.

M: Yes, I did really enjoy it.  I liked the aesthetic of the movie--

S: Yes, it was beautiful to look at.

M: --it was very well done, it was filmed in a way that was really alluring.  But like we keep saying: it was too long.  I mean, think about the moment when he's about to be interviewed for the morning show and they're just waiting and waiting.  I'm there thinking, "Cut this scene!"  It's not making me feel any differently to anyone or anything that's going on.

S: I think it was meant to be the moment where you want him to succeed and you start to feel more connected to him but I honestly don't think he played it well enough for it work.  I was more connected to Tyler Perry in that scene than I was to him.  I'm thinking, "Yeah Tyler Perry, throw things at his head!  Teach him how to be a man! Let's do it!"

M: [laughing]

S: I mean overall I think the performances were all quite good.  But, no one's going to say she isn't the reason the film is good.  Take Rosamund Pike out of the film and it's not--it's nothing.  And not just because of the role she plays in the plot line.  

M: No, she's a pivotal character, but more importantly it's a pivotal performance.  She's so necessary.

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So it seems we've come to quite a few conclusions (even after having gotten a little off topic:
  •  overall that the film is worth seeing, if only for Rosamund Pike's performance
  • while much too long, the solid performances and aesthetics count for a lot 
  • the script was pretty solid but the pacing was iffy
  • Ben Affleck was just there
  • really famous actors shouldn't be listed in the opening credits if their part is integral to the plot
  • ~ Swinton is the be all, end all
 
We're giving this one a 3.5 out of 4.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The upside to being sick: a few reviews for your long weekend

A few weeks ago, I caught a cold. This is not important other than to say that it afforded me the opportunity to stay home and watch a few of the movies that of been ripening on my list. If nothing else, Being sick gives you an excuse to do the sort of lazy slob routine you'd normally want to do anyway, Without feeling guilty.

To that end I have a few short reviews to share on the films that I've watched over the last week, plus a few that have been kicking about, waiting for me to share my thoughts on.

In A World
Brought to us by writer/director Lake Bell, the film takes A humorous look at the world of movie trailer voice over.  Starring bell as Carol Solomon, the daughter of voiceover legend Sam Sato, the film follows Carol's struggle to become a voiceover artist. While at timesquite clever I felt the film neglected to draw from the rich soil that is voiceover character work. Having recently watched I know that voice, in which all the artists insist that The community a voiceover artists are quite close, seeing a film that suggested exactly the opposite, felt a little bit forced.that said there are enough laughs and this one and quirky interchanges, to keep you entertained on a quiet Sunday afternoon. 

I'd give this one a 3 out of 4.

Trek Nation
This review will be short, as I couldn't make it through the whole film. While the premise is an interesting one, Eugene Roddenberry, Star Trek's own Jean Roddenberry's son, goes on a pilgrimage to discover his father's legacy. Unfortunately Eugene does not have his father's charm and as such having placed himself as the central character in the story about his father, this one falls pretty flat. With archival footage that is interesting and of itself, I'm surprised this wasn't a better documentary. I just couldn't make it through, and gave up about a third of the way in.

1.5 out of 4 (.5 for old crew footage and leisure suits)

Celeste and Jesse Forever
This one's been on my list for quite some time, I enjoy Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones both so movie in which they played a divorcing couple seemed interesting to me. Written and produced by Jones, the film begins with a snappy montage introducing us to the history of Celeste and Jesse's relationship. Rather than spending the first few minutes of the film building them up as a couple, Jones uses the opening credits to tell us the story without boring us to tears. While Jesse and Celeste are still together at the opening of the film, you learn fairly quickly but they are at the center of their own divorce. Having been friends for as long as they have, It has been difficult for them to "consciously uncouple" and as a result Jesse is still living in the guesthouse and Celeste has not had a date in six months.with the script that meanders a lot like life, this one could've gotten boring quickly but the strength of the performances kept me interested and surprised me of how touching and honest the portrayals could be. As the narrator tells us at the beginning of 500 days of summer, "this is not a love story," and that's certainly true here. Though it does tell the story of love.

I give this 3.5 out of 4.

Life after Beth
Audrey Plaza has been a favorite of mine since seeing her on Parks and Recreation. While I do think she's sort of plays the same note in everything she's in, she does it well, so I'll forgive her. Unfortunately for Plaza, and for this film, it seems that only works in the hands of an experienced director. Writer director_ , Faced with some fantastic actress, this is the plot fairly quickly here. It's a great promise: boy loses girlfriend, boy finds girlfriend, turns out girlfriend is a zombie now. I mean, it's the stuff of horror comedy genius. But somewhere between  the suggestion that Josh is crazy and the zombie rape scene (yup) the film just gives up. The issue here, for me, is one of timing.  The set up takes far too long to get going, spending too much time focused on Josh and his relationship with best parents. And one bath finally does show up, things begin to unravel too quickly. Unfortunately, by the time the actual climax hits the movie slows down once more, dragging the ending out for an additional half hour more than necessary. In fact the only semi-clever thing the film does in the end, is have the Haitian housemaid, who is suspected of having something to do with Beth's return, turn out to have left because Beth's father was flashing his penis at her. Luckily her brother is there to set Josh's racist ass straight in a scene that is as useless as the original premise was offensive.

I watched to the end out of respect for Plaza, but it didn't get much better.

2 out of 4.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Was great! I'm not a huge Ben Stiller fan but this film was just right.  Based on the novel of the same name, the story follows Walter (an unremarkable, stock photo manager) through the hostile takeover of Time Magazine.  Having worked there for 15 years, he is the main contact for celebrated photographer Sean O'Connell and when one of Sean's frames goes missing, it's up to Walter to find it.  Now that's all well and good, but what makes this one remarkable is the manner in which they use special effects to share and meld Walter's imaginary life with his real one.  It's expertly done and somehow manages to demonstrate the growth that Walter is ACTUALLY going through, even as he imagines a good deal of the scenarios in which he's involved.

It's available on Netflix and you should definitely check it out.

3.75 out of 4

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pick O The Week - Oct 9

It's Thanksgiving everyone! Well it's Thanksgiving in Canada anyway, so it's a long weekend ahead let's take a look at this week and entertainment news.

First up, Word and Film took a look at movies mentioned in episodes of the Gilmore Girls (stick with me for a second because the list is actually pretty great), Underwire took a look at the real life historical medical practices featured in The Knick, and SNL once again screwed the pooch (though Silverman's monologue was pretty great).

In other news, The 90s PC game 'Myst' has been optioned for development, Jennifer Jason Leigh has been tapped to star in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, and I watched the new CBC show Strange Empire based on the strength of the reviews coming out, and hated it (more on that in a later post).

In Theaters: This past weekend CineCritical checked out David Lynch's new film Gone Girl. We're hoping to have a full review in the coming week(s), but in the meantime I'll say this: we loved it. This is definitely one for the record books mostly on the strength of Rosamund Pike's performance. While one of the things I've always enjoyed about Gillian Flynn's writing is that her characters are three-dimensional in their very nature, Pike elevates the character of missing wife to a whole new level. The tone set by the cinematography and score is just right, though all attendance agreed it could've been a bit shorter, and the fact that Ben Affleck played the lead was inconsequential.

At Home: As with previous weeks, I've been enjoying the catalog that Netflix has to offer. In nursing a cold, I also managed to get through a lot more of my list than normal. One that surprised me given I'm not usually excited about documentaries was I Know That Voice. While the doc itself is not particularly well organized, it gets away with a lot because of its subject matter: voice over work. As with the previous choice this one's a little bit long but you'll be hard-pressed to find a more engaging subject especially once they start reading Shakespeare using the voices of your favorite cartoon characters. Featuring interviews by some of voice overs biggest stars, this one is enjoyable, light, and definitely worth checking out.

On TV: With the new season of television just beginning I'm finding it hard to discover new an enjoyable shows. This is, of course, nothing new for me as every year I seem to lament the new offerings. That said, there are a few that strike me as interesting and which I'll be taking a look at as we move forward with the season. One show I haven't mentioned yet, and which has been surprisingly enjoyable if a little inaccessible to certain demographics, is Garfunkel and Oates.  Sharp, clever, and frequently compared to flight of the Concordes, Kate Macucci and Riki Lindhome are a couple of struggling musicians living together and dealing with womanhood. Highlights of each episode include a clever song interlude discussing anything from the smugness of pregnant women, to the sheer cliff that is turning thirty. Check out their YouTube channel for clips from the show and if you like what you see there I urge you to check this one out.

Retro Re-watch: Recently I rewatch to Mansfield Park, and I have to say it holds up. A slightly quirky take on a Jane Austen classic, Fanny Price, is clever, self-assured, and easily likable. as with any Jane Austen heroin, Fanny faults (while Austin would have you believe her fault is thinking too highly of herself, a modern audience might suggest Fanny's indecision to be her actual issue). If you're a fan of Austin, quirky. Pieces, or romance in general this one is a good afternoon watch.

Happy Long Weekend everyone!