REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche

Ant-Man as Giant-Man.

The solemnity of Avengers: Infinity War didn’t quite hit me until the first few minutes of the frothy Ant-Man and the Wasp. A sequel to 2015 Ant-Man(the one Edgar Wright got bumped from), this chapter leans heavily on the comedy and well-designed set-pieces based on… size proportion. The film stands by itself for far longer than expected –given certain events in the MCU– and the limited stakes are a welcome respite from Thanos’ idea of redistribution.

Probably because of the absence of drama behind the scenes, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a lot more cohesive than the first episode. Returning director Peyton Reed and a team of five scriptwriters fail to fully grasp the whole subatomic shrinking business, but your tolerance for science-speak is rewarded in different ways.

Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, the titular Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has abandoned his career as a superhero and now endures a two-year house arrest sentence. Scott is willing to bide his time for his daughter, but is also fully aware his actions have forced his former companions –Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly)– to go on the lam. Continue reading “REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche”

REVIEW: Pope Francis Gets Real

Pope says hi.

Regardless of your feelings towards the Catholic Church, it’s fair to say Jorge Bergoglio encountered a challenging situation when he became Pope Francis in 2013: The institution was noticeably out of step with the world, congregations were dwindling, and the matter of widespread sexual abuse perpetrated by priests wasn’t being dealt with as much as swept under the carpet.

Francis revealed himself to be more of a revolutionary than anybody expected (sure, the transformation of the Church hasn’t been sweeping, but the man is inarguably an improvement). Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) focuses precisely on the Pontiff’s main drives in Pope Francis: A Man of his Word, a documentary built around a couple of wide ranging interviews with the Argentinian Jesuit.

Wenders cares little about Francis’ upbringing or how he became the man he is today. His main concern is the Pope’s view of the world and what is he doing about it. The Pontiff’s modest lifestyle (for Vatican standards anyway) gives away his game: Poverty is the chip on his shoulders and hasn’t hesitated in calling out capitalism. He is also the first environmentalist Leader of the Church to date, a stance that has alienated many Conservative Catholics, particularly in the US. You don’t have to agree with the man, but one has to admire the consistency.

From a cinematic perspective, Wim Wenders gets his hands on some eye-popping footage. Unfortunately, his decision of creating cheesy interstitials with the life of St. Francis of Assisi (as if shot by Carl Dreyer in the 1920’s) fails to achieve the desired effect of linking both Francises through history.

Bergoglio comes across as affable, but doesn’t take much to discover gravitas under his welcoming demeanor. One could argue Wenders is too soft on Francis, particularly when dealing with the matter of children’s abuse at hands of clerics. As biased as it is, it provides enough insight on a man who sees monumental tasks ahead –refugees, climate change, ever expanding poverty– and his reaction is simply to roll up his sleeves and get to work, which is more than the other guy did (the German one, who quit). Three pious prairie dogs.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is now playing at Studio 7.

REVIEW: Incredibles 2 Leaves You Wanting More

Elastigirl leaves the baby with her house-husband in Incredibles 2.

Alongside Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., The Incrediblesis a foundational Pixar film, a veritable neoclassic that explores the changing dynamics of family life disguised as a superhero film from the 60’s. The film invigorated the career of Brad Bird, who crashed and burned with the Iron Giant, a critical darling that didn’t connect with audiences.

The Incredibles was a smash hit, and Bird moved on to bigger things (the narratively ambitious Ratatouille, his first live-action film Mission: Impossible 4), but following another box office miss (the unfairly maligned Tomorrowland), the Pixar creative returned to Pixar to helm a sequel of his first hit… 14 years after the original.

Incredibles 2 picks up seconds after the original’s ending, mid-battle with the Underminer. The considerable destruction that ensued from that encounter forced the Parr family to go back into hiding. Broke and a little bored, when a millionaire offers them to spearhead a PR campaign to bring superheroes back, they are happy to accept. There is a catch, Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is the one chosen to be the face of the movement.

Suddenly a stay-at-home dad, Bob a.k.a Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) struggles mightily: Homework is ridiculously hard, daughter Violet is sullen as ever, and baby Jack-Jack has dozens of powers and can’t control a single one of them. Meanwhile, Elastigirl thrives in her new job, although the new villain in town –the Screenslaver– is getting on her nerves.

The home front chaos is far more compelling than the adventure that ties all together, mainly by how compelling Bob, Violet and Jack-Jack are, together and separately. Bob is not exactly ‘woke’ and even though he doesn’t get in the way of Helen, he is clearly begrudging his spouse. Violet’s priorities are not in line with the rest of the family, especially when facing the possibility of a boyfriend.

The relationship of Bob and Helen is another highlight. Never mind the disagreements, their partnership is one you can believe. Take recent superhero hits Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War: A good chunk of the plot hangs on coupledom, and yet the undoing of these pairs left me cold. Bob and Helen have a shorthand and know when to push a point and pull their punches. It’s a successful marriage in a nutshell.

I don’t plan to spoil the identity of the villain here. Suffice to say, like all good antagonists, it has a valid motive and a cool and unusual modus operandi. It’s not nearly as flashy as fanboy-gone-wrong Syndrome, but it has more depth.

The only aspect of the film that doesn’t quite work is the conclusion. Probably because the scenario is not particularly dramatic, or the threat is too mild to taste, the stakes feel low. That said, Incredibles 2 gets an easy pass on character strength alone. 3 ½ super dogs

Incredibles 2 is playing everywhere.

REVIEW: (Groan), Lucy

Oh, Lucy! was the first movie I saw in last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. I remember thinking “what a pointless oddity. I’m positive I will never hear of this movie again.” And here we are.

Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Oh Lucy! is not the film you would expect from the Anchorman duo. Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), a lonely middle-age woman living in Tokyo, rediscovers her joie de vivre when by chance lands in an English class with John (Josh Harnett, don’t ask). The expat’s teaching technique consists in giving the student a blond wig and an American identity, “Lucy”. (Seriously, people have problems with Isle of Dogs and not with this?)

Unbeknownst to John, the class triggers a tectonic shift inside Setsuko. She loosens up, quits her job and decides to actively pursue the English professor. John has gone back to America, you say? No problem! She has a passport.

There are a couple of additional complications (John is dating Setsuko’s niece; Setsuko and her sister can’t stand each other) that give the film a whiff of screwball comedy, but Oh Lucy! never takes off: Harnett is no one’s idea of comedic performer and Shinobu Terajima embodies too much pathos to come across as funny.

The film is more effective while in Japan. The moment the action moves to Los Angeles and the “fish out of water” cliché kicks in, Oh Lucy! loses its charm. The tonal inconsistency is jarring: This is a comedy that opens with someone launching himself in front of a train, and clearly there is something wrong with Setsuko that is never addressed.

If nothing else, Terajima’s performance keeps the film watchable, but the low stakes and even lower production values hurt the overall experience. The message -the connections you make in the world may save you in the end- is a sweet one, if about as pat as they come. One and a half ESL prairie dog (out of five).

Oh Lucy! opens this Friday 13th at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile – Studio 7.

REVIEW: Rossy De Palma does English in Madame

Every actor in the strange ensemble comedy Madame is someone who deserves to hit the screen more often: The consistently reliable Toni Collette, the (as of late) little seen Harvey Keitel, Almodóvar mainstay Rossy De Palma, and Brit character actor Michael Smiley (Kill List). They all are a treat to watch, but are poorly served by a movie with considerable identity issues: Is it a comedy of manners? Slapstick? Drama?

Madame is set in Paris for no discernible reason beyond the sights. Bob and Anne (Keitel and Collette) are an American couple enduring unspoken crises: Bob is short in cash and forced to sell his beloved Caravaggio. Anne, his aging trophy wife, is sexually frustrated and considering an affair. They are preparing a lavish dinner that may solve their problems when they realize there are 13 sits at the table, a harbinger of bad luck.

To solve the impasse, Anne dresses the maid, María (De Palma), in haute couture to pass her for a Spanish socialite. As the classic romantic comedy trope goes, María’s earthy charms captivate the guests, particularly a British art broker (Smiley) unaware of the ruse.

Even though the setting is ancient, De Palma makes it work. She is a delight as the reluctant accomplice, whose religion-based misgivings fall by the wayside one by one. Unfortunately, Madame is not her movie: Keitel and Collette have storylines that never take off. The Anne character could have been a delightful villain. Instead we have to put up with her run-of-the-mill midlife crisis. Also, one shouldn’t cast the star of Bad Lieutenant to play the straight man in anything. Kind of a waste.

The film is intermittently amusing and sticks the landing with a beauty of a gut punch. The moral of the story: When in doubt, go with Rossy. Two earthy prairie dogs.

Madame opens today Friday the 13th in Regina, at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile – Studio 7.

Almost Ready, Player One

The #604Stacks.

It’s Juno weekend in Vancouver. For those who think music died with Bowie and Prince, the event doesn’t carry much weight (three weeks ago, I didn’t know what a “Hedley” was. Now I’m trying to forget), but at least the side attractions are quite fun.

Chief among them are the #604Stacks, the low-income housing featured in Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s latest movie based on the Ernest Cline best-seller. The stacks are shipping containers -not unlike Brazil favelas- that symbolize the widespread poverty and overpopulation that may characterize the planet in 2045. From this environment emerges Wade, a teen gamer who goes on an epic journey -both virtual and in real life- to become a hero for a disheartened population.

The #604Stacks are a full scale recreation of the aforementioned housing in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Three of the containers are accessible to the public. The first one is filled with classic arcade games: “Centipede”, “Ms. Pac Man”, “Donkey Kong” and the sort. Worth mentioning, the Oasis, the virtual reality universe where Wade spends most of his time, is peppered with 80’s references, and knowledge of the decade’s pop culture and electronic games is indispensable to thrive.

The second container is a duplicate of Wade’s residence (it doubles as rewards area). The third one houses a VR game inspired by the film. “Rise of the Gunters” pits Wade and friends against the corporate agents who want to control the Oasis. I did poorly at “Gunters”, but crushed “Centipede”. Hours and hours of Atari 2600 practice pay off.

#604Stacks its open to the public Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th, 12 to 9pm.

Ready Player One opens next March 29th everywhere.

REVIEW: Tomb Raider Is Serviceable Fun

Back in the day (2001), when Angelina Jolie was announced as the incarnation of the world’s (second) most famous tomb raider, the decision was celebrated as a victory for Girl Power: Finally, a female hero carrying an action film.

Besides the fact we have progressed astonishingly little in that regard (word by word, the same was said of Wonder Woman last year), it’s worth mentioning Jolie’s Lara Croft movies were not great. Not only the plot was unwieldly, Angelina played a sassier version of herself and not really a character.

The main change the 2018 version of Tomb Raider is that Alicia Vikander actually plays Lara Croft. The film is simple but cohesive and the action set-pieces are fluid, as opposed to the choppy style of some other genre specialists (ehem, Michael Bay, ehem).

In this incarnation, Croft is an bike courier/MMA aficionado living paycheck to paycheck. She doesn’t have to. Lara has inherited millions of dollars from her missing father, but she is reluctant to take a penny as she hasn’t given up hope that her dad may resurface.

On the verge of caving in, Lara stumbles upon a clue of her father’s whereabouts: A restless man, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) may have ended in Japan, in pursuit of the resting place of a witch with devastating powers. And he wasn’t the only one in pursuit of the grave.

Tomb Raider is one of those rare cases in which the marriage of an European filmmaker’s sensibilities and a Hollywood production works out. Director Roar Uthaug, responsible for the low-budget, high-octane tsunami flick The Wave, keeps things grounded in reality. Because Indiana Jones’ parentage is undeniable, Uthaug embraces it, leading to effective sequences of Lara Croft using brains and brawn to escape from impossible situations.

A reliable performer, Alicia Vikander brings her low-key charisma to the role. She is immensely watchable and brings a modicum of verisimilitude to ludicrous scenarios. Fans of the videogame (the film is based on the 2013 reboot) are served with winks and nudges, without going overboard.

As the first movie of a would-be franchise, the film does a good job sticking to the story at hand and not overloading in mythology, so often the kiss of death of origin stories. A strong supporting cast (Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott-Thomas and a criminally underused Derek Jacobi) and rather amusing set pieces make Tomb Raider an enjoyable popcorn flick. 3/5 prairie dogs.

Tomb Raider is now playing everywhere.

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time Could Use Some Ironing

Storm Reid is Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time”

Director Ava DuVernay has had a remarkable career. Outside forays in music videos and television, her films have been consistently powerful: The fierce family drama Middle of Nowhere, the revelatory doc 13th and the heart-wrenching Selma, they all have left an indelible impression. It wasn’t a surprise Disney would pick her to head the adaptation of the emblematic sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time. She has the chops and the sensibility to pull it off.

Which is why it pains me to say A Wrinkle in Time is not up to par. It’s not necessarily DuVernay’s fault. The script is agonizingly obvious (kids are more sophisticated viewers than the movie gives them credit for) and commits a capital offense for an adaptation of this nature: It nearly forgoes world-building. Also, as seminal as the Madeleine L’Engle book is, it’s 56 years old, and every plot point has been recycled to death.

The one thing A Wrinkle in Time has going for is zeitgeist: All major social movements crystalize in the story of Meg (Storm Reid), a brilliant 13 year-old who -following her father’s disappearance- has turn sullen and withdrawn. Well on her way to hopelessness, Meg and her family are visited by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a kooky figure who seems to know more than she should about Meg’s dad and his interdimensional travel theories.

Soon Meg, her would-be boyfriend and her annoying little brother head to other worlds in search for the missing father, under the tutelage of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Oprah, supernatural, benevolent beings battling the Darkness, the source of all evil.

I could go into further details, but there is no end to all the narrative details the movie both tackles and glosses over. While nobody expects a page-to-page recreation, A Wrinkle in Time does a poor job explaining the mechanics of the story. Things happen. It’s magic. Moving on. A poor casting decision (Meg’s younger sibling is hard to understand and much of the plot hinges on him) further hinders the film’s unfolding.

Ava DuVernay manages however to keep the visuals interesting, particularly when choosing practical effects over CGI. For brief moments, the film becomes tactile, relatable. Makes you wonder what could it have been… with a better script. 2/5 prairie dogs.

A Wrinkle in Time is playing everywhere.

REVIEW: Up ‘The Stairs’

Regent Park in Toronto is an area in transition. Once a drug traffic and sex trade hub, gentrification has turned the neighbourhood around. Alas, the district’s denizens remain in the borough, trying to survive day in and day out.

The Stairs sheds light on their existence by focusing on their daily routine. The approach is respectful of their choices and prevents any judgement from seeping through. Director Hugh Gibson interviews a handful of residents in the course of five years, and documents their struggle with sobriety and their efforts to gain stability. They fail more than succeed, but the realization that there isn’t a way out is somewhat freeing.

The one element that sets the subjects in The Stairs apart is their community involvement and genuine concern for their fellow men. This trait makes them more relatable and their stories more heartbreaking.

While cinematographically flat, The Stairs has an immediacy that elevates it above similar ventures.  Three prairie dogs.

The Stairs will be playing at the RPL Theatre from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th. Director Hugh Gibson will be in attendance for Q&A.

REVIEW: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Star Wars’ Best Film Since ‘Empire’

Rey (Daisy Ridley) looks into the horizon, as all you do in Star Wars.

As satisfying as The Force Awakens was, as the dust settled, it became clear than J.J. Abrams had basically remixed A New Hope for a new generation without bringing new ideas to the fore (heck, Abrams went for yet another Death Star, the most cumbersome of weapons). Considering this development, concerns over The Last Jedi being another Empire Strikes Back weren’t unfounded.

Enter Rian Johnson. The writer/director behind the brainy indies Brick, Looper and The Brothers Bloom explores corners of the Star Wars universe never seen before on screen, without breaking the mold. Chief among them, a scenario beyond the battle between good and evil that has characterized the saga. Johnson also takes full advantage of the visual possibilities and deliver the most unique-looking episode of the franchise, without becoming a CGI hodgepodge like the prequels. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Star Wars’ Best Film Since ‘Empire’”

REVIEW: Coco Sneaks Up on You

Pixar’s less heralded but most remarkable skill is its ability to introduce ideas and concepts one would be hard-pressed to consider appropriate for a family movie: Mental health comes from managing our emotions, not denying them (Inside Out); the value of criticism lies in the discovery of new talent (Ratatouille); overprotection can stunt a child’s growth (Finding Nemo).

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Coco -it’s visually stunning and it’s undeniably fun- but the message (“families are important and want the best for us”) is pedestrian at best and debatable under certain circumstances. Not that the value of family was ever a novel idea, but the Fast and Furious saga has driven the notion into the ground.

Coco is set during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, the one time of the year those who have passed can come for a visit. At the Rivera household, the fiesta is celebrated without music. A few generations ago, the paterfamilias left his wife and baby daughter to pursued a career in music and never returned. It was decided then the family would make a living making shoes and no tunes will ever be played at home, or surrounding areas. Continue reading “REVIEW: Coco Sneaks Up on You”

Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar

Pixar’s Coco.

Okla native Byron Bashforth has been involved in nine Pixar movies and four shorts to date, including the Disney subsidiary’s brand-new feature, Coco. Bashforth is the film’s character shading lead, meaning he is responsible for the team in charge of the look of all the characters in the film. Considering that Coco unfolds in two separate realities and the number of roles is in the dozens, Bashforth has his work cut out for him.

Byron got his Master in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan and has been involved with Pixar for almost two decades. “I remember watching the trailer for Toy Story and it occurred to me for the first time that you could use computers to do something else than computer science stuff. It opened the possibility of being able to combine my artistic streak and computers as a career.”

The animator has been the character shading lead for the short Lava and the features Monsters University and Ratatouille. I had the chance to catch up with Byron over the phone from California. Continue reading “Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar”

REVIEW: Not Loving Vincent

Saoirse Ronan in Loving Vincent.

There is no denying Loving Vincent is an extraordinary achievement. All 65,000 frames of the movie are oil paintings, courtesy of 115 artist who aped Van Gogh’s style for almost a decade. The outcome looks like a living, breathing canvas.

If only the same amount of care had been put on the script.

Story-wise, Loving Vincent is a pedestrian affair, practically pulled from Wikipedia: A year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, Armand, an adrift young man (Douglas Booth, Noah), is tasked with delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother Theo. Doesn’t take too much digging for Armand to discover the brother has been dead for a few months. Finding Theo’s surviving family proves a little more difficult, especially after stumbling on clues that suggest Vincent may not have killed himself.

The mystery of Van Gogh’s death is amped up for dramatic purposes, but the investigation never feels too pressing. The red herrings are painfully obvious and the information is dispensed in roundabout and clumsy ways. Clearly the wrong person for the job, Douglas Booth overdoes it as the lead, as if believing the animation technique may prevent his acting from coming across.

All we are left with is the gimmick. Thankfully, it’s a memorable one. Loving Vincent recreates the artist’s most magnificent creations: Much of the fun of the movie comes from recognizing Van Gogh’s masterpieces on screen, from his many portraits to the ubiquitous “Starry Night”. Pick any detail -cigarette smoke, a windmill in the background- and you will discover remarkable artistry and attention to detail.

One can certainly appreciate the effort put into the making of Loving Vincent, but film is a different medium and requires a more holistic approach than just pretty pictures. 2.5 prairie dogs (out of five).

Loving Vincent opens Friday 17th at the RPL.

REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run

Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman.

Following a shaky start, the DC Extended Universe has reached a modicum of stability (thanks Wonder Woman!). There are still some kinks to work out, but glaring problems like cohesiveness and that whole “Martha!” business seem to be a thing of the past.

Considering the problematic installments that preceded it, Justice League is fine. The story is constrained and doesn’t take itself all that seriously: The Flash notwithstanding, it’s still grimmer than Thor: Ragnarok laugh-fest, which may not be a bad thing.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run”

Frankie Drake’s Lauren Lee Smith: “In Canada, We Take Care of Each Other a Little Bit More”

Lauren Lee Smith as Frankie Drake.

Lauren Lee Smith has been a staple of Canadian film and television for over a decade. Her filmography includes niche titles like Lie with Me and Art School Confidential and TV mainstays such as The Listener and The L Word. Frankie Drake Mysteries, the CBC drama that premiered last Monday, is Smith’s first solo lead and she is almost in every scene of the series.

A Murdoch Mysteries spinoff of sorts (the two shows are set 16 years apart and linked by web series), Frankie Drake Mysteries revolves around Toronto’s only female private detective in 1921. Frankie (Smith) is a woman ahead of her time, frequently underestimated, but more resourceful than the police and criminals alike. “I’m a mother to a daughter now and the importance of playing strong female characters has become even a bigger priority”, elaborates the actress.

I had the chance to talk with Lauren about the watershed moment women in the industry are experiencing, and whether she knows in advance if a show has staying power.

– While you’ve been the co-lead on a number of shows, it seems Frankie Drake Mysteries falls squarely on your shoulders. Does it feel differently?

– I think there were maybe three scenes over the course of the entire season that I was not in. Playing the title character is a new experience, a different kind of pressure I wasn’t exactly used to. But having a leadership role gave me the energy on 15-hour days to be a cheerleader for the rest of the cast and crew.

– Considering your experience in other TV shows, do you have an inkling which series are going to last?

– I wish I did. I’m usually the worst person to know these things. Every time I think “this is amazing, this is going to work” … It’s hard to tell, especially considering how the television world changes so drastically year to year. I do think Frankie Drake has a little bit of everything to appeal to a large audience, and we have a really good shot at being successful.

– You are finishing the year very strong, between Frankie Drake Mysteries and your role in The Shape of Water. How long did you work in Water?

– I shot it last summer, I was in Montreal doing This Life when I got a call telling me Guillermo del Toro had a role for me in his next film. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I knew nothing about the character, I had a four-month old baby in tow, but decided it had to happen. We drove six hours to Toronto, shot two nights in a row, drove back and continued shooting This Life.

– You play Michael Shannon’s character’s wife. He seems very intense.

– It was a great pleasure getting to work with him. He is such a focused actor and it was incredible to watch his process.

– Would you say you have planned your career?

– When I was in my early twenties, I had this idea of who I wanted to be as an actor and how I wanted my career to go. The moment I let that go and stop worrying so much, the opportunities I was looking for started coming in. Now it’s just about not overthinking it and trust that work will come, which is easier said than done.

– Do you have second thoughts about developing most of your career in Canada?

– Not for a second. When I was younger, there was this constant push to get to L.A. I followed that lead, I did many, many, many pilot seasons and, while I was there, I was constantly getting booked out of Canada. It was ridiculous. Right after CSI, I got Good Dog (HBO Canada) and The Listener (CTV), and I didn’t want to go back. Here is where my family and friends are, I love my country, I didn’t see the point of fighting to do work somewhere else when you are getting great work here.

– Given the recent slew of revelations coming from Hollywood, do you feel the Canadian TV and film industry operates at a different level?

– I do. We have a growing community, but definitely smaller. We are more family oriented, there is a different level of respect, we take care of each other perhaps a little bit more. You are going to see these situations no matter where in the world you are, but based on my experience, I believe in Canada we have a sense of security and safety. That’s my hope, anyway.

Frankie Drake Mysteries. CBC, Mondays at 9 pm. Season premiere is available at watch.cbc.ca.

Todd and The Book of Pure Evil Hit Saskatchewan

Those familiar with the Space Channel cult horror-comedy Todd & The Book of Pure Evil may remember the show ended its two-year run on a cliffhanger. Five years later, the resolution has finally arrived: As a feature-length animated film.

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End starts shortly after the events of the series finale, in which relationships became strained and one of the main characters was killed off during the vanquishing of said book. The film doesn’t quite resets the story but reshuffles alliances and gives the student body of Crowley High new reasons to fear attending school.

Quirky as ever, animation frees Todd‘s creative team to up the ante (two words: acidic acne). You don’t necessarily have to know the show to enjoy the film (a thorough recap is provided), but it enhances the experience. The comedy in display is a bit of an acquired taste. That said, those with tolerance for gore and gross-out humour are in the clear.

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End will play only this Saturday 4th at 9.30 pm at the Rainbow Cinemas-Studio 7, with director Craig David Wallace and actor Alex House (Todd himself) in attendance.

REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in Thor: Ragnarok.

As high as Marvel’s batting average is, there is a ceiling the MCU movies struggle to break through. Outside the first Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel has had a hard time generating stakes. Sure, the MCU movies are a guaranteed good time (especially when compared to the DCEU), but I can’t say I’ve been all that invested in the wellbeing of the people of Sokovia, Xandar or New York.

The lack of emotional weight rears its head again in Thor: Ragnarok, but the movie makes up for it with charm and laughs. Far and away the best movie about the God of Thunder and the funniest comedy of the year not involving Stalin, the third Thor movie benefits greatly from having Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) at the helm. Waititi understands the character better than his predecessors, brings his dry, sharp comic sensibility to the table and makes the most of Chris Hemsworth’s considerable comedy chops. Continue reading “REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun”

REVIEW: Thank You for Your Service Works for Blue and Red States

Miles Teller and Beulah Koale in Thank You for Your Service.

At the advance screening of Thank You for Your Service, I was informed it was from the same writer of American Sniper. My heart sunk. Alongside Lone Survivor, American Sniper is the most questionable portrait of American military in modern day. Not only Sniper presented a warped version of the Iraq War courtesy of Clint Eastwood, a number of the events depicted by the film turned out to be false.

I’m happy to inform Thank You for Your Service is nothing like Sniper or Survivor. A subdued approach to the less than welcoming environment that awaits soldiers deployed abroad, Thank You for Your Service is devoid of any jingoism. For the characters of this movie, becoming a soldier is a final career opportunity after running out of options.

Adam (Miles Teller), Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole) are three close friends from Topeka, back in their hometown after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. None of them are in good shape. Adam is wrecked by guilt for his responsibility on the death of a fellow soldier, Solo’s brain is “scrambled” after being blown up seven times (!), and Will is putting all his hopes and dreams on his fiancée, who may not be in the picture by the time of his return.

This is not one of those movies in which the lead doesn’t want help to deal with their PTSD. Adam and Solo are eager to receive assistance, but the backlog is such, they could be waiting for months on end. The delay proves to be unbearable for the young veterans, whose family lives hang by a thread.

Through the entirety of Thank You for Your Service, first time director Jason Hall sustains enormous tension, even though towards the end the film leans on dramatic tropes not at the same level than the rest of the movie. Miles Teller is becoming a very effective and unassuming performer, especially now he is not involved with comic franchises or YA adaptations.

A mishap worth mentioning is the casting of Amy Schumer as a soldier’s widow. She is not bad per se (although her climatic scene could have used a more seasoned dramatic actress), but is definitely distracting. It’s one of those cases in which name recognition comes with a price tag.

Overall, Thank You for Your Service is a healthier take on the costs of war, which reverberate long after the conflict has ended. Something to keep in mind when casually suggesting bombing some country, or stating soldiers know what they signed up for. Three prairie dogs.

Thank You for Your Service is now playing at the Cineplex in Southland Mall.

REVIEW: The Snowman Is Melting

Michael Fassbender tries hard to save The Snowman.

It would be easy to dismiss The Snowman as the standard troubled production that couldn’t be saved in post (three-time Oscar winner editor Thelma Schoonmaker notwithstanding). Alas, the outcome is so uniquely weird -disjointed, beautiful, nonsensical- it’s kind of fascinating how this movie came to be.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, The Snowman pits the titular detective (Michael Fassbender) against a serial killer who targets adulterous women. The maniac enjoys taunting his pursuers with childlike notes commenting on their investigation (he doesn’t think highly of it). As the bodies begin to pile up, Hole finds a link between the killings and a decade-old unsolved murder involving Norwegian captains of industry.

While mostly a plot-driven thriller, The Snowman is also a character study. Harry Hole is an alcoholic whose level of self-loathing is so high, he would rather alienate those who love him than give domesticity a try. The film fails to integrate both threads and, for most of the movie, the family drama feels not only disconnected, but unnecessary.

The Snowman unfolds in stilted fashion. Some of Hole’s decisions are baffling and a number of plotlines go nowhere. Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) confessed production was rushed and not all the script was shot. This would explain why so often the story is pushed forward via ADR.

The saddest part about this misfire is all the casualties: The possibility of a Harry Hole franchise, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography, a cast as deep as underutilized (Chloe Sevigny plays twins and still seems barely there), and -above all- Val Kilmer. On the mend from throat cancer, all of Kilmer’s lines have been noticeably dubbed. The actor’s performance is so over the top, it seems to belong to an entirely different film. His weirdness, however, is strangely compelling and one wishes to see more of him.

There are hints of the Tomas Alfredson that brought us the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In. Deeply idiosyncratic characters and potent images can be found here and there, but The Snowman never seems under his control. Two prairie dogs.

The Snowman opens this Friday everywhere.

REVIEW: The Meyerowitz Stories Acknowledges Lives of Unfulfilled Potential

Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller in The Meyerowitz Stories.

The easiest way to approach Noah Baumbach’s latest movie The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) would be to talk about Adam Sandler’s performance. Sure, Sandler’s work is way above average, but it’s hardly news that the low-brow comedian can act. He just chooses not to.

The real headline here should be that the film features Dustin Hoffman’s finest work in nearly two decades. The two-time Oscar winner is Harold Meyerowitz, the patriarch of a balkanized family with an artistic streak. Harold has three kids: Danny (Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and Matthew (Ben Stiller). Despite the fact Harold wasn’t a constant presence in their lives, Danny and Jean fuss over him. Alas, their father takes them for granted and seem to care only for Matthew, who lives in the West Coast.

The film is episodic by design, focusing alternatively on a different family member. Outside a considerable level of unhappiness, the Meyerowitzes share the feeling none of them lived up to their potential. Harold, a sculpting teacher, has problems accepting the fact a contemporary of his (Judd Hirsch) racked fame and fortune and he didn’t. Danny finds himself divorced, jobless and nearly fifty. Matthew is successful just on paper, while Jean goes through life unappreciated and lonely.

Location is fundamental for The Meyerowitz Stories. The film attempts to capture the artistic New York, the one slowly fading away due to gentrification. As it’s traditional with Baumbach, the script is impeccably written, and the filmmaker’s ability to capture difficult family dynamics (see The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) is in full display. Their pathos and manias lead to several explosive combinations, without forgetting the underlying affection the characters feel for each other.

Long-standing feuds and petty squabbles often ring true and when they don’t, they are entertaining enough to keep the audience invested. Think of The Meyerowitz Stories as Woody Allen on steroids. Three and a half prairie dogs.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) premieres on Netflix this Friday, October 13th.