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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’”

Sunday Matinee: Pulp

Director Mike Hodges and Michael Caine decided to follow up the brilliant Get Carter with another gangster like film, the 1972 movie Pulp.

The difference this time out is instead of a serious and gritty crime drama Pulp is more of a comedy. It has goofy moments and jokes, then some gritty crime. Michael Caine stars as Mickey King, a novelist who writes books like My Gun is Long and The Organ Grinder under pen names Guy Strange, Gary Rough and the amusing S. Ódomi. Caine is hired to ghost write and autobiography of retired actor Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney).
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Star Trek: Rated “M” For “Motherfucker”

“Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Star Trek’ Will Be R-Rated: ‘The Revenant’s Mark L. Smith Frontrunner Scribe”.

I’ve read a lot of shocking stuff in my, oh god, nearly two decades at this paper but this might be the weirdest, most unexpected headline I’ve  seen.

Sunday Matinee: Shin Godzilla

After stopping the Godzilla franchise in 2004 Toho Studios gave the big guy a break for a few years. They then licensed him out to Legendary Pictures who started a new American Godzilla franchise that started in 2014. When that movie was a success Toho decided to relaunch the series in Japan again. They brought in acclaimed director Hideaki Anno (creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion) to write and co-direct the new movie. In 2016 Shin Godzilla hit screens and presented a very different take on the legendary monster.

The movie draws its inspiration from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The Japanese Coast Guard investigate an abandoned boat only to be attacked by a huge wave and a creature. News reports later show a giant tail swimming closer to shore. The prime minister of Japan assures people that the sea creature can’t come on shore. It has gills and no limbs. Despite this the creature swims into canals and into Japan and eventually makes land where the creature evolves legs and lungs.
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Sunday Matinee: Jabberwocky

Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind aren’t the only movies celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year. Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky is too.

Jabberwocky was Gilliam’s first solo directorial effort away from Monty Python although Michael Palin stars in it and Terry Jones has a cameo. Palin stars as a poor cooper in medieval times. All Palin wants to do is work and marry a large peasant woman who doesn’t really like him. Palin’s father disowns him on his deathbed so Palin goes to town to try and find work.
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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”

Sunday Matinee: The Lady Vanishes

Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is a British tourist about to head home from the country of Bandrika. A train delay forces everyone who was going to travel to spend a night at the local inn.

Iris is disturbed by music playing in the room above her getting the young musician Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave) kicked out of his room. Gilbert retaliates by forcing Iris to let him stay in her room. Meanwhile elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) is listening to a local musician play a tune outside her window. Unbeknownst to Miss Froy, the musician is killed shortly after playing the tune.

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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.

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Sunday Matinee: Wolf Guy

There is not a lot of absolutely bat shit crazy cinema but during the 1970s exploitation era there was some amazingly unique movies. Today’s Sunday Matinee for example is a 1975 action/horror exploitation flick Wolf Guy based on the Japanese manga of the same name.

Trying to describe this movie takes a bit of work. Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba runs into a yakuza who is fleeing something. The man manages to get out of a crowd and into a back alley where an unseen force tears the man to shreds. Chiba catches up to the man finding him dying and mentioning a woman named Miki and a tiger.
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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.

Sunday Matinee: Murder By Decree

I wanted to add this to this year’s 31 Days of Horror but it just didn’t quite fall into the horror category. This British/Canadian production by director Bob Clark has Sherlock Holmes going after Jack the Ripper in 1979’s Murder by Decree.

Christopher Plummer stars as Holmes and James Mason is Watson. It’s 1888 and Jack the Ripper is on the loose in the streets of London. A citizen’s group ask Holmes to investigate the crimes.
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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”

City Council Warp Up: Parking Copromise (A Pun, Not A Typo, I Swear), Wastewater Wassup?, Skate Park Naming

October’s council meeting was a comparatively quick affair. The one big controversial item on the agenda attracted only two delegations — they disagreed with each other but were completely civil about it.

The nerve! How am I supposed to write dramatic histrionics about city hall if everybody is playing nice and trying to reach reasonable compromise?

Think of what you’re doing to journalism, people!

Anyway, if you’re interested in getting a blow by blow of all the action, my live tweeting is collected below.

But if you just want the key bullet points here they are:

  • Regina Police asked for an eight year extension on their employee parking lot zoning. Heritage Community Association said the surface parking was a bother and eight years more if is too much. Council knocked the eight year extension down to five.
  • Council still hopes to sell its wastewater to Western Potash Corp. But WPC’s mine is still in limbo. The two struck a deal that allows the city to sell wastewater to other interested parties while still giving WPC access down the road.
  • The city’s reserves are still looking good. Though, the General Fund Reserve is heading toward zero. Plans are in the works to fix that.
  • The city named the Rochdale Blvd skate park after late councillor Terry Hincks.

And that’s it for this month. If you want to follow the action live in November but don’t want to attend the meeting or watch it on TV, consider following my live-tweetery account @PDCityHall.

Aiiieeeee!!! Canada: 31 Days of Horror – Black Christmas

Another October has come and gone and another year of 31 Days of Horror is over. To wrap things up is Black Christmas from 1974.

It Christmas time and the women at a sorority house has are having party while getting ready to go home for the holidays. Soneone climbs up into the attic of the house. Jess (Olivia Hussey) answers a phone call to house and lets the other women listen to what seems to be an obscene phone call. Barb Coard (Margot Kidder), Phyllis “Phyl” Carlson (Andrea Martin), Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin) and several others listen in. Barb provokes the caller who threatens to kill the women.
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Aiiieeeee!!! Canada: 31 Days of Horror – The Changeling

John Russell (George C. Scott) is a composer who has just rented an old Victorian style house while recovering from the deaths of his wife and daughter who were killed in a tragic car accident.

Russell has been noticing some strange occurrences around the house. Every morning there is a persistent loud banging. One night Russell finds a bathtub full of water and what looks like a drowned boy in it. Later he finds a hidden door that leads to a room upstairs where a boy’s wheelchair has been left in a dusty room.
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Aiiieeeee!!! Canada: 31 Days of Horror – Scanners

A security firm called Con-Sec has discovered that there are people out there called scanners. Scanners are psychics with telepathy, mind-control, and telekinesis. Con-Sec is gathering up scanners so they can use them as weapons.

At a demonstration Con-Sec’s scanner asks for volunteers so he can show off his abilities. A man named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) volunteers but demonstrates that he is an even more powerful scanner and kills off Con-Sec’s scanner in a very memorable opening scene.
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Aiiieeeee!!! Canada: 31 Days of Horror – American Mary

Mary Mason is a medical student trying to work and pay her way through school so that she can become a surgeon. She applies at a strip club but ends up saving the life of a man who has been tortured in the basement of the club. She saves the man’s life but feels disgusted afterwards.

Several days later of the dancers at the club, Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk), who has had surgery to look like Betty Boop offers Mary $10,000 if she performs body modification surgery on a friend of hers, Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) who wants to become a living doll. Mary takes the money and performs the surgery.
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