Sunday Matinee: The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

Karel Zeman was a fantastic and amazing Czech filmmaker and animator whose work is wondrous to see. Zeman used live action and combined it with animated both hand drawn and stop motion to create amazing fantasy worlds.

Today’s Sunday Matinee is Karel Zeman’s 1961 The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. Loosely based on the Munchausen stories, this incredible fantasy follows the adventures of an astronaut who lands on the moon only to discover the crew from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, Cyrano de Bergerac, Baron Munchausen and others already on the moon. The group assumes that the astronaut is a moon man and the Baron decides to take him to Earth to show him what Earth is like.
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REVIEW: Dunkirk’s Imperfections Add to its Brilliance

It took me a while to figure out what bothered me about Dunkirk. All those five-star reviews were right: Breathtaking scenes, daring structure and emotional payoff. It was all there, at a scale seldom seen before.

Then it hit me: There isn’t a single original narrative in the film. Portraits of down-to-earth heroism have been done before and Dunkirk doesn’t break any new ground. Furthermore, writer/director Christopher Nolan’s favorite trick, messing with chronology for maximum effect, is more distractive than anything and I have serious doubts there was need for it.

That said, Dunkirk hits such highs, any shortcoming dwarves by comparison.

The film unfolds in three setup entwined together, but not necessarily concurrent. The first is the beach of Dunkirk, France, where 400,000 Allied soldiers wait for evacuation, surrounded by Nazi forces and intermittently attacked from above. We witness the havoc through the eyes of Tommy (newcomer Fionn Whitehead), a young private initially without other calling than coming out of this alive. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dunkirk’s Imperfections Add to its Brilliance”

Sunday Matinee: Unearthly Stranger

Today’s Sunday Matinee is a quiet little British sci-fi thriller from 1963 called Unearthly Stranger.

Shot on a low budget with practically no special effects the story follows a scientist, Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville) narrates the story as a flashback. Fearing for his life he tells how he got to this point.
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REVIEW: From the Land of the Moon (or Sexy Kidney Stones)

As roles of ingénue begin to dry up in Hollywood, Marion Cotillard seems to be favouring French-speaking parts. She is practically a Cannes mainstay thanks to her collaborations with the Dardenne brothers, Jacques Audiard and Xavier Dolan.

One of Cotillard’s lesser known Cannes entries arrives to SK this week: From the Land of the Moon (the French title, Mal de Pierres, is so much better). Set in France in the 50’s, the film tells the story of Gabrielle, a liberated/unsociable (your pick) woman stuck in an arranged marriage. Even though her husband José (Alex Brenemühl) is remarkably tolerant to all her unpleasantness, Gabrielle sulks and mops non-stop.

A sexy case of kidney stones sends Gabrielle to a health spa, where she meets the handsomely crumbling Lt. Sauvage (Louis Garrel, The Dreamers). Gabrielle falls in love with him (or the romantic ideal he represents), a passion that leads to further estrangement from her husband. Continue reading “REVIEW: From the Land of the Moon (or Sexy Kidney Stones)”

Sunday Matinee: Tron

35 years ago today Disney released a movie into theatres that they would consider to be another box office failure for them (in the ’80s Disney wasn’t doing too good). The movie would eventually become a cult classic and 28 years later Disney would eventually make a sequel.

Tron was the brain child of writer/director Steven Lisberger who had previously made the animated movie Animalympics. Lisberger originally wanted Tron to be a completely animated movie but released that it wasn’t possible at the time. He opted for live action with a mix of backlit animation and computer animation. Tron was not the first film to use computer animation but it was one of the first to use extensive computer animation. 15 full minutes of computer animation including the legendary light-cycle scene.
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Sunday Matinee: The 39 Steps

Hope everyone had a good Canada day! Today’s Sunday Matinee is Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant masterpiece from 1935 The 39 Steps.

The movie sets up and features several themes that Hitchcock would use through many of his movies to come. The macguffin, the wrong man falsely accussed on the run, the blonde love interest and much more.
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Sunday Matinee: Saboteur

It may be one of the lesser Alfred Hitchcocks but it’s still pretty entertaining and it manages to turn 75 years old this year, today’s Sunday Matinee is 1942’s Saboteur.

Hitchcock was under contract to David O. Selznick but Selznick wasn’t interested in the story so Universal picked up the movie and produced it. Hitchcock didn’t get the cast that he wanted but Priscilla Lane, Robert Cummings and Norman Lloyd do a pretty decent job.
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REVIEW: Okja Makes a Case for Vegetarianism

Okja and Mija.

One of the most notable filmmakers currently at work in South Korea, Bong Joon-Ho has a knack to mix dissimilar genres to startling results. In The Host, Bong changed monster cinema by combining it with realistic family drama. In his first film in English, Snowpiercer, the writer/director did a remarkable job by coating a social-issues movie with stylish action set-pieces.

Okja, Bong’s first movie to open in competition at Cannes, fits nicely in his filmography and it’s likely to transcend the art-circuit that has championed the filmmaker for nearly a decade: The movie will bypass theatres to open directly on Netflix.

Okja is both a coming-of-age adventure and a fierce indictment of capitalism and mass-produced food. It’s the kind of film for which the ubiquitous “viewer’s discretion advised” was invented. Continue reading “REVIEW: Okja Makes a Case for Vegetarianism”

Sunday Matinee: Predator

Filming has just wrapped up on the latest edition of the Predator franchise, The Predator which is actually only the fourth film. The original though first hit screens 30 years ago on June 12. Today’s Sunday Matinee takes a look at the classic first movie.

Back in 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger was king of the action films. He had two big hits in theatres in 1987. The Running Man and this mix of action and sci-fi horror.
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REVIEW: Cars 3 Goes Back to Basics

Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramírez burning rubber.

Less hyped but more profitable than other Pixar productions, Cars is the most kid-friendly saga out of the Disney subsidiary. Each film is awfully similar at playing with toy cars, a joy a franchise like Transformers completely misses.

Cars 3 is a nice rebound from the overstuffed and Mater-heavy Cars 2 (Mater is best in spaced out, small doses). A good portion of the film takes place away from the big city, precisely one of the charms of the first film. As a good Pixar film, it carries a positive, timely message (being different is not an obstacle to achieve your goals), although is less high-concept than, say, Inside Out.

We reencounter Lightning McQueen (voiced with increasing ease by Owen Wilson) as his career is taking a tumble. Newer, faster cars are joining the track and McQueen is having trouble keeping up, let alone winning. The next-gen champ, the slick, patronizing Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), is too passive-aggressive to be a proper villain. McQueen is basically his own worst enemy.

Following a fierce accident, Lightning reevaluates his career and comes to the conclusion he needs to change strategy. Backed by a new owner, McQueen ends up in hands of Cruz Ramírez (Cristela Alonso), a trainer whose unusual methods don’t sit well with Lightning.

Cars 3 unfolds smoothly. It provides a hearty dose of comedy and nostalgia, while at surface level. Cruz Ramírez is probably the best character the series has introduced outside Lightning and Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson. Tentatively, Cars 3 ventures outside race circuits and folksy little towns and into a makeshift monster-trucks arena. It’s the kind of risks the franchise could take more often.

Cars 3 offers a rare twist ending for a Pixar movie, one I failed to see coming. I guess old cars can learn new tricks. Three prairie dogs.

Cars 3 opens this Friday the 16th, everywhere.

REVIEW: Not Another Drone Movie

Sean Bean and Joel David Moore dressed to kill in Drone.

Drone warfare films are a dicey proposition. They can be a snooze like Ethan Hawke’s Good Kill or riveting like Helen Mirren’s Eye in the Sky. The difference lies in the stakes: While Good Kill is a standard PTSD drama that practically forgoes the targets, Eye in the Sky forces the audience to empathize with civilian bystanders.

In the bluntly titled Drone, the unmanned aircraft is more of an excuse for a hostage thriller. The frequently deceased Sean Bean is Neil Wistin, a drone pilot with plenty of issues unrelated to dropping targeted bombs: His dad just died and he is unable to write his eulogy, his wife is getting some action on the side, and his son barely communicates (the teen rather play war videogames than hanging out with dad, a dig to war culture as subtle as a sledgehammer). Continue reading “REVIEW: Not Another Drone Movie”

Sunday Matinee: The Godfather

To celebrate The Godfather‘s 45th anniversary and as part of Cineplex Events’ Classic Film Series, The Godfather will be screening at select Cineplex theatre’s on June 4th (today which has already screened) and June 7th.

In the days before the Hollywood summer blockbuster would fill the screens with fantastic creatures and events every summer hoping to entice audiences to spend billions on their movies, The Godfather was not only the highest grossing movie the year it came out and won tons of awards and acclaim, it was also the highest grossing movie film ever made at that time. Of course then Jaws came along and changed everything.
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REVIEW: The Wedding Plan Is No Ordinary Rom-Com

Even though Israel has a thriving film industry, is rare the film that makes it outside the country’s borders. Consider the last two Israeli flicks to make the arthouse rounds: Big Bad Wolves (psychopaths) and Sand Storm (arranged marriages). Not only they didn’t get any tracking. Both were bleak as flint.

The Wedding Plan breaks the mold in more ways than one. At first sight, it looks like a traditional rom-com, but carries more pathos than Katherine Heigl’s entire filmography. Michal (fantastic newcomer Noa Koler) is blindsided by her fiancé when he reveals his lack of affection for her. Out of stubbornness and religious overconfidence, Michal decides to continue with the preparations. God shall provide the groom. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Wedding Plan Is No Ordinary Rom-Com”

REVIEW: Wonder Woman Shows DC the Way

A few disclaimers before we start:

* Much like Ghostbusters last year, Wonder Woman has triggered a disturbing number of reactions against it because it features a female lead. This is not worth discussing and won’t be part of the review. How insecure can someone be that the idea of a woman superhero feels threatening? Or that the notion of an all-women screening is somehow an assault on men’s rights? This is toxic masculinity at its purest.

* I have nothing against DC Comics (or Marvel for that matter). My approach to review comic book-based movies is to focus exclusively on the film itself. I don’t have a “team”, at least until Haneke or Von Trier make a superhero movie.

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Wonder Woman, the fourth film in the DC Comics cinematic universe (DCCU) is, without a doubt, the best one so far. It solves the most glaring flaws of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad while anchored in the same universe.

It’s not difficult to explain the enthusiasm for Wonder Woman: DC fans are hungry for a film to be proud of and females have gotten the short shift in the subgenre for decades. But the idea this adaptation solves all the franchise’s shortcomings is wishful thinking. The plotting remains shaky and those pervasive conclusion problems persist. Thankfully director Patty Jenkins (Monster) is savvy enough to identify and solve the biggest issue plaguing the DCCU: Character development. Continue reading “REVIEW: Wonder Woman Shows DC the Way”

Sunday Matinee: Star Wars

40 years ago in a galaxy long long ago a movie opened on May 25, 1977 that would change movies, summer blockbusters, merchandising and pop culture forever.

Up until this point a young filmmaker named George Lucas had only made two movies. THX 1138 a science fiction film about a dystopian future where sex is illegal and everyone is on drugs to keep everyone compliant. His other film was American Graffiti a movie about a bunch of teenagers who go cruising one night before going off to college, war, etc. THX 1138 bombed at the box office but American Graffiti was a hit for Lucas. Lucas had wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie but he couldn’t get the rights. So he decided to invent his own space epic. And what a space epic. It’s so epic it’s still going on today.
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REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean 5: At Least Is Shorter

Jack Sparrow was once a character. Now is a series of twitches.

The weakest of all Disney franchises -at least creatively-, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga is better known for being a bloated mess than delivering any narrative satisfaction. Once Pirates’ saving grace, Johnny Depp’s perennially sauced Captain Jack Sparrow has become a handful of annoying tics. The actor’s image problems of late are not making the character any favors.

Yet, of all the franchise’s wobbly wheels, none is more problematic than Terry Rossio. A writer in every Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Rossio’s penchant for byzantine plots and arbitrary character development has made the films a challenge to watch (Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa has been good, bad or dead for no other reason than to patch a leaky script). Continue reading “REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean 5: At Least Is Shorter”

Sunday Matinee: Smokey And The Bandit

It feels like there’s always movies celebrating anniversaries. Sometimes though it’s a little shocking to hear how old some of these movies are. For example stuntman turned director Hal Needham’s first movie from 1977 Smokey and the Bandit.

The movie is kind of dumb but it kicked off a car chase craze throughout the 1980s. The simple easy going plot has Burt Reynolds (The Bandit) driving a 1977 Trans Am really fast to get cops to chase him instead of his buddy Jerry Reed whose semi is illegally hauling booze over state lines.

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Sunday Matinee: The Girl With All The Gifts

Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s a zombie movie.

I used to read British writer Mike Carey’s comics all the time. He had a fantastic couple of series. His Lucifer was brilliant as was his short lived Crossing Midnight and The Unwritten. After years in the industry he moved on from comics and became novelist and has been writing novels for the last couple years. One of his more recent novels has been made into a British movie that never saw a North American release.
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REVIEW: Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 C’est Ne Pas Bon

Bon Cop Bad Cop 2

Full disclosure: I recall very little about the first Bon Cop Bad Cop, in theatres ages ago. The only thing I remember for certain is that I didn’t care for it and it’s not worth revisiting.

Didn’t need to. Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 is self-explanatory. It’s also an expensive pile of clutter. I couldn’t stop thinking how many solid indies could have been financed with this unwieldy mess’ budget.

The principle that sustain the Bon Cop Bad Cop franchise is not a terrible one: The cultural differences between Anglo and French-Canadians are less vast than initially thought but allow for solid procedural comedy. The sequel uses the same principle, but transfers it to the relationship between the RCMP and local police, and Canadians and Americans. It’s more broad than you could possibly imagine. Continue reading “REVIEW: Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 C’est Ne Pas Bon”

HotDocs Film Festival – Day 9: Donkeyote

Donkeyote (UK/Germany, 2017): Finding documentaries that make you feel good about the human condition is often challenging. Donkeyote is one of them: Manolo, a septuagenarian farmer, enjoys days-long walkabouts across Southern Spain alongside his donkey, Gorrión. His dream is to one day walk the 2200-mile Trail of Tears in the US, but not only it’s expensive, bringing Gorrión is a whole other thing.

The film follows Manolo in his efforts to put the trip together, but the campaign is just an excuse to spend time with a compelling figure, an uncomplicated man who embraces life with gusto, but slowly realizes the world may have passed him by. Donkeyote could have used a sturdier structure (towards the end, the movie feels aimless), but it’s a guaranteed good time. 3/5 prairie dogs.