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Showing posts from November, 2016

Back to the Feature: Fantastic Voyage (1966)

We love the idea of charting the extremes. It’s driven some of our earliest science fiction from going to outer space, the centre of the Earth, or the depths of the ocean (many of which Jules Verne had a hand in). So the idea of shrinking to microscopic size is a neat one, as is the notion of exploring the human body to see what it’s really like, how it really works. It’s an ingenious idea really, one that Isaac Asimov is often given initial credit for despite the fact that the script for Fantastic Voyage was written first, and Asimov based his book around it. Regardless, you can see Asimov’s influence on the film, released after the book was published in 1966.
          A Soviet scientist, Doctor Jan Benes has developed revolutionary technology that can shrink people to microscopic size, and during his escape to America narrowly evades an assassination attempt. But he’s in critical condition and it’s determined that a crew of scientists will be shrunk by his device, sent in…

Allied Shoots to be the Next Great War Romance

Robert Zemeckis is really going out of his way to prove how versatile a director he is. Would you believe Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Forrest Gump, and The Polar Express were made by the same man? Allied is just as distinct, at least from his previous works: a World War II romance about a pair of spies with the perfect title. Does he pull this off as much as his other disparate films?
          In the early years of the Second World War, Canadian intelligence operative Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) is sent to Casablanca where he meets his liaison, a French Resistance fighter who’s infiltrated the local society called Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). Working together on their secret mission, they soon fall in love and later marry. However the relationship becomes a lot more tenuous, at least for Max, when his superiors inform him Marianne may be a German spy. So Max in secret tries to dig up proof that his wife is who she says she is and save her from executi…

Disney Sundays: Zootopia (2016)

Last week I noted the similar pattern this era of Disney has with the original Disney Renaissance. And in a way Zootopia is still continuing it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nowhere near as dark and shocking as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but like that film it does address themes most of us previously thought Disney would never touch. But maybe it does it a little too much at the expense of story and character.
          The film presents a modern world much like our own, except everything’s run by animals. And in said world, a humble country rabbit called Judy Hopps aspires to become a police officer in the big city Zootopia. However because she’s what society often calls prey (as opposed to predators), a small herbivore, it’s an uphill battle. But she actually overcomes the underdog story pretty quickly and once in Zootopia partners with a con artist fox called Nick Wilde to solve a series of missing person cases all revolving around predators and a larger conspiracy.

An Honest Look at The Edge of Seventeen

High school is a rotten period in your life. Granted some make it through better than others, but the anxiety of social, personal, and academic choices coinciding with raging hormones and constant adjustments in both your physical appearance and emotional state makes it a tough road. Everything and nothing matters. And it’s this cesspool of teenage-hood that debut director Kelly Fremon Craig revisits in The Edge of Seventeen
          Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a troubled and very abrasive high school junior who manages to slog through everyday life until her best and only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) sleeps with her seemingly perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). When they become a couple, Nadine goes to extreme lengths to cope with not only the fractured relationship, but her own awkward behaviour and social life.
          One of the most impressive things about this movie is the realism. Unlike in a lot of teen movies, the characters in this film act li…

Is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Truly Fantastic?

In 2001, J.K. Rowling published a book called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for Comic Relief. A companion to her Harry Potter series, the short guide is based on one of the textbooks studied by the students at Hogwarts. It’s referenced only a small handful of times in the books and barely at all in the movies; but Warner Brothers, desperate to continue to milk a successful franchise after the final Harry Potter movie, chose to turn that book into a film.
          So it’s clear Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was made for no other reason than to make money. However, cash grabs can sometimes turn into good movies, and with a lot of creative avenues to explore in the world of Harry Potter, there’s plenty of opportunities.
          Set in the late 1920’s, Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist arrives in New York for research on a field guide he’s writing about magical creatures. But the case containing these creatures winds up in the hands of a muggle (or “No-m…

Disney Sundays: Big Hero 6 (2014)

It’s really interesting that this modern era of Disney movies is sometimes referred to as the “Second Disney Renaissance”, because there’s a curious pattern between the movies released during each period. Tangled was a return to a classic formula with some modern characteristics similar to The Little Mermaid; Winnie the Pooh was a successor to a popular Disney title and didn’t do so well much like The Rescuers Down Under; Wreck-It Ralph was really unusual with a focus on comedic elements akin to Aladdin; and both Frozen and The Lion King were massive successes, both commercially and critically, with a lasting popularity ranking among the studios’ best. With the exception of Beauty and the Beast, they all pretty much line up. And it’s with some misfortune that this pattern continues in Big Hero 6.
          I don’t think Big Hero 6 has quite as many issues as Pocahontas, but it is just about as glaringly mediocre. The idea of Disney doing a superhero film, and one with the Ma…

Exploring the Long Way North

Foreign animation really seems to favour the artistry of their films. That’s not to say there isn’t any in Western animation; recent movies like Frozen, Inside Out, and this year’s own Kubo and the Two Strings prove that. But animated movies from other parts of the world seem to put as much, if not more, emphasis on heavily stylized art as they do on the stories themselves. They want their films to really look good and more than that, distinct. And that’s certainly true of Long Way North.
          Though technically released in 2015, Long Way North wasn’t distributed beyond the Annecy Film Festival until this year. It’s a French-Danish co-production which makes sense considering the story itself is Russian.
          After her explorer grandfather goes missing on an expedition to the North Pole, teenage aristocrat Sasha takes it upon herself to find him. Discerning the trajectory of his route, she runs away from home to board a ship that can take her through the dangerous A…

How to Talk to Aliens

Ever since H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, we’ve been fascinated with alien invasion stories. The idea of a power we know nothing about coming to Earth is a very foreboding one and over the years we’ve used it as an outlet for our societal fears and tensions. But few have taken a less hostile approach to their depiction of alien visitors. Can this unconventional take on an old story work for Arrival, the newest film from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve?
          A host of UFOs arrive on Earth setting down at various locations planet-wide and the world governments decide tor try and communicate. Enter Louise (Amy Adams), an expert linguist brought to the American landing location in Montana to attempt to decipher the alien language. She’s accompanied by theoretical physicist Ian (Jeremy Renner), and together they work to understand these creatures and learn why they’ve come to Earth.
          The idea of portraying alien contact in a realistic context is nothing new in mo…

Disney Sundays: Frozen (2013)

When Frozen came out, it was everywhere! Many would say it still is! It’s Disney’s biggest phenomenon since The Lion King, even surpassing that film as the highest grossing animated movie of all time. In only a few years it’s become as synonymous with Disney as Mickey Mouse and Michael Eisner. Does it deserve all this adulation though? Is it really worthy? Could it be that this film is over-hyped?
          I say it is …but not by much. Yeah, to disappoint certain corners of the internet, I have to say I think Frozen IS really great. Not only is it Disney’s best animated film in years, but I think it does what The Princess and the Frog and Tangled struggled to do. That is, to be the best of both worlds in terms of old and new Disney; both parts contemporary and classic. 
          Elsa, a princess of the kingdom of Arendelle, has magical ice powers that one night are accidentally responsible for an injury to her younger sister Anna. To save Anna, trolls who dwell in the fore…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 review

We come to the end of the Harry Potter saga. Is the final installment a worthy send-off to the series or was it over-hyped as the "event of a generation"?

War Hero Without a Gun

It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson’s directed a movie, 2006’s Apocalypto, and there’s a reason for that. In the decade since, Gibson became an unfortunate pariah for a series of controversies. And so Hacksaw Ridge is being seen as his attempt at a comeback and when looking at a movie from this kind of director, it’s important to separate the art from the artist. Regardless of Gibson’s reputation, does Hacksaw Ridge stand as a great movie?
          Though the title is Hacksaw Ridge, the story is really about Desmond Doss, famous not only as the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour, but also for the fact that due to his devout religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist, he never carried a weapon into combat. After setting up his childhood and obligatory falling in love, the story follows his enlisting to be a medic, the ordeal he goes through during boot camp to avoid being discharged for refusing to handle a gun, and eventually his service in the S…

Doctor Strange takes us to the Next Dimension

Marvel doing a Doctor Strange movie shows a heap of confidence. They’ve already got a universe full of superheroes, intergalactic civilizations and anomalies, and even Norse gods. Now they’re throwing magic into the mix. That’s a lot of sci-fi concepts to juggle. Is this new addition to the Cinematic Universe too alienating?
          Doctor Stephen Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon who delights in taking on challenging medical procedures to satiate his enormous ego. But after he is injured in a car accident and loses the use of his hands he desperately searches for a way to heal himself. His search eventually brings him to Kathmandu and a mystic known as the Ancient One who opens his eyes to the powers of the astral plane, multiple dimensions, and the magical properties of the universe in which she trains him alongside her senior student Mordo. But of course, there’s an evil sorcerer called Kaecilius on the loose who must be stopped before he permanently destroys time as …

Disney Sundays: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

I wasn’t much of a gamer when I was young. I mean I owned a handful of games for Gamecube and then X-Box, but I usually preferred other means of entertainment. And I didn’t play a whole lot of the really popular titles apart from Mario Kart (which I sucked at), and then it was always on a friends’ console. The point is I have relatively minimal experience with video games and little more than a basic knowledge of the art. And yet despite that, I still loved a lot of Wreck-It Ralph.
          Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is guilty of a lot of false advertising. The trailers made a point of showcasing all the cameos by popular video game characters like M. Bison, Bowser, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Q*bert making it look like they would appear prominently -that this was going to be a movie where a bunch of licensed video game characters teamed up or something. Hell, most of them appeared on the posters clearly implying they had more than a minute of screen-time. In reality, this of cour…