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Showing posts from December, 2016

Passing Time with Passengers

It’s ironic that one of the production companies behind Passengers is called Original Films, because that is certainly not what this movie is. Don’t get me wrong, its basic premise and set-up is incredibly fascinating but the way it goes about telling its story is often clichéd and contrived. Yet despite that, this film isn’t quite as bad as its 30% on Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe.
          Set during what’s presumably the last stage in a Civilization game, a massive ship called the Avalon is on a one hundred twenty year mission to a planet called Homestead II to colonize. Thousands of passengers and crew are on board in stasis, however due to a slight malfunction, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakens ninety years early with no power to re-enter stasis. One year later, another passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens as well, and a romance develops between the two doomed to spend the rest of their lives alone on this spaceship.
          The visuals are real…

There's Brilliance Behind All That Jazz

Damian Chazelle’s Whiplash was a surprisingly tense film about a student being pushed to breaking point by a tough and abusive teacher. The film garnered lots of critical praise and earned J.K. Simmons an Oscar. It also showed very clearly that Chazelle has a passion for jazz music, a passion which drives his next film La La Land. And that passion permeates every frame of this film.
          The musical follows a pair of aspiring artists in Hollywood: struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) who in between auditions, try-outs, and attempts to survive in competitive industries, repeatedly run into each other and fall in love. But it doesn’t end there. What follows is a dramatic exploration of the highs and lows of artists following their dreams.
          This is a movie that loves Hollywood. The classic figures, movies, and aura of golden age Hollywood is romanticized throughout this film, from Mia’s Ingrid Bergman wallpaper to a dance …

Doctor Who Reviews: "The Return of Doctor Mysterio"

Ah, it’s great to be able to talk about Doctor Who again after a YEAR! It’s been a long wait but with “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” we really are going to see the return of the mysterious Doctor with a new series beginning in April, as well as a new companion who will hopefully bring something fresh to the show. As for now, it’s Peter Capaldi back in a fittingly campy premise.
          The Doctor while setting up a device to reverse paradoxes atop a roof in New York City comes across a small child called Grant Gordon who under the impression the Doctor is Santa (it being Christmas) comes up to help him. But he accidentally swallows an alien gemstone believing it to be medicine. A couple decades later, he works a job as a nanny while moonlighting as a superhero called the Ghost and comes into contact with the Doctor again when they investigate sinister plots at a research company called Harmony Shoals.
          It was only a matter of time before we saw superheroes in Doc…

Overlooked Specials 12th Day of Christmas

12th Day of Christmas:
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol This Christmas Day how about we dispense with the feels in favour of a mean but comedically genius one-off of Britain’s best series. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Blackadder, the series about a witty schemer reincarnated through various periods in British history, this special should still make you laugh. An inversion of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder played of course to perfection by Rowan Atkinson is the kindest man in England which everyone uses to take advantage of him. But an encounter with a Spirit of Christmas causes him to change his ways. Most of the Blackadder cast: Atkinson, Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Richardson appear here and are excellent, as are guests Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent, and Robbie Coltrane in a role I’m sure inspired J.K. Rowling to request him for Hagrid. And the writing from Richard Curtis and Ben Elton is as sharp as ever. It’s relentlessly enjoyable, funny…

Overlooked Specials 11th Day of Christmas

11th Day of Christmas: The Little Matchgirl In less than seven minutes this mesmerizing piece of animation exudes more emotion and character than over half the Disney films, which isn’t to insult Disney by any means. This short was made by Disney, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and is both warming and genuinely heartbreaking. Told with no dialogue and with gorgeous music, it’s about a poor little girl attempting to sell matchsticks in Revolution-era St. Petersburg during a harsh winter. I won’t say much more but the animation is absolutely stunning, easily among the best I’ve ever seen in the hand-drawn medium. It’s colour scheme that alternates in some instances, sets the mood perfectly and captures what bleak winters often seem to look like. Though it’s only explicitly connected to Christmas through brief imagery, the central theme is very heavily a Christmas one, and has been ever since Dickens emphasized it in A Christmas Carol. If you’re willing to be moved possibly to …

Back to the Feature: Holiday Inn (1942)

It’s the movie that inspired a perfectly decent hotel chain!
          I love Christmas, and I love Bing Crosby; but despite this I don’t like his 1954 holiday musical White Christmas which just seemed like an excuse to film a Christmas concert with his friends Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney. Despite this, I was very interested to see his seasonal predecessor Holiday Inn, a film famous for not only inspiring the hotel brand, but for being the debut of a few now classic Irving Berlin Christmas songs.
          The story is about Jim Hardy played by Crosby, who was part of a song and dance trio with Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) until Lila broke his heart by falling for Ted. He leaves the group to work on his family farm in Connecticut where a year later he has an idea to lift his spirits. He decides to turn the farm into a hotel called the Holiday Inn which would specialize in lodging and entertaining guests on national holidays. He b…

Overlooked Specials 10th Day of Christmas

10th Day of Christmas:
The Small One I think this was the film that first suggested Don Bluth was an animation genius. The 30-minute Disney short about a Nazarene child trying to sell his beloved old donkey Small One, has a beautiful yet unique simplicity to it. Charming, sentimental, and even dark in some places, it knows exactly how to relate the aura of Christmas without using a lot of its familiar tenets. It’s pretty obvious where the story’s going based on the setting alone, but it doesn’t stop you from wanting to see this often sad journey all the way through. No one seems to want Small One for anything that doesn’t hurt or kill him. The animation is standard Bluth greatness: stylistic, expressive, and very pretty to look at. And the music is of the tenderest. Though perhaps not as outwardly artistic as something like The Snowman, it’s more fulfilling, both narratively and emotionally. A wonderful precursor to a wonderful career, The Small One is certainly worth going out of your …

Overlooked Specials 9th Day of Christmas

9th Day of Christmas:
Arthur Christmas Thankfully it seems more and more people are realizing how incredible Arthur Christmas is! Christmas in the modern era is executed like a Black Ops mission, however Santa is getting old and senile. Everyone expects him to retire and pass the mantle on to his son Steve who already essentially runs everything. But when one child is missed, it’s Santa’s second son Arthur who embarks on a mission with his grandfather, to deliver her present by any means necessary. This may top Christmas Vacation as the funniest Christmas movie. The humour is sharp, smart, and fast, exactly what you’d expect from Aardman and more. The cast is superb from Ashley Jensen to Imelda Staunton to Jim Broadbent, James McAvoy as earnest as ever, Bill Nighy frigging hilarious, and Hugh Laurie wonderfully back in a comedic role. But the films’ most endearing facet is that though it presents an old vs. new conflict, it takes neither side. It’s about the heart-warming ends rather th…

Overlooked Specials 8th Day of Christmas

8th Day of Christmas:
Joyeux Noel Christmas 1914. British, German, and French soldiers were steeped in the trenches at violent war with each other. But for one night across the Western front soldiers from each side laid down their arms, and met each other in No Man’s Land in peace. All had family they were missing, and shared the fear they would die going over the very trenches they’d come from. They engaged, played games, even held Mass. It’s one of the most amazing, uplifting stories in the history of warfare, and it’s what’s being told in Joyeux Noel. A multi-lingual film with great performances from Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl, Gary Lewis, Alex Ferns, and Diane Krueger, it wonderfully celebrates the love, compassion and goodwill of humanity. It also doesn’t shy away from the repercussions of this ceasefire, how the soldiers responded in the subsequent days, how chastised they were by their superiors. But it’s worth it, because it all shows how even in the worst of c…

You'll Need Collateral if You're Seeing this Movie

There are many ways people cope with loss. Some find and attend support groups, others find comfort in good memories and introspection. And some cope through more unusual methods. Such is the case with Howard Inlet in Collateral Beauty who writes letters to Love, Time, and Death. It’s important then when you know someone who’s gone through this kind of heartbreak, to be sensitive to how they go about coping. And not to take any advice from this movie.
Collateral Beauty, the new drama from director David Frankel, is about Howard (Will Smith) a New York City ad executive who lost his daughter a couple years ago and is still having trouble coming to terms with it, being antisocial at work and resorting to writing and sending hand-written letters to those previously mentioned abstracts. His friends in the firm are worried about him, but things take a different turn when he starts having encounters with what appear to be the manifestations of Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Lati…

Overlooked Specials 7th Day of Christmas

7th Day of Christmas:
The Snowman Haunting, poetic, beautiful, even tragic are some of the words you could use to describe The Snowman, based on the childrens’ book by Raymond Briggs. It’s about a boy who on Christmas Eve brings his snowman to life and after hanging around his house for a bit, they fly off on an adventure. The animation is superbly stylistic, entirely pastel-hued, literally the book translated to screen and is constantly captivating. I also love how the short uses no dialogue apart from a little narration early on by the late great David Bowie (another reason it’s awesome). The exception to this is a chilling song called “Walking in the Air” which perfectly encapsulates both the harshness and beauty of winter. It’s got an unexpectedly downer ending which may detract a little from the overall joy, but it is worth every moment. Fly through the snowy night and see for yourself.

Overlooked Specials 6th Day of Christmas

6th Day of Christmas:
"It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown" We all know “A Charlie Brown Christmas” rightfully so -it’s great and one of the holiday classics! But no one ever talks about its’ follow-up in 1992 which is a very good special in its own right. Unlike the narrative of the first special, this one is composed of a series of vignettes. But they’re GOOD vignettes. Like Charlie Brown trying to buy a pair of gloves for his love interest Peggy Jean, or Sally struggling with her one line in the Nativity play, in which Peppermint Patty is also begrudgingly participating. It’s a Charlie Brown special that’s more sure of itself and has more of the humour of the strip than its predecessor. Also, this special has a few more of my favourite characters, introduced after the original, like Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Woodstock. I’d say it’s definitely one of the best Peanuts specials and like A Charlie Brown Christmas, worth watching every year.

This is not your average Star Wars movie

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we can all see is a goofy title. Honestly the production should have just gone with the shorthand “Star Wars: Rogue One” that most have been using. There are also surely going to be fans upset over the fact that this is the first Star Wars movie without an opening crawl. Once they get over that however, they’ll find there’s little in this film to be upset about.
          A brilliant scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) after years in hiding is found and forced by the Empire to design their super-weapon, the Death Star. Years later his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones), recruited by the Rebel Alliance on a mission to retrieve a message from her father, learns that the Death Star has a weakness. Hunted by Imperial Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), she and a party of rebels seek to find the plans and give the Rebellion a fighting chance.
Rogue One is an engaging story, based though it is on only a couple exposition lines from the original movie. By focusing o…

Overlooked Specials 5th Day of Christmas

5th Day of Christmas:
“Merry Christmas Mr. Bean” Everyone remembers this special for the famed turkey on the head gag that’s led to a ton of lazy imitators (looking at you Friends!), but Mr. Bean’s Christmas special is full of hilarious moments from everyone’s favourite mischievous mime. Rowan Atkinson is amazing as usual, as Mr. Bean childishly celebrates the holiday by playing with Nativity scenes, listening to carollers at his door as though they were on television, and giving his girlfriend the most disappointing Christmas dinner ever. You really sympathize with Mr. Bean’s unbridled enthusiasm as well as the fact his heart is so into the holiday. It connects with the child in all of us. This is also one of the most consistently funny Christmas specials you’ll ever see, written as it is by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, one of comedy’s greatest pairings. Festive, funny, and even sad, this is a special to snap a solitary Christmas cracker to.

Overlooked Specials 4th Day of Christmas

4th Day of Christmas: The Nativity Story Whether you’re Christian or not, this is a movie you should check out. While there have been tellings of the nativity story, this film may be the first to solely focus on it. And not only that, but it places the story in a historically realistic context not shying away from dirtier truths of the period that you won’t find in the Gospel. Like Joseph nearly stoning Mary for apparent adultery and the hardships of a journey across Mid-East terrain. It grounds the story which allows you to invest in its more fantastical tenets. Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac are very good as Mary and Joseph, as is the supporting cast including Alexander Siddig and Ciaran Hinds. I love how mere figures from the story like the Wise Men and Zechariah are given character. And the cinematography is tremendous, particularly when it gets to show off this unique climate. It’s perhaps the best take on this very old story.

Overlooked Specials 3rd Day of Christmas

3rd Day of Christmas:
Kung Fu Panda Holiday Yeah that’s right! DreamWorks did a few holiday specials based on their movies and while some like Shrek the Halls were terrible, others like Gift of the Night Fury were actually decent. The best was this Kung Fu Panda special set between the events of the first and second movies. The story’s centred around an unspecified seasonal holiday and how Po has to choose between presiding over a prestigious feast of all the Kung Fu masters, or the traditional humble celebration he and his dad arrange for the locals. Yeah it’s pretty basic and goes in the direction you’d expect, but it’s done with a warmth and humour that’s fresh. The spotlight on Po’s relationship with his dad Mr. Ping (the unsung heart of the whole series) is sweet, as is the lesson of humility it bestows. And of course being Kung Fu Panda, the comedy is great and the animation terrific.

Overlooked Specials 2nd Day of Christmas

2nd Day of Christmas:
101 Dalmatians: “A Christmas Cruella” I’m probably breaking my rule about TV episodes here but I don’t care! I’m going to be the first person on the internet to talk about this special! It’s weird that my first exposure to the Christmas Carol story, now my all-time favourite book, was on a video tape of this episode from the 101 Dalmatians TV series. You remember that series that aired on One Saturday Morning in the late 90’s? This special isn’t timeless but my brother and I grew up on it and still laugh at a number of jokes. Cruella voiced hilariously by April Winchell gets the Scrooged arc with the regular puppies and Spot the chicken acting as the spirits. Sure it’s over-the-top and it may be mostly nostalgia, but it’s funny with an Animaniacs sensibility in a few more grown-up jokes, enough so that I really recommend it.

Overlooked Specials 1st Day of Christmas

1st Day of Christmas:
“The Bestest Present”           Believe it or not, there were actually two Christmas specials based on For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston’s long-running Canadian comic strip. This first is definitely the better of the two. The plot is really simple: while out shopping for Christmas presents little Elizabeth Patterson loses her precious bunny doll which is then found by a seemingly cantankerous caretaker, and John and Elly’s attempts to console her as they try to find it. It definitely helps to have some familiarity with the strip but it’s not a necessity. What elevates this special I think is some simple but warm animation (similar to The Chipmunk Christmas) and an innocence not unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I think the special is purposely trying to go for. The voice acting is a little awkward (the Pattersons except for Elly are all voiced by Johnston’s actual family) but it’s not too bad. If you can find it (it’s Canadian, so rare), it’s definitely …

12 Days of Christmas Runners-Up

Christmas is less than two weeks away! You know for all the Christmas classics, there are way too many holiday specials that don’t get the attention they deserve. So this year for the twelve days leading up to Christmas, I’m going to highlight an overlooked Christmas special each day. The only thing is I’m omitting mere Christmas episodes of TV shows unless they were made apart from the main series, because there are too many of them. As for today, here are my honourable mentions:

“A Garfield Christmas” -The musical numbers aren’t very good but it’s got a decent humble story, a fun cast including Pat Carroll as the most awesome grandma, and everyone’s favourite sarcastic cat.

Bah Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas Carol -Yeah in a lot of places it’s stupid but it captures the Looney Tunes’ personalities right and in a fun take on a classic story.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol -A really wonderful, beautiful telling of the Dickens’ classic that’s a great introduction to the famous story. Alan You…

Disney Sundays: Moana (2016)

When I heard that the next Disney movie, Moana was going to be based around Hawaii, I was tempted to say, “haven’t we been here before?’ It doesn’t feel like too long ago that we had Lilo & Stitch. I was more curious though when I heard it would revolve around Hawaiian mythological figures like Maui and fantastical monsters. But then I remembered Ron Clements and John Musker were the directors behind Hercules and I worried. However I needn’t have, as Moana is easily the pair’s best film since Aladdin.
          A teenage girl called Moana, resident of a small isolated tribe on one of the Polynesian islands, is chosen by the ocean to be an emissary to the banished demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart of the Sea (a small pounamu stone) to Te Fiti -the goddess he stole it from who’s cursed their world with famine as retribution.
          Though this is a standard and fittingly mythic hero's journey, the story is nonetheless an exciting one to follow due in…