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Showing posts from April, 2017

Doctor Who Reviews: "Thin Ice"

I love the setting for “Thin Ice”. Of course I’m always partial to the 19th century, but a Frost Fair held on the frozen Thames is a very unique environment. It’s a great place to put the Doctor. And while the content and plot of the episode isn’t great, it works a lot better than last week’s.
          The Doctor and Bill take in the last great Frost Fair in 1814, but soon they notice a green light under the ice that follows stray people and sinks them under. Not only that, but upon further investigation, they discover a giant prehistoric angler fish under the ice and heavy chains. Connecting these, the Doctor and Bill determine to find out who is keeping the fish there, and what other nefarious plans do they have.
          “Thin Ice” is your basic sympathetic monster story, but as far as those go, it’s okay. There’s nothing incredibly exciting or new to it, but it’s not boring either. This episode brings back the psychic paper and the Doctor’s screwdriver plays an important…

Penny Dreadful Reviews: "A Blade of Grass"

“A Blade of Grass” is a sequel of sorts to “Closer Than Sisters” as well as “The Nightcomers” in that they’re all episodes that devote the full hour to exploring an area of Vanessa’s backstory. Rather than introduce a whole new period in her past, most of what we see in this episode takes place in between a handful of moments from “Closer Than Sisters”; possibly due to that episodes’ popularity (it still may be the series’ best), but also to allow for a more intimate story being entirely set in one room with only three actors (and even then, Patti LuPone only appears a couple times). The result is a stupendous episode that ranks among the shows’ finest.
          Beginning where the last episode left off, Vanessa is in a state of hypnosis recalling her time in the madhouse, where she was held the entire time in one room with the only visitor being the orderly who fed her; the man who would one day become Caliban. The goal of this procedure as we know from the last episode, is…

When You Can Judge a Book by its Cover

Free Fire, directed and co-written by Ben Wheatley, is exactly what the title indicates. But for an exposition-laden set-up that comprises the first act, this movie is an hour and a half of about ten people engaged in a massive shoot-out with each other after an arms deal goes awry. This sounds like a concept that would be great for a sequence of an action movie, but can something so basic sustain an entire feature?
          In 1970s Boston, a negotiator (Armie Hammer) and liaison (Brie Larson) broker a deal between two members of the IRA (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and a South African arms dealer (Sharlto Copley) in a warehouse. Tensions rise however, when the weapons turn out to not be the M-16s that were ordered, and aggressions reach boiling point when one of the the IRA associates (Sam Riley) is revealed to be in a violent feud with one of the dealers’ men (Jack Reynor). Soon, the situation escalates to the point everyone is involved in a bloody free-fire match, each dete…

Back to the Feature: Duck Soup (1933)

I want to talk about the lasting power of comedy. Like all art, it’s subject to renewed perspectives over time. When does comedy become dated, insensitive, or worse, unfunny? And what makes certain comedy timeless? Why have some routines and comedians fallen by the wayside while others have maintained as staples of the form for decades? I think ideal artists to examine this through are the Marx Brothers.
          Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and for a time Gummo Marx were a vaudeville comedy team that rose to prominence in the 1930s and 40s. While the silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton struggled to stay relevant in the environment of talkies, the Marx Brothers flourished through them. Real life siblings, they quickly developed regular personas in their act and even starred in a number of feature films that rank among the most revered of the genre. Though there are definitely those who remember the antics of Chico and Harpo Marx, the most famous of …

The Promise Exposes a Mass Tragedy

I really wish The Promise had a less generic title. The film from Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, which may be the first cinematic examination of the Armenian Genocide, deserves a title more memorable and unique than simply "The Promise" (the poster is also pretty bad too). Unlike the title, this film is certainly not bland.
          The film follows an Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac) studying in Constantinople during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. While there he falls for an Armenian-born French woman Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) who’s in a relationship with an Associated Press reporter Chris Meyers (Christian Bale). After the First World War breaks out, Mikael is horrified to discover the Ottoman government beginning an extermination of the Armenian people, and he is thrust into the conflict.
          It’s very important for historical films, especially when depicting such a great atrocity, to be careful and sensitive as to how its portrayed whi…

An Exquisitely Dim Movie about Genius

Gifted is Marc Webb’s first film since The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and it marks his return to Fox Searchlight and the kind of smaller picture that launched his career with (500) Days of Summer. The film which follows the custody battle over an intellectually gifted girl sounds compelling enough. So what went wrong?
          Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is raising his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) in a trailer park apartment somewhere on the coast of Florida. When she begins first grade and is quickly discovered by her teacher (Jenny Slate) to be gifted, Frank refuses to send her to a specialized school. Things get more complicated when his mother (Lindsay Duncan) shows up, and a custody battle ensues to determine what’s best for Mary’s future.
          In case you’re wondering, no, Frank is not Mary’s legal guardian and never has been. He essentially kidnapped her after his sisters’ suicide, on the basis that “it’s what she would have wanted”, and his posing as her father is never addressed a…

Where Are the Canadian Movies?

I bet many people reading this are looking forward to upcoming movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, perhaps Alien: Covenant or Baywatch. But is anyone anticipating Maudie or Bon Cop Bad Cop 2? In the past few months, has anyone seen Ballerina or Goon: Last of the Enforcers?
          Last month, I watched the Canadian Screen Awards, well aware I’d seen almost none of the nominated films or television programmes. But many of them looked quite good and I wished I’d gotten the chance to see them. These are our movies after all, produced here in Canada, how come we’re not given the opportunity to see them?
          When I lived in the U.K. it was common to see British movies like Pride and Sunshine on Leith screened in the same cinemas that were showing The Maze Runner, Interstellar, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. There’s an effort over there to showcase home-grown films in larger distribution than we seem to have in Canada. Here only a handful of Ca…

Doctor Who Reviews: "Smile"

You know, episodes like “Smile” are good showcases of the stuff I don’t like about Doctor Who. Particularly in the last several years, but also to some degree present in the classic series. When you get down to it, the idea of “Smile” is simple, but there’s a lot of convoluted baggage to get there, and in the end it’s not really effective except that it might be one of the few times the Doctor’s told people to essentially just deal with the fact some of their loved ones have been murdered.
          The Doctor, after reciting the same speech to Bill that the Eleventh Doctor was known for delivering, takes her (without Nardole) somewhere into the future. They arrive at an off-world colony preparing for the arrival of humans escaping their own rotten planet, but find no one in the city and only small robots who communicate through (…groan) emojis. After doing dome digging they discover this city is more dangerous than they realized, and that it’s of particular threat to the inc…

Penny Dreadful Reviews: "Good and Evil Braided Be"

Okay…there’s a lot that happened in this episode, but the image of three bloodied people engaged in a ritual orgy has a way of sticking in the mind much more vividly, in spite of more interesting developments taking place in other stories. Not even Game of Thrones has gone that far with a sex scene. But before we get around to that, let’s take a look at the other less titillating/unsettling parts of the episode.
          So Chandler awakens after killing a bunch of folks and is annoyed, to put it lightly, to see Hecate there. He awakens from a dream where he saw Kaetenay in blood (a sequence which also gives us some terrific western landscape). Though he wants to leave Hecate, she’s determined to accompany him wherever he’s headed. It’s not until this odd couple reaches a homestead to steal a couple horses that we learn exactly what Hecate’s plan is. She is enraptured by his wolf form and wants Chandler and her to be the King and Queen of Darkness. She also kills the man and…

Jesus, Bro! is the Good Word

Jesus, Bro! is the result of a crowd-funding campaign launched by online personality Brad Jones (a.k.a. The Cinema Snob) to make a spoof film of Pureflix features and other such religious exploitation movies. Films like God’s Not DeadWar RoomKirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas -all more or less just awful propaganda, that honestly really makes regular Christians look bad. Jones and director Ryan Mitchelle wrote the screenplay, and shot it in Springfield, Illinois with mostly Jones’ friends who’ve worked on his other projects, as well as a few other internet celebrities. So it’s the most indie of independent comedies and has only been released online through vimeo-on-demand, …and is actually pretty good.
          Rick “The Rickhead” Whitehead (David Gobble) is an aggressively critical internet troll with a large following who’s also become known online for his atheism. He wins an award for it in fact. However, after his Christian girlfriend (Alison Pregler) leaves him, during a drunken…

Going in Style tries to Prove that Old People Are Funny

Going in Style is one of the most unexpected remakes in recent memory. The original 1979 comedy starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, has been forgotten by most except evidently for Zach Braff (yeah, the guy from Scrubs) who directed this modern version. But is a story about three old men undertaking a heist worthy of two movies?
          Senior citizen Joe (Michael Caine) witnesses a robbery during an unpleasant bank appointment about his mortgage. Later when the company he used to work for is bought out, and the restructuring process cancels his pension, he recruits his friends and fellow victims Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) to plan a bank robbery of their own and get back the money they rightfully deserve.
          Having never seen the original I can’t comment on how this new movie compares, but this plot is pretty paper thin. It’s exactly what you’d expect in both direction and tone. There are decent character moments, such as when we see Joe o…

Doctor Who Reviews: "The Pilot"

By it’s title “The Pilot” suggests reinvention and restarting. Certainly this must be one of the few episodes of television bearing that title to not be the first of its series. Of course, knowing Steven Moffat’s tendency to tie episode titles literally into his storylines themselves, it should come as no surprise that this title also applies to the alien villain of the week. Still, this not-so-clever double meaning doesn’t necessarily bode well for the episode itself. After all, how many pilots are among their series’ best episodes.
          The main thing this”re-pilot” to quote a Community phrase has to do, is to introduce a major new character, that of the new companion Bill Potts played by Pearl Mackie, into the fabric of the show. And in that regard, I have to say this episode for the most part succeeds. 
          Presumably feeling nostalgic for “Human Nature” (or maybe “School Reunion”), the Doctor’s taken up teaching at a university, apparently not having it in him to…