Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – My Life as a Zucchini

Category : Movie Review

Director: Claude Barras

Starring: Gaspard Schlatter, Paulin Jaccoud, Sixtine Murat

Year: 2016

Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award, and coming in at only 70 minutes long, My Life as a Zucchini is as quick & impacting as an animated short, but as full of story & emotion as a feature presentation.  It’s a mix of the two mediums, falling directly in the middle in a very smart and specific way.  It didn’t take home the prize at the 2017 Oscars, but for a foreign film to be nominated in the category is no small deal, and should alert audiences to the fact that this movie deserves not to be ignored.  It’s a powerful statement packed in a small punch, but one you will feel the next day regardless.

Ikar, better known as Zucchini, lives with his abusive mother and spends most of his time daydreaming of superheroes and the height of the sky, anything that will transport him away from his miserable existence.  When his mother dies in an unusual accident, Zucchini is left in the hands of the French government, where a friendly police officer/social worker places him in a group home for children whose parents are no longer in the picture.  There, Zucchini meets a bully named Simon who will become his friend, and a girl named Camille who will become special in a way that he could never have imagined.

What a beautiful story to share with us, one of loss and the hope of finding something special again.  Most of the action is set at the group home, and these aren’t supposed to be little kids, they’re around 9-11, so their personal tales can be a little uncomfortable, and the questions they have about the world around them can be mature in nature.  So this isn’t exactly a kids’ movie, it deals with very adult themes, which just makes it all the more atypical and amazing.  The problems the kids face are so real and so frightening, and the way they work through them is perfectly believable.  An animated movie, yes, with great stop-motion footage, but it’s more than that, Zucchini is also a wonderful stand-alone film, a short but emotional experience from a great French filmmaker that you won’t soon forget.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Crooked House

Category : Movie Review

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Starring: Max Irons, Stefanie Martini, Glenn Close

Year: 2017

Advertised as one of the darkest tales from Agatha Christie, Crooked House lives up to its reputation and its name, as bent and wrong a story as you are likely to find among the classics and from one of the greatest authors of all time.  Christie’s books are turned into movies from time to time, but they don’t always work, given their complexity and their age (Murder on the Orient Express); it’s not easy to translate the England from 100 years ago into something today’s audiences will enjoy, especially when you don’t use a World War or a period romance.  But there’s a reason these novels are so revered; they’re pretty brilliant, and Christie is one hell of a writer.  Here’s another attempt at bringing her vision to life, and although the results are mixed, there are enough positives to win you over.

Aristide Leonides, a Greek immigrant who would build one of the greatest fortunes in all of Britain, has died.  He was an old man with many conditions, but his granddaughter Sophia is convinced that their was foul play.  Any one of his family members living with him in his mansion had opportunity, means, and motive, so the case will be hard to crack.  Sophia, desperate to keep the story away from the police and the press, seeks the aid of a man she once loved in Cairo, a young private detective named Charles Hayward.  Our sleuth interviews the suspects and tries to nab the culprit: the bitter elder son, his wife the actress, the younger son who ran the family business into ruin, his wife the shrew, Aristide’s 30-year old second wife, the aging sister of his first wife, Sophia herself.  The list goes on and on, but time is short, because the killer could very well strike again.

It’s a very solid mystery, with red herrings and false trails laid in wait, with minor clues that go unnoticed, except hopefully by our hero the young detective.  Then there was the love story between he & Sophia, which was beefed up fairly well, until you really did root for them to get together.  The major problem I had with the film was that there were too many characters and not enough time to flesh them out.  They became silly side pieces, when the movie didn’t feel that way otherwise at all, it was quite sober and dark.  Clue can have lots of silly roles, Crooked House needed something more substantial.  But the ending was good, the twist a solid blow to the audience’s collective head, so no complaints there.  Also, to note, the screenplay was written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame, and his touch was a nice addition to the film.  Although it won’t knock your socks off, Crooked House is a fun who-done-it with a sharp edge, a refreshing Christie tale that won’t feel stale.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Truman Show

Category : Movie Review

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich

Year: 1998

Peter Weir might not be a name that you instantly recognize, but I guarantee you’ve seen some of his movies.  In fact, he’s been nominated four times for Best Director, has never won, his time growing thin; he’ll be 74 this summer.  This Australian filmmaker’s filmography speaks for itself, with a 25-year span of quality cinema that should infect any director with a hint of jealousy.  Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander, The Way Back; DPS and TTS are five-star films in my book, and M&C gave me one of the best experiences I can remember having in a theatre, so thank you Mr. Weir.  This film is one of his strongest, an honest look at fear and boundaries and manipulation and the quest for happiness that takes us to odd places in order to get the message across, but that never lets go of our hand or our heart.

Truman was born within a television show, it’s just that no one has ever told him.  Every day of his life, from his very residence in the womb, has been caught on camera and broadcast live to the entire world.  What started as a one-camera operation has blossomed into the greatest show on Earth, complete with an entire town covered by a dome, a structure that can be seen from outer space.  Now that Truman has grown, thousands of camera are rolling, capturing his life from every angle, at every moment, and still he has no idea.  Every person he has ever met has been an actor, someone paid to be his friend, or even his wife.  It’s a charade on a colossal scale, but one that can’t go on forever, with Truman beginning to suspect that something is not right, that the world around him seems too intent on his not exploring past the boundaries of his island, that he as at the center of something important, even if he doesn’t know exactly what.

I almost flippantly called Truman Burbank Jim Carrey’s career performance, but when I paused to consider, I realized that the comedian has had several roles that go far beyond comedy and show exactly how excellent an actor he is below the goofball surface.  Liar Liar, Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine; there was a span there as the 90s became the 2000s that Carrey became something special.  But still, perhaps no more so than in The Truman Show, a film that gave him the chance to shine as a lovable, lonely figure who swiftly won our love.  This film is a heart breaker, while also containing a ton of hope and a deep-rooted message that won’t be quickly forgotten.  It’s a unique idea, well executed by Weir, the master of transporting audiences and making them forget we’re watching a movie.  Carrey is phenomenal, Linney is perfect, Emmerich was given a gift of a part, and the group outside the studio include some really big names: Ed Harris, Paul Giamatti, Philip Baker Hall, Harry Shearer.  There’s nothing not to easily love about this film, it’s inserted into our lives so well, feeling so much like the truth we’ve been looking for rather than just another story masquerading as real life.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Mary Shelley

Category : Movie Review

Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour

Starring: Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley

Year: 2017

It took a little while, but Elle Fanning might finally be coming into her own.  And even that isn’t fair; the girl is only just now 20 years old, it’s not like she’s a veteran who has been in a hundred films, it just feels that way because she’s Dakota’s sister and she’s been in the business basically her entire life.  It isn’t her fault that we expected her to be an instantaneous superstar, like her sister was, that’s too much pressure for anyone, let alone a little kid.  But, in a twist of the tale, Elle has outpaced Dakota, and has become the leading lady that her sister failed to develop into.  After roles in The Neon Demon, 20th Century Women, and The Beguiled, audiences have begun to take her seriously, as they should, because she proves in Mary Shelley that she’s a talented actress who is here to stay.

Mary Godwin lived in London with her half-siblings, her stepmother, and her father, who was a well-known philosopher and author in his day, as was Mary’s late mother, a woman of wild ideas and passionate fancies.  Mary has much of her mother inside her; the desire to write, to live an extraordinary life, to buck the trends, to show the world that a woman’s place doesn’t have to be in the home, silent, behind a man, desperately surviving when everyone else is boldly living.  When Mary met a young but promising poet named Percy Shelley, she knew that he had the ability to sweep her off her feet, to take her away from her father’s house to a life less ordinary.  But the more beastly aspects of a Bohemian lifestyle didn’t occur to Mary, nor could she outrun them, and the evil power of men was always only one step behind.  Mary would go on to write a “ghost story” after a challenge from a group of authors, a game to pass the time, and in it she would pour all of her anger, her fear, and her talent, unburdening herself from the harsh realities of a world gone mad with greed and lust and loneliness.

Fanning has perhaps never been better than she is as Mary Shelley, a part that seems written for her, a piece of history plucked out of the past and sculpted into a movie with her in mind.  She was equal parts strong and young, daring and shackled by societal norms, every day practices that left no room for a woman to grow or learn or experience.  Mary had to become an outcast in order to live beyond her father’s walls, and Elle found a way to play that part without making it seem like a grab for pity.  The story is a bit slow in parts, focuses mostly on Mary’s relationship and troubles, less on the book that made her famous.  But it’s a biography, not an origin story, we’re meeting Mary Shelley, not Frankenstein, so the setup of the film can be understood.  Fanning is definitely better than the movie, with tends toward the dark, somber, and slow.  But there is no reason to be scared away; while she is great, the rest is good, and the entire feature is worth your time, with Fanning’s performance acting as a bonus for your patience.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Labyrinth

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jim Henson

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Brian Henson, David Bowie

Year: 1986

It’s good to see Jim Henson use his genius for darker purposes.  His Muppets are great, legendary, magical, but Dark Crystal was a way to direct his art at older audiences, and Labyrinth was a combination of young whimsy he has already perfected with a more mature darkness that his puppets could also explore.  And, setting that aside, the movie is simple 80s goodness, a piece of childhood that will always be in our hearts, that we will pass down to our kids whether they want it or not.  I’m lucky, my children love weird films, from Ghibli to Rankin, from The Neverending Story to The Last Unicorn.  So I was as happy to share Labyrinth with them as they were to watch it, a bizarre bit of cinema history that still holds up over thirty years later.

Sarah hates her new life, with a stepmother and a new baby half brother, wishing more than anything that things could go back to the way they were before.  To escape her current situation, Sarah spends most of her time in a fantasy world of her own imagination, clinging to childhood fancies and stuffed animals, refusing to grow up.  One evening, when she is asked to babysit her crying brother once again, Sarah wishes out loud that he would be taken far away by the goblins, to the Goblin King, in a goblin city.  Little does she know that they are listening to her, and when her words are spoken they cannot be taken back.  The boy is abducted, and Sarah, realizing what she has does wrong, vows to bring him home.  She will have 13 hours to solve the mystery of the Labyrinth in order to reach the center of the city, or her brother will be turned into a goblin himself, and she will never be able to return.

Fun fact; Brian Henson, the voice of Hoggle and the son of Jim Henson, is married to Mia Sara, an 80s icon if ever there was one.  Legend, which was her very first film, is one of my favorites, not to mention Ferris Bueller, which is my third favorite movie of all time and Sara’s second ever project.  But I digress.  Labyrinth is gold, I don’t think that’s up for debate, but I think you could argue that it shouldn’t be, and it wouldn’t take much effort.  The story is ridiculous.  David Bowie, though an actor as well, seems like he’d never been in front of a camera before.  His songs are nonsensical.  I could go on, but what’s the point, I love this movie anyway.  The puppets, the goblins, the bizarre puzzles, Jennifer Connelly in one of her first roles; it’s an 80s extravaganza and it’s here to stay.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Dracula (1992)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins

Year: 1992

I can understand how, in 1992, pairing Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves together as a romantic pair could seem like a good idea, but I honestly don’t think I would have done it, even then; I have this little thing called ‘the ability to notice when people are horrible actors’.  Ryder was an 80s It Girl: Lucas, Beetlejuice, Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Mermaids.  Reeves has just emerged as Ted Logan and Johnny Utah.  Putting the two together must have seemed like a no-brainer, but only if you hadn’t watched other people act and only if you didn’t know what actual talent was.  Letting them star alongside proven veterans like Oldman and Hopkins was the next bad idea, and it all culminated in a highly unusual picture that’s often incredibly bad.

This is Bram Stoker’s tale of the vampire Count Dracula, his desperation to be reunited with his lost love Elisabeta, and the famed Van Helsing’s mission to destroy him once & for all.  Dracula was once a warrior for God, but when his wife took her own life, he cursed his creator, turning to darkness with a rage that was powerful enough to curb death.  Now he can become vapor, a wolf, a bat, cast spells on others, and control the weather; basically he’s a badass, undead, bloodthirsty monster.  When Dracula meets the young Jonathan Harker, he also sees a picture of Harker’s fiancee Mina, who bears a striking resemblance to his own Elisabeta.  Capturing Harker, the Count begins to woo Mina, while Professor Van Helsing is called upon to cure another women who Dracula has begun to change into a vampire as well.  All characters converge in a final confrontation, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

It’s not all bad, but I can’t enjoy this movie completely, not the way it was meant to be enjoyed in the 90s when it came out.  The story is cool, as is the way the director stuck to Stoker’s work, letting the classic tale be told the way it would if you read the book, with bloody special effects that were probably cool at the time.  And Oldman is a great Dracula, creepy and captivating, the perfect villain.  But the rest is simply weird.  Coppola isn’t a good director; he struck gold with the first two Godfather films and you could make an argument for Apocalypse Now, but the rest is a mess.  And then there’s the leading duo, who are simply awful, but for some unknown reason are still Hollywood mainstays.  It’s baffling really, but there’s no accounting for taste.  The most laughable aspect was the trio of suitors who become Van Helsing’s soldiers: Cary Elwes the over-actor extraordinaire, Billy Campbell the Rocketeer, Richard E. Grant who has been in every movie made since and shows no sign of stopping.  They’re very silly, the movie is insanely over-the-top, Coppola takes a lot of risks, and most of them don’t pay off at all.  Maybe I missed the boat, maybe I needed to see this when I was impressionable, but watching it now it does nothing for me whatsoever.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Thor: The Dark World

Category : Movie Review

Director: Alan Taylor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston

Year: 2013

The first Thor was  bad, but if you want to build a Universe you have to break a few eggs.  Or something like that.  Basically, the beginning of Marvel’s great project was bumpy, which is something people forget because it has become so good.  Does that give us some hope that the DC Universe will eventually come around too?  Maybe, Wonder Woman was solid, so perhaps there’s some hope for them.  The key might be willingness to change, and there were definitely some changes made in the second Thor installment, leaving many of the mistakes of the first behind.  But not all, sadly, that would have to wait for the third of the trilogy.

Thor had to leave Jane and planet Earth so that he could bring peace to the Nine Realms, having discovered his true powers and the calling placed upon him to be a beacon of hope in the galaxy.  He’ll be needed soon, because the ancient Dark Elves have awoken, and they are seeking the powerful Aether, a weapon that can turn everything it touches into dark matter.  Jane, still seeking information on Thor, stumbles upon the Aether, and it enters her body as a host.  Now the Dark Elves want her, and Thor must protect her with his life.  All-out war is on the horizon as the Nine Realms converge, a point in time in which the Aether can be used to destroy reality as we know it.

A slight improvement on the first, The Dark World is a move toward something better and more connected to the MU, a step away from the goofiness of the original.  Hemsworth improves, Portman doesn’t, so it’s easy to see why she was left out of Ragnarok and the Universe going forward after this film.  As always, Hiddleston stole the show with his complicated character; I don’t know what the franchise would do without the storyline between the brothers.  I just hate the Warriors Three, I’m glad they stopped appearing in the later films, because they aren’t needed or wanted at all.  These movies are just weak, it’s just early in the development of the Asgardian characters, but thankfully it gets much better.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Thor

Category : Movie Review

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston

Year: 2011

Who let Kenneth Branagh direct a Marvel movie?  Whose great idea was bringing a Shakespeare director to a comic book movie?  What film that he helmed impressed upon people that he could take superheroes onto his shoulders?  Sometimes simple stupidity astounds me.  This was a bad idea from the beginning, and how anyone could have thought otherwise baffles me.  The MU was just starting, Iron Man was a hit, it was time to add in more elements, Thor was a perfect vehicle, and then they hired Branagh and dyed Hemsworth’s eyebrows yellow; how dumb can you get.  The result is, not shockingly, bad, and I could have told you that before I ever watched.

Thor, God of Thunder, the arrogant son of Odin, King of Asgard, is ready to take the throne.  But first his crafty adopted brother Loki has some tricks up his sleeve.  The Frost Giants, ancient enemies of Asgard, attempt to break in to a hidden vault to steal powerful artifacts, an act that draws the ire of Thor and a declaration of war.  But his hotheadedness only proves that he’s not ready to be King, and so Odin banishes his to Earth to prove his worth.  There he meets the lovely and brilliant scientist Jane Foster, who has been studying the effect of the Bifrost Bridge, the Asgardian way to travel throughout the Nine Realms.  Thor must regain his power and defeat his brother Loki, who has always wanted the throne for his own.

The eyebrows were the first, but not last, thing to bother me about this movie.  They just looked cheap, and thank god Thor became more natural over the course of the films, because he was way too silly early on, and that’s no good.  Speaking of silly, I hated Portman and her crew (Stellen Skarsgard, Kat Dennings); they were unneeded and poor actors all.  As were Thor’s crew (Volstag, Hogun, Fandral, Sif); they were equally terrible.  The saving grace was Tom Hiddleston as Loki, he is great whenever he appears in this Universe, as well as Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Idris Elba and Heimdall.  You could tell that the filmmakers were just getting started, but you’d think they’d know what worked, after Iron Man, and what didn’t, when they watched the footage back before releasing it.  I’ve seen the other Thor movies, they get better, especially Ragnarok; apparently what was needed was a new director and a touch of actual humor.  But the early films are weak, ridiculous, and unnecessary; if they didn’t all connect I’d say you could leave them untouched.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Adrift

Category : Movie Review

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin

Year: 2018

Sometimes you really should have seen it coming, and this is one of those times.  I’m not talking about plot twists, I’m talking about quality level, with which Adrift has a major problem.  And again, we should have seen it coming, because the signs were pointing toward ‘problematic’ from the get go.  Both of this film’s stars were made famous by YA dystopian novels, and its director could barely make Everest something other than a snooze fest.  Not good, and not improved by bringing all parties together, tackling a true story (that’s not very interesting), and trying to make audiences believe that Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin look like/are regular, schlubby people.

Tami is a free spirit, has been since she left home when she was a teenager, a kid set on seeing the world outside of San Diego and not being pinned down by her family’s dysfunction.  Richard is a Brit who roams the globe in a sailboat, whose own family story isn’t much prettier, a young man who loves being alone in the middle of the blue.  The pair meet each other in Tahiti, fall in love, and begin to think that two lone wolves might be able to coexist in a very small pack.  When Richard is offered a lucrative job sailing a yacht back to the States, he can’t turn it down, and he can’t leave Tami behind.  But when a storm hits the small ship, the couple will have to battle the waves in order to survive, and will need each other to hold on to any sliver of hope.

The first problem comes in the form of the story, which isn’t all that fascinating.  Survival on the ocean, sure, that’s mildly cool, but this isn’t a famous story for a reason, we’ve never heard of these people or their plight because it’s not very awesome.  I couldn’t go through what they did, I’m not saying that attempting to survive at sea is easy, I’m just saying that, in order to make the tale into a film, there ought to be some other element that compels us to watch.  That may have been intended to be the love story, that was perhaps the hook, but I never really cared that much, and it’s most likely because of the actors.

Neither is that good; I feel like that’s something we ought to be ready to acknowledge.  Woodley has attempted to come out of her Young Adult shell, specifically with an adult role in White Bird in a Blizzard in which she did really well, but it hasn’t exactly worked further yet.  Claflin has tried the same, was OK in Their Finest, but hasn’t yet had his coming out.  This was their chance to shine, to catch our eye, but Woodley especially only caught it for the wrong reasons.  She was affected, that’s the simplest way I can put it, she’s an affected actress who has a hard time giving an honest, unfiltered performance.  It’s almost a gut reaction, audiences can feel when you’re not completely authentic and aren’t melting into your characters; I just don’t think she has the ability to reach the same plane as some of her contemporaries.  So the movie didn’t work, mostly because she didn’t work, and generally because we weren’t given enough reason to care.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Beauty and the Beast (2014)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Christopher Gans

Starring: Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Eduardo Noriega

Year: 2014

A tale as old as time, as they say, and the story has been redone so often that it has begun to lose its sparkle.  Disney even redid their own retelling, which might have been a step too far, even if I enjoyed the movie as whole, especially Dan Stevens as the Beast.  But I digress, mostly becomes he’s dreamy and Evermore is an awesome ballad.  Anyway, we all know the story, but it’s a French tale to begin with, so why not let some talented Frenchmen (and women) give it a go.  It may not be musical, but it is magical, and you’ll be surprised by the originality of what on the surface looks like just another fantasy film.  This version is fanciful, but it is also enjoyable, so don’t write it off too quickly.

A lovely girl named Belle lives with her wealthy family, her father being a merchant of great repute.  But when his ships sink, the family is left with nothing, paupers when a day before they were princes.  They move to the country to a place they can afford, the father, the three brothers, and the three sisters.  Belle is beautiful in both appearance and in temperament, never complaining that life has changed so much.  When her father goes to buy trivialities for his other daughters, Belle asks only for a single rose, a present he is glad to bring back.  But when he takes it from an enchanted castle, the price is his life, or Belle’s, when she decides to take his place.  The Beast who lives there has a secret that holds him back from love, instead wallowing in self pity as the years pass by.  Belle’s compassion brings out his best, and the story of his past, until she begins to fall in love with this creature who was once both more and less.

This version is slightly different from what we know from Disney, bringing in some of the original tale; the merchant, the ships, the six children.  But then it goes out on its own branch, with a story about the Beast’s lost love that has haunted him until the day he meets and then falls for Belle.  There’s a Gaston-like character, but a different plot there, so expect some variety, but also enough to recognize.  The whole film is done in a fantastic style, with vivid colors and over-the-top extravagances, but in a way that is really fun to watch.  Lea Seydoux is an odd choice for Belle because she has such a strong presence, but it somehow works, as does Vincent Cassel as the Beast, which shouldn’t be a surprise at all since he’s insanely talented. Enjoy the visuals and the opulence, as well as the dream sequences where we learn the Beast’s backstory, those are very enticing portions of the tale.  Basically, have fun with something a little different and you might surprise yourself.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆