Reviews

Review: The Invisible Man is a Timely Reinvention of a Classic

Posted by Matthew on March 22, 2020
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The Invisible Man

There are many ways to tell a story that has already been told. You can simply re-tell it, or add some embellishments, or you can entirely remake it into something new. The Invisible Man falls squarely into this third category. It takes the bones of a classic monster movie and re-contextualizes it for now.

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Catch Up Reviews: Gentlemen, Bad Boys, Bombshells, and more

Posted by Matthew on February 22, 2020
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It has been a busy couple of weeks around the Awesome Friday HQ and I haven’t had a ton of time for writing, but I have caught up on a bunch of movies so here are some brief thoughts on Bombshell, Harriet, The Gentlemen, Bad Boys for Life, and Miss Americana.

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Review: Birds of Prey is a good time!

Posted by Matthew on February 16, 2020
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DC’s Extended Universe of films got off to a rocky start. An early focus on being grim and gritty and “realistic” a la the comics of Frank Miller along with a lot of time spent setting up a universe seemed to get in the way of making, you know, good movies. That is to say, they went too dark and they spent so much time worrying about the next movie they forgot to focus on the one they were making.

Luckily it seems that someone eventually figured this out and started letting filmmakers make the movies they want to make rather than having them conform to a predetermined aesthetic and continuity. Sometimes this has resulted in a miss (like Joker) but in recent years they have actually generated a string of fun movies (like Aquaman and Shazam!).

So how does Birds of Prey fare? As both a sequel to one of the least liked DC films and also focussing on one of the most fun characters in the DC universe it has a tough setup but I’m pleased to say it’s definitely a hit.

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Review: ‘1917’ is a technical masterwork and a pretty good movie, too.

Posted by Matthew on January 20, 2020
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1917

1917 tells the story of two young soldiers given a simple but difficult task. A battalion of men are heading into a trap and the only way to contact them is for our two heroes to travel across the no-mans-land of world war one, directly through enemy territory and all the dangers that entail, to hand-deliver a message of warning.

Schofield, the cynic, and Blake, the optimist, are opposites in their disposition and understanding of war. The former, a veteran of battles past, the latter still inexperienced in actual battle. They set off to deliver the message as quickly as possible as Blake’s brother is among the men who will likely die if they don’t accomplish their mission in time.

Filmed to create the illusion that it was completed in a single take, 1917 is in some ways the movie-est movie I’ve seen in a while. In others, it’s the video game-iest. Does it work? Technically, it’s magnificent. In every other way, it’s also pretty good.

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Review: ‘The Song of Names’ is too downtempo

Posted by Matthew on December 23, 2019
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It’s minutes before a show.  The theatre is sold out and the crowds are dressed to the nines.  The orchestra is ready and everyone is waiting to see the young virtuoso violin player than the entire city can’t stop talking about. 

The only problem is that he’s nowhere to be found.  This is the first scene in The Song of names.  The virtuoso, a young Jewish immigrant named Dovidl,  adopted by a British violin instructor in the years before world war 2, who becomes like a son to the instructor and brother to the instructors’ son Martin, who then disappears on the night of his big debut.  

Fast forward to 40 years later, the now-adult Martin hasn’t seen his adopted brother since that fateful day, but a new clue sets him on the path to rediscovering what happens on that fateful night. 

What should be a sombre reflection on two lives lived ends up kind of being a bit of a slog.  Tim Roth plays the adult Martin as best he can with the material that he is given but I felt no investment in his story, or when it’s finally revealed what happened to Dovidl, in a moment that should pack an emotional wallop I didn’t feel much more than a gentle nudge. 

Once the story connects with Dovidl as an adult, now played by Clive Owen, things get a little more interesting but Owen seems to be sleepwalking through the part.

There are things to like in this movie though.  A new original score by Howard Shore is one of them, and indeed basically every musical performance is great.  One, in particular, a musical duel between Dovidl and another young violinist in a London bomb shelter, is particularly great. 

But these pieces can’t save the movie as a whole from being a bit too stuffy and uninteresting.

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Review: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is charming, but muddled satire

Posted by Matthew on November 12, 2019
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Jojo Rabbit

This is a movie that should be right up my alley. It has an acclaimed comedic writer/director known for films that strike exactly the tone that taking on a difficult subject like the Nazis is suited for, with an all-star cast and a premise just out there enough to maybe sneak in some real lessons without the audience knowing.

And it almost works. That’s not to say that Jojo Rabbit is a bad film. It’s actually a fine film. It has more than a few big laughs and a couple of great performances, but it never quite gels into something more.

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Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ is totally fine

Posted by Matthew on November 12, 2019
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Terminator: Dark Fate

James Camerons 1984 film _The Terminator_ and 1991 follow up _Terminator 2: Judgement Day_ are both stone-cold classics. It’s not surprising that Hollywood has been making sequels in this franchise for the last two decades. It is surprising that most of them are …. we’ll say “of varying quality.”

Where those have failed, Terminator: Dark Fate actually kind of succeeds. It takes familiar elements from the original two, remixes them with some social commentary, and brings in all the legacy characters to pass the torch to a whole new cast.

Imagine The Force Awakens but for Terminator.

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Review: ‘Doctor Sleep’ shines in more ways than one

Posted by Matthew on November 10, 2019
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How do you make a sequel to a classic? It’s a difficult thing, the balance between paying homage to what came before and forging something new is a difficult one. An inch too far in either direction and you risk the ire of someone, either the fan who wants something new or the fan who really just wants the same thing all over again.

Doctor Sleep makes the question even more difficult. The film The Shining is, to reuse the word, a stone-cold classic. Adapted from Stephen Kings novel of the same name it takes many liberties with the story, so much so that King himself famously did not like it. King wrote the novel Doctor Sleep 36 years later as a sequel to his own work. So the question is how do you adapt a novel that serves as a sequel to a classic book and film which each has distinctly different arcs and in particular endings?

The answer is, of course, with great care, which is exactly what director Mike Flanagan has done.

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Review: ‘The Irishman’ is a contemplation of a life lived, and one not to miss

Posted by Matthew on November 05, 2019
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When you hear that Martin Scorsese has made a new crime movie with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and a pulled-out-of-retirement Joe Pesci, that’s cause to get excited. Scorsese is a master filmmaker, and his crime films are among the best in the genre.

The Irishman is no exception. A 210-minute examination of the life and times of Frank Sheeran, or at least the version he told of them, Scorsese and De Niro tell stories within stories that remind us why they’re among the best at what they do.

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Review: ‘The War of the Worlds’ is a thoughtful, Edwardian adventure

Posted by Matthew on October 20, 2019
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War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds is a classic story that has been adapted numerous times. Whether your favourite is the Orson Welles radio drama, the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg adaptation, or Independence Day this is clearly a story you’ve seen before.

What’s interesting though is that despite the many adaptations there are precious few that take place within the time frame of the original written story. Which is one of the two refreshing changes with this thoughtful adaptation of the story produced by the BBC and airing on T+E in Canada.

If you’re expecting an action blockbuster I’m telling you that you should temper those expectations right now, this adaptation is a thoughtful slow burn more concerned with the effect the invasion would have than the invasion itself. That is to say, it’s pretty good.

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Review: ‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ has exactly no new ideas

Posted by Matthew on October 20, 2019
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Zombieland: Double Tap

I really liked Zombieland. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination but it has a great cast and a solid premise, and a few big laughs.

It was a surprise hit and made a ton of money so it’s no surprise that it got a sequel. What is surprising is that the sequel feels exactly the same as the original. That’s not always a deal-breaker, but ten years and a radically changed socio-political landscape in this world mean little to no updates in the new film definitely are a dealbreaker.

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VIFF Review: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ offers compelling drama and thrilling​ races

Posted by Matthew on October 20, 2019
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Ford v Ferrari / VIFF 2019

Ford v Ferrari is a lot of things: a showcase for two of our greta actors, one of the best car racing movies ever made, a compelling drama. At its core thought it’s a story of two men completely dedicated to what they do, and doing it in spite of the system they work in and the company they work for always asking them to make concessions.

Make no mistake, _Ford v Ferrari is an underdog story, but Ford isn’t the underdog and Ferrari isn’t the villain. The underdogs are Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, toiling away at making the best car in the world while their bosses are telling them to make the best Ford.

There’s a metaphor for filmmaking in there, somewhere.

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VIFF Review: ‘The Whale and the Raven’ is quiet and gorgeous

Posted by Matthew on October 12, 2019
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The Whale and the Raven / VIFF 2019

Whales are among the more majestic animals on the planet. They’re enormous but graceful, and they play an important part in the cultural history of many of the First Nations peoples of BC. In the Kitimat fjord system there are a pair of researchers, Hermann Meuter and Janie Wray, who study the orca and humpbacks who make their homes there, and Mirjam Leuze took cameras to chronicle what they do.

The Whale and the Raven is the result and follows is a slightly meandering but absolutely stunning-to-look-at 100 minutes of footage of the north coast of British Columbia.

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VIFF Review: ‘Synonyms’ is maddening, heartbreaking, frustrating, challenging, and contains a performance you definitely shouldn’t miss

Posted by Matthew on October 12, 2019
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Synonyms / VIFF 2019

Synonyms begins with the protagonist Yoav (Tom Mercier) breaking into a luxurious but unoccupied apartment looking for a place to sleep for the night. The clothes on his back, the few things in his bag, are all of his worldly possessions. After a night in the austere accommodations, he takes a shower and during that shower, someone steals all of his clothes and his bag.

Frantically he runs, naked and dripping wet down the stairs and after the thief but it’s too late, his things are gone. Rather than chase them into the street he returns to the apartment and passes out in the tub, seemingly to wait for death.

This franticness is at the heart of Yoav’s character. He’s in France feeling his past self with the sole, desperate intention to form a new self. But is that even possible?

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VIFF Review: ‘White Snake’ is an epic, adult, animated adventure

Posted by Matthew on October 11, 2019
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White Snake / VIFF 2019

Animation is a medium. It’s a weird thing to have to actually write down but to many when you say you’re about to watch an animated film they make a number of assumptions but they all basically boil down to the thought that animation is a genre with its own tropes and conventions but that’s not really the case, is it? Animation is a medium through which we often tell children’s stories but it’s actually perhaps the most expressive film medium, and perfectly capable of telling adult stories.

This fact is exemplified by White Snake, an animated epic from China which has a soft, whimsical animation style but also a dark, violent, and occasionally erotic story to tell.

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