Review: Canada’s Academy Award contender ‘Funny Boy’ has a standout lead performance

Funny Boy

Deepa Mehta is known for directing thoughtful dramas that explore the conventions of the world, and how people don’t fit into them. Funny Boy, adapted from the novel of the same name by Shyam Selvadurai, is another of these films. Following the life of Arjie, a young gay man growing up in Sri Lanka, in a culture that does not accept homosexuality.

It is a thoughtful film and one that will be important to anyone who is seeking acceptance in a society that doesn’t accept them. It also tells a story we’ve seen before but pitched against a backdrop of the tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese peoples that eventually led to the Sri Lankan Civil War.

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Review: ‘Black Beauty’ updates a classic

It’s strange to think we might be in a world where there are people who haven’t seen a Black Beauty movie. Anna Sewell’s novel was a runaway smash hit when it was published in 1877, and has been adapted to the screen no fewer than four times. This most recent adaptation takes the story, we all know and love and transplants it from the United Kingdom to the United States, and from 1877 to 2020.

What makes a classic story a classic story though is that you can tell it any way you want, and adapt it to any time you want, and it will still teach you the same lessons. Black Beauty has always been more than just a simple story of a boy and his horse, and the ideas of kindness and loyalty that the book originally championed are still here in this new adaptation.

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Review: ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ brings us powerful performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

When Chadwick Boseman passed away this summer, it cast a new light on all of his recent work. Not only did he work nearly constantly while also suffering from stage four cancer, but he also took the time to inhabit meaningful African American characters and to bring African American stories to the screen. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a hell of a lot of expectations, being both produced by Denzel Washington and adapted from the August Wilson play of the same name, and that’s before you consider that it is Boseman’s last film.

So it’s a good thing that its a good movie then.

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Recap & Review: ‘The Mandalorian’ Season 2 Episode 4: ‘The Siege’ brings back some fan favourites

The Mandalorian

As of this week, we’re officially at the halfway point of this new season of The Mandalorian, and so far each little side quest has revealed something about the bad guys master plans. This week is no different, and it brings back Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, and Horacio Sanz as Greef Karga, Cara Dune, and Mythrol from season one.

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Review: ‘The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two’ is another fun holiday romp for Kurt Russell

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two

Here’s where I admit that I never watched The Christmas Chronicles. The response, at the time, was mixed and very generally speaking Christmas movies in November are not my favourite thing. Now that there is a sequel coming out I took the time to watch them both and you know what? You guys were wrong. The Christmas Chronicles is delightful, and while it definitely loses something by being a sequel The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two is too.

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Review: ‘The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special’ is a fun ride through Star Wars history

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special

The Star Wars Holiday Special is, in a word, infamous. It has all the hallmarks of a cheap TV cash in, including guest stars and musical numbers, but over time it has become a cult classic. First traded on VHS bootlegged from TV, and more recently traded around the internet via sharing sites and BitTorrent.

When Disney+ was announced to launch with a large cross-section of all of the vast libraries of film they own including an entire section devoted to Star Wars, many hoped that the Holiday Special would be cleaned up and released. Those hoes have not been answered, but Disney did hear the fans because instead, they have created The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, which takes some of the elements of the original, updates them with the new characters, and then uses a magical MacGuffin to take a ride through the history of Star Wars.

It is, to put it simply, a lot of fun.

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Recap & Review: The Mandalorian Season 2 Episode 3: ‘The Heiress’ is a shorter, but more intense episode

The Mandalorian

This week the father and the child end up on an ocean planet and join up with some familiar faces in what might be the most intense episode of the series to date. It turns out that Fan Service: A Star Wars Story leans way harder into the Dave Filoni created television shows than the films. Also, one revelation that I find super intriguing. Let’s take a closer look at The Heiress.

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Review: ‘The Life Ahead’ is a showcase for Sophia Loren and newcomer Ibrahima Gueye

The Life Ahead

It would be easy for the story of an ageing former prostitute who looks after the children of other prostitutes, and who forms a bond with a young Senegalese boy, to be a little too saccharine. In the hands of a lesser director, or a with a lesser cast, that might certainly be the case. As it stands the film toes that line but doesn’t cross it, thanks largely to Sophia Loren and young star Ibrahima Gueye.

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Review: ‘The Real Right Stuff’ revels in the heroism of the first American astronauts

The Real Right Stuff

Recently, in reviewing the recent Disney+ / National Geographic series The Right Stuff, I commented that while it was competently made, the new adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s seminal book didn’t really bring anything new to the table, or the story. In hindsight, that may have been unfair. It’s true that the story is not new and that I have seen it before, but it did at least bring us the story of seven men rather than seven heroes.

The Real Right Stuff, a documentary about the same seven men and the Mercury Space Program, is in some ways a perfect follow up to that series. Using previously unreleased stories, audio recordings, and footage, it takes an in-depth look at the first American men to fly in space and what they had to go through to get there, and casts them once again as heroes.

In effect, the mini-series and this documentary form two parts of a whole. The former giving us a closer look at the men themselves, and the latter giving us a more complete overview of the mercury program itself.

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Review: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ has great performances from Glenn Close and Amy Adams, but doesn’t elevate itself to being something special

Hillbilly Elegy

Appalachia is a region that has an image on the world stage that is coloured by stereotype. Poor white people. Bootlegging, moonshining, drug running, and everything that leaps to mind when you think of the movie Deliverance. It is, of course, more than that. There are good people there and culture that has a deep respect for family and loyalty.

Left behind in recent years as the industry that once drove the region gives way to resources being imported, and jobs drying up. There’s a vast amount of interesting societal issues at play in the region, and one that I am sure is fascinating to read about in the book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Written in 2016 by JD Vance, the New York Times best-selling book has proven divisive, with fans and detractors alike claiming it either knows everything or is already out of date.

Unfortunately, much of the examination of class struggles in the region is basically ignored by this film.

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Recap & Review: The Mandalorian Season 2, Episode 2: ‘The Passenger’ is all The Child, all the time.

The Mandalorian / The Passenger

Last weeks western-inspired desert monster hunt sure was a ton of fun, but it did leave a lot of people asking “what about the kid?” It seems like they must have realized that the episode was light on The Child because this second episode is non stop Child-related hijinx.

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Review: ‘Saint Frances’ is an honest look at adulthood

Saint Frances

The myth of the adult having their lives together is a pervasive one. We all create personas for ourselves and project outwardly that we are in control, that we have goals and a life we love, and most importantly: that we’re ok. Of course, many of aren’t ok. Maybe even most of us.

Saint Frances, the story of an aimless thirty-something who takes a summer job as a nanny, is a story about how people don’t have their shit together and might be one of the most honest films I’ve seen in ages.

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VAFF Review: ‘Secret Zoo’ is a great idea that falls a little flat

Secret Zoo

How do you save a zoo when you have no animals? ‘Secret Zoo”s answer to that central question – let’s dress up as animals and pretend – would be ideal fare for Edgar Wright or Shinichiro Ueda to turn into a heartfelt, zany adventure that builds to a glorious climax. Unfortunately, even though it’s a great concept with moments of brilliant execution, the frequent drops in pace serve just to tantalizingly dangle what might have been.

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VAFF Review: ‘Curtain Up!’ is a wonderful reminder of the vital importance of the arts

There’s some important context here: I trained as an actor, then director, then slipped into being a drama teacher for stage and screen. In the UK I taught young adults, but my first teaching job when I moved to Vancouver was at a Korean residential school. Here, I was one of a small team who had to teach performance skills to a throng of nine-year-old Korean kids, then direct them in a final performance (first The Wizard Of Oz, then High School Musical) for all their families. It was a wonderful, exhausting time, and there’s nothing to underline the absolute life-changing power of theatre then to watch young actors discover it in real time.

So go and watch ‘Curtain Up!‘, not just because it’s fantastic, but also because you’ll have a precise peek into that exact part of my life.

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VAFF Review: ‘The Closet’ is a terrifying story of botched parenthood, told through a mix of genres

The Closet

From a very early point, you’re under no illusion as to what is going on in ‘The Closet‘, the first feature by Korean director Kwang-bin Kim. It’s common for other Korean horrors to slowly shuffle towards their true nature, hiding clues in events that could easily be passed off as coincidence. Not here; it’s no spoiler to tell you that the closet in question is an ethereal doorway through which a ghost possesses, then steals, an unhappy little girl. However, ‘The Closet‘ defies expectations by constantly weaving through related genres as it tells its story – horror, thriller, even comedy. It’s not until the final third do all these disparate pieces slot together, and the result is mostly satisfying.

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