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Sunday Matinee: The Return Of Godzilla

sunday-matineeGodzilla has returned to the big screens this year after an almost 10 year break. The last time he took a break that long was back in the late 1970s/1980s. When he finally returned to the big screen in 1984 Toho had updated the suit with a new robotic head. When the movie was released in North America was titled Godzilla 1985 and was edited with new footage of Raymond Burr.

A volcano erupts on an island and a fishing boat is caught in the current forcing the ship near the island where the vessel witnesses a large creature emerging from the volcano. The ship is found days later with all the crew dead but one. The survivor looks a pictures and realizes that he saw Godzilla. A Soviet sub sinks and the Soviets blame the Americans. Japan announces to the world that it was Godzilla. Meanwhile Godzilla attacks a nuclear plant and feeds on the energy.
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Sunday Matinee: Field Of Dreams

sunday-matineeCanadian author W.P. Kinsella passed away on September 16. I’m not a big baseball fan but my friend is and he loved Kinsella’s stories because a lot of them focused on baseball. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe was adapted into the 1989 movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner.

Costner stars as Ray Kinsella a farmer in Iowa who while walking through his corn field hears a voice whisper “If you build it, he will come.” He hears it a few more times before he has a vision about a baseball field. He tears up his corn field and builds a baseball field and waits. His brother-in-law thinks he’s crazy but eventually Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the Chicago White Sox players who was part of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal where the players initially lost the World Series, appears in the field. Joe at first can only be seen by Costner. Joe asks if he can bring other players and soon the rest of the White Sox involved in the scandal show up to play.
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TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net

Trespass Against Us
Trespass Against Us

Trespass Against Us (UK, 2015): I would normally praise an A-lister for going back to his native land to do a cheaper movie, but Michael Fassbender is rather miscast in this mildly compelling drama. Fassbender is Chad, the second in command of a band of outlaws living in the forest. Chad is good at what he does and is one hell of getaway driver. He is also a family man and has slightly more common sense than his fellow thieves.

When it becomes clear his son is likely to end up as one of the inept criminals that surround him, Chad begins to consider the possibility of jumping ship. The only obstacle is his father (Brendan Gleeson), a powerful figure that keeps Chad under his thumb using putdowns and guilt-tripping.

It just takes one look at Fassbender to realize he is no shrinking violet, a detail that makes his character hard to swallow. He is not the only problem: Trespass Against Us often feels aimless, the premise is stretched over ninety minutes for no apparent reason. While we care about the outcome, the film could have use a rewrite and a less-chiseled star. Three planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net”

TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa

The Girl with All the Gifts
The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts (UK, 2016): Between The Walking Dead and all the low-rent undead flicks, it’s hard to give a fresh twist to the zombie subgenre. The Girl with All the Gifts does its darndest to achieve it, but the surplus of ideas ends up hurting the outcome.

The film opens intriguingly enough. A group of inoffensive-looking children are treated like Hannibal Lecter by an overzealous military unit. One of the kids is the dependably polite Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), who hangs pictures of a cat on her wall when no one is looking. Slowly we come to realize the children are partially zombified, but retain a semblance of humanity.

The matter of the kids’ right to be treated as people is one of the many issues the movie hints at, but doesn’t develop (likely, the novel that inspired the film is more thorough). One element I haven’t seen in other zombie movies is the suggestion that mankind is screwed anyway and we should just let it happen. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa”

TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm

Rebecca Hall in Christine.
Rebecca Hall in Christine.

Christine (USA, 2016): In 1974, Sarasota news reporter Christine Chubbuck responded to management pressures for more exciting stories by blowing her brains off on live TV. Since there is no mystery about her fate, this biopic focuses on the many factors that led her to take such drastic decision.

As depicted in the film, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall, Vicki Christina Barcelona) was the smartest reporter in the room, with hopes to go to a bigger market. Christine was also struggling with depression, infertility and an unrequited crush on the news anchor (Michael C. Hall, Dexter).

The film is broad but successful at exploring all the elements involved in Chubbuck’s suicide. But the movie’s biggest asset is a powerhouse performance by Rebecca Hall, who builds a sympathetic character without betraying the integrity of the person who inspired it. If Christine wasn’t an indie struggling with distribution, I would call Hall a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Three planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm”

TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman

Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon (USA, 2016): Given director Peter Berg’s previous output (the disreputable Lone Survivor), I was honestly expecting this movie would be on British Petroleum’s side. Thankfully, Deepwater Horizon sticks to the official story and slaps some action scenes for good measure.

Berg’s go-to leading man, Mark Wahlberg, is Mike Williams, the second in command at the ill-fated oil platform. Because of greed inspired BP directives, a number of security checks are bypassed, so when they finally agree to a checkup, all hell breaks loose.

Even though Berg goes way over the top with the jargon, the filmmaker does a good job explaining the events that lead to the oil spilling (the environmental catastrophe that ensued is only mentioned in passing). But for all the didactic exposition and superb execution of complex action sequences, the characters are one-trait ponies. Kate Hudson is in this movie solely to pace around the house and look worried (and gorgeous). Two and a half planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman”

TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson

La La Land
La La Land

La La Land (USA, 2016): Director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the superb Whiplash shows a filmmaker willing to explore outside his zone of comfort. Narratively, La La Land is pat, but the visuals, music and choreographies more than make up for it.

The story is pure Hollywood lore: Mia is a small town girl (Emma Stone) struggling with getting her acting career off the ground. As she makes her way through Tinseltown, she encounters a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) with whom she falls in love with. Opportunity doesn’t have a sense of timing and their careers get in the way of a fulfilling relationship.

La La Land is visually stunning and goes from feat to feat (the opening sequence set on a freeway is one for the books), yet it remains profoundly human. Gosling and Stone are top notch, both as song-and-dance partners and in the more dramatic sequences. The film features a coda so brilliant, it practically eclipses the rest of the movie. A strong candidate to best of the fest. Four and a half planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson”

TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World

Rachel Weisz in Denial.

Denial (UK, 2016): A fascinating story that could be more at home on TV than on the big screen, Denial rises above pedestrian filmmaking thanks to the power of the material and strong turns by Rachel Weisz (above) and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).

The court drama pits American historian Deborah Lipstadt against British rabble-rouser David Irving. Lipstadt accused Irving of fabricating and misrepresenting historic documents in order to support his belief that the Holocaust never took place. Rather unexpectedly, the neo-Nazi icon sued the academic for libel. Since in the UK the burden of proof lies with the accused, Lipstadt found herself having to demonstrate the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners during World War II.

The film is bursting with fascinating info (even when defeat seemed unavoidable, the Nazis went out of their way to hide all evidence of the Final Solution) and serves as a primer on Britain’s justice system. Just as important as the Lipstadt-Irving showdown are disagreements within the historian’s defense team. While Irving’s position is indefensible, the debate over calling Holocaust survivors to the stand is a riveting one. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World”

Sunday Matinee: Commando Cody: Sky Marshall Of The Universe

sunday-matineeStar Trek turned 50 this week and while Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future has created a massive franchise, there was also an influential sci-fi movie serial series in the 1950s. Sure maybe it it influenced more laughs and mocking from today’s audiences and maybe it wasn’t as influential as say Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers but Commando Cody still has his place in the history of sci-fi entertainment.

To start things off is the 1949 King of the Rocket Men. Now this serial wasn’t a Commando Cody serial but it first introduced the costume that Commando Cody wore in his adventures. King of the Rocket Men was about a couple of scientists fighting a mysterious evil genius named Dr. Vulcan. One of the scientists has invented a rocket pack with jacket and a bullet shaped helmet for the other scientist, Jeff King (Tristram Coffin) who also invented a ray gun to wear and go fight Dr. Vulcan. The serial was a hit for Republic Studios. Republic loved keeping costs low and so they recycled the costume and footage for their next serial.
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TIFF ’16 – Day 3: Queen of Katwe, Personal Shopper, American Pastoral, Moonlight, Boundaries

Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe (USA, 2016): A calculated risk for Disney, Queen of Katwe fits among the uplifting sport movies the House of Mouse puts out every year, but it’s also distinctive enough to stand apart. The biopic is set in Uganda, has a mostly African cast and is directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Reluctant Fundamentalist), a filmmaker with a knack to capture cultural nuances without been patronizing.

The Queen of Katwe in question is Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), an illiterate teen struggling to survive in the slums of Kampala. She falls in the radar of an outreach volunteer (David Oyewolo, Selma) who teaches underprivileged kids to play chess. Turns out Phiona is a prodigy, but no matter how much natural talent she possesses, when you live under the poverty line, basic necessities take priority. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 3: Queen of Katwe, Personal Shopper, American Pastoral, Moonlight, Boundaries”