Sunday Matinee: Star Wars

40 years ago in a galaxy long long ago a movie opened on May 25, 1977 that would change movies, summer blockbusters, merchandising and pop culture forever.

Up until this point a young filmmaker named George Lucas had only made two movies. THX 1138 a science fiction film about a dystopian future where sex is illegal and everyone is on drugs to keep everyone compliant. His other film was American Graffiti a movie about a bunch of teenagers who go cruising one night before going off to college, war, etc. THX 1138 bombed at the box office but American Graffiti was a hit for Lucas. Lucas had wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie but he couldn’t get the rights. So he decided to invent his own space epic. And what a space epic. It’s so epic it’s still going on today.
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REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean 5: At Least it’s Shorter

Jack Sparrow was once a character. Now is a series of twitches.

The weakest of all Disney franchises -at least creatively-, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga is better known for being a bloated mess than delivering any narrative satisfaction. Once Pirates’ saving grace, Johnny Depp’s perennially sauced Captain Jack Sparrow has become a handful of annoying tics. The actor’s image problems of late are not doing the character any favours.

Yet, of all the franchise’s wobbly wheels, none is more problematic than Terry Rossio. A writer in every Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Rossio’s penchant for byzantine plots and arbitrary character development has made the films a challenge to watch (Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa has been good, bad or dead for no other reason than to patch a leaky script). Continue reading “REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean 5: At Least it’s Shorter”

Sunday Matinee: Smokey And The Bandit

It feels like there’s always movies celebrating anniversaries. Sometimes though it’s a little shocking to hear how old some of these movies are. For example stuntman turned director Hal Needham’s first movie from 1977 Smokey and the Bandit.

The movie is kind of dumb but it kicked off a car chase craze throughout the 1980s. The simple easy going plot has Burt Reynolds (The Bandit) driving a 1977 Trans Am really fast to get cops to chase him instead of his buddy Jerry Reed whose semi is illegally hauling booze over state lines.

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Thomas Vinterberg and Tryne Dyrholm Break Down The Commune

Tryne Dyrholm in The Commune.

It’s no secret I’m fond of Danish cinema. It’s the one film industry close to batting 1.000 these days. This week, the remarkable The Commune arrives to the art house circuit, including Saskatoon’s own Broadway Theatre.

Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (one of the founding fathers of the Dogma movement), The Commune revolves around a group of people attempting to fulfill the classic 70’s pipe dream of superseding social conventions and truly live in a community (the needs of the individual are subservient to the group’s). Soon they discover the sense of self and property won’t be denied. (see The Commune review)

While a well-esteemed name among film connoisseurs, Vinterberg reached a new echelon with The Hunt, a superb drama about a pre-school teacher falsely accused of molesting a little girl. The film gave Mads Mikkelsen his first Palm D’Or as Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.

I had the chance to talk to Vinterberg and The Commune’s female lead (and Susanne Bier go-to actress) Tryne Dyrholm at the last Toronto Film Festival. Continue reading “Thomas Vinterberg and Tryne Dyrholm Break Down The Commune”

REVIEW: The Commune Has No Room for Self

The Danish keep on killing it at finding new angles for family dramas. While only recently Hollywood incorporated same-sex couples’ households into their films, the Danes are so far ahead, they are wondering if the notion of family is in conflict with individual growth.

Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), The Commune is set in the 70’s but tackles very contemporary issues. Anna (Trine Dyrholm, Love Is All You Need) and Erik (Ulrich Thomsen, The Celebration) fancy themselves a modern couple, so when they inherit a manor, they decide to put their beliefs into practice and start a commune.

The initially reluctant Erik is the first one to take advantage of the situation when he brings a student of his into the house. Anna tries to be open-minded about it, but soon enough learns there are limits to her tolerance. By the time personal decisions are to be dealt with by committee, Anna realizes she is not cut for ‘extreme’ community living.

While the love triangle is front and center, The Commune also examines what does it mean to be part of a hive-mind (and why nine times of ten it doesn’t work). As compelling as the idea of sacrificing personal freedom for the good of the group sounds, it’s not sustainable in the long run.

The moral of the story? Never a good idea to deal with emotional issues rationally. 3 ½ planets.

The Commune is now playing at the Broadway Theatre.

Sunday Matinee: The Girl With All The Gifts

Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s a zombie movie.

I used to read British writer Mike Carey’s comics all the time. He had a fantastic couple of series. His Lucifer was brilliant as was his short lived Crossing Midnight and The Unwritten. After years in the industry he moved on from comics and became novelist and has been writing novels for the last couple years. One of his more recent novels has been made into a British movie that never saw a North American release.
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REVIEW: Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 C’est Ne Pas Bon

Bon Cop Bad Cop 2

Full disclosure: I recall very little about the first Bon Cop Bad Cop, in theatres ages ago. The only thing I remember for certain is that I didn’t care for it and it’s not worth revisiting.

Didn’t need to. Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 is self-explanatory. It’s also an expensive pile of clutter. I couldn’t stop thinking how many solid indies could have been financed with this unwieldy mess’ budget.

The principle that sustains the Bon Cop Bad Cop franchise is not a terrible one: The cultural differences between Anglo and French-Canadians are less vast than initially thought but allow for solid procedural comedy. The sequel uses the same principle, but transfers it to the relationship between the RCMP and local police, and Canadians and Americans. It’s more broad than you could possibly imagine. Continue reading “REVIEW: Bon Cop Bad Cop 2 C’est Ne Pas Bon”

HotDocs Film Festival – Day 9: Donkeyote

Donkeyote (UK/Germany, 2017): Finding documentaries that make you feel good about the human condition is often challenging. Donkeyote is one of them: Manolo, a septuagenarian farmer, enjoys days-long walkabouts across Southern Spain alongside his donkey, Gorrión. His dream is to one day walk the 2200-mile Trail of Tears in the US, but not only it’s expensive, bringing Gorrión is a whole other thing.

The film follows Manolo in his efforts to put the trip together, but the campaign is just an excuse to spend time with a compelling figure, an uncomplicated man who embraces life with gusto, but slowly realizes the world may have passed him by. Donkeyote could have used a sturdier structure (towards the end, the movie feels aimless), but it’s a guaranteed good time. 3/5 planets.

HotDocs Film Festival – Day 8: Ramen Heads

Ramen Heads (Japan, 2016): A man with a cause can be a powerful force, even if that cause is to create the best bowl of ramen eight dollars can buy. The figure in question is Osamu Tomita and he is as obsessive as a Michelin-anointed chef.

Tomita believes strong flavors can be balanced, so his broth is as thick as mud He is as picky with the noodles, the ingredients and the service. The outcome is memorable. I tasted it.

Ramen Heads doesn’t entirely focus on Tomita, but he is the star of the show. The film covers the history and entire process of making ramen in dynamic fashion. The utterly dry narration manages to add more flavor to an already well seasoned dish. 3.5/5 planets.

REVIEW GotG2: Familiarity Breeds Contempt

I’m Groot.

The first instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy was treated like the second coming of Star Wars: Writer/director James Gunn took a long dormant and often derided sub-genre -the space opera- and treated it with enough respect to come up with a worthwhile film.

The praise, however, was disproportionate. Sure, GotG was cute, but didn’t reinvent the wheel. The villain was perfunctory and the McGuffin plot has been seen about a dozen times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone.

For his second turn at the wheel, Gunn doubles down on the most effective elements of the original: Broad comedy, rich soundtrack and candy-colored planets. Sure, the concept of “makeshift family” is beyond played out after twenty (approx.) Fast and Furious movies, but I’ll give Vol. 2 a pass on the strength of the characters, each one a fully developed entity (except Gamora, who remains underserved). Continue reading “REVIEW GotG2: Familiarity Breeds Contempt”