Best of 2016 – Film: Part 1

10 Best Films of the Year

  1. Arrival

    Arrival was exactly the movie we needed at exactly the right time. We have been offered so many dire, apocalyptic visions of alien contact, in the form of invasion, that it was… well, truly inspiring for director Denis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer to approach the concept from a place of hope. There’s a quiet, unassuming quality to Arrival that reassures the audience that even though it appears, at face value, to be frightening, there is ultimately nothing to fear. Amy Adams delivers a stellar performance that impresses without being showy.

  2. The Witch

    The Witch‘s selling point is the mood. It’s a horror film, but in the classical sense. It’s as tense as they come. And the way writer/director Robert Eggers is able to layer everything together to create such a gorgeous film is damn fine filmmaking. If one aspect of the process didn’t work, it would have thrown everything else off. If one performance was out of place, if the cinematography didn’t quite work. But everything was on point.

  3. Hell or High Water

    What’s great about Hell or High Water is that it doesn’t reinvent the Western. It sort of wanders through the first act unremarkably. But the deeper we get into Taylor Sheridan’s script, the more Ben Foster, a career-best Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges unfold the story, the more they pull you in. They build characters you really care about.

  4. Everybody Wants Some!!

    It’s no secret Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused is my all time favourite film. There’s a brilliance to the film where nothing happens, and everything happens. Much like D&C, Everybody Wants Some!! is about the characters growing. There’s no hero’s arc. There’s no goal to accomplish. It’s just here are these guys in the first week of college. No one does character pieces like Linklater. And the cinematic world is better for it.

  5. The Nice Guys

    I can’t pin down exactly what worked best with Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, but it’s a whole lot of everything. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was the delicious appetizer in his meta-sans-the-wink examination of comedy noir, while The Nice Guys was a fantastic main course. Black plays like a less bleak, not quite as a dark Coen Brother. He toys with your expectations of storytelling, of comedy, of mystery thrillers, and delivers some damn fine cinema.

  6. Captain America: Civil War

    Civil War is as damn near a perfect superhero movie. We get the best aspects of the genre all rolled into one film. The modern era god myths. The political and social allegories. We get fantastic performances, a wonderful, intricatly crafted story. One thing the Marvel films struggled with early on was serving the universe, while still being a great film in their own right, but Civil War perfects that.

  7. Green Room

    Jeremy Saulnier crafts beautiful, tense thrillers. Green Room is a beautiful bottle-episode thriller. He film’s an aesthetically pleasing film that locks its characters in a box with wasps and kicks that box. Every step of the way, Saulnier ups the ante, but it doesn’t feel over the top. The film goes precisely where it needs to go each and every time, and it’s anchored by great performances from Patrick Stewart and the late Anton Yelchin.

  8. Kubo & The Two Strings

    The first thing you notice about Kubo & The Two Strings is how gods damn beautiful it looks. The major animation houses have a great technical appreciation of creating animation, but Kubo focuses on the art of it. Yet where Kubo excels is the amazing family story that’s told. A boy and his family. A son and his parents. Kubo is a glorious marriage of masterful storytelling and gorgeous animation-as-art.

  9. Fences

    Not to downplay Denzel’s directorial efforts, but this film belongs to the writer and actors (which, Denzel also is among, so he doesn’t escape praise-free). August Wilson adapted his own stage play for the film (though the screenplay was unfinished when he passed over 10 years ago, and was finished by Tony Kushner), and all of the adult cast members reprise their roles from the Tony winning Broadway revival. What we’re treated to is a powerful character study in Troy’s role as a father, a husband, an employee and a black man in 1950s Pittsburgh. Denzel delivers one of his career best performances, then Viola Davis walks on set and puts him to shame.

  10. Midnight Special

    I’ll preface this by saying that there were certainly better films this year than writer/director Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special which could occupy this 10th spot. But I loved this film on a level that it didn’t feel right not including it in the top 10. And really, any of the honourable mentions below could also occupy this spot, but this is one I didn’t feel got a lot of love over the year, getting lost in the shuffle. Which is too bad because it truly is a remarkable film. Netflix gave us a great modern take on the kid-adventure flicks of the 80s with Stranger Things. We got that in the cinemas with Midnight Special. It’s a less whimsical look at E.T. or Flight of the Navigator. Not as dark as Stranger Things. But still a great small scale sci-fi flick  with great performances from Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon and the kid, Jaeden Lieberher.

Continue reading “Best of 2016 – Film: Part 1”

Reviews: Chernobyl Diaries, Men in Black III, Battleship

Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

3 stars

Starring Jonathan Sadowski, Nathan Phillips and Devin Kelly

I have a love/hate relationship with the works of Oren Peli. I loved Paranormal Activity (as long as I watch the original ending, not the theatrical one), but hated the sequels. I loved Insidious. The River (his show on ABC) was oddly fascinating, but it really struggled to find its footing (I hope Netflix picks it up for more episodes, or he finds funding for follow-up films). Chernobyl Diaries is the first venture of the Peli brand that I’m overall “Meh” on.

Bradley Parker is marks his directorial debut with this film, after a long career as a visual effects artist/supervisor on Fight Club, The Time Machine and Let Me In, among others. He shows some serious promise in the horror genre, and for modern mainstream horror, Oren Peli’s a solid mentor to have. But Chernobyl just takes far too long to get going. We cross the halfway mark of the film before anything remotely scary (other than the car breaking down) even happens, as it relates to the overall plot. There are a few startles sprinkled here and there, but they’re unrelated  to the thrust of the film.

This is one instance where it would have been better to show things on camera. I know that, for the most part, what you don’t see is sometimes scarier than what you do see. But Parker took it to the extreme, and you see almost nothing, mostly reaction shots. You don’t even know what the Big-Bad is till almost the end of the third act, but it’s all in glimpses, and I’m still trying to figure out the precise nature of them.

The film is buoyed by a strong, yet mostly unrecognizable cast. I got a little horror-nerd excited when Nathan Phillips showed up. Phillips was in the amazing 05′ Aussie horror flick Wolf Creek (one of the best of the ’00s).

The big plus however is that it’s NOT found footage, a sub-genre that is starting to wear out it’s welcome.

Worth a rent, or a matinée if you really want to see it on the big screen.

Men In Black 3

Men In Black III

3.5 Stars

Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement and Emma Thompson

I’m a sucker for many different kinds of movies. The two that pertain to this review are Will Smith movies and time travel. I’ve been a Will Smith fan since his Fresh Prince days (music career, not TV Show, that’s how far back it goes). Loved the first Men In Black, was OK on the 2nd, and this one was a suitable installment, and greatly enjoyable.

There was always something about K (Jones) that they never really fully explored throughout the first two, that they really cemented with this one. Diving into the character’s back story in a fun, lighthearted way, yet keeping the depth of the character was something I didn’t know if they could properly pull off, but to Sonnenfeld’s credit, he did. And the film is just as fun as the first one.

One of my favourite things to do with the first two was keep an eye and ear out for the throwaway pop culture references regarding who’s an alien, and there’s plenty in both the modern setting and back in 1969. Keep an eye on the background monitors at MIB headquarters, and pay close attention to K’s story about his time in the UK, and his exchange with Bill Hader’s Andy Warhol (one of the best scenes in the movie).

The biggest hinderances are the flow and the necessity. It’s a choppy, uneven film that has great scenes followed by filler followed by not so great scenes. And it fails to answer the biggest question: Why, after 10 years, was this film necessary? It’s fun escapism cinema, sure, but why retread a long dormant franchise?

Fans of the original will not be disappointed, but if you were only lukewarm on them, you could probably wait for the rental.



2 stars

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker and Tadanobu Asano

I never had any hint of a notion that this would be a good movie. Not once. But I would have liked for a character, any character (but preferably Liam Neeson with his growl) to say “You sunk my battleship.” But NOOOOOOOOOOO they were too busy making a movie that’s only slightly better than either of the Transformers sequels.

With two very high-profile flops within months of each other, can the studios stop forcing Taylor Kitsch on us? He’s got Savages coming out in July with Oliver Stone, and that could be where his calling is. Smaller dramas with directors of a signature style. But headlining blockbusters is clearly not his calling. He’s Sam Worthington all over again. Kitsch can act. You could see it on Friday Night Lights, you can see it in this… but he’s just not quite there. He can’t push himself over the edge into consistent, quality work.

Maybe someone else who saw the film picked up on something that maybe I missed, but as I saw it, we were the aggressors in the film. The aliens came to our planet, sure, but we met them with battleships and destroyers. They reacted to perceived hostilities, and acted accordingly. Again, as I saw it, I didn’t notice any hostile intentions instigated by the aliens. We were the aggressors.

It’s that kind of muddled plot ambiguity, along with a ridiculous script that’s on par with the worst of Michael Bay. But the action is solid, and the thin plot that strings the events together is less insulting than anything in the Transformers films.

This will make its way to basic cable in a few years, and if you find yourself with nothing to do one lazy Saturday afternoon (and you still have cable), then you could find worse things to watch. It’s not a complete waste of 2 hours of your time.

Reviews: Safe, The Five-Year Engagement, The Raven



2 stars

Starring Jason Statham, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke & Anson Mount

One thing I like about Statham is that he has a type of film. He’s found a genre he likes, and he sticks with it- loner action hero. He does it quite well, and I tend to like his films. That’s not to say they’re generally good… but I enjoy them. Safe has some solid action, but is ultimately hindered by a ridiculous plot and sloppy writing.

There was one line in particular that was uttered by two different characters in two different scenes. The characters had no contact during their respective scenes. So in addition to being a well-worn plot, the writers are recycling their own dialogue within their own movie. That was one of the more cringe worthy aspects of the film.

Otherwise, they made the film way more complicated than it really had to be, with plot points being introduced way too late in the game to make them viable to the arc. It’s similar to the problems with The Raid. They hit the third act when they realize they need to a way to tie it all together, and they end up doing so in the laziest way possible.

But credit where credit is due, Statham does a considerable amount of actual acting in this role, playing a broken, world beaten man who does what he has to do out of some sense of redemption. And of course the action is wildly entertaining, it’s what he does best. I just wish he’d pick better vehicles to showcase it. I can’t wait for his return in The Expendables 2. If you absolutely have to see it, I say wait for DVD/Netflix.

The Five-Year Engagement
Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement

3.5 Stars

Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie

The comedy team of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller is one of the more productive and hilarious in recent years.  They kicked it off 4 years ago by working on Forgetting Sarah Marshall together, Stoller directed, Segel wrote and starred. They carried that success into getting the prestigious gig of writing  The Muppets last year (which Stoller also directed, and Segel also starred in). Fast forward to this year, and we get their latest offering, which despite a strong cast and solid premise, just isn’t as strong as their previous efforts.

I can’t not like Segel. He’s a very funny guy, and so disarming with it. He’s just a nice guy you’d love to hang out with. Everything he’s in, from How I Met Your Mother to the movies mentioned, he’s just so gosh darn likable. Add into the mix the beautiful and equally charming Emily Blunt, who is always a delight, with Parks & Recreation‘s Chris Pratt and Community‘s Alison Brie, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for comedy gold. But it just goes on too long.

I have no problem with long movies. Some of my favourite movies push the three-hour mark. This one was slightly over 2, and that’s not terrible for a comedy… if they can keep the audience’s interest. Unfortunately the film drags way too much and can’t overcome that fact.

It’s a standard romantic comedy, and you can guess the end of the film with the trailer, but it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, and they take the long way to get there. During the parts where it drags, there’s also a drought of laughs, which is where I would get lost. It’s right around the middle of the 2nd act, and the 3rd act is slow going. If they would just trim the fat, this would be perfect.

If you’re looking for a good date night movie, this is it, just be warned that it gets a little tedious in the middle.

The Raven
The Raven

The Raven

3 stars

Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson

Much like last year’s Anonymous did with Shakespeare, The Raven looks to cast a new light on a famous writer, this time we head to the 19th century and take a look at Edgar Allan Poe. And much like last year’s Anonymous, it’s actually a really good film if you know absolutely nothing about the writer or the times. Having written term papers in college on both men, my enjoyment was a little marred.

This is a sort of departure for Cusack, as he’s not known for doing period piece. I kind of like him as Poe. He really played it straight, with some classic Cusack neuroses thrown in, which was a good choice. I was scared they were going to go over the top gruesome with him, and play him his as more of a caricature than as a man, and I appreciate the restraint.

As someone who didn’t particularly care for V For Vendetta (the message got lost/forgotten), I was quite impressed with director James McTeigue’s vision. Much like Cusack, he played it straight, and just made a really solid thriller. This is the kind of film that if Tim Burton got his hands on it, it would have been a schlocky macabre mess. But McTeigue kept the focus on the cat & mouse between Poe and his adversary (don’t want to spoil it for anyone) and plays out in an almost Holmesian way.

A really solid gothic thriller about the master of horror. It’s not worth full price, see a matinee or a 2nd run theatre.

Reviews: Lockout, The Cabin in the Woods, The Raid: Redemption



3 stars

Starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan and Peter Storemare

When entering a film produced by Luc Besson, you can be assured of two things: 1) It’ll probably be completely unoriginal and full of clichés and 2) Number 1 won’t really matter because it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun.

Guy Pearce is one of those actors that never really popped like he should have, but fortunately never really faded into obscurity. I caught both L.A. Confidential and Memento right around the same time, and was instantly a fan of Pearce and anticipated big things for him. His first big budget lead role in the 2002 remake of The Time Machine was a dud, but he’s been maintaining a solid presence in art-fare, including 2010’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech. He seems to have a lot of fun with his role as ex-CIA agent Snow in Lockout, and he takes the audience along for the ride. He’s definitely channeling some Kurt Russell for this.

Peter Stormare is engaging as always, this time as an assholish head of Secret Service, and I always get a kick out of seeing Lennie James on-screen (when’s he coming back to The Walking Dead?). Maggie Grace has made a career of playing the damsel in distress, and pretty soon they’re gonna run out of actors who can save her.

Major credit to both Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun for playing to great villains who would, given a better film, go down as some of the better cinematic villains of the past 10 years.

The biggest problem of the film is definitely the production design. The graphics and CGI are laughably bad in the opening chase sequence. Besson and his team created such an amazing world 15 years ago with The Fifth Element, it’s almost shocking that they couldn’t replicate that look for Lockout.

But I will give it to writer/directors James Mather & Stephen St. Ledger for taking what they gave themselves and making it work, barely. I was never able to fully suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride, but when I did… damn what a fun ride it was.

It’s great 80s B-Movie fun, think Escape from New York in space, but with modern filmmaking notions, and a weak plot. It’s fun… but never fully realizes it’s potential, which is disappointing. I say wait till DVD.

The Cabin In The Woods
The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods

5 stars

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins

When I first saw a trailer for this one I though, “Seriously? Now they’re just getting lazy with the titles.” Then I saw that it was from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who’s written for both Whedon (on Buffy and Angel) and J.J. Abrams (on Alias and Lost), so my next thought was “HOLY SHIT THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!”

It was every bit as amazing as you could hope for for a horror film from these two. As I discussed in this entry here, the Scream franchise is essentially the perfect set of horror films. It dissects, parodies and satirizes the genre, yet still exists entirely within the confines of the genre. It’s the best of both worth worlds, and (at least the first one, there were diminishing returns on the sequels, which is super-meta, I suppose) it’s perfect. The Cabin in the Woods takes it a step further. It turns everything that has become trite and unoriginal in the genre and turns it on its head, making it so all that is trite and unoriginal is entirely the point. They even get jabs in at international horror films, particularly Japanese.

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are hilarious and perfectly eerie as the men in charge of the scares, controlling everything every step of the way. It really does bring new light as to why scary shit always happens at dark, secluded cabins. I was positively giddy every time the action cut to these two.

The best part is that with the intermingled action, you really do get caught up with the 5 college kids out for a weekend getaway. Instead of playing “Who’s gonna die next?” you’re actually rooting for them to make it out alive. They’re all fantastic, and while this won’t make any of them stars (Hemsworth filmed this way back in ’09, pre-Thor), it certainly isn’t a blemish on their filmographies like Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun or George Clooney in Return to Horror High.

Fret not, faithful reader, I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that it is fucking amazing, and if you’re a fan of Whedon at all, you’ll love it as much as I did. Definitely get to the theatre and see this one.

The Raid: Redemption
The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption

3.5 stars

Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian and Joe Taslim

I jumped at the chance to catch this Indonesian action flick in theatres because I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Indonesian film of any genre. I gotta say, it was damn good. But it wasn’t all quite… there.

The action was mind-blowing. From start to finish, just wall to wall (literally) martial arts that will please any action fan. It played out like a video game. Our hero, Rama, works his way up the apartment complex, fighting the underlings along the way, then the underboss, then a showdown with the uber-boss. It’s a video game, but so fascinating to watch.

The reason it wasn’t all quite there, is the plot. I know I’ll probably hear “It’s an action film, who needs plot?!” Well… I do. The overall plot was these were cops going into a complex ruled over by a crime lord to take his empire down. Pretty standard, easy to work with kinda action flick. And that kept the show running through most of the film. And I was OK with all of that. But there were nuances to the story that the didn’t even address till the third act, and by that time, they just had to rush through it to get it all resolved.

I liken the film to an underwhelming firework. It wasn’t a dud that had no spark in the finale. There was just a lot of build up and it just ended. Maybe they’ll hash somethings out in the sequel due out next year, and I’m hoping they do.

If you’re really into action films, I do highly recommend it, as on the action front, it more than delivers. Read fast, though, they kind of zip through the subtitles. If you were on the fence about seeing this one in theatres, you could probably wait for the DVD and be just fine.

Reviews: Mirror Mirror & Wrath of the Titans

Mirror Mirror
Lily Collins as Snow White in Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror

3.5 stars

Starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane

Fairy tales, particularly Snow White have become a new hot thing. Grimm on NBC, Once Upon A Time on ABC, another Snow White film out in June and a few Beauty & The Beast projects in the works.  Mirror Mirror gets the jump on the cinematic offerings with Indian director Tarsem Singh’s take on the classic story.

Singh’s got an interesting eye. His films have a unique visual style that’s aesthetically pleasing and immersive. I really enjoyed his 2000 debut, The Cell, and 2006’s The Fall. This film is just as enjoyable, with a fun quirkiness that doesn’t feel insulting to the source material, or the audience.

What I liked most about the first Shrek film is its ability blend in modern jokes with the medieval back drop. In that respect, Mirror Mirror is a live action Shrek, though not as unrelenting with the wink & nod.

The relatively green Lily Collins is absolutely engaging as Snow White, perfectly capturing the wide-eyed innocence and optimism, and balancing that with the she-warrior the character becomes to battle the Evil Queen. Already, I can tell I enjoy her performance more than Kristen Stewart’s blank reading of lines in June’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Collins is just so sweet.

I quite enjoyed Julia Roberts tapping into her sinister side for the Evil Queen. It’s a side of her we haven’t really seen before, and there’s a delightful campiness to it. Armie Hammer is charismatic and wonderfully witty as Prince Alcott.

Unfortunately, no matter how visually pleasing the film is, nor how entertainingly funny the actors performances are, the film never quite reaches the level of being “Must See.” It’s a good piece of cinematic fluff, but is ultimately forgettable. Though I am hoping it gives both Hammer and Collins a push towards more solid work. Do see it if you’re so inclined, but you’ll be OK to wait to check it out as a rental.

Wrath of the Titans
Wrath of the Titans

Wrath of the Titans

1 star

Starring Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Toby Kebell, Edgar Ramirez, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes

Ahhhh unnecessary sequels. I didn’t particularly care for the first one. It was passable, but underwhelming, and the 3D was terrible. It was one of the last films I elected to see in 3D. That was general consensus 2 years ago, so naturally they made a sequel.

I have nothing against Sam Worthington, he’s a perfectly capable actor, but it doesn’t seem like the push to make him the next big thing will come to fruition. I just don’t buy him as Perseus, the half-god, half-human son of Zeus. I don’t know what it is, but he just doesn’t have that spark.

Wrath ends up being a complete waste of everyone’s talents. There isn’t a single member of the principle cast whose work I don’t enjoy, especially the prestige British actors. I suppose even they must have blemishes on their filmographies, and they can’t always do the important stuff. Big budget pays out big, too. It’s just… It was an exercise in wasting time.

The most confounding performance was Bill Nighy. I honestly didn’t think it would have been possible for him to retread his Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, but the mannerisms are quite similar, to the point that I think he didn’t even bother coming up with a new way of playing Hephaestus because he knew that this movie was going to pass mostly unseen. I will give major kudos to Edgar Ramirez for being a total badass Ares, and in a better film he would have been more exciting.

The film is a loud display of action sequences and fight scenes with not enough meat on its bones to make it worthwhile. I wouldn’t even recommend waiting for the rental. It’s completely skipable.


Reviews: 21 Jump Street & Casa de mi Padre

21 Jump Street
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

4 Stars

Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson and Ice Cube

The box office is littered with failed big screen updates of long gone TV shows. For every The Fugitive, there’s an I Spy. Fortunately for us, “21 Jump Street” wasn’t a television icon, and the film version is a surprisingly daring comedy.

Both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are treading new water. Hill’s not known for action, Tatum’s not known for comedy, but both are able to keep the other afloat in their respective genres of expertise, which in turn allows each to shine their unfamiliar genres. Hill is completely capable as an action star, though I doubt he’ll make that his career focus. Tatum surprises. I’ve tried over the years to give him a chance, but has yet to impress until now. Amongst some very funny people, including Hill, Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper, Tatum holds his own, and shows that he’s actually got some talent under those chiseled good looks.

The biggest obstacle this film had to overcome was creating a plausible scenario, especially in this day and age, for two 25 year-olds to be able to pass as high schoolers. And they address this issue in some very hilarious ways, with various characters calling Hill’s Schmidt and Tatum’s Jenko out for being overly physically developed, having antiquated views on high school, and their tastes in music.

The film has a sloppy first 20 minutes, that really struggles to capture your interest. The set-up feels rushed, and feels lacking. It just jumps straight from “We’re not friends in high school,” to “let’s be best buds at police academy” without any real intermediate exposition. But once it gets over that hump, it’s perfectly paced and keeps the laughs coming non-stop. It just could have used with a little bit more upfront.

Definitely worth a look in theatres, and when you do, keep an eye out for some fun cameos from the original TV cast.

Casa de mi Padre
Will Ferrell in Casa de mi Padre

Casa de mi Padre

1 star

Starring Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal and Genesis Rodriguez

Grindhouse cinema has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, much to my delight. And with a genre’s popularity, comes parodies. Unfortunately for parodies, there’s a fine line between brilliance and utter stupidity, and Casa de mi Padre falls into the latter.

One of the numerous Grindhouse sub-genres was Mexploitation, films focusing on Mexican characters and plot lines (similar to Blaxploitation and Ozploitation) and Will Ferrell takes aim squarely at the genre. The film provides some decent enough laughs, as well as such respected actors as Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna getting silly, but over all, it just completely falls flat.

The problem comes from the fact that this doesn’t lovingly take the conventions and turn them on its head. It more makes fun of them. Where as 2009’s Black Dynamite not only serves as a parody, but could also actually exist inside the genre, Padre just looks at the camera and says “Look how goofy these movies were, huh?!”

Major props to Ferrell though, for stepping outside his comfort zone and try something new. He even did his whole role in Spanish. It’s commendable, but he soon dives into his usual bag of tricks, and just becomes “Will Ferrell… EN ESPANOL!” Which is somehow more annoying, even though I can’t understand him.

The most enjoyable parts are Bernal when he’s letting loose, being funny. It’s a side of him we don’t normally get to see. That’s the only nice thing I have to say about Padre. Don’t even wait for the DVD on this one. If you find yourself bored on a Saturday afternoon in a few years, and this comes on cable… maybe watch it. If you still have cable by then.

Reviews: Chronicle and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

When I was doing reviews for the radio station, I was contractually obligated to see 2 new releases per week. I had to see everything that came through our little town. So I had to take the good with the bad. From True Grit to Twilight. Quentin Tarantino to Tyler Perry. Now that I no longer have to do so, I can be choosy with my film watching. See the films that I want to see. Since there were no new films I really wanted to check out (The Lorax will probably be a DVD viewing) this weekend, I caught up on films I hadn’t seen yet.


4 stars

Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan

The indie, off-brand superhero films have increasingly come into prominence, staking a claim in the genre that is not as dominated by the marquee names. Chronicle, from writer Max Landis (John’s son) and director Josh Trank (not John’s son), is another wonderful entry that follows in the grand tradition of Kick-Ass, Super and Defendor.

What struck me most about Chronicle is that it feels like the movie Spider-Man 3 wanted to be. The moral implications raised by the Andy, Matt and Steve as they explore their new-found superpowers seems more real than in prior films. It perfectly captures the uncertainty of the teenage years and matches it with these unknown powers.

While the three leads only have a handful of credits between them (Jordan being the most prolific with stints on “The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood”), and this certainly won’t launch them into stardom, it’ll definitely cement them as “Ones To Watch.”

Lead Dane DeHaan is particularly engaging as the torn Andy Detmer. While dealing with an abusive father, an ailing mother, and bullying at school, he struggles to come to terms with his power. The transformation from quiet, shy introvert, to popular kid, to super villain is brilliantly realized by DeHaan.

Josh Trank makes few stumbles in his feature film directorial debut. The film could have been bogged down with extraneous info and superfluous scenes, but he keeps it tight and straight to the point. Kudos to him.

Definitely worth heading to the cinemas for a viewing.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

4 Stars

Starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner and Michael Nyqvist

What I like most about the Mission: Impossible franchise is that it’s successfully hung on for 15 years, and has yet to wear its welcome.

Each film always feels like its own stand-alone that gets by on its own merits. And despite John Woo’s mishandling of the 2nd one, M:I has been able to consistently deliver. The films have been able to stay fresh with a revolving door of talented directors who put their own unique spin on it, and constantly reinventing itself to stay with the trends of the genre.

Cruise shows absolutely no signs of slowing down at the ripe old age of 49. He’s still just as engaging as ever, and proves he can sprint with the best of them. It was a treat to see Simon Pegg return as Benji, formally tech support, now with full field credentials. The addition of both Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner add some new, youthful blood to the film. Tragically, Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist was tragically under utilized as the primary villain. If M:I 2 got one thing right, it was the great back & forth between Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Dougray Scott’s villainous Sean Ambrose.

Director Brad Bird deserves the most credit for keeping the film engaging all the way through to the end, nice and tight. Quite impressive for his first live action outing. Bird helmed two of Pixar’s finest films (The Incredibles and Ratatouille as well as one of the best animated films ever made, Iron Giant. He brings a different look and feel to the franchise, making it one of the more kinetic and exciting installments.

What producer J.J. Abrams was able to do as director on the third, find the right balance between spy thriller and big action (the first 2 emphasized one or the other), Bird continued. It wasn’t too over the heads of the general audience to confound them, but didn’t dumb it down in favour of action sequences.

It’s a great spy action film, definitely worth checking out.

50/50, The Ides of March, Drive

50/50 Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen
50/50 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen


5 Stars

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston

I was warily intrigued when I first heard the concept of a comedy about a guy dealing with cancer. Especially one starring Seth Rogen. But I was pleasantly surprised, and delighted, with the final product that was 50/50.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 500 Days of Summer) stars as Adam, a 27-year-old writer for NPR who receives the lift altering news that he has a rare form of cancer. He moves through his life with the help of friends and family and comes to terms with the state of his life.

The main obstacle this film had to overcome was the contrived nature of a cancer story line. It immediately tugs on your emotional strings. Or if it’s written by Nicolas Sparks, it punches you in the face. But writer Will Reiser, making his feature debut, handled the subject matter with an earnestness that tends to be glossed over in most cancer tales. Reiser based the script on his own experiences following a cancer diagnoses and getting through it with the help of his friend, co-star Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Funny People). There’s a feeling of realism to the dialogue that helps you empathise with what Adam’s going through, and I’m sure many men of my generation would act and react in a similar fashion.

Gordon-Levitt handles the subject matter with a delicacy so as not to disrespect it. But you can feel the humour and despair he exudes as Adam. Rogen does something bizarre. In the same role, he plays the familiar man-child archetype he’s perfected over the course of his career, but at the same time brings an air of poignancy.

I highly recommend this film. It’s funny in all the right places, but knows exactly when to be serious, and never feels trite. A must watch for the year.

The Ides of March
The Ides of March starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney

The Ides of March

4 stars

Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei

I went into The Ides of March expecting one film, but got a completely different one, marked by stellar performances from an amazing cast.

Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Blue Valentine) stars as Stephan Meyers, a young, idealistic campaign manager for a Governor running for President (George Clooney, who also wrote and directed), who gets caught up in the dirty political machine that threatens his views and career.

I was anticipating a tight political thriller in the vein of All The President’s Men or State of Play. And I was completely let down. It’s not that it isn’t a political thriller, but it’s a lackluster one. It lacks any sort of punch to really keep the audience on the edge of their seat. But we do a thoroughly engaging character study on what the political machine can do to a person, and feels like an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes of a presidential campaign.

Throughout the course of the film, Gosling’s Meyers goes through a transformation from idealistic young political hotshot, to jaded, cynical, willing to the play the game staffer. It’s that transformation that makes the film, and Gosling’s performance sells it.

It’s interesting how well the cast mirrors the theme. You’ve got the heavyweight veterans supporting the young rookie (relatively, to the rest of the cast). Clooney delivers a so-so performance as the candidate, but it’s Hoffman (The Big Lebowski, Capote) and Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man) who really shine as competing campaign managers who show Meyers how it’s really done. Evan Rachel Wood (Across The Universe, Thirteen) is enchanting as a young intern who serves as the cornerstone for a potential scandal.

It’s not genre defining, but definitely one of the best political films in the past few years, despite laying the actual politics on a little thick.

Drive starring Ryan Gosling


5 stars

Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Pearlman

The Transporter is a sometimes pleasing, but mostly over the top action franchise. But what if The Coen Brothers directed an installment? That’s the feeling I got off of Drive, and it was a damn good feeling.

An enigmatic stunt driver moonlights as a getaway driver, living by specific set of rules. But when a deal goes south while trying to help a friend, he finds himself on the run from the West Coast mob.

This is the odd movie that has the feel of a 70s/80s B-Movie, but doesn’t fully drop into over-the-top ridiulousness to make it cheesy. It’s actually a great edge-of-the seat action thriller, that touches on the right amount of gore, and has the perfect blend of drama and action. And a lot of credit must go to Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson). I don’t want to say he was the best for the job, as I’m admittedly unfamiliar with his work (though it’s all in my Netflix queue), but I do get the feeling that under a less capable director, the film would have devolved into Drive Angry.

Gosling steps into “Strong, Silent” or “Daniel Craig” mode for this film, and is never really given a name (at least not to my recollection, correct me if I’m wrong), which only adds to the air of mystery. There’s a calm, understated intensity to his demeanour until he needs to defend himself or the ones he cares for. That’s when he explodes, and it’s fantastic to see him work.

We’re given the supporting cast in small doses, no one really given too much to do, but enough to leave an impression. I was particularly fond of Albert Brooks (Finding Nemo, Broadcast News) as the villain. It seemed to be new territory for him and he slipped into the role magnificently.

This is hands down one of the most surprising films of the year, and definitely one of the best. Following these two performances (this and Ides of March), Gosling is a shoe-in for at least one Oscar nomination.

Reviews: Super 8 & Judy Moody

Super 8
Super 8

Super 8

4 stars

Written & Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney and Noah Emmerich

J.J. Abrams brings his keen eye for tension to this loving homage to the Spielberg sci-fi films of the late 70s, early 80s (Spielberg produces), but never forgets his modern sensibilities for spectacle (and lens flares).

It’s 1979 in a small Ohio town, and a group of middle schoolers are working on a low-budget, super 8 zombie film. They inadvertently capture a train crash that was no accident, and has the Air Force scrambling to clean it up. The aftermath tests the limits of the town, it’s overworked deputy sheriff, and soon proves to be a bigger mystery than anyone could have imagined.

It’s equal parts Close Encounters…, E.T. and Jurassic Park,  injected with the Lost pilot, the Abrams produced Cloverfield and 2009’s Star Trek. It’s all the best parts of those works that Abrams brings together to tell a beautifully drawn mystery/sci-fi/adventure, with kids at the focal point. If one didn’t know any better, they’d probably think this was a Spielberg film, it is THAT lovingly crafted.

Right down to the beautiful score from Michael Giacchino. The Oscar and Emmy winner does a wonderful job with the film’s music. It is distinctly Giacchino, but you can hear the influence of John Williams in this work.

Chandler is fantastic as Deputy Lamb, put in the unlikely position of trying to save his town from the fall out of the crash, while at the same time trying to rebuild his home life and connect with his son after the tragic death of his wife.

But I can’t forget to mention the kids who carry the film. From the strong debut of Riley Chase as the film-within-the-film’s director, to Elle Fanning who’s carving out her own place in Hollywood, refusing to fall in the shadow of her sister Dakota. But the break out is reluctant hero, Joel Courtney as Deputy’s son Joe Lamb, who steps up to the challenge of the film and knocks it out of the ball park, giving one of the best young performances in recent memory.

It’s a more than capable, loving homage to the films of yester-year. Definitely worth a viewing in theatres. Added bonus: NOT 3D.

Judy Moody & The Not Bummer Summer

Judy Moody & The Not Bummer Summer

0 (zero) stars

Directed by John Schultz

Written by Kathy Waugh & Megan McDonald (who also wrote the source books)

Starring: Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham and Jaleel White

I could sit here and just thoroughly trash this movie, writing the scathing review that it does deserve. But it’s a kids movie that most who read this won’t even see, and I’ll never even think of again, so why waste the time and energy. It’s a sufficiently terrible movie, that in all the wrong ways mashes up Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Ramona & Beezus, both films I actually quite enjoyed, to be a bargain bin, store brand rip-off. The Go-Bots of imaginative and precocious kid protagonists. I wouldn’t dare show this film to my potential children, as I would like them to have a healthy respect for cinema. Just avoid this one, and, if you have kids, don’t even bother showing it to them. It’s not worth their time to watch it, just like it’s not worth mine to write a full review on it.

Reviews: Rango, Adjustment Bureau, Beastly, Take Me Home Tonight

The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon & Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau

4 stars

Directed by George Nolfi

Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie and John Slattery

It would be easy to dismiss this film as a knock off Inception, trying to capitalize on that film’s success. Except The Adjustment Bureau was originally set for release last September, with trailers appearing as early as May. So that’s an off assumption to make, and if you skipped it based on that line of thinking, you missed out.

A politician meets and falls in love with a ballerina, but there are forces working to keep them apart. The two must fight their destiny in order to stay together.

Writer George Nolfi  (Ocean’s 12, The Bourne Ultimatum) makes his directorial debut with this ambitious project, which he did also pen. He was really able to bring the focus of this grand scale premise right down to one facet of the lives of the two characters, and it made for a compelling thriller. He’s able to do that in  a way that only a writer/director can, with their intimate knowledge of the story they’re bringing to life.

And to his credit, he assembles a very interesting (to say the least) cast to do just that. Put any one of the primary cast member’s name in the billing, and I’m there. And they pull it all off exquisitely. Damon as the young, struggling politician, who’s trying to come to terms with the weight of what he now knows about the world. Blunt as the ballerina who tries to make sense of a situation she can’t begin to fathom. Slattery as the cocky businessman type who thinks he knows what’s best, almost a super-natural Roger Sterling.

Overall, the film does serve as a decent contemplation of fate vs free will, and certainly addresses certain religious implications in the debate. It’s fascinating that it explores the area. However, the problem is that the film never really resolves the debate. At least not in any way that is satisfying. The conclusion it reaches is that you can have both. I almost would have preferred it taking the Inception way out, with any hint of ambiguity. It needed a wobbling totem to close out the film.

Take Me Home Tonight
Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Theresa Palmer & Dan Fogler in Take Me Home Tonight

Take Me Home Tonight

2.5 stars

Directed by Michael Dowse

Starring Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler and Theresa Palmer

What could have been a good 80s version of Dazed & Confused, loses its message by making fun of the era, rather than embracing it.

An aimless college grad heads to a party in hopes of rekindling a romance with his high school crush.

The script is based on a story by Topher Grace, written by his That 70s Show producers Jackie & Jeff Filgo. They do their best to keep an overall arc going, but they spin out of control by trying to do too much. They never quite get a good focus on the core story of Matt & Tori (Grace & Palmer) and never really find a use for Barry (Fogler).

The movie has it’s heart in the right place. And despite being set in the 80s, it still has a relevant theme of figuring out what you want to do post college. It never quite makes that case that the film should have been set in the 80s, other than to sort of poke fun at the era. It feels like more of a pop culture overview than being steeped in the decade.

Enjoyable, if you can look over the “I Love The 80s-ness” of it, and you could probably wait for the DVD.

Vanessa Hudgens & Alex Pettyfer in Beastly


.5 star

Directed by Daniel Barnes

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens and Mary Kate Olsen

Oh god, it’s now time for the CW and Disney “stars of tomorrow” to start stepping into the limelight. I hope they can start doing better than this take on the classic fairy tale.

A snobby and privileged NYC high schooler is cursed by a teenage witch, and in order to reverse the curse of ugly, he must find someone to love him within a year.

Neil Patrick Harris is really the one true good thing about this film. He plays his role as the blind tutor as a combination of Annie Sullivan and his own Barney Stinson. He adds levity, and is a beacon of hope in this otherwise dreadful flick, and is solely responsible for its half a star.

As for what the hell went wrong? Where do I start? I don’t know whether to blame the poor writing or the poor editing, but the film is excruciatingly difficult to follow. A conversation, a thought, is started and never finished. I know the story, the Disney animated version of the story is one of my favourite films, but I didn’t know where they were going with it because it was so sloppily told.

Alex Pettyfer, I’ll grant you that he’s handsome, but he has all the charm and talent of a plank of wood. I’d rather see a Hayden Christensen movie. Hudgens is the same. I guess she’s just lost if she’s not singing about how the Wildcats have to win the big championship game.

Avoid this film, at all costs.



4.5 stars

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy & Isla Fisher

Finally, an animated film that isn’t in 3D. And it’s one of the most beautifully drawn films I’ve ever seen.

A wayward chameleon stumbles into the Wild West town of Dirt during a drought, and soon becomes a hero to them all.

If I had to call the Best Animated Feature race right now, 2 months into the year, without seeing any other films, it would be for Rango. The animation is simply amazing, there’s a great attention to detail. The good folks at Industrial Light and Magic have made some amazing leaps in the field of animation.

But on top of the visually stunning animation, Gore Verbinski and screenwriter John Logan concoct a truly funny story. And the thing of it is that it totally works for both kids and adults. Not in the Shrek, movie for kids with pop culture references to keep the adults from getting uber-bored kinda way. But it’s simple enough that the kids are going to enjoy it and it’ll be memorable for them, but also sharp enough that the adults will appreciate its true complexity & sharpness.

And a lot of the credit does go to the great voice cast assembled, led by the ever versatile Depp. They all create unique and interesting characters that really breathe life into the film.

If you do only see one animated film this year, it should probably be Rango. It’s worth it. And did I mention the best part? It’s NOT 3D!

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