February Reviews

#31-52

#31 - Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

G, 1hr 29mins. Biography Documentary.

Written and Directed by Werner Herzog.

Starring Werner Herzog, Nicholas Shakespeare and Bruce Chatwin.

 

Date/Time: Saturday February 1st, 7:00pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Playhouse Cinema (Hamilton, ON)

Seen With: Self

Renown filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to documentary after a five-year hiatus to examine former explorer Bruce Chatwin. He was a well-travelled archeologist and nomad, who after a lifetime of anthropological study of exotic cultures, suddenly passed away. 30 years later, Herzog is retracing some of Chatwin’s travels to connect to the friend he once knew.

 

I’d argue this is Herzog’s best portrait of a person since 2005’s Grizzly Man. But unlike that examination of Timothy Treadwell, this portrait of Chatwin features a lot less of Chatwin himself. Yes, his work was fascinating, but there’s enough archive material of his voice and image we should be hearing it from the source. That being said, Herzog’s voice is still luscious and robust simultaneously, lending itself so appropriately for documentary.

 

Glacial pacing is sometimes the symptom of having long, grandiose shots of the worlds Chatwin explored. Much of the film feels like a museum exhibit instead of a theatrical release, but if that’s your style, the editor’s gentleness is certainly easy to watch. And if you commonly enjoy walks in nature, this is exactly the kind of story that’ll grab your attention.

#32 - Peasant (Kholop)

80 of 100, 3 stars

PG, 1hr 49mins. Comedy.

Directed by Klim Shipenko.

Starring Milos Bikovic, Aleksandr Samoylenko, Marina Mironova, Aleksandra Bottich, Vadim Demchog

and Ivan Okhlobystin.

 

Date/Time: Sunday February 2nd, 12:55pm

Cost: $10.05 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

The best part of watching such a large quantity of movies is finding the true, pleasant surprises - the diamonds that come out of nowhere and unexpectedly delight and amaze the viewer. Kholop is that surprise, and Peasant really is that pleasant.

 

Comedy’s success (and how widely appealing its humour is) comes from two key components: how smart is the premise, and how well are the jokes executed. The premise here is a rich, spoiled twenty-something named Grigory (Milos Bikovic) is financially and socially spoiled by his kajillionaire father. 

 

After one incident too many, Dad teams up with a TV crew to trick Grigory into thinking he’s gone back in time to the 19th century, and must start a new life as a stable boy for a greedy landowner. The truth is, everyone else is an actor, and Grigory must change, his selfish ways and attitude, learning that true happiness must be cultivated, not bought.

 

The best way to describe the film is a wacky mix of The Truman Show meets Fiddler on the Roof. It’s not a novel concept, but it’s rooted in the classic skeleton of great comedy. The one-liners are sincerely funny, the gags (especially with the hidden cameras!) are really well shot. But the best surprise isn’t how funny it is - it’s how vulnerable and sweet the company of characters are.

 

Every element is clever without being proud and likeable without being pandering. The tonal balance and craftsmanship are terrific. Even the camera shots are innovative; there’s a POV chase and a business meeting scene in one dizzying take that’s awesome. The almost-romantic genre gets a truly warm, timeless spin. Add in a sharp, dedicated cast and Peasant is a true winner.

#33 - Gretel and Hansel

50 of 100, 2 stars

14A, 1hr 27mins. Fantasy Horror.

Directed by Oz Perkins.

Starring Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey and Alice Krige.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday February 4th, 3:35pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

You’re probably more familiar with the children’s tale of Hansel & Gretel. But here, director Oz Perkins has transformed the story into that of 16-year Gretel (Sophia Lillis) now taking care of her young brother Hansel (Samuel Leakey) in a dangerous world ruined by famine and puritan pride.

 

Many elements that make the original story iconic are still here - a cottage in the woods, fabulous food with a mysterious source, and a witch with questionable motives. The film succeeds in using these elements and presenting them in a stylish way, with an eerie and colourful production design and suspenseful techno score.

 

I was most impressed with the slick presentation akin to what a Grimm fairy tale would have been 150 years ago, and using modern technology in that presentation. And yes, Lillis (better known as young Beverly in the It franchise) and Alice Krige’s witch are well cast.

 

But the pacing is a big seatbelt on getting viewers engaged. The new story is certainly a creative adaptation, but it’s also stretched far too thin. There’s about 60 minutes of substance in this 85 minute movie, and it needed to be trimmed or plussed in another way. The tepid pace kills the momentum it builds, and it sometimes feels more like watching a horror project in an art gallery.

#34 - Street Dancer 3D

20 of 100, 1 star

PG, 2hrs 26mins. Musical Comedy Epic.

Directed by Remo D’Souza.

Starring Varun Dhawan, Shraddha Kapoor and Prabhu Deva.

 

Date/Time: Thursday February 6th, 2:40pm

Cost: $10.05 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self (True Self)

D’Souza’s dance epic is basically Bollywood’s answer to the once relevant Step Up franchise. Its overproduced and the screenplay is reduced to overly sentimental glib about  two rival dance troupes in London joining forces to win an underground contest.

 

But maybe do they want to beat the local bully dancers? Maybe find true love? Prove who they are? Raise money to combat immigrant homelessness? There’s so many heavy-handed plots that are all competing to be the most important, and it means the movie as a whole is exhausting to watch.

 

For a movie that's so aggressively about dancing as the primary way of defining character, there's a lot more Hallmark channel acting than actual dancing. And when it finally gets around to the production numbers, most of them are too similar to be interesting after two and a half hours. But the two best ones are, I'll say, truly spectacular: Anna's Face-off dance is the true showstopper at the start of act two.​

 

Street Dancer is channeling the same energy and dramatic nuance of the High School Musical movies. It doesn't help the dance crews have 20 or so characters who have their names said in the beginning only to never be referenced again. Overall, it’s a splashy mess that’s several minutes of excitement in a three hour snoozefest. (And further proof that T-Studios is India's soulless corporate movie overlords.)

#35 - Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn)

70 of 100, 3 stars

14A, 1hr 49mins. Superhero Thriller Crime Action.

Directed by Cathy Yan.

Starring Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, June Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Ali Wong and Ella Jay Basco.

 

Date/Time: Friday February 7th, 3:45pm

Cost: Pass Used

Seen Where: Film.Ca Cinemas (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Dylan M.

Birds of Prey is badly advertised, but the product itself is forgivably shallow and surprisingly edgy. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has broken up with the Joker, and soon she’s tangled up with other female vigilantes, criminals and citizens of Gotham in a zany plot to find a diamond and save a teenage girl.

 

This action is nihilism and chaos at it’s most whimsical. The colours are surprisingly effective, even though Robbie’s performance isn’t as deranged as her work in 2016’s Suicide Squad. But underneath the grisly thrills, this movie is surprisingly bright for an R-rated crime super saga. The fun house fight, for example, is simply terrific.

 

While the slight uptick in violence and bedlam makes for a better artistic product, it does seem to be having a regrettably adverse effect on ticket sales. The first half is interesting, if somewhat a muddled mess of a story. But once the badly edited (albeit entertaining) parts mesh together halfway through, the back half is furiously fun and energizing for the “Birds” to not just fly but soar.

 

Robbie is well cast as the frenzied Harleen Quinzel, but the two surprise performers who really bring it to town are Rosie Perez as Det. Montoya and Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask. The former brings razor-sharp smarts and humanity to what could’ve been a throwaway part, and the latter is equally suave as he is terrifying. Between Mask and Quinn, sometimes it’s deliciously hard to tell who’s really crazy.

#36 - 63 Up

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

G, 2hrs 24mins. Documentary Biography Epic.

Narrated and Directed by Michael Apted.

 

Date/Time: Saturday February 8th, 4:10pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Playhouse Cinema (Hamilton, ON)

Seen With: Self

Not too many film franchises get nine movies, and even fewer are still worth watching after so long. The 7Up series, English documentarian Michael Apted's lifelong project, returns for the ninth look at the lives of children who’ve been growing up with a check-in every seven years of their lives since childhood.

 

As the name suggests, this film is about the children now at age 63. I hadn’t seen any of the previous eight instalments in the series, but Apted’s editing and footage from previous ages do a great job at weaving a complete narrative for each of the subjects. There’s just as much joy for audiences meeting the characters for the first time as there is in seeing both how the subjects have changed and how they’ve stayed the same.

 

Watching the different stories does become slightly more tiring after two and a half hours, and this might be more enjoyable at home where you can take a break partway through. It’s also hard remembering certain names and details when interview subjects suddenly return eight or nine scenes later - and there’s a lot of names.

 

But the quality of footage, interview topics, and the variety of lifestyles and stories is so interesting and well-edited it’s spellbinding to watch. This is one of the most consistently inventive franchises in cinematic history, and 63 Up is a terrific update.

#37 - The Assistant

45 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 1hrs 27mins. Drama.

Written and Directed by Kitty Green.

Starring Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen and Kristine Froseth.

 

Date/Time: Monday February 10th, 3:15pm

Cost: $10.55 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Varsity (Toronto, ON)

Seen With: Self

Here’s a quirky, dark, and interesting idea for a film. Writer/Director Kitty Green’s experiment is a bleak look at the reality of one day being an office intern at a movie production company’s office. The movie follows college intern Jane’s (Julia Garner) awful job over nearly 24 hours, including her possible witness of some misdemeanours.

 

Green’s concept for the movie is a bold idea that is hopelessly stark and richly inhuman. Her greatest success is truthfully depicting the inhumanity of what modern business is like, and truly how easy it is to abuse the treatment of the powerless. This depiction and exposure, unfortunately, isn’t really entertaining. (Except for the really great HR scene 45 minutes in.)

 

What that turns the film into is a strong message with a thin backbone of dramatic weight. This same concept would have been more successful as an experimental art piece, a film concept, or even just a short film itself. Having nearly an hour of unscripted silence in a movie that runs just over 80 minutes is a long time to sit and suffer. 

 

I don’t know how I feel about the technique of having the audience endure the same pain that Jane does without her connection or literal investment into her plight. Us empathizing with Jane is not the same as us having to face the music like she does - breaking that fourth wall rarely works in a dramatic film.

#38 - Jawaani Jaaneman

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 59mins. Comedy Drama.

Directed by Nitin Kakkar.

Starring Saif Ali Khan, Alaya Furniturewala, Kubbra Sait, Kumun Mishra and Tabu.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday February 11th, 1:40pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self

Jaswinder “Jazz” (Saif Ali Khan) is a real estate agent in London on the verge on his 40th birthday and a big deal. A surprise shows up on his doorstep when he meets his daughter Tia (an awesome debut of Alaya Furniturewala) he didn’t know he had. What makes it crazier? Through the DNA test, Tia learns she’s pregnant, meaning Jazz is about to be a grandfather.

 

This is what great romantic comedies used to be like. The story artists on Jawaani Jaaneman (which like most big-budget Bollywood films, there are several) did a great job of coming up with smart, comedic scenes and scenarios. 

 

Not only are they funny, but they serve the plot and even raise the stakes continuously through the film. There’s one very memorable episode of mistaken identity in particular - without spoiling anything, it ends with a projector that’s suddenly fixed with hilarious results. It’s the funniest scene of the year so far.

 

What holds Jawaani back from being truly great is both its predictability and it’s stagnation halfway through. The first hour and last 30 minutes are great, but it loses momentum and gets oddly slow and eventless once Tia’s mother Ananya arrives. The best comedy can build energy and sustain it - here there’s a short lapse.

 

Thankfully the ending lands with a truly earnest love that makes for great, fun family comedies. While it’s not totally family-friendly, this is a great family-based conflict that makes for a (mostly) fun movie.

#39 - Sonic the Hedgehog

55 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 1hr 40mins. Sci-Fi Family Action Comedy.

Directed by Jeff Fowler.

Starring Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Jim Carrey.

 

Date/Time: Thursday February 13th, 5:00pm

Cost: Pass Used

Seen Where: Film.Ca Cinemas (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

Maniacal Jim Carrey really steals the show, capturing all the zany energy of his comedic heights of yesteryear and manifesting them into supreme silliness for a new generation. His rapid-fire comedic skill, however, is a brilliant match for the deranged energy needed to play Dr. Ivo Robotnik as a truly dangerous villain.

 

Was it worth the wait for the film’s delays? It’s hard to say. The much-buzzed redesign of the main character Sonic is awesome and well-worth commending the studio for doing. But that doesn’t excuse a plot with the dramatic heft of a children’s picture book. The show is occasionally fun, but the story itself is unforgivably hokey and squeaky clean. 

Full review coming soon.

#40 - Downhill

30 of 100, 1 star

14A, 1hr 26mins. Comedy Drama.

Directed by Nat Faxon.

Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao and Miranda Otto.

 

Date/Time: Friday February 14th, 1:20pm

Cost: $10.55 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self

Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell are comedic superstars who could’ve done so much more with this premise. They are, however, a great screen team, and I’d love to see them work on something else. Louis-Dreyfus is the stronger performer overall, but Ferrell has the much harder job playing a character who spends much of the film caught in a pretty awful mistake. He does it with sincerity, and eventual warmth.

 

It’s a great idea for a film that completely wastes the comedic sensibilities of the cast by, amazingly, not letting them tell jokes. None of the scenes the Staunton family find themselves in are either funny or unique enough to warrant us watching them.

Full review coming soon.

#41 - Miss Americana

70 of 100, 3 stars

14A, 1hr 25mins. Musical Biography Documentary.

Written and Directed by Lana Wilson.

Starring Taylor Swift.

 

Date/Time: Saturday February 15th, 11:45pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Netflix)

Seen Where: Campsite, Port Sydney, ON

Seen With: Elijah M. (Friend and Work Colleague)

Taylor Swift, like her or not, has certainly made an impact on world stage of popular music. The documentary follows Swift producing a new album while reflecting on her work so far, seamlessly moving from her initial popularity and switch from country to pop. But it also tracks her personal demons from romance and politics to her eating disorder and mother’s illness, and of course, her extended case regarding Kanye West.

 

The portrait of Swift is almost sad with an extraordinary amount of humanity. It’s deeply fascinating to see Swift behaving as a human as opposed to a performer, and the difference between the two is staggering. (The difference is especially highlighted through her performing in childhood home videos.)

 

One example of humanizing the figure comes in a gentle, pleasant scene where Swift admits she’s started eating burritos. It’s 2017, and after a lifetime over not eating them for no particular reason, she’s contemplating her future while realizing how far in advance her life is scheduled and prepared for her.

 

What connects them, honestly, is her indisputable raw talent as a songwriter. I’m not personally a fan of her new style of pop music, but there’s still a high quality of craftsmanship. The most interesting conflict, rather than Taylor combating her own happiness, is watching her strive to complete her work aside from the increasing pressure of celebrity. While Swift the celebrity does not deserve any more attention, the film makes a strong case that Swift the person might.

#42 - PS to all the Boys I Still Love You

40 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 42mins. Romance.

Directed by Michael Fimognari.

Starring Lana Condor, Noah Centineo and Jordan Fisher.

 

Date/Time: Sunday February 16th, 12:30pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Netflix)

Seen Where: Camp, Port Sydney, ON

Seen With: Self

This sequel is an easy-going and emotionally healthy sequel to Netlfix’s 2018 surprise romance hit. Lana Condor’s Lara Jean and Noah Centineo’s Peter are great role models, and the conversations are interesting. But the detailed story from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t here.

 

Part of what makes the character of Lara Jean more interesting than your average teenage romance heroine is more than her desire to find new mountains to climb - it’s also her insights and vulnerability beyond her years. Having the whole movie focus on merely another problem from a letter her sister sent feels stagnant in Lara Jean’s crusade to pursue true love.

 

Beyond that, watching her fawning over John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher in a tastefully composed performance of a paper thin part) just isn’t an exciting enough conflict to sustain a feature film. It doesn’t amount to anything worth making a movie over, but this ensemble of characters is at least gooey, sticky and satisfying to watch. It’s more a curiosity than artistic project.

 

Netflix has already greenlit a third film to turn Lara Jean’s high school years into a trilogy. These teens are more pleasant than most to watch, but they need new, bigger, and more exciting problems if it’s going to come back from this inferior follow-up.

#43 - The Photograph

75 of 100, 3 stars

PG, 1hr 35mins. Drama Romance.

Written and Directed by Stella Meghie.

Starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield.

 

Date/Time: Monday February 17th, 10:15pm

Cost: Cost: Free (Voucher Used)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

Two plots are intertwined between Mae and her mother Christina (Chanté Adams) when she was Mae’s age. Not to discount the interest and sincere drama of Christina as a young photographer in New Orleans, but this secondary storyline gets a lot of screen time. We want to care about Mae and Michael, but there’s long stretches where they take the back seat.

 

Rae and Stanfield have an incredible chemistry together on screen, and they ooze authenticity in their moments together at every scale. They balance their depictions of people not as “flawed” or “complex” but realistically addressing problems big and small.

Full review coming soon.

#44 - Fantasy Island

0 of 100, 0 stars

14A, 1hr 49mins. Fantasy Horror Adventure Drama Thriller.

Co-written and Directed by Jeff Wadlow.

Starring Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Michael Peña, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, Kim Coates, Parisa Fitz-Henley and Michael Rooker.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday February 18th, 10:00pm

Cost: $7.43 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Milton (Milton, ON)

Seen With: Self

Fantasy Island is the first absolute blunder of the year. It’s a bad movie that mistakes silly plot lines for horror and offers continuously worse disappointment.

 

It doesn’t start off too bad, and you could be hopeful something exciting’s going to happen. But as each scene unfolds the plot gets more overly complicated, lazy, predictable, and worst of all, hilariously implausible. When the climactic showdown finally takes place, it looks like it’s coming three or four times before the true ending is revealed with a stupid twist abandoning all facts and setups put in place so far.

 

It’s not scary. It’s not an interesting mystery to solve. It’s not romantic or exotic. Even the cast looks embarrassed they agreed to be in this. It’s a boring mess of genres that takes too long before finally revealing an end surprise that doesn’t make sense in the rules of the weird god-like powers at work. 

Full review coming soon.

#45 - Ride Your Wave

50 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 1hr 35mins. Animated Fantasy Romance.

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa.

Starring Rina Kawaei, Ryota Katayose, Kentaro Ito and Honoka Matsumoto.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday February 19th, 7:00pm

Cost: $10.55 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

Little known Japanese animation house Science Saru gets their first wide North American release with Ride Your Wave. It’s a quaint little project about finding goals and moving on from crisis, but it’s underproduced and too scattershot to be entertaining.

 

Once you get over the first half hour of exposition to the inciting incident on a surfing visit, the story gets remedially more interesting. The basic plot is about new ocean sciences student Hinako (Rina Kawaei) meeting firefighter Minato (Ryota Katayose) and falling in love over the ocean. When Minato passes away in a rescue, his spirit begins to appear in bodies of water when Hinako sings their favourite pop song.

 

The animation is surprisingly low quality, and Saru’s television background shows when the images are expanded on the big screen. Once you get over the weird art style of the human characters (including you wondering why everyone in this world is 6 feet tall, dangerously skinny and has overlong necks) the visual effects are cheap and the rendering is poor.

Full review coming soon.

#46 - Malang: Unleash the Madness

45 of 100, 2 stars

14A, 2hrs 15mins. Holiday Action Drama Thriller.

Directed by Mohit Suri.

Starring Aditya Roy Kapur, Disha Patani, Kunal Khemu, Anil Kapoor and Elli Avram.

 

Date/Time: Thursday February 20th, 10:20pm

Cost: Free (Scene Points)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

The psychedelic romance parts aren’t too bad, even artful, but the rest of it is nothing more than a generic action film. The police chase is thin, uneventful, and way outlasts it’s welcome. Weirder still is the strong motif of immasculinity and its ties to sexual violence, but other than saying it’s bad, it’s unclear what else Malang wants to say.

 

You know what else is weird? Having the opening credits 20 minutes into the movie.  It feels like every event and component of the confused is it romance or is it crime thriller is overstretched to justify its existence as an “event movie.” 

 

That’s the big story here. I’ve now seen three movies from India’s T-Studios and they’re all overproduced, pandering messes. (Admittedly, while the story sucks, at least Malang’s dialogue is better crafted and more naturalistic.) Sure, the spectacle can be fun. And the final twist is surprisingly smart. But getting over the shallowness is a big hurdle.

Full review coming soon.

#47 - Fantastic Fungi

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

PG, 1hrs 21mins. Nature Documentary.

Directed by Louie Schwartzberg.

Starring Paul Stamets and Brie Larson.

 

Date/Time: Friday February 21st, 7:00pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Original Princess Cinema (Waterloo, ON)

Seen With: Sam B.

The first half is tremendous - Stamets insights into both scientific and social cultures is really interesting, and he’s a well-rehearsed interview subject. But its the breadth of his insights in mycology that make him a credible source to begin with. Great documentaries are made when the subjects meet this balance of character and substance.

 

Sadly, the second half focuses more on a pseudo-science of healing properties in social counselling and the benefits of using fungus as a narcotic. These subjects don’t strike the same effective balance as Stamets does, and this is where the mushroom movie gets icky.

 

Brie Larson acts less like a narrator and more as the god-like voice of Mother Earth. Her voice is that of the global fungi network personified as a spiritual guide through various topics into understanding the scope of fungus and mushrooms. This works much better as an emotional hook than the actual spiritual advisors who got interviewed earlier.

Full review coming soon.

#48 - Color out of Space

80 of 100, 3 stars

Unrated (Likely R), 1hrs 51mins. Sci-Fi Drama Horror.

Directed by Richard Stanley.

Starring Madeleine Arthur, Nicolas Cage, Elliot Knight, Joely Richardson, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard and Tommy Chong.

 

Date/Time: Friday February 21st, 8:50pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Original Princess Cinema (Waterloo, ON)

Seen With: Sam B.

This is the first truly enjoyable horror film of the year, and after the plethora of bad ones to start 2020, it’s refreshing to see director Richard Stanley use suspense and story to make the movie unsettling instead of cheap tricks.

 

While the movie isn’t really scary to watch, many scenes and images are deeply unsettling, disturbing, or difficult to look at - or sometimes all three. It’s also well-made as both creative design as a coherent plot line to follow the family’s space rage into self-harm. But tread lightly - if Color out of Space carried a rating, it would likely be R. While rewarding, this is not an experience for the thin-skinned.

Full review coming soon.

#49 - Terra Willy: Unexplored Planet

50 of 100, 2 stars

G, 1hr 29mins. Animated Sci-Fi Family.

Directed by Eric Tosti.

Starring Timothé Vom Dorp, Édouard Baer, Marie-Eugénie Maréchal and Guillaume Lebon.

English Starring Landen Beattie, Jason Canning, Laura Post and Keith Silverstein.

 

Date/Time: Saturday February 22nd, 12:10pm

Cost: $6.99

Seen Where: Landmark 12 (Kitchener, ON)

Seen With: Self

Where did this adorable little movie come from? This independent co-production from France and Belgium is a welcome little treat. While it’s storytelling is overly basic, the production and character design are so adorable it almost doesn’t matter.

 

Still, it’s hard to overlook a story that would be better suited for young children’s television, and it doesn’t help stretching that plot to 90 minutes. Having Willy’s conflict be waiting to be rescued doesn’t give our hero any mountains to climb. Without an interesting mission or superobjective, his behaviour is too passive to keep the audience engaged.

The best part are all the remarkable alien creature designs. Whimsical, charming, creative and fun - it's almost worth watching just to hang out with the residents of the Unexplored Planet. And special praise goes towards young flash (that yellow blob in the middle of the poster) - he's one of the most loveable animated sidekicks I've ever seen, and you can't help but fall in love.

Full review coming soon.

#50 - Portrait of a Lady on Fire

95 of 100, 4 stars

14A, 2hrs 1mins. Romance Drama.

Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma.

Starring Noèmie Merlant and Adèle Haenel.

 

Date/Time: Sunday February 23rd, 10:00pm

Cost: $15.83

Seen Where: Regal X Miami Beach VIP (Miami Beach, FL)

Seen With: Self

Set in the late 18th century, Portrait tells of painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) travelling to the island of Brittany. When she arrives, her portrait commission is of the betrothed Héloise (Adèle Haenel) who, instead of marrying the man coming for her, falls in love with Marianne.

 

Even though this may go without saying, Merlant and Haenel are spellbinding as the painter and subject. These two actresses are left with no crutches, and every choice they make is exciting to watch.

 

What makes the movie so mesmerizing and so beautiful is it’s brilliant imagery. Paint, fire and the feminine figure all mix together like paints on a palette. Portrayed in every way imaginable, some designs and combinations exude drama, theme, character and conflict all at once. It’s as if the movie itself were a gallery of paintings as genius as the one in the title. 

 

The contrast of blissful quiet and the ambient sound of nature provide an earthy soundscape where the actors have nowhere to hide. All vulnerabilities and thoughts are left exposed, meaning every shot in the film says something even when nobody has anything to say.

 

It’s a pretty incredible effect, and with such ferocious concentration in every moment, who knows what comes next. Better still, Céline Sciamma’s film captures the exact feeling of suddenly being in new love. And for two hours, the audience is left breathless in that unmistakable state.

 

Despite being past Valentine’s Day, there’s an extraordinary amount of both romance and heart. The delicate sensuality makes this romance drama appealing to cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. As Héloise says, “Equality is a pleasant feeling.” 

#51 - Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

G, 1hr 53mins. Mystery Family Comedy.

Written and Directed by Todd McCarthy.

Starring Winslow Fegley, Ophelia Lovibond, Kyle Bornheimer, Kei, Chloe Coleman, Wallace Shawn and Craig Robinson.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday February 26th, 12:45pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Disney+)

Seen Where: Aboard the Disney Magic (Cruise Ship, in Key West, FL)

Seen With: Self

Timmy Failure might’ve been a strange choice for Todd McCarthy’s next feature after winning Best Picture for 2015’s Spotlight. Don’t be fooled by gentle appearances though - McCarthy has spent the same amount of energy and care into crafting the conflicted, heartfelt world of Timmy’s detective agency (both real and otherwise)

 

The film is many things. It’s a great family comedy story with some terrific cutaway gags. It’s an astutely accurate representation of how kids think. Most of all, it’s an astoundingly sincere call to the power of childhood work ethic, including how we carry those lessons throughout our lives. 

Portland was the perfect choice for the story to take place. The quirkiness, edge, and uncompromising grit of Stumptown matches Timmy’s character perfectly. Fegley has wisdom beyond his years as the title bear, but Lovibond’s Patty is equally great, along with Kyle Bornheimer as the new boyfriend and a career best Craig Robinson as Mr. Jenkins the guidance counsellor. And yes, Total the polar bear is great, too.

#52 - The Call of the Wild

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 40mins. Adventure Epic.

Directed by Todd McCarthy.

Starring Harrison Ford, Terry Notary, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Cara Gee, Karen Gillan, Colin Woodell and Bradley Whitford.

 

Date/Time: Friday February 28th, 2:00pm

Cost: Free (Screening in Walt Disney Theatre)

Seen Where: Aboard the Disney Magic (Cruise Ship, in Nassau, Bahamas)

Seen With: Jenn J. (Friend)

Here’s the second Disney movie based on a famous book this week. But Jack London’s famous Call of the Wild is a much different beast - and while the animated effects on the dogs themselves are hilariously over-produced, the rest of the film wisely lets the natural inspiration of text and environment itself take the lead.

 

I’ll admit, the hokey opening scenes had me worried, but the film’s tone settles into a proper adventure story halfway through. London’s book is the story of a large, spoiled dog named Buck who’s sold into the Alaskan goldrush, where he gradually learns how to listen to rhythm of natural wilderness.

 

Some of the backdrop environments were magnificently designed and shot on film, but the best ones are worth seeing on the big screen. Buck’s avalanche mail run the canoe sequence are absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s also nice to see a disciplined, balanced dog movie after last year’s abysmal A Dog’s Way Home and A Dog’s Journey. As for Call of the Wild, it’s always a good sign when a film becomes more enjoyable as you watch it.

 

At it’s cheesiest, some characters appear all-too briefly as forgettable moments that seem exaggerated in Buck’s life. Harrison Ford, on the other hand, is stoic and trustworthy as ever. He’s a great companion for Buck on screen, and their co-dependant relationship they forge indeed becomes the most compelling drama of the adventure epic. 

© 2020 by TYLER COLLINS.

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