January Reviews

#1-30

#1 - The Two Popes

80 of 100, 3 stars

PG, 1hr 50mins. Faith Biography History Comedy Drama.

Directed by Fernando Meirelles.

Starring Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Maria Ucedo and Juan Minujín.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday January 1st, 11:30pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Netflix)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Self

The story follows the journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) as he challenges, consults and befriends Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) before he steps down. Spoiler alert - the movie’s title teases a second pope, and you can guess who may become that.

 

Hopkins is fine, but Jonathan Pryce is exquisite. He understands how to show humanity and remorse inside his piety and candor. His shifting quest and changing world is masterful to watch, and rightly grounds the movie.

 

It’s clearly comedic, but it’s not particularly funny. There’s a lightheartedness that makes the subject matter easier to approach, but it’s definitely more of a history than any other genre. The attention to detail is most commendable, especially in their recreation of the Sistine Chapel. What a set!

 

And what a great start to the year. The one snugly fits into Netflix’s catalog and doesn’t suffer from a television screen. It’s a well-made movie that’s more entertaining that some audiences might suspect.

#2 - Togo

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 53mins. Biography Adventure Drama.

Directed by Ericson Core.

Starring Willem Dafoe, Diesel and Julianne Nicholson.

 

Date/Time: Thursday January 2nd, 10:00pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Disney+)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Steve (Stepfather)

If you’ve seen the 1995 film Balto you might be surprised to learn it was actually another dog who led most of the heroic journey to save Nome, Alaska from diphtheria in 1925. That dog was named Togo, and now he’s getting his own movie.

 

I’ll begrudgingly admit I’m not much of a dog person, but Diesel the dog as Togo is near irresistible. This is better than your average animal acting on screen. That goes too for Dafoe as musher Leonhard Seppala, who too looks suspiciously like the real-life man he’s portraying.

 

The cinematography captured of the Alaskan wilderness is stunning - small screens on a streaming service deserve better than this. And like a good adventure story, the most compelling scenes are often not the spoken ones between characters but those out on the tundra, racing the clock to safely get the medicine into town.

 

This is the best movie from Disney+ so far. It’s a bit erratic and hopelessly predictable. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn’t try to outsmart viewers with cheeky twists. Final hat tip goes to the puppies. You’d have to be pretty cold to not love young Togo’s enthusiastic antics.

#3 - The Grudge

10 of 100, 1/2 star

14A, 1hr 34mins. Anthology Horror Mystery.

Written and Directed by Nicolas Pesce.

Starring Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison and Zoe Fish.

 

Date/Time: Sunday January 5th, 4:25pm

Cost: Free (Voucher Used)

Seen Where: Cineplex Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self

Two detectives (Riseborough and Bichir) are investigating a series of murders that all seem to be connected to a single house. But there's no way it's (gulp) haunted - right?

Within ten minutes I correctly predicted the screenplay was doomed to the writing maturity of a kindergartener. Bichir’s detective explains how “It was just one of those cases that stuck with me, you know?” and “It’s the kind of case you don’t forget about.”

 

Oh, please. Everyone’s talking like they’re characters in a first draft short story from a night class at the YMCA. And there’s a long line of talented actors who are trying to downplay how truly nauseating some of the visuals are. The first "scary" moment doesn't come until the film's half over.

 

Almost none of the horror elements are palatable to general audiences. From a young child vomiting blood to close-ups of maggots gnawing at a rotting corpse, it’s not unsettling towards a dramatic purpose. It’s unnecessarily disturbing.

Early January has famously been a time when horror films debut simply to avoid competing against other movies. Don't waste your time on this one.

#4 - Richard Jewell

50 of 100, 2 stars

14A, 2hrs 9mins. History Drama.

Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde.

 

Date/Time: Monday January 6th, 9:40pm

Cost: $6.25

Seen Where: Cine Starz Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self (True Self)

It’s simple and unextraordinary, but it’s well-shot and goes through the motions with smoothness. The editing shows every event with maybe a bit too much detail, and it would’ve been more enjoyable if it was 10-15 minutes shorter.

 

Jewell is a re-telling of a security guard named Richard (Hauser) working at the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympic games. When he discovers a bomb at the olympic park, he’s first commended as a hero, but soon reviled as the case’s lead suspect. In the end he’s rightfully found innocent, but at the cost of Jewell’s faith in the legal system.

 

Paul Walter Hauser as the title character is the best performer. He shows control in every scene and never ending modesty. He makes the heroism in Richard look true as can be so we’re on his side from the very beginning.

 

There’s a small controversy about Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) soliciting a source in the FBI with sex, and this obviously never happened. The rest of her portrayal is better grounded, and the subject could have worked around by simply not having her literally consent to sex after getting her source, this feels like a big deal is being made about a single character choice when Scruggs made many questionable choices.

 

It’s not a bad movie. But it’s not a particularly special one. Aside from Hauser’s humanity in Richard, it’s an easily forgettable (if somewhat interesting) story.

#5 - Bombshell

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

14A, 1hr 49mins. Biography Comedy.

Written and Directed by Jay Roach.

Starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday January 7th, 4:35pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

I’ve always believed you could easily tell when actors are having fun performing together, and the ensemble here is very tight. What makes that so special here is how positive everyone seems to be given the subject matter.

 

Bombshell is the loose re-telling of several women at Fox News who spoke out against Roger Ailles’ sexual misconduct in 2015 and 2016, following years of abuse since the start of his career.

 

Director Roach is known for his sharp, political wit, and there seems to be strong bipartisan authenticity to how the staff of Fox is portrayed. In many ways, it’s the democratic condolence card to America’s conservative media. Roach seems to be saying that we don’t have to agree on policy to empathize that people shouldn’t be treated like this.

 

Sadly, what keeps the story from being most affecting is how unfocused it is. Between Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, or Kayla Pospisil? Is about Roger? All of them? What about Kate McKinnon’s brief time as a Jess Carr, closeted lesbian working for Bill O’Reilly? It’s the most interesting plot, and it only gets a few minutes.

 

The actors dominate this film and they’re great. It’s interesting, but doesn’t get really good until the second half. And the makeup makes John Lithgow a great Roger.

#6 - The Aeronauts

45 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 1hr 40mins. Adventure Sci-Fi History.

Directed by Tom Harper.

Starring Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne and Himesh Patel.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday January 8th, 2:30pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Amazon)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Cathy (Mother)

Seeing Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne reunited after their awesome pairing in 2014’s The Theory of Everything is the most compelling thing on screen. This movie is about a record-setting meteorological balloon flight in 1862 London with severe dramatic license.

 

Even though it is a history story and “based on true events”, the dramatization of James and Amelia’s balloon flight is pretty thick. The storm scene, in particular, is exciting, yes. But it’s also hilariously implausible and throws all science out the window. (Not a strong standpoint to make less than half an hour into a science-based film.)

 

I also think not following the exact timeline of the 90-minute flight in a 100-minute movie is a huge missed opportunity. This is probably better seen on the big screen where the stunning visuals of the balloon in the skies can be more appreciated. Seeing this on a computer or a phone would be criminal.

#7 - The Report

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

14A, 2hrs 0mins. History Drama.

Written and Directed by Scott Z. Burns.

Starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Maura Tierney and Jon Hamm.

 

Date/Time: Thursday January 9th, 1:00pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Amazon)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Self

Politics don’t always don’t always make compelling film without explosions, and yet this one succeeds with only the merits of a dedicated team who were as frustrated as Daniel J. Jones.

 

The true story of Jones (Adam Driver) follows his five year investigation into the disastrous EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques) conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11. As his team dwindled and he met increasing interference from the CIA itself, Jones fights with a bipartisan committee to publish his 6,700 page (!) report that reports just how unethical the CIA was.

 

Driver has staked himself as one of the most grounded, miraculous actors working in Hollywood today. There’s scrupulous detail into every tactic he plays and every word he says. His performance as Jones is among his best to date.

 

The last 15 minutes feel less impressive than the fight that comes before it, but the end result is still an engaging drama that marks screenwriter Burns’ directorial debut a success.

#8 - Just Mercy

80 of 100, 3 stars

PG, 2hrs 17mins. Biography Crime Drama.

Written and Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.

 

Date/Time: Friday January 10th, 3:20pm

Cost: $9.80

Seen Where: Landmark 10 (Waterloo, ON)

Seen With: Sarah B. (Friend)

Just Mercy is a universally appealing story to tell and it’s told very well. Brian Stevenson’s (Michael B. Jordan) legacy is pretty incredible, and it’s unquestionably affecting to learn about his first cases in Alabama in the early 90s.

 

His first client was Walter McMillan, played by Jamie Foxx in one of the year’s best supporting performances. Foxx hasn’t displayed this rigour, concentration and heart since winning his Oscar for Ray.

 

Its weakest moments are formulaic like inspirational legal dramas can be. It also takes a bit too much time for Stevenson’s other clients, though Herbert’s prayer scene is notably affecting.

 

What makes Just Mercy special is its astounding likability. 99% of audiences are reporting positive acclaim for the film, and my screening’s audience routinely vocalized their hope and excitement for Stevenson to prevail in his cases. Seeing the purity of the justice in pursuit, it’s hard not to root for the Equal Justice Initiative. It’s a great cause with a great story.

#9 - 1917

95 of 100, 4 stars

14A, 1hr 59mins. War Adventure Epic.

Co-Written and Directed by Sam Mendes.

Starring George MacKay and Dean Charles Chapman.

 

Date/Time: Saturday January 11th, 3:35pm

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Paul C. (Grandfather)

Marvellous in many ways, this could be the best war film in 20 years. It’s got the same eye for detail and gripping excitement as Saving Private Ryan. Ultimately, it’s about the cost of war rarely justifying the fighting that goes on the ground.

 

Based on a story told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather in the first world war, two soldiers are tasked with delivering a message to another battalion in one day. If they succeed, they save the regiment from walking into a trap that would kill 1,600 men.

 

The coolest part of the cast is the cavalcade of talented cameos that are scattered through Will and Tom’s journey. Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong and Claire Duburcq all get scene-stealing surprises. There’s also one more (my favourite) I won’t name simply so it isn’t spoiled.

 

Roger Deakins’ awestruck cinematography plus Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales’ production designs are great. The real superstars are star George Mackay and director Mendes. A film this meticulous is clearly the work of a director who had a creative and clear vision with a solid plan to deliver it.

 

1917 was technically released last year, even if it only had its wide expansion to most theatres now. But this is the first unmistakably outstanding movie of 2020.

#10 - Uncut Gems

75 of 100, 3 stars

18A, 2hrs 15mins. Crime Comedy Thriller.

Directed by Joshua and Benny Safdie.

Starring Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel and Kevin Garnett.

 

Date/Time: Sunday January 12th, 9:20pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Playhouse Cinema (Hamilton, ON)

Seen With: Self

Weirdness is excused here because it’s exercised so tastefully. The script is wacky with the energy of a thriller, and the story somehow fuses politics, gangster crime, sweet romance and sports drama all into a handsome package.

 

It stars Adam Sandler in an incontestable career best performance as Howard Ratner. He’s a jewelry store owner in New York, and he’s desperately trying to balance his family, business, mistress, gambling addiction and his new friend Kevin Garnett. But all that changes on the precipice of two potentially life-changing deals.

 

The sound editing is surprisingly weak and distracting. Especially in the first hour of the movie and the penultimate scene, the (very cool) musical score heavily overpowers the spoken dialogue. In a couple scenes we can’t hear a word the cast is saying, and that’s a crime with such a rich screenplay.

 

Nearly all the other elements range from good to enormously compelling. It’s an excessive film, but it also has strong ideas on how to manage our demons. But there’s also an important lesson posed by a question Howard faces: is there a difference in the right way and the best way to be accountable for greed and our shortcomings?

#11 - Like a Boss

30 of 100, 1 stars

14A, 1hr 49mins. Comedy.

Directed by Miguel Arteta.

Starring Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek.

 

Date/Time: Monday January 13th, 3:30pm

Cost: Free (Voucher Used)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

In the first straightforward comedy of the year, Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) are lifetime best friends who have their own cosmetics store in Atlanta. When mogul Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) invests, she tries to split up the friendship and take over the business.

 

Almost all of the story is filler content or short scenes that simply show Mia & Mel spending ordinary time together. The best movies are about the most important events in the lives of the characters on screen. Half of this film is the exact opposite. The other half has a stunning number of vagina-themed jokes.

 

With a film that (excluding credits) is less than 80 minutes, it’s disappointing when less than half has anything to do with plot. There’s three different party scenes in the first half hour. Most of the conversations are just supposedly funny banter. Of the five people in my screening, I was the only one who chuckled a few times. None of the women laughed.

 

Director Arteta has made some warm and genuinely funny movies. This is not one of them. While the last 20 minutes has some more personal and interesting conflict, and while the final make-up scene has some dramatic heft, it’s too little too late.

#12 - The Song of Names

40 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 54mins. Drama.

Directed by François Girard.

Starring Tim Roth, Clive Owen, Saul Rubinek and Catherine McCormack.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday January 14th, 4:00pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Queensway (Etobicoke, ON)

Seen With: Self

Martin (Tim Roth) is a classical music producer in London who in 1985 meets a student who may have known his former best friend from 30 years ago. His friend Dovidl (Clive Owen) disappeared before his debut concert, and 30 years later Martin wants to find out what happened.

 

Holy flashbacks would be an understatement. The time period in Martin and Dovidl’s career and friendship switches every five minutes, constantly flipping between four different stories, muting the effects of any earned emotional investment.

 

It ultimately builds towards two scenes of musical performances that are equally affecting. The final performance when Dovidl finally plays his violin is nice, and it’s heartbreaking to finally hear the titular “Song of Names.” But it doesn’t justify sitting through the first hour and a half to get there.

 

This is the kind of conflict-free war dramas that has too little to do with the war or the drama affiliated with it. Other than being reminded of the injustice and healing WW2 caused, we learn nothing special from Dovidl’s story.

#13 - Weathering with You

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 52mins. Animated Fantasy Romance Drama Epic.

Written and Directed by Makoto Shinkai.

Starring Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri, Tsubasa Honda and Sakura Kiryu.

English starring Brandon Engman, Ashley Boettcher, Lee Pace, Alison Brie and Emeka Guindo.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday January 15th, 10:00pm

Cost: $10.05 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

This is was among the most exciting animated premieres of the last few years. CoMix Wave Films, the Tokyo studio that produced director Shinkai’s runaway hit Your Name, also produced Weathering with You.

 

Hodaka is a 16-year-old who runs away to Tokyo as it experiences suspiciously large rainfall. After struggling to find work, he meets a new friend Hina and learns she’s a sunshine girl - someone who can change the weather by praying. Soon they start a business to bring back the sun, but that’s just the beginning of Hina's new life.

 

Shinkai’s desire to make traditional animation and write original stories are admirable. What he does best is crafting stories with dramatic integrity that also carries a good reason to use animation as its medium.

 

The simple premise gradually evolves into a brilliantly intense plot with clever surprises. It’s not quite as shocking or grandiose as Your Name, but fans of Shinkai’s last film will be in for a special treat. Like what A Bug’s Life was to Pixar after Toy Story, while this film is just shy of mastery from the premiere, it’s still extraordinary art.

 

Weathering has a wise commentary about children on their own, environmental ethics, and the responsibilities we have to those we love. Despite being a family film, the themes and minor language make this best suited for those 13 and up. Ultimately, this is a striking work about what defines a family in world of scary changes.

#14 - Underwater

55 of 100, 2 stars

14A, 1hr 34mins. Sci-Fi Disaster Horror.

Directed by William Eubank.

Starring Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie

and T. J. Miller.

 

Date/Time: Thursday January 16th, 8:00pm

Cost: Free (Voucher Used)

Seen Where: Cineplex Burlington (Burlington, ON)

Seen With: Self

There’s a lot more to like than dislike here. Six employees on a drill rig deep underwater are left behind when the others either escape or are killed in an earthquake. Now they need to face the pressures of air, sea, and something lurking to get to the surface.

 

Many of the visuals are less distracting and incoherent than the trailers suggest. Director Eubank is a steady hand at crafting an interesting adventure. Underwater also makes a great case for being on film. The horror elements are actually done effectively, and the premise is great for a suspenseful film that’s sustained for 90 minutes. 

 

The arrival of the sea monsters are less exciting to watch, though. The film would’ve been much better if it had just been the escape story from the mismanaged underwater station. It’s a hokey story that follows decades of surprise monster movies, and the creatures are in it less than half an hour.

 

What could have been a surprise hit turned out to be simply be an okay horror with a few strong elements. It’s interesting to watch, sure. But unlike the ocean the cast is trapped under, it’s a bit shallow under the surface.

#15 - Dolittle

20 of 100, 1 stars

PG, 1hr 41mins. Family Adventure.

Co-Written and Directed by Stephen Gaghan.

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Emma Thompson, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent and Antonio Banderas.

 

Date/Time: Friday January 17th, 1:20pm

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Dylan M. (Friend)

Dolittle is a thinly plotted disaster with a juvenile screenplay and hundreds of millions more money than brains. It’s in the correct time setting of the source novel, but is otherwise a colourful, overproduced mess that’s endlessly boring.

 

Dr. John Dolittle (Downey Jr.) is on a quest to find the mythical Eden tree to find a fruit that will heal her majesty the Queen. All other action that encompasses the story is the humans talking about who loved Dolittle’s estranged wife the most or the animals providing colour commentary like first-day-on-the-job sports announcers.

 

Seriously - why are the animals so heavily advertised as characters when they do almost nothing except stand next to the humans and watch? Why don’t they ever have anything interesting to say? The likes of several talented actors and comedians are wasted by forcing them to recite over scripted garbage. (And that’s saying something - co-writer/director Gaghan won an Oscar in 2006 for his screenplay of Syriana.)

 

I did some research and found that between the 16 top-billed characters in the huge ensemble (6 humans and 10 voiced animals), the principal cast has a whopping 20 more Oscar nominations among them with another 7 wins.

 

And what does all this talent have to show for? A fart and poop joke filled mess in some bright, exotic sets with occasionally unfinished CGI effects. You something went wrong when John Cena as a polar bear in a toque is the most memorable part.

#16 - I Lost My Body

75 of 100, 3 stars

14A, 1hr 21mins. Animated Drama Sci-Fi Romance.

Co-written and Directed by Jérémy Clapin.

Starring Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois and Patrick d’Assumçao.

English starring Dev Patel, Alia Shawkat and George Wendt.

 

Date/Time: Saturday January 18th, 10:00am

Cost: Included with Subscription (Netflix)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Self

Here’s a weird concept as far as an animated film goes: a hand has been accidentally severed from its body and it’s trying to find where it came from. Meanwhile, a carpenter’s apprentice falls in love with a customer while on a delivery.

 

The scenes of adventure when “the hand” is travelling through Paris on its obscure quest are the most interesting and creative. There’s some real inventiveness in how the camera is used to capture the hand’s movement - including an awesome POV trying to escape from under the ice in a frozen pond.

 

It’s that kind of action and interaction that lends itself best to animation as a cinematic vessel. The trouble is most of the 75 minutes offers minimal action and interaction to begin with. The romance and sci-fi expedition don’t mix until the end.

 

Some of what goes on are memories or short discussions as opposed to concrete events. The episodes are interesting and suggest very real stakes to be conquered, and there’s a good reason why it’s edited this way. But this quaint, introspective film could be misconstrued as disjointed.

 

While the violence and sex steer this far away from a family film, like most French cinema, it’s not grossly inappropriate for anyone 12 and over. The title has a deceptively smart double meaning. And speaking of doubles, for a neat experience, viewers on Netflix can switch languages between its original French and native English. It’s neat to compare and contrast the versions for a more diverse story.

#17 - A Fall from Grace

40 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

14A, 2hrs. Mystery Thriller Drama.

Written and Directed by Tyler Perry.

Starring Bresha Webb, Crystal Fox, Phylicia Rashad, Mehcad Brooks, Tyler Perry and Cicely Tyson.

 

Date/Time: Sunday January 19th, 7:30pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Netflix)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Self

The basic story is a public defender (Bresha Webb) taking on her first big case defending innocent murder suspect (Crystal Fox). Two hours are spent on relentless exposition and a shocking number of on-screen continuity errors, but that’s attributed to writer/director/entrepreneur Perry’s public admission the movie was filmed in only five days.

 

Perry’s screenplay is so derivative you can predict the words every character will say it before they do. The villainous state lawyers are cartoonishly heartless and the despairing family is overly desperately. It’s hard to build an emotional with the audience when the lines make it so tempting for the cast to overact.

 

Fox’s Grace Waters is the notable exception. Rashad and Tyson are dynamite performers with great discipline, but Fox is the one who has the most material to shine with. Sadly, it’s still not enough for the drama to elevate beyond dramatic. One scene even plays the sound of applause despite the crowd on screen not clapping.

 

Similar subject better was done with better tact and more vulnerability in last week’s Just Mercy. This isn’t an objectionably bad film. This isn’t the gripping case, however, for the pitfalls and overlooked bias in American justice it wants to be.

#18 - Bad Boys for Life

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

14A, 2hrs 4mins. Comedy Action.

Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.

Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Paola Nuñez, Joe Pantoliano, Vanessa Hudgens and Jacob Scipio.

 

Date/Time: Monday January 20th, 4:15pm

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Self

In the series’ long awaited third instalment, Miami detectives Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) are facing the inevitable change in the careers. When Mike is targeted by an old threat from Mexico City, Marcus comes out of retirement to solve one last case - even though both partners are keeping a secret from each other.

 

Bad Boys for Life is relentlessly entertaining and the kind of action movie you can’t help but smile through. While Lawrence has a slight comedic edge, he and Smith have a trusted, authentic friendship that explodes off the screen. 

 

The real plot and tight action sequences don’t really start until 45 minutes in, but the pace keeps going once it starts. There’s a few interesting twists and events, and elevated stakes beyond the first two movies. Delirious fun still needs smart editing (like the Jump Street movies) to be a fully formed work.

#19 - Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior

50 of 100, 2 stars

14A, 2hrs 15mins. War Action History Epic.

Co-written and Directed by Om Raut.

Starring Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol and Sharad Kelkar.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday January 21st, 12:00pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

I’ve never seen a Bollywood film in theatres before, but this was a highly enjoyable experience. The war epic is based on India’s 17th century history of Maratha captain Tanhaji Malusare (Ajay Devgn) leading the re-capture of Kondhana fortress. There’s several historical inaccuracies, but none so far you couldn't say this isn’t history.

 

The sheer spectacle of Tanhaji is remarkable. The sets, visual effects and furiously choreographed action sequences alone are worth the ticket price. Devgn also is a bona fide star as the titular hero, doing stunts, song, and serious acting. Once you throw in those catchy, pulsating musical numbers, the film is a true extravaganza that’s dazzling to see. 

 

Unfortunately, the dialogue is thin and hokey. The story’s structure is too long and built similarly to a circus rather than a dramatic war film. Long scenes of great pizzazz are cut with even longer scenes of subplot that are there simply to expand the world beyond what’s necessary.

 

Tanhaji would be more cohesive if it was 20 minutes shorter and focused more on the quest to save the Maratha instead of the too big (albeit talented) cast surrounding him and his foes. Watching the movie itself would be a 9/10, but the bones of its story are significantly weaker. Even so, the show is enough for me to highly recommend seeing it.

 

Bong Joon Ho said in an award acceptance speech for Parasite last week, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Tanhaji is the beginning of that testament in my year-long experiment.

#20 - The Turning

20 of 100, 1 star

14A, 1hr 34mins. Mystery Horror.

Directed by Floria Sigismondi.

Starring Mackenzie Davis, Brooklynn Prince, Finn Wolfhard and Joely Richardson.

 

Date/Time: Thursday January 23rd, 9:45pm

Cost: $10.05 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Oakville (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

Set in 1990s Maine, The Turning is the story of Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw in a revamped set. Beyond some character names and the basic premise of ghosts among a governess and children, this new film lacks all dramatic interest. Verbose as the book is, at least James’ writing has an eventful spine.

 

Almost nothing happens in the film; it’s astonishingly eventless for a motion picture. Many of the obvious conversations that help build to the final chase scene (and bizarrely inappropriate ending) are used just to extend the run time. Brooklynn Prince's (of The Florida Project) Flora comes closest to interesting.

 

What’s most disappointing is how it’s tepid instead of suspenseful or scary. The only attempts at actually scaring the audience are blasts of loud, startling noises. This same technique gets played dozens of times, and after half an hour we’re desensitized to it. The film only has a PG-13 rating in the US and it shows - even after all the sudden sounds there’s no payoff at the end.

#21 - Great Bear Rainforest

75 of 100, 3 stars

G, 43mins. Family Nature Documentary.

Directed by Ian McAllister.

Starring Ryan Reynolds.

 

Date/Time: Friday January 24th, 11:00am

Cost: $9.00

Seen Where: Ontario Science Centre Omnimax (North York, ON)

Seen With: Self

Ian McAllister’s nature documentary revolves around the Northwest coastal zone of British Columbia, appropriately named the Great Bear Rainforest. While the star is a spirit bear named Mox, there are a few other species of bears, several other native animals, and the indigenous scientists who are working to preserve the rainforest in a changing world.

 

Much of the film is well balanced. The two most interesting subjects are Marvin and his 12-year-old son Nelson, learning about spirit bear research from his father. The parallel between Marvin and Nelson with Mox and her daughter shows the inter connectivity of the Pacific Temperate Rainforests and the surrounding ecosystem.

 

Hans Zimmer’s score is an energizing mix of rock, indigenous folk and classic orchestral power. Ryan Reynolds (a Vancouver native) is the perfect choice for a narrator, and his balance of warmth and coolness together is a natural fit for the environment and subject matter.

 

Best of all, the expansive cinematography is greatly eye-popping in IMAX. Much of the technical skill is owed to producer Macgillvary-Freeman, undoubtably the leaders in creating these kind of nature films for museums. It’s not really about the bears - it’s about the whole rainforest. But the bears are also pretty entertaining.

#22 - Volcanoes: Fires of Creation

45 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 42mins. Nature Documentary.

Co-Written and Directed by Michael Dalton-Smith.

Starring Carston Peter and Ross Huguet.

 

Date/Time: Friday January 24th, 12:00pm

Cost: $9.00

Seen Where: Ontario Science Centre Omnimax (North York, ON)

Seen With: Self

Carston Peter is a National Geographic photographer who specializes in capturing volcanoes. We’re joining him in Vanuatu on his latest trip, and along we way we also get to see some of the most famous volcanoes in the world.

 

Peter is a great photographer - but the striking visuals don’t match the shape of the Omnimax’s screen. In fact, some of the images were so warped they’re strangely cut off in the corners or on either side of the screen. The scope and scale of the image is supposed to be what makes the movie impressive.

 

As far as documentaries go, this one is surprisingly free of facts. We don’t learn about the history or structure of the volcanoes we see on screen - we just know they all have good soil and they can easily destroy nearby cities. What makes each of these special? More importantly, what new things can we still learn from them?

#23 - Superpower Dogs

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

G, 47mins. Family Action Anthology Documentary.

Directed by Daniel Ferguson.

Starring Chris Evans.

 

Date/Time: Friday January 24th, 2:00pm

Cost: $9.00

Seen Where: Ontario Science Centre Omnimax (North York, ON)

Seen With: Self

Superpower Dogs is an inoffensive and uplifting display of some hardworking emergency services and some equally hardworking dogs. I’m not much of a dog person, but the dogs featured here have some impressive trained abilities.

 

The main story is about Cat, a response team leader for an elite disaster crew in Miami. After meeting a young puppy named Halo, they spend the next two years training to join the rescue station as a search and rescue team - while being inspired by other rescue dogs around the world.

 

A thin Marvel connection (aided by Chris Evans and his crisp narration) is unnecessary, and the storyline is a bit choppy. The film feels more like five short films squished together, with Cat and Halo’s story simply getting a few segments instead of one. But the individual stories are all enjoyable - and I really liked how each one broke down a new science about what the dogs can do.

 

Anyone with a jaded attitude towards dogs will hate the dynamic heroism Ferguson is trying to instil the audience with. But falling short of inspiring doesn’t overwhelm the still interesting and well-presented accomplishments of Halo and her friends.

#24 - Troop Zero

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 34mins. Drama Comedy.

Directed by Katie Ellwood and Amber Templemore-Finlayson.

Starring Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis, Jim Gaffigan and Allison Janney.

 

Date/Time: Saturday January 25th, 11:30pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Amazon)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Self

It’s 1977 Georgia and a young girl named Christmas (Mckenna Grace) dreams of going to outer space. When a NASA scientist sponsors a Birdie Scouts prize to record a message bound for the cosmos, Christmas rallies a bunch of misfits to start Troop #0 and win.

 

Writer Lucy Alibar is known for the Oscar nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild (remember that? heard of it?), also about a young girl in the south with fantastic dreams. Alibar has mastered the art of writing for children in a naturalistic way that’s also stupendously entertaining.

 

Troop Zero falls short in not being about many big ideas. It’s fun, has good morals, and the cast has their hearts on their sleeve. But beyond being bright and spunky, there’s no greater purpose to its existence.

 

Still, there’s some serious girl power at work here between the directors, writer and cast. Viola Davis and Allison Janney as rival scout leaders are perfectly matched. It’s a pleasant film that’s easy to see, and unremarkable doesn’t discount its merit badges.

#25 - Diet Fiction

35 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

G, 1hr 24mins. Documentary.

Written by, Directed by and Starring Michal Siewerski.

 

Date/Time: Sunday January 26th, 6:45pm

Cost: Included with Subscription (Amazon)

Seen Where: Home, Oakville, ON

Seen With: Cathy (Mother)

Diet Fiction is the personal research project of filmmaker and health enthusiast Michal Siewerski (Food Choices) as he tries to debunk certain myths about what the healthiest diets for people are. (Spoiler alert: it’s plant-based.)

 

The choppy editing and repeated stock footage that doesn’t compliment the narrative makes it feels less like a movie and more like a video PSA made as a project in a middle school health class. There’s a lot of truth to the information Siewerski is presenting. It’s just being presented in a truly awful way.

 

Where are the sources behind the information? How come so few subjects are medical doctors? It’s not being presented in a linear fashion, and the introduction of new topics every 10 minutes sucks out the entertainment value. Each new “myth” is only briefly glossed over before we see yet another generic interview snippet.

 

Netflix co-produced another documentary, The Game Changers, that also highlights the necessity of plant-based diets. What makes The Game Changers so much better is they explain and source the science, following it up with original video and actual experiments they themselves conducted. I highly recommend seeing it instead.

#26 - The Gentlemen

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

14A, 1hr 55mins. Comedy Drama Crime.

Written and Directed by Guy Ritchie.

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan and Hugh Grant.

 

Date/Time: Monday January 27th, 1:00pm

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Self

Truthfully, I’ve never been a fan of Guy Ritchie’s films. Snatch was still his best, but even that’s just okay, boasting more clever editing and style than substance or real entertainment. But I’ll say - after 25 years of forgettable, overpriced studio movies, Ritchie has finally made a great movie.

 

He’s made a gangster movie so ludicrously fun and clever it’s hard not to smile at the charisma and calmness that gushes off the screen. What makes The Gentlemen so much better is that it’s smart and clever without trying to show off to the audience; it’s modest nature and naturalism make it easier to watch. But more importantly, it makes the audience genuinely want to know what’s happening next.

 

The whole cast is terrific, including the best work from Matthew McConaughey in years. It’s also the first time I’ve been impressed in a performance from Charlie Hunnam or Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant is wickedly unrecognizable.

 

Years of experience and maturity have finally taught Ritchie how to write an inventive script and use controlled direction to make an entertaining film. Best of all, he doesn’t sacrifice any of the classic elements that make gangster movies cool. The sets, the props, the fights, the stare downs, and the grubby deal-making - these are "gentlemen" who aren’t quite behaving as they seem. And you’ll love finding out why.

#27 - Panga

70 of 100, 3 stars

G, 2hrs 11mins. Sports Comedy Romance Drama.

Co-written and Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari.

Starring Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill, Yagya Bhasin, Richa Chadda, Megha Burman and Neena Gupta.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday January 28th, 3:45pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

Finally a romance film - my favourite genre. And this one is great to boot. Panga is the kind of film it’s sad that more mainstream audience don’t see. It’s about Jaya (Kangana Ranaut), a former captain of India’s national Kabbadi team (a popular east Asian sport.) After years of raising her son, her son encourages her to make a comeback and finally win a championship.

 

There’s a lot to like in the film, but most of all is Ranaut’s performance as Jaya. It’s always impressive seeing actors with multiple talented cultivated in one work, and her execution of character, comedy and sport is a knockout. Bonus points on making a drama that's appropriate for all ages.

 

You don’t need to be familiar with India or the sport of Kabbadi to appreciate the stakes in the movie - I wasn’t. The ending is predictable, and building to exactly where you expect. But forward, confident feminism as a theme in Hindi films is so rare, and it’s executed with such class that its sport and family story tropes are forgivable.

 

My favourite part was a 10-minute scene at the end of act one, when Prashant recounts the story of meeting and marrying Jaya to their son. What follows is a 10-minute montage set to a terrific score that follows the young couple navigate the first 5 years of their relationship, balancing career, family, love, sport, and duty together. It’s the best love story on film since Pixar gave us Up in 2009.

 

I love how wise and critically aware Tiwari was as a director, understanding why this Indian story was necessary and most dramatically interesting in both its Indian setting and for an Indian audience. That commitment to place both in the movie and for audiences is what makes great connections in movies.

#28 - Ip Man 4: The Finale

45 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 1hr 49mins. Biography Action Drama.

Directed by Wilson Yip.

Starring Donnie Yen, Wu Yue, Scott Adkins, Vanda Margraf, Vanness Wu and Danny Chan.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday January 29th, 9:40pm

Cost: Free (Voucher Used)

Seen Where: Cineplex Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self

For the final entry in China’s massive Ip Man franchise, the life story of Kung Fu master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) concludes with an over-dramatized episode where, after learning he has lung cancer, must find a school in San Fransisco for his son.

 

I’ll admit I haven’t seen the first three instalments, but these films are wildly popular in China because of the legacy Ip Man left in martial arts around the world, notably being the trainer of Bruce Lee. The choppy editing and acting style is cartoonish and far too stylized for the grandeur of Ip Man to shine. One big example: that schoolyard brawl is shamelessly cruel and hard to watch.

 

The martial arts on display are outstanding, and the fight choreography is matched only by the skill of the cameras that capture it. What baffles me is how these actors - who are clearly disciplined and have great physical control as fighters - can't translate that exercise into their bodies as characters.

 

However fluid their bodies are and whatever stamina they display, somehow their work as actors when not fighting are choked by stiffness and rigidity. Only a handful of scenes allow the vulnerability of the suffering American community to shine through. There’s a positive moral about how sport and art can overcome racism both then and today, but the hammy dialogue ruins that attempt.

 

This isn’t a bad movie. But you can’t take a movie seriously when it can’t decide for itself if it wants to be serious in the first place.

#29 - The Last Full Measure

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

14A, 1hr 55mins. Biography War Drama.

Written and Directed by Todd Robinson.

Starring Sebastian Stan, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, Samuel L. Jackson, Alison Sudol, Ed Harris and Bradley Whitford.

 

Date/Time: Thursday January 30th, 4:30pm

Cost: $10.05 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Colossus Vaughan (Woodbridge, ON)

Seen With: Self

This is the true story of pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) who in 1999 worked on a project to award the medal of honour to William H. Pitsenbarger, a US Navy pararescueman in the Vietnam War. 32 years after Pitsenbarger was killed in battle, his surviving family, friends and fellow soldiers aid Huffman to promote the man who, amazingly, impacted the lives of thousands. 

 

It’s amazing how this story hasn’t been told before, but I’m not sure film was the best way to tell Huffman and Pitsenbarger’s story. Yes, film has the widest accessability, but the linear episodes of research and boardrooms politics would’ve been better served as a novel or in live theatre; the stark humanity is somewhat lost in the production here.

 

The Last Full Measure succeeds on it’s awesome cast, including some dynamite monologues from acting heavyweights. Many of these performers could’ve called it in with a script this easy, but their patriotism shines through, especially in Plummer and Jackson. There’s also a breathtaking scene in a butterfly atrium I won’t say more about.

 

It’s worth the effort to see this limited release, and kudos to Cineplex for helping to produce the project after 12 years in production limbo. It’s an inoffensive war story about a really selfless man, but it doesn’t offer any elements that make it particularly special.

#30 - The Rhythm Section

15 of 100, 1/2 star

14A, 1hr 49mins. Thriller Drama.

Directed by Reed Morano.

Starring Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown and Tawfeek Barhom.

 

Date/Time: Friday January 31st, 2:20pm

Cost: $10.05 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

Based on the novel of the same name, the story is about a young woman named Stephanie (Blake Lively) in London who lost her family on an airplane that exploded in an accident three years ago. When she learns it was actually a planted bomb, she trains with a discredited MI6 operative (Jude Law) to kill the person who did it.

 

It’s sad to end the month on the most boring movie of the year so far. There’s no action or conflict in the first 45 minutes whatsoever, and we don’t even meet the villain until it’s almost over. You can see the twist coming a mile away, and the characters are all so relentlessly unemotional. There’s no tactics being shown, just stubbornness.

 

Director Reed Morano is best known for her Emmy-award winning work on The Handmaid’s Tale. But none of her composure or suspense translates here. The most admirable choice is showcasing Stephanie make her mistakes; that’s more relatable to most people who aren’t super-assassins. It’s too bad that changes by the movie’s end when she suddenly becomes a killing machine with almost no training.

 

Lively has certainly transformed for the part, but it’s impossible to overlook how slow-paced and painfully boring the story is. It’s just a thriller drama with no thrills and no drama.

© 2020 by TYLER COLLINS.

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