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#53 - The Invisible Man

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

18A, 2hrs 5mins. Thriller Sci-Fi Drama Horror.

Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell.

Starring Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman

and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

 

Date/Time: Sunday March 1st, 7:15pm

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Chris H. (Friend)

You know what’s really exciting? Seeing an actual reinvention of a concept that’s clear, coherent, well-produced and detailed. The Invisible Man is devoid all of gimmicks and eye winks to its classic 1940s character tropes. Instead, it’s a serious horror thriller that’s just scary enough to be entertaining without being exclusionary to milder audiences.

 

Writer/Director Leigh Whannell has made the most cautious and thoroughly planned film of his career. The story is now about Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) as she lives through the weeks following her leaving an abusive, physics genius boyfriend. After he supposedly commits suicide, it seems like his invisible presence continues to manipulate and try to influence Cecilia’s life.

 

The literal disquiet creates a, well, disquieting effect that continues to build for two hours. Whannell has effectively created a world with a true, invisible threat that somehow manages to get more exciting with every showdown. And that first escape sequence alone is a doozy - a highly effective opening sequence.

 

Throw in some absolutely incredible visual effects and Moss’ bone-chilling performance of remarkable control and Invisible Man has catapulted itself as the unquestionable best horror film of the year. And considering how many we’ve had so far, (it’s the most common genre of film I’ve seen in 2020 to date), that’s saying something. It’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller about how we can support those in trauma, and how we can collectively move on.

#54 - Emma

70 of 100, 3 stars

PG, 2hrs 4mins. Drama Comedy.

Directed by Autumn de Wilde.

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Mia Goth, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy and Miranda Bates.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday March 3rd, 7:00pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Cineplex Varsity & VIP (Toronto, ON)

Seen With: Self

Based on Jane Austen’s oft-overlooked novel, the titular Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy, in her wittiest and best role to date) is adapting to life alone at her Hartfield estate with her father (Bill Nighy), along with a new friend and a possible new love.

 

There’s lots of moments of great spontaneity and humour. Josh O’Connor’s Lord Elton and Miranda Bates’ Miss Gates are stupendously silly, but it’s Nighy’s Mr. Woodhouse who gets the most chances to show off his mastery of deadpan comedy.

 

I think Taylor-Joy is better suited than Gwyneth Paltrow was nearly 25 years ago in her own version of this story. The scenery is as stunning as the array of close-up shots on the characters in their best and worst moments. (It’s almost like the close ups are the cinematic equivalent of an author’s detailed descriptions in a novel.) These are certainly interesting people who exude Austen’s humanity. 

 

But why are these characters so special? That’s the final component that’s missing. Thankfully, most other things are in good standing that give this new Emma a clean, enjoyable gloss. One surprising touch of creativity is substituting score in some scenes for traditional Gaelic and English chants. 

 

On the whole, the 20 penultimate minutes lose the humour the rest of the film has. It’s hard to pass a solid judgement on Emma’s likability. But as Emma herself says when advising her friend Harriet on a marriage proposal, “I wouldn’t dare advise you either way. You must be the judge of your own happiness.”

#55 - Impractical Jokers: The Movie

35 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

14A, 1hr 33mins. Anthology Comedy.

Directed by Chris Henchy.

Starring Brian Quinn, Joe Gatto, James Murray and Sal Vulcano.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday March 4th, 5:20pm

Cost: Free (Voucher Used)

Seen Where: Cineplex Winston Churchill (Oakville, ON)

Seen With: Self

The Impractical Jokers are an internet sensation from the popular comedy website Funny or Die. Their first feature film is mostly comprised of recurring jokes and practical jokes similar to their online work, thinly veiled as a road trip from Staten Island to Miami for a party with Paula Abdul.

 

This is Hollywood’s annual instalment of vignette comedy posing as a feature film failing to tell a worthwhile story. Even Jackass’ Oscar-nominated Bad Grandpa had the same premise of a cross-country road trip full of jokes, but there was still a connecting line. This format hasn’t worked since Borat - and that was an anomaly because the standbys were never let in on the joke.

 

Where the Funny or Die comedians succeed, shockingly, is that the vignettes are very funny. What could’ve justified this as a movie is if they were funny BECAUSE it was on the big screen. Because it’s merely a series of scenes that could’ve been just as funny on a website, there’s no reason to pay to see it in a theatre.

 

These are fun guys to hang out with. Some of their comedic writing is also well structured, And seeing this does encourage me to check out their web show. And it’s still not enough to be a movie.

#56 - Clemency

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

14A, 1hr 53mins. Crime Drama.

Written and Directed by Chinonye Chukwu.

Starring Alfre Woodard, Wendell Pierce, Aldis Hodge, Richard Gunn and Richard Schiff.

 

Date/Time: Thursday March 5th, 5:30pm

Cost: $13.00

Seen Where: Bookshelf Cinema (Guelph, ON)

Seen With: Self

Chukwu’s sophomore work has a lot going for it. This fictionalized account of prison warden Bernadine (a brazing Alfre Woodard) caring for her inmates on death row is a gripping idea of what the reality of what examining the American death penalty must be like. The shake-up comes when, after a botched execution, Bernadine is preparing for the execution of Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge).

 

The well-rounded ensemble is heightened by the work of Woodard and Hodge in their starkly different fights over what is right and wrong. One thing oddly not examined is Chukwu’s colour conscious casting. The surprise performance, however, is a monologue cameo from Danielle Brooks coming to visit the prison, and listening to it will break your heart.

 

When the scenes hit, it’s really gripping stuff to watch. The pace of the film, unfortunately, is lethargically slow. Extended cuts of waiting and watching the characters simply think to themselves overstuff the otherwise interesting events leading up to Woods’ moment of truth. Woodard is a terrific star in a great drama, but unlike this year’s better edited Just Mercy, the pace keeps it from breakout greatness.

#57 - Onward

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

G, 1hr 43mins. Fantasy Family Adventure Comedy.

Directed by Dan Scanlon.

Starring Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez

and Kyle Bornheimer.

 

Date/Time: Friday March 6th, 11:00am

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Self

Disney and Pixar’s Onward is an adventurous delight that’ll dazzle your entire family. Don’t be fooled by it’s hokey premise or colourful gloss - this is far superior to your standard animated entertainment. Pixar hasn’t made an original title since 2017’s Coco, and this new quest movie reinforces the concept the studio is best when it creates brand-new works. (Imagine my excitement for Soul this June.)

 

The plot follows elf brothers Ian and Barley (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) on a quest to fix a spell. They live in something of a fantasy world with a Sim City metropolis twist. But if they can find a special gem, they get to spend a day with the father they lost as young boys.

 

There’s a lot of foreshadowing, and the screenplay is easygoing so you correctly guess why the driving lessons and spell casting is important. But then it ends up working in multi-layered, complex ways. Having intricately woven stories with surprises in plain sight are part of the fabric that makes Pixar films universally admired. 

 

That winning formula is very old-school Pixar (like A Bug’s Life or the original Toy Story) - and the title ingeniously alludes to more than one thing. At its core, Onward is an adventure about two brothers at odds with their father from the past and an uncertain future. More importantly, it teaches us how to go onward when we don’t know how.

 

Like 2013’s Monsters University, Scanlon’s first film at Pixar, both of them begin rather expectedly and as any typical animated movie might. But then something happens in the last 20 minutes, when an ending sticks the landing. What starts as benign and charming ends with a brilliant wallop - it’s one of the biggest cries I’ve ever had in a movie theatre, and a happy one to boot. 

 

The film only gets better and better, with a massive emotional bang at the end. It doesn’t hit the transcendent mastery of the lofty best in Pixar’s history. But there’s nearly nothing wrong with it - and it will go onward as one of the greats.

#58 - Greed

20 of 100, 1 star

14A, 1hr 44mins. Drama Disaster Comedy.

Written and Directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Starring Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shanina Shaik, Asa Butterfield and Shirley Henderson.

 

Date/Time: Saturday March 7th, 1:35pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Playhouse Cinema (Hamilton, ON)

Seen With: Self

Writer/Director Michael Winterbottom has created one of the most depressing and dangerously unhopeful comedies ever made. The fictional story is of Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan in an astonishingly unfunny part) who is a billionaire fashion mogul throwing his 60th birthday party. The film is supposed to be an exposing commentary on the exploits of he western fashion industry, but that’s not really clear until the end. And the film is so unlikeable that by then nobody still cares. 

 

The movie just very simply isn’t funny. Watching McCreadie constantly showing off his greed and short sightedness isn’t entertaining. His young hustle gives us something to cheer for, but the rest of the movie is just the older him being sad. Only Shanina Shaik’s Naomi gives us any hope for the future of the business, and even she has some demons to face come the film’s bleak ending.

 

One particularly awful scene are some rich relatives filming a reality show. They are trying to give food to Syrian refugees, then repeatedly taking it back and returning it to get the shot. It’s supposed to be a “comedic” situation spoofing the lack of empathy in the rich. But it’s not funny. It’s painfully cruel to watch, and renders the audience with a wave of sadness. 

 

The relentless cruelty of the rich characters is agonizing to watch. Greed is fully devoid of all comedy and commentary, leaving only a sad, discouraging mess that’s a mirror to the worst of people.

#59 - The Traitor

55 of 100, 2 stars

14A, 2hrs 31mins. Crime Biography Drama Epic.

Directed by Marco Bellocchio.

Starring Pierfrancesco Favino, Fabrizio Ferracane, Fausto Russo Alesi and Maria Fernanda Cândido.

 

Date/Time: Saturday March 7th, 4:00pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Playhouse Cinema (Hamilton, ON)

Seen With: Self

Finally coming to North American theatres following its debut in Europe last summer, The Traitor is an Italian crime biography of 80s mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) and his choice to begin co-operating with government authorities. It first premiered at Cannes, and its debut in Canada is a rare look into Europe’s art-house scene as a regular release.

 

Favino is an absolute powerhouse following Tommaso’s life. He’s in nearly every scene and he doesn’t skip one moment in two and a half hours. The cross examination scene is his best, and among the best in the film too. When Tommaso cries “Hypocrite” again and again, it means a powerful new thing when two sides of crime being using it both as their weapons and their shield.

 

Sadly, the rest of the epic doesn’t live up to Favino’s work. The musical score is overly dramatic and trying to give it a grander scale that the intimate, eerie tone of the film is calling for. Director Marco Bellocchio is trying too hard to impress us with a bombast of scenes and size for what is really a smaller, human drama. This is an epic of scope, not scale. Trying to make it feel “bigger” makes it feel hypocritical itself. 

 

Worst of all, it’s really slow. The editing doesn’t show action on the heels of what comes before it, and paying close attention to one focal character for so long is tiring. The performers are working hard (especially a smart part from Gabriele Cicirello as Benedetto Buscetta) but it’s too bombastic to be entertaining.

#60 - Disappearance at Clifton Hill

75 of 100, 3 stars

14A, 1hr 40mins. Mystery Thriller.

Co-written and Directed by Albert Shin.

Starring Tuppence Middleton, Hannah Gross, Eric Johnson, Andy McQueen, Noah Reid

and David Cronenberg.

 

Date/Time: Saturday March 7th, 7:00pm

Cost: $8.00

Seen Where: Playhouse Cinema (Hamilton, ON)

Seen With: Self

The coolest part of the movie is the use of clout and lights. Artificial lights, glows from windows, reflections in screens, and touristy gimmicks all mutate into eerie effects that arise and intensify suspicion around every corner. Blues, reds, greens, yellows - it’s appropriate the motel threatened to be sold is called the Rainbow Inn. Seeing the rainbows on screen illuminate one fact above all: nothing can be trusted.

 

I’ve found it surprisingly and disappointingly difficult to find more new Canadian releases in theatres, and especially finding ones that are accessible to general audiences. It makes sense the American cinema would be more prominently featured in the marketplace (because they make so much more to begin with) but the proportions are still grossly mismatched.

 

What this means is when a quality one comes along, its worth making an effort to see and paying for the ticket. Canadian companies only make good movies if audiences prove there's interest in their existence.

Full review coming soon.

#61 - Ice 2 (Lyod 2)

50 of 100, 2 stars

PG, 2hrs 15mins. Sports Musical Drama.

Directed by Zhora Kryzhovnikov.

Starring Alexander Petrov, Mariya Aronova, Vitaliya Korniyenko and Aglaya Tarasova.

 

Date/Time: Sunday March 8th, 4:30pm

Cost: $10.55 (Discount Ticket Voucher)

Seen Where: Cineplex Mississauga (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self

It’s a weird decision that after mother Nadia (Aglaya Tarasova) being the undisputed star of the first film Ice, she would be killed in the first 15 minutes of this sequel. Deadpool 2 famously killed the love interest in the first scene, but then she reappeared in scenes throughout the film. What Ice 2 has done would be like (somehow) killing Deadpool permanently in the first scene of his sequel, and then having a two hour movie without him in it at all.

 

Frankly, the custody drama is an interesting story. And the passionate rock/electronic musical numbers aren’t bad - and I believe sports and music are a more harmonious match than they often get credit for. But the pieces never come together in a way that makes sense. The too serious plot clashes with the too silly musical. Are we supposed to take the film seriously or is this a crowd-pleasing popcorn muncher?

 

The tonal shifts make it difficult to know how the film wants us as an audience to respond. That makes it unfortunately hard to enjoy - especially when the indecision lasts nearly two and a half hours long.

Full review coming soon.

#62 - The Way Back

80 of 100, 3 stars

14A, 1hr 48mins. Sports Drama.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor.

Starring Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Brandon Wilson and Janina Gavankar.

 

Date/Time: Monday March 9th, 9:15pm

Cost: Pass Used

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

Seen With: Self

Ben Affleck’s Jack Cunningham is terrific. In many films where’s he the bona fide star he tries too hard to be relatable by playing into easy tactics and shallow personalities. More like his best work, his humanity is stronger than a desire to act. When he is instead of wants, it’s powerful stuff. And that’s the kind of vulnerability that makes uninhibited drama like this both personal and interesting to watch.

 

The actual course of pain and what “coming back” is isn’t as it appears - the basketball is much less of what’s going on. The merge between Jack’s worlds really shines in one scene where he’s drinking to convince himself not to coach the team. It’s a quiet, melodious virtuoso from Affleck that shines in a sea of excellent drama.

 

Piano accompaniment is a great match for what we see and don’t see on camera too. It’s a powerful choice to let such simple sounds unscore the roar of school gyms, offices, bars and hospitals alike. Is this what the real sound of recovery is?

Full review coming soon.

#63 - My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

PG, 1hr 44mins. Animated Superhero Action.

Directed by Kenji Nagasaki.

Starring Daiki Yamashita, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Yoshio Inoue, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Yuka Terasaki

and Kenta Miyake.

English starring Justin Briner, Clifford Chapin, Johnny Yong Bosch, Dani Chambers,

Maxey Whitehead and Christopher R. Sabat.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday March 10th, 7:15pm

Cost: $8.09 (Gift Card)

Seen Where: Colossus Vaughan (Woodbridge, ON)

Seen With: Self

The film is unexpectedly enjoyable to watch. It’s action-packed, sincere, and the 2D animation is marvellously clean. It’s got the adrenaline pumping excitement of both great anime cinema and that of the source TV show.

 

MHA: Heroes Rising is bursting with youthful optimism and exuberance. The screenplay is so ridiculously juvenile and shallow, like that of most action TV anime - but it’s executed with passionate commitment from the voice cast that it’s easy to forgive.

 

The more you are willing to submit yourself to the teenage vibrancy and superhero silliness the more enjoyable the film is going to be. It’s a big crowd pleaser for the target audience, and the story is a great capstone to the series. But if you suspect this isn’t going to be your cup of tea, your suspicions will be right on target.

Full review coming soon.

#64 - I Still Believe

70 of 100, 3 stars

G, 1hr 55mins. Faith Music Romance Drama.

Directed by the Erwin Brothers.

Starring KJ Apa, Britt Robertson, Nathan Parsons, Melissa Roxburgh, Shania Twain, Gary Sinise.

 

Date/Time: Thursday March 12th, 9:50pm

Cost: Free (Scene Points)

Seen Where: Cineplex Courtney Park (Mississauga, ON)

Seen With: Self

The true story is about musician Jeremy Camp (played by Riverdale’s KJ Apa) meeting his eventual wife Melissa (Britt Robertson). Shortly after meeting in college, Melissa falls ill, and the pair of them navigate school, their families, the music industry, science and their faith to make sense of Melissa’s failing health.

For every set of unrefined and uninteresting movies of faith that get made, credit is due when one is made well. The film genre of faith (and especially christianity) often get used as crutches to sell tickets in theatres.

 

Even worse, sometimes the resolute faith is fraudulent and Hollywood’s glamorization is in fact the church’s self-pride. I Still Believe works best because it’s been crafted to avoid these hindrances. Devotion (both human and devine) are not the exclusive traits of the characters. Like real people, faith does not motivate every choice, and sometimes the make mistakes.

 

There’s a fine line between sincere and sappy, and I Still Believe somehow finds that balance. When the conflict evolves and changes beyond a simple fight, the stakes get higher. And when the story is about more than just the feelings of two people, it’s more interesting to see how things unfold. As Melissa jokes in one scene, “Is it about God?” - Jeremy interestingly replies “Not entirely;” unaware of what’s coming.

 

Melissa arrives at many composed ideas based on her situation. Towards the end, she observes that “Suffering doesn’t destroy faith - it refines it.” Faith-based films are all about their ability translate authenticity on to the screen. That’s why the subject traditionally works so much better in music and the stage than on film.​ But I Still Believe gets pretty darn close.

“If one person’s life changes because of what I’m going through,” Melissa says, “it will all be worth it.” That is true, powerful faith. Wether you believe in higher powers or not, you cannot deny the positive influence and steadfastness of such a statement. 

© 2020 by TYLER COLLINS.

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