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Oscars 2016 Shorts Reviews: Animation and Live-Action

Cinema

I’m lucky to be living in Vancouver. It’s one of the few cities one can be able to see the nominated shorts in a big-screen theatre. Gives me a chance to review them myself and even make a should-win pick for myself. This year is quite an array of nominees in both animation and live-action. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the nominated shorts:

ANIMATED:

-Blind Vaysha (Canada/France): dir. Theodore Ushev- This is a unique 2D animation story of a Bulgarian folk-tale. A story of a girl with one eye that can see the past and one eye that can see the future and cannot live in the present. The story also shows the attempts of others to fix Vaysha’s blindness. The linocut-style animation, however, was unique and had a lot of style and flare to it.

The story doesn’t really end. Instead the film ends asking the audience their perspective. It has a unique narrative point and I get why it’s done that way, but I often wonder if the film ended on the right note.

-Borrowed Time (USA): dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj – At first you’ll think this is a family-friendly story at the beginning but soon learn it’s not such as you move on. It’s a dark Western story of a man returning to the spot of a family tragedy from his childhood. The hurt comes back from it and he decides to do something drastic but something happens.

I have to admire Pixar animators Coats and Hamou-Lhadj for making a brief departure from their traditional family fare and doing something more mature under Quorum Films. No, it’s not R-rated like Pear Cider And Cigarettes but it’s dark enough to be adult. I think this short is most likely to upset my pick for the winner.

-Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada): dirs. Robert Valley and Cara Speller- Now this is a refreshing R-rated alternative. It sometimes reminds you of a Grand Theft Auto video game or the film Waltz With Bashir. However it is a personal story from director Valley. It’s a story that makes you wonder how far would you go for a friend? Especially if that friend is selfish, conniving, irresponsible and manipulative?

It’s a story that entertains and charms and even gets you to hate Techno too. Sometimes I wonder why was he friends with that jerk? I don’t know if it’s because it was set in Vancouver or because it was an R-rated alternative but it won me over and I make it my Should Win pick.

-Pearl (USA): dir. Patrick Osborne- This is the first VR short to be nominated for an Academy Award. A musician and his daughter travel in a hatchback with a song as a bond between the two. We see the two age, the daughter mature into a musician of her own and have her own version of the song. The viewer gets a 360 degree view of the whole 5-minute story.

Looks like something Richard Linklater would do. Actually it might remind you of Waking Life. An excellent short that’s entertaining and will touch you too. Might even make you go to iTunes and download No Wrong Way Home.

-Piper (USA): dirs. Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer- This is the short shown before Finding Dory. A baby bird looking for food on the beach with her mother looking on and guiding her. Pixar does it again by delivering a clever, charming, and entertaining short with the dialogue absent and the animation as detailed to a tee as it gets. It’s excellent, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from Pixar even with their shorts. Nevertheless this is my Will Win prediction.

And those are my thoughts for the Animated Shorts up for the Oscar. A lot of styles of animation between Canadian and American companies. All five were very entertaining. We’ll see who wins.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILMS

This year there are no films with English as the language of the majority. All five are from European countries. Here’s the rundown:

-Ennemis interieurs (France): dir. Selim Azzazi – A man from Algeria seeks to be a French citizen but the interrogator at immigration has big questions for him about meeting with a group of Algerian men back some years ago which led to him being arrested and imprisoned for two years. The interrogator keeps insisting he answers but he’s very reluctant to do so. Even to the point of neglecting his chances of French Citizenship. Why? What will make the man give his answers?

It’s a story that appears boring at first but grows with intrigue with each minute and with each new detail. The interest builds over time. It even makes you wonder why is he withholding the names of the other men? Feelings of brotherhood? Fear of retaliation from them? Also this may be about an incident in the past but it’s very relevant, especially with the Paris bombings happening in November 2015. This is my Will Win pick.

-La Femme et le TGV (Switzerland): dirs. Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff – Elise is a woman who wave her Swiss flag at the passing TGV train to Zurich every time it passes her house at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening . After that she bicycles to her job at the town patisserie. It’s her daily routine for 30 years; a routine she doesn’t want to change. One day, she comes across a letter that was thrown to her by a man who goes on that daily TGV. He’s a man from France looking for work. The two develop a friendship only by mail and packages. Over time she hopes to meet this man. Then one day the train stops coming. It’s changed route? How will she deal with the change? Will she ever see the man?

It’s a charming comedy that has you engaged with the character (based on a person who has existed and did wave her Swiss flag at passing TGV trains). Gets you thinking about the woman. Is she an eccentric? Is she naive? Lonely? Unpredictable ending but a happy one.

-Silent Nights (Denmark): dirs. Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson – Inger is a young Danish woman who helps at the Salvation Army during the day and looks after her ailing mother at night. Kwame is a Ghanian immigrant who came to Denmark for a better future and to support his wife and children at home. However he’s been left homeless and makes money from recycling.

They both meet as Kwame agrees to help. The two develop a mutual friendship and even progress into something more. However it’s put to the test when Kwame steals money from the charity to pay for his daughter’s malaria treatments. Even though Kwame is banned for life, Inger forgives him and still loves him. Then Inger’s mother dies and she learns about Kwame’s family in Ghana just as she learns she is pregnant. It’s over between the two. However Inger sees Kwame one last time where she gives him advice, and something else.

It’s obvious that this story is about the immigrant situation in Denmark and the difficultly of the times for all. It presents both Inger’s side and Kwame’s side. However it’s more. It’s about a love that’s true. Inger loves Kwame so much, she’s willing to forgive him for all the terrible things he did. It makes the choice she makes for her and her baby look like the right thing. This is my Should Win pick.

-Sing (Hungary) dirs. Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy – Zsofi is the new girl at a school. She most looks forward to singing in the choir. However on her first rehearsal, the instructor talks of a choir competition where the prize is a performance in Sweden. She also tells Zsofi her voice is not ready for the choir and tells her to lip sync. Along the way, Zsofi finds a friend in star singer Liza. The two become good friends. However Liza notices Zsofi not singing but others. When she brings this up with the instructor, she not only admits it but tries to convince the children it’s the right thing for the competition. All of which leads to a surprise ending and the ending you think is right.

Often I question what the point of this film is. Is it about competitiveness to the point the ‘lesser’ singers are not allowed to sing for the sake of the big prize? Or is it a reminder of Hungary’s past communist regime; of how those that fit in are allowed to and those that don’t aren’t, but make like everything’s okay?  Even the choir director could remind you of a communist dictator on retrospect. Whatever the point, the story was entertaining and sweet. Reminds you of the joys of childhood and the right thing paying off in the end.

-Timecode (Spain) dir. Juanjo Gimenez – It starts as a check for a woman on a security job during the day. One day she learns of a broken car light. Upon viewing the video of what happened, she sees the worker before her dancing before hitting the car. She decides to give him a dancing video of her own. Video after video follows. Then on their last day, magic happens.

At first you think the man is something eccentric but this story builds into something that ends on a bizarre note. A very good film.

And there are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts. Now remember both categories are the hardest to predict the winner. For example, last year the consensus of critics ranked Stutterer the least likely to win Best Live Action Short and it won. Even Annie wins for Piper and Pear Cider and Cigarettes are not a guarantee that either will win.

With my shorts predictions out of the way, I just have my main predictions for all the categories to deliver. But not before my last Best Picture summary. Coming up tomorrow morning.

 

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Oscars 2016 Best Picture Summary: Part 1

I know I’ve done individual reviews of Best Picture nominees in the past. This year I thought I’d try something new. I thought I’d do summaries of the nominees. Three blogs analyzing three of the nominees. It’s something new this year and I hope you like it. For my first summary, I’ll be reviewing the first three Best Picture nominees I saw: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight.

ARRIVAL

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Amy Adams knows how to communicate with aliens in Arrival.

When you learn Arrival is about aliens, I’m sure you have an idea of what you’d anticipate what a movie about aliens would be about. However, you’re in for a big surprise.

This is probably the first movie about aliens to earn a Best Picture nomination. The film appears to set up for a story that would most likely lead to big-time action sequences. Instead we get a film that’s very intellectual in dealing with aliens. Don’t forget Louise is a linguistics professor who was hired for this duty because of her language expertise. In this film, the focus is on communication. Louise has a way to communicate with the aliens and earn their trust even while those around her grow more hostile to the beings. Louise’s gift for communication goes beyond the aliens and she’s able to say to General Shang the words his late wife said to her. It’s like she has a sense for this.

Even with all this, the film is not just about aliens and preventing a human-alien war. The film is about Louise trying to heal after her daughter’s death. Her marriage is no more as well and she’s looking for her purpose. It’s even about Louise and her ability to foresee the future and the possibilities they can unfold. Louise is the central protagonist whom the whole story revolves around. She finds her true gifts at a time she least expects it and she’s able to find her life again. It’s almost like this alien invasion is like a godsend to her life. Right after her daughter dies, she learns of her purpose to the world and to others.

Denis Villeneuve did a top job of directing this film. He already has a reputation for films like Maelstrom, Incendies and Sicario. He’s also been hired to do the Blade Runner sequel. This film he directs is very tricky but he does all the right work for it. The script by Eric Heisserer is very smart and very deep. It does a very good job of getting the right moments of action and the right moments of drama pieced out.

The story also rested on the performance of Amy Adams. She knew the story was primarily about Louise and she had to make it work. Although the role didn’t have too much in terms of character development, her performance was solid and it held the story together. The supporting performers may not have had as big of roles but they still did well with their performances. Jeremy Renner definitely could have had more depth in his role. The music from Johann Johannson and Max Richter fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also excellent and just what the movie needed.

Arrival is a very intelligent movie. It’s an alien movie not like one you’d anticipate at first but you will leave the theatre pleased.

HACKSAW RIDGE

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Hacksaw Ridge is about Desmond Doss (portrayed by Andrew Garfield) in both his convictions and his sacrifice.

Mel Gibson is back. This time he has Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a war drama that’s about more than just the war.

This film makes for an interesting topic: conscientious objection. I know all about it. For years I went to a Protestant church where the people were known for their anti-war beliefs. Conscientious objection is something that’s bound to make one question their morals and even act out of hostility. I know that we have conservative pundits who insist that fighting in a war is the definition of patriotism and will even use scriptures to justify why was is the right thing. Upon release of this film, I was anticipating a conservative backlash against it. So far no ‘Diss The Doss’ movement has happened. No movement to have his Medal Of Honor posthumously revoked. Nothing. It’s a good thing because the film does make one reconsider what defines a ‘patriot.’ I’m glad this story was told.

One of the biggest complaints from conservatives in the last 40 years has been either the negative depictions of religion or lack of positive depictions of religion in movies. True, this is not the Hollywood where the Hays Code calls the shots. For those that read my review of Of Gods And Men, I have a quote from Barbara Nicolosi about why that’s the problem. That explains why it’s hard to get a pro-religion movie to compete for Best Picture nowadays. There’s a fine line of showing a film with a positive depiction of Christianity without it being schmaltzy, hokey or overly sentimental. Plus with all the ‘game changers’ in the last few decades, writing a winning script or creating a winning film is just that much of a challenge.

I feel they did a very good job in Hacksaw Ridge. It was a very good story of the persecution Desmond Doss had to face for his beliefs. It was a very gritty story of the war and all the damage it caused. Some say the graphicness was comparable to Saving Private Ryan. It was an honest portrayal about someone’s faith. However there was one point when I felt it was borderlining on hokey during the scenes of: “Please, Lord. Help me find one more.” I know that was something Doss said in real life but I’m just wondering if it could have been done better.

This film is the first film directed by Mel Gibson in a decade. I know he had to take a break as he had a very public meltdown with the things he said about others and problems with alcohol. You could rightfully call this film the redemption of Mel Gibson. He directs an excellent film that took a lot of effort to make. 14 years to be exact even while Doss himself was still alive going from one writer to the next until finally they had the right script and right story thanks to Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. Gibson and the writers did an excellent job with the film with the story and the depiction of war.

In addition, the story was made thanks to the performance of Andrew Garfield. This was more than just a war story. This was a story of a person’s heart and soul. Garfield knew he had to personify Doss in his convictions in order to make this story work. He did it excellently. It’s hard to pick out any supporting players who stood out. None of the roles of the supporting actors were as developed. However Teresa Palmer did a very good job as Dorothy Doss and portraying the concerned fiancee, as is Hugo Weaving as the father Tom Doss and Vince Vaughn as the hard Sargent Howell. The visual effects and the sound mixing were top notch, as it should be in a film like this. The score from Rupert Gregson-Williams fit the film excellently.

Hacksaw Ridge is a surprising film. Who would’ve thought that the best war movie in years would be about a man that didn’t fire a single bullet? Definitely a story worth telling.

MOONLIGHT

 

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Mahershala Ali (right) portrays a mentor to a boy named Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert at left) in Moonight.

At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.

This year’s surprise critical success is Moonlight. It’s a very unique film like no other seen this year.

The film is unique as it sets itself around three key periods in the life of Chiron. There’s his childhood where he’s known as Little, there’s his teenagehood where he’s simply known as Chiron and there’s his adulthood where he’s known as Black. The film does tell a story of a man who you think would die young. He has all the ingredients: gay, living in inner city Miami, a verbally-abusive mother addicted to crack, arrested at a young age and a future of being a pusher himself. Somehow he finds the will to survive. He’s able to withstand the bullying he faces for being gay, he’s able to decide his life to the best of his abilities without his mother. Often it’s not the best choices he makes in his life but he finds the ability to survive. You wonder how does he do that? Was it from that brief time with Juan and his mentoring? Was it the love from Kevin he always knew was there? I remember that scene of Little in the school dancing classes dancing like he was in 7th heaven: his escape from the bullying. Was it a spark within Chiron himself? Whatever the situation, it results in beauty at the end.

The film is not just about Chiron. As one can see, it showcases the lives of many different African-American people living in the inner city. It may show some of the more negative depictions like drug dealers, poverty and drug addicts but it also shows positive images too like in the case of Juan and his girlfriend or even in music being played. It showcases some surprising things as well as how Juan the pusher can be a very smart man. It even dispels some myths we have of inner city people. Like how Juan was good at handling Chiron’s homosexuality and gave him words of comfort while Paula acted out in hostility. Usually you’d expect ‘gangstas’ to have a homophobic attitude. It showcases what it’s like to be black and gay in the inner city. It also showcases people’s insecurities. It is overall one man’s attempt to find himself in the harsh world that he lives in. Yet despite all its harshness, it becomes something beautiful in the end.

The film is a triumph for Barry Jenkins. This is actually his second feature as a director. His first film, 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy, won a lot of attention and even earned him many directorial debut awards. Moonlight is only his second feature. This film which he adapts a script from a drama school project from Tarell McCraney is a masterpiece in both the story and its direction. The script is also excellent that there is not too much dialogue but is able to say lots even in the silent parts. Another quality of the film; it says a lot while saying very little. Overall the film is a real delight to watch and leaves one wondering what Jenkins will have next.

The three actors who portrayed Chiron– Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes- all did a very good job with the role and portraying him at the right ages. Mahershala Ali was excellent as Juan: the pusher who becomes a mentor to little Chiron for that brief period of time. Ali had to bring the right charisma and character for a role like Juan to work not just in his scenes but to have an influence throughout the whole film. He did a stellar job. Also excellent was Naomie Harris. Possibly the one actor or actress to be a part of all three scenes, Harris was excellent as the drug-addicted mother Paula. She had to go through three stages with her role from a simple crack user to a crack addict to recovering in rehab. Each time she had to give her role dimension and inner depth to keep it from being cardboard. She did excellent too. There were additional supporting roles that were also good like Janelle Monae as Teresa and Andre Holland as the adult Kevin.

The technical bits were also excellent. The film was edited very well, the cinematography from James Laxton was possibly the best of the year. The score from Nicholas Britell was excellent but the inclusion of track music from classical to Latin to funk to hip-hop to Aretha Franklin to Motown really added to the feel of the movie. Almost feels like an anthology. In fact that scene when Kevin sees Chiron (as Black) after so many years and plays the classic Hello Stranger is one of the best scenes of the film.

Moonlight is a story of a young black man coming of age in the big city but it’s a lot more too. Those who’ve seen it will know why this film is a masterpiece.

And there’s the first of my Best Picture summaries for this year. Next one coming up in a few days.

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

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Benedict Cumberbatch brings Doctor Strange to the big screen with his superpowers and fire magic.

I’ll admit I had my review of Doctor Strange started back when I saw it in November: Election Day to be exact. The reason for its late publish has a lot to do with my lack of ambition. Paying attention to my hit statistics and seeing how 2016 gave me my lowest annual hit stats since 2011 kept me from publishing. However the recent upswing of hits in January rejuvenated my blogging energy and I can finally publish my review!

Dr. Strange is not a new Marvel superhero. He first appeared in a 1963 addition of Strange Tales created to bring a different type of character and themes of mysticism to comics. It wasn’t completely welcome during its early years as some people thought those at Marvel comics must be on some kind of drugs. Dr. Strange would continue to have his own comic series for decades until the early 2000’s. Then he was placed as a supporting character in comic books of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers. Dr. Strange has been able to reclaim his own at the start of this decade.

Marvel faced a huge task in bringing a superhero most people are unfamiliar with and making them a household name. They’ve done it before, with The Guardians Of The Galaxy being the most recent example. However it’s still a case of hit-and-miss as last year Ant-Man didn’t get the success most were hoping for. 2016 has been a good but complex year for the Marvel studios. Their latest X-Men movie didn’t go off so well. Captain America: Civil War was a hit but it didn’t have the same muscle as past Captain America movies. Deadpool was a big hit, especially as an R-rated movie about an anti-hero, but Marvel still wants to excel in creating superheroes, especially in a family-friendly format.

Now in order to make Doctor Strange come alive on the big screen, Marvel had to create the right story. This is the first Doctor Strange movie so the origin is a definite must. Also a must is Stephen Strange’s personality as the surgeon who lives for the fame but is given a reality check after the car accident and subsequent adoption of a superhero persona. In addition, morals are necessary for superhero movies. It’s like my brother-in-law said today’s people are tired out with life. People want entertainment that gives us heroes to look up. I agree. Despite the onslaught of Deadpool, Suicide Squad and Sausage Party, people welcome heroes and are comfortable with seeing morals redeemed. It’s not like the 90’s where we all has an insatiable appetite for entertainment that was ruthless, obnoxious and appeared to be an artistic middle-finger.

However there were two major things needed to make Doctor Strange take off. The first was Benedict Cumberbatch had to make the character of Doctor Strange work. Cumberbatch had to be able to portray Doctor Strange’s pre-accident arrogance well and to make his change in personality transfer successfully. Cumberbatch was very good in portraying the character. The other major thing needed most for this movie is top-of-the-line visual effects. Already Doctor Strange’s unique superpowers mostly involve the use of pyrotechnics. They had to look like the magic they are. The shifts from one world to the next would also require top-of-the-line visual effects. If you saw the movie yourself, I’m sure you would also be dazzled by the effects of the film from the pyrotechnics to the various worlds to the freezing of time.

Although Cumberbatch’s acting and the visual effects were the highlights of the movie, it had a lot of other ingredients responsible for its success. Scott Derrickson did a very good job of directing. Derrickson has developed a reputation with directing and writing sci-fi movies in the past and he was the right man for the job here. The script he co-wrote with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill also had to be very good because this was one superhero movie that was not too heavy on the action and placed more emphasis on the story, putting the thriller emphasis more on the slow intensity of the moment. It even included some humor which Marvel likes to include in the first movie of one of their superheroes. They succeeded in accomplishing that. The supporting acting performances like Chiwetel Ejiofor as the mentoring Karl Mordo, Benedict Wong as a non-stereotypical Asian martial arts master, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One also mentoring Strange, and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, the woman who gives Stephen Strange his reality check, also added to the strength to the story. The music from Michael Giacchino also fit the film and its various moments well.

Doctor Strange was released at the right time. It was released in November when movie crowds are starting to grow again right after the end of the summer season. Usually November is the biggest movie month outside the summer. People are used to settling back to their routines and they can now go out for enjoyment. Dr. Strange won its opening weekend with a draw of $88 million and remained on top for another week despite challenges from Trolls and Arrival. Even after facing rivalry from the following weeks with new releases like Fantastic Beasts and Moana, Doctor Strange did strong spending seven weeks in the box office Top 10 and grossing $231.6 million in North America and almost $665 million worldwide. As the Oscar nominations have approached, its visual effects were nominated. If you remember the effects, you too would think they were some of the best of the year.

As for a possible Doctor Strange sequel, Derrickson talked of a sequel even a month before its release. He mentioned he had fun with the character. The success of it is the perfect green light for a future sequel.

Doctor Strange is the biggest debut movie for a superhero since the Guardians Of The Galaxy. In a year that was a bit of a struggle for Marvel, it delivered in entertainment and thrills.

VIFF 2016 Review: 1:54

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Antoine-Olivier Pilon (left) plays a gay teen who wants to settle a score with his bully (Lou-Pascal Trembley; right) in a track meet in 1:54.

As I’ve said countless times, Quebec is the leader in Canadian cinema. 1:54 is one of the latest to come from la belle provence and this is not your typical teen story.

The film begins with 16 year-old Tim returning to high school. The first back-to-school moment comes from Jeff, who has taunted him since the age of 12, throwing food at him and later posting the video of it on YouTube. It’s not easy for Tim to make new friends. He’s a gifted student who’s great at chemistry but it doesn’t attract too much appreciation despite the chemistry teacher’s encouragement. Life at home is difficult for Tim as he has been distant with his father since his mother died four years ago.

If there’s one escape from Tim’s problems, it’s with his friend Francis. He’s able to share Francis his second-biggest secret: he’s able to create a bomb. However Tim’s unable to share with Francis his biggest secret that he’s gay and attracted to Francis. Francis has been developing more security in being gay himself but that all changes after Jeff bullied Francis into admitting he’s gay. It upsets him to the point he jumps off a bridge, right in front of Tim.

Francis’ death affects Tim into questioning why he was always embarrassed about his sexuality. And right while a girl named Jen is taking an interest in him. Tim wants to get even with Jeff. Sure, he’s become friends with Jen who actually rejected a pass from him months ago. Tim actually decides the best way to get even is to get him where it hurts: in running. Jeff is a stellar half-miler who dreams of of making the National Championships. Tim was also a talented runner who even rivaled Jeff in the 800m at aged 12 but quit just after his mother’s death. Through the encouragement of a coach who knew him back then, Tim returns to running and to be the one qualifying for the Nationals instead of Jeff.

Finally we see a more positive side from Tim as he has something to chase. However it’s not without its troubles. Jeff still bullies him questioning his sexuality and it bothers Tim into making Jen look like his girlfriend in front of everyone, much to Jen’s discomfort. Tim is still distant with his father and has even kept his return to running a secret even from him. On top of that, Tim goes to a party where he receives a fellatio from another male and Jeff has it on videocamera.

Jeff thinks he can use the video to threaten Tim’s goals of beating him and it works, but temporarily as Tim resumes running with top-secret training drills from his coach and Jen as his training partner. The running goals even rekindle the closeness between Tim and his father as he’s back to supporting Tim in his running and delighted to see Tim happy again.

At the Provincial Championships, Jeff and Tim run separate heats and they both qualify for the finals both with the fastest times of the heats and only .02 seconds between them. This sets up for excitement for the final as the winner qualifies for the nationals. At the second turn, Jeff notices Tim in front of him and tells him to look to his friend. Standing by the side is the friend with the video waiting to download it. Tim is undeterred but before the final turn, the friend downloads the video right with Tim watching. The trick works. Tim slows down in embarrassment with Jeff coming through to win.

While Jeff is celebrating his win, the whole school’s track team gets the video on their phones. No doubt Tim is humiliated. There’s no way out. Even his father finds out. The father may be shocked to learn Tim is gay but he promises to be supportive of him. Despite Tim’s father, Jen and the coach trying to be supportive, Tim feels there’s no way out. Not while the video’s on YouTube and all over social media where Tim constantly gets taunted by everyone at school, including Jeff. Tim decides there’s only one way to end this all and it’s at Jeff’s celebration party at a night club. Tim decides it’s the perfect place to set off the bomb he showed Francis. The story leads into a heavily climactic ending that’s a surprise to all.

No doubt this film is full of topics. It’s about teen peer pressure, teen sexuality, depression, teen violence, teen competitiveness, but most noticeably bullying. A lot packed into one film. Yan England has even mentioned that he hopes this film stimulates a lot of discussion of the topics. No doubt it’s worth talking about.

It’s definitely a film that can bring back bad memories of high school to many. Especially me. I struggled with learning disabilities which were also behavioral disabilities. The behavior I displayed in a lot of cases would be cause for fellow teens to easily single me out. It doesn’t upset me as much but I’m still not happy about my past. In fact years ago, one person got on the topic of bullying and asked those in her conversation, including me, if we were bullied. I responded: “I was a bully’s delight,” with a smile of disgust. The craziest thing about the film is that it brought back a lot of the anger and frustration I had when I was a teen. Memories I thought I resolved those many years ago. What can I say? All I can say is high school never changes. Teens still think that mocking others different from the will make them look cool. Problem is it does make them look cool in front of their peers. I like the end when Jeff tells the police of the video: “It was a joke.” That common response from teens: “It was a joke.” They think it’s that easy to get off.

The frustrations Tim goes through are a lot of frustrations teens go through. Being bullied by someone for years can be a frustration one can have. The frustration of learning of one’s homosexuality can definitely be a frustration, especially since many teens are known to respond with hostility. Trying to be someone is a frustration most feel. It’s obvious Tim wanted to be somebody other than Jeff’s victim. Francis’ death made him want to get even with Jeff and he thought he could do it in track. He had what it took. Then the race. This was to be Tim’s chance to get even with Jeff for the many years of bullying and for Antoine’s suicide. Instead it became the creme de la creme of Jeff’s bullying and the biggest humiliation of Tim’s life.

You could easily see and feel Tim’s frustration at that moment. Even with the support of people like his coach, his father and Jen after the incident, it just bothered Tim so much, he snapped. I can easily remember about frustrations I went through as a teen and feeling like my situation was hopeless. It’s easy to forget your parents’ love for you or even support from your friends when this happens. It’s easy to see why Tim would snap and do this.

As for the film itself, this comes across as a conventional story at first and you think you know the ending when you see the track competition. However it’s right there when it becomes a new movie. That’s the best thing about the film: it’s like three films in one. Yan England is taking a lot of unorthodox, if not all that creative, steps in creating a film that’s unpredictable. The victory over Jeff we all hoped for all of a sudden turns into a worse situation for Tim. A surprise to all of us in the audience. That scene at the beginning where Tim shows Francis his bomb seems to be an irrelevant scene as time goes on until the very end. Even the scene at the end when we don’t know what will happen to Tim’s bomb will have you at the edge of your seats. However, I will say if the movie had the right scenes at the end. I’m thinking it could have ended better.

This is a very good first feature-length film for writer/director Yan England. Yan used to be a young actor in Quebec with the teen variety show Watatatow back in the 90’s. He’s moved into directing and writing. In fact his short Henry was nominated for an Academy Award years ago. Here he delivers a film relevant to what’s happening with teens and the subject of bullying. He shows how much bullying has ‘progressed,’ if you can truly call it that, with cybertechnology. He also does a very good job in creating three movies in one.

Antoine-Olivier Pilon delivers again in a character completely different from the one he played in Mommy. Instead of an eccentric, he plays a down-to-earth teen filled with anger and hurt but ambition. He also played the frustration parts in the last part of the film very believably. Another accomplishment for him. Sophie Nelisse was very good on playing the supportive friend. She shows a maturity since Monsieur Lazhar. David Boutin was very good as the father trying to be supportive and Lou-Pascal Tremblay was very convincing as Jeff. You will end up hating him! The techno music score in the film added to both the excitement and the drama.

1:54 is not your typical teen movie. It deals with a lot of serious issues very well, if imperfectly. It has some technical glitches but it does engage the audience and is worth seeing.

Summer Movie Summary: Superhero Movies

If there is one genre of movie that stands out during the summer movie season, it’s the superhero movies. Every year they win crowds and give them their enjoyment for the most part. For this summary, I will review two such movies: Captain America: Civil War and The Suicide Squad. Both are two different types of superhero movies in the way the people try to be heroes and with the comic franchises: Marvel vs. DC once again.

Captain America: Civil War

captain-americaWhile DC Comics has the two biggest superheroes, Marvel’s edge is its multitude of different superheroes: take your pick. This time around in Captain America: Civil War, the focus is on Captain America. Or is it?

Watching the film, I was expecting it to be a story about Captain America. You can imagine my surprise to see all the other Avengers characters. I was cool with it at first. However things started getting uncomfortable for me when I saw them take up so much screen time. They all took up so much time, I even questioned whether Captain America was even the lead role in the film. I even thought if it was to have one hero as the lead role, it should probably be Iron Man.

Nevertheless the film does have a lot of excellent qualities. The first is a story that is thought-provoking. There’s a situation where international rules are imposed on the Avengers. Right when an incident happens, it causes friction within the team and even division. The question remains of what is the right thing to do? The movie attempts to give you the answer. Virtues and morals are an uncompromisable ingredient in superhero movies no matter how much action is involved. Even top directors will say that the values of humanity are necessary for a winning superhero movie. Here we have a movie that gets one questioning what is the right thing to do considering the situation. That adds to the film as it gets the audience thinking.

Of course high-tech special effects and action battles are a must in superhero movies. The crowds come to get blown away. Captain America: Civil War delivers on such action just like most of the Marvel comic movies before it. It has moments that will leave you on the edge of your seat. In addition, it adds some comedy too as it gives us a young Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, as a preview for the new upcoming Spider-Man installment. Here Peter comes across as your typical young idiotic yuts. Gives anticipation of what to expect when Spider-Man comes out.

The Russo brothers return to direct the movie. They directed the last Captain America movie. They did a very good job of delivering another great superhero movie. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return with the Russos to write the latest installment. They did a good job despite the push of some actors to have more screen time. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. stole the movie and Chris Evans appeared to have a supporting role this time. The other actors did their parts well and didn’t appear to get into too much of the mix-up. The special effects delivered and Henry Jackson’s music added to the film.

For all intents and purposes, Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie in disguise. Don’t be fooled. However the quality of the story is maintained as it gives a thought-provoking story with the superhero action to deliver.

Suicide Squad

suicide-squadThere’s something about the knack to do an anti-hero movie. We saw that with Marvel when they released Deadpool. Now we see DC Comics making the attempt with the Suicide Squad. Do they succeed?

You’d think after Sausage Party, I’d start again on how this movie of a bad-guy superhero squad is trying to ‘bring back the 90’s’ but you’re wrong. A story where it takes bad guys and makes heroes out of them is actually a very common theme. It’s even been done in film as far back as the 1930’s as I once saw 1939’s Stagecoach take the outcasts of society and turn them into heroes. It’s a theme that has been done decade after decade. We see it done here again with the Suicide Squad. The people recruited to be part of the Squad are criminals and crazies that look like they deserved to be shunned away from society but an intelligence operative sees them as the right people for the job. They even make clear that they’re bad, not evil.

The ‘bad vs. evil’ theme is what makes this movie unique among the superhero movies of this year. Even from Deadpool. While Marvel’s Deadpool is about a selfish man who’s disinterested in being the superhero bestowed upon him, Suicide Squad is about a conscience present in even the baddest of badasses. A reminder that bad and evil are two completely different things. Don’t forget we’re dealing with a world where Superman is deceased, as exhibited in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice months earlier.

Now the Suicide Squad is not a team of badass superheroes created in vain after Deadpool: an attempt at having ‘anti-Avengers.’ It’s a team that actually debuted in DC Comics in 1959 in their monthly Brave And The Bold series and made a return in 1987 in their Legends series back then. The comic would be a monthly series that would issue for some months, end temporarily for a year or two and then make a comeback from time to time. Now seems like the right time to bring them to the screen. I must say their craziness and eccentricities were big time scene-stealers. While Deadpool mostly relied on the idiotic actions and lines from its lead characters, the characters of the Suicide Squad were more about their crazy and even eccentric personalities. That was their edge and I’m sure that’s what won the crowds to them this year. It’s no wonder it’s the 4th highest grossing movie of the summer.

This is David Ayer’s first attempt at directing and writing a superhero movie. He has a resume for writing and directing a lot of good police dramas and action movies in the past. However his experience doesn’t completely translate the best. Imperfections are easy to notice and it seems the movie does get a bit disjointed at times. Even in terms of the characters, there’s not that much depth to their roles and it often appears like the actors are trying to play characters more than acting out roles. I’ve noticed that DC Comics movies this year are lacking in terms of writing. It’s noticeable in Batman vs. Superman too.

Nevertheless the actors do deliver on character acting and that’s one quality I feel made the movie. In addition the actors succeeded in making characters you want to hate at first and then surprise you as they become heroes and then return as bad guys. Margot Robbie was the standout as Harley Quinn. Her character was the one that knew how to grab your attention, even upstaging Will Smith.  Others standouts include Jared Leto as the Joker, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and  Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. Visual effects were top notch and loaded with bright color that’s eye catching and very rare to see in most other movies, especially superhero movies. The mix of music was also an added quality. It seems like after Guardians Of The Galaxy, filmmakers are playing around and even experimenting with use of songs in the movies. Here they mix in music spanning five decades and it produces an entertainingly winning result.

Suicide Squad may be lacking in the script and in the editing but it’s the on-fire character acting, colorful visual effects and the eclectic music track that make the movie entertaining and a winner for the summer.

Sure, I only have two superhero movies in my summary of the genre but both do shed some light on the presence of the superhero movies of the summer and why they continue to win us over. They have spectacular action but they also test our conscience as well. I saw that in Batman vs. Superman earlier in the role of a superhero even after they cause destruction to do good. I see it again in Captain America as the Avengers question whether it’s right to break the law to do what’s right. I also see it in the Suicide Squad as outcasts get a shot at redemption and even remind themselves as well as others that they do possess a conscience and can even do what’s right despite their criminal minds.

Once again, the superhero genre remains one of the most winning movie genres of the summer. Even with the surprise success of Deadpool, families still come to the movies to see the good guys win. Some even like to get their ‘bad boy/bad girl’ kicks. All deliver in terms of action and a message.

Movie Review: Joy

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Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as inventor and Home Shopping Network personality Joy Mangano.

Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe you a thing.

I’m sure before you go to see Joy, you’ll think you’ve seen all the rags-to-riches stories you’ve had to. However you’re in for a surprise.

The film is first set in the 1960’s when Joy Mangano is a child. She’s very creative and very inventive. Fast forward to 1989. Joy Mangano is the breadwinner to a household of four generations of family: her grandmother, her divorced mother and father, her overachieving half-sister, her ex-husband and her two children. She works as a ticket agent at a major airline. Not exactly an admirable job for someone that was valedictorian when she graduated.

“How did it go wrong?” Joy ponders. She was an inventive girl but that all changed when her mother and father divorced. It was like her creativity went with her. She married a wedding singer with high hopes but his dreams fell apart and so did their marriage, albeit left amicable enough for him to still live in Joy’s house. Hey, he’s broke! Actually all the family’s lives appear unchanging as her father is dating the wrong women and her mother escapes the pain of divorce by locking herself in her bedroom and watching soaps. The one thing that stayed solid and has kept on going right over they years was Joy’s friendship to Jackie, her best friend since grade school.

One day, her father dates a new woman: an Italian woman named Trudy. She comes from a wealthy background and takes the whole family on the family yacht. A wine bottle breaks and Joy is left to mop it. She gets her hands cut trying to remove the broken glass from the mop. While recovering from her cuts, that’s when her inventiveness comes back. She has an idea for a self-cleaning mop and she’s willing to design it with something as simple as paper and her daughter’s crayons. Her mother is discouraging of her to chase her dreams but her grandmother is more supportive.

However she knows the difficulties of making something and merchandising it. She knows there’s someone who has a patent for something similar and has to agree to pay a certain percentage. She knows she will need financial support. Trudy is willing to offer but she’s very stern with whom she’s willing to support. She knows she will need a place to get the mop made. Her father offers her space in his workshop and women hired to make the mop. She even finds a factory willing to make the parts.

Then comes the advertising. She’s unable to get a deal and is subject to advertising her mop in K-Mart parking lots which is illegal. However she catches the attention of Neil Walker, CEO of the shopping channel QVC. He is impressed with the product and is willing to get it advertised on the channel. However everything goes wrong when first advertised as the salesman, who is considered the top salesman of the channel, does everything wrong and there’s no sale. Joy however doesn’t quit and negotiates with Walker for her to sell the product herself on the channel. When she does the commercial, she is very nervous. However a helpful phone call from Jackie while live on the air is just the boost she needs and it works. Her mop is a hit and it succeeds in getting her mops sold and paying her off.

However it doesn’t end there. Her success happens as her grandmother, the person who believed in Joy all along, dies. Then there’s news about excessive production fees paid. Joy goes to the factory and finds out a lot of bad truths about what has been happening and what’s being planned. Feeling helpless, Joy is about to file for bankruptcy until she finds out a certain truth and settles the score.

The movie isn’t just simply about a rags-to-riches story about a woman who was able to make it as a tycoon. It’s also a reminder that even in tight economic times, the American Dream is still achievable. Even in cases where there are obstacles thrown in your face like an advertiser who doesn’t do their job right or even lawsuits left, right and centre, it can still be done. We shouldn’t forget that Joy Mangano was making this all happen during the recession of the 90’s. I remember that recession well as I remember young adults like myself at the time received a lot of neglect from the job markets. Joy was not only able to create a ‘better mousetrap’ but be able to make it sell. Sure she faced a lot of common business challenges and hard blow of the business world and yes, she may have thought of giving up but she prevailed in the end. Now she’s the one in control. The film shows that this is still very much possible today.

One thing I will have to say is that doing such a film of a person achieving the American Dream has been done countless times. For one to do such a story differently, they would have to make the right choices. David O. Russell tries to make some unique choices such as having the story told by the grandmother’s point of view, even in time periods when the grandmother is deceased. Even the ending where the story progresses to the present but flashes back to just after Joy won her legal dispute is another unique choice in storytelling. However it makes one question whether those were the right choices. I can understand the attempt to tell a story differently but did they work? I don’t think they were the best choices.

David O. Russell sure has made a name for himself in the last five years with films like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This is a new challenge for him to direct and co-write with Annie Mumolo a story about a female inventor and media personality. Not something I would normally associate with Russell. I will admit this is not his best work. There are times I even wondered if David O. Russell is the right director for such a movie. Nevertheless it’s still very professional despite some of the glitchy storytelling choices. I do give him and Mumolo kudos for telling this story of a woman who starts in a situation familiar with most Americans and turning it into a relatable success story. That is one of its best points. Even the human element of Joy Mangano is another excellent part of the film. The film is not just about a woman wanting to make a success of herself for her own purposes but also being someone for her own daughter to look up to. Joy goes from someone mocked by her half-sister in front of her own kids to being someone for her kids to look up to. That element is another plus.

No doubt Jennifer Lawrence owned the film. Of course the Hunger Games movies have made her a household name already at 25 but it’s Russell who knows how to bring out the best in Lawrence’s acting. In her third movie directed by Russell, she again masters a character many years older than her and comes out shining and in excellent style. Robert de Niro was also good as the trying father. However the biggest scene stealer of the supporting players had to be Isabella Rossellini as the new mother-in-law who means business. Actually all the actors in the film from those that played family members to Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker did a good job with their characters and made them entertaining to watch.

Joy is a good story about a woman who would not give up until she succeeds even after everything that could go against her was thrown at her. However it’s also a reminder that the American Dream is still possible even in the toughest of times. Not exactly the best film from David O. Russell but definitely worth seeing.

Movie Review: Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)

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Death Valley is one of the unexpected stops for Beavis and Butt-Head as the two Do America.

Remember Beavis and Butt-Head? Yes, the two stupid teens who somehow could make us laugh. As most of you remember, they had a feature-length film from 1996 entitled Beavis and Butt-Head do America. I had the luck to see it on the big screen in theatres.

The story is about Beavis and Butt-Head first losing their television. With nothing else to do, they go around town searching for it. However they find themselves with a drunken criminal, Muddy Grimes, who had just been done wrong by his girlfriend Dallas and wants revenge. He thinks B&B are the two hired to do the job and sends them to Las Vegas to off her.

While in Vegas, the two first make fools of themselves on the dance floor only to be led to their hotel suite: right next door to Dallas. However Dallas is one step ahead of Muddy and is able to get the two to transport a small electronic capsule which unknowing to them actually contains anthrax.

The FBI learn of B&B having the anthrax capsule and are on pursuit of them. Nevertheless they’re led astray as B&B constantly go off-path to various other areas of the U.S. such as the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park and Death Valley. The latter they encounter their long-lost fathers: former Motley Crue roadies.

Things become more bizarre as they meet up with a vengeful Muddy who wants to kill the two only to learn he mistook B&B for his real accomplices. Meanwhile the FBI are after B&B and the capsule and are ready to get them as they near Washington D.C. The ending sets up for what everyone would expect to be the takedown of the two only to have things change by their unwitting and temperamental neighbor. In the end, Beavis and Butt-Head save the day and are rewarded by President Bill Clinton. They return home to find their TV and return to being their stupid selves.

I remember when the project first came out, it was originally thought to be a challenge to have a consistent entertaining feature-length film of Beavis and Butt-Head. Those who remember the TV show from MTV will remember that the show was about the brainless duo going into situations that were both mind-numbing but very entertaining in a stupid kind of way. That and their critiquing of music videos where they came across as your typical teen male bozo horndogs. The series created by Mike Judge and aired on MTV turned out to be just what the young wanted as it charmed crowds from 1993 to its end in 1997.

However the series also freaked parents out and would cause a lot of debate over television ratings and parental friendliness of shows, especially after it made headlines for a lot of young people recreating a lot of destructive incidents of the show: two of which proved to be fatal. Despite the copycat incidents, Mike Judge refused to believe that his show was responsible and would ask where the parents were. The controversy surrounding the show however would be reason why there’s that scene at the end of Bill Clinton rewarding B&B for their ‘service to the country’ and saying: “You exemplify a fine new crop of young Americans who will grow into the leaders of this great country.” Talk about the right shock stuff at the right time. Mind you that’s what 90’s entertainment was all about: entertainment that rattled cages, wreaked havoc, got people’s blood boiling…but came out winners because of it.

Once B&B became a phenomenon in 1993, it paved the way for the chance for a feature-length film. Mind you it would not be easy. It had to be a consistent script that would fit the big-screen right. That would mean an actual story instead of the typical ‘incidents’ as in the series. Plus the flavor of the two characters could not be lost. The two disgustingly charming underachievers had to start that way at the film and stay that way at the end despite whatever happens throughout.

You could imagine Mike Judge and his writing team would have to make a lot of choices and some were noticeable: include Anderson, have a big of Van Driessen, have a surprise for McVicker and everyone, leave out Buzz-Cut, Daria and Stewart, include their long-lost dads, keep out music video critiquing. Yes, it was a challenge. Plus there was having actors for the right fit for the roles like Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, big names at the time, rising star Greg Kinnear, loyal fan David Letterman who gave the two an appearance on his show, and character-actors Robert Stack and Cloris Leachman. In the end, it turned out to be a winning result and it not only charmed fans but received appreciation from critics as well. Watching it in the theatres again this summer got me laughing once again.

However this leads to the big question. Does Beavis and Butt-Head Do America stand the test of time all these years later? I don’t think it does. Firstly today’s young people may not get why B&B was just just what we needed back in the 90’s. Those of us from the 80’s and 90’s remember headbangers at school and teenagers who were idiotic, clueless and even violence-obsessed. Beavis and Butt-Head were the epitome of those teenage male stupids who impulsively loved violence and used their penis instead of their head. Teenagers change over the decades and over the various waves of pop culture and I don’t think today’s teens would get B&B. In fact the show was brought back to MTV a few years ago but it didn’t even last a full season.

Secondly, I feel the biggest reason why B&B don’t stand the test of time too much is because of the shock value and envelope-pushing they did in their time. Look at entertainment nowadays. We have a lot more now than what was around 20 years ago. We have the internet which allows for free speech that’s as unlimited as it gets. We have YouTube where one can post all sorts of videos of all sorts of things. We also have channels strictly devoted to cartoons that pave the way for more adult-oriented cartoon shows than before.

Beavis and Butt-Head came during a time when there were no cartoon channels. Most adult-oriented cartoons would have to soften themselves up if they wanted to be shown on the networks. MTV was the network that dared to show a cartoon as irreverent as Beavis and Butt-Head. B&B hit the airwaves just three years after The Simpsons were rattling cages with Homer’s stupidity and Bart’s sass-mouth and just a year after Ren and Stimpy took cartoon weirdness to new levels. B&B and MTV were the right fit, especially with their music video critiques. They ruled cartoon irreverence during their entirety. However their irreverence would actually pale in comparison to the irreverence of today. In fact it wouldn’t even take a year after the films release for South Park and it’s first season consisting of Stan’s Gay Dog, Cartman dressing up as Hitler and Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo to outdo all the irreverence and envelope-pushing Beavis and Butt-Head did in their entirety. That’s the fates of entertainment and why Beavis and Butt-Head would now be seen as something to yawn at. Heck, even the whole channel of MTV is struggling right now but that’s another subject.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America may now lack the the shock value, the envelope-pushing and the irreverent punch it had in its time. Nevertheless it can still entertain loyal fans of the show that still love it after all these years.

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. makes it Tony Stark's last hurrah in UIron Man 3.

Robert Downey Jr. makes it Tony Stark’s last hurrah in Iron Man 3.

The first weekend in May certifies the official beginning of the summer movie season. This is where the big studios are the most competitive where they deliver big-time attention-grabbers in an attempt to hit new highs at the box office. As expected, the first movie to kick off the 2013 summer movie season is a sequel of a huge-grossing series: Iron Man 3. The question is does it live up to the hype?

Tony Stark is back but instead of setting up for his third adventure, it goes back in time to the turn-of-the-millennium. Tony had a fling with a scientist named Maya Hansen who worked for a mechanics company named Extremis that’s experimenting with regenerating amputated limbs. Her boss, scientist Aldrich Killian who’s disabled himself, offers Stark a job but Stark refuses much to Killian’s humiliation.

Fast forward to the present, Stark and girlfriend Pepper Potts build several Iron man suits in immediate response to an alien attack which left him with panic attacks. Meanwhile Stark learns of a new rival villain: The Mandarin, who assaults his butler Happy Hogan. Stark challenges The Mandarin with a televised threat only to be faced with battle with The Mandarin and his army who leave his mansion demolished. The world believes Stark and Potts to be dead but they’re both alive with Stark being rescued by Hansen and Stark dawning an Iron Man suit whose JARVIS technology lands him in Tennessee. Stark learns more about the Mandarin thanks to the help of a young boy named Harley. Harley directs Stark to an alleged bomb explosion. Stark learns that the explosion is not only by Extremis but a possible fake to cover up Extremis’ flaws.

After a failed attack by two Extremis agents, Stark is able to get the location of The Mandarin through Harley’s help and through using improvised makeshift technology. Stark soon learns that The Mandarin is an impostor, an actor named Trevor Slattery. The Mandarin is actually a decoy of Killian who used Hansen’s program to fix his own disability and create an army of his own who successful has Potts hostage in hopes of getting Stark to fix Extremis’ flaws. That’s not all Killian has planned. Killian also stole James Rhodes’ Iron patriot outfit in an attempt to hold the plane with the President Of The United States hostage. Stark attempts to save the plane and those on board. He succeeds but misses the President whom Killian intends to kill and have the Vice President as his puppet to follow his every order to make Extremis succeed in its business.

The end battle features a lot of twists and turns but gives a surprise but somewhat expected ending to the movie and the Iron Man series as well.  Oh yeah, I encourage you to sit through the credits for a surprise end.

Usually I’m not a huge fan of movie sequels. I consider Hollywood sequels to be the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. However I did find Iron Man 3 to be enjoyable. This was movie that was to be, or appears to be, the end of the Iron Man series. It had quite a lot to work with and it did a very good job of it, even though I feel it could have been better. Yes it was a story with a lot of clichés and yes there were a lot of areas that felt very formulaic. Even the addition of a cute kid felt like Hollywood up to its usual tricks. What it lacks in terms of inventiveness and unpredictability, it does make up in terms of its visual effects. The fights still thrill and the effects still dazzle. It’s what one should come to expect from a superhero movie. Surely director/co-writer Shane Black knew what he had to deliver when he agreed to do Iron Man 3. He’s written for popcorn movies before. Even though he delivers an ending to a series that could have been better, he does mostly end the Iron Man series on a positive note. One thing is that even though this may mean the end of the Iron Man series, it doesn’t mean that Tony Stark won’t be back for the next Avengers movie. There was even a hint or two of The Avengers in the script.

Once again, Robert Downey Jr. brings out the character of Tony Stark, but it felt like something was missing. I don’t know what it was but I felt there was a certain quality of Tony that was present in the first Iron Man and made him a scene-stealer in The Avengers that was missing here. Pepper Potts was given more of a role as being the one getting Tony to smarten up although Gwyneth is not as much of a scene stealer as she could be. Guy Pearce could have done more with his role of Killian but keeps him as a stockish villain. Rebecca Hall was good as Maya Hansen even though her role was nothing out of the ordinary. Don Cheadle was good at being a comedic sidekick Iron Patriot but he too lacked the scene-stealing quality. Ty Simpkins was given a typical child actor role where he’s made to look cutesy. And Ben Kingsley’s turn as the Mandarin succeeded in being both intense and comical when it was required to be.

As is to be expected with any big release of the summer movie season, Iron Man 3 succeeds in challenging for top box office results. It achieved $174.1 million in its opening weekend making it second only to last year’s The Avengers for the biggest opening weekend ever. Even now it continues to remain strong at the box office even though it was replaced at the #1 spot in its third weekend by Star Trek Into Darkness. I don’t think it will supersede The Avengers‘ total gross since The Avengers was still #1 after three weekends. I am confident that Iron Man 3 will finish its box office run in the Top 10 of all time. It’s only $86 million away right now.

Iron Man 3 is a series-ending movie in which first seems surprising but turns out to be typically expected on second-thought. It’s better than the second but not as entertaining as the first. Nevertheless it ends on a good note, if slightly flawed.

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence shine in Silver Linings Playbook.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence shine in Silver Linings Playbook.

“I was a big slut but I’m not anymore. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

Do you think it’s possible to do a comedy about dealing with bipolar disorder? Silver Linings Playbook makes the attempt to make a comedy out of it and succeeds.

We meet Pat Solitano Jr.: a Philadelphia man with bipolar disorder who was just release form a mental institute after eight months following having given a brutal beating to the man who had an affair with his wife. The incident has hit him with hard consequences. Besides being institutionalized, he lost his job, his wife Nikki has put a restraining order on him thus him living with his parents. And adding to the difficulty, his father Pat Sr. is out of work and resorts on gambling for income and hopefully launching a restaurant. His parents give him strict orders to take his medicine and see a therapist. It starts off rocky as he neglects his medicine and throws violent raging fits such as two incidents at 3 in the morning in front of his parents and when he hears My Cherie Amour, the song played when he caught his wife with his coworker. He does however see his therapist Dr. Patel but doesn’t open up to him too much.

One night, he’s invited to dinner with his friend Ronnie and his wife. He meets Tiffany, a young widow who also has a neurosis condition of her own and also lost her job because of it. Over time, Pat and Tiffany develop a friendship and the friendship becomes closer when it’s obvious she can work with his condition for the better. He even offers to have her relay letters to Nikki. She agrees to as long as he’s willing to be a partner for her in an upcoming Latin dance contest. He also agrees and things get better. It’s through the friendship that Pat is able to open up to Tiffany. Tiffany is even willing to let Pat know that right after she lost her husband, she slept with ever man at her job, which explains why she lost it. Pat hopes that the dance competition will get him to win Nikki back. Tiffany even assists in motivation by giving him a typed letter from Nikki.

Things take a turn for the worse when Pat Sr. asks Pat to come to an Eagles game as a ‘good luck charm’ because he bet a lot of money. Pat agrees but that would mean missing out on the dance practice with Tiffany. It turns out to be a bad idea as Pat sees Dr. Patel with a group of Indo-American Eagles fans. Young males throw bigoted slurs at them, which leads to a fight where Pat gets involved and gets carried off by the police. The Eagles lose the game and Pat Sr. loses the bet big time. Tiffany then gets in on this by telling Pat Sr. and all that their dance practices together are better good luck charms for Philadelphia sports games. So a final bet is made: The Flyers win against the Dallas Cowboys and Pat and Tiffany score at least a 5 in the dance competition. Pat is nervous about it until he rereads the letter from Nikki. Tiffany even says Nikki will be at the competition and is willing to lift the restraining order if they score well.

The day of the game and the competition approaches. Both Pat and Tiffany are nervous, as expected. Nikki arrives to see the dance competition but Tiffany is horrified. Why? She said Nikki would be there, right? The family is busy paying attention to the game at first while Tiffany tries to calm herself down with drinks. Pat is able to spot her in time for the dance and before she could drink any more. The game ends with the Flyers winning and the two are able to score a 5.0 in the dance. Pat Sr. won the bet and will get the restaurant and Pat Jr will get his restraining order lifted. But just when you think things will end as you think it will, it doesn’t and leads to an ending that’s a lot happier and ending you feel it right.

This movie is a surprise. Normally you’d think that making a movie about dealing with bipolarism would not make for a good movie, never mind a comedy, but it does. I believe the biggest reason why this movie is so well is that it does show the negative sides of bipolarism and people reacting to personal tragedies but it shows a ray of light. It shows both the bipolar person and the person dealing with tragedy as 3D people instead of types. It shows them both as people struggling with their setbacks and weaknesses and people trying to fight it out. It shows the unique chemistry between the two that helps them triumph over their difficulties and eventually win both to the other in the end.

It was a big effort to make these two types main characters for a comedy but a romantic comedy… and it succeeds. Tiffany was the perfect one who knew how to make Pat overcome his condition. It was evident that Halloween night when Pat thought he was hearing My Cherie Amour again but Tiffany let him know he was not hearing that song. She was also able to get it through to his family that dance training with her was very helpful in winning the games Philadelphia played. She was also able to use a fake letter from Nikki to give him the motivation even thought it risked biting her in the end. You could tell that Tiffany was more for him than Nikki. A bipolar and a promiscuous widow makes for a bizarre pairing for a romantic comedy but it works here.

The best quality of the movie had to be the acting. Bradley Cooper has to have delivered the best performance of his career. He succeeded in making a 3-dimensional person with bipolarism and make him a character that first appears hateable but become more likeable later on and whom you want to succeed in the end. Jennifer Lawrence gives a performance nothing short of remarkable. It’s not just about doing a character who’s an emotionally-fragile person trying to be the one in control but also doing a character many years older than her (she’s 22) and look convincing, and she does it. If she wins the Oscar, I will not be surprised. Robert De Niro also did a good job as the struggling father who has problems of his own. Jacki Weaver also did an excellent job as the mother even though she didn’t have the showiest of roles. Good supporting turns from Anupam Kher and Chris Tucker add to one of the best acting ensembles of the year.

David O. Russell did a marvelous job in both writing the screenplay and directing the film. His follow-up to The Fighter also delivers excellently and has to be one of the best this year. What you think would be as expected doesn’t and works for the better in the film. Very good adaptation. The other standout feature in the movie is the music. There’s the score from Danny Elfman along with previously released songs. Many of which are already familiar. Its blend into the story works well.

Silver Linings Playbook makes an unlikely pair of characters for a romance movie turn out to be possibly the best romance of the year. Very smart, very sensible, very human and very winning. Definitely amongst the best of the year.

Movie Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Okay, this is one of my delayed movie reviews. There will be three more to come. I saw it weeks before but I’m sure many of you could now see it in a second-run theatre before you can get the DVD or Netflix file.

Those of you who have seen the first Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. only received one part of the story. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows picks up where it left off. It’s not an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes novel but an independent story of Sherlock Holmes that is able to entertain.

The movie is full of tricks, foiled killings and even successful incidents that lead Holmes to solve his next mystery. A bomb meant for Dr. Hoffmanstahl from Professor Moriarty is detonated. Adler is murdered by Moriarty who thinks she did it out of a love for Holmes. The murders and bombings surrounding Moriarty is part of Holmes’ next case.

Even Watson and his wife become part of this when Moriarty tells Holmes he killed Adler and the couple will be next if Holmes doesn’t stop. The couple is even attacked on a train by Moriarty’s men but Holmes, who followed them for protection, is able to foil the attackers and successfully protect the two. The two head to Paris to contact a gypsy who was to receive a letter from Adler. She becomes part of the detective team and leads them to an anarchist group she once belonged to only to learn of a plan to assassinate Moriarty via explosion. One search for a bomb lead to the wrong place. The bomb kills one of Moriarty’s business associates, allowing ownership to Moriarty of the businessman’s weapons factory in Germany.

Each clue leads the three-Sherlock, Watson and the gypsy- to the factory. There they are tortured by Moriarty and his men and learn of his plan to own weapons factories to profit out of a World War he plans to start. They’re able to break free thanks to Watson and flee onto a moving train. However Holmes senses that Moriarty may be planning an incident at a peace summit in Switzerland to cause an international uproar. At the summit, Holmes learns of the true assassin who is disguised as an ambassador. Both Holmes and Moriarty go outside to discuss to their associates their plans. Both Watson and the gypsy are able to stop one of Moriarty’s men from assassinating. Holmes later revealed he replaced Moriarty’s diary with the plans and able to get Watson’s wife to decrypt the code of Moriarty’s. Mary forwards the information to an Inspector who’s able to claim the bulk of Moriarty’s assets. This would lead to a physical confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty over a waterfall, which leads to a surprise ending.

A Game Of Shadows is partially influenced by A Final Problem, which is part of Arthur Conan Doyle’s series The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes but has been tailor made for the movie with a lot of twists and turns. It’s not necessary part of a chronological series but another story based on the characters. In fact the filmmakers intended for A Game Of Shadows to be a stand-alone film that did not require knowledge of the previous movie. The movie retains a lot of the charms of the first one but doesn’t seem to deliver the same thrills as the first. It does however maintain the same energy of humor as the first. Robert Downey Jr. is again able to keep the humor moviegoers will remember from the first. Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Eddie Marsan also reprise their respective roles well too albeit for their brief time. The biggest new edition was Noomi Rapace as Simza the gypsy and she does a good job of her own at stealing scenes. The Mulroneys, Kieran and Michelle, did a good job in creating a humorous adventure with a lot of familiar thrills as the first but often felt like a maze that was confusing at times. Guy Ritchie did a good job in directing, if not the directing that stands out. Technically the sets and costumes were excellent in fitting the times. Even the guises worked well. And Hans Zimmer returned with a score that included parts of the original as well as some new material that fit the movie’s adventurous and humorous tone.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows faced the same pressures as any sequel. In the end, the movie lacked the same level as the first in terms of its best qualities. One thing is while most sequels or follow up movies often lose the first movie’s best qualities A Game Of Shadows was still able to keep the original’s best qualities, if not match the original’s same level. Fans of the first will appreciate A Game Of Shadows and movie goers in general will find it a good relaxing time at the movies.