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A Late Quartet (2012)
Perhaps not the movie we wanted, but a good one all the same ...
The problem with a movie about classical musicians is that we approach it with too many particular expectations. We're either Beethoven fans, who expect to see Beethoven venerated, or to see musicians portrayed in a certain light, and so on. This was a pretty good movie, and although it was a bit more melodramatic than I might have liked, if it had been higher and purer in its artistic aspirations, I have to admit it wouldn't have been quite as engaging. And it wasn't all mawkish. Somewhere in the middle I felt the movie did drag with Hoffman's character's ego issues. But the movie moved on from there: the other characters were far more compelling, although Hoffman's portrayal was excellent as an acting exercise. I just wasn't that interested in his character. I felt Walken's character had the best scenes and moments in the movie. His quiet dignity and strength pulled everything together, for the moment and for the last concert they would play, but against a background current of great tragedy. This was echoed in the music, and also in the various historical anecdotes and received wisdom around the op. 131. All of this is also to Walken's credit as an actor. His portrayal prevented the movie itself from descending into mush. Complaints have been made as to whether such melodrama is representative of the life of a string quartet. One should keep in mind that this was the chaos that followed from Walken's illness and forced withdrawal. In any close knit group or family there are hidden resentments and issues, but these do not represent the main state of affairs. In a crisis, these can come to the fore, so I felt that, yes, the events of the movie were quite plausible. All in all, this movie was well worth seeing, and, I felt, fully engaging from beginning to end.
The Gospel (2005)
I received this movie as a gift this year (2010) and frankly, had never heard of it, even though I pay attention to movie releases. I approached it with no expectations whatsoever. To me, almost everything about the movie, including the Christian subculture, the cast, the director, and so on, was an unknown. I've never seen a movie rated with so many 1's and 10's before. I suspect that people are projecting their religious agendas, and not properly rating the movie itself. A movie needs a good story; and I found the story engrossing, so that gives it at least a 6, for me. What particularly fascinated me was the highly interior look at personal conflict and challenges in church ministry, and this is a very honest movie. The music and the setting were an entertaining and enjoyable backdrop to the story, enough to raise the score to a 7. The acting won't win Oscars, but I felt deeply involved emotionally at various points in the story. Because of the Christian context, I believe many viewers just won't get into the story. The only thing to add is that I've never actually seen a movie like this; that in itself makes it worth watching, and brings the score to an 8, which places it within the top 10% of movies I've seen.
Easter Parade (1948)
The other reasons to watch this
Of course, you've read about Astaire, Garland and Ann Miller, and this movie has plenty of star power. But you also get dresses, style, backdrops, delightful choreography, and songs with very clever rhymes using simple words. And Easter hats. The production effort behind this movie is unbelievable, not a second is wasted, and this is an entirely different kind of eye candy than you might see in LOTR or Iron man. This won't be repeated, the style, the glamour, the whimsical songs. No need to tell you about the plot. Who cares. If you haven't seen this before, nothing bad happens, there are some hurt feelings and a few complications, but everyone plays nice, and everything works out. Enjoy it while it lasts. 8 out of 10 ranking for me put this very near the top. What a surprise this movie, one of four in a DVD pack, turned out to be.
From Here to Eternity (1953)
This beat out Shane?
The most interesting thing about this movie is to try and understand why it struck such a chord in 1954. It's not a terrible movie, but suffers from some highly implausible scenes and dialogue. For example, at the end why doesn't Prewitt stop when the soldier yells "stop or I'll shoot"? Throughout the movie he displays remarkable self-control, so this very crucial scene makes no sense. And the really bad lines, like this one by Deborah Kerr, "Of course .. the baby was dead". You didn't know how to use the telephone to call a doctor yourself? On the good side, there are some fine acting performances, and the movie maintains dramatic intensity for most of its duration. But near the end there are a couple of turns which just dissipate the tension without really resolving the conflicts the movie worked so hard to set up. Quite a disappointment, I thought. Again though, it was just after the war, and I wonder how this movie struck viewers in 1954. To win 8 Oscars it must have had a much greater impact than it does today. Despite the great acting performances, to be truly great a movie needs a good story and a great script. In that area, this one falls short.
One Week (2008)
A great movie that happens to be Canadian
Sure we like Slapshot, Mon Oncle Antoine and Duddy Kravitz because they are distinctly Canadian movies. We feel validated as Canadians because we happen to see Roll up the Rim, the Stanley Cup, and the Wawa Grey Goose on the screen. We do like that about this movie also.
But the premise of 'One Week' is compelling regardless of setting: a young man learns he has terminal cancer, and suffers an existential crisis. He feels compelled to examine where he's going; suddenly he realizes that he's just drifting with the tide. This is not an unusual theme. To correct one fine point though, the protagonist, Ben Tyler, played by Joshua Jackson, doesn't have only one week to live, as some of the blurbs indicate. He's given around two years, but takes one week or so on a motorcycle journey across the country to try to sort things out.
The dramatic tension in the movie develops as Tyler pushes further West on his bike, while the woman he is about to marry pleads for him to come home. This sets up a conflict between the unknown and a kind of certainty or finality, and the movie risks becoming one more cliché denouncement of middle class life. I felt it did admirably well in not falling into that trap. The tension continues to the very end with his wandering motorbike ride not really providing any ready answers.
What makes the movie different from others of this ilk, and uniquely Canadian at that, is the importance of the Canadian landscape and how we seek to find meaning in our lives through our relationship with it. In fact, many Canadians go to extraordinary lengths to connect with what's around them. In the case of this movie that doesn't mean white water canoeing in Pukaskwa. And yet the ethos of this movie is similar to that other Canadian classic, Water Walker, which is devoted to that very subject. That movie was by and about Canadian legend, Bill Mason, who lived what some believe is the Canadian dream. Mason died, not very old, of cancer. In this movie, the Canadian landscape is represented through the world's biggest hockey stick, the coulees around Medicine Hat, Alberta and the hiking trails near Banff. The key word is 'randomness', but at the same time this movie displays something closer to the landscape most Canadians actually know: not quite wilderness but still untamed and certainly unruly.
I've seen Water Walker at least ten times, and I'll probably see this one as many over the years. It sounds like a cliché, but at this point I have to say, "instant classic". The theater was sold out tonight in Waterloo, Ontario. I think this movie touched the audience very deeply.
Mon oncle Antoine (1971)
Will appeal if you're a certain kind of film-goer
This isn't quite the best Canadian film ever, IMO. I won't get off track and name 3 or 4 better. Just a couple of nights before I'd seen "The Bicycle Thief", the highly rated Italian classic, and there are some parallels. Both filmmakers shot their film in a specific time and specific place, with minimal resources in terms of sets and cast. And the result in both cases is fascinating and a joy to watch for the realistic setting and characters alone. The lingering shots over faces and landscape almost make this worth watching on its own. That being said, this one isn't quite in the same league as the Italian classic. The movie is shot in a frigid, barren Quebec asbestos mining town. That frigidity is contrasted with the warmth of the people and the eye of the filmmaker Claude Jutra. Basically, what you get is a series of vignettes that are likely nostalgic recollections of Jutra - not ha, ha funny - but poignant, and probably sometimes difficult at the time, but now warmed over with the patine of nostalgia. The movie meanders; there is little tension. Somewhere around half to two thirds way through the story begins. Everyone you've met to this point is involved, and you've gotten to know these characters rather well; so have a little patience at the outset. The story is a good one; it will leave you thinking, and it involves sex, love and death, all the basic elements. If you like Bergman, Godard, Truffaut, all that kind of stuff, you won't be disappointed by this.
Overcomes its thinly disguised political message
White man + progress + industrialization = BAD. First nations + nature + animals = GOOD. Simple formula. Actually, in past days the same kind of propaganda was used to defend the status quo; now it is used to attack it. However, that being said, I think the movie does succeed in overcoming hackneyed politicization because it plays to the themes of freedom and original nature in a way that appeals to everyone. You may not be onside with the movie's rubbishy revisionism of how the West was won, er lost. But anyone can feel a sense of longing for the days when horses could run free on the Western plains. (The movie also conveniently sidesteps the fact that there were no horses in America before the evil white man brought them there). Anyway, I liked it. The quality of the animation - especially the opening shot - is incredible.
The Break-Up (2006)
The male-female relationship dynamics as portrayed in this movie are spot on. It's not easy to write realistic and interesting dialogue, at least it would appear that way based on the formulaic and banal stuff Hollywood often subjects audiences too. So this movie starts with a script that's very realistic and very interesting 'in the small', maybe like a Chekhov play. The overall story arc is not as strong, and the plot drags in the middle somewhat - going around the same circle several times, as Jennifer tries several ploys to get Vince back. Still, this movie is a cut above the rest. Up there with other great relationship flicks like When Harry Met Sally or Walk the Line. This movie is bound to spark an interesting conversation with whoever you might see it.
Worst of the classic musicals
I have to admit that there are some great songs. And great dance scenes, some clever comedy, more great songs, but I find myself restive watching the entire movie, and finally, disappointed at the end. I think the problem is the the story line and lack of plot development. In a musical plot shouldn't matter. Certainly Singin' in the Rain or Easter Parade, both of which are much more enjoyable to watch, have little to offer in terms of story. Perhaps the problem here is the lack of cohesion between the movie elements and the overall story line. It certainly promises more. The romance also is quite dull, and the "big conflict" at the end is the most anti-climactic ending that's ever been scripted. I'm thinking that while the songs will be remembered for aeons that the musical itself will not continue to find favour. It seems quite dated to me. Later edit - Given that this is the "least helpful" review I have written, my point of view must be at odds with many viewers. I do like a large number of musicals, but for the reasons cited I found this one to be a big miss. But the individual elements of the movie, many of which are well executed, might work for you. For me, a musical still has to have a good story to work, and that is missing here.
Held to any normal standard can only be considered excellent ...
Because it's Star Wars, I think viewers don't see this as just another movie, but tend to micro-analyze everything. Since I don't really care that much about Star Wars, compared to something more serious such as 'Shadowlands' or any one of a hundred other movies, I think this movie comes off really well. It's gorgeous to watch, especially the imaginative scenic renderings of the different planets. The acting is quite credible, the storyline has way more dramatic tension than you'd normally expect in sci-fi, and there's an ominous brooding presence I find quite amenable to our lives and the times. So I give this an 8/10 (only a very few of my ratings get up this high).