Reviews written by registered user

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426 reviews in total 
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Race (2016/I)
Tries to include too much, 15 March 2017

Race, a film about the legendary Olympian Jesse Owens, is a story that deserves a good biopic. Owens means more to me for what his achievement meant to politics than as an athlete; "Race" is an obviously perfect title for concisely referring to both. The film itself is competently done in many of its technical aspects, although the way the names of places are paraded on screen when the story switches settings is tacky, at best. James gives a good performance; much of the film's handling of his story is well done.

The problem is that the film attempts to include too much. There's not much reason why this needed to go above the two-hour mark. We see a lot of scenes where Owens isn't present, and many of these don't need to be here. He don't need a story about the general history of Nazi Germany; we don't need to see the conflicts between Goebbels and his film director; we don't even need to see as much as what we saw about the debate as to whether the US should boycott the Olympics. Immaterial, and trimming can heighten impact. I was half- expecting we'd get a scene depicting Hitler committing suicide in his bunker. Still, on the whole, Race, as a story about Owens, makes a nice statement.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Farhadi does it again, in showing us another Iran, 28 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Asghar Farhadi's films A Separation (also Oscar gold) and About Elly (not Oscar-recognized, but pretty good nevertheless) were shocking films. Not just for their stories- Farhadi does excel in intense and gripping drama with a touch of mystery to them- but for the face they put on Iran, very different from what many viewers go in expecting. Where are the cries for jihad? The outcry against Great Satan? The plots to wipe Israel off the map? The burning people in the street? Why are they living in apartments and homes and not caves? Farhadi certainly does give us more of that here. Early on, we hear a cell phone go off with a very familiar ringtone, and the protagonists are performing Death of a Salesman. You might think the US is banning these people for a reason, but Farhadi's films show us that, apart from a big difference in government, Iranians themselves are like people anywhere. Substitute "Muhammad" for "Jesus" and "Koran" for "Bible" and his films could be set in Kansas or Mississippi.

As for the "intense and gripping drama with a touch of mystery" part, The Salesman also delivers once again. This touches on the issue of violence against women, with the protagonist trying to uncover who assaulted his wife. But the film also deals, in a very human way, with the trauma his wife lives with in the aftermath. There is intensity in the climax- is there going to be revenge? The Salesman is no tasteless rape-and-revenge movie; it's a finely crafted drama that can be different things at once.

Gabrielle (2013/II)
The Other Sister with teeth, 16 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Gabrielle is a film I'm not going to automatically connect with as much as a film about a social outcast, a sarcastic freak or independent thinker. I have little experience with people with intellectual disabilities; truthfully, I can often understand how people can sometimes become frustrated in caring for them. Gabrielle merely stood out to me as an "I should see that" as winner of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture and Canada's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. I can appreciate this is more sophisticated than the '90s drama The Other Sister. Both deal with the taboo issue of sex and people with disabilities. I have a lot of sympathy with the position of both films, and think Gabrielle articulated it well, with Mélissa Désormeaux- Poulin of Incendies fame giving it voice. The male protagonist's mother is repelled by the idea, and while she's the closest thing to the film's villain, she's not a mere strawman. Lots of people think like her. It's not beyond the realm of reasonable debate.

That said, the emphasis on music is another fail to connect with me. The fact that the film has no real ending, just a musical concert, really felt weak, along the lines of "That was a cheap TV movie." Which is a shame, because much of it was fairly well-structured leading up to this. Forty years ago, we would have considered this "one of the greatest Canadian films of all time." The fact that we're now churning out these films of better quality with a degree of regularity is a sign of progress.

A love story and culture clash that's not a love story or culture clash, 5 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Looking at Felix and Meira, you can definitely see why many moviegoers might walk away unimpressed by it. Many of them will miss what it's about, or why it exists. It is an understated film, but it says something, albeit softly. It's not exactly Romeo and Juliet, not exactly Clash of Civilizations. It's Felix and Meira.

The film tells the story of two people in Montreal, who inhabit the same neighbourhood but live in foreign worlds. That might not seem too novel a concept, but there are interesting specifics, as the secular Felix gets to know Meira, a Hassidic Jew- she can't look him in the eyes, can't choose to have only one child in her marriage. It's not an indictment of Judaism or even religion entirely- it's just about a woman who is unhappy with her life, and her liberation. Whether going into another relationship is the answer is another question. I'm not entirely sure what Felix and Meira saw in each other, except for intriguing differences in lifestyle. But it is an interesting parallel how we see at the end that Felix was also bullied to fit into his family, and interesting that Meira's husband sees how this is the case.

I'm not entirely sure what decade this film is supposed to take place in. It's sort of timeless, and while belonging to Montreal, may speak to anyone.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Timeless tale on how we all get Trumped, 15 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You could have sworn this episode was a hoax, made in 2016 to look like it was made in 1958- but there was already an IMDb review from 2011. I saw The End of the World existed on Snopes, and it's available to see on YouTube. It's drawn a lot of attention as a classic example of life-imitates-art; a man named Trump rides into town, is initially accused of selling snake oil, threatens to sue a dissenter, and then claims to be the only one who can solve a problem. People swarm to support him as he promises to build "a wall."

Spooky, but "the wall" is really only mentioned once, and it's actually little parasols handed out at $75 a pop. I'm not sure what year this series is supposed to be set in, but adjusting for inflation, you can be sure that was a heavy investment a century ago. Trump rides in on poor production values, and in a better time you would simply assume a rational people would run him out as quickly as he appeared. But don't be so arrogant. There's a reason why this episode attracted a positive IMDb review before 2016- just look at those tacky looking UFO cults that have inspired mass suicides. Or those cheap YouTube videos that had people shaking that Obama was the anti-Christ in 2008. People are gullible, making this episode's message, a Big Lie turns grown men into children, timeless, transcending beyond merely 1958 and 2016.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Life imitates art, 14 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In 2013, I felt Double Crossers was one of the weaker episodes of season 4. Parts of it, such as George Sr. becoming more feminine, and the drag of Michael being a producer, still doesn't quite speak to me much. There are definitely some better exchanges; Lucille, for a second lovingly reflecting on GOB being better than given credit for, then reacting to the "magical abilities" part; and GOB not having an older sense of purpose.

What's particularly striking about this episode now, or season 4 generally, is the talk of building a wall on the Mexican border. Back then, it was ADish silliness, a play on memories of the Berlin Wall and the xenophobic stupidity of neo-conservatives in the Herman Cain vein (portrayed as Herbert Love). Back then, we could chuckle, knowing the possibility of actually building one and bringing in hostile foreigners (a Mongol horde) to do it was nonsense. "Build this wall!" the crowd shouts at the end, to keep out the Mexicans. Now, in 2017, we're seeing a person ascending to the presidency elevated by identical chants. And, he's selling shop to national enemies to do it- not Mongol gangsters, but Vladimir Putin. It all seems perceptive and prescient, now, in a dark way. But we can now appreciate, on a new level, the pre-emptive satire on the total fraud of it; videotaping a truck going around a building portraying it as a wall just about sums up a president who's openly cheated on every tax return and pretends to be the sword of the little guy. Claiming you can build an American wall in Mexico (in this episode) is also just about as stupid as claiming you can build an American wall with Mexican money (in real life). Future audiences will be confused to no end as to whether this episode was made during or after Obama's presidency. So thanks, Mitchell Hurwitz, Dean Lorey and Richard Rosenstock, for your whimsical joke that turned out to be a warning we didn't think we should take seriously about what is now our living hell. Funny.

Top 5 with a bullet, 10 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

To a degree, I grew out of Garfield after a while; I'm still a fan of Here Comes Garfield, Garfield on the Town, and the Christmas and Halloween specials. But many of the specials, when I was finally able to see them, were definite disappointments (in the Rough, in Paradise, and especially Gets a Life). I did read the book His 9 Lives, and Babes and Bullets was a great story. I was finally able to see this special, based on it, today.

The TV changes lose some things- Garfield is his familiar cartoon self rather than the realistic, scary humanoid cat, and the supporting cast are turned from cats to people, which doesn't make sense, especially given they still have cat-like names. But much of the spirit and humour is kept, and that's what makes it a standout. When I read this book with my younger cousins, they were surprised I laughed as much as I did. Much of the humour went over their heads- jokes about being spayed, needing to see a body, etc. It's more mature and often wittier than your average Garfield. And, it kept the risqué ending- Garfield has sex with his secretary, though since she's a human in this version, that's technically bestiality. Definitely deserving of its Emmy.

Cathy (1987) (TV)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Clever and funny, 6 December 2016

Even as a boy, Cathy comics could be an amusing read. Losers often make for heartfelt, relatable material, and something that can make you laugh and sympathize at the same time is valuable. With this special, despite explicit references to it being the 1980s, the essential idea of a woman trying to "have it all," to be president of a conglomerate and married to a knight in shining armor, is timeless. That's probably why we got much of the same language in Tina Fey's critically acclaimed sitcom 30 Rock.

Much of the dialogue in this special is clever and layered, and often funny, even if you're trying to send Cathy psychic messages to kick two-timing Irving to the curb already. This is a mature cartoon for adults, which is probably why, unlike other specials coming out of Lee Mendelson's office, there was never a "Cathy and Friends" TV series. Winner of the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. But don't expect a DVD release anytime soon- if Ghostbusters taught us nothing else, it's that in today's entertainment, "woman" is the dirtiest word imaginable.

The Touch (1971)
Lost in translation, 27 November 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I actually didn't know Bergman ever made a film in English until seeking this out yesterday; my first assumption was that it was dubbed. The Touch is, in fact, largely forgotten in spite of its pedigree and novelty. The film was a critical and financial failure, even though I'd never seen Bibi Andersson's breasts in an earlier film.

The Touch is, in many ways, quite beautiful, particularly in its photography and music during the opening credits. The film, as the title suggests, is very intimate. That's to be expected from a director whose marriages and adulteries exceeded just about anyone's; watching this, you get the feeling a great deal can be autobiographical. The ending, where the two lovers separate, is very mournful.

Unfortunately, the film is, to a degree, lost in translation. I've heard Bergman say, in Swedish interviews, that he is "no writer," a director first. In English, this feels especially true. Some of the dialogue is leaden and clumsy. And it sounds absolutely awful coming out of Elliott Gould, particularly when he has to act angry, which he simply can't do. I was unfamiliar with Gould; I had seen some of his films, including MASH, but never really realized who he was. Looking him up after watching the film, I was surprised to find out he was a professional actor, because he's really, really bad here.

Still, there are definitely things to recommend in The Touch, and it is a curiosity.

Ararat (2002)
Deeply disappointing, 26 November 2016

In spite of a lukewarm critical response, the fact that Ararat won Best Motion Picture at the Genie Awards and that it would be a definite personal film to Atom Egoyan sounds promising. He viewed his better films The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Remember (2015) as having allusions to the Armenian Genocide, which impacted his family; Ararat is meant to deal with the often neglected subject head-on, or so you'd think. Rather, it deals with a crew in Toronto that makes a film about the genocide. Seeing snippets of their work, I wish Egoyan had made some version of that instead.

I rarely use this criticism of film, but Ararat is excessively preachy, much of it coming from David Alpay and Bruce Greenwood, who spout out facts at length, often without a lot of emotion, and often to people who wouldn't be much interested. A lot of this is entirely irrelevant a customs official like Plummer's character, no matter how the film attempts to spin this. When Alpay's character quotes Hitler about no one remembering the Armenians, Elias Koteas' character, who'd earlier questioned if the account went exactly as it is said to, and who notes this matter is behind him and his colleagues born in Canada, echoes the Nazi dictator's sentiment in a deeply sinister voice. He has gone from mild skepticism to all-out Hitler, in Egoyan's shameless breach of Godwin's law.

Much of this smacks as false. When Greenwood's character, an actor, is advised to read a book that inspired the film, the character replies he has read the book, along with every single thing ever written about the artist it's about, the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian people in general, and the character isn't even said to be Armenian. Is this the kind of in-depth expertise Egoyan finds in his actors on a regular basis? Do actors who've read every book ever written about the broadest of subjects frequently line up at his auditions, and he gets his pick? I'm sure every other director envies him.

Films about films are too common. Occasionally, you get a really great one that makes it okay, such as Sunset Blvd. Most of the time, it's just narcissistic, and in this case, it definitely gets in the way of the awareness Egoyan was hoping to create.

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