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Toronto Stories (2008)
2 out of 4 ain't bad
This movie represents a good effort but fails to deliver the quintessential "Toronto snapshot" it really should have.
The first segment, "Shoelaces", touches on a pair of bullied & abused kids (themes not exactly exclusive to the city of Toronto) and strangely on the notion of a bizarre creature living underground.
The second segment, "The Brazilian" is the stand-out short, featuring Sook-Yin Lee (she wrote it, after all) and indie actor Tygh Runyan. Nothing echoes the vibe of Toronto better than the story of 2 awkward, emotionally-stilted eccentrics looking for love but unable to break down the emotional walls between them. Quirky and just a bit sardonic, this story is as Torontonian as Queen West.
Stories 3 and 4 tumble in the wake of "The Brazilian", focusing on a hostage situation from an escaped convict who can't accept his ex-girlfriend not wanting anything to do with him, and a drug addict homeless man (Gil Bellows) desperately striving to save a lost child to make up for the loss of his own child.
These latter stories are too dark, too gritty and would feel more at home in an anthology series about New York City or LA. They don't capture the spirit of Toronto, they don't sound like the people when the characters speak. They don't inspire interest.
Two out of four isn't bad, but if there's a sequel, the producers should take a broader look across the GTA.
Beneath Still Waters (2005)
Good concept, dreadful execution
The story behind this film is sound: A town is submerged to keep a fiendish demon from taking over the world. Two kids unwittingly release this evil & 40 years later it's ready to rampage over the earth. Unfortunately, the story is thrown off kilter by awful acting and characters you just can't care about.
You have the mother/reporter who looks like she's only a couple of years older than her daughter & whose overt indifference to her daughter makes it impossible to care what happens to this character.
The character of the daughter is not quite so irksome but ruined by awful acting on the part of actress Charlotte Salt.
Mordecai Salas, the demon-type character, is wonderfully creepy but feels slightly like a ripoff of the Reverend Kane character from the Poltergeist trilogy.
The creature/makeup effects are excellent - the non-supernatural effects are dreadful. The green screen technology is obvious, painfully so during the diving scenes and the divers appear as large as the roof of a house. Forced perspective can work fine--just look at Lord of the Rings, but it's very sloppy in this film.
Watch the trailer and that should suffice.
Not the best new Marple, but a decent romp
Geraldine MacEwan shines again in this latest installment of the updated Marple series from Britain: Marple is holidaying in Devon to visit a bedridden school chum whose family is descending upon her coastal manor. Among them are a tennis star, his first wife and his second, new wife who seem to be at odds; a meek and quiet family friend; and an apparent gigolo friend of the second wife. Add into the mix Tom Baker as an aged veteran who may or may not recognize a murderer from years past and you have a classic recipe for mystery.
The locales are picturesque and the characters as eccentric and distinct as in past episodes, however something feels very dull and pedestrian about this particular Marple outing. Perhaps because there are fewer likable characters this time round or because Miss Marple seems unusually subdued this time out.
It's worth a watch but certainly not the finest in the series.
Awful, awful, awful
Another childhood memory raped and murdered...
Why why why must the Industry rely on reinventing classics instead of creating worthy original material? This live-action retelling of the classic 70s Rankin-Bass stop-motion holiday hit The Year Without a Santa Claus (itself based upon a book by Phyllis McGinley) makes the same mistakes as the live-action "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" movie starring Jim Carrey did in 2000. You just *can't* take a classic and drag it out to feature length! The updated "Year Without a Santa Claus" did not need to be two hours long, nor did it need to be updated *at all*. Even the acting talents of John Goodman, Delta Burke and Carol Kane couldn't save this train wreck of an idea.
Fans of the original--you'll be disappointed. It drags, it changes the story, it has *Chris Kattan* and too many topical references that will make it look dated and quite stupid in years to come, whereas the original has remained timeless.
Stick with the original.
Land of the Dead (2005)
Underrated, fast-paced & great FX!
A well-paced, entertaining romp through the dark, zombiefied future as envisioned by acclaimed director George A. Romero.
The lead character of Riley played by Simon Baker comes off as a bit too much of a good-natured boyscout. How he has managed to survive in this rough, gritty world is beyond me. Fortunately, his goody-goody nature is balanced by an excellent performance by John Leguizamo as the bad-ass soldier-for-hire Cholo. Dennis Hopper's villain, though one dimensional, is played seriously enough as to still evoke the viewer's disdain. Add a well-intentioned but misunderstood prostitute into the mix and a couple thousand zombies looming across the horizon and you've got an incredibly entertaining movie.
Ill Fated (2004)
Surprisingly watchable & funny as hell
Quirky and offbeat would be the best way to describe this story of a small town 19 year-old struggling to find his way in the midst of even smaller small town personalities.
Some of the characters in the rural setting are way over the top, but it works, as they're supposed to be embellished caricatures of hicks. The performances that stood out the most are that of the lead, Paul Campbell, known mostly for his work on the new Battlestar Galactica, his character's quirky grandfather played by John F. Parker, and in a very minor but memorable role the local police officer who spends much of the film completely flabbergasted at the stupidity of the local bunch to which he seemingly belongs.
This is a movie that definitely does not take itself too seriously, nor should the viewer.
The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
Fairly faithful to the book, gripping & disturbing (as it should be)
Having just finished the original book written by noted Canadian author Margaret Atwood, I was eager to see this film to see the world depicted within recreated visually. Immediately I was drawn into this disturbing world.
** SPOILERS **
The USA as we know it is gone, replaced via a coup d'état by right-wing Christian fundamentalists who establish the Republic of Gilead in it's place where literal interpretations of the Old Testament take the place of the Constitution and laws governing the land. (The name Gilead comes from the Bible from an area NE of the Dead Sea, why Atwood used this I do not know). As a result of nuclear waste, radiation and pollution, only a tenth of the population can reproduce. Women who are still fertile are brainwashed and trained as handmaids, subjugated as virtual sex slaves and sent to live in the households of high-ranking state officials to bear their children.
Does the film diverge from the book? A fair bit, but not as bad as other film adaptions like Ludlum's "Bourne" series or "Interview With the Vampire" & "Queen of the Damned."
Again, more spoilers: in the book, there is a great deal more emphasis on the narrator's history, especially with her mother and her husband, Luke, who only appears in the film's beginning. In the book, Luke's fate is unknown, as he was taken away from her and never seen again. In the film, Luke is shot and killed within the first few minutes. In the book, the narrator's mother is a free-thinking feminist who winds up sent to the Colonies, but we never see her in the film. Moira in the book is virtually the same, but she knew the narrator prior to being sent to the Red Centre - they were friends in college.
The most startling change from book to film was the ending: Kate in the movie slashes the throat of the Commander she is assigned to before being whisked away by the Mayday resistance group to freedom. In the book, this does not happen - she is led away and the Commander is told she was secretly stealing information from him.
Also, in the book the narrator is not named, while in the film she is given the name Kate. Following the climax there is a fictional seminar synopsis set hundreds of years after the events in the book where the characters and their possible identities are examined. In this, the reader learns the Republic of Gilead eventually fell.
Overall, a great read and a decent adaptation to film. Definitely worth a read, especially during the year of an election. It will scare the hell out of you.
The Village (2004)
M. Night whats-his-face does it again....unfortunately
It starts off well and it is visually stirring but like all of the films following his breakthrough "Sixth Sense," M. Night whatever tries too hard to have a series of dramatic twists to shock the audience. It worked in "Sixth Sense" but failed miserably in "Unbreakable" and was too weak to be of any interest in "Signs."
In this film, the whole "twist" is laughable, predictable and boring.
Why also must this raging egomaniac make a cameo in each of his films? Got news for you buddy--nobody wants to see you on screen.
The actors were great, I will grant them that. Bryce Dallas Howard will be big one day and deserves to be - she has an amazing screen presence.
Save your money and watch it on cable. Trust me.
Not the best, but definitely entertaining
I agree with most of the other commentators: this 3rd installment of the series was not nearly as good as the first two, but it was still entertaining. A lot of time had passed since "The Sequel" was made, so even if Sullivan had stuck to the source material found in Montgomery's 8 books, I think it would've still felt off merely because the actors had changed so much. Also with Colleen Dewhurst gone, the presence of Marilla wouldn't have worked (Marilla doesn't die in the books until "Rilla of Ingleside," and even that's mentioned in passing).
In an episode of "Road to Avonlea," Sullivan's writing contradicts his later self in a scene where town gossips mention Marilla is away visiting Anne to help her take care of her new baby that has jaundice. This episode of "Avonlea" was set years before "The Continuing Story" and plainly suggested that Anne and Gilbert were married already. Clearly Sullivan disregarded what he had written for that episode when he set out to make the third film.
There is hope though! At the end of "The Continuing Story," Gilbert says that they are moving to Glen St. Mary to take over the medical practice from his retiring uncle. This fits in exactly with Montgomery's "Anne's House of Dreams," where the newly-wed Anne and Gilbert get their first house in Glen St. Mary and call it Ingleside.
If you merely shift ahead the timeline, the events of Montgomery's books could still occur in the Anne Universe that Sullivan gave us with the inclusion of "The Continuing Story," only instead of World War I, her sons would go off to World War II. And of course, you'd have to factor in the additional presence of Dominic, but a little creative license is what made all of us love the first 2 films.
Taking Lives (2004)
Started off so good, then went to hell in a handbasket...
This film is another example of Hollywood getting stuck in a rut. While it started off well, with interesting characters, a jarring opening sequence, and thought-provoking plot development, it ends with the usual race-for-a-Sixth-Sense-esque twist that falls short of anything dramatic and borders on ludicrous. The gratuitous shots of Angelina Jolie's mammary organs only cheapened the production. While the acting was fine, and the locales interesting (so rare for an American production to film in Québéc), the ending was just too ridiculous and predictable. The cinematography was admirable, with unique lighting that adds to the suspenseful nature of the film. This film is yet another that had the potential to be a great thriller, yet failed as usual to provide a sufficient ending.