Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

It is hard to understand why this amazing film is heading to Netflix rather than the big screen. I guess partly because they optioned to produce it in the first place, although I’m sure that it would be very successful (other that the fact that it is partly subtitled) in a theatre run. It is every bit as well made and relevant as Twelve Years A Slave. It will undoubtedly be an Emmy contender and is worthy of an Oscar nomination. This is the second great Netflix film I’ve seen at this year’s festival, both strong social commentaries. Good on them!

I was extremely impressed with the photographic direction and the actual direction of the film. It is a richly shot film with all kinds of effects that one would expect from the same director responsible for the first season of True Detective. This is the screen adaptation of the book of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, about the abduction and service of a young boy as a child soldier. Its big name star is Idris Elba who plays the ruthless and manipulative Commandant, but the real star is the boy soldier played by Abraham Attah, who won the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival. The movie is so intense that people around me in the audience were visibly shaken, cringing and averting their eyes. It is a naked look at what it means to be a child soldier in Africa (or probably in the Middle East as well). This film has it all, from strong action scenes to great acting performances, to a depth and empathy of the political situation.  It works on many levels.

I would give this film an A. One way or another when this is released you have to see it, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

PS:  For those of you with an Integral Theory leaning, you will find this film very enlightening  in showing the ways in which Amber controls Red and Orange controls (though not always successfully) Amber.   …It made me think of how possibly Green controls Orange. 

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It is difficult to come up with a new, original story about WW2, but Land Of Mine sheds light on a chronicle that has previously been shrouded. In the middle of the war Hitler was convinced that the allies would invade Germany through Denmark, landing on the west coast of that country and moving south. To prepare for this he directed German troops to bury thousands of land mines on the beaches of western Denmark. Of course the invasion never landed there and at the end of the war these landmines still littered the beaches. After the war, German POWs, who in Denmark were mostly older teenagers, were conscripted to clear the mines. That is the context of the movie, but the film is more about the evolution of one hard nosed offices who hated the Germans developing respect and compassion and coming to realize that everyone deserves to be treated as human beings.

The film was made in Denmark in German and Danish languages, with the director saying that his goal was to shed some light on the darker episodes of war in that country. It is a gruesome film. When people are diffusing mines, they sometimes get blown up. Very well acted and shot. A great film worth watching but it’s one of those foreign films that you’ll probably have to hunt to find, and may eventually appear on Netflix or the History Channel in several years. I would give it a B++ rating.

Good Interview with Director

I thought that I might catch the new movie, Chappie, sometime this weekend, or ever perhaps today (the opening day), seeing that it was playing in some places at 1 p.m. A quick look at the listings revealed a commercial opportunism that I’ve seen building over the past year or two, but never to the degree that currently seems to be prevalent.

If you want to see a new movie in any of the larger theatres, expect to pay extra. I’m not talking about the IMAX or 3D surcharges. Those, at least, make some sense to me. You’re paying for a notably better experience, and you usually have a choice in whether you want to avail yourself of this premium experience or not.

No, I’m talking about the other, recently imposed, fake premium tickets such as the VIP or the ULTRAAVX arrangements. IN the ULTRA situations you pay a surcharge of several dollars for what they claim is superior video and audio, -although I’ve never really noticed any difference. You also get the privilege of choosing your seats before going in to the theatre, although you really don’t have full choice as there are limitations on what seats you can choose. The result in a low use time is having a small group of people lumped into a small area in the middle of the theatre. There is no point in this seat selection. In high use times, you get to choose at the box office between a variety of poorer seats, -something you could just as easily do walking down the hall and entering the movie. In low use times, you get to choose among lots of seats, just like you’d be able to do if you just walked in and sat down. The difference is that with ULTRA you get to pay a surcharge for the privilege, which usually doesn’t do much other than slow down the ticket line. Even if you were the only person in the room, or one of a dozen, you would still pay this premium price. (If they wanted to impose a surcharge for choosing a seat on the Internet, which I personally think is totally unnecessary, then, fine, do that for those taking advantage of that extra service, but don’t make the people in the theatre line have to pay for it.) For today and the following week, the movie “Chappie”, along with several other new releases, are only available in most theatres using the ULTRA option. It is nothing less than a surcharge for seeing a new release wrapped in a thin veneer of crappy extra services.

When I went to see “A Theory of Everything” about a month ago, I chose to see it at the Varsity Theatre in Toronto. It wasn’t playing at anything but a few downtown theatres at that point as it was prior to the awards season. Admittedly, I didn’t look carefully enough at the listing, or I would have noticed that it was only playing in the VIP theatre. I didn’t realize it until they asked for $20 for the movie ticket. I had gone all the way down there and there wasn’t any opportunity to move to another theatre (-there was only one other in town playing it at that time-) so I took the hit, cursed myself for not looking more carefully, and saw the movie. For the additional cost, I enjoyed the privileges of having a slightly more comfortable seat (and I mean slightly), being offered over priced theatre food by annoying waiters and seeing the movie on a relatively small screen.

Theatres, especially the larger chains such as Silver City, are using the pretext of the “premium service” to simply fleece their customers of a little extra cash. It is not enough that they sell popcorn for a price that calculates to $66 a pound, a price that is twice what you’d pay for a fine steak in a good restaurant, and which rivals quality caviar. (I actually calculated this as a Math/Science activity with my Gr. 7 class.) Now they are trying to convince us that their meagre enhancements are worth charging us even more for the actual movie. It’s all smoke and mirrors. If I lived close to a small theatre like the Carlton, it would have all of my business. In the meantime, if theatres want to complete with on line services (and pirating) they would do well not to exploit their customers.

I feel that it was a very lean year for movies. A lot of the films that are garnering award nominations seem to be coming from desperation and would not get that kind of recognition in other years where stronger films were more prevalent. Films like “Into the Woods” and “Foxcatcher”, …and even “Birdman” don’t seem to be of the kind of calibre that deserves recognition, and “American Sniper” hadn’t even been released when the nominations were announced.

“Birdman” seems to be a favorite this year. While it was well produced and directed, the story seemed hollow to me. The filmmakers did an excellent job of telling a very jumbled and largely irrelevant story. It didn’t really speak to me at all in spite of the fact that it was well crafted. “Selma” is probably an excellent film (…I haven’t seen it…), but I have to say (and may be criticized for it) that after “The Butler”, “The Help” and “12 Years a Slave” civil rights issues just might be getting a little overdone. I’m sure that those most directly affected by civil rights issues don’t agree with me, …although the Academy does seem to agree with me as “Selma” got a mention for best film but nothing else.

There are several movies that I do feel deserve award mention.

“Boyhood” is a classic Linklater film. He does a very good job of making a film about nothing in particular. I appreciate the scope of the task and think that it was a novel idea, but the opportunity presented by the film was, in my opinion, squandered. The story didn’t live up to the overall accomplishment. In spite of that, I feel that it is worthy of award nomination as a film, although none of the individual performances were particularly noteworthy.

The two films that I think are on top of the heap are “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game”. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” came out early in the year, a rare January release of an Oscar worthy movie. It got my attention immediately and is an original, funny and well crafted movie. “The Imitation Game” is a far more serious film about Alan Turing, with many layers of story and significance. They are totally different films, but both had fantastic acting performances and were very entertaining.

“The Theory of Everything” comes close to “The Imitation Game” in telling a deeply significant biographical story, but the latter, in my opinion, is just a hair better both in acting and story. There is no doubt that Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking takes on a very difficult task in portraying Hawking’s disability, but personally I think that an excellent performance of a normal person trumps an excellent performance of a person with a handicap. (Don’t misunderstand this. What comes to mind is Meryl Streep’s performance in “August: Osage County” where the melodramatic portrayal of the crazy, alcoholic mother was very deep, but none the less melodramatic. –Not that Redmayne’s performance is melodramatic. It’s actually quite masterful.) “The Theory of Everything” tackles a complicated character and manages to bring a special humanity to it, while still tackling the science that made Hawking famous.

Best actor should go to preferably Benedict Cumberbatch, but Eddie Redmayne would be fine.

Best actress seems to be a thin category with many of the nominations coming from peripheral films. I can only speak to Felicity Jones, in “the Theory of Everything”, who did a very good but not exceptional job.

“Interstellar” deserved some recognition beyond the music nod. Perhaps it was a little too “out there” for the Academy. Films that made my top 10 that aren’t on the Oscar list include, “Chef”, “The Internet’s Own Boy” (for documentary), and “Night crawler”. Movies like”Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Dawn of Planet of the Apes” never get the recognition that they deserve.

Finally, it is disappointing that “The Lego Movie” didn’t get any recognition, other than a music nod for “Everything is Awesome”, which I hope it gets. It clearly deserved a nomination if not a win for Animated Film.

Fascinating day yesterday. I needed to get to the Molson Amphitheatre to see the Blue Rodeo Concert.

I started by choosing to walk from Union Station to Ontario Place, along Queen’s Quay and through some great Harborfront parks, beaches and outdoor patios. It was a perfect day for it. I’d chosen to walk, both because I’d never explored this part of the city and because I figured that on the first day of the CNE it would be difficult to park. That turned out to be not true. While parking was a $20 flat rate, there was lots of available space.

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I still ended up at the Molson Amphitheatre a few hours early and wanted to get something to eat before entering, having seen the reviews on line about $13 hamburgers and $15 cans of beer inside. Thought that if I was going to have to fork out a fortune, I might as well try one of the Ontario Place restaurants I’d read about on line. Hmm. Ontario Place is totally dead, closed. The Molson Amphitheatre charges its outrageous prices because it is totally isolated from any other services, virtually an island unto itself in more ways than one. Mourning both the death of Ontario Place and my own increasing hunger, I looked around and saw a Pizza Pizza sign across a pedestrian bridge, so I walked towards it only to find an entry gate to the CNE between me and my food.

As I’d walked through the Molson Amphitheatre lots and entry gates, I asked several staff how I’d be able to connect to the TTC to get home after the concert. Some suggested going over to the Dufferin Gate, some suggested walking back to Bathurst to catch the 511 street car (which turns out not to be the right one), but all told me that since the CNE was operating, I’d have to go around it to catch transit. Ridiculous that such a huge concert venue doesn’t have its own transit connection. Having gotten conflicting reports, I decided to ask again when confronted with the CNE entry gate. Several ticket people and a police officer talked to each other and finally appealed to what was probably the supervisor, who came over and informed me that my concert ticket gave me free entrance to the CNE, just like the old Ontario Place admission had. This was a surprise to me, and, it seems, would have been a surprise to both the MA staff and all of the people who put together the directions on line (all of which also routed you around the CNE), not to mention most of the ticket takers at the entrance.

So, anyway, this was a surprise bonus, and allowed me to enter the CNE and avail myself of their food outlets. It also gave me something to do for a few hours. I haven’t been to the CNE in over ten years, …maybe twenty. It hasn’t changed much. Midway games are still trying to soak you for money. Quaint rides (compared to Wonderland) had very modest lineups for such a nice day, but still cost extra on top of admission. My goal was the Food Building to sate my hunger. I didn’t try anything ambitious as I could just see myself trapped in a concert later with food poisoning.

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After the concert, you still had to take a 20 minute or so walk through the CNE grounds in order to get on a crowded TTC bus. I didn’t mind it as much as I might have because it was thrilling to exit the Amphitheatre into the colourful and raucous nighttime CNE. I don’t know if it was planned that way, but the fireworks went off just as we were leaving the concert.

I was expecting the subway to stop at Eglinton after midnight, as it does during TIFF, but I guess sanity prevails during the CNE, and it went all the way up to Finch. If it hadn’t, my trip home would have been about a half an hour longer. As it was, total time getting home from the end of the conference was over 3 hours. I doubt that I’d ever again choose “the better way” for a concert at this location in the future. Especially as it became clear that parking was not impossible.

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As you can see, my Nexus phone takes pretty good pictures in daylight, but sucks an the dark.

As for the concert itself, Blue Rodeo was absolutely fantastic. This was one of my “bucket list” bands, having never seen them before. I wasn’t disappointed at all, and was one of the best concerts I have seen in a long time. I’m glad I was a ways back (though not on the grass) as it was pretty loud. Fairly good sound though. I always have seen Blue Rodeo as Canada’s answer to The Eagles, but Blue Rodeo is probably the most distinctively Canadian band out there. The set was decidedly rocking, with only a few songs getting their “country” on. A killer electric guitar player and keyboard player added a lot to the arrangement of the songs. The final finale, “Lost Together “, brought out the opening act, “Deep Dark Woods”, for a powerful version of the song. Jim Cuddy is probably the best Canadian singer. Yes, better than Celine Dion, if anyone even considers her Canadian anymore. Greg Keelor is OK as a singer, and adds a critical element to the band, but the applause made it clear which artist the audience respects the most.

Not too many acts still on that “bucket list”. Only two or three, unless some people come back from the dead. Next one would be John Fogarty. Missed the Dandy Warhols playing “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia” last fall. Hopefully they’ll reprise.

Anyway, a pretty full and adventurous day.

It’s an amazing idea, so I expected amazing things.

Boyhood took 12 years to film so that they could use the same actors playing the roles in a family, with the focus being on Mason, the son, who begins as a six year old and ends as an 18 year old high school graduate. It is an incredibly ambitious idea that has all kinds of potential, but falls a bit short of expectation. The novelty and the character development are both there, and all the actors are in good form, but the plot is a little flat. In fairness, I’ve never been a fan of Richard Linklater, finding many of his movies to be masterfully mundane. I know that many would not agree with me.

And yet there was enough there to keep me interested for the full length of the film, at just under 3 hours. And that’s quite a feat in itself. The family issues and the adolescent milestones are reasonably well portrayed, and the viewer is more invested in them because we’ve seen the boy grow up right in front of our eyes. But there’s nothing terribly notable in the whole thing. I kept thinking to myself that they could have done more with it. It doesn’t help that the character of the boy is relatively introverted and quiet. This gives rise to some interesting introspection and philosophy of life, especially with the somber, straight laced, psychologist mother on one side and the fly by night, wild father on the other. Watching these characters develop over the 12 years is a sidebar in itself.  Also interesting is to see the technology and music imbedded in the film evolve over that period.

I was definitely of two minds about the film. On one hand I really enjoyed it, to the point that I might even watch it a second time. On the other hand it has Linklater’s brand of trying to glorify the ordinary, albeit this time with a unique twist.

I would give the move a B+ (with the plus stemming from the novety)

CHEF : Movie Review

Posted: July 21, 2014 in Entertainment, Movies, Reviews

I’m not terribly fond of comedies, either on TV or on the big screen. But every once in a while an intelligent one slips through the cracks of mindlessness and really entertains me.

“Chef” was such a film. It oddly stars and is directed/written by Jon Favreau who directed all of the Iron Man movies. It’s refreshing, original and clever, with the plot centering around a famous chef who makes a move to a food truck. Actually it is more about him discovering a relationship with his son and also a relationship with himself and what he really is passionate about. It is a film that should engage everyone, young and old, male or female. It also taps into Twitter and the whole idea of how it can make or break businesses. The generational difference in the approach to social media is fun to watch.

If it has any flaw it is that it takes a little while to get revved up. It could lose about 15 minutes, but mainly in the first third of the movie. I wouldn’t touch the last two thirds and, frankly, I had no real problem with the first part.

I would give this film an A-.

Chef has been playing in limited engagement for a while now, so I don’t think it is going to make it to wider distribution, even though it has such actors as Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downy Jr., Scarlet Johannson and Sofia Vergara. Catch it while you can.