Her

    5 March 2016, late afternoon

Her was quiet lovely. A subtle science fiction film set in the near future. All the gadgets and gizmos presented are things available today tweaked ever so slightly. Joaquin Phoenix’s character, a lonely man dealing with the aftermath of a separation and divorce slowly falls in love with the operating system that powers his digital devices. This is the only piece of science fiction that feels very fictional. The AI is voiced by (the turbo-fox) Scarlett Johansson. (The other leads in the film are Amy Adams—who is always great—and Rooney Mara. That’s some solid casting.) Spike Jonez has made a really interesting film about intimacy and trust and love. It’s shot beautifully, as well. This film is definitely worth watching.

The official Her website.

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World War Z

    5 March 2016, late afternoon

I watched World War Z over three sittings on Netflix, usually in the middle of the night while snacking on something. This is probably not the best way to watch a film, but it likely reflects on how compelling I found the film. The movie stars Brad Pitt as a dude trying to figure out what the deal is with all these zombies that are talking over the world like a plague. The film is more or less a series of interest action sequences. I’d say they are all well done. People are dying all over the place, because of all the zombies. I wouldn’t rush out to watch this film, but if it’s playing on a flight you’re on you should watch it.

I’ve heard the book is great, though.

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Elysium

    4 February 2016, terribly early in the morning

Elysium was a bit too on the nose. South African director Neill Blomkamp presents another dystopian science fiction future, where the rich live in a giant space station orbiting crap-sack Earth. Earthlings try and sneak onto the space station Elysium so they can use their fancy hospital pods and basically live less crap lives. Matt Damon plays one such person. He ends up in robotic exo-skeleton, and has to fight crazy jacked-up South African mercenaries. That stuff is all pretty cool. Jodie Foster plays a jerk politician with a bizarre vaguely colonial accent. That was also fun. On the whole though, the film seems a bit weak.

Reviews of Elysium on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Kick-Ass 2

   26 January 2016, late afternoon

I watched the sequel to Kick-Ass over the weekend. (I started watching it at 1:00 AM, while eating some toast and nutella, and just never stopped.) The film carries on where the first one left off, but loses a lot of what made the first one amazing. There are only a handful of action sequences, and none of them really live up to the action sequences in the first film. (As such, there is far less excessive violence.) Each of the stories that ran through the movie felt weak. Matthew Vaughn, the director of the first film was simply the producer of this second one, which might explain why the sequel felt like it missed the mark. I’d skip this movie.

Kick-ass 2 on Netflix.

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Tig

    3 January 2016, late afternoon

Shima and I watched Tig late one night over the break. It’s a documentary about Tig Notaro produced by Netflix. Notaro had some amount of fame and success before being catapulted into some new stratosphere of fame and success after she performed a stand up set about her very recent diagnosis with cancer: which came after she broke up with her girlfriend, her mom dying, and her surviving the abdominal disease c-diff. The film looks at that time in her life, and then how she tries to follow up on such a bizarre way to end up famous. It’s a well done documentary if you want to learn about her and her story. I didn’t think there was a larger or more interesting message to it, though.

Watch Tig on Netflix.

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Dredd

   28 December 2015, late evening

Dredd suffers from not being The Raid, but is a fantastic film in its own right. Both films take place in high rises, with a couple cops versus super corrupt gangsters. Both films are very violent. I had thought Dredd was a Hollywood copy of The Raid, but apparently that’s not the case. Dredd was in production before The Raid started filming. Dredd has a solid cast, and Karl Urban is excellent in the title role. I really enjoyed the film.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

   28 December 2015, late evening

I liked the film. I have lots to say, but will wait to say it. You should watch this movie. The new cast of characters are fantastic. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a film when your stars are charming and have great chemistry. The film looks great as well. There is something to be said for practical effects. The contrast between this film and the prequels is so stark. This movie feels like a continuation of the original films, something the prequels never really did. I’m looking forward to the next one.

The official Star Wars: The Force Awakens website.

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Ixcanul

   29 September 2015, terribly early in the morning

The last film I saw at TIFF was Ixcanul, a proper art film from Guatemala. The film is about a Mayan girl whose parents work a coffee plantation. It’s a coming of age story, that touches on the conflict and hardship Kaqchikel-speaking people face. The film was also an interesting glimpse into a world I was completely unaware of. The movie is slow going, slowly ratcheting up the tension as some of the choices the protagonist makes come back to haunt her. Ultimately it’s a film about a lack of choices. This is the sort of film I really only watch at TIFF.

Ixcanul at TIFF 2015

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SPL II: A Time for Consequences

   28 September 2015, early evening

SPL II: A Time for Consequences was a proper-ass HK action film. A thematic sequel to Sah Po Lang, the film carries over some of the cast from the original, and some of the themes and mood. Simon Yam once again plays a hard boiled HK detective. I’m always down to see Yam play a hard as nails cop. Wu Jing plays his nephew, a cop in deep cover, who also knows some serious ass martial arts. New to the series, Tony Ja plays a prison guard who also inexplicably can kick ass like a mother fucker. Basically everyone in this film happens to also know how to kick ass like a mother fucker. There are some great action sequences through out the film. Of particular note is the prison riot. There is a lot to like in this film, though it’s punctuated by a lot of melodrama. The original was gritty crime drama, which I’d say I prefer. This film was still quite compelling, and well worth checking out. Again, I wish I saw it at midnight.

SPL II: A Time for Consequences at TIFF 2015

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Southbound

   28 September 2015, mid-afternoon

My friend Mezan picked all the films I watched at TIFF this year, starting with Southbound. The film is a horror movie anthology. There are 4 stories, each thematically linked. They also make some attempt for the various stories to flow into one another, so it’s not so disjoint. The stories are all over the place in terms of their mood and aesthetic. My favourite was the middle story, about the fellow who runs over a girl, but they were all quite enjoyable. The films are all about purgatory, dealing with guilt, etc. The film was part of the Midnight Madness program, and would have been fun to watch at midnight with that crowd. Seeing it after work on a Friday wasn’t quite the same. Still, it’s a fun bit of grind house cinema.

Southbound at the TIFF 2015.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

   27 May 2015, mid-morning

At the very last minute I made it into a cinema to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. The latest instalment of Mad Max is easily my favourite, though to be fair I can barely remember the other ones now. The movie seems to distil the essence of Mad Max down to its core. The movie is essentially one long car chase, punctuated by the briefest periods of respite. I can’t recall the last film I saw that was so amped up. (Perhaps the Raid?) Visually the film is stunning. I don’t completely understand how they even filmed this thing. Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy are super cool as the leads in this film. Go watch it!

The official Mad Max: Fury Road website.

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For Grace

    7 May 2015, terribly early in the morning

I watched one film at Hotdocs this year, For Grace, a documentary about the opening of the restaurant For Grace. Chef Curtis Duffy closed down Avenue, a two Michelin star restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago to open up his own place. He thought he could do a better if everything was under his control. This was apparently one of the most hotly anticipated restaurants in the world. I was expecting something like the Opening Soon show on TLC. “Oh no, construction delays!” “Oh man, how did we mess up our schedule!” Apparently this is what the directors themselves thought. The film was originally supposed to be a 15 minute short on the Chicago Tribune website. Once they started filming it became clear there was so much more to this story. This film is much more about Duffy than his restaurant. He is so driven when it comes to his career he has sacrificed everything else in his life to be successful. This seems to be how it goes for most people operating at the upper echelons of the restaurant industry. The movie is a great mix of food, restaurant inside baseball, and the human experience. You should check it out.

The official For Grace website.

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Interstellar

   19 November 2014, early morning

I ducked out of work in the afternoon last Tuesday to watch Interstellar in IMAX. I have been waiting patiently for this film since the first trailer was released. Set in the future, on an Earth where all our crops are dying, Matthew McCaonohay leaves his family behind in search for a new planet to call our home. In many ways it feels like a homage to 2001: A Space Odesy. There are certainly many nods to the film throughout this one. The film is a bit melodramatic, but I think it’s all done well. Like all of Nolan’s films it feels a little bit creepy throughout. One of the themes of the film seems to be about trust and lying, which certainly adds to that creepiness. There are robots and they are great. The film visually stunning. I recommend you also see it in IMAX if possible. I love everything Christopher Nolan puts out. This film was no exception.

The official Interstellar website.

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Citizenfour

   19 November 2014, early morning

Edward Snowden contacted two people to tell his story about the great excesses of the NSA. One of Glen Greenwald, who over the course of many weeks and months has told Snowden’s story in article after article. The other was filmmaker Laura Poitras. She met Snowden at the same time as Greewald, and has been filming him since. Citizenfour is the documentary about this whole story. It’s really quite incredible. There is footage from their first meeting, when Snowden first sees his story coming out, when he is first interviewed, when he tries to leave Hong Kong. Seeing everything play out neatly in a coherent narrative makes this story of mass surrvalience much easier to understand. Snowden really does seem quite principled and selfless in his pursuit of getting this story out. He looks to have been ready to give up everything. I think everyone should watch this film. It’s a great documentary. It’ll make you so paranoid.

The official Citizenfour website.

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Revenge of the Green Dragons

   12 September 2014, early morning

Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo co-direct a (very) gritty look at Chinese gangsters in Queens New York in the 80s in the film Revenge of the Green Dragons. (It was produced by Scorsese, who directed the Hollywood re-make of Lau’s Infernal Affairs.) This was the only film I am likely to see at TIFF this year. I bought the ticket online in the morning, walked over to the Lightbox at lunch, and watched it with my friend who was taking the day off to watch films. I think next year i’ll try and actively participate in the festival again. I miss going and watching movies.

The film stars Justin Chon, and follows his character as he is pulled into the Green Dragons street gang and rises through its ranks. The film doesn’t present the gang in a glamourous light—at all. It’s pretty gruesome and violent at times. The film has a real 80s feel, beyond simply being set in the 80s. The soundtrack features a lot of electric guitar. It’s a very serious film, but the dialog is often cheesy gangster film dialog. I was reminded of As Tears Go By by Wong Kar Wai, itself a throw back to Mean Streets by Scorsese. The film is based on real life events, chronicled in a lengthy article from the New Yorker back in 1992. I liked it, but do think it was a bit muddled. Relationships aren’t explored fully, making some of the plot points in the film seem half-baked. Some of the twists seem pointless. My friend didn’t like the film at all.

The write up for Revenge of the Green Dragons over on the TIFF website.

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Snowpiercer.

   24 July 2014, mid-afternoon

If you watch one near future dystopian science fiction film about a train that circles the earth after a climate change apocalypse, make sure it’s Snowpiercer. What a film! They know how to make movies in Korea. Chris Evans stars in this film, which seems strange, but since I don’t think it’s strange for Korean actors to star in American films maybe i’m just being Western-centric. He is fantastic. All the actors are. Tilda Swinton in particular plays a great shitty British politician. The film is funny and dark and action packed and so many things all at the same time. I’m still trying to figure out what the message of the whole film was. The film has a limited release. You should try and watch it if you can.

The official Snowpiercer website.

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Silver Lining Playbook

   23 July 2014, early morning

I watched Silver Linings Playbook over the Christmas break, but forgot to mention it here. It’s a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Both characters are suffering with some mental health issues, each dealing with them in their own ways. Cooper is trying to win back his wife’s love after getting out of a mental institution. He needs Lawrence’s help to get a letter to his wife, who has a restraining order against him. She agrees to help on the condition he is her partner in a dance competition. Seriously. That reads like the plot to a ridiculous romantic comedy, but somehow this one executes on that premise in a way that isn’t stupid. This film is an example of what you can do with the genre of you try. It’s a good film, fun to watch, with some great performances from both the leads and the supporting cast. As romantic comedies go it has to be one of the better ones out there.

The official Silver Linings Playbook website.

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X-Men: Days of Future

   29 May 2014, early morning

X-Men: Days of Future past seems to be well loved, though I’m not sure why. It’s definitely a huge improvement over X-Men: The Last Stand, but on the whole it felt like it fell short. The story retells the classic Chris Claremont comic book story, in which Kitty Pryde is sent back in time to stop Mystique from killing a senator in the 70s, which is the trigger that sets of a chain of events that ends with a present day robot apocalypse. This film follows a similar story, but instead of Kitty Pryde going back they send Wolverine—of course. (Hugh Jackman is crazy ripped in this film, incidentally.) I had high hopes for the movie. It’s a crazy cross over with the cast from X-Men: First Class. Ultimately I found it lacking. I thought there was too much exposition. You are constantly being told what is happening and how to feel about it. There are some cool action sequences, but they felt like they were few and far between. There is nothing like that opening sequence with Nightcrawler from XII, which was spectacular. Anyway, how are you going to not watch this movie?

The official X-Men: Days of Future website.

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Akira

   28 May 2014, early morning

I watched Akira again over the last few days. It was released on Blu-Ray for its 25th anniversary, which I promptly purchased. I’ve come a long way from my friends VHS copy. I’d tell you what it’s about, but who really knows? There are motorbike gangs, activists, secret agents, corrupt government officials, and children with the ultimate psionic power all futzing around in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. None of that matters. In my mind it is the pinnacle of Japanese animation. The whole film is a visual wonder. It had an Inception soundtrack 20 years before Inception. Akira is majestic brilliant beautiful obtuse incredible. It is one of my favourite films.

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The Raid 2: Berandal

   21 April 2014, early evening

I had the most unrealistic expectations going into The Raid 2: Berandal, the Sequel to The Raid: Redemption. The film met those expectations ten fold. Hollywood just isn’t able to make films like The Raid and its sequel. The Raid 2 is violent in a way few films today can manage. It felt like something out of the 80s. Mixed in with this ultra violence is unsurpassed action, superbly shot and edited. I’m still not sure any one scene in The Raid 2 matches the “axe” scene in the first film, but there is no shortage of absolutely breath taking cinema in the sequel. The camera follows the action: no matter how fast and furious things are on the screen you never feel lost. This film has a much more involved plot. Rama goes deep cover trying to bust some crime lords. Of course, the movie could have been a bunch of punching and I’d have been happy. The movie is long, at 2.5 hours, but doesn’t feel it. It uses each of those minutes effectively. There are no wasted shots. The quiet is quiet and the loud is very loud. I love this film.

The trailer for The Raid 2: Berandal is god damn amazing.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

   31 March 2014, early morning

I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel Friday night with some friends and Shima. It’s so rare we do anything together after having Mythilli, so there was a lot of pressure on this film to be good. The movie stars Ralph Fiennes as the eccentric—of course—head of the Grand Budapest. Tony Revolori plays the new lobby boy, and his protege. This is Wes Anderson’s take on the heist film. There is thievery, murder, daring escapes mixed together with the charm of your typical Anderson movie. There are a million cameos throughout. Something interesting I noticed about how the film was shot: the movie is basically one long flashback, and this section of the film is is shot in what looked to be an almost square aspect ratio. This seems unusual for Anderson, though the film still caries his distinct style. I liked the movie a lot. It’s well executed, written, and acted. You should watch it while you can in the cinema.

The official The Grand Budapest Hotel website

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Inside Llewyn Davis

   11 January 2014, evening time

I watched Inside Llewyn Davis at the Lightbox. The film is the latest movie from the Coen Brothers. It stars Oscar Isaac as a starving artist folk singer who is both down on his luck and a man who makes terrible choices. He may be down on his luck because of his poor choices. He is moving in a circle going nowhere. This film is depressing and beautiful. I loved the cinematography. Everything is lit and shot perfectly. I’m not a big folk music fan, but the music in this film is excellent. The acting is superb. This movie was featured in a lot of best films of 2013 lists, a well deserved accolade. You should watch this movie.

Update: I’ve been thinking about this movie for days now. It’s probably one of my favourite films by the Coen brothers, which says a lot: they’ve done a lot of really great films.

The official Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack.

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Bridesmaids

    9 January 2014, early evening

Bridesmaids was on Netflix. It’s always strange seeing a movie that seems too new or popular showing up on that site. The film is excellent. As the title suggests, the film is about bridesmaids. Kristen Wiig plays a women having a rough go at life. Her friend, played by Maya Rudolf, gets engaged and requests Wiig be her matron of honour. Hilarity and hijinks ensue, as she competes with another bridesmaid for Rudolf’s character’s affection, and tries to move forward with her life. It’s a very funny movie. The supporting cast is all hilarious. It’s directed by Paul Feig of Freaks and Geeks fame, and was produced by Judd Apatow. Wiig wrote the script along with Annie Mumolo. They had an A-Team working on this film, and it shows. Maybe i’m the last person on Earth to have seen this, but if you haven’t you should go watch it already.

Read (better) reviews of Bridesmaids on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Moon

   17 December 2013, mid-morning

Moon stars Sam Rockwell as an astronaut working in a power plant on the moon. He’s been living there for almost 3 years, alone except for a robot assistant (voiced by Kevin Spacey). This sort of isolation has made him a little bit crazy. As he prepares to return to Earth things start to get a little weird. Moon was an enjoyable movie. Sam Rockwell is great. I don’t want to discuss his performance too much, as it will give away part of the story, but suffice it to say it is varied and interesting. This is some proper science fiction with a small tight focus: it’s a film about loneliness and what it means be human. (Like so many movies, I suppose.) Rockwell is the only actor we see for much of the film. I loved how it ends.

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Fallen Angels

   24 November 2013, late afternoon

I watched Fallen Angels again today. The film is the unofficial sequel to Chungking Express. They share similar themes, are shot in a very similar style, and even share the actor Takeshi Kaneshiro. There are lots of nods to Chungking Express in Fallen Angels: slightly remixed dialogue and scenes play out in Fallen Angels as an alternate-Earth version of events that transpire in Chungking Express.

Like Chungking Express there are a few stories of love and loss. In Fallen Angels the stories play out in parallel, rather than back to back. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays a mute that breaks into shops at night to run them as his own business. Leon Lai plays a hit man who takes his orders from (smoking hot) Michelle Reis: she’s also in love with him. Karen Mok plays a girl who has dyed her hair bright blonde so as not to be forgotten. Charlie Yeung plays a girl Kaneshiro’s character is infatuated with, who spends her nights trying to hunt down her ex-boyfriends current girlfriend.

Fallen Angels is very surreal. The film takes place entirely at night. Most of the film has this weird dream like feel to it. Everything seems amped up and unreal. Michelle Reis’ character seems to be operating in a constant daze, like she’s sleep walking. Most of the characters don’t seem to act or react like normal people to anything happening in their lives. I have mixed feeling about all of that. I find it harder to relate to characters in films that are too surreal. I think Fallen Angels doesn’t have the same emotional weight it would or could if it was played a bit more straight. It’d be a very different movie, though. This is a Wong Kar Wai film, so there is a lot of emotional weight. There is unrequited love. People being forgotten be their former friends and lovers. Loneliness—there is lots of that.

Like most of Wong Kar Wai’s films, Fallen Angels is at times quite visually stunning. Like Chungking Express there are lots of interesting ‘trick’ shots employed to good effect. A lot of the film is shot with super wide angle lenses. Most of the time the camera must be inches from the actor’s faces. (This distorts their faces, again making the film feel quite surreal.) This style of shooiting also lets Wong Kar Wai showcase what’s happening in the backgrounds of scenes as well, as most everything ends up being enough in focus. The last scene in the film is one of my favourites, and uses this effect quite well.

Fallen Angels is a weird film, but quite enjoyable. I think it’s a weaker movie that Chungking Express, but most films probably are. Hah.

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