Blind Detective

   12 September 2013, evening time

Last night I watched Johnnie To’s latest film Blind Detective at TIFF. I was expecting something along the lines of Vengence, Full Time Killer, Election, The Mission, Expect the Unexpected, etc. Very quickly I realized this film was a full on romantic comedy buddy cop film. If I had know Sammi Cheng was Andy Lau’s co-star I might have guessed what was up. Still, it was an enjoyable movie. Andy Lau plays a blind detective helping super-rich cop Sammi Cheng track down her missing childhood friend, in between trying to solve other cold cases for their reward money. He has a knack for getting into the criminal’s head and figuring out what happened at the scene of a crime. The film features a lot of Sammi and Andy reenacting scenes from crimes, which jump between being grizzly and hilarious. It’s very strange. Some of the humour is very slapstick and kind of stupid, but a lot of it is quite funny. Andy Lau’s character is kind of a jerk, and he plays it to great effect. The movie reminded me very much of a 90s HK romantic comedy, the sort of thing I’d watch on CFMT. I’m guessing that’s probably not most people’s thing. The movie tries to be a thriller, buddy cop film, and a romance, which is pretty hard to pull off. I’m not sure he did here, but he gets an A for effort.

The TIFF write up for Blind Detective.

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Celeste & Jesse Forever

   13 August 2013, terribly early in the morning

Shima and I watched Celeste & Jesse Forever. It was my sort of romantic comedy: the whole film is tinged with sadness. The movie begins at the end of a love affair: the titular Jesse and Celeste are getting divorced. Things are ending so amicably it’s weirding their friends out. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as they would like. I love Rashida Jones, who stars as Celeste. It’s possible my feelings about the film are coloured by that, but I don’t think so. The film focuses on Jones’ character and how she reacts to Jesse, played by Andy Samberg, moving on before her. I suppose the film also deals with the whole hot single women who shouldn’t be single but are thing. The film features some great acting and writing. The soundtrack is also killer. (You need to listen to the Biggest Crush Edit of Baby right now.) The film is at its best when it pulls away from its romantic comedy roots. The movie ends with things neatly tied up. It might have been a stronger movie had it ended a bit sooner, at the point Jones is delivering an amazing speech about love and marriage at her friends wedding. Though, it probably would have been a very different film. People complain I recommend all the movies I watch, but whatever, go watch this: I liked it.

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Pacific Rim

   23 July 2013, early afternoon

I watched Pacific Rim over the weekend. Have you seen it yet? If not, what’s wrong with you! Go watch it already. This movie was so satisfying. It takes 5 minutes to explain why their are giant robots and giant monsters, and then spends the rest of the film pitting giant robots against giant monsters. It’s thoroughly cheesy, but also thoroughly good.

The official Pacific Rim website.

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Man of Steel

    2 July 2013, late morning

I watched the new Superman movie last night. It was god damn incredible. How has this film been getting mixed reviews? The “cold-open” of the film takes place on Krypton, and is thoroughly kick-ass. From there we move to the present day, where Superman is living like a drifter, helping people and trying to stay under the radar. His life on Earth is revealed over the course of the first half of the film as a series of flashbacks, mixed in with his discovery of his true origins. The second half of the film is Superman punching shit and it is so unbelievably fantastic. It’s all Kyptonians fighting Kryptonians, and the destruction one would expect from that. I loved this movie.

The official Man of Steel website.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

   24 June 2013, terribly early in the morning

I watched Star Trek Into Darkness this past Friday. The crew of the Enterprise have to fight Sherlock Holmes. The movie opens with a crazy action sequence and moves quickly from there. It’s as fast paced and action packed as the first film. If you think too hard about it no doubt you’ll find some plot holes. There are definitely lots of lens flares as well. Still, the movie is lots of fun. I quite liked it.

The Star Trek Into Darkness website.

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Argo

   17 June 2013, lunch time

I was in London a few weeks ago. I watched Argo on the flight there. The film tells the tale of the Canadian Government and the CIA helping six Americans holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s house escape Iran. They do so in part by saying they are the film crew of a fake movie: Argo. The film is well written, and features a pretty stellar cast sporting some great haircuts. Argo’s credits include photographs from the revolution paired with matching shots from the film. They start with the various actors and their real life counterparts, and move on to more iconic imagery. To his credit Afleck and his team did an amazing job bringing the period to life. Everything feels so pitch perfect. There are some scenes in the film of sweat shop children reassembling shredded documents. Now I was all, “bullshit,” but sure enough there is a photograph of an example of one of these reassembled documents at the end of the movie. Argo was really well done. You should watch it. Ben Afleck knows how to make good movies. Who knew?

The official Argo website.

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Kick-Ass

   17 June 2013, lunch time

I watched Kick-Ass over the weekend. I had missed it in the cinemas. It’s one of those, “what if superheroes were real” movies, based on a comic book of the same name. What sets it apart from most comic book films is probably its excessive violence. Also, it stars Nicolas Cage, who is fantastic in his role as the Batman-like Big Daddy. There are some pretty great action sequences. The fact they are super bloody is a nice bonus. If you haven’t seen Kick-Ass you should check it out.

The official Kick-Ass website.

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The Raid Redemption

   14 May 2013, late afternoon

I watched The Raid Redemption on the weekend. I think it’s safe to say there is no greater action movie. I mean that quite literally. The film was incredible. An elite police team need to break into an apartment building controlled by a criminal mastermind and arrest everyone. Things quickly go awry, and their plans quickly turn to escape. The film is super violent and bloody and so amped up. I could feel my heart racing while watching the movie. There is so much bad-ass action I don’t even know where to start. You need to watch this film. It’s so god damn amazing.

The official The Raid Redemption website.

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Like Somone in Love

    1 May 2013, early morning

I was at the Lightbox again last week to watch Like Someone in Love. Iranian super-star director Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film is set in Tokyo and is wonderful. Akiko is a call girl, presumably to pay for her schooling and board in her new home Tokyo. The film begins with her being sent off to meet a retired professor, forcing her to skip out on meeting her grandmother. Like Someone in Love is a film all about deception and human relationships. Most everyone in the film is lying about who they are, who they are with, etc. It’s slow and methodical. A good chunk of the films dialog takes place with characters who appear off screen. (I think every character in the film is actually first introduced via off screen dialog.) A lot of conversation happens about stuff that the viewer doesn’t see till much later. The movie feels very alive. The actors are all fantastic. I really enjoyed this film. Also, great ending.

Learn more about Like Someone in Love at the Lightbox website.

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Upstream Color

   30 April 2013, early morning

It’s been a week of movies for me. I’m rocking it like it’s 2005. I watched Upstream Color at the TIFF Lightbox a week ago. This is the second film by Shane Carruth, the man behind Primer. Like Primer, it has an unusual narrative structure. There is almost no dialog. A lot of the details about the plot are left unsaid, you just need to infer what’s going on based on what you see and how the characters react to the situations they are in. It’s a film about relationships, another similarity to Primer, but without the whole ‘the plot is a puzzle’ element of Primer. It’s a beautiful film, one that’s hard to describe in a sentence or two. Lucky for you, the trailer is fantastic. It’s probably not a film for everyone, but I think it’s well worth watch.

The official Upstream Color website.

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"My mother was Korean and my father was Black American."

    1 April 2013, early morning

I watched Miami Connection over the weekend at the Bell Lightbox. The experience was transcendental. I haven’t had that much fun at the movies in a long time. The film was made in 1987, by amateur film maker and all around boss Y.K. Kim. It’s clearly the product of one man’s vision. I will quote the description from TIFF because if that doesn’t make you want to watch the film nothing I say will.

The year is 1987. As motorcycle-riding ninjas tighten their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade, annihilating anyone who gets in their way, multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound decide that they’ve had enough. In between chasing beach bunnies and performing their hit song “Against the Ninja,” the Dragon Sound boys embark on a crusade of roundhouse-kicking, karate-chopping, crime-crushing justice on the streets of Orlando, determined to never stop until they’ve destroyed the every last one of the dealers, thugs, bikers, ninjas — and the entire Miami Connection!

The film is available online for $6 bucks, or $10 if you want the deluxe edition. The soundtrack is amazing. I got both my brother and co-worker to watch the films, and they were not disappointed. Don’t watch the trailer. You need to experience this movie fresh. You definitely need to watch this movie.

The official Miami Connection website.

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The Master

   23 January 2013, early evening

P.T. Anderson knows how to make movies. I watched The Master at the Lightbox and it was fantastic. The movie is about the relationship between a shell shocked WWII vet and a charismatic cult leader. Joaquin Phoenix gives a stellar performance. He is unbelievably good in this film. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as usual. This film also featured some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in a long while. I got to see the 70mm print and it looked amazing. The film is really quite affecting. Go watch this film.

Also, I feel like P.T. Anderson loves shots of people running frantically.

The official The Master website.

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Life of Pi

   21 January 2013, terribly early in the morning

I watched Life of Pi over the holidays, in 3D no less. The bulk of the film, like the book it is based on, follows a boy as he travels shipwrecked across the ocean in a small boat with a Bengal tiger. I should start by saying I feel like an idiot because I had thought they had an actual tiger for many of the shots in the film, but the tiger in the film is completely computer animated. It’s insane how good it looks. It’s a nice uplifting film. Both the book and the film have one of my favourite lines of text ever, which I won’t ruin for you now. I had never seen anything in 3D before and I thought Life of Pi actually looked quite amazing in 3D: nothing felt cheesy about it. So yeah, go watch this film. I thought it does the book justice.

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Skyfall

   13 December 2012, mid-morning

How did I forget to write about Skyfall, the new James Bond movie. Like the two films that came before it, the film is pretty spectacular. It opens with a crazy action sequence and then moves on to spies and intrigue. Unlike the previous two films Skyfall feels like more of a throwback to the older James Bond movies. There are all sorts of nods to the earlier movies, presumably because it’s the 50th anniversary of the franchise. Bérénice Marlohe plays the bond girl in the film, and she is smoking hot. Daniel Craig has got to be the best James Bond. This is one of my favourite James Bond films ever, though I don’t know if it’s better than Casino Royale.

The official Skyfall website.

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

   27 October 2012, late morning

I watched the latest Mission Impossible film last weekend. Like all the sequels that have followed the first film, it’s more action movie than spy flick. This film seems much more willing to take itself less seriously. The action sequences are crazy and the plot just over the top enough. Briefly, a mad man is trying to launch a Russian nuclear strike in order to start some sort of armageddon that will ultimately result in world peace and only Tom Cruise can stop him. The first Mission Impossible film is by far the best, but this film was quite enjoyable.

The official Mission Impossible website.

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Looper

    2 October 2012, early evening

I watched Looper on Saturday night. I hadn’t been to Manulife to watch a film on a Saturday night in forever. It was a busy screening. Looper is amazing. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen recently, a great dystopian time travel flick. The movie doesn’t waste too much time on hard sci-fi. They explain the key things you need to know at the start of the film: in the future time travel has been invented and was promptly outlawed; the only people to use time travel are criminals who send people back in time to be executed; the people who perform this task are called Loopers; the last execution a looper performs is killing their future self. The movie is violent in a thoroughly graphic and unglorified way. Early on in the movie you see what happens to a Looper who doesn’t kill his future self, and it’s more than a little disturbing. The film feels thoroughly well crafted. The acting is superb. Joseph Gordon Levit does a great Bruce Willis impression. They made him up to look like Bruce Willis, and it’s actually really well done. The movie features some amazing dialog. It’s really well written, much like Brick. The film is being billed as an action flick, but its much more than that. This is a must watch movie.

The official Looper tumblr.

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Him, Here, After

   18 September 2012, early morning

I woke up last Monday morning and decided to check out another film at TIFF. I looked to see what films were screening in the afternoon at the Lightbox, and noticed one called Him, Here, After. Taking a closer look I learned it was a Sri Lankan movie about a Tamil Tiger heading home to Jaffna after the war. What were the chances? I bought a ticket and got back to work, which ended up being all kinds of crazy. I had to run to the theatre to make the film. Literally. I passed Tiff on my way there. We spoke briefly while I caught my breath. I am in poor shape.

The film is quite good, and I thought much better than the other Sri Lankan art films I’ve seen at TIFF (The Foresaken Land, Between Two Worlds). It’s quiet and thoughtful. The unnamed protagonist returns to Jaffna with no fanfare. The film is about him trying to start a new life. No one is happy to see him back. He struggles to find work and reintegrate in to civilian life. No doubt you’ve seen that story play out before. The Hughes brothers film Dead Presidents is the first that comes to my mind. The film isn’t quite so bleak, but it definitely doesn’t wrap things up nicely. A very strong performance by Niranjani Shanmugaraja is what makes the film. Our screening concluded with a Q&A with Michael Ignatief, which I didn’t think was particularly good. He didn’t really have anything too insightful to discuss. He spent a long time complaining about fund raising for the Tigers in Toronto, which is admitidly bad, but felt a bit off topic. One thing I did learn in the Q&A was that the title of the film is a play on words. Ini Avan translate to “him hereafter”, while the single word Iniavan translates to “sweet man”. The director said he was trying to present an LTTE solider as a more nuanced complicated figure than one sees in the Sri Lankan press. I think he succeeded here.

Him, Here, After at the TIFF website.

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The We and the I

   10 September 2012, terribly early in the morning

The The We and the I marks my return to TIFF. I grabbed a ticket from Limin, my only friend who apparently bothered getting a 10-pack this year. She had two extra tickets, so I used one to go see a film with her. This film was her pick. The We and the I is directed by Michael Gondry, and follows a group of teenagers as they ride the bus home from their last day of school. All the action takes place on the bus; Michael Gondry styled flash backs and dream sequences are used to good effect to provide context and backstory on occasion. At its core it’s a film about high school. There are bullies and the brash, and then there is everyone else. There is melodrama, lust, conformity, and all the things central to high school existence. The two lead figures in the film are Michael, one of the bullies, and Vanessa, his friend not-quite girlfriend who has returned to school after a 3-month absence. There story plays out in full, while we get snippets from the lives of everyone else on the bus. There are plenty of people on the bus. Lots of stories begin, but most rarely come to a satisfying conclusion. People hop off the bus before we learn more about them. There is a point being made with that choice, no doubt. The acting is a bit hit-or-miss, but on the whole I’d say good. The film feels very authentic, I suspect because the characters are all probably playing variations of themselves—Gondry recruited kids from an after-school out-reach program to star in the movie. At times the movie is quite funny; at times it’s quite poignant. The We and the I manages to capture the confusion of adolesence well. You should watch it.

The We and the I on the TIFF website.

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The Dark Knight Rises

    7 August 2012, early evening

I was discussing Christopher Nolan’s worst movie with my cousin. I suggested Insomnia: a Hollywood remake of a Norwegian film. He suggested The Dark Knight Rises. No fucking way! I watched the concluding film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy over the weekend. The story picks up 8 years after the last film. Bruce Wayne is a recluse and Batman hasn’t been seen since he escaped capture by the police. The movie opens with Bane kidnapping a scientist in a pretty spectacular action sequence. From there it’s all about Batman’s return to being all Batman. There are highs and lows and I thought it was all pretty fantastic. In my mind this film is comparable to the first Batman film in its scope. I feel all three films are an interesting look at the Batman mythos, but the second film felt like a much deeper look at the various archetypes found within the Batman story. The Dark Knight felt stronger and more focused. This is all irrespective of Heath Ledger’s excellent portrayal of the Joker. The acting in this film is great too. All of Nolan’s regular actors make an appearance. Tom Hardy does a great job with Bane. (I actually like his voice, a common complaint I’ve heard about the film.) The action sequences are much better done. The fights aren’t quite as frantic as they were in the first film. Hathaway is super hot. Go watch this. Did you think I’d have anything else to say here?

The official The Dark Knight Rises website.

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Smokin' Aces

   26 June 2012, late afternoon

I watched Smokin’ Aces with my brother over the weekend. It’s the perfect Netflix movie: a movie I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to seek out, but watched because it was there. Everyone in the movie is famous. Alica Keys plays a foxy hit lady. Mathew Fox plays a dorky hotel security guard. Ben Affleck plays a bondsman. I could keep going on and on. The plot is simple and very predictable. (The big reveals at the end of the movie are pretty obvious.) The movie suffers from too much telling, not enough showing. The characters are constantly narating what’s happening, what the relationships in the movie are all about, etc. That said, it’s super flashy and fun. If you find yourself with nothing else to watch on Netflix, check it out.

Smokin’ Aces reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Prometheus

   18 June 2012, mid-afternoon

An alien spacesuit

Reviews of Prometheus have been more mixed than I thought they would be. I suppose it has a lot to live up to, being a sort-of prequel to Alien, directed by the man himself Ridley Scott. I’ll be upfront and say I enjoyed the movie. Suck it, haters.

Prometheus begins with some strange Alien dude eating some strange fluid that ends up destroying his body as he watches a spaceship fly away. He falls into a river and dissolves away. The implication is that this is the source of life on Earth. Fast forward a long time and you have scientists discovering cave paintings about these Aliens, figuring out where they originally came from, and then heading off on a grand adventure of discovery. Like the original Alien, that all turns to shit.

There are countless nods to Alien throughout the film. So many so there isn’t much point trying to list them. So many that comparisons are inevitable. The basic structure of the entire film mirrors Alien, more or less. The problem here is that Alien is clearly the better film: it’s far more focused and coherent. Prometheus suffers from exploring too many mysteries and being a bit half-assed about resolving them. I don’t think every single question a movie asks needs to be spelled out clearly on the screen, but a film should probably make more of an effort than Prometheus does. Putting that aside, there is still a lot to like about Prometheus. The specials effects are amazing. It’s visually stunning. There are several great actors in the movie, who probably could have done more with a better script. Michael Fassbender continues to be awesome, and Charlize Theron continues to be omega-hot. The film is much faster paced than the original alien. Things get weird much quicker. (The movie opens with an alien, after all.) You can tell the film maker and his team were trying to out do themselves when it came to grossing out the audience. It isn’t enough to simply have an alien rip out of someones guts. Here I think Prometheus is most successful. You leave the movie not wanting to touch anything, wishing you could seal up all your orifices.

Go watch this film.

The official Prometheus website.

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The Avengers

   25 May 2012, terribly early in the morning

Like everyone else on the planet, I recently watched The Avengers. It was pretty good for much of the film, as then ends off pretty great. My main concern when I first heard they were making the film was how they would avoid turning the movie into Ironman III. Joss Whedon did an amazing job giving each character in the ensemble their time to shine. It really did feel like a well balanced film about a team, not individual heroes. Being a Joss Whedon film we also have a turbo-foxy strong female lead, Scarlet Johansen, doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to moving the story forward. I think her character would have been an after thought if this project was being run by someone else. The only character that I felt suffered in the film was poor Hawkeye. I think Jeremy Renner plays the part well enough, but he feels a bit out of place for much of the film. His character is a bit too serious and brooding, and his role in the group seems to overlap the Blackwidow’s. As many others have said, Mark Ruffollo was an amazing Hulk. My favorite part (and line) in the film comes when he transforms into the hulk the second time. The plot of the movie makes enough sense to be fun. There is Loki, evil space aliens, that cube the Nazi’s were using to power their laser guns, etc. The Avengers is very much a comic book movie, much like the first Ironman film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a lot of humour mixed in with the action and (occasional) drama. You can see Whedon’s mark throughout the film. Hopefully now that he’d wildly successful we’ll get a second season of Firefly.

The official The Avengers website.

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Captain America

   25 May 2012, terribly early in the morning

I liked Captain America much more than I thought I would. I never found the superhero particularly interesting or exciting as a character, but the film really makes his story quite captivating. I suspect a big part of that success is due to Chris Evans doing a great job playing the role. He seems pitch perfect for the part. The film starts with (an incredibly scrawny) Chris Evans trying to get I to the army. He’s so sickly that’s not going to happen. We get to see he has some heart, but not much else. From there the film follows his transformation into Captain America. I thought they did a great job showcasing his super strength, agility, etc. Mr Smith plays the Red Skull and is awesome, of course. This films definitely worth checking out. Who doesn’t like to watch people fight the Nazi’s?

The official Captain America website.

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X-Men: First Class

   25 May 2012, terribly early in the morning

My recent stint of watching comic book movies began with X-Men: First Class, which just popped up on Netflix. I should start by saying the film is so much better than the last two X-Men films, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men III. (Bryan Singer was invovled in this film, being credited in part with the story, which might explain why it wasn’t horrible.) The cast is pretty awesome, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender playing Professor X and Magneto respectively. They both do an amazing job with their roles. There are also few pretty enjoyable cameos. The film is an origin story for the X-Men, taking place during the early days of the cold war. The super villain was a pleasent surprise. As with all X-Men films there are lots of cool super powers and people doing interesting things with them. You should watch this.

The official X-Men: Frist Class website.

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Thor

    4 April 2012, terribly early in the morning

Netflix continues to step up its game. I watched Thor over the weekend. The film is a sort of origin story for the character, explaining how he ends up on Earth fighting bad guys. The story jumps between Earth and Asgard, his mythic Norse homeland. The film has a several excellent actors, presumably slumming it in a superhero film. (Anthony Hopkins plays Odin, Renne Russo is his wife; Idris Elba—what?!—plays Hiemdall; Stellan Skarsgård plays some random Norwegian scientist; Natalie Portman is the sexy physicist love-interest.) The film was directed by Kenneth Branaugh, and he does a good job with all the fantasy and Shakespearean-style pomp. He seems like an odd choice to direct an action film, and at the end of the day Thor really was your typical action film. (It’s no Iron Man or X-Men 2.) I think it’s still worth watching, but don’t expect too much.

The official Thor website.

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