Sicario (and its Sequel)

   20 September 2020, late morning

This past weekend I was back at home in Scarborough, which seemed as good a time as any to watch films Shima has zero interest in watching. So it came to pass that I watched Sicario late Friday night, and its sequel early Saturday morning. Sicario is excellent. Emily Blunt plays an idealistic FBI agent who stumbles upon a house full of cartel murder victims in the opening minutes of the film. She then gets sucked into the world of two mysterious government agents who are pursuing the cartels much more aggressively and seemingly less by the book, played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. The film is a look at the war on drugs and how messy it all is. Denis Villeneuve directs, his frequent partner Jóhann Jóhannsson scores the film, and Roger Deakins is behind the camera. That’s a pretty stellar movie-making posse. Each actor plays their part so perfectly. Del Toro is really incredible in this film. From start to finish it’s well executed film.

The sequel is … not as good. In some ways it feels like a well made 80s action film. Strangely xenophobic, perhaps? The movie involves Brolin and Del Toro’s characters orchestrating some dramatics in Mexico in response to a bombing the US feels is linked to the cartels. It’s a ridiculous story for a ridiculous film. Still, I can’t not like a movie with helicopters and machine guns. And Del Toro is still great in this movie.

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John Wick

   15 March 2020, lunch time

John Wick feels like a film made by people growing up on Hong Kong action films from the 90s. If you judged a film based on how many guns it has—and you should—John Wick is coming out ahead. The premise is simple. John Wick is an ex-mob hitman who is out for revenge and the loser son of his old boss kills the dog his wife bought him right before she died. The film takes place is a some what surreal version of NYC where there are assassins all over the place. Lots of memorable faces throughout, including Freeman and the Captain from the Wire. An enjoyable film, and now I get to watch two more.

The official John Wick website.

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Boiling Point

    4 January 2020, lunch time

I love documentaries about chef’s. Boiling Point is about Gordon Ramsey’s quest for his 3rd Michelin Star. The film opens with him leaving Aubergine to start his own restaurant. I had always thought the Hell’s Kitchen persona was a bit of an act, especially after seeing his older British shows where he’s a lot more patient and friendly. Apparently I was wrong. The guy is even meaner to his own staff. He’s intense and abusive. People get fired all the time. I can’t imagine working for him, but people do. When he left Aubergine the kitchen staff all went with him. That’s something. He’s pushing everyone around him to be perfect. My heart rate is up after watching the movie. You can watch it on YouTube yourself.

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Frozen II

    3 January 2020, late afternoon

Back at the movies with Mythilli and Shima. We trekked back out to the Queensway to watch Frozen II_—in 3D! I hate watching films in 3D: the colours are dull, the effect often so subtle to be pointless, and wearing the glasses on top of my glasses is an uncomfortable pain in the ass. _Frozen II follows Anna and Elsa as they try and unravel the mystery of Elsa’s magic, and the history of their homeland. The main storyline is really about repatriation of indigenous lands. This being a Disney film, they figure out how to do it so that everyone gets to keep their homes. I never saw the original Frozen. Mythilli claims this one is better. Maybe? It’s a nice enough film, as children’s films go.

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The Rise of Skywalker

   31 December 2019, mid-morning

I watched The Rise of Skywalker with Shima, Mythilli and Riadh. Shima has almost zero interest in Star Wars, but she came anyway: what a good mom! Mythilli has enjoyed the new trilogy, and she was a fan of this last entry. I think for Star Wars, maybe that’s all you should ask for. This film moves at what feels like a frantic pace. I suspect JJ could and maybe should have made the whole trilogy, he seems to have had enough ideas and some sense of what he wanted to do. Like The Last Jedi, this movie throws away a lot of stuff Johnson set up. Kylo rebuilds his helmet! This new trilogy really feels like each movie was made in isolation without much thought to how the films should all work together. If you’re making a trilogy, that’s not great. This last film feels a bit cold, like it was made by a committee to please fans. There is so much fan service. This movie has a lot of really enjoyable moments, fight scenes, etc. The actors are all still really great. It just feels much weaker than both proceeding films. I suspect it’s a near insurmountable task to produce the concluding film in a beloved trilogy. These films are all far better than the prequels. This movie was fun to watch, and it was really fun to watch it with Mythilli. Rey is my favourite Jedi.

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The Last Jedi

   31 December 2019, mid-morning

I watched The Last Jedi on Christmas Day the year it came out. I didn’t write about it at the time, because I have become much lazier about keeping this site up to date with the movies I have watched. Something I should address in 2020, perhaps. I watched the film again with Mythilli a couple days ago, in preparation for watching the final film in the new trilogy. A lot of Star Wars fanboys dislike Rian Johnson’s entry in the new trilogy, but I think it’s easily the best of the three new movies. The Last Jedi continues the story started in the Force Awakens, and opens with the resistance doing a bombing run against a fleet of Star Destroyers. This opening sequence is shot beautifully. There are a lot of really lovely shots in this film. (Something I think all the movies have done a good job with.) The Last Jedi feels like a fresh entry in the series, and doesn’t feel like a retrod of The Empire Strikes Back. (Unlike The Force Awakes, which feels very much like a reboot of A New Hope.) Johnson throws away a lot of JJ’s “mysteries”, which I think rubbed people the wrong way. I’d argue his reveals in this film are much punchier than what Abraham’s ended up giving us. Still, this movie feels like it exists as a ‘fuck you’ to the previous movie, which isn’t what you want from a sequel. There are two things I dislike about the film: much of the movie is a chase in slow motion. I think you could likely tell the story in a way that didn’t feel a bit silly. The casino sequence feels like a strange non-sequitur. A criticism of capitalism in cowboys in space movie for children. The actors continue to be super charming, which will get you quite far anyway. I’m looking forward to Johnson getting his own Star Wars trilogy to direct. I suspect he’ll produce something really compelling.

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"I'm T-S-motherfuckin'-A."

    1 July 2019, late afternoon

I finally watched Get Out. I knew one of the bigger reveals in the film, but for the most part had no real idea what the movie was about. The movie opens with a black dude being knocked out and kidnapped, so you’re on edge from that point on. So, little happens to start, but it’s all so god damn creepy. The film is a really well executed horror film. It’s also an interesting commentary on race and racism and all the good stuff. You should watch this movie. I hope you already have.

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Avengers: Infinity War

   21 May 2019, early morning

Finally watched Avengers … Infinity War. Everyone is talking about End Game so I thought it was about time I got a bit more caught up. The film begins wrapping up all the various threads they have littered throughout all the various Marvel movies, with Thanos finally showing up to fuck things up. The film starts in medias res with Thanos attacking the ship Thor and Loki are on to steal one of the Infinity Stones, the one inside the Tesseract. The rest of the film is him slowly trying to collect the remaining stones. (One is in Vision’s head, one hangs around Dr. Strange’s neck, etc.) It’s an enjoyable enough Marvel film. It’s clearly their Empire Strikes Back. I still thought it weaker than the first Avenger’s movie, but far better than Age of Ultron. Captain America is back with a beard, so that was cool.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

   15 May 2019, terribly early in the morning

Mythilli wanted to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I don’t recall why it was on her mind. The film is surprisingly good. A film about excess and waste. About being yourself. Family. So much stuff! James Caan plays the lead characters father, and he is wonderful in the role. It’s nice to see someone other than Pixar can make a solid cartoon.

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Black Panther

   15 May 2019, terribly early in the morning

I finally watched Black Panther. I’m almost ready to watch whatever the hell the next movie happens to be. Infinity War? I am a bit burned out on these films. I would have never imagined this would be the case 20 years ago. But, this film is great. Coolger has made a superhero film that stands out amongst the sameness that is much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is so Black I love it. There are so many great performances in this film. Michael B. Jordan is a fantastic villain. The conceit of the film is interesting, and his arc through the film is central to that. The fight scene in the casino is done so well. A memorable film. Worth watching.

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Nighthawks

    4 March 2019, early morning

Collin Geddes, who used to run Midnight Madness at TIFF, now runs a monthly program at the Lightbox called KinoVortex. His last screen was an 80s cop film called Nighthawks, starring Sylvester Stallone early in his career. The film felt very much like a strange slice of 80s film making. Billy Dee Williams plays his partner. Rutger Hauer plays a suave European super-terrorist. (This was Hauer’s debut in Hollywood.) I don’t know if you can call the film good, but it’s certainly something. It’s likely worth watching just to see the films end, which is really something else. The movie also has an amazing score.

Read more about Nighthawks at TIFF.

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The Breaker Uppers

    4 March 2019, early morning

As romantic comedies go The Breaker Uppers was pretty great. The two leads, Madeleine Nalini Sami and Jackie van Beek, are women who both dated the same man, who was cheating on them both with each other. Cynical about love they start this firm to help others get out of their bad relationships. It’s a weird charming film. The leads also are the films writers and directors. Impressive. Like all good romantic comedies it touches on all the different sorts of love that exist in the world. The two leads are really hilarious. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them elsewhere.

Watch the trailer for The Breaker Uppers.

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Cold War

   28 January 2019, early evening

The trailer for Burning was Cold War. A polish film about the complicated and tumultuous relationship between a pianist and composer played by Tomasz Kot, and a fiery singer and dancer played by Joanna Kulig. The movie starts in 1949, ends in 1964, following their relationship from Poland to France and back again. It’s a beautiful film, shot in Black and White, and in what looked like 4:3—what a throw back. The music is incredible. The song playing in the trailer is beautiful, and apparently sung by the actress. What!

Read more about Cold War at TIFF.

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Burning

   28 January 2019, early evening

I watched Burning at TIFF before the holidays. My last film of 2018. Burning opens with Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) bumping into a girl he knows from his small town, Hae-mi (Jun Jong-seo). He doesn’t recognize her, she’s beautiful now. They begin a relationship of sorts, when a new fellow enters the picture. Someone rich and handsome. And so we have a love triangle. A strange film. Far more sinister than I had expected. Ambiguous. The actors are all superb. I really liked it.

Read more about Burning at TIFF.

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Shoplifters

   17 December 2018, early morning

A posse of us went to the members’ premier of Shoplifters at the TIFF Lightbox last week. This is the latest film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, who made Nobody Knows. I haven’t seen any of his other movies, but now feel like tracking them all down. The premise of the film is simple enough. A family of petty criminals find a girl seemingly abandoned by her abusive parents. They take her home and start raising her as one of their own children. The movie moves on from there. It’s an incredible film. Such a sweet sad film. The acting is so great. It’s playing at TIFF still, you should watch it while you can.

More about Shoplifters at TIFF.

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Roma

    1 December 2018, evening time

I ended up with a free membership to TIFF. My first film as a member was Roma, the latest film by Alfonso Cuarón. When I watched Children of Men I said, “Children of Men is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Holy shit that was good.” I know I am quick to throw superlatives around when it comes to cinema, but Roma was fucking fantastic. It’s one of the best movies i’ve seen in my entire life. The film is clearly autobiographical. There is so much detail and specificity in the 1970s Mexico the film shows us. The movie’s protagonist is Cleo, the servant of a rich family in Mexico city. The film is slow, sometimes funny, sometimes tense. There are two scenes in the movie, one in a hospital, and one on a beach, that are so masterfully put together they make the whole film worthwhile all by themselves. And they are just two scenes. You must watch this film. If you’re in Toronto you’re lucky enough to be able to watch it at the Lightbox: you should do that.

Read the Guardian’s review of Roma.

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Demons in Paradise

   18 October 2018, terribly early in the morning

It turned out Demons in Paradise was a documentary. I’m not sure why I thought it was going to be a fictional retelling of the war in Sri Lanka. No matter, it was an interesting film all the same. Directed by Jude Ratnam, the film is a look at the violence of the civil war through the lens of his family’s experience with the war. The movie’s narrative seems to move from violence inflicted on the Tamil community to violence inflicted by the Tamil community (upon themselves). The movie opens in Colombo, discussing Sinhalese violence. The movie ends in Jaffna, discussing Tamil violence. In between is a brief coda in Kandy, that feels a bit out of place except that it separates these two chunks of the film. Ratnam managed to get people to be quite candid about their experiences. An ex-LTTE fighter talks about the TELO massacre. People from other groups talk about the random violence they committed. The film also asks the question (but doesn’t answer) why the civilian population was so blasé about the violence being committed in their name. I liked the film. My friend Fathima (who shuttered her blog!) thought it was muddled and poorly executed. We are a complicated peoples.

I saw Demons in Paradie at Jackman Hall as part of the Rendezvous With Madness Festival.

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Train to Busan

   18 June 2018, early morning

Train to Busan is a Korean Zombie movie. The movie’s main protagonist is a Korean salary man, played by Yoo Gong, who is estranged from his wife and slowly becoming estranged from his daughter. For her birthday his daugther wants to go visit her mother in Busan, and so he agrees to make the trip their, planning to get back before lunch to continue his work day. Then all the zombies show up and it’s fucking mental till the end of the film. Train to Busan is expertly done. There is plenty of mellow drama, as the passengers you love on the train are slowly killed, one by one. Much of the movie is about the journey Yoo Gong’s character takes from being selfish and self involved to being selfless and helpful. He learns these things from the various passengers on the train. The main villain of the movie is another passenger who can be see as the end-game for a salary man like Yoo Gong’s character if he doesn’t change his ways. This movie is excellent.

Reviews of Train to Busan on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Thor: Ragnarok

   22 February 2018, early morning

I skipped the last Thor movie, it didn’t seem that interesting. I had heard many good things about Thor: Ragnarok, so it was the first thing I watched on my plane ride to Sydney. Directed (the very funny) Taika Waititi of New Zealand, the film feels like a refreshing change of pace from your typical Marvel fare. The movie is genuinely funny. A comedy first, and a special effects spectacle second. The story follows Thor as he meets his evil step sister, played by smoking hot Cate Blanchett, loses his hammer, gets banished to some middle of nowhere planet, finds the Hulk, and needs to come back and save Asgard. The highlight of the film for me—and I suspect most people—is Taika Waititi playing a rock man. It’s a fun film, thoroughly enjoyable.

The official Thor: Ragnarok website.

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Hidden Figures

   20 January 2018, early evening

Shima and I watched Hidden Figures last night, a film about the Black women who helped get American astronauts into space through the power of mathematics. It’s a nice feel good film, for the most part very well done. (Criticism of the film and its making Costner a bit of a White saviour seem fair, but that’s really such a small part of this film. I enjoyed his role as a crotchety scientist.) The three lead women—Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe—all play their parts very well. Also, the movie has a solid sound track.

The official Hidden Figures soundtrack.

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Bright

    3 January 2018, early evening

I watched Bright tonight, Netflix’s take on a buddy-cop Shadowrun film. Will Smith stars as a hardboiled cop. His partner is a well meaning Orc, trying to make it in a racist (literally, I suppose) police force. The world building in the film is pretty great, though all the commentary and parallels to our world are a bit too on the nose. Still, it seems to work well enough. The film doesn’t shy away from how silly its premise is. There are some parts of the film that don’t make much sense if you think too hard about them, but it’s a fun movie all the same. If you read a review of this movie that talks about Tolkein and not Shadowrun you can safely ignore it.

You can watch Bright on Netflix.

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Kong: Skull Island

    3 January 2018, early evening

The last film I watched while travelling to and from England last month was Kong: Skull Island. This movie follows a crew of scientists and soldiers who are off to investigate Skull Island. It’s a motley crew, and of course it all turns to shit and there is a giant monkey in the mix. It’s a pretty solid action film, and likely the spring board for some ridiculous multi-movie extravaganza about giant monsters. I think i’m down for that.

The official Kong: Skull Island website.

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

    3 January 2018, early evening

Guy Ritche does a fantasy film about King Arthur and it’s more or less exactly how I pictured a Guy Ritchie take on British fantasy. It’s so over the top. The pacing is manic. I liked the film well enough. It was panned by critics, but if you’re on an airplane i’d say you could do worse than watch this film.

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Wonder Women

    3 January 2018, early evening

DC’s superhero films really have been mostly dreadful, so this Wonder Women film was quite refreshing. The film is an origin story of sorts, set during the First World War. Gal Gadot plays Wonder Women, and does a wonderful job. Chris Pine is an American spy who draws her into the larger conflict taking place in the world. By no means is it superlative film making, but it’s well put together and coherent, and that’s more than I was expecting. The ending of the film is a bit weak, but on the whole this is a fun film to watch. Also, Gal Gadot is so hot it’s crazy.

The official Wonder Women website.

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War for the Planet of the Apes

    3 January 2018, early evening

The emotional weight of this movie about monkeys. “This wall is madness. It won’t save him like it won’t save you.” A jab at trump? War for the Planet of the Apes is the most recent of the new Planet of the Apes films. These movies are really well done. Surprisingly so. The special effects for these monkeys is really quite remarkable. Serkis’s performance as the monkey in charge, Ceaser, is excellent. This movie follows him and his band of monkeys as they try and survive while avoiding the Humans who are trying to kill them. This may be the plot to all the new Planet of the Apes movies.

The official War for the Planet of the Apes

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