Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ep 32: Passengers (2016)

Joining us on this show is Allie! She and Doug chat about Passengers, the sci-fi flick fuelled by two very charismatic stars. Agreeing that the film didn’t quite reach its potential, we discuss the unfortunate plot holes and the social implications of some of the choices made in the film. Spoilers ahead, so please watch the movie so you can join the discussion.

Directed by Morten Tyldum
Starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence

Ep 31: The Broadway Melody (1929)

Mason and Doug return to their Oscar Winner series with the second ever Academy Award Best Picture Winner, and the first talkie to win, The Broadway Melody. Within we discuss how the movie has aged and the ethics of cinema and society at the time. Enjoy the show!
Directed by Harry Beaumont
Starring Bessie Love, Anita Page, and Charles Cage

Review: Love (2011)

When a movie is called Love, I am initially sceptical about the generic nature of the name, but also see it as  an excellent opportunity to see how the movies explore the concept of love and see the different takes on it, but with this film, I really can’t figure out why it’s called Love. There might be a convoluted explanation involving separation and isolation and something something, but it’s not really obvious to me. What interested me about this film was the isolated spaceship setting as well as it being a one man show. This has spawned some interesting and psychological science fiction films in the past like Silent Running, and Moon. I suppose I was hoping for similar achievements from this movie.
It starts during the American Civil War where Captain Lee Briggs (Bradley Horne) is investigating some sort of crash site and he doesn’t know what it is. Fast forward to a couple hundred years later and we see Lee Miller (Gunner Wright), who is the lone crew member on board an international space station. He keeps up regular communications with Earth as he maintains orbit until one day he gets a somewhat cryptic message from Huston telling him that there is a problem on the surface so he will not be getting further messages for a while. And so Miller goes on waiting to hear from Earth. And waits… and waits.
This is the directorial debut of William Eubank, who up until this point was primarily a cinematographer, which after you see the movie, makes a lot of sense. It’s a movie that is very pretty to look at; it’s well shot and full or vibrant imagery. On that level it is a spectacular film, especially considering it was made on a fairly modest budget of $500 000, which by film standards, is pretty low. That being said, it also explains the main flaw of this film which is the severe deficiencies in the story telling department. I guess he can’t be held completely at fault as the director for that because there isn’t that much of a story to tell. But it turns out he was the writer as well and as a writer, he lacks the knowledge that at times the audience isn’t always going to be able to put the pieces together as well as the film maker. If you read my plot synopsis and were wondering what the civil war portions have to do with the main story of the movie, I, too, was wondering that as I watched the film. It only partially comes together in the end.
The truth is that there is only about 25 minutes of story here for a movie that is thankfully quite short, but still way too long for the lack of content in it. I almost feel like it was trying to be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I don’t know if anyone can replicate what Stanley Kubrick did with that movie.  Love has a sluggish pace that one can call contemplative, but I might lean more toward tedious. I suppose it might feel more worthwhile if there was at least some pay off at the end… or a better explanation.
I guess what makes this feel a lot less credible is that the band Angels & Airwaves has their name splattered all over it. Not only do they provide the soundtrack, but they co-produced the movie themselves. Thus, we can determine that Love is not so much a full length feature film, but more like a feature length music video for the Angels & Airwaves 2010 album Love. This isn’t meant to put down the band because I don’t actually know their stuff that well, it just made it feel like it was essentially a commercial for them. This answers my earlier question as to why the movie is called Love. It is called that because the album is called that. I have to admit that the music was for the most part quite enjoyable, but to finance a whole movie for it seems a little… foolhardy or pretentious.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion of cross medium promotions such as this, at least in concept. I suppose my main complaint is that I just wish it was a whole lot better. Love would work as a music video because it tells a small story and is shot in a very visually interesting way that works well with the music. That’s exactly what more music videos should be like. But as a piece of long form cinema, it is frustrating. If there was more emphasis on the story, it would probably be a really great film because it seems that a lot of ingenuity and creativity went into making this into what it is. I wanted to like it, but it’s hard to recommend. I’m sure some people will come to really enjoy it, but for those who appreciate a more traditional narrative and value story over technical merit, this one might be a disappointment.
2.5 Stars

Review: Lethal Weapon (1987)

If there is one name that springs to mind when someone mentions 80’s action movies, it’s… Die Hard. What a great film! And a Christmas movie too. Those 80’s… they sure knew how to cinema. Well, wouldn’t you believe my ears as I was watching the second most memorable actioneer of that decade, Lethal Weapon, as it opens with a Christmas song. Wait wait wait… Lethal Weapon is a Christmas movie too? And it came out before Die Hard? How did I not know this? I guess the obvious answer is that I actually hadn’t seen Lethal Weapon until recently. I saw the fourth one a while ago, but my understanding is that it doesn’t count.

This film marks the the first collaboration of Richard Donner and Shane Black, making this Donner’s most memorable film apart from that time that he brought Superman to life back in the 1970’s. People remember that film, right? Shane Black, on the other hand, was a young, unknown screenwriter at the time and was known best for being killed by The Predator the same year. The success of this film launched his career and now he’s kind of an auteur, making original flicks like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and most recently, The Nice Guys.

Lethal Weapon follows two cops, Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh (see what they did there?) who are assigned together to solve the mystery of a young girl who threw herself out of hotel window. But it turns out she may have been poisoned and the case may be a homicide. Riggs (Mel Gibson) is a crazy cop who doesn’t follow the rules, but is legitimately mourning the loss of his wife and may be suicidal. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is just celebrating his 50th birthday and is a veteran who doesn’t really want a loose cannon partner. But who knows, maybe they’ll be a great team after all! Nah… that could never work. These guys are just too different!

At first glance, this movie hasn’t aged overly well. It has that grainy 80’s aesthetic that’s hard to replicate; complete with saxophone and wailing guitar scores and ridiculous mullets. But actually, if you look at its contemporaries, it’s aged a whole lot better. (Except Die Hard. Man, Die Hard seems so timeless.) Lethal Weapon isn’t so in your face in its 80sness (a real word.) It’s considerably less neon and the fashion isn’t obviously extreme. Perhaps over time we’ve exaggerated what the 80’s was really like. Either that or they kept this movie decidedly adult and grounded. But most importantly, the story holds up. With minor alterations to the technology, like from a clunky car phone to a smart phone, and a much needed mullet trim, you could easily place this story in modern day.

What Lethal Weapon does have over Die Hard is that it is the gold standard for buddy cop films. Movies for years would be trying to replicate the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. There is a natural tension between the two of them. Glover is the grounded, relatable one, bringing an authority and wisdom to the screen. Gibson is charming and fun, and has a convincing darkness and insanity in his eyes. Their partnership feels like it’s between two fleshed out characters. They sometimes agree, they sometimes don’t. There isn’t a dumb one and smart one. There isn’t a goofy one and a straight one. They have their own personal lives outside of their jobs and in their jobs and that’s the key to their success as on on screen duo.

A lot of that has to do with Shane Black’s script. His style has since improved since this film and I like his more recent movies a lot more, but there is a strange finesse to the way he writes the connection between the two leads. They are at odds with each other and them learning and coming to work together is actually pretty organic and even subtle at times. The events that take place are far from subtle, but the growth of Riggs and Murtaugh actually is. And it also takes some talent to tackle the subjects that Black does in this script, such as depression and suicide. It’s a bold decision without feeling like a bold decision because he takes it in so bluntly that it feels real. The others’ insensitivity to Riggs’ suicidal tendencies does seem like something that would be genuine at the time. It’s a bit jarring from my modern cultural perspective, but actually works to the film’s advantage. Nowadays movies might handle it very differently, handling it all with a level of gravitas that would imbalance the actual story. And dammit, that would be no fun at all.

Despite what the film succeeds at, there are problems with it. There is a sort of projection of hyper-masculinity, particularly in Riggs, that takes some authenticity out of the characters and the situations. Why wrap up the movie naturally when we could have a muddy martial arts battle to end us out? Maybe I’ve seen too many legitimate cop shows to not find that whole thing absolutely ridiculous. “Sorry Captain, we were ordered to just stand there and watch.” Or maybe that’s just how things were in the 80’s. Police could just do things the cooler way rather than by the book. I get that movies can and sometimes should take the more entertaining route, but not at the cost of the story and the pace. One could make some minor alterations to fix it up, really.

Overall, it’s understandable why it’s a well remembered action film. It stands as a benchmark for the buddy cop genre and very few films have been able to meet that standard, including the sequels. (Actually, the second one was quite good too.) It’s a time capsule for a bold time in cinema and a cultural landscape that has since changed. Also, it’s a pretty fun time at the movies, so that helps.

4 Stars

Review: Panique au village (A Town Called Panic) (2009)

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A horse, a cowboy, and an Indian are all roommates. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? But A Town Called Panic is no joke. It is a fully realized, full length feature film that made an international impression by touring many festivals. It’s seen limited release and had full DVD and Blu-ray distribution, making its way from the minds of France to my Blu-ray player. It also happens to be one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen.

Horse, who is a horse, is having a birthday today, but Cowboy and Indian, who are a cowboy and a Native American, forgot, so they set out to get him a present that is a little more personal than another baseball cap. Their solution is to of course scramble at the last minute and build Horse a barbeque because nothing screams sentient stable animal like an old fashioned brick cookery. But while Horse is out they try and get this whole thing built. All they need is 50 bricks so they make an order online to have the bricks shipped over. Due to a mix up in which the 0 key is held down without either of them noticing, Cowboy and Indian accidentally get 50 million bricks shipped to their front door.

I mean, I could only describe what happens in this movie point by point because the through line isn’t particularly obvious. It’s a plot that moves more or less like this happens and then this happens! I could just stop describing the story and finish the sentence in all earnestness with “and crazy hijinks ensue!” I’m glad that I finally can. I feel that the term ‘crazy hijinks’ is overused and should be saved for those very special occasions and A Town Called Panic is one of them. I think before this movie I underestimated how crazy hijinks could get, but they can get mighty crazy, kids.

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What compels me to this film is not what would normally draw me into a movie. There isn’t much in the way of emotional stakes. The characters aren’t particularly deep or even overly distinct from each other apart from the visual archetypes they fall under. Of course, none of these characters really act like what they look like. The movies doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for its humour. Though, I don’t know what a stereotype for a horse would be. I guess he does eat hay for his birthday. Anyway, the point is that what might make a movie ‘good’ isn’t what makes A Town Called Panic good. And please, by no means take anything I’ve said here as a negative criticism. My intent is to inform you that this film is such a unique entity that it can’t be judged on the same criteria as the typical cinematic fair.

It’s almost unfair to judge it at all because it wasn’t made for a critical eye. Yet, it wasn’t obviously made for children either. It’s this strange sense of humour that almost feels like it’s aimed at adults who want to remember what it’s like to be a kid. Was this film crafted by strange French men who were essentially playing with toys? Yup! Does it make you wish that you could do that for a living instead of your lame joe-job? Also yup! But hey, it was nice of them to share so that you can at least take 75 minutes off and laugh of their antics. And that’s what I appreciate so much about this film; the movie does make you feel like you’re a kid again. The randomness and frantic pace feel genuinely like the story was crafted by an 8 year old, but of course the painstaking process of stop motion animation implies that the story was actually deeply considered.

It’s great to see a picture that both parents and kids will enjoy. Usually when that’s the case, it’s because the story has a lot of heart, but that’s not A Town Called Panic‘s strong point. It works for both kids and adults because it’s just so intrinsically fun you and your kids may be laughing at all the same jokes. So, if a bunch of grown ups in France can put hundreds of man hours into a film that’s basically a tribute to childhood and play then hey, maybe the heart in the film is its strength after all.

4 Stars

-DF

Ep 25: Our Favourite Movies (pt. 2)

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The Ferguson brothers; Douglas, Steven, Nathan and Daniel, get together again and discuss their favourite movies by genre. The list is not definitive, but a good representation of our tastes in cinema.
We had to break up the talk into two episodes. This is part two and we discuss…
Super Hero
Documentary
Romantic Comedy
Crime Drama / Thriller
B-Movie
Disaster Movie

Let us know what you think and please feel free to share some favourite movies with us.

Ep 24: Our Favourite Movies (pt. 1)

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We’re doing something a bit different this episode. The Ferguson brothers; Douglas, Steven, Nathan and Daniel, all get together and discuss their favourite movies by genre. The list is not definitive, but a good representation of our tastes in cinema.
We had to break up the talk into two episodes, but in this one we discuss…
All time favourite
Horror
Comedy
Science Fiction
Fantasy
Western
Family

Let us know what you think and please feel free to share some favourite movies with us.

Review: Sleeping Giant (2015)

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The indie film scene in Canada is finally going places. While it seems like we’re not going to be able churn out blockbusters like our American brothers any time soon, we’re aiming to make some decent introspective art films that can find a cult fan base and make splashes in the festival circuit. It’s an exciting time to be a Canadian film maker. Of course, we’re still struggling to overcome the financial restraints of being funded by the government and independents rather than the studio system.

If you play your cards right, you can make your constraints your film’s strength. Indie directors know the tips and tricks. Either make it a style or make it part of your story. Sleeping Giant goes with the latter. It follows Adam as he and his family are visiting their country cottage on the beach of Lake Superior. Adam, by proximity, befriends a pair of cousins: Nate and Riley. The two are of very different walks of life than Adam; their troubled home life is rarely talked about, but clear in their behaviour. They’re profane, they smoke pot and cigarettes, and steal liquor all in the name of free will and good fun.

Nate is clearly the shit head of the two and treats Adam like an outsider. Riley actually has some potential and even starts to warm up to Adam’s family. He is clearly drawn to the notion of a father figure and finds that somewhat in Adam’s dad, though that is somewhat spoiled when Riley spots him cheating on his wife with a local. Naturally, the bomb is dropped on Adam, who is left adrift with his perception of his father tainted. This leaves him leaning on the brotherhood he shares with the two cousins, despite the level of hostility that comes with any relationship with Nate. But Adam does value his friendship with Riley and nothing can get in the way of that… except a girl, naturally. They’re young teens after all.

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Sleeping Giant is not a story driven film, but it does capture a familiar time in a young man’s life. I never had the experiences that Adam had, but I do identify with them. And it addresses very familiar issues that teens go through; a search for a sense of belonging, disenchantment of parents, and the choice to conform or carve your own identity. Actually, Adam and my teenaged self are not dissimilar at all. He is timid and flawed, but very aware of his surroundings. He can read the lines between the lines and manipulate others. He’s much smarter than the other two and he knows it, but is too trapped from his own reservations to actually stand up for himself. It’s a learned skill, kid, and it isn’t easy.

Anyway, there is a story and it’s entrenched in the relationships of the people. It’s all about the power struggles between the various characters. There is a power struggle between Adam and his dad because of the secret Adam knows. There is a struggle for Riley’s attention between Nate and Adam, who represent the two paths that he could walk down. And of course there is the age old competition between two boys and the affection for a girl. Or is it for the affection of the girl? May not be.

First time feature writer and director Andrew Cividino understands the need for subtlety in a film like this. At first glance these scenes can be dismissed as meandering, much like how an adult watching these kids may dismiss their actions as simple frivolities of youth. But that’s how it must be presented for us to understand that these frivolities are not without consequences. Their decisions shape who these boys will grow up to be and influence how they may think and act in the future. They are always pushing their boundaries in search for something more exhilarating in life and the adults aren’t there to steer them the right way. Is it boys will be boys, or is it life and death?

It’s kind of a shame that, for a movie about teens, it’s oddly not too accessible for teens. I don’t imagine they’ll understand it. The truth of youth is that we mostly understand it in retrospect. For me, the feelings were familiar, but I felt like I understood the drive behind their actions more than ever before. Not only does he capture the essence of the teenage years, but offers genuine insight into them as long as you’re able to read between the lines. This is a necessity as all three kids have faces that they put on and rarely say what they actually believe. Except maybe Nate, who is either a legitimate asshole or has the biggest shield up of them all. I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

I wonder if Sleeping Giants can go much farther than this. I don’t even know if it needs to. It’s hit the speciality audience and filled festival seats and even got limited theatrical distribution. That is an accomplishment for a film of this size. Cividino has his critical darling and can take his career to the next level from here. But it doesn’t quite have “cult hit” status coursing through its celluloid veins. The rewards of this film are not instant. In fact, it may leave you feeling pretty glum. But it does leave an impact; there is a feeling from it that lingers and compels one to reflect. Not unlike youth itself, I suppose. Everyone wants to revisit that time in their lives, right?

3.5 Stars

-DF

Ep 23.5: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (pt. 2) (2016)

But wait! There’s more! We’re trying something a little different this time around and getting another opinion on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, Doug and Paul chat about the film’s box office numbers and backlash.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Amy Adams

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Ep 23: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In this episode Mason and Doug chat about the controversial new super hero movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Is it as bad as the buzz or is there a bad-hype train that people are jumping onto?  We discuss the pros and cons.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Amy Adams

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Review: Eraserhead (1977)

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The art house is not one I visit too frequently. I do appreciate artistic expression in cinema, but feel that ultimately you want a story to appeal and be understood by the widest possible audience. I would expect that film makers would want people to connect with their films. But there are always film makers who believe in the truly artistic possibilities of the film medium and for all intents and purposes, don’t really care too much about how niche they are. I bet some even wear it as a badge of honour.

David Lynch is one of those names that I’ve heard around, but never really checked out his work, with the exception of the 80’s Dune film, which I didn’t care for, but also knew that it didn’t really represent his work as a whole. But I had heard of Eraserhead, it being one of his best known works. One of the places I heard it was a comparison in a review for Christmas on Mars, the movie by The Flaming Lips that showed that even musical geniuses don’t necessarily know how to make a movie. But perhaps an acclaimed film maker does! Thus, it was time to delve into some classic experimental cinema.

So… yeah, Eraserhead follows Henry and he finds out that he is now the father of a child who is going to be born soon. So, he and the mother get married and she moves in with him. The son is born but is a terrifying looking mutant who howls all day and night. And that’s basically the story. It lacks linear narrative, but it’s traded for tone, symbolism and style. The substance stems from that rather than the conventional emotional rewards of story. One has to respect a film maker that thinks so out of the box and believes his audience will be patient and delve deep into his art. This truly is the unique vision of David Lynch.

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Unfortunately, these days this sort of cutting edge film making is now the stuff of parodies or it just comes across as pretentious. I can accept that this is the real deal, but I can’t appreciate this style fully. It feels like a joke now. And I can’t say that this is culture’s fault entirely, but rather that this style is so unusual that it could only be done so many times before it implodes in on itself. I can’t speak much about the movie climate in 1977… I know that it was a benchmark year for Science Fiction since Star Wars and Close Encounters were released, but beyond that, I don’t know what else was going on. But perhaps that isn’t necessary because, after all, great movies should transcend time and perhaps I shouldn’t let what has happened in cinema overall since affect my perception of this specific film. And to be fair, Eraserhead doesn’t feel like a 70’s movie. It actually could have been released any time between 1955 and 2000 and I’d believe it because it’s so stylistically unique. It is not a product of the time; it’s the product of a mind.

This is without a doubt a labour of love by David Lynch; it was his first feature film and he wanted to make it his and make it count. You can’t make a film like this and not believe in the art of it. And while I find that endearing, as a movie watching experience, I find it hard to recommend. I know that a lot is going on and it could be studied, but please don’t make me watch it again. It was tedious and exhausting all at once. The sound design was aggravating, the storytelling was confusing and long winded, and the end result leaves one asking what the point of it all is. And while I’m sure it’s all very intentional because there is no way Lynch did anything here by accident, I don’t have to like it. I can admire the process and not actually enjoy the outcome.

Is Eraserhead a good movie? I don’t know if I’m qualified to say. I don’t even know if that’s my job to say. I once read the point of a review is not to evaluate if a movie is good or bad, but to inform the reader on whether or not they will like it. So, now you know Eraserhead is messed up and may haunt you. For better or for worse, you’ll never forget that you saw it. If that only entices you further, go right ahead and have a ball.

2 Stars

-DF

Review: Easter Bunny Bloodbath (2010)

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During the 80’s there was a sub-genre of horror film called “S.O.V.s” (for Shot On Video) that were low-budget films shot on cameras that recorded directly onto video instead of the high quality film that had been used traditionally and is still used today. They were often poorly acted, edited and could be made by anyone who had the camera and a few friends who were willing to read the script once or twice. Generally speaking, they weren’t very good. Yet, due to the demand of video stores, they got distribution and found a fan base. Though the genre is often mocked, there has to be an appeal if they’re still talked about today around film geek circles.

Writer / director Richard Mogg set out to make his first feature film and model it after the S.O.V. era of film. I wonder if it’s considered cheating if you make a really low budget film and call it an intentional homage to older low budget films so it purposefully looks cheap. Or perhaps that’s just smart film making? I guess one has to acknowledge that with no money there are limitations to what you can achieve in film so it’s best to capitalize on a good concept and have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.

Easter Bunny Bloodbath follows Peter McKay who, as a child, watched his father dressed as the Easter Bunny decapitate his sister on Easter Morning. 20 years later, Peter (Shayan Bayat), his girlfriend (Meghan Kinsley), and their 4 closest friends visit a cabin that he just inherited and spend the weekend partying and celebrating Easter. However, something from Peter’s past is lurking in the woods. That’s right, the Easter Bunny is back and out for blood.

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Frankly, the title of the film is awesome. It instantly catches people’s attention and makes them curious. Like so many b-horror films you want to see it in hopes that it lives up to its promising premise. Fortunately, Easter Bunny Bloodbath does. Truth is, I’m not overly familiar with the S.O.V. films of the 80’s, but even without that knowledge the movie is entertaining. Much like other tribute films, like Black Dynamite and Alien Trespass, it offers a glimpse into the genre and in a way, shows you what it’s all about, without the viewer having to endure the aspects of those movies that were tedious.

While it isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, they play it straight which I believe is the key to the film’s success. While yes, many of the missteps were calculated, it never comes across as a spoof film. It doesn’t play like a comedy, but it looks and feels like a bad horror film which, let’s be honest, can sometimes be funnier than actual comedies. Despite the blood shed on screen, the film never loses its playfulness. Really, with a title like Easter Bunny Bloodbath, you know it has to be goofy and can’t really delve into darker territory.

There were some odd choices in the casting of the characters which lent some comedy to the film. The first is the casting of young Peter, played by James Lawson. He is as Caucasian as they come, meanwhile his older self is played by Shayan Bayat of middle eastern decent. This is of course acknowledged by the film itself as a caption points out the difference of skin tone. Similarly, one of the couples who visits the cabin are Carol (Jessica Hill) and Mike (Laura Hope). The part was initially written for a heterosexual couple, but at some point during the casting it was decided that they would be a lesbian couple. Nothing in the script was changed for the character, not even Mike’s name and I actually think the film is much better for it. It just seems to me that the couple wouldn’t really have been characters of note other than being somewhat raunchy, but when you make them a lesbian couple it adds some charm to them. Or maybe it’s the fact that they’re named after characters from The Brady Bunch. Huh, that Mike turned out to be gay also.

There are very few surprises in the plot and how it carries out. Watching an Easter Bunny kill people is intrinsically entertaining, but there weren’t really any moments where I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and I never really wondered who the killer actually was. I would have liked a little more mystery or some flags pointing in a direction that could at least have me questioning what was really going on and who was under the suit. Though I suppose there wasn’t much room to play around with that given there were only six people in the main cast.

Nevertheless, Richard Mogg set out to make a great bad movie and that’s what he delivered. It’s got fake blood splatter and intentionally cheesy acting and it’s all the better for it. He knew he had limitations and he turned those potential weaknesses into strengths. And the end result is the best killer Easter Bunny story you’ll ever see… on your home video system.

3.5 Stars

-DF

Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

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With The Hateful Eight in theatres recently, seems like all of us film nerds are talking about Quentin Tarantino. And like no other film maker these days, people like to look at his body of work and reflect on their favourites. Now, I don’t mind Mr. Tarantino, but I’m not the biggest fan. I’ve seen the majority of his work and I can give credit where credit is due. But more recently I took some interest in the films that he wrote back in the 90’s that he wound up selling and having them shot by some other directors. The last one I wound up checking out was Natural Born Killers, which was directed by legendary director Oliver Stone. Though, apparently the rewrites of this film were to the point where Tarantino could no longer even get screenplay credit; his name is only under ‘story.’ This is not what he had envisioned for this movie. This is an Oliver Stone film. That’s how it is with writers though, some scripts you just have to let go.

Truthfully, I haven’t seen the bulk of Stone’s work. Off the top of my head, I’ve seen JFK and World Trade Center, which were very different. I really need to see Platoon I’m told. But this time I went with Natural Born Killers so shame on me.

It follows Mickey and Mallory Knox, a young married couple who are unusual in the sense that they are mass murderers. They travel around the country killing people whenever they see fit. They’ve garnered themselves a reputation and are celebrated, generally, by the public for being really cool mass murderers. It follows their getting together through their incarceration through their eventual escape.

As if through different lenses of media, the film switches film stock, cameras, colours, framing, etc. all throughout. This is one of the fatal flaws of Natural Born Killers. What Oliver Stone passes as an artistic choice, winds up making the film incredibly unpleasant to watch on even a visual level. We are unable to settle and even take the story in. Every time the camera zooms in awkwardly, or tilts unexpectedly, or turns black and white and grainy, I was removed from the movie. I could not just sit and watch it as my head was screaming “Stawp!” every 15 seconds. It literally makes the film unwatchable. It may be the ugliest film ever put into theatres, but don’t worry, it’s all in the name of pretentiousness.

The positive reviews I read about this film essentially praise it for its critique of media and the glorification of violence. I’m no fool; I understand what the movie is trying to do. I’ve been hit in the head with more subtle frying pans (true story) than this movie and its ‘message.’ But if you really look at this movie, it really doesn’t have as much beyond its surface as you might hope. The very violence that this films claims to criticize, it simply indulges in. It tries to hide its shallowness by winking to the camera, but it offers nothing more than a wink. Anything it has to say about media’s glorification of mass murderers is so over the top that it bears no more resemblance to real life. For an experienced director, Stone seems to show a strange lack of understanding about the world of media.

There is a disconnect between what’s actually going on on screen and what is being implied. People are acting like Mickey and Mallory are super stars, but there is no line between point A and point B. Why are Mickey and Mallory so cool despite being mass murders? We see some of their murderous rampages and that they always leave someone alive, but I saw nothing on screen that would make me want to be them. Harrelson plays Mickey manic and cold while Juliette Lewis plays Mallory like she’s barking mad. They weren’t particularly charismatic or even all that exciting. If you want me to believe that sheep would follow these two, you have to give the viewer something worth following too. Yeah, they’re a crazy psycho couple, but make a case for them. Maybe Stone wrote their likeability out in one of his many rewrites of the script.

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Part of me says that I should take it easier on Mr. Stone, after all, I was very young when this film came out and wasn’t as aware of the media climate at the time. Perhaps this film was extremely topical and addressed issues that needed addressing. But… no. All I need to do is remember what I went through while watching this film and all mercy I have goes right down the drain. Natural Born Killers is over-violent, self-indulgent trash and there is no excusing it.

And look, I understand that I rented a movie called Natural Born Killers and so I should expect some violence. I don’t have an issue with violence in and of itself, but there is a gross mean spiritedness about this movie that is unforgivable. The violence overtakes the film to the point where there is barely a story any more. The body count climbs so high that it becomes parody. It’s more like Hot Shots: Part Deux than Pulp Fiction.

I struggle to think of even a hand full of equally unpleasant movie experiences I’ve had in the last few years. One can argue the angle that it’s a black comedy, but ultimately that doesn’t justify how agonizing it is to watch. And I usually like dark comedies because I have a grim sense of humour and stuff like that makes me laugh. Nothing about it makes me laugh on an intentional or ironic level. It is insulting, distasteful, and disgraceful.

A friend of mine made mention that at the very least this movie helped remove Woody Harrelson out of the public consciousness as a “funny actor” because of his role in Cheers. After this film and a few others, it was very clear that he was very versatile and could do anything. And I like Woody Harrelson and am glad that he’s the actor he is today. So maybe I can at least take solace in the fact that this film played that part in cinema history. BUT, I also believe that Harrelson is a talented enough guy that he could get to where he is now even without this film. I could only speculate really. Second guessing history is as futile an exercise as trying to squeeze enjoyment out of Natural Born Killers.

0.5 Stars

-DF

Ep 20: Toy Story 3 (2010)

We’re back after a bit of an unexpected break. Don’t worry folks, we plan on updating regularly again.

On this episode, Leaminn and Doug discuss the final chapter of the Toy Story films (so far) and whether or not they should continue the series. Is Toy Story 3 the best of the series? Have a listen!
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack

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Also, don’t forget to check out Leaminn’s other work at Pods With Benefits and her website.

Review: Scrooged (1988)

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Christmas movies are something kind of special because when they’re any good, they really last and get watched year after year. And you know what? They often don’t even have to really be any good. If you see them as a kid, one almost feels a sense of obligation to fulfil the holiday nostalgia quota in order to function through December. I’ve tried to remain as objective as possible toward the Christmas classics that I indulge in through the holiday season. What are classics for me aren’t what everyone grew up with and felt attached to. For example, so many of my peers grew up with A Christmas Story, a tale about a young boy who wanted a toy gun for Christmas and has many misadventures at school and home. It warms their hearts and makes them remember when they were a kid so they will likely share with their children the movie and the chain will continue. Me? I watched A Christmas Story for the first time in my twenties and found it to be not particularly funny and poorly paced for a family film. This is a controversial opinion, I know, and I have nothing against the movie or any of its fans. I just don’t like it. Sue me. I have a Christmas classic between my brothers and I though. When I first watched this film, it was on a VHS tape recorded off of TV so there were a few missing scenes filled in with commercial tails as my mom did the best she could to cut the ads out. So, every year my older brother and I would dig out from the collection of tapes full of old Star Trek: TNG episodes and Wonderful World of Disney specials the tape of Christmas specials. And we would often skip right to Richard Donner’s Scrooged.

While I wasn’t sure if I really could have an objective opinion of this movie, in reality, I think I can. There are a number of reasons. First, I have seen tons of adaptations of A Christmas Carol through the years and only a few of them I would watch again, especially over and over again. Next, when I first saw this movie, I wasn’t the target audience. That’s worth taking into consideration. This is a much more adult version of the movie compared to say, the Muppets version or Mickey’s Christmas Carol. But I saw it when I was in my single digit years and I found it hilarious then. And I continued to find it hilarious the older I got for some of the same and different reasons. My perspective and understanding of the movie has changed but, most importantly, it is still funny. Funnier than before, in fact.

It follows Frank Cross (Bill Murray), the youngest Television Executive in the world who is known for making cut throat decisions in order to boost ratings. This includes showing a graphic and violent ad campaign (not to mention completely unrelated) for his live broadcast of A Christmas Carol on Christmas eve, firing an employee on Christmas eve for voicing a concern, and just generally being cheap and greedy. But that night he gets visited by his old dead and zombified boss who tells him that Frank needs to change in order to save his soul. He tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts. One will take him to his past, one his present, and one will show him his future.

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Scrooged is a clever mix of satire and an honest retelling of the classic Charles Dickens’ story of A Christmas Carol. The events and the message are essentially the same so it is very true to the heart and soul of the story, but it takes place in a modern (well, late 80’s) world where the story of A Christmas Carol exists and is over done like it is in real life. There is a layer of irony that Cross is trying to profit on playing the show and that he doesn’t see his spiritual visit coming as he is more of a Scrooge than Ebeneezer is in the book. Who would? It’s one thing to know the story and another to experience it. But I think what makes it very true to the book is near the end as Frank is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, the film really steers away from the comedy and takes its message seriously. It’s a very surreal and grim picture that shouldn’t have been turned comedic and Richard Donner knew that.

While the circumstances are very outrageous, they do well mixing that with the real world. There is a lot of very true humanity in many of the characters. So, even when Frank is over the top, he gets brought down to the real world and responds very honestly to what he sees in his employees and family outside of how they act around him. And, much like the classic story, we start to understand his motives and his character the more we see of his past. That leads to some very heartfelt moments which are crucial to invest the audience into the picture. Comedy is great, but the story needs heart to flourish.

Bill Murray is fantastic in the role of Frank Cross. What he is really great at portraying is a strangely realistic madness. Not to mention that, as the night progresses, Frank really starts to lose it and no one can lose their mind on screen quite like Bill Murray. Cross is a complicated man, with a tender heart, but hardened and corrupted by greed, just like Ebeneezer Scrooge. But as he starts to get closer to his past, by revisiting his lost love Claire, we see him trying, unprompted by the spirits that visit him, to make amends and rekindle that relationship. Naturally, she doesn’t like what he’s become and that’s where the ghosts come in. But Murray is a great leading man and is able to make Cross, despite all of the despicable things he does, strangely charming and always fun to watch.

He is joined by a pretty capable cast including Bobcat Goldthwait, who plays the employee that Cross fired who quickly degenerates from a working man into a complete lunatic. He gives a stupendous and hilariously over the top performance. Karen Allen of Indiana Jones fame plays Claire and is a charming and very down to Earth love interest. You can see why Frank fell in love with her right away. Also of note is Alfre Woodard as Cross’ assistant Grace, who counter’s her boss’ over the top personality with a very relateable and realistic woman who is just trying to work her best for the sake of her family. I’m leaving people out, but the whole cast is great, making a very colourful group of characters.

Scrooged seems to have some haters, so many I’m missing something. I don’t know. I love it and I know I’m not the only one. That’s fine; people can stick with A Christmas Story if that is what they prefer. Me? Apparently I like seeing rich businessmen go completely mad for the holidays, as is the holiday tradition for many. Who am I to break tradition anyway?

5 Stars

-DF

Review: Do the Right Thing (1989)

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Since seeing Straight Outta Compton, I’ve taken an interest in the subject of racism and in particular, that era of racial tension in cities like LA and New York in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I watched Boyz In the Hood and then moved onto a Spike Lee classic, Do the Right Thing. And while one thinks we’ve come a long way the last 25 years, it seems like many of the issues are the same. As a Canadian, things are a less tense up here than in the States, but I would be naive to say that race isn’t an issue. Seeing movies like this put some things in perspective for me. Life as a straight white male isn’t overly challenging, relatively speaking. I felt some racism when I lived in Chinatown a few years ago, but paying a little extra for pork buns is not the same as being afraid for my life when I encounter the police.

Do the Right Thing opens with several women dancing to “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, the unofficial theme song of the movie. This artistic choice is one that’s still a mystery to me, but it does at least remind the audience what time the film was made. There are plenty of neon exercise clothes and flashy neon titles to go around. Geez, I remember when people dressed like that. It was a real thing. But to be fair, this film isn’t a timeless classic. I don’t even mean any disrespect by that. It’s not timeless, it’s a snap shot of a single day, on a single urban block, in a particular era. This was a movie made for the time about that time. If anything, it’s a shame that it is still so relevant today.

There isn’t really a very clear story. It’s about the people of the block, focusing mostly on an Italian family who own the Sal’s Famous Pizzaria, which happens to be in a black neighbourhood. Sal (Danny Aiello) is a little rough around the edges, but appreciates that his business is thriving in the community. His son Pino (John Turturro), however, is harbouring a deep resentment toward the people of the neighbourhood. His other son Vido (Richard Edson) actually gets along well with their additional staff member, Mookie (Spike Lee). Mookie is their delivery boy and we see the neighbourhood through his eyes as he wanders from place to place, often meandering back to work in his own time. Things get a little tense though, as Mookie’s friend Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) makes a scene at Sal’s, protesting that Sal’s Wall of Fame has no pictures of black people and he should put some up because he’s in a black neighbourhood. Sal winds up kicking him out, so Buggin’ Out calls for a boycott of the pizzaria, which no one wants to participate in because they actually like pizza.

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This is the heart of the movie, in a sense. While at times it feels like Spike Lee is filming an essay in defence of black people, for the most part he actually takes a very even handed approach. First, he shows how racism and intolerance works both ways. So many characters just don’t know how to stop and think about what they’re saying until it becomes a shouting match. Tension gets so high and it’s no single person’s fault. But if any one side of an argument just stopped, listened, and discussed, the story would have ended very differently. Next, he paints a very real picture of the neighbourhood. Many characters say how it’s a ‘black neighbourhood’ but even that does them a disservice. We get to know a lot of characters and so many of them have different stories and different points of view. When we over simplify and classify groups of different individuals, well, we get issues like racism. It wasn’t a ‘black neighbourhood’, it was a community.

I liked Spike Lee’s approach to this film, but you need to get through it all to understand it. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it’s a very slow burn to the more satisfying blaze of this Spike Lee joint. There is a lot of time spent on nothing but chatter and characters, some of whom are important to the story and some others that aren’t as much. It can be tedious, admittedly, because it’s hard to lock onto any actual story. But that’s the thing, the story is in the characters and how they relate. It needs the chatter and the day-in-the-life feel to it to succeed. That’s not going to work for everyone. My brother fell asleep and stayed asleep. I fell asleep, woke up 20 minutes later, finished the movie and caught up on what I missed later. It wasn’t crucial, but what was interesting was that when I reached the point where I initially woke up, I wanted to keep watching. I think that it rewards multiple viewings because once we get to know the characters more, the more time we want to spend with them. And perhaps after we know what all of this leads up to, the more purpose we can find in scenes that may seem trivial at first.

As piece of entertainment, it doesn’t engage. As a piece of culture, it works well. Do the Right Thing had the gumption to confront the issues of racial prejudices when it was a tough subject to tackle. I suppose it still is, which is why it’s as good a time as any to watch it… if you can get passed the dated hair styles and the neon. Oh the neon!

3.5 Stars

-DF

Ep 18: Wings (1927)

Mason and Doug start a new ongoing series in which we talk about all of the best picture Oscar winners. Starting at the very beginning, we chat about the silent film, Wings.
This episode was shelved for a long time, as such some of the stuff we talk about is a little out of date. I finally edited it to a point where I was comfortable releasing it. I hope it still meets the quality you’ve come to expect from the show.
Directed by William A. Wellman
Starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Alren, Clara Bow

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Review: Monsters (2010)

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Director Gareth Edwards took a crew of seven, including the two lead actors, went off to Mexico and shot a movie without permission from the locations or even additional cast members. He captured enough footage that he was able to transform it into a cohesive story about an alien infestation on Earth. Monsters follows Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) as he helps bring his boss’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able) out of Mexico back to the United States to safety. However, between them and home is the infected zone, the place where giant tentacle creatures emerge every year and wreak havoc on civilization.

More interesting than the rudimentary story that actually unfolds on screen is the back story and the world built for this movie. And that’s something to be proud of too. It’s not too dissimilar from our world, naturally, but that is to the film’s credit as it feels like a realistic depiction of how society might transform under these circumstances. Alien life has become an invasive species on Earth and people are reacting how people are likely to react. The military and governments are freaking out, but the citizens, for better or for worse, are more or less used to it and just trying to get by regardless. Building a society for your movie is an achievement and I feel that this is where the film excels the most.

Monsters looks sharper and more professional than most movies made for this budget. There are high school dramas that cost more than this film was made for. Considering its ambition and scope, it’s an impressive achievement. And this is reflective of the world of film changing. If you have even a small group of people committed to making a project happen, you can make a film that looks pretty damn good. Cameras are affordable enough now that it’s not a huge chunk of the budget. And in this case, Gareth Edwards is a skilled special effects artist. He tackled the CGI that made this film happen by himself and it looks professional. It’s no wonder that he was scooped up to direct the 2014 Godzilla. He proved he could handle the material.

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The tone of the film is gritty and has a sort of down in the depths look to it, like it’s a documentary, at times. Perhaps that’s a natural consequence of the guerilla film making, but it helps the audience feel the reality of the world that they’ve created. It’s pretty immersive when you get caught up in the depths of the Mexican jungles.

But Monsters is a movie for directors and specials effects kids. Writers may find themselves frustrated. The script is just functional enough that the movie could be made. The ideas are there, but the story is flimsy and the dialogue is clunky. It feels just like Edwards wanted to show off what he could do with a camera in his hand and a consumer special effects program at home. And it does that and he impresses in those respects, but unfortunately there was a real missed opportunity to mould a better script and tell a more well crafted story. It wouldn’t be hard to find a writer friend, or take his script to someone and workshop it a bit. Though, I don’t even know how much of it was even written. Apparently there were a lot of scenes where the actors were just given a vague notion of how the scene was supposed to play out and they just gave it a shot. But that’s risky even with seasoned actors and I just don’t think these two had the chops to pull it off well enough.

Major props to Gareth Edwards for getting this project off the ground. Having the ambition to just go out and shoot your film, especially one that is knowingly special effects heavy, shows a drive to really make it in the business. If his intent was to make a film that would get him noticed and break into the industry, then Monsters is a complete success. It did get him Godzilla after all, which I really enjoyed. But it wouldn’t have hurt him to just get a little bit of outside input as far as the script goes. Even just to have it doctored just once more could have gone a long way. He can say that he made his vision come to life, but imagine if he could have called a better movie his vision.

2.5 Stars

-DF

Ep 17: Toy Story 2 (1999)

On this episode of the Checking the Gate Podcast, Leaminn returns and chats with Doug about Toy Story 2, the sequel to the much loved animated classic.  We discuss how much the property meant to everyone involved and how that lead to another high quality picture.
Directed by John Lasseter
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack

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Also, don’t forget to check out Leaminn’s other work at Pods with Benefits and her website.

Ep 16: Persistence of Vision (2012)

This episode, Steve, Nathan and Doug  chat about Persistence of Vision, a documentary following the process of the greatest animated film never made! We discuss the balance of business and art in film and try and see what we can take away from this tragic tale.
Directed by Kevin Schreck

Follow this film on Facebook!

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Thanks to Nathan Ferguson for joining us this episode. If you want to listen to his comedy podcast, visit The Pollinate Show.  Warning: Explicit content.

Review: The Lobster (2015)

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If you want to get a point across, hyperbole is a good way to do it. You see that in satire all over the place, like The Onion, which is why it’s so hilarious when people believe their articles to be true. The Lobster takes the popular notions of relationships and exaggerates then to the point of ridiculousness. Buried under here is a dark truth about our very real perceptions on relationships. To some of us, we don’t allow ourselves to be complete without a partner. The quest for romance becomes very consuming. Conversely, some people are very jaded and afraid of relationships or see it as something of an obstacle to getting what they want out of life.

The Lobster dances a very strange line of being a self aware parody of a quirky art film, or just an actual real quirky art film. I’m still not sure where it lands, but I lean toward it being more self aware, if not just because of the comedy. The humour justifies so much; even this film’s very existence. But it is remarkably funny, if you don’t mind dark and uncomfortable humour. Again, it walks a tight rope because the humour does get pretty damn awkward at times.

There is a nice collection of unknown actors and the A-list of 2004 doing good work in this movie. Colin Farrell leads as David, a man whose wife leaves him. But in this world, it is illegal to not have a spouse. He stays at a resort, where the objective is to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. David chooses a lobster, cause why not? This undercurrents the comedy throughout. There is this urgency and desperation flowing through every interaction. If that sounds like it leads to many disingenuous dialogues, your instincts are serving you well. The hilarity is in the subtext rather than anything actually said.

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With the clock ticking, David resorts to a relationship with a psychotic woman who has extended her stay by being particularly good at hunting the renegade outsiders who embrace a life of independence. Alas, David can only pretend to be a good match for a psychopath for so long. He has no choice but to flee into the woods where he joins the society of single people. It’s great at first because he can masturbate whenever he feels like it and runs no risk of having to be turned into a lobster. But the rule is that he cannot be in relationship with anyone and when he falls in love with a woman played by Rachel Weisz (which we’ve all done, let’s admit it), he finds himself having to hide their affair from the equally restrictive independence rogues.

Admittedly, the story line is one to scratch your head at. It’s not the kind of dystopian future that needs to be believable or even all that interesting. The core of this movie is what it has to say about relationships, or the lack thereof, and what societal expectations are. With romantic idealisms thrust on us by cinema for ages, for once there is a film which turns the idea around and shows a world where there is rarely an ideal. You settle or you die alone… or you get turned into a lobster. In a way that makes their romance a strangely beautiful one; the world is literally against them. We wish for them so dearly to succeed, but there is little hope for them to. In this world, there is no place for a genuine, natural love.

You just have to accept the strange irrationality of the picture The Lobster paints in order to embrace this film. It’s not for a mainstream audience. People aren’t going to get this movie. I’m not convinced I do. Perhaps I love it anyway. One has to respect the ambition and vision of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who makes the best of a low budget and sparse screenplay. He has the delicate touch to helm a dark comedy such as this, which could have easily collapsed under the weight or its own pretentiousness. Yet, it stands firm and feels honestly introspective. Best of all, I laughed hard.

What an odd movie.

4 stars

-DF

Ep 15: Fantastic Four (2015)

Sorry for the delays! We’re back with the latest episode.
On this episode, Mason and Doug chat about Fox’s latest attempt at a Fantastic Four movie. Panned by critics and audiences alike, we look to give this film a fair shake and delve into what went wrong.
Directed by Josh Trank.
Starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Kate Mara.

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Also, check out Mason’s story making site at Royalty, Robots, or Role Models.

Review: Charlotte’s Song (2015)

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The Vancouver International Film Festival has come to town again, and like every year I try and watch some Canadian films that I may not get a chance to see again after this. Tons of films get to VIFF, TIFF and various festivals then disappear. You don’t know what will find distribution from there. Now, I didn’t choose this movie, but I was open to my friend’s suggestion of Charlotte’s Song because… well, because I’ll watch whatever, but also it was a nice surprise that it was locally made, mostly shot in a frat house on the UBC campus.

The story is recalls The Little Mermaid, but more the classic story, not the Disney version. Charlotte was raised in an old dust bowl bar that her father, George, owns. His wife leads a group of dancing ladies for entertainment. But one night a mysterious old lady arrives and says that there is an imbalance between the sea and the land and tries to take Charlotte away. So, to protect her, her mother takes her life and is revealed to not be human, but rather a creature from the sea. But as the years pass and Charlotte gets older, she begins to discover that she also has her mother’s powers.

Charlotte’s Song paints a lovely picture, with an original premise and a lot of promise. And in many ways the film works. As a visual piece of art, it really is something. There was so much care in the set decoration, costumes and cinematography. It’s nice when indie pictures put the effort into making film artistically fulfilling. It’s a visual medium and that should be taken advantage of more often. Despite the darker tone, the colours are rich and the images are sharp. I respect this because I feel that in my indie movie making, sometimes the visuals are lacking for the sake of time and logistics. But it seemed like there was no compromise for the art of the medium, which I respect.

The script unfortunately chugs along a little clunky. The story and structure are there and I respect their ability to keep all the action pretty much in a single setting, but the dialogue plods along painfully. It worked at times, but often it was dry and lacked the realistic spark of spontaneity. It served it’s purpose as far as the characters needing to say lines to each other, but there was neither a poetic touch or the flavour of realism. Real folks, even in the depression, weren’t so damn uninteresting. And while the characters aren’t shallow, having inner struggles and some back story, they’re flavourless beyond that.

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This leads into the performances of the actors, which are mixed. It’s interesting to see which actors were able to overcome the dull dialogue and dish out some decent work. I don’t want to pick on anyone specifically, but some of the characters were wooden or just seemed to be trying too hard. What I can say is that I became all the more impressed with the actors who were able to make it work. To highlight a few, Katelyn Major, who played Charlotte, actually turned in some good work despite being the youngest in the ensemble. Steve Bradley, who played Tim, brought a lot of strength and nuance to his character and easily has the best acting moment in the movie. When Charlotte brings out a line about Tim not having to pay for her services, he gets an impassioned, righteous anger and conveys it all in a single look. And the biggest actor of the bunch was Iwan Rheon, best known for his roles in Game of Thrones and Misfits. He brings a noticeable level of prestige to the picture.

I think one goes into a picture like this with high hopes because sometimes genre films of this nature can make a new favourite movie. There are a lot of great concepts in here and they mostly pan out well, but the delivery just needed work. And that means that this likely won’t make anyone’s favourite list, either in life or even in the festival. Nevertheless, Charlotte’s Song gets enough right that I would say it’s worth seeing. And it shows a lot of promise from director Nicholas Humphries, who functions well as a visual director. He’s got visual style and a good grasp of narrative, which are important. If he can collaborate better with his writers and actors, he could be one to watch.

3 Stars

-DF

Review: The Visit (2015)

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Once upon a time there was a visionary director named M. Night Shyamalan, who created a movie that would become a world wide phenomenon. It was The Sixth Sense and it became a suspense classic. It was followed by 2000’s Unbreakable, which didn’t perform as well financially, but fans, including myself, still hold it in extremely high regard. Then he hit gold again with Signs. I became a huge M. Night fan and cited him as one of my inspirations for my film making and stood by him as many fans started to drop off. I enjoyed The Village and Lady in the Water was flawed, but over-bashed. But it was starting to become harder to defend Shyamalan as his movies declined in quality and I had to jump ship at The Happening. Couldn’t do it anymore.

But part of me keeps wishing that M. Night would stop, look at what’s been working and what hasn’t, and really re-evaluate his career path. I want M. Night to make quality movies again because he’s shown that with care and consideration, he really can. So, after the failed blockbusters of The Last Airbender and After Earth, no one is going to drop that much money on Shyamalan’s movies anymore, so the best route to go is low budget. So, here he’s teamed up with low-budget horror producer, Jason Blum, who has churned out a few really good horror films, most notably the Paranormal Activity films. And finally it seems like M. Night is returning to his roots and going for something more bare bones. And that’s a good approach. Less money to spend means more forethought needs to go into his story and its delivery. It also means more promise of return because even if it pulls in a modest amount at the box office, as long as it pulls in more than the movie was made for, then it’s a success. Reported at costing roughly $5 million, this movie will likely make a profit. That’s just smart business and has proven time and time again to be why horror movies are such a lucrative side of the industry.

But of course, none of this means that much if the movie is a dud. I just can’t take another The Happening. But to my surprise, I found myself really enjoying The Visit. Much of that is due to the kids in the film. M. Night has an eye for young talent having discovered Abigail Breslin in Signs and making Haley Joel Osment a pop culture icon for a time. But he works well with kids and brings out great performances from them. I was particularly charmed by Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who before was in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which went under my radar. This film is a notable change of pace, though relies strongly on his comedic chops.

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One of the things the movie has going for it is that it’s surprisingly funny. This is smart because it feels like they’re really brother and sister and they interact genuinely. There are occasions where their dialogue feels like a grown man writing for kids, but for the most part that isn’t the case and it works. In fact, these are probably M. Night’s best written children in his movies to date. Even in his best earliest movies, the kids he writes tend to be tortured souls to some extent. They work for their respective films, but here we get to see more realistic down to Earth kids who are relateable. They have their own personal hurts, but it doesn’t stop them from being kids.

The Visit is a found footage film, which tend to be hit or miss. In this case, it feels well justified because Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge), is an aspiring young film maker wanting to make a documentary of sorts to find reconciliation between her mother and grandparents. This approach makes their dangers very immediate, but more importantly, the film making process is part of the story. It’s less a bystander and more an instigator. The inevitability of these kind of movies is that there is always a point where it feels like the characters should ditch their cameras and just find safety, and it’s no different here, but that comes with the genre.

He plays off young peoples’ fear of the elderly as well as society’s prejudices, which are there whether we admit it or not. But they’re crucial to the story and how it plays out. I remember my first encounter with the elderly. My grade one class went to visit a care home and sing them Christmas carols. But everyone there was way older than my grandparents and even then I became terrified of the notion of getting old. I could tell that they just didn’t have it all together in their heads anymore and I never wanted to reach that age. I still don’t know if I do, but at least I have some better understanding of life and ageing.  It’s  just such a scary and foreign world to a child and so this film hits us on that very base fear that many of us have.

By keeping The Visit simple, M. Night achieves what he means to. It’s funny and it is genuinely scary at times as well. Sometimes you need to get back to the basics of film making if you’ve lost your way. It doesn’t have the same depth and consideration as his earliest movies, but it does feel modern, relevant, and confident. And this is a good way to build back movie goers’ trust. If he can execute a simple story well, then maybe we’ll give him another shot when he stretches his limbs out a bit more again. And with his movies that have been weaker, I found that they unravelled with some time, but The Visit still holds up the more I think about it.

So, hey, I’m excited about M. Night Shyamalan again! What a twist!

3.5 Stars

-DF

Ep 14: Toy Story (1995)

On this episode of the Checking The Gate Podcast, Doug brings on a guest host, Leaminn Ma, who asked to discuss the first fully computer animated feature length film.  We get nostalgic, but also appreciate it as an adult audience as well.
Directed by John Lasseter
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Don Rickles

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And be sure to check out some more of Leaminn’s work at Pods With Benefits and her website.

Review: World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

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Lance Clayton and his son Kyle go to the same school; Lance as a teacher and Kyle as a student, naturally. Lance is having very little success as a writer, plodding through another novel that may never get published. Kyle is not much like his father and seems more fixated on video games and pornography. He is antagonistic, homophobic, sexist and, would you believe, not particularly well liked by his peers. Lance is at his wit’s end as to what to do about his son, but Kyle’s sexual extremes catch up with him as he accidentally kills himself from autoerotic asphyxiation. Whoopsie daisy? To save his son from the embarrassment of having died in such an unflattering way, Lance stages the body to look like he hung himself and writes a fake suicide note to save some face. However, the note is perhaps too well written and when it somehow leaks to the students and staff at the school, everyone finds the fake Kyle to be strangely complex and deep compared to how he acted in real life.

World’s Greatest Dad is written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who was fairly well known in comedies of the 80’s, including several of the Police Academy movies and, my personal favourite role of his, Elliot Loudermilk in the Bill Murray Christmas comedy, Scrooged. Nowadays, he works mostly behind the camera, working his way through television and onto feature films. This shows him not just as a comedic actor with a goofy, gimmick voice, but a legitimate talent with enough skill to make his vision come to life. His script isn’t perfect, as at times it seems a little heavy handed and forced, particularly in scenes when portraying Kyle and his perversions, but maybe I just wasn’t hanging out with that breed of teenager when I was in high school. Still, it often hits a really nice blend of realism and dark comedy, which is a tricky thing to balance.

Where World’s Greatest Dad falls short is in its unfocused thematic message. Is the problem in Lance’s lie or everyone else’s unwillingness to connect with the living? It feels like an anti-suicide message, but the point is also that there was no actual purposeful suicide. It seems like a story about the desensitization and extremes of teen sexuality, but that angle is dropped once Kyle dies. The story gets told well enough that it makes sense, but the deeper issues are convoluted. That leaves us with a film where it’s competent, but without a deeply considered enough script that greatness evades its grasp. But it tries, and individually the concepts succeed.

And you know, complaints wise, if you look at my problems with this film a little differently, it doesn’t feel like a problem so much. Frankly, I would rather have a comedy that tries to accomplish too much and not succeed completely, than have a comedy that is shallow and pointless. And hey, it happens to be funny too, so it succeeds on that very important level. Laughing at sadness and frustration is an age old pastime that I wouldn’t want to give up. It’s therapeutic, if nothing else.

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There is a strange discomfort watching this film with the discussions of suicide within, particularly knowing how Robin Williams’ life came to an end. It becomes the elephant in the room. But in a strange way, it adds to the emotional complexities of the discussion. It adds a sadness, but legitimacy to what they have to say; that it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Or maybe because Williams says it in the movie, that it’s not that simple. But this can’t be explored in the movie because that’s not what the movie was intended to be. That’s simply a strange layer added from real life

Goldthwait and Williams made a great team. We get one of the best performances of Williams’ career, with his comedy more understated and his emotional complexities at the forefront. That’s not saying that he’s overacting; the complexities are real in how buried they are. Lance is burdened with the truth of Kyle’s death. And while his original intent was to save face for Kyle, it soon became a much more selfish act for Lance. He was finally getting recognition for his writing and indirectly hailed for his genius. But even then, perhaps his original intent was not entirely for Kyle’s benefit either. He felt responsible for Kyle’s attitude and felt a failure as a parent. The embarrassing end only compounded that sense of failure.

Perhaps the film asks the question of what success is and at what price are we willing to pursue it. And how important is the truth? Why did it hurt so much if Kyle was remembered in fondness and Lance was finally an accomplished writer? The film challenges our notion of success and suggests that perhaps it is a false claim if not reached through an honest route. And I can stand behind that idea; if you don’t have integrity, what have you got?

4 Stars

-DF

Review: Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) (2003)

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There is so much emphasis these days on computer animated films that I think we sometimes forget that the old school 2D animation is just as legitimate an art form and still has a lot to offer the film medium. The problem is that these days, it’s just not as marketable as it used to be. Pixar and Dreamworks changed the game last decade and the masses just weren’t coming out to see 2D films, at least not the extend that they were coming to see their 3D animated counterparts. So, this leaves traditional animation a chance to take it to the fringe. The Triplets of Belleville was a co-production between a number of film companies in France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Canada, making it an achievement on an international level, though writer and director Sylvain Chomet is French.

It follows Madame Souza, an old lady who is raising her grandson Champion. She can’t help but notice that the young Champion is unhappy, so she tries to cheer him up by buying him a puppy named Bruno. Champion goes on being depressed, but finally Souza finds out his passion. He loves bikes. So, she buys him one and right away he is overjoyed. Fast forward to a number of years later and Champion is now a professional cyclist and Souza is his coach. He enters the Tour de France and during the competition, Champion and two other cyclists are taken away by a two mysterious men in suits and are taken to America. Souza hasn’t given up though. She and Bruno are tracking them down and will bring him back home again.

The Triplets of Belleville is so bizarre a film that I really didn’t enjoy it at first. Something about the whole art style and tone of the film is so out of the ordinary that it’s a bit off putting. But I went in having no idea what to expect. But what started off as discomfort soon became a charmed admiration for the bold, artistic storytelling that this film provided. It just took a brief period of adjustment.

The look of the movie is so unusual; the character designs are exaggerated to the point of hilarity and there is a strange twist to the laws of physics that wouldn’t work outside of an animated world. But the events of the film itself are outlandish enough that not only does it warrant such a strange visual style, but I would say that the two are vital to one another. It’s clear that Sylvain Chomet had a bizarre vision and took the needed time to flesh it out.

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Another thing that makes this movie unique is that it’s almost a silent movie. It has a full array of sound effects and a music score, but the dialogue is pretty sparse. There are a few select moments with talking, but for the most part they tell the story visually which adds to the strange tone established by the action. The lack of dialogue actually really adds to the effect of the film overall. It allows the audience to focus on the art and enjoy all of the expression that shines through it. I think every so often we need to be reminded that film is a visual medium and often we equate good and bad writing by the quality of the dialogue. That can be a good indicator, but I think we forget that creating the story is part of the writing process and to write a script devoid of dialogue is a monumental challenge. Similarly, translating that script into a visual medium, the director’s job, can be very challenging also. Never mind the fact that it’s animated. I have no idea how to direct animation. Wasn’t my field, but I’d love to try one day.

The characters are strange and quirky, but in such a way that it’s almost realistic. It’s a strange balance they have. You see some of their quirks and it’s so strange that you can’t believe it’s true, but when you think about it more, it is just strange enough that it could just be an exaggerated truth. Perhaps Chomet did know an old lady or two who captured frogs to eat? I bet he knew a dog who barked at every single train that ran by its house. It’s very compelling to see truth in such a strange fairy tale. Even if everything is fabricated, it is still a story told with such confidence and conviction that you accept what you see. As I did, I really started to have a lot of fun with it.

The more this movie sits with me, the more my enthusiasm for it grows. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the normal animated fare that goes through cinemas these days. It’s a chance to see a unique and twisted vision from an artist who clearly cares about his work and isn’t afraid to have fun. The Triplets of Belleville got a fair bit of recognition from critics when it came out and also was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Finding Nemo. So it goes. It certainly goes to show that there is still room in this world for 2D animation and as long as there are creative minds like this behind the pencils, I will gladly support it.

5 stars

-DF

Review: Jurassic World (2015)

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I didn’t see Jurassic Park in theatres back in 1993. I was too young. Apparently it was something to behold. It was a benchmark in cinema and set a new standard in special effects. But most of all, it imprinted a pop culture notion of what dinosaurs were. Real Palaeontologists no doubt lament the inaccuracies, but Jurassic Park was likely made for the same reason they took that career: the love of dinosaurs. We love the mystery of them. The fact that they were once real and alive, but no human has seen a live one appeals to the kid in all of us. That’s why kids are much more fascinated by dinosaurs than say, dragons. Of course you can love dragons, but they aren’t nearly as interesting as something real.

Jurassic Park was the love child of Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton, director and author of the novel, respectively. No one crafts a blockbuster quite like Spielberg in his prime. We could chat about that more, but we already did in our first podcast episode. So, check that out. But there were two sequels because Hollywood knows when there is still money to be made on an idea. I actually liked (but not loved) The Lost World. Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, was puzzlingly pointless and paper thin. After that it seemed like the concept was tapped out, with continued talks about a fourth movie, which never quite materialized.

Which brings us to present day, 14 years since a Jurassic Park movie hit the big screens. Jurassic World plays off of the fact that it’s been so long since John Hammond tried to open the original park and shows a shiny, technologically superior new park called Jurassic World which is fully functional and open to the public. Of course, the public wants more bang for their buck because, after some years, dinosaurs just aren’t as cool as they used to be. So, now they’re genetically engineering some super dinosaurs to be bigger and scarier than the real thing. That brings us to Indominus Rex, a big ol’ dangerous super-dino that ate her sister and doesn’t want to be your friend. The good news is that it escapes so we can have a story line. All hell breaks loose in the park and it’s up to Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), to save some kids and stop the dinos from doing what dinos do in every Jurassic Park movie.

The good news is that this may be the best Jurassic Park sequel… though I’m not sure. I’d have to see The Lost World again, but I can definitely say that this is many times better than the stinker of Jurassic Park III. But you know, not hitting a really low bar isn’t exactly high praise. The point is that nothing got the balance of wonder, horror, and adventure quite right since the original and the same goes for this one. Spielberg is not back to direct this, but serves as executive producer, which doesn’t mean that much at the end of the day because he sits in that chair for the Transformers movies.

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Hmm… this review isn’t showing much promise. So far all I’ve said is basically “it’s not the worst thing ever!” Director Colin Trevorrow is competent enough, despite this being his first major feature film. He does manage to build up some excitement and spectacle, but the direction wasn’t the problem with this film. There is something bigger at work here to undermine what should have been a home run. And I think the main problem is there is a synthetic feel to the film. It feels very much like the script was written to death, delivering point by point what studio executives think audiences want to see. It doesn’t feel like a labour of love, but a well calculated fan service machine. It’s kind of ironic actually because in some ways it feels like the story of the film was essentially speaking out against that. Perhaps that’s a clever writer working out his frustrations with the system he’s caught in, but who really knows.

The film opens up some discussions involving meeting expectations of the masses and the growing need of excess for consumers. Perhaps the Indominus Rex is a literal interpretation of consumerism destroying us or at the very least, undoing itself. I appreciate that the film brings these questions to the table, but again, the irony of the real life blockbuster is too thick. I mean, mostly it just feels like the Indominus Rex is replacing the Spinosaurus as the new bigger, badder dinosaur because that one sucked. But hey, they were trying to open the dialogue about messing with nature, not unlike the first Jurassic Park, though this time the focus is more on if it’s ethical to invent new dinosaurs. I guess the chapter is closed on whether or not they should bring back dinosaurs at all, but yeah, it’s been 20 years.

Then most of the discussion is left on the table because all hell breaks loose and people start getting eaten so who has time for philosophy? But I guess that was how it went down in the first Jurassic Park film. Have some discussion then get into the conflict and action. Now either I’m holding the first movie on an undeserved pedestal or this one just doesn’t transition as well. But the first one did seem to have the cause and effect down; the conflict was consequence. And I guess that’s the case here, but it seems more contrived.

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Perhaps the biggest problem is that the human stories don’t work. The kids here shouldn’t survive, nor do they deserve to. They openly put themselves in danger and blatantly ignore all warnings of danger. One of the reasons we felt for the kids in the first film was because they were victims of the carelessness of John Hammond. He thought he could control these forces of nature, but could not. Here, nature made it’s choice by them being stupid and these kids should have died. It’s just luck (the script) that kept them alive. Now you’re saying that I should stop comparing everything to the first movie, right? Well, fine, except this film follows the same basic formula of story, but with blatant references to the first movie. It basically compares itself. Say what you will about The Lost World, at least the story went through different motions.

But I don’t even mean to lambaste the film. Would you believe I enjoyed it? There are a few films which are fun to watch at the time, but once you step away for a little bit, the stitching of the plot begins to unravel. You start picking at things easy like Claire outrunning a Tyrannosaurus Rex with high heels on. Then you move to bigger things like the Indominus Rex communicating with the raptors despite being bred and raised in complete isolation. Then next thing you know, the whole story begins to feel more and more forced. But hey, while you’re in the theatre you get to see dinosaurs! And and and Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle with trained raptors at his side! I mean come on guys! That’s awesome! And hey, at the very least it had a point and progressed the overall Jurassic Park story, unlike the third movie. I mean, we all kinda wondered what it would have been like if the park actually opened. Now we know. Turns out that dinosaurs are dangerous. Huh.

2.5 Stars

-DF

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

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2014 was the year where I came face to face with mortality, and the depressing crap pile that was my life at the time just had more crap dumped onto it. Just as the year kicked off, I was met with the death of my grandfather, an old high school mate, and my cat of 14 years. Strangely enough, the death that hurt the most was the cat. Not to say that I wasn’t hurt by the other losses, but that one was the loss that seemed to affect day to day life the most. The sound of a cat coming down to greet me, vocally protesting that I left her at all in the first place, was absent. My room was eerily quiet and there was no longer a warmth on my legs every night. And isn’t that why we grieve for death? We grieve for our own personal loss and the empty space left behind.

This is what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl explores. Greg (Thomas Mann), the ‘me’ in the title, prides himself in his lack of human connection as he drifts through high school, where he feels he could never fit in. He drifts through, keeping on good terms with everyone, actually befriending no one. Except Earl (RJ Cyler), who he’s known since they were kids. They have worked together making low-budget films based off of pre-existing movies, with slightly altered names. For example, Rosemary Baby Carrots and Senior Citizen Kane. Actually, in a lot of ways Greg reminds me of myself at that age. I also avoided classification in high school for the most part, and got recognition and acceptance from many of the groups of kids… at least in the later years. First few years were a bit more rough. I also nurtured my love for film during this time so there is another curious parallel. Anyway, Greg won’t even admit that Earl is his friend because he can’t really commit to the word friend. He considers them co-workers, which is fine. Earl knows what’s up.

The aforementioned ‘dying girl’ is Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with Leukaemia. Greg barely knows her, but his mom knows her mom, so one phone call leads to another, and he finds himself being sent to talk and hang out with Rachel. Kind of awkward, but apparently forced friendships can take off too, because they do warm up to one another because she doesn’t want pity and he doesn’t particularly want to give it.

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Strangely enough, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl seems like the perfect title for this movie. The playfulness of the rhyme and rhythm play counter to the subject of death, yet it doesn’t hide it. Similarly, the movie feels like a light indie comedy and it mostly is, except for the whole Leukaemia story, which y’know, leads to some heavy drama. It has all the makings of a great high school comedy, with some colourful characters including a rough around the edges teacher (Jon Bernthal), Greg’s eccentric parents (Nick Offerman and Connie Britton), and a girl with cancer… hmm… I guess that’s the point there. Cancer throws a wrench into an otherwise lovely set up, as it does in real life. Then suddenly shit gets real. This is more or less what Greg is going through during the movie; his status quo, which he is so proud of, is being severely shaken.

He’s not particularly well grounded. I mean, he’s in high school so one can only be so grounded in the microcosm of school politics, but his lack of perspective is just a reflection of where’s he’s at in life, and the fact that he’s a middle class white American. But he is the voice of someone who hasn’t met death head to head before. I believe that a firm grounding and larger perspective comes from hardships in life. This is where Earl comes in. He is the yin to Greg’s yang. They come from different neighbourhoods and, as such, different walks of life. It’s not explored thoroughly, but you figure out pretty fast that Earl’s life has been a rougher ride and it’s only through their shared love of film that he and Greg connected. Earl grounds the viewer and offers a voice of reason. Greg laments about how Rachel’s condition is affecting him as his decided lack of social life, often not considering what she is actually going through. Earl calls him out on it because the permanence of death isn’t as foreign a concept to him.

But that’s how we relate to death, is it not? Until we face it personally, all we have is ourselves as a reference point. How can Greg understand life any differently if, up until this point, everything has just kind of worked out?

Curiously, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has a background in horror film making, with The Town That Dreaded Sundown and episodes of American Horror Story behind his belt. This looks to me his break into comedy and drama which  seem to fit his strengths better. Not that I’ve even actually seen his other work, but he grasps emotional gravitas and shows he’s adept as getting the performances he needs from inexperienced actors.  The performances are often fairly restrained, which is what the film calls for most of the time. Most of the young actors have an understandably short resume, but they rise to the occasion when need be. The best performance from the bunch does come from Olivia Cooke, who also did a great job adopting an American accent. I would have never guessed that she was from Manchester. As Rachel, she just had more opportunity to shine as she struggles with the emotional landscape of a dying adolescent. Also of note was RJ Cyler, this being his first major acting credit. His Earl was quick and funny, but felt real. It at no point felt like he was an actor. Sometimes you can get something very visceral and true from less experienced talent, and I think that rings true for most of this picture.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is proving to be one of the indie sensations of the year and understandably so. It brings us face to face with both our youth and our mortality, which is a bizarre duality. Should we laugh or should we cry? Isn’t there a fine line between comedy and tragedy? For Shakespeare, the difference is in the ending; whether or not the finale is a wedding or a funeral. I don’t think it’s as clear cut in this film, but perhaps that just means this is more realistic. From my experience, in life, tragedy and comedy are intricately bound together.

4 Stars

-DF

Review: Pretend We’re Kissing (2014)

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Ah, Canadian Cinema. The stigma our films are burdened with is a load I wouldn’t want to carry, but as a Canadian film maker, it is my load to carry. Still, when I get the chance I like to throw a few bucks at the home team when they play. Thus, I went in relatively blind when I saw that Pretend We’re Kissing was playing. I didn’t know anything about it, but I prefer being surprised anyway. And look, I’m even writing a review for it. I haven’t written a full and proper movie review in months. Or… maybe even a year now. Anyway, something about this film made me want to get writing again. And since I’m trying to open up the Checking the Gate Podcast site to more content, movie reviews seems like a logical place to branch to.

Pretend We’re Kissing is a romantic comedy by definition, but not by formula, which is refreshing. I actually like romantic movies, but I don’t like the tropes. Does that make me hard to please? It follows Benny (Dov Tiefenbach), an awkward self-employed loner who is trapped in his own mind, always over thinking every bit of human interaction. He’s been living with an old childhood friend named Autumn (Zoë Kravitz) who has been crashing on his couch for the last year, jobless and is a self-diagnosed agoraphobic. He’s getting sick of her freeloading, but also doesn’t really have the guts to do much about it. One night at a concert, he gets to flirting with a girl named Jordan (Tommie-Amber Pirie), but again, doesn’t do much about that until, by chance, a couple days later, she bumps into him again and they go for lunch together and romance blooms and everything.

Now before you get all up in this movie’s grill about sounding too typical, I will say that it takes some of the conventions of the genre and turns them on their head, thankfully. By looking at the poster, I was worried this movie would be too “cute.” It wasn’t really. If anything it was just painfully awkward. I’m still trying to figure out if this is to the film’s detriment or not. It seems to speak to the modern young adult generation of awkward, self-doubting city kids. Not to put Benny into a box; he’s more complex than that. He is self employed with his own poster design company where he shamelessly plugs Canadian music acts like Brendan Canning and Zeus. That at least shows that in some respects he has the reigns on his life and can really make something of himself when he puts his mind to it. His lack of success is mostly in regards to interacting with people, or women in particular. He doesn’t even recognize what he has to offer.

This is writer / director Matt Sadowski’s first film and he taps into a common problem in modern relationships. Men remain too timid and women’s expectations are unrealistic. It’s a brutal cycle. Lovely as she is, Jordan is the master of her own undoing. She’s chasing a feeling that can’t be sustained. She seeks the excitement of new love and the spontaneity of a blossoming romance. But seeking spontaneity is like bugging someone for the low-down of your surprise party. She cannot win. But there is a universal truth to this, in that people aren’t willing to fight for their love. We’re not willing to let down our own comforts and expectations to make relationships work and the divorce rate reflects that. We don’t give a more matured love a chance. Of course, what this film depicts is an extremely condensed version of a more long term problem, but it gets the point across.

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Pretend We’re Kissing can boast that it has the most realistic sex scene that I’ve seen in a movie in ages. It’s not particularly explicit or even that sexy. The camera is still and basically watches as Benny and Jordan engage in what looks to be only mildly enjoyable intercourse at best. It’s long for a movie scene, but not long for a sexual encounter. And while some might deem this unnecessary, I can’t help but feel that this is more or less the thesis of the film. They try and recreate a feeling, but are unwilling or too impatient to work toward a real bond between one another. And if you’re a lover with any degree of experience, the bond is where the magic happens.

While it occasionally meanders, even with its fairly short run time, for the most part the film leaves with a fairly good impression. Perhaps watching Benny’s struggle to get out of his own head and settle into a level of comfortability in his own skin is more fulfilling than one might first think. Or maybe it’s because it’s actually a pretty funny film. It doesn’t try too hard to be funny, it just winds up being thanks to a level of genuineness in the characters and situations. They’re just odd enough that they’re believable and relatable and, when done right, comedy’s anchor is in truth.

So, does Pretend We’re Kissing add to the stigma of Canadian cinema? Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I agree with the preconceived notions of what Canadian movies are or aren’t. Some films that people find boring, I do not. And I appreciate when a movie is made on a tight budget, much like this one was. Plus, I’m not convinced that the people who believe in these stigmas have even seen a Canadian movie. Truth is, I’m the target audience for this film. It’s not for everyone, but there is enough meat to the characters and story that indie film fans can get their fix and maybe even laugh along the way.

3.5 Stars

-DF

Ep 4: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

This is a good one. Doug and Mason chat about Spider-Man 3, the much panned third part of the trilogy. We dig up what worked and what we’d do differently. And this will conclude our talk about Spider-Man films, for now.   Don’t worry… more variety to come.
Directed by Sam Raimi.
Starring  Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Thomas Haden Church.

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Ep 1: Jurassic Park (1993)

Doug and Paul discuss Jurassic Park on the first episode of the Checking the Gate Podcast! We thought it was a great place to start because it’s a film that everyone has seen and is considered a cinematic classic. Also, Jurassic World is coming to theatres this year so it’s more relevant than ever!
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum

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We apologize for the poor sound quality of this episode.