Captain Phillips (2013)

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Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay) and Richard Phillips (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman

Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) knows how to build suspense.  His latest action/adventure Captain Phillips, based on the true 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship for ransom by four armed Somali pirates, is no exception.  The movie creeps, crawls, rises and falls throughout its 2h15min running time.  Tom Hanks delivers but the Somali pirates are the real stars of the film.

What I liked:  Greengrass goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.  The movie has a brief and awkward start but with one flicker on the radar and a hand-held camera we are engulfed in foreboding.  The action gives the movie a frenetic pace but the performances win the day.  Hanks is the everyman we can all relate to and be terrified for but it’s the Somali pirates who offer us more than stock villains, even with stock dialogue.  Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman are smart, devious, famished, suffering and wilful.  They tug at our heartstrings even as we root for them to fail.  They are the driving force behind a film whose conclusion made headlines.

What I didn’t like:  Why did they cast the wonderful Catherine Keener if she was going to end up on the cutting room floor? This frustrated me to no end when the movie was over.  I can also understand why the Navy hasn’t exactly applauded the film because despite their oppressive presence they don’t actually seem to do or accomplish anything.  I understand the need to draw out action in order to build a climax but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the sequences were just add-in plot points to embellish the drama rather than actual events.

My rating:  Requires big screen viewing.

My IMDb rating: 7/10      tomato:  94%

Get ready: Oldboy (2013)

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Back in January, I expressed my utter disappointment that Hollywood was remaking the South Korean Classic, Oldboy.  There is no way Hollywood could do justice to this art- house oeuvre…unless they found an incredible director…one who might be a little heavy handed with his politics but still creates imaginative films that sit on the periphery of Hollywood mainstream…someone who is internationally well-liked so as not to offend any Oldboy purists…someone like Spike Lee?  That’s right.  Spike Lee directs this horrific tale about a man desperate to understand why he was inexplicably imprisoned for 15 years.  The cast is pretty decent and the trailer is enough to make us understand that it’s different but the same.

Directed by: Spike Lee
Adapted by: Mark Protosevich whose credits at least include The Cell.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Hannah Simone, James Ransone and Sharlto Copley.

Release date: November 27th, 2013 (USA)

The trailer is barely watchable.  First time I’ve ever seen the red screen.

It’s going on my watchlist.

3. Dexter

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Dexter is a show that I came across and started watching because I liked the premise: a television drama about a serial killer who is also the narrator, protagonist and quasi-hero. The narrative voice was literary, believable and astonishing.  The crimes were interesting, the characters wonderful.  I was obsessed with this show for two seasons.  How or why I stopped is beyond me, other than to say that the fall of the video store and the rise of streaming has reintroduced me to a lot of television I loved but let slide through my fingers.  Right now, in it’s 8th and final season everyone is not only back on board, they are talking about it; they are gearing up for Sunday nights rather than waiting to watch it online.  This is television at its best.

Ranking:  Dexter must be everyone’s guilty pleasure because the general Metacritic rating is in the high 70s (only seasons 2 and 7 are above 80%)  whereas IMDB ranks it at a 9.0. Season 6 has the lowest Metacritic rating on this list at 63%.  Keep in mind, however, that Dexter is also the longest running drama on this list and every show that goes the distance has one or two seasons that don’t measure up.

IMDb: 9.0     metacritic: Season 1, 77%

5. Game of Thrones

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This is another one of my favourite shows and was happy to include it on the list.  What started as a big budget fantasy drama, largely supported by fans instead of critics has developed into everyone’s favourite water cooler conversation.   Season three ended with such a devastating blow (or at least one episode before the finale) that fans are still discussing it months after it went on hiatus.  This medieval fantasy world about seven families vying for the Iron Throne has everything: character, wit, performance, treachery, betrayal, violence, nudity, unpredictability and impeccable editing and design.  I envy those who have yet to watch, because waiting until 2014 for the next episode is torture.  May Season 4 live up to the hype!

Rating:  It seems, it took a minute for critics to get on board.  Season 1 provided the floor plan for where we are today and the show’s Metacritic score has soared from 79% in its first season to 90% after it’s third.

IMDb: 9.4       metacritic: Season 1, 79%

7. Sherlock

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Ok, so this one might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but with season 3 premiering in the fall (or so I thought. Rumours have it premiering in Jan. 2014) I had to include this on my list, because it’s one of my favourite shows.   After Season 2 ended with a “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” cliffhanger, Sherlock fans have been waiting with baited breath for this thrilling, funny, intelligent, fast-paced, character driven drama to return to the air.  Seriously.  If there are rumours about a release date then I can’t be the only one watching.  If you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2 now is the time to catch up.  Guaranteed it will grab you.

Rating: Metacritic has season 2 ranked at 92%, the best we’ve seen on this list so far.

IMDb: 9.2       metacritic: Season 1, 85%

The Great Gatsby (2013)

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Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (screenplay), based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke

I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the disparate reactions to Baz Luhrmann’s latest visual extravaganza, but I am, a little.  Granted, Luhrmann’s take on the classic novel, about a man desperate to prove his worth to his long-lost love and its symbolic reflection of American society in the post-war era, is more garish and unsentimental than the novel but it still works for a few reasons.

What I liked: Attention to performance is one of Baz Luhrmann’s strengths as a director.  Despite the volume of his films, with their prominent soundtracks and buzzing images he never forgets his actors.  The Great Gatsby is no exception.  In fact, Lurhmann takes greater care of his characters and their development here than in previous films.  Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Carey Mulligan are excellent.  Through Maguire’s concentrated stare we feel Nick’s loneliness; through Edgerton’s rough voice we feel Tom Buchanan’s arrogance; through Mulligan’s whimisical demeanor we sense Daisy’s unworthiness of Gatsby’s love.  Together with their strong supporting cast, they provide all the heart, emotion and intrigue that manage to retain our focus despite the visial chaos.  Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, is exceptional.  It’s been awhile since we’ve seen him as the romantic lead and his commitment to this iconic character made his performance far more profound and powerful than I have seen in his recent films.  Finally, I enjoyed the modernized soundtrack headed by Jay-Z.  I found the music timely and suited the moments over which it played.  Although, a contemporary soundtrack over period pieces is a staple in Lurhmann’s films, here it worked, whether or not intended, as an indication that American indulgence is still omnipresent.

What I didn’t like:  The narrative framework that posits Nick Carraway as a recovering alcoholic cathartically seeking solace through his writing about Gatsby didn’t at all work.  I found it added nothing to our understanding of the film and delayed my immersion into the story – so much so that I felt waves of fear  that I’d hate my most anticipated movie of 2013.   In fact, the moments of Nick’s voice-over postulations (comprised mainly of quotes from the novel) detracted from the flow and minimized Nick’s affection for Gatsby, which was so endearing during the film.

My rating:  I’ll buy it when it comes out.

In case you’re interested: Here is James Franco’s review of The Great Gatsby for Vice Magazine

IMDb 7.5     rotten 49%

House of Cards (2013 -)

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Created by: Beau Willimon,  adapted from the BBC series of the same name that was based on the novel by Michael Dobbs.

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Kristen Connolly, Michael Kelly, Corey Stoll, Sakina Jaffrey, Larry Pine, Nathan Darrow, Sandrine Holt, Constance Zimmer, Michael Gill and many more.

I should have known this series about Francis Underwood, the Majority Whip who vengefully manipulates his way up the White House ladder, was based on a) a book and b) a BBC series.  This is not your average American Political Drama.  It has the literary feel of the BBC with exceptional character development, the mood of a David Fincher movie (who directed the first two episodes) and the intrigue of a well thought out crime novel.

What I like:  The series deftly presents itself as a modern tragedy.  There is a dark, eerie feel to the setting that mirrors the action.  The dialogue is poignant without being verbose and the characters are ambitious to a man but with humour and complexity.  Kevin Spacey relishes his role as the puppet master and he should, because our eyes follow him in anticipation of his next aside.  Robin Wright masks her ambitions and fears with masterful stoicism.  All told, the show is excellently executed.

What I don’t like:  House of Cards is too smart to rely on cliff-hangers to engage audiences  and it unfolds slowly to develop each plot or character with precision.  However, it does prevent me from watching the next episode immediately.  I have no trouble taking time off between episodes, something I couldn’t do with Damages though the characters on that show had less redeeming qualities.  Also like Damages, there is really no character to root for, least of all the smug young journalist who might be intended to engage our sympathies but does not.  My lack of emotional investment might also explain why I only watch one episode at a time, despite the fact that Netflix made the entire first season available in one shot.

My rating: Not sure how it can get better but I have a feeling it will.

Airs:  Season One is available on Netflix.

IMDB: 8.9

Metacritic: 76%

My Most Anticipated Movie

(0f 2013)

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The Great Gatsby is finally here.

Baz Luhrmann’s much anticipated 3D film adaptation of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, was originally slated to open Christmas 2012 but was pushed back to May 2013.  I’ve read a series of evasive responses to the reasons for the movie’s delay including this from Lurhmann himself: “I will tell you this; I’m just very nourished by just working on it. I’m just thrilled.  Right now I’m working on music. You can imagine how involved I am in the music alone.” So, the movie was delayed because???

The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton and opens May 10th.

I cannot wait, effects, performances, music and all.

If you haven’t seen the trailer:

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