Gravity (2013)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris

Every once in awhile a movie comes along that reminds you to believe in possibility.  3D film was developed so that visionary filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón could make movies like Gravity.  Quite simply, it is a groundbreaking, jaw-dropping experience of visual beauty and vicarious terror that leaves you breathless.

What I liked:  This is not the transcendent wonder of Kubrick’s 2001.  This is a physical and visual encounter with cinema.  For the record, I love 3D movies but not for the sake of it.  I enjoy new ideas being translated through a relatively new facet of technology.  Gravity left me feeling as though I knew what it would be like in space and that is no small feat.    Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have given us a visual story that previously was beyond my imaginative scope.  Just brilliant.

What I didn’t like:  As with most ground breaking films, what Cuarón was trying to accomplish cinematically overshadowed character and dialogue.  This is a rare exception where it’s okay with me.  The movie is not about Bullocks’ back story.  The movie is entirely in the moment and succeeds as such.  Bullock and Clooney are commendable and convincing but their familiar faces within this magical moment of experiencing something new in film, for me, was almost distracting – or a disappointing reminder that it was just a movie.

My rating:  Truly magical.

My IMDb Rating:  9/10        tomato: 97%

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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%

Trailers I Like: Bad Grandpa

This was the funniest part of my evening at the movies, including the movie which was We’re the Millers.


Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Written by: Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville (as an 86 year old grandfather), Jackson Nicoll and poor, innocent Americans.

A Jackass movie that preys on people’s moral and ethical standards for a laugh, a welcome change from self-mutilation and violence. The trailer had me in stitches.

Release date:  October 25, 2013.

Game of Thrones (2011 – )

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Created by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Starring: Sean Bean, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Emilia Clarke, Alfie Allen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, Jack Gleeson and a host of others.

Game of Thrones is the most talked about drama on television.  Almost every comedy or late night talk show I’ve watched in the last six months has mentioned it, at least once, not to mention friends, strangers, family members etc.  So, naturally, when Showcase started airing Season 1, I decided the join the party before any major plot points were ruined.

Quite simply, had I been one of the first to discover it, I would be making a gift of the DVD set for at least a year.  As it stands, everyone is already in the know but at least they humour me with first season discussions and remind me that it only gets better.

Based on George R.R. Martin’s novel of the same name, the series is about a medieval fantasy world where seven noble families battle to claim the Iron Throne.   There is violence, intrigue, plotting, romance, sex, nudity, charm, wit, humanity and intelligence crammed into every 55 minute episode.

What I like:  The show is executed like a film divided into 10 parts. The exceptional quality of the filming, directing, and staging transported me to a  fantasy world that feels real down to its language and landscapes.  Strong editing drives the story forward with force as we jump from family to family and scene to scene constantly wondering what will happen next.  The casting is perfect and the performances are complex and driven which provide depth and a touch of sympathy to almost every character.

What I don’t like:  It’s amazing how fast you can go through ten episodes.  Only two weeks after I invested myself in this program, I’m almost at Season 3.  Thankfully the show has been renewed for a 4th Season so there will still be more to look forward to once I catch up. Mainly my complaints are directed at Showcase, the network that airs Game of Thrones in Canada.  For those of us who don’t have HBO, I highly recommend renting or buying the DVD set.  I appreciate Showcase’s effort to bring critically acclaimed programs to the masses, and I would have been a lot longer to the party  without them,  but a 6 min commercial break is more than I’m willing to put up with, even if PVR’d.  Going on hiatus after Season 1 was also not the best choice when it was quite easy for me to get my hands on Season 2 without waiting.  My suggestion: If you’re going to start three seasons behind, then play them all back to back.  Finally, promoting Season 3 during Season 1 episodes was a nice idea in theory but they should have been more aware of revealing crucial plot points in the execution.

My rating: Two enthusiastic thumbs up for the show; one thumb down for Showcase.

IMDB:  9.4  (I am not providing a link to IMDB as it ruins plot points for those who have yet to start from the beginning)

Metacritic: 79%

Airs:  Showcase: Season 2, ??
HBO USA & Canada: Season 3, Sundays at 9pm

Skyfall (2012)

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Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by:  Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw

The latest Bond flick is the type of well-executed entertainment that will likely be played and replayed on Saturday afternoon programming for years to come, and I’m okay with that.  The 23rd installment of the Bond franchise is sleek, cinematic, action-packed, touching and updated in fun ways that didn’t seem to offend Bond purists.

What I liked: Mendes does a superb job developing a visual sense of character rather than relying on the trite Bond-speak.  For those who still haven’t seen it, suffice it to say, there is a sense of meaning in each visually charged landscape that offers us a glimpse into the character for who it is designed or meaningful, and which explains the Oscar nod for cinematography.  The performances are strong across the board with Judi Dench and Javier Bardem edging out the rest.  The story rushes forward loaded with energy and grace despite the daunting 143min running time. Finally, as one who loves origination stories, I have appreciated that the latest Bond films continue to reinvent and rediscover well-known characters and characteristics that might have all been jammed into Craig’s first film.

What I didn’t like: You can’t exactly fault an action flick for being…well, an action flick, so despite the fact that the story and characters are slotted in to fit the visual highlights I think Mendes did a credible job of mining the details.  Though an interesting story might have been rushed and some more character development would have interested me, there really isn’t much room for improving a movie jam-packed with so many qualities, only to say that there are so many.

My rating:  Looking forward to watching it again.

IMDB: 7.9

Rotten Tomatoes:  92%

Note on the trailer:  I prefer the subtler trailers that don’t offer an abridged version of the entire film but I think it’s safe to assume that I was one of the last people to see this movie so enjoy the highlights.

The Impossible (2012)

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Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez (screenplay), María Belón (story)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Naomi Watts)

I have included this in my Oscar list because a) Naomi Watts is one of my favourite actresses and her performance in this movie puts her at the top of my list of hopeful winners and b) how this movie was overlooked for editing or cinematography for the tsunami scene alone is beyond me.  The story, based on the real events of a family ravaged by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (one of the worst on record) while on vacation in Thailand is horrifying in its gritty camerawork and devastating in its performances.

What I liked: Naomi Watts is sensational as the mother desperately trying to stay alive for her family. Though I tried, I couldn’t help but feel her pain both physically and emotionally.  The performances overall are convincing enough to hold the movie together as, aside from the exceptional and harrowing tsunami scene and the core emotion and sense of loss, there isn’t much in the way of plot to move it forward.

What I didn’t like:  Critiquing this movie almost feels like criticizing actual victims of this horror which is awkward but, no matter how true, I did feel that Bayona pushed a little too hard to deliver the blood and gore reality that goes along with a natural disaster, excessively so.  On the other hand, this could also be a testament to the movie’s realism.  I can see why critics didn’t gush over it but I’m also a little surprised by their reserve.  Granted the movie may rely on the fact that it is based on a true story but this family’s nightmare stays with you even after it’s over.

My rating:  Enjoy it for its triumphant truth.

IMDB: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

Something I try to avoid but couldn’t resist:  For those of you who have no interest in seeing a disaster drama, I highly recommend this incredible scene which is worth the price of admission alone.

Video courtesy of Pantherapardus2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Life Of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by:  David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Starring:   Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall, Tabu and Gérard Depardieu

Oscar Nominations: Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Screenplay (Adapted), Directing, Best Motion Picture

This movie is a visual feast and (as a few critics have mentioned) uniquely demonstrates the power of 3D and CGI.  Even if you don’t like 3D I would say this movie is a must-see in the awkward glasses.  The story, about a man reminiscing about his youth and his search for truth and religion, depends entirely on its effects and a celebration of the magic of filmmaking.  It is interesting to see it nominated against Beasts of the Southern Wild as both use film to relay their stories in such unexpected and exceptionally unique ways (unleashed imagination vs.  heartbreaking realism) that neither should be missed.

What I liked:  I am not one for special effects, but what Ang Lee has accomplished here is worthy of praise.  This film moves forward with visual mastery and my hat is off to the director for using the effects to their fullest potential rather than relying on it to tell an amazing (and some said un-filmable) tale.  Finally, once we’re pulled out of the adventure and listen quietly to the protagonist as he looks back on the adventures of his youth, there is a moment of truth and honesty that is truly touching.

What I didn’t like:  Thoughts on religion throughout the story didn’t add much to the movie and hindered the flow.  The acting is not as strong as the effects and I was certainly aware of Suraj Sharma’s ‘performance’ as opposed to the smooth conversationalist tone of Irrfan Khan.  The insertion of the author didn’t work for me either until the very end and it feels like he’s only there to propel the story, whereby his character isn’t given much depth or understanding.

My rating:  Avatar was just the beginning.

IMDB: 8.2

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%