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REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call

Writer’s note: Much like with the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel has found pushback from the darkest, redest corners of the Internet. I wouldn’t normally be troubled by trolls or James Woods (I know, same thing), but some may bunch together less-than-glowing reviews with the rambles of individuals that feel threatened by Brie Larson’s activism or the idea of a feminist superhero. My critique is focused on the film exclusively and external considerations have no weight in my analysis.


Captain Marvel has a tall order to fill: It must bridge the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Infinity War with Avengers: Endgame and has to establish a hero not only capable of going head-to-head with Thanos, but also lead the super-team into a post Iron-Man era.

I’m here to tell you the film does complete the task, but doesn’t excel at it. Captain Marvel is a functional popcorn flick without much of an identity outside being proudly feminist. It’s surprisingly drab-looking for a Marvel Studios movie and the action sequences are perfunctory at best. The performances –not the plot– carry the film, a rarity for this universe. Continue reading “REVIEW: Captain Marvel Answers the Call”

Sunday Matinee: Stalker

The Criterion Collection is going to launch their own streaming service in April to take the place of FilmStruck. Charter members who signed up early have been treated to a free movie every week since the start of February. The first week it was Elaine May’s Mickey and Nicky. Week two saw Chungking Express. Week three was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Tom Jones. This week’s movie is Andrei Tarkovsky’s brilliant masterpiece Stalker.

Loosely based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky this 1979 Soviet film is set in a future where something called the Zone has been created. The military have forbidden travel into the Zone but there are specialists called Stalkers who lead people into the Zone. They also collect special artifacts from the Zone and sell them on the black market.
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Sunday Matinee: Godzilla: The Planet Eater

In the final film of the series our “hero” Haruo finds himself on trial from the remaining Bilusaludo for killing MechaGodzilla city and thus killing all the Bilusaludo who merged with the nanometal in the last film. This act also essentially killed Haruo’s girlfriend Yuko who was partially merrged with the nanometal and has now been left brain dead. The remaining humans disagree with the trial saying that Haruo’s actions exposed the Bilusaludo’s intent to assimilate the Earth.

Meanwhile Haruo starts a relationship with Maina. He also discovers that the Exif, Methphies wants to bring the Exifs god to Earth to defeat Godzilla. Methphies starts converting the surviving humans into a cult worshiping his god. The Exif on the Aratrum (the spaceship carrying the last remaining humans) also begin gathering followers.
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Sunday Matinee: Godzilla: City On The Edge Of Battle

The second film in the Godzilla anime movie trilogy, City on the Edge of Battle picks up right where Planet of Monsters left off. Quick recap. Godzilla has taken over Earth and the remaining members of the human race have fled the planet along with two alien races, the Exif and the Bilusaludo, on a spaceship called the Aratrum. Now they have returned and find that thousands of years have passed and the Earth has evolved because of Godzilla. A small group lead by Haruo Sakaki tried to kill Godzilla. Having believed to have killed Godzilla the group discovers that all they did was kill a baby Godzilla, the real Godzilla has grown much much bigger and is even harder to kill.

Haruo was injured in the attack against the real Godzilla and he wakes up in a hut. Humans have survived on Earth and become more primitive. A young woman named Miana saved Haruo. Miana’s twin sister Maina doesn’t like Haruo much but the two sisters use telepathy to talk to the survivors to find out what’s going on.
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Sunday Matinee: Godzilla: Planet Of The Monsters

I have watched a lot of Godzilla movies, just about all of them. With the exception of one or two I have seen most of the 35 films featuring Godzilla.

A couple of years ago Toho Studios decided to make an animated movie trilogy. These films are more futuristic sci-fi films than the previous Godzilla movies. Set in a world where humans have been chased off of Earth by Godzilla they have been travelling through space with two alien races, the Exif and the Bilusaludo. The aliens helped what was left of humans to escape and they have been traveling to a new planet for 20 years.
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Sunday Matinee: Sisters

Director Brian De Palma had been making movies for several years, mostly dramas before he shifted gears and focusing on thriller/horror movies starting with 1972’s Sisters.

Sisters stars a young Margot Kidder as a French-Canadian model/actress who is trying to make it in New York City. She stars in a peeping tom talk show and goes out for supper with the other actor Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson) who won dinner for two for his participation in the show. A creepy man shows up at the restaurant and demands that Kidder come home. Kidder claims the man is her ex-husband. The man, Dr. Emil Breton (William Finley) claims that he is her husband. He’s escorted out of the restaurant. Afterwards Philip and Kidder go to Kidder’s apartment where they spend the night.
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Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar

 

Mads Mikkelsen is Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser in Polar.

Odds are you will come across a number of articles comparing Polar to John Wick. Pay no attention to them. Sure, they both revolve around (relatively) honorable hired guns whose employers turn against them, but the similarities end there. One loves dogs, the other one… you’ll find out.

Based on the graphic novel by Victor Santos, Polarrevolves around Duncan Vizla a.k.a. the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelsen). An accomplished hitman, Vizla is looking forward to his retirement, just days away. His plans come undone when the corporation that employs him would rather take him than pay him severance. The assassin doesn’t take the attempts on his life kindly and plans to take his grievances to the top.

If John Wick mopes the entire movie, the Black Kaiser is not above enjoying hard liquor or a roll in the hay, even if his companion has murder in her mind. He does however have a couple of regrets that reverberate throughout the film. Continue reading “Mads Mikkelsen Brings the Cool in Polar”

Sunday Matinee: The Baby

Social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) has a new case. The Wadsworth family. Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman) has two grown daughters Germaine Wadsworth (Marianna Hill) and Alba Wadsworth (Suzanne Zenor) who live with her and her mentally disabled son Baby (David Mooney).

Baby is a grown man in his 20s but lives and is treated as an infant ever since his father left after he was born. The Wadsworth all live off of Baby’s disability cheques and none of them work. Ann seems to be obsessed with the case and constantly is checking in on the household and how Mrs. Wadsworth and her daughters treat Baby.
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Sunday Matinee: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula

I have watched a lot of Hammer horror films over the years and in particular I have watched a lot of their Dracula films. Hammer made nine Dracula films in total and Christopher Lee only starred in seven of them.

The five that Lee starred in weren’t too bad. Some of them were better than others but overall the Dracula films weren’t as good as Hammer’s Frankenstein films. Today’s Sunday Matinee is Lee’s last Dracula film, 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

All the Hammer Dracula movies were gothic period pictures until the 1970s when they foolishly decided to update the series with Dracula A.D. 1972. Peter Cushing returned as Van Helsing for the first time since the second film The Brides of Dracula which didn’t have Dracula in it at all. Dracula A.D. 1972 starts off with Dracula and Van Helsing fighting to the death on carriage which crashes and kills them both. A servant of Dracula buries some of his ashes near Van Helsing’s grave. 100 years later Van Helsing’s descendant and his granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham) are living in London. Van Helsing’s daughter hangs out with a group hippies, one who is Dracula’s servant’s descendant and they have a Satanic ritual that resurrects the Count into the 1970’s. Dracula makes some vampires. The police get involved and we find out that vampires can’t take a shower. Clean flowing water kills them. Yup. Vampires have to take baths. Eventually Van Helsing stakes Dracula in a final battle…again.

That leads us to The Satanic Rites of Dracula which takes place two years after Dracula A.D. 1972. MI5 has been spying on a Satanic cult that has several powerful members of Parliament. Their agent has been captured and tortured but he escapes and informs his superiors just before he dies. MI5 finds out that their boss is involved with the cult and decide to investigate off the books using Scotland Yard. Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) returns (he was the cop Dracula A.D. 1972) and suggests bringing in Van Helsing and his daughter (now played by Joanna Lumley). Van Helsing goes to talk to one of the members of the cult that he knows to be a prominent and Noble Prize wining scientist (Freddie Jones). The scientist has created a new super version of the bubonic plague. Van Helsing figures out that Dracula is back and running an evil corporation and the cult and intends to destroy the world.

The final fight is pretty weak and while Cushing would return one more time as Van Helsing, Lee was done with Dracula with this film. It’s not as terrible as the previous film, at times it’s pretty entertaining and Warner Archive has just released the movie on blu-ray.

Sunday Matinee: The Cheap Detective

After the success of Murder By Death writer Neil Simon and director Robert Moore would reteam for another comedy spoof this time focusing on the gritting film noir crime films starring Humphrey Bogart. Peter Falk would return playing a Sam Spade like character this time caught up trying to solve his partner’s murder while getting entangled in a Maltese Falcon like caper.
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Sunday Matinee: Murder By Death

An old mansion in the country is getting ready for some guests for a special night. What makes the night so special is that there is going to be a murder and the guests are the greatest detectives in the world.

Written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore this comedy pokes fun at the classic detective mystery. From the opening credits drawn by Charles Addams (whose art is also the movie poster) the film has a macabre but fun sense of humour. The blind butler Alec Guinness tries to get things ready for the guests while dealing with a deaf mute cook, Nancy Walker. Soon the guests start to arrive.
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Sunday Matinee: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man has a long history of being an animated cartoon starting from 1967. He reappeared in a 1981 cartoon series called Spider-Man and at the same in another series called Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Spidey would then have a long running series in the 1990s called Spider-Man followed by a short lived series called Spider-Man: The New Animated Series in 2003 which followed the continuity of the 2002 live action film.

In 2008 The Spectacular Spider-Man aired which was replaced with Ultimate Spider-Man in 2012. The current animated series, just called Spider-Man started 2017 and is still on the air. Phew that’s a lot of Spider-Man.

Which leads to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This is a fantastic movie. It’s amazingly animated, the story is full of heart and humour and it’s the best Spider-Man movie.
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REVIEW: At Eternity’s Gate Dives Into Van Gogh’s Psyche

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate.

 

Granted, there is no shortage of Vincent van Gogh’s biopics. Just last year audiences were treated to the gorgeous, underwhelmingly written Loving Vincent. At Eternity’s Gate takes a different approach, one focused on Vincent’s drive, as opposed to his mental health. Of course the signposts are there, but the movie makes a noticeable effort to keep the assorted tragedies that befell Vincent at bay.

As per At Eternity’s Gate, Vincent (Willem Dafoe) was a man ahead of his time. This is not necessarily a good thing when you are a starving artist and impressionism is all the rage. Following advice by Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), Van Gogh trades the increasingly toxic Parisian scene for the tranquility of Arles in the South of France.

While the painter clashes constantly with the town dwellers, the period is particularly prolific. During his time there, Van Gogh produces “Bedroom in Arles”, “The Night Café”, and a number of self-portraits. Unfortunately, his ongoing quarrels with friends and neighbours and his “break-up” with Gauguin send him on a downward spiral. Utter loneliness plays a bigger part on Van Gogh’s fate than any other factor, including mental unrest.

Director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) depicts Van Gogh as a delicate soul that’s easily rattled. Likely because of his background as a plastic artist, Schnabel succeeds at capturing the drive that kept Van Gogh going, despite the scorn of the general public and indifference of his peers. The filmmaker’s obvious regard for his subject is manifest throughout, to the point of keeping the self-mutilation bit off-screen (in fairness, the ear thing has become an obnoxious trope).

While 25 years older than the painter when he died, Willem Dafoe is perfect for the part, the right mix of helpless and mercurial. Less fortunate is the casting of baby-faced Rupert Friend as Van Gogh’s barely younger brother. Schnabel brings back actors from his previous films for supporting roles, but the one who fares the best is a new hire: Mads Mikkelsen as the priest who runs the asylum where Van Gogh is committed. Compassionate and all, he doesn’t think much of the artist’s work and lets him know it. A rare moment of levity in a film carrying a heavy heart. 3.5/5 prairie dogs.

At Eternity’s Gate is now playing at Studio 7.

Sunday Matinee: Spider-Man

Everyone’s favourite neighbourhood webslinger is back in theatres this week with an animated movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Marvel Comics has been dominating movie screens for almost two decades now but considering that Marvel has been around for 79 years or so it has taken a very long time for Marvel to get their superheroes to the big screen. Spider-Man, who debuted in the comics in 1962, made it on to TV in the form of a cartoon in 1967. The shows theme song is still remembered today and while the animation was extremely limited the show is entertaining.
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Sunday Matinee: 2001: A Space Odyssey

I have previously covered 2001: A Space Odyssey for Sunday Matinee but with movie opening at the Kramer IMAX theatre for the month and having watched it there I had to revisit it.

The movie is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and what a way to celebrate the movie. I love this movie. It’s brilliant and amazing and it has to be seen on the big screen. Shot in Super Panavision 70 the movie was made to be seen on the big screen. And it looks phenomenal.
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Sunday Matinee: Performance

Nicolas Roeg passed away this weekend at the age of 90. I’ve covered a couple of his films over the years like Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bad Timing. Today I’m looking at his first film 1970’s Performance.

Roeg worked as a cinematographer for most of the 1960s and he was brought on to Performance again for his cinematography skills. First time director Donald Cammell was Roeg’s co-director. Cammell would go on to direct Demon Seed while Roeg would go to direct some brilliant movies throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
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Ralph Breaks the Internet, from the Inside

Vanellope von Schweetz and the Disney princesses.

Among the many qualities of the Wreck It Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the attention to detail is at the top, alongside an age-appropriate message against co-dependence. The film places the leads –the titular Ralph and Sugar Rush’s champion Vanellope von Schweetz– in the world wide web. The hectic vastness of the internet is impressively represented, both the seemingly infinite number of offerings and corresponding visitors.

For a year and a half, animator Benson Shum worked mostly on the Ralph character (allowing him to ‘act’ and ‘emote’), but also participated on the rest: “Even if it’s a background character, you want to animate it as well as the front ones.” Vanellope presents additional challenges, as she glitches and pops up at a different side of the screen within a second: “We have to anticipate her movements. There is a lot of thought into how we get her from this side of the screen to that side. We have a tool that makes glitch lines, pixilation in between.” Continue reading “Ralph Breaks the Internet, from the Inside”

Sunday Matinee: Stan Lee

Stan Lee passed away at the age of 95 on November 12. Stan Lee for many was the man who created Marvel Comics – which he did with a lot of help from co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Dikto (who also sadly passed away earlier this year).

When superhero comics first appeared in the late 1930s they took the world by storm but by the 1950s the genre was almost dead – only DC Comics were keeping the genre alive. Stan Lee started working for Timely Comics in 1939 for owner Martin Goodman as an office assistant. He would soon start writing back up stories for comics, he took the pen Stan Lee (his real name was Stanley Lieber) because he wanted to be a real writer and comics were looked down on.
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Sunday Matinee: Trilogy Of Terror

Original aired on the ABC channel in 1975 as the Movie of the Week, this little horror anthology from director Dan Curtis (Night Stalker) features three stories all from acclaimed writer Richard Matheson (I am Legend).

Unlike other anthology films there is nothing connecting the individual stories other than Karen Black stars in all of them as the various lead characters.
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REVIEW: That Never Happened, But It Did

A very dark chapter in Canadian history took place between 1914-1920. Supposedly driven by security concerns arising from World War I, the Crown made over 88,000 East European immigrants (most from Ukraine) register with provincial governments. Even worse, 8,500 men ended up imprisoned in camps across Canada, many of whom lost all their possessions.

The shadiness of it all doesn’t end there. These families were initially lured to Canada with the promise of farmland, a pledge that seldom materialized. A few decades later, in 1954, records of these internment operations were destroyed. Only in the ’80s did a concerted effort to reconstruct that history begin to take shape. Calls for recognition from the government and reparations would follow.

That Never Happened does a remarkable job researching the subject. The talking heads assembled by director Ryan Boyko — historians, archeologists, descendants — all have valuable information to share. Limited archival footage is complemented by location visits, where remains of these camps can still be found.

The documentary’s shortcomings are mostly technical. Clocking in at 78 minutes, there is plenty of room for the film to breathe. Nonetheless, That Never Happened bombards the audience with information without allowing enough time to absorb it. The uneven cinematography (not even the interviews are uniformly shot) becomes distracting after a while.

From a scholarly perspective, there is undeniable value in collecting and organizing the material. And the chronological approach gives the film a structure to lean on. But the human connection is lacking. In the rare instances where That Never Happened personalizes the consequences of the internment camps — unintended, yet severe — the film soars. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far in between. Two prairie dogs (out of five).

That Never Happened plays this Saturday and Sunday at 7pm at the Rainbow Cinema (Studio 7).