Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Our reviews and thoughts on the latest releases, classics, and nostalgic favourites. Things we loved, things we hated, and worst of all, things we were ambivalent about.

The Lion King (2019)

I’m still unconvinced by all these Disney remakes, and I’m particularly skeptical about “live action” remakes that aren’t actually live action at all, but just fancier animation. That said, I didn’t hate The Lion King (2019), and that’s head and shoulders (or can I say mane and tails) ahead of where I thought we’d be. I was fully prepared to hate this but instead the CGI animation’s beauty and realism swept me away. But while that sounds like a strength, it’s also the movie’s weakness.

The thing about traditional animation, like the original The Lion King (1994), is that literally ANYTHING can happen in a cartoon. They’re not constrained by any limitations. Your heart can awooooooga out of your chest when you’re in love, your feet can pedal a car, you can literally levitate off the ground in sheer happiness. And yes, a cross section of jungle animals can come together in perfect harmony.

The problem with this gorgeous, accurate, and photo-real animation is that these lions, who look exactly like the ones you see on National Geographic (minus the buttholes and genitals, Sean wants you to know), are still being made to talk. And sing. But not dance. That would be crazy. So director Jon Favreau and company are asking you to embrace the realism of Scar, who has none of his cartoony presence, but suspend your disbelief enough to invests in his sibling rivalry and Hamlet-style ambition, but then not be too disappointed when they drastically cut his big musical number.

Recently, while reviewing the earlier Toy Story movies, I noted, with some wonder, that Woody has 229 animation points of movement in his face. But while The Lion King’s animation WILL astonish you down to the dew drops in a spider’s web, the animals’ faces remain nearly blank. Their mouths move minimally, to indicate that they are speaking, but there’s not a lot of expression going on there, and I can’t help but feel that this gets in the way of my investing in them emotionally. The original Simba cried when his father died. He was a mere cartoon character, but I felt for him. When I re-screened the movie recently, that scene nearly broke me, reminding me of my nephew and his relationship with his dad. The new movie just couldn’t move me in the same ways.

And it’s not just the emotion that’s lacking, it’s the joy. I Just Can’t Wait To Be King is one of my all-time favourite Disney songs, but it’s not quite the same because in “real life,” ostriches don’t allow lions to ride them. So I’ve heard. And it’s hard to get zebras and giraffes and hippos to agree on choreography. So the song still sounds great, but there’s a little less pizzazz to the musical number.

Speaking of songs: you may have heard Beyonce is on board, voicing the grown-up Nala, and contributing an Oscar-eligible brand new song to the film’s soundtrack. I sort of thought I might miss some the iconic voice work from the original film: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Jeremy Irons. But in fact, the 2019 film does an excellent job of filling those roles. It’s different, but it works. Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, Alfre Woodard, Keegan-Michael Key, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner: it’s a tall list, packed with talent, and everyone’s working at peak capacity. But I will say: it’s actually really great to have James Earl Jones return in his role as Mufasa. First, it seems impossible to replace him, and harder still to find someone with balls enough to try those step into those paws. But mostly it feels like he is passing the baton; he’s a link from the old to the new (it’s been 25 years!) and it is comforting as heck to hear that voice again.

Most of The Lion King 2019 edition is a toned-down recreation of the original, but there are a few new scenes, expanded roles for Timon & Pumbaa, and especially for some of the female members of the pride, drawing inspiration from the Broadway musical where Nala and Sarabi are featured more prominently. I mean, if you get Beyonce, you use her, ya know?

I suppose if you’ve never known another Lion King, this one has a lot to recommend it. For fans of the original, this one won’t really compare. But if you’ve got room in your heart for two Lion Kings, you might just feel the love (tonight).

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Point Blank

Brothers Abe and Mateo are criminals accused of some very serious cop-killery stuff. Abe (Frank Grillo) is in the hospital, unconscious with gunshot wounds and under police surveillance. Mateo (Christian Cooke) is determined to bust him out, so he’s hiding in the shadows of the hospital room when unsuspecting nurse Paul (Anthony Mackie) arrives to care for the patient. Mateo steals Paul’s security pass and flees, but Paul’s subsequent police report, to Lieutenant Lewis (Marcia Gay Harden) sets off a series of unfortunate events.

Mateo kidnaps Paul’s pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) and holds her hostage to secure Paul’s help. Paul is going to a) revive Abe, b) bust him out of the hospital, c) help him escape/ evade police/ find a flash drive the brothers believe is filled with enough evidence to take down the dirty cops they claim have set them up.

Paul is just a regular good guy who of course wants less than nothing to do with this but his wife and their unborn child are on the line, which turns out to be sufficiently motivating to turn him into a mini Rambo. It’s an incredibly difficult situation to be in though, since it’s hard to distinguish between good guys and bad guys when they’re all holding guns.

This brand new action flick recently released on Netflix is directed by Joe Lynch, who some of you will remember from Mayhem, though Point Blank is obviously a very different animal. It’s also not the shitty remake of Point BREAK, just in case any of you are as lazy readers as Sean is, although apparently it IS a shitty remake of a 2010 french film, À bout portant. I mean, there are shittier movies, and Netflix is home to most of them, if that’s your thing. This one is definitely watchable, so if all you crave is a mindless action sequence and don’t mind some questionable momentum and a flimsy stab at buddy comedy in the middle of cops and robbers, she’s all yours – unless you might be offended by Falcon’s blatant betrayal of Captain America, what with all the hooking up with his nemesis, Brock Rumlow.

A Knight’s Tale

We were perusing the New Rentals section and not feeling very inspired. True, we’ve already seen all of the good ones and most of the bad ones, leaving mostly the stuff no one’s ever heard of. But we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to select any of it: not the chilly Liam Neeson flick, and not the Stallone one, and definitely not the one based on the impossible true story. It’s probably a bad sign for movies that we preferred to jump back to Amazon Prime and watch a known entity.

William (Heath Ledger) is a young squire, dutifully serving his master as he makes the rounds of jousting tournaments. But when the master dies suddenly, in between rounds, William convinces his cohorts Wat (Alan Tudyk) and Roland (Mark Addy) to suit him up in armour that makes one man nearly indistinguishable from another and send him out on the horse to finish the job. He does. He wins the game and earns the trio a little gold, which is necessary as they haven’t eaten in days. Bellies fed they can go their separate ways, but William’s always hid a little ambition in his heart, and now he sees the opportunity to improve his peasant’s lot in life and pose as a knight, making money by winning more tournaments. On the road to the next one, they bump into a florid writer, Chaucer (Paul Bettany), and he helps sell their case by forging genealogy papers and basically being his hype man. But then Williams meets two of the most inconvenient people: Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), who will stop at nothing to see him lose, and Lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), with whom he immediately falls in love, but she’s so far out of his league that his lies can only increase in order to keep her.

You may remember that director Brian Helgeland married this period piece with (sort of) modern rock, making the stadium jousting tournaments feel much more like hockey and basketball games of the modern era, except with cat meat and hot wine instead of hot dogs and cold beer, which is hardly an improvement. Purposefully anachronistic, it rattled some people’s cages back in 2001, but successfully interested younger audiences in historical films. A Knight’s Tale is a work of fiction, but based very loosely on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and including several of the known nobility of the time. Once you get past that, it’s a rather predicable entry into the sports movies genre. But it’s got Heath Ledger on horseback, which goes a long way. It’s still not a great movie, but it’s fun and it’s rousing and it’s only a little sad to see Heath Ledger in his prime. He was still relatively unknown before he landed this lead role; although 10 Things I Hate About You came out in 1999, Helgeland hadn’t seen him, and cast Ledger based on rushes he saw of him while filming The Patriot. The movie filmed in Prague (which is why a lot of the extras do not seem to readily respond to Chaucer’s prompts), on a soundstage next to the one where From Hell was filming; it’s how Heath and Heather Graham first hooked up. Ledger proved to be an excellent gamble, as did leading lady Shannyn Sossamon, who was briefly Hollywood’s IT girl. She was a complete unknown, having been discovered by Helgeland when she accompanied her friend, a DJ, on a job which turned out to be Gwyneth Paltrow’s birthday party. Her hair and costumes are wildly period-inaccurate, but they give her character a punk aesthetic that’s backed up by a feminist bent.

A Knight’s Tale is slightly edgy, slightly pandering, and perhaps just slight in general, but it’s interesting to watch, and was fun to revisit after so much time has passed.

Everything’s Gone Green

When Ryan wakes up, his girlfriend is moving him out. He’s just not motivated enough. He gets suspended from work because of the morbid poetry he writes. But the day can only go uphill from here right? Well you are right! His mother calls with news: they’ve won the lottery! $4.3 million! Tiny catch though: dad can’t find the ticket. The lottery people are pretty understanding, and in the meantime, they offer Ryan a job. 

The script is by Douglas Coupland, so you know that’s not all there is to it. I have a perpetual love-hate relationship with Douglas Coupland (author of Generation X, Shampoo Planet, Hey Nostradamus! and more), and I do mean that literally. Well, semi-literally, because I assure you this is a very one-sided relationship in which I have thoughts about Mr. Coupland and I do not exist for him. But the gist is: I’ve found no middle ground between love and hate. But he’s an ideas guy, and this is an ideas movie. Like: capital-c Capitalism. Ryan tangles with middle class contentment. Swindles and scams are all around – even his parents aren’t settling for the status quo. So he’s corruptible. Ripe for corruption. God I wish someone would offer to corrupt me. I’m super for sale. I’d definitely do shady stuff for money. It’s just that I’m not worth anything. Politicians really hog corruptions. We should work on making that a little more equal-opportunity.

There are several things I like about this movie. First, Paulo Costanzo. Talented guy. Second, the Vancouver setting. Vancouver gives Toronto a run for its money in terms of Canadian cities that always stand in for American cities in movies. Vancouver has a booming film business, and Everything’s Gone Green gives us a nice little behind the scenes look at it. For once, Vancouver gets to just be herself. 

The movie wants to marry high-brow themes with an easy, breezy, quirky, indie romance, which works about as well as a palm tree in a conference room. Good intentions but a little out of place. It sometimes feels a little lectury. Although I often sound pretty lectury, so who am I to judge? I mean, I’m also pretty judgy. Not that that qualifies me. Some would call it a defect of character. I call it an endless potential for comedy.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Paulo Costanzo. He should get all the roles Jesse Eisenberg’s considered for, because Jesse Eisenberg is a twat and the world could stand to be a great deal less twatty. Everthing’s Gone Green isn’t going to knock your socks into next Wednesday but it might relocate them 16 minutes into the future. It’s dependably pleasant, little-seen, and a pretty decent flick.

The Muppet Movie (2011)

This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).

Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!

It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.

Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.

At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.

Hit-And-Run Squad

Korea is a machine. Honestly, I can’t help but admire the country’s dedication to arts and culture. Decades ago, the government assessed their economic standing and realized that they were vulnerable. If just one of its leading industries failed, it would take down the whole country with it. So they diversified in a way that few if any countries ever has: they pumped tonnes and tonnes of money into developing culture – music, television, movies, and video games. South Korea has a population of just over 50 million, but chances are you’ve heard of their boy band invasion (BTS!), you’ve played their games (they’ve mostly developed computer gaming, like Overwatch and League of Legends), and you’ve seen some of their cinema’s best (Bong Joon-ho’s The Host or Snowpiercer or Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, for example). And this is despite the fact that most of us don’t speak Korean! American audiences have been notoriously difficult to penetrate with foreign languages. They hate subtitles and expect to be able to sing along to everything on the radio. But that’s changing, perhaps in part due to greater inclusivity and appreciation for other cultures, but mostly because the Korean machine is just so damn irrepressible.

That said, it feels like Korea might be poised to take over the world, and I might worry about that a bit if not for this: if the lung cancer doesn’t get them, the misogyny will. According to actual statistics, only about 40% of Korean men smoke (which is objectively pretty high), but in cinema, it’s nearly 100%. But misogyny is definitely 100%. And here’s the weird thing that I’ve been twisting around in my mind. America has a comparable rate of misogyny, it’s just that over here, we have this pretense that abuse should be closeted. We know it happens. If it happens behind closed doors, we can all look away and pretend otherwise. It’s embarrassing when it goes public because then we have to pretend to care. Not actually care. No nonnononono. The justice system makes that clear: we will not intervene until he kills her. Then we will be angry: boo! We’ll put him in magazines and make movies about him, and if he’s handsome then we’ll REALLY shake our heads. But as long as he keeps it quiet and private, we’ll let that shit happen for years. And even if it becomes public, we’re still often sympathetic, and might even vilify the women, for good measure. Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Josh Brolin, Johnny Depp, Alec Baldwin, Michael Fassbender, and Christian Bale have all been accused of domestic violence, and we’ve seemingly given them a pass. In South Korean movies, however, violence against women is a little more upfront. The men are not afraid to toss around a woman like they might toss around any man in a common barfight, or even beat a subordinate who hasn’t done her job well. It’s a lot of equal opportunity violence, whereas over here, we “pride” ourselves on only hurting our wives and girlfriends and daughters in the privacy of our homes. Is that fucked up or what?

Anyway, to the movie. Hit and Run Squad will be a little difficult to summarize, but here’s my lame attempt. Officer Eun Shi-Yeon (Hyo-jin Kong) is investigating government corruption – particularly a case in which a very successful Formula 1 driver, Jung (Jung-suk Jo), is paying off the police commissioner. Tricky. But that investigation gets botched and Officer Eun gets demoted to the hit-and-run squad, where she’s teamed with Seo Min-Jae (Jun-yeol Ryu), an unambitious, spacey looking dude who just happens to be the Sherlock Holmes of hit and runs. And the hit and run squad just happens to also be looking at Jung for an ‘accident’ possibly involving one of his cars.

One thing is abundantly clear: Jung is a very bad dude. But he’s also nearly untouchable. But Eun is persistent and Seo is motivated in his own way; it also turns out that he’s got an interesting past that might start to bleed into the present, with both positive and negative repercussions.

Hit-And-Run Squad is a police procedural, but Korean dramas tend to have it all: comedy, romance, melodrama, highs and lows. South Korea’s primary television export tends to be their soap operas, and a lot of their films feel touched by a telenovela. At one point, this movie was scored overdramatically by a jazzy saxophone accompanied by insistent snapping, and it felt very much Too Much, but you have to look past these foibles in Korean cinema, because it’s not quite how we like to do things here, but if we kept ourselves in the tiny box of American cinema, we’d never have any fun.

The cinematography is pretty great, the car chases feel urgent and dangerous, and it’s fun to see them take place literally anywhere but Atlanta once in a while. The acting was quite good too, or at least the actors were adept at working with what they’re given. While it’s nice to see a female lead, and Officer Eun is undoubtedly the film’s lead and the audience placeholder, she’s the least compelling character, having been given no back story and very little development. She’s overshadowed not just by Jung and Seo, but by a couple of even lesser male protagonists as well. There’s a trio of important women in the film but they’re extremely one-dimensional and depressingly primitively drawn.

Of course, if you’re here for hot cars and top speeds, you likely won’t care that a female officer is reprimanded at work by blows to the head until she bleeds, and that her ability to bleed is one of the few things we know about her. Heck, you might even be into jazzy sax, in which case, more power to you.

Secret Obsession

Jennifer (Brenda Song) is frantic for escape: it’s dark, it’s raining, she’s clearly terrified. Dashing from a payphone to an abandoned building, she’s eventually hit by a car, unconscious at the side of the road, and we still don’t know what or who she’s running from. Her husband Russell (Mike Vogel) arrives at the hospital while she’s still in surgery, unable to explain why she was so far from home, at an abandoned service station with no car or ID. When she wakes up, her memory is compromised. She doesn’t remember the accident OR her husband.

Frank (Dennis Haysbert), the detective on the case, is having a rough week. It’s his daughter’s birthday, but she disappeared when she was 10 and he still beats himself up for not finding her as he weeps in a closet with years worth of wrapped gifts. His guilt and grief push him to work this case more obsessively than usual.

In the meantime, Jennifer’s been discharged, headed back to a life she doesn’t remember with a husband who’s a virtual stranger. They have a beautiful home, but it is remote, and we constantly get that little tickle at the back of our necks that indicates that some sort of danger may still be out there.

Amnesia is a great way to create tension because the protagonist’s experience is ultra unreliable. Jennifer must question everything, and anything she fails to question is of course something that we, the audience, must sweat. And we end up sweating all the small stuff! You can’t trust anything, which is a very tenterhooky way of watching a movie.

So yeah, we’ve got a lot invested in Detective Frank. I mean, not as much as Jennifer does. She’s fearing for her life and I’m just kind of stressed out watching a movie that I’m technically allowed to stop or pause or walk away from, and unlike Jennifer, I’m not hobbled from a mysterious accident.

For Jennifer, recovered memories are a blessing and a curse. While every bit of information remembered is helpful to understanding her situation, it’s often quite distressing stuff. I think I’d prefer the bliss of ignorance myself. So yeah, Secret Obsession is a pretty suspenseful movie. It is not remotely original and it doesn’t really try to hide any of its twists and turns – this movie doesn’t so much keep you guessing as make you a jumpy pack of nerves.

Writer-director Peter Sullivan is known for making Hallmark movies, and while this movie is a step above, it’s also perhaps a step below what might normally get released in theatres. Of course, this movie is a Netflix original, so the standards are a little different. Maybe it’s not great, but it’s new, and sometimes that’s enough.