Monthly Archives: January 2016


This film has garnered 12 Oscar nominations including all the big ones except for the screenplay. It deserves maybe two of them. Di Caprio does not deserve a Best Actor award for one of his most forgettable performances ever. There is no real acting just a lot of grimacing and staring into the distance. On the other hand, Tom Hardy, who is one of my favourite actors, deserves a nomination for his role as the villain. He really does act and his scenes are among the best in the whole movie. He gets no recognition for some reason for some simply awesome character acting including Legend and The Drop to name but two. This is a great performance and deserves recognition but its not enough to save this disaster. The other nomination it deserves is for cinematography which is stunning but OMG… it just goes on and on. This is a very bad movie with the exceptions noted. It runs over 2 ½ hours and could easily be an hour shorter with no loss at all. I fell asleep briefly in one part and only stuck it out to the end to see how they were going to finish it. The story is of a scout who is leading a group of fur trappers back to what counted as civilization in the early American Northwest. They are attacked by native Americans who kill many of them and the survivors struggle on. Di Caprio’s character – the scout – is attacked by a bear and just survives but he is too badly injured to continue. His companions try to take him along but have to give up assuming he will die and they abandon him leaving one of their number to stay with him until he dies and then bury him. Di Caprio’s son also stays back. Needless to say the caregiver fails in his mission and abandons di Caprio assuming he will die and murders his son in the process. He heads back to join the others. He has miscalculated and of course di Caprio survives and comes back for revenge. The journey is long and grueling and actually totally unbelievable. The flintlock guns they use are deadly accurate (which is totally impossible) even over distances of hundreds of yards. The falls, cold and so forth di Caprio survives despite his grievous injuries are literally impossible to survive and it all becomes almost funny. The character played by di Caprio is totally unlikeable and his connections to the local native Americans are poorly drawn and not made a significant part of the story. For the last hour I must have looked at my watch every 10 minutes praying for the end to come. To be perfectly honest the only times I was captivated were with Tom Hardy’s scenes but even that, at the climax of the film, was poorly written. Also I take back my comment about the cinematography. One more shot of bleak wintery forests and mountains was one too many. Two thumbs down so to speak.

Oscar Controversy 2016

This year, like most years, there is controversy around the Oscar ceremony and the nominations. This year like last year the Academy has been accused of failing to show much diversity of race or ethnic origin in its list of nominees and has also failed to recognize the contributions of women to film other than the obvious Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories. The criticism from the black community has been particularly harsh and pointed this time to the point of attacking those who were nominated but I was impressed with the reaction of this year’s host, Chris Rock who tweeted he would be hosting “the white BET awards”. This gets the point across without insulting those who have been nominated or the existing members of the Academy who vote on the nominees. It sticks it to them by being funny and spot on.

A look at the membership of the Academy shows them to be largely older white men and this unfortunately looks like a description of the Tea Party membership. I think however that to paint these two groups with the same brush is completely inappropriate. The other aspect of the criticism this year that is disturbing is the implicit and sometimes explicit criticism of the quality of the nominated films and artists. It is completely appropriate to question the lack of diversity but to then say that films that were nominated were undeserving is something completely different. Those who feel that Compton or Concussion or Beasts of No Nation deserved a nod ahead of the films nominated are expressing a critical and aesthetic judgement that can be argued both ways.

There has also been more tempered reaction from black artists who point to the fact that the issue is complex and lies with other factors. There is a need for more films that give meaningful and diverse roles. This is being done more and more as illustrated by the recent Star Wars film in which the lead protagonist is a woman and her closest ally is black. Although Stallone got the nomination for Creed when his co-star Michael B. Jordan was also deserving and went un-nominated also illustrates the point as does The Hateful Eight and other films. Stallone was nominated likely because of his history and length of service to film. Beasts of No Nation is a great film but made for TV, Hollywood’s increasingly important competition, so may well have suffered for that. Furthermore, it needs to be stated that the nominated films and actors are not undeserving themselves despite their skin tone. The view I tend to support is that this is a complex issue and that greater diversity in the industry itself will allow for great diversity in the award ceremony.

Increasing diversity however must be addressed actively and not simply left to develop on its own. The Academy has pledged to increase the diversity of its membership but that will take time, meanwhile it will be important for the current members to enter into this discussion and be encouraged to recognize the contributions of everyone, black, female, latino etc. The other point that needs to be made is that recognition of diversity through awards also opens the door to diversity in the industry and encourages participation by everyone. It can only be good. In the meantime, the decision of Spike Lee to boycott the show and not even watch is unhelpful and asking Chris Rock to pull out of hosting is not the solution. Rock has agreed to continue despite pressure to pull out. His tweet suggests to me that there is no one better to do the job. He will not pull his punches I hope and will be intelligent in doing so. I look forward to the show and particularly to Rock’s contribution.

Quincy Jones, a long time Hollywood musician and composer, has been asked to make a presentation this year. He has said he will ask for time to address the diversity issue and will withdraw as a presenter if he is denied his request. I think it would be in the best interests of the Academy and the show if he is given his time. It can only help to address this issue. I think it is great that no one is asking for quotas but rather opens the door to full diversity and the recognition that awards like the Oscars that exist to promote the industry need to be fully inclusive.

Spike Lee on announcing his boycott praised Rock for continuing and said he could think of no one better take on the role this year particularly. Funny then that he would choose not to watch or participate in support of his friend. Participation and labelling of the issue is the solution, dropping out or dumping on your colleagues who were nominated is not the way to go.

Trumbo – Director, Jay Roach

Another all white nominee for an Oscar this year – Bryan Cranston (nominated for Best Actor) for a great portrayal of Dalton Trumbo the Hollywood writer who was blacklisted and exiled from Hollywood for being a communist during the McCarthy years. He played a key role in resisting the anti-communist efforts of the Committee on Un-American activities which hurt or ruined the lives of many people not only in Hollywood but beyond. Cranston is very very good in the role and the film is well-written and acted. I was disappointed that Helen Mirren pictured above was not included in this year’s nominees for Best Supporting Actress. She plays journalist Hedda Hopper, one of Trumbo’s and others nemeses as she rode the anti-communist wave in the entertainment industry. She is wonderfully despicable. John Goodman also puts in a great performance as Frank King, one of the only producers willing to hire Trumbo anonymously after his exile. All in all a very entertaining film. I am curious however about a documentary I have not seen called Trumbo that came out in 2007 and is well reviewed. I will definitely track it down and post my impressions. It garnered no awards that I can find but sounds very interesting.

The Martian – Director, Ridley Scott

This is one of the first Oscar nominated films I have seen so far this winter. Telling the tale of an astronaut isolated on Mars with only his wits to help him survive, it is thrilling, funny, uplifting and Matt Damon is excellent, carrying the film very much on his isolated shoulders.  With 3 of its 6 Oscar  nominations for sound and production design and visual effects it is also great to watch.  The science is mostly pretty good according the geeks who have seen it. Sure there are lots of misses and miscalculations to those who choose to pick at it but all forgivable in my opinion for an excellent cinematic ride.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Director, Guy Ritchie



Hmmm one of my favourite 60’s TV series and one of my favourite directors, what could go wrong? Well nothing much really except that this movie was not quite the quality I had hoped for. I guess I was hoping for a new Bond franchise and it just didn’t happen. This is not to say it is a bad movie by any means. The cast is great especially Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin, and Hugh Grant as Waverly. Henry Cavill is good as Napoleon Solo but then I was never impressed with Robert Vaughan in the role and I think it’s the role’s fault more than the actor’s. Anyway everyone always like David McCallum the best, Right? Reviewers were all over the map on this one and I have to admit those who dumped on it had a point. Ritchie fails to recreate the atmosphere of the original TV series but lets face its been 50 years since McCallum and Vaughn created the roles, that audience is aging fast, and the Cold War is old news at least the one from the 60’s. The series needed a reboot to make it interesting to contemporary audiences but I fear that although it was fun to watch, it just didn’t quite cut it. The ending clearly sets up the possibility of a sequel with the two stars and hopefully Ritchie behind the camera but with the lack of critical success it will, I fear, not make it to a second romp in the Cold War. Still its fun and worth your time.

Remember – Director, Atom Egoyan

I have to take a pledge not to watch any more Atom Egoyan films. This movie is simply absurd, terrible, hugely disappointing, ridiculous, and did I mention stupid?? Furthermore this film is described as one of Egoyan’s more accessible films. This is true. At least you know what is going on but what is going on is hardly worth your time. The story is of an elderly and disabled holocaust survivor played by Martin Landau who recruits a fellow client of his nursing home (played by Christopher Plummer– who is also ostensibly a survivor) to kill the Nazi officer who killed their families. While Landau is physically disabled, Plummer’s character is suffering from dementia and needs careful guidance to achieve his goal. I do not want to give away the plot or the absolutely absurd ending but enough to say – avoid this film. When I saw the cast and that this film was a selection at Venice and TIFF I thought I really needed to see it and give Egoyan one last chance to impress me. Sadly I was disappointed. This film that aims to treat the holocaust and dementia, trivializes both. Many reviewers who were not happy with the movie praised Plummer’s performance and I will admit he is very good except that one wonders what form of dementia he supposedly suffers from. The portrayal is like nothing you have ever witnessed so I blame the writer and the director for getting it all horribly wrong.

American Ultra – Director, Nima Nourizadeh














I was inspired to watch this movie because of Jesse Eisenberg and the premise plus a few online suggestions that it was one of the more underrated films of 2015. It had pretty terrible reviews on Rotten Tomaotes but nonetheless I was impressed despite the low rating. The movie is very strange and one is never sure whether to laugh or cry but mostly I laughed. It is incredibly violent but more in the style of Tarantino (though I would not put it in that category of quality) and tongue in cheek. So I would put this in the same category as Cop Car. It is interesting that the comments, unlike the reviews, on Rotten Tomatoes were almost universally positive and did not support the large number of negative critical reviews. There is no question that the critics misread their fans here. It’s no Oscar nominee but it is fun and deserving of more favourable opinion.

Eisenberg plays a young stoner who is living a pretty boring and uneventful life in small rural town. His girlfriend is clearly in love with him and he desperately wants to marry her and make her happy but his attempts to propose and take her away on a celebratory holiday are stymied by the fact that for some reason he just can’t leave town. Any time he tries he falls violently ill. Unbeknownst to him however he is the result of a secret CIA experiment to turn out the perfect secret agent and a highly trained killer. He has been brainwashed or at least brain wiped and has no memory of his role or his skills. Internal squabbles at CIA headquarters results in a decision to have him terminated as a failed experiment but the agent who trained him decides to save him and travels to the town to “wake him up”. The resulting chaos, confusion and copious bloodshed is the rest of the film. Again, like Cop Car, not the stuff of Tarantino or Coen Bros. but worth the 90 minutes of B movie thrills and fun.

Cop Car – Director, John Watts

Gotta love Kevin Bacon. This may not be the best movie he has ever made but it is a lot of fun. Set in rural America, two 10-year-old boys out exploring in grassland find an abandoned police cruiser, unlocked, with the key in the ignition. Not able to resist they steal it and take off. Of course you wonder how an abandoned police cruiser would ever find its way to so remote a spot and with no police around and the film answers with a flashback to Kevin Bacon as the cop arriving, opening the trunk, and dragging a body out to be buried in an unmarked grave. He assumes of course that the car will not be disturbed but does not count on the kids. The balance of the film continues with Bacon, clearly a psychotic killer and cop, trying to retrieve his vehicle before the police department finds out about his way of dealing out justice.

Cop Car premiered at Sundance and so it is interesting that this movie was little noticed. To be fair, despite the violence and story line it is neither the stuff of Tarantino or the Coen Brothers but if you don’t pay too much attention to that you will have thrilling ride with a film that, as a NYT reviewer noted ” doesn’t ask much of you narratively or ethically.” A good comment.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Director, George Miller

This reboot of the Mad Max franchise is a visual extravaganza with wonderful performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. While I enjoyed it very much and clearly so did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, I am like many who saw the new Star Wars movie. Yes its great but…. The original was much more mind blowing if you were lucky enough to be around and see it for the first time in 1977. The original Mad Max with a very young Mel Gibson came out in 1979 and was a great sci-fi post-apocalyptic vision with a pretty low budget. It rocketed Gibson to international fame and its sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) was a brilliant follow up. There is no question that this latest take directed by the same director but 35 years later is very good and very special but it’s a sequel and a reboot and it just didn’t grab me the way the original did. So that’s the perspective of a 66 year old movie reviewer. It is interesting that a movie like Mad Max can have a much greater impact when it is first released in the context of movies of the time then it can to younger fans who see it 10 or 20 years later in a world already influenced by those films. It is less of a thrill and less of a novelty and clearly no longer ground breaking since it already did that previously. I will riff on this a bit more in my review of the new Star Wars movie. But for all my reaction from the perspective of an old movie fan don’t get me wrong, this a really fun movie and a great ride just not the same one I was on in 1979.

What We Do in the Shadows – Directors, Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi













As the movie poster suggests, this film is hilarious. It is a very low budget New Zealand mockumentary about a group of four vampires living in modern day Wellington New Zealand. The vampires vary in age from just under 200 years old to over 8000 years old. It chronicles the day to day… make that night to night travails and problems of being undead in contemporary Wellington. From arguments over who will do the dishes, making sure the drapes are drawn at dawn and waking up Peter the 8000-year-old guy who lives in the basement we follow them on various adventures around town. These include befriending a human who they decide not to kill themselves but who is ultimately turned into a werewolf and a new take on racism as the vampires realize that werewolves do not pee on everything and are actually fairly civilized at least when the moon is not full. I highly recommend this for a relaxing evening when you really can’t take anything very seriously and want to just relax in great satire.

It should be noted that director Taika Waititi is working on the new Thor picture due to be released in November 2017. A big reward for a talented young director who stumbled with Green Lantern in 2011 but I suspect will do much better with Thor.