AppsScraps Movie Reviews

Aug 13, 2012

Burn After Reading

Release date: 27 August 2008 (Venice International Film Festival)

The Coen brother's success as directors draws A-list stars to their films and Burn After Reading is an example of this. The plot is vintage Coen with quirky characters, subtle humour and violence; this is black comedy through and through. Fitness centre staffer Linda (Coen regular Frances McDormand doing what she usually does) wants a lad and is seeking dollars for plastic surgery. CIAer Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) has been fired and opts to write a memoir. His philandering wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) accidentally leaves the DVD with his memoir at the gym whereupon happy-go-lucky and not-too-bright Chat (Brad Pitt) finds it. Together with Linda, the duo concoct a plan to blackmail Osbourne. Meanwhile, Harry (George Clooney) a US Marshall and another philanderer doing the lowdown with Katie ends up meeting Linda through an internet dating site. The lives of all these folks and their various schemings all end up at Cox's house one afternoon - with typical Coen results. The stars are all great here and the Coen's commitment to messaging the baser motivations of common Americans is in fine form. Yet, it is this - the film's usualness - that is ultimately its undoing. We've seen these folks before and we know where the brothers Coen are going to take us. 

My rating 7 out of 10.

Män som hatar kvinnor (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Release date: 27 February 2009 (Denmark)

The fact Hollywood only took 2 years to release its remake of Stig Larsen's runaway worldwide bestselling novel - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - speaks volumes about both the book and the original 2009 Swedish film. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the film follows the search by investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) into the disappearance of a 16-year-old girl named Harriet - a member of a very powerful Swedish corporate family - in the 1960's. Hired by the girl's uncle Henrick Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) forty years on, Blomkvist is aided by a fine young lass with, you guessed it, a dragon tattoo and panache for internet and online hacking, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Together they begin to unravel what is a neatly tied mystery involving cults and Nazis and some very sick family members. The film is an excellent whodunit and the forced and unbelievable love connection between the two main characters aside, is well worth watching. 

My rating 8 out of 10.

L'estate di Martino (aka Mario's Summer)

Release date: 9 August 2011 (Locarno Film Festival)

It's the 1980s and 15-year-old Italian Martino (Luigi Ciardo) wants to learn to surf, well, and capture the heart of Silvia (Matilde Maggio) who happens to be dating his brother. Conveniently, on the shoreline of his small town lies a US base where Captain Jeff Clark (an excellent Treat Williams of all people) lands occasionally to hang out. Clark, also conveniently, happens to be a surfer and is eventually teaching Mario about surfing, life and girls. The film is directed by Massimo Natale and uses a couple of historically accurate Italian crises - the 1980 crash of a plane near the island of Ustica ascribed to a wayward NATO missile, and the bombing in Bologna's train station in 1985 by terrorists to good effect. The result is a fine movie that while predicable in many respects is beautifully shot with great heart. 

My rating 8 out of 10.

So I Married an Axe Murderer

Release date: 30 July 1993

Back in 1993, Thomas Schlamme directed a just-emerging-into-his-genre Mike Myers as down on his luck San Fransico beat poet, Charlie MacKenzie, who meets the butcher of his dreams, Harriett, (an excellent, over-the-top Nancy Travis). So I Married an Axe Murderer is a comedic thriller where paranoia reigns supreme. While decidedly shallow on many levels and a little slow through its middle, there is enough crass comedy layered amid a refreshing love story and gratious violence to make the utter silliness of it all, well, work. 

Not highbrow in the least and a great example of Myers doing the stuff that would make him millions later in the 90s, So I Married an Axe Murderer gets my rating of 6 out of 10.  


Release date: 9 September 1992

The first half of this movie is great - a real mystery unfolds and the ensemble cast including Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, David Strathairn and the beautiful Mary McDowell play perfectly off each other amid the action and comedy. Sadly when Gandhi, er, Ben Kingsely arrives halfway through the laces come undone as he unfolds a plot full anti-establishment angst. From this point on, Sneakers slows right down, and, like a novice marathoner on the 18th mile, never really finds its soul (pardon the pun) again. 

Directed with aplomb by Phil Alden Robinson, Sneakers gets my rating of 7 out of 10. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Release date: 7 July 2011 (London, England)

Finally the franchise ends ... or does it? Doesn't matter really, as David Yates tackles the most difficult gig in directorland and succeeds in giving the Potterites the conclusion they wanted and in step with the author's vision. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 2 has Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) coming to terms with his history and his destiny as he faces evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) ... successfully. Like a perfect gift, this film is perfectly wrapped and tied with precision. So long Harry and farewell. 

My rating 8 out of 10. 

The Ramen Girl

Release date:  May 2008 (Milan Film Festival)

The late Brittany Murphy stars as Abby, an American lost in translation in Tokyo after her boyfriend up and leaves for Osaka. Unwilling to head home, she undertakes the challenge of learning the art of preparing ramen from a gruff and stoid chef named Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). Along the way she meets Toshi (Sohee Park), her new lover and comes to terms with herself while learning the ramen ropes. Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman somewhere between drama and comedy, the film - while very good and essential viewing for any 'foodie' - missed its mark as great by not holding firmly to one genre or the other. 

My rating 7out of 10. 

Steamboy (aka Suchîmubôi)

Release date: 11 September 2004 (Venice International Film Festival)

A beautifully filmed Japanese anime movie directed by master Katsuhiro Ohtomo. Steamboy, let us first say, is a gorgeous film to behold built sadly on a very light plot. In mid-19th century industrial England Rei, a young inventor, receives a gift from his grandfather Roid - a marvelous invention called the "Steam Ball" which can make any engine umpteen times more powerful. What ensues is a treatise on the good/bad of science as embodied in Rei's father and grandfather married to the evils a monolithic corporation - the Ohara Foundation - bent on capitalizing the ball for all its worth. It is a beauty to behold and a boredom to watch (the chase scenes aside). 

My rating 5 out of 10. 

Battle Los Angeles

Release date: 8 March 2011 (Westwood, California)

 If you can move past the movie's central premise and believe that anyone would actually want to save Los Angeles and/or if you're the type of movie goer who loves the patriotic - if idiotic - silliness of Hollywood's fascination for these US-Marines-battle-Aliens romps, you're going to love Battle Los Angeles and Jonathan Liebesman's direction. For the rest of us there is but a ever-so-thin plot driven by even thinner character development focused on one Sgt. Nantz (Aaron Eckhart). Battle Los Angeles is filmed in a Hurt Locker-style that - one supposes - adds grittiness and a real 'I'm-there' feel. Alas it doesn't help and this reviewer spent its overly long runtime praying the Aliens would win. 

My rating 3 out of 10.  


Release date: 11 November 2009 (Belgium)

You probably heard the world is ending in 2012 but seems John Cusak and Amanda Peet missed the memo. And so, instead, we're forced to watch them watch the world come a tumbling down a la the ancient Mayan - or was it Aztec - prophecy. Whatever. If you can suspend reality utterly and plant tongue firmly in cheek you may enjoy this noisy nonsense directed by Roland Emmerich. Made marginally bearable only thanks to the science of CGI, 2012 does make one think the world's end can't come soon enough. 

 My rating 2 out of 10


Release date: 16 February 2011 (Westwood, California)

When Dr. Martin Harris, a bio-technogolist from America (Liam Neeson) awakens from a coma after a traffic accident in Berlin, he discovers someone (Aiden Quinn) has taken on his identity. Not even his wife (January Jones) fesses up to knowing him. With the help of a cab driver named Gina (Diane Kruger) he begins to unravel the plot only to discover to his horror - and to the movie's credit - he is actually a bad guy in Berlin to blow up an Arab bigwig (Mido Hamada) and a too-smart-for-his-own good professor who is about to save the world (Sebastien Koch). While entertaining, the unknowns in Unknown simply take too long to uncoil despite Jaume Collet-Serra's 'let's-get-this-movie-ended' directing style. While made watchable for the first 40-odd minutes of mystery and the appearance of of Frank Langella (as Harris' US boss) midway through - Unknown ultimately uses too much umpf in getting to its point. 

My rating 5 out of 10.

Red Riding Hood

Release date: 7 March 2011 (Hollywood, California)

Catherine Hardwicke directs the latest version of Little Red Riding Hood's journey to grandma's house in this thriller. When Valerie's (Amanda Seyfried) sister is killed by a werewolf, she starts to suspect something's up with her rather odd family, in particular her gramdmother (a mis-cast Julie Christie who seems to forgotten everything about acting) who lives all alone out in the woods. The townsfolk are on the warpath to do-in the naughty werewolf led by the town's priest, Solomon (the always good Gary Oldman). The story in its broadest sense is familiar and the manner of filming here is refreshing. Yet even with the twists along the way, Red Riding Hood ultimately fails to engage this viewer - blame Seyfried and Christie- and the ending involving relevations about Valierie's dad, Cesaire (Billy Burke) leave little bite. 

My rating 4 out of 10.

Morning Glory

Release date: 17 December 2010 (Dubai International Film Festival)

The marriage of Diane Keaton (as morning newshow host Colleen Peck) and Harrison Ford (as hardnews anchorman Mike Pomeroy) can't ever be wrong and Morning Glory is no exception. Keaton is the longtime host who must adapt to Ford's arrival on set as a crummondoey, serious political news hack with little patience for 'lite' news. The clash of egos is hilarious. Add into the mixture the young producer charged with making these two work together, Becky (Rachel MacAdams), her love interest Adam (Patrick Wilson) and the station's bigwig President, Jerry (a very good Jeff Goldblum) and you will find yourself laughing out loud. Roger Mitchell directs this silliness in the usual Hollywood fashion. Morning Glory works despite this and delivers enough humour, romance, and heart to make watching this newscast worth it. 

My rating 7 out of 10.

The Goonies

Release date: 7 June 1985 (Canada)

Richard Donner directs the outstanding screenplay by none other than Steven Spielberg in this 1980s young-at-heart escapist adventure. When Mikey (Sean Austin) and big brother Brand's (Josh Brolin) house is slated to be confiscated by an evil developer, the pair commence a search for pirate gold to find the money necessary to stave off foreclosure. The film is pure fun with a lightheartedness that is completely refreshing. The script weaves young romance, awkwardness, friendship, adventure and comedy perfectly. Two characters stand out and truly make the film - Chunk (Jeff Cohen) and of course, Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey). With Kerri Green (as Andy), Martha Plimpton (as Stef) and Jonathan Ke Quan (as Data), The Goonies remains a quintessential coming of age adventure that is a classic. 

My rating 9 out of 10.

Aug 12, 2012

Gulliver's Travels

Release date: 25 December 2010 (Canada)

Wow, such silliness. Gulliver's Travels is a slap-in-the-face to the original story and certainly takes it in new directions. Jack Black is Lemual Gulliver, a hapless mail room clerk working at a New York newspaper with no ability to take a risk or chance and a serious case of infatuation with the paper's travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet). When he inadvertently offers to write an article for her she accepts and promptly sends him to the Bermuda Triangle. There, in true Oz fashion, he ends up in a whirlpool and shipwrecked on the island of Liliput, suddenly the biggest man on the block. The film from there follows the ups and downs of King Theodore's (Billy Connolly) kingdom and the love life of his daughter Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). Directed by Rob Letterman, Gulliver's Travels tells the story of one man's journey to self-discovery and love, yet despite that lofty goal, is still pretty awful. 

My rating 3 out of 10. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Release date: 11 November 2010 (London, UK)

As the Potter saga nears its (final) end, the series has once again returned to some fine film-making. All the usual suspects are back again and Voldemort has managed to wrestle control of the Ministry of Magic at Hogwarts. Harry, Ron and Hermione continue to race against time to destroy the Horcruxes and complete the work left undone by Dumbledore. Directed by David Yates, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I is a fine - and perhaps more importantly, mature - film that satisfies from beginning to end. 

It has left big shoes to fill for its final segment and has my rating of 8 out of 10.

The Switch

Release date: 20 August 2010 (Canada)

Jennifer Aninston and Jason Bateman star in this comedy about the dangers of playing with sperm. Aninston is Kassie, a woman who decides enough is enough and opts to have a baby through artificial insemination. Bateman is Wally, her best friend. At Kassie's artificial insemination party, Wally gets drunk and replaces his sperm with the sperm donor's (a sedate Patrick Wilson). Switch then to 7 years later and Kassie has moved back to New York City with her son Sebastian. What ensues is a slow and funny revelation as Kassie tries to get Roland and Wally more involved in their lives and the slow realization that Sebastian is not the son of the father she thinks. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, The Switch - while silly beyond belief - had this reviewer laughing outloud from the get-go and with the addition of Jeff Goldblum (as Leonard) and Juliette Lews (as Debbie) is well worth sitting down to watch. 

My rating 7 out of 10.

The Rite

Release date: 26 January 2011 (Hollywood, CA)

Anthony Hopkins stars as Father Lucas, a renowned if creepy, Jesuit exorcist while Colin O'Donoghue is your typical priest challenged by his belief in god, Father Michael Kovack. The two meet in Italy and watch over a young woman purportedly possessed by demons (yawn). Full of the usual rot and only redeemed - somewhat - by director Mikael Hafstrom's atmospheric framing, The Rite has no right to call itself anything but boringly embarrassing. 

My rating 3 out of 10.

The Green Hornet

Release date: 14 January 2011 (Canada)

The Green Hornet is a tongue-in-cheek poke at the genre of superhero films and if you go into the film with that front of mind, you will enjoy the sting it provides. After the sudden death of his father James (Tom Wilkinson), playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) finds himself the new topdog of the Los Angeles' "The Daily Sentinel" newspaper empire. Initially he maintains his playboy lifestyle until one night when he and his driver Kato (Jay Chou) stop a robbery. The revelation leads Britt and Kato to create superhero The Green Hornet. This film, directed by Michel Gondry, is a you-get-what-you-expect affair made enjoyable - despite the undertone of racial stereotyping - by the addition of a sultry Cameron Diaz (as Leonore Chase) and an excellent badguy with self-confidence challenges named Chudnofsky (a superb Christoph Waltz). 

It is an Inspector Gadget meets the Goonies film and gets my rating of 7 out of 10.

Cooking with Stella

Release date: 16 September 2009 (Toronto International Film Festival)

A clash of east meets west ensues when a foreign service diplomat (Lisa Ray) and her chef husband Michael (Don McKeller) are transferred to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. In their new home they meet Stella, their cook, who over 30 years of service has learned how to pad her salary with some pilfering here and there. Michael is keen to learn all he can about Indian cooking and works to gain Stella's trust and the two start sharing recipes. When Michael and his wife hire Tannu (Indian star Shriya) to care for their baby, a new dynamic enters the house. Tannu is very honest and looks down on Stella's thievery. Cooking with Stella, while an uneven film, gives us a good story of how people acclimatize to a new culture and in doing so find the ability to change their views. 

Directed by Dilip Metha with comedy amid its seriousness, it is a foodie's film worth seeing. My rating 6 out of 10.


Jun 7, 2011

Tron: Legacy

Release date: 30 November 2010 (Tokyo, Japan)

Still fabulous after all these years, Tron: Legacy, directed by Joseph Kosinski, brings us back to gladiatorial games and netherworld of life on The Grid in a fashion the original cult sci-fi classic never dreamed of. Starring Jeff Bridges as gaming guru Kevin Flynn (and his alter Tron ego, Clu); Garrett Hedland as his son Sam; and Olivia Wilde as Quorra, the perfect ISO lifeform created in the Grid that Clu is determined to wipeout, Tron: Legacy is full of flash and special effects wizardry. While the story's themes are breathtakingly deep, the movie does not have the time to full develop or explore them which is really unfortunate. Still, the film is beautiful on oh-so-many levels and will remain timeless in a Blade Runner fashion.

My rating 8 out of 10.

Source Code

Release date: 11 March 2011 (South by Southwest Film Festival)

Duncan Jones directs this sci-fi adventure that sees a near-dead army pilot, Coulter Stevens, being teleported (though some magic of physics not wholly explained) into a Chicago commuter train's last eight minutes before a bomb blows it up. His mission is to discover who the bomber is so as to avert an even bigger dirty nuclear attack that is going to happen in the 'present' time. Source Code is essentially an action vehicle for Jake Gyllenhall bookended by a romance between Stevens and fellow passenger Christina (Michelle Monaghan) and victim of conscious Colleen (Vera Farmiga) trying to navigate whether or not to let our hero Stevens finally die. Source Code is a fun movie despite the constant deja-vu. With tighter writing to really add depth to the exploration of Steven's situation 'living' amid life and death and futher examination of the consequences his tinkering with time could have, Source Code would have been an instant classic.

My rating 7 out of 10.


Release date: 4 September 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)

When their mother, Nawal Marwan (a superb Lubna Azabal), dies, twins Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne (an excellent Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) are given instructions through their mother's will to find their brother and father. This strange yet simple start to the film, based on the play written by Wajdi Mouawad, then evolves into a moving recounting of Nawal's life in Lebanon as a mother, terrorist and prisoner that is both captivating and brutal to watch. Several scenes will leave you breathless with sadness. Directed by Dennis Villeneuve, Incendies was Canada's entry into Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars in 2011, and is certainly one of the most beautifully crafted films in sometime. As their search into the mysterious roots of their mother's life progresses - leading to tortuurer Abou Tarek (Abdelghafour Elaaziz) - an awful truth is revealed with all its devastating impact. Incendies is a film not to be missed.

My rating 10 out of 10.

Apr 9, 2011

The Box

Release date: 17 September 2009 (Lund Fantastick Film Festival)

Camera Diaz plays Norma Lewis, the far-too-older looking wife of Arthur (James Marsden) in this psychological sci-fi thriller built in the X-Files and Twilight Zone vein. Using Richard Matheson's short story Button, Button (which was actually made into a Twilight Zone spot) as his jumping off point, director/writer Richard Kelly takes the film into the pseudo-spiritual world casting a very good Frank Langella as Steward, a born-again NASA bigwig whose job it is oversee the testing of humankind. Clear? Well, the test is the box, which, if you hit its big red button will kill someone you don't know somewhere in the world and leave you $1M richer for it. The premise is intriguing and this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the ride Kelly gives us - as outlandish, silly and outrageous as it all is. Kudos to Pallet, Butler and Chassagne for their perfectly realized music for this film. While frustratingly murky to the nth degree, it's still worth pushing The Box's button.

My rating 7 out of 10.   

Robin Hood

Release date: 12 May 2010 (Cannes Film Festival)

(Yawn) yet another Robin Hood movie. Ridley Scott, no less, directs this version and opts to pack plenty of star power into his merry film in hopes - we think - to distract viewers from the fact this is yet another Robin Hood movie, and a bad one at that. Scott even tries a new angle to distract us by tackling Robin Hood's before-the-merry-gang life as a crusader with Richard the Lionhearted, his return to England and his saving of King John's throne from the French. Sadly, despite a decent Russell Crowe as Maximus (oops, I mean Robin Hood), Cate Blanchett as Marion, William Hurt as Marshall, and a great Mark Strong as evil Godfrey, this movie is a dreadful mess. Raspberries to a dreadful Oscar Issac (as King John) and a morose Matthew Macfadyen (as the Sheriff of Nottingham). Scott's film delivers no heart so we are left adrift with characters so similar in their construct they seem cutouts. Too long by half, this Robin Hood is lost in the Nottingham woods from the get-go and ought to have stayed there.

My rating 2 out of 10. 

Leap Year

Release date: 6 January 2010 (New York City, New York)

Leap Year gives us a romantic comedy done a little differently with the arrival of a tightly strung American lass Anna Brady (Amy Adams) in County Nowhere Ireland. She's en route to propose to her geeky fiance Jeremy (Adam Scott) in Dublin. Problem is Anna doesn't carry much travel luck and enlists the help of Declan (Matthew Goode), an Irish innkeeper, to help her get across the Republic safely into the arms of her betrothed. But as Irish luck has it, she and Declan - fighting the whole way - end up in love. Directed by Anand Tucker, Leap Year is a solid film that's fun to watch for both the interplay of its characters and the stunning Irish scenery.

It is, in a word, endearing. My rating 8 out of 10. 

The Class aka Entre les murs

Release date: 24 May 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)

Winner of the 2008 Palme d'Or at Cannes, The Class follows french teacher Francois Marin's (Francois Begaudeau) work with a multi-racial group of 14- and 15-year-olds who live on the other side of the tracks, so to speak, in Paris. Director Laurent Cantet utilizes the much-a-rage shaky-camera-syndrome to give the film a documentary feel. Everyone has baggage in the class, the teacher included, and the film is a poignant examination of people struggling to understand each other despite the biased perspectives their upbringing has bestowed. The subtlety of the class trying to comprehend the archaic rules of French grammar adds a je ne sais quoi to the whole process. Gritty, honest and familiar to anyone who attended an inner city school, this class is worth attending.

My rating 8 out of 10. 

A Single Man

Release date: 11 September 2009 (Venice Film Festival)

A Single Man starts and ends with death. In between are several gorgeously constructed - if rampantly artsy - moments of English professor George (a brilliant Colin Firth) dealing with the loss of his gay partner of sixteen years, Jim (Matthew Goode). The film is fashion designer Tom Ford's coming out directorial debut and my, what a triumph it is. Ford captures both the beauty and tragedy of moments perfectly and knows how to linger on shots to allow all their Joycean detail to emerge. Working with a fine novel by Christopher Isherwood and supported by an excellent  Julianne Moore as Charley, George's 'f*g hag', and Nicholas Hoult as Kenny in full Tadzio splendor, A Single Man is a singularly beautiful film for its resonant depth.

My rating 9 out of 10. 


Release date: 29 January 2009 (Los Angeles, California)

Push is interesting first because it's intriguing despite being frustrating, and secondly because it uses American actors set against the backdrop of Hong Kong. Directed by Paul McGuigan, it is a rift of Matrix, Blade Runner, and, none-too-subtlety, X-men. Starring Dakota Fanning as Cassie Holmes, a 'watcher' who can see the future, who is busy convincing Nick Gant (Chris Evans) that he needs to reconnect with his girlfriend Kira (Camilla Belle) before the big bad 'Division' folks lead by Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) get to her. Got all that? Push is so wrought with goings-on that you tend to grow mute to the telekinetic and clairvoyant abilities of everyone: screaming Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-like asian brothers aside. The best advice with this one is to suspend reality and cede yourself to the silliness, action and great views of Hong Kong. It's actually worth pushing yourself to do so. 

My rating 7 out of 10.  

Sherlock Holmes

Release date: 24 December 2009 (Worldwide)

Any new iteration of Conan Dolye's classic is always welcome and director Guy Ritchie's version adds another layer to the myth that is Sherlock Holmes (a just-on-the-edge Robert Downey Jr) and his sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law). This version has evil - and recently risen from the grave - Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) out to create a new world order by doing in the British Parliamentarians as a start. Ritchie adds some fabulous fun to this version by adding Rachel McAdams to the story as Holmes' American femme fatale. Full of witty repartee, some heady high jinks and plenty of action, this reborn Sherlock Holmes is a welcome addition to the family.

My rating 7 out of 10. 


Release date: 13 September 2009 (Toronto International Film Festival)

Chloe, a film directed by Atom Egoyan, gives the viewer a great tour of Toronto and really, that's about as much as you can say about this film that marries psychological thriller with sexy romp - neither successfully. Liam Neeson stars as David, a professor with an eye for his students that gets his wife Catherine (Julianne Moore) to wondering when he misses his surprise birthday party and she finds a picture of him with a student on his cell phone. Enter young-prostitute-with-a-problem Chloe (a doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried) whom Catherine hires to tempt David. Problem is Chloe has a thing for Catherine and begins telling fibs about her relations with David in order to further her own attempts to bed his wife. Yawn. Chloe is a darn awful film that fails to be entertaining, sexy, or scary. Egoyan who is known for - one could argue - too many films of this ilk should perhaps consider venturing down some new paths.

My rating solely for the great architecture shot in the film, 2 out of 10.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Panassus

Release date: 22 May 2009 (Cannes Film Festival)

From the opening shots this is undeniably a film directed by Terry Gilliam. Christopher Plummer stars as Dr. Parnassus, a man given immortality through a deal with the devil (a brilliant Tom Waits). The deal requires he sacrifice his own daughter Valentina's (Lily Cole) soul when she turns sixteen. Parnassus runs a traveling road show that takes people into his imagination where their dreams and wishes come true. This premise is used in a new deal with the devil to save his daughter's soul with help from a corrupt charity CEO, Tony (variously Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp and Jude Law) they discover hanging under a bridge. It's all very Brazil, of course. The Imaginarium of Dr. Panassus will forever be known as the last film of Heath Ledger and Gilliam does a fine job adapting the screenplay to accommodate Heath's death. The movie is a fantastical journey and fans of Gilliam's work will love it. Others will reach for the remote.

For the sheer audacity of his imagination, my rating 5 out of 10.

Eat Pray Love

Release date: 13 August 2010 (Canada)

Eat Pray Love is Julia Roberts' version of the film Shirley Valentine. Roberts plays Liz, a lass who is down on love, out of love with her husband, and lost within a new relationship to David (James Franco). To mend she flees: to Italy to eat; to India to pray; to Bali to reflect. On route she meets people who give her what she lacks - perspective. With their advice she is able to find love again with a divorced Brazilian Felipe (Javier Bardem). While a great travelogue, Eat Pray Love plods and director Ryan Murphy should have edited the film with more vigor. That said kudos to Richard Jenkins for his role as Richard the Texan and the richness of the scenery throughout (Ms. Roberts included).

My rating 6 out of 10.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Release date: 26 March 2010 (Canada)

Dumb title, sure, yes, let's admit that from the start. When three longtime buddies - just dumped Adam (John Cucsak); Nick (Craig Robinson) and a recently suicidal Lou (Rob Corddry) head back to a ski resort they partied at during their college days - accompanied by Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) - the strangest of things takes place. Thanks to too much booze, and a can of Russian Red Bull-like drink spilling on the hot tub's control, the foursome find themselves transported back to 1986. Remember those days? Reliving their lives again reveals all sorts of truths and allows the guys to reconnect, reflect and heal. While Hot Tub Time Machine is inconsequentially silly with no greater meaning than filling screen time, it's still worth digging out the bathing suit and heading to the water.

Love Actually

Release date: 7 September 2003 (Toronto International Film Festival)

Love Actually is an ensemble piece whose characters are all in varying stages of infatuation. Some are madly in love; others are busy falling out of love; still others are finding their first love. Directed by Richard Curtis, it stars the likes of Hugh Grant (as the Prime Minister nonetheless); Liam Neeson (as Daniel); Emma Thompson (as Karen); Bill Nighy (as Billy Mack); Keira Knightley (as Juliet); Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Peter); Alan Rickman (as Harry); and even Billy Bob Thornton (as the US President). Set in London at Christmas, the film is wonderfully engaging as the lives of all these characters collide and intermingle with nary beat missed. Love Actually works. Works because we see in every encounter some semblance of ourselves. 

My rating 7 out of 10.


Release date: 21 January 2010 (Hollywood, California)

Seems the world is always ending in America and Legion continues this trend with a fallen St. Michael (a wooden Paul Bettany) arriving in Los Angeles on the prowl for a new age Mary named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki). The premise of this gawd-awful film directed by Scott Charles Stewart is that God - it seems - is fed up with all our bullsh*t and has opted to use humans themselves (rather than a flood) to end the world. But God has been watching too many B-rate zombie movies and has possessed sort-of-dead Los Angeleans driving out to the desert to kill our new age Mary who is holed up with the renegade St. Michael and the occupants of a diner - Jeep (Lucas Black), his dad (Dennis Quaid), Kyle (a good Tyrese Gibson), Percy (Charles S. Dutton) and the Anderson family. Mayhem ensues until St. Gabriel arrives, bringing with him one of Hollywood's most stupid entrances ever, a mace, and a nasty case of Father-infatuation. Production value aside Legion gives new meaning to bad film-making and is, in the worst sense of the word, a horror to watch.

My rating - may God strike me down - 1 out of 10.

Mar 12, 2011

The Lives of Others

Release date: 15 March 2006 (Berlin, Germany)

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - a mouthful of a name for sure - directs this perfectly paced thriller that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign picture in 2007. Set in East Berlin when the Stasi ruled supreme and whole arms of the East Germany government spent their time monitoring the lives of others. Into this world arrives Stasi secret agent Capt. Gerd Wiesler (a fabulous Ulrich Mühe), a man of monotonous routine and precision, who is charged with spying on the lives of author Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) - believed to be sympathetic to the West - and his lover, a actor named Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Problem is the real motive for the spying is not western sympathies - though are these discovered? - but the fact the Minister of Culture has a love-on for Christa. The film works brilliantly on many levels - the suspense building subtlety throughout - as Wiesler's own fascination with the couple slowly creates holes in his Stasi armour. The Lives of Others gives us an example of the tragedy that results when a man's allegiance - to a ideology, to his country - is tested.

My rating 9 out of 10.

Sunshine Cleaning

Release date: 18 January 2008 (Sundance Film Festival)

Directed by Christine Jeffs Sunshine Cleaning gives us the story of two Albuquerque sisters who venture into the business of bio-hazard and post-crime scene clean-up. Bright and cheery, it is not. Rose (Amy Adams) is eking out a living working as a house cleaner, dealing with a son, Oscar (Jason Spevack) with challenges of his own, and continuing an affair with her (married) high school sweetheart - now sheriff - Mac (Steve Zahn). When he suggests she raise the money she needs to send odd Oscar to private school by cleaning up murder scenes she recruits her gadabout sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and is off to the hardware store to bulk buy Lysol. And thereupon Sunshine Cleaning is born, and pardon the pun, dies. With a decidedly 'indie' feel to the adventure - and despite the appearance of Alan Arkin as their very eccentric father, Joe - Sunshine Cleaning feels wrong from the get-go. As though we are watching not a film but a version of Twin Peaks swept into Little Miss Sunshine. Where's the magic eraser when you need it?

My rating 3 out of 10.

Watlz with Bashir

Release date: 15 May 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)

If you haven't yet danced with Bashir; get moving. Waltz with Bashir is director Ari Folman's exploration of his time serving with the Israeli military during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. More than that however, the film cuts new territory on the art of documentary film-making by marrying one man's journey to discover - and reconcile - his wartime actions using animation as the vehicle. Portraying the horror of the war and subsequent massacre of civilians in animation dulls the visceral nature of the violence so Folman can examine more clearly his part in it. Waltz with Bashir is a fascinating achievement that rockets the viewer through the history of the middle east and the wounded dreams of those who've fought its battles and ends with a live action segment that is brutally effective. This is powerful stuff and a must see.

My rating 9 out of 10.  

Swept Away

Release date: 8 October 2002 (Los Angeles, California)

There's really only three reasons to watch this film. The opening credits are beautifully realized; the last ten minutes are achingly beautiful on an emotional level with - finally! - emotive acting by Madonna (as Amber, the uber rich, bitchy socialite); and, most intriguingly, to sift through the dreadful other bits to ponder the deeper themes at play. Themes of class warfare; sex; and the roles of men and women. Directed by Guy Ritchie, Swept Away is a remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 film Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto (Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August). Madonna essentially plays herself and is forced to look at things a little differently when she is stranded on a Mediterranean island with a fisherman named Giuseppe (Adriano Giannini). Here she evolves we're led to believe and the film ventures into territory that is deeply misogynistic (to the point of being uncomfortable) but perhaps that's the film's salient point? 

For making me uncomfortable and forcing me to think, my rating 4 out of 10.

The Counterfeiters

Release date: 10 February 2007 (Berlin International Film Festival)

The Counterfeiters won the Academy for Best Foreign Film in 2008, and deservedly so. Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, it recounts the true story of Operation Bernhard - the Nazi's plan to destabilize the British and American governments by flooding their economies with forged pounds and dollars designed and printed by Jews interned at Sachsenhausen. Central to the story is Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (a superb Karl Markovics), a master counterfeiter who is captured in Berlin at the start of the war by Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow), who later becomes his jailer at Sachsenhauser. The Counterfeits is a fine film full of fine acting - kudos to both August Diehl (as Adolf Burger) and the young Sebastian Urzendowsky (as Kolya) - that drags us into the dirty moral quicksand associated with Nazi complicity and lets us struggle with the question: what would you have done?

My rating 8 out of 10. 


Release date: 3 December 2009 (Hollywood, California)

Despite the considerable talent of none other than Clint Eastwood directing, Invictus is a formulaic - verging on trite - recap of the South African rugby team's victory at the 1995 World Rugby Cup. Based on John Carlin's book, Eastwood positions the story as President Mandela's (Morgan Freeman) mission to win the cup as one tool to help unite the apartheid-torn nation. He recruits into the effort none other than the team's captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). And while a true story indeed - and an important one - sorry, it doesn't make for very good film-making. Worse, Damon's seemed to forgot how to act (unless you count woodenness as acting) and Freeman's portrayal of Mandela cum Gandhi with a dreadful accent just plain hurts. All in all, a film decidedly lacking in heart. To paraphrase William Ernest Henley, whose poem the movie draws its title from: in the fell clutch of circumstance, I have both winced and cried aloud. 

My rating 4 out of 10.  

Death at a Funeral

Release date: 10 February 2007 (European Film Market)

Directed by Frank Oz, this black comedy has two brothers - Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) and Robert (Rupert Graves) - maneuvering about their father's home trying to deal with a disabled and acerbic uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan), a blackmailing dwarf (Peter Dinklage) and their cousin Martha's (Daisy Donovan) fiance Simon (Allan Tudyk) who has surreptitiously taken hallucinogenic drugs. What makes this all so entertaining is the fact it happens on the day of their father's funeral. Turns out the dwarf is actually their father's gay lover; Martha's dad Victor (Peter Egan) can't abide Simon; and, best of all Daniel's been harbouring a grudge against his older, more successful brother for ages. Death at a Funeral is a twisted dark comedy in a style so decided fawlty (emphasis and spelling intended) it's a wicked joy to watch.

My rating 7 out of 10.

Mar 5, 2011

127 Hours

Release date: 4 September 2010 (Telluride Film Festival)

Bully on James Franco for tackling a film where he is the center of attention from the get-go and responsible for carrying all the action. Bully on director Danny Boyle for detouring off the beaten path of Slumdog Millionaire to tackle the harrowing true-life story of Aron Ralston, who when trapped in a crevice in the Utah badlands opted to amputate his right arm rather than perish. A bold story coupled with bold acting in the hand(s)? of a bold director can produce a fine movie and 127 Hours is that and more.

My rating 8 out of 10.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Release date: September 2010 (Toronto International Film Festival)

It's kind of an odd story, what with a suicidal 16-yer-old checking himself into an adult psychiatric ward, but It's Kind of a Funny Story is a good story too. Got that? Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film follows Craig (Keir Gilchrist), a not untypical teenager as he wanders the ward of the unit meeting and befriending the patients in his search to fully understand he's just like most teenagers confused by he feelings for a girl and unable to relate what he wants to be (artsy and creative) with his parents expectations. Central to the film is a great performance by  Zach Falifianakis as Bobby and Emma Roberts as Noelle, Craig's soon-to-be girlfriend. While the film tackles the subject of mental health with a tongue-in-cheek humour that may lessen the severity of those individuals working their way through the maze that is brain health illness, It's Kind of a Funny Story (dumb title aside) is both quaint and odd enough - in an indie film sort of style - to make you forgive this.

My rating 7 out of 10.


Release date: 8 July 2010 (London, UK)

Easily the best film of this or any year, Christopher Nolan's masterpiece is a Jungian's wet dream of symbolism and one of the most deep films in the past half century. A marriage of past and present layered with a premise so interesting it ought to warrant its own research grant - that we can invade the subconscious and lay seeds that will eventually blossom into real-life actions. Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb (and who else does tortured soul better?) the leader of a group of professionals who parachute into the dreams of their targets. With him are sidekicks Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ariadne (Ellen Page) and paying client Saito (Ken Watanabe). When Cobb is hired by Saito to change the mind of the CEO of the world's key energy company Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), he comes face-to-face with his own past and the wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), he abandoned within a dream.  With a rich storyline that goes deeper and deeper as it evolves and special effects that brilliantly complement its brazen premise, Inception is the most refreshingly original movie you'll see in long time.

My rating 10 out of 10.  

The Secret in Their Eyes

Release date: 13 August 2009 (Argentina)

The Secret in Their Eyes won Best Foreign Film for Argentina in 2010. Skillfully directed by Juan Jose Campenella, there is nary  a misplaced scene. In fact what works best about this film is its quietness. A skill that continues to elude the majority of American directors. The film is a crime thriller with a retired legal counselor in 1999 choosing to write a book about an unsolved rape/murder case from 1974. Ricardo Darin stars as Benjamin Esposito, the counselor in question; Guillermo Francella is Pablo Sandoval his perpetually drunk colleague and Soledad Villamil is their boss, Irene Hastings.  When a recently married Lilana is raped and murdered Esposito is assigned to the case. From that assignment he builds a lifelong fascination with the case and its players, including Lilana's husband Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago). The Secret in Their Eyes is a bold film despite its quietness and the twists and turns you encounter viewing it are fabulously fodder for a psychiatrist. See it.

My rating 9 out of 10.

Iron Man 2

Release date: 26 April 2010 (Los Angeles, California)

Robert Downey Jr returns - some six months later in time - as mega entrepreneur Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Now that he's a successful deterrent to war, the US Army begins its work to militarize the Iron Man technology, much to Stark's chargin. Sadly, Stark's ticker continues to wane and new bad guy Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) proves the US military right when he shows up at the Monaco Grand Prix in a Iron Man-like suit and nearly does Stark in. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper - now Stark CEO - Potts and Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) pulls double duty again tiptoeing between his military bosses and Stark. Stark's new assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johansson) we discover is actually working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and when Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) hires Whiplash to work on a Hammer version of Ironman, all heck breaks loose. Directed by Jon Favreau, Ironman 2 continues all the great stuff discovered in the first movie and gives us a reason to like Ironman all over again.

My rating 8 out of 10.


The Town

Release date: 8 September 2010 (Venice Film Festival)

Charlestown on the outskirts of Boston births some of America's most successful thieves. The Town is director  Ben Affleck's story of one such group of armed robbers and, in particular, the attempt by one of this gang - Doug MacRay (Affleck) - to quit the neighbourhood's business.  When Affleck and his crew rob a bank and end up taking the bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hull) hostage, it sets in motion a collision between him, his best friend James (an outstanding Jeremy Renner) and the law. Anxious to escape Charlestown and with FBI agent Frawley (John Hamm) in pursuit, Doug is forced to take one last job for the neighbourhood godfather, Fergie Colm (Pete Postlewaite).  The Town is an action filled tale woven tightly around the story's four key characters and while it can be criticized for being unrealistic on a whole host of levels, the acting is fine enough, the action sharp enough to warrant a sojourn.

My rating 7 out of 10. 

Score: A Hockey Musical

Release date: 9 September 2010 (Toronto International Film Festival)

A film only a Canadian could love, Score: A Hockey Musical stars Noah Reid as Farley Gordon, a home-schooled lad with the hockey skills of The Great One. Recruited to the Brampton Blades for a tryout he soon makes the team much to the chagrin of Coach Donker (John Pyper-Ferguson). But when Farley is faced to fight, the pacifist  sentiment his parents - Hope and Edgar (Olivia Newton John and Marc Jordan respectively) - built into him has him at a crossroad. Directed by Michael McGowan and co-starring Alle MacDonald as Farley's 'I've-not-yet-discovered-I-love-her' best friend Eve, Score is ramp with over-the-top silliness and some pretty awful singing too boot. But hey, it's about hockey and features a few cameos by the likes of Walter Gretzky, Nelly Furtado, Evan Soloman, Theo Fleury and George Stroumboulopoulos, so it can't be all bad, eh!

My rating 4 out of 10.