Film Reviews from April

Here’s a collection of the reviews I wrote for Vancouver Weekly.

 

The Business of Being Born: An interesting look at the home birth movement in North America.

Good Hair: Chris Rock’s documentary that examines hair in African-American culture.

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Film Reviews from January-March

It’s been a busy year. Here’s a collection of my writing so far!

Individual Reviews:

The End of Time: Painfully slow, this documentary looks at our concept of time, though never really says too much.

All in Good Time: A contrived film about newlyweds with problems in the bedroom.

Weekly Reviews on Netflix Documentaries:

Craigslist Joe: Boring, awkward, and ultimately pointless.

Payback: The Shadow Side of Debt: Fascinating look at society’s ever evolving concept of debt, based on Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name,

Freakonomics: Takes on a number of varied topics and brings to light some interesting data, though fails to give an in-depth explanation.

Vegucated: A great film that follows three New Yorkers as they undertake a vegan diet for 6 weeks.

The American Scream: Entertaining and quirky documentary about “home haunters” in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

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2012..in reading!

This year I decided to keep track of everything I read. I’m hoping to keep up this habit so I can properly challenge myself to discover new things and work through my seemingly endless list of books I need to read…

# of Things I read this year: 22

Reading Challenge for 2013: 35 novels/plays/graphic novels

General Reading (Novels and Plays)

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

It took me forever to get through this, but when I finally got myself into a proper flow it was great. Pip’s a bit of a jerk..

Atonement – Ian McEwan

Enjoyable. Gets a 3 on the tear jerker scale I have just made up. The scale goes from 1-5. What’s a 5 you say? That would be Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which left me a tear soaked mess for the entire last third of the book.

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

Not one of my favourites, but still interesting.

Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

This book is long and awesome. Except for those accursed Sansa chapters. Goddamn…

Moral Disorder – Margaret Atwood

Great set of short stories. Highly recommend.

The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

Witty as fuck. Would I dare to expect anything less from this man?

The Best Laid Plans – Terry Fallis

This book was alright. The style of humour gets old fast, but it’s fun to see a book take place in the world of Canadian politics. Dull at first but picks up after the first half.

God No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales – Penn Jillette

Funny, filthy and at times horribly obnoxious. A perfect reflection of the author.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Finally got around to reading this. I loved it, but then again, dystopian fiction is my cup of tea.

The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

Really fascinating project which gave me a lot to think about. Boggles my mind that Rubin actually undertook this. I didn’t have a lot in common with her, so couldn’t connect to a lot of her stories/values, but I still found helpful advice.

The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work – John Gottman

Holy shit, read this book. It doesn’t matter if you are in a romantic relationship or not, it will help you with any personal relationship you have (parents, friends, siblings). Ahh the power of communication and mutual respect.

Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez

This is literally one of the best books I have ever read. I found it for a dollar in Value Village 2 years ago and finally dug it out of my bookshelf. Beautiful descriptors and solid characters.

Books Read for Vancouver Weekly Reviews:

The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song – Robert N. Friedland

Awful and insulting. I had fun writing this review..

Secrets Kept, Secrets Told – Ben Nutall

Uneven writing, but a powerful story of intense personal pain.

Radio Belly – Buffy Cram

I loved this book. Great, quirky stories. Can’t wait to read more from Cram.

The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC – Richard Stursberg

Insightful look into the CBC. This book is both entertaining and informative.

Letters to my Daughters – Fawzia Koofi

A powerful memoir from one of Afghanistan’s few female politicians.

Everything Under the Sun: A Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet – David Suzuki and Ian Hanington

Easy to read and packed full of information about the world around us.

The Punjabis in British Columbia: Location, Labour, First Nations and Multiculturalism –  Kamala Elizabeth Nayar

Very in-depth look at the Punjabi immigrant experience in BC.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story – Sean Howe

Overall, this is a great book. If you are a comics fan, it’s definitely a must read, though be warned, it may sully your perception of Stan Lee.

At the end of this year I also joined two book clubs thanks to Geek & Sundry. Yay!

Sword and Laser Book Club (Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels):

The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

I tried reading this as a child, but never made it past the first chapter. Somehow I haven’t touched it since then, although I read the LOTR trilogy in high school. I really liked this book. It’s a cute, and snappy story. Debating on whether I want to see the film in theatre…

Vaginal Fantasy Book Club (Paranormal Romance Novels):

Succubus Blues – Richelle Mead

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great piece of fluff with interesting characters, good humour and some hot smutty action. What more could I want?

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The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises brings to a close Christopher Nolan’s holy trinity of comic book films. The final installment is big, bold, ambitious, and exhilerating at times. Unfortunately, it’s immense scale does not always lend the core story any favours, leading to a bulky plot that still manages to feel rushed. This film is good, but it’s lost the zest that made the other two films feel so fresh. Nolan has fallen into a trap of his own making; Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were so exceptional, that The Dark Knight Rises shines dimmer in comparison.

The story takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. Gotham is a different city now. The Harvey Dent act has passed, locking up most of Gotham’s criminals. It is a time of peace, and Bruce Wayne, still reeling from the loss of his love, Rachel, is all but a ghost. Bruce has become a recluse, the punishment his body has taken over the years has finally caught up with him, leaving him crippled and having to rely on a cane.

The films attention to time and it’s effects on Bruce Wayne is definitely one of the stronger elements of the film. This is not the same Batman we have come to love and cheer for. Time has not been kind, something the film treats both with comedy (demonstrated in a particularly memorable and eye opening trip to a doctor played perfectly by Thomas Lennon), and with tragedy, when we see Batman is no match for Bane.

The beginning of the film felt sluggish, with not much keeping it rolling. The energy that sustained the first two features is not present in the first half of the Dark Knight Rises. I believe this is a combination of several long scenes of expository dialogue, and screen time being taken up by a variety of new characters.

All of these new characters are key to the films twisted plot. We meet Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy business woman looking to provide Gotham with clean free energy…if only Bruce Wayne will make good upon their agreement. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also shows up as a young and hot headed police officer, John Blake. Gordon-Levitt is good, as always, bringing passion and a steely determination to his role. The villian of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane (Tom Hardy), is revealed at the beginning of the film, where he pulls off a kidnapping mid-flight. As much as I love Tom Hardy and admire his talent, Bane is a near lifeless villain. His motives are murky at best and despite being physically imposing, he doesn’t read as much of a threat. Any spark behind Hardy’s performance is muted behind the enormous mask that covers a good 2/3’s of his face. Even Hardy’s choice of a theatrical voice to overcome the confines of his costume, which he based on Bartley Gorman, an Irish gypsy bareknuckle boxer, does little to improve his characterization. Early screenings of the film noted Bane’s dialogue was so distored from the mask, that he was completly unintelligable. While the final product is clearly an improvement, there were times in the theatre, despite my intent listening, that I still couldn’t understand what he was saying. Furthermore, Nolan’s fix for Bane’s speech was to rerecord and overdub the vocals, making his voice starkly different from the other audio in the film. Hardy’s voice thus sounded disembodied, and would often pull me out of my immersion in the film.

One character who provided a delightful edge to the film is Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, though she does not go by this alias in the film. I was pleasently surprised by Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina. She balanced the character’s sexy and manipulative behaviour with her stunning physical prowess and sharp wit. Any scene she was in instantly became more fun.

A final note on the story. The Dark Knight Rises, which was perhaps inspired by the ‘No Man’s Land’ series of Batman comics, also draws some insideous parellels with the Occupy movement. Bane’s followers appear to be mainly male, working class or homeless youth. They give their lives for Bane, and their mindless fanaticism is never really explained, though it is assumed to have something to do with Bane’s master plan. This is even more troubling when one factors in the major theme of this film. Bane enacts a coup over Gotham, overthrowing the cops and rich of the city. He asks the citizen’s to take back Gotham, though rather than get Utopia, there is only chaos, with the city becoming a wasteland. Clearly the working class can’t be trusted to rule themselves, a rather disturbing message hammered home when we see how order is finally restored.

The Dark Knight Rises is a mixed bag. By the time the energy of the film began to pick up, much of my initial excitement had waned. This is not to say the entire film is dull. Nolan has attempted an incredible ambitious work, with many twists and moral questions. Darkness and despair colour many scene’s, particularly when we see Alfred, Bruce’s loyal butler, reach his breaking point. Caine provides the film with one of its few worthy emotional moments. Unfortunately the movie is so large that it is plagued with errors and strange inconsistencies in order to make the story function. Nolan makes an outstanding effort here, providing the Batman trilogy with a decent, though disappointing closing chapter.

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How to Survive a Plague

Here’s a link to my latest review for Vancouver Weekly. I checked out David France’s How to Survive a Plague. The film’s subject is ACT UP, a New York based protest group that pushed for more research and responsibility from government during the AIDS outbreak in the 1980’s. This is such a moving and informative documentary. I absolutely loved it. Check it out!

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Facing Animals

I had the chance to catch quite a few films at the Vancouver International Film Fest when it was here early this month. One of the films, Facing Animals, which I reviewed for Vancouver Weekly, was very powerful. It clocks in at just under 30 minutes, and provides an intimate look into the lives of factory farm animals in comparison to other free range livestock and family pets. The film is interesting in that it uses strictly imagery, and no voiceovers to make it’s points. The director also chose to keep the camera at eye level with it’s animal subjects to highlight their experience. This is definitely worth a look if you are searching for a film to connect you more deeply with the other species we impact on the planet.

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Vancouver Latin American Film Festival

A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to check out four films for Vancouver Weekly at the Latin American Film Festival. The festival was a ton of fun, and is the only film festival in Vancouver that still offers free screenings for some of its films (anything that played at SFU Harbour Centre was free of charge as long as you had a festival membership). Below is a collection of the reviews I wrote.

The first film I saw was Seeds of the Inner City, which was a close look at Vancouver’s own Sole Food program that has residents of the DTES working in urban farms.

I saw another documentary that same week called Civilización about controversial Argentinean artist León Ferrari.

I kicked off the second weekend of VLAFF with a ridiculous Mexican comedy Pastorela about a traditional nativity play that goes horribly wrong when a new preacher decides to change the cast and boot a regular.

Finally, the last film I saw, and my favourite of the four, was Joven y Alocada, a raw film about a sexually active teen living in a Fundamentalist Christian family.

Want to learn more? Check out the links above!

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Summer Wrap Up!

It’s September already and summer has just blown past. As I wave a tearful goodbye I am also taking stock of the dust this blog has begun to gather. I’m planning to remedy this, but before I start with some new content I figured I may as well share some of what I’ve been up to this summer. I’ve written a few reviews for Vancouver Weekly, the first being for Sarah Polley’s latest feature Take this Waltz. Although I really loved Polley’s first film, Away From Her, I really couldn’t get into this one.

I also watched a fantastic documentary about American musician, Sixto Rodriguez, called Searching For Sugar Man. This documentary is crazy powerful, and I heartily recommend it to anyone, particularly musicians and music lovers.

Finally, I watched another enlightening documentary about Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei. The film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, is an intimate look at Ai Weiwei’s history, art, and his current struggles for expression against a government that fights to silence those like him.

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The Avengers

The AvengersAll members of Marvel fandom had their wildest dreams fulfilled with the release of The Avengers, the ultimate payoff after 5 lead up films and four years of movie going. Bolstered by the strength of Joss Whedon’s directorial vision and witty dialogue, The Avengers makes a decent superhero film. The movie is very entertaining, and although the film gets a lot of things right, it didn’t grip me the way previous Marvel ventures, such as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk had. I found most of the action scenes lacked creativity and failed to get my adrenaline pumping, and the part that hit me the hardest, was the films lack of a gripping villain.

The film’s storyline has a lot to do with previous films, so if you missed Thor or Captain America, you may be a little out of the loop. In a nutshell, Thor’s power hungry brother, Loki, is beamed to earth where he infiltrates a S.H.I.E.L.D.  base, enslaves some agents, including Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and promptly steals the Tesseract, a powerful blue cube of unimaginable power. This event, and the fears of the horrors Loki may unleash prompts S.H.I.E.L.D. leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to enact the ‘Avenger Initiative’, and bring together his team of misfit superheroes to stop Loki and his undoubtedly sinister plans.

The story focuses mainly on the Avengers learning to overcome their differences and work as a team. This is where the film really shines. Previous Marvel films have given us a taste of what each of these heroes can do on their own, and we have seen, with the exception of Captain America (Chris Evans), that each prefers to wage battle on their own terms. Although the individual ego clashes and ensuing battles eventually became tiresome, Whedon hits his stride in the quieter scenes involving characters building relationships and working out conflicts. He actually gave Steve Rogers aka Captain America, a realistic persona, something I thought was missing in the disappointing Captain America: The First Avenger. He ditched the over patriotic tones and turned down his hyper selfless nature to focus on Captain America’s ability as a leader and tactician. Although I would have loved to see Edward Norton back as The Hulk, I thought Mark Ruffalo was excellent in the role, and his chemistry with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark when they are geeking out over each other’s tech know-how is a treat to watch. Strangely enough, I found Tony Stark to be the most irritating character in the film. Although this was most likely planned as a way to remind audiences of the size of his ego, with two films about him he had the benefit of being the most fleshed out character upon entering the film, so this extra push wasn’t really necessary. Whedon seems to have gone overboard and the constant snarky quips and one liners he saddled Downey Jr. with moved from funny to annoying very quickly.

Moving back to the positives, I knew I could count on Whedon to offer some engaging female representation that would prevent the film from being a complete sausage fest. Cobie Smulders did a decent job of portraying Maria Hill, Nick Fury’s second in command. I also loved Whedon’s development of Black Widow (Scarlet Johanson), who is portrayed as more than just a pretty face and gets a hefty amount of screen time. Black Widow shows great loyalty to her teammate Hawkeye, is a formidable fighter and has a sharp mind, which is shown off in a lovely scene between her and Loki.

The movie is shot on a grand scale, and the threat to humanity is supposed to be dire, yet it never felt desperate. I failed to connect to the stakes because I just didn’t find them to be believable in the context of the film. The root of this problem was Loki, and the inability of the character to come across as a force to be reckoned with. Although Loki was the first enemy the Avengers face off against in the comic, he’s just not that impressive in this film. Sure, Loki is clever, quick, and has a badass staff, but he can hardly hold the position of the film’s main villain, especially when it is so painfully obvious that he is a pawn. I actually love Tom Hiddleston’s performance of Loki and his portrayal worked in Thor when the focus was on his status as an outsider and his treachery and feelings of betrayal upon learning his true birthright. However, he is just not very interesting in The Avengers, and for a character that is known for his wit, outside of 2-3 memorable scenes, he really doesn’t say very much. Overall, the film just doesn’t make him a believable enemy; I never got the impression that our heroes fear Loki and even after he blindsides them, and then later unleashes his giant army of alien-mechs, I still wasn’t fully engaged. Part of this may stem from the fact that there is really no urgency in any of the battle scenes. When we finally get past the Avengers fighting each other, we get to see them take on an alien army. The aliens look fantastic, and there are some interesting moments, my favourite being when Hulk has a memorable meet and greet with Loki. However, this felt like countless other combat scenes, except with a greater focus on our heroes striking picturesque poses.

Joss Whedon gives us a strong film, and despite the its weaker elements I will be interested to see what happens with this story in the sequel, particularly when one considers the big reveal during the credits. I’m sure Loki’s actions in the first film will carry over into the second, leading to a bigger payoff overall. 

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The Forgiveness of Blood

Hey Everyone!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend! I had a pleasant day wandering East Van in the sun and drinking some beers back home (a Whistler Brewing Grapefruit Ale and a Phillips Baltic Porter!). I recently wrote a review of Joshua Marston’s latest film The Forgiveness of Blood for Vancouver Weekly. It’s a great understated film that takes place in Albania, and looks at a modern day blood feud.

Cheers!

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