IanTheCool's Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Feb
07

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I know that this blog is not really a personal blog, its a site I use for entertainment, both for myself and for the handful of you who actually take the time to read it.  Its just a silly site where I post movie reviews and other fluff stuff and I usually keep my personal life out of it.  But I just feel the need to express myself somehow, somewhere.  Of course, I am expressing myself with my wife and my family members and my other friends who were so close to this, but I think I just need to get it “out there” so to speak.

Two of my closest friends and their two children were killed in a car accident Saturday night.  In an instant, their entire family was wiped out.  Even just typing those sentences just made me break down again.  I am only starting to comprehend my loss and just how big of a hole they are going to leave in our lives. (Note: I am posting this a month later.  This took a long time for be to actually get the strength to sit down to write the whole thing.)

The story of the crash has dominated the local news here in my city, which has been so surreal that suddenly everyone in the city and surrounding area suddenly knows the names and story of two people who have been so important to me for so long. My facebook feed is dominated by people expressing their sympathies and giving remembrances.  I’m a pretty private person, so I dont feel comfortable sharing my thoughts there, but… I need to get them out.  I dont know if this is the right venue, but I think it might be for me.

 

To Jordan,

You have been one of my best friends for almost 16 years.  We graduated University together with the same degree, taking many of the same classes, lab partners whenever possible.  We partied together, we BBQed together, we have had countless pub conversations.  We played hockey, softball, frisbee, dodgeball, golf together.  We’ve gone camping together.  We’ve celebrated each other’s weddings.  We have gone through so many experiences and stages in our lives together.  And now you’re gone.

The reality of that is hard to comprehend.  For someone to be such a close and important part of my life to suddenly not be there anymore is so hard to accept its almost inconceivable.  I miss talking with you.  I miss hanging out with you.  We always made fun of you for complaining about everything, but that was one of the things that made you endearing in your own way.  You’re sense of humour is going to be greatly missed, and I can’t believe I wont hear you breaking into laughter with that very instinctive laugh anymore.  I know that we have frustrated each other over the years, close friends always do, that’s just part of it.  Sometimes your practicality would bother me, sometimes my quick temper I’m sure would annoy you.  I’m lucky to have a friend as close and as loyal as you.  We were both lucky to have had several of them.

You were an inspiration to me in your own way, though I never really let you know that.  Even though we both went through micro together, you were always a much better scientist than I.  You’ve always been more inquisitive.  One thing I learned from you was how to take pleasure in the simple things in nature.  You always had stories about your camping and hiking experiences, and later on your photography sessions.  You understood the beauty of the world and were not afraid to express it.  We you began photography, we  all thought it would be another hobby you were just trying out, but you grew so much with it, and I should have seen that coming.  It allowed you to visually express the things that interested you, the things that impressed you.  I don’t think I’ve ever complimented you enough on this, though I remember doing so during one of the last times we hung out together and I’m glad I expressed at least some of my appreciation for your art while I could.  It still wasn’t enough.

I’m going to miss you Jordan.  You were such a huge personality and your love for life was infectious, it really was.  I’m going to miss you bitching about traffic  or work or whatever bothered you that day.  I’m going to miss your inappropriate comments and stories.  I’m going to miss your awe in space and nature.  and I’m just going to miss you being there for me.

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Jordan and I at convocation

To Chanda,

I remember meeting you at a new year’s eve party many years ago.  I believe this was when Jordan met you too? Or at least where he decided that he liked you.  After that, we would somehow magically run into you in the halls at school all the time.  Then suddenly we saw Jordan less and less.  I’ll be honest, this bothered us.  You were the girl stealing Jordan away.  If I was ever a jerk to you, I apologize.  I was just being jealous.

Chanda, it seems so unfair to me that your life with your children and your husband was cut short.  You deserved a long, happy life with them, you really did.  You are one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known.  You rarely said a bad thing about someone, and when you did we knew how serious it must have been.  You were always looking for that positive outlook, on people, on situations, whatever it was.  Its easy to be hyperbolic about the good-natured characteristics of someone after they die, but with you there is no exaggeration needed.  You were a genuinely friendly and caring person through and through.

And you were a great mom.   You spent so much time with your kids and made sure they had what they needed every moment.  Your joy for them was always apparent.  When I think back to hearing about how awful Kamryn’s birth was and the torture she put you through for the first year of her life, I remember thinking how strong and determined you had to be to endure.  Chanda, you were a person who knew your priorities and always had them straight.  You knew what was important in life.  You knew the value of relationships,about the value of the people in our lives.  What I have learned the most from you is to keep what truly matters to you as first priority.

Chanda, I am going to miss you so much.  You were such a stable and calming presence for your family and for those of us who were lucky enough to be your friends.  I think about how I needed to be a better friend to you.  There were times I chose not to go over to your house, after we learned we couldn’t have children, because it was too hard sometimes.  But you didn’t know that and I should have told you.  You would have understood.  Kimberly and I are going to miss playing cards with you two, hanging out on your deck, listening to that trademark laugh of yours.  You had such a wonderful sense of humour which match Jordan so well.  Your smile and your laugh together were so distinctive, I can hear them right now.  Chanda thank you for being such a great friend and such a wonderful person.

Chanda and I dancing at their wedding

Chanda and I dancing at their wedding

To Kamryn,

You were growing up to be such a kind, beautiful, fun little girl.  When you were a baby, you gave your parents hell, especially your mom.  But it was all worth it.  You were such a sweet, kind-hearted kid, always welcoming and always smiling.  One of my first memories of you were only a few months old and we came over for a visit.  We were sitting in the living room, you were sitting on someone’s lap, and you looked over to me and then just started crying.  Your mom turned you around so you weren’t facing me any ore. So what did you do? You turned your whole head around until you found me and once again started bawling.  We laughed a lot, but I was of course worried that I had become the ‘scary guy’ for you.  Luckily that was the only time that really happened, and ever since you knew who I was and were always beaming to see me.

You loved being around people.  Every time we would come over you needed to be hanging out with us, being a part of everything.  Every time I came to your house, I would get a boost of excitement and esteem because I knew that once I walked through that door you would be there to greet and welcome me.  You were the best parts of both your parents. From your mom you got her kindness and laughter, her warmth, her sense that people were far more important than things and that being with people was the best thing you could do.  From your dad you got his wonder and amazement for the world.  You acquired his inquisitive character, his love for nature.  I loved hearing that you got a camera for Christmas and went out shooting the northern lights with him.

One thing I will always remember about you that smiling happy face of yours.  Your smile was absolutely infectious and always present.  And those piercing blue eyes of yours will always be stuck in my memory.  It is a tragedy that you were only around for a few years, because I know that you would have grown into an amazing woman like your mom.  I’ll never forget how excited you were to see Kimberly and I and how you loved visiting with us and sitting on our laps.  You were such an amazing kid.

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Kamryn trying out Kim’s new camera phone

To Miguire,

Our last night with you, I watched you playing around our friend’s living room thinking to myself of just what an amazing little boy you had grown to be.  You were just so cute and so sweet and soft-spoken.  When you spoke it was only one or two words, followed by a giant smile and would melt ice.  It is unjust that you were taken from us at only 2 years old, but those two years you were around have given those who have known you many memories that we can always hold on to.

I remember holding you for the first time at one of our friend’s wedding.  Your parent’s had brought you along, and you were so small and bald.  Even on that last night, you will had only the lightest blonde fuzz on your head.  You shared that with your sister, who was bald for a long time as well.  Your eyes were always full of wonder, and you shared an inquisitive nature with your dad, trying to figure out how things worked.  And you had such a caring nature as well, given to you from your mom, a harmless nature in which you always wanted to make sure everyone was safe and okay, in your own way.

It is so unfair that we dont get to see you grow up into the amazing person you would have been.  Its so unfair that you didn’t get to experience more of life.  But its comforting to know that your parents did everything they could to help you experience as much of it as possible.  We will never forget that wondering expression on your face, followed by that sudden cheek-to-cheek smile of yours.

I wish we had a chance to know you longer Miguire.  You were part of an amazing family who meant to much to myself and many others.  The four of you remain together now, and we are left thankful for having you in our lives however brief it may have been.

from phone 047

Holding McGuire for the first time

Feb
06

Now I finish my predictions with the “big 6”: the acting categories, director and of course Best Picture.

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BEST PICTURE:
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Bridge of Spies
Spotlight
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road

So it seems to be coming down to Spotlight vs. The Big Short.  From my limited research, The Big Short won the producer’s guild award, which has proven to be a good indicator of what the Oscars will do, so that’s what we’re going with! And I personally like that movie a lot, so I’m good with it.

Prediction: The Big Short

DIRECTING:
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Hmm, could Inarritu win two years in a row? Probably not.  If Big Short wins best pic, MacKay will probably win this one.  And then people will make a big deal about the Anchorman director winning an Oscar.

Personally though I would love to see them give it to George Miller.

Prediction: The Big Short

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Okay, this is certainly going to be Leo’s year.  Everyone is predicting it, and he doesn’t have a ton of competition.  Matt Damon of course was good in “comedy of the year” The Martian, but I don’t think its going to get him the gold.  Fassbender was apparently brilliant as Steve Jobs, but no one saw it (including myself, but I do really want to!).  Besides, The Revenant provided one of those tour de force roles that they love to celebrate.

Prediction: The Revenant

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Is Jennifer Lawrence becoming the Oscar’s younger version of Meryl Streep, just getting nominated for whatever?  Anyways, she’s not gonna win.  Most of the buzz is around Brie Larson in Room.

Prediction: Room

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Oh, some good choices here.  I really liked Bale in Big Short, but I dont think its his year.  I haven’t seen Spotlight or Bridge of Spies yet, but would like to.  The person who I think deserves it is Tom Hardy who was excellent as the villain role in Revenant.  Buuuuuut, I’m pretty sure they’re giving it to Stallone as an aging Rocky.  I mean, its The Oscars.  They love Rocky.

Prediction: Creed

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Alicia Vikander is the “it girl” right now.  At least among cinephiles, I don’t think general audiences have a clue who she is.  But she’ll probably win.

Prediction: The Danish Girl

Feb
06

The third part of the predictions involves the storytelling through screenplays, editing, and then I threw in cinematography and the music categories just so they fit somewhere. Lets take a look!

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Ex Machina – Alex Garland
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. Original story by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. Original story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff

Interesting that Ex Machina is in this category. Compton is also here, which is nice to see.  But I think Spotlight is winning this category.  It sounds like a solid film with a lot of Oscar buzz around it.

Prediction: Spotlight

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
The Big Short – Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Room – Emma Donoghue
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
Carol – Phyllis Nagy

Wow, I really don’t know.  Lots of possibilities here, I would say they all have a chance with the exception of The Martian.  I’m just going to randomly choose… Carol.  No, the Big Short, since it has best chance at Best Picture as well. No, Carol. No… sigh…

Prediction: Carol

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Carol – Ed Lachman
The Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins

Okay, so here is the conundrum.  Will they give it to Deakins, who has long been a bridesmaid, for Sicario, a film which does look really good?  Or will they award Lubezki for the third year in a row, for a film which probably does deserve the cinematography award?  Either way, its a story.  But I always seem to choose Deakins, assuming they will finally give him his statue, and they just never do.  Eventually he will win.  But I loved the cinematography in Revenant so much, I have to choose it just so I can cheer for it to win.

Prediction: The Revenant

FILM EDITING:
The Big Short – Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margeret Sixel
The Revenant – Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight – Tom McArdle
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

I think that The Big Short has a good chance for BP, but so far I am not seeing a lot of other wards for it to win.  It would be weird if it won best pic but nothing else, so I think this will be the something else.

Prediction: The Big Short

ORIGINAL SCORE:

Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman
Carol – Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
Sicario – Jóhann Jóhannsson

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – John Williams

Hmm…. has Morricone won an Oscar before? No?  Alright, I think he will now.

Prediction: The Hateful Eight

ORIGINAL SONG:
Earned It, Fifty Shades of Grey
Manta Ray, Racing Extinction
Simple Song #3, Youth
Til It Happens To You, The Hunting Ground
Writing’s on the Wall, Spectre

Well, the best prediction might be “who gives a shit?” It just better not be that awful Bond song from Spectre.

Prediction: The Hunting Ground

Feb
06

These next categories are usually the categories I am most interested in when watching the Oscars, because they can have a tendency to honour films that would usually be overlooked in the more prominent categories. These are the categories which focus on the video and audio details of the film.

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VISUAL EFFECTS:
Ex Machina – Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
Mad Max: Fury Road – Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams
The Martian – Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner
The Revenant – Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

Okay, so I feel like this will be between Fury Road, which really brought practical effects back into the fold, and Star Wars, which struck just the right tone with their combination of both (except maybe Snoke, he may have been going too far).  However, I think the stunt-work is what dominates Fury Road, and that the actual effects work in Star Wars is more present.

Prediction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Production Design:
Bridge of Spies – Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo and Bernard Henrich
The Danish Girl – Eve Stewart and Michael Standish
Mad Max: Fury Road – Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson
The Martian – Arthur Max and Celia Bobak
The Revenant – Jack Fisk and Hamish Purdy

However when it comes to production design, this NEEDS to be Mad Max.  Look at all the detail put into this post-apocalyptic world.  Even though so little of it is explained, it all feels like it has a reason to be there.  The design of it all, from vehicles to structures, to weapons, is  inventive and cohesive.  If Fury Road doesn’t win it will be an Oscar crime.

Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

COSTUME DESIGN:
Carol – Sandy Powell
Cinderella – Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl – Paco Delgado
Mad Max: Fury Road – Jenny Beavan
The Revenant – Jacqueline West

So this usually goes to period pieces, so Carol and Danish Girl both work.  The Revenant also captures its own time well, and Mad Max is just outlandish.  This really could go any way, my gut is telling me go with the oscar-batey Danish Girl.

Prediction: The Danish Girl

MAKEUP And Hairstyling:

Mad Max: Fury Road – Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damien Martin
The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared – Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
The Revenant – Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini

Again, Fury Road seems obvious, just because of all the excess.  I suppose I should go with obvious, but the make up effcts in The Revenant were just so damn good!   The attack wounds on Dicaprio, as well as the half-scalped head of Tom Hardy, were both very authentic looking.

Prediction: The Revenant

SOUND MIXING:

Bridge of Spies – Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
The Martian – Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth
The Revenant – Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

Hmm, again I think  its between Star Wars and Mad Max. I mean…. I guess a lot of the Star Wars sounds existed before already.  I suppose Mad Max this time.  It got tons of nominations, so clearly the Oscars loves it.

Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

SOUND EDITING:
Mad Max: Fury Road – Mark Mangini and David White
The Martian – Oliver Tarney
The Revenant – Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Sicario – Alan Robert Murray
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Matthew Wood and David Acord

Some really good choices here.  Could go to SW, Max, or even Sicario which had some excellent shoot-out scenes.  But Max is shaping up to be technical darling this year, so…

Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

Feb
06

Part 1: The Outliers
This group is made up of the categories celebrating whole films which are not up for Best Picture.  These involve the shorts and the special full-length features.  These can usually be the toughest predictions to make, considering the films are not that well known.

Pictured (L-R): Sadness, Joy. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:
Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep the Movie
When Marnie Was There

Okay, its obviously going to be Inside Out.  This is Pixar’s return to form, and the Oscars already loves Pixar.

Prediction: Inside Out

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Embrace of the Serpent
Mustang
Son of Saul
Theeb
A War

The only movie I’ve really been hearing about is Son of Saul. So… that one.

Prediction: Son of Saul

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

The documentary category is tough, since the academy doesn’t always vote for the most popular or most recognized title.  But I think in this case they will, and that would have to be Amy.

Prediction: Amy

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:
Body Team 12
Chau, beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom

Hmm, do I go with the obvious Holocaust film?  Or the more current issue of women’s rights in Islam?  Never underestimate the Acadey’s need to give an award to all things Holocaust.

Prediction: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of Shoah

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:
Bear Story
Prologue
Sanjay’s Super Team
We Can’t Leave Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

Once again, the Disney backed film will win.

Prediction: Sanjay’s Super Team

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:

Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay
Shok
Stutterer

I’m really just relying on the internet for this prediction.  And most sites I read say Ave Maria. Maybe Shok.

Prediction: Ave Maria

Feb
02

10. Straight Outta Compton

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I don’t like biopics very much, especially music biopics.  And yet I liked Straight Outta Compton.  Maybe its because its a bout a group and their dynamic as opposed to an individual? I’m not sure.  The first two thirds of this movie are really strong (the last act not so much). There are two scenes in particular which stand out: one in which the cops harass them outside the music studio, and the other when they put on their concert in Detroit.

9. Ex Machina

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Ex Machina could very well be the most over-rated movie this year, almost “movie fan” circles anyway.  It is getting a ridiculous amount of praise right now.  Its a very good movie with cool ideas and visuals, and I liked it a lot (obviously, its on my top ten list).  However, I do feel like its a little thin and the ideas and analogies it presents aren’t really stretching things that much.  I mean, its pretty standard fare for a story about artificial intelligence.  But a very well told story, in this case.

8. The Martian

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I was surprised by just how accessible and fun The Martian was.  Its no stiff-collared sci-fi flick this one, its a legitimate great time at the movies.  Matt Damon does a great job as Mark Whatley the left behind astronaut who somehow survives and keeps his sanity on Mars.   Great stuff.

7. It Follows

it-follows-still

One of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.  The slow, methodical, persistent creature is wonderfully creepy.  The main concept is both fascinating and metaphorical (an obvious metaphor, but it works nonetheless).  This one will get under your skin.

6. Sicario

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Thriller of the year.  Tense and meticulously crafted, Sicario is one awesome movie.  The border crossing sceen alone had me pumped, but the whole movie is quality tension.

5. The Big Short

Christian Bale as Michael Burry in a scene from The Big Short

Man I liked this movie.  The Wall Street jargon washed over me as I got caught up in the drama of high finance.  The performances were enjoyable.  Some of the “dumbing down” scenes were annoying, but whatever.  There was so much interesting stuff happening here, and they hit it with the right tone of comedy and sadness, that I had a great time watching.

4. Inside Out

Pictured (L-R): Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust, Joy. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Pixar does it again.  Clever concept, emotional core, lots of fun details.  And Sadness.  Sadness makes this movie.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Guitar-Player-Doof-Warrior

I mean, what else is there to say at this point?  This movie is a wonder.  A franchise comes back after 30 years with an aging director who has focused on children’s films, and somehow we get one of the most high-octane action films ever produced.  Its brilliant.

2. The Revenant

the-revenant_04

Could end up being one of the great frontier epics.  Visceral, beautiful, haunting.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

I heard an interesting idea on a podcast I was listening to the other day, that those of us that grew up with Star Wars likely don’t remember actually watching it for the first time and therefore dont remember falling in love with it.  So really, this is the first moment we can remember falling in love with Star Wars.  I think I agree with that.

The Force Awakens is being attacked by movie fans left and right, and some of those complaints are legitimate.  But I can’t help wondering if many are being over-cautious because they don’t want to be burnt again like we were with Episode 1.  And while I understand some of the problems like having a Death Star again, I have to be honest with myself and how I felt throughout that entire viewing.   I wholeheartedly fell in love with Star Wars again.

Jan
17

the-revenant-still

The Revenant is the story of a man who ends up really needing a bath.

Alejandro Inarritu has made many great movies throughout the years, such as the frenetic Birdman and the chaotic yet pensive Babel. But he had yet to make a film that I truly loved. Until now. The Revenent is a powerhouse film of survival in which a trapper named Glass is left for dead by his group and he must fight with every ounce of his being to return. There’s more to his motivations than that, mind you, but I don’t want to give too much away.

The movie is gripping from beginning to end, whether its the attack scenes which put you right in the moment, or the scenes of solitude where Glass is simply struggling to do something as simple as walk, or even just stand up. DiCaprios’ performances holds you to every moment. You feel the weight and determination of this character. On the flip side, Tom Hardy’s performances is equally great yet very different as Fitzgerald, the practical and selfish trapper whose trying to survive on his own scale and in his own way. Will Poulter and newcomer Forrest Goodluck also add to the authentic performances. This is a great movie for acting, even if its not an “acting showcase” film if you will.

Emmanuel Lubezki continues to show why he’s my favourite cinematographer. He has such a wonderful vision of what the film should look like, and each film he seems to try something new. The scenic Canadian photography in The Revenant is gorgeously captured in almost every frame. Meanwhile, the camera work has this interesting motion which keeps panning away from and back to the characters, giving a real sense of being trapped in the woods right there along with them.

The sound in this film is another resounding success, as all the noises of the North American wilderness surround the audience, creating total immersion into the film. Evey footstep in the snow sounds crisp, every snapping twig or distant call is so present. And the one noise that can be heard consistently and clearly is the sound of breathing, which there is a strong thematic reasoning for that you will understand when you watch it. These breaths are especially important to the interpretation of the ending.

The Revenant is a beautiful movie with a captivating, edge-of-your-seat narrative. Its full of authentic performances in an authentic landscape, with lots of depth to everything. Those with weak stomachs may have a problem, especially with a couple of scenes that pop into ind immediately, but they only add to the authenticity. One of the greatest frontier films ever made.
10/10

Dec
30

The Big Short Left to right: Jeremy Strong plays Vinny Peters, Rafe Spall plays Danny Moses, Hamish Linklater plays Porter Collins, Steve Carell plays Mark Baum, Jeffry Griffin plays Chris and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

No one saw the market crash of 2008 coming! Well, actually that’s not true.  Some of those greedy Wall Street investment bankers actually did see it coming, and did their best to profit from it.  The Big Short tells the story of how these investors came to the realization that the market was going to crash, and how they attempted to bet against the US housing market.  The results is a fascinating look at the ins and outs of the world of high financed mortgages, and even an education on how the crash actually happened.

We see the story of the impending market collapse from 4 different viewpoints.  Christian Bale plays a genius investor who saw the mathematical trends leading up to the market failure and began the process of shorting the shares (sorry if my terminology isn’t quite right, economics are not my thing).  Ryan Gosling is an opportunistic banker who takes a risk by copying this strategy.  He also gets Steve Carrell and his band of small investors on board.  Carrell plays Mark Baum, a disillusioned trader whose actions are determined by his moral outrage at Wall Street’s corruption.  We also see it through two small time investors who come to New York without a clue, but notice the trend and do everything they can to get a seat at the table and profit.

The story is full of jargon  and economic details, and it is absolutely fascinating.  I love movies that show behind the scenes looks at various businesses and cultures, and I definitely got that here.  There is  lot of humour, but also a lot of moments of gravitas and weight.  For example, there’s a conversation Baum has in Vegas where he comes to the realization of just what it going to happen to the world economy which is riveting.  In fact, riveting is probably the single word that describes this movie in general.

The Big Short is directed by Adam Mackay, who usually focuses on comedies like Anchorman, who uses his comedic background to inject the story with energy in a number of different ways.  For one, the fourth wall is broken quite a few times, especially with Gosling’s character who more or less acts as the narrator, Ferris Buehler style.  Another thing he does, is insert segments of celebrities like Margot Robbie, Anothony Bourdain and Selena Gomez who try to describe complex economic concepts.  This was the one part of the movie I didn’t like very much.  it really felt like they were dumbing things down for the audience, instead of letting the already interesting content speak for itself through the regular dialogue.  But at the same time I sort of see the necessity for it, so I can live with those moments I suppose.

Overall, The Big Short is a great movie, one which deals with the financial crisis in an entertaining yet thought-provoking way, filled with interesting characters and performances.  I loved this movie.
9/10

Dec
28

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Man, I really dislike Matthew Vaughn as a director.  He is the movie industry definition of “too cool for school”.  Kick Ass was a piece of trash, and this movie was made in a similar vain.  Again, this reminds me of a teenager who thinks that if they swears a lot, it will improve their reputation.  In this case, the “swearing” is in the form of a villain with  swords as legs, exploding heads, sadly misplaced anal sex jokes, and a ridiculously gory “Oldboy” style fight scene that made me roll my eyes so far back I could almost see my brain.  This movie tries so hard to be the cool kind in town.

4. Terminator Genisys

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The Terminator Franchise, while not being good since the second film, has really gone off the deep end now.  It started off as an interesting curiosity by revisiting the first film in a Back to the Future 2 sort of way.  But then it just gets ridiculous, and pretty much spits all over the brilliance of the early films.  this really is the MTV version of Terminator.  I mean, they felt the need to make Skynet personified.  Really?

3. American Ultra
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Somehow someone managed to out-Vaughn Matthew Vaughn.  You wanna see a movie trying so hard to be hip and cool it gives itself a nosebleed? check out American Ultra.  The filmmakers here seem to have the philosophy that the more explosions, fights, and bloody, swollen faces they give us, the more we will love this movie.  They were wrong.  Nothing here holds weight when the character choices make no sense (you should see the impunity with which the CIA kills off innocent citizens).

2. Aloha

Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams film a scene together for their new movie on the beach in Oahu, Hawaii, on Nov. 6, 2013. The actors were working on a film for the Untitled Cameron Crowe movie about a military contractor reconnecting with a long-ago love while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watchdog assigned to him.

It was tough to choose the worst movie of the year between this one and the next.  Aloha was pretty bad.  It was basically a study in how NOT to tell a story.  The plot was a scrambled mess which tried to deal with relationships, government conspiracies, and something to do with Hawaiian spirits.  None of it meshes.  Not to mention that their characters are wildly inconsistent, especially Bradley Cooper’s main character Whatshisface Jones.  He doesn’t even seem like the same person from scene to scene.  Emma Stone is also amazingly bad in this.   Also, the dialogue is completely annoying and pretentious (and this is coming from an Aaron Sorkin fan).

1. Mordecai
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And somehow there was a movie worse than Aloha this year, and it came out right at the beginning.  I don’t even know why I went to see it.  Mordecai is garbage from beginning to end.  Johnny Depp, a master of annoying characters, outdoes himself with this uptight, idiotic private investigator? Was that what he was?  I don’t even remember.  All I remember was that their was a vomiting scene that sold it for me as worst movie of the year.

Dec
21

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Star Wars is back. As I’m sure most Star Wars fans did, I went into this new film with cautious optimism. I was thrilled to see another Star Wars movie again, but was very worried that the movie wouldn’t meet the high standards that the trilogy has set. After all, we already had a whole second trilogy fail in meeting those standards. But I am thrilled to say wholeheartedly that I loved The Force Awakens.

It’s so nice having characters with personality in a Star Wars movie again. Here we are introduced to two great new characters; the frightened Stormtrooper with a conscience Finn, and the amiable and rambunctious Rey. Both characters immediately drew me in to the movie, and once they met up and began interacting is when I was sold on episode 7 completely. Also, BB8 is adorable.

We are also given a great new villain, Kylo Ren, who is sort of in the shadow of Darth Vader but also completely his own character as well. I really like that they made the choice to give him a connection to the ongoing story rather than just have him as someone completely new. It provides a more meaningful undertone to everything.

The characters are really what make this movie great. But then on top of these new faces, we get to see our old friends return. I mean sure, the prequels had the droids and Yoda, but actually having Han and Leia and everyone return is something altogether different. This really is Star Wars again. And I’ve got to say, Harrison Ford fell right back into the role. It was so great to just be with these characters again.

The story mirrors that of the first Star Wars, while putting its own spin on things. The main plotline is very similar, while the characters layers are quite a bit different. Finn is trying to find a balance between cowardice and heroism, Rey is discovering things about herself almost entirely on her own, and Han is haunted by his past. However, I don’t think it was necessary for the movie have a “bigger and better” death star, the First Order resurgence was enough of a threat on its own.

This will be the movie’s thermal exhaust port, where the attackers of the film will take aim. Clearly it was an intentional choice to mirror the story, a decision which some will like and others won’t. It doesn’t bother me, other than the fact that it gives the naysayers and detractors their ammunition.

One more thing I need to talk about is the look of the film. Force Awakens looks magnificent because it actually looks like it exists within the same world as the original films. This is a big deal, because it provides that sense of cohesion we fans have been longing for. The ships and sets look great (the Falcon is back!), the CGI is minimal and not too distracting (except for one character perhaps), while the camera work still manages to make it all feel modern at the same time.

I am elated right now because I have been given a chance to fall in love with Star Wars again. It’s brand new and familiar all at the same time. Somehow the filmmakers were able to recapture that magic, a task which must have seemed monumental (3720 to 1 odds perhaps?). But they did it. It feels like Star Wars again. We were given great new characters, revisited old, and were taken on a roller coaster of thrills and excitement once more.

10/10

Dec
20

Looking ahead to 2016, lets see what movies I’m interested in.

EDIT: I completely forgot a big movie when I published this, so I’m going back to fix it now.

First:

Honourable Mention: The X-Files Season 10

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I wanted to at least give this a shout out, even if its not a movie.  I’ve been recently rewatching the series on blu-ray, and I’m quite excited to see my favourite show from my teenage years back, even if its for a short time.

Now to actual movies.

5i (tie). Independence Day: Resurgence

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It feels like I should be more excited about this one than I am, considering the first ID4 was a massive movie for 15 year old me.  But honestly the trailer didn’t do much for me to get me excited.  However, I am still very interested to see where this goes.

 

5ii (tie). Hail Caesar!

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The Coen Bros. next comedy looks like it could be a very fun time at the movies.  It seems like they’re gonna be poking fun at old Hollywood and they have a great cast to do it with.  The fact that it was moved ahead out of Oscar season this year may not bode well, but hopefully thats not an indicator of anything.

 

4. Doctor Strange

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Never really been a big fan of this character, but within the Marvel movie universe, I’m very interested to see what they do with him.

 

3. Star Trek Beyond

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I know people have their issues with the new Trek films, and I sympathize with them.  But I do really like the cast of characters here and will gladly follow them on another mission.

 

2. X-Men: Apocalypse

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This really seems like the culmination of all of the X-Men movies thus far, and Apocalypse is finally featured as the villain.  I am quite excited for this movie.

 

1. Captain America: Civil War

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Let face it, this looks like Avengers 3 with the amount of characters present.  I know its not going to be the same as the comic storyline, but that’s fine.  It should still be pretty cool seeing how it all plays out.

Dec
19

For Your Eyes Only

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So as I get further along in my Bond viewing, it feels like the original charm of the early 60’s films is gradually seeping out of this franchise.  The 70s saw the films turn more repetitive, less interesting, and much cheesier, and the 80s doesn’t seem to be reversing that trend at all.  There’s something about the overall look of the Connery films that felt more authentic, which the Moore films feels like everything is… made out of cardboard or something.  Its hard to explain, but I just don’t like the look of these middle films.

So I know I said before that I liked the skiing scenes, but now it feels gratuitous.  I mean, Bond already had a ski shootout just two films earlier!  And without a ridiculous scene where he jumps on a bobsled track.  So yeah, things are getting repetitive.  Nothing in this film is as bad as parts of Moonraker or Diamonds live forever (although the figure skater girl comes pretty close), but nothing is overly interesting either.

Bond is getting duller by the moment.

5/10

Octopussy

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Its interesting how the Moore movies have created their own mold, but I still maintain that they lack the same charm as the Connery flicks.  Still, Octopussy is a decent entry into the canon.  It feels a lot more linear than something like Moonraker, which was a bloody mess.  I like that the locations were limited to really just two.  The India location worked well and provided an interesting backdrop.  I didn’t really get the importance of faking the jewelry, but whatever.

Some of the stuff I liked: Bond escaping from the palace in India, the spy feel of the Russian subplot, the character of Octopussy (kind of).  Also, the circus train stuff was alright.
There’s also a scene which is very reminiscent (and by that I mean border-line rip-off) of the Cairo scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But… I still kinda liked it.  Especially his line with the sword-swallower; “I’ve better let you put that back in”

Things I didn’t like: the theme song was brutal, sounded like the theme song of some awful 80s family sitcom.  And though I jsut said the circus train stuff was alright, it was also a little long.  In fact, one thing I’ve found with this bond films lately is threat they are all about 20 minutes too long.  Most of them could be trimmed considerably.  Also… a guy who uses a circular saw as a yoyo? C’mon.

Its alright. I can see why Homer watched it twice.
7/10

A View to a Kill

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First I gotta talk about the title of the film.  Always thought it was “A View to Kill”.  That second “a” really makes for an awkward title, doesn’t it A view to a kill? Doesn’t roll off the tongue very well.  Anyway, had to mention that…

Also, Duran Duran? Really? Ugh.

So its interesting to me how knowingly these Moore films are willing to enter into camp territory.  This is quickly made apparent with the first appearance of Beach Boys music in the opening scene.  Wow…  So its clearly on purpose.  I guess it depends if you are okay with it and think its funny?  Its funny in a “man this is brutal” kinda way.  But not in a way which benefits the film.

A View to “A” Kill has a cohesive storyline, which is more than I can say for other Moore films which seem to bounce all over the place.  However, it is poorly paced, which led to me looking at the clock to see I was only 45 minutes in when I thought it should be nearing the end… This has been a problem with many of these Bond movies, I’ve noticed.  We are also given a surprisingly dull villain performances from Christopher Walken.

I’m glad I’m through with the Roger Moore era.

5/10

Dec
15

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And so the new Bond re-imagining comes full circle with its inclusion of Spectre and Bond’s nemesis Blofeld. And I quite enjoyed it. Spectre is a very solid entry into the 007 franchise. It offers a great villain, a great love interest, and a plot I was interested in following along with. The action scenes weren’t overly spectacular, but they were still captivating, especially the fight in the helicopter near the beginning and the plane on the ski hill.

Daniel Craig as James Bond provides a real gravitas to the character, and you can sense there’s some turmoil brewing beneath his cool exterior. I also really liked Lea Seydoux as the new Bond girl, and she held up as a character of her own. I also really liked Christoph Waltz in the bad guy role, menacing as ever.

There were a lot of little things I liked about Spectre, from the well-photographed shots of the various cityscapes, to the menacing atmosphere of the secret Spectre meeting, to the chilling death message left by the former M. I felt myself pulled into this movie a lot more than most 007 flicks, probably the most since Casino Royale.

The only issues I have are that the title song (and subsequent credit sequence) was absolutely horrendous. Also, Spectre is afflicted with the same problem almost all Bond films are afflicted with; its too bloody long! Had it been trimmed down to a nice 2 hours even, then we’d really be talking.
8/10

Dec
13

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Yeahhhhhh, this movie was stupid. It was trying to be the Bourne Identity with slackers, but the whole premise was very uninspired. A dead-end stoner i secretly an unactiviated spy. Wow. It seems like similar stories have inundated our tv/movie scene lately.

I think that maybe this movie thought of itself as a comedy? You could tell they were trying to make jokes, they just left the actual humorous parts behind. I think they also thought it was an action movie, but the action was also kinda…. whatever. But hey, they made the two main characters have really bloody faces, so thats cool, isnt it??

Also, I found it enraging that the actions of the CIA people, especially Eric Forman’s character, were downright ludicrous. The CIA wouldn’t sanction the pretty much obliteration of an entire town just to kill one guy cause…. well, never really understood why. The motivations were really screwed up. It made this story very hard to take seriously, even in a way where you aren’t meant to take it seriously. And then Bill Pullman, a character who was introduced in no way, shape or form before he shows up, just all of the sudden does more ridiculous stuff.

So stupid.

Oh yeah, and the end credits were some of the worst I’ve ever seen.

3/10

Dec
03

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While games these days seem to come out with expansions every year, Settlers of Catan, with its rich 20 year history, only needs an expansion every 5 or 6 years it seems. Mind you, it has lots of spin-offs and the like, but the last proper expansion to the same was back in 2007. Then all of the sudden, we get the 4th major expansion, Explorers and Pirates.
The original two add-ons to Settlers were Seafarers, which expanded the game spatially, and Cities and Knights, which expanded the game with depth. Traders and Barbarians came along and went the route of C&K, adding more complexity to the game we all know, through a number of different scenarios. Now with Explorers and Pirates, it feels like Seafarers is being revisited, with an expanding board once more, and new things to do as you venture out.

Additions

1Ships and Harbours – Similar to Seafarers, you are now able to set sail and explore smaller islands. But the ships here are different in that you actually move the ships rather than making a line of ships. You build harbours on the coast and sail from these harbours, carrying a settler piece who automatically makes a settlement once you find land. It’s pretty neat, and a core mechanic for this whole expansion.

2Pirates – One of the scenarios incudes gold hexes which pop up which are controlled by pirates. The hexes cannot be used until the pirates are chased off by adding 3 crewmen to the hex. Also, players score points depending on how many pirates they fight off.

3Fish – The fish scenario has sea hexes which fish shoals. Players can collect the fish from these hexes and take them back to the harbour tile to score points. Pretty basic, but adds to the theme, and the fish meeples are awesome.

4Spices – The spices are the best scenario for this expansion as it adds spice hexes which give you bonus actions if you drop off a crew member on these hexes. You also get points for delivering the spices back to the harbour.

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Critique

Best Feature: Personally, I like the spice scenario. But actually, my favourite feature is probably the same as my special feature in Seafarers: exploring the sea hexes. The new islands are not set until you explore and discover them. What will you find? Love that unknown aspect.

When to use:
You can use it to switch up your Catan experience. I would say do not play it with people who are only moderately familiar with Catan. But if you have lots of experienced Settlers players, this is a good way to switch things up!

Does it fit?
: No, there are a lot of components. It needs to stay in its own box.

What type:
This is a different scenario expansion. There are three scenarios to play with, or you can mix and match them.

Overall: This is a very cool addition to Settlers of Catan. It takes the idea from Seafarers and gives it a boost. If you want a simpler expansion, stick with Seafarers, but if you want to up the complexity and variety of what you can do, go with Explorers and Pirates. The sea exploration is exciting, and t while you don’t need to try the new adventures and could stick to regular Catan strategy (albeit with less room on the island), they are fun.

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