REVIEW: “PADDINGTON 2” (2018) Warner Bros.

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Growing up, we didn’t have the adorable Paddington Bear as he was mostly a British ‘bear’. It was only later that I was made aware of his wonderful adventures. So I was hugely surprised at just how good the first film was and was tentatively cautious when this sequel was green-lighted that perhaps it might cheapen Michael Bond’s beloved family friendly creation.

However, fear not, for this sequel is absolutely terrific on all levels. Firstly it is as funny and witty and as brilliantly animated as the first film. The excellent cast from the first film is also enhanced by a superb turn from Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan. Grant, who hasn’t been as good as he is here in a long time, is even nominated for a BAFTA for his role here as the villian, and rightfully so I say. In fact it is quite clear to the viewer that Grant is thoroughly enjoying himself by playing against type and sending himself up as a faded egotistical actor and total cad who sets Paddington up to be the fall guy (or should that be Bear? 🙂 ) for a dastardly deed. There is a touch of the pantomime villain to his performance, but it works splendidly and it fits his character perfectly.

All the wit and heart of the first film is still evident here and in some ways, built upon. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the ‘nasty’ Knuckles, an old lag and prison cook who loses his angry nature when he succumbs to Paddington’s charms and talents in the kitchen who warms up to Paddington quickly..maybe too quickly. The whole film shows and plays scenes as a child might imagine things to be – for example how the prison works and especially the lovely idea that the warden reads the inmates a bedtime story to help them all get to sleep. There are also loads of great jokes too, some pitched at younger children and some deliberately aimed at the more adult viewer. I took a 4 1/2 yr old and she definitely laughed at different parts than the adults at the screening did and there was a good 10-15 lag time where I was glad they had so nicely given us an adorable Paddington Bear backpack with our own Paddington Beach & storytime book as she started to look through that. It is a bit lengthy of a film for children at 1 hour 45min run time.

All in all this is a worthy sequel and a great memorial to Paddingtons creator, Michael Bond, who sadly passed while this sequel was still being filmed. It is full of laughs, thrills, action sequences, great characters, some wonderful animation and you would have to have a hard heart indeed to not burst into a smile at the end. Also, don’t leave the film before the credits start to roll and you will surely miss Hugh Grant gloriously send himself up with a musical song and dance act as the end credits roll.

Thoroughly recommended to anybody who wants to see film of family friendly fun that isn’t either sickly sweet or too dark for youngsters and still thoroughly watchable to adults too. Great fun and a worthy sequel to the first Paddington.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, January 10, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
PADDINGTON 2 IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES WORLDWIDE

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REVIEW: “DOWNSIZING” (2017) Paramount Pictures

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Welp. we’ve got a strike three for Matt Damon on his 2017 films with “DOWNSIZING”. This movie takes an interesting premise, “What if we could make ourselves smaller to use up fewer resources and save the planet?” and really just does nothing with it. Having heard little about the film aside from its concept, I went into the screening fairly cold. Sadly, the film doesn’t have a whole lot more to offer than its brilliant concept and exceptional first act. I must admit that I left feeling disappointed, thinking they could’ve made this a better movie in many ways. When a film has so much promise and doesn’t exactly deliver on much of it, I feel as though many people would be let down by that.

In this dramedy, which also in part a social satire of its own genre, Downsizing follows a couple Paul (Matt Damon) & Audrey (Kristen Wiig) Safranek, who believe their lives would be better if they were to shrink themselves and be transferred to a new world called Leisureland. This place exists to conserve the Earth and save the environment, as let’s face it, smaller people need much fewer resources. With multiple meanings to the title, this is a concept that sounds incredible on paper but doesn’t exactly translate into that great of a movie. Throughout the first act, I found myself immersed in this world and couldn’t wait to be taken on its journey, but I soon found myself losing interest when political and religious elements began to take over and it started to go very sloooowww. And it’s sad as this is a movie that could’ve done so much more with its premise.

Without giving anything away, there are many characters such as Niecy Nash playing a Leisureworld salesperson, or that of Dusan Mirkovic (Christof Waltz), The Lonowski’s, Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) & Laura (Laura Dern) or Paul’s good friend Dave (Jason Sudeikis), that come in and out of this film in a heartbeat, pretty much leaving them in the dust, when in reality they were actually interesting and added a layer to the overall story. It felt as though Director Alexander Payne wanted to focus so much on the idea of the Downsizing concept, that he sidelined quite a few characters along the way. His films have always been about characters, and while Paul and Ngoc (Hong Chau) share some great chemistry throughout this film, it’s hard not to wish that all of the characters throughout the first act were present throughout the entire film. This was a very curious issue I had while watching and definitely upon reflection.

As soon as you’re brought into this other world that has been built for those who shrunk themselves over the years, you will find yourself kind of transfixed at how interesting the visuals are and how lackluster the comedy is, but what you don’t expect is for the film to take a dramatic turn and really have you thinking hard about the world we live in and whether or not certain lines of dialogue are true about society in general. This is an eye-opening film in that regard and the third act is incredibly ambitious, but I just don’t think it really sticks the landing that it strives to achieve.

In the end, this is one of the most original ideas I can recall in recent memory, but an idea doesn’t make a film great. It’s the film itself that needs to win you over as a whole, and Downsizing just didn’t do that for me. On many accounts, this is a very impressive movie from a technical standpoint and it takes risks that I didn’t expect it to, but the risks it takes will only work for a few audiences members that can relate to it.

This is a movie that promises a lot and tries to deliver on all of those promises, while also shoving in side plots that make this film too emotionally complex to really be invested in the satirical aspects by the end. I wish this film went through a few more rewrites, because there is a satirical masterpiece of a movie in here somewhere, but it’s just not the product that you’ll be seeing in theatres soon. Downsizing might be worth your time in terms of originality, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up on it being a favorite.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, December 5, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
DOWNSIZING is now playing in theaters nationwide. To be released Worldwide in January 2018

REVIEW: “THE SHAPE OF WATER” (2017) Fox Searchlight ~ Q & A: Guillermo del Toro & Cast

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“THE SHAPE OF WATER” is truly the definition of ‘fish out of water’ unique love story. I mean if someone told me I would get emotional at a film where a mute woman falls in love with a fish-man, I probably would have laughed in their faces. As it was, I did.

This film has absolutely so much going for it – it’s beautifully filmed, with a magnificent score and a stunning performance from Sally Hawkins. It allows the audience to discover this intimate and fascinating world of “broken” people searching for a moment of meaning. Add in a smidgen of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with a touch of ‘E.T.’, and you have a concept that captivates you from the start with it’s emotional investment into all the characters. And boy what characters they are. Assembling a first-rate cast, every single actor sparkles as it shows that every character has been developed with great care. From the mute-but-hearing Eliza (Sally Hawkins), who works as a cleaner at a secret government facility, where she becomes drawn to the new specimen: a mysterious marine fish-like man creature (Doug Jones).

While Eliza begins to fall in love with the amphibian creature, the facility head Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), steps up to stop it all as his only desire is to take the creature apart for experimental advantage against the Russians. Eliza’s bond with the creature soon begins to affect those around her including her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), and work colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Not only are they the only two who decipher what Eliza ‘speaks’, but are enlisted to help her save her ‘Amphibian Man’. Add to the mix spy/scientist Robert Hoffsteder (Michael Stuhbarg), whom believes so much more can be learned with the creature alive, and you’ve got yourself one of the most imaginative stories that exudes humanity and strength, suspense and love, all put together to provide a great balance and one of the best original stories I’ve seen.

Beautiful from start to finish, like some sort of fantasy, romantic, heartbreaking, emotional lovestory all wrapped up in one, and while not without a few little flaws here and there, “The Shape of Water” was completely beautiful to me. And while other studios are recycling stories or offering up sequels, Fox Searchlight has stepped it up at the end of 2017 here to put out two of the best and most original films I’ve seen in some time. I not only applaud them for this, but hope this trend continues.

Grade: A
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent
‘SHAPE OF WATER’ IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE – WORLDWIDE RELEASE TO BEGIN IN JAN/FEB 2018


POST Q & A WITH: Moderator/Curator: Elvis Micthcell; Dir/Prod: Guillermo del Toro; Actors: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg; Producer: J. Miles Dale & Composer: Alexandre Desplat

First and foremost – Your Q & A is sometimes highly dependent on your moderator and of all the Q & A’s I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, he is by far one of the best moderators and truly nice guys out there. His knowledge and deep appreciation for film is felt, along with a great sense of humour. That being said, del Toro is also one of the most amusing, fun guys for anyone to have a chat with. His ease of making jokes, and he makes many, makes it even more fun to be able to get a chance to listen to him, speak and ask fun questions.

Del Toro said that he had the idea for the film and went to a party which he was invited to by none other than Alejandro Iñárritu where he had said to come over and get drunk..about 20 shots later and they all agreed ‘make the movie!’. Then Hawkins launched into how they came about to doing this project together. Upon meeting Hawkins at a Golden Globes party, Del Toro told her: “I’m writing a movie for you where you fall in love with a fishman.” Hawkins replied: “Great!” And with Doug Jones & Richard Jenkins – he pitched it to them while at a sushi dinner!!!
Jenkins laughed that he got his role—of Hawkins’ character Elisa’s lonely, verbose neighbor Giles—when “Ian McKellan called in sick.” For the role of marine scientist/Soviet double-agent Hoffstetler, Stuhlbarg lamented that the script called for him to deliver his character’s most significant scene sans pants.

If the sets looked familiar to any of you – they might, as a lot of them were used from del Toro’s TV show “The Strand” which made it so much easier to keep the budget on a tight leash. When noted
“When I walked on the set I had never seen anything so beautiful in all my life. It was like a painting,” said Jenkins, saying of Del Toro: “This guys speaks in film language.”

The film’s production is even more impressive given its relatively paltry—for an effects-heavy fantasy film—$19.5 million final budget. “We were counting the number of lobsters that we could have on-screen,” said Del Toro. He also teased producer Dale over the removal of one elaborate (and expensive) sequence set at a bus stop. But the filmmakers’ fastidious paid off. Remarkably, the production came in $100,000 under budget.

REVIEW: “THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Step right up Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell and please just accept your Oscar’s for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor already. Yes, truly they are that good and that’s how I feel. And hey, throw in a Best Picture nod while you’re at it please!!!

This wonderfully dark comedy featuring a brash, outspoken and very funny McDormand in the lead role as Mildred Hayes, a divorcee from Ebbing, Missouri and let me tell you, Mildred is one extremely pissed woman at her local Police Department. Most especially Sherriff Willougby (Woody Harrelson), and she is not afraid to let everyone know this as she rents out 3 billboards on the outskirts of town at $5000 a month from Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones). The way Mildred see’s it is it’s been seven months since her teenage daughter Angela (Kathyrn Newton) was raped, murdered and set ablaze on a quiet stretch of country road, and yet still no arrests have been made or suspects identified. Mildred and many others in the town, feel as the local Sherriff’s dept. are “too busy torturing black folk”. And she’s right as Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) has been investigated for doing just that. Sheriff Willoughby however, doesn’t much like being publicly mocked by billboards that read: “Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying.”
And the story that unfolds before you is one that will capture every emotion you thought you never had. This is a hard -edged drama, but with enough sarcastic comedy in it to somehow keep it funny through a dark subject throughout the film. This film is a brilliant piece of storytelling that somehow has stories within that all fit together in the end in a 360 degree type circle.

McDormand is simply superb as the mother whose anger is just part of her problems in life. She breaks this character down inch by inch in front of us in such detail you are sure not to forget her anytime soon. Rockwell – who let’s face it, can be very ‘hit or miss’ with his performances, here he is so crazy good and volcanically funny that you want to almost applaud whenever he shows up, as he somehow he makes Dixon both horrendous and humane – sometimes both in a same breath – it is truly a tremendous performance. Harrelson is wonderful, yet sarcastic, a bit vulgar and yet even in the face of death, funny. Peter Dinklage as James, the town’s only ‘small person’, Lucas Hedges in another fine performance as Mildred’s son Robbie and John Hawkes as the ex-husband, truly round up a great supporting cast. The only true problem I had any of this cast was with Harrelson’s wife Penelope (Samara Weaving) as the being 1/2 his age part wasn’t the only blur, but how in the world is an Australian somehow in this little backwoods town of Ebbing, Missouri. Besides that, it truly is a flawless picture by Martin McDonagh and not only my favourite film of the year so far, but hopefully a shoe-in for a couple of those Oscars!

Grade: A
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Media Screening Review: Monday, November 6, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” is now playing nationwide // International release in Jan 2018

REVIEW: “WONDER” (2017) Lionsgate

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With Jacob Tremblay as Auggie“WONDER” bring us the sweet story based on the New York Times bestseller by R.J. Palacio. We get to know Auggie slowly during the film and find out about his ongoing life, like his twenty-seven surgeries on his face, how he keeps his hospital bracelets as souvenirs and how his supportive parents Isabel (Julia Roberts), and Nate (Owen Wilson) have decided to send him to school for the first time ever. See until now, Auggie has been home-schooled by Isabel, but it’s 5th grade and time for “real” school. While his face is without a doubt deformed, he is in no way as seriously damaged as say John Merrick – the famous The Elephant Man, or Rocky Dennis – the young man in Mask, (portrayed so wonderfully by Eric Stoltz), but we know this can’t be an easy decision for anyone involved. Auggie’s older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), also carries a burden that few understand and along with her childhood friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) they have their own vignette-type sequences where their stories are told. Vidovic is also probably the best casting of the film and this is very much her story as well.

The film kicks into gear once school starts. Mandy Patinkin plays the principal Mr. Tushman (a name he embraces), and we get the expected nice kid Jack Will (Noah Jupe), the girl who befriends him when others won’t Summer (Mille Davis), the rich-kid bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar), and the popular girl Charlotte (Elle McKinnon). Some of the characters have various segments of the film named after them, with each their own stories to tell, and though these are quite loosely told, they do provide some semblance of structure to the film and keep viewers focused on the diverse personalities. Along we go to thru the normal schoolings of any 5th grader really, with things such as the Science Fair (which of course they win), field trip (all inclusive with bullies & those who stand up to them) and school play – where of course miracles happen. While each of these little stories provide critical turning points, most of the film is based on Auggie’s impact on those whose path he crosses and some of them are sweet and touching, and some of them just seem the norm for any 5th grader really.

It’s a weird middle ground for a movie to exist in, a plot of hits & misses as it moves slowly through the story, almost as if it simply doesn’t trust itself to tell its own story and be understood. It simply misses the mark on some things, but yet on others, hits the nail on the head. Daveed Diggs has a nice turn as 5th grade class teacher Mr. Browne, and the always wonderful Sonia Braga makes a much-too-brief appearance in Via’s little vignette as Gran. Director Chbosky previously gave us the gem THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, and this time out he allows us to explore the fragility of friendship and family, and the importance of toughness in an individual, it simply seems to go through the motions at times of what is ‘supposed’ to happen. But I will say, there is something special about what unfolds between children beautifully captured here, though the ending is pure Hollywood. But we should accept the crowd-pleasing cheesiness and be thankful for a pleasant, entertaining family movie for the holiday season.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening: Thursday, November 9, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate
‘WONDER’ is out in theatres nationwide Friday, November 17, 2017

REVIEW: “DADDY’S HOME 2” (2017) PARAMOUNT PICTURES

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Well hang up your christmas stockings and get your eggnog ready as we are headed into the holidays, and that means the family holiday movies are starting up. With the trailer for “DADDY’S HOME 2”, as with most comedies these days, giving away many of the funny moments, no need to expect any additional spoilers here.

As for the film itself – we pick up two years later, after the fierce daddy competition between Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) had throughout the first film. We start off sweetly, with what looks to be a very healthy co-dad environment for all involved. In comedy-based cinema, the best way to disrupt a happy family synergy is to introduce the Christmas season and the sure-to-follow family turmoil. And with that – enter Mel Gibson as Dusty’s estranged dad – Kurt, and John Lithgow as Brad’s so-close-it’s-too-close dad – Don… and let the holiday escapades begin.

It’s clear that these two grandads have completely different ideas of well, being grandads. Gibson’s character’s idea of being a father has been around for many generations. Toughen up the kids and make sure they are strong and independent. Keep those emotions close to the vest. On the other side is John Lithgow and his over-hugging and blubbering true feelings approach. The familiar supporting cast, (notably missing Griff (Hannibal Buress)) holds up their end admirably. Sara (Linda Cardellini) and Alessandra Ambrosio as Karen, are back as Brad’s and Dusty’s wives, respectively. Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, and Didi Costine are back as the kids: Megan, Dylan & Adrianna – each with their own quirks and growing pains. Even John Cena returns as Adrianna’s biological father – Roger, and also delivers one of the film’s best punchlines, as well as a bit that might forever ruin Christmas caroling for you or maybe like me, where I thought it was actually simply sweet.

With the additions of Gibson and Cena, the sequel ups the ante on the debate of masculinity that anchored the first film. The female characters are still seemly just afterthoughts, and some of Gibson’s antics (considering his rep and the current revelations coming out of Hollywood) seem awkwardly ill-timed. He makes inappropriate jokes, he makes sexist jokes about hookers, he laughs at nearly everything stupid Ferrell does.

Could I slam this film for having Mel Gibson in it..yes I completely could, and legitimately so because honestly, it doesn’t flow well with me on a personal level. Neither does when trying to make light of kids with shotguns or using them as props to getting drunk. It’s not. Especially in light of everything going on here now. But if you step away from that, this film was also a bit on the sappy-sweeter, emotional side than the original ‘DADDY’S HOME’ (which I thought was NOT appropriate for kids) for me and that’s what redeemed it. This one – if they are over the age of 12 or 13, yes, as I think back to my 12 or 13 year old self, and would be okay with it.

Grade: C
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
“DADDY’S HOME 2” will be released in theaters nationwide on Friday, November 10, 2017

REVIEW: “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) 20th Century Fox

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CHOO CHOO!! ALL ABOARD..ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS! Murder! Mayham! Suspense!

Yes..If you’ve read Dame Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” or have seen the 1974 version you know the storyline. If not, or like me, couldn’t remember all of it – what’s left to deal with then, is how well this one is done and of course the big ‘whodunnit’ reveal at the end.

The story of master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is hoping for a break after numerous years of solving cases, jumps onboard The Orient Express thanks to friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who was able to secure him this spot. While onboard, Poirot ends up having to solve a murder committed while traveling with 12 other passengers on The Orient Ecpress – a train that made traveling in style from West-East axis and back again, very popular.

Director and lead actor Branagh takes on the popular story, with a nod to nostalgia in three ways. First, the flair of the train travel at that time, which was associated with adventure, pleasure and discovery, must be brought back to life. Second, the charm of the detective-witty inquiry that the character is closely linked to that era. And thirdly, a remake must also pay homage to the original film and the book itself, because Agatha Christie stories are still hugely popular and it’s 1974 version brought much critical and acting acclaim. Thus, Branagh with his well-known cast, recognizes this and with a good but alas not perfect effort, tries to retain that feel. Its highlights include dazzling production design, period costumes and of course I would be remiss to not mention the highly distracting signature moustache! The opening portion of the train journey is spent as you would expect – introducing us the characters on the train. But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film where the detective really gets into why each character is there and what part they play in the film which make that the most interesting part of the film.

Branagh as Poirot, does a fine job mixing in the brilliant detective with the comedic, witty sarcasm the character is known for. It’s always a kick to see Dame Judi Dench, here as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, and the wonderful Olivia Coleman (one of my personal favourites) as her besieged maid, Hildegarde Schmidt. But they have literally nothing to do and are almost shamefully underused. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot is the racial switch in the casting – as Sean Connery had the role in the 1974 film – shows welcome daring for a remake that plays things stodgily by the book.
Michelle Pfeiffer shines in perhaps the meatiest – certainly the cheekiest – role as Caroline Hubbard, but those such as Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham shows that even her secret relationship with another passenger can’t give Ridley’s character enough boost to make it stand out as much as Pfeiffer does with her role – though both of these characters have a bigger chunk of the many supporting roles. Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman & Willem Dafoe as ‘Austrian scientist’ Gerhard Hardman, both have secrets but can’t help but appear simply there for the ride. There’s a decent dramatic turn from Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, though it might be because you only know his work as a comedian so his drama performance get a tick of notice. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin as Count & Countess Andrenyi who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never really do anything else. Johnny Depp plays that typical smarmy-charmy type crook here which completely works for his character Edward Ratchett. Penelope Cruz on the other hand, has it worse as the religious introvert Pilar Estravados. It hard as I always find her work to be sub-par in English movies as she excels so well in the Spanish ones, I end up feeling a bit of a let down by them and here she is barely a blip on the Orient Express. So for all the resplendence of this cast, it’s hard not to feel that Branagh isn’t really pushing any of them to work.

Conclusion: Branagh’s staging of this famous crime thriller tries to do justice to the charm and the time-frame of the original with visual charms, a well-known cast and a little humor. However, this succeeds less convincingly than hoped.

Grade: C+
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