Saturday, February 25, 2017

Predictions of Who Will Win the Oscars

The Oscars are this Sunday, and there are a few things that I am confident will happen. The Academy will fix the #OscarSoWhite hubbub of the past two years by giving some significant wins to non-white nominees, though the nominations themselves probably did a lot to solve the issue for many. We are also set to have one of the most political shows in a long time, with their being weeks of push for acceptance speeches be used as a chance to speak out against the current American administration and the numerous issues that have arisen. I assume some will play it safe, but I expect some pretty electric speeches and it will turn out to be one of the most memorable shows in years. I'm looking forward to this show and maybe even more, writing about all that happens after.

Before we get to the show this Sunday, it is time for some big predictions on who I think will win this year.

Best Picture: La La Land
Damien Chazelle's homage to the 1950s musical is an awards juggernaut with a massive 14 nominations, which ties the record with All About Eve and Titanic. It isn't a small thing to note both those movies won Best Picture. It has also been described by some as a "love letter to Hollywood" and the Academy tends to like to award movies that celebrate the place the majority of the voters live and make their living. There has been a bit of a backlash against the movie being "too light" and lacking substance (something I am in a huge disagreement), and there has been a late surge for Hidden Figures (winning the SAG Outstanding Performance by Cast was a huge boost), and there are also several vocal champions for Moonlight (which won the Golden Globe). Despite those challengers, La La Land has been hot for months now and I'd say history is strongly on its side.

Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
There is a chance history will be made with Barry Jenkins becoming the first Black director to take home the statuette, but instead, it looks more likely we will have the youngest ever Best Director winner. When you have a close race, sometimes the beloved movie that didn't get Best Picture gets the Best Director, and this would be a year for that except a lot of the praise for La La Land is due to the direction of Chazelle. I get the feeling Hollywood wants to declare him as one of the next big things in the movie industry. Even though my predictions have nothing to do with who I think actually deserves to win, Chazelle does an incredible job of recreating a classic old school musical but blending it in a very modern world with emotional character-driven drama. It is a feel-good, toe tapping movie with a plot that is actually bit of a downer when you think about it, but Chazelle pulls it off with his meticulous direction.

Actor in Outstanding Leading Role: Denzel Washington (Fences)
For most of the road to the Oscars, Casey Affleck has been the heavy favourite with him picking up awards at most of the shows. He was one of the clear sure thing winners, but then Washington won at SAG, which has predicted the winner in this category for the last 13 years. Plus Screen Actor Guild members consist of the largest group of voting Academy members, so there is a strong chance Washington derails the Affleck train this Sunday. This would be Washington's third Oscar, which would tie the record for most actor awards for a male. I admit this is one of my bigger swings and one of the most likely that I could strike out on in the big categories.

Actress in Outstanding Leading Role: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Much like Affleck, she has been the sure-fire winners since the nominations were announced, with the big difference being she has remained on the road to the statuette. She has gobbled up all the major trophies and even though there may be more deserving winners, there isn't anyone else that has the buzz going into the show. Plus Academy likes using this award as a signal for the next big starlet and Stone fits that description perfectly.

Actor in Outstanding Supporting Role: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
This category became a bit of a free-for-all when Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor Johnson didn't even get an Oscar nomination. There was some early buzz for Jeff Bridges' role in Hell or High Water, but Ali has got the most vocal praise and been a critical darling. He also picked up SAG, which again is usually a good sign of who will take home the statuette.

Actress in Outstanding Supporting Role: Viola Davis (Fences)
Davis has picked up almost every award and has been a favourite before she was even nominated. If I am right on my predictions, we are looking at three non-white Oscar winners, which is pretty cool. Davis is definitely winning here, and it is well-deserved.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
The screenplay category is often used as the consolation prize for a beloved movie that didn't win the Best Picture, which is where Moonlight fits. It won for WGA, but oddly enough, it was under the original screenplay category instead. Hidden Figures has to be considered another heavy favourite, but I really think the Academy wants to honour Moonlight and this would be its best category. If Moonlight wins, this means it is the third and fourth time a black screen writer won in this category with Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney as the recipients.

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
A musical hasn't won this category in over 60 years, probably due to filmmakers thinking such movies are great due to their music rather than their words. This is a category they tend to like to honour something dramatic and has emotional heft, and that is something Manchester by the Sea is loaded. It is also a critical darling that I am sure the Academy wants to celebrate and this is its best category.

Best Animated Feature Film: Zootopia
In a perfect world this fun but thoughtful feature would have been nominated for a Best Picture. But the Academy seems stuck on the idea the animated movies remain in this category and that is enough for them. The competition is pretty tight with Kubo and the Two Strings and Moana being really worthy winners as well (sadly, I never saw Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini). This was a critical darling that spoke into the modern zeitgeist, but also was the highest grossing of all the movies, plus for the last decade a Disney/Pixar feature always wins when nominated.

Best Animated Short: Piper
Pixar hasn't won in this category since 2011, so there is a feeling of it being due. Plus this is an expertly crafted and gorgeously animated feature. The story of a bird leaving the nest and going on his own isn't very deep, but it is inspirational and feel-good. This seems like a year where those type of works are resonating.

Best Original Score: La La Land
The score is not only catchy and a huge part of the movies' personality, but there is a chance the Academy voters may believe a score to a musical is a greater challenge than one to a typical movie. Traditionally, the winner in this category goes to one of the big Best Picture favourites, so that would slide it towards a win too. On top of that, the score has already dominated most of the awards shows leading to this one, so it has all the momentum, Plus repeat after me, "sweep, sweep, sweep, sweep."

Best Original Song: "City of Stars" (La La Land)
I personally have a soft spot for "How Far I'll Go" from Moana, but this is the one that I've been hearing all over the place and since Sunday is about crowning La La Land as the king, as a musical it should probably win here. There is talk that the fact it is also competing against another song from the movie, "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" that they will cancel each other out, but Lionsgate has smartly been pushing this song as its centrepiece. An upset wouldn't shock me, but this song has the most attention right now.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman
This is a case of the voters choosing a movie as a way to rebel against the Trump administration. Director Asghar Farhadi stated he will boycott the Oscars due to Trump's travel ban, and this has caused several Academy members to say they will vote for this movie as a form of protest. It also helps this is a critically acclaimed movie, and probably had a strong chance to win even before the Trump lunacy. If it wins, Farhadi will join elite company as only the fourth filmmaker to direct more than one winner in this category (A Separation won five years ago) along with Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, and Carlos Saura.

Best Feature Documentary: O.J. Made in America
It was a bit of a long shot to get nominated due to its 7.5 hour run time, which made it more a docu-series than a feature. Some argued the Academy may be scared of the precedent it set if it allowed this documentary in, but now it is in, so they might as well go all in. It does have some heavy competition with Netflix making a huge push for the terrific 13th and I am Not Your Negro being a massive critical darling. But in the end, this feature is about celebrity culture and Los Angeles, which the voters have a soft spot.

Best Short Documentary: The White Helmets
This is another one of the picks that can make a huge political statement, as this short is about the volunteer civil defense organization in Syria. This movie shows some of the great good that is being done during that country's civil war, and I can see votes landing this way to speak out against the "not-a-ban."

Best Live-Action Short: Sing
I sadly did not see any of these shorts, as such things are hard to legally track down in the small city of Brantford. I went with the one with cute kids and music.

Best Cinematography: La La Land
I'm expecting La La Land to dominate the awards this Sunday, and this will likely be one of the categories considering how beautiful and vibrant this movie looks. The biggest competition is likely Lion, because it won the top award from the American Society of Cinematographers, but La La Land took home the prize from BAFTA.

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had some pretty impressive special effect like bringing back Peter Cushing, but The Jungle Book created an entire jungle full of living and breathing animals. Its effects were cutting edge and changed the standard of what CGI can do. If you weren't aware all the animals were CGI and it was filmed entirely on a sound stage, you'd think you were in a real jungle with living animals that just had voice over work. On top of the fact it really is the most amazing visual achievement in decades, The Jungle Book has dominated most of the special effects awards prior to this show.

Best Costume Design: Jackie
Academy tends to lean towards period pieces when giving out this award, which is why I think this may be one of the few categories that La La Land loses. Natalie Portman looks great in several classic duds as Jackie Kennedy and the wardrobe are from a time brimming with nostalgia, so I can see this catching the voters' eyes. Plus it already won at BAFTA and the Critics' Choice awards for this category.

Best Make-Up and Hairstyling: Star Trek Beyond
This is likely the winner due to the smaller Swedish feature, A Man Called Ove being passed on by a huge portion of the voters and Suicide Squad was critically torn apart. Based off that, Star Trek has the most positive buzz and momentum going into the awards. Yes, I know none of this actually has a thing to do with the quality of the make-up or hairstyling -- welcome to awards predictions.

Best Film Editing: La La Land
A favourite mostly because I'm expecting it to sweep a large part of the categories, but it also won at the ACE Eddie awards (for the musical/comedy category), which is voted by editors. The strongest competition comes from Hacksaw Ridge that won at BAFTA and Arrival, which picked up a win at the ACE Eddie awards in the drama category. Musicals or movies about music tend to do really well in this category, so I'm going with history again.

Production Design: La La Land
Contemporary set movies don't win here and the Academy tends to go for showy and extravagant for this category, but I'm pretty sure the narrative of the night will be La La Land running away with as many awards as it can get its dancey hands on. Plus it is a very stylized version of Los Angeles and sets designed to recapture the nostalgia of old musicals. This is another area where it could lose especially with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Passengers taking wins elsewhere. It is hard to best against La La Land in almost any category.

Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge
Traditionally, big loud war movies win here, and Hacksaw Ridge fits that description perfectly. There of course is a strong change La La Land snags another here, or Arrival with a quieter but haunting sound could sneak in too. I think this is where the Academy decides to share the love with some other movies.

Sound Mixing: La La Land
This is the sound category where the winner is often a musical if it has been nominated, and guess what, La La Land is a musical. Arrival could be a strong contender as well, as it won best sound at BAFTA. I am guessing most voters just go with the movie that they have been heaping accolades on all night.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A New Form of Torture

I haven't read a single Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. I have not seen a single Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. Up until today, I largely slotted it in the "maybe someday" category, with the full understanding it isn't a piece of entertainment created for me. But I really hope this trailer for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is even a soul-crushing disappointment for the biggest and most die-hard fans of this franchise. This can't be an example of what this series offers, right? This looks like a trailer to a movie that is designed to be played in interrogation rooms across the continent in order to beat out a confession from a perp. It is torture without any visible bruising. But there will be deep emotional scars that can never heal after seeing this trailer. This makes last year's Vacation look like the feel-good thrill ride of the summer.

One big questions that is nagging me about this trailer, why would they use Spice Girls' "Wannabe"? The target audience was born more than a decade after it was a hot song, and there can't be a single adult that wants to sit through this movie. Who is that song appealing to in this flick? Wouldn't it have made more sense to use Katy Perry or Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

'Alien: Covenant' Prologue Trailer Shows a Creative Way to Build Anticipation That More Studios Should Follow

20th Century Fox dropped what they are calling a prologue teaser to Alien: Covenant, or essentially a movie short, called "Last Supper" directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke Scott (Ridley is directing the full length feature). I really love the idea of having a character-driven short to introduce the major players and to tantalize us for what is to come. It reveals the personality of the crewmembers and it garners some excitement without spoiling all the plot and giving away the major scenes. It allows for some connection to the characters before entering into the theatre for the big feature. I recognize probably 40% of the movie going audience at the absolute most will see this short beforehand, but that probably isn't any different than the two and half minute spoiler-filled ads that are promoted as major events at Comic-Cons and YouTube. This is far more creative and a better launching point going into what should be the real event. This is for the hardcore fans that are salivating for some details of Alien: Covenant, and even without showing a single scene of the actual movie, I think delivers some goods.

I understand that not every movie can do this something like this, and in some cases doing it would reveal more than a trailer. It costs money to make a mini-movie and you need to have the cast available, but I'd love to see something like this for more of the "event" pictures.

The short does give some answers, such as who all the member of the ship, Covenant (we also now know where the movie got its title), I love that there isn't any "blow your own horn" but rather just matter of fact progressiveness with a gay couple and a mixed couple. Nice to see Danny McBride willing to play the character he always plays, so I have one character whose demise that I'll anticipate. It wasn't until this short that I learned James Franco was in this movie, though I am guessing we shouldn't get used to him since he wasn't in any of the past trailers. Plus he seems to be sick, which I think hints something nefarious is already on the ship. As for the rest of the cast to be excited about, there is indy darling Amy Seimetz, character actor Billy Crudup (who based off trailers may be this movies' John Hurt), and Empire star Jussie Smollett.

The most notable thing about the crew is the absence is Noomi Rapace who at the end of the last movie was off to the engineer's planet. There was talk she wasn't returning, which made no sense, but when she was finally added to the cast, there is more mystery that she isn't with this group but David (Michael Fassbender) is back with his head safely fastened to his body. Why is David around yet Rapace's character is missing? Is her addition to the cast only in the role of flashbacks? Does David have some insidious plans with this crew and is he aware once again of an evil alien presence on the planet they are heading? What happened between Prometheus and this movie? These are the kind of cool questions and intrigue that you couldn't get from a trailer.

I also really appreciate the callback to the original where it looked like the poor girl was going to give a nasty alien birth but instead, it was just revealed she was choking. It does a good job of teasing there will be a sneak peek of an alien. Of course, this is better for the move, and things are going to get must worse than food going down the wrong pipe.

The Unshakeable Stink

There is that moment for every dog parent when you walk down your stairs and you catch that putrid whiff of threats and taunts that you now have an unplanned chore for the next ten minutes. The panic sets in and you hold to the optimism that tricks are being played, but then you turn into the family room. Before you is the nasty business of either the not-quite-house trained puppy or the old jealous dog rebelling against the current structure of the house. You quietly let out your expletive if the kids are home or allow it to raise a few decibels if you're alone for the moment, then you grab a plastic bag and move the business to a much better home. Then you go through the typical routine of vacuuming and wiping down the carpet, because even if you have very little carpet, they always find the one spot it still remains. Then you soap up the paper towel and scrub until the spot changes a shade.

During this little exercise, the odours snake their way into your nostrils, clings to the nose hairs, and camp out for the night. The smell then conspires with your paranoia, so no matter how much soap you gloop in that spot, how much Febreze gets sprayed, and how hard you scrub away, the stink still faintly taunts you. It now owns your nose and mocks you that it now rules this spot. And if this happens to be a day that you're having company over, then brain and nose work even harder to convince you there is a stink that now lives here. A stink that every single person coming into that house will smell and then leave to spread the word that today was the day they visited Poo Palace.

You may ask your spouse or kids if they smell anything, and when they say no, you jump and holler about how the stink is here if you smell hard enough. Your rant and raving is convincing enough that they now believe the stench has permeated the room and there is no escape. All because those little stink fiends are partying up in the nostrils and your brain likes to freak out every few days. This is the burden of having a dog.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ranking 2017 Movies So Far Along with Star Rating and One Sentence Reviews

Consider this my back on the saddle post. Here is everything from 2017 I've seen with a ranking from the worst to the very best along with a sentence that best describes the viewing experience.

15. Clinical *: A story about a psychiatrist trying to recover from an attack from a patient by helping a new patient that falls apart due unbelievable characters and a far-fetched, silly final act twist that makes everything before it pointless.

14. Take the 10 *½: Many modern comedies seem to forget that no amount jokes about sex and drugs will work if the movie has unlikable leads, plus most sex and drug jokes have become tedious, predictable, and unfunny.

13. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter *½: One big long music video if it was edited by 3 year old that just downed seven bulk bags of Skittles.

12. iBoy **: A goofy premise that is undone by a super serious tone that often feels like a low-grade Guy Ritchie gangster movie knock-off.

11. XXX: Return of Xander Cage **: It shouts and screams how extreme it is, but outside of one or two scenes, it follows the formula and style of your generic actioner.

10. Underworld: Blood Wars **: Some really bold but campy scenes means this was way better than I expected, but I also expected one of the worst movies of the year.

9. Fist Fight **: A great cast (Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks) who play well to their strengths and an attempt to actually say something about the modern school system that lacks support of teachers isn't enough when the movies fails to be funny for the majority of the run time and does the annoying modern comedy movie habit of trying to undo 90 minutes of cynicism with 5 minutes of forced sentimentality and schmaltz.

8. David Brent: Life on the Road **: There was a reason why the really funny original Office series focused on several characters rather than entirely being about the unlikable David Brent.

7. The Great Wall **: It attempts to be a throwback to 1980s fantasy adventures, but the well-done action sequences don't cover for the stilted dialogue, lack of chemistry in the cast, a paper thin story, and Matt Damon's very distracting accent.

6. Cure for Wellness **: Gore Verbinski proves again to be a master of unique visuals, but this time it is more uncomfortable and dull rather than unsettling and intriguing.

5. Coin Heist **: It aspires to be Breakfast Club mixed with Ocean's Eleven but end up being Drive Me Crazy meets Tower Heist.

4. Journey to Greenland ***: A heartfelt, respectful, and funny buddy comedy about two guys who take an adventure to a remote village in Greenland; don't shy away from subtitles and check out this charming picture.

3. John Wick: Chapter 2 ***: It delivers exactly what is missing in most modern actioners with well-choreographed action sequences, a cool hero to cheer on, a sense of humor, and a unique, fully fleshed out world; if you loved the first then this is more of that goodness.

2. The LEGO Batman Movie ***: A beautifully, candy-coated animated universe with a voice cast that is clearly having a blast with a story that is funny but also has some emotional punch.

1. Split ***: An expertly-paced and atmospheric thriller that M. Night Shyamalan proved he was a master of over a decade ago along with award worthy performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Wow, only four recommendations for movies this year, so far. I am hoping now that the Oscars are upon us and that March has some big guns that things will get much better. I also vow that there will be full reviews (at least a few hundred words each) of new releases going forward starting with this weekend's Get Out.

Crushed by Ambition

Over the last few years, I've come across a few film bloggers who make their entire living from their one-writer sites by posting seven to eleven short 200ish words to long thousand-plus word pieces that largely are about movies but also contain some politics and personal anecdotes. It didn't take long for me to proclaim to myself, "I could do this," and form a vision that this site would become that. As is pretty clear to anyone looking at it, it has not become that at all. What I failed to clue in on, was that the majority of these successful professional movie bloggers had twenty to thirty plus years writing for major magazines and web sites where they could pluck a loyal readership for their site, which in turn gave them leverage to land some lucrative sponsorship for their sites. In my case, I've been in the game for only a few years and while I am appreciative of everyone I have written for, it hasn't snagged me the same size of audience.

I had a goal of trying to churn out seven quicker little movies news related pieces a day along with three or four movie reviews a week, every few days give a short recounting of my adventures with children, some occasional political or non-movie news thoughts, and three or so big think-pieces a week. This is ambitious if this was my one way of making a living, but it is emotional suicide when I am also trying to complete a novel, write several short stories, make my money providing several thousand words a day for paying clients, and stay at home with an rather mischievous but oh-so-cute 2 year old.

My biggest failure has been to forget my own emotional make-up that means when my lofty goals miss their mark that I tend to crash into a stew of anxiety and depression. This is obviously an issue that I should try to resolve, but it also means my swing-for-the-fences approach to this little blog (that to be fair, is what has landed me some of my best jobs) needs some major restructuring.

I do believe it is entirely fair to want something more out of this blog and have eyes on this being something I can monetize, but the reality is still that I need to write for other (paying) outlets as well. This means I only have a small amount of time a day to devote to this space. That may change some day, but if I am honest, I am not entirely sure if I want to eliminate writing for others, especially when it comes to my dreams of traditionally published books and novels. At the moment, I now need my every few months exercise of breathing, telling myself to calm down, and live in my current moment.

My current moment is being the father who is always alert that disaster strikes when the house gets quiet, has a long gestating novel that I hope to shop in the spring so it needs to be finished, make my living by producing thousands of words a day for clients, and has a little site where I can share my various thoughts on life along with my movie reviews. I do want to build an audience on here, but it is more likely to happen by staying consistent and letting the roaring lion of ambition to get locked in the zoo for a bit.

My new goal is to stick with my start of the year resolution of posting at least one thing on here a day, though length and value will depend on what else I need to write on that particular day. Be open to writing more than one thing on days where that works, but the victory comes from just keeping up a daily piece. For now see this as my personal outlet that may become something more depending on my ability to grow a following. Focus on making sure what I write for this site to be of high quality and return to making The Breakdown podcast a professional show. But also don't shy away from being creative and trying out some new stuff, which is why once I get my current transport truck of projects completed, I want to begin that serialized story that I talked about on here. Most importantly, I want to have fun on here, which I hope means it is a bowl of cherries for my readers as well. Or if you prefer, a nice cold, tasty bottle of pop.

Friday, February 17, 2017

'The House' Trailer Shows It is Time for Will Ferrell to Move On

Mainstream comedy is in a bit of a rut the last few years. There has been a few sparks like Sisters, Keanu, and Neighbors, but more than often it is unfunny stories that try to overcompensate with 'shocking' raunchy jokes that are just reworked from the last comedy before it. Will Ferrell is one of those comedian stuck deep in the ditch by playing the same sweet, oblivious doofus that worked in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby but has now become tedious. The House reminds me of a previous Ferrell misfire, Get Hard, by having a seemingly edgy premise but resorting to easy gags rather than exploiting its potential for something new. It seems like the powers to be decided that white guy being suckered into prison training before going to jail or dullard family opens a casino in basement to pay for kid's college are comic gold on their own and there is no need to actually come up with some fresh jokes. Hopefully, Amy Poehler can bring some laughs to elevate it, because she is the one with the more recent critical hit.

I Have Some Questions for 'Sandy Wexler'

The new Sandy Wexler trailer leaves me with some questions. How long will it take before I want to hit the mute button thanks to Adam Sandler doing his "funny voice"? How thankful am I that it being a Netflix movie means that I have that option? But then how much am I crushed realizing as a reviewer of the movie, I am expected to hear the dialogue? If this is set in 1994, why are we getting comments from less than hot 1994 commodities like Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock, and Judd Apatow? Is the flat top haircut going to be the height of 1990 nostalgia humour? Will all 1990s mood setting be such obvious caricatures? Why did I have any optism for this movie? Will Jennifer Hudson get to do a full length original musical number? Will this graceful and beautiful woman actually add some class and quality to this movie? When Netflix made this deal with Sandler was there any notion that they would be getting funny movies?

All that said, I really hope that I am shocked and this becomes Sandler's best movie since 50 First Dates, because that movie is becoming more and more distant memory.

A 'Colossal' Return to the Star Powered B-Movie

I lamented on The Breakdown that the rise of studios putting out less movies in exchange for releasing a few big budget spectacles has meant the fall of the big studio B-movie. Last year we got the wonderful Blake Lively vs. a shark movie in The Shallows, but those odd ball and not quite mainstream friendly premises are becoming rarer. So, I am absolutely over the moon that this year we will be getting a movie that if it came out in the 1980s would have been released by either New Line or Cannon with glee in Colossal. It is a story about a down-on-her-luck slacker type who returns home because she has no money and to make matters worse, suddenly realizes she has a psychic connection with a giant kaiju that is destroying Seoul, South Korea. This premise is absolutely ridiculous, which is what makes it now one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The even great part is that is has some star power in Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, and Dan Stevens, and Hathaway is gloriously playing way against type as an alcoholic slacker. The marketing team deserves some praise too, as this movie has already been screened at a few festivals and the word is this trailer shows exactly what the movie is about but leaves out some significant plot and story details. I am guessing this is monster mashing with some dramatic heft, but I am happy someone realizes surprises are nice. Voltage Pictures isn't really a huge studio, but this one has enough star power that it may get decent theatrical distribution (Don Jon made it to Brantford in 2013) or should at least find its way on Netflix before year end.

Folksy Canadian Charm with Star Power

I remember as a kid if there was ever a low-budget movie with sub-par performances by unknown actors that my dad would mutter "must be Canadian" and then turn the channel. That kind of reputation for Canadian movies had stuck in the back of my mind for years and years until I saw movies like The Sweet Hereafter, Videodrome, Leolo, Black Christmas, Scanners, Black Robe, Ginger Snaps, Eastern Promises, Room, Meatballs, and The Grand Seduction. And no, I didn't just list every decent Canadian movie; despite those 1980s utterances, the list is long and proud. The above list shows that Canada has produced a pretty diverse slate of movies through the years and some of those are held up as classics.

Despite the fact that I know Eastern Promises boasted a Naomi Watts or Room has a Best Picture nomination, I still got a shiver down my spine from surprise and joy when I discovered a biopic of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis was going to star big heavyweights like Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Of course, both actors don't shy away from small independent fare and this will likely not be a huge deal even in Canada, but I have a small patriotic thrill to see a very Canadian figure get some star treatment.

If the biopic train needs to keep on chugging, I'm glad we're getting a movie with a folksy, small town vibe that is more about intimacy than life-changing genius with the feature Maudie. Maud Lewis was one of Canada's most popular folk artists with her depictions of outdoor scenes from her small town in Nova Scotia. This looks to have a nice and quiet charm, and with it being a Canadian production, it might even make its way near me before the year is out.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Remembering Stuart McLean: A Great Canadian Storyteller and Observer of Family Life

Stuart McLean was one of the great Canadian storytellers. The Vinyl Cafe was a one hour variety show on CBC Radio but I think most associate it with the short stories about his fictional characters Dave and Morley that McLean would read about each week. We actually have at least one of his short story anthology books that are a collection of those radio stories, and even though they aren't target towards kids, I've used as a bed time story for Everett in the past. There is a folksy warmth about the tales that made perfect for a young child to curl up in bed and be provided some comfort before drifting to sleep. McLean told stories that could resonate with a lot of people and felt like peeks into the average Canadian family. The stories were brimming with humour but also had a tenderness and a sincerity. They were close inspections and observations on what it was to be a North American (and especially Canadian) family.

A great writer and storyteller is one that has their ear to the ground and their eyes grasping every details. They examine and gobble up every conversation and daily action. They are intertwined with the heartbeats of society and have an intimacy with strangers. A writer looks at the mundane tasks of washing the dishes or taking the dog out for a walk and sees an inspirational, humorous, thought-provoking and valuable story. A storyteller knows everything can be entertaining or has some deeper message to share. This was what made McLean such an enduring storyteller that had captivated many about his tales of a fictional couple since 1994.

His stories were so authentic and astute, that for a while I had believe they were non-fiction. I am sure like every great storyteller, he has incorporate elements and experiences from his own life and those who he knew. A great storyteller is so connected to the world around them that they can turn their stories into something that is living and breathing and real. McLean was a humorist and an entertainer, but he also revealed the truths of everyday life.

My condolences to his friends and family, and my thank you for the many stories and inspiration he provided over the years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

'Dean' Trailer Shows Demetris Martin Going an Atypical Route for His First Starring Feature

I heard about Demetris Martin for a long time before ever seeing him. My brother-in-law made it a priority for most family-gatherings to let me know that Martin was his favourite comedian and he would then rattle off a few jokes to prove his point. I finally did get around to seeing his Netflix special, Demetris Martin: Live (which I have a sneaking suspicion was not when I got around to seeing it). His style is unique compared to many modern stand-up comedians, who usually tell stories and build up to the big punchline, because Martin instead just rattles off a series of one or two line jokes that are often funny observations on social and human behaviour. The fact he does it with a low level of enthusiasm and seems almost dead serious in his delivery makes it all the more funny.

Dean is Martin's first feature where he is the star, and it is interesting that he going for less non-stop laughfest and more of a dramedy. It is about an illustrator that is trying to cope with the loss of his mother and repair a fractured relationship with his father. The trailer definitely has some funny moments but it is coated with melancholy. The fact Martin also directed and wrote this feature shows he is passionate about the material and doesn't want his emergence on the big screen to be the typical comedian route. This is an independent comedy through and through, so it won't be any kind of box office monster like a Ride Along or Identity Thief, but it may earn him some critical credibility. He is also backed by pretty strong cast with Gillian Jacobs, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen.

This has potential to be a sleeper hit, and even if it doesn't reach its potential, Martin deserves respect for trying to make a comedy that actually has something to say and dares to mix in some drama and tears.

Might as Well Just Complete the Trilogy

Jemaine Clement is best known as one of the stars in the cult musical comedy series Flight of the Conchords and a decent selection of independent comedies after that. I actually wasn't as aware that he also has a pretty solid resume for voice work in children's features that include Rio, The BFG, The LEGO Batman Movie, and Despicable Me. His voice is most popular among the Spicer clan as the golden-backed crab, Tamatoa in Moana. Both Danika and Everett like to spend a few minutes a day pretending to be the giant crab and singing how shiny they are. For a one scene character, Tamatoa is one of the most memorable and lot of that is thanks to the humor and charm of Clement.