The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Science Fiction Makers (2020) Review

Title: The Science Fiction Makers
Year; 2020
Director: Andrew Wall
Country: Canada
Language: English

With The Science Fiction Makers director Andrew Walls seeks to compare and contrast "light science fiction", sci fi that is based on the mystical (ex, Star Wars), with "hard science fiction", sci-fi that is based on technology & practicality (ex. Star Trek), In doing so, we examine the lives and works of three Christian writers (Rosseau, Lewis and L'Engle) 

Beginning with discussing Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, describing it as a retelling of the Garden of Eden & essentially making it a Christian tale, Walls shows us an example of what good Christian science fiction is while using HG Wells' The Sleeper Walks as an example of bad atheist fiction. HG Wells was so repulsive that Rosseau & C.S Lewis wrote their works, most notably The Messiah of the Cylinder, as a response to him. 

I dislike this documentarys' method of building up Christian writers by dismissing the thoughts of secular writers.  Even the narration, such as when we read Orwell's response to C.S Lewis The Hideous Strength, makes the secular writer sound like a villain. The response we get from a secular critique of a christian writer is "well they are secular."  Walls' encourages us to view the secular writers as Marxist pro-eugenics, anti-faith while holding the Christian writers in high regard. It almost pushed the film towards "too evangelical for me." Surely these writers are good enough on their own & putting down secularism wasn't necessary to get the point across.

I do love the in-depth discussion of each writers' works, lives & importance to Christianity as a whole. The dramatization of events, told by a number of Winnipeg's best and brightest (Dr. Michael Boyce, Dr. Diana Glyer etc,), improved with an intense score, creates a remarkable documentary that feels different from most. The information feels urgent; each sentence forming a small piece of a giant picture that encourages its audience to dive into Christian writing. The research done to create this documentary must have been staggering; I am impressed by Walls' passion for history.

Despite my distaste with putting down secular writers, I must admit the documentary is very well made. It is as engaging as it is informative. The second part of a trilogy, I look forward to seeing the third part of The Science Fiction Makers when it is finished. More interviews with Dr. Michael Boyce please! 

The Science Fiction Makers is available on Amazon Prime & Super Channel in Canada

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Soul (2020) Review

Title: Soul
Year: 2020
Director: Pete Docter
Country: US
Language: English

Though often made for a younger demographic, there are certain animated movies, by Disney or otherwise, that are in no way, shape, or form "kids movies". Soul, which begins with the death of the main character, is not a kids film. Released on Christmas Day, this latest Disney Pixar strangely reminds me of another Christmas classic; It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

In Soul a musician (Jamie Foxx) who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself (Tina Fey) .

Our protagonist is a middle aged man grappling with middle aged issues of self doubt, insecurity, and facing the reality of his failed dreams. It's a poignant big hearted picture that has an odd moral for a studio known for telling kids to chase their dreams. Soul tells us that our lives are meaningful and that we can find meaning in the smallest of things. In addition, Soul explores the emptiness of dreams fulfilled. 

Unusual for a Pixar film - as in there is a long history of non-representation- the film is centered on a predominantly Black cast. Albeit this may be a case of one step forward, two steps back, as much of the characters are a non-racial blue pigment during the majority of the screen-time. POC have made many complaints that their skin color isn't fully represented even though the main character is a poc. 

Soul (2020) is a pretty mature animated film that is a little bit balanced with some of its more comedic moments. As a cat person I loved the scenes where our main character accidentally become a feline in New York. This is a worthwhile film that can stand alongside Pixar's best. 

Hamilton (2020) Review

Title: Hamilton
Year: 2020
Director: Thomas Kail
Country: US
Language: English

Hamilton depicts the real life of one of America's foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Captured live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the original Broadway cast. The filmed version is exclusive to Disney+.

Overseen by Thomas Kail, who also directed the show on Broadway, this direct stage-to-screen version of Hamilton is a live capture covered by six cameras. Director Kail intermixes Steadicams and cranes with fixed cameras, ricocheting the audience from one side of the stage to the other and trying to find a slightly different approach for each number. The result doesn't look especially cinematic, but it is still quite impressive and full of energy. Please hire this man for more musicals. 

Hamilton does a great job at making American History accessible to people of all races. We've all been taught the white powdered wig version of the US, but poet laurate Lin-Manuel Miranda changed the founding fathers to be idealistic people of color (George Washington looks quite similar to Prince) & turned their nations' soundtrack from stuffy classical to up-beat hip=hop. Miranda's version of America is one that reminds its citizens that its roots are in the outsiders. It's such an important statement to make during the Trump era of American politics. 

A celebration of diversity which consists of a memorable soundtrack ("I wanna be in the room where it happens."), phenomenal acting by the entire cast (I particularly love the cameos by Jonathon Groff) and inspired choreography, Hamilton is a remarkable musical that has set the bar for how future musicals must look & sound like. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Events Transpiring Before, During, and After a High School Basketball Game (2020) Review

Title: Events Transpiring Before, During, and After a HIgh School basketball Game
Year: 2020
Director: Ted Stenson 
Country: Canada
Language: English

This feature, which has an incredibly long name that I'll just abbreviate as ETBDAHSBG, was a very last minute addition to my Calgary Film Festival viewing list. I am not a huge fan of basketball or documentaries about basketball, (sorry Hoop Dreams) but I found myself intrigued by the fact that the director was local to Calgary. I was surprised to find out this was not a documentary. It is a comedy, and a damn good one at that.

As Middleview High School's woeful boys basketball team prepares for another certain loss, several unusual dramas take shape around its periphery. A referee finds himself taking care of a pomeranian, the assistant coach is adamant they try a new strategy, a player tries to explain existentialism, and a drama class plan a confrontational protest after their play is banned.

"Have you guys seen The Matrix?" ETBDAHSBG is a weird picture which tells many different odd stories from an eclectic group of characters that is equal parts mundane and absurd. It has the awkwardness & amateur style acting of Napoleon Dynamite, mixed with the social nuances of The Breakfast Club. It's a modest little film that takes a low key approach to the genre. None of the characters are chewing the scenery, rather the ensemble and their stories intertwining are at the core of this picture.

You might not remember any of the characters in ETBDAHSBG, though that might be purposeful as most students feel invisible in high school. You might not enjoy every joke either; one scene involves a moment where a kid claims Jack to be his favourite Coppola flick. The joke is akward and doesn't make any sense, as do many other "jokes" in the film. 

I feel the director captures the spirit of high school adolescence and the uncomfortable times that it produced.ETBDAHSBG is a fairly short feature film (70-ish minutes) that impressed me with how it could tell so many stories in such a compact and satisfied way. The many great performances, combined with quirky direction left me amused by this very relatable, very nostalgic film.

Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958) Review

Title: Jazz on a Summer's Day
Year: 1958
Director: Bert Stern
Country: US
Language: English

The Calgary Film Festival
didn't just show newer pictures; Jazz on a Summer's Day is a concert film from the 50's that was newly restored for its 60th Anniversary. Considered the first concert film ever made, Jazz on a Summer's Day paved the way for similar workslike Montery Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970)

In 1958 photographer Bert Stern went to the Newport Jazz Festival and captured the fabled performances by an array of musical legends including;  Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington and Mahalia Jackson.

Funded by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, the film restoration greatly enhances the original audio and visuals. It does a complete cleanup to where no markings, scratches, or grain is present. This film, while made 61years ago, looks as if it was shot today. You could show it next to any modern film &  most audiences wouldn't be able to tell the difference from a technical aspect.

Jazz on a Summer's Day was a joy to watch. We are treated to a variety of performances by Jazz legends. We get to go backstage with some of them & get a feeling for their personality. We get to soak up a late 50's atmosphere that feels vibrant, youthful and full of energy. 

We often view this era as a conservative time, but this picture shows us glimpses of the hippie 60's that has yet to come. Ultimately,  I was transfixed & deeply moved by this impressive documentary.

Shiva Baby (2020) Review

Title: Shiva Baby
Year: 2020
Director: Emma Seligman
Country: US 
Language: English

In September 2020 I decided to watch 10 films for the Calgary Film Festival. Due to the ongoing pandemic, a large part of the festival was online, although geo-blocked to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and my province, Manitoba. This picture, Shiva Baby also played at Toronto International Film Festival earlier during the same month. However, it was almost 3x the cost ($9 vs. $26).

At a Jewish funeral service with her parents, a college student named Daniel (Rachel Sennot) runs into her sugar daddy (Danny Defferari)

Shiva Baby is a great film to watch during a pandemic. Nearly the entirety of the film takes place during a crowded family funeral where nobody is social distancing and weird relatives, who Daniel likely rarely sees, are too touchy feely. As our main character navigates through countless aunts and uncles, we can easily sympathize with her plight.

Ariel Marx's anxiety inducing score, which consists of staccato guitar strings and high key piano notes, adds to the claustrophobic and tense atmosphere. Shiva Baby is a comedy, by the way, in the vein as a Woody Allen flick. Much of the humour comes from quick witted conversations and increasingly awkward moments. "Do you want to hold our baby?" the wife of Danielle's sugar daddy asks.

Shiva Baby is an awkward, sex positive, lgbtt film that, while likely not getting the mainstream attention it deserves, will be considered a great comedy. As cringe inducing as some scenes were, I found myself laughing hysterically while the film built up to a surprisingly touching climax. This picture is much needed in 2020.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Another Round (2020) Review

Title: Another Round
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Year: 2020
Country: Denmark
Language: Danish

Thomas Vinterberg created the Dogme 95 movement in 1995, along with Lars Von Trier (Antichrist). The main goal of the movement was to take back power for the artist, as opposed to the studio. They wrote a list of filmmaking rules to abide by. Vinterberg still sticks by some of these rules, but he has become a more conventional film-maker as time has passed.

In Another Round friends, all high school teachers, test a theory that they will improve their lives by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in their blood.

Many of Vinterberg's pictures have a great hook and Another Round is no different. Unfortunately, this becomes a fairly frustrating film early on. Judging from the posters, previews & other advertising media, the film portrays itself as an Animal House-like film of excess, but what you see in theatres will differ wildly fromyour expectations.

A drama dedicated to the joys of drinking seems like a bold move, but the "excess" and downfall of our characters come way too soonin the picture (within 20 minutes) & the majority of the film is a preachy message about how drinking is bad.

"Do you know alcohol causes social problems?" Yes we do! The film's message is almost insulting in how dumb they presume theiraudience to be. There are far better party pictures out there. Skip this one. 

Holiday (1938) Review

Title: Holiday
Year: 1938
Director: George Cukor
Country: US
Language: English 

I love George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story) I love Cary Grant (The Awful Truth), I love Katherine Hepburn (Bringing up Baby) and, surprsing to no-one, I love when all three collaborate together. Grant & Hepburn have an undeniable chemstry that seaps through the big screen; reminding us of our free & bumbling selves. Cukor knows the right way to harvest this chemistry & get the most out of our charming actors. 

Part of a string of critically acclaimed pictures that turned out to be bombs at the box office, which would relegate Hepburn to "Hollywood Poison" until the 40's, Holiday is, on the surfacem, a heartwarming picture about balancing freedom with obligation and, within deeper context, a critique of older generation mentality. 

In this picture free-thinking Johnny Case (Cary Grant) finds himself betrothed to a millionaire's daughter. When her family, with the exception of black-sheep Linda (Katherine Hepburn) and drunken Ned, want Johnny to settle down to big business, he rebels, wishing instead to spend the early years of his life on "holiday."

While Holiday (1938) is a fairly funny picture, one must not be blind to the subtext in the screenplay, which mirrored the real world at the time. Johnny represents a fairly new post-depression pre-wwII economic attitude that felt old wealth brought about the economic collapse of 1929. New Dealers, who sought to spread wealth amongst social classes, were at odds with the old ways of hoarding wealth. There's even a line within the film, where the millionaire father states that things would be better "if only we had a different form of government."

Overshadowed by more famous pictures of the era, like Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby, Holiday is a remarkable feast to swoon at. We rarely see actors with this much charm, wit, and grace, bouncing off one another. 


The Cameraman (1928) Review

Title: The Cameraman
Year: 1928
Director: Edward Sedgwick
Country: US 
Language: English

By 1928, Buster Keaton was one of the biggest stars in the world. MGM, the motion picture company, was one of the biggest movie studios in the world. MGM, seeing Keaton as a box office giant, hired Keaton at a guaranteed salary of $3,000 per week + a percentage of his film's gross. Though seemingly a phenomenal deal for any performer, Keaton claimed it was "One of the worst career decisions of my life." The first picture he would make for them was The Cameraman

Hopelessly in love with a woman working at MGM Studios, a clumsy man (Buser Keaton) attempts to become a motion picture cameraman to be close to the object of his desire.

Feeling stymied by MGM studios, often claiming that there were "Too many crooks." The Cameraman was a passion project for Keaton, his last great film because he pushed to make things his way despite the studio's insistence that he remain performer only. The film is an ode to vaudeville, comedy pictures, and the great mechanical invention that made his success poular.

The Cameraman follows the standard arc of a Buster Keaton picture; entranced by love, the meek hero overcomes the odds, proves himself & wins the girl. It is an effective story because of its deliberate pace & comic rhythm. It is always exhilirating to watch Keaton run in a frantic pace; weaving through cars, vaulting over curbs and diving like an arrow for his target, Each pratfall is executed with remarkable precision; Keaton can steal the scene just by the old falling on a banana peel gag, 

The Cameraman  proved to be a success for MGM studios, who unfortunately learned the wrong lessons and thought this success was due to having Keaton on a leash. Keaton would never make a "great" picture again. Having enjoyed this picture, I grieve over the loss of such talent, but I'm incredibly thankful that many of his earlier films still exist despite being nearly a century old. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

10 Best Films of 2020


 The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 rocked the movie industry to its core. Plenty of films slated to release this year, like the Bond picture No Time to Die, were delayed again and again. Cinemas were shut down, then revived, only to be shut down immediately after. Warner Brothers shocked everyone when they announced that the majority of their film slate were to debut digitally on HBO Max. 

The future looks uncertain; there is doubt that the theatre industry will survive much longer as online streaming (Disney+, Netflix) booms. Projects that were in the middle of production, especially those with limited budgets, may never see the light of day. Even if they do, they may not make the same money pre-pandemic. 

On the bright side, film festivals like Toronto Film Festival still ran albeit with a much smaller slate. Despite cinemas being closed, there were still plenty of digital releases that exceeded expectations. I'm hesitant to accept a purely digital film experience, but if digital releases look/feel/sound like the following top ten then I'll be hooked.

10.Weathering With You (Makoto Shinkai)

9. Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson)

8. Ammonite (Francis Lee) 

7.Get the Hell Out (I-Fan Wang) 

6.American Utopia (Spike Lee)

5. Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman) 

4. Shadow in the Cloud (Roseanne Liang)

3. One Night in Miami (Regina King) 

2. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

1. Nomadland (Chloe Zhao)