Captain Phillips (Film Review)

Captain Phillips (Film Review)

Captain Phillips gets it going, right from the beginning.

For this film based on true events, I was expecting a lot of buildup before the actual events of piracy on the seas just off Africa would get rolling. Boy, was I pleasantly wrong.

The movie gets moving pretty quickly, and before we know it, Tom Hanks and his crew aboard a transport ship are under siege from four determined Somali pirates, and things have gone horribly wrong. Their ship is boarded, and they have had to deal with one crazy situation.

capt2I hadn’t read much about this film upon its acclaimed release, or in the months since, but I was treated to a very tense, entertaining film. The action is not that of the Michael Bay variety, but provides serious tension throughout the film. Once the Captain is kidnapped, and taken aboard the lifeboat, the film continues to get better, and stronger.

As he almost always is, Tom Hanks is highly capable and watchable as the lead in the film. He exudes a certain calmness as Captain Phillips, even when he has a gun pressed against his temple. He always seems to be in control, and he comes over as an amazing character as the film progresses. Even when the Somalis know that they are done for, and are on the verge of panic while US warships float just off the side of their tiny lifeboat, he is in control. Of himself, and at times, of the pirates.

Film Review Captain Phillips

There is a lot going on in Captain Phillips, and it never ceases to be entertaining and stressful. Not sure how the whole thing was going to wrap up, it was impressive to see the show of strength by the United States in the situation that they were faced with. Dispatching a Navy warship, and aircraft carrier, helicopters, and the highly trained SEAL team, there was no way that they were going to let the small orange boat ever make it to the shores of Somalia, whether the Captain was alive or dead. It always left the conclusion in doubt, as to how the whole thing was going to unfold.

It is increasingly rare for films to be able to hold tension for the majority of its run time, but Captain Phillips does exactly that.

930353 - Captain Phillips

Barkhad Abdi, who plays the lead pirate, is exceptional in his role. He was justly nominated for a supporting Oscar, and won a BAFTA for his portrayal as the Somali fisherman who simply wants some money so that he can survive, but is crushed by his own ego, greed, and desire to obtain some semblance of the American Dream, even by the deplorable means of kidnapping. As his situation becomes more dire, he struggles to control his group of men, and knows that he is facing the longest of odds, but with grim determination, refuses to abandon his hopes of a successful attack on a US ship.

Captain Phillips is a very, very good film, and absolutely worth a watch. The running time flies by, and there are very few moments that will not leave viewers on the edge of their seats, wondering what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended.

Manson Family Vacation (Film Review)

Manson Family Vacation (Film Review)

Some families have secrets that are darker than others.

When straight-laced lawyer Nick has his odd, adopted brother Conrad come to town for a visit, things get a little weird with their family. Issues have arisen between them since their father passed away, and Conrad never went to the funeral. He had always been harboring thoughts that he was treated poorly by both his father and Nick throughout his life; that he had been treated like an outsider because he was the adopted one, and not really the true son or brother.

manson3This leads Conrad on an interesting path in life, as an artist and a bit of a wanderer. He sells all of his possessions, and ends up visiting Nick. From here, he convinces him that they should tour the sites of the Manson Family Murders, the ones that gripped the nation with fear, bringing evil into a simpler time in American history.

Conrad, played by Linas Phillips, is a quirky individual who would prefer to camp in the backyard rather than sleep inside, and is obsessed with the Manson murders. He wears Manson shirts, gets genuinely giddy at the sites of the Tate and LaBianca houses, and wants to get as close to “Charlie” as possible.

manson4There are, of course, reasons why.

Manson Family Vacation is a dark comedy, to say the least. The subject matter is consistently heavy, and the interviews with Manson interspersed with the film manage to elicit the creepiness that only he can, still, all these years later. There are moments of lighter humor, but it is never possible to disassociate with the fact that it is trying to make light of perhaps one of the grizzliest, most infamous crime sprees in the history of the country. Not something to take lightly, even if the film tries to.

manson2Conrad is always on the verge of taking things too far, and his flirtations with the Manson family, and the current members, is truly terrifying for Nick. Yet through the unlikely events, it allows the brothers to discuss their past, and realize the wrongs that they have committed, all while Conrad is trying to connect with his own demons, and his own past. In pretty much the least normal way possible.

Meet "The Family."
Meet “The Family.”

Manson Family Vacation was not as good as I expected it to be, but it provided some good moments, and some very surprising twists. It is an interesting film to be sure, and speaks to the odd connections that people are able to have, perhaps even if they have never met. It may not be funny enough to be considered a comedy, or dark enough to be considered a pure drama, but it lies at an awkward place in between. It is a good film, and one worth checking out. The characters are pretty interesting and generally likable, and the film does a good job of exploring the ways in which people need to reconcile their own pasts in order to be able to move forward as functional adults.

Purely based on the traumatic subject matter, Manson Family Vacation is worth checking out. It is a strange journey into a coming-of-age story that is definitely unlike many others out there.

Gravity (Film Review)

Gravity (Film Review)

It is hard to see a film that is so critically acclaimed, and then have a bunch of negative things to say about it. Such is the case with Gravity for me.

First off, it should be noted that I am a simple person who never saw this sci-fi film on the big screen, where it would have been a million times better than on my lackluster TV screen. Gravity is a massive film, and deserves to be seen on the screen. So I will not speak to the effects or grandeur of the film, since I never bore witness to it. Instead, I will focus on the film itself, instead of all the fancy effects and impressiveness of seeing everything on a massive screen in front of me.

gravity2For me, Gravity was a mixture of thrills, tedium, and preposterous situations. There were moments of this movie where you could feel yourself sliding to the edge of your seat, not entirely sure what was going to happen next. In the vast emptiness of space, it is easy to feel uneasy about being out there, all alone, with barely any hope to cling to. Yet that was balanced by a couple of characters (literally, two) that couldn’t really hold interest for too long. George Clooney, one of my favorite actors, was kind of annoying in this film, and his fate never seemed in doubt, even though there was no characterization or story as to why he would be such a heroic man. All we really know about his character is that he likes to talk and tell random stories, and he is obsessed with having the longest space walk record. Aside from that, nothing. We know nothing about his character as a man. And that plays as a huge flaw in the film.

gravity3The other star of the film, Sandra Bullock, received rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for her role as the scientist on board the doomed spacecraft. As with Clooney, we know next to nothing about her. The only revelation of her past is during the strange time when she and Clooney are shooting through space on the way to the International Space Station, when it is revealed that she had a daughter who died. It’s fine to create a fairly flat character, even in a lead role, but it made it more difficult to really care what happened to her in the end. When a film is based solely on two people carrying the movie, and hoping to enthrall the audience with emotions at their fates, they had better be characters that we really care about. In this sense, Gravity failed.

Sure, Bullock is good at demonstrating panic, and her fear comes across as very real. It is not a poor acting performance, by any stretch. In fact, she is very good with what she is given.

gravity4There is very little that I actually understand about science and space, but to me, so many of the things that transpired in the film seemed to be truly off-kilter. I’m sure there are plenty of space people who could say how realistic the film actually was, but to me, it came across as pretty far-fetched at points; especially around the ending of the film. This wasn’t a make-or-break thing for me, and I never mind suspending some disbelief, but I did feel like it took away from the film a little bit, since there were parts that I simply couldn’t believe, and get behind.

Gravity is a spectacle, and in the end, I quite enjoyed the film. But it is flawed, as a film on its own. I wish I could have seen it in the cinema, where I could have enjoyed the incredible visuals that garnered this film a good haul of technical Oscars.

But when it comes down to it, looking at Gravity simply as a story, it is just ok.

Master of None (TV Review)

Master of None (TV Review)

This is an excellent show.

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Aziz Ansari. I find his standup to be loud, and kind of annoying, despite being pretty funny. My views have completely changed after pouring through the first season of the Netflix original series, Master of None.

master3The show stars Ansari as Dev, a commercial actor in New York, who is sort of trying to make the leap to film, and his questions about life and love. The show tackles many different concepts, including the portrayal of Indian actors on TV, the guidelines of texting, the role of women and the sometimes subtle problems they must deal with, the relationships between parents and kids, and the stories that led them to where they are, the desire to make something of one’s life, and the struggles that come with relationships when people enter their 30s. It is all poignant, and there is solid humour that runs through the entire show, so that it is not too depressing, but a fun journey through the life of someone, who like so many people, feels a little lost, and doesn’t understand the world around them.

So much of what Dev comes to understand through his adventures in Master of None is that people simply need to be nicer to one another. If that could happen, the world would be a better place. But we have all of these rules in place, and people can be very selfish. It is interesting to have someone of that age group take a look at the world around them, and wonder where things changed.

master2There are so many very strong episodes in this season. Ones that will speak to viewers on different levels. Whether it is about the need to talk to your parents, and to learn about them, instead of always being focused on yourself. Or the problems with the dating world, and the missed opportunities that lay behind us all due to timing, luck, or situation. Or the problems with careers, and the desire to make ourselves happy, no matter who is around us. They are all interesting, they are witty, well-written, and simply put, good.

There could be definite comparisons between Master of None and Louie C.K.’s opus show, Louie. Both are about funny people who have a serious side, and are simply trying to negotiate the world around them, with the blessing/curse of being too observant and understanding too well the way that things work. And well Louie is a highly-revered and amazing show, I would dare say that Master of None is in the same ballpark as it, in terms of general excellence.

master4One of the focal points of the series is Dev’s relationships. He is a single guy, out dating in the world, before meeting someone who is pretty damn perfect for him. From there, we are able to see the tendencies of a relationship, the highs and the lows, between two people that seem so good together all of the time. It provides a very good, and realistic portrayal of the way that two people are able to, or aren’t able, to exist together. It can be funny, and it can be sad. This is one of the gifts of Master of None: the ability to elicit both feelings, often at the same time. It is a fine line for a show to toy with, but Master does a very good job of it, right from the very start.

There is very little to dislike about this show. Every episode is well-written, and explores something that is interesting to people who exist in this world. whether they are in their 20s looking forward, 30s realizing that it’s go time, or older, looking at the world as it is now, and getting to be thankful that they don’t need to exist in the mess of it that we have made. Dev and his group of friends are interesting and likable, and his interactions with them are always of interest as the show progresses. The advice that he gets, the conversations that they have, the way that they discuss the world around them. It’s a great coming-of-age show.

Master of None comes with my highest recommendation. Truly, a very good show.

Eating Edmonton: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Eating Edmonton: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Any time there is an item on a menu simply called “Bacon”, I am sold.

Tzin Wine and Tapas in Edmonton (10115- 104th street, right by the Blue Plate Diner) is a tiny hole-in-the-wall wine bar that can hold about 30 people at a time in a warm setting in the downtown area. What is provided here is a nice atmosphere, a very friendly staff, a cozy setting, and some good wine selections.

For food, Tzin doesn’t have an extensive menu, which is nice, and should be expected. It is tapas style, serving small portions so that you are able to try a few different things. And from my experience, those different things are quite tasty, and perfect for sharing.

We ate the Bacon and the Shrimp (I just love the simple names!), and both were very delicious, providing some tasty snacks in between sips of the main star of Tzin, which is the wine selection. A very good selection of both reds and whites should do the trick for wine lovers of all sorts. There isn’t much in the way of description of the wines, which would have been kind of nice, but it is more a place for someone who knows what kind of wine they like, and would like to try something that you can’t always get at the local Liquor Depot.

The prices aren’t bad, although Tzin isn’t exactly the kind of place one would go to if they were on some kind of budget. For two appetizers, and two glasses of wine each, the bill came to $100. Not insane, but not somewhere that could be frequented on a weekly basis on my income. But for the time there, it was well worth it.

tzin4The wines we tried were both delicious, and we both really liked the food that we had. The cozy atmosphere was quite nice, and despite the proximity of the tables to one another, it does feel like there is some sort of privacy. Even though they may be a couple of feet away from you, it is not like you have to hear every word that your neighbors are saying, and there is no need to up the volume on your conversation because the other people are too loud. It is quite nice.

Tzin’s decor definitely looks like a wine bar. The cramped quarters, the heavy velvet curtain upon entering the main door, the friendly server, all adds to the atmosphere of Tzin, and helps make it a pleasant evening there.

This is not a restaurant where I would recommend going for a full meal, but it is a good place for an after-work drink, or a quick bite and glass of wine with friends. It can also serve as a good date location. There is nothing but positive things to say about this place, and I would definitely recommend it, as well as frequent it again myself.

Garfunkel and Oates (TV Review)

Garfunkel and Oates (TV Review)

This series was an interesting find on Netflix Canada, and became a quick favourite of mine. Not someone who watches anything on YouTube, I had no idea who the musical comedy duo of Garfunkel and Oates were before watching their show. What I was treated to was a very good opening season, full of excellent comedy, great, catchy songs, and two very lovable lead characters.

go3Garfunkel and Oates, the show, is about the two girls that make up the band, and their lives off the stage. Riki and Kate go about their lives as minor celebrities, known for their online videos in which they sing songs on a wide range of topics, all hilarious. Pregnant women being gross, friends that are insanely forgettable, being bad at giving hand jobs, they cover all of the bases. They even have to experience Rule 34, where they become a porn parody.

The plots of the show are very much Seinfeld meets Flight of the Conchords, but the female version. And it makes for a lot of fun through the first episodes. The humour of the girls is quite observational, and things that they encounter in every day life end up becoming their songs. And most importantly, when it comes to the jokes, and to the songs, they are funny. During my binge watching of this season of Garfunkel and Oates, I definitely laughed out loud on several occasions, and have already recommended this show to several people who would like their brand of humour. Another comparison could be that it is the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt making music, at times, given the sweet innocence of Kate.

goUnfortunately, there will not be a second season of the show as of now. IFC, a channel that provides us with some good, independent laughs, has decided not to renew it for some reason, despite largely strong critical reviews of the series. This is definitely no good, but at least the duo will live on online. I would have definitely liked to have seen another eight episodes of these girls and their unique sense of humour.

Garfunkel and Oates is a very good show. It is very funny, and really, when looking for a lighthearted comedy, is there anything more than can be asked for? Check it out.

Dreamland (TV Review)

Dreamland (TV Review)

Originally called Utopia when it aired, the Australian series Dreamland follows the lives and projects of the folks at the National Building Authority, as they try to make Australia a better place with their grand projects for nation-building.

Naturally, it is the collision of big dreams and massive bureaucracy that provides Dreamland with the central conflict, and main comedy of the series. Right off the bat, there are many similarities between this show, and the British comedy Twenty Twelve, where they are trying to plan out the London Olympics (read my review of it here: Twenty Twelve).

With so many large projects on the go, it is the endless small things that continually get in the way for our likable nation builders at the NBA. Trying to keep everybody happy, while at the same time actually trying to get something done, provides for the humourous tension that we see throughout the series. It could also be compared, at points, to The Office, where incompetence provides a constant stumbling block for the characters actually determined to do their jobs.

dream2Dreamland serves as a political satire, and provides plenty of humour throughout. There are characters that are there to throw wrenches in all of the plans, and the seemingly endless issues that come up with each and every thing that the competent characters try to get done. It is fun to watch them struggle around, as their company is constantly spinning its tires, coming up with over-the-top new ideas, while simply trying to get to Stage 2 on any projects that they have actually been able to get green-lighted.

While every city has its troubles with planning and design, at times it feels like Dreamland ventures into the realm of reality. It could be easy to see planners in any place having to jump through the same hoops in order to get a project underway. Even the smallest project could be derailed by some fringe group that has one complaint or another about how it will be developed, or executed.

Dreamland is a fun watch. It is light, and full of enjoyable characters. From battles over the company logo, to appeasing bikers, to the prospect of building a massive bridge from Australia to Tasmania, the show is full of the ridiculous bickering that manages to stall good ideas and continue to contribute to the cycle of bureaucracy that helps get nothing done when it comes to government issues. Here, we are provided with a light look at how it all goes wrong, and are able to enjoy the ride. Dreamland doesn’t require a heavy viewer investment, and with an 8-episode season, it is easily digestible on Netflix.

The show is a good in-between when you are stuck in Netflix purgatory, and cannot decide which series will be next for you. A few enjoyable hours of watching bumbling Aussies just trying to get something done. Dreamland is fun.