Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Top 10 best movies of the first half of 2017...

I'll refrain from saying too much and just get to the list. There are quite a few obscure movies on my list, so I've included trailers for the lesser known movies.

It should be noted that my #7 and #1 pick are actually movies I saw at TIFF last year, but I chose to refrain from adding it my 2016 list, because they never got a theatrical release in 2016. Now that both #7 and #1 got actual theatrical releases in 2017, they're now on my list.

Honorable Mentions:

Hidden Figures, Kong: Skull Island, Logan, Beauty and the beast, Hush, Catfight, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Now for the rest of the list, and I guess I better defend my #10 pick since it got A LOT of hate.

10. The Great Wall ****

Yes I know, it's yet another movie where a white guy saves the day. Yes, the movie isn't all that smart, and for people who are big fans of Yimou Zhang, this movie lacks the depth of the House of Flying Daggers and Hero. But god damn it, this movie is a visual feast; especially in Imax 3D, it was the trippiest movie of the year so far with spectacular 3-D (and best use of shit flying out of  the screen effects in a long time). It's like Lord of the Rings battle scenes with the gorgeous color pallette of House of Flying Daggers with The Great wall of China as a backdrop, awesome wire work, and Zhang Yimou even out-Michael Bays Michael Bay with absolutely over the top epic explosions, often exploding into your face in 3-D. Come on, people! The battle scenes absolutely fucking ruled, and the movie was gorgeous to look at. I have the feeling I may look back at this review and shake my head when I watch this movie sober on a regular TV. Oh well, time will tell.

9. Heel Kick ****

To the die hard wrestling fans, this movie is an absolute must see. To the non-wrestling fans who love a good low brow sense of humor, give Heel Kick a chance; wrestling knowledge isn't required to laugh, but the smarks will appreciate it just a little more. Not only is this easily the funniest wrestling movie ever made, but it's also the funniest mockumentary in the past few years.

I'm sure most wrestling fans will agree that most wrestling movies suck; especially comedies. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of one good wrestling comedy. Leave it to a low budget Canadian film to finally break that curse, with knowledge of the industry that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence, great performances and improv that feel so natural (to the main actor's credit, I had a beer with him after and he is absolutely nothing like the character he plays), and even a nice coming of age story for characters that seem redeemable. The ending is actually quite uplifting.

It's not an easy movie to find. Film festivals were too pretentious to accept a wrestling movie, they've toured it around U.S and Canada and I think it'll get an online release. I'll just say follow their facebook page and hopefully it'll get a release soon. I will very gladly watch this again.


8. John Wick: Chapter 2 ****

A rare sequel that has one hell of a conundrum that has plagued my mind since seeing it...was this better or part 1? I still don't know. It's a question that can be deeply pondered, debated and may need repeat viewings of both to come up with a good answer. Unlike TAKEN, where that sequel seemed to forget what everyone loved so much about the original (PG 13 sequel? Get the fuck out!), John Wick 2 absolutely remembers and delivers everything that was so great about part 1, from the absolutely brutal violence (I'm hard pressed to find a movie with more point blank shots to the face than this one) to the quirky characters to some great dark comedy. While I preferred the simplicity and sillyness of part 1's plot, part 2 may have had the more memorable action sequences. The scene of Keanu Reeves and Common trying to discreetly kill each other in a very public area is one of the most absurd, but hilarious moments, and what a great, quirky feud they have. Another The Raid Redemption series better or John Wick? I think we need a part 3 of both to answer that question.

7. My Entire Highschool sinking into the sea ****

This was one of my favorite movies at TIFF. It's a very funny, creative, abstract, random and trippy as fuck animated movie. What struck me about it, you just get a sense of the director and animator having so much fun making it, throwing the rule book out the window, doing whatever the fuck they want. There's even a charm to some, "the director clearly couldn't give 2 shits how this scene was animated" scenes which lead to some of the biggest laughs, ie: the lunch lady bearing the shit out of a bunch of high schoolers, which looked like it was animated by a 12 year old. And talk about randomness, there is that one part where the director is clearly fascinated by a single dot on a page which leads to a psychedelic, fractal zoom deep into the dot, in the middle of a chaotic scene. 

Beyond raving over the randomness and trippyness, its premise for a highschool sinking into the sea actually makes for a great metaphor for highschool itself and trying oh so hard to fit in. Remember back in the day when being popular was the most important thing? Here's a movie that captures that stupid teenage angst in a very zany, random as fuck way and it's one of the most unique highschool movies ever made.


6. Wonder Woman ****

I know a lot of people will pick LOGAN as best super hero movie of 2017, but I'm going with Wonder Woman, to which I went in skeptical about whether it could live up to all the hype, and walked out surprised as fuck at how much it actually exceeded all the hype. Wonder Woman's screenplay and performances are what elevate the movie to greatness; the action scenes are just the icing on the cake.  

I hope Wonder Woman isn't just lazily labelled as a girl power movie. It's actually a thoughtful, profound look at human morality, and I like how Wonder Woman's power grows the deeper she understands both the bad and the good of humanity; of violence, greed and jealousy vs. love and selflessness. Wonder Woman is also surprisingly a great comedy for the first half, with not just great fish out of water comedy with Wonder Woman trying to act like a normal human being in London, but I'm hard pressed to find a duo this year with better comedic chemistry than Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (who delivers one of the best straight man performances in a while), and a relationship that grows into something far deeper later in the movie. Congrats to Patty Jenkins for one hell of a return to the big screen after only took 14 years. 

5. My Life as a Zucchini ****

I saw a critic label this French animated movie as a kids claymation version of SHORT TERM 12 to which I had to say, "If that's true, I'm 100% sold on this movie!" After seeing it, fuck yes that's accurate. It's not quite as poignant, but it's a kids movie; it shouldn't be. Both movies take place in a group home, with abandoned, damaged children and the caretakers who pour their hearts out to take care of them.
This is the most powerful movie I've seen this year, and to be able to get that type of emotion out of the audience using clay figures is a fucking accomplishment.

 I really am curious if parents were taking their kids out to this movie in France, because this is really heavy dramatic stuff for children to handle. It's charming and funny, but raw, and honest about the emotional scars children carry. Most importantly, it's a celebration of love in its many forms, in a group home where abandoned children feel like no one out there loves them. 


4. The Devil's Candy ****1/2

The Devil's Candy is the best horror movie of the past 2 years. It may not be a purely scary horror movie, but it's directed with such creativity and originality. How often do we get an artsy horror movie, let alone a heavy metal horror? We've seen many haunted house horrors, but none like this. I love the concept of an artist getting haunted through his paintings, where a demonic force takes over his mind, making him paint really fucked up shit. 

Beyond the artsyness, the movie is intense as fuck. It's not just a haunted house horror, but also a slasher movie with one hell of an unforgettable villain. The scene with the daughter duct taped in the bathroom is one of the most suspenseful scenes in recent memory. Give us something original, and give us characters that are well developed, that we actually give a shit about, and the suspense will work. If there's one knock against the movie, maybe the director doesn't understand how fire works, or simply didn't give a shit...ah fuck it, that scene still ruled. 

3. I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore ****1/2

What a nihilistic, misanthropic, but fucking hilarious, shocking movie. It starts with a character who's had steaming piles of shit thrown at her life non-stop. She just wishes that people can stop being assholes. Then people break in and steal her shit, and that's the last straw. What takes place from there is a brutally violent dark comedy that would make the Coen Brothers proud. One critic described it as Blood Simple meets The 3 Stooges; I think that's accurate.

I don't have too much else to say. I never knew where the movie was going, and it just never fails to be unpredictable, and to surprise and it holy shit does it build up to shocking, goofy, quirky, dark comedy at its best. You still take everything seriously, despite how silly certain things are and that's the mark of an accomplished dark comedy.


2. Dream Big: Engineering Our World (IMAX DOCUMENTARY) ****1/2

I am a huge fan of going to the Ontario Science Centre for 40 minute Imax documentaries for its breathtaking cinematography which this movie has plenty of, but from a pure storytelling standpoint I think DREAM BIG may be the best of them all. It is by far the most inspirational Imax movie of all time and surprisingly very touching.  

It's a great celebration of smart engineering ideas that have changed the way we live our lives, saved lives, and solved massive worldwide problems. The ideas they present are absolutely fucking brililiant and at times mind blowing. This will give you a sense of awe at the ingenuity, and creativity of engineers. It's not only educational, but it tells very human stories as well about ambitious engineers, of varying ages and varying dreams. The most touching stories were the bridge building in Cairo and the highschool robotics team competing against the top colleges. 

DREAM BIG should be required viewing for science classes in elementary school, highschool, hell, show the movie to first year engineering students in college. This is a movie that will fire people up about science and we need young minds to feel inspired to change the world, because there's going to be a shitload more problems in the future; but first they have to dare to dream big. Yeah I know, that was cheesy, fuck off.  


1. Colossal ****1/2

This was definitely my favorite movie at TIFF. My pick for #1 is actually the most absurd movie of the year and really requires a suspension of disbelief. If you cannot accept the movie's premise then it will be hard to get into. It was easy for me, because I admired the movie's audacity to pull off a premise like this. Absurdity + comedy + originality works for me, and if you're going to go absurd, go all the way and don't hold back.

This is the movie for people who utter that annoying phrase, "Everything's been done. There are no original ideas." That seemed to be the case for big creature movies. For those that seem to be getting bored of the big creature movies of the same CGI orgies of giant creatures destroying shit, along comes Colossal, a movie that's best described as Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich. Now that's a combination I never expected to see. Hell, maybe throw in a little Rachael Getting Married (though not nearly as depressing), as this is Anne Hatheway's best performance since that movie, and her character will remind you of her character from that movie.

Instead of summarizing the plot, just watch the trailer. As much as I've talked up the movie's absurdness and weirdness, it still is a good character study, showing the lives of small town people, not really going anywhere in their lives and their battles with alcoholism; Anne Hatheway gives an Oscar worthy performance, Jason Sudekis is great, and Tim Blake Nelson is so under-rated as an actor who is never not hilarious every time he's on screen, and he loves to play a dumb Hillbilly despite being one of the most profound directors. The emergence of the Godzilla monster, unknowingly controlled by Anne Hatheway can be seen as metaphor for alcoholism, but to me it's simply the funniest movie of the year. Even the fact that the CGI and visual effects are all for comedy is also a refreshing change from every big creature feature.

Earlier I said, if you're going to go absurd, then go all the way; just when you thought the movie couldn't be any more absurd, the climax happens, and I couldn't have asked for anything better.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Top 10 best movies of 2016...

This is a solid fucking list; an interesting, unique list. God damn it, the majority of critics' list are the same shit, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight and La La Land topping every list.

2016 was a really shitty year for humanity and the world, but the silver lining is that it was a phenomenal year for movies. This top 10 list is easily a better list of movies than last year, or the year before. Without further ado.

Very special honorable mention:
Colossal, a great movie I saw at TIFF which originally made my list. Since it's not getting a theatrical release till late 2017, I decided it'd be pointless to include it on my list if no one can see it. So, you'll be sure to see it on my 2017 list. It's definitely the weirdest, funniest, most original Godzilla type movie ever made.

Honorable Mentions: 

Deadpool, Train to Busan, Sleeping Giant, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Bad Moms, Other People, Jungle Book, Moonlight, Lights Out, The Shallows, Nerve, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Kubo and the Two Strings

10. Captain Fantastic ****1/2

Manchester by the Sea is the dramedy that's been getting most of the acclaim, and while it is a great, darkly funny, and devastating movie about grief, Captain Fantastic holds similar qualities, but it's more memorable to me. It's a more original story, with more unique characters, and so interesting...oh shit, Viggo's character hates the word "interesting" when critiquing art.

This isn't typical "escapist entertainment", but I just loved spending time with this fascinating family, living in the wilderness away from civilization, with a father teaching his kids important survival skills, and teaching them to be profound, independent thinkers, and treating them like adults even at the earliest age. I could watch a whole fucking TV show that's just their lives in the wilderness, but they do eventually have to make the trip into civilization, where they try to relate to the city people, and it makes for some great comedy, some emotionally wrenching moments, and a good debate about parenting.

Captain Fantastic also has the performance of the year by Viggo Mortensen and the best cast of child actors of any movie, who play such challenging, and unconventional child roles. t's a movie that'll stay with you for a while. I definitely want to re-visit this movie soon.

9. The Handmaiden ****1/2

There was a lot of hype at TIFF over this movie, and wow it sure as hell lived up to the hype. Maybe I need to look into more Chan-wook Park movies. If Oldboy was the most fucked up revenge movie of all time, Handmaiden takes the cake as the most fucked up, erotic, con artist/romance movie I can think of. What starts off like a simple story with a seemingly simple con, is full of twists to which I admit that every single twist got me. 

It tells a story with a 3 chapters structure, often presenting the same moment, but unravelling new details and different vantage points, as the audience slowly pieces everything together, but getting tricked multiple times while trying to piece if all together. 

A friend of mine saw this at TIFF and sold me on this movie about awesome lesbian sex scenes. I saw it and texted her to tell her how much I loved the movie and she asked whether I still would have enjoyed the movie without the explicit lesbian sex. I'm like, "Fuck yeah. Even without it, it's a great movie and tells a great story, and it's kind of beautiful. But...the lesbian sex scenes are like the icing on the cake. They didn't really have to be there, well maybe they did, but they didn't need to be THAT explicit to almost porno territory, but it kind of made the movie even more awesome. 

8. Sing Street ****1/2

LA LA LAND is a great musical; it broke records at the Golden Globes, it won the people's choice award at TIFF, and don't be surprised if you see it win best picture at the Oscars. With that being said though, LA LA LAND was the 2nd best musical of the year.  

John Carney has created his own subgenre of "grounded in realism low budget musicals" which takes the cheesiness and contrivance of having characters break into musical numbers, and instead has the musical numbers come in completely realistic, low key ways. First he charmed audiences with ONCE, then there was BEGIN AGAIN, and now I think SING STREET is his best; a celebration of music and its transformative power in our lives. John Carney is especially fascinated with how music can bring 2 people together to form a truly special connection. 

No matter what bullshit is going on, we have music to get us through it, as a catharsis for our pain. Most of all, Sing Street is one hell of an inspirational movie reminding all artists to take whatever pain and bullshit that's going on in their lives and turn it into art, because why the fuck not? Pain and suffering can be the best inspiration. Just like John Carney's other movies, Sing Street is the kind of movie that will make you want to hug the fuck out of anyone in sight after watching it.

7. The Little Prince ****1/2

By a landslide, the best animated movie of 2016. Although it's a family movie and there's enough cool visuals to keep the kids entertained, I think adults will be far more moved by this than kids. It's a great coming of age story, a little girl who truly learns what it means to grow up, against her mother's vision of what it means to be a grown up. As the aviator says, "Growing up isn't the problem, forgetting is." 

Childhood is the period of our the world is a true wonder, how much of that are we losing we age? Little Prince kind of reminded me of Bridge to Terebithia in being movie directed at children that's bittersweet about dealing with loss, but ultimately what you get out of it. It also has a lot in common with my pick for #4, though this one is not quite as tear jerking. Most of all though, it's a very entertaining movie, weird and abstract at times, with very well developed characters and although not hilarious, its sense of humor is clever when it's there. There would be no Oscar upset that would make me happier than to see Little Prince pull a shocking upset for best animated movie. The favorite to win is ZOOTOPIA, which I guess I'm kind of okay with; as long as it's not Finding Dory, fuck that mediocre bullshit! 

6. How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town ****1/2

This was a solid year for Canadian Cinema, but How to Plan an Orgy definitely takes the top spot as best Canadian movie of 2016, and the funniest raunchy sex comedy I've seen in a long long time. I'll call this the highest brow low brow sex comedy. There's a uniqueness to the gags, and everything about the awkwardness, inadequacies, and problems in the bedroom, including how no one can control their orgasm face which is captured with such hilarity and artistry. Let's not write this off as just low brow American Pie like trash. There actually is a lot of wit and intelligence to the dialogue writing as well.

I really enjoyed the ensemble approach, highlighting that all the characters have something different or a different motivation to get out of the orgy. But what surprised me is that despite how absurd the premise of the movie is, when the comedy dies down for some drama which usually fails in just about every raunchy comedy, it actually works in this one. I'm impressed that a movie called How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town has surprisingly very good character development, with the most beautiful and poetic ending imaginable.

5. Mei Ren Yu (The Mermaid) ****1/2

This is the #1 highest grossing movie of all time in China, and well deserved!! 

If you've seen Dances with Wolves, Avatar and Pocahontas, you'll definitely recognize the exact same structure this movie will go through, but this one takes a much wackier, comedic approach, while still delivering social commentary about human greed and how badly we're fucking up the environment. 

It's kind of like a Chinese Avatar meets a Chinese Monty Python though I take The Mermaid over Avatar, Wolves and Pocahontas any day. It pulls everything off in a brisk 90 minutes, and my god is this movie funny! You don't need to be Chinese to appreciate the humor; there's a uniqueness to its sense of humor that's sorely lacking in Hollywood comedies. Hollywood comedies rely a lot more on pure dialogue humor nowadays, and there's just something so much more creative about this movie's comedy. It's very goofy, but clever in its goofiness and has its fair share of physical comedy as well as some great dialogue writing. 

There's a scene of a billionaire that walks into a police station to report that he'd been abducted by mermaids. I don't know how much of this scene was improvised, but holy shit, funniest scene of the year! When this scene began, I knew it'd be funny, but it just absolutely blew my expectations away. This scene should be studied by all comedy directors. 

So, the CGI is a little cheesy, but there's a charm to it and a sense of filmmakers being very aware of how cheesy it looks, and just having fun with it. 

To my fellow Chinese people, you absolutely must watch this movie!! For the non-Chinese who's bored of the same shit from Hollywood and want something different, give this a try! There is no other comedy movie like it.  

4. A Monster Calls ****1/2

I think all movie theatres that play A MONSTER CALLS need to give out packets of tissues with the purchase a ticket and maybe free counseling too (okay maybe the latter is an exaggeration...or maybe not!) I think it's without a doubt the heaviest drama I've seen in a long time, and I'm surprised that a dark fairy tale could have so much more of an emotional resonance than most actual dramas. You may need to sit there till the credits are finished rolling to fully compose yourself.  

I hope I don't make it sound like an all out depressing movie; it's a beautiful movie that very maturely deals with grief, and coming to terms with loss, confronting pain, and the psychology and conflicting emotions of seeing a loved one fight for their life. I almost think that if you've lost very close loved ones, this movie may even be therapeutic. It uses a giant tree monster (and a very inspired casting choice to go with Liam Neeson to voice the monster) as a metaphorical device, as he shows up to try to help the child come to terms with his mom's cancer and help unleash the monster inside of him instead of holding all the pain and sadness inside. 

With that said, it goes about it in a very entertaining with some very impressive visual effects, and directed with great style, including some brilliant water color animations that are used when the monster tells stories to the child. There's a nice light comedic chemistry between the boy and the monster. I've never heard of Lewis MacDougall, but best child performance I've seen in a long time. You may feel emotionally drained by the end of the movie, but it's worth it, damnit! 

3. Maggie's Plan ****1/2

I love going into a movie with mediocre expectations and being absolutely blown away. MAGGIE'S PLAN is the best romantic comedy I've seen in a very long time. If I can give an award to the best dialogue writing, the wittiest one liners, this is it. The dialogue writing rivals Woody Allen in his prime. 

It's been described as Woody Allen meets Noah Baumbach, but I think it beats any Woody Allen movie of the past (goes through Woody Allen's imdb) 20 years and sure beats any Noah Baumbach movie. The movie has one of the most quirky, memorable love triangles, a very unique premise, and has such fun, interesting, eccentric, messy characters. It's a hilarious celebration of the messiness of love, and how perhaps it can be our flaws that connect us together. Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore all have great comedic chemistry with each other and are all so good in their own ways, it's hard to pick the best of the 3. 

This is not a movie I can recommend to everyone. It definitely requires a level of nerdiness to appreciate a lot of the humor, and the more english and literature you've studied in college, the more you'll get out of it, as it has a lot of fun with taking the piss out of the pretentiousness of academia, and high art culture which are not targetted enough in comedies.  

2. Eye in the Sky ****1/2

Eye in the Sky is the best political thriller I've seen in a long time; it's almost like a war movie stage play. It is absolutely fucking intense and suspenseful from beginning to end. It's a morally challenging movie that can be debated well after the credits roll. There is no easy answer to the dilemma. You have the most dangerous terrorists you can take out with a drone attack, but you also have an innocent little child nearby who is very likely to die from the attack. What is the right thing to do? Is killing a child justified if it results in saving the lives of many from a future attack?

We hear about drone strikes in the news all the time, but we still know very little about it. Eye in the Sky is fascinating at shedding a light on everyone involved in drone strikes, from the military to the politicians to the drone pilots themselves and the psychological mindfuckery that comes with their jobs and of course the most unfortunate thing about the drone strikes: the innocent victims that are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also looks at the political and propaganda ramifications of drone strikes. This movie is uncompromising, unforgettable, and at times disturbing.

It also includes the best performance from Helen Mirren in a very long time, and a great final performance by Alan Rickman.

1. Doctor Strange *****

Hoooly shit!! was the thought that popped in my head, over and over and over again through-out the entirety of Doctor Strange. I kept thinking, "If the movie stays this awesome, it'll be the #1 movie of the year. Please stay this awesome." And you know what? The movie got even awesomer, and awesomer, here it is, not only taking #1 by a fucking landslide, but I think it even makes my top 10 best movies of all time. 

My mind is still blown by this turn of events. Never in all my days post-getting a degree in film studies and becoming a huge film nerd/snob (I'd like to think I've become much less a film snob over the years), and repeating the whole, "Go indy films! Fuck mainstream Hollywood movies!" rants over and over at bars, to family members, to other film snobs, on messageboards, on facebook...never did I ever predict that one day I'd be putting a fucking Marvel comic book movie as my #1 movie of the year.

Here's the thing. I still believe that creativity, imagination, surrealness, being out there; those are qualities more often associated with independent films; DOCTOR STRANGE shows that when you take those exact qualities and give it a huge budget, then holy shit nothing compares. DOCTOR STRANGE is the most visually dazzling movie in...the forever. It has the most impressive visual effects I've seen in such a long time. Every time you see an awesome action scene, it ends up getting topped by the next one, and then the next action scene tops that one, and you can never predict just how wacky, offbeat, batshit crazy, insane and psychedellic the action scenes can get. The movie plays around with time manipulation, bending space, and when INCEPTION teased at the whole folding a city, but doing nothing with that, here's DOCTOR STRANGE bending space and delivering the most insane action scene. 

I've been splooging all over the visuals, but let's not write this off as a leave your brain at the door movie. The screenplay is every bit as good as its visual effects and that says a lot. It's every bit as mind blowing as it is trippy as fuck. The movie is fucking hilarious with far more intelligent dialogue writing than you'd expect from a Marvel movie, delivered by such amazing A-list actors; I'd give a fucking Oscar nomination to Benedict Cumberbach, who puts on the best performance, the best character arc, and funniest person ever in a Marvel movie. Hell, even the first 40 minutes of Doctor Strange, showing his car accident and his long road to recovery is a solid fucking drama. 

I don't have too much more to say than that. I think I've done plenty of splooging on this movie. It's not just another blockbuster popcorn movie. This is escapist entertainment at its best, done with so much creativity and energy. 

Other Special awards:

Trippiest movie of the year: 
Doctor Strange
Special honorable mentions: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, and Trolls

Best Use of 3-D in a movie:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best visual effects:

Doctor Strange, by a landslide.

Horror movie of the year:
Lights Out

Most memorable performance of the year:
Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic

Funniest scenes of the year:
-The Mermaid - Billionaire goes to the police station to report being abducted by mermaids
-Bad Moms - Kathryn Han explains to Mila Kunis how to handle uncircumcized penises, using the hoodie that Kristen Bell is wearing as a demonstration for handling foreskin. Kristen Bell stays silent the whole scene, but steals it with one line of dialogue.
-The Handmaiden - The hanging scene...I won't give anymore away, but great dark comedy!

Best Ending:
How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town