Film review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

Captain America Winter Soldier_Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson

Always a groomsman, never a groom.

Even in his own film, Captain America plays second (or third or fourth) fiddle to more interesting characters. I will say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a marked improvement over 2011′s The First Avenger, and it’s the best post-Avengers Marvel film, though Iron Man 3 and the Thor sequel didn’t set the bar quite as high as they could and should have. The Winter Soldier is more fun and also attempts to paint Cap a.k.a. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as a more independent and confident superhero this time around. It mostly works, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo have surrounded Captain America with characters more charismatic than him. The story in The Winter Soldier never feels entirely Captain America’s. He’s doing things for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD and with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, as magnetic as…

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Film review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s movies are like carefully crafted homemade plays, from his very first Bottle Rocket (1996) which blended gangster film and Catcher in the Rye in a unique, heartwarming way, all through his latest, the sweet and decadent The Grand Budapest Hotel.

royal-tenenbaumsOne could argue that the prolific director has a penchant for stories about loneliness and the search for identity is something that underlies all of his work. The protagonists in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) all come from dysfunctional families with strong parental figures, that either neglected or abandoned their children, leaving them to ponder who they are and where they belong.

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the two main characters, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes in fine comedic form), the concierge, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy, both turn out to be orphaned, or with no family to speak of. Their bond comes from their mutual loneliness, perhaps, and they are given purpose by the hotel which in its heyday in the 1930s welcomed characters from all over Europe.


Perhaps Anderson’s most elaborate effort ever, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also his kitschiest, elevating his work to pure mastery, because a Wes Anderson film is more a demonstration of craftsmanship than anything else. It combines baroque inelegance with historical allusions and stereotypes about the Old Continent, and it does so with multiple narrative and technical devices such as jumping back, forth, and sideways in time and occasional stop-motion animation, among others. Anderson depicts Europe the way it is seen in the American imagination: as never changing and made up of sensual pleasures and pastries, strict manners and well-calibrated speech. Continue reading

Review: House of Cards – Season 2

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

House of Cards Season 2

It took me about 10 days to watch the second season of House of Cards, but more than a month to sit down and write about it.

It was less exciting, less scandalous, and more slow-moving and into itself. About midway through, after I’d devoured eight episodes in the three days following its Valentine’s Day première, I needed a break. Finishing the season felt like a chore or, worse, a workout: you put in the time and got a small reward every few, torturous sessions.

I liked the first season of House of Cards but do remember a lull in the middle episodes. Some have written that on closer inspection, even the first season of the show isn’t strong. It has elements of a great show, but it isn’t one. I disagree. I was under no obligation to watch it but did – and quicker than I care to admit –…

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Film review: Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm)

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

Tom at the Farm by Xavier Dolan

Xavier Dolan is on a roll.

His latest, the thriller Tom à la ferme, set in rural Quebec, opens in Montreal just as he is wrapping up post-production on his next film, Mommy, slated for release sometime this year.

In Tom à la ferme, Dolan portrays the eponymous character, a young advertiser from Montreal venturing into Middle of Nowhere, Que., for the funeral of his co-worker/lover, the closeted Guillaume. Tom’s a city mouse: one of the first scenes of the film involves him pulling over to break and kick his GPS navigator, which has obviously led him in the wrong direction. His phone also has no bars and as much as he tries to point it towards the sky, he cannot will his BlackBerry into service.

Tom gets to Guillaume’s mother Agathe’s (Lise Roy) house but no one’s there. He gets inside with a key he finds under…

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Film review: Bad Words

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

Jason Bateman's Bad Words

In Bad Words, first-time film director Jason Bateman can’t elevate his kooky movie about a 40-year-old spelling bee contestant to much more than unpleasant.

Bateman plays Guy Trilby, who finds a loophole that will let him compete among pre-teens in a national spelling bee, the Golden Quill. He’s on some sort of mission of revenge: why and against whom, you only find out late in the 89-minute film, at which point I found it was both moot and illogical. Trilby is accompanied by a reporter (Kathryn Hahn, a great comedic character actress who does her best here but only gets a few chances to shine) who tries to get answers out of him for a story. “Why, at age 40,” she asks, “have you decided to annoy educators, parents and children by forcing your way into a kid’s spelling bee?” He’s quick to make enemies: one of the “randomly” selected words he’s required to…

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10 ways to fix SNL Québec

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

SNL Quebec

I love Saturday Night Live. Even terrible episodes have one or two redeeming sketches. At the very least, Weekend Update is a safe bet for a few laughs. When it was announced that Télé-Québec would be producing SNL Québec, I was thrilled and cautiously optimistic. There is no denying what a cultural institution the show is. The U.S. version of SNL – created by Canadian Lorne Michaels, who is still executive producing after 39 years – carries a soft power during U.S. election years and is undoubtedly a breeding ground for comedians: Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tracy Morgan, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Ana Gasteyer. The list could go on and on.

I want to like SNL Québec – love it, even. But there are…

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Film review: Muppets Most Wanted

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

Muppets Most Wanted

The Muppets couldn’t be unlikeable if they tried.

Muppets Most Wanted isn’t quite as fun as its predecessor reboot from 2011 – I think it’s the length (112 minutes) with just a bit too much time spent with new human characters – but it’s a commendable entry for everyone’s favourite puppet troupe, co-starring in their eighth feature film. The opening musical number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” warns: “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” They’re right, and they’re characteristically self-referential and self-deprecating throughout the film. “All we need now is a half-decent plot.”

In Muppets Most Wanted, the Muppets are approached by Dominic Badguy – “it’s pronounced Bad-jee,” Ricky Gervais clarifies – to go on a world tour. Kermit isn’t sure, but everyone else’s enthusiasm is enough pressure for him to cave. Badguy has plans of his own, though: the Muppets will perform in European venues next to…

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Film review: Nymphomaniac

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

Nymphomaniac train scene

Lars von Trier’s two-part, four-hour Nymphomaniac is more affective than the film’s title and marketing suggest and than I was expecting.

The film starts with Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finding a woman, battered and beaten, in an alleyway by his apartment. Her name is Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and he takes her inside for some tea. She tells Seligman she can tell him what happened to her if he’s really interested, but “I’ll have to tell you the whole story, and it’ll be long.” No kidding.

For the next four hours, Joe takes us and Seligman through the highs and lows (and there are loads of lows) of her life as a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, from her relationship with her icy mother (Connie Nielsen), briefly, to the great love she had for her father (Christian Slater), to the time she discovered her “cunt,” to losing her virginity to an older boy from the…

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Review: Divergent

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:


YA novels make strategic film adaptations because of their existing and rabid fan bases, but I’ll admit I didn’t know about Veronica Roth’s Divergent series until the film version was announced last year. (I’ve since ordered it from Amazon because I was a few dollars away from getting free shipping on my order. I’ve yet to read it, but will soon.)

Divergent is the first big book-to-screen adaptation of the year, with 2014 especially promising for the unstoppable genre: coming soonest is an adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars which, like Divergent, stars Shailene Woodley, followed by The GiverThe Maze Runner, and Mockingjay, the third of four films in the Hunger Games series, set for Nov. 21.

Divergent, like The Hunger Games, takes place in a futuristic, dystopian United States. Also like The Hunger Games, it features…

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Review: Frozen on DVD/Blu-Ray (+ Saving Mr. Banks)

Originally posted on Chris Hanna:

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Seventeen weeks after its theatrical release, Frozen is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today. The Disney musical and Oscar winner for best animated film is still in the Top 10 at the North American box office, having grossed more than $2.1 million this past weekend.

The film is a return to the heyday of the Disney musical and is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Frozen just reached the billion-dollar mark at the worldwide B.O., but if you are not one of the people who contributed to that monstrous haul, here’s a quick synopsis. Elsa and Anna (pronounced like Faris, not Wintour) are sisters and princesses. Elsa has magical powers but hasn’t learned to control them yet, so she’ll sometimes accidentally freeze stuff … like her younger sister Anna. After a close call, Elsa stays locked up in her room for years, away from her sister…

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