Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Casablanca

The movie “Casablanca” is a classic well deserving of its rank among the giants of film. It is imbued with a sense of timelessness, although fixed in a very specific place in time: that is, during the Second World War. Released in 1942, the film is set in a city by the name of (you guessed it) Casablanca, where masses of refugees seek the proper papers to flee the Nazi regime for the safety of America. The historical context of Casablanca is especially interesting because, as you can note from the film’s date above, the makers of this movie are not taking a retrospective look at the war. Rather, they are creating the movie in the midst of political turmoil and without knowledge of how the war would come to completion.

Against this historical background is the very personal, very intimate arc of the two main characters, the past and perhaps present lovers played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. This relationship between Rick (Bogart) and Ilsa (Bergman) is what detaches the movie from the limits of one particular standpoint in history and allows it to transcend its own time, reaching into our own with still relevant truths of love, desire and sacrifice.

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The Martian

The Martian is not the type of movie in which I would normally be interested. I feel like a lot of my reviews are prefaced in this manner, with a full disclosure of my hesitant feelings towards a film before seeing it and having my expectations subverted (see my reflections on Inside Out). This is just another reminder that the realm of art calls for an open mind. Art- good art- should always involve an element of surprise. I want to be very careful here in using the word ‘surprise.’ There is an important distinction between ‘surprise’ and ‘shock.’ Even if the plot of a movie is entirely predictable, its aesthetic style and exploration of issues and themes can still surprise the viewer and suggest new truths. Similarly, a movie can surprise us without having to rely on shock tactics or shock value.

In this particular case, I was wary (and am still) of the genre of science fiction before walking into the theatre. This is not to say that the movie awakened in me an enduring passion for science fiction, but that art and beauty are capable of transcending the bounds of genre and holding truths for viewers of diverse predilections.

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The Return of the King

Wow.

Even now that some time has passed between my viewing of the third and final Lord of the Rings film and my sitting down to write this review, that word is still the foremost in my mind: Wow. More than anything, this movie really felt like a journey: a complete, captivating, thrilling and deeply moving journey from beginning to end (nearly four hours that could have been years yet also that lacked the sensation of dragging). The way that the film was visually conceptualized, scripted, and above all the incredibly detailed nature of Tolkien’s fantastical world create a truly immersive experience, one that allows the viewer to experience the emotional landscape of the characters in a very real way.

There is far too much going on in “The Return of the King” for me to attempt to dabble in every plotline, and so I will restrict myself to a few that loom the largest in my mind. The first has been a consistent thread running through my reviews of the first two movies: the journeys of Merry and Pippin. I find myself extraordinarily fond of these two hobbits, and for reasons quite different from those I would have predicted. Rather than being confined to roles as the “comic relief,” Merry and Pippin quickly become vital to the story and to the quest to save Middle Earth, and this is only more evident in the third instalment.

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The Truman Show

The Truman Show is worth a watch for its premise alone. Imagine your whole world is actually a carefully constructed artificial reality all revolving around you, and that this “reality” is broadcast to millions of viewers. It is hard to fathom, but the more that I think about it, this fascinating premise is not really so far removed from the things we see (or at least the implicit principles) in our culture.

Truman, played by Jim Carrey (who is always brimming with optimism and energy), has been raised from birth as the star of a massive scale reality show. Yet unlike the Kardashians of the world, Truman is unaware that his life is a source of entertainment for scores of ordinary people. In his mind, he is one of these ordinary people himself; that is, until a peculiar series of events leads him to doubt the truth of everything he has ever known and the authenticity of all of his personal relationships.

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The Two Towers

Throughout the whole of its rather lengthy running time, The Two Towers is utterly compelling. It has been said many times, I’m sure, but these films are truly masterpieces. They convey such a vast range of emotional depth and follow the many threads of the story deftly and with great compassion for the characters. And of course, the films are visual splendours, feats of cinematography and special effects that were, at the time, groundbreaking and extremely influential for the future course of film.

I left off my review of The Fellowship of the Ring by discussing Merry and Pippin and the value that is ascribed to their lives, despite their weaknesses and failings. In the second movie, after a close escape from those repulsively horrendous orcs, the two hobbits spend most of their time riding through the forest with Treebeard and providing some comic relief. And yet, unexpectedly, from this seemingly “insignificant” subplot comes an event with extremely significant ramifications for the battle for Middle Earth: the fall of Isengard. Merry and Pippin bring about this victory for their side, not by strength or strenuousness of intellectual argument in convincing the trees to join the fight, but through their cleverness and the innovative idea to lead Treebeard towards Saruman. The direct encounter with the death of his kinsmen which follows speaks louder than any rallying cry towards battle ever could.

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Mr. Holmes

As mentioned in my post on BBC’s Sherlock, countless portrayals of Sherlock Holmes and his super sleuthing ways have appeared on our screens since Conan Doyle’s creation of the classic character. Although “Mr. Holmes” could have been just another movie to add to the pile, I think it sees the story and the person of Sherlock Holmes in an entirely new way, and as a result is very deserving of recognition.

The film focuses on an elderly Sherlock, who has removed himself from his former crime-solving career, retiring to an isolated house in the English countryside where he lives with his housekeeper and her adorable (and adorably inquisitive) son, Roger. The cinematography in the movie is breathtaking, with sweeping shots of ocean and cliff that lend an atmosphere of serenity to Sherlock’s chosen abode for his final days. But inside Sherlock’s brilliant (though deteriorating mind), there is neither serenity nor peace, so haunted is he by the unresolved case that prompted him to leave his profession.

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The Fellowship of the Ring

Before this summer, I had never seen the Lord of the Rings. I hope I haven’t shocked you too much with this admission, and that you will keep reading, instead of closing the page with disgust. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to watch them, but perhaps it can be explained by my habitual lack of interest in fantasy and action. However, as time went on, I understood that Tolkien’s work is so much more than this, that it transcends these genre boundaries and certainly any prejudice against them. I understood this and found that I wanted to explore Middle Earth, but as with many things where one is so far “behind” the cultural pace, the opportunity never seemed to arise, or, more likely, I held onto the idea that it was just too late for me to “join the club.”

And yet I finally made the plunge, after reading The Hobbit in a Children’s Literature course, and then with the encouragement of my brother, whom I consider quite an expert in the area of Tolkien. I confess I haven’t yet read the books (and apologize for this blasphemy), but they are now placed firmly on my to-read list for the imminent future. The point of all these ramblings is that I have finally watched The Lord of the Rings, and what follows is my review of the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring.

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Inside Out

I was not expecting to like “Inside Out.”

That’s not to say that I didn’t expect it to be good. Pixar films are consistently high quality and I assumed that this one would be similarly well-done, also considering the things I had heard about Inside Out specifically. I expected it to be good. But I didn’t really expect to like it.

This pre-judgement stems, I would say, from two reasons. First, I will freely admit that I am a tad prejudiced towards animated movies. I don’t know what it is about them (actually, I guess it would be that there are no real people, only cartoon characters), but I am often reluctant and only minimally excited going into animated movies, perhaps with an implicit skepticism about such a film’s ability to provide real emotional depth. Yet, as quality animated films have proved to me time and time again, this assumption is an oversight and, indeed, a simplification of emotional depth and meaning in the world of film.

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