Wish I Was Here (2014) – Movie Review

wish i was here

If it isn’t remembered for anything else, Wish I Was Here may go down as one of the most controversial crowdfunded films ever made for reasons that didn’t even involve the film’s ambitions or content. When Braff announced in 2013 his sophomore directorial effort would be funded by generous donations and contributions from fans and supporters of his work on the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, backlash ensued, questioning Braff’s business asking for contributions when he, himself, had presumably made a great deal of money from his last film Garden State ad his recurring role on TV’s Scrubs. Despite considerable flak, Braff managed to reach his goal of $2 million in just three days, ending up with over $3 million from almost 47,000 people and the result is the offbeat but likable Wish I Was Here.

The film stars Braff, who also co-wrote the film with his brother Adam, as Aidan Bloom, a thirty-five-year old father desperately trying to work as an actor in Los Angeles, while struggling to support his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) and their two children, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King). Tucker and Grace are blessed to go to a private, Orthodox Jewish school thanks to assistance from Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), which lightens the financial burden Aidan and Sarah are already having a hard time bearing. Tragedy strikes when Gabe reveals to Aidan that his cancer has reoccurred, he regretfully cuts the education fund for the children so the money can be spent on much needed radiation treatment. After realizing that no aid will be provided from the Orthodox Jewish school (make whatever joke you want, Braff sure does), Sarah proposes the idea of having Aidan, who is already more-or-less a stay at home father, homeschool the children, which leads to an early midlife crisis on part of Aidan, who wants to remain worthwhile and, most importantly, worth something.

If there has been a recurring theme in the films of 2014, between Birdman, Top Five, and now Wish I Was Here, it’s the desire to rise above critics and feel like you matter in a big way. Wish I Was Here concerns ideas of self-worth and personal pride in realistic ways, given the fact that Aidan’s lack of consistent income and casual disapproval from his father hurts in more ways than he allows be shown. Also affected by diminishing feelings of value is Aidan’s brother Noah (Josh Gad), who lives alone and relishes in the childlike whimsy of attending comic conventions and cosplaying rather than owning up to actual, adult responsibilities, again, much to the dismay of his father.

Wish I Was Here is also an interesting film about early millennials finally adhering to the responsibilities they long put off when they are forced to make challenging, life-altering decisions that were either ignored or made by one of their superiors. While Braff isn’t, by definition, a millennial, his filmmaking sensibilities reflect that of a generation driven by change, experimentation, and the lack of uniformed convention, and Wish I Was Here follows a couple who seemed to be taken by that kind of youthful idealism only to settle into having a family and accepting the same responsibilities their parents had to. Even if the characters aren’t handling situations in the fabled “right way” (case and point, when Aidan confronts one of Sarah’s coworkers who has been prolific in sexually-harassing her), we can at least see and accept the fact these characters are trying.

The film remains fiercely likable, never too unbelievable, and consistently funny, as Braff’s impeccable deadpan, verbal banter allows for a new layer of fun to be carried out, and when one views the film as an imploring wakeup call to grow up and accept responsibility, Wish I Was Here becomes one of the most important comedies of 2014.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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The Rover (2014) – Movie Review

rover

This is writer/director David Michod’s follow-up to his excellent 2010 film Animal Kingdom – one of my favorite films that year. While that film took us inside an Australian gangster family, this one is set in a dystopian Outback ten years after “the collapse”.

Michod’s script from a Joel Edgerton story goes pretty light on the details and depends heavily on the shared scenes with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Both deliver the goods, and Pattinson in particular is quite something to behold … his gun shot wound plays second fiddle to the most bizarre speech pattern and accent we have heard in awhile. Initially appearing somewhat flawed in his mental aptitude, Pattinson brings his character through a full cycle of emotions. And that is the polar opposite of Pearce’s character who though quite stoic, leaves no doubt that he is angry at 3 goons for stealing his last possession – his car.

The mood of the film and the tone of the character keep us in suspense on why this blasted car is so important to Pearce, and it’s not until the final sequence that the mystery is solved. The more interesting scenes occur when Pearce and Pattinson are facing off – their relationship evolves from adversarial to something kind of touching.

The usually dependable Scoot McNairy plays Pattinson’s brother, but really isn’t given much to do except for his final scene with Pattinson. The most interesting supporting role comes courtesy of screen veteran Gillian Jones as the inquisitive Grandma. She leaves the impression that a film about her would be much wilder than the minimalistic landscape and dialogue of our feature.

Michod’s latest is not at the level of Animal Kingdom but it does offer a couple of intriguing characters and vastly toned down Mad Max flavor. It’s beautifully photographed and the sparse soundtrack is the perfect compliment.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Momofuku Kōjin – Toronto

Kojin is a celebration of the hearth. We bring together a bounty of local meats and produce to showcase Ontario farmers and purveyors.

Address: 190 University Ave, Toronto, ON M5H 0A3

Website: https://kojin.momofuku.com/

Google reviews: 4.2 out of 5 stars

 

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Begin Again (2013) – Movie Review

begin again

Rolling Stone continues to praise pretty much any movie out there that revolves around the music industry (most likely due to its slow departure into oblivion). This particular movie gets it right in a lot of ways though. The perspective of the musicians is true to life and the written music was nominated for an Oscar: it’s some of the best songs written for a movie since Almost Famous. The recording scenes are inspiring and the musical energy is palpable to the audience.

As far as the rest of the movie goes, it’s has warmth and truth in the relationships with great performances–suffering mostly from an inexperienced, yet decent, screenplay writer: it is obvious that this movie was written by a musician and not a novelist.

This movie is great If you’re looking for a romantic comedy that’s easy to watch and isn’t over sexualized to make up for the lack of drama. We all love movies like this: they’re cute and fun and about perseverance in dealing with inadequacy.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Dracula Untold (2014) – Movie Review

dracula untold

As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes must become a monster feared by his own people in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.

Any time a Dracula film is made, it has a stigma put upon it. There have been many, probably scores, of films about Dracula, but only a small handful that have gone on to be classics. Those include Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, Universal’s original “Dracula”, Hammer’s “Dracula” and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 incarnation. Others either get a second tier (such as Dan Curtis’ version) or have failed miserably (Dario Argento’s mess).

This version, released from Universal, has that added burden because the company has a long history with Dracula, going back 80 years. How they handle the character is very important. Although some seem skeptical about Universal’s plan to create a “Monster Universe”, if this film is any indication, it might not be half bad. And as charming as the 1940s crossover films were (particularly “House of Frankenstein”), we must admit they are cheesy and there is room for improvement.

We are given the historical Vlad Tepes in this version, not the “Count Dracula” of Bram Stoker. Of course, some elements of Stoker are clearly here; the real Vlad had no vampire blood coursing through his veins. But this seems to take the middle ground, with Dracula being more timeless and superhuman, less evil or dirty. In some respect, he can even be seen as a hero.

Is the history here accurate (ignoring the vampire part)? Probably not. But it works, and sets up a rich character with a deep history, some emotions and a reason to exist. This is a well-written character, not the one-dimension bloodsucker in previous outings.

Horror fans may be disappointed that this is more action than horror, but anyone who says this is a bad film is trying to find something to dislike. Compared to the sloppy “I, Frankenstein” (not a Universal film), this one has real potential for sequels and more.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – Movie Review

john wick 2

Back in 2014, John Wick breathed an air of freshness into the Hollywood action category after the industry hadn’t produced a single memorable action flick in years. Everything about that action thriller was downright invigorating, plus it oozed with so much style, charisma & energy that every action aficionado embraced it with open arms, not to mention that it marked a welcome return to form for Keanu Reeves and revitalised his career.

John Wick: Chapter 2 continues the relentless journey of the eponymous assassin as he ties up all the loose ends and settles all disputes that were put into motion in the first film and returns home, back to his retired life. But his violent history catches up with him once again when Wick is visited by an Italian crime lord who asks for his services but when John refuses to repay the debt he owes him, his house is blown to bits thus forcing him to return to the world he left behind.

Directed by Chad Stahelski, this second chapter opens with a sequence that may as well qualify as an epilogue of the last film. Stahelski capitalises on the solid platform provided by its predecessor and sets up the premise real quick, and then launches an all-out assault on the senses by throwing one sumptuously choreographed sequence after another which seamlessly weave in-n-out of the drama and keeps escalating the stakes before wrapping it all up with a memorable high.

Written by Derek Kolstad, the plot outline has a very simple structure but the otherworldly setting that was envisioned from scratch previously & played a vital role in imbuing a sense of uniqueness to its world is exquisitely detailed in this sequel. It also offers a deeper insight into the strict codes that’s followed in the criminal underworld, the privileges its members have access to, and a couple of unbreakable rules. Also magnified is the aura of the man, the myth & the legend John Wick and shows why he’s so feared by everyone.

The technical aspects showcase massive improvements in the minutest of areas, which gives this picture a heavily refined look & feel. Production design team chips in with meticulously detailed & gorgeously rendered set pieces that add to its distinctive iconography. Cinematography was a key highlight of its predecessor, capturing all its action in clear, concise fashion. And it’s even better in this sequel, for the images retain their sharpness & clarity despite the aggressive operation of the camera and are further uplifted by its neon lighting & vibrant colour tones.

Its expertly staged, ingeniously choreographed & precisely photographed gun-fu sequences are even more evolved, more barbaric & more breathtaking when compared to the original. Editing is tight and paces its 122 minutes story at breakneck speed. Costume design stands out again with its sleek & stylish attires, Visual & Sound effects work in perfect harmony and greatly amplify the desired effect of several moments, while both Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard intensify the overall experience by contributing with another dynamic score.

Coming to the performances, John Wick: Chapter 2 is Keanu Reeves’ show all the way as the 52- year old veteran once again steals every single moment with the role he was born to play, and his swashbuckling performance in this instalment is even better than his last outing. The role is more physically demanding than last time, however, Reeves is able to fill the shoes with startling ease and utilises his charismatic on-screen flair to perfection to illustrate his Boogeyman persona with unerring discipline. The supporting cast, both new & reprising, contribute in with fabulous inputs amongst whom Ian McShane impresses the most.

On an overall scale, John Wick: Chapter 2 is such an exceptional upgrade over its predecessor that it ends up decimating the original in all filmmaking departments and effortlessly exceeds all hype & expectations to cement its spot amongst the greatest sequels & action extravaganzas of all time. An insanely slick, smart, sophisticated & stunning fusion of ingenious direction, astounding action, excellent writing, outstanding camera-work, tight editing & faultless score that’s steered by Keanu Reeves’ stellar show, this latest chapter in the John Wick saga is a brutal, barbaric & breathtaking entry that’s crafted with passion, narrated with confidence & executed with flamboyance, and is an action masterpiece for the ages.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Antler Kitchen and Bar – Toronto

Seasonal menu featuring local wild & foraged ingredients served in a petite, exposed-brick space.
Address: 1454 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1Y6

Website: http://antlerkitchenbar.com/menu/

Google reviews: 4.8 out of 5 stars

The rating on this restaurant is just about right. I have to say that this is one of the best food experiences I’ve had in quite a while. Very unique in terms of ingredients, which gives you some very unique flavours. The thing that surprised me the most was that the bison was not gamey at all, which can happen with game meat. The other thing I liked about this restaurant was the service. I was greeted with a handshake and an introduction as I was being seated. Maybe this is a reflection of my age and me being a little old school, however I thought this was a nice touch. Definitely set the right tone for the rest of a very pleasant evening.

 

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