Movie review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

From start to finish the newest Marvel Universe film lives up to the pre-billing as a political thriller.

It’s a bit of a step in a new direction for the sprawling series of movies, but it was one taken with barely a misstep.

Slowly integrating back into society, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is slipping into a routine of splitting time between working to catch up on what he missed during his time as a ‘Cap-Sicle’ and cleaning up messes for S.H.I.E.L.D. – or more specifically, for Nick Fury. It’s a job that’s grating on the boy-scout Avenger – one that’s butting-up against his strongly held sense of right and wrong.

Working with the deadly Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), the pair are forced into hiding when they realize that the S.H.I.E.L.D. they thought was helping to make their world a better place is in fact being run behind-the-scenes by an old nemesis of Rogers’. But even on the run, Captain is unable to avoid a piece of his past which has returned fighting for the other side: the Winter Soldier, otherwise known as Bucky Barnes.

Lauded early on by reviewers as the best Marvel stand-alone since the first Iron Man, I can’t say I disagree. The movie is dark, it’s fast, it’s violent (let’s not overlook the cameo by Canadian MMA star Georges St. Pierre!) and it works as the perfect set-up for both the Avenger Age of Ultron and the next Captain America movie.

I loved it, and the Cap isn’t my even my favourite Marvel character. But now… well let’s just say he’s making in-roads.

Note: the movie also stars Robert Redford.

8/10

My travels in Australia and New Zealand – Part 1

Yes, I know. My last post promised more posts which I followed by not posting for a month. I failed.

To be fair though, three of those weeks were spent galavanting through Australia and New Zealand, so needless to say I was otherwise engaged in awesome fun and nerdiness!

And my goodness, what an incredible trip!

It’s no surprise to those who know me that less than six months after a foray into the UK I was happily turning my attention to an adventure halfway around the world. But to be fair, as much as I was interested in going to both countries, they had been relegated to “when I have more time/money” side of my travel list.

That is, until I got the invite to a wedding in Melbourne – the wedding of two really good friends who had moved back to Australia last summer. Two friends I missed. At that point, how could I turn down the opportunity to go to their wedding (which was held 12-years to the day of the first date), and use that as a comfy excuse to spend time exploring their part of the world.

So let me get on with the bragging! ;)

I flew out of Toronto on Feb 28, while we were mired in that awesome week of -30C weather, and arrived in Sydney on March 2 after an absolutely brutal 26 hours of travel.

I only had a few days in Sydney since my main destination in Australia was Melbourne – where I was spending almost a week – but I took advantage of what little time I did have there. I ensured I saw all the usual tourist spots, visited the Maritime Museum and the Sydney Museum, and spent a day out in Manly soaking up the sun and enjoying the balmy 32C at the beach.

20140303_095507-1-MeOperaHouse

Day 1 – The day of the sunburn.

While a large city, Sydney felt much smaller than it really was, mostly because I eventually realized they lacked the ‘height’ we’re so used to in North America. What I mean is not that the people are short, just that the buildings are. It’s more European in that sense: no towering skyscrapers that we expect to see in Toronto and New York, and more houses. Almost a suburban feel to someone who is used to seeing those skyscrapers extend out of the downtown core and well into the ‘bedroom’ communities of her home town.

It somehow makes the city feel old, despite the fact that the country is quite a bit younger than Canadian in terms of European exploration/settlement.

I then hopped a plane to Melbourne where I was greeted at the airport by Amy. Bundled into her car we drove downtown and explored a bit before meeting Kieran for dinner, and a relaxing evening of dealing with last minute wedding prep. The next day we had the whole day to ourselves, so Amy and I explored the Melbourne Botanical Gardens before heading over the the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds) so that I could take a tour. She was very patient considering she’s not much for cricket, and while I can’t say I understand much of the sport I’ll admit I enjoyed seeing the MCG and hearing some of the history. It also didn’t hurt that the sports museum is on-site!

Once we were finished at the MCG it was then time for lunch, so we went downtown and found a place along the Yarra to have something to eat – in my case that included Wallaby dumplings because one must try the local fauna!

A walk along the Yarra, a trip to Melbourne’s beautiful war memorial, and some time on St. Kilda’s beach rounded out the afternoon.

The following day it was time to head out to Dalyston to start setting up for the Saturday wedding, so we picked up flowers, and spent the day arranging them and decorating the marquee before the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

The day of the wedding dawned bright and early, and sadly overcast. But as guests started to arrive the clouds parted, the sun emerged, and we had a flawlessly azure-blue sky to go along with one of the sweetest, and most personal, weddings I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

And I totally won the ‘prize’ as the guest to have travelled the furthest for Amy and Kieran’s nuptials to boot! :p

Following a brunch hosted by the newly married couple the next day, we enjoyed relaxing in anticipation of our scheduled Monday adventure: Phillip Island.

An hour exploring the Cape Patterson beach on Monday morning, and looking for crabs, we then headed to Phillip Island – a trip that required a bakery stop so Amy could indulge in getting me to eat a dessert that the locals call a ‘Snot Block’ – it’s more appetizingly referred to in the bakery as a vanilla slice. It was delicious by the way, a two thin layers of mille-feuille with about two inches of delicious custard in the middle! :p

Then it was a trip to the koala sanctuary where I was within a foot of one of the furry creatures, and came face-to-face with a wallaby who, based on the evil look he gave me, had been told I had eaten wallaby-tail dumplings… A wine-tasting, some delicious Flake (shark) and Chips on the beach, and then it was time for the Penguin Parade!

Phillip Island Koala Sanctuary

Phillip Island Koala Sanctuary

And oh my, the penguins were adorable! Small little guys, about half a foot tall they waddled onto the beach and towards their little dens allowing the guests to get within inches of them. Super cute!

Unfortunately for me that was my last full-day in Australia, and more importantly, with Amy and Kieran. The next morning we were all up early so they could head out on their honeymoon and I could head to New Zealand.

Which concludes part on of my Oz/NZ escapades!! I’ll post part 2 soon, I promise!

An apology, a promise, and a bit of bragging

I’ve been slacking, I know that.

There’s been a marked lack of posting on this blog as of late, and frankly I can put all that down to the job hunt.

After having completed my internship at the end of December it was time I re-reentered the workforce in a full-time, in-office capacity.

Luckily, the search didn’t last long because about a month into my search I had received my first offer – one I happily accepted. I’m now gainfully employed as a medical writer for a downtown Toronto healthcare communications firm in a beautifully old, exposed brick, top floor office with unlimited coffee and tea in the lunch room and an amazingly fun (and funny) collection of co-workers.

In short: it’s kind of like a Margaret Utopia.

So the whole hunt/settling in aspect has really limited the time I’ve had to continue writing for my personal blog – that and my daily 3 hour commute…

But I’m going to try to get better! My movie reviews will continue, I’ll attempt to get back into the swing of things in regards to political and news based posts and I promise I’ll get back on the sports train too.

But first, now that I’m just settling in at work, it’s time for a vacation.

In fact, in 1.5 weeks I’ll be hopping on a plane headed for Australia!

On a scale of 1-to-10 in terms of ‘How lucky is Marg?’ I’m coming in around a 13 these days!

During my first big trip way back in 2006 – a visit to France, Austria and Germany while the Germans were hosting the World Cup – I kept a pretty good blog of my adventures. But since then I haven’t been so thorough, and that’s something I’d like to change. So I’ll be making a concerted effort during my three week Australia-New Zealand sojourn to post updates on this blog, not just to keep everyone updated, but to rub in the weather!

Well, probably not to rub in the weather since I’ll likely be sweating through 30+ degree weather in Melbourne during the wedding, and as we all know I’m not a fan of hot weather…. Though the expected 22-degrees in New Zealand is right up my alley.

If you’ve been to any of the following cities I’d love to get some suggestions on what to see/do:
-       Sydney
-       Melbourne
-       Queenstown
-       Mt. Cook Village
-       Wellington
-       Auckland (and YES, I’m going to Hobbiton whilst in Auckland ;) )

Review: ‘Monuments Men’

I’m going to put this movie solidly in the ‘good but not great’ category.

Let’s start by saying two things:

Firstly, considering the release was pushed back to avoid awards season I was worried that meant the movie was bound to bomb at the box office.

Secondly, I absolutely adore movies (well-made movies I need to add) that revolve around military or human history.

So attending a pre-screening of ‘Monuments Men’ was definitely of interest.

George Clooney leads a cast that includes Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman. The movie itself is billed as a comedy- drama, and it fills both shoes. Though with Goodman and Murray sharing the screen, who wouldn’t expect some of the comedy to hit its mark.

Following a group of men, members of the ‘Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)’ program, who were tasked to try to help preserve art caught in the crossfire during the Second World War. They worked as embedded soldiers, on the front lines doing their best to keep track of and save sculptures, paintings and historic and cultural relics from both the Allies and Axis forces as they moved through art-heavy Europe.

The movie mainly dealt with the team as they moved through France, Belgium and Germany during the last two years of the war, though in actuality the MFAA also worked in Italy and Austria – both German controlled or allied at the time.

It’s an entertaining, and at times touching, look at a group of men who played an important role during the war that is otherwise unknown to most people. They weren’t the kind of men who were lauded for leading an attack on the front lines, or with two dozen dog fights. Instead they were men who fought to help preserve humanity in a less corporeal sense: men who wanted to win the war and at the same time preserve the art that makes humanity so unique.

‘Monuments Men’ was relatively well-made, though be warned that is has a few VERY ra-ra-America moments, though I wasn’t really surprised considering the American penchant for that whenever it comes to a war movie. Some of the humour is hit-and-miss, and some of the drama is predictable, but overall the movie is entertaining and a good way to spend a couple hours.

6.5/10

My most anticipated 2014 movies

The end of 2013 was a heavy-hitter for me in terms of anticipated movies. With Thor 2, Catching Fire, and The Desolation of Smaug landing during a two month span I was like a kid in a candy store – bouncing excitedly from one opening night to another.

2014 is host to another trio of movies I’m excited for, two of which are sequels to latter two mentioned above, and the third – which will be released first – is the Captain America sequel. But there are several smaller movies on my radar that I’ve been following and am hoping live up to either their hype or their trailer.

So which non-blockbusters have I earmarked?

Stalingrad

It fits nicely into my personal niche under both ‘Second World War’ and ‘Russian history.’ Filmed on-site in Russia, this movie appears to touch the Battle for Stalingrad on a deeper level than ‘Enemy at the Gates’ did, and don’t get me wrong, I love that movie. It will, of course, still have a love story arc, but the trailer is making me hopeful that it won’t walk the path that Passchendael movie did and focus too much on that aspect.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

I absolutely adored the first movie, it was equal parts adorable and funny and ingeniously animated – and I don’t say that lightly. I’m not generally a fan of animated movies, in fact other than the Disney Robin Hood and recently Brave, I’ve never really enjoyed an animated movie quite like I did the first How to Train Your Dragon. Canadian Jay Baruchel returns as Hiccup.

The Giver

While in junior high The Giver was one of our required reading books, and to this day it remains one of only two school-assigned books that I’ve absolutely adored (the other was Chrysalids). Now, while I’m excited at the prospect of a movie version of the book, I’m also hesitant to get too excited about a cast that includes Taylor Swift and Katie Holmes: those two don’t really scream ‘well acted adaptation’, but if we’re lucky Meryl Streep and Alexander Skarsgard will even things out.

And at the top of my list…

The Imitation Game

Another movie tinted with war, The Imitation Game deals with the life of British hero Alan Turing – and man who not only played a vital role in the Allied win, but following his work was persecuted by his country for being gay. Turing, who helped to crack the German Enigma code, is one of those heroes who most deserved to have his story told, but for the longest time has been ignored. The movie, which cast Benedict Cumberbatch to play Turing, is already getting speculative interest despite the fact that a release date has yet to be announced. The movie also stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’

Is there anything you think I’ve missed?

Skate Against Hate makes a comeback

As some of you may remember last year I returned to school — with my best friend Vanessa in tow — to complete a post-grad in Corporate Communications and Public Relations.

As part of that program we took an Events Management course which required us to host a charitable event in small groups. After much discussion, the group Vanessa and I were in decided to host a public skate in support of the You Can Play Project which works to help eliminate discrimination in locker-rooms based on sexual orientation.

Our event last year went off smoothly and we reached our fundraising goal in support of You Can Play — and in the process became the first grassroots fundraising event in their history.

We were incredibly proud of the event, and decided then that come 2014 we would approach the topic again and decide whether we wanted to continue to host it.

And we do want to host it again.

So on Sunday April 13, 2014 between 1-3 p.m. at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Arena the second annual Skate Against Hate will be held.

Some of the smaller details still need ironing out, but we’ve already got some sponsorship lined up and some donations headed our way, which is a great sign!

There’s something special about knowing that you’re helping people, even if it’s a few dollars at a time. And while You Can Play is much more recognized now than it was even a year ago, the cause is still an important one.

So if you’re in the GTA, please mark down the 13th and join us for some skating and fun in support of a good cause. If you aren’t in the area but would still like to make a donation please, or know someone who would like to, get in touch with me!

You can visit our website here — and check back often!

Review: ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’

I left the pre-screening of ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ with two thoughts last night:

Firstly, that it felt like Jason Bourne was back.

Secondly, I didn’t really mind.

Jack Ryan, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek) winds up as a CIA Analyst working on Wall Street following his enlistment, and subsequent injury, fighting with the US military after 9/11. Ryan, who is living with his girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley), uncovers a trading discrepancy involving a Russian corporation that raises red flags and quickly finds himself on his way to Moscow to conduct an audit of their assets.

But it becomes apparent very quickly that the Russian organization, headed by Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) have no intention of letting him look at their financial assets when Ryan is attacked in his hotel room upon arrival. Managing to escape he meets up with his handler, William Harper (Kevin Costner) and learns that he’s been activated.

No longer is Jack Ryan merely an analyst in charge of tracking international money flow, he’s now a field agent upon who the entire American economy, and subsequently the future of the country, relies on.

Kenneth Branagh in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.’

The movie is entertaining the same way Bourne was – it’s exciting and entertaining if not smart or subtle.

Branagh does a good job as a villain, which is unsurprising, and Costner is admirably cold. Pine put in a good performance as Ryan, which likely means that he’s now headline two parallel Hollywood franchises, though at times it felt like his Captain Kirk had accidentally found a temporal loophole and now finds himself trying to exist in modern America.

Overall I enjoyed the movie as an escape, or an easy night out, though it’s unlikely to be the box office hit that Bourne was 10 years ago.

6/10

Review: Sherlock ‘His Last Vow’

Warning: There may be mild spoilers!!

We settle for okay television, shows that are an entertaining 22 minute escape from our daily grind, or a series that is just shy of an hour of drama that keeps us piqued.

But it’s incredibly rare that we come across a show that is so perfectly crafted it puts the vast majority of Hollywood movies to shame.

And yet somehow the BBC has nurtured a series that trumps even the best of what is an impressive HBO lineup with ease.

Yes, part of it is that I’m a fan. But as a fan I also loathe the show because the writers, producers, directors, and actors have all managed to create a frustratingly addictive production that has been all-encompassing for 11 measly days and now leaves fans wound up for another two years of anticipation.

‘Sherlock’ is like a boyfriend who turns you on then walks away, and it’s hell.

The Last Vow is the culmination of more than 600 days of anticipation, followed immediately by 11 days of overwound conjecture on where season three was headed. After having opened with two episodes that delved more into humour than fans were used to, episode three took all the missed opportunities for dark drama and packed them in on top.

Martin Freeman, Lars Mikkelsen, and Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘His Last Vow.’

Where Moriarty’s character, mostly I’m sure due to Andrew Scott’s incredible acting, was equal parts terrifying and engaging, our newest villain – Charles Augustus Magnussen played by Lars Mikkelsen – is cold, calculating and straight-forward. He doesn’t care about Sherlock, there’s very little of the cat-and-mouse we got with Moriarty, and on Sherlock’s part there’s no admiration, just distaste for the conniving media mogul.

The episode is chalk full lies, heart-breaking betrayals, and adorably ‘Sherlock’ reconciliations. From learning what the Telegram from ‘Cam’ that Sherlock read at John and Mary’s wedding means, Molly finally lashing out at Sherlock, to Mycroft making an absolutely shocking admission, the episode covers all emotional bases.

The acting is above reproach as well, and not only on the parts of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but Louise Brealey’s Molly and Amanda Abbington’s Mary both shine are strong-willed and invaluable members of the cast.

‘The Reichenbach Fall’ was at the time the best episode of anything I’d ever seen on tv, but after tonight it has some serious competition.

And that makes me both happy and so incredibly annoyed.

Review: Sherlock ‘The Empty Hearse’

It’s been two years since the ‘Reichenbach Fall’ and the non-death of BBC’s Sherlock.

That’s two years of speculation on the how’s and the why’s and the ‘please let there be a season 3′ pleas from the fans. And on January 1, 2014 the fans finally got what they were looking for – they got more Sherlock and Watson, much more.

I’m going to attempt to avoid spoilers as much as possible since the first episode won’t air in North America for another couple of weeks and I know that some of my friends are still looking forward to it.

The series is the same, but it’s also not.

There’s the usual  ego, arrogance, and drama that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is known for, and Martin Freeman’s Watson is as slavishly loyal, put-upon and innocent as ever. But laced throughout a story that is equal parts heart-wrenching and absurd is a vein of hurt and loneliness.

Sherlock, season 3.

Not just the expected hurt and loneliness on Watson’s part after the loss of his best friend, but surprisingly from Sherlock. He learns that his two years cleaning up Moriarty’s criminal network and hiding from those closest to him isn’t something he can fix overnight, it’s the kind of purposeful callousness that the everyman like Watson will find shattering.

And what about the loneliness? For a man who consistently kept everyone at arms length, a man who took pride in being un-reliant on others, this first episode takes a long look at loneliness, including a hilarious scene in which Sherlock projects the feeling on his brother Mycroft.

As a fan of the series the episode is both a balm and an irritant, and as hilarious as it is thrilling.

Cumberbatch and Martin have both seen their careers explode onto the silver screen since their first appearance together in season 1, they’ve stretched their wings with Martin returning to Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy with a role in ‘World’s End’, and then the starring role in Peter Jackson’s ‘Hobbit’ trilogy; and Cumberbatch continuing his comedic voice acting on BBC Radio’s ‘Cabin Pressure’ and following that with villainy in ‘Star Trek.’

Mary Morstan and Sherlock Holmes.

And the newcomer, Freeman’s real-life partner Amanda Abbington who plays his ‘Sherlock’ fiance Mary Morstan, is a gem. Maybe it’s her level of comfort with the pair, who are off-screen friends, or just the absolute perfect role for her, but she has great comedic timing that plays perfectly off the two detectives.

Viewers will be happy to see the duo back in the swing of things – eventually – but let’s not forget there are only two more episodes left.

And season 4? Well, we’ll have to wait and see…

As an aside, and since some people missed the cameo, keep an eye out for Cumberbatch’s parents – actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventman – who play a surprising role in the episode.

A farewell to Eleven

It happened overnight.

One day I was happily going through my life having only caught and episode or two of the Tennant/Ecclestone Doctors, and the next I was an Eleven fan.

I was bed-bound while healing from back surgery and had run through all my favourite episodes of some of my favourite TV shows before I decided to give the whole Doctor Who fandom a shot. So I decided the best place to start was with the version of the Doctor who had recently regenerated.

Fish fingers and custard, I was hooked.

Like many Whovians before me, our first Doctor becomes OUR Doctor, and the Matt Smith incarnation of the character I have come to love in the past few years epitomizes for me who the Doctor is. So yesterday I experienced my first ‘live’ regeneration, and had to farewell to a character that I loved.

We go into 2014 with an eight month wait before we see a Peter Capaldi episode, and like the Whovians before me, I’ll learn to move on and love the next Doctor.

But for the rest of my life, Eleven will by MY Doctor.

Goodbye Raggedy-man.