Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

21st Century Essentials: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist
Country: Sweden

Six years after the fact (and three after the American remake), the first screen adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo should not feel as revolutionary as it still does. Yet it’s still a gut punch to watch a film so unflinching in its treatment of sexual violence, so determined to see that violence from a female point of view, and so eager to not merely give its female protagonist agency, but allow her to seize it for herself. Although the narrative’s mechanics make it somewhat unlikely for success as a film (for one thing, the two leads don’t even meet until the halfway point and up until then are operating in their own separate stories), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is nevertheless a spellbinding piece of work thanks in no small part to the fact that the girl in question happens to be one of the most compelling and fascinating female characters ever committed to film.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday's Top 5... Movies About Con Artists

#5: Catch Me If You Can

Steven Spielberg's take on the exploits of real life con artist Frank Abagnale is one of the director's most light-hearted works and features what is, easily, one of Leonardo DiCaprio's most light-hearted performances. A cat and mouse chase story which sees DiCaprio's version of Abagnale trying to keep a step of two of Tom Hanks' FBI agent, Catch Me If You Can is a fun and very entertaining ride.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Canadian Film Review: Tom at the Farm (2013)

* * * 1/2

Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal

To watch an Xavier Dolan film is to watch the films that he was watching at the time he made his. This isn't a bad thing, in and of itself (the same thing could, after all, be said of Quentin Tarantino), particularly when a filmmaker has such good taste in the influences worn on his or her sleeve and such a keen ability to put their own twist on it. Dolan's 2013 thriller Tom at the Farm plays like something from Hitchcock - deeply unsettling, built around anticipation of something happening more than the thing itself, sexually preoccupied, and centering on a protagonist who combines both the "cool blonde" and the unwitting man dragged into a plot he couldn't have foreseen - but it is also, unmistakably, a film with its own voice and point of view. It may also very well be Dolan's least self-indulgent film, running at a brisk pace and featuring not an ounce of narrative of stylistic fat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: Force Majeure (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Ruben Ostlund
Starring: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli

What does it mean if, in a moment of crisis, you are revealed to be something less than what you thought you were, less than what you were expected to be? Where do you go from there, and what sort of lasting repercussions will that have? Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure is about such an event, one which results in a family being pushed to the brink, and with the very concept of "manhood" itself being thoroughly dismantled. Force Majeure is a potent and well executed character-based drama, and sometimes a surprisingly (and darkly) funny comedy. Why it failed to make the final cut for the Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film category is a mystery to me since the film hits so many of the targets it aims for, but then again the category is well known for its glaring omissions, so Force Majeure will simply join the ever growing list of wonderful non-English language films overlooked by AMPAS.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscars: Best & Worst

Best: Julianne Moore Finally Gets An Oscar - About damn time.

Worst: Playing Off the Winners - New year, same complaint. Stop playing off 'the little people.' Seriously, Matthew McConaughey's speech last year rambled on for, like, two hours and no one in the orchestra started playing. Just let the winners say what they want to say, because when you start playing them off as they're thanking their late spouse or parents or making mention of the important work of helping people in crisis, it just makes you look like a bunch of jackasses, especially when the movie star winners are allowed to take up however much time they want. Good on the director of Ida for just powering through (and through... and through)

Best: Ida! - My favorite film from 2014 won, yay!

Worst: Terrence Howard - WTF was that?

Best: Alexandre Desplat Wins - I've been rooting for Desplat ever since his work in Lust/Caution. His win was well deserved and about time (now if only AMPAS could get around to throwing a bone Roger Deakins' way).

Worst: Neil Patrick Harris as Host - Sorry to say it, love NHP generally and think he's been a great host of other awards show, but this was flat from beginning to end.

Best: Eddie Redmayne's Win - That was adorable.

Worst: The Sound of Music: Look, The Sound of Music is a fine film and I like Lady Gaga (and she killed it in this performance) but, guys, we did not have time for that.

Best: Glory (Performance & Win) - Wonderfully staged and performed. The musical performances this year were just about the only thing that made this year's show worth it, and Common and John Legend's speech was wonderful and poignant (though, seriously, who "Woo!"s during a speech about the ongoing, horrible issue of racial inequality?)

Worst: Don't Drag David Oyelowo Into This - So, after all the hubbub about the Oscars and the industry being too white and too lacking in diversity, some genius decided the thing to do was write a joke taking a shot at one of the very few films from last year that actually starred a person of color in the lead role and then get a clearly uncomfortable David Oyelowo to do the dirty work of delivering the punchline? Lame.

Best: John Travolta: Good for him for having a sense of humor about himself. I doubt there are many other people in that audience who would have been quite as game. Also that Ben Affleck/Benedict Cumberbatch joke was one of the few NPH got to tell that was actually funny.

Worst: Birdman Wins Best Picture: I don't think Birdman is a bad film (I thought it was a good one, actually), but Best Picture? No. Not even close.

Best: Everything Is Awesome - The number definitely lived up to its name, from Lonely Island to Tegan & Sara to the Lego Oscar statues to Batman. This was one of the most entertaining "Best Song" performances ever.

Worst: Neil Patrick Harris' Predictions - This ongoing joke was painful and the payoff was not even remotely worth the approximately 14 hours leading up to it.

Best: Patricia Arquette's Speech - I fully expect that that shot of Meryl Streep cheering her on is going to become the new go to gif for whenever someone makes a particularly salient point on the internet.