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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Last Gladiators (2011)

* * *

Director: Alex Gibney

The hockey enforcer. Feared, but not necessarily respected as players, considered either a drag on the game or a necessary part of it, depending on who you ask. In The Last Gladiators the ridiculously prolific Alex Gibney looks at the trials and tribulations of the NHL enforcer, both during and post-career, focusing in particular on former Montreal Canadien Chris "Knuckles" Nilan. A movie like The Last Gladiators is one whose appeal is perhaps limited to those who like hockey to begin with, however, if you're a fan of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series, you'll probably like The Last Gladiators as it has a similar kind of vibe. That said, while the film is pretty entertaining, it doesn't dig particularly deep - but maybe that's just a risk a director takes when he releases a new documentary at a rate of several per year.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

* * *

Director: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit

At the risk of sounding ridiculously easily to please, Big Hero 6 probably could have been nothing more than 90 minutes of its inflatable robot shuffling around and trying to maneuver its large frame in small spaces and I would have been entirely satisfied with it. The film, inspired by the Marvel comic series of the same name, is a lot more ambitious than that, though, and works well as a piece aimed largely at a younger audience but possessing appeal to people of all ages, and works as both a stand alone film and as the first entry in what will likely become a series. I'm not convinced that Big Hero 6 should have won the Oscar over the magnificent How to Train Your Dragon 2 (perhaps the third entry in that series will have better luck than the first two), but it's without question a fun, entertaining, and even sometimes moving film.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: The Overnighters (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jesse Moss

No good deed goes unpunished, and the central figure of Jesse Moss' documentary The Overnighters learns that the hard way. His loss, though, is Moss' gain as the director has the kind of good luck similar to that of Lauren Greenfield, the director of the great 2012 documentary The Queen of Versailles, in terms of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Having set up the cameras to capture one kind of compelling story - in this case the North Dakota oil boom and the related problem of a town unprepared for and unable to meet its sudden and dramatic increase in population - Moss is there and ready when an even more compelling story begins unfolding out that original one. Like The Queen of Versailles, I would argue that The Overnighters is a film that very much captures how things are now in our socio-economically unbalanced and increasingly unsustainable times, and as a result it's a film that inspires frustration, heartbreak, and astonishment in equal measure.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

21st Century Essentials: Bad Education (2004)

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: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez
Country: Spain

No one does it quite like Pedro Almodovar. Who else could so successfully make a noirish melodrama about a sexually fluid/opportunistic young man willing to do anything to become a star, including exploit a story of child sexual abuse for his own gain, and do so in a way that depicts the perpetrator of that abuse as, if not “sympathetic,” exactly, then at least as another kind of victim? In Bad Education, a film with a movie within the movie and where the division between life and art is as malleable as the notions of “truth” and “identity,” Almodovar does just that and manages to create a narratively complex, ambitious, daring, and provocative film – but, of course, pretty much all of Almodovar’s films can be described using all of those words.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Canadian Film Review: Mommy (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon

Often in film, family dysfunction is presented as "quirkiness," an eccentricity played for laughs and something that is ultimately harmless and, when push comes to shove, makes the family unit stronger. Xavier Dolan's Mommy goes in a different direction, centering on the kind of dysfunction that is painful and exhausting, on a son whose often violent outbursts can't be anticipated let alone controlled, and on a mother who is so overwhelmed and lacking in support that her love for her son may never be enough. Thematically, Mommy is one of Dolan's most mature and sensitive films (I'd say that Laurence Anyways is the only one that truly gives it a run for its money in that regard), though like all the director's films it can be exhilarating and trying in equal measure - sometimes even within the same scene.