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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday's Top 5... Recent Films That Would Make Great Video Games

#5: Premium Rush

Premium Rush already kind of looks like a video game, what with its fast pace, series of increasingly high stakes chases, and a little time taken out for the characters to showboat on their bikes, so it would probably transfer mediums without much difficulty. Plus, as a bonus, if you lose you’d get to see your character splatter across traffic pretty spectacularly.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

* * * *

Director: Claire Denis
Starring: Alex Descas, Mati Diop, Gregoire Colin, Nicole Dogue

A great filmmaker can do a lot with a little, can take the everyday ebb and flow of life and use it to create a story that is wholly compelling without any sort of narrative contrivance. Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum is about nothing more than the natural transition that occurs when children grow up and reach the point where they have to leave home. It’s about how the natural order of things reshapes itself out of the necessity of time passing, an intimate character study that resonates precisely because “nothing” happens save for the way the characters come together and then come apart. It is a slow and meditative film, but also undoubtedly a great one.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: The Raid: Redemption (2012)

* * *

Director: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Joe Taslim, Ray Sahetapy, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno

Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption is 101 minutes of intense, bone breaking action. People get shot, stabbed, pummeled to the point where they shouldn’t be able to get up (though they do), tossed over railings, smashed into walls, and blown up. I’m not sure what the final body count is, but it’s impressive. There’s a little bit of a story in there, too, but that’s kind of beside the point. The story exists only insofar as the action requires a little bit of context in order to give you someone to root for in the fight scenes. It doesn’t make for particularly resonant narrative, but it makes for a pretty awesome action picture.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Stoker (2013)

* * * 1/2

Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman

There’s something very wrong in the Stoker house. When people aren’t disappearing, they’re appearing suddenly, after decades’ absence, and casting a sinister pall over everything. Stoker, South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English language debut, is a brutally effective and atmospheric thriller of almost immaculate execution. Almost. It flies off the rails a little bit in its third act, but at least it looks great while it’s doing it, and manages to pull things back on track in time for the finale. If nothing else, Stoker is a very welcome reprieve from the weak “first quarter” selections at theaters lately.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

21st Century Essentials: Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Director: Ari Folman
Country: Israel

We’ve long since moved beyond the notion that documentaries are dry, didactic, uncinematic – movies that are “good for you” rather than movies that you can genuinely enjoy watching; but if proof is still needed, then Waltz with Bashir is a film that can end the debate once and for all. A provocative film that challenges and transcends the limitations of the documentary form, telling a story that exists almost entirely within the realm of memory (and many of them hazy), Waltz with Bashir is a surreal and poignant exploration of the lasting effects of warfare. It is also one of the most visually stunning films of the last decade.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday's Top 5... The Least Necessary Films of 2013 (So Far)

#5: All the Movies About the White House Being Taken Over (ie Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down)

I mean, really, why? Why does there need to be two of this? Why does there need to be one of this? It’s just... why?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Love Crime (2010)

* * 1/2

Director: Alain Corneau
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott-Thomas

Sometimes less is more. Such is the case with Alain Corneau’s Love Crime, a film which begins with a simple but fascinating premise, and then twists itself in knots to service what becomes an overly convoluted narrative that favors a by the numbers approach to unpacking the plot. It isn’t a bad movie – if nothing else, it features great performances from its stars, Ludivine Sagnier and Kristin Scott-Thomas – but it’s a disappointing film when you consider how it ends up in relation to the promise it shows in the beginning.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Bernie (2012)

* * *

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

One of the functions of the criminal justice system is to protect the public interest, so what to do when the public decides that a crime is in its best interest? Such is the question raised by Richard Linklater’s Bernie, about a much loved member of a small community who murders the meanest lady in town. Sure he killed her, the townspeople declare, but... It’s the perfect premise for dark comedy, though despite the horrible act at the film’s centre, it doesn’t actually play as all that dark. Like the title character himself (brilliantly played by Jack Black), it’s a film with a sunny disposition – and likeable despite its misdeeds.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

21st Century Essentials: Mulholland Drive (2001)

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: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
Country: USA/France

Twelve years on, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, has its own established mythology: the failed TV pilot resurrected with an assist from StudioCanal, the audition scene that made Naomi Watts a star, the battling “realities” of the plot and double performances of the cast. It’s a dazzling film about love and the dream of Hollywood stardom, by turns nightmarish and seductive, but wholly engrossing and endlessly captivating, the kind of film which reveals new layers and meanings with every viewing*.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Weekend (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New

They meet, they have an encounter, they part ways, and then... Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is a romantic drama about a relationship that becomes as deep as it is fleeting, unfolding entirely over the course of a single weekend. Made on a tight budget, the film is rather spare but it absolutely makes the most of what it has by putting the emphasis on its two main characters, letting their respective actors turn in great, nuanced performances. Weekend may be a little too slow moving for some, but if you have the patience for great character drama, then this is a film you won’t want to miss.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Tiny Furniture (2010)

* * *

Director: Lena Dunham
Starring: Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Grace Dunham, David Call, Alex Karpovsky

Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is a film that sometimes seems better in theory than it actually is in practice. It veers wildly between narcissism and self-awareness and moves at an almost glacial pace, and yet on the occasions when it does spark to life, it edges towards brilliance. I was alternately annoyed, fascinated, and entertained by Tiny Furniture and ultimately ended up liking it much more than not. It’s a film that is definitely a work by someone still trying to find her voice but, despite that, it’s also a very confident piece and certainly shows the promise that Dunham has, arguably, now fulfilled through her tv series Girls.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)

* * * 1/2

Director: Rich More
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch

It isn’t easy being bad, doing half the hard work and getting none of the glory. Such is the lot of Wreck-It-Ralph, the villain of the video game Fix-It Felix, Jr., who longs, just once, to get to be the hero, to get a medal, be celebrated, and maybe even have friends. Disney’s Wreck-It-Ralph pretty much has all the bases covered – it’s a nostalgia trip through the gaming world, a clever comedy that can speak on the level of both a child and adult, and an engaging and intelligent story about an outsider trying to find a way in. How this lost Best Animated Feature to Brave (which I liked, but which was definitely “lesser Pixar”), I will never understand.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

21st Century Essentials: Caché (2005)

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: Michael Haneke
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche
Country: Austria/France/Germany/Italy

Peace of mind is a fragile thing – it can be shattered in an instant and in such a way that it can never be properly repaired. Michael Haneke’s unsettling drama Caché explores the way that the life of a seemingly ordinary family is disrupted by the arrival of a videotape on their doorstep which reveals that someone has been watching them and that he or she wants them to know that they’re being watched.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday's Top 5... Movie Wizards

#5: Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

The cranky old wizard who brings Westley back to life (he was only "mostly dead" after all) and almost steals the show in his brief appearance.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Premium Rush (2012)

* * * 1/2

Director: David Koepp
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon

In a year which included The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, and Lincoln, Premium Rush would seem like the least of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 2012 films. Commercially, it certainly was. Secretly, however, it may very well have been his best. Sure, it lacks the gravitas of Lincoln, the mind bending cleverness of Looper, or the pop cultural importance of The Dark Knight Rises, but it more than makes up for all that in no frills action. How good is it? It reminded me a fair bit of Run, Lola, Run. If that means nothing to you, then I suggest that you stop reading right now, get copies of Lola and Rush, and settle in for a thrilling double feature.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Canadian Film Review: Rebelle (aka War Witch) (2012)

* * * *

Director: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza

Ten years in the making, writer/director Kim Nguyen’s Oscar nominated Rebelle (also known as War Witch) is a vibrant and profound character study that displays remarkably little pathos, given its subject matter. It is a work that rings with the kind of emotional permanence that separates “films” from “movies” and though obviously you can’t know until well after the fact whether a film will truly endure or not, this certainly feels like a picture that will last. A story of war, survival, love and, ultimately, hope, Rebelle is an elegiac and beautiful film.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hollywood Book Club: You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again

Julia Phillips' You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again is a book with a score to settle. Scores, actually. When it was first published in 1991, it was considered a scandalous, career ending book. Read 22 years after the fact it seems, not tame exactly, but certainly not measurably worse than any other book about Hollywood in the 1970s and 80s. The worst offenders in her book are protected by pseudonyms and the revelations about those she does name aren’t exactly shocking – particularly when you take into account that these are the memories of a crackhead. The only truly shocking thing about Lunch is that for all the posturing Phillips does about her importance to the “New Hollywood” era, she doesn’t actually do much to explain what she actually did to think she deserves that distinction.