Thursday, July 30, 2015

@JFLMTL: The Big Lebowski

Michael Fassbender as The Dude? Patton Oswalt as Walter? Jennifer Lawrence as Maude? Mae Whitman as Donny? Dennis freakin Quaid as the real Lebowski? Mike Judge as Sam Sheppard's deep voiced, wise - ish narrator? It shouldn't work, right?  On a humid Friday night in Montreal, a live reading with the aforementioned culprits happened and it DID work, gloriously in fact. All part of the 33rd edition of the Just For Laughs festival.

The Coen Brothers classic is a peculiar  film, one greeted with mixed to divisive reviews upon its release, yet gaining a rich cult following over the years and comedy classic status - a fate I sure hope their much maligned but underrated "Burn After Reading" will one day get. The live reading this past Friday night was greeted with buzz - tickets sold out quickly once Lawrence was announced, and the show was  moved to a bigger theatre. But if there was any reason why these now iconic live readings created by Jason Reitmam were created, it was to read a Coen Brothers script.  Those kooky brothers have a flair to their dialogue that is second to none and is brought to life on a stage setting.

Patton Oswalt brought a whole new layer to John Goodman's deranged, Shabbos-observing vet, and every time he spoke the crowd went nuts. He brought out the iconic, anger-driven performance of the original character. At every "shut the fuck up Donny", the crowd couldn't hold still, hollering and cheering the legendary line.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was the fact that Michael Fassbender was actually smoking joints rolled up by Jennifer Lawrence on stage. One joint after another was lit up as Fassbender brought out a whole new meaning to the term "method actor". Lawrence, a self proclaimed "Lebowski fan", seemed to be happy to just be there. Her Maude had a scant amount of dialogue and she seemed to struggle with some of more high brow Maude words, such as satyriasis, but just hearing her struggle to utter the word "Vaginal" was worth the over 2 hour wait to get into the 700 capacity Olympia theatre.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the, as of then unannounced, actor who would play the wheelchair bound Lebowski. None other than Dennis Quaid was introduced as the audience went batshit crazy when 61 year-old actor made his way onstage. Quaid not getting nominated for "Far From Heaven" is one of the biggest crimes in recent Oscar history.

Mike Judge, the creator of "Silicon Valley", did a great job emphasizing the deep montone voice of the narrator of the film. The man behind "Office Space", another cult classic in the same vein as Lebowski, used his skills of impersonation and sounded exactly like Sam Shepard. The rest of the cast was filled up by actors from HBO's brilliant TV series "Sillicon Valley". In fact, the day after the live reading I attended a Q and A with the entire cast of that show, which only made me appreciate the actors and writing even more.

Mae Whitman also shone. A female  playing Donny was a risky endeavour, but the "Parenthood" actress made it work so well.  The loose, liberal, almost European-esque atmosphere the city of Montreal brings was clearly felt by the actors, who were so high and inspired on stage that you almost forgot about the original incarnators of the film. Drinks and joints kept flooding the stage as the actors tried to get the loose vibe of the Coen film right.

The Coen dialogue has aged well, and so has the inspired lunacy that drives the film. We didn't need Fassbender, Lawrence,  Quaid and Co to remind us of that, but the night I and 700 others witnessed on Friday night was mighty in abidance to The Dude. The lineup outside was a what's what of Dude-ism: smoking joints, reciting famous lines, and even bringing bowling balls on a Shabbos night of all nights. 17 years after its release, it felt like the Coens created a monster.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/2015/07/michael-fassbender-jennifer-lawrence-dennis-quaid-in-montreal-for-a-live-reading-of-the-big-lebowski/

Saturday, July 18, 2015

2015 mid year recap

After 6 months of moviegoing in 2015, one thing has become very clear: Female driven cinema is here to stay. If you look at my list of the best of the year so far you will find that most of the movies that were worth seeking out had a female lead or a female driven psyche infused to their DNA. It’s a breath of fresh air that makes me think that Hollywood has finally realized the importance of the female voice. Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do, but how refreshing it is to bypass the testosterone fueled barrage of superhero sequels and uncover an endless amount of counter-programming that relies on feminist ideals and themes instead of the usual one-dimensional bollocks we’re so used to.
In “Mad Max: Fury Road”, George Miller set the stage for a towering performance by Charlize Theron as a relentless seeker of freedom and justice. At this point in time she more than deserves an Oscar nomination by not only giving one of the best performances by a female this year, but one of the best performances by anybody this year period. It eclipses her towering work in “Monster” by being less showy but more powerfully subtle. It is the crowning achievement of Theron’s career.
Who can forget the gorgeous dissection of young Riley’s feelings in Pixar’s masterful and imagination-filled “Inside Out” — a film that stands alongside “WALL-E”, “Up” and “Toy Story 3″ atop the mighty Pixar shrine. The animation company has never made a brainier, trippier movie than this, nor have they ever concentrated the bulk of a movie into investigating the raw feelings of a teenage girl in her everyday life. She’s the anti-Disney princess and all the better for it.
The horror genre was rejuvenated last year with “The Babadook” -– a smart, snappy, and darkly twisted tale that dealt with death, mourning and the matriarchal role. “It Follows” continued that trend in a film that will probably make my top ten list at the end of the year. What a treat it was to watch “It Follows”, a darkly brilliant horror movie starring the indelibly talented Maika Monroe as a girl who gets cursed by a selfish young man and has to deal with the consequences throughout the film’s tightly-knit 107 minutes. Maika more than handles her own and then some.
How about the triumphant, intense fireworks that Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart create in “Clouds of Sils Maria”? Stewart’s mature performance will quiet all the haters once she gets a well-deserved nomination come next spring. I stumbled upon a list from a reputed website of the worst actresses in Hollywood and Stewart was in the top three! The kind of research that goes into having such blasphemous idiocy in a top ten list could make for a great topic in a separate writeup. Stewart is proving herself to be quite the actress: Her Cesar-winning performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria” isn’t the only time she exuded greatness. Check her out in “Adventureland”, “Into the Wild” and “Still Alice” just to name a few, you’ll see what I mean.
Want more? “Ex-Machina” gave us the iconic Ava, a beautiful and seductive android handmade by a man to fit and comfort his sick needs, that is until … just watch the movie, a brilliant movie, that goes past its themes of the dangers of artificial intelligence and locates the heart and soul of a female android who wants to stop being controlled by the men around her. Alex Garland’s “Ex-Machina” is a movie that works on so many levels, it’s like the beginning of something new. Its agenda just feels so clear and concise: it’s the prophetic announcement of a charge that’s coming at us full throttle without warning, the tossing over of a cinematic voice and the birth of a new one.
BEST SO FAR 2015:
1) Mad Max: Fury Road
2) Inside Out
3) Ex-Machina
4) It Follows
5) Clouds of Sils Maria
6) The Tribe
7) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
8) Predestination
9) Amy
10) While We’re Young
It doesn’t just stop at mid-year -– watch out for Amy Schumer’s hilariously relevant “Trainwreck” to continue the trend this summer, Meryl Streep teaming up with her daughter Mamie Gummer for Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash”, Lily Tomlin giving an award-worthy, career-best performance in “Grandma”, and Noah Baumbach continuing his “Frances Ha” dissection of the 21st century young female in “Mistress America”, starring Greta Gerwig. Good times ahead.
There you go, I have to admit that going past 10 films would be stretching it, but this is a solid bunch of films that definitely deserve your attention. It’s time for you guys to share your mid-year movie experiences. I look forward to reading them.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pixar's films ranked


Pixar hasn’t just reinvented animation for the 21st century, they’ve expanded it forward to a space and time where the adult/child line is blurred and the creativity on display is astonishingly rendered. You forget you’re watching a film primarily aimed for kids. You feel like a child again, full of innocence, full of joy, discovering a new world that previously seemed so out of reach. Over the past 20 years, Pixar has given us so much more than 15 timeless movies; they’ve brought us the ability to succumb to a universe full of magic and stories that hit the truest notes possible. It’s hard to imagine a cinematic landscape without Pixar, and the significance they represent cannot be underestimated. Their effect on regular, live-action movies is self-evident. They’ve pushed boundaries and forced other filmmakers to think beyond the box. Here’s to another 20 great years.
1) WALL-E (2008)
Any Pixar list must begin and end with this masterpiece. The first half hour of WALL-E has scarcely any dialogue and plays like a silent Chaplin movie -– that is if he had ever decided to make a post-apocalyptic movie about a lonely garbage-chewing bot who falls in love with an A.I. named Eve. The second half is more conventional but nevertheless visionary. The future that director Andrew Stanton concocts is that of a torn up world, ravaged by an environmental crisis, where the planet’s citizens have been evacuated to live aboard a space cruiser, with only one last possible chance to rebuild.
2) Up (2009)
I don’t know many people who can come out of this film’s first 10 minutes with a dry eye. In 10 hopelessly romantic and surreal minutes, Pixar gave us the quintessential anatomy of life, love, and death in a simple but heartbreaking montage that might just be the crowning achievement of the studio.  Although the rest of the film can’t reach the peak of that montage (and really, which can?), the rest of the film is incredibly great and visually vivid, bursting out with colors. It’s an allegorical film about aging without regret but with dignity.
3) Inside Out (2015)
“Inside Out” opens this week with a flurry of rave reviews and a brilliant marketing campaign that will have you in stitches, but is the movie any good? Yes. It’s damn good. In fact, this is the brainiest, most trippy movie Pixar has made so far. Coming out of the theater, a buddy of mine, who is coincidentally a psychologist, told me the movie should be mandatory viewing for all psych students. How does Pixar come up with such ambitiously ingenious ideas? I’m guessing this is the movie most have not yet seen from my list, so I won’t say much, but just let your brain have a little workout with this golden nugget of a movie.
4) The Incredibles (2004)
While we get relentlessly pummeled by countless superhero movies every single year, it is a breath of fresh air to see the genre work so triumphantly well. Brad Bird has proven his worth in the past, most notably with the criminally underrated animated movie “The Iron Giant”. Bird gives us another visual treat by tackling the superhero genre and coming out with a classic that can stand alongside “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 2″. The action scenes are breathtakingly staged, with Bird’s incredible eye for detail and pacing coming in handy. Unlike many superhero movies, this is one of the rare cases where a sequel would be welcome and well-deserved.
5) Toy Story 3 (2010)
What more can be said about “Toy Story 3″? It was supposed to be the last hurrah. A sequel was just announced recently, but it will be very hard to top this achievement.  Tackling adult themes, the movie was the darkest, most vicious of the series, with a villain who could scare you more than any live-action baddie. The stakes were dead real, tackling the loss of innocence and the promotion – or is that a demotion? – to adulthood. Near the end of the movie’s wrenching climax, as our heroes are about to get cooked alive in an oven, you can’t help but think the inevitable could actually happen. Never have I feared for the lives of animated characters more than in this movie.
6) Ratatouille (2007)
A Parisian rat named Remy just wants to become a chef. This could have gone wrong on so many levels, but it didn’t.  “Ratatouille” is highly enjoyable, recounting some of the Disney gems from the golden age of animation. When Remy starts cooking up a storm in the Parisian kitchen he has crashed, the moves are like ballet, effortlessly propelling his miniature body all around the kitchen and unequivocally expressing his unadorned passion for cooking.  This again shows just how influenced by Chaplin the great animators at Pixar really are.
7) Finding Nemo (2003)
I can think of three times in cinematic history where an actor or actress deserved to get nominated for a voice performance: Robin Williams as the Genie in “Aladdin”, Jeremy Irons as Scar in “The Lion King”, and of course Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”. The work DeGeneres does here is nothing short of brilliant.  She uses a playful innocence to counterbalance Albert Brooks’ sombre, more serious tone as Nemo’s father.  The lighter optimism of Dory shines through and perfectly complements the astonishing visuals of the coral reef in all its glory.
8) Toy Story 2 (1999)
We had no right to expect a sequel that would be better than the original, but that’s exactly what “Toy Story 2″ accomplished. This time around we had a better story, improved animation, and an exhilarating sense of adventure. If the original was riding high off of its landmark CGI, this sequel was trying to perfect the glitches that held the story back a little the first time around. With Indiana Jones styled action, “Toy Story 2″ proved there was still room to expand in the Pixar canon, and that these guys were dead serious about blowing us away.
9) Toy Story (1995)
It all started here. The first time I saw “Toy Story” I could scarcely imagine how groundbreaking and important it would become for animation. This movie literally changed the game and practically got rid of all hand drawn animation in Hollywood, which of course is a real shame, because hand drawn is still one of the most beautiful and creative ways to make a movie – just look at any Hayao Miyazaki movie if you don’t believe me. Now almost every single animated movie is CGI and we’ve relied so heavily on it because of how monstrous a success Pixar had with “Toy Story”. The facial expressions, the movements, and the effortless flow that carry characters about was unprecedented. It was goodbye to the classical and welcome to the new age.
10) Monsters Inc. (2000)
There hasn’t been a cuter, more adorable Pixar creation than Boo. The little girl who called Sully “Kitty” just about made the movie for me. The attention to detail given to Boo was simply amazing, encompassing the smallest, most precious details a baby girl can have.  Every time she spoke you couldn’t help but just want to hug the screen. Kudos must be given to directors Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman who let this kid run loose and cause chaos at Monsters Inc. Billy Crystal and John Goodman’s voice work and chemistry here is tremendous.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ah-Nuld, Bruce and the art of the action movie


"Mad Max: Fury Road" has singlehandedly redefined what an action movie can do. George Miller worked on his baby for the better part of 30 years and his vision was finally unleashed on screens nationwide a few weekends ago to the ravest of rave reviews. Where does this "Mad Max" stack up with the others? I'm pretty sure it's on par with, if not better than, 1982's "The Road Warrior", a film that changed the action movie game over 30 years ago. Will "Fury Road" be as indelibly treasured a decade or two from now? Time will tell, but the feminist angle – a kickass Charlize Theron – and chaotically edited action might be a sign of things to come with the genre (could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing). When the movie was done all I could think of was how all these young, hip, new superhero movie directors coming from the indie scene just got schooled on how an action movie should be made...all this by a 70-year-old filmmaker. 

"Die Hard" changed the action genre almost 30 years ago; ever since then it has evolved in numerous, interesting ways, (mind you not all successful) but it’s given us a handful of great movies. "Fury Road" is only the latest addition to this ever-evolving genre. Where do we go from here? What will be the consequences of a post-“Fury Road” action world? As A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times, "Miller has reminded us that blockbusters have the potential to not only be art, but radically visionary – even the fourth in a series. What a lovely day, indeed."  Here are ten movies -all released within the last 30 years - that tried to change the game, succeeded and made it a lovely day for blockbusters. 

1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) 
James Cameron's blistering sequel to the 1984 classic is much more of an action movie than its predecessor. Like many of the movies on this list, it first garnered mixed reviews before being re-evaluated years later as a masterpiece. Teaming up with Ah-nuld's Terminator, a buffed up and kickass Linda Hamilton tries to stop the viscerally frightening T-1000, sent from the future to kill her troubled son John Connor. I remember being a teenager when it first came out and I had never seen action scenes staged quite like this before, nor had I ever witnessed special effects as inventively surreal and chaotic. I still haven’tThe special effects still hold up to this day and so does the beating heart that Cameron injects into his characters. It had everything the 21st century action film would strive for, yet none have come close to replicating this 1991 movie's triumphant achievement.  

2) Die Hard (1988) 
Action movies are not the Academy’s thing and for good reason. They are – most of the time – loud, abrasive, dumbed down and ultimately artless films (“The Expendables” anybody?) but sometimes a movie like “Die Hard” goes beyond genre boundaries and achieves something special through sheer perfection of the craft. John McTiernan’s “Die Hard” isn’t high art, but it got the job done in high octane fashion and set the standard for what an action film should be like in the 21st century. It spawned numerous rip-offs in the 90’s and still does today, none of which have attained the excitement of McTiernan’s original. It is in fact not overblown to say that “Die Hard” set the standard for the perfect modern action movie.  

3) The Matrix (1999) 
The action movie was dying in 1999, Arnold was just not Arnold anymore, and there wasn’t a new action star to come and take over the throne. "The Matrix" is where the action movie went techno. Literally, it went beyond the technological and creative limits we thought were set for action. For better or for worse, "bullet time" reinvigorated the genre and shattered the clich├ęs for a whole bunch of new ones to come. This is where the surreal got mixed into the action and canonized a whole bunch of copycats. Imagination and originality crept into the equation and signaled a whole new generation of mainstream filmmaking built on ideas as much as action. “The Matrix” was an inspiration for up and coming filmmakers and the countless camera tricks that were to come. Hell, even music videos changed their style because of it. The film was not just built on getting your pulse pounding, but also on getting your mind blown. Its Asian cinema-inspired leaps signaled the start of something new at the movies. Of note, another triumphant female heroine was introduced in the form of Carrie Ann Moss' Trinity. The sequels disappointed, but we'll always have the original.  

4) The Killer (1989) 
If you want to know where Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and even Johnnie To learned to fabricate their over-the-top violence, look no further than this 1989 John Woo classic. Starring Chow Yun-Fat as a lethal assassin who accepts one last hit in order to restore a young girl's vision, this Chinese action movie's influence was felt all over cinema and is justly called an important landmark in the genre. Just a year after its release, Luc Besson basically ripped it off for the excitingly entertaining "La Femme Nikita" and a few years later for his now classic "Leon: The Professional". Much of the borrowing from Woo's film is superficial—two-handed gunning, doves flying, near operatic kills – but it paved the way for the possibility of making bloody violence look artistically eloquent. Woo followed up with another classic, “Hard Boiled”, but to this day nothing in his career can top “The Killer”. 

5) Aliens (1986) 
Aliens” taught us to never underestimate the stupidity of man. "Get away from her you bitch" exclaimed Sigourney Weaver's Ripley at the climax of this 1986 sequel to "Alien", a film that epitomized female power in a male dominated society. Like many of James Cameron's other films, this featured a strong, kickass female lead. If the original movie veered more towards the horror genre, Cameron shifted the emphasis towards a more action packed screenplay with an abundance of quotability. When Vasquez gets asked by her peers, "are you a man?" she hilariously replies "no, are you?" The feminist undertones are present, but one cannot go without mentioning the action sequences that left the viewer without a heartbeat by the end of the film's pulse pounding 146 minutes. To this day Ripley is still the set example for what a female action heroine should be.

6) The Bourne Trilogy (2002-2007) "The Bourne Identity" introduced movie-goers to a new type of action hero and a new style of action. Gone were the big-budget, explosion-laden, slick, special effects extravaganzas, in was a gritty template, naturalistic action sequences, and hand-held camera fight scenes. Our hero was no longer the cocky son of a gun trying to save the world; he was trying to save himself and find out who he was. Whatever you think of these movies you can't possibly deny the impact its had on this decade's action fare. Heck, even James Bond has been dubbed "James Bourne" by many. Liam Neeson was basically Jason Bourne in the "Taken" moviesditto Keanu Reeves in last year's "John Wick", Angie Jolie in "Salt", Tom Cruise in "Jack Reacher". Hand to hand combat was replicated in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", and even Christopher Nolan used Bourne-esque moves in his "Dark Knight" trilogy.  

7) The Fugitive (1993) 
Another Best Picture nominee, this one stars Harrison Ford and is based on the popular 1960's television series. Accused of a murder he did not commit, Ford's John Kimble tries to find the one-armed man who killed his wife in order to clear his name. Fairly standard, but expertly done and a true classic of the genre. While Arnold, Stallone and JCVD were blowing stuff up and strutting their roided bodies on screen, Harrison Ford and "The Fugitive" knocked our socks off with wild stunts, Andrew Davis' tight direction, and a believable story that had us invested in the characters. They really just don't make them like they used to. Tommy Lee Jones won a Best Supporting Actor, besting out – huh – Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List? But thats just a whole other story I won’t get into.  

8) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 
You can't deny the sheer impact of Mad Max: Fury Road. Director George Miller's Fourth installment of the film franchise is proof that not all blockbusters should be greeted with an indifferent shrug. If anything, this brutal action film is even more intense and exciting than its predecessors. With its nihilistic outlook on human nature and a nasty, in-your-face style, this is Miller's triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brings to every frame is as obsessively meticulous as any Wes Anderson picture I've seenas is the editing by Margaret Sixel, which – as we stand – is most deserving of next year's Film Editing Oscar. Edited at breakneck pace and staged with manic fury, Sixel is the unheralded hero here. The celebrated one is of course Miller who's passion and vision comes through in every frame. The total control he must have had with this project to pull off what he did on screen is unheard of, which is good for him and great for us.

9) Predator (1987) 
If there’s any genre that calls for the acceptance of guilty pleasures, it’s action. You probably have this 1987 classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for that. Carl Weather and Jessie Ventura compliment Ah-nuld in this testosterone fuelled beast hunt in the Central American jungle. Not sold yet? At one point Bill Duke says “This shit makes Cambodia look like Kansas”. I can’t say the plot is rocket science, but there’s something incredibly exciting happening here – a feeling that we just checked our brains at the door and let this pop culture milestone whiplash usAll credit is given to director John McTiernan who, one year away from his “Die Hard” triumph, takes a B-movie level script and elevates into a classic of the genre. Not convinced yet? Just tell me a smile doesn’t appear on your face when Arnold, finally face to face with the hunter utters “You’re one ugly motherfucker.” Classic. 

10) Speed (1994) "There's a bomb on the bus", Dennis Hopper screams halfway through this tense 1994 action movie. No worries, a strong and determined Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves try to stop the devilish Hopper. Psychotic and scary as hell, Hopper brings real evil to the movie, determined to wipe out anything in his path. With shades of his gas-huffing Frank from "Blue Velvet", mixed with his deranged Feck of "River's Edge", Hopper's villainous Howard Payne owns every frame he's in and leaves a mark on the film, even when not onscreen. It's a profoundly disturbing portrait of a man gone haywire that set the bar for the audacity, insanity and level at which a mainstream movie villain can go. Just think about it, every movie villain since Payne has had the freedom to go to extremes that might not have been available without this movie.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/2015/05/jordan-ruimy-counts-down-10-of-the-greatest-action-films-ever/