Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When I interviewed Richard Gere ....

Below is a link to the interview I had with Richard Gere last month at the Toronto Film Festival. He was there promoting his latest film, a daring, plotlesss film directed by Oren Moverman. I got a couple more interviews that I wrote from TIFF that should see the light of day very soon.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Fall Movie Season is upon us and -yes- the movies are now going to be considerably better. In the next few months you're going to see for yourself how great movies like "Whiplash", "Foxcatcher", "Nightcrawler", "Gone Girl" and many more truly are- However, that doesn't mean there weren't solid movies in the summer. No, I won't be telling you about how great "Boyhood" was because more than enough people have written about Linklater's masterpiece.
In fact, you might have missed the exhilarating work Director Doug Liman and his star Tom Cruise gave us this past summer. Chances are you probably did miss "Edge of Tomorrow" when it played in theatres this past June. The paltry 90 million dollars it made at the box office was also further proof that Tom Cruise just isn't the box office draw he used to be. The star has had a bad rep of late, but -safe for the Oprah couch jumping - we should really give the guy a break. He’s still the talented actor that acted in “Magnolia”, “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Minority Report” just to name a few of his achievements. His work in Liman's movie is solid and reminds me why he became a movie star in the first place.
Then why did nobody catch on to the brilliance? It just came out that Warner Bros. moved their upcoming Wachowski Brothers movie "Jupiter Ascending" to 2015 because of how badly "Edge of Tomorrow" performed at the box office for them. Yikes. The reviews for "Edge of Tomorrow" were positive, earning a 90% fresh rating on Rottentomatoes, and the feedback I got from people who saw it was that it was the best Tom Cruise movie they saw in a very long time.
You might have dismissed the film as a sci-fi “Groundhog Day” and you wouldn’t have been wrong. However, Liman's film was more than just a gimmick; it had an originality and spontaneity that most other blockbusters failed to carry this summer. A playfulness that left you giddy with excitement. It also had a great, strong female lead performance in Emily Blunt’s war -torn hero. Is it just me or is Blunt one of the most underrated actresses around today? In everything she’s in, I always end up loving what she does with the role.
For a film that essentially dealt with Cruise's Colonel Cage time-looping the same situation over and over again, you might have expected the film to start getting a feeling of repetitiveness, but that never happened. In fact, the only quibble I had with the movie was the last 10 or so minutes when the plot deviated away from the time-looping and into anti-climactic combat mode. That was a small price to pay for what had followed before it, “Edge of Tomorrow” was one of the most thrilling cinematic experiences I had in a while and, surprisingly, also one of the funniest. The film’s humor was a definite plus as we were given the same situation over and over again, mocking itself with ingeniously constructed humor.
I could have written about "Lucy" and what an unusual, underrated treat it was but Sasha already did that beautifully with her review, I could have pondered the brilliant layers and colors of "Snowpiercer's" episodic, dystopian narrative but Ryan already chimed in about how incredible that movie was. So here I am, giving props to another 2014 movie that went under the radar. "Edge of Tomorrow" is a movie that should not have worked but it did, it kept me on the edge of my seat and was actually something to recommend at the multiplex this summer.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Two summer love stories

Love is Strange (R) ★★★

Blink and you might miss John Lithgow and Alfred Molina’s transcendent work in Ira Sachs’ “Love is Strange”. Blink again and you might miss its short stay at your local art house theatre. That is if it hasn’t already left town.  Sachs’ beautifully crafted indie, which had a phenomenal debut earlier this year at Sundance,  is such a simple story that you might shrug it off as something minor, but that’s why it’s so damn good: It sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) are a gay couple that just got married in New York, legalization has finally arrived and they embrace the moment and the times. However, not long after their union, George is fired form his job as head of the choir because word comes out that he is gay. A crisis hits, the apartment that the couple just bought is now unaffordable, and they must move out and find something reasonably cheaper. Ben moves in with his nephew, the nephew’s wife and their temperamental son, with whom Ben has to share a bunk bed.  George moves in with two friends, who also happen to be gay cops. Their constant partying becomes insufferable. Both are caught in a situation they never thought would be possible, and, with the New York housing situation being absurdly ridiculous these days, a newly found apartment seems very far.

Sachs’ film is a smartly written and assuring one. He bypasses the clichés by preventing his film from heading towards the same old traps and conventional structures that other lower tier movies have fallen into. “Love is Strange” is about many important things confronting the average New Yorker today: community, friendships, relationships, the economic demands of living in New York, what it is to be an artist and, of course, how the ideal of a “perfect marriage” fabricated by our society is a ludicrous one and that finding such a union is almost impossible. There are concessions that need to be made.

Lithgow and Molina are stunning and deliver career best performances. Here are two actors that have been around forever, yet have never been as good as they are here, especially Lithgow, whose aging has brought a real nuance to the 70 year-old painter he portrays on screen. The lines on his face bring out more emotional undertones to an already complex and unapologetic character. Ditto Molina, whose angst and desperation can be heard without words, just facial expressions. Nominations are far beyond the reach of this film but if this were a fair world, Molina and Lithgow would already be at the top of the list of contenders.

Life Itself (PG-13) ★★★

I used to love reading Roger Ebert’s film reviews. Even if you didn’t agree with many of his opinions, you couldn’t help but revel in the incredibly smart writing. He justifiably won a Pulitzer Prize for what he accomplished, yet here was man who had such bad luck with his health. Steve James’ “Life Itself” is an in-depth, intimate look at his final days, most of them spent at a Chicago hospital.  James’ “Hoop Dreams” was selected as the best film of 1994 by Ebert, which in turn helped James’ career tremendously. Here the filmmaker returns the favor by giving us an eloquent and mesmerizing tribute the late film critic.

It is safe to say that the most touching and important scenes of “Life Itself” take place at the Chicago hospital in which Ebert stayed during his final days on earth. There we see a man whose jaw was lost due to cancer and who now has to talk through a computer device. Yet, he has enough optimism to light up an entire room; his health seems to be deteriorating, yet there still is a fire burning to live and enjoy the precious moments.

His passion for life is still there: His brilliant blog was an infallible passion of his and so were the movies. In one scene he is excited by the thought of getting his hospital leave to go to the movies. As a movie buff you understand the pure, unadulterated joy he wants of escaping at the movies, and because of that, the scene has a subtle power.

Many moments in “Life Itself” are hard to watch because you see a man that looks defeated and too proud to admit it on the outside. In one particular scene, Ebert struggles to take baby steps on the treadmill at the physiotherapy clinic and tries to tell his trainer that he’s had enough. Another scene involves his struggle to go up the stairs once he gets home, and the anger that must be boiling inside him that he cannot express in words. Yet, when he speaks through his computer, you sense the un-relinquishing hope that stayed with him until his very last moments, as touchingly described to us by his loving and caring wife Chaz.

Chaz. You can say that she has an important role in the film. The love of his life, the person who stuck by him through the very end. She was the ultimate partner. “Life Itself” reveals itself to be a love story, just like life itself usually comes down to one thing: love. Whether it be through a lover, family, friends, spiritual, sexual, “Life Itself” makes you want to appreciate every moment that is to come and is – warts and all – a lovingly fitting tribute to a great writer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The five best Robin Williams performances

1) John Keating, Dead Poets Society

Come on, admit it, you couldn't resist Williams' incredible performance as an english teacher that inspires his students to love poetry and seize the day. It's an unabashedly sentimental movie and incredible performance by an actor at the peak of his powers. His Professor John Keating is a man that embodies every professor who you thought was cool and respectful, every person who taught or enlightened with something out of the ordinary. Williams made it HIS performance and this is the one role he will likely be remembered for in 40,50,60 years from now.

2) Daniel Hillard, Mrs. Doubtifre

On a less serious, but no less brilliant, note Williams brought slapstick comedy to the forefront of his movie career as Daniel Hillard a man that wants to see his children so badly that he dresses up in drag and pretends he's a British nanny. The transformative Williams is tremendously good in a roile that could have easily delved into the ridiculous. It was a hilarious and heartfelt performance that used the snap-fast ADHD'ed tempo of his comedy. I will need more than two hands to count the number of classic one liners this film has and another few hands to count the number of times I have seen this movie in my childhood.

3) Genie, Aladdin 

Fine this was an animated voice performance but it also probably is the single greatest voice performance in animated movie history. This is how it all worked out: the directors brought Williams to his sound recording booth and asked him to just let'er rip and improvise with whatever the hell he felt like improvising with and only after did they do the animation to fit his voice. It worked out just fine. Williams' Genie is the clearcut highlight of this classic Disney movie and he ultimately set the bar for more adult-oriented jokes in animated features, which to this day is still an influential part of the animation process.

4)  Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning Vietnam

How can anyone discount this great performance. As a radio DJ for the armed forces in Vietnam, Williams' Cronauer tries to make a difference and speak up about what is really happening. Heavy stuff right? It is, to a certain extent. His character is scarred by war and his own inner terror. It was Williams' first oscar nomination and a sign of things to come for an actor that was about to break through big time in Drama while having some side jokes along the way.

5) Parry, The Fisher King

It is quite difficult trying to explain to somebody what Terry Gilliams' fantasy film really is about, but I think that's the beauty of The Fisher King, a film so devoid of cliches that it never seizes to amaze at every turn. Williams is the core of the movie, playing a homeless man scarred by tragedy and emotionally run over by his constant hallucinations. Parry is a man that is difficult to understand but easy to like.  Williams deservedly got Oscar nominated for this role. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

TIFF 2014 report

The performances keep getting the attention at the fest. Last year “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” were Oscar bound the minute they got screened (and were declared as such by Telluride), but this year there is no such movie.
Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller is the dark side of the American dream with an eerie understated score accompanying its tremendous performances, none better than Steve Carell, creepy as hell, playing a billionaire wannabe wrestling coach trying to get his recruit athlete, played by Channing Tatum, a gold medal at the Olympics. It’s a performance constantly talked about since Cannes, but it really is that good.
If “The Imitation Game” was a major hit at Telluride, it has some competition here with James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything”, most notably because of Eddie Redmayne’s performance playing Stephen Hawking. You can’t take your eyes off of Redmayne. He doesn’t play Hawking, he IS Stephen Hawking. Whenever I get into a conversation with somebody about this movie, it always comes back to Redmayne, a 32 year old British actor known to Americans for his role as Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables. Felicity Jones is also fabulous as Hawking’s wife Jane Hawking, a woman who stuck by her man until the task became too overwhelming.
You want electric? Look no further than J.K Simmons in “Whiplash”, one of the best movies to have played at the fest so far and one that warranted a rousing standing ovation. I’ve bumped into many TIFF-goers who are telling me this could win the Audience award and I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. It’s a blisteringly made crowd pleaser that makes excitingly high art out of jazz drumming. J.K Simmons is the teacher from hell, pushing his students to limits they might not even have –- think Sgt. Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” but turned into a Jazz band professor at the best music school in the U.S. Don’t be surprised if Simmons gets tons of Awards attention by years end, he’s incredibly good. The movie asks us moral and ethical questions near its end but its rousing conclusion is the most exhilarating and sensational end to a movie I’ve seen so far this year.
The haunted genius of Bobby Fischer comes to us in “Pawn Sacrifice”, a by-the-books account of Fischer’s endless genius and torment. As played by Tobey Maguire, Fischer was one hell of a chess player but he also had paranoiac delusions that ultimately led to his downfall. That downfall is sadly not touched upon during the film, which mostly has to do with Fischer’s rivalry with soviet chess champion Boris Spassky, as played by always reliable Liev Schreiber. I don’t think Maguire’s ever given us such a performance, one that keeps you on the edge throughout and brings real humanity to a very conflicted human being. Edward Zwick, whose helmed “Glory” and “Blood Diamond” in the last, knows what kind of performance he’s getting from Maguire and he does what he should do, lets him rip.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

a few TIFF thoughts 2014

So far the Toronto International Film Festival has been more about the performances than the movies themselves. Some of us are still awaiting “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, “Rosewater”, “The Good Lie”, “Time out of Mind” and “Wild” among others to finally screen. As many have pointed out, there hasn’t been that wow factor we keep looking for here at the fest, in other words a game-changer.

Jason Reitman’s newest film “Men, Women and Children” screened to a polite reaction. The film garnered decidedly mixed reaction after its early-morning screening on Saturday. It’s an immensely ambitious project about sex in the internet age that had Owen Gleiberman raving to no end and others calling it a disappointment. Tom McCarthy’s “The Cobbler” was definitely the biggest disappointment thus far, given the director’s track record you had the right to expect much more — as one producer told me after the morning screening “what the hell was that?” There are still 5 days left before the end but there have been quite a few solid contenders in the acting field.

David Cronenberg’s “Map to the Stars” got pushed back to 2015, in spite of the probability that Julianne Moore’s performance could have easily nabbed a best actress nod. She plays a down-and-out actress, desperate for her next big shot. In fact, every time she’s on screen the film ignites with excitement. Moore hasn’t been this great since 2002 when she played that lonely Sirkian housewife in Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven”. I really hope people will remember her performance a year from now, as she fully deserved her Best Actress prize at Cannes earlier in May.

In “The Judge,” Robert Duvall steals the show from an otherwise stellar cast. Playing opposite an impressive cast which includes Robert Downey Jr., Vera Farmiga and Vincent D’Onoforio, Duvall plays a judge accused of murdering an ex-con he convicted more than a decade ago. His performance is raw and riveting and the highlight of the film. He shows the aches and pains that come with aging and the inner demons that need to get fought in the process. He hasn’t been this good in god knows how long.

Talking about an aging actor giving a great performance, in Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling” Al Pacino is dynamite and might garner some major Oscar buzz once the films gets released this fall. Playing a has-been actor known for his Shakespearean roles, Pacino’s performance isn’t just unusually subdued it’s also hilariously spiced with humor. He falls in love with his good friends’ daughter — played by Greta Gerwig — a girl that has had a crush on the actor ever since she was eight. They start an unusual, sex-free relationship that you know will implode in any second. This is primo Pacino and deserved of all the buzz its been getting so far at the festival.

Add Marion Cotillard’s name to the shortlist of Best Actress contenders. She is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother that discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose between getting a significant pay bonus only if she got fired from her job . The way Cotillard approaches each and every co-worker, pleading — sometimes even begging — for them to change their votes is heartbreaking. The movie ain’t that bad either, making you cringe and heartbroken with every scene.

In “Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal lost close to thirty pounds to give his creepiest performance ever. With shades of Travis Bickle, this astoundingly intense movie has Gyllenhaal chasing down murder scenes and videotaping them for L.A news outlets in exchange for cash. It’s a shady business and Gyllenhaal’s character is a dirtbag trying to make it to the bigtime, even if it means having to blackmail, lie or murder his way through fame and fortune. This is the best acting performance I’ve seen thus far at TIFF and everybody is talking about it. It’s the kind of performance that just can’t get away unnoticed — and maybe the best of his career.

Friday, September 5, 2014

TIFF Preview 2014


The Toronto Film Festival always brings the big names. Maybe that’s the problem and the reason why many in the industry are starting to skip it in favor of Telluride. I know quite a few people doing both this year, and at Telluride last week, almost all of them were cringing at the thought of going to Toronto. That’s just the way it’s been the last few years with Telluride being the more intimate and friendly festival with less of the glitz and glamour of TIFF.

2013 was a landmark year for movies, which translated into one hell of a festival season. I remember Sasha raving about the dynamic duo of “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” at Telluride and yours truly following suit not too long after at TIFF. It doesn’t look like there will be such intense, invigorating movie-going experiences this year until the New York Film Festival when “Gone Girl” and “Inherent Vice” screen in October. Want to know how strong 2013 was? Some of last year’s fest films can already count as some of the best released of this year: “Under the Skin”, “Only Lovers Left Alive”, “Stray Dogs”, “Ida”, “Enemy”, “Snowpiercer”, “Stranger By the Lake”, “The Double”, “Abuse of Weakness” and “The Immigrant” all had their debuts at various films fests last year, the majority of them at TIFF.

So with that in mind, can the 2014 festival season actually live up to 2013? Of course not – it’s not possible to maintain that kind of high quality year after year. Think of 1999, a year that many – including myself – believe to be one of the greatest cinematic years in movie history. It was followed by one of the worst the following year – a year that pitted “Gladiator” vs. “Erin Brokovich” vs. “Traffic” in the Oscar Race, the first two aforementioned movies coincidentally released in March and May. Those ain’t Oscar months, but 2000 was so weak that that year they were. And so we come to 2014, where we already have three strong – although bewildering – contenders emerging from Telluride: “Foxatcher”, “Birdman” and “The Imitation Game”. Two of those three will be at Toronto and it will be interesting to see the reception they both get. “The Imitation Game” looks to be a crowd pleaser that might sneak out with a bigger high once the fest ends at the end of the next week, or it might not and another contender will emerge instead. With that in mind, here are the burning questions I have about the festival, which will start tomorrow morning with its first batch of screenings.

 1) “The Imitation Game”
 Telluride loved it but the critics have so far been safe and cautious about their enthusiasm for this movie. If you take a look at Metacritic, its 9 reviews and score of 70 will tell you this won’t be a critic’s darling like “Foxcatcher” or “Birdman”, but it will have something more powerful on its side: word of mouth. “The Imitation Game” looks like it will be THE crowd pleaser to beat once its first screenings start this week. Will it sustain what it built up at Telluride? I’m on the fence about it but I sure hope Sash, Kris and Co. are right about this one – which also features an unproven filmmaker at its helm. From what I’ve been hearing, Benedict Cumberbatch is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the Best Actor category, but that the film itself is routinely pleasing.

 2) “Foxcatcher” The momentum will most likely not stop for this Benneth Miller film. Miller has become a real fixture of the Oscar race with “Capote” and “Moneyball”, but more importantly has become one of the genuinely brilliant American filmmakers out there. His classical style of filmmaking is done so well and with such genuine passion that I can just picture “Foxcatcher” coming out of TIFF with its profile skyrocketing. Especially when it comes to Steve Carrell, who’s been carrying a wave of praise ever since Cannes.

 3) Witherspoon in “Wild” and “The Good Lie” Reese Witherspoon is loved, we all know that. Her performance in “Wild” seems to be the real deal as well. She went all out to nail this role and I have no doubt that her buzz will continue onwards at TIFF. However, don’t discount this movie as just a strong central performance kind-of-movie. I reside in Montreal and have seen the staggering rise of Quebecois filmmakers in Hollywood the last few years. Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”, “Enemy”) is just one of many French-Canadian filmmakers trying to make art out of commerce in Tinseltown, and Xavier Dolan – who’s “Mommy” is also screening at the fest – is on his way to big things.

 Jean-Marc Vallée is clearly another good example. I met Vallée 4 years ago at the premiere of his then new film “Café de Flore”. He seemed happy with what he was doing – making homegrown, personal movies – but I have a feeling he likes the freedom Hollywood is giving him at the moment. With “Dallas Buyers Club” he proved his worth and with “Wild” he will likely continue his rise among the best mainstream filmmakers working today. Another Quebecois filmmaker at the fest? Philippe Falardeau, Oscar nominated for “Monsieur Lazhar” a few years ago and making his American film debut directing – again – Witherspoon in “The Good Lie”, a film that is getting its fair share of buzz as well and might make it a banner year for the incredibly talented actress.

 4) “The Theory of Everything” Oh, boy. Here’s a film that no one really knows what to make of. This is the story of Stephen Hawking’s life as told by James Marsh, who made the brilliant documentary “Man on Wire”. He might just break through with this film, or it might be one of many films that have come out of Toronto down, out and defeated. The potential is there. They will be screening the film in Los Angeles at the same time as TIFF. It’s about time someone made a movie about the brilliant Hawking, a man whose life was filled with so many ups and downs that I’m surprised Hollywood didn’t come knocking at his door sooner. We’re going to have to just wait and see with this film, but since the comparisons I’ve been hearing and seeing to “The Imitation Game” are dumb and unfounded, I’m not sure what people are thinking comparing these two genuinely different movies. They are looking at them from an Oscar campaigning perspective (because everyone is an expert) and assuming that both men are geniuses, both men are struggling with disabilities. But there is a huge difference between contracting a body debilitating illness and being gay at a time when it was illegal, not to mention these being two different time periods and two different countries. But hey, they look like Oscar movies!

 5) Two Adam Sandler movies? “Men, Women and Children” & “The Cobbler” Yea, you heard me right: Sandler has two films premiering here, and not just by any directors. I remember a time when Sandler had a small teeny weeny phase where he decided to make more mature, serious fare with well renowned filmmakers such as Judd Apatow, James L. Brooks and Paul Thomas Anderson. Remember “Punch-Drunk Love”? Still Sandler’s best movie and performance. The Sandler film most people are talking about is “Men, Women and Children”, which is directed by Jason Reitman, who really needs another well received film after last year’s decent but average “Labor Day” walked out of Toronto with practically nobody talking about it. His new movie looks more socially relevant and seems to harken back to the style of his older more mature efforts like “Thank You for Smoking” and “Up in the Air”. This new film tackles the internet age and our communication breakdown in the age of the internet.

 Although I am looking forward to seeing “Men, Women and Children”, the Sandler film I am most looking forward to see also closely resembles “Punch-Drunk Love” in terms of its magical realist style, or at least that’s what I gathered when reading the synopsis for Tom McCarthy’s new film “The Cobbler”. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t McCarthy one of the singular, most underrated American directors around today? “The Station Agent”, “The Vistor” and “Win Win” are all movies that get better with age, and his minimalist approach to filmmaking is really a breath of fresh air. Having Sandler star in one of his movies is as big a what-the-fuck as Paul Thomas Anderson casting him in 2002. It worked then and I hope it works now. Can’t wait.

 6) Richard Gere and Jennifer Aniston for an Oscar? “Time Out of Mind” and “Cake” So here’s the deal, Gere and Aniston have never been nominated for an Oscar. In fact, the year we thought Gere had a shot at winning a supporting actor trophy he ended up not even getting a nomination for “Chicago”. He’s continued giving us stellar work over the years, most notably a few years ago in “Arbitrage” which was a strong performance, but sadly that year was one of the strongest Best Actor lineups in years. Sucks, bad luck. Not even a nomination over the years for far ranging work like “American Gigolo” or “Primal Fear”. In “Time Out of Mind” he is directed by Oren Overman, an Israeli born filmmaker who now resides in New York. Overman has turned some heads over the last few years, directing “The Messenger” and “Rampart” back to back. No matter what happens in this year’s Oscar race, Gere is and always will be an underrated talent.

 On the other end of the spectrum is Jennifer Aniston. Her new film is “Cake” and it looks to be the darkest role she’s ever tackled. She’s proven her worth as a serious actress in the past, most notably in Miguel Arteta’s “The Good Girl”, but never has she fully been taken seriously on the big screen. Some actors just can’t get past their iconic small screen roles, and Aniston’s Rachel is and always will be her legacy, and so her most successful big screen endeavors have all been in comedies. However, “Cake” is her chance. It really is. She is surrounded by a top notch cast of talents which include Anna Kendrick, William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, and the role seems to dig into some of the darkest territory the actress has ever pursued. I think she can pull through and hit this out of the park.

 7) “Cannes” they do it? “Leviathan”, “Timbuktu”, “Mommy”, “Winter Sleep”, “Goodbye to Language”, “Two Days, One Night”, “Wild Tales”
 This year’s Best Foreign Film race kick-started at Cannes and continues over at TIFF. These are not films that are “Oscar material” and that’s sometimes a good thing. They don’t follow anything about formula and they go by their own furious beat. Here are films by filmmakers trying to reinvent the language of cinema and tell their stories in ways that have never been attempted before. “Wild Tales” had such an impressive showing at Telluride last week that people were demanding another screening at a bigger location and they got it. Word of mouth is building and this could be our next Foreign Language winner.

 8) What to make of “The Judge” I have my reservations about this courtroom drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. For starters, the director is David Dobkin, who’s more known for his work in comedy (Wedding Crashers) than drama. However, I wouldn’t bet against the cast. Downey Jr. especially. He’s proven to us time and time again what a great actor he can be – just take a look at “Chaplin”, “Tropic Thunder” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” for proof. The guy has talent. He’s never won an Oscar and this is major Oscar bait. If he hits it out of the park he can become a major player in the race. As for Robert Duvall, well…it’s Robert Duvall. 

9) Will American indies have a surprise up their sleeves? Remember when the Oscars was just five nominees for Best Picture? And usually one of those spots was reserved for a small indie gem”? “Juno”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “In the Bedroom” and in later years “Precious”, “Winter’s Bone”, “An Education”, “The Kids Are All Right” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. It happens. Most of the time these movies start off at Sundance and only grow in momentum as the year goes. This year the only film that can possibly do that is also a film that won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance: “Whiplash”. I have already seen Damien Chazelle’s film and it really is an amazing watch. Miles Teller and J.K Simmons are both phenomenal and would most likely garner an instant Oscar nomination if we didn’t live in such a cruel world. Reality is that there will be a struggle for “Whiplash” to even nab one Oscar nom, but I’m betting that if it garners the reception that I think it deserves in Toronto, then watch out, because this is a movie that deserves everything that might be coming its way.

 10) The fate of “Mr. Turner” Ever since its triumph at Cannes, Mike Leigh’s newest film hasn’t kept up with the momentum that it built at La Croisette. TIFF is most likely the make or break moment for the film and will tell us a little more of what to expect come awards season. I just want it to be a great movie, awards or not. That’s why I’m here watching 3-4 movies a day – I want to watch stuff that’ll knock me out, put me on a high and have me talking about it for days on end. That is why most of us are here in the first place.

 11) Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” This finally leads me to Noah Baumbach’s newest film. Here’s a director I greatly admire who has never gotten the awards recognition he deserved. Well, that’s too bad. That means people have missed out on such Baumbach gems as “The Squid and The Whale” and “Frances Ha”. Not surprisingly, this Brooklyn born filmmaker started out as a writer for another Oscarless but brilliant filmmaker: Wes Anderson. “While We’re Young” is one of my most hotly anticipated films of the fest, yet I doubt it will get recognized in any categories. Consider that a good thing. It means he doesn’t play by the rules and has a unique vision all his own, and I wouldn’t want it another way. Word of mouth is building and this could be our next Foreign Language winner.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fantasia Film Festival 2014

The Fantasia Film Fest really is one of a kind. Every summer film geeks with an unadorned love for science fiction and horror movies step foot into Montreal for an eclectic bunch of movies from all over the world. This isn't the Toronto Film Festival (you won't find "Zombeavers" or "The Angry Video Game Nerd" on TIFF's repertoire), it's just Fantasia – a one-of-a-kind film fest that has enthusiastic audience members meowing like stray cats in a darkened alley right after the house lights dim. I don't need to tell you what I thought about the aforementioned b-movies except to say that they can only be experienced to their fullest by sitting alongside a packed audience of out of the box thinkers.
Opening the film fest was Richard Linklater's "Boyhood", which was quite the strange selection for a film fest that prides itself in the extreme and the surreal. Yet on second thought, you start to realize why Linklater's masterpiece made the selection – it shares the same spirit as many of the movies I saw at the film fest. It is an out of box, outrageously ambitious idea stretched along for 12 years, and is as experimental as any "big" studio picture has gone to depict the coming-of-age experience. The transition from month to month, year to year is an organic and natural one that might not have worked in another filmmaker's hands.
In "Frank", Michael Fassbender gives us his strangest and most bewildering performance to date as the lead singer of a mysterious artsy indie rock band that refuses to take off his giant papier-mache bobble head, à la Daft Punk. It's a hoot of a role that fends off the clichés and somehow finds sweetness underneath it all. The satirical jabs at the music industry are there, so are the amazingly bouncy songs that the band plays throughout the film. Fassbender can actually sing, and director Lenny Abrahamson can actually direct one hell of a movie. I could have, however, gone without its sentimentally flat ending.
Everywhere you go these days you hear Shailene Woodley's name, and for good reason. Ever since I gazed my eyes upon this young 22 year old in 2011's "The Descendants", she had me at hello. In this year's "The Fault in Our Stars" she was the high – very high – point of an average movie. In eccentric director Gregg Araki's new film she might have just given the best performance of her short career. In "White Bird in a Blizzard" she owns every scene she's in, playing a teenage girl whose mom disappears one wintry day in 1988. The emotional toll it takes on her is surprisingly not apparent from the outside, but the suffering can be seen in Woodley's eyes. Araki is a promising young filmmaker who has already made one great movie with 2011's "Mysterious Skin", and in "White Bird in a Blizzard" he brings us his most mature work, but of course not without its flaws. It's ok, he'll learn, and so will Woodley, who already has two great performances to her name in 2014.
Of course with a program that has hundreds of titles and an assortment of different genres you might get lost in the shuffle as to what you should or shouldn't be seeing. One of the few exceptions in unanimity could be seen at the "Guardians of the Galaxy" premiere which had a lineup stretching the whole block. The rousing applause the movie got by the film's end seemed to indicate the buzz was justified. I appreciated director James Gunn's attempt at making the anti-superhero movie by turning the clichés over their head. I've not been the biggest fan of the Super-hero movie boom that's taken over Cineplexes over the past 15 years, but "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a good film. It envelops you in its sardonically comic adventure and makes you care about characters you shouldn't really be caring about in the first place. This is a film that will likely get better with each and every viewing, and will likely stand the test of time.
A formula is not what director Eli Roth usually goes by. Better known as the "Bear Jew" in "Inglourious Basterds", Roth has had his say in the horror genre, directing "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel" the past decade and being best buds with Tarantino. I saw "The Green Inferno" earlier last year with a bunch of other critics and decided to re-watch it with a Fantasia audience this year. Good idea. There's nothing better than watching this sort of film with b-movie horror afficianados – they eat up this sort of stuff. Talking about eating it up, "The Green Inferno" is a sort of send-off to "Cannibal Holocaust" - a film Roth seems to deeply be inspired by here as he pretty much reworks the plot for a 21st century audience. It's not high art but it is high fun and something I'm sure many other b-movie buffs will appreciate, but beware it is incredibly graphic.
When was the last time John McNaughton's directed a film? I'll tell you when – close to 13 years ago, when he directed "Sleeping of Sex". Remember that movie? I didn't think so. What "The Harvest" has going for it is an incredible cast of actors which include Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon as the overprotective parents of a sick dying boy. Morton's mother is the mother from hell, a woman so engrossed in alienating her son and preventing him from talking to anyone around him that she never lets him leave the house. Things get a little complicated when a young girl moves in next door and starts to investigate why the mom is acting so nutso. There's a major plot twist that happens mid-way through this movie that completely changes everything and will likely turn off some viewers, but I loved it. I didn't like the way McNaughton resolved everything in the overbearingly ridiculous finale, but you can't say he didn't try his hardest at keeping us on the edge throughout most of the running time.
Talking about "Boyhood", one of the strangest most interesting movies I saw at the fest also starred Ethan Hawke. In the Spierig brothers' "Predestination", Hawke plays a temporal agent who constantly time travels to find a criminal that has obsessed him for god knows how long. To explain what happens in this movie is probably as hard as explaining Christopher Nolan's "Inception" upon first viewing – you just can't. Mind bending and brilliantly conceived, "Predestination" is a movie that sometimes trips on its own ideas. I in fact guessed a few of the big twists before they actually happened, but it really is just a blast to sit through a film juggling so many ideas that want to blow your mind – even if doesn’t always happen. That can pretty much describe the Fantasia Film Festival, a fest that takes pride in its lack of subtlety and in trying its darnest to shock, provoke and entertain in equal doses.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Snowpiercer" is messily brilliant

When I first saw “Snowpiercer” close to 5 months ago I honestly was stunned. Here was a unique, mesmerizing vision from Bong Joon-Ho, a South Korean filmmaker who had made the riveting “Mother” and turned the monster movie up on its heels with “The Host”. He has never really adhered to a particular formula, except that he has made movies that are generally very hard to place into a particular category. He is of course an “auteur” in the truest sense of the word. He has garnered quite a cult following over the last few years, which gave him a free ticketed chance at making a film within the American studio system. Let me tell you, he seized his chance. This is one hell of a crazy ride he’s given us with “Snowpiercer”, a film of blazing originality that rides by on its own free will taking chance after chance after chance until it stumbles down near its end.

Much has been said about how Harvey Weinstein wanted “Snowpiercer” edited down from its original 126 minute cut and, having watched the film twice now, I can understand why the big boss was so adamant at editing it down a little. That 126 minute cut was eventually released. As incredible as the first 100 or so minutes are, the film starts to lose a bit of its momentum once it reaches its final act. Not that big of a deal in my opinion, given that what came before it was such a brilliant and uniquely dystopian vision of the future. I found “Snowpiercer” emulated shades of brilliance reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s masterful “Brazil” or Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children Of Men”, two movies that are of course slightly better than Bong Joon-Ho’s, but can you name me any science fiction movies released in the last 30 years that can be considered in the same league as those? I highly doubt it and if you do, you can probably count them in one hand.

The film takes place in 2031 where a failed global-warming experiment has frozen all of Earth and wiped out all life. The only survivors are the passengers on a train that is on a never-ending ride. The train has been running for 17 straight years and a social class system has developed as the passengers of the rear end live in extremely poor conditions and those in the front view… well you get the point, right? However, our main protagonist, played by an impressive Chris Evans, tries to start a rebellion to push his way across the many different levels of the train. That’s where the dirty fun starts and you get to see every social class represented within each individual section of the train. The mystery of this ride is what keeps pulling us in – I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by how unpredictable the journey was.

Just like Bong Joon-Ho’s past films, some scenes veer on the borderline ridiculous but he somehow manages to balance those moments really well with the more dramatic ones. There’s an incredible action scene that he has set up between the rebels and the guards, who are awaiting them with axes. The bloody and violent confrontation begins, only to be interrupted as the train is approaching a bridge. The fighting stops for a few seconds only for the violence and mayhem to continue. There are several moments like this where Bong perfectly balances these gorgeously crafted choreographed scenes with moments of quirky comedy and a real twisted sense of humor. The best example of this type of humor comes from a character played by Tilda Swinton (great as usual) who is so over the top hilarious but bewilderingly evil, lunacy only Tilda Swinton could pull off on screen, as she is quite possibly the greatest working actress around at the moment.

I really loved a classroom scene that felt completely out of place compared to the working-class part of the train, but that is shot with such vibrant and persistent colors that you’d think you were in a deranged science fiction film directed by Wes Anderson. It goes on and on, one surprise after another, one diabolically set-up scene after another. The influences are there but none more so than Terry Gilliam, who’s futuristic vision in “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” made a movie such as “Snowpiercer” possible. The gifted South Korean director takes Gilliam’s influence and infuses it with his own unique brand of social disorder. It’s an impressive feat that will likely get talked about for years to come and will unremarkably garner a massive cult following in the process.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seek these out

In a summer filled with one big budget blockbuster after another it is somewhat endearing to find a small gem that is looking to provoke artistically instead of financially. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely catch Tom Cruise’s brainy sci-fi thriller “Edge Of Tomorrow” which features some of the tightest, most exciting sequences of any studio picture I’ve seen this year or while you’re at it check out “X-Men-Days Of Future Past” for its incredibly daring time-travel narrative and the way it encompasses a decades worth of movies into one whole package. However, I always like to discover movies that might not necessarily get the audience they deserve or the critical backing they so desperately need. “X-men” or “Edge Of Tomorrow” are here to stay.

Take for example Kelly Reichardt who’s “Night Moves” premiered earlier last year at the Toronto Film Fest. Reichardt is a filmmaker that doesn’t adhere to any conventions, in fact a film by the talented female writer-director has in a way become a convention in itself. If you’ve seen “Old Joy”, “Wendy And Lucy” or “Meek’s Cutoff” –two spectacular movie- you would know just how promising and exciting a filmmaker she is. In this new film she tackles eco-terrorism as three radical environmentalists, expertly played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, concoct a plan to make a hydroelectric dam explode. Of course there repercussions and what follows after is in a way predictable, something Reichardt has never really been know for. “Night Moves” moves at the same slow, burningly real pace we’ve come to expect from her film’s especially in the film’s first half which is by far the strongest part of the film. The wait and execution of the bombing is tightly edited and constructed that you will likely be biting every single one of your fingernails in anguish. It is one of the most excitingly constructed sequences I have seen this year and more than makes up for the lackluster second half which pits our protagonists in agonizing self-conflict and betrayal. The film is minor Reichardt but nevertheless a Reichardt through and through.

Another film that is finally getting its due release is Nadav Lapid’s Israeli film “Policeman” which I saw close to 3 years ago to this day at a film fest. Here’s a film unafraid of tackling tough, deeply difficult issues that are at the core of modern-day Israeli society. It knocked me out for a loop. The film tells of two stories. The first half has to do with Yaron, a hard working Israeli Police Officer with a pregnant wife and a sense of unequivocal fraternity amongst his unit. The second half of the movie is more political - a group of five young Left wing radicals decide to start a revolution to protest the vast difference between Israel's Rich and Poor societies –a very relevant topic today even if the film got made more than 4 years ago. These radicals want to create a new order in a country they see decimated by poverty. Both stories come together and converge into a thoughtfully carried out finale that consequentially ups the tension a notch. Lapid's film is one like no other. He shoots it with a bracing poet's eye, choosing the right shots and experimenting with a uniquely sketched out style. Here's a small budget movie made into a grandiose cinematic statement, I wouldn't be surprised if more people hear about it in the months to come and I do know quite a few critics are starting to back this one up including Lisa Schwarzbaum, Todd Mccarthy and Manhola Dargis.

Seek it out. “Cheap Thrills” is a film that got a VOD release as well as a minimally scattered theatrical release. That’s a real shame because it really is one hell of a ride and the only reason why I even caught up to it was because the film is starting to get its fair share of a following over at IndieWire. The story follows Craig (Pat Healy, in an extremely demanding role) a man down on his luck and in need of immediate cash to pay up for rent and support his family. He hits the local bar on the way home from work and sees an old high school buddy (Ethan Embry, doing the whole asshole douchebag thing as perfectly and humanly possible) and the two meet up with a strange couple that wants to have a drink with them (David Koechner and Sara Paxton, who are both the highlight of this sick twisted movie.} The four then have what one can only describe a truly horrific night film filled with truth or dares and money grabs. 33 year old writer-director E.L Katz has made a movie that a younger Michael Haneke would be super proud of. The shock factor here is quite high and to talk let alone even hint at the plot would be to ruin some of the most surprising aspects of this twistedly deranged film. What Katz is trying to show us is how far two desperate human beings would go for money. It is an indictment of our society and what the definition of happiness actually means. Some will blame Katz for going for shocks way too many times in his movie but I couldn’t have liked that decision better myself. I dare you to try and get his movie out of your head, it’ll be impossible to shake it off.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Blue Ruin" and Joe"

There is something entirely captivating in watching a film as little and unknown as “Blue Ruin”. Debut director Jeremy Saulnier has crafted something very unique, a film that amasses in impact the more it goes along. It’s not an easy film to review given the style and structure that Saulnier uses to further move his story, but it’s an independent film that truly gives a good name to the American “indie film” – a cinematic genre that has kind of struggled in the last few years to find and pave a new groove to its used up edges. Saulnier doesn’t necessarily adhere to any conventions, he has a bigger plan.

 “Blue Ruin” is very much a “crime” film that infuses a boatload of originality to reinvent that aforementioned genre. He properly structures his narrative to get us intrigued from the very first shot. This isn’t a perfect film, but it’s so intriguing, wholly original and so fascinating to watch that you automatically forgive any of its shortcomings. The story involves a beach bum – an astonishing Macon Blair - who finds out his parents’ murderer is getting out of jail after a 20 year stint. He hops on a stolen car and travels back to his hometown of Virginia with revenge on his mind. The story is of course more complicated than that, but I won’t say more. There are many surprises that come about, and Saulnier would rather you don’t know about them before entering his mystery filled structure.

 Saulnier obviously owes much to the early crime works of Tarantino and the Coen brothers, especially “Blood Simple” which this film has clearly been much inspired by. As I mentioned to a colleague after the screening, there are far worse films to rip off than that Coen classic. I wouldn’t even go as far as saying it’s a rip-off, as it’s more a reinvention of a genre that was decidedly changed by the Coens in the mid 80’s and early 90’s. Saulnier is obviously a talent to watch and the great news is “Blue Ruin” is currently available on VOD so seek it out.

 Another film available on VOD is David Gordon Green's "Joe" starring Nicolas Cage. This one is from a reputable director that has had weird ups and downs throughout his career. I wasn't the biggest fan of Green's stoner comedy phase in Hollywood when he churned out the god-awful "Your Highness", "The Sitter" and the - at least - watchable "Pineapple Express". Now it seems like he's slowly getting back to his roots, which started in 2000 with "George Washington", a stunner of a film that the late Roger Ebert backed up from Day 1. Ebert was a big Gordon Green fan and comparisons to Terrence Malick weren't far off at all. "All The Real Girls", "Snow Angels", "Undertow" and last year's "Prince Avalanche" were all a slice of Americana that were at the same time very meditative and naturalistic in their approaches.

 Another talent that has strayed on the wrong path lately has been Nicolas Cage, who seems to sign up for roles that not only don't demand much, but also veer towards stupidity. It has of course diminished his reputation as a solid actor, let us not forget his brave and exciting performances in "Adaptation", "Leaving Las Vegas", "Raising Arizona", "Wild At Heart" and "Red Rock West" just to name a few. In "Joe", Cage also goes back to his roots giving us his best performance in a very long time as an ex-con that runs a tree-poisoning business in the rural south and befriends a teenage boy that gets abused daily by his drunkard of a father (Gary Coulter).

 Add both of these underappreciated talents together and you might get something special, which in a way "Joe" is. It's a film that - like "Blue Ruin" - gives indie cinema back its good name. Yet, I've forgotten to mention the best part about the film: Gary Coulter. As the aforementioned abusive dad, Coulter, who sadly passed away last year, is so damn good that I've heard some people mention a possible posthumous Oscar nod, which is stretching it considering how small of a film this is and how early in the year it got released. Coulter, a non-actor, was homeless when Green decided to cast him in the role of Wade, which only adds to his haunting portrayal of a man so brutal and evil that you flinch every time he's on screen.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Image(s) Of The Day 05/06/14

It has been a while since I've done an Image of the day so I figured I'd post one that is really deserving of a second -or a third-look. Josh Cooley, a famous pixar animator decided to create a few amazing stills of how some famous, R-Rated movies would look like if they were "Pixar-ed". It's terrific stuff and I'm sure you'll appreciate the artistry and Pixar-ness on display. Here are some of my favorites.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Jesse Konter's Top 10 of 2013

1. The Conjuring An instant horror classic. I had the liberty to catch the premiere here at fantasia film festival and I left the theatre with a overpowering ad overwhelming sense of uneasiness and foreboding. Lily Tomlin is phenomenal and its so fun and frightening to see her go mad. James Wan has made his horror masterpiece.

2. 12 years a slave
Steve McQueen is killing it. Obviously a lot of hype around this best picture Oscar winner. Just a superbly executed story that needed to be told. Fantastic use of sound on the score. (take notice during the boat scene).

3. The Spectacular Now
I love movies about troubled youths. This film is one of the best in years. It is spot on with the emotional depth of the characters. The two leads are fantastic, great chemistry. More very solid independent cinema.

4. American Hustle
David O. Russell has made his New York City/New Jersey crime classic. Although it does owe at least a nod and some stylistic elements to Martin Scorcese, it stands on its own as a classic NYC crime film. Christian Bale is captivating and he really nailed the voice of a New Yorker named Irving.

5. Nebraska Alexander Payne's latest is a black and white majestic wide angle view of the midwest. This film has all the usual existential angst and dark humor of payne, (pun intended). I am a big Bruce Dern fan but the entire cast is excellent. The mother character steals the show, I laughed out loud at literally everything she says.

6. Renoir
Normally I am not huge on biopics but this film is not only gorgeous but captures french rural life during WW1 superbly. The story deals with Pierre-Auguste Renoir the master painter in his golden years and his son Jean, the master filmmaker who returns home as a wounded soldier. Must see for any art or film buffs.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis
A minor work in The Coen's oeuvre but minor work from geniuses is still genius. Great live musical performances from Oscar Issac who acts in the lead as a struggling folk singer in greenwich village during the 1960's. Even if you don't like folk music you will enjoy the soundtrack. T-Bone Burnett never disappoints (just think O Brother Where Art Thou.)
Honorable mentions: Wrong Cops, Her, The Way Way Back.

8. Blue jasmine
Woody Allen's latest drama film shot in san Francisco. Cate Blanchett (who nabbed the oscar) and Sally Hawkins are great as usual. Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K are both surprisingly effective in non comedic roles. Great acting and great script, Woody' still got it.

9. This is the End Just when I was getting really sick of all those dudes. They nailed it. I love how the first thing they do is go to Carls Jr though full disclosure; I am partial to In and Out burger(Animal style!). Danny McBride is hilarious as a cannibal pimp. Definitely my favorite ending to a film this year.

10. Don Jon Impressive directorial debut film from Joseph Gordon Levitt. Internet porn addiciton...we've all been there, oh wait wrong blog. Basically you can't go wrong with Tony Danza as a lower middle class New Jersey dad, classic! Very solid independent cinema

By Jesse Konter

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Summer Movie Preview Part Deux

A few weeks back I wrote a Summer Movie Preview in which I tried to pin down the studio films that looked the most promising this summer. That piece was met with mixed approval – some thought I should have included more big name blockbusters. It was indeed a mistake to leave out the new “Godzilla”, which finally gives Bryan Cranston a long overdue leading role in movies and looks like it could erase the bitter aftertaste of that god awful 1998 films starring Matthew Broderick. What were they thinking? Also “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” could either kick ass or put out a real stink bomb. Given that director Bryan Singer is back and he made the best X-Men film to date (X2) I have high hopes for this new one. Otherwise, I do stand by everything else that I selected. I have seen “The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and it is in fact not very good. Also does anyone actually expect anything good to come from “Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “The Expendables 3 and “Hercules”? I doubt it.
I’ve written a follow up to that first article but this time focusing on independent and foreign fare coming out in these dog days summer. I have seen a big chunk of these, whether at film festivals or advanced press screenings, while other promising fare I have yet to catch up with.

“The Double” (May 9th).
Jesse Eisenberg goes insane when a doppelganger of his appears at his work. Directed by Richard Ayaode (Submarine), “The Double” is a dark comedy that, despite fizzling out at its end, has shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” throughout its running time. Ayaode’s depiction of a future society is both bleak and humorous and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A dark comedy served black.
“Neighbours” (May 9th).
This indie and Hollywood partnered comedy is as good as the advanced buzz makes it out to be. Why? Well not only because it is one of the most outrageously hilarious things I’ve seen in quite a while, but also because of the way director Nicholas Stoller shapes his characters as not just merely stereotypes, but – shock – actual fleshed out human beings, which you rarely see in these sort of comedies these days. This has the potential to become a huge summer hit à la “The Hangover” or “The Wedding Crashers”.
“The Immigrant” (May 16th).
I loved James Gray’s “Two Lovers” which featured Gwyneth Paltrow’s last truly great performance and an always incredibly tense Joaquin Phoenix. In “The Immigrant”, Gray teams up with Phoenix once again, but this time with mixed results. The pacing is at times awkward and the story never really sets off. It is a shapeless and unsatisfying film, but has lots of passion and exquisite performances. I wouldn’t count Gray out just yet, he still has lots of talent and in the smaller moments of this film he really just takes your breath away.
“Tracks” (May 23rd).
The biggest applause I saw any movie get at the Toronto Film Festival wasn’t for “12 Years A Slave” or “Gravity”, but actually for John Curran’s “Tracks”, which is based on true events. In 1975, Robyn Davidson set out on a 1700 mile journey through the Australian outback with 3 camels and her faithful dog. Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson and she’s great. So is Adam Driver as the pushy photographer that follows her through this journey. This is a very by the books account of the story, but it gets the job done.
“Night Moves” (May 30th).
A much anticipated film for cinematic enthusiasts would be Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, a film about eco-terrorism that strips down the genre conventions and ends up giving us the bare bones of its topic. I deeply admired Reichardt’s past films (“Wendy and Lucy”, “Meek’s Cutoff”), but this one works because it moves along at a faster pace than the aforementioned. There are tense, gripping moments in “Night Moves”, and its performances – notably those of Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard – contribute to the film moving along admirably well.
“All Is by My Side” (June TBA).
Directed by John Ridley, “All Is by My Side” or, as people here tend to call it “The Jimi Hendrix Bio-Pic”, is a flawed mess of a movie that features a great performance by Outkast’s Andre Benjamin as Hendrix. I wouldn’t call this a Bio-Pic since it only covers a year in the life of Hendrix, but an important year nonetheless: 1966. That’s when Hendrix moved to London and found fame. However, there isn’t enough material in this one year to justify such a long, stretchy film. The bright spot is Benjamin, who’s phenomenal as Hendrix and sometimes makes you forget that it’s actually an actor playing the legendary guitarist. Will he get an Oscar nomination or any critics awards for this? Probably not, but he does prove he’s a fabulous actor.
“Snowpiercer” (June 27th)
Director Joon-Ho Bong became a household name in the indie circuits after making 2009s great “Mother”. As the director of Snowpiercer, it’s his first foray in English language film. Harvey Weinstein fought an infamously long and hard battle with the director about the final cut of the film. Bong wanted a 2 and half hour cut, whereas Weinstein wanted it closer to 2 hours. They finally settled for the longer cut, but with the film getting weaker distribution in the U.S – They were both wrong. The film is indeed half an hour too long, but highly ambitious and fascinating, especially in its first 100 or so minutes, which are just really hard to describe. I won’t ruin anything but here’s a movie set in an apocalyptic future that will likely garner a cult following in the years to come.
“Life Itself” (July 4th).
Also known as “The Roger Ebert documentary”. I’ve read good press about it since its successful bow at Sundance earlier this year. Most critics have praised it as a very emotional journey and what I do know about the film is how unprecedented it is in its depiction of the final days of Roger’s life. Cameras were there in the final weeks with the approval of Ebert. Director Steve James is just the man to direct it, Ebert discovered -and was the first critic to back up- his landmark “Hoop Dreams” at Sundance exactly 20 years ago.
“Magic in the Moonlight” (July 25th).
The new Woody Allen movie. Given that the prolific director usually makes one film a year these days, you don’t always get a “Midnight in Paris”, “Blue Jasmine”, “Match Point” or a “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Sometimes you get a dud, like “Scoop” or “To Rome with Love”, which is why I’m not too sure what to expect with this new romantic comedy starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone and shot in the French Riviera.
“The Rover” (June 13th).
This looks amazing. Selected in Official Competition for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “The Rover” is directed by David Michod, who made 2010s intense Aussie drama “Animal Kingdom” which gave Jackie Weaver her first ever Oscar Nomination and was a surprising worldwide success. Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson star and, if the trailer is any indication, we’re in for something very special here.
“Begin Again” (July 4th).
When “Begin Again” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year it began the biggest bidding war of any movie at the festival. Harvey Weinstein eventually got the last word and bought out everyone, and for good reason. “Begin Again” is a sweet and caring musical comedy that will be a big audience pleaser when it comes out this July. Directed by John Carney, who made “Once”, this is a movie that might not have the simple acoustic magic of “Once”, but is so consummately made that you forget all about its feel-good predictable trappings. With Harvey backing this one up, who knows maybe Oscar will call?
“A Most Wanted Man” (July 25th).
The last Philip Seymour Hoffman performance. It could be a memorable one too. Add in Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams and you might have something interesting going for your movie. The screenplay is based on a John Le Caree novel about a Muslim that gets caught up in the international war on. The director is Anton Cobijn (“Control”,” The American”) a true original if there ever was one