Dan in Real Life

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
September 28th, 2014 No comments

Dan in Real Life, 2007, USA

Dan (Steve Carell) is a columnist who is a contender for national syndication. He’s a widower with three daughters, and has varying relationships with all three. He’s somewhat controlling, and convinced he will never find love again after the death of his wife a few years before. The family takes a trip to Rhode Island for a family reunion and Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche) at a bookstore. He buys her a coffee and they find they have a connection. Unfortunately, Marie has a boyfriend. They agree to meet again before they leave town, and Dan heads back to his parents’ place…only to find Marie there with her boyfriend, Dan’s brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).

Carell gives a wonderful performance as Dan, a character that I found to be thoroughly unlikable. Over the course of the entire visit with his family, he behaves awfully towards his extended family, as well as his daughters. He’s hypocritical, and neglectful and, frankly, I don’t know what on Earth the lovely Marie saw in him. Carell does some fine work – truly. I don’t believe we’re supposed to particularly like Dan. Dan is a character that has all of the answers as an advice columnist, but his own life is in shambles, and he doesn’t practice what he preaches. That is the basic theme of the film. It’s so easy to give advice and to act like you have all of the answers, but when it comes time to follow your own advice, it is immensely difficult.

The film did falter on some levels, though. There is an emotional scene towards the end of the film that makes reference to Dan’s late wife. This was presumably meant to be the emotional climax of the film. But, we’re not given nearly enough information about his wife, nor are we given much reason to care about her absence, so this moment instead feels awkward and a bit out of place. More should have been done to build her as a character (despite her absence), or they should have figured out another way to build an emotional moment. Cook’s performance as Mitch wasn’t particularly strong, either. He should have been developed as a more sympathetic character, but he was just there, seemingly to act as an obstacle between Dan and Marie. So much more could have been done with his character in the hands of an actor who can actually act.

Dan in Real Life is available on Netflix.

Divergent

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 2.5
September 24th, 2014 No comments

Divergent, 2014, USA

Every once in awhile you come across a film or a book that has a brilliant idea. But then that brilliant idea is wasted and marred by a terrible execution. This is Divergent.

It is dystopian Chicago. The society has been separated into five factions: Abegnation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Dauntless (brave), and Erudite (intelligent). Beatrice “Tris” (Shailene Woodley) is about to turn 16. Her and her family are members of the Abnegation faction. Her and her peers all undergo a test to determine which faction they are most suited for. Beatrice has an inconclusive test result, meaning she is equally suited towards several factions. She is Divergent, which puts her life in danger. She reluctantly chooses Dauntless, and hopes to hide her status there. While training, Beatrice, now known as Tris, initially struggles, but captures the attention of Four (Theo James), one of her instructors. He helps her with her training and discovers her secret.

Pretty cool sounding concept, eh? The first half hour – the “world building” stuff was fascinating. Then, once Tris started training to become a member of Dauntless, the film struggled to hold my attention. There’s only so many times I can watch Tris fail with the knowledge that she will inevitably succeed before my mind goes elsewhere. I suppose this all was necessary (I wouldn’t know – I haven’t read the book this film was based on), but it sure was dull. The climax of the film was also predictable, and far less interesting than it should have been. The filmmakers had every opportunity to create a tense and captivating climax, but it was almost as if they actively tried to make it dull.

I did quite like Woodley and James’ performances. Woodley was likable and easy to root for. James was initially an intimidating, badass sort, but you know that eventually they were going to develop feelings for one another. To his credit, Four never feels like a cliché, and the chemistry between the two characters felt natural.

The premise of the film was such that I would probably give the other films in this series a shot. It’s just too bad that they were handed such great ideas on a silver platter, and misused them every step of the way. But, in the world of young adult films, this one is far better than many that are out there. It’s firmly middle-of-the-road:  it’s not great, but it’s also not without redemption, either.

Big Eyes Trailer

Movie Rating:
September 21st, 2014 No comments

The trailer was just released for the film, Big Eyes, and I am so excited to see this film! It stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, two of the best actors working today. The film is directed by Tim Burton, and looks to be quite different from the sort of work he’s been doing the last few years, which makes me happy to see.

Watch the trailer below:

The Kings of Summer

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
September 17th, 2014 No comments

The Kings of Summer, 2013, USA

Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is a teenager living with his widowed dad (Nick Offerman). He finds his dad controlling, and aggravating to live with, so when he finds an empty plot of land in the forest, he decides he wants to build a house there. He convinces his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and their eccentric classmate Biaggio (Moisés Arias) to join him. Together, the three boys build a house and runaway from home to spend the summer in the forest. At first, things are seemingly idyllic, but when Joe invites his crush, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), his relationship with Patrick becomes tense.

The film has its ups and downs. I loved the performances by the three lead teenage actors, as well as Offerman’s performance as Joe’s father. However, towards the end of the film, things get a little bit clunky and move into the realm of cliché. It’s a shame, because before this, the film feels very honest and real. What young person hasn’t daydreamed about running away from home? The final twenty minutes of the film take it from a charming coming-of-age film into something else entirely. It began to feel like a bad TV sitcom, actually.

Before the ill-advised final act, the writing was quite good. I was especially impressed with the development of the characters. You could sympathize with all of them to a certain extent, even the parents. So often, in this genre, the parents are either woefully undeveloped, or act as the villains of the story. Not the case here. Patrick’s parents are absolutely lovely to him (even if they’re a wee bit overbearing), and Joe’s dad cares for him, but feels lost when it comes to relating to him. I do wish they’d done a bit more with Biaggio – he was taking on the “lovable weirdo” trope a little too heavily for my liking.

The cinematography in the film was excellent. There were many beautiful shots of the boys and Kelly in the woods, and in the fields. And, there are quite a few laughs in the film, especially in the scenes involving Offerman and Megan Mullaly (Patrick’s mother). Both actors are excellent comics. In some respects, the film feels like the perfect “end of summer” movie, so, if you’re interested, watch it soon!

The Kings of Summer is available to watch on Netflix.

The Face of an Angel

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
September 14th, 2014 No comments

The Face of an Angel, 2014, UK

The Face of an Angel has received considerable media coverage concerning its subject matter: the story is based on the murder of Meredith Kercher and the subsequent accusation of Amanda Knox. The names of the people involved have been changed for the purposes of the film, but the story, and, most importantly, the media circus surrounding the story do factor in.

Thomas (Daniel Brühl) is a once well-regarded film director who hasn’t made a film in a number of years. He’s separated from his wife, and hasn’t seen his daughter in awhile. He reads a true crime novel on a plane about the case of a young American college student, Jessica, (Genevieve Gaunt) being accused of murdering her British roommate, Elizabeth (Sai Bennett), and meets with the author, Simone (Kate Beckinsale) to see about making a film about the case. While in Siena, Italy, Thomas spends time with the journalists covering the case and discovers that their obsession with the case has led them to focus on details about Jessica that are irrelevant to the case itself. As Thomas spends more and more time trying to write his film, he descends into his own personal hell, fueled by sex, drugs, and his own personal and professional frustrations. His one distraction is Melanie (Cara Delevingne), a young party girl he befriends.

This film is complex and richly thought-provoking. The narrative structure is based heavily on Dante’s Divine Comedy, which Thomas is obsessed with and reading throughout the film. With this in mind, the film is broken down into three sections: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism by people who haven’t seen the film based on the fact that it is “about” the murder of Meredith Kercher. I would argue that the film is about a whole number of things, and that the murder case acts more as a MacGuffin. Director Michael Winterbottom makes a very clever commentary about the nature of contemporary journalism, and how it impacts high profile court cases. The film is a very meta one: Winterbottom is using the Kercher case to make a film about the fact that you cannot make a film about this case.

And, lastly, but perhaps most significantly, it’s a film about a tortured artist, and the nature of being an artist. Thomas wants to make his film in a specific way, but the film producers decry his ideas and urge him to make a more straightforward and mainstream film.

Brühl was excellent as Thomas, the tortured hero of the film. He gives us a brutally honest glimpse into the life and trials of the character. His performance was wonderful. And Delevingne was surprisingly good as Melanie, who was, perhaps, the most sympathetic character in the film. Melanie represents youth and innocence in the film, something that is significant, given the murder case the journalists are covering.

It’s not an easy film, nor the most accessible film, but one that I thought about for days afterwards. It brings up some excellent ideas, and is ultimately a rich and rewarding experience. I have no clue when it will be released in theatres (there isn’t even a trailer out!), but it’s one I highly recommend whenever it is released. It’s definitely one I’ll be watching again.

St. Vincent

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
September 11th, 2014 No comments

St. Vincent, 2014, USA

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a screening of St. Vincent at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film will be released on October 24th.

Vincent (Bill Murray) is a hedonistic, drunken grump of a man with a penchant for gambling. His only relationship is with a stripper named Daka (Naomi Watts), whom he pays for sex. While moving in, the movers his new neighbor, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) hired damage a tree on Vincent’s property, causing him to lash out at her. Maggie’s son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) starts school at a local Catholic private school, despite being Jewish. He’s small for his age, and immediately gets picked on by the other boys. After getting his keys stolen, he seeks refuge at Vincent’s house, and eventually Maggie agrees to pay the broke Vincent to babysit Oliver after school. Vincent takes Oliver all over town on his “errands”, and teaches the boy how to be a man.

The role of Vincent is one that only Murray could have played. In some ways, he’s making reference to his own reputation as an oddball with a heart of gold in his performance. Murray is able to walk the fine line between cantankerous and likable. Vincent is often cruel, and blunt, but he’s also hilarious and a surprisingly good man. Murray gives the performance of his career in this film, and it would be nice to see him get some award recognition for the role. Lieberher was excellent as Oliver, the young man who is able to see what so many others could not in Vincent. He was an excellent “straight man” to Murray’s outrageous Vincent. And Watts was hilarious as Daka, the pregnant Russian stripper. She’s playing a role unlike anything she’s ever done before and she was fun to watch. I was also happy to see McCarthy in a more understated role. I like her work, but I’ve been fearing she’s been typecast as the over-the-top, eccentric sort of character, and she’s so much more than that. She did fine work as Maggie.

The story being told in St. Vincent isn’t particularly surprising: it’s predictable and lacked any real twists and turns, but it’s an incredibly touching story. The vast majority of the film is full of wonderful belly laughs, but the final act is genuinely touching and satisfying.

You do have a bit of a wait to see this movie, but do see it when it comes out. It features some excellent performances, and it’s a fine debut feature by director Theodore Melfi.

TIFF 2014

Movie Rating:
September 8th, 2014 No comments

This past weekend, I spent the day in Toronto and attended the Toronto International Film Festival. I was lucky enough to be able to get tickets to two films: the world premiere of The Face of an Angel, and a screening of St. Vincent. I will be writing proper reviews for both films and posting them, but to be brief, I loved both of them.

I’d decided to attend the festival after hearing that The Face of An Angel would be premiering there. The film stars Daniel Brühl, Kate Beckinsale and Cara Delevingne. And, as regular readers of my blog know, Brühl is one of my favourite actors, so I had to go.

I had an awesome time. This year, King Street West was closed for the festival, so there was a lot to do on the street. There were picnic tables set up, a piano, food stands, and it was very easy for the public to watch the red carpet activities at the theatres if they were so inclined. I saw St. Vincent at noon, and then spent the afternoon wandering around King Street West and other areas of downtown until I got to the Winter Garden Theatre, where The Face of an Angel was premiering. I grabbed a quick dinner, and then I got in line.

The Winter Garden Theatre is a stacked theatre, along with the Elgin theatre. Wikipedia tells me they are the last Edwardian stacked theatres in the world. I mention this, because I arrived two and a half hours before the film was set to start, and there was still a line-up for the film screening in the other theatre. I was instructed to get in the line anyway, and once the line for the other film dissipated, it turns out I was one of the first ten people in line for the film. I was thrilled to discover this, because my goal was to get a seat as close to the front of the theatre as possible, so I could get photos. You see, a few years ago, I saw Johnny Depp at TIFF, but my photos didn’t turn out particularly well because I wasn’t right at the front. So I buckled in, and waited, and hoped I would see the cast arriving on the red carpet.

The Main Event

All of that waiting paid off because I was able to get a seat in the second row in the very middle – perfect for taking photos! The theatre itself is absolutely gorgeous.

Shortly after eight, the TIFF CEO came out, introduced director Michael Winterbottom, who proceeded to introduce the cast.

Brühl coming on stage

During the introductory portion he was making faces at Beckinsale, which was adorable and hilarious

Following the film, there was a 20 minute Q&A session that was open to audience questions. I had thought about asking a question, but didn’t because I was a bit too nervous (I can be shy!), and the question I would have asked was covered in the discussion portion immediately preceding the Q&A.

While most of the questions were directed at Winterbottom, a woman directed her question towards Brühl and very kindly praised his work, which elicited a chorus of cheers from some of the audience members, myself included, and he was very humble and gracious in response before answering the question she’d asked.

He spoke about how he thought his character was based on Winterbottom himself, despite the fact that Winterbottom denies that is the case, and about his experiences making the film. The Q&A as a whole was excellent, thanks to some insightful and thought-provoking audience questions, and equally thoughtful answers from the cast, Winterbottom, and screenwriter Paul Viragh. And, as an aside, the woman next to me asked a question, which means that Brühl looked straight at me, which was really awesome.

It was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad I was able to do it. If you ever get the opportunity to go to a film festival, do it. It’s not only an opportunity to see the folks responsible for making films, but a chance to see films months (or even a year!) before the general public. I’ve gone twice now, and I’d probably go again if I can make the timing work and there’s a film (or films) that I want to see.

Boyhood

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
September 4th, 2014 No comments

Boyhood, 2014, USA

Every year, I tend to see a movie that is so ambitious that it reminds me why I love cinema. Sometimes the ambition lies in the visual effects or masterful use of 3D. But sometimes the ambition lies in the nature of the story being told, and the dedication and scope of the film. Boyhood was a true inspiration, and possibly the most ambitious movie ever made.

I remember when Boyhood was first announced, and frankly, I thought it was a crazy idea. “What if someone in the cast or the director dies?!”, I thought. Or what if they lose interest in participating in the film? Then, when I’d heard that director Richard Linklater finished the film, I became eager to see it, and hoped that it would work out. It has. Beautifully. Perfectly, even.

Boyhood is the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and his childhood. He lives full time with his mother (Patricia Arquette), and sister, Sam (Lorelei Linklater), and sees his father (Ethan Hawke), at first, intermittently, and then a little more regularly. Mason has to deal with his mother’s marriage to an abusive alcoholic, and then he deals with more standard teenage issues like falling in love for the first time. We see Mason grow up seamlessly, and the passage of time always feels natural, as if we’re watching family movies beautifully knitted together. Mason grows into a sensitive and artistic young man right before our very eyes.

A film like this one has never been attempted before, and in the hands of a lesser skilled director, the project would have fallen apart years ago. Linklater is incredible at creating films (and a film series!) with a very loosely structured narrative. Boyhood was not written before it was shot: it was written as the actors were making the film, and all of the actors contributed to it. It also helps that both Hawke and Arquette have worked with Linklater in the past.

Aside from the ambition of the project, Boyhood is an incredibly good film. The lead actors are excellent. It was a joy to watch Coltrane grow up before my very eyes as he portrayed Mason. And Arquette was wonderful as Mason’s mother. It was often painful to watch her struggle over the years: struggle in a difficult relationship, struggle financially, and struggle to deal with her children during their teenage years. Her performance felt true and honest. I also loved how her relationship with Hawke’s character evolved over the years. It showed true insight into the complexity of human relationships and how they shift over time to see how their interactions changed. I loved it.

Initially I wasn’t going to see this film in theatres, not out of a lack of interest I assure you, but because I’m seeing fewer movies in the theatre for the next little while. I did decide to go, and I’m glad I did. It was an incredible film, and one everyone should experience.

The White Sound

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
September 1st, 2014 No comments

The White Sound, 2001, Germany

At first glance, one might think this film were a documentary. Shot on a very low budget, The White Sound is a horrifyingly raw and honest portrayal of the realities of schizophrenia.

Lukas (Daniel Brühl) is a young man from the country moving to the city to live with his sister, Kati (Anabelle Lachatte), and her boyfriend, Jochen (Patrick Joswig). He’s excited, and eager, but soon begins to display the troubling early symptoms of schizophrenia. On a date with a girl he met at a party, he lashes out at the ticket seller at the local theatre in a fit of paranoid delusion. As his symptoms get more severe, Lukas begins hearing voices that can only be calmed by the sound of running water. Kati and Jochen struggle to figure out what is going on and get him the help and support he needs.

Mental illness is always a difficult topic, and one that must be tackled with sensitivity. Films that depict a person’s descent into psychosis always unsettle me. This film incorporated the voices Lukas heard into the sound mixing (and the subtitles for the voices were in all capitals so non-German speaking watchers can see what dialogue are the voices, and what isn’t). Hearing the voices, and watching Lukas’ tormented reactions add a horrifying element to the film. It feels painfully real. At times I was reminded of the film Black Swan, which also tackles the topic of mental illness in a very uncomfortable and realistic way.

Another thing the film does right is the reaction of Lukas’ family. His sister tries her best to be supportive, but does not know how to be a caregiver, and does not know what he needs, despite her best efforts. Jochen is the perfect example of the ignorant fool who gives advice they are not qualified to give, with disastrous consequences.

I can’t say enough about Brühl’s performance. His portrayal of Lukas was heartbreaking and showed a real understanding of the torment someone that ill experiences. He successfully endears himself to the audience in the early moments of the film before haunting our souls for the next hour and a half. It was truly a remarkable performance – perhaps his best, in fact. This is quite a feat, as he was in his early 20s when he shot this film, and he’s done some very remarkable work since. I’ve been quite open about the fact that I’m a huge admirer of his work, and films like this one are why. He’s the best actor of his generation, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, like much of Brühl’s work, The White Sound is not easy to find in North America. If you’re interested in watching it, you’ll have to purchase an imported copy of it!

World’s Greatest Dad

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
August 29th, 2014 No comments

World’s Greatest Dad, 2009, USA

I’d been eying this film on Netflix for awhile, but after the passing of Robin Williams, I decided that it was finally time to watch it.

Lance Clayton (Williams) is the teacher of a profoundly unpopular poetry class at a high school. He’s a failed writer who continues to send out his manuscripts in an attempt to find a publisher. His son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is a student at the high school Lance teaches at. Kyle is rude, crass, sex-obsessed, and loathed by everyone except his friend Andrew (Evan Martin). When Kyle dies in a rather embarrassing accident, Lance decides to cover up his actual cause of death by making it look like a suicide. For good measure, he writes a suicide note for Kyle, which ends up being leaked. Suddenly, “Kyle’s” wisdom and expressions of pain and love are lauded by his classmates and beyond, and Kyle is being regarded as near-saintlike.

This film is dark as hell. I have to give kudos to Sabara for being willing to take on such a nasty character. If I hadn’t known that Kyle was going to die going into the movie, I might have shut it off after 20 minutes – that is how disturbing and unlikable he is as a character. But that hatred is absolutely necessary for the rest of the film, because it really drives home how absurd the posthumous obsession is. Williams was also excellent as Lance, who is a complex character of his own. His desire to be respected as a writer is so great, that he uses his son’s death to, in part, get his writing read by the world. He also loves his son, despite not actually liking him, and tries so hard to protect him, even in death. He’s a flawed man, but he means well throughout the movie.

Sadly, the film is painfully relevant. Suicide is discussed heavily throughout the film, and the main theme of the film is the notion of celebrity worship after death. While Williams was well-respected while alive, there have been many celebrities that were mocked in life – until they died. Then, suddenly, everyone was a fan of them. Michael Jackson is a good example of this phenomenon. And, some of the lines Williams says take on a new, painful meaning. He says the common quote “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”, and my heart sank, knowing that the pain one must feel to drive them to suicide is so often not temporary.

The comedy in World’s Greatest Dad is nothing short of genius. It’s very dark, and deadpan, which is just the sort of comedy that I love. Williams delivers his lines perfectly (but could you have ever expected anything less from such a comedic genius?).

World’s Greatest Dad was excellent, thought-provoking, and hilarious. I highly recommend watching it, especially in the wake of Williams’ passing.

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