The Keepers: More Brave Filmmaking from Netflix

I used to look down on true crime stories as they seemed sensationalistic and lacking of any real respect for the victims and their families. They seemed like nothing more than tasteless entertainment. That changed for me with the Netflix produced Making a Murderer which was created by filmmakers who seemed genuinely concerned with injustice in the American legal system. The public responded by binge watching the series and since its release it has arguably had a real impact on the much maligned system. After the success of Making a Murderer it was hard to imagine that Netflix would wait very long before delving back into the realm of true crime. I can say quite honestly that The Keepers has all the well-meaning and quality of Making a Murderer (in fact, maybe a little bit more of both).

We’re in a really interesting time for documentary filmmakers. For a genre that has prided itself on making unbiased/non-intrusive/non-manipulative storytelling, we are certainly seeing a lot of filmic devices being used by documentarians these days. The Keepers uses music, camera work, and the opinion of those behind the camera to great emotional effect for the viewer. These techniques used to be viewed as cheating in the documentary world, but I think viewers are better amateur psychologists these days, and are better able to understand our own biases and influences. With our phones we are also all amateur moviemakers and have used some of these techniques ourselves. And with so much of our entertainment being one blurry mess of fiction and reality, I think it’s only fair that documentarians be allowed to reach out of their usual bag of tools and embrace techniques normally reserved by Hollywood for theatrical fare.

The Keepers also has a cast of incredible characters, some will feel very real to the viewer, while others (Bud Roemer comes to mind) will feel like they were yanked out of of a Hollywood classic. The story is deftly presented by the filmmakers and unfolds more interestingly than most contemporary fictional works.

Finally, I feel like I learned more about life, death, and everything in between from The Keepers than I have from recent fictional dramas. When dealing with real people, and real injustice, it’s hard not to moved, to learn, to change – and that’s what filmmaking is supposed to do for us. Sure, entertainment is great, but I want to come out of a viewing experience a different person, not completely changed, just privy to a different perspective on life than my own. Judging by the initial reception of The Keepers it seems like others would agree with me. Maybe that’s why Netflix is keeping their viewing numbers so close to their chest. Maybe we’re looking for a different type of entertainment and they’ve plugged into it while the competition stays with the tried and true formula.

It feels like the search for justice has gone mainstream. What a welcome development.

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Identity Thief Review (Kirk Haviland)

Identity Thief Banner

Identity Thief (2013)

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Genesis Rodriguez, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet

Written by Craig Mazin based on a story by Jerry Eeten and Craig Mazin

Directed by Seth Gordon

The doldrums of the winter post-Oscar bait box office continue this week as after a very lackluster January our friends at Universal Pictures give us Identity Thief. This comedy is the follow-up feature from McCarthy after her breakout role in 2010’s Bridesmaids (This is 40 cameo notwithstanding) and her first shot at a lead performance. Along for the ride is Jason Bateman playing his very familiar bland straight man role and Amanda Peet as his long suffering wife.

Diana (McCarthy) makes her living assuming stranger’s identities and bleeding them dry. Her seemingly unlimited funds have allowed Diana to party and shop it up on the outskirts of Orlando, where her house looks like a Shopping Channel storage warehouse.  But her new identity comes with a catch, it belongs to an accounts rep (Bateman), Sandy, who lives halfway across the U.S., and Sandy has been tipped off as to where she lives. With only one week to hunt down the con artist before he loses his job and livelihood, the real Sandy Bigelow Patterson heads south to confront the woman with an all-access pass to his life.  And as he attempts to bribe, coax and wrangle her 2,000 miles to Denver, one easy target will discover just how tough it is to get your name back. And let’s not forget the Skiptracer (Patrick) and Mob enforcers (Harris and Rodriguez) following and tracking their every move.

Identity Thief 1

Identity Thief is a very poorly executed movie in many regards. The script here is extremely lazy, think of the worst possible rehash of Midnight Run you’ve seen and this is worse. The gags are tired and lazy and the dialogue is terrible. The plot device as to why the pair is forced to drive instead of fly is ludicrous and makes no sense. The fact that Diana and all her many fake ID’s can’t fly because her ID is the same as Sandy’s, when she can simply make another ID and actually does so later in the film, is just mediocre writing at best. Writer Mazan’s previous efforts include the lackluster Hangover 2, Scary Movies 3 and 4 (the UN-funny ones) and the abysmal Superhero Movie so the lack of ingenuity shown here should come as little surprise. But Mazin can’t be held solely responsible for this effort.

Identity Thief

Director Gordon has done some excellent work on television and in the world of documentaries but his feature length fiction films have left something to be desired. With Horrible Bosses being his most respectable, Identity Thief may even be worse than his other, badly executed holiday film: Four Christmases. Watching the film it would appear the film just got away from him and he let McCarthy run rampant without any guidance or attempt to reel her in. McCarthy is probably the best part of the film, managing to elicit a few laughs along the way in what were likely her variances from the script. But a lot of the time she seems to be throwing everything she can on screen just to try and make something stick. Based on Bateman’s performance you would expect him to turn directly straight to camera at some point and say “Hey, it’s a paycheck” before returning to whatever line he is delivering next. Peet is fine here, but is really given nothing to do. The rest of the roles are merely extended cameos with wasted performances especially from the talented likes of Favreau, Stonestreet and Cho.

Identity Thief 3

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the film is how offensive it gets towards the end. In one sequence that I’m sure is meant to be humorous, McCarthy’s Diana tries to explain to Peet’s character that nothing happened between her and Sandy on the road. But what ensues is McCarthy going on and on about how irresistible she is and the audiences and Peet’s Trish are supposed to be laughing because of course a fat person can’t be sexy right? Similar subject matter was handled with class and hilarity in Bridesmaids but that is sadly lacking here.

There may have been a good movie to be had with this premise, but Identity Thief sadly is not that film. Audiences will likely have to wait for McCarthy’s turn in director Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids) next film The Heat and Batemen’s long awaited return to the role of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development to get the laughter they were hoping to get out of this film. The amount of talent on screen is hampered by a poor script and some spotty direction that drags everyone down. Identity Thief is not recommended.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Hitchcock Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hitchcock (2012)

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott

Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

New this week in theaters, opening exclusively at the Varsity in Toronto and expanding nation-wide in the weeks to come, from Fox Searchlight comes Hitchcock. The biopic about the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock, despite the inference of title, is not a story of the man and his life, but the shooting of his seminal film Psycho and his relationship with his wife and most trusted collaborator Alma Reville.

Hitchcock starts at the premiere for Alfred Hitchcock’s (Hopkins) North by Northwest. With the media convinced that the director’s best days are behind him, Alfred sets his wife Alma (Mirren) and assistant Peggy (Collette) on the lookout for his next project. Hoping to get his script in contention Whitfield Cook (Huston) shows up and starts sweet talking his former flame Alma. Meanwhile Hitch becomes enamored with the new book based on the real story of serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott), who Hitch sees as a manifestation during the filming, entitled Psycho. Against the wishes of the studio, his wife and everybody else, Hitchcock embarks on adapting the story and getting it committed to film. But the studio, his health, his former starlet Vera Miles (Biel) and current starlet Janet Leigh (Johansson) may all conspire to get in the way. And Whitfield may have other plans for Alma.

Hitchcock is far from an in depth, hard hitting biopic, but almost immediately the audience realizes they are in for a more whimsical and light hearted treatment. Hopkins is memorable as Hitchcock, like his Nixon he does not completely disappear physically into the role, but uses his performance to allow the audience to buy into the character. That said it’s Mirren and her portrayal of Alma that steals the show. Her Alma is a confident and strong woman who is long overdue for her room in the spotlight after all the work she has done in her husband’s career, and sensing this Huston’s Whitfield attempts to take advantage. The rest of the supporting cast is quite good here, with Johansson doing some excellent work as Leigh and Biel possibly doing here best work in ages as Vera Miles. The decision of including Ed Gein as a character in the film is far-fetched and would have been terribly out of place if the performance by Wincott wasn’t so accomplished. His Gein makes you yearn for a biopic of his own on the serial killer.

The script plays it light in tone and strives more for comedic beats rather than hard hitting, dramatic interpretations. More “My Week with Marilyn” than a straight biopic, Hitchcock only serves to explain and enact the period in 1959/1960 surrounding the filming of Psycho and not much else. The characters are fleshed out well here, though the script does manage to stay close to the surface throughout, not delving too deeply into any of the relationships besides Hitch and Alma’s. And other characters, like the studio head for example, are more caricatures than characters. The film would be better suited with a title that exudes this whimsy and tone rather than the more serious sounding Hitchcock.

Kudos must be given however to the team behind the film as the set design and decoration, costuming and cinematography are all fantastic. The film looks phenomenal and provides an exceptional peek into the work of producing a feature film in the late 1959 studio system. From the small housing offices for the production and the soundstages to the vintage vehicles and decor of the Hitchcock home, the film doesn’t miss a beat. The film will not surprise me at all if Oscar comes calling in February rewarding the fine work here with some technical nominations.

Audiences going into this film expecting a warts and all telling of Hitchcock’s life and loves will be disappointed with this effort. But audiences willing to go with the tone and playfulness of the film and really invest in the performances, especially Hopkins, Mirren and Wincott, will be satisfied with the effort. Despite its flaws, Hitchcock is indeed a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Fright Nights: The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival Preview (Nadia Sandhu)

There will be Blood in the Snow and on the big screen at Projection Booth (1035 Gerrard Street East) as the First Annual Fright Nights:  Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival scares up thrills this November 30 to December 2, 2012 in a weekend long celebration of the best in contemporary Canadian horror filmmaking.

Festival Director Kelly Michael Stewart has been a strong supporter of the national horror filmmaking scene, writing about it for Fangoria and Planet Fury, and regularly showcasing these talented filmmakers at the hugely successful Fright Nights at Projection Booth screening series.  “I have noticed an incredible renaissance of horror directors coming out of Canada in the past few years. Southern Ontario in particular has become a hotbed of horror talent. Now the scene has grown large enough and vibrant enough that it warrants a dedicated yearly festival and we’ve been able to pull together an impressive lineup including the world premieres of SICK featuring Canada’s own scream queen Debbie Rochon and In the House of Flies starring Henry Rollins.”

Blood in the Snow kicks off on Friday, November 30 with a zombie infection in SICK at 7pm and critical darling Beyond the Black Rainbow at 9:30pm, and closes on Sunday, December 2 with art house vampire film Blood for Irina at 7pm, a film that also marks the feature directorial debut of Fangoria Editor in Chief Chris Alexander.  

In true rep house style, Saturday will be a late night with psychological thriller In the House of Flies at 6:30pm, classic 80’s style slasher film Devil’s Night starring Danielle Harris at 9pm and old school grind house throwback Famine at 11:45pm.

A retrospective shorts program, Fright Nights: Class of 2012, on Saturday, December 1 at 3pm showcases some of the best genre shorts from the last year of Fright Nights programming, including a personal favorite when it played here as part of the Viscera Film Festival last winter- Doll Parts from Karen Lam.  The retrospective also features a bonus screening- fan fave Cinemall, which documents the yearly pilgrimage of zombie fans to the mall where Romero filmed Dawn of the Dead!

“With films like Hobo With a ShotgunThe CorridorPontypool, and really anything from the guys at Astron 6, the Canadian horror film scene is bursting with creative talent and we are proud to support Kelly and what we truly feel is a killer line up of the next wave of genre directors. These are the ones to watch,” enthuses Jonathan Hlibka, partner at Projection Booth Cinemas.

And I for one am relieved that in this case at least, blood in the snow does not refer to baby seals.

Festival passes and tickets are on sale now and while there won’t be any chick flicks, I won’t completely rule out finding a touchy feely angle to report back on.

You can show your support for Canadian Horror by downloading the Blood in the Snow banner and using it as your Facebook Cover this Black Friday!

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Toronto After Dark 2012: Citadel Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

Citadel (2012)

Starring Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo, Wunmi Mosaku, Jake Wilson and Amy Shiels

Written and Directed by Ciaran Foy

After receiving numerous awards at festivals around the world, including SXSW, Citadel finally makes its Toronto debut as part of this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The dark/grimy tale of a man that desperately wants to protect his family but has been so traumatized that he can’t, features a breakout performance from both its lead actor and director.

Tommy (Barnard) and his pregnant wife Joanne (Shiels) were set to finally make it out of Edentown, a crumbling Irish housing estate, when Joanne was attacked by a pack of strange hooded youngsters at their very doorstep.  Left traumatized and with a crippling case of agoraphobia, Tommy is trying his best to raise his infant daughter, even though he is terrified to leave his home. Just as Tommy is set to leave again, and having attracted the affections of a caring nurse (Mosaku) who has reached out to help him, the hoodies return. And this time they seemed hell bent on taking his daughter with them. Almost at his wits end, Tommy must decide whether or not to trust and team up with an angry renegade priest (Cosmo) and his blind companion, a young boy named Danny (Wilson), who are convinced that these hooded figures are no longer human, and that their tower block citadel must be destroyed once and for all.

Citadel is easily one of the best films I have seen all year. With a stellar lead performance by Aneurin Barnard and supported by an amazing turn by James Cosmo as the Priest, the casting of the film is perfect. The crippling paranoia that infests Tommy is as palpable onscreen as it is in the theater. His performance never hits a wrong note and keeps you engaged throughout.  The script is original and tense, the levels of tension piling up to match the growing level of paranoia coming from Barnard’s Tommy. The choice of director Foy to not fully reveal our adversary here except in fragments keeps the audience as much in the dark as Tommy is for most of the film. The setting of a UK tower block seems to be in vogue right now with films like last year’s Attack the Block using the same. That said the tower block in Citadel is a hollow, grimy, claustrophobic shell of a building that works immensely well. The forced evacuation that the condemned building sets up in the script adds to Tommy’s exasperation. The use of no vibrant color in the entire film, even Tommy’s baby daughter’s purple snow suit looks grey in most shots, lends credence to the tone presented here.

The real winning combination in Citadel is the tone and fantastic performances captured onscreen. Some may argue in the end that the film is a little style over substance, but this is far from the truth. Citadel is a must see.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Toronto After Dark 2012: [REC]³ Genesis Review (Robert Harding)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

[REC]3 Genesis (2012)

Starring Leticia Dolera, Javier Botet, Diego Martin, Alex Monner, and Ismael Martinez

Directed by Paco Plaza

Rec 3 marks a major divergence from the previous two films in the Rec franchise. Fans of those two films should note – this is nothing like the Rec films you’ve come to love. Don’t go into this new Rec film expecting to see first person shaky cam cause you’re not going to find it.  Well, not in the same way you’re used to.

This latest installment in the hit Spanish zombie movie series relocates the carnage to a very large wedding reception. When the uncle of the groom shows up to the wedding with a dog bite on his hand nobody takes much notice. Little does anyone know that this little bite links him to a zombie outbreak happening miles away (see Rec 1 & 2).  When the party gets going everyone thinks said uncle has had a bit too much to drink. That is until he eats someone.

Rec 3 starts off  similar to the first two Rec films with lots of first person hand held camera work. Combining footage of three different cameras, one from the wedding videographer, and two from young relatives; one of which clearly wants to get into the film business. This style of familiar camera work continues up until just after the guests start getting eaten. Shortly after the zombie outbreak at the wedding reception, the wedding videographer get his camera smashed marking a change in camera style as the film switches over to a more traditional third person perspective. The third person perspective allows the film to have nice clean beautiful cinematography but also means that the claustrophobic sense achieved through first person shaky cam is gone. While this may be a good thing to some, most will find Rec 3 to be far less scary (if at all) because of it.

Rec 3 continues the tradition of having lots of gore and blood and it also has some humourous moments. The characters are well defined even in the short period of time some of them are on screen. And much like in the first two films, nobody is truly safe… nobody.

Rec 1 & 2 became popular due to their smart use of first person perspective shaky camera work. They weren’t your standard found footage films. While continuing on with this style may have become tedious to the viewer after three films, fans may not take well to this change. I personally felt the bridge between the old and the new worked very well. When the video camera was broken, it made that clear distinction that the filmmakers were going in a different direction. I wish the filmmakers had been able to maintain the level of scares from the previous outings but the film was too frantic to keep any tension going. I didn’t enjoy Rec 3 nearly as much as the first two but it did leave me with one lasting impression: I now really want to know what’s going to happen in Rec 4!

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Toronto After Dark 2012: American Mary Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

American Mary (2012)

Starring Katherine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk, Davis Lovgren and Twan Holliday

Written and Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska

The Soska Sisters, better known to those in genre circles as the “Twisted Twins”, arrived at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival with their 2nd feature film, American Mary. The creators of the provocative Dead Hooker in a Trunk return with a graphic horror thriller based in the world of extreme body modification. Does American Mary live up to the promise most genre fans found in Dead Hooker?

Buried under medical bills and tuition, medical student Mary Mason (Isabelle) finds herself disillusioned with both the poverty of student life and chauvinistic treatment by her teachers and peers. Looking through online personals, she stumbles across a position for a dancer. A chance event at the seedy nightclub where her interview accidentally happens to open the door to a lucrative but dangerous side career: performing extreme body modifications for private clients. At first resistant to the pull coming from the clients clamoring for her business, a visit to her surgeon mentor’s home for a dinner party drastically alters the course of events in her life, and the deeper she falls in the darker the water gets.

American Mary relies heavily on the talents of its lead performer, Katherine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame. Her performance is outstanding. Her Mary commands the screen and demands you pay attention. The script itself is smart, edgy and thoroughly researched. Nothing on film appears to ring false as it appears the Soska Sisters clearly have a solid grasp on the source material. That said, it does have some dialogue that sounds weird and not all of the performances work. One of the villains of the piece literally comes off as a foul mouthed cross between Alan Rickman’s Hans and Alexander Gudunov’s Karl from the movie Die Hard. The standout in the supporting roles for me was Twan Holliday as Lance, his performance is fantastic as the comic relief of the piece. From the seedy strip club to Mary’s dingy but way too huge for her to afford apartment, the set, locations and set design for the film is another of this films strongest points. This film looks fantastic. The Soska’s have taken a giant leap forward in skill and technical proficiency with this film. The originality of the script, the griminess of the set pieces and Isabelle’s fiery delivery all show that they are truly a duo on the rise as directors.

The biggest issue I have, and it’s not that big a deal, is the length of the film. Clocking in at almost two hours the film could use a bit of trimming. There are some sequences, one including a detective and the multiple fantasy sequences of club owner Billy that could be trimmed or excised from the film altogether as they end up going nowhere in the end.

An early contender for my favorite film of the fest, American Mary is not going to be accessible for everyone. But Katherine Isabelle’s standout performance should been seen by as many possible. American Mary is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Sinister Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sinister (2012)

Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Fred Dalton Thompson and James Ransone

Written by C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson

Directed by Scott Derrickson

In theaters this weekend from Alliance Films, just in time for Halloween, we get the newest horror title from director Scott Derrickson, the director of the Exorcism of Emily Rose. With the mainly lackluster theatrical year we have had to date for the horror genre, Cabin in the Woods withstanding, the real question is can Sinister deliver where others this year have failed? And can one of us, online film Critic C. Robert Cargill, aka Ain’t it Cool News’ Massawrym, really write a film that lives up to the hype?

Ten years ago, true crime writer Ellison Oswald (Hawke) made his reputation with a best‐selling novel based on a notorious murder. Now, desperate to replicate the critical and financial success of that book, he moves his loyal wife (Rylance), none too happy son (D’Addario) and daughter (Foley) into a home where a suburban family was brutally executed and a child disappeared. Not telling his family of the home’s past, hoping to find inspiration in the crime scene, Ellison discovers a mysterious box containing Super 8 footage of a series of murders, including the ones from the house. Rather than going to the local authorities and reporting the find, he keeps the movies to himself and takes on an unassuming Sherriff’s Deputy (Ransone) to unwittingly do his research, hoping to publish another acclaimed book based on these series of crimes. As Ellison starts to piece together the truth behind the horrific images on the films, unseen intruders and inexplicable goings‐on disrupt his once peaceful household.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sinister works because it focuses less on simply staging a line of jump scare tactics, and more on building tension while never hitting the release valve. The script is smart and tight, although it’s not entirely original in that it uses and falls prey to some of the most obvious of horror conventions, but it also uses them more effectively than most. Ethan Hawke does some very solid work here, the level of paranoia involved with his performance adds to the building sense of dread surrounding the family in the film. The rest of the cast does admirable work as well, the child actors in particular show they can hold their own amidst the veteran actors. Ransone’s deputy may have been the hapless goofball in any other film, but he and the script give the character some surprising depth and even a more level head than the deteriorating Oswald can muster.

The score is brilliant and unnerving, building layer upon layer as the film progresses and tensing up the audience as it goes along. Director Derrickson proves that he may be best suited for genre pieces as this is a giant step forward from the abysmal Day the Earth Stood Still remake. Sinister is far from perfect mind you. Can Oswald please stop bumbling around in the dark and just turn on a light? And seriously, does every character here sleep like they are dead? You figure with the crashing, falling and multitude of other actions going on in the house somebody else in the family would wake up. But taking the good with the bad the film is still miles above most of the genre fare we have seen in multiplexes this year. The villain of the piece could have been an awful campy nightmare, but instead it works brilliantly. My only qualm is with the last shot of the film, when the film has already been wrapped up nicely, we get what appears to be an unnecessary studio addition. Also we get a way too brief appearance from an un-billed star that I will not mention other than to say I wish it was much longer.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sinister is successful because of its ability to develop and sustain atmosphere and tension for its almost tw hour running time, a feat in its own with the amount of 85/95 minute disposable genre films we are subject to most of the time. Sinister is a very solid recommend, go out and see it this weekend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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TIFF 2012 – To The Wonder Review (Dustin SanVido)

To The Wonder (2012)

Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, and Rachel McAdams

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick

Films that dare to transcend the laws of conventional narrative and structure to become much more a piece of art are somewhat of a mixed bag for me. I applaud filmmakers who aspire to create a cinematic poem, love letter, or reflection/meditation and who are willing to sacrifice traditional story techniques to try something different. Terrance Malick is just such a filmmaker as his latest film is certainly much more a love letter or poem than anything else. The Tree of Life certainly fit that bill, and although I enjoyed that film for its ideas and subtext, I could not say the same for his latest.

To The Wonder is billed as a drama involving an American man finding love and marriage in Europe, who then to the USA and reconnects with a past romance while his marriage deteriorates. I have just summarized nearly everything that the narrative has to offer, there isn’t much else to it in terms of plot. Throw in a side-plot involving a priest and his loss of faith and you’ve learned the entire plot in two sentences.

Also there is little to zero dialogue between characters in the film. Instead the majority of the script is spoken by the actors as voice-over, and more frustrating is Malick’s decision to write these thoughts as if they were poems rather than expository dialogue. This decision proves costly as the four main characters of the story just aren’t very interesting to begin with, and too many times the actors are frolicking around the camera in open fields, empty houses and supermarkets with little to do. And at a runtime of one hour and fifty minutes, believe me, you really start to feel that runtime about 25 minutes in.

It’s difficult to comment on the acting as I never really felt the actors were asked to do anything besides emoting, staring, and again frolicking. This is not a slight on the acting at all; I believe this is exactly what Malick asked of his actors, and they seem to adhere to that respectfully. So it’s not really fair for me to go one way or the other as far as performances. I will say that no one was distracting to the story, but no one stood out either. It’s worth noting that for a film that features Rachel McAdams character in the poster as well as sharing top-billing, I expected to see much more of her as she couldn’t have been in the film for more than fifteen to twenty minutes, and that’s stretching it.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy in the film as Malick has again proven himself a true visual auteur. If he ever decided to hang up his directing hat permanently, he could slide into photography and be just as successful, if not more. That being said, To the Wonder is a visually gorgeous film, what with the majority of the film set in front of a backdrop of beautiful natural landscapes, sunrises and sunsets. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki should be praised for finding subtle beauty in the strangest places including boxes squared off in an empty house and a simple shopping cart ride through a department store.

In short, as is the case with much of his work for me, I was only interested during To the Wonder with what visuals the director would reveal next and little else. I believe Malick’s films are often exercises in patience and time and one must be willing to possess a great deal of these in order to wholly appreciate his work and discover the many cinematic riches that lie beneath. While I acknowledge his mastery of the cinematic landscape, especially in his prior work, I was simply unengaged for the majority of his latest. And it doesn’t help that I learned right before the screening that Rachel Weisz’s performance, an actress I adore, had been completely edited from the film. I’ve come to learn that like so many other lost performances in his prior work, this is something that Malick likes to do in all his films. And just like Gary Oldman’s performance that was removed from The Thin Red Line, To the Wonder leaves me with a feeling of what might’ve been had the director bucked his own trend of directing choices and nuances.

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Resident Evil: Retribution Review (Kirk Haviland)

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Starring – Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Boris Kodjoe, BingBing Li

Written and Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Coming back to the Cineplex, from Allliance films, this weekend for the 4th follow up to 2002’s Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Retribution goes back to its roots. Writer/Director Paul W.S. Anderson brings back characters from all of the previous films, including Michelle Rodriguiez’s Rain from the first film, and this time around takes us to the iconic Racoon City. But will this Resident Evil be the fun joyride of the first or continue the lacklustre trend of its follow ups?

Retribution starts directly from the end of Resident Evil: Afterlife with Alice (Jovovich) managing to escape the carnage of the incoming onslaught at the end of Afterlife, only to end up in The Umbrella Corporation’s custody, barely alive and breathing. The Umbrella Corporation’s deadly T-virus has continued to ravage the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating undead. Alice awakens in the heart of Umbrella’s most clandestine operations facility and promptly escapes her containment cell with the help of Ada Wong (Li) and another mysterious new ally. Ada and Alice must fight their way through the Umbrella complex, with foes new and old blocking the way, to meet up with the escape team waiting to break them out that includes fellow Afterlife survivor Luther West (Kodjoe). The complex is a series of testing scenario stations inhabited with the many clones of Alice and Rain (Rodriguez) among others. Leading the charge against Alice is Jill Valentine (Guillory), Alice’s former ally who has now fallen under the influence of the Red Queen. The insanity continues as Alice and crew fight of the hordes of the undead in 3D.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Never one to be afraid to go completely over the top in action and effects, Director Anderson does not disappoint his fans here as the insane opening sequence is first shown in slow motion reverse and then replayed back in real time. The sheer amount of violence in the first 15 minutes is quite impressive. Retribution in many ways is a remake of the first Resident Evil as it takes place almost entirely in an underground Umbrella facility and Anderson uses similar camera techniques and schematic representations to jump between areas in the facility much like he did in the first. This time Alice is saddled with one of her clones (daughters) Becky (Engineer) in a homage/rip-off of the Newt/Ripley story from Aliens. Feeling overly obligated to the girl, Jovovich’s Alice at one point goes to extreme measures to protect her, another scene extremely reminiscent to the aforementioned James Cameron masterpiece.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Sadly the entire film feels too much like a retread. Jovovich is obviously comfortable in this role, having done it four times before, but the script lets her down on this one. It is fun to see Rodriguez in this world again and her character in the script may be the most fun outside of the underutilized Kevin Durand, who plays the new character Barry Burton. Retribution does little to expand on the world the previous films have built, in fact it seems to revel in the fact that they are staying in familiar territory. And based on the blatant open ended conclusion of the film, the only reason Retribution is being presented to us may be to set up the next film which apparently will be the final blowout.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Films

Feeling very much like a case of déjà vu, in 3D no less, Resident Evil: Retribution does little to expand on its predecessors. The bombastic style that has permeated the series is here by the bucket loads, so defenders of the series will probably enjoy it. That said it does not carry enough for me, even with Rodriguez and Durand, to give it any more than the slightest of recommends.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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TIFF 2012 – Silver Linings Playbook Review (Dustin SanVido)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker

Directed by David O. Russell

Being a self-confessed football junkie, I have eagerly anticipated the latest film from David O. Russell, if not simply for the fact that the subject matter is something that I could easily relate to. To my surprise, I found so much to enjoy in The Silver Linings playbook that had nothing to do with the subject of football. Boasting strong performances from the entire cast (yes, that includes Chris Tucker), a perfectly written and assuredly directed feature from David O. Russell that falls in line with his best work.

We’re introduced to Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper in a career defining performance) as he’s being released from a psychiatric facility in Baltimore into the care of his loving mother Delores (Jackie Weaver) and football obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), who reside in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Eagles football is a cornerstone of the Solitano family, it is not only enjoyed for sport but also as Pat Sr. makes a modest living as a bookmaker. We learn that 8 months ago Pat had an explosion of violence in his home after discovering his wife’s infidelity, and as a plea bargain to avoid jail time, admitted himself into the care of said facility. Pat has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and it shows early and often. Pat is a complete mess, obsessively fixated on returning home and picking up his life where he left off. While reconnecting with his family and friends he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawerence), a widow who is avoiding the pain and emotions of her situation by masking her problems with sexual promiscuity. It is in Pats’ delusions of rekindling his marriage where a friendship between the two psychologically torn individuals is born and where the majority of the film takes place. This is not only a romantic comedy, but also a genuinely engaging story of one man’s personal redemption and discovery of self-worth.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

This was the second performance from Bradley Cooper I have seen at this year’s festival and I was happy to see his potential begin to be realized. I have always liked him since I saw him all those days ago as a student on several iterations of Inside the Actors Studio. Here he is completely believable as a man who is barely grasping his reality and is unwilling to let go of his failed marriage, trying to fit it into the context of whatever situation he finds himself in. Bi-Polar disorder is a tremendously difficult illness to live with and one that is sometimes easily dismissed. Cooper’s realization of the illness is a strange mix of sadness, humour, rage, manic energy, and comic wit. I can also use that exact description to define the performance of Jennifer Lawerence. This is another fantastic role for the actress who is quickly ascending the Hollywood ranks through an eclectic mix of difficult indie roles and mainstream to blockbuster fare. Her excellent dramatic skills are only bested by her cagey and beautifully innocent looks. This seems like it has another Oscar nomination written all over it.

It is with the utmost happiness that I can inform you, not only did Robert Deniro seem to actually try to act with enthusiasm in Silver Linings Playbook, instead of traversing the script on cruise control, but his scenes are the best part of the film. The majority of the emotional moments for Pat in the story are shared with his father, and it is endearing to watch as Pat Sr. tries to reconnect with his son the only way he knows how, through their mutual love of football. In fact, football plays an important role in the narrative as many set pieces take place around the fact that an Eagles game is being played, or at Lincoln Financial Stadium for a wonderful scene later in the film. It is very telling to me that I enjoyed this film so much, considering the team featured in the film is the bitter rival of my beloved Dallas Cowboys.

Silver Linings Playbook is also filled with likable yet flawed supporting characters provided by the rest of the cast. Everyone from Pat’s psychiatrist (Anupam Kehr) to Tiffany’s sister Veronica (Julia Stiles) to Pat’s fellow mental patient Danny (Chris Tucker in his best performance since Baumont Livingston in Jackie Brown), everyone has a moment to shine and leave a strong impression that resonates throughout the runtime.

This is easily David O. Russell’s least stylized and most accessible film to date. I was quite happy that he seemed to want to be more faithful to the source material and hold back on bringing the material into his kind of film, although not without including some of his well documented zoom shots. Continuing to overcome his behind the scenes notoriety as a difficult artist to work with, his latest film is a excellent addition to an already great body of work.

Although it is clear by the end a romantic story is at the heart of Silver Linings Playbook, the film manages to strike a perfect balance of drama and humour that just about anyone can find something to love, much like its characters. It is rare that a romance unfolding over such a short time can be so organic and believable. Bravo to the filmmakers. This is a film that I look forward to revisiting in the future, I highly recommend checking this one out. Upon finishing this review it left me to wonder: the last time this David O. Russell made a romantic comedy (Flirting with Disaster), he followed it up with Three Kings, a film I consider a masterwork. I wonder what’s next on the horizon…

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TIFF 2012 – The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Matt Hodgson)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn, Emory Cohen, and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (PBtP) attracted me with its all-star cast and the hint that it may be the unofficial sequel to last year’s wildly successful Drive. I’m only joking about the sequel business, but if I accidentally refer to PBtP as Drive 2: Ride, then please forgive me. Everyone is obsessed with The Gos lately, and for good reason, but the rest of the cast solidified this as a must see movie at TIFF this year. I’m often guarded when I see movies with a mega-cast, but considering that PBtP was helmed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and the movie was well over two hours in length, I was hoping that this would not be a case of style over substance. While not a perfect movie, I’m very happy to say that PBtP may be the best thing I have seen at TIFF so far.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a multi-generational story about identity, inheritance, the sins of fathers, and life in general. Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider who works as little more than a side-show performer at a travelling carnival. His work is dangerous and he has long ago been hardened by it; his lean body etched with tattoos and covered by tattered clothing. The last time he found himself in the small town the carnival is currently passing through he had a one night fling with a cute young waitress (Mendes), however on this occasion the same waitress seems rather cold, as she harbours a bit of information that is about to change his world. Cooper on the other hand is a young police officer whose role on the street is causing a lot of tension at home. To go into further detail would ruin the experience at the cinema. Characters are fleshed out, important life decisions are made, and paths cross.

As I’ve said, PBtP is not perfect, but there are so many compelling elements that it’s hard not to be very excited discussing this movie. The performances are absolutely top-notch, nearly across the board. Gosling channels some of the same energy that made his Driver so compelling, but he adds a layer of self-doubt and fear which makes his character in PBtP much more accessible and identifiable for viewers. Mendes doesn’t have as much screen time as many of the other lead characters, but when she’s onscreen we see a vulnerability that is uncharacteristic of the characters she normally plays. Mendes has definitely added an interesting dimension to her career with this performance. The young guys, DeHaan and Cohen have an amazing dynamic  throughout the latter part of the movie. It’s hard to believe that they have not acted together before (please correct me if I’m wrong). Also, the supporting actors, particularly Greenwood and Mendelsohn turn in very strong performances. Despite very limited screen time, I don’t think Greenwood has ever been better. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper is satisfactory at best. His performance is inconsistent, as he’s great onscreen when the situations aren’t that serious, but when things get emotional it feels like he doesn’t have the repertoire to deliver a convincing scene, tear, or emotional line. This becomes even more obvious next to Gosling’s wonderful performance.

The script and direction by Cianfrance are equally as good as the high level performances. PBtP is a multi-generational story, and as such there are gaps of time that we traverse in seconds to catch up with the story. When this happens in a movie it can feel like rebooting your computer – a necessary amount of waiting must be done to get back to business. Thankfully these ‘reboots’ in PBtP fly by, and even though we find ourselves in a new storyline, it always turns out to be a very intriguing one, almost immediately. If I had to say something critical about the writing and directing I would say that PBtP does not tug on the heartstrings as masterfully as the filmmakers may have liked. Certain scenes at the end which should have been very powerful, especially considering how much time we had spent with the characters, but they end up feeling a little flat. Despite my emotional detachment from certain characters and outcomes I was not intellectually detached. The various storylines had me intrigued throughout and the ending was certainly satisfying, although definitely not a tearjerker. When I look back on the experience as a whole, I would be hard pressed to think of a better movie I have seen at TIFF so far this year. The Place Beyond the Pines is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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TIFF 2012 – Seven Psychopaths Review (Matt Hodgson)

2012 Toronto International Film Festival

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, and Christopher Walken

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Note: I had some concerns during Dredd 3D regarding the large number of seats (225 or so) that had been reserved for VIPs and therefore were withheld from paying customers, but I was happy to see that the higher profile Seven Psychopaths screening had about half that amount reserved. This seemed much more reasonable and respectful to ticket holders.

Last night I was back in line for the second of ten straight nights at the Ryerson theatre for Midnight Madness (MM), the Toronto International Film Festival’s midnight program, which has historically featured some of the most frightening and action-action packed movies currently making the festival circuit rounds. MM is in the business of premiering movies these days, and the first night was no exception. Dredd 3d (previously screened at San Diego Comic Con) started the madness, and definitely delivered plenty of action that gorehounds will lap up. Also, I’m sure MM will fill the horror quota in no time (tonight’s No One Lives perhaps). However, Midnight Madness is not just about the scares and the thrills; every now and then we get a dark comedy. And occassionally the Midnight Madness crowd keep some A-list celebrities up until the wee hours of the morning. Last night was such an occasion, as Martin McDonagh’s new film, Seven Psychopaths, screened with nearly the whole cast in tow. If you’re familiar with McDonagh’s last film, In Bruges, and you’ve heard of Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and a little known actor named Christopher Walken, then you know why the fans were out in droves last night for Seven Psychopaths.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The movie tells the story of Marty (Farrell), a struggling screenwriter who has been working on his new project, also called Seven Psychopaths, for quite some time. He’s got the title, now he just needs all the little bits that go on the paper. To cope with the stress of writer’s block Marty has begun to hit the bottle, nightly and hard. This has lead to a number of misunderstandings between Marty and others due to Marty’s newly discovered propensity to blackout. Thanks to his drinking problem, Marty’s relationship with his girlfriend Kaya (Cornish) may be beyond salvation, but he’s still very lucky to have friend like Billy (Rockwell). When Billy isn’t working with Hans (Walken), stealing dogs then returning them for a reward, he’s trying to help Marty finish his script, maybe even co-write it with him. Unfortunately, thanks to some bad decisions from Billy, Marty finds himself in a midst of gathering of psychopaths, headlined by the blood thirsty Charlie (Harrelson). Marty might not make it out of this psychopath party alive, but on the other hand, maybe he’ll get some real life inspiration for his script. Pro or con, good situation or bad situation – it all depends on his perspective.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Seven Psychopaths is a very difficult movie to review. McDonagh really had his work cut out for him after the critical success of In Bruges. Despite Seven Psychopaths being about an entirely new cast of characters, fans (including myself) will have difficulty evaluating Psychopaths completely independently of McDonagh’s 2008 hit. There are too many similarities: killers with guns, bloody violence, snappy dialogue, and very serious human moments to occasionally ground crazy characters or ridiculous situations. Psychopaths suffers from some inconsistent plotting and dialogue. It opens with a very entertaining Tarantino-like dialogue scene regarding the shooting of eyeballs, but there aren’t many other occasions where the dialogue reaches this high level. Also, the central plot involving the completion of Marty’s script seems anything but important. This zany cast of characters could have found themselves together for any number of reasons and it could have happened with minimal changes to the script. The way it is, it’s really hard to buy into Marty’s writing dilemma when the completion of his script seems like a secondary problem or a side-story at best. Finally, a legitimate side-story about a Vietnamese Psycho may be interesting, but feels incredibly disjointed when viewed in the context of the entire film. Fortunately, the characters and performances are quite good and provide plenty of entertainment throughout the movie.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

If you’re a Colin Farrell fan, then you will probably like him in Psychopaths. Ditto for Walken. However, the real standout of Seven Psychopaths is the absolutely scene stealing performance turned in by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell’s Billy should be absolutely despicable given that he is nothing but a dog thief, amongst other things, but Rockwell gives the character a charisma that the rest of the cast just can’t match. Rockwell has already proven himself to be a very good actor (Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), but after this standout performance in Psychopaths I expect Rockwell’s star to continue to rise. Harrelson also deserves mention as his near-heartless villain with a soft spot for his little Shih Tzu is equally parts unnerving and funny.

I feel quite strongly that the uneven writing in Seven Psychopaths prevented it from being a great movie, but luckily the performances within are quite entertaining, particularly Rockwell’s. It may not be the next In Bruges, but Seven Psychopaths may be worth checking out for fans of dark comedies.

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TIFF 2012 – Dredd 3D Review (Matt Hodgson)

Toronto International Film Festival 2012

Dredd 3D (2012)

Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey

Screenplay by Alex Garland

Directed by Pete Travis

Making my way to the Ryerson theatre 90 minutes before showtime, I could only mutter a few expletives under my breath as I realized that the line for the first Midnight Madness film, Dredd 3D, already wrapped around the corner of Gerrard and Church. I thought I was prepared to get back into the fray, but it looks like my tactics will need to be reevaluated. The Toronto International Film Festival can feel like a bit of a chore at times: buying tickets in the nick of the time, waiting in a massive line to pickup the tickets, standing in line for over an hour to get a good seat for a busy screening, but in the end it’s all worth it. This is the only time of the year that Hollywood actually comes to Toronto, and if you’re willing to shell out some cash, you can feel like part of the festivities and see some amazing movies in the process. Unfortunately, my own euphoric feelings toward the festival will have to be put on hold for 24 hours.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Having already waited in line for nearly an hour in order to secure what I had then determined would be a mediocre seat at best, a festival volunteer started making her rounds informing everyone that the screening of Dredd 3D would be delayed by at least 30 minutes due to a fairly large hiccup in the schedule earlier in the day. In actuality, it turned out to be delayed by an hour and midnight is the worst time for a delay of that magnitude if you would like your audience to stick around and actually be awake for the screening. But accidents occur, and I understand that, however the next issue seemed more like a slap to the face. Upon entering the theatre, I was very disappointed to see that over 200 seats had been comped and reserved for various VIPs – nine rows smack dab in the middle of the theatre! It felt wrong to relegate most of those who had paid for a ticket and waited since 10:00 – 10:30 to second tier seats, but maybe it wasn’t such a big deal for others. Fortunately, Colin Geddes did a marvelous job waking up the tired crowd and Dredd turned out to be a great way to kick off the madness.

Dredd 3D is, of course, about the iconic comic book hero Judge Dredd. Living in a dystopian future where small suburban residences have been replaced by massive towers which house thousands of citizens, the Judges from the Hall of Justice are the only ones still holding people accountable for their crimes – they are the law. Equipped with intimidating helmets and motorcycles, and a large handgun featuring a multitude of settings, ranging from basic bullets to an incendiary attack, the Judges may be few but they are certainly feared. As we join Judge Dredd (Urban), we are introduced to a new street drug, Slo-Mo, that has gone from making ripples to waves within the population of the city seemingly overnight. The drug affects the brain and seemingly slows down time to a crawl, not only that but it appears to be extremely addictive. Dredd and Anderson (Thirlby), an unlikely judge in training with some strange powers, investigate a triple homicide only to find themselves trapped in the heart of a Slo-Mo operation and severely outnumbered by the murderous MaMa (Headey) and her vicious thugs.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

I went into Dredd 3D expecting a good time, but even then it still managed to pleasantly surprise me throughout. This was the first 3D movie to ever screen at Midnight Madness, and I’m sure there was a bit of trepidation amongst the crowd for this reason, but TIFF and the filmmakers really delivered. The glasses provided to the audience were of the highest quality, not those flimsy, collapsible ones that look like sunglasses. Also, although Dredd 3D did not always use the 3D effects to its advantage, there were some remarkable shots of the cityscape and dizzying shots from immense heights, so dizzying that I actually felt in personal danger for a couple of them. That was an amazing feeling to have while sitting in a cinema! Other 3D shots were a little uninspired at times, but at least they didn’t distract too much from the movie itself.

Urban was very entertaining as Dredd, and despite an odd vocal slip (a completely different voice for a few minutes early on), his version of Dredd was a treat to behold. Urban used what sounded like a toned down version of Bale’s Batman, with a few cartons of cigarettes added for the right degree of raspiness. The one-liners delivered by Urban were absolutely spot on most of the time, and when accompanied by Urban’s unwavering frown they were often downright hysterical. Thirlby did a decent job as Anderson, the fledgling Judge, while Headey seemed like she was going to deliver a deliciously evil performance early on, but for most of the movie seemed more like a Lannister (GoT) than a drug dealing kingpin.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Finally, the reason why people are going to be talking about this movie – the violence. Unless I missed something, I don’t think I’ve ever seen violence this visceral and this beautiful. Thanks to the the effects of the Slo-Mo drug, throughout Dredd we are often treated to slow-motion encounters between Judge Dredd and his hopped-up enemies. I don’t crave onscreen violence, but witnessing the amazing effects in Dredd 3D was nothing short of jaw dropping, or is that jaw exploding? My only criticism about Dredd 3D is that the action sequences are often a little uninspired, although they get pretty good towards the end of the movie. It feels like Judge Dredd just keeps pressing forward through hordes of bad guys, dispatching them easily with his devastating arsenal, however it would have been nice to have some exchanges with some actual gunfight choreography.

Dredd 3D was a great start to my personal TIFF schedule, but more importantly an amazing start for Midnight Madness. Anyone interested in dystopian futures, arsenals of weapons, amazing special effects, or Judge Dredd should under no circumstances miss this one.

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Lawless Review (Kirk Haviland)

Lawless (2012)

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pierce, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor and Gary Oldman

Written by Nick Cave based on the novel by Matt Bondurant

Directed by John Hillcoat

New to theaters this week from Alliance Entertainment Canada is Lawless, a fictionalized accounting of the true story of the Bondurant brothers and their exploits bootlegging moonshine. The star-studded cast under director Hillcoat attempt to provide a prohibition era gangster epic, but do they succeed or go up in flames like a still set to blow?

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

In the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, the Bondurant brothers are the stuff of legend: Howard (Clarke), the eldest, survived the war; Forrest (Hardy), the brains of the outfit, nearly died from the Spanish Flu that took his parents but gained a reputation of immortality due to his perseverance; and Jack (LaBeouf), the youngest, is impulsive, impetuous and eager to join the family occupation. Times are tough and jobs are scarce, but the Bondurants are entrepreneurs and have built a thriving local business by concocting an intense and popular brand of moonshine. But the arrival of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Pearce) from Chicago threatens to derail their business. Corrupt as the day is long, the family rallies to fight Rakes, while Jack’s ambitions and enterprises alter the fortunes of the brothers’ affairs. With the help of friend Cricket (DeHaan), Jack starts to prosper, even selling moonshine to Floyd Banner (Oldman), the big city gangster he idolizes. And while two of the Bondurants are soon under the spell of two beautiful women: the exotic, steadfast Maggie (Chastain), and the quiet, pious Bertha (Wasikowska), Rakes intensifies his efforts resulting in deadly consequences for all.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

Lawless is a solid outing, far from spectacular, but a fun, entertaining time at the multiplex. The script and dialogue are merely functional to drive the story along, although there are some genuinely hilarious moments. That said, there is a lot more fiction involved here than not – ‘based on a true story’ really should read ‘inspired by’. The set design looks and feels like a backlot the whole time, lending it a 70’s film feel that in retrospect may have been intentional, with a bar/house that looks like it came straight out of Silverado and other films of the like. The casting works to varying degrees. LeBeouf is clearly the weak link here, not necessarily because he’s awful, but his performance is just lacklustre. Hardy, as usual, really makes an effort to steal every scene and he succeeds with ease, managing to elevate the quality of the material and the movie as a whole with his presence. The supporting cast does decent work, with Pearce absolutely relishing his old school ‘moustache twirling’ bad guy archetype and DeHaan showing that he is really becoming someone to keep an eye on after this and his turn in Chronicle (one of my first reviews) earlier this year. Hillcoat’s direction is one of the other highlights here as the pacing is strong and the film moves at a refreshingly fast clip. Ultimately though, Lawless is the type of film you can safely walk out of not feeling as you’ve wasted you money on, but half an hour later you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything about it except for Hardy.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

Lawless is ultimately far from the worst fare out in theaters right now, but it’s also easily forgettable. For a reasonable night out at the movies you could do far worse. Lawless is a mild recommend.

Lawless opens in theaters nationwide on today, Wednesday August 29th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Premium Rush Review (Dustin SanVido)

Premium Rush (2012)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Wole Parks, and Jamie Chung.

Directed by David Koepp

Editor’s note: We’re very happy to add yet another member to our team of enthusiastic cinephiles. Dustin SanVido, aka The Film Authority, is off the charts when it comes to enthusiasm and appreciation of modern movies. I have a feeling that when Ridley Scott or Chistopher Nolan become attached to a new project, Dustin knows what they will be directing before they do. Add to this enthusiasm some very entertaining writing, and I think Dustin will fit in just fine here at Entertainment Maven. I hope you enjoy his first review: Premium Rush.

Walking into Premium Rush I couldn’t help but feel that it was rife with potential. The cast is lead by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon, two personal favorites of mine. I don’t believe there are any other actors working today, with the lone exception of Gary Oldman, who can slip into a character with such ease that you forget you’re watching a performance. Watching these actors play with dialogue in any of their work is an utter joy, despite whether their characters tread softly or outright dive into a pool of madness.

Premium Rush is directed by David Koepp, a man whose talent for screenwriting has resulted in some of the great blockbusters of modern cinema, including Jurassic Park and Spiderman. His efforts behind the camera have been far more disjointed and uneven, but I laud him for trying different themes and genres to broaden his artistic pallet – for every Pitch Black there lies a Secret Window!

The premise of Premium Rush is simple enough. Wilee (JGL) is a law school dropout who has chosen the path of a bike messenger instead of taking the bar exam and beginning a mature adult life. He lives for the rush of bicycling into NYC traffic on a hot summer day with his secure goods in tow, while dangerously weaving through traffic with complete disregard for the safety of himself and others. In fact, this seems to be the unwritten code of all bike messengers in Premium Rush. He’s also in mid breakup/fight/make-up with his girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), also a bike messenger, who is being comforted and consoled by Manny (Wole Parks), also a bike messenger and the foresworn rival of Wilee. Did I mention Manny refers to himself only in the third person for the duration of Premium Rush? (Yikes, this guy’s a badass).

Enter NYPD Detective Bobby Monday (Shannon), a good intentioned officer of the law whose penchant for gambling in low-rent Asian establishments and back-door gatherings has landed him in a rather large debt with the local mob. After detective Monday’s resistance to a simple non-payment beating ends up proving fatal for the opposition, Monday finds himself in hot water. To save himself he accepts a standing offer from his friend, a current member of said mob organization. Instructions are simple: retrieve a letter from a woman (Jamie Chung) across town and the debt is forgiven. Simple enough right?

What follows is a film that shows great disregard towards the most entertaining character (Monday) and instead focuses heavily on JGL’s Wilee. This would normally be more than enough for me, and it has in the past (see Jingle All The Way), but in this case there just isn’t enough to like about the protagonist, leaving the plot to spiral out of control with its unnecessary complexities and contrivances. Unfortunately, the fact that all of the exposition is revealed in backwards format becomes increasingly frustrating as the plot moves along, especially because of the predictability of the script.

During Premium Rush’s brisk running-time I found myself asking the same questions: Why must these bike messengers purposefully cause accidents that injure and cause pedestrians and drivers untold amounts of damage and tragedy, when following the rules of the road would get them to their destination nearly just as quickly? Why must Wilee stop mid-delivery to have a race with his rival through central park? Why must the detective allow the messenger to peddle away when he’s within arm’s reach so many times? Why must all the actors in the film of Asian descent speak with generic, forced, and shall I dare suggest borderline offensive accents? Finally, why is the protagonist’s name Wilee? I understand the joke, but his name CLEARLY should have been Road Runner with the detective taking the name ‘Wilee’.

And then there’s the bike messenger super sense (yes, you read that correctly). It seems Wilee has the power to slow down time and view all the outcomes of the directions he can choose with all the examples of potential vehicular manslaughter included. This was an interesting idea on paper, I’m sure, but the result is rather silly.

The few positives I can take away from Premium Rush are mainly due to the effective cinematography during the action sequences. The camera moves quickly and fluidly around the streets of Manhattan and I was genuinely thrilled by the stunt-work and speed of the sequences. I also enjoyed a scene in which Detective Monday interrogates Wilee in the back of an ambulance. This was the single moment in the film where a genuine sense of danger was created and I felt like something bad could realistically happen to our protagonist.

In the end, Premium Rush truly offers no surprises or anything fresh, and is anything but premium. Although I feel generally let down by his latest effort, I am excited to see what David Koepp has in store for his return to the world of Riddick. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon will also escape this film relatively unscathed as their stars continue to rise.

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The Walking Dead Season 2 DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Walking Dead Season 2

Starring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Norman Reedus, Steven  Yuen, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan, Melissa McBride, Jeffrey DeMunn, IronE Singleton with Pruitt Taylor Vince and Scott Wilson

Created by Robert Kirkman and Frank Darabont

One of the hottest shows on television today, out on DVD and Blu-Ray this week from AMC and Anchor Bay Entertainment is The Walking Dead Season 2. With all the behind the scenes turmoil involving the release of co-creator Frank Darabont mid-season as show runner, many people wondered if the show would suffer in quality because of his departure. Fortunately the second season proves that the dead are still running strong.

Starting perched on a lonely rooftop, walkie talkie in hand, Rick Grimes (Lincoln) recaps briefly the recent events from the final episodes of Season 1 over the device, aimed at reaching the man who helped him back in season 1 episode 1, Morgan. This leads us into a fragmented season 2 as it is split into two parts, separated by two months in its original network airing, the first-half focused on the children of the group and the last dealing with the resolution of the Shane (Bernthal) storyline. As the group leaves the remains of the CDC they run into a herd of the dead causing the group to lose Sophia (Madison Lintz) as she runs off petrified into the woods, Rick in chase. Rick draws off some walkers from Sophia’s trail, but ends up losing her in the process. During the preliminary efforts to find Sophia, Rick’s son Carl (Riggs) suffers a horrible accident that takes Rick and company to the farm of Hershel Greene (Wilson) for help. The crowd is temporarily segmented as Lori (Calles) joins Rick, Shane and Hershel’s clan in caring for Carl while Dale (DeMunn), Andrea (Holden), Darryl (Reedus), Glenn (Yeun) Carol (McBride) and T-Dog (Singleton) are left roadside looking for Sophia. Needing medical supplies to treat Carl, Shane and Otis (Vince) take off to an overrun Fema shelter while time becomes of the essence for Carl’s survival. The rest of the group slowly reconvene at the farm, while still sending out search parties for Sophia, and Glenn develops a relationship with the attractive farmer’s daughter Maggie (Cohan). Debate sparks over the treatment of the walkers and how long the group will be allowed to stay, as Hershel does not agree with Rick and the rest of his group, all the way up to the shocking mid-season finale.

The second-half of the season deals more with Shane’s descent into madness as Lori unveils a life altering secret that forces him over the edge. After Rick, Hershel and Glenn have a nasty encounter with some other survivors, Hershel begins to see Rick’s point of view and realizes correctly that the humans left are just as dangerous if not more than the walker’s presence. The season ends with members of the group not surviving, as the show proves yet again no one cast member is safe, and the farm becomes overrun. The group starts again on the road looking for salvation, with Andrea separated from the rest of the group desperately struggling to survive. We are also introduced to a pivotal new character from the original book series that fans have been clamoring for.

The Walking Dead features some of, if not the best, writing on television. Suspenseful and filled with dread, the scripts aim to tell stories and develop characters rather than just apply jump scares and gore all over the place. Many complained about the slow burn of the season with the Sophia storyline playing out over the first seven episodes and the drawn out story of Shane over the last five before the action packed finale. That said, both stories play out much more satisfying the second time around when you know where they are headed as many little nuances in the script and performances come to light when you know how they will play out later. This style of intelligent writing has been evident since the beginning, and since the original material of Kirkman’s Graphic Novel series is so ripe with carefully written material to begin with, it begs to be tapped into.

On top of the writing, the show has brought together one of the strongest ensemble casts on television. With many Darabont regulars like Holden and DeMunn supporting our leads Lincoln, Bernthal and Callies, the supporting cast may actually be the strongest part of the show. DeMunn’s Dale is the conscience of the group and Shane does not fool him for a second. Holden’s Andrea transforms from suicidal and ready to give up to a fiercely determined deadly soldier in the groups ranks. The Rick/Lori/Shane triangle is resolved and Lincoln’s Rick evolves as an even stronger leader as Bernthal’s Shane proves exactly why he shouldn’t be in charge of anything during the mid-season finale. Wilson is a welcome addition to the cast as his Hershel provides both a companionship to Rick as well as an adversary. Eventually and begrudgingly Hershel comes to see that Rick is correct. Wilson’s performance lends gravitas and a seasoned presence that is welcomed to the show and will be welcomed in the new season considering the loss of one character in particular.

The effects from Greg Nicotero and crew are top notch. Most studio film productions can’t compare to the effects work being put forward here. This helps lend to the overall cinematic feel of the show.

The disc is loaded with extras as we get over an hour of behind the scenes featurettes, all of which are well done and interesting to watch. We get five episodes with commentaries from writers, directors, producers and cast, and while they can be dry in tone they are full of information. Deleted scenes from eight of the episodes are also included here along with all of the segments, including commentary by director Nicotero, of the six-part web series based on one of the series’ most iconic walkers. All in all, the DVD/Blu-Ray provides a great set of behind the scenes footage.

Is the Walking Dead Season 2 worth the price? You better believe it is. The Walking Dead Season 2 is a MUST OWN.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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New to Blu: Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 Reviews (Kirk Haviland)

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, George P. Wilbur, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson and Beau Starr

Written by Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner and Alan B. McElroy

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Wendy Kaplan, Jeffrey Landman, Donald L. Shanks and Beau Starr

Written by Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard and Shem Bitterman

Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard 

New this week from Anchor Bay Entertainment are the Blu-Ray reissues of Halloween 4 and 5, the re-introduction of serial killer Michael Myers after the Myers-less Halloween 3. Varying in quality the films are eternally linked as they feature almost identical lead characters, are set only one year apart in movie time (and the same in production time) and Halloween 5 actually picks up from the very end of part 4. So are they each worth your hard earned dollars or is one simply leagues ahead of the other?

BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD.

Halloween 4 takes place 10 years after the incidents of the first two films and introduces us to the Carruthers family and their two daughters: Rachel (Cornell), their biological daughter and  Jamie Lloyd (Harris), their adopted daughter. As it turns out, Jamie is the niece of Michael Myers, daughter of the damsel in distress, Laurie Strode from the first two films played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Strode’s absence is never explained, while the young Jamie has very little knowledge of her uncle other than the legends and a photo. Upon learning about the existence of a niece during a hospital transfer, Michael (Wilbur) predictably wakes and leaves a bloody swath in his path back to Haddonfield. Michael’s nemesis, the well weathered Dr. Loomis (the late Donald Pleasence), is hot on his trail as he closes ground on the formerly sleepy little town that has never managed to fully forget the events of 10 years prior.

Arriving in Haddonfield, Loomis goes directly to the police station and manages to convince the new town Sheriff, Ben Meeker (Starr), that he needs to get on the streets and search for Jamie and conversely Michael. Meanwhile, Jamie is out trick or treating with Rachel and the two end up separated when they knock on the door of a scantily clad Kelly (Kinmont) with Rachel’s boyfriend Brady (Jenson) with whom she had broken off a date in order to take care of Jamie. After almost running directly into Michael the two are reunited and Sheriff Meeker and Loomis find them right in the nick of time. All mayhem breaks loose as Michael destroys the entire Police Station and its occupants causing the formation of a lynch mob, the massacre at the Meeker house (and of course Kelly’s last name is Meeker) by Michael and the calling in of the National Guard. Eventually Michael is defeated in the remains of a mine shaft. We are left with a cryptic ending with an attack from an unlikely source.

Halloween 5 starts with the bottom of that mine shaft as Michael (this time played by Shanks) crawls to safety and ends up passed out in the shanty shack of a man by the river. One year after the events of the closing part of Halloween 4 Jamie is now institutionalized, no longer able to speak, and under the care of Loomis. Rachel and Tina (Kaplan), Rachel’s friend who is clearly designed after Lindsey (a miniscule part in 4), visit the silent Jamie and she has developed a friendship with a fellow patient with a crush on her Billy (Landman). We are shown a man in a black coat and black cowboy boots, complete with spurs clanging, who is never shown by face and just appears at random spots throughout the film. Michael awakes, from what I guess is supposed to be a yearlong coma, in his same clothes and mask and immediately dispatches the man who apparently has been keeping him alive for a year now. Jamie this time around sees exactly what Michael is doing as they are now apparently physically linked and somehow Loomis already knows it. After dispatching Rachel, the only member of the Carruthers family in the film, Tina, a random character with no family relations to Jamie, immediately starts acting like she’s her child and she tries to protect her. The silliness continues with extremely poor comic relief from junior deputies, a party on an isolated farm which provides Michael the perfect hunting ground and a final showdown in the now dilapidated Myers House.

We know what Producer Moustapha Akkad was shooting for here. After the success of Halloween and its immediate follow-up set on the same night, Halloween 2, then the disappointment of part 3, Akkad wanted to re-launch the Myers character with a splash. Halloween 4 is a solid entry into the series and introduces us to someone who was a fabulous child actor in Harris. Her Jamie in part 4 is believable and grounded when it could have been so far over the top and awful.  The story of part 4 is developed well and harkens back to the Carpenter scripts of the first two as it takes its time to develop and unfurl throughout the film. Michael actually shows evidence of a plan of attack as he takes out the power for the whole town and attacks the police station. He’s meticulous and strategic in his pursuit of young Jamie and the film benefits from it. The Director, Little, uses Carpenter’s directing style here very well with lingering shots and things happening in the extreme background that may or may not be a part of the plot. The camera work is also great and staged very well in this one. Halloween 4 is a solid entry in the series and a very flattering return vehicle for Myers, sadly the same cannot be said about Halloween 5.

Obviously hurriedly put together to capitalize on the success of the better than expected part 4, the script for 5 is lazy and really makes no sense whatsoever. The Rachel character is a mess, after Jamie’s attack on her own mother she still visits Jamie constantly and then is inexplicably killed off immediately. Tina all of the sudden acts like Jamie is her own damn child, though she barely knows her. Myers is apparently after Jamie but after Tina delivers him straight to where she is institutionalized he opts to follow Tina to some secluded party and kill drunken teenagers instead. Then there’s the never explained man in black. I could go on and on over the poor script choices but the real result is that they destroy any chances of the actors we liked so much in part 4 performing adequately. They replace the watchable Cornell with the sometimes downright grating Kaplan and don’t allow Harris to talk for the first half of the movie, only to use her to simply cry and scream for the entire second half. The directing is poor and the supporting characters laughably bad. Halloween 5 is one of the worst in the series.

The Blu-Rays do not contain much in the way of special features. Part 4 has a panel from the anniversary convention with Jenson, Harris and Kinmont talking about the film, a trailer and two commentaries: one from the two female leads of the film and the other with director Little. The convention footage is fun if too brief. The disc for Part 5 features an original set visit featurette from 1989, an original Halloween 5 promo, a trailer and two audio commentaries: one with Shanks, Harris and Landman and the other with director Othenin-Girard. The set visit is nothing but an extended interview with Kaplan that is very hard to get through, interspersed with behind the scenes footage and the original promo is very brief.  However, despite the extras being rather sparse I will say that the Blu-Ray transfers on both discs look fantastic!

So in the grand scheme of things we have a tale of two extremes with two films that are intrinsically linked. Halloween 4 is a very solid recommend as it actually stands as one of the better films of the series, while on the opposite end of the spectrum Halloween 5 is one of the worst and may be worth a pass. That said, as a pair they do work well enough to recommend, though it gets progressively silly the longer the double bill goes.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Way Way Back Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

the-way-way-back-international-poster-02Starring: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Alison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon.

Written and Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

2013 has proven to be a strong year for coming of age dramas with The Spectacular Now, The Kings of Summer and what proves to be the best of the bunch, The Way Way Back. The film from comedy veterans Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Academy Award winners for their writing on The Descendants, is a heart wrenching and heart-warming story of an incredibly shy and downtrodden young teen finding his voice with the help of a slacker water park worker that may be the only true father figure he’s ever had.

THE WAY, WAY BACKWhile 14-year-old Duncan (James) is being dragged on a family trip with his mom Pam (Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Carell), he finds a gregarious friend (Rockwell) at a local water park. The two form a powerful bond as Duncan spends days away from the chaotic and drunken misadventures of his mom and Trent’s friends on ‘adult spring break’ (including Janney, Peet and Corddry). Through the blistering days of summer spent working in the park, Duncan emerges from his shell and even forms a bond with the girl of his dream (Robb).

The Way Way Back is almost pitch perfect and feels very organic in tone. Derived mainly from events and happenings from Rash and Faxon’s own childhoods, the film never feels out of sorts or unrealistic even during its most colorful flourishes and excursions thanks to the grounding the writer/directors set their characters up with. James is perfect as the put upon Duncan, from the opening sequence with the slyly devious Trent proclaiming him a ‘3 out of 10’ to his triumphant final moments, James embodies the petrified kid in all of us, just starting to dare step into the limelight. Aping Bill Murray from Meatballs and Walter Matthau’s classic Morris Buttermaker from the Bad News Bears, Rockwell shines as Owen, the man-child so desperate to move forward that he keeps himself stuck in a loop and the ones he loved seem doomed to orbit around him.

the-way-way-back-liam-james-annasophia-robbThe rest of the cast is set perfectly as well as there is not a performance that hits a sour note throughout. Particularly strong are Robb in a more adult role than what we are accustomed to see her play, Rudolph in a sparse yet hilarious turn as Owen’s girlfriend and Collette’s Pam shows an understated sense of desperation and strength that grows throughout the film. Carell nearly steals the entire film though, playing a slime bag of the upmost contempt, a role that he pulls of so well yet is nothing like anything he has ever played before.

The Blu-ray comes equipped with a full making of feature, deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes including a tour of the water park, a history of Jim and Nat and another on the ensemble on screen in the film.

 

the-way-way-back-film-film-reviews21The Way Way back is the type of film that is easy to revisit, and revisit often, and like the coming of age films of past decades like the Goonies, Clueless and even the recent Easy A, will likely stay that way for decades to come. The Way Way Back is very strong recommend.

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Review: Thor – The Dark World (Dustin SanVido)

Review: Thor: The Dark World

thor the dark world poster

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Stellen Skarrsgard, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levy, Idris Elba, and Ray Stevenson

Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (and a little help from Joss Whedon)

Directed by Alan Taylor

Marvel has certainly taken other comic-based film properties to school in the last 6 years (I’m looking at you DC) in terms of product, marketing, and a focused long term goal. As a fan of this world of characters, I’m astonished that Marvel has successfully developed their brand into a cinematic Juggernaut and basically dared every other company out there to try and compete with them. This trend happily continues in the disjointed but more often-than-not satisfying second entry in the series starring our favorite Norse God, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Thor: The Dark World follows the prototype that Marvel has used in every film they’ve produced, misses the mark on a few key targets, polarizes a limited amount of their audience with needless 3-D, but delivers the thrills and spectacle that you’ve come to expect from the Marvel universe.

I don’t feel any need to summarize the narrative for “Thor: The Dark World” as it is no different from the other films in this serialized Marvel universe. They all have the same generalized story and are merely a continuation of one another, the EXACT cinematic manifestation of the comics many of us read when we were young and expected to see onscreen. The story is quite simple: Continuing after the events of the first film and the superhero orgy that was “The Avengers”, we catch up with all the characters we missed, a new villain with simple motives is introduced, a McGuffin is presented that will grant unlimited power to the wrong individual who can harness it, a secondary conflict between our protagonist is briefly touched upon, death is foreshadowed, and away we go! It doesn’t get any more difficult than that and frankly it doesn’t need to.

Much like Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth has come to a point where he is synonymous with the titular character and not such a douche this time around. Although his performance in September’s “Rush” is vastly superior, I attribute his performance in T:TDW to script doctoring and an un-interesting central conflict. He still fully embodies the Norse God with the biggest guns around, and plays well off every other performance in the film, it’s just his only conflict of the film is one we have already explored (Loki) and his philosophical musings on the prospect of being King of Asgard. The simple plot keeps us from really exploring the psychology of these personal struggles, but then again we didn’t come here for a lesson in Psychology, we came for Hammer Time!

Thor-2_2709663b

Tom Hiddleston once again acts circles around every other talent in this film. H’s the most interesting character in the series, by a wide margin, and an argument can certainly be made that he is the lynchpin to the entire Marvel cinematic universe. Once he or Robert Downey Jr. inevitably steps away from this world for greener pastures, there will be a dimensional-portal sized hole that will need to be filled.

I feel as though Natalie Portman’s Oscar-level talent is again wasted in this series. Much like the first entry, there are a few genuine moments that convince me there is effort being given, but I have deduced she wasn’t too pleased with her story arc this time around. For the majority of the film, her world-renowned astro-physicist is relegated to “Damsel in Distress” clichés instead of using her scientific knowledge to rationalize the more fantastical elements of the narrative. There is an attempt at this very point on a few occasions, but it’s merely for moments of comedic relief and to give the audience a reason for her place in the final set piece.

Due to the lack of thematic balance in “T:TDW” we are left with a very one dimensional villain who could’ve used said additional supportive exposition to strengthen his motivation, as opposed to beating us over the head with basic information when multiple characters all state what we already know…”Malekith is evil, Malekith wants to return the universe to darkness, Malekith is very cool looking, and did we mention he’s evil?”

His motivations are never fleshed out or understood, his small army of minions are nothing more than cannon fodder as dangerous a threat as the single henchman Michael Caine deliciously monologues into submission in the third Austin Powers entry, and his biggest weapon is his accent. His primary henchman Algrim, who becomes the last Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) illicits modest enjoyment, but this is a rare instance where I would have enjoyed the use of CG to make him larger and more imposing,  instead of the practical effects that made him more NFL Defensive End then otherworldly killing-machine. He honestly could’ve been Detroit Lion Ndamakong Suh and I wouldn’t have been the wiser! I enjoyed watching Malekith’s CG effects, practical make-up, and actions unfold on-screen, but he is nothing more than a second-rate Bond villain in this film. Larry David is a more convincing villain than Malekith and his army.

With the criminal exception of Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), a member of the Warrior’s Three, the secondary characters in T:TDW are still underused, but a concerted effort is made this time around to include everyone and that effort services the narrative well. All are given moments to stand out and leave an impact on the story, just some more than others. If the titular hero had any sort of personal struggle or conflict aside from those I mentioned before, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the under-usage of such a fine cast. But I digress, the film gets more than enough right, or just enough to distract my inner child that my minor nit-pickings subside.

Aside from the opening battle that feels disjointed, rushed and frankly more of an excuse to remove 3 important secondary characters for much of the first half, there were several action-oriented moments of awe in “Thor” that I’ve only felt a handful of times in the Marvel films. The special-effects driven sequences are clear and easy to follow, and really serve the direction of the narrative, instead of being a distraction. The last 35 minutes of the film moves at breakneck pace and not only helps the viewer forget the middling first act, but provides grand spectacle in showcasing Thor’s different combat abilities and power of flight. I knew they had nailed Thor’s many comic-rooted action beats by the excited fanfare in the form of dozens of fan-boys behind us in attendance. Because just like them, I’ve been reading and imagining a cinematic world in my head for almost 25 years where superheroes like Thor, and to a lesser extent Iron Man, use the power of flight only seen on paper and ink. We’re in a golden age folks, so enjoy it!

thor-dark-world-pictures-1

Although there is much to like in T:TDW, the weakest point this time around is the script. It seems some of the production controversy and gossip surrounding the Marvel’s lack of confidence in the director seems warranted, no more obvious then the multiple moments in the film that forcibly tie “Thor” into the Marvel Wheelhouse. There are just far too many tongue-in-cheek moments where I KNOW Joss Whedon doctored the script and inserted dialogue to keep a film that could have presented a more dramatic and serious tone. This time around I would have preferred that tonal shift as a direct continuation of the events of “the Avengers”, much like the third Iron Man touched upon a handful of times throughout the film before finally being wrestled into the prototypical Marvel film we’ve come to expect.

Not much else needs to be said concerning the direction from Alan Taylor. His debut feature proves he can make a functional action film from lesser writing talent using the experience he learned from his many years directing several cable series on HBO. I like his work on the smaller screen much more, but did appreciate the few call-backs he made to his work on “Game of Thrones” (Flaming arrows!). From a technical standpoint, I was neutral in the look, sound, and feel. At this point, there are a few certainties in this universe we can look past. Marvel films look fantastic. The glossy look of Asgard was missing this time around, but it didn’t bother me. Marvel films also have great rousing scores that’s use of horns and crescendos slighter differ based on which fighter’s corner we happened to be standing in. My favorites to date are still the scores from “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3”, but I’m a sucker for Alan Silvestri. The music and sound in T:TDW is operatic and theatrical in nature, and it served the film well.

I watched T:TDW in IMAX-3D and in several instances removed my glasses and noticed almost no difference in image. The 3D in T:TDW was never intended, the film wasn’t shot with it in mind, and the director himself openly stated his distaste in its use. That being said, strong advocates of 3-D will be happy to know the brightness has been cranked up to support the loss that occurs in the 3-D transfer but aside from that, I will only recommend the extra cost for the privilege of seeing an extended sequence from the upcoming “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. I’m still salivating from that scene and next April can’t come soon enough.

To briefly touch on what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel Film, the teaser scenes in the credits do their best to both set up the future story-lines for all Marvel properties, and offer a humorous finish much like “The Avengers”. Tying up plot holes is something we as an audience are rarely treated to in this particular world and it was a nice touch.

While I’ve made it clear that T:TDW does have its fair share of issues, it’s an ultimately satisfying entry in the Marvel series and successfully captures everything that’s great about the character. A badly foreshadowed but highly entertaining ending leaves the series on sure footing, making me excited for the inevitable third entry. Till next time…

About Time Review (Kirk Haviland)

about-time1New in theaters this weekend from Universal Pictures is the latest film from writer/director Richard Curtis, “About Time”. Curtis’ third stab behind the camera after the wildly successful “Love Actually” and the disappointing  “Pirate Radio” (aka The Boast that Rocked) plays like the majority of his scripts about many relationships and how they intersect, but at its core is a genuinely moving and convincing tale of love between and father and son.

About Time

Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander and Will Merrick.

Written and Directed by Richard Curtis

At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time after Tim’s father (Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to do so. Tim can’t change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life so he decides to make his world a better place, by getting a girlfriend. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). Tim quickly learns though that time travel has rules and implications as an unfortunate time-travel incident means he’s never met her at all. So they meet for the first time, again and again, until finally he wins her heart. But through trials, triumph and heartbreak, Tim realizes that life is harder and much more satisfying all on its own without time manipulation.

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Tracks TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Tracks

Starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver

Directed by John Curran

What negative thing could I possibly say about Tracks? Fine, there is one in Adam Driver, the second lead to Wasikowska’s character Robyn Davison. He plays Rick Smolan, a photographer who has to go with Robyn in her National Geographic-sponsored journey to cross the harsh Australian desert. Driver can only really play one type of character – the guy rambling non-sequiturs that would annoy Robyn and the audience.

I like how the movie is loyal to the real-life events. Rick isn’t the only person intermittently accompanying her in this gruelling journey. She also runs into settlers and Aboriginals. The movie examines the customs of different people and how they occassionally clash with the sometimes oppressive, xenophobic, urban Australians. Wasikowska delicately plays Robyn as someone who intelligently and respectfully treads every step of her journey. The movie also makes it compelling by incorporating flashbacks of her explorer father and broken, drifting childhood. After the flashbacks, the camera returns to Wasikowska and it’s as if she has lived those memories.

I would also like to applaud the cinematography, also loyal to Smolan’s brilliant photographs of Robyn’s trek with her camels. The movie depicts what could be a setting of a meditative, peaceful Western where Robyn’s worst enemies are nature and herself. We never give up on her even when she repeatedly faces hurdles that make her want to. And the last images top the movie off to give us a beautiful experience.

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