McCannick TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

McCannick

Starring David Morse, Cory Monteith, Mike Vogel, Ciaran Hinds and Tracie Thoms

Directed by Josh C. Waller

McCanick is Morse’s great stab at a character study, the movie and actor introducing himself working on a punching bag, as a man with bottled up emotions. It starts out quiet as the titular detective McCanick goes to work on his birthday, gets informsation about criminals whose time in prison are up, and does their patrols with his reluctant, younger partner. But chases through dingy hotel stairs begin, shots get fired and the movie portraying these events goes berserk. The almost absent score turns into an undercurrent turns into a torrent of sound. The sun goes out, McCanick relying on neon green or red to help him stagger through hallways or the dirty streets of Philadelphia.

A curious thing about this movie is that it is one of the last of Monteith’s appearances on the big screen. He gets to play two characters here. There was something missing in his performance as the post-jail Simon, and it makes me think of what could have been done. Maybe those involved in creating this character could have added more mystery to him. But we still have pre-jail Simon during the flashbacks, who is more interesting. Monteith somehow incorporates an animalistic spirit of a person surviving the streets (the long hair and dirty clothes helped immensely to bring forth this impression). His performance captures the courage and the craziness that the movie delicately escalates to.

The Woman in Black Review (Matt Hodgson)

The Woman in Black (2012)

Based on The Woman in Black (1989)

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and CiarĂ¡n Hinds

Written by Susan Hill (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)

Directed by James Watkins

MINOR SPOILERS

The Woman in Black was on my radar for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a throwback to the days of old Hammer Horror films in which atmosphere and a brooding feeling of dread were paramount, rather than today’s focus on grisly violence and silly teenagers; however, saying that I prefer the former doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the latter. Secondly, the trailers made it seem like director James Watkins actually pulled off a very creepy and scary horror film. Finally, this film marks the entrance of Daniel Radcliffe onto the film scene after the decade-long box-office bonanza that was the Harry Potter series. Quite a few good reasons for me to check it out, but after the end credits rolled I was left a little unsatisfied. The Woman in Black had done some things very well, but it failed to live up to my expectations.

The film tells the story of a young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), who must travel to a small pastoral village on business; a wealthy old woman has died and someone must pore through her documents to try and find her most recent will. The townspeople are less than helpful regarding information about the deceased woman, Kipps even has trouble procuring a reasonably priced carriage ride to the secluded mansion. The townspeople seem afraid of the old estate, but about what specifically, is uncertain. Kipps battles his nerves as he spends time in the old dusty mansion, as well as haunting memories about his wife, who died giving birth to their only son. But this is just the beginning of Kipps’ problems as he becomes involved in some dangerous events threatening the lives of the village children, not to mention the strange moments in the dead of the night when he witnesses the appearance of an apparition hiding in the shadows – the woman in black.

The idea behind The Woman in Black is so much more appealing than the finished product. In today’s age of relentless action, over-the-top CGI, and surprise convoluted endings that can make a Scottish Highland road seem straight, an atmospheric horror film may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, while The Woman in Black features some excellent cinematography, setting the scene for a ghostly good time, the narrative is not even remotely interesting, let alone spooky. Yes, the film establishes an evil and mysterious force, the woman in black, and an innocent and duly skeptical lead in Kipps, but at no point will the viewer feel as lost, confused or as frightened as Kipps regarding the mystery of the mansion. The story arc is just too unimaginative, too relaxed, and despite the supernatural subject matter, too mundane.

As I’ve said, many of the visuals in the film are a delight to the eyes, the cinematographer has done their job well. Also, many of the performances, including those by Radcliffe and Hinds, are quite solid. Radcliffe can rest easy knowing that audiences will be able to accept him as someone other than the scourge of Voldemort. However, it would appear that The Woman in Black had problems at the conceptual stages, or perhaps someone completely ripped apart the script before filming. If you’re looking for an atmospheric horror film, revisit The Changeling, or some old Hammer films. Leave this one alone, it doesn’t even know what it’s supposed to be.

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The Debt Review (Matt Hodgson) – Movies I missed

The Debt

Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Jesper Christensen

Screenplay by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan

Directed by John Madden

Still on my non-National Lampoon’s European Vacation (mine is much funnier), I’ve been catching up on some flicks that I have missed out on. Now I don’t think that I let any of the best movies of the year fall through the cracks, but who knows, that’s why I’m taking precautions and catching up on ‘Movies I Missed’. Some will be praised and some will be slammed, and just maybe I will find a hidden gem somewhere. First up is the international spy thriller, The Debt, based on an the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov.

Initially the story of The Debt seems quite simple: In 1965 three Mossad spies, Rachel Singer, Stephan Gold, and David Peretz (Chastain, Worthington, and Csokas; Mirren, Hinds, and Wilkinson play the present day versions) go into East Berlin to apprehend and bring back for trial one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals. His name is Dieter Vogel and during the war he essentially tortured countless human beings in bizarre experiments, masquerading as science. In the present day the mostly successful mission is in the history books and the three agents are regarded as heroes, especially thanks to a new book written by the daughter of the now separated Singer and Gold, but everything is not as it seems. The trio of ex-spies are harbouring a terrible secret. In a blending of past and present, The Debt revisits the old while trying to move forward with the new, but the past may prove to be too haunting for these agents to ever live what could be called a normal life.

I had been browsing through IMDB or some other film website when I stumbled upon The Debt. It had received a lukewarm score of about 7/10, but that was more than enough to intrigue me. I’m very glad I took the time to track it down, as it turned out to be one of the most pleasantly surprising films I have seen in a long time.

The real strengths of The Debt lie in three areas: the acting, the storytelling, and the script.

There are many recognizable actors in The Debt, and luckily, they are recognizable for their acting talents, not only for walking down red carpets. The cast handles the material very well with Mirren, Wilkinson, and Chastain standing out for me. It should be said that some of the casting for the old and young versions of the same characters was a little questionable for the male agents; I thought that Worthington and Wilkinson looked more similar than Csokas and Worthington, likewise for Csokas and Hinds, but I’m sure the casting decisions were made regarding the type actor needed for the role, rather than who looks like who. Still, it does pull the viewer out of the story a little.

The film flips back and forth between past and present so often that it could have been a jumbled narrative if it wasn’t handled with expertise. Despite all the jumps in time, The Debt manages to stay crystal clear throughout. I did not find myself forgetting character names, or wondering what was going on very often, unlike my recent experience with Haywire.

Finally, I have not yet read the script (I intend to), but from what I saw onscreen, this is one of the freshest spy thrillers of recent memory with just enough suspense and violence, and more than its fair share of intrigue as the plot unfolds.

If you’re a fan of spy movies or thrillers in general then you owe it to yourself to check out The Debt, a film that’s very unlike typical Hollywood spy fare, refreshingly so.

 

 

John Carter Review (Kirk Haviland)

John Carter (2012)

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Bryan Cranston and the voices of Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton.

Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Hello All,

John Carter marks the live action film directorial debut of Pixar director and scribe Andrew Stanton. Much like his fellow Pixar alum, Brad Bird, Stanton has chosen a big budget action project for his first foray into live-action filmmaking. Unfortunately for Stanton, Bird hit big with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol while John Carter has stumbled out the gates.

We are introduced to the titular character (Kitsch) as he is followed down the street during the late 1800’s. He drops his tail to deliver a telegram to his nephew, writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara). When Burroughs arrives he finds Carter apparently dead with strange requests regarding his last rites and a journal left behind for him to read. This is the backdrop for our introduction to John Carter, a native Virginian who was a Captain in the civil war. By the time we meet him he is a ruff and tumble prospector looking for a “Cave of Gold” which is part of the local folklore. After a jailbreak and a run in with natives Carter does discover his cave. Unfortunately for John, he ends up being transported unknowingly to Barsoom (know on Earth as Mars) by a member of the mysterious “Thern” who have the ability to shift between space with the aid of a talisman. Carter awakes to discover that he can leap miles high and wide due to the different gravity he is under and that Mars is perfectly suitable to sustain human life.

Carter almost immediately stumbles on a nesting ground for the Tharks, a race of gigantic green tusked warriors, whose leader Tars Tarkas (Dafoe) quickly recognizes Carter’s abilities and adopts him as part of his tribe. While Tars Tarkas sees Carter’s abilities as an asset in Barsoom’s own Civil War, John has no desire to fight for anyone as the War took a heavy personal toll on him. Alas, trouble finds its way to Carter as he literally leaps to the rescue of Deja Thoris (Collins), the beautiful humanoid princess caught between two warring factions, as her father (Hinds) has promised her hand in marriage to end the bloodshed. Carter’s actions land him firmly in the middle of all the fighting and once again he must reluctantly choose a side and fight.

If that synopsis seems overlong and overstuffed then you’re absolutely right. There’s about three movies worth of plot and story crammed into this epic, and unfortunately the film feels muddled and rushed because of it. Somewhere I’m sure there is a kickass 3 1/2 hour cut of John Carter that was lost on the editing room floor. That said John Carter still packs enough fun and action to give it a mild recommendation. This film will captivate the kids who are patient enough with it as it packs some great effects work and well staged action set pieces, even if one is directly lifted from Attack of the Clones. Taylor Kitsch does good work here as the titular character; his charisma and likeability center the film and keep us involved. Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, and Bryan Cranston are given little to do though. Collins is fine as the love interest, but ultimately the entire film lands on Kitsch’s shoulders.

In the end, John Carter is a bit of a missed opportunity. This could have been the next great Science Fiction series if they had the patience to let it play out over a series of movies. Instead, it’s a passable film that will have a hard time recouping its cost, and unfortunately that will probably disuade any chance of this becoming that series.

Til next time,

The Movie Junkie TO

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