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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To The Wonder Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

To The Wonder

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

Written and directed by Terrence Malick

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The debate-engendering reception of Terrence Malick’s films continues with his new movie To The Wonder. The festival crowd like the ones in TIFF (including Dustin) and Vencie hated it, Roger Ebert loved it. I see both sides. Since there are more detractors against this new movie than fans, it’s tempting to play the devil’s advocate.

To The Wonder makes for an interesting companion piece to Malick’s earlier work in The Tree of Life. The latter coherently shows the conflict between nature and grace. The former works like an opened door. The characters dizzyingly pirouette into the endless possibilities of nature and its duplicitous, volatile and corruptible qualities. We get the title from the words of our protagonist Marina, a happy Russian-born Parisian. She embraces nature and new experiences, falling in love in Mont St. Michel with a journalist named Neil (Ben Affleck), eventually deciding to move to Oklahoma and bring her young daughter with her. But Malick eventually sledgehammers her optimism.

Marina could have easily ended up as a madwoman trapped in an alienating relationship and country. Neil is equally powerless, endlessly investigating environmental pollution caused by exurban infrastructure, and it doesn’t help that half of the people he’s interviewing are uncooperative and afraid of scandal and change. His on-and-off lover Jane (Rachel McAdams, unfortunately playing the least developed character of the four) might have to sell her ranch to pay for its debts. Their parish priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is distant, unable to find God’s transcendent love in the helpless faces of his community’s welfare class. They might be as normal and practically nameless as Malick’s other characters but here he approaches these on such a personal focus.

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If anything, what Malick does best here is finding a new way to capture loneliness. And not the cuddly kind where we watch someone express his brooding pathos through mundane tasks. The depictions of these characters are devoid of intimacy, an approach that could have been so exhausting had it not felt as daring.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography help engender this tone. Malick’s subjects feel like boulders captured through low or high angles, panning like the camera was a bumblebee. His close-ups are invasive, his long shots occasionally blocked by nature or man-made fortresses. The characters turn their backs to the camera, they converse in places that are surprisingly not easy from which to eavesdrop. There’s also an epistolary method to the script. The characters speak more clearly to themselves or to their lost God than they do to each other, their alienation clouding their attempts towards interpersonal contact.

Malick toes the line between depicting frustration and offering a frustrating product itself. And as strange as this might sound, even in times that the movie makes me hate myself, I respected how Malick can deliver such raw and genuine emotions.

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TIFF 2012 – Passion Review (Dustin SanVido)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Passion (2012)

Starring Rachel McAdams, Noomie Rapace, Paul Anderson, Karoline Herfurth

Written by Alain Corneau and Brian De Palma

Directed by Brian De Palma

Passion reminds me so much of Gus Van Sant’s much-maligned remake of Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, in that both are pretty much shot-for-shot remakes with little else to offer. Whereas the remake of Psycho was a deliberate carbon copy of its predecessor that suffered from a group of actors who were distracting from the film because of their stardom and reluctance to diverge from the source material, Passion, a remake of the French film Crime d’amour, is a little more complicated than that. I admit I was excited to see Brian De Palma return to the screen after a run of commercial and critical failures (Redacted and the somewhat underappreciated Black Dahlia) and felt his sentimentality for the filmmaking techniques he innovated during his great run of thrillers in the 80’s would perfectly accentuate and expand upon the original film’s sexually charged themes and thrills. What I found though is a film that didn’t change all that much from the original and instead felt extremely tiresome and dated. And for a film that promised the erotic thrills of his past work such as Body Double and Dressed to Kill, the end result amounted to not much more than a campy and seemingly intentional farce.

The story revolves around the relationship between Christine (McAdams), a ruthless ad executive for a French marketing firm and her seemingly naive assistant Isabelle (Rapace). After Christine deliberately steals an idea from Isabelle for a new cellphone ad which has management excited and offering promotions, the assistant begins a game of cat-and-mouse and one-upmanship that slowly escalates toward one of the silliest murder plots of recent memory. Also involved in the shenanigans of Christine and Isabelle is the rivals’ shared lover (Paul Anderson) and Isabella’s own assistant (Karoline Herfurth) who is clearly in love with her boss. I’ll be quite honest, I was on board with the silliness and preposterousness of the first hour or so of this film, but once the film transitioned from light sexual thriller (at best) to campy paranoia and farcical police procedural, I began to imagine myself in a theatre watching Muppets Treasure Island, and how much better of an experience I had with that than what Passion turned out to be.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The biggest problem with Passion is not with the direction of De Palma, we’ll get to that, but in the just plain wrong acting choices. I will first say that I enjoy the past work of all the actors involved in this project and don’t fault them at all for what I witnessed onscreen, aside from Isabelle’s assistant they’re all just simply miscast. McAdams is skilled and does her best at an adult version of her antagonist from Mean girls but she is just too young to portray this ruthless and vindictive a character. This is made more obvious when calling to mind the superior and mature performance of Kristen Scott Thomas in the original. Rapace is also in trouble. I’d actually prefer her as Christine than McAdams and have Herfurth play her role instead. This is the second English language film for her where she is so much better than the material (see Sherlock Holmes 2), I’d be happy with her making films in her native language from here on out. The rest of the actors are completely changeable and to me, with such a campy tone throughout the film, anyone could have played the supporting cast.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

DePalma has had himself quite an up and down career and this continues in Passion. This whole film is up and down and I’m not sure if I was supposed to be taking what I was seeing seriously or treating it as comedy. If the film had kept a serious tone like the original throughout, I wouldn’t have noticed the cracks in the plot beginning to give way and ultimately proving just how dated his techniques as a filmmaker have become. The score didn’t do him any favours either, as it was as schizophrenic as the narrative.

I am a firm believer of the figure of speech “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks”, and as such, it may be nearing that time for DePalma to hang up his six shooters and find another hobby, as it appears to me that’s what filmmaking has become for him. That is unless he can acknowledge the techniques he used to remain successful for so long are best to be left in the past and that he should embrace the current trends and filmmaking styles of the present and future. I certainly hope so, as I was a fan of his work for so long and hope he gives us another masterpiece the way he used to in his earlier days.

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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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TIFF 2012 – Top 10 Anticipated Female Performances (Paolo Kagaoan)

The greatest female performance I’ve seen so far this year is Zoe Kazan in the titular Ruby Sparks, a role that she wrote for herself. Now I don’t think that I need to ‘rectify’ anything but I’m sure you’re all thinking that I need to watch more movies. Well, TIFF fixes that. In ten days, the festival gives us a dose of what will be in our theatres for the next season, and they are also a way for actresses – established, relatively obscure or upcoming ones – to show what they’ve got to the most eager and eclectic movie lovers in the world.

Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone – This seems like a quiet movie but then I watched the trailer and saw Cotillard play fifty interpretations of broken. She was always third in my mind, especially with her clunky work in American movies that can only be described as passable. But this film might just make her jump to first in my heart.

Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina – Keira Knightly is a good actress, and some people agree with me on this, ok? (Eds note – Where’s the proof?) If she pulls this off, she can complete her hat trick of overlooked awesomeness, pulling the rug out from under actors like Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in movies like Never Let Me Go? and A Dangerous Method.

Maggie Smith in Quartet – Back up other festivals because we TIFFers get to see Quartet first. This movie, based on Ronald Harwood’s play, is Dustin Hoffman’s highly-anticipated directorial debut and he has Maggie Smith on his team playing Jean, an opera singer stirring things up in a retirement home for a musical clientele. Will she do her own singing? It doesn’t matter because she’s Maggie fricking Smith.

Zhang Ziyi in Dangerous Liaisons – Director Hur Jun-ho gives one of my favourite actresses ever, Zhang Ziyi, a great challenge in casting her in this new adaptation of Cholderos de Laclos’ epistolary novel of the same name. She plays Du Fenyu, based on the character Madame de Tourvel, a woman of 1930’s Shanghai whose innocence comes into conflict with a blossoming sexuality. The trailer already shows how she can convey desire and sorrow, marking a truly great actress.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed – Mary Elizabeth Winstead is my MVP in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim because of her voice and poise, giving the love interest archetype a different colour. Winstead retells Ramona Flowers’ troubled past but in James Ponsoldt’s Smashed she makes her audience confront Kate Hannah’s present drug addiction. The buzz for her performance here has started in Sundance and it will continue to build until the whole world will get to see what her talent can offer.

Isabelle Huppert in Dormant Beauty – Huppert’s buzzier film is Amour but she’s barely mentioned in reviews of that movie, despite being Isabelle Huppert, who I would call the best French actress ever had I seen The Piano Teacher. She leads an ensemble cast who have to live amongst people with comas. I’m not trying to dissuade you from seeing Amour but that movie will come out and depress you during winter. This might not get limited distribution here in Canada.

Olivia Williams in Hyde Park on Hudson – Early reviews have not been nice to this movie and, if I take their word for it, it deserves the lack of praise. Director Roger Michell’s takes us to the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (Bill Murray) affair with his cousin (Laura Linney), but I hope that Olivia Williams will show her usual innate strength in playing FDR’s wife Eleanor, without relying on stereotypes of what we the audience think of her historically. She’s the reason I’ll be buying a ticket.

Halle Berry in Cloud Atlas – Unlike Scott Weinberg, I’m actually looking forward to Halle Berry’s comeback, and I shouldn’t be using that word because she has starred in under-watched curiosities after her Oscar win. It’s her mix of beauty and pathos that still gets her in the door. Despite being in an all-star cast to end all-star casts, she can make her two subplots stand out. I’m jealous of people seeing this and I also can’t wait to see what they will tell us about it and one of its many stars.

Rachel McAdams in Passion – McAdams mixes up her good romance movies with vampy ones, and as her career progresses it’s as if she’s trying to see what would happen if Regina George grew up. Passion is based the French movie Love Crime, where Kristin Scott Thomas cobbled the shoes McAdams has to fill. This also looks like a chance for her to dive into the inner bad girl within the heroines of director Brian de Palma’s hero, Alfred Hitchcock.

Janet McTeer in Hannah Arendt – This movie seems like the Barbara Sukowa show but being the MVP in last year’s Albert Nobbs, I can’t wait for her to steal the show as the equally tough Mary McCarthy, a writer who deserves a biopic of her own.

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