Review: Amy

Director: Asif Kapadia (Standard Operating Procedure, Senna))
Producer: James Gay-Rees
Starring: Amy Winehouse, Yasiin Bey, Mark Ronson, Pete Doherty, Mitch Winehouse, Tony Bennett
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 128 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


Jay Leno has rarely been more unfunny.

I didn’t kill Amy Winehouse. Drugs did. The 24/7 tabloid shark tank did. Technically, it was alcohol poisoning. More to the point, Amy Winehouse killed Amy Winehouse. That Asif Kapadia’s knockout documentary “Amy” makes abundantly clear. They say only the good die young, but what about the old-at-heart? “Amy” is made up entirely of archival footage and home movies, with those closest to Winehouse swapping narrations over their respective memories of the London-born singer with a vocal coo out of a 1950s smoking lounge.

Before Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, and Adele, Winehouse put herself in front of a jazz-influenced brand of popular music which hadn’t yet been awakened in contemporary culture. As such, instead of being free to hone her craft (or even walk down the street), she was showboated in the international eye as yet another across-the-pond crossover hopeful. Winehouse, though, was a particular keeper. A humble girl brought up by Jewish parents — Mitch, a burly guido who made a living working odd jobs, divorced Janis, a pharmacist, after engaging in an extramarital affair a few years after Amy was born — she was discovered especially early.

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Review: Southpaw

Director: Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers, Training Day, King Arthur, Shooter, The Equalizer, Olympus Has Fallen)
Writer: Kurt Sutter
Producers: Todd Blac, Jason Blumenthal, Antoine Fuqua, Alan Riche, Peter Riche, Steve Tisch
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, 50 Cent, Skylan Brooks, Naomie Harris
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 124 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


Entering the final act of Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhaal, as boxer Billy Hope, tries to persuade trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) to help him prepare for the climatic final match by saying to him, “I’ll give you my everything”. The actor may as well be speaking about himself, as his performance here is yet another demonstration that he is practically unparalleled in his field when it comes to absolute commitment to bringing his characters to their most authentic life. His jaw-dropping physical transformation for the part, consisting of several months of rigorous workout regimens as well as performing all of the fights in the film himself, has been well-documented, but even more impressive, and just as crucial, are the emotional depths that the actor is willing to bring himself to in service of the character. As a man stripped of everything that once held him up so high as a champion of the sport, Hope is brought to his lowest depths and Gyllenhaal holds nothing back in making sure that we are right there with him. It’s a shame that the rest of the movie wasn’t punching at nearly his weight.

As written by “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter (his first film script) and directed by Antoine Fuqua, Southpaw follows a formula as by-the-numbers as they come. Gyllenhaal’s Hope is on top of the world, but a personal tragedy is the catalyst for a downward spiral that eventually sees him lose his prestige, his wealth and custody of his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence). Sucking up his pride and checking his ego at the door, Hope goes on the redemption trail with the help of Wills in order to set his life straight and get his daughter back. It’s a playbook as old as time, and Sutter never deviates from the predictable path, while drowning the film in his trademark for overwhelming morbidity that barely gets a single moment of relief. For a boxing movie centered around what should be a very emotionally potent father/daughter relationship, Southpaw is relentlessly grim without ever earning the heaviness that Sutter tries to pull out of every second we spend on screen. Gyllenhaal unquestionably takes us into the darkness with full commitment, but two hours living in this world becomes quite the tedious endeavor when the tone is so hopelessly dour.

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Friday One Sheet: Sicario

And the wonderful one-sheets keep coming for Denis Villeneuve’s much anticipated cross-border hitman procedural, Sicario. This one has the ‘collage of characters’ style usually reserved for adventure movies, so it seems tonally at odds with the polished grit that the trailers promise. Having not seen the film I cannot say for sure. The design does imply that all that is going to happen in the film is concomitant with the head-space of Emily Blunt’s character.

September cannot come soon enough.

After the Hype #103 – The Babadook



This week Bryan and Jon can’t escape THE BABADOOK, and they’re okay with that. Chewie, Hunter, and newcomer Donnacha join them in their praise of perhaps the best horror film out now. Note: We had Donnacha call in over the internet, so the audio is a little low. Apologies in advance. Blame the Babadook.


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Fantasia 2015 Review: The Interior

The Interior

Somewhere up there in heaven (or hell) Samuel Beckett and Henry David Thoreau are tipping their coffee cups towards Trevor Juras’ The Interior.

For a first feature, this film is not only fully realized and confident, but has a deep understanding of the form and medium in which it chooses to tell its tale. Camera movement tells the story, accentuates the comedy, and exudes a show-don’t-tell savvy that feels the work of a very experienced filmmaker.

Varied meanings, interpretations and musing can be found in this simple story of a man going a bit crazy in the deep woods, but it is difficult to fully reflect upon such things between the comedy and the horror during the film because the experience is so immersive and engaging. I imagine any filmmaker would love to jump onto the independent film scene, in any country, with something this beautiful and vibrant and cultivated. Most horror comedies make the horrific elements pretty funny; Juras boldly goes the other way and makes the comedy of James’ situation horrific.

Twenty-something office worker James has ‘Brain Fog.’ Possibly it is a quieter, Canadian, variant of ‘Brain Cloud,’ the ailment that got Tom Hanks motivated towards living again, dancing under the moon in the tropics, and kissing Meg Ryan in Joe Vs. The Volcano. James is entrenched in typical go-nowhere but pay check employment in the city with its collection of narcissistic bosses (both white collar and blue collar) indifferent co-workers and banal working conditions.

The first act of The Interior is dense with sight gags and hilarious character bits. James is nothing if not self-aware of the inane emptiness of his life, his condo and his surroundings, and without nodding to the camera he nevertheless projects a ‘can you believe this crap’ weariness reminiscent of Martin Freeman in BBCs The Office.

Of course, being aware is as much a curse as a boon. It does nothing for the trembling hands, numb fingers and double vision. So he smokes a joint, quietly and awkwardly leaves his girlfriend, apartment, and by extension his life, which has fallen into the funk of sitting in bed, recording the occasional rap track or sketch comedy and, tellingly in a nod towards Fight Club, sampling finger-in-the-jar dollops from his fridge full of condiments. He pleads to his soon to be estranged girlfriend for “the opposite of all this,” even though it is clear that opposite in this case is difficult to pin down. So with minimal gear and even less of a plan, James retreats into the forest for some quiet, stress-free solitude to rethink his existence.

But the universe in The Interior is a cruel one, and it seems the dense, damp forest to which James retreats is populated with other lost souls wandering in the darkness and jumping at shadows. The forest is a gorgeous yet grim reflection of James’ self, albeit it seems callously indifferent in its psychological torture and the film, while remaining uncomfortably funny, undergoes a radical tonal shift from trivial, above it all sarcasm, to deep in the thick of it paranoia.

The turn comes early into his forest retreat, where James breaks into a cabin, steals a hot shower and a bottle of wine, and leaves a thank-you note signed “Jesus.” There is karmic comeuppance for James’ subtle, holier-than-thou attitude. I will let you in on a secret: While Canadians have a reputation of being polite, and saying sorry a lot, there is a cruel and surreptitious streak of narcissism in the Canadian psyche that Juras captures brilliantly.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: She Who Must Burn

She Who Must Burn

The miracle of She Who Must Burn, a film perhaps most efficiently described as Red State for grown-ups, is that it offers three well worn elements – scripture quoting after committing an abhorrent act of violence (and the Ezekiel quote from Pulp Fiction, no less), the phrase “a storm is coming” and ironic use of religious hymns – in its opening minutes. And yet it manages to mine all of them for powerful new ideological and emotional spaces. It is daring to offer a promise of an ending directly in the title, but like the Paul Greengrass directed account of flight United 93, squaring an inevitability of events with the audience early on, allows the viewer to focus on what is at the heart (and on the minds) of the characters caught in a terrible drama unfolding.

The setting is a microscopic rural town, far enough and impoverished enough to render cellphones and internet absent. This is the place where people confronted each other face to face rather than social media. They talk in kitchens or on front lawns, and the telephones are made of bakelite. The tone feels cinematically timeless, and dramatic tension often derives in the conflict between apocryphal and artifice. In pictures like this, the miracle of artifice is miracle enough to tell the truth about the world. It reminded me of both Ed Gass-Donnelley’s Small Town Murder Songs and Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories. Fine company to be in, that.

Angela (Sarah Smyth, whose blonde haired and blue-eyed visage convincingly channels Naomi Watts) runs an abortion counselling service out of the home she shares with Deputy Sheriff Mac (Andrew Moxham). The local preacher, Jeremiah Baarker (co-writer Shane Twerdun) along with is his sister Rebecca (Missy Cross), her husband Caleb (Andrew Dunbar) and other members of the parish, are often picketing the ‘clinic’ because of their faith. That Mac and Angela live there out of wedlock further seems to embolden their activism-terrorism to the point of criminal trespassing. This is not in any way benign, because Jeremiah’s father is seen in the opening minutes of the film murdering an abortion doctor, and is happily sent off to prison for that crime to self-confirm his faith vs. the secular world.

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Mondays Suck Less in the Third Row

Check out these links:
Hand written movie quotes (framed for sale)
Free set of 200 cinema icons
71-Year-Old Hangs Out of a Copter to Shoot the Beauty of LA
100 Greatest American films [BBC]
The top TED talks that will change the way you work and live
Moms guess what porn terms mean
The Twelve Worst Directors By Average Rating According To Rotten Tomatoes
The sad ruins of the Soviet Union’s space shuttle program

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Miss Hokusai


Prolific animation house Production I.G. subtly captures the rhythms of mood of the art and publishing community in 19th century Edo, Japan. Miss Hokusai is simultaneously misleadingly quiet, and furiously idiosyncratic. Blending the magical realism sensibility of Studio Ghibli with Yasujirô Ozu-like framing (and unfortunately an occasionally distracting rock ‘n roll score), it is a film that you get so deeply lost in that it is difficult to discern beginning, middle or end. While there is a story of sorts, it is in the vein of something similar to My Neighbour Totoro or Only Yesterday insofar as any notion of a three-act-plot is rendered meaningless in the face of life and the living of it.

Famed artist Tetsuzo, a.k.a. Katsushika Hokusai, and his (eponymous) grown daughter O-Ei, live in poverty, neither cooking nor cleaning, but living and creating with Tetsuzo’s would-be students and hangers on. She often finishes the detailing on her work while simultaneously venting her rage on a drunken ex-Samurai, Zenjirô, who hangs around with a bottle and a brush. One day on a vibrant and bustling bridge she has a kind of meet-cute (involving of all things, dog poop) with a talented artist on the rise, Utagawa Kuninao, who eventually also becomes one of Hokusai’s pupils.

This den of ink and crumpled bals up paper, left-over street food, and the kindest dog outside of an Mamoru Oshii film because a place to discuss art, and technique, and the ineffable qualities that distinguish mere drawings from great and lasting art. O-Ei is discovering her voice in this setting, although is often left at the wayside as the three men, master and pupils go off to the Geisha houses and other street shenanigans.

Instead O-Ei spends time with her mother and younger sister, the latter of which is blind. It is these outings where the film eschews the verbal (which is strange to say, considering O-Ei spends much time describing the drawings to her sibling), in favour of embracing the feel of nature and sights and smells of nascent Tokyo; which is what Edo would become after the end of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Clumps of snow on a child’s clothing after a tree sheds its frozen powdery bounty; the drip drip drip of raindrops from an umbrella into the fabric of a robe during a rainy walk; a smudge of ink on the face of a beautiful, strong woman; the sound of fire-bells and luminous drift of deadly fireflies as a brigade furiously fights a blaze on a crowded street. These are many of the images that reconciles nature and human endeavour, both furiously beautiful, if only for their fragility. The urge to dangle my feet off a bridge, into cool moving water, with my own children at my side, in comfortable silence (with a hint of far-off birdsong) was palpable during these evocations. The animation has that kind of power.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Cop Car

Cop Car

If Cop Car is an example of anything, it is in praise of the small movie, shot big. In our obsession with city destruction, space opera, dinosaurs and other CGI creations, it is telling that the most body wracking tension is created from having two nine year old boys play, confused, with a few heavy firearms. Even if the safety is on, and the kids don’t know it, the amount of nerve wracking tension generated is palpable.

In fact, Jon Watts’ excellent neo-Amblin-Western could have been convincingly titled “No Country For Young Boys” as it shares a similar sense of ‘people tasks silently’ that the Coen Brothers brought in adapting Cormac McCarthy. Kevin Bacon, seems to be enjoying the ‘villain phase’ of his career, and here he is channelling a charming, but malevolent Sam Elliot type of role, country Sheriff Kretzer, with relish.

When the aforementioned young boys are out for one of those endless summers day walks in wide-stretching Texas farmland, trading cuss-words and imagination play, they stumble upon the eponymous police cruiser with the keys on hand. They take it out for a joy ride, off road, leaving Kretzer in the middle of his nefarious task to get his car back before dispatch figures out that shenanigans are happening. Guns and a few other surprises are in the vehicle, (which the kids are of course obligated to get into) which the Sheriff has to engineer, tout suite, a delicate, balanced solution.

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