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  • MSPIFF 2014 Review: Whitewash

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    Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
    Writers: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, Marc Tulin
    Producers: Luc Déry, Kim McCraw
    Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Anie Pascale
    MPAA Rating: NR
    Running time: 90 min.
    Country of Origin: Canada

     
     

    (4/5)

     

    Over the last few years, Thomas Haden Church has emerged as an excellent supporting player in a wide variety of projects, from indie productions to big Hollywood movies, but he rarely breaks out into leading performances. Leave it to a small Canadian production to put the actor front and centre in a movie that is, for most of its running time, simply Haden Church being excellent.

    Whitewash opens with death. At first you think it might be accidental but when Bruce (Haden Church) loads the body onto his snowplow and proceeds to dispose of it, it’s pretty clear that this wasn’t an accident. Or well planned. Disoriented, angry and drunk, Bruce drives his plow off the road and into the vast woods, driving recklessly for miles before crashing and blacking out. He wakes the next morning and assesses the situation: his vehicle is broken beyond repair, he has limited supplies and he has no idea where he is.

    What begins as a tale of survival quickly devolves into the story of a man spiralling into madness. After a few days in the bush, Bruce makes a dash for civilization only to be drawn back into the wilderness in the dead of winter. He drags his necessities, fuel, food and alcohol, into the woods and the safety of his snowplow which has quickly become his safety net. In flashbacks, we learn that Bruce is a lonely widower who has pretty much given up on life. He can’t work, he has little money and he spends his days at home drinking his sorrows into slumber. We also discover that the dead man is Paul (Quebec superstar Marc Labrèche), a man with his own set of troubles that takes full advantage of Bruce when he realizes that the widower is easy prey. There’s a sense from early on that Bruce has been on the verge of losing his mind for some time but the events that unfold when Paul arrives in his life push him over the edge.

    Whitewash is impressive. Labrèche is fantastic as Paul, a weasel of a man who goes from reeking of desperation to despicable con-man in the span of a few days but this is the Haden Church show and the actor shines in his performance as a man who is slowly pushed into madness. He doesn’t begin as crazy but there’s a hint that Bruce is a little unhinged all along and Haden Church handles the minute changes in the character really well. He also possesses great screen presence which is imperative considering he’s alone for a large part of the movie’s running time.

    Whitewash takes place mostly in winter and director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais and cinematographer André Turpin (who previously worked with Denis Villeneuve on Incendies and Maelström) use the snowy landscape effectively, its harshness providing a nice visual queue of Bruce’s mental collapse.

    Survival stories are nothing new and they vary greatly in quality but Hoss-Desmarais’ Whitewash is one of the better ones, a mix of survival story and thriller that also has a surprisingly dark sense of humour reminiscent of the Cohen Brothers’ work. Thoroughly enjoyable, Whitewash is a great debut for Hoss-Desmarais and a fantastic showcase for Haden Church.

  • After the Credits Episode 149: Interview with That Burning Feeling Director Jason James

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    A mid month podcast? What’s going on?!

    During last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to see Jason James’ romantic comedy – about STDs – That Burning Feeling (review). I also had the chance to catch up with director Jason James shortly after he introduced the movie. We made our way to the lobby where we chatted for 20 minutes, complete with a walk through part by a very chatty group of ladies, about everything from the cast and writing strong characters to the Vancouver dating and real estate scene.

    That Burning Feeling opens in Vancouver and various other Canadian cities on Friday, April 11th. Stay up to date with the movie’s release via their Facebook page.

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  • Review: Jesus People

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    Director: Jason Naumann
    Screenplay: Dan Ewald, Rajeev Sigamoney, Dan Steadman
    Producer: Dan Ewald, Jason Naumann, Rajeev Sigamoney
    Starring: Tim Bagley, Mindy Sterling, Joel McCrary, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Robert Bagnell, Damon Pfaff, Richard Pierre-Louis
    MPAA Rating: NR
    Running time: 90 min.


    This is what I know about Christian music: it exists, there’s a station on the local radio dial that is dedicated to said music and Stryper has a couple of pretty good songs. After watching Jesus People, I can’t say I know anything new about Christian music but I do have a new level of disdain for it and I’m not even sure why.

    Directed by Jason Naumann and adapted from a web series of the same name, Jesus People is a Christopher Guest style mockumentary about a dying pastor who decides to form a pop group as a way of making good Christian music his son, who listens to rap music and is clearly going to hell, will like.

    After a failed attempt to round up real stars of the Christian music scene, Pastor Jerry turns into a low rent Simon Cowell and holds a “Heaven’s Idol” at his church in hopes of finding the next big star from among his congregation. What he ends up with is an overly sensitive teenage boy, a self-obsessed beauty queen who can barely sing, an African American counsellor (token black guy and “rapist”) who also turns out to be the most reasonable of all the characters, and a disgraced Christian pop star who was once the talk of the town but has been downgraded into obscurity after her personal life took a nose dive.

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  • Review: Lost Heroes

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    Director: Will Pascoe
    Producer: Tony Wosk
    MPAA Rating: NR
    Running time: 107 min.


    Though the comic book isn’t selling as well as it did before the bubble on comic book speculation burst, the industry seems to be experiencing a resurgence. The movies, at least the Marvel ones, are performing well both in the box office and critically, and comic books seem to have entered the mainstream consciousness at a level we haven’t seen since World War II. But with the exception of Wolverine, the heroes and heroines we mostly see/read about are American and even he doesn’t quite fit the profile of truly “Made in Canada.”

    Anyone who knows anything about Canadian comics knows that over the years there have quite a few Canadian made and bred heroes. Captain Canuck is likely the most popular but there have been others, from the heroes of the old Canadian Whites to the recent Heroes of the North and Will Pascoe’s documentary Lost Heroes tracks both the heroes and their creators through the years.

    Beginning with the rise of Canadian comics during the war Pascoe, with the help of historians, collectors and creators, traverses the wilderness of Canadian superheroes, tracking the rise and fall of publishers and the heroes and heroines that came through the years. From Nelvana of the Northern Lights (the first female superhero, she beat Wonder Woman to the stands by a few months) to Alpha Flight, Lost Heroes does a fantastic job of not only shining a light on the forgotten heroes but also on the history of comics through the decades and the continued battle to create heroes and books that have a uniquely Canadian vision.

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  • After the Credits Episode 148: April Preview

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    The calendar still says spring but the movies are clearly screaming summer. A new Marvel movie, a couple of indies, a handful of horror movies and some kick ass action in this month’s line-up means that there’s a little something to get even Dale (Letterboxd), Colleen and I (Letterboxd) excited.

    And the Wagner doc I couldn’t remember… it’s Wagner & Me with Stephen Fry.

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  • Review: Enemy

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    Enemy

    Director: Denis Villeneuve
    Screenplay: Javier Gullón (Based on a novel by José Saramago)
    Producers: M.A. Faura, Niv Fichman
    Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
    MPAA Rating: R
    Running time: 90 min.


    Denis Villeneuve is a national tresure. The Canadian director who has garnered acclaim around the festival circuit for years, landed in Hollywood with a bang, delivering the great 2013 thriller Prisoners, that didn’t rip him of his artistic integrity. Unsatisfied with simply one movie, Villeneuve was also in post production on a second feature which co-produces with France instead of Hollywood. Far smaller, Enemy is also proving to be the more ambitious of the two projects in both subject matter and scope; a tall feat considering Prisoners went to some pretty deep places.

    The basics of the story are fairly simple: while watching a movie, a history professor named Adam spots a man who appears to be his identical twin. Adam becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting his double and after some stealthy manoeuvring, discovers his double’s name (Anthony) and address. The pair eventually meet and it’s immediately clear that beyond looking identical, they share nothing in common. Adam is mousy and bumbling while Anthony is confident, womanizing and conniving.

    As one might expect, the pair eventually trade places but the events surrounding the switch are far more nuanced and complicated than anything Hollywood has ever offered up from mistaken identity stories. Mind you, Enemy is adapted from a José Saramago novel so exploration of deep, philosophical ideas are to be expected and screenwriter Javier Gullón doesn’t shy away from any of them.

    Adam is completely engulfed and haunted by the discovery of his double, almost as if he’s discovered some secret that will change his world. Helen, Anthony’s pregnant wife, is just as shaken by the discovery of her husband’s double but for Anthony, the emergence of Adam simply provides him with an excuse to be even more self centered. I can’t help but think that maybe Gullón and Villeneuve are making a statement on the perils of self involvement because things don’t progress very well for Anthony.

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  • Review: Need for Speed

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    Director: Scott Waugh
    Screenplay: George Gatins, John Gatins
    Producers: John Gatins, Patrick O’Brien, Mark Sourian
    Starring: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Michael Keaton
    MPAA Rating: PG-13
    Running time: 130 min.


    At some point, someone is going to have to explain to me what the appeal is of running in a race where the prize is five cars, most of which don’t even make it to the finish line. I can understand that in the case of Need for Speed’s Tobey (Aaron Paul), the race is far more personal but otherwise, what’s the point? Bragging rights? I’m not sure I’d be bragging about being arrested at the end of a race and the last time I checked, a Ferrari that has exploded into a fireball has the same value as a pinto that has exploded into a fireball: that would be zero.

    Based on Electronic Art’s long running video game franchise, the movie adaptation basically takes a bunch of really awesome cars and gives people a reason to drive around in them at high speeds and perform ridiculous stunts. The story pits Tobey, a struggling garage owner, against Dino (Dominic Cooper), a successful race car driver and dealership owner whose business isn’t doing as well as he outwardly suggests. The beef gets deeper when Tobey and Dino are in a race that ends with a death. Tobey goes to prison and comes out a few yeas later determined to get his revenge by claiming a spot on the winner-takes-all race organized by a mysterious character simply known as Monarch (Michael Keaton occasionally channelling Beatlejuice – not to mention a blunt homage to Vanishing Point) and, of course, winning the race and in the process maybe knocking Dino down a couple of pegs.

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  • Trailer: Sabotage Redband

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    For most, the draw of the upcoming Schwarzenegger actioner Sabotage is the man himself but for more discerning types, the real attraction of Arnie’s new movie is writer/director David Ayer, the man behind Harsh Times and End of Watch. I must also admit that the fact that Mireille Enos is found in the mix of a movie that seems fully loaded with testosterone really makes me glee with joy.

    Schwarzenegger is the head of a DEA task force who is being targeted after they take down a cartel safe house. And when the bad guys kidnap Arnie’s family, the Governator loses his shit. Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Harold Perrineau, Josh Holloway and Olivia Williams also star.

    It’s basically the high octane law enforcement dramas Ayer is best known for – on crack.

    Sabotage opens March 28th.

  • Trailer: Venus In Fur

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    Though I really enjoyed Roman Polanski’s Carnage some thought the movie to be a bit soft around the edges; not quite biting and funny enough to really make it work. As if in response, Polanski’s new movie takes a similar play-to-screen story, this time with only two characters, and really appears to have sharpened the edges to laser fine precision.

    Based on David Ives’ play (and previously Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel), Venus in Fur stars Emmanuelle Seigner (likely best known as the caring nurse from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as an actress trying to convince the director of an upcoming production that she is the best performer for the role. She is re-teamed here with Diving Bell co-star Mathieu Amalric though this time, they seem more at odds with each other than caring.

    The trailer looks rather promising; I love one room dramas with bite and this one looks like it will deliver nicely.

    Venus In Fur opens, according to the distributor, in April though I can’t find an exact date of release.

  • Review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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    Director: Rob Minkoff (Flypaper, The Forbidden Kingdo, The Haunted Mansion, Stuart Little, The Lion King)
    Writer: Craig Wright, Jay Ward
    Producers: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz
    Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joshua Rush, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Mel Brooks
    MPAA Rating: PG
    Running time: 92 min.


    I should make it clear right out of the gate that I never watched Rocky and Bullwinkle. I’m familiar with the characters in a superficial pop culture sort of way but as far as the intricacies of that universe and the characters that inhabit it are concerned, it may as well be new material. So in the back of my mind, I knew that Mr. Peabody was a character that stemmed from Rocky and Bullwinkle but beyond that, he’s completely new to me and though it didn’t affect my enjoyment of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, it may have some influence on others who are familiar with the character’s origins.

    Mr. Peabody is a genius dog who, upon discovering a baby boy in an alley, fought to adopt him as his son. After all, boys can adopt dogs so why not vice versa? Sadly, not everyone is on board with this idea and on his first day of school, Sherman gets into a little trouble with Penny, a smart girl who doesn’t like her intellect being one-upped by the new kid. It ends in a fight and a social worker threatening to remove Sherman from Mr. Peabody’s care. Peabody devises a plan to woo Penny’s parents, a plan that is going smoothly until Sherman and Penny take a ride in the Way Back Machine and kind of mess up the universe.

    On the surface, Mr. Peabody and Sherman is a time travel comedy adventure which borrows heavily from both Back to the Future and, most notably Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Peabody invented the Way Back Machine as a learning tool for Sherman, taking him back to meet important individuals and witness historical events. Obviously, when the kids get a hold of it, things get far more complicated than that what it the messing up of historical moments and all but hovering just under the surface is also a great story of friendship, overcoming our differences and most importantly, the bond of family and the struggles of being a good parent.

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  • Secret Society & Price of Success Explored in “Echelon: The Series”

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    Mark A. Krupa is best known for his work in front of the camera, notably as Bjorn in the excellent The Wild Hunt (review) and most recently as the sadistic Indian Agent in Jeff Barnaby’s outstanding Rhymes for Young Ghouls (review) but the actor is also an accomplished producer, writer and director and he’s ready to take the plunge into the world of webseries.

    The concept of Echelon: The Series is fantastic. It centers on an elite agency called Echelon which operates from funding and support of angel sponsors to mentor emerging talent. The contract stipulates that when they leave the program, beneficiaries are required to fulfil a single request and that contract is strictly enforced by Strahd, also known as the “Collector” (played by Krupa).

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  • Trailer: Grace Of Monaco

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    It seems that we’ve been waiting for some time for the release of Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco. The movie was originally due late last year and then delayed, likely due to the fact that the family didn’t care for Dahan and writer Arash Amel’s take on Grace Kelly and looking at the trailer, it’s easy to see why the family would have apprehensions.

    I’m only familiar with Kelly as a Hollywood starlet and always assumed that she’d left her life in the spotlight of the silver screen for a slightly different type spotlight and that she was happy there but it appears that her life, like real life, was not a perfect fairy tale.

    Nicole Kidman stars as Grace and Tim Roth as her prince, Rainier III, in a tale that seems to cover a troubled year of Kelly and Rainier’s marriage as she deals with the pull of her old life and the realities of her new one.

    I haven’t seen any of Dahan’s other films but I do love myself some Kidman action and Roth is always fantastic not to mention that the inclusion of Frank Langella as Father Francis Tucker, Kelly’s confidant, makes me quite happy. And who am I kidding, I love a good bit of romantic drama. I don’t expect it’ll be particularly hard hitting but it does looks like a great bit of entertainment. It won’t take much to be better than Diana.

    Grace of Monaco opens in the UK on June 6. No indication as to when it’ll open domestically.

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