M-SPIFF Review: I Am Love


Director: Luca Guadagnino
Story: Luca Guadagnino
Screenplay: Luca Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, Walter Fasano
Producers: Luca Guadagnino, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Marco Morabito, Tilda Swinton, Alessandro Usai, Massimiliano Violante
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Marisa Berenson
Country of Origin: Italy
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 120 min.


While the stuffier movie goers (such as myself) are going to find a lot to salivate over in Guadagnino’s I Am Love, the Italian’s answer to Terrence Malick, the more typical movie goer might find much of the substance (if you can call it that) within the film to be rather yawn inducing and some of the “overwrought artfulness” of the experience to be so excruciatingly detailed in its pretentiousness that it might be almost laughable. Yet it is exactly that ambitious attention to detail and the filmmaker’s exact intention of stirring all five of the audience’s senses that is possible for a film to provide that has kept this picture stirring around in my brain for the last five days. There might not be a whole lot going on, but there is a whole lot going on from a visceral perspective.

Tilda Swinton leads the cast as Emma; a Russian immigrant who has married into an extremely wealthy, Italian textile tycoon’s family. As the patriarch reaches old age, he announces his son (Emma’s husband) and his now of age grandson as successors to the family business. The grandson then juggles the demands of being a co-CEO of a million dollar corporation along with his real passion of opening a fine restaurant with his Italian friend, Antonio, in the mountains of Italy. The central story thread then follows Emma on an ill-advised affair with Antonio, while the subplots involve family jealousy within the business, corporate ethics, struggling with outing oneself as a homosexual and keeping up appearances within a household holding lavish dinner parties whilst keeping important political ties.

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M-SPIFF Review: Zero


Director: Paweł Borkowski
Writer: Pawel Borowski
Producer: Piotr Dzieciol
Starring: see IMDb profile
Country of Origin: Poland
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 110 min.


High concept films often fall victim to themselves as the audience is always well aware of the gimmick and therefore loses a little bit of faith in the film as it treads along not so lightly and ultimately becomes kind of dull; sacrificing substance for trickery (Russian Ark). Others, while displaying the gimmick badge proudly on their lapel, still manage to give us a full entertainment experience (Run Lola Run, Sliding Doors); thereby delivering on their initial promise of excitement and build upon their specific, unique idea to really see how far they can take the viewer down the proverbial rabbit hole without ever getting lost. Zero succeeds surprisingly well with this particular idea; so much so that the viewer might even forget about the gimmick and just stay focused on the characters and what kind of dirty little sub-plot they will take us into next.

The story is difficult to synopsize; mostly because there isn’t only one story, but several. The camera travels from one character to the next (probably about 30 of them) as they interact with one another throughout the picture. The characters seem to pass the camera to one another as a relay runner might pass a baton from one runner to another. One moment you’re following a business man cheating on his wife, the next he makes a phone call to his secretary and now you’re tracking along with her as she goes to get the sandwich he asked for. As she passes through a revolving door she might say “hello” to the doorman and just like that we’re now watching his character as he struggles with the unpleasant dilemma of how to come up with enough money to get his son the life or death transplant he so desperately needs. Don’t be surprised if you come across the secretary later on however, possibly involved in a robbery or Of course this synopsis is just my own example, but you can see how the possibilities are limitless in terms of characters and their paths in life. Sometimes those paths cross each other and other times some characters that you might not appear to be important at first, tend to be the lifeline for someone else later on in the film.

Of course the word “gimmick” has some negative connotations attached to it. It suggests that the filmmaker is using a tactic or device simply to get butts in the theater with little regard for the audience members themselves; a cash grab if you will. Fortunately with Zero, it seems fairly obvious that the filmmakers took care to at least try to tell a compelling story first, and then worried about how to execute the gimmick once a foothold in plot had been achieved. It works in so much as by the halfway mark of the film you’ve all but forgotten about the unconventional way of telling a story and are invested in each character and what destiny might have in store for them later.

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M-SPIFF Review: Cell 211


Director: Daniel Monzón
Novel: Francisco Pérez Gandul
Screenplay: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Daniel Monzón
Producers: Álvaro Augustín, Borja Pena, Emma Lustres Gómez, Juan Gordon
Starring: Carlos Bardem, Luis Tosar , Alberto Ammann, Marta Etura, Antonio Resines
Country of Origin: Spain
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 110 min.

Few films have the wherewithal to bring its audience into a pulse pounding situation in the opening minutes of a movie and then manage to keep that gripping intensity going full throttle throughout the entire running time of the picture without either going off the rails, so to speak, or becoming tedious or eye-rollingly obvious. Cell 211 has no problem with it and in fact, excels at it. Never once holding back any punches and keeping a relatively simple plot kicking and screaming with minor complications yet avoiding confusion while keeping the chaos is what makes Cell 211 one of the most excellently constructed action/thrillers I’ve seen in ages.

New prison guard Juan Oliver is starting his first day on the job just becoming acquainted with his co-workers and the basic procedures of working “on the inside” when a carefully constructed riot breaks loose and during the chaos renders Juan nearly unconscious. Unable to carry him and at first not realizing the extent of the turmoil the prison is about to fall under, the guards place Juan in an empty cell bed. Before they can figure out what to do next, they’re forced to flee the facility, leaving Juan behind as the prisoners quickly take over the compound. Juan is left to his own devices and cleverly convinces the prisoners he is one of them. Having now inadvertently become an undercover officer, he must remain undetected while gaining simultaneously gaining the trust of the prison population’s head figure, Malemadre. As more and more complications arise and clever plot turns unfold, this task is not as easy as it may at first appear and Juan is faced with several very unpleasant decisions.

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Just a detail, but isn’t the devil in the details? I do not know if it was intended or not, but our titular square, a competent but out of his element everyman caught up in an affair and some larceny walks up an outdoor staircase with a road sign dominating the lower portion of the frame saying: “No Through Road.” In the fine tradition of noir in colour, from the Coen brothers Blood Simple to Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan to Robert Altman’s The Player, comes the Australian duo, writer/ actor Joel Edgerton and stuntman/director Nash Edgerton and their dazzling juggling act of just how many things can go wrong when everyday folks go about planning a dead-simple crime. At one point, late in the game, of their 2008 film, The Square (only recently making it to North American shores) there are so many spinning plates that you cannot help but sit back and marvel at the plot. It’s a Swiss watch. It’s bad assumption. It’s Murphy’s Law writ small. The film passes effortlessly from tense thriller to pitch-black comedy and is better for it. Anyone who is a fan of this genre should get out there and reap the pure pleasure on offer; for us Canadians, better late than never.

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Review: The Misfortunates



It’s not often a movie can take you from sweet and charming to sad and depressing then to laugh out loud hilarious and then shift to something quite disturbing. It’s even rarer when the movie can do that all that within the span of 3-4 minutes…Repeatedly. Welcome to The Misfortunates, the story of a family of 4 grown boys (well, men actually) being raised by their mother as seen through the eyes of Gunther – the teenage son of the eldest. It’s a bit crowded living all under one roof, but the boys are pretty useless on their own. Of course, they aren’t really a whole lot better together either.


Life went on…Of course, that’s what sometimes makes it difficult.


We initially meet Gunther as an adult. He’s a struggling author who has yet to find himself published. Actually, he’s pretty much struggling at everything. His menial jobs, his relationship and his happiness are all pretty much going nowhere. Most of the film consists of flashback scenes from his days as the teenager in the house with his Dad and uncles, but the story occasionally jumps back to check in with Gunther’s current progress. This makes it less of a plot driven movie and more episodic, but considering the vast amounts of drinking the boys do, their lives really are quite episodic anyway. There’s the naked cycling race, the dressing like a woman days-long binge, the world record attempt at beer drinking, the Tour De France drinking game and of course the big live Roy Orbison concert on TV. While this day to day chaos goes on, young Gunther is trying to become a man and make it through school.

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