Review: Selma

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Director: Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere, The Door)
Writer: Paul Webb
Producers: Cassandra Kulukundis, Todd J. Labarowski, Emanuel Michael
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Wendell Pierce, Lorraine Toussaint, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 127 min.


Sometimes there’s a sense that a movie is succeeding because of its timeliness and little more. It’s why there are instances of multiple biopics vying to be first out the door after a subject’s death but sometimes, it’s a little more abstract than that. That certainly appears to be the case with Ava DuVernay’s Selma which was in production long before the events of Ferguson ever happened but in the wake of that national disaster, Selma is likely to become a rallying cry for change and it’s a damned fine one at that.

Written by newcomer Paul Webb, Selma picks up in early 1965. LBJ is in office and he has a pretty good relationship with Martin Luther King Jr.. In one particular meeting, King pushes for change, namely in the ability of African Americans to vote. Johnson argues there are more important issues to deal with; he has a different agenda. King pushes ahead with the argument and along with the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group take action and their next fight to Selma, Alabama. A ripe territory for a showdown.

Du Vernay’s film isn’t simply a retelling of the events leading up to what happened in Selma. It’s also a portrait of a man who has been fighting for a long time. A man who is tired; a man who feels defeated; a man who leads but does not go on alone. Webb’s portrait of King gives the good with the bad. The film shows King to have been a great preacher, a man who could mobilise masses, but it also doesn’t shy away from King’s troubles; his infidelities, his indecision, his feeling of defeat and fighting an unwinnable fight. Mostly it creates the picture of a man who led a movement but who was only human. A man who relied on the supported by the people around him to succeed.

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WFF 2014 Review: I Put A Hit on You

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Your romantic evening doesn’t go as you expected. Actually, it ends in an argument and you storming out of the restaurant. You go home, get blitzed and in a moment of alcohol induced anger, you put a hit on your ex only to wake up hours later, figure out what you’ve done, instantly regret it and then head over to his place to save his life.

It doesn’t sound like much of a plot but the crowd funding video for Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart’s I Put a Hit on You went viral, proof that perhaps this concept of doing stuff you regret while drunk is something a lot of people have experienced though I expect the Craigslist market for hitmen is rather limited.

The concept for Clark and Stewart’s movie is perfect for a single location shoot. Once the set-up is out of the way, it takes all of 10 minutes, I Put a Hit on You moves to Ray’s apartment and pretty much stays there as Ray (Aaron Ashmore) and Harper (Sara Canning) try to sort out the mess she has created. While trying to figure out how to survive the night, the pair also delve into their relationship problems in a dramedy that mostly works.

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WFF 2014 Review: After the Ball

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We all have kryptonite. I have more kryptonite than most. If the movie involves dancing, cheerleading, drumlines, high school drama, Shakespeare, modern interpretations of Shakespeare, or re-telling fairy tales, I’ve probably seen it or want to see it. I simply can’t help myself. This is my candy and I love to bite into a new bar. Rarely is that new bar completely fulfilling. Even rarer, like, white elephant rare, is when that piece of candy happens to be Canadian. I’m pretty sure the last one was How She Move (review) and that was a long, long time ago.

What first caught my attention about After the Ball is director Sean Garrity. A few years ago Garrity really impressed with a great little thriller titled Blood Pressure so when I saw his name attached, I didn’t look any further. I knew I had to see this. Imagine my surprise when I read the description to find that After the Ball is basically Cinderella meets “Twelfth Night” set in the fashion industry.

Portia Doubleday stars as Kate, a talented fashion grad who is trying to get a job in the world of haute couture. She’s talented but her family name is problematic. Her father owns a consumer friendly fashion line that, in the past, has been known to steal couture designs and re-package them for the mall crowd. Defeated, Kate returns home and decides, against her initial floundering, to take on a job at the family business. She squares off against her terrible step mother and two despicable (and dumb) step sisters, gets fired, returns in disguise and falls in love with the in house shoe designer – played by, no less, Marc-André Grondin.

Jackpot.

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WFF 2014 Review: A Most Violent Year

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Truth be told: if you haven’t seen a J.C. Chandor movie, you’re missing out. Like, seriously missing out. That doesn’t however, mean that you should skip A Most Violent Year. Actually, that means that you should see A Most Violent Year as soon as possible and then head back and check out the director’s previous work.

Also written by Chandor, A Most Violent Year sounds like the most boring movie ever about the most dry industry ever. Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, the owner of a heating oil company in the early 80s when people, instead of having deals with the electric or gas company for their heating, they negotiated heating oil prices with the providers directly. Life has been good for Morales. He’s risen through the ranks from driver to owner, married a beautiful, smart woman, and he’s just about to close the biggest deal of his life.

But all is not well at Standard Oil: the company is under investigation for fraud, the bank has pulled out of their real estate deal, trucks of oil are being stolen right from Morales’ nose and to make matters worse, now Morales’ seemingly perfect home life is starting to show cracks. It’s definitely a violent year for Morales but not in sense you might imagine.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Force Majeure

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Relationships can survive through a lot but there are some things that are just too difficult, if not impossible, to get over. In Force Majeure, writer/director Ruben Östlund tackles one of those issues with laser fire accuracy and a cense of humour that comes as a welcome, if unexpected, surprise.

Tomas, Ebba and their two kids are on a family vacation in France. The trip is going well and everyone is having a good time skiing, eating and relaxing. While having breakfast one morning, the family watches as a controlled avalanche quickly approaches the patio where their food has just arrived and rather than slowing down, it looks as though the avalanche is gaining speed and power and that it will take out the patio.

Chaos.

Everyone runs.

Tomas pushes someone out of the way to get to safety while Ebba’s first concern is to protect her children. And then the snow fog settles and everything is all right. People laugh off their near death experiences and Ebba and the kids go back to their breakfast and are soon joined by Tomas.

The event starts to recede from memory until, over dinner later than night, Tomas and Ebba retell the adventure to a friend. Ebba calls Tomas a coward for running off. He claims to remember the events differently. What follows in Force Majeure is nearly 90 minutes of Tomas and Ebba trying to talk their way out of this impasse that has clouded their relationship. They’re constantly arguing, they can’t see eye to eye on anything and their kids are convinced that mom and dad are going to get a divorce. There’s nothing like a near death experience to highlight who we are at our core but also to force us to reconsider and re-examine our relationships.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Welcome to Me

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It doesn’t happen often but once in a while, I come across a movie that makes me uncomfortable to watch. Usually they’re horror movies about people physically falling apart (I have an issue with decomposing bodies) but rarely does that feeling of discomfort weed its way into dramas and never mind comedies, but in the case of Welcome to Me, that’s exactly what happened and I loved every single uncomfortable second of it.

Directed by Shira Piven from a script from first time feature film writer Eliot Laurence, Welcome to Me stars Kristen Wiig as Alice Klieg, a borderline personality disorder suffering woman who spends all of her time at home accompanied by the droning sound of her television and endless VHS recordings of Oprah. Alice loves Oprah and when she wins $87 million dollars in the state lottery, she convinces herself that the thing to do is to buy herself a TV show aptly titled “Welcome to Me.” What’s it about? Well, it’s about Alice and all the people she hates and the things that make her tick which turn out to be a wide ranging and often wildly inappropriate. She hires women to play herself in skits from her youth, she records and airs session with her shrink and perhaps most stomach turning, she neuters dogs on television. Yeah, she’s crazy and the network owners who put her on the air only care about the fact that they’re getting paid. A lot.

Welcome to Me is really funny but it’s feel bad funny. Alice is a sad individual and I felt kind of creepy laughing at her antics but they’re just so ridiculous the laughter escapes. More often than not its nervous laughter – how else does one respond to watching a woman with little training perform surgery on her pet on national TV? – but it’s laughter none the less and truth is that Wiig earns that laughter. She’s been working in the fringes of dark comedy for some time but none of her roles have come close to her performance here which is nothing short of spectacular.

Welcome to Me is really funny but don’t be fooled because it also goes to some very, very dark places and provides a fascinating insight into a woman suffering from mental illness and how that affects the people around her.

Yes, it is an occasionally uncomfortable watch and I felt a little dirty laughing at some of Alice’s antics but truth is that I left Welcome to Me with a new appreciation of mental illness and that right there is as good enough a reason to see the movie as any. Lucky for you it’s also super entertaining.

VIFF 2014 Review: Highway

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I’ve always been one to enjoy a good dose of Bollywood fare but it’s been some time, read years, since I’ve liked a Bollywood movie quite as much as I love Highway.

It could be that Imtiaz Ali’s new movie feels like a hybrid of typical Bollywood fare and a more western approach to filmmaking, largely leaving behind musical dance numbers and replacing them with long winded musical montages which work just as well if not better, or it could just be that this is great fun (it’s a bit of both).

Up and comer Alia Bhatt stars as Veera, a soon to be married young woman from a well to do family who is inadvertently kidnapped for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At first she does everything she can to escape but after a particularly bad attempt, she gives into the fact that she’s been taken and that her captors will let her go when they’re ready and so she befriends them: Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), the handsome leader who takes time to warm up to the young woman, and Aadoo (Durgesh Kumar) the sidekick who is easily befriends Veera.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Queen and Country

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Two things that don’t always go together are war and comedy but leave it to writer/director John Boorman to bring the two together in a package that even I, someone who has peculiar comedic tastes and generally doesn’t care for war movies, enjoyed.

Queen and Country stars Callum Turner and Caleb Landry Jones as Bill and Percy respectively, army conscripts who have completed basic training and spend their days toiling under the watchful eye of Bradley (David Thewlis in a wonderfully comedic turn) teaching new recruits how to type. They don’t take their work or the military particularly seriously so when the opportunity arises to cause some trouble, Percy does just that by stealing a much beloved clock from the mess hall. That simple action sets into motion a series of events that allow Boorman to deal with some difficult aspects of war in a near perfect balance of comedy and drama.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

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Olivier Assayas isn’t one of my go-to directors but over the years he hass made a few particularly notable films though for me, 2010’s Carlos marked a high point in Assayas’ career. For Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas brings on Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, an actress at the peak of her career who has been asked to appear in a revival of the play which launched her career decades before. At first she’s unsure she wants to revisit the material; she doesn’t feel comfortable playing the older character and she makes a compelling argument that she’s still connected to the young character that she played early in her career but after discussions with the director and pressure from her agent and her assistant, she agrees to take on the role and the challenge.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a perfect example of what Assayas does so well: create stories that are far more involved than they initially appear. Sills Maria is, essentially, an observation of the struggles of an actress trying to navigate her career in the best possible direction. Binoche is brilliant as Maria and the role comes naturally to her which makes you consider that perhaps there’s some deep rooted truth to the struggles and challenges her character faces. The film follows Maria from the initial offering all the way through the finish line but along the way, and particularly in the second act, the movie becomes a far more complicated beast as Maria works through the script with the help of her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart).

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