Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

  • Review: Transcendence

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    transcend-review

    Director: Wally Pfister
    Writer: Jack Paglen
    Producers: Kate Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Annie Marter, Marisa Polvino, Aaron Ryder, David Valdes
    Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Morgan Freeman, Clifton Collins Jr., Lukas Haas
    MPAA Rating: PG-13
    Running time: 119 min.

     

    (2/5)

     

    It’s an irony lost on Transcendence, regular Christopher Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, that in the middle of its concept/concern regarding technology becoming a wasted youth’s evolutionary turning point is a man who once played Darwin in a movie time forgot, and an actor synonymous with the voice of God. For all its ludicrous interpretation of humanity’s failure to disconnect, Pfister’s film is never less than admirable in its romantic ambitions. But it’s a thriller on shakily conventional ground, too lead-footed for its contrarian subtext to register as a purposeful tale of caution yet too uneventful and convoluted to echo its cyber proceedings and act as a frivolous form of escape.

    Johnny Depp returns to the screen in his first credibly somber, non-Tim Burton affiliated role since 2011′s The Rum Diary as Dr. Will Caster, a researcher in artificial intelligence esteemed for creating a sentient machine which runs on collective hyperspace data. Extremists joined with the R.I.F.T. Unit against technology (headed by a bleached-blonde Kate Mara, used to no avail) in an attempt to assassinate Dr. Caster rather only wound him, though giving him a month left to live after discovering the bullet was laced with radiation. Will along with wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany) decide to upload Will’s withering consciousness into his grand, ominous computer system, only to see him grow sicker with obsession to conjoin all forms of life with his megalomaniac grid.

    I don’t know if I’d phrase Transcendence as a blockbuster clunker as I would a sizeable disappointment in the vein of George Clooney’s recent “The Monuments Men”: a tedious faux pas, but a noble effort. Pfister keeps the movie going with enough visual impressiveness to cover up whatever overly broad strokes there are in first-timer Jack Paglen’s script, and he did good in bearing a deal of the account’s emotional weight on the pretty, expressive shoulders of the always excellent Hall. As for the rest of the cast, Depp mumbles; Morgan Freeman, as a kind, bewildered colleague, phones it in; and Bettany, like Anthony Hopkins, remains cinematic poison.

    Pfister’s enterprise is a jumbled swing at marrying a modern-day dystopian epic with the intimacies of a love story — but instead of dream-like, it stagnates. Melodrama in movies is hard to do; impassioned transcendence is even tougher. Because if it doesn’t catch fire, you’re screwed. “Transcendence” is never miserable, and its flaws are worth applauding for the film’s sheer thematic appetite alone; I just wish its forward-thinking existential meditations didn’t so blankly follow the threadbare sci-fi beaten path.

  • Hot Docs 2014: Doc of the Dead, The Nose, Divide in Concord, and More…

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    Hot Docs 2014

    Doc of the Dead

    Hot Docs 2014: Doc of the Dead Director: Alexandre Philippe Program: Nightvision Run Time: 82 minutes Campy, fun, and tongue in cheek, Alexandre Philippe’s Doc of the Dead surely entertains. Tracing the history of the zombie on and off the silver screen, he takes the audience through a rudimentary education of the genre. Through a series of talking head interviews with the likes of George A Romero, Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, Robert Kirkman, Max Brooks, and Sherman Howard, we’re shown how zombies came to be in popular culture, and the lengths to which people have become obsessed. Zombie walks, zombie obstacle courses, zombie weddings (officiated by none other than Campbell himself), shelters, weapons, clothing, toys, shows, comic books, and festivals, the world is screaming for “brains!” Zombies are so engrained in popular culture at this point, that there seems to be very little we don’t know. For those familiar with the genre, aficionados and horror gurus alike, they’ll find nothing new here. The layman, however, will take great interest in what Doc of the Dead has to offer. Even still, it teaches us very little in the way of new or groundbreaking information. What the film does provide is an unfortunately perfunctory look at the world’s obsession with zombie culture. While that portion of Doc is intriguing, and a little shocking, it’s at best the end third of the film, and we’re left with very little to sink our teeth into. The anecdotes and interviews are entertaining, nonetheless, but many will groan. They’ve been here before, and they recognize that tree. Ultimately, Doc of the Dead does little to whet the appetites of zombie lovers. Screenings: Saturday, April 26th at 11:59pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema Sunday, April 27th at 9:30pm at Hart House Theatre Saturday, May 3rd at 9:45pm at the Royal Cinema » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Hot Docs 2014: Opening Night and The First Day

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    Hot Docs 2014

    The 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is upon us. North America’s largest Documentary festival is about to take over Toronto, showcasing some of the best documentaries from around the globe at ten venues across our fair city. With over 200 wonderful feature length and short documentaries to choose from, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

    This year’s festival plays host to a series of diverse films, highlighting themes of love and relationships, addiction, crime, fashion, gender and sexuality, just to name a few. This year’s Made In program will turn its gaze towards Denmark, showcasing six films that exemplify the region’s outstanding contribution to non-fiction cinema. The Next program returns to the festival with an eye for the arts, creativity and pop culture, while new program Love, Factually celebrates love, passion, and matters of the heart.

    Hot Docs’ 21st year starts this Thursday, April 24th, with The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, and continues until May 4th with a wide array of exceptional documentary film that simply must be seen. Don’t miss out, and be sure to grab your tickets fast. For a thorough breakdown of what’s coming this year, be sure to take a look at Bob Turnbull’s preview article on the festival. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • MSPIFF 2014 Review: Boyhood

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    Director: Richard Linklater
    Writer: Richard Linklater
    Producers: Richard Linklater, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, Cathleen Sutherland
    Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
    MPAA Rating: R
    Running time: 163 min.
    Country of Origin: USA

     
     

    (5/5)

     
     

     

    Coming-of-age films seems to be a dime a dozen these days. Some films receive the title and aren’t really coming-of-age films at all. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is the first “true” coming-of-age film I’ve ever seen. Had I known what I was walking into before the screening, I would have been much more excited settling into my seat.

    Shot over the course of eleven years, Boyhood is sort of the equivalent of taking all of Linklater’s “Before” movies and combining them into one film. Throughout the picture, we watch as young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) matures from roughly age six, to his first day at college and everything that happens to him and his family during that time. In a brilliant and patient concept, Linklater uses all of the same actors over the course of this time period. So actually, if there’s one complaint I have about the film, it’s that the title slights the movie a tad; in that while this is very much Mason’s journey through adolescence, it also plunges us into a significant chunk of the parents’ lives too. Lives showcased by, as Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette) notes, “nothing more than ‘a series of events’.”

    In the beginning, the chemistry feels a little off and we don’t yet have much investment with the child actors who get most of the screen time. Even Arquette seems a little unpolished. We’re thankfully saved by Ethan Hawke’s character who really injects heart and humor into the film just as we’re wondering if this is going to be a slog. Suddenly we flash forward in time and everyone is slightly older and there are some new players on the table. By now, (a couple of years in real time and in movie time), actors seem more comfortable and understanding of Linklater’s vision. The chemistry is much more on and the kids have taken a real leap in the performance department. This chemistry and vision only gets stronger as the movie progresses.
    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Review: Bears

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    Disney Nature's BearsNature is a beautiful thing. Vast and expansive, it is home to thousands of different species. As a child growing up, I was raised with a keen understanding and respect for nature. In spite of vague memories of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Bear, most of that education came from my parents. I spent many summers hiking in Algonquin Provincial Park from the age of two, and was taught that animals are not there for our entertainment. The elements and all those that inhabit the forest were beyond my control, and as such needed to be treated with the utmost respect.

    Disney Nature is attempting to bring this kind of education to children through their films. Thus far, they’ve brought us Earth, The Crimson Wing, Oceans, African Cats, Chimpanzee, and Wings of Life. Meryl Streep, Tim Allen, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Stewart, Pierce Brosnan, James Earl Jones, and Ken Watanabe have narrated this wide array of nature documentaries for children. They’ve attracted a great deal of attention. What better way to educate kids about different species that pepper our planet? If their latest endeavor, Bears, narrated by John C. Reilly, is any indication, they should choose to stick to one side of the spectrum. Blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, Bears creates a problematic discourse around the very nature of nature itself, successfully creating a hyper-anthropomorphized depiction of a wild animal and dubbing it factual representation.

    Bears follows the first year in the life of two young Alaskan Brown Bears. Their mother attempts to protect them against the elements, starvation, and predators as they make their way to the salmon ponds in order to fatten up for their long winter hibernation. This would make for an interesting documentary on its own accord. With the ability and necessity for camera crews to acclimatize themselves to their subjects over the course of several weeks to months before filming, a great deal of outstanding footage is at their fingertips. However, the footage doesn’t speak for itself, and instead we’re given a fabricated narrative. » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Blu-Ray Review: Violent Saturday

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    Director: Richard Fleischer
    Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
    Based on a Novel by: William L. Heath
    Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Virginia Leith, Tommy Noonan, Lee Marvin
    Producer: Buddy Adler
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 90 min
    Year: 1955
    BBFC Certificate: PG

    (3.5/5)


    The booklet included with this new Masters of Cinema release of Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday comes up with an interesting set of modern counterparts for the director in Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. Like they have over the last couple of decades, Fleischer directed a wildly varied number of Hollywood films to equally varied success. He moved from film noirs like Narrow Margin to family adventure movies (Fantastic Voyage) to war epics (Tora! Tora! Tora!) and sci-fi thrillers (Soylent Green). He even made a couple of Schwarzenegger’s 80′s sword and sandal flicks, Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja. Some might call him a director for hire with such a collection under his belt, but like Scott and Howard he hit a couple out of the park far enough to prove he had talent and help his name remain relevant.

    Violent Saturday is one of his less famous films (even Fleischer barely mentioned it in his autobiography according to the booklet), but over time it has become known as a hidden gem in his oeuvre. It certainly must have caught someone’s attention as it has received the royal Masters of Cinema treatment and director William Friedkin is a big enough fan to have provided a 20 minute interview on it, included in this set.

    The film is set in the quiet mining town of Bradenville in Arizona, where three criminals (including a relatively young Lee Marvin) arrive to carefully plot and carry out a quick and supposedly easy bank robbery. Whilst the plan is being refined, we watch the lives of some of the residents of the town and learn that these soon to be victims aren’t all that squeaky clean either. From the peeping Tom bank manager (Tommy Noonan) to the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild’s (Richard Egan and Margaret Hayes) philandering, the locals have plenty of dark secrets. The film’s only ‘hero’ is Shelley Martin (Victor Mature) and he’s considered a coward by the local children due to staying at home to work rather than fighting at Iwo Jima. The bank job sets things straight for all of them though, one way or another.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Blu-Ray Review: Seven Samurai

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    Director: Akira Kurosawa
    Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
    Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima
    Producer: Sôjirô Motoki
    Country: Japan
    Running Time: 207 min
    Year: 1954
    BBFC Certificate: PG

    (5/5)


    My name is David. I’m a 31 year old film fan and before today I’d never seen Seven Samurai.

    I’ve lived with that shame for so long. It may seem over the top to call it shameful but it’s not just the fact that it’s considered one of the greatest films of all time and is one of the films long set in the prescribed viewing ‘canon’. I’ve been a lover of Asian cinema since I was a teenager, especially samurai films (although admittedly I haven’t seen that many) and a fan of action films for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen a number of Akira Kurosawa films too and hugely enjoyed every one of them. So the fact that his most famous, well respected title, which also happened to be his most action-oriented, managed to pass me by all this time is baffling. I taped it off TV when I was younger but never got around to watching it, I even bought it as part of a Kurosawa Samurai Film DVD set, but still it gathers dust on my shelf. My sole poor excuse has always been the length of the film. Anything over 3 hours long seems a daunting prospect to me. I don’t know why, as a number of my favourite films are particularly lengthy and this was clearly the sort of film I would enjoy. I just have the habit of checking running times whenever I’m picking out films to watch, as though my life is in a constant hurry.

    Well thank God for the BFI. When I got emailed a press release for their newly remastered Blu-Ray edition of Seven Samurai, asking if I fancied a screener, I literally yelled out loud for joy. Not only would I finally have no excuse not to watch this film which had passed me by for so long, but I would be viewing it in the best possible home video format, as close to catching a print screening as is easily possible these days.

    So please excuse this review for being largely about my personal background of not watching the film, but lets be honest, hundreds if not thousands of people have written about and expressed their love for this film in the past, so I’m not going to add much new to the pot. I’d just like to say that even with around 20 years of hype (the length of time I was probably aware of the film), Seven Samurai fully lived up to expectations and I’m going to point out a few of the reasons why I loved it. I’ll try not to ramble on as I imagine many of you will have already seen it and if you haven’t, please don’t wait as long as I did.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Review: Under The Skin

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    Under_The_Skin

    A long shot of a man waiting for a bus on a cool foggy morning. The road winds through a valley where the stop and bench are at the bottom, and snakes up the other side. A woman walks into the frame, one whom we will be following as curious, but baffled onlookers for the duration of the film. The shot lingers, gives us time, for our eyes to wander around the frame as the camera is not focused on any one thing. We know the bus is coming and are drawn, but not forced, to keep looking in the top-right corner of the screen. The two people keep their distance. The bus arrives. We are told nothing, merely shown. The scene evokes Haneke and Antonioni, but feels original in how it drops relatively anonymous people into the landscape. This is one of many sequences of visual ambition and tone in Under The Skin, the most excitingly odd film to arrive this year. It’s about sex and death and all the strangeness of life on earth in between the moment of conception and final expiry.

    Opening in a vaguely Kubrickian overture, from a single pinprick of light to what appears to be the assembly of a human eye, it is a lengthy indication that the film is about observation. Not for the faint of cinematic heart, Jonathan Glazer’s wildly experimental, and uncompromisingly strange new film marks the return to directing after a nine year absence. A decade is too long to wait after the magnificence of 2004’s Birth, but the result confirms the wait was indeed worth it. Adapting Michael Faber’s quite unconventional novel in a decidedly unconventional way, Glazer and his co-writer Walter Campbell jettison more than half of source material – the half that contains explanation as to what is actually going on – to focus on female predator at the centre of the story and her discovery of morality? purpose? the good and the bad of humanity? Almost ritualistically, she picks up stray, unattached men in the city, talks to them to establish they have no family or friends, then lures them into a dark cottage where clothes are peeled off item by item, dropping like leaves from a tree, onto the glassy darkness of the floor. The men are pulled into the room by the purity of sexual instinct, trancelike, and then…disposed of.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Review: Jesus People

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    JesusPeopleMovieStill1

    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.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Review: Lost Heroes

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    LostHeroes

    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.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Review: Dom Hemingway

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    horns

    Petty gangster, safecracker, loud mouth, loose cannon, thief, deadbeat dad, pint guzzling, word-smithing, cat killing, boorish thug Dom Hemingway is the type of guy you would have no tolerance for in real life, but generally gravitate towards on screen. Twelve years is a long time, but Dom did his time in silence to protect his betters, and after being set free of Her Majesty’s Pleasure (I’m assuming not for good behavior) attempts to pick up the pieces of his life. While on the inside, his wife died of cancer, his daughter grew up and had kids, his boss go very, very rich, and his only friend in the world, Dickie – a snappily attired Richard E. Grant with his hangdog face, shooting glasses and shrugged shoulders – remaining loyal. He is not out of the joint for 24 hours before he’s had group sex with high class hookers, violated the non-smoking law in the local pub, and filled his nostrils with coke on top of the smoke and beat the living hell out of the man who married (and buried) his wife while he was on the inside. All of this pent up rage and sexual bluster is of course Dom’s way of not processing the guilt of missing out on his daughter’s (and grandson’s) life.

    Like Eric Bana in Chopper, or Tom Hardy in Bronson, Jude Law gets to look really ugly with facial scars and yellowed, gold-capped teeth. He gets to act really crazy, and burn up the screen with monologues about the majesty his his mighty cock, even thought writer director Richard Shepard’s film is more of an amuse-bouche than anything else however. It aspires to dig into the psychology of a larger than life character, while indulging in all those larger than life aspects while Dom attempts to get his life of crime back on track. It breaks things up into ironically titled chapters to facilitate this. I confess, I am a sucker for films in which characters who manage a micro-moment of communication by a silent but loaded, wave of the hand, and this movie has that at one point. But there are also shenanigans. Pithy, violent, frankly, ridiculous shenanigans that put Dom Hemingway strictly in movie fantasy territory. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just that the movie never quite manages to have its cake and eat it too.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • Review: Captain America The Winter Soldier

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    Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    The Marvel universe has been beautifully brought to life, repeatedly. While some adaptations have been more successful than others, Captain America: The First Avenger pleased comic book fans, critics and laymen equally. The homegrown, wholesome as apple pie Americana vibe pulsed throughout the film’s two hour run time. The villain was the clear-cut Hydra, a Nazi-adjacent foe working towards omnipotence, against the earnest and eager ultra-hero, Steve Rogers. The dichotomy was simple, and straightforward. Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes that earnest do-gooder, and gives him a moving target. Though his hyper-moralistic stance is at times far too simplistic and idyllic, the sentiment remains solid and subversive.

    We find Capt. Rogers (Chris Evans) attempting to fit nicely into his daily life. An agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., he trains during the day, works when he’s called in, and does his duty to protect his people. Along the way, he absorbs some run of the mill peer pressure to get out of his cocoon, join the living, and give dating a shot. When a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship is taken hostage, Capt. Rogers and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are sent aboard with a team to rescue the hostages, and reclaim their vessel.

    However, when Rogers discovers the Widow is on a separate set of orders, ultimately compromising the principle directive, he begins to question not only S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, but Nick Fury’s (Samuel L Jackson) motives as well. Confronting Fury as to his lack of trust in others, the onus is then put on the Captain to learn that universal trust isn’t always the best course of action. Sometimes those we place our deepest faith in are those with the most nefarious intentions.

    Enter Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Fury’s boss, and the film’s newest prominent character. With Redford’s past participation in films like Three Days of the Condor and All the Presidents Men, his role in the film as resident turncoat comes as little surprise. For those unfamiliar with the comics, however, the depth of this treachery is shocking. We’re left with a sinking sensation of distrust, as NSA-level surveillance and military force merge to form a subversive nemesis. » Read the rest of the entry..

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