Blu-Ray Review: Melody

Director: Waris Hussein
Screenplay: Alan Parker
Starring: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: PG


I opened my review of My Life as a Dog this morning by professing my love for coming of age dramas, and what do you know, the other title I had to review today is another coming of age film. What’s that old saying about buses?

Rather than telling a period tale of burgeoning adulthood in rural Sweden though, Melody (a.k.a. S.W.A.L.K. – what a hideous title!) is set in present day (early 70s) London and follows Daniel (Oliver himself, Mark Lester), a middle class boy starting at a mixed comprehensive school with a range of likeminded young rascals. Daniel befriends a naughty but likeable lad called Ornshaw (Jack Wild, also of Oliver! fame). The two are from very different backgrounds, which cause a few issues, but generally they’re inseparable as they get into mischief at school and home. That is until Melody (Tracy Hyde) comes on the scene.

Melody is a good natured dreamer who lives in a council flat with her mother, grandmother and father, although the latter spends more time at the pub than home. Daniel falls madly in love with Melody when he spies on her dancing at school. He stalks her (in a well meaning 12 year old sort of way) until eventually Melody falls for his charms too. All is peachy with them, but Ornshaw isn’t too happy about his friend being otherwise occupied so friction develops between the two boys and the couple get in trouble with their family and the school when they demand to be able to get married now, not in the future as the law demands.

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Blu-Ray Review: My Life as a Dog

Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenplay: Lasse Hallström
Based on a Novel by: Reidar Jönsson
Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman
Country: Sweden
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve always had a soft spot for coming of age films. I don’t know whether it’s nostalgia for my own childhood or wish fulfilment for what I would have liked to have done back then, but I’ve always enjoyed watching tales of teens on the brink of adulthood, finding themselves through some sort of adventure or crucial experience. I’ve got several favourites, but the one I come back to again and again is Stand By Me. The quotable dialogue, camaraderie between friends and thrill of going off on a ‘mission’ together out in the wilderness all help make it one of my personal all time favourite films. So when Lasse Hallström’s critically acclaimed Swedish coming of age drama My Life as a Dog was offered up to review, I was keen to see if it lived up to the similar films I have a fondness for.

My Life as a Dog centres around and is narrated by Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), a 12 year old boy living in Sweden in the late 1950s with his older brother and sick mother (Anki Lidén). The two boys get into so much trouble, particularly Ingemar, that their mum is forced to separate them, sending her youngest son to live with his uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren) far from home. She’s too ill to deal with both herself and their father is abroad with work and doesn’t seem to have the ability or interest to come back. Whilst living with his uncle in a rural town, Ingemar struggles to control his developing teenage hormones. His young mind is confused as to what to do about an attractive local woman who uses him as a defence against an artist making a nude sculpture of her, as well as a sporty tomboy, Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), who falls for him. All the while, he is troubled by the fact that his beloved mother wants to get rid of him and is dying, a fact he pretends to ignore.

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Occultober – Day 27 – Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural

Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural
The full title of the film is the key to its real meaning (and is much more accurate than the straight up horror title Lady Dracula that it is also known as). The supernatural is certainly afoot in the movie, but this is a young girl’s viewpoint and it’s her own impression as to what the temptations and changes are that she is facing as she moves towards womanhood and how they manifest themselves. Though not quite as gorgeous and creative as something like the amazing Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders was in depicting a teenage girl’s whirlwind of life changes or as scary and bloody as that same aspect is depicted in Ginger Snaps, Lemora does bring a dreamlike, slightly off-kilter feel to the story of the very sheltered and religious 13 year-old Lila.

She leaves her hometown after receiving a cryptic letter from a woman named Lemora asking her to come see her sick father. He had recently run off without a trace after murdering his wife and her lover. On the way there, she experiences a creepy bus trip, sees ghoulish creatures chasing them and witnesses a battle between those ghouls and a group of cloaked dracula-like beings after the bus breaks down. After passing out, she ends up at Lemora’s house and winds up being kept in a cell. She is eventually welcomed inside the proper house after being told the cell was to protect her from what was outside – not to keep her inside. Lemora, though extremely pale and with dead eyes (possibly just a side-effect of her terribly wooden acting), claims that after a ceremony the following day she will be able to see her diseased father. Lila is swept up in the witch-like Lemora’s promises, but when she catches her sucking the blood from a young boy, the jig appears to be up…

The blood-like wine, the blue moonlit nights and the danger that seems to be everywhere around her all serve as stand-ins for Lila’s confusion over her changing body and the number of choices she now has as a growing young lady. Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, who became quite the B-movie queen, is very good as the young Lila and perfectly captures that transition from innocence to awakening. The film ran afoul of many Catholic groups for its immoral attributes (a lecherous priest, implied lesbianism, Lila’s fall from grace, etc.), but seems to have found traction with many film fans. Go ahead and give in to the temptation…

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VIFF 2014 Review: Preggoland

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You know that moment when you realize you’re so deep into a lie there’s no easy way to turn back? Preggoland is exactly that. Except it’s also much more than that.

Sonja Bennett stars as Ruth, a single 30 something who lives at home with her dad. All of her friends are married with kids and her younger sister is the bane of her existence, making Ruth feel like a teenager and in a way, she is. She works at a local grocery store where she’s worked since high school, she hangs out with co-workers who are half her age and generally doesn’t appear to be doing much with her life. And then she’s mistaken for being pregnant. And she goes along with it. But then she tells her friends she’s pregnant and then suddenly her life seems to be taking on some meaning and actually moving forward except the whole time she’s living one big sham and lying to everyone.

The idea of going along with a misconception isn’t exactly new but Bennett, who also wrote the script, brings a charm and likability to Preggoland which I haven’t seen in other movies which feature the female version of the “man child.” Part of it is Bennett herself who fully commits to the role an delivers a great performance complete with outstanding comedic timing, but there’s also the script which takes a ridiculous premise and goes in some interesting directions with it exploring everything from friendship to strange and complicated family relationships and though it ends with a sort of happily ever after, it earns that ending.

Preggoland reminded me a little of Starbuck, that other Canadian gem from a few years ago. It features similar characters with similar story arcs about growing up and becoming better versions of themselves and I expect that when this lands a Hollywood re-make, it will turn out just as badly as the Starbuck one did. Thankfully, we’ll always have the original.

Preggoland has been picked up by Mongrel Media who will open the film Spring 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review: Beautiful Youth

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Regardless of how news outlets spin current world events, by now everyone is more or less aware that the global economy is in trouble and that some countries are doing far better than others. Europe has been experiencing particularly difficult times and those difficulties have appeared here and there in film, in some instances more bluntly than others. Spaniard Jaime Rosales’ Beautiful Youth is the most recent, microscopic look at the hardships faced by a young couple in Spain.

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez star as Natalia and Carlos, a young couple in love. She’s dropped out of school and spends her days at home, hanging out with friends and occasionally shop lifting make-up while Carlos works odd jobs and conspires with his friend to open his own business. In an effort to generate quick cash, the pair agree to appear in a porn, a venture that turns out to be only the first in a long line of schemes to generate income. Making money to take care of themselves becomes both a thing of the past and a thing of immediate urgency when the young couple is faced with a new challenge: parenthood.

Beautiful Youth could easily have become a cynical movie about the difficulties of being young amid a recession but instead, it’s a testament to human resilience. Watching Natalia and Carlos grow and mature over the course of a few short years is a beautiful reminder of how the events of our lives shape the people we become, even if the changes aren’t immediately apparent. Both Rodríguez and Jonsson give great performances but the film focuses mostly on Jonsson and the challenges she faces and the actress shines in the role.

Rosales takes a verite approach to Beautiful Youth which gives the movie an added layer of reality. On a few occasions, Rosales uses technology in an interesting and new way to mark the passage of time and showing the changing relationship between Natalia and Carlos and though I appreciate the approach here, I hope it doesn’t become a regular thing in features.

Beautiful Youth neither glorifies nor frowns on the actions of Natalia and Carlos, it simply presents an unabashed look at coming of age under difficult circumstances and it does so with a glint, however small, of hope.

Beautiful Youth plays VIFF again on October 2nd. Check out the VIFF program for tickets and additional screening information.

R3view: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Director: Tim Burton(Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Batman, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Novel: Lewis Carroll
Screenplay: Linda Woolverton
Producers: Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Richard D. Zanuck, Tim Burton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway
Additional voices: Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 108 min


Synopsis:
For every generation a new version of Alice in Wonderland must arise I suppose. With this newest incarnation, Tim Burton puts on a visual treat fest in which a much older Alice, now in her late teens, once again falls down the rabbit hole into a strange wonderland. Meeting several odd and zany characters, both friendly and beastly, Alice must discover her true wit and help lead the good Queen of White in defeating The Red Queen and her minions for control of Wonderland Underland.

read all of our reviews below…

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Galifianakis & Roberts On Board for It’s Kind of a Funny Story

ZachGalifianakisNews of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Sugar (our review) follow up It’s Kind of a Funny Story have already excited my little heart but this recent news out of Toronto is sure to catch the attention of a few others.

A story of teen romance set against the backdrop of depression, drugs and a mental institution, the film has cast a few roles and though no lead has been announced, news today is that funny man of the moment Zach Galifianakis has been cast in one of the main adult roles while Emma Roberts, a young up-and-comer who made an impression with her great performance in the under-seen coming-of-age tale Lymelife (this one’s worth a look for the The Ice Storm fans in the audience), will play the romantic lead of Noelle.

Curious that we’ve yet to see an announcement on the lead role of Craig but I expect this will be made clear in the next announcement.

Slumdog Millionaire Trailer and One Sheet

I really do not think I can put into words adequately how much I enjoyed Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (Our Review) at this years Toronto International Film Festival. If I had only been able to see this one at the festival I would have actually thought that the trip had been worthwhile.

The one sheet came out a few days ago and I’m not really a fan of it. I much prefer the following picture:

Slumdog Millionaire - Young Jamal

It truly sums of the sense of hope and thrill for life which Slumdog instills in its audience. The one sheet does not really convey much other than the game show aspect.

Slumdog Millionaire One Sheet

I know you are probably rolling your eyes by now at how much I’m gushing over this one but it truly deserves it. I’ve watched the trailer twice now and I still get goosebumps when I watch it.

If you have the chance please go out and catch this in the theatre. It is getting a limite release to start and is slowly expanding. I’m really hoping that it hits Saskatoon on the 26th of December. I’m already planning on annoying the family by wanting to drag them out to it on Boxing Day.

Release Schedule – Thanks go to /Film for creating the list.

Week #1: Wednesday, Nov. 12

1 Los Angeles
2 New York
3 Chicago
4 San Francisco
5 Washington D.C.
6 Toronto

Week #2: Friday, Nov. 21st

7 Boston
8 Dallas/Ft. Worth
9 Philadelphia
10 San Diego
11 Seattle
12 Denver
13 Baltimore
14 Minneapolis
15 Phoenix
16 Vancouver

More after the jump.

Week #3: Wednesday, Nov. 26th

No new markets

Week #4: Friday, Dec. 5th

17 Atlanta
18 Detroit
19 Indianapolis

Week #5: Friday, Dec. 12th

20 Sacramento
21 St. Louis
22 Austin
23 Milwaukee
24 Hartford/New Haven
25 Madison
26 Ann Arbor

Week #6: Friday, Dec. 19th

27 Houston
28 Miami/Ft. Lauderdale
29 Kansas City
30 Cleveland
31 Columbus
32 Orlando
33 Charlotte
34 New Orleans
35 Louisville
36 Portland
37 Rochester
38 Salt Lake/Boise
39 Honolulu
40 Albany
41 Albuquerque
42 Boca Raton/W. Palm Beach
43 Cincinnati
44 Dayton
45 Nashville
46 Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill
47 Asheville
48 Charlottesville
49 Lansing
50 Northampton/Springfield
51 Montreal

Week #7: Friday, Dec. 26th

52 Buffalo
53 Fresno
54 Las Vegas
55 Tampa/St. Pete
56 Champaign/Decatur/Springfield
57 El Paso
58 Harrisburg, PA
59 Memphis
60 Norfolk/Newport News
61 Oklahoma City
62 Omaha
63 Providence
64 Richmond
65 San Antonio
66 Spokane
67 Tulsa
68 Baton Rouge
69 Birmingham
70 Colorado Springs
71 Corpus Christi
72 Grand Rapids
73 Knoxville
74 Lexington
75 Pittsburgh
76 Reno
77 Sarasota
78 Syracuse
79 Tucson
80 Anchorage
81 Des Moines
82 Ft. Myers
83 Gainesville
84 Ithaca
85 Jacksonville
86 Portland, ME
87 Santa Fe
88 Tallahassee
89 Calgary
90 Edmonton
91 Halifax
92 Kitchener
93 Ottawa
94 St. John
95 Victoria
96 Winnipeg

VIFF Review Roundoup #1

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In a somewhat sad attempt to get caught up on my VIFF reviews (please forgive me, it was crazy during the festival and I was very, very ill over the long weekend), many of which are still outstanding, I’ll be shortening the majority of them into capsule reviews and expanding on a few others for which I have a lot more to say. So, here we go into round one. Click on the movie title below to skip directly to a particular film.

In this all Canadian edition we’ve got:

Fifty Dead Men Walking
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Fifty Dead Men Walking

Fifty Dead Men Walking Movie StillEarlier this year I caught up with Kari Skogland’s film The Stone Angel (our review), one I thought showed great potential for the up-and-coming director. Skogland’s follow up couldn’t be more different. Based on a novel and the real life of Martin McGartland, a young man recruited by the British Police to spy on the IRA, Fifty Dead Men Walking has all the trappings of a great film, except it isn’t.

The film features some excellent performances from up and comers Jim Sturgess in the lead role of McGartland and Kevin Zegers is excellent as his best friend Sean. It’s the supporting performances that lack a fair bit. Ben Kingsley is mediocre at best as McGartland’s police contact Fergus (his hair was hot topic of conversation after the screening) and Rose McGowan is laughably bad in her Irish accent. But even with the mixed performances, the real problem with the film is that it goes no where mind you, it does so stylishly.

Skogland’s film is pretty to look at, great cinematography from Jonathan Freeman and excellent production design, but it lacks any heart. The story forges ahead yet there’s never a feeling of angst, fear or excitement; something which is particularly hard to swallow when one considers how fantastically dramatic McGartland’s story is. The problem is partly due to the direction but also the editing which badly breaks up the film’s pacing. Compensating for the lack of emotional connection with music doesn’t do the film any favours either and by the time the credits rolled, I was relieved: I’d had enough of the music which drown out nearly every scene.

Fifty Dead Men Walking was the festival’s biggest disappointment for me. Though the film looked great and I had big expectations from Skogland, I was thoroughly disappointed. I may have been on my own: the film took home the Citytv Western Canada Feature Film Award.

Trailer available at Movie Set.

More reviews tucked under the seat!

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Let The Right One In Trailer!

Let the Right One InThis little horror/coming of age tale is getting a lot of play around here. Kurt’s already seen it and has good things to say and the vampire fanatic that I am is dying to see it. I’ll be getting my fill in a few days when the film plays VIFF and folks back east will have a chance to take the movie in when it plays at TAD but the boys at /Film have a few more details on a non-festival release.

The film will be opening in limited release in NY and LA on October 24th with a possibility of a wider release if the first round of screenings goes well. The film will then see life on DVD with a current street date of March 10, 2009. Not completely surprising, the film has also been picked up for an English language remake which will be coming down the line sometime in 2010.

I’d previously posted a trailer which has since disappeared off of You Tube but we’ve got the festival reel which certainly makes this looks excellent. I simply can’t wait. At this point, it’s my most anticipated film of the festival.

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

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TIFF Review: Slumdog Millionaire

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You will not hear me say this often when it comes to a review of a movie but I do not believe I can do Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire justice in a review. I could star listing of hyperbole after hyperbole and I would not be exaggerating one bit on how I feel about this movie. This is the movie that has made TIFF worthwhile by itself for me and I can’t recommend it strong enough.

The movie starts with Jamal, played by Dev Patel being tortured by a Irfan Khan, the police inspector. He wants to know how someone from the slums could be able to answer so many questions correctly on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. After Jamal is unwilling to admit to cheating during the torture they put him in front of a TV and one by one they go through the questions with him explaining how he knew the answers. Using this premise Danny Boyle is able to provide the audience with one of the most truthful, heartfelt stories that is so much more than the simple romance which it could have been.

One by one Jamal explains how he grew up with his brother Salim in the slums and how they became orphans and how they were taken in by gangsters who had the worst of intentions when it came to the young boys. We see time and time again Latika played by Freida Pinto come and go from Jamal’s life. All of his life in the slums of India have lead him to this point has lead him to where he is today. And each flashback gives beautifully told glimpses into the life of the poor in India as well as being a wonderful story.

I have yet to see Millions but I had heard before going in that Danny Boyle had a knack for getting the best out of child actors and I now fully believe it. Question by question we see Jamil, Salim and Latika age in front of us. We see them during their times of happiness and during the moments in their lives when everything has been turned upside down on them. Never once did I question the emotions and the acting of any of these children. Each and everyone of them were near perfect in their roles. Never once did question the love Jamil had for Latika nor how Salim could end up on a dark path.

It has been a while since a movie has touched me like Slumdog Millionaire did and from the reaction of the audience I am not alone. The applause for it was thunderous and I have never seen an audience clap along with the music in the closing credits. Danny Boyle has truly succeeded in creating a pitch perfect wonderful optimistic yet truthful movie that I am going to watch over and over again for a great many years.