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: 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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Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

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Director: Ned Benson
Writer: Ned Benson
Producers: Cassandra Kulukundis, Todd J. Labarowski, Emanuel Michael
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Nina Arianda
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 122 min.


Somewhere down the line we’ll get a chance to see the great story of Eleanor Rigby but The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them isn’t it.

This new version of Ned Benson’s movie is very clearly an abridged, highly edited concoction made for the benefit of… good question, I don’t know who this is made for because it mostly lacks a through line and any sort of emotional connection to the characters.

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star as Conor and Eleanor, a young married couple who are having marital trouble. For a while it’s unclear where the trouble starts but we see enough to know that they were once in love and are still in love but that something has happened to separate them. The cause of the separation is played as a great mystery, this secret thing that is only hinted at and then slowly revealed in the movie’s second half and for a while, I found myself completely caught up in the mystery. What could it be? Did he cheat? Did he beat her? Why is she depressed? When it is eventually revealed, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them finally finds its groove but up until that moment, it’s as much of a guessing game as a movie about two people who no longer recognize each other.

I relish stories like this, tales of people with relatable life problems who struggle to find their way through the problems to a better place and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them certainly does that. The issue with the movie is that it jumps around from scene to scene, from the present to the past, with little connection. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole but more like someone took a pile of scenes and compiled them in a way that told a story that sort of makes sense but that has big gaping holes in it and which lacks any deep emotional connection.

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Review: About Alex

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Director: Jesse Zwick
Writers: Jesse Zwick
Producer: Adam Saunders
Starring: Nate Parker, Jason Ritter, Maggie Grace, Max Greenfield, Aubrey Plaza, Max Minghella, Jane Levy
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 96 min.


Regardless of how much or little we use it, technology has affected the way we communicate. It wasn’t uncommon for college friends to keep in touch via birthday and Christmas cards but it seems that in today’s connected culture, even email feels like too much work when you can just send someone 140 characters or a “Like.” Are we really so into ourselves that sending an email to an old friend is too much work?

For his directorial debut Jesse Zwick, son of Hollywood heavyweight Edward Zwick, begina by exploring some of these themes before About Alex turns into a familiar story of old friends coming together after years of not really talking. In this case, they all come together over Alex (Jason Ritter), the shy and sensitive one of the group who seems to be stuck in a pre “always connected” world. He’s been creeping his friend’s social networks but hasn’t managed to really connect with them in a meaningful way and on a particularly bad day, he attempts to kill himself, an event that is considered grievous enough by his college buddies that they all drop everything and come together to support their wounded friend.

In the mix are the Sarah (the unhappy lawyer with killer cooking skills – played by Aubrey Plaza), Isaac (the successful one – Max Minghella), Isaac’s new girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy), Siri and Ben (the apparently happy artist couple – Maggie Grace and Nate Parker) and Josh (the always angry at something – Max Greenfield). As expected, we quickly learn that these individuals bring with them not only the baggage of their current lives but also of their past together, of relationships that were or nearly were, romances that have fizzled out and others that may still ignite.

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Fantasia Review: The One I Love


I doubt I will laugh out loud more at a film this year. Charlie McDowell’s couples therapy session par excellence featuring a very game cast of two, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, made me smile so hard at times my face actually hurt. I burned fucking calories with the enjoyment of this movie. The One I Love, contains enough insight and humour (not to mention, utter engagement) in its neo-Twilight Zone execution, that you may never have to visit the self-help section of the bookstore, ever. This is the mandatory date movie of the year.

Sophie and Ethan are several years into their marriage, still without kids, and are more content to follow the usual rhythms and patterns established over the years. This is to the point where they attempt to recharge their batteries by re-creation of positive prior romantic experiences in their more whimsical youth. They are desperately looking to find the original spark in their relationship, and it comes, oddly enough, in the form of a recommendation from their therapist. “I’ve sent a lot of couples there, and they come back…renewed,” a country retreat doesn’t sound the least bit ominous coming from the lips of a snowy haired Ted Danson, but Charlie Kauffman rules are in play here. Serious mayhem goes down.

The guest house at this retreat has some rather unique properties that I will not spoil — the joy is in the discovery of exactly what is happening in the comforting and blandly mundane space. Unfortunate that such a memorable film gets the unmemorable moniker of The One I Love. A better title would be the pun-ish double meaning of “The Guesthouse,” which I can only surmise was already taken by another, more inferior movie. I digress.

The myriad ways Sophie and Ethan approach their strange set of options prove a deep silver-mine of opportunities to explore the foibles of men and women, Mars and Venus, logic and emotion, fantasy and reality. Role-playing gets externalized and folded to the point where I’m not sure what the better half of a double bill for this film would be, Linklater’s Before Midnight, or Polanski’s Carnage, maybe even Cronenberg’s The Brood.

Duplass and Moss have exceptional movie-chemistry, and the subtlety of body language, costume details and other ‘clever audience cues’ are richly fulfilling to observant viewers. Even if you get ahead of the film, and you probably will, it is the journey, not the destination. Parsing the details remains secondary to all the different ideas of how people are both alone and together in any relationship; whether in a phase that is rewarding, or anxious, or petty and broken; what we see in someone else, what we want to see, what we even accept what we are seeing. And that we will be different people as time moves on is inevitable, hilariously so. The rules of what exactly entails ‘cheating’ on your spouse have never been more difficult to navigate.

In either case, the truism here is that either member of the couple cannot help but fuck with it; it being the nature of the beast, for better or worse, richer or poorer, and all that. Watching Ethan and Sophie fail time and again to ‘accept the mystery’ of their relationship and circumstance is, for the viewer with a certain disposition, a joy. The One I Love somehow manages to riff on Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with only a single couple, but still get at the ‘burned out version’ and ‘naive fresh version’ from Nicols’ film, that only McDowell’s special premise (the guest house) could make possible.

The film is a trust exercise that goes off the rails with intelligence and care, every detail just so, every revelation hilariously true. One minor nitpick involving a bit of unnecessary exposition via computer screen is easily forgivable when everything else is this fun. Suffice it to say, it’s going to be an interesting car ride home, whether you are just dating or married for decades. I wish I could say more. I feel this movie should be studied by genre fans and psychiatrists in equal measure. I wish all relationship movies, from rom-coms to art house dramas, were this smart.

Review: Spaces and Reservations

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Director: Brendan Prost (Coch, Generation Why)
Screenplay: Brendan Prost
Producer: Brendan Prost
Starring: Zach White, Taylor Hastings, Jennifer Kobelt, Arianna McGregor
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 140 min.


Somewhere in Brendan Prost’s Spaces and Reservations is a really great story about relationships and the difficulties of falling out of love with your best friend. What’s frustrating is that the brilliant movie isn’t even buried but rather lost in a second act that goes on forever.

Clocking in at well over two hours, Spaces and Reservations opens with a wonderful story of two individuals who are in love but whose relationship is stagnant. Jamie and Kacie have been together for four years and living together for some time and they have a well worn routine that makes their life predictable. Jamie seems completely comfortable with this life; once a shy introvert who was pulled out of his shell by his now girlfriend he seems content dividing his time between work, home and the occasional visit to his sister’s. Kacie, on the other hand, looks tired and sad. The pair don’t kiss and they almost don’t touch, in some instances it almost looks like they avoid coming into physical contact with each other; a clear indication that all is not well in their relationship.

It’s clear that Spaces and Reservations is about what happens next in this relationship the problem is that the movie’s second hour becomes as stagnant as the relationship it depicts. The second act goes on for ever and the movie loses nearly all of the momentum in builds in the opening. The only thing that keeps the story afloat, though just barely, are the performances from Zach White and Taylor Hastings as Jamie and Kacie respectively. There’s a natural chemistry to the pair and their characterizations are brilliant, traversing from the comfortable to the cold and back into amiable friendship with ease. Not only are they the highlight of the movie, their chemistry and relationship is the only thing that manages to keep the movie afloat after a near disastrous second hour when Spaces and Reservations seems stuck in a repeating loop where nothing happens.

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Exclusive: Extended Clip from Indie RomCom Sex After Kids!

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I admit it: Jeremy Lalonde’s Sex After Kids initially caught my attention because of the cast. Not one but three “Lost Girl” cast members? Where do I send my money?

Turns out Lalonde’s movie isn’t simply a playground for “Lost Girl” cast members on summer filming break but quite honestly a very charming and funny romantic comedy the likes of which only Canada can produce. After all, where else could you see the very talented Zoie Palmer (complete with British accent) trying to keep the interest of a potential lover by bringing up Margaret Atwood? And that’s only scraping the surface!

Along with Palmer, Sex After Kids also stars Kris Holden-Ried, Paul Amos, Katie Boland, Jay Brazeau and the superbly talented Gordon Pinsent.

Sex After Kids is now available on iTunes and other VOD platforms in the US and to celebrate, the good folks at Filmbuff have been nice enough to provide us with this very amusinc extended clip from the movie!

My original review from February tucked under the seats!

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Review: Sex After Kids

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Director: Jeremy Lalonde
Writer: Jeremy Lalonde
Producers: Jeremy Lalonde, Jennifer Liao, Lori Montgomery, Keri Peterson
Starring: Paul Amos, Shannon Beckner, Jay Brazeau, Amanda Brugel, Ennis Esmer, Kate Hewlett, Kris Holden-Ried, Peter Keleghan, Mary Krohnert, Mimi Kuzyk, Zoie Palmer, Kristin Booth, Katie Boland, Christine Horne, Mark Robinson, David Tompa, Gordon Pinsent
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 105 min.


Turns out Canada is a really great place to find sex comedies and the last few years have been especially fruitful. This year alone we’re in for two great sex romps, Jason James’ That Burning Feeling (review) and Jeremy Lalonde’s Sex After Kids. Where James’ movie has one man searching for answers, Lalonde’s introduces a cast of diverse characters all of whom are at a cross roads: they’ve had kids and now their sex lives seem to have disappeared. Except nothing is quite this simple.

There’s a lesbian couple figuring out what has caused a riff in their relationship, empty nesters rekindling their love life, new parents who are trying to follow their therapists’ recommendation to have sex for 100 days in a row, a couple dealing with their changing feelings for each other, a single father adjusting to his changing tastes in women and a single mother who chose to have a baby on her own and is now buzzing for a quickie only to find weirdos (note: unless you’re ready for what follows, never include the words “cockle doodle doo” in your personal ad).

On the surface, Sex After Kids sounds like it’s checking off tick boxes; gay couple: check, old couple: check, singles: check. The thing about Lalonde’s script is that it never feels like that’s what he’s doing. The stories, though at first completely disconnected aside from similar themes, do have a connecting thread but its not obvious nor is it unnecessarily crammed in. It feels natural to the story almost as if the idea started with the various members of a parent’s group and evolved from the stories shared there but Lalonde doesn’t feel encumbered by the structure of starting with the connection and for a while, Sex After Kids ambles along from story to story in hugely enjoyable style.

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TIFF Short Film “NOAH” [last day to view]

Just because you weren’t in Toronto the last couple of weeks doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a little of what TIFF has to offer. For example, I stumbled across this short film entitled Noah which takes place entirely on a computer screen (including the closing credits). It’s an interesting look at relationships in the digital age.

It’s only a few minutes long but I actually felt a little anxious for the protagonist while watching. So for me it was what I like to call “quietly intense.” Take a look below and see what you think.

**Today is the last day the video will be available for viewing on YouTube**

 

Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

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Director: David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night)
Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg, Stephenie Meyer (novel)
Producers: Wyck Godfrey, Greg Mooradian, Karen Rosenfelt
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Billy Burke, Charlie Bewley, Xavier Samuel, Daniel Cudmore, Christopher Heyerdahl, Dakota Fanning, Cameron Bright, Noot Seer, Michael Sheen, Graham Greene, Tinsel Korey
MPAA Rating: PG13
Running time: 124 min.

Let’s speak frankly, shall we? The Twilight franchise is not now, nor will it ever be, the all encompassing beast that is Harry Potter. Regardless of how much money the studio throws into the marketing machine, it’s wasted time, effort and dollars because as proven by the previous two films and now with the third instalment The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, they’re never going to win everyone over. The reasons why are too many to argue (and mediocre films are only one of them) and quite frankly, they don’t matter. Author Stephenie Meyer’s stories were never going to appeal to everyone, the key demographic has always been the hopeless romantic (and even some of those take issue with the story) and the films based on those stories clearly haven’t won over a large chunk of the population so why bother trying? The fan base is large enough, and ever growing, that the nay sayers are drowned out, even if they yell as loud or louder than the supporters.

Eclipse Movie StillAs clear from my thoughts on the previous two films, I am a fan and as one, I came to love these characters long before there ever was a Twilight (review) film and the movies have been a sort of icing on the cake. Some bits of the icing have been sweeter than others but Eclipse is, for this fan at least, the sweetest. By this point in the story, Bella is back with Edward and happier than she’s ever been but Victoria, the rogue vampire who has been responsible for much, though not all, of Bella’s heartache, has a new plan of attack. She’s building an army and brining them to Forks in an effort to wipe out Bella in retribution for the loss of her own mate but to do so, she first needs to dispatch the pesky Cullens who have adopted Bella as one of their own.

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DVD Review: Youth in Revolt

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Director: Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl)
Writers: Gustin Nash, C.D. Payne (novel)
Producer: David Permut
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Justin Long
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 90 min.

Michael Cera isn’t an actor that shows range. The 22 year old has been playing the oddball geeky kid for a few years now and he doesn’t show any sign of moving on. For the most part his performances work but the films aren’t always good and frankly, the reason to see most of them (to date at least), has been to see if Cera is doing something new but when Youth in Revolt came around, I, and from its box office run, many others, had given up on the idea of seeing Cera in the same old role.

Youth in Revolt Movie StillThat’s why I skipped it and even the addition of bad boy alternate personality Francois Dillinger wasn’t enough to catch my attention during its theatrical run but on DVD, I was going to give it a shot because who knows, maybe Francois is different but now that I’ve seen it, I wish I’d stuck by my initial reading and stayed well away.

Miguel Arteta’s film (based on C.D. Payne’s novel) has it’s moments but its no where near as good as Arteta’s crowning achievement to date, The Good Girl. There’s no reinvention of Cera here and if anything, the film feels like a hipster version of American Pie and at its core, the story of a boy who just wants to get the girl and if possible, get laid in the process.
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