Blu-Ray Review: Der müde Tod (a.k.a. Destiny)

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Starring: Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Goetzke, Max Adalbert
Country: Germany
Running Time: 98 min
Year: 1921
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve been slowly working my way through Fritz Lang’s filmography and I’ve yet to be disappointed by his work. He crafted some of cinema’s most thrilling, inventive and forward thinking films during his 41 years behind the camera in both Germany and the US (where he moved in the mid-30s due to his anti-Nazi beliefs). So when Eureka announced they were releasing one of the director’s early successes, Der müde Tod (translated as The Weary Death, but otherwise known as Destiny), as part of their Masters of Cinema collection, I was keen to see how it stood up against his later, more famous films.

Der müde Tod sees Death (Bernhard Goetzke) come to make his home in a small German town. As well as building a great wall with no windows or doors around his property by the graveyard, he seems to follow a young couple (Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen) who are engaged to be married. As you might suspect, he’s there to collect a soul and the young man soon disappears. The woman, distraught, seeks out Death and pleads with him to spare her fiancée. Weary of his tough job, the shadowy figure offers the woman a deal. If she can prevent the deaths of just one of three nearly spent lives he presents to her (all part of tragic romances), she can have her wish.

In dealing with three separate stories, on top of the main framing narrative, Der müde Tod works like D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, made a few years prior, telling a few similarly themed tales to make a universal message (this time about fate). Here they’re not intercut though, the ‘extra’ stories merely play out back to back in the middle of the film.

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Review: Paper Towns

Dramatic romantic moment
Dramatic romantic moment

Director: Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank)
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, John Green (novel)
Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 109 min.


There’s a moment in the third act of Paper Towns where I felt like looking away, rolling up into a tight ball, putting my head to my knees and just rocking back and forth until the pain of the truth went away. I remember being a teenager confronted by the reality of one sided love. It took me longer than a few hours to get over the rejection and realization that there was more to the world than being turned away by long-time crush. In that moment, during that confrontation between Quentin and his best pal Ben, that memory came rushing back like it had just happened yesterday.

You may never have read a John Green novel but chances are your teenage daughter has. Green has turned into the unlikely voice of a generation or perhaps more accurately, a guy in his late 30’s who can talk to a generation of teens in a way they can both understand and relate to (or as The New Yorker put it “The Teen Whisperer”). That has translated into success at the box office and while Paper Towns doesn’t induce an emotional breakdown complete with tears and snot, it does hit home in a more poignant way. At least for adults. I’m not sure how well a movie set in today’s high school climate but which makes zero reference to social media, will play with teens.

Paper Towns feels a lot like a John Hughes movie. In familiar teen movie trope style, the kids can be boiled down to one label; the jock, the geek, the pretty one. They’re all characters we know or knew in our day and the way they come together is both ludicrous and charmingly believable. Who doesn’t want adventure in their last weeks of high school? In this case, the adventure unfolds as Quentin and his friends go on a two day road trip to New York State in search of Margo Roth Spiegelman; one of the most popular girls in school and Quentin’s long time crush, who has simply vanished. The movie takes a bit of time to get going – the set-up of Quentin and Margo’s history and their last night together spreads over the first half in a sprawling, mildly interesting way but once the crew decides on the road trip, Paper Towns really finds its groove.

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After the Credits Episode 168: Interview with Ruba Nadda

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I‘ve been a fan of Ruba Nadda since I saw Cairo Time a couple of years ago and when the chance to speak to speak with the Canadian director about her new romantic thriller October Gale came up, I jumped at the opportunity.

I really liked October Gale when I saw it at VIFF last year. It’s not the darkest of thrillers but it’s a great story of the hardships of working through loss and features fantastic perfomrances from Patricia Clarkson, Scott Speedman and Tim Roth.

During our chat, Ms. Nadda and I talk about her recent fascination with thrillers, the art of on-screen chemistry and the difficulties, especially in today’s landscape, of romances that simmer just below the surface.

October Gale is currently available on VOD and opens theatrically on Friday, March 6th.

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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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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: The Liberator

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I clearly remember my first day of school in Caracas. Mom walked my sister and I, in our uniforms, to the front gate where we lined up with the other boys and girls to recite the anthem while facing the flag and a gigantic statue of Simón Bolívar. It would be months before I sat through my first lesson on the so called “Liberator” but Bolívar was everywhere in the city and his fight for freedom lived in people’s hearts in a way history typically doesn’t. The thought of seeing Bolívar immortalized on screen by none other than Édgar Ramírez was exciting. The Liberator is certainly beautiful but history plays second fiddle here.

Directed by Alberto Arvelo, The Liberator is quite likely the largest production ever mounted by Venezuela. Expansive sets, thousands of extras and lush period costuming are only the surface of this operation which begins by introducing Bolívar, the son of a wealthy Venezuelan family, visiting Spain. Here he meets the man who would later be king as well as his first wife and after a short spurt of happiness, we follow the young Bolívar as he goes from sad widower to angry aristocrat to leader of a revolution. We meet the key players, see some of the important moments but it’s all very perfunctory and The Liberator comes across less as historical bipic and more like historical romance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but a man of Bolívar’s importance deserves more.

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Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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Director: Josh Boone (Stuck In Love)
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Webe, John Green (book)
Producer: Brendan Prost
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min.


Cancer sucks and generally speaking, movies about cancer suck. They’re saccharin and overtly manipulative of emotions and show you beautiful people dying and those around them suffering and in the end there’s a moment of happiness when you remember the dead soul who so deeply touched the life/lives of the central characters in the short time they knew the sickly person. The Fault in Our Stars is exactly that movie. The only difference here is that this features such charismatic performances that it doesn’t feel like emotional manipulation but more like some sort of catharsis.

Emerging writing superstars Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are starting to corner the market on touching teen dramas starring Shailene Woodley. Last year they were behind the script for the much loved The Spectacular Now and here they are again adapting from John Green’s best selling novel about cancer kinds falling in love. Hazel (Woodley) is really sick and Gus (Ansel Elgort) is in remission. The pair meet at support group and immediately strike up a friendship that later develops into romance before tragedy strikes. After all, you can’t have a movie about cancer without some sort of tragedy (because having cancer isn’t tragedy enough).

The thing is that in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, the tragedy and emotion that goes with it works. Part of it is the fact that Green’s novel has a streak of bluntness running through it. It’s not all good moments and bad moments but a mix of the two, comedy hand-in-hand with tragedy, and Hazel and Gus tackle life with a sarcasm and sense of mortality that is refreshing. They talk about death, about what comes after (if anything) about the limitless living one can do in our limited time on earth and rather than feel sorry for the sick kids, I couldn’t help but think about what I’m doing with my life. Nothing like seeing young people suffer and possibly die to make you consider if you’ve done enough with your 30 years on earth.

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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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Trailer: Mood Indigo

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Michel Gondry’s latest film, Mood Indigo, is described as a “French Romantic Tragedy Science Fantasy” and involves woman who suffers from an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs. Weird or not, the thing is sure taking its sweet time to make it to these shores having been released more than a year ago in Europe. While it played a few stops on the festival circuit, the roll out was curiously muted considering the quite positive reviews and several nominations at the French Oscars, The César Awards.

As in several cases of quirky European films (see also: Wrong and WrongThe Ambassador) eventually Drafthouse films picked it up for limited release (in July) in North America and they comissioned the creation of this lovely poster. Part photo, part oil painting, all very much Michel Gondry.

There is a new trailer, too:

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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