Review: The Calling


Director: Jason Stone
Writers: Scott Abramovitch
Producers: Scott Abramovitch, Lonny Dubrofsky, Randy Manis, Nicholas Tabarrok
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Heyerdahl
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 108 min.

Thrillers and police procedurals are not my usual cup of tea when it comes to books so it wasn’t much of a surprise that I’d never heard of Inger Ash Wolfe (the penname of author Michael Redhill) but the trailer for the adaptation of the first book in a series of thrillers certainly caught my attention. Thanks Susan Sarandon.

The Calling stars Sarandon as a small town detective on the brink of retirement who finds herself in the midst of the biggest case of her career. There are bodies appearing all over the area and whoever is responsible seems to be on a very specific mission and it’s up to her and her understaffed police force to solve the mystery before anyone else dies.

What initially appealed to me about The Calling, based on the trailer, is that Sarandon seemed to be filling a role usually reserved for her male counterparts. To my surprise, the change wasn’t made by some savvy screenwriter but rather, it was written that way by Wolfe who has written three novels to date about Detective Hazel Micallef and her adventures solving crimes in rural anywhere. What I really appreciate about Micallef and which was well translated to the screen by both screenwriter Scott Abramovitch and Sarandon is that the character isn’t simply a female version of a typical male character. Though some of Micallef’s tendencies do come across that way (she drinks and pops pills as a way to deal with a medical condition, she doesn’t take orders and she’s often brash) the character is more complex than that and encompasses not only Micallef’s relationship with her co-workers but also the complicated relationships with her ex-husband and her mother.

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Trailer: The Company You Keep

Outside the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford is kind of a cottage industry for earnest political tinged thrillers. The Company You Keep is indeed one of these, focusing on the trials and tribulations (and family) of two Weather Underground members. It came and went without a peep at the 2012 edition of TIFF.





Robert Redford, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandon, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, and Stanley Tucci.

Furthermore, it’s penned by Lem Dobbs (The Limey) and scored by Cliff Martinez (Solaris, Drive)

Extended Review: Cloud Atlas


Where to begin with Cloud Atlas? I admire the chutzpah of such an unusually expensive film experiment but how far can admiration of ambition go if the result is so tedious? The film is basically the Voltron of off-beat speculative fiction cinema insofar as it is over-large, rather gaudy and significantly lacking in any sort of grace. It is the kind of viewing experience where a disinterested malaise sets in at about the 45 minute mark, with two full hours still to go. The realization comes sharp and early that the Siblings Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have taken the five (or is it six?) archetypal stories out of David Mitchell’s novel and frappé’d them into interconnected, bite-sized storytelling morsels. The three directors wheezily labour to say something about the human condition, storytelling and re-incarnation that goes beyond the ‘droplet in the ocean’ platitudes,’ but the cumulatively result is merely a structural affectation; a meticulously crafted object successful in making all the pieces fit more or less together into a ideological puzzle. What seems elude the three directors in the effort to slosh gallons of latex on their actors, is the very reason why we like these tales (Soylent Green, One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest, All The President’s Men, Farinelli and Amistad to name a few) that are both larger than life and absolutely human. The ideological bent of the film agrees with me: Social boundaries will always be present, and people should strive to break them. To wit: Larry Wachowski crossing gender and handle to Lana and still being able to create mega-effects multiplex fodder for the masses, even if, ultimately, those struggles for dollars and freedoms granted yield something like Cloud Atlas. What we remain stuck with the pretty but lifeless shenanigans in The Matrix Reloaded around Zion (The dreadlocked rave, Link’s domestic situation, et cetera) and in adventure movie terms, this eager-beaver epic makes the handsome yet turgid pile of good intentions that was John Carter seem as fresh and rollicking as The Empire Strikes Back.

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TIFF 2012 Review: Cloud Atlas

Where to begin with Cloud Atlas? The interminably long film is basically the Voltron of off-beat science fiction movies. This is what happens when you take five (or six) familiar genre-stories and juxtapose them (ok, put them in the blender and hit frappe!) in an effort say something profound about the human condition. That the end results is merely a structural confection, its ambition successful in making all the pieces fit more or less together into a grand puzzle but sacrificing the very reason why we like these tales. The sacrifice on the altar of science fiction grandiosity is empathy, character development and me ever giving a damn. The films basic ideas and premise agree with me: That social boundaries are made to be broken (as per director Larry Wachowski crossing genders to Lana); that we process the human condition through narrative; that we’ve not grown as much as we like to think as a species over the past few thousand years, and maybe, that we never will. These are all great things to tackle in your science fiction blockbuster, yet each and every one of them is treated here in the most facile (and banal) fashion. Remember all the flat, unnecessary shenanigans in The Matrix Reloaded around the Zion (The dreadlocked rave, Link’s domestic situation, et cetera)? So much of Cloud Atlas felt that way to me: Lifeless and tedious. In blockbuster adventure movie terms, it makes the handsome, turgid pile of good intentions that was John Carter seem as fresh and rollicking as The Empire Strikes Back.

In all of its 2 hour 45 minute run time, the only real surprises, you know, those big ‘Ooooh!’ moments in any film (either pop art or art house) are during the closing credit sequence when you discover how the make-up department slapped on goop and facial prosthetics to disguise each member of its ensemble. This is a fundamental problem, one of Python-wannabe-ism and Cloud Atlas ends up an act of accidental and unfunny sketch comedy. Even if it has little in the way of intentions to be funny, outside of the thread where Jim Broadbent is imprisoned in an old age home by his brother, too much of the generic story telling in each of the individual stories comes across as half-sketched ideas where gimmicks and not actual humanity, are the glue that binds. One can only take so many cringe-worthy Tom Hanks accents in a film. The most egregious of these is his Tru-Tru speak as a middle aged man running around in rags with Halle Berry in a Ridley-Walker-lite post-apocalyptic world (which is not even Earth, but who cares at this point, right?) I’ve always wanted to see an attempt a film of that iconic yet ‘unfilmable novel,’ and it pains me here to see the form used just as a mere building block. The filmmakers reach very much exceeds their grasp and they are so swallowed by the breadth of their ambitions that they lose sight of the very humanity they are trying to encompass. The film decides that one trip with Jar-Jar-Hanks is not enough and so revisits the character as a goofy old codger. A storyteller that Hanks ‘matures’ into after ‘winning’ Cloud Atlas’s karmic video-game (Spoiler Alert – A typecast Hugo Weaving and a surprisingly versatile yet often unrecognizable Hugh Grant come out as the big karmic losers.) Hanks’ is the Ur-narrator, the everyman, even though his thread is end-story chronologically, it is also the most primitive. Get it? Get it? Any time in human history, we have the same problems and we strive onward and that the striving may seem futile but it is not. I like the idea, but this is kindergarten Buddhism in the telling.

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Trailer: Arbitrage

Today is the day for trailers from recent Sundance entries featuring Susan Sarandon. Arbitrage is a crime thriller that mixes infidelity, family loyalty and corporate shenanigans with good old fashioned 1970s style storytelling. Richard Gere stars as a financial power broker who betrays the trust of his family (Brit Marling, Susan Sarandon) for the purposes of not corrupting the sale of a major corporate asset when he and his mistress suffer a major car accident. Whew! Cover-up Time! Tim Roth, who is sorely missed from film endeavors due to the actor favouring steady TV work for the past five years, looks top-notch as a cop on the scent of a big case. The production looks handsome, albeit a tad over-dramatic (more Wall Street than Michael Clayton) and it certainly has my attention come September when Arbitrage is getting a simultaneous theatre and VOD release.

Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Con Air

1997 USA. Director: Simon West. Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Colm Meaney, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Steve Buscemi.

They just don’t make ’em like they did back in the late 90s. On rewatch, the movie is as goofy as ever but done so completely deliberately; which is something I actually appreciate now, more so than my theatrical experience 15 years ago whereas I just looked at everything as action cheese. It’s as simple as it gets but the outlandish scenarios keep things interesting at every turn. The score is awesome! It’s a unique blend of mechanical sound effects (listen closely whenever Buscemi is on screen), heavy metal and strings. The action and effects still hold up (the Vegas crash scene is terrific!). And of course it’s Nic Cage in proper mode working next to a fucking great, over the top John Malkovich performance. It’s fun and funny. For good ol fashioned, proper action flicks, you could do a lot worse.

The Hunger

1983 USA. Director: Tony Scott. Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, David Bowie.

Finally, a Tony Scott film I can actually get behind. OK, I do like True Romance, but it doesn’t quite hit on all it’s cylinders with me – especially towards the end. Though the last 15-20 minutes in this modern day vampire story (well, it was modern day when it was released 25 years ago anyway – those hairstyles certainly couldn’t be mistaken as modern at this point), go slightly astray here as well, there’s a lovely slow build up as Catherine Deneuve marks medical researcher Susan Sarandon as her next companion. A lot is made of the steamy scenes between Deneuve and Sarandon, but they aren’t the focus here (in more ways than one – things are so soft focus you’d swear they were filmed through a feathered pillow). Deneuve plays the countess with a wonderful icy cool exterior that belies the real fire beneath and Sarandon’s big eyes soak all of it in (Bowie is actually very good as her previous companion as his Thin White Duke character slides perfectly into place). The style occasionally threatens to undercut it all, but (short of that last section) it achieves a strange tense balance that had me solidly entranced for most of it.

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Cinecast Episode 209 – Respect the Troll Canon

After a couple of lean and mean episodes, we bring the show back to is usual epic size and clock in a 3.5 hour conversation. This is due to a number of things. Everyone was able to catch Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and discussion about art, 3D, and Wernerisms ensue. Andrew has been taking in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival and talks about boarding schools, Eva Green and troll hunting. Matt Gamble (Where the Long Tail Ends) returns after a week hiatus and reviews Scream 4 (*SPOILER HEAVY*) and this leads into a discussion of the whole Scream franchise but really, Kurt and Matt only want to talk about The People Under the Stairs. Then there is a fairly heated argument about Speed Racer and how it is kind of like Ronin Miller’s Crossing. Kurt gets angry. Matt gets condescending. (Things get even less civil later on when talking about Philip Ridley’s dark and unclassifiable fairy tale, Heartless.) Moving along, and putting arguing styles aside, we move into what we watched which includes couple of interesting documentaries, one of the super rich the other on mysterious street art. There is some talk about The Joneses and joy of David Duchovny’s self-caricature idiom, there is lots of worship of Christopher Lee and The Wicker Man. And, of course, the proverbial much, much more!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!




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A Film’s “Intent” and “Valid” Film Criticism

I‘m not a film critic. Yes, I write some reviews and have a weekly show in which I sit around and bullshit with my friends about newly released film. In that sense sure, I guess I am a critic. But in that sense isn’t everyone a critic of any form of art or experience they have that they talk about? What I mean is that I’m not paid for what I do. It’s not a career (obviously). I didn’t go to film school and I don’t have a degree in journalism or broadcasting. I’m just a dude with an opinion in which the 21st century allows me to share that opinion with the masses.

So I think it’s time to address something that’s been bugging me for quite some time; an accusation that has been tossed around on our Cinecast (and others) far too often (of which I admit I am equally guilty). This notion that you’re “reviewing the movie not for what it is but what you wanted it to be.” I think that statement can careen down a real slippery slope and in most cases (not all) is totally invalid. Can’t you throw that accusation at anyone for just about any criticism of any movie? Our recent discussion of Rango has spurred these thoughts.

If someone were to say they didn’t like Speed Racer because the dialogue is terrible, I don’t think it’s fair to say, “well that’s just not what the movie was aiming for.” Well maybe not, but that doesn’t mean it’s an invalid criticism. The dialogue is pretty terrible in that movie. It’s hackneyed, elementary and corny. Sure it may be reminiscent of the original animated television show and sure that may be what the producers intended but that doesn’t mean someone has to like it or that it couldn’t have been done better. I personally happen to like Speed Racer quite a bit but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who walks out of the screening and says, “man I just don’t think I could’ve taken one more second of Susan Sarandon’s one dimensional character and her campy acting!” That’s an absolutely fair comment to make.

So yes, that person wanted that movie to be something different. In essence, any review out there that is negative of something is essentially saying just that isn’t it? If the film had done something just a little bit different it might be more positive looking in that particular “critic’s” viewpoint.
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Cinecast Episode 184 – Death Lottery

The 4 hour barrier is broken as The Documentary Blog’s Jay Cheel joins Kurt and Andrew on the longest Cinecast ever – you know it is even longer than the previous epic length TIFF show. What do we talk about? For starters, Kurt & Jay examine the Let The Right One In remake, Let Me In (*SPOILERS*), in painstaking detail, and how not to process American remakes of foreign language films. Next we move along for a solid hour on Never Let Me Go (*SPOILERS*) which keeps going on the vibe of comparing source material to eventual film adaptation and why you probably should not do that. More Carey Mulligan talk as Andrew skims and sums up Wall Street 2 with out spoilers. Then, a spoiler-free discussion on Catfish follows, although only Jay caught it, so it is more of a discussion on fake/faux-Documentaries, and ‘narrative-ethics’ which leads to more more talk on I’m Still Here, with a little Last Exorcism and The Blair Witch Project to round things out. Next we move along to the avant garde and barely-narrative Cannes Palme D’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and a lot of other films we watched: An overview of the “Middletown” documentary series, a bit of Daybreakers-Redux, a bit of Season 6 of “LOST” (you guessed it, with *SPOILERS*), and more avant garde cinema with Last Year At Marienbad. We also debate the finer points of Steve Buscemi and the cast and crew of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Finally (finally!) at around the 4 hour mark, our DVD picks round out a show that carried us well into the wee hours of the night recording. We hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed chatting. It may be long, but it is a solid and whip-smart show this time around, although we are biased on that front.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


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ALTERNATIVE (no music track):

Full show notes are under the seats…
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“The Greatest” Trailer

Immediately after arriving at home from seeing An Education a few months back, I declared that Carey Mulligan was going to one day be a big big star – of likely Julia Roberts caliber. Not exactly going out on a limb there, but still.

Then a pair of films receive buzz at Sundance. Then an Oscar nod and in the top 5 best dressed at the Kodak that night. This is the beginning of the beginning folks.

The other film at Sundance, not nominated for a best picture Oscar, was The Greatest, co-starring Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon. Yesterday a trailer for the film hits the Tubes of You and was suddenly removed. Thanks to the gnarly kids over at Trailer Addict, we’re still able to check out the clip.

The film concerns a pregnant young girl whose boyfriend dies in a car crash, and the uneasy relationship she forges with his parents. Overly melodramatic at least, vomit-inducing at worst, I fear the movie could be rather eye-rolling. Still, Mulligan looks good here and for now, she’s got my money.


TIFF 09 Review: Leaves of Grass

Director: Tim Blake Nelson (O, The Grey Zone)
Writer: Tim Blake Nelson
Producers: Bill Migliore, Tim Blake Nelson, Edward Norton, John Langley, Kristina Dubin, Elie Cohn
Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, Keri Russel, Susan Sarandon, Melanie Lynskey, Richard Dreyfuss
MPAA Rating: 14-A (UK)
Running time: 105 min.

Like Adaptation, Leaves of Grass clear gimmick is the use of a high caliber actor for two very different characters within the same film and indeed force them to work together as the story calls for it. While I enjoyed Leaves of Grass for what it was, it didn’t do a whole lot in terms of bringing anything to the proverbial table. If anything, it took an interesting concept and really dumbed it down. Not that there aren’t a lot of things to like, but Edward Norton is better than this film gives him credit for and Tim Blake Nelson seems to continue to wallow in his mire of mediocrity.

Norton plays both of the two Kincaid Brothers. Bill is a clean-cut, intelligent professor of philosophy with an offer to teach at Harvard; Brady is an Oklahoma hillbilly who’s chosen career path is that of a highly skilled pot farmer/dealer. When Brady gets into some rough criminal/financial trouble (the potentially deadly kind), he fakes his own death in order to get Bill to finally agree to come back to Oklahoma – a world Bill left years ago and promised himself he’d never return. Once back in town, Bill realizes he’s been duped but reluctantly agrees to stay (partly due to a new found love interest) and even more reluctantly goes along with a scheme that sets himself up to pretend to be his brother so that when his brother commits an out of town crime against a rival drug lord, he can claim he was in town the entire time. Of course a series of minor mishaps ensue which spiral more and more out of control and possibly dooming the unlikely duo.
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