Saturday, July 30, 2016

Forget about "Jason Bourne" - "Indignation" and "Equity" deserve your attention.

Forget about "Jason Bourne." I'll give my two cents on that film in the days to come, but alas we don't really have kind words to say about it. I really had high hopes, but it just didn't work. It felt like a rush job instead of the potent provocation of the first three films. A greatest hits package of the first three films with none of the substance. I'm catching "Suicide Squad" on Thursday so maybe that'll shake up the rust, but I doubt it, the way it has been handled and hidden from critics is a bad clue as to the quality of the actual film.

One of the year's best movies has opened up in select theaters this week.

"Indignation" James Schamus’ directorial debut is a thing of beauty. Although this peculiar love story might be thought of on paper as “conventional” by some, the surprise is that it’s far from it. In fact, some of the movies breathtaking set pieces are so daringly imagined and produced. Based on Phillip Roth’s difficult, but brilliant novel Indignation concentrates on a Jewish student’s (Logan Lerman) sexual and cultural dissatisfaction of a society gone astray. The small Ohio college he decides to attend wakes him up in alarming ways, so does a troubled, attractive blonde played by the talented Gloria Gadon."

I caught Meera Menon's "Equity" at the Sundance Film Festival thispast January and it's a real gem. It opened up in select theaters around L.A. and N.Y.

"Meera Menon's Equity, think Margin Call but starring women and directed by one as well, was one of the very best surprises of the festival. Touted as "the first female-driven Wall Street film" it follows a senior investment banker -played by Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn- who becomes involved in a dangerous game of corporate backstabbing with the Wall Street elite. It's a nasty gem of a film that was luckily picked up by Sony Pictures Classics at the tail end of the festival."

10 great B&W movies since 1980

Indiewire's list of the 20 best black and white movies of the last 20 years got me thinking. It is a long lost art to film your movie in black and white and it can still work beautifully. I decided to make my own list of the best by choosing further back from 1980 to present and the list I gathered is, for me, definite. I also limited it to just Americans films because if you open up to every country there are way more complicated choices at hand.

Tim Burton's Ed Wood
David Lynch's The Elephant Man
Noah Baumbach' Frances Ha
George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck
Joel Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There
Alexander Payne's Nebraska
Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull
Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List
Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise
Woody Allen's Zelig

Does something look "off" with Mel Gibson's upcoming "Hacksaw Ridge"?

You can saw whatever you want about Mel Gibson. but at the end of the day he was as charismatic as any Hollywood actor that came after him in the 80s and 90s and 2000s. Of course what he said to a police officer inebriated was a disgrace, but can we already get over it? When it comes to actors turned directors he's a keeper. He has directed three films that deserve your attention: "Braveheart," "Apocalypto" and, yes even, "The Passion of the Christ." He's proven with every film that he has acute eye for detail, developing a style of overtly realistic violence mixed with historically important stories. He may not be the most subtle of filmmakers, but he sure does know how to tell a story.

His latest is called "Hacksaw Ridge" starring Andrew Garfield costars with Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Richard Pyros and Rachel Griffiths. Opening on 11.4.16.

After a couple of views of the trailer my opinion seems to be that they might be selling the wrong movie, or at least I hope so, because that trailer looked to me as a by-the-books, hollywood formulaic war movie. They must have, in all likelihood, "pimped-up" the film to look marketable enough. Am I wrong in being worried? This does come from a fan of Gibson's directing.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What happens when you mix George Lucas and Alfred Hitchcock?

George Lucas and Alfred Hitchcock might not have much in common, but that didn’t stop Fabrice Mathieu from concocting the brilliant homage “Darth by Darthwest.”

A mash-up of the Hitchcock’s classic 1959 movie “North By Northwest” and Lucas’ “Star Wars” this six-minute film tries to blend the iconic Star Warts imagery we’re all familiar with, most notably a TIE FIGHTER, C-3PO and the Millennium Falcon, with the now iconic scene of Carey Grant’s Roger O Thornhill running through the cornfield being chased by a plane.

Mathieu also opts for Bernard Herrmann’s immaculate score over John Williams’, good choice, and switches the American mid-west setting for Tatooine! The film opens with Grant waiting for a Bus on the planet as he watches Jawas and Sarlaccs pass hilariously pass him by. C-3PO shows up and then all hell breaks loose as the TIE fighter, replacing the original’s plane, chases down Thornhill through a cornfield.

No need to reveal what happens next, but suffice to say that Mathieu has really outdone himself here in terms of creative imagery and overall cleverness. It feels like something Hitchcock would have concocted had he delved into the science fiction genre.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Pete's Dragon" is good, but ...

I caught up with "Pete's Dragon", oh I'd say a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say it really is such a well-made, beautifully rendered children's entertainment because, well, the director at work here is David Lowery who made the magnificent "Ain't Them Bodies A Saint." back in 2013, which turned out to be a really important film of the last 3 or so years. "Pete's Dragon" is obviously a slight step back for Lowery, but still a very charming movie.

I mean, in all honesty, there are no real ways to finance your own vision anymore. Directors are fucked at the moment in terms of creative freedom. All the millennial filmmakers that showed shades of greatness with an indie are being bought off left and right by Disney for their superhero, mass-marketed franchises. An empire is being built and they can afford to just buy out all these up and coming talent.

There was a line this producer said to me back at Sundance that I'll always remember: "all these filmmakers here think they can retain their creative freedom, even after a Sundance hit, but they eventually sell their soul to the devil. We're living tough times."

"Embers" is poor sci-fi @FantasiaFest #Fantasia2016

To make a post-apocalyptic film, you must truly have a vision that not only is interesting, but is authentic enough to give you the nagging feel that this could feasibly happen in our society one day. It worked wonders in Alfonso Cuarón's now classic "Children of Men," but it faltered in Fernando Mereilles' misbegotten "Blindness."

In writer-director Claire Carré's "Embers," a global neurological disorder has erased most of the population's memory. Those who remain in this wasteland of no mercy try to find some kind of connection and meaning in a world that is slowly deviating from it.

At its core, "Embers" is simply told with a mosaic of characters, with all but one having lost their memory. The neurological disorder is not exactly explained, nor do you really get any of the science behind the tragedy. Some of the characters can remember a whole day, some can remember just minutes.

é tries to keep her film grounded in reality, but struggles to find some kind of coherence to her vision. The locations and set design are top notch and were clearly well researched. There's an abandoned church in Gary, Indiana where characters named Boy (Jason Ritter) and Girl (Iva Gocheva) wake up and struggle to figure out if they are or have been in love. There's a lot of questioning, which turns out to be an intriguing proposition for the audience, but finally ends up being frustrating in the end due to the repetitive nature of the story.

Another story concerns an intellectual professor (Tucker Smallwood), who has found creative ways to survive with what he has, and the friendship he strikes with an orphaned boy (Silvan Friedman). These segments of the film don't necessarily advance the story in any way shape or form, but are a way to just add another layer to an already struggling mosaic. 

Additionally, there is containment in the story of Miranda (Greta Fernandez) who lives with her father (Roberto Cots) in a bunker. They found a way to stay resistant to the disease, but Miranda still has the itch to go out, find her missing mom and build up some kind of connection with the outside world, even if it means losing her own memory. It's this struggle between freedom vs safety that invariably invades the entire film. It's not necessarily an invalid question to ask, but it could have been done n many more subtle ways than those presented in "Embers."

The only character arc that actually works is that of an unnamed young man (also the one with the least amount of screen time). This violently aggressive young man (Karl Glusman) brings a whole new meaning to the term "survival of the fittest" by attacking elderly men for their canned food, young children for self-esteem, and girls for sex. It's a shocking reminder of just which direction this film could have gone if it wanted to step on the dark side of humanity. Instead Carré stuffs her film with hope, love, family, adolescence, and an overall triumph of the human spirit.

It's in Glusman's performance that we are most interested in, as he bears the rage and fury of the apocalyptic world on his shoulder. When he finally gets a taste of his own medicine by being brutally attacked by a gang, you'd think he'd finally rest, calm himself down, and learn a valuable lesson; but he continues on in his path of terror, wreaking chaos wherever he sees an opportunity. 

"Embers" tries to be a complicated dissection of a possible world not too far ahead of us, but it lacks the imagination to make us soar along with its vision. It's a depiction of humanity and the world at its supposed lowest state, but you never really feel the misery or despair that is supposed to be present everywhere. Carréchooses to be optimistic and by doing that she makes the film lose a big chunk of its credibility. [C] 

Possible #TIFF2016 title: Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant" with Ben Affleck

Not appearing on the first slate of TIFF films, this curiously thought-out film looks to be a total mindfuck of the highest order. At first you think this is going to be Affleck's "A Beautiful Mind," I was wincing, but then it takes a complete 180 and shatters our expectations. O'Connor's last film was "Warrior," which is still, to this day, the best film about Mixed Martial Arts that I have ever seen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

#FantasiaFest review: "Skiptrace" starring Jackie Chan and -SHOCK- Johnn Knoxville

MONTREAL — Jackie Chan has had Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson assist him in past buddy-cop comedies. Movies like “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon” were fun to watch, but they always had to rely on the chemistry that Chan would have with his co-star. The screenplays always played to the genre’s conventions, but never had enough material that one might call “original” in them. Nonetheless, the stunts and fights were always inventive, and how could they not be, with Chan, who continues to eschew using a double to perform the sequences himself, often risking his limbs, if not his life.
With the right co-stars, Chan and co. could actually make a lazy script work, but sadly, Johnny Knoxville is not one of them. Director Renny Harlin‘s “Skiptrace,” making its North American premiere at Fantasia Film Festival, stars Jackie Chan as Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan and Johnny Knoxville as American gambler Connor Watts, and it just so happens that they both, unknowingly, are the targets of a nasty Chinese criminal. Chan’s Bennie is obsessed in capturing drug-dealer kingpin “The Matador,” who is responsible for the murder of his partner. Meanwhile in Macau, Watts is being chased by Russian gangsters for impregnating the boss’ daughter, but also, unwillingly, witnesses the shooting of a woman by the Chinese mob. Watts is the prized witness for Chan, but also the a prime target for Chinese henchmen who will chase both of them for the rest of the movie.
Chan and Knoxville do share moments where their partnership works, even if they do feel like shades of better scenes we’ve seen in older films, but one at a Russian packing plant where a matryoshka doll is used as a prop is not only tremendously exciting stuff, but encompasses the ingenuity and humor that one might find in a better Jackie Chan movie. But mostly, the plot is almost a prop in itself, a kind of excuse for the next fight to eventually occur. Chan’s signature comedy fighting style is infectious, and there’s a reason why this man has been in the game for more than five decades and has had so much success. Chan is the product of what would have probably happened if Charlie Chaplin and/or Buster Keaton were equipped with a litany of martial-arts skills.
The locations in “Skiptrace,” which include China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia, are beautiful to watch and do sometimes distract from the lazy plotting that Harlin has concocted here. Harlin, now 57 years old, is no slouch at giving us stinkers. He’s made it a living in a career that includes titles such as “Cutthroat Island” and “Deep Blue Sea.” His directing here is competent and outlandishly safe, but expecting anything other than by-the-book entertainment from Harlin is not informing yourself enough of his past.
Knoxville is not necessarily a bad actor, but his skills lie in more daring films and not the ones that lean conventional. In “Skiptrace,” his role is filled with lame one-liners and no real sense of a developed personality. Seeing the king of “Jackass” pretend he knows what he’s doing during fight sequences is an absurd proposition to believe for the audience. He always seems out of place, and the inconsistent tone he brings to Watts is a disservice to the comedic elements the film is trying to create.
Chan, on the other hand, stumbles, dives, rafts, climbs, jumps his way around the fight sequences as expertly as we always expected him to. His physical stamina is remarkable to watch, especially when you realize the man is 62 years old, and while his acrobatic nature has always been part of his shtick, so has the endless flow and rhythm that come with his every movement. He brings energy to a film that desperately needs any kind of life, but there is only so much Chan can do. [C-]

#TIFF2016 announcement came with a few surprises

This mornings TIFF announcement came with a few neat surprises, but there were no key fall films from the likes of Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood, Terrence Malick,  Denzel Washington, and Martin Scorsese to be found. That was only the initial slate, a second slate will be announced later this month. These are the five surprises that happened with this morning's announcement:

Christopher Guest's "Mascots"
Who knew this one was brewing. Any film by Gueat is worthy of a watch. His best, A Mighty Wind, was released more than 13 years ago. I very much welcome a comedy to the fest lineup. Most of the titles are dire and dark, but a Guest movie usually celebrates the hidden joys of life. Will probably be key to try and fit this in my itinerary.

Rob Reiner's "LBJ"
Not too many people paid attention to even this movie's existence. With every Reiner film getting released I cross my fingers it'll be the start of a comeback. I mean this is the guy who gave us The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men, all considered classics today. He's been on the downwards since the mid-90s, but consider me interested in LBJ. He was a tremendously important president and it's nice to see s biopic happening.

Jonathan Demme's "JT + The Tennessee Kids"
Yes, it's a documentary. But, it's Demme. As good as those Neil Young docs have been its about time Demme uses his incredible talent at filming concert footage towards another artist. Because that artist is the highly talented Justin Timberlake the urge is irresistible to find out how the finished product will look like.

Jim Sheridan's "The Secret Scripture"
A vastly underrated filmmaker, Jim Sheridan still has the chops for the blue collar angst he tackled the peak of his career. Based on the popular book about the diary of a patient at a mental facility, the territory is familiar as Sheridan tackled the Irish penitentiary in "In the Name of the Father". Add Rooney Mara and I'm intrigued.

Marc Foster's "All I See is You"
Tell me you're not intrigued by the premise. A blind woman regains sight and discovers the secrets her husband has kept hidden from her all these years. Foster's track record is decent and he could have easily done another high budget blockbuster following his World War Z success, but no he has decided to go back to his roots. Blake Lively stars, but in all honesty I'm less concerned now that I've seen "The Shallows" and know she can act.

Vikram Gandhi's "Barry"
Sundance had "Southside By You" which focused of Barack and Michelle Obama's first date. It was a Linklater-esque type of affair. "Barry" is Vikram Gandhi's look at the President's college days. It features Ashley Judd, and "The Witch" breakout Anya Taylor-Joy. Not much is known beyond its premise, but rest assured after 2011's "Kumare" Gandhi might be ready for the big time. 

Garth Jennings' "Sing"
British actor-director Garth Jennings, whose 2007 debut “Son of Rambow” was praised at Sundance returns  A decade later with his follow-up “Sing”: an animated 3-D musical which features animal characters (including a koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey and his sheep pal voiced by John C. Reilly) who try to rescue their theater from closing. There's a pig named Rosita played Reese Witherspoon, if that doesn't excite you then I don't know what to tell you, but expect something special from Jennings.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Post-Morten: The McConaissance

I think we can all safely say that Matthew McConaughey’s much heralded “McConaissance” phase has hit a slight thud as of late: Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees” was quite possibly the worst film to play Cannes 2015, meanwhile this summer’s Gary Ross-directed “Free State of Jones” was met with lukewarm reviews and completely vanished Oscar Buzz. All this to say that these are still admirable failures and continue to show the 46 year-old actor’s willingness to continue working with well-respected directors.
And we shall always remember that astonishing string of films McConaughey put out between 2011 and 2014. In that first year alone he delivered “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” and William Friedkin’s soon-to-be classic “Killer Joe.”
In 2012 “The Paperboy“ was such a far out, perplexing movie that it had critics booing at Cannes, but once it did come out it turned out that this wholly original Lee Daniels film was actually a pretty damn good, risk-taking and deliciously lurid B-Movie. Jeff Nichols’ “Mud“ and Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike“ both followed suit and were critically acclaimed with critics raving about Mcconaughey’s acting chops.
2013 was the peak year. He earned an Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club,“ was the lead character inHBO’s brilliant first season of “True Detective“ and then had one of the great cameos in cinema history in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street“ (cue the chest thumping).
Suffice to say this was one hell of a run, which ended with Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, flawed, ambitious “Interstellar” in 2014, and has us nostalgic for more of that rush of brilliance McConaughey in the years to come.
That run was proof that he was fed up with taking high paying roles in ludicrous romantic comedies aimed at a female crowd that just wanted to see his dashboard abs (“Sahara,” “Ghost of Girlfriends Past,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” among many, many others). No, our boy wanted more than just that and we did as well, always knowing he had the talent to be exceptional. His effortless performance as Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s stoner classic “Dazed and Confused” was the highlight of that film, giving him hilarious one-liners, and a ludicrously dirty mustache to boot. Also we can never forget his Buddy Deeds in John Sayles indisputably great “Lone Star,” which ended up being a warm-up for his triumph in “Killer Joe.”
If you want to re-visit the “McConaissance“ without having to rewatch each and every one of the films mentioned then you’re in luck. Burger Fiction, in yet another one of their entertaining supercuts, have traced the evolution of Matthew McConaughey for us in visual terms. It’s enough to make you hope that the actor gets out of his current rut of films and produces another McConaissance classic. Up next for him is Stephen Gaghans “Gold which is building up Oscar buzz and is rumored for a possible slot at both TIFF and Telluride this fall. [Via OnePerfectShot]

DC`s last stand with the release of three trailers: Wonder Woman, Justice League and Doctor Strange

Batman vs Superman was such a catastrophe for DC movies that they should have gone back to the drawing board. But they didn't. They have decided to go on with all the remaining projects, and there are many left. Three of which have had their trailers unveiled this past week. Let us not forget also the damage control that Warner did by inviting press and bloggers to the set of Justice League last month. I heard it was a total shitshow with nothing, but ass-kissery and a few self-entitled bloggers trying to run the show. 

This looks interesting. For the most part. Gal Gadot can do no wrong in my books. She`s stunning, talented and probably the best casting for Wonder Woman, although I do fear her Israeli accent might get in the way of her character`s amazon-ness. It also seems like Pine is going to be the comedy of the film, a partner in crime that will lurk in the shadows and surely give way for lots of feminist themes at play here. I am not entirely on-board with this film yet, but it could make for a pleasant surprise, especially with a female director, Patty Jenkins, at the helm. 

Earlier I spoke about the Justice League set-visit as being part of the damage control WB had to make after Batman V Superman. Well, this trailer seems to be a somewhat coherent improvement in terms of humor, but the degenerate style Zack Snyder seems to bring to every one of his movies looks to be intact. I would not hold my breath for this film to be anything, but a marginal marketing product. I do like Ben Affleck`s decision to have a batman sport decent five o`clock shadowed scruff with the mask. 

Here`s the biggie for me. First thing you notice from the trailer is the great cast. Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mickelson in a super hero movie is good enough for me to give it a chance. Problem is the director here is Scott Derrickson. Known for making very average horror films (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Deliver us From Evil, Sinister) I have no clue how this guy got the job. The trailer looks good and has an Inception-like vibe going with all of his playful imagery of tall skyscrapers and colliding worlds.

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