Friday, September 9, 2016

#TIFF16 "Arrival" is Denis Villeneuve's most Nolan-esque film.


Is that necessarily a bad thing? In this case no. The film is imaginative and contemplative. Nolan haters will, yes, hate it, but the rest of us will dissect it for the years to come. This movie will inch him closer to Nolan's throne. What Villeneuve is doing is building up a strong fanbase that will follow him in any project he embarks on. Did I mention he's going to be doing "Blade Runner 2" as his next film? Expect "Arrival" to surprise the industry with the box office it is about to get. Villeneuve is for real.

#TIFF16 Review: Tom Ford's "Nocturnal Animals"



To go into Tom Ford`s "Nocturnal Animals" with expectations would be doing the film a major disservice. It is not high art, but it does maintain your interest throughout. It is schlock with class. At least for the better part of its 116 minutes it is an exercise in style, just like Ford's first film "A Single Man," except here there is more to chew on, more thrills, more overall everything. "Nocturnal Animals" has Amy Adams' art gallery owner Susan (when is she ever bad?) suffering through a nasty marriage with a husband (Armie Hammer) that is cheating on her. She also has a ex-husband Tony (Jake Gylenhaal), a failed writer. She fucked up with Tony, her mother's bourgeois influence getting the best of her, and also the fact that she found him too sensitive, too weak to truly satisfy her and her youthful energy. Now an adult and realizing what life and love really is about, she is filled with regret. Lo and behold a package comes in the mail. It's a new novel by Tony and it hits her hard. It's violent and filled with unspeakable acts. To reveal more would be sinful because part of the pleasure of watching Ford's film is to be surprised by its ludicrousness. It's a movie movie filled shocks and awes and highly stylized costume and set designs. The film's balance of B-movie thrills with more subtle nuances can be shaky at times, but to not give in to Ford's delicious mind-teaser would be a cinematic sin [B+]

#TIFF16 Review: "The Magnificent Seven"

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The question that must first be asked when discussing Antoine Fuqua's misbegotten "The Magnificent Seven is simple: why? Why remake the much celebrated original with its pristine Elmer Bernstein score and John Sturges' crisp direction. Sure Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt have charisma to burn and a loyal fanbase that will churn out hard earned dollars for anything new they release, but why even attempt to recreate the majesty of the 1960 original, no masterpiece by the way, and why hire Fuqua, a hack as far as I'm concerned, to direct? Has he done anything of value since "Training Day"? The answer is no,  but with that 2001 movie he scored two acting nominations for Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington, who would end up winning and making history in front of Sidney Poitier as the first leading black man to win a coveted Oscar statuette.

Those days are gone. Now Washington has some kind of genuine affection for Fuqua. "The Magnificent Seven" is their third partnership together, but it's also their worst one. The cast is starry: Denzel, Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard and the action is relentlessly assaultive, but in some fashion satisfying and yet, the rest is abysmal and showcases Fuqua's lack of coherence in his pacing, shot selection and overall artfulness.


Denzel, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt at TIFF premiere of "The Magnificent Seven"

And what about Washington all scruff-ed up and badass. We first see his Chisolm entering an old west town full of white folks with a horse, it almost makes you think about "Django Unchained" and that famous line I will not utter.  There is not one mention in the movie about his skin color, which in fact should be an issue. Racial injustice in America at that time was brutal, yet when Chisolm struts into town he only gets stares, nothing else. Saving his wholesome public image? The film has no balls to tackle race.

The classic story goes that seven gunmen come together to save a town from thieves that have invaded and taken ownership of it. You know where this is going. The opening hour has Washington's Chisolm rounding about the troops one by one. The setup is recognizable because it has been done many times at the movies. This is not new territory by any stretch of the imagination. It could work, but it doesn`t because Fuqua lacks the talent and the cinematic chops to pull it off. What he does lack in narrative he can almost make up in action sequences. There are two grandiose action set-pieces that work wonders. Just like he did in "Shooter," "Training Day" and "Southpaw" Fuqua gives us a visceral reminder of his knack for great shoot 'em up style cinema, but the substance is non-existent. [C+]

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

TIFF PREVIEW: With Venice and Telluride all but wrapped up, what's left for Toronto?

I am about to embark on another Toronto International Film Festival adventure. Interviews, reviews, blogging to come here. It has been quite a milestone year for us. We hope you have enjoyed the ride, but it is about to get turned up a notch, to 11, for the next two weeks. With Telluride and Venice answering a few question marks we had ("La La Land," "Moonlight," "Arrival," "Sully," "A Voyage of Time," "Nocturnal Animals," "Hacksaw Ridge") we still have these 18 buzzed & unseen titles to premiere north of the border:

American Pastoral, Ewan McGregor
Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg
Free Fire, Ben Wheatley
Jackie, Pablo Larrain
JT + The Tenessee Kids, Jonathan Demme
LBJ, Rob Reiner
Lion, Garth Davis
The Magnificent Seven, Antoine Fuqua
Mascots, Christopher Guest
A Monster Calls, JA Bayona
My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea, Dash Shaw
The Secret Scripture, Jim Sheridan
Sing, Garth Jennings
Snowden, Oliver Stone
The Promise, Terry George
Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair
A Quiet Passion, Terrence Davies

I am ready. I tell you, TIFF is like a workout. Looking at the schedule for the first five days it looks like this edition could be a 4-5 movies a day kind of fest. One the sixth day, the 14th, things calm down a little which gives me the itch to fly back home to Boston to catch the last Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show of The River Tour.

How does the Best Picture race look at the moment? A little better than in August that's for sure, but it still looks like an incredibly weak year for cinema, but as it goes these are the 10 hottest contenders as of 9.7.16

(1) La La Land
(2) Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk
(3) Manchester by The Sea
(4) Silence
(5) Loving
(6) Moonlight
(7) Sully
(8) Arrival
(9) Patriot's Day
(10) The Birth of a Nation

I am waiting for my 9:20 flight to Toronto which will lead me to Pearson airport. My plan is to stop by the press office to get my press pass, do some more writing, sneak in a workout at Goodlife Fitness, and then settle down in my apartment. I also have Pete Howell's annual "Critical Drinking" critics party tonight at Le Milagro, I always look forward to going there to touch base with old friends and grab a few drinks - The calm before the storm. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

5 Great "Modern Day" Superhero Movies

Oh, superhero movies. I've bitched about them countless times on this blog, but sometimes one must just face the facts that they are here to stay. There was no "great" Hollywood movie this summer, but the one that came closest was a superhero movie: "Captain America: Civil War." As much as that film had cinematic flare it did resort to some of the problematic tropes that make me yearn for better days at the movies. 

You won't find such classic superhero movies as Richard Donner's "Superman II," and Tim Burton's "Batman." Those were released before the money making and commercialized films we got starting in 2000 with "X-Men." That's when it started. The beginning of what would be an important chapter in film history: The mass invasion of a genre that has sucked all the artistry out of moviemaking. 

This is a list that was concocted with both partiality and impartiality. I remember back in my "film studies" days at Concordia University I wrote an essay about the "modern-day superhero genre." A lot of research went into it. I not only consulted token reviews by the likes of Ebert and Turan, but essays that were written by "scholarly" journals such as Film Comment and Sight/Sound. Why is this the most resonant essay of my film school days? Because it's the most relevant genre around. Superhero movies are everything to Hollywood today. 

I have shared my discontent concerning the lack of creative ideas or original thought in today's movie studio system, and of course a lot of the blame has to go to the Marvel and DC movies that have ravaged our screens since the early aughts and have become bigger and bigger with every passing year turning it into some kind of corrupt entity.

However, at its core, a superhero movie still has the potential for greatness.  In a way it's the apex of what the Lumieres and George Melies eventually wanted to achieve with advanced technology at their disposal. Am I far reaching? Of course not. The superhero movie has all of the elements that have epitomized moviemaking since its inception more than a century ago: Science Fiction, Horror, Drama, Film Noir, and, especially in the Marvel movies, a little added dose of Comedy.


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(1) "The Dark Knight" Christopher Nolan

"If you haven't heard of Christopher Nolan's superhero classic then you don't live on this planet. Nolan along with an extraordinarily effective cast headed by Christian Bale as Batman and the late Heath Ledger as a Joker to haunt your dreams. This is the way a blockbuster should triumph: character before action. Many have evoked the film as a post 9/11 depiction of a world gone astray with the leader of the free world making concessions to battle terrorism: how much bad must you do to defeat evil itself?  Ledger's joker is so real and intense, but it's Nolan's eye for detail that puts this film over the rise. This is his dark, twisted take and the defining take of a modern day genre."

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(2) "Spider-Man 2," Sam Raimi 

"Now this is what I'm talking about. After the average "Spider-Man movie in 2002, director Sam Raimi completely redeemed himself by creating one of the best superhero movies ever made. A mind blowing mix of action, heart and character that had viewers on the edge of their seats. The special effects are outstanding and the action sequences -including a thrilling train crash finale- make this a knockout through and through. Raimi knows that to make a great superhero movie you need to care about the characters that are onscreen and, with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst along for the ride, he makes sure every shot counts"

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(3) "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Anthony and Joe Russo"

Forget about "The Avengers" which is cotton candy entertainment when compared to "The Winter Soldier." This film ranks as the most accomplished Marvel universe film to date. Nothing comes close. Not even its high-grade sequel "Civil War." The action scenes are great, there are suspenseful moments aplenty, and the emotional toll the film packs at its conclusion is deeply ingrained in humanism. this film strengthens Just like Nolan's "The Dark Knight" trilogy, Anthony and Joe Russo's film is a cinematic experience through and through, recalling some of the great political thrillers ("Three Days of Condor," "The Parallax View.") while also adding new dimensions to what was starting to become a very predictable and frustrating cinematic genre."

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(4) "Iron Man," Jon Favreau"

Director Jon Favreau brought a solid mix of action and humor to this 2008 film which basically kickstarted the Marvel Universe, for better or for worse. Favreau's film felt fresh, innovative and just downright satirical about the superhero movies that came before it. It hit a high standard of excellence for the mainstream by combining humor with breathtaking action sequences, it was and still is a cinematic time capsule shapeshifter. In a year that saw the war in Iraq seem never-ending and the market crashing in unxpectedly historical ways, Americans had enough ad chose to elect Barack Obama and Tony Stark to lead the way to the future.

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(5) "Unbreakable," M. Night Shyamalan 

"This is the ultimate in making a superhero movie "cinematic". "Unbreakable" is the act of not even knowing you're watching a superhero movie until the very last frame. That's the biggest magic trick Shayamalan's movie pulls out of its bag and what's more cinematic than magic? Or as Vulture says it "liberate(d) the superhero from the shackles of licensing constraints and fan-pandering." In a way invented superhero-dom is something that hasn't been tackled that much. "Unbreakable" goes to the roots of what it means to read or watch a superhero story and to get swept up in it without any advanced buzz, or preconceived notions about what to expect. It's the antidote to what we're looking for right now. Thank god they never made that rumored sequel.

Capsule Review: Kelly Reichardt's "Certain Women" might be her best movie yet


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