Between a Rock and a Hard Place

127 Hours ★★★★★
(USA/UK, 93 min.)
Dir: Danny Boyle; Writ: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Starring: James Franco.
To quote the priest in Breaking the Waves, “You are a sinner, Anthony Dod Mantle, and you deserve your place in Hell.” Well, be it a blasphemy to be a sinfully good cinematographer, then Mantle has surely earned his spot in the inferno. With the spectacular lensing of 127 Hours, Mantle and co-cinematographer Enrique Chediak prove that sometimes life is at its most exhilarating when delivered at twenty-four frames per second.

127 Hours marks Mantle’s fourth collaboration with writer/director Danny Boyle, their most recent project being 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. Whereas Slumdog was an overhyped lapse into sentimentality and cultural appropriation, not to mention a real hack-job of a great book, 127 Hours is a triumphant and inspiring story of survival. Not only is 127 Hours Boyle’s best film since Trainspotting, it’s also a flawless piece of filmmaking.


Say No to "Drugs"

Love and Other Drugs ★★½
(USA, 113 min. – but it feels like forever)
Dir: Edward Zwick; Writ: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer.
Do you remember those cheesy campaigns when your schoolteachers told you that drugs are bad and you just get high on life instead? If only Love and Other Drugs was such an easy pill to swallow. Unfortunately, the latest misfire from director Edward Zwick (Defiance, Blood Diamond) takes about five or six good ideas and mashes them up into one tragic mess of a movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Randall, an over-energized, over-confident, and over-sexed pharmaceutical sales rep. Jamie makes a killing by pill-pushing Zoloft and other wonder drugs to a never-ending train of gullible secretaries who fall for his impeccable charm. Jamie’s life gets a new twist when he shadows a doctor during a check-up, and the patient, Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway) valiantly whips out her breast.


Trailer: How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!

Today the Canada Film Centre (CFC) released the trailer for its short film How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You! The film has been a hit on the Canadian festival circuit and, if you’ll recall, I gave the film a quick blurb in my pre-TIFF excitement.

How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You! is a film that I’ve returned to, and each screening brings news levels of appreciation. A film that is truly original in its audacious storytelling and shrewd craftsmanship, How to Rid Your Lover… is a must for cinephiles. Upping it even further on the registry of “Essential Cinema for 2010” is the film’s roster of fresh, innovative, and unpretentious talents: I expect great things from director Nadia Litz, writer Ryan Cavan, and stars Sarah Allen and Joe Cobden.


Put the Blame on Plame

Fair Game ★★★★½
(USA, 108 min)
Dir: Doug Liman; Writ: Jez Butterworth & John Butterworth
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn
Like the stealthiest of covert agents, Fair Game is remarkably deceptive. Doug Liman’s film trounces into the multiplex with the sleek assemblage of a studio film and the bombastic bravado of a brainless blockbuster. However, once it firmly established itself and the viewer accepts the identity of the film before them, Fair Game reveals that it was all a cover. In actuality, the film is a dexterous examination of contemporary American politics. With how the film presents the state of the union, the game played by Washington is hardly fair at all. Moreover, the film transitions from spy-thriller to socio-political drama so subtly that the weighty implications of its narrative are both accessible and enthralling.

This damning tale of American politics is a dramatic reconstruction of the controversial case of Valerie Plame (played by Naomi Watts). In 2003, an anonymous source from the Whitehouse contacted the press and outed Plame as a covert CIA agent. As depicted in the film, the whole debacle was an orchestrated “smoke and mirrors” spectacle à la Wag the Dog in order to divert public attention away from the real story. That “real” story marks the first half of Fair Game in which Plame’s husband, former US ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) goes on a fact-finding mission to Niger. As one learns later in the film, it was on the findings of Wilson’s trip that the Bush administration concluded that the Iraqi government was building WMD’s. There is one small problem, though: Wilson’s research suggested the opposite. As he tells the press, someone changed the facts along the way.


Rumble in the Jungle

Animal Kingdom ★★★★½
(Australia, 113 min)
Written & directed by David Michôd
Starring: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton.
It’s a dog eat dog world out there. When seen through the eyes of James (James Frecheville) in Animal Kingdom, life seems especially so. James, or ‘J’ as he likes to be called, goes off to live with his grandmother and his uncles after his mother dies from a heroin overdose. His uncles, the Cody boys, are an unruly bunch: Darren (Luke Ford) and Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) are minor street thugs who scrap by on their petty existence by living with their mother, Janine (Jacki Weaver). Given Janine’s smothering dependence on her boys, however, it could be vice-versa. Nonetheless, they are all beholden to Andrew (Ben Mehdelsohn). Andrew, aka ‘Pope’, is the leader of the pack.

When J arrives at the Cody compound, Darren, Craig, and their friend Barry (Joel Edgerton) are all on edge: the police are on the hunt for Pope and have the family under constant surveillance. The three are a brooding pack of alpha males and when they’re not shooting up the town, they’re jostling with one another in the den. Are these men or beasts?


A 'Force' to be Reckoned With

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie ★★★★
(Canada, 93 min)
Dir: Sturla Gunnarsson
For his 75th birthday, Dr. David Suzuki gave his most essential lecture. Similar to the “Last Lecture on Earth” series that frequents many University campuses, Suzuki celebrated his life by condensing his greatest concerns for the environment into one speech that he would proudly call his last should he not live to his 76th year. Director Sturla Gunnarsson and the folks at the National Film Board (NFB) were fortunate enough to document Suzuki’s lecture and in good NFB fashion, they deliver a thorough and informative documentary that educates and enlightens.

Force of Nature focuses primarily on Suzuki’s lecture, which emphasizes that the current trends in human behaviour are rapidly depleting the natural wonder of the Earth. Force of Nature, however, is hardly a Canuck rehash of An Inconvenient Truth. Suzuki does away with the raw data and persuasive Power Point, and he goes straight to the heart. Force of Nature thus offers a compelling study on the decline of the planet, but through a humanist perspective, rather than a dry scientific one.


Chaos Reigns @ Criterion

The most notorious, shocking, controversial, provocative, and, might I add, by-all-regards-beautiful film of 2009 finally comes to DVD. I’m referring, of course, to Antichrist. Antichrist sort of got lost in my film lists – it opened in Ottawa in February, but since it is technically a 2009 release, I never added it to the side bar. (A revision of my top 10 for 2009 is required.)

Antichrist is a graphic descent into marital hell – literally. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe star as a married couple whose relationship stumbles on hard times when their son dies in a tragic accident. The wife is particularly devastated by the loss and regresses into the most brutal form of self-blame. To remedy, her husband (a psychiatrist) suggests that the only way she can overcome her fears is to confront what she fears most. Surprisingly, what the wife fears most is Eden, the couple’s woodland retreat. They go off in hopes of conquering her anxiety and the trip permits the wife some time to reflect on her abandoned thesis, which explores the subjection of women in witchcraft; however, once in the woods, nature turns on them. As She says, “Nature is Satan’s church.”


The Beat of a Generation

Howl ★★★½
(USA, 84 min.)
Written and directed by: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman.
Starring: James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban.
Can the obscene be poetic? No, for as Howl demonstrates, there is nothing obscene in a work of literature that articulates the angst or disillusion of an author, even if the author expresses himself in unconventional ways. Moreover, as Howl suggests, something becomes more poetic when it is said in the idioms and syntax of an unheard voice.

Howl brings to the screen Allen Ginsberg’s highly influential poem “Howl.” When it was first published in 1956, “Howl” caused a sensation on the literary scene – the revolutionary imagery that Ginsberg expressed through a combination of honest emotion and frank words articulated the collective anxiety of a generation of artists. It also sparked an uproar from Americans who felt that its language was too blunt and too coarse to have any literary merit. As a result, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the publisher of “Howl” was brought to trial with charges of distributing obscene material.

Last Night trailer!

A trailer for Massy Tadjedin's Last Night has finally surfaced! (At The Playlist). Last Night recently played at the Rome film festival, so an Italian trailer hit the web a few days ago. Last Night stars Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Guillaume Canet, and a hilarious golden retriever, who thankfully made the cut. The film is still in distribution limbo, due to the Miramax kerfuffle. I saw the film at TIFF and loved it, so hopefully things will work out and Last Night will make it to theatres sooner than later.

Take a look!

Last Night - Trailer
Uploaded by ThePlaylist. - Check out other Film & TV videos.


Family Law

Conviction ★★★½
(USA, 107 min.)
Dir: Tony Goldwyn; Writ: Pamela Gray
Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis.
A compelling tale of family bonds, Conviction tells the true story of Betty Anne Waters (played by Hilary Swank), a working-class American who fought for eighteen years to clear her brother’s name. Betty’s brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell), is arrested and tried for a string of crimes, the most serious of which is murder. During the trial, the prosecution produces several key witnesses who describe Kenny’s volatility, aggression, and in one case, his admission of guilt. To no surprise, Kenny receives a life sentence.

Always convinced of Kenny’s innocence, Betty embarks on a long and arduous quest to overturn the conviction. The degree of commitment that Betty has for her brother cannot be stressed enough: she goes to law school so that she can defend him herself. As the years go by, and Betty struggles to earn her credentials, both siblings undergo an enormous burden. Betty Anne’s relationships with her husband and, eventually, her children suffer from neglect; likewise, the years take a visible physical and psychological toll on Kenny.


A Day in the Life

Nowhere Boy ★★★★
(UK, 98 min.)
Dir: Sam Taylor-Wood; Writ: Matt Greenhalgh
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Sangster, Sam Bell.
Nowhere Boy presents a day in the life of John Lennon. Well, it’s far more than a day – more like a few months, really. Regardless of the brief timeframe, the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh packs a wealth of insight into the pre-Beatles years of John Lennon. Greenhalgh, who scripted the 2007 Joy Division pic Control, displays a masterful hand at capturing the minute details that shaped the history of rock and roll.

In Nowhere Boy, John Lennon is a seventeen-year-old hooligan. Played by Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass), Lennon is a cocky, trash-talking, and virile boy. John is a defiant nightmare to his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who has been looking after him since he was five. Despite Mimi’s well-intentioned, but often overly stern attempts to mould John into a respectable young lad, John continually sneaks off to visit his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). Julia is the complete opposite of her sister: unlike Mimi, she is a colour-wearing, rock-loving liberal. Her waify nature is the perfect escape for John. Moreover, her bohemian attitude creates the perfect environment for nurturing John’s unregulated angst.