TIFF Titles!

I know I'm a little late on this, but it would be silly not to mention yesterday's announcement of the Gala screenings and the Special Presentation series of the Toronto International Film Festival. These are the most high profile lineups, especially since the series require that stars/filmmakers attend the screenings. (Last year, some friends and I were fortunate enough to get tickets to the gala screening of Precious. And, oh my god, having Oprah introduce the movie is totally worth forty bucks.)

The title I'm most excited about is the adaptation of Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version. (If you recall, I really liked the book.) I really hope that with Barney's Version, Canadian film will gain some much needed attention. So far the lineup seems to be a really one, with titles like Black Swan, Never Let Me Go, Miral, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Love Crime, and Another Year, although I'm disappointed that Bruce McDonald's Trigger wasn't among those announced (hopefully it will be among the Canadian series...). The full list is available at TIFF's site.


Review: Harry Brown ★★★★

Harry Brown (UK, 103 min)

Dir: Daniel Barber; Writ: Gary Young
Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, David Bradley, Charlie Creed-Miles.
“In the old days, we confiscated cigarettes and wank mags. Now it's knives and crack cocaine. And they call it progress,” says Barbara Covett, the old battle-axe schoolteacher played by Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal. The times have changed in Britain, apparently. The proper English gentleman is fading away and is slowly being replaced by violent expletive-spewing hoodlums.
This is seen first hand in Harry Brown. The film opens with a handheld video sequence in which a group of thugs torment a woman in a park: she’s innocently walking her baby and they viciously taunt her with a gun. It’s all fun and games for them as they fire aimlessly and watch her dodge bullets, except that one makes contact, thus making the poor mother a victim of a random and senseless act of violence.

Cut to Harry Brown. Played by Michael Caine, Harry is a proper man of the old school. Even though he’s a retired, he gets up at 6:30 every morning, makes himself tea and toast, and quickly washes the dishes and sweeps away the crumbs before heading out. Too bad for Harry though, because he lives in a graffiti-laden, rough and tough part of town. His neighborhood has become so dangerous that he cannot even use the pedestrian underpass and must take the long way around when walking to the hospital to visit his dying wife.


Ashley Judd and 'Helen' hit DVD

In my first post, I did a brief recap on my picks for the best movies of the year so far. Although I wouldn't necessarily put this film itself on the list of the year's "best", one title continues to stick in my mind: Helen, a little hidden gem starring Ashley Judd. Helen played at the World Exchange Centre for a whopping week-long run back in February. Although it had a decent turnout at the screening I attended, this brief appearance seems typical of the film’s distribution. It opened in New York this month before making its way to DVD. Yes, that's correct - a movie played in Ottawa before New York!

In Helen, Ashley Judd plays the title character, who is a mother and a music professor at the local college. Shortly after Helen’s husband and daughter throw her a surprise birthday party, Helen slips into a deep state of depression. Whether it is growing old or a dissatisfaction with her job that bothers her, we aren’t told. Rather, we are forced to ponder Helen’s mental angst as she slowly withdraws from her life and loses the ability to find solace in former pleasures.


Review: The Kids Are All Right ★★★★½

The Kids Are All Right (USA, 104 min)

Dir: Lisa Cholodenko Writ: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg.
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutcherson.
I wonder how easy it is to find a greeting card that says “Happy Mothers’ Day”? Probably not very. Too bad, because The Kids Are All Right shows that sometimes, two moms are better than one. The two moms are Nic and Jules, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, respectively. With her short-cropped her and type-A personality, Nic could be like the “husband” in the marriage, and Jules, a more sensitive waify type, could be the "wife"; however, The Kids Are All Right avoids such stereotypes and rather uses the moms’ likeness to other parents to effectively deconstruct contemporary notions of the nuclear family.
Bening and Moore offer two of the year’s best performances as Nic and Jules. Interestingly, both actresses play characters similar to those of their films earlier this year, yet the difference with which they express each part displays the versatility of each great actress. In Mother and Child, Annette Bening played Karen, who, like Nic, is neurotic in her desire to realize her ideals for the family. Whereas Karen was devastatingly damaged, Bening’s Nic is a strong, but fragile, mother fighting to preserve her family. At times, Nic can be just as overbearing as Karen, but with the passionate concern that Bening invests in her character, Nic is far more hopeful and sympathetic. Similarly, Julianne Moore’s Jules feels that her wife no longer finds her attractive, much like her character Catherine in Chloe feared that her husband was being unfaithful because he found her to be losing her sex appeal. In both films, Moore’s characters find themselves in situations that lead them to question themselves, but in Kids, Moore offers a more endearing and sensitive performance that is dramatically polar to her subtle displays of desire in Chloe. Together, Bening and Moore make a most dynamic and engaging onscreen team.


Review: Salt ★★★★

Salt (USA, 100 min)
Dir: Philip Noyce; Writ: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Who is Salt? For months, the question has teased us in trailers, on posters, and in Internet banners. The catchy ad-line is also a great premise. The Jason Bourne movies already proved that unraveling the identity of a secret agent makes for grand entertainment, but whereas the Bourne films took a whole trilogy to uncover Jason Bourne, Salt decodes the mystery of its character in one brisk action-packed film.
From the opening frames of the film, the viewer is thrust into the mystique of Evelyn Salt (a perfectly feisty Angelina Jolie). Salt is being held hostage in a Korean prison. During a brutal torture sequence, she insists that she is not a covert agent. Salt is subsequently released in a Checkpoint Charlie style trade in which she reminds her coworker, Ted (Liev Schreiber), that no agent is worth the price of exposing the mission. He agrees and concedes that her release was facilitated by the unrelenting requests of her husband, Mike (August Diehl). So, who is Salt? We know she’s married, and that she is, in fact, an American spy, but even from the beginning, it’s uncertain to whom her allegiance lies.


Cinemablographer now on Twitter

Despite my reluctance to accept the fact that Twitter is a useful way of communicating, I must accept defeat. It's clearly a useful way of gaining exposure and readership. (Thanks Brian, for convincing!)

So, you follow this blog http://twitter.com/cinemablogrpher. (or @cinemablogrpher) No, that's not a spelling mistake: Twitter allows only fifteen characters in a username, so I had to drop one letter. (I figured keep 'Cinema' and 'blog' in there so that people might stumble upon it in a search.)

Please excuse the kinks in the early stages of tweeting! I'm not the most computer literate person...


Review: Predators ★★½

Predators (USA, 107 min.)
Dir: Nimrod Antal; Writ: Alex Litvak & Michael Finch.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo.
Oh, Big Ticket Tuesdays. How often have I been seduced by your low ticket prices and insanely cheap popcorn? How often have you provided refuge from the heat and allowed my brain to be violated by crap summer movies? Movies like Predators, a typical summer orgy of blood and stupid.
Replacing Arnold in the Predator franchise is Adrien Brody as a nameless Black-Ops soldier who wakes up in midair as he hurtles towards the ground. Once safely landed, he encounters a bunch of other mercenaries that are equally puzzled by their sudden appearance is this mysterious rain forest. They’re mostly all nameless, so you know we’re as deep in allegory land as we are in the jungle. Yep, that’s right: Predators is a message movie!


6 Sleeps 'til Mad Men!

"...change is neither good nor bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says "I want it the way it was," or a dance that says, Look, something new!"  -Don Draper
Season 4 of "Mad Men" starts this Sunday, July 25th, at 10:00. I can't wait. Season 3 was the best season thus far, so I'm very excited to see where Matthew Weiner et al take it.


Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop ★★★★

Exit Through the Gift Shop (USA/UK, 87 min)
Dir: Banksy
Featuring: Banksy, Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey; Narrated by Rhys Ifans.
Last Christmas, my sister gave my brother a really bizarre art screen print: the gift was a portrait of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. It is a chic pink likeness of the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany’s character, except there is a cat on her head, and it’s mauling her and scratching her eyes out. It might sound morbid, but it’s one of the funniest pieces I have seen. It’s also quite the conversation piece.

The artist of this satirical picture is Banksy, a British “street-artist” who gained notoriety and acclaim for covertly placing his artistic renderings on public spaces. That sparked my curiosity to see this picture, as Exit Through the Gift Shop is the first film directed by the artist. I went into the film knowing next to nothing about it, expecting just a quirky little ditty about graffiti. However, like its subject, the film was about so much more.


Review: Inception ★★★★★

Inception (USA/UK, 148 min)
Written & directed by Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine.
Every frame of Inception is a cinematic triumph. Unlike the previously reviewed Mr. Nobody, which was a leaky think-tank of an excuse for decent sci-fi, Inception offers some really big ideas and  runs with them ingeniously. It also pulls out some big guns, adding up for a mind-blowing thriller.

It should come as no surprise that Inception is the brainchild of director Christopher Nolan, as the film combines the spectacle of The Dark Knight with the existentialist conundrums of his earlier Memento. What makes Inception such a marvel is that it is unprecedented in the scope of both its ideas and its production. A much tighter film than The Dark Knight and exponentially more astonishing than Memento, Inception is truly in a league of its own.


Review: Mr. Nobody ★½

Mr. Nobody (Canada/Belgium/France/Germany, 140min)
Written & directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Starring: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Rhys Ifans, Linh Dan Pham.
Mr. Nobody happens to be the final film I saw at TIFF last year. What a mistake that was. Mr. Nobody is an overlong exercise in pretension, and the only thing that enraged me more than the sheer idiocy of the film was the fact that as soon as the credits began to roll, the audience stood up and cheered. I’m sure they were just being polite. Or, like me, they were relieved it was finally over.

Jared Leto stars as Nemo Nobody. Nemo is 118 years old (though he thinks he’s in his thirties) and the year is 2092. Nemo happens to be the oldest man on Earth. Moreover, he is the oldest mortal man on Earth. All of humankind has become immortal, and as the last sample of a species on the brink of extinction, Mr. Nobody is a hot topic for researchers and tabloid journalists.


Chloe on DVD!!!

Chloe, the latest film by Canadian director Atom Egoyan, makes its way onto DVD today. I first saw Chloe at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and was absolutely mesmerized by its intriguing exploration of infidelity and its seductive compositions. I was also blown away by the powerhouse acting duo of Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried. As Catherine, a wealthy Toronto doctor who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of being unfaithful, Moore give one of her better performances, offering a masterfully self-destructive blend of jealousy and longing. Seyfried is the film's biggest surprise as Chloe, a prostitute whom Catherine hires to test her suspicions. Seyfried's Chloe is an alluring presence and her doe-eyed innocence is a fatal entrapment into her dangerously manipulative persona.


A "Swell" Night @Bluesfest

Last night, I caught my one “must see” act of this year’s Bluesfest Lineup: The Swell Season. Like many, I was first introduced to Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova through the 2007 film Once (pictured). The Swell Season offers and eclectic blend of folk rock music, and their appearance at Bluesfest was a great chance to hear their beautiful harmony in a live venue. It was also a perfect night for an outdoor concert.
Well, almost perfect. Unfortunately, there was a lot of interference from the Rush concert on the main stage. Even so, The Swell Season took it in stride and playfully showed Rush the difference between music and noise. Hansard was particularly good at engaging the audience in joining in to overcome the bombastic intrusions. If anything, having the crowd sing along made the concert all the more enjoyable.

Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire ★★★

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Sweden, 129 min)
Dir: Daniel Alfredson; Writ: Jonas Frykberg
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson.
The second installment in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is a case study of the variability to page-to-screen efforts: whereas the second novel excelled the first, the film of The Girl Who Played With Fire fails to match the high standard set by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The latest film assumes that viewers are not approaching the tale of Lisbeth Salander with a blank slate: viewers unfamiliar with the previous film/book will immediately be lost in their efforts to discern the characters’ relationships to one another, as well as a context in which to receive them. Little more than a few passing references are made to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the largest of which is a refresher on what happened between Lisbeth and her legal guardian Nils Bjurman, who now wants revenge on Lisbeth for her retaliation against his sadistic abuse of power during their relationship.


Be Italian!

My parents are leaving this weekend for a trip to London and Italy. So Jealous! Fortunately, for those of us who must spend our summers working, etc., we can content ourselves with a little cinema italiano. Starting tonight, the Bytowne in Ottawa will be running Frederico Fellini's acclaimed film 8 ½  as part of their "Must See Cinema" series.
Many critics hail 8 ½ as Fellini's masterpiece. Although I personally prefer La Dolce Vita, 8 ½ is a fun and fascinating film that should delight any moviegoer. Marcello Mastroianni stars as Guido, an imaginative film director whose creative musings run astray as he tries to create his next film.
8 ½ is also a must for any fans of Rob Marshall's spectacular musical-remake Nine. As much as I loved the razzle-dazzle of Nine, 8 ½  is where it's at if you really want the goods.

Arrivederci! [8 ½ runs today to Monday]


Emmy's Gone 'Mad'

The nominations for the 62nd Emmy Awards were announced today. Although there were a few of the usual oddities, Emmy did good: "Mad Men" leads the Dramatic Series field with 17 nominations. Included with the nom for Outstanding Drama Series are lead acting nods for Jon Hamm and January Jones. Nominated in the supporting categories are John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss, and Christina Hendricks, whose sultry scene
stealing Joan is my favorite nominee from this morning's announcement. Robert Morse is also nommed as a guest actor, although he doesn't stand a chance against Gregory Itzin, who pretty much has it in the bag for his work on "24". "Mad Men" also scored two writing nods and one for Best Director (Lesli Linka Glatter for the episode "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency").


Review: Agora ★★★

Agora (Spain, 127 min)
Dir: Alejandro Amenábar; Writ:  Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil.
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Michael Lonsdale.
It is 391 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. The great city is at a turning point of faith and the elite Pagan philosophers are quickly becoming a minority. At the centre of this ideological war is Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), who, in addition to being outspoken and freethinking, threatens Christian authority by virtue of being a woman. Before Agora sounds too lofty, it is important to note that this Alexandria is one of those cinematically exotic cities in which everyone has a British accent and six-pack abs.

Despite the accent and her well-toned physique, Weisz’s strong Hypatia saves Agora. The script by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil offers Hypatia many scenes in which she lectures to the students about her quest to understand the cosmological forces that govern the Earth. Amenábar and Gil succeed in creating a tragic portrait of the philosopher that strongly articulates her contribution to field of knowledge. Likewise, Weisz’s performance has the brilliance to match. Particularly in the scenes depicting Hypatia’s spontaneous research and magical methodology, the actress infuses her character with such uncorrupted enthusiasm that she effortlessly captures the spirit of a genuine scholar. Weisz’s effervescent Hypatia makes Agora worth seeing.


Adaptation Series 1.3: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Note: Since this article discusses the second entry of the Millennium trilogy, it lightly refers to events that occurred in the previous installment.

Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire is, in my opinion, a rare case of a sequel that equals if not exceeds the standards set by its predecessor. Whereas The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo mostly centered on journalist Mikael Blomkvist as its protagonist, Fire shifts its focus to Lisbeth Salander and is much stronger for it. Lisbeth made such a strong impression in Tattoo, both as the mysterious heroine of Larsson's prose and in the beguiling performance by Noomi Rapace, and in Fire, she's twice as compelling.

The Girl Who Played With Fire revives the conflict between Lisbeth and her abusive legal guardian Nils Bjurman. Their last encounter saw Lisbeth turn Bjurman’s sadistic habits back on him and branding him as a rapist. In Fire, Bjurman wants revenge on Lisbeth and enlists some shady characters to help track her down.


Review: Toy Story 3 ★★★½

Toy Story 3 (USA, 103 min.)

Dir: Lee Unkrich; Writ: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Ned Beatty, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris.
Disney and Pixar have opened their magical toy box once again and, like a teddy bear that has been hidden away for fifteen years, their latest endeavor shows a little wear, but it still brings out the kid in you. Likewise, Andy, who we first saw as an imaginative little boy in Toy Story and Toy Story 2, is all grown up: he’s heading off to college and must decide what to do with his childhood treasures. Ever the sentimentalist, Andy opts to take Woody with him (a clear foreshadowing that our poor unsuspecting Andy faces four years of atomic wedgies). Andy packs Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang away to store in the attic, but his mother mistakes the toys for trash and puts them at the curb.

Fortunately, Woody (Tom Hanks) witnesses the error and attempts to rescue his comrades. The rest of the toys, however, feel spurned at the thought that Andy considers them nothing but junk, so they stow away in the box Andy’s mom intends to donate to the local daycare.