Gabby Hoffmann in "Crystal Fairy And The Magical Cactus"

Gabby Hoffmann is so god damn good in Crystal Fairy And The Magical Cactus. Directed By Sebastian Silva, who also made the equally good Magic Magic earlier in the year, the film is one a kind and wholly original. Gabby Hoffmann is stunning in it. She is remarkable in every scene she's in as a free spiritied, zen-like woman who embarks on a road trip with 4 guys who are looking for the San Pedro psychedelic cactus in Chile. We've all met someone like Hoffmann's Crystal Fairy -yea that's her name- and the details she brings to her performance are really just remarkable. Same goes for director Silva who has made a film that deserves cult status in the years to come.

Jamie, as played by a neurotic and aggressive Michael Cera, is a coked-up drug enthusiast that just wants to find the cactus and scratch it off his bucket list. When Crystal Fairy abuptly embarks on his road trip with the guys tension ensues and the mission is almost scratched off. Cera and Hoffmann go at each other head on, Jamie is a nervous wreck meanwhile Crystal Fairy is at peace with herself and demands that Jamie just relax and let the moment seep in. A last minute reveal at film's end wasn't necessary but the rest of the film is incredibly real, all due to Hoffmann's elegant portrayal of hippy personified. In a year of great actresses giving amazing performances (Adele! Blanchett! Gerwig! Delpy!) Hoffmann deserves to be on the short list. Her performance is built to last,

The MPAA, NC-17 and politics

With Blue Is The Warmest Color getting the dreaded NC-17 rating and 50 Shades Of Grey almost destined to nab it in 2014, I was thinking back on some of the most memorable NC-17 rated films since the rating got introduced more than 20 years ago. Before that there was the X rating, which was just as bad and meant for a provocative experience to say the least .. Many of these films didn't even deserve the NC-17 they got. Martin Scorsese's upcoming The Wolf Of Street had to be trimmed down because the MPAA was about to slap it with an NC-17. Yikes. Even a master filmmaker like Scorsese is having a hard time dealing with the MPAA bullies.

Most of the time it has to do with the sex, other times it's .. actually 99% of the time it's the sex. You get Hollywood films where heads get blown off and those movies always get away with it easy, but you have two people having their genitals showing and the MPAA is up and arms over it. Talk about stupidity. I'd rather have my children watch two people having sex than a guy's head getting sawed off -Saw anyone? And then there is debate as to how violent movies are responsible for all these school shooting and mall shooting happening around our neighborhoods. Maybe if those kids were watching people having sex instead of a mindless Stallone vehicle maybe it wouldn't have turned out so bad.

Listen, I'm not for censorship of violent films. I just think it's funny that sex is still a scary thing in the States and that meanwhile out there in Europe there are nude women in bus ads. Talk about societal advancements, those Europeans got it going on. i just find it ironic that for a country that seems to be scared of sex -"oh the children", "GOD is looking down on you"- there really is less of a strict restriction from the MPAA on violent, big blockbuster movies. I mean, how shocking is it to watch a vagina? as compared to, for example, watching a woman getting her face busted in by her boyfriend in The Expendables (an R rated film by the way ..) Slapping an NC-17 rating on a film with sexually graphic scenes prevents some people from watching -for example- Blue Is The Warmest Color, which is one of the best films of the year or last year's underseen but brilliant Killer Joe.

Here are notable films that have gotten the rating since its inception back in 1990.

Bad Lieutenant
Lust, Caution
The Dreamers
Killer Joe
Where The Truth Lies
Bad Education

Kechiche, Adele and la couleur Bleu

There isn't much that's hidden in Blue Is The Warmest Color. The film's director Abdel Kechiche has taken much heat for not only having his film run more than 3 hours but also for shooting scenes of graphic sex involving his two female leads. It's more than just sex that runs through Kechiche's film but the sex is important. That's one thing I don't think people seem to be getting. Of course Kechiche shoots them in such a sensual, male-gazing kind of way and -yes- he seems to be getting away with a lot (no wonder his actresses said they felt used during the shoot). However I do think these sex scenes represent an integral part of the overall story.

Our two lovebirds Emma and Adele don't have much in common. Emma loves art and hanging out with pretentious-talking artists and doesn't really care about making as much money as possible in life. Whereas Adele -as much as she loves to read and talk art- is more earthbound and finds having a steady job and healthy salary to be of the up-most importance. That's why she pursues her passion of teaching at a daycare. These ideal are reinforced when we get to meet the parents of both young girls, they end up sharing the same common ideals. Adele's parents reinforce the question of yes, art is great but where does one's salary come from if you make it your living. Emma's parents on the other hand love art and don't mind that their daughter is putting it at the forefront of her life.

These two girls have practically nothing in common except for one thing, the lust they have for each other is tremendously intense. Sex drives their relationship. So much so that Emma finds Adele to be a kind of muse for her paintings. That is why I find Kechiche's reason for having such graphic sex scenes not out of the ordinary. Kechiche is trying to show us how these two girls can only connect in the bedroom. Outside there isn't much chemistry. Sure, they talk a lot about philosophy -Sartre!- and literature but one feels like Adele is being forced into these conversations more than passionately seduced by them. 

It is then no surprise that their union ends up fizzling out. Sex can no longer hold it together because at the end of the day it takes more than just passionate sex to make a relationship work. It takes a bond that is more than just about sexual desire. That is where Blue Is The Warmest Color hits its rough patches, we knew the end was coming and that Adele -still immature and baby-faced- would be heartbroken by a relationship that was all style and no substance. 

Crying ensues. The film picks up again once the two girls meet up at a coffee shop to bid their adieux's to one another. No clothes are taken off but the sexual chemistry is still there, Adele licks Emma's fingers and puts her hand between her legs. All this in broad daylight, in front of people. This scene is more sexual and provocative than any of the nudity-laced ones we had seen prior. Emma finds a way to control herself and tells Adele that it's too late. She knows that it takes more than just sex to make a relationship work. Of course, it is an important part of any relationship but Adele and Emma are two different people that somehow ended up in a relationship. Sex held it together. 

The color blue is firmly placed in almost every scene involving Adele. Emma's hair color is blue. From a scarf to the park bench where they have their first kiss, the color is subtly -or for some unsubtly- utilized to evoke the state of mind of her character. She is deeply and firmly in love and the color cannot escape her every move. It isn't up until the breakup that Kechiche decides to replace that color with red to show the vast emptiness that Emma has had on Adele's life. 

In the film's final scene we are in an art gallery at Emma's show, Adele shows up all dressed up and -to my eyes- not really sure why she is there. It is clear that Adele wants closure but how to get it. She sees Emma's circle of friends, her new girlfriend and the pretentiousness that reigns all around the room. That is more than enough for Adele to finally find closure. She knows this world is not for her, she is more than happy with her job teaching kids. In fact, just like her own self, she has graduated to teaching first graders. A subtle indication that she is growing up just like the kids she is teaching. A final shot of her walking away from the gallery is all we really needed to see to know she will be alright. 

Dallas Buyer's Club

The physical transformation Matthew Mcconaughey succumbs to in The Dallas Buyer's Club is one for the history books. Forget about the more than 40 pounds the actor had to lose to portray Ron Woodroof and think more of the way he completely delves into the mannerisms and tics of a homophobic, female loving, bigot that finds out he's HIV positive and has 30 days to live. That's what happened to Woodroof in 1985, just as the disease was taking its toll on not just the population but -SHOCK- Hollywood as well. In the early moments of the film lone star cowboys gather around the back shed of a rodeo to see the headline in the paper which reads "Ron Hudson dead of AIDS". Not many people wanted to believe it was AIDS that killed one of the most masculine actors Hollywood ever produced.

Woodroof wasn't a saint. In fact he was the complete polar opposite, a man so bigoted and endowed with his radical principles that even after the doctor tells him he's dying of AIDS he blatantly responds "I ain't no queer". So the story goes, Woodroof eventually realizes that he does have AIDS and is consequentially rejected by friends and co-workers. What must a man do next? That's where the story gets interesting. AZT was the big drug of the moment to combat the disease back in the 80's. The FDA was making clinical study after clinical study to look at the effects the drug had on AIDS patients throughout the country.

Woodroof tries it and finds his illness worsening. From there on in he travels to places as diverse as Mexico, Israel, Japan, China and Sweden to find the latest breakthroughs in medicine to combat his HIV -and others in the process. Opening up a Dallas Buyer's Club inside a rundown motel room gets Woodroof going and sets up a chain of events which eventually make him one of the top black marketers for AIDS medicine. The FDA obviously disapproved of his actions. Set out legal lawsuits against Woodroof to put a stop to his rebellious ways.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, the film has a gritty, docu-drama feel to it. The momentum it builds up in its first half can however not be maintained in its second half. cliches come to Valee's film at a furious pace, so does the presence of Jennifer Garner who's vastly underutilized as a doctor that defies her peers' orders and backs up Woodroof's case. What makes this film are its performances. Jared Leto as a transvestite that becomes Woodroof's partner is a standout. But it's Mcconaughey, skeletal and gaunt, that gives us a fearless, impassioned performance that can be qualified as artfully resonant. He deserves every award that is coming his way. He has never been better.

A little note

Sorry for the lack of posting in the last few weeks, my hands have been pretty full of late but I plan on catching up with you very soon. I have still managed to catch up with a few goodies at the cinema and will tell you all about them in the coming week or so. 2013 is shaping up to be one hell of a movie year.

Better late than never; My Top Movies of 2012

1) The Master

P.T Anderson's masterpiece is almost unexplainable. A reinvention of the cinematic language with a never better Joaquin Phoenix. The backdrop is scientology but that's only the backdrop for a much more complex movie. Some of the time I was wondering what exactly was happening on screen yet I was never less than riveted. Bold, innovative and infuriating, "The Master" is a landmark movie but one that will likely divide its audience in half. Too bad, I was hypnotized by almost every single frame of its puzzling, schizophrenic narrative.

 2) Zero Dark Thirty

Forget about the Bin Laden raid which ends the movie. What counts in Kathryn Bigelow's film is how they actually got to the most wanted man in the world in the first place. The procedural work rivals that of "All The Presidents Men" and "Zodiac" but unlike those films feels current and relevant to its time. A great performance by Jessica Chastain infuses every frame and Bigelow, a great action director, proves her worth once again after her excellent "The Hurt Locker". What she does here is just tremendous.

 3) Killer Joe

William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" got the dreaded NC-17 rating upon its release. Rightfully so, a lot of the stuff we see is quite honestly shocking, especially its disturbing finale, which blurs the lines between good and evil. Matthew Mcconaughey is scary good as a crooked cop that rivals Harvey Keitel's pervert in "Bad Lieutenant" in a performance that will be talked about for years. Friedkin directs  with flair this tale about the dark side of humanity and how far we would go for the sake of greed. If you want to get provoked, just like all the other films on this list, seek this one out.

4) The Dark Knight Rises

Forget about the flaws -which includes an unworthy twist near the end- Christopher Nolan's conclusion to the greatest superhero trilogy ever told has many high points and an ending that satisifies the epic 8 year journey. Part of the problem people had with the picture was how unrealistic it was. I wouldn't consider putting the words realistic and batman in the same sentence, so why complain? "The Dark Knight Rises" was as close to a movie event blockbuster as we got in 2012 and even if it didn't meet the expectations set up by The Dark Knight in 2008, it came pretty close to matching that noir masterpiece.

 5) Prometheus

Ridley Scott's prequel to his "Alien" is the kind of movie I love. Filled with ambitious ideas about creation "Prometheus" can be seen as a great bookend to last year's "Tree Of Life". It is a deep, satisfying, visually rewarding experience. It asks questions that most filmmakers don't dare to ask and is acted and directed in such high fashion. I just wish Scott would forget the idea of making a sequel to a movie that asks us questions and dares to not answer them by letting us ponder it through long after the movie's end.

6) Looper

Joseph Gordon Levitt stars in director Rian Johnson's science fiction tale about loopers, time travel and murder in an original and visionary mind bender. Following it might be a mind fuck but the high that comes out of it is contagious. This is a brilliant movie experience, its an wholly original and entertaining idea, writer/director Johnson has managed to successfully transpose to film without, it would appear to a layman, pressure or interference from external sources.No matter how much of a good time you will have watching this film (and you will), Hollywood could stand to learn much more from it.

7) Rust And Bone
8) The Sessions

Here are two fantastic films that deal with sex in two very different ways. Hollywood, pay attention you migth learn a thing or two about real human interraction.

Marillon Cotillard excels as a woman that loses both her legs but still ends up finding love in the form of a mixed martial artist. Director Jacques Audiard proves that "Rust And Bone" was no fluke by making a hard edged film about tragedy, love and forgiveness. The sex here is frank, real and unflinching.

Who says paraplegics can't have sex. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt make a fantastic team in this true life story about a middle aged paraplegic that wants to experience sex for the first time and decides to hire a sex surrogate to fullfill his needs. "The Sessions" is sweetly rendered and never mocks its subject matter.

9) Moonrise kingdom

It took me a few viewings to fully grasp director Wes Anderson's small scale masterpiece. Just like any of his other films ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox","The Royal Tenenbaums","Rushmore") a second -or even a third- viewing of "Moonrise Kingdom" is mandatory to fully appreciate the little details that infuse every frame of Anderson's film. Story is secondary to the atmospheric 1960's world Anderson creates from scratch. His eyes and ears to detail are what makes him so damn good at what he does. Some may complain Anderson hasn't grown and matured in style over the years but I'll take his whimsical vision over most other so-called filmmakers.

10) Skyfall

For a film that happens to be the 23rd installment in a movie franchise that was supposed to run its course a long time ago, the latest James Bond thriller Skyfall is a surprisingly original treat. Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 is unlike any Bond movie we've seen before. It looks back on the first 50 years of Bond, then shows him to us again in a new light and sets him up nicely for his next 50 years. Just like Casino Royale the film could use a good edit but some of the scenes stand as some of the very best of the franchise. All credit must be given to director Sam Mended ("American Beauty", "Road To Perdition") and director of photography Roger Deakins.

11. Compliance, Craig Zobel

12. Brave, Mark Andrews

13. 21 Jump Street, Phil Lord

14. Seven Psychopaths, Martin Mcdonaugh

15. Jack Reacher, Christopher McQuarrie

16. In Darkness, Agnieska Holland

17. Haywire, Steven Soderbergh

18. Lincoln, Steven Spielberg

19. Premium Rush, David Koepp

20. Life Of Pi, Ang Lee

21. Miss Bala, Gerardo Naranjo

"Man With A Movie Camera"

To think, Dziga Vertov's The Man With a Movie Camera came out more than 74 years ago. Things have changed in cinema since then, yet the influence Vertov's film has had on movies is immeasurably towering. Film was already entering the sound era and silent pictures were slowly dying, yet "talkies" weren't fully fleshed out and the quality of the product was lacking. There was something missing. It took Vertov's experimental film to pave the way for the next 80 years of cinema to come.

There aren't many films as influential as Vertov's masterpiece of sound and image. One can think of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless in 1960 and its invention of the jump cuts but even that film can't compare to Vertov. "It stands as a stinging indictment of almost every film made between its release in 1929 and the appearance of Godard’s 'Breathless' 30 years later," film critic Neil Young wrote, "and Vertov’s dazzling picture seems, today, arguably the fresher of the two." Godard is said to have introduced the "jump cut," but Vertov's film is entirely jump cuts.

Before Man With A Movie Camera most films had shots that lasted for many seconds, if not minutes. The average shot length in 1929 was of 11.2 seconds. In the blink of an eye Vertov decided to make an experiment and have his shots last a much shorter duration. The average shot length of his film ended up being a mere 2.3 seconds, a feat completely unheard of back in 1929. To give you an example Michael Bay's Armageddon released in 1998 also has an ASL of 2.3 seconds.

Vertov saw how cinema was stuck in a tradition of being shot like a stage play. I can think of Josef Von Sternberg and his Marlene Dietrich pictures which, to my eyes at least, haven't aged very well because of the staginess and theatricality that infused their every frame. The same could be said with many of that films at that time that refused to break the wall of theatricality.

It wasn't just the ASL that was mind blowing, Vertov decided to make an experiment and to push the boundaries of what cinema can do. He combined his images of daily life in communist-era USSR with a soundtrack that melded perfectly with his images. It's as if the music was made to gel with the celluloid he shot. There isn't anything dramatically gripping in the film as much as there is a bombardment of contagious cinematic joy. The sheer rush of experimentation. In fact this experimentation still seems fresh by today's standards. 80 years later, Vertov's masterpiece still has a striking effect with a whole new audience.


Gravity is eye popping stuff. Alfonso Cuaron has made a movie that is unlike any we’ve ever seen before. It’s almost as groundbreaking as Avatar minus the flaws Cameron’s film had. Cuaron's magic here is perfect. This is a straightforward blockbuster from an auteur who knows how to please. Cuaron's films have legitimately made him one of the best directors around (Children Of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien) hell he even made high art out of a Harry Potter film. Prisoner Of Azkaban was by far the best one of the series, with its exceptional visuals. So who's to expect anything else but a great movie from Cuaron. He's made one here with Gravity. There are no eye popping, gut squirming villains in this space world. The villain here is just gravity itself in all of its nightmarish, scientific and subtle madness.

It would be unfair to reveal the secrets behind the plot but suffice to say a master is at work here and Cuaron has surely directed Sandra Bullock to her second Oscar Nomination – if not, her second win. Bullock is dead-on as an astronaut with not much to live for but her job, especially as she is still mourning the death of her daughter back at home. Corny stuff right? but you believe it and are affected by it. George Clooney plays her co-pilot in the space mission and he acts, well, like George Clooney in an astronaut suit. I'm fine with that. Some of the visuals here are tremendous, in a how-the-hell-did-they-do-it kind of way. It was supposedly a torturous experience for Sandra Bullock as she told us at the film's premiere in Toronto. Bullock was in a cubicle the entire shoot of the film and had to rely on her imagination to act out the scenes. It seems to have worked.

 Gravity is a film that relies on its visuals to tell a story. The hypnotic madness of space itself is continuously a theme that was delved upon before, most notably in Stanley Kubrick's 2001:A Space Odyssey. This is not as trippy an experience as Kubrick's journey into the human psyche but it relies on that film as a draft for its more entertaining aspirations. Some of Gravity's images have been firmly planted into my head since I last saw it in Toronto 3 weeks ago. It's a film that is meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the biggest speakers. The dialogue is minimal but the music -brilliantly composed by Stephen Price- drives the story along with its loud, penetrating beat.

The last 10 minutes of Gravity are as intense any film I've seen this year, in fact it'll make you appreciate the grounded feel of our beloved planet. There's something to be said about a film that takes place mostly in space with not much plot to speak for but the survival of its protagonists. What Cuaron and his brother Carlos -they wrote the screenplay together- have achieved is an immersive experience unlike any other we've ever seen before. Comparisons to Avatar will be made, but Gravity is a better, more artful experience. A 90 minute trip to space with the unrelenting feeling of wanting to get out alive.

"Breaking Bad" Trying to explain it all

Breaking Bad. There, I said it. It seems like it's the only thing people have been talking about these last few weeks. With good reason. This was an exceptional show, from the likes we hadn't seen since The Sopranos. A show that took on such cinematic value that it made us aware of just how low the quality of  movies really is these days compared to cable TV. Walter White's fate became such a nationwide phenomenon that if you said words such as "Heisenberg" or "Ricin" chances are people would know what you were talking about.

The last three episodes of the series really just blew me away, starting with "Ozymiandas" which was an amazing achievement that proved that cable TV could be of the stuff deserving of Oscars, ditto the last two episodes which laid the ground for an epic finale. One that might have not been as risk-taking as say The Sopranos whatthefuckjusthappened ender or as brilliantly realized as Six Feet Under's ambitious time lapse but it kept its promise intact and used Walter White's ingenuity to tie up all the loose ends and serve up some cold blooded revenge.

What to make of this series overall? It started off with a bang and ended with a bang. Bryan cranston as Walter White is a masterful creation comparable to that of the late James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano. An anti-heroic monster that somehow had people rooting for him. I won't hide, I was one of those people rooting for White to come out on top but morally it was wrong. Here was a man that built an empire on making and dealing a drug that ruined lives. Cranston never let-up the intensity that came with his role. Walter White started off as a loser chemistry teacher, bullied by his wife, mocked by his son and ended up as a drug kingpin, feared by his wife, disowned by his son.  This was a scarface-like story that had consequences that were so deep and so psychologically deep that scholarly thesis' could be written about it.

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman was a masterful portrayal of a boy that grew up a man in such short amount of time. Paul was a no-name actor before this show -and judging by his turn in last year's small indie Smashed- this isn't the last we'll hear from him, the film world is knocking at his door. Ditto Anna Gunn who's Skyler was a -curiously- hated character in the series, even though she condemned what her crime-loving husband was doing and was the voice of reason until she got corrupted herself. Which says a lot about how far this series has come. Walter White started off as a schlub that you felt bad about but turned into this gargantuan monster that was meant to not be rooted for. The audience still did, which to me is a brilliant example of our violent-loving society. The show's creator Vince Gilligan made it clear White is not a guy to root for and the series behind him has fully condemned his behaviour yet we still cheered on.

In "Granite State", the penultimate episode, Walt is relegated to living a low-key subordinate life in a remote, snowy cabin deep in the woods of New Hampshire and of course -given that this is New Hampshire- he goes insane with boredom and hitches a ride to a local bar where he calls his son at school and, instead of having his son understand his excuses, gets an earful from Walt Jr. by being told that he's better off dead. This of course discourages Walt, a man whom from the start said he did it for his family and their own welfare. This might have also been a wakeup call to audiences who stood by Walt, maybe it was indeed time to pack it and call it a day. A phone call to the police ensues ,a defeated Walt about to give himself up, when "Gray Matters", his former partners and nemesis', appear on Television. This sparks a fire inside Walt and makes him realize that all this had to with himself more than his family. He wanted to prove to himself that he could feel "alive" as he put it. He did but with consequences.

That last episode, entitled "Felina", had Walt taking revenge on everyone in sight. The Nazis, Lydia and Gray Matters. It was a rewarding feast for the eyes that tidied up every possible tread. Skyler got one last goodbye, in a breathtaking scene that could have belonged straight out of film noir with its cigarette smoke and low lighting. In fact the whole episode was like a film noir, with not much dialogue but stark, haunting images of people that have turned into mere ghosts. Jesse, prisoner at a meth lab, dreaming of a past when making a perfect wooden box at woodworking class was the only time in his life where he had achieved a state of Nirvana. Skyler, a broken woman who's husband betrayed her trust and consequentially got her into deep trouble with her family and the law. Marie, a widow tormented by the unfound body of her dead husband.

Gilligan directs the whole episode like its his last one, it sort of is, and gives us a few nifty shots that are worth talking about for years to come. And who else but Jesse could have killed Todd, the character that ended up being most evil out of all the ones that came before him in the series. Alas, Breaking Bad and its final three episodes, 150 minutes of pure TV bliss, made high art out of a story that got more and more complicated as it went along. The 96% pure blue meth that Jesse and Walt infamously cooked up was almost a curse to anyone that dealt with it. Gilligan got criticized by some circles for giving his series "too tidy" of an ending. I understand that argument but at the same thing we've come so far and had so many surprises, shocks, twists and turns that the biggest shock of them all was that there was no shock at the end at all. The simpleness of "Felina" is what made it so brilliant and sometimes that all you need to satisfy.

"Captain Phillips"

Khat Ban is a herb that has been part of Somalian tradition for hundreds of years. It is a chewed upon Amphetmaine-like substance that causes excitement and euphoria. In Peter Greengrass' riveting "Captain Phillips", the pirates that are about to take over Richard Phillips' ship chew on Khat Ban to overcome the nerves and fears that come with taking on such a mission. The brilliance of Greengrass' film is how we get to know these pirates not as villains but as impoverished third world human beings with not much to lose. We've all heard about Somali pirate takeovers at sea in the news but the topic has never really been given a Hollywood treatment until now. Which makes the film even more interesting. Greengrass touches upon many themes, including the negative effects of globalization and the isolation of such impoverished third world nations. Somali actor Bakhad Abdi is exceptional as Muse, one of four pirates trying to overtake an American cargo ship 145 miles off the Somali coast.

Abdi's scenes with a brilliantly effective Tom Hanks as the Captain are what makes "Captain Phillips" indisputably great. Greengrass smartly decides to cast non-professional actors for the Somali roles, the risk pays off brilliantly. Abdi, looking jaunt and intense, matches Hanks scene for scene. He is exceptional and Oscar-worthy in a role that demands a lot of intense, real emotions. Muse nicknames Hanks "Irish" and calls him that many times throughout the film, their bond is a complicated one. Both men understand each other: Phillips knows Muse is doing what he has to do to survive and Muse knows that the Captain wants his men on-board unharmed and will do whatever it takes to achieve that. These two men share more in common than one might think and both are relying on the American government to get them out of this situation.

We all know how it ends, that's besides the point. What "Captain Phillips" ends up being about is the bond between these two men. They both come from significantly different cultural backgrounds yet they fully understand each other, they know why they are both there. While the other pirates, played by Barkhad Addirahman, Faysal Ahme and Mahat M. Ali, couldn't care less about Phillips, Muse does. Abdi is phenomenal and performs the rare -maybe never before achieved- feat of giving the best performance in a Tom Hanks movie. He and his pirate co-horts chew on Khat Ban religiously throughout the ordeal, trying to manage the situation by getting a simple high. They however find out it'll take much more than just herb to get through their botched hostage-taking attempt. The 135 minute "Captain Phillips" might sometimes feel by-the-books but whenever Abdi and Hanks are onscreen your eyes can't look away. They bring "Captain Phillips" up a notch and make it Greengrass best film since 2006's "United 93". 

Looking back at Bogie and Huston's "The Maltese Falcon"

"hmm, Bogie". That's what Jean-Paul Belmondo's character in Breathless silently utters to himself as he spots a Humphrey Bogart movie poster on his way out of the movies. That pretty much explains in a nutshell the influence that Bogart had on screen acting. Godard's French New Wave masterpiece is known as the first "modern" movie in the history of cinema. No coincidence it is heavily influenced by Bogart's movies, specifically The Maltese Falcon. Directed by John Huston, this 1940 masterpiece features an astonishing performance from Bogart as Samuel Spade, a private detective that enters a case that involves three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous pathological liar and a golden statuette that everybody wants a piece of.

 Huston and Bogart put plot in the backseat for character. What we get is the story of a man that isn't your typical hero, in fact he isn't a hero at all. Spade is a man that has his own moral code. His own rules of the game. The whodunit becomes less important than how we respond to the strong screen presence of Bogart and his co-stars. That's what makes `The Maltese Falcon' a classic. We see more and appreciate more each time we watch it. Huston invented what the French called film noir, in honor of Hollywood films (often `B' movies, cheap to make, second movies in double features) that took no-name stars into city streets to pit tough guys, often with a vulnerable streak, against dangerous dames.  Bogart was luckier than most noir heroes, but it cost him. Struggling to maintain his own independence – against the claims of love or his own penchant towards dishonesty – the Bogart hero can do little better than surrender, with a rueful shrug, to the irony his survival depends on.  

For Huston, telling this story posed a different problem. Telling it straight wasn't possible – too many twists.Plot is irrelevant here. Small, unique touches are of the upmost importance instead.
 Huston chose to focus on characters. One way to appreciate Huston's choices is to LISTEN to the movie. Hear the voices. Notice how Huston relies on the exotic accents of his characters to keep us interested. Could we endure the scene in which main villain Kasper Guttman explains the history of the Maltese falcon unless his clipped, somewhat prissy English accent held our attention? Same with Joe Cairo, his criminal associate and a man with almost indescribable accent. There are clues throughout that the 3 male villains of the piece might also be gay, Cairo is mocked by Spade for having a "perfumed Handkerchief" and we all know what that meant back in 1941. 

 All of this leads to the ending, minutes of screen time in which more goes on, gesture by gesture, than a million words could summarize. He loves her, maybe, but he won't be a sucker. After the film, we're left with Spade, whom we like and loathe, a man whose sense of justice squares, just this once, with our own, maybe but who's moral code conflicts with our own. At least he follows that moral code. Take this for example: Spade didn't much like his murdered partner to begin with, after all he had an affair with his partner's wife. But he wanted to find the person that ousted him. "When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it.” It seems to be a street code, a rule of the game for Spade, even if it means bringing the woman he loves to jail. With all the harsh things Spade is capable of doing we still respect him for sticking by the set of rules he has chosen to live by. He seems to be living in his own world of ethics and scenery. Bogart plays Spade rough, playful and with more than his fair share of demons stirring up inside him. That we never see these demons make's Huston's film all the more haunting.

Action movies since Die hard ..

John McTiernan’s action masterpiece Die Hard was released into theaters, and it's not an understatement to say that we're still reeling from the impact. The film turned one Bruce Willis — until then thought of primarily as a comic actor and harmonica player — into a Hollywood action star, a position he's still convincingly holding down 25 years later. It also unleashed armies of imitators: There was Die Hard on a Ship (a.k.a. Under Siege), Die Hard on a Mountain (a.k.a. Cliffhanger), Die Hard at the Stanley Cup Finals (a.k.a. Sudden Death), and so on, all the way up to this year's double dose of Die Hard at the White House movies (a.k.a. Olympus Has Fallen andWhite House Down), not to mention Die Hard Beating a Dead Horse (a.k.a. A Good Day to Die Hard, a.k.a. Die Hard 5). It is, in fact, partly thanks to these imitators (as well as the Willis franchise's lesser sequels) that we often forget how expertly made the original Die Hard is: It's as much a perfectly calibrated character piece as it is a kick-ass action flick. So what has the action landscape looked like since that fateful day in 1988 when we first met John McClane en route to Nakatomi Plaza? For the past few months, I’ve been watching and/or rewatching almost every major action movie made since then in an attempt to come up with the best ones. The good news is that a lot of awesome action movies have been made over the past 25 years. The bad news? Not all of your favorites will be on this list.

(1) Die hard
(2) Terminator 2: Judgement day
(3) Speed
(4) The Fugitive
(5) The Bourne Identity
(6) The Matrix
(7) Spider-Man 2
(8) Minority Report
(9) The Dark Knight
(10) La Femme Nikita
(11) Predator

How "Deep Throat" changed cinema

Watching a 35mm copy of Deep Throat over at Visual Arts Building here in Montreal, I couldn't help but be reminded of just how important snuff cinema truly was. Forget about how important it was to porn, and how it has basically shaped, molded -sadly- the 21st century woman as we know of it. This 1972 film a starring Linda Lovelace as a woman that finds out she has a clitoris in her throat and gains deepened pleasure from performing fellatio to her men is a kind of "opened door" to the way women would get treated in mainstream Hollywood cinema. "Director" Gerard Damiano's film was almost a kind of "OK" for the female to get looked down upon in mainstream cinema. After watching Deep Throat and subsequent Porno films that followed it, Hollywood had a reaction that was almost akin to them saying "Hey we can write these female roles whichever way we want them to be written and not many will complain about the downgrade cause they're over there shocked at what Lovelace is doing".

I know many people that would say Deep Throat was important to the advancement of feminism given the fact that the film actually promotes Female Orgasm! A far cry from today's porn where -unless shot by an amateur- will not even come close to showing us a woman climaxing. In fact these days only the guy has an orgasm and, in doing so, also degrades the girl by abusing her face with his semen. Deep Throat made Linda Lovelace a sort of celebrity and had many people imitating what they were seeing onscreen - and still do to this day. It's a film that is probably as influential as any from the 70's. Going back to this feminist angle that I was just talking about, yea I see what people mean by its role in female empowerment but at the same time I don't think it's very empowering to have the idea of a woman with a clitoris in her throat, ingenious, but demeaning.

Lovelace was actually featured in a recent "bio-pic" which had Amanda Seyfried playing the porn star. Lovelace's life was not a walk in the park. She claims she was held at gun point in making the film. She eventually starred in a number of soft-core films that didn't really come to much else but a quick buck for her career. She was being slapped around by her "bosses" while making "Deep Throat" and you could clearly see the bruises on her arms and legs in the film.


Denis Villeneuve is a director that I've adamantly followed since the beginning of his career in Quebec more than 15 years ago. It took a while for this great director to finally hit it big. In 2010 he released an incredible masterpiece called Incendies. It garnered an Oscar nomination, critical acclaim and then the world finally knew about him. Too bad they haven't seen his earlier stuff.Maelstrom was a sexy, film-noir narrated by a fish and starring the lustful Marie-Jose Croze and Polytechnique was an artful black and white re-creation of an infamous college shooting in Quebec.

In Prisoners Villeneuve doesn't soften his style or adhere to any Hollywood conventions. He is still the Denis Villeneuve I've always known. It helps that he has an impressive cast that includes 5 Oscar nominees. This is an ambitious, sprawling, fascinating and -yes- flawed 158 minute movie about a missing kids case. Jake Gyllenhall and Hugh Jackman deserve a nomination, so does Villenueve for his impressive direction. Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello complete the cast. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time.  

Jackman plays Keller Dover who ends up facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in. The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street. Heading the investigation, Detective Loki arrests its driver, Alex Jones, but a lack of evidence forces his release. As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child's life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. He kidnaps Alex.

The film takes so many twists and turns that it threatens to derail, by the film's last act that's what happens. I wish they could have tightened this film up in the editing room and cut 15-20 minutes of it. That's a minor quibble because there are powerful moments here. Many will recall Clint Eastwood's Mystic River and Todd Field's In The Bedroom. They wouldn't be wrong but I'd go a step further and say this is very much akin -and owes greatly- to David Fincher's Zodiac. Both are 150 minute tales about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. 

The scenes of torture here are sometimes tough to watch. Is Keller stooping down to the same level as the abductors? How much is too much in exacting revenge? These questions have been asked before in the cinema but deserve to be asked again. Here's a big studio picture with a lot on its head and an ambition you don't see much of these days at the movies. 

It helps that -like Fincher- Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, he gives us some of the most powerful scenes of the entire year. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done.  Gyllenhall is ferociously good and might have found a great director to work with (wait until you check out what Gyllenhall and Villeneuve have done with Enemy, due out in 2014.)

Suffice to say there's a lot to chew on here and the expertise at work is top notch. I wouldn't be surprised if this catches on in the years to come as one of the go to films in the murder-suspense genre. It really is phenomenal work from real pros. 

"Noah" A short movie that has people talking

When I was in Toronto I had overheard people talking about this short film that had premiered there called Noah, the raves coming out were phenomenal. Someone even uttering it's the "Citizen Kane of short movies". Yikes, talk about expectations. Well anyways I got a good look at it the other day and suffice to say it really is damn good. Well, maybe not Citizen Kane good but pretty damn spectacular in its depiction of this generation's communication breakdown. The film really is THAT ingenious, all shot through the eyes of a high school teenager and his computer. Our protagonist Noah suspects his girlfriend is about to cheat on him and sets out to get back at her through Facebook. But it's so much more than that. It's about the way we live these days. Noah navigates through his Iphone, Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia, Google and Chatroulette -multiple task bars open- with the attention span of a 5 year old, always distracted by the next thing in line. It takes a ChatRoulette girl to put things into perspective and her arguments are deep enough to have you want to quit Facebook this very instant.

Directed by two first time filmmakers out of Ryerson College in Toronto, Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, Noah is a powerful depiction of contemporary technology and its role in relationships.What is stupendous about it is the way that it tells its timeless story of suspicion and heartache in a way that is only possible through the filter of its technological approach. Betrayal takes the form of logging in to your loved ones Facebook. Getting over things means seeking out a stranger on Chatroulette. It’s familiar, but different, and a recogntion that our interactions follow the same patterns even as they are mediated differently. But there is the specter that those interactions are inferior, the way Noah is doing 4 things at once when Skyping with Amy -his ex-girlfriend-,  or the way that his Chatroulette connection is dropped so easily, so unceremoniously.

This is as relevant as Fincher's The Social Network was. These are the times we live in. It is sometimes very hard to watch Noah, because there are many things here that you and I can relate to in one way or another. It's funny how the breakup the film portrays happened not through conversation but through online betrayal and hacking. There ended up being no closure for both parties, just blocking on Facebook. For the film's 17 minutes and 29 seconds you are transported into a world that is eerily similar to yours. It took two college students from Ryerson, Woodman and Cederberg, to remind you that this is us today in 2013.

Chaplin in "The Kid Auto Race"

Many people neglect Chaplin's earlier stuff. I'm not talking about his feature length movies, but more the fact that he started out like many others did, doing short films when the medium was just bursting out. In 1914 the character he would popularize as "The Tramp" in such classics as "City Lights" and "Modern Times" made his big screen debut in " Kid Auto Races" directed by Henry Lehrman. A peculiar debut for Chaplin's character, considering how -although the Tramp here is the main character- he is quite an annoyance to the centrality of the plot and to the audience. Especially given that he is intruding at a kid's event with the parents as the onlookers. Chaplin's Tramp would eventually be much more sympathetic in the later, more popular pictures, but it's intriguing to see him act contrarian to what we would expect from him.

Chaplin's Tramp is a spectator at an auto race in Venice, California. He  keeps getting in the way of the camera and interfering with the race. This causes great frustration to the movie going public, who just wants him to already get hit by one of the race cars. It's a small feat in filmmaking at a time when movies were only getting started and the narrative was only starting to develop into some sort of coherent form. The 11 minutes of "The Kid Auto Race" were a sign of greater things to come for the silent movie star and the memorable persona he would eventually flesh out. This is slight Chaplin, but it's still fascinating to watch "The Kid Auto Race" since this is where it all started.  It's an immaculate moment in cinematic lore.

Andy Warhol's world

I was never really ecstatic about watching Andy Warhol's 1960's film experiments because a) They would mostly consist of experimental film-making that was made to test its audiences patience and b) many of these movies were not really made with any substantiated idea or protocol behind them. There are many out there that will disagree with me and say that Warhol was in fact the film genius that many made him out to be. I respect that opinion and I do believe he had some kind of imprint in film history by pushing boundaries for better or for worse.

His factory which developed many of these films had more or less the same crew working in and around the clock. One film I do particularly find interesting that came out of the "factory" is "Blow Job" which was filmed in January of 1964 and depicted the reaction of an un-credited actor named DeVern Bookwalter while he was getting fellatio. As our patience gets tested and we wander in and out of this perplexing film, a few questions start to pop into our heads:  1) Is Bookwalter getting a blow job from a male or a female? Warhol's crew had many bi-sexuas and homosexual people at the factory and 2) When does the moment of Orgasm actually happen?

Bookwalter is seen moaning, tilting his head back and staring desirably at the camera throughout the film's 30 minute running time. That's right, the film is close to 30 minutes long and focuses just on his face. No worries, you might find yourself dosing off at some points but -for some reason- you do come back and focus again. Is it because we are curious to see the orgasm happen? Warhol does show it, but again only through Bookwalter's facial gestures. We never, for one second, see the "giver" only the "receiver". It's a bold, frustrating film that is worth a look -and patience- just to gather your own reaction to what exactly Warhol was trying to achieve.

It's a bit more watchable than Warhol's infamously dull screen tests from the 1960s where he'd tell his participants to not blink and stare at the camera. Warhol was a fascinating man that went through many ideas to try and capture the many different ways art could be conceived. He was a groundbreaker, but not without dulling our senses in the process.

TIFF day 4

As the festival winds down and my days are counted here at TIFF some movies are starting to stick with me more than others. Today was a quieter day and I had time to finally reflect on some of the stuff I had seen. Two films in particular seem to not be getting out of my head, those films are "12 Years A Slave" and "Prisoners". Both have been getting Oscar buzz over here and I am actually quite surprised the latter hasn't been mentioned as much by Sasha. Every person I talk to here says its chances come awards season are mighty high. Directed by Denis Villenueve "Prisoners" is an ambitious, sprawling, fascinating and -yes- flawed 158 minute movie about a missing children's case. Jake Gyllenhall and Hugh Jackman deserve nomination, so does Villenueve for his impressive direction.

I've already talked about "Prisoners" in a past post, so I won't go any further than that. Instead, I'm going to delve into other new stuff I've seen at the fest. Starting with Jonathan Glazer's much anticipated "Under The Skin" which -much to the delight of her male fans- features a naked Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress sent to earth to lure guys into her car and kill them. The film is going to be a love it/hate it kind of thing when it comes out. It caused the most walkouts out of any movie I have seen this year at TIFF. Johansson's alien drives her car for most of the movie, luring one male after another - the repetitiveness of the film's narrative might have turned off many but I had a blast watching Glazer's film. Its originality and absurdity is what I liked the most and of course I adored Johansson who seems to be having a deadpan blast here with her role. On a side note - it's refreshing to see actresses such as Johansson in this film and Winslet in "Labor Day" with a bit more weight and roundness to their bodies. They both look much better and healthier now.

"Joe" is yet another movie directed by David Gordon Green, after this year's "Prince Avalanche". Green has had a career of directing stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, The Sitter, Your Highness) and art films (George Washington, All The Real Girls, Snow Angels). "Joe" is clearly an art film and features a beefy Nicolas Cage. Cage's Joe is an ex con that is now a lumber merchant. He frequently visits the local brothel and is addicted to cocaine. An unlikely friendship happens when he meets a young 15 year old boy (Tye Sheridan of "Mud" fame) that is frequently abused by his drunkard of a dad. Even more trouble comes when Joe gets himself into debt with hoodlums visiting his small town. Green's film is quiet and devastating and Cage gives his best performance in a very long time (even though I have secretly admire for his absurd work in "Bad Lieutenant"). The film's small time Americana cliches are sometimes too apparent but the relentless intensity of the screenplay never lets up.

To conclude, a small note on Tsai-Ming Liang's "Stray Dogs" a polarizing film about a homeless Taiwanese family. Filled with long, endurance-worthy takes and not much plot, the film can sometimes be too much to handle but I dug it for all its weird, provoking madness. It's definitely a must see for anyone that is looking for cinema that pushes the boundaries and then some. It does say a lot about the poverty rates in that country and how the distance between rich and poor is enormous. You have been warned - it's not an easy watch. It has been chosen as official selection for next month's New York Film Festival, to not many people's surprise of course.

TIFF day 3

Jason Reitman's "Labor Day" is a film unlike any the director has made before. It stars Kate Winslet as a depressed, single mom that decides to give shelter to a wanted fugitive (Josh Brolin). The scenes WInslet and Brolin share are the heart and soul of this film. Winslet's Adele is a vulnerable mess, who's only reason to live is her 13 year old son. Sometimes we wonder if Brolin's fugitive is taking advantage of her vulnerability or if his love for Adele and her son is for real.Winslet is sheer perfection and as far as I'm concerned she's the second best working actress today (after Meryl Streep).  It'd be a real shame if she doesn't get a nomination for this fine, fine performance. Reitman's film doesn't always work, the subplot involving Adele's son and his crush at school is a bit too forced for my liking. However, whenever Winslet and Brolin share the screen this film just works really well. Reitman hasn't yet made a film to match the brilliant textures of "Up In The Air" -I'll be getting haters for this comment- but here he's made a movie that delivers.

 If Winslet's Adele gets her vulnerability tested wait until you see Isabelle Huppert in Catherine Breillat's "Abuses of Weakness" a film based on her own experiences. In 2004 Breillat suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body and then developed a "friendship" with a man that ended up being a con artist. This man made Breillat write him numerous checks that ended up putting the filmmaker on a 900,000$ debt. She ended up writing a book about it and now has made this movie. A brilliant, deceptive movie which explores the nature of vulnerability and tries to find answers as to how or why this could have possibly happened.

 Directed by John Ridley "All Is By My Side" or -as people here are calling it- "The Jimi Hendrix Bio-Pic" is a flawed mess of a movie that features a great performance by Outkast's Andre Benjamin as Hendrix. I wouldn't call this a Bio-Pic since it only covers a year in the life of Hendrix. An Important Year nonetheless. 1966, is when Hendrix moved to London and found fame. However, there isn't enough material in this one year to justify such a long, dull film. The only bright spot is Benjamin who's phenomenal as Hendrix and sometimes makes you forget that it's an actor playing the legendary guitarist on screen.

The biggest applause any movie got at the fest was John Curran's "Tracks", which is another film based on true events. In 1975 Robyn Davidson set out on a 1700 mile journey through the Australian outback with 3 camels and her faithful dog. Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson and she's great, so's Adam Driver as the annoying photographer that follows her through this journey. A lot of people are saying this will win the audience award and judging by the long ovation the film garnered i just wouldn't be surprised. This could be another "Whale Rider" type of win.

TIFF day 2

One of the joys of being in Toronto is bumping into people you really admire so much. Seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor sneaking into a quick afternoon screening and of course bumping into Harvey Weinstein, hiding his nerves, right before the first press screening of “August:Osage County”. The critics were in town too, I caught a glimpse of the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick quite a few times, Newsweek’s David Ansen lining up for the new Miyazaki and caught up with Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly on what’s been the best of the fest so far – we both agreed “12 Years A Slave” and “Gravity” by a landslide.

 “Gravity” is eye popping stuff. Alfonso Cuarron has made a movie that is unlike any we’ve ever seen before. It’s almost as groundbreaking as “Avatar” minus the flaws Cameron’s film had. A master is at work here and Cuarron has surely directed Sandra Bullock to her second Oscar Nomination – if not, her second win.

 Meryl Streep will be giving Bullock a run for her money with her juicy role in “August: Osage County”. Streep is a ticking time bomb as the dysfunctional mom that heads a large family gathering. Americana caricature after caricature comes with director John Wells’ film, one that is very imperfect and left the press at my screening with a very mixed reaction. Streep is the lone shining light in this otherwise forgettable movie.

 In my earlier article I talked about how good Chiwetel Ejiofor was in “12 Years A Slave”, competition has come in the form of Matthew Mcconaughey as Ron Woodruff. Sasha has already chimed in with this film but I will add to her praise and say that this is the Matthew Mcconaughey show. The 43 year old actor has been on a role lately (“Killer Joe”, “The Lincoln Lawyer”, “Bernie”, “Magic Mike”) but nothing tops what he’s done here with “The Dallas Buyer’s Club”. Looking gaunt and sickly, Mcconaughey wowed audiences here.

 Doppelganger films have been big at TIFF so far. Director Denis Villeneuve -on a roll already with “Prisoners”- brought us two Jake Gyllenhaal’s with “Enemy”. Gyllenhall plays a Toronto professor that finds out he has an exact look alike living in the same city. It’a film very much inspired by Cronenberg but that also lets Villeneuve bring his own voice to the picture. This is sexy, smart, mysterious filmmaking at its best. The other doppelganger film had Jesse Eisenberg going insane with the appearance of his doppelganger. Directed by Richard Ayaode (Submarine) “The Double” is a dark comedy that fizzled out at its end but has shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” throughout its running time.

A much anticipated film here was Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, a film about eco-terrorism that strips down the genre conventions and ends up giving us the bare bones of its topic. Contrary to many here I wasn’t a big fan of Reichardt’s past films (“Wendy And Lucy”, “Meek’s Cutoff”) but this one works because it moves. There are tense, gripping moments in “Night Moves” and its performances -notably those of Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard) move the film along admirably.

TIFF day 1

The first day of any major film fest will be a resoundingly exhausting experience. So much to see with so very little time. Albeit there are more than 10 days to The Toronto Film Festival but the sheer amount of quality directors to choose from is limitless. Trying to focus on one thing is tough here. The kinetic pace leaves you with the need to down espresso shot after espresso shot just to make it through to the very last screening of the day. It doesn’t help that to go from screening to screening you have to go through massive amounts of crowds that are waiting for the next celebrity to walk down the red carpet. This year there are big names coming; Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock just to name a few.

 Me? I’m here for the movies. The next big thing we”ll be talking about come Oscar time. The next “Slumdog Millionaire” to come out of nowhere and wow audiences. If I’m too pummelled by the amount of serious, heavy dramas I have to see on a daily basis I will switch gears and watch something light like Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, the R rated comedy “Bad Words”, in which he plays a 40-year-old high school dropout who exploits a rules loophole in order to compete against 10-year-olds in a national spelling bee. Light stuff and not very impressive but needed when you see one heavy movie after another.

 My first day started with a screening of Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time. The film will get many comparisons to David Fincher’s “Zodiac”. An understandable comparison since this is a 150 minute tale about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. The obsessed are Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective and Hugh Jackman as the up-to-no-good father of one of the missing children. Unlike “Zodiac” Villeneuve’s film doesn’t manage to get you as obsessed about the case as its main characters. The screenplay is also nothing new, we’ve all seen this before but the twists and turns keep the story going. It helps that Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, as he showcased in the Oscar nominated “Incendies” in 2010. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done. 

However, everyone here talking about “12 Years A Slave”. I have never seen this many men in their mid to late 50′s sobbing their eyes out of a screening. I also more than once heard someone refer to it as the “Schindler’s List of slavery”. Oy vey. Steve McQueen’s film is much more than that. It’s a film that gets you riled up and mad with none of the conventions that pegged Spielberg’s otherwise masterful film. Yes, “12 Years A Slave” is a Steve McQueen film through and through even with an ending that surprisingly tries to tug at your heartstrings. Then again that ending is what might spell Oscar for the movie. If anyone was as disappointed with “Shame” as I was, McQueen redeems himself here. Some scenes are as tough to watch as any from his brilliant directorial debut “Hunger”.

I’d go as far as to say this is probably the most realistic portrayal of slavery ever put on celluloid. Don’t go in expecting”The Color Purple” or “Beloved”, McQueen refuses to flinch at anything. He tries to depict exactly what happened. At the press conference the director was frustratingly peeved off when a reporter asked him and Fassbender if it was hard depicting such cruel people on screen, “The truth is the truth. we are just doing our job, showing what happened” the director replied. Fassbender is brilliant as Epps, the cruelest of slave owners with the sole intention to dehumanize his “assets”. A bible quoting man with a mean-spirited wife that jealously thinks he’s turned on by one of the female slaves Patsy. And what to make of Chiwetel Ejiofor, brilliant in films like “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Redbelt” but flat out phenomenal in this film. I thought the best actor Oscar was his until I saw Mcconaughey in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” (I’ll delve onto that one tomorrow).

 “12 Years To A Slave” is for now the IT movie everyone is talking about, a Best Picture Nomination is all but sealed. Comparisons will also be made to another much buzzed film “The Butler”. Let’s put it this way, if “The Butler” is a great pop song then “12 Years To A Slave” is a great symphony. It flows effortlessly from one scene to the next with the ability to have you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an important part of American history. Things can rapidly change here. The buzz can dwindle or accentuate. So is how it works down here in Toronto.

Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr.

(If you want more praise for Buster Keaton, check out my review of The Navigator by clicking right HERE)

You gotta love Buster Keaton,whether you're a film school aficionado or not. He just -quite frankly- was brilliant and so ahead of his time. His films still so damn good more than 90 years later. In fact, I don't see one too many brilliant films like his these days. Think about 1922's Sherlock Jr. which is a Hugo of its time, infiltrating the frame of a movie -making it a movie within a movie! In fact, I don't think there was another movie before it that actually played with its narrative this way- a sort of Adaptation and a beautiful tribute to movies that stands along the best of them. Sheer brilliant set pieces and a Keaton in full form, playing a Sherlock Holmes-esque character in his own day dream of a movie; the hero, the man who saves the day, the person that gets the girl and solves the big mystery. He is a film projectionist that believes in the magic of movies, a man so devoid of harmful traits that he truly wants to be the hero. And oh the editing, so damn good - in fact one of the greatest edited movies of all time (along with other Keaton gems such as The General and The Navigator). We all want to be Sherlock Jr. - At least Keaton thinks so and makes a movie that proves to be entertaining as well as gasp-worthy in its action.

"You're Next" and 40 years of Horror

If You're Next was a world premiere at this year's Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, there was a very good reason why that fest's organizers decided to choose it as one of its selections, alongside Simon Pegg's The World's End (I'll get to that one later) and The Conjuring (read a few posts below). You're Next is the second horror movie to have gotten solid reviews this summer -after The Conjuring. That's two films, compared to other years where you would get none all year. You see, critics usually - coldy- receive films of the horror genre with not much excitement. I don't blame them. Horror has become somewhat of a joke in the last 20 years, retreading cliche after cliche and typically using the same structure to build up its narrative. A film like The Conjuring is not groundbreaking stuff but it smartly avoids the usual trappings of a horror movie by focusing more on the psychological aspect of its story. Psychological horror (cue masterful examples such as The Sixth Sense and The Others.)

You're Next on the other hand -slyly directed by indie director Adam Wingard- has no subtlety YET it works! Wingard's film works because unlike many horror films these days, there is a character -or two- that you genuinely care about. Erin is that character, played by kick-ass Aussie Sharni Vinson. Erin is the heroine of the story and an all out action hottie that comes out of nowhere to win our cold, disturbed hearts. To reveal the plot of You're Next would be unfair for those that haven't seen the trailer but suffice to say that this is a home invasion film that twists home invasion cliches upside down with enough gore and twists to keep you guessing. In fact I didn't see the last minute twist coming, neither will you. This is a film that is not perfect but entertains and gives horror buffs what they came to see. I've compiled a list of the best horror films I've seen in the last 15 years or so, some choices may surprise you while others are a must for any list of this kind. I've split it in

First Things First, the essentials no matter which decade;

Psycho (1960)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Exorcist (1973)
Carrie (1976)
The Shining (1980)
The Fly (1986)
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)


The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
American Psycho (2000)
The Others (2001)
Joy Ride (2001)
Frailty (2002)
Cabin Fever (2003)
28 Days Later (2003)
Red Eye (2005)
The Devil's Rejects (2005)
The Descent (2006)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The Mist (2007)
Bug (2007)
Funny Games (2008)
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
The Last House On The Left (2009)
Shutter Island (2010)
Antichrist (2010)
I Spit On Your Grave (2010)
Cabin In The Woods (2012)
The Woman In Black (2012)

American Independent cinema is alive and well

This summer has not been very kind when it comes to top notch Hollywood films. Is it ever? I guess once in a while you'll get the odd summer movie season that has Studio films aim for high art, I can think of 2001 (Artificial Intelligence, Moulin Rouge, Shrek, The Others) or 2002 (Minority Report, Road To Perdition, About A Boy, Insomnia, The Bourne Identity) but otherwise Independent cinema is the way to go if you truly want a rewarding experience at the movies in the summer.

This summer movie season brought us great stuff (Before Midnight, Frances Ha, The East, The Way Way Back, The Hunt, The To Do List, Mud) and it isn't over yet. There's officially still 3 weeks left until we kick off the fall movie season with The Toronto Film Festival (I'll be there!) and until the summer movie season ends. Don't count on any of the studio stuff to make much buzz but American independent cinema has always been there to get us through the tough times.

Case in point; James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now one hell of a coming of age love story with a remarkable performance from its two main leads. In fact Miles Teller and Shaileen Woodley both shared the acting prize earlier this year at Sundance. Boy, did they deserve it. Especially Woodley who at me at hello. This is one of the best female performances of the year. She plays Aimee, a shy "Nice girl" with not much boyfriend experience and he plays Sutter, a party boy that's just broken up with his grilfriend. They seem to not match at all, yet they do. Director Ponsoldt creates magic by literally showing us how two people can fall in love before our very eyes. His movie falters at the end when he derives from the relationship stuff between Sutter and Aimee into more family-based problems. No matter, The Spectacular Now is invigorating stuff, especially Woodley. I hope awards come to her.

"In A World..", ever heard those words in a trailer before? Actress turned director Lake Bell knows you have and has aptly named her directing debut In A World.. which takes place in the world of voice over narration for movie trailers. Original idea. Original execution. Who'd a thought that Bell, a beautiful 34 year old actress known for being in TV shows and movies would be such a talent to watch. It helps that she casts the always great Fred Melamed as her dad, a legend in the voice industry. Daddy finally decides to kick out Bell's Carol out of his house, she is a struggling voice artist that is still trying to find the "voice part" of a lifetime. She ends up crashing at her sister and her husband's apartment whom themselves are struggling in their relationship. This film very much reminded me of the originality of fellow female director Miranda July's Me, You And Everyone We Know. Just like that film, Bell creates an original world never depicted before in celluloid. That's a good thing. Bell is an original voice in indie cinema that is worth looking out for

Fruitvale Station comes off the heels of a triumphant batch of Awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival. There it won the top Dramatic feature prize and got praised for its relevance to the recent Trayvon Martin shooting. Director Ryan Coogler based his film on the true story of Oscar Grant, an African American handcuffed and killed by a police officer at an Oakland subway station. The film takes place on the last day of this man's life as he struggles to get his life back on track. Grant (indelibly played by Michael B. Jordan) has a 4 year old daughter with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and has to cope with the fact that he just got fired from his job at a grocery store. Even worse, he hasn't told Sophina and resorts to dealing weed - which doesn't please her very much. The fatal shooting happens on New Year's eve and has an impact of shocking gravity, too bad Coogler has stuffed his film with melodrama that numbs some of the effects the film tries to go far. Coogler overreaches and over sentimentalizes some of his film with amateur-like effects that -for some reason- worked with other critics. Nevertheless, Fruitvale Station is a movie that matters because it has a message and relevance that invigorates its story despite its flaws.

Sundance's best movies since 1992-

(1) Memento (2001)
(2) Reservoir Dogs (1992)
(3) You Can Count On Me (2000)
(4) In The Bedroom (2001)
(5) The Squid And The Whale (2005)
(6) Winter's Bone (2010)
(7) Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
(8) Waking Life (2001)
(9) Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995)
(10) Capturing The Friedman's (2003)
(11) Clerks (1994)
(12) Hoop Dreams (1994)
(13) An Education (2009)
(14) The Blair Witch Project (1999)
(15) Citizen Ruth (1996)
(16) Hedwig And The Angry Inch (2001)
(17) Maria Full Of Grace (2005)
(18) Me You And Everyone We Know (2005)
(19) 500 Days Of Summer (2009)
(20) Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
(21) The Station Agent (2003)
(22) El Mariachi (1992)
(23) American Splendor (2003)
(24) The Kids Are All Right (2010)
(25) Buffalo '66 (1998)
(26) Moon (2009)
(27) The Sessions (2012)
(28) The Cove (2009)
(29) The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
(30) Hustle And Flow (2005)
(31) Super Size Me (2004)