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Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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Hail, Caesar!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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It seems as if we’ve been getting a new entry into the Marvel film canon at least once or twice a year for the last little while now. And with rumours swirling that the filmmaking titan has its universe mapped out until the year 2028, you either get on board now or be forever lost in the immense, intertwining reaches of this comic book behemoth. Hell, Marvel Studios even has Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox undertaking some of the responsibility! Yes, with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” breaking the box office opening weekend record for April, the television show “Agents of Shield” going steady, “Guardians of the Galaxy” picking up steam on all social platforms, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” production well under way, it looks as if there’s no stopping this superhero juggernaut.

Conversely, all positives aside, lately the films have been hit and miss. Take for example the underwhelming sequel “Thor: The Dark World” and the polarizing finale to the Iron Man trilogy. While both found financial success, there are those beginning to question the stability of Marvel’s universe. With Marvel’s success came demand, and as this thirst grew, Marvel set in motion a strategy that fulfills the demand which simultaneously secures funding for future need. And this will continue in an infinite loop enabling Marvel to produce with the mindset of quantity over quality. This will eventually result in a consistently declining level of interest that will ultimately lead to less funds for future projects, thereby effectively extinguishing Marvel’s ambitious blueprint for a big screen legacy…but this is just a theory.

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What do you think of Marvel’s course of action for the big screen? Is Marvel sacrificing quality for quantity and reward? Are they looking too far ahead or simply giving the viewers what they want? Will their courageous endeavour into the future sacrifice the integrity of their characters or help to better define them? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comment section below. Nevertheless, regardless of what you feel towards Marvel’s aggressive inflation, there’s no denying that if their future projects are anything like their latest, “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” Marvel will be going strong and steady for a long time to come. Directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, and written by Marvel veterans Stephen McFeely Christopher Markus, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is without question the best solo Avenger film to date.

I’ve always felt that Captain America was cut from a different cloth than his Avenger teammates. Despite being a super soldier and carrying around an impenetrable shield, there’s nothing that really distinguishes Captain Rogers from the rest of us. He’s the most humble, vulnerable, human of all the Avengers, and that really shows in every film he’s a part of. Whether it be struggling with his misplacement in time, trying to overcome being deprived of an existence with his beloved, or fending off evil with nothing exactly superhuman to defend him, Captain America truly is the best of humankind amplified.

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PLOT:

We catch up with the Captain not long after the events that took place in New York. He’s living in Washington, D.C., running espionage missions for S.H.I.E.L.D and still struggling to fit into modern society. However, when Nick Furry is on his way to a previously arranged rendezvous, he’s ambushed by unknown assailants lead by an assassin known as the Winter Solider. This abruptly puts an end to Captain Roger’s steady routine and thrusts him back into action. Upon learning that the Winter Soldier is working for Hydra, Captain America sets out to defeat the Winter Soldier and put an end to Hydra once and for all.

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Look, no disrespect to “The Avengers,” it’s a great flick, action-packed, oozing with quotable dialogue, and frequently amusing. That being said, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is Marvel’s best outing to date. Where chaos controlled and ultimately lead to “The Avengers” reach exceeding its grasp.

Marvel’s latest is controlled, paced, and executed with pure brilliance. The story is engaging, the action is breathtaking, and the performances tower over any other portrayal given in the Marvel universe. And although it might not take place on the grandest scale, it certainly tackles socio-political issues that are extremely relevant in today’s world, hitting closer to home than any of its predecessors. And yet, perhaps what is most impressive and admirable about the film is the serious mentality taken by the Russo brothers whilst executing and capturing the action sequences, whether it be hand-to-hand combat between Rogers and the Winter Solider or larger scale battles and explosions. Not to mention the drama surrounding our hero Captain America and his enemy, the Winter Soldier. It’s as compelling and entertaining a battle between good and evil since Marvel’s nemesis’ D.C Comics unleashed Batman and The Joker…okay…maybe not that illustrious, but they’re working on it.

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Returning to the Marvel screen is Chris Evans who reprises his role as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as the always deadly and sexy Natasha Romanoff, Samuel L. Jackson as head honcho Nick Furry, and Sebastian Stan who portrays his alter ego this go around, the Winter Soldier. Joining these vets are newcomers Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford, who tackle Falcon and Alexander Pierce respectively. Additionally, there’s a terrific supporting ensemble comprised of Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell, Cobie Smulders, and Toby Jones. If this all-star cast isn’t enough to entice you, I don’t what is!

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The insanely talented Chris Evans never ceases to amaze me, I sincerely hope the rumours floating about regarding his early retirement from acting are false. I mean, the man is a machine! Whether he’s knocking the baddies on their rear end or bursting with an unfathomable spectrum of emotions, Evans makes it look all too easy. Now, for those who have been clamouring for an independent Black Widow film, I apologize, I could not see the potential…but all that’s changed now. Scarlett Johansson quite possibly provides the best performance this flick has to offer. She’s sweet, stunning, funny, smart, and sexy. A lethal combination and something you wouldn’t expect from an Avenger afterthought. Sebastian Stan, who’s work I’m not exactly familiar with apart from the original “Captain America” film, gives the best villain performance I’ve seen since Tom Hardy’s Bane or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Every time this badass stud hit the screen sporting his menacing black mask and mechanical arm, I got chills.

Easily the most surprising aspect of the film is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy his character and alter ego so much! I originally thought he would provide nothing more than a few comical quips and mid-air somersaults, but he does so much more. So much so that I’m actually looking forward to Falcon’s next Marvel appearance. Additionally, Robert Redford…wow. Although he’s only on the screen here and there, he controls the moments he is with an abundance of charisma and villainy.

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Shedding the cartoonish hue and predictable comedic relief that has plagued previous Marvel outings, it looks as if the illustrious comic book organization has finally gotten it right. With an incredibly strong script, potent humour, and massively memorable performances, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is as strong as they come.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: 9 out of 10.

Her (2013)

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As most of you should know, at the moment in the most general sense, we as a species are not headed in a good direction. Somewhere along the path, we lost our way. Our priorities and morals are misshapen and failing, the technological and political advances we make are cancelled out by our abuse of our planet and each other, and we’re struggling to co-exist, to keep our progression afloat. All in all, our future does not look bright. That being said, the ship is being righted somewhat, you know…we are getting there, even if it is just one maladjusted step at a time. We’re beginning to consider the consequences and outcomes of our actions and creations just as heavily and frequently as we marvel at them. And it looks as if our continued existence, harmony, and evolution is significantly greater in importance, well…at least mow more than it has ever been.

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Sadly however, despite this new growth and consciousness of how important our cohesiveness is, we continue to conjure up new ways of interacting with one another…quicker, inhuman, artificial ways. Devices, methods, and intelligence that instead of drawing us together, instead of doing what we intended them to do, is distancing us, alienating communication, both physical and verbal. It’s becoming a bit excessive and ridiculous, at least to me anyway. I get that with these tools we are also bringing the world together, but, I mean, at what cost? And where do we draw the line? We’re losing what makes our very presence in this universe so extraordinary. It feels as if these easier ways of connecting are hampering our intellectual ascension, creating an inability to converse face-to-face, and leaving us unable to read one another. “I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

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That’s an Albert Einstein quote, by the way, just thought I’d let you know so I don’t get tagged with plagiarism, but I digress. The quote, along with the personal rant before it was ignited by Spike Jonze’s transcendent film “Her.” I feel it’s important to convey what exactly a film evokes in me and the end result is often something like the rant above. Just so you know, “Her” centres around Theodore (Phoenix), a lonely, romantic writer who winds up falling in love with his new operating system (Johansson). I figured I’d let you in on the plot so you could know the reason behind my rambling. So, now that you understand where my blurb stems from, I bet it makes a lot more sense. To be honest though, there’s a hell of a lot more to this film than just singling out our mistakes and how we are going to pay dearly for them. So enough of my blabbering on, let’s get into the film.

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Unlike any love story you’ve ever experienced. “Her,” written and directed by the aforementioned Spike Jonze, is a bizarre concoction of comedy, science-fiction, and of course, romance. Its premise is a bit obscure and might take a little time to settle in. However once it does, the confusion and hilarity of what you are actually watching will will wear off and the film’s immersive, heartbreaking, foreshadowing nature will haunt you, make you ache. The script is genuine, disheartening, and completely captures the lyricism and poetic inconsistencies of the language we use everyday. It’s extremely difficult to recreate such instinctive, calculated emotions and dialogue, but Jonze does a superlative job in doing so. The soundtrack for this lovely film, which I am currently listening to, was composed by none other than Arcade Fire, amongst others. It’s one that’ll stick with you and you’ll be listening to it consistently long after the film is over.

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Jonze, whom you might know as the director of such masterpieces as “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” brings exactly what you’d expect to the table. His form is as impeccable as ever. The camerawork is really an achievement all its own. Shifting from the close, emotionally strong, driven performances to endless skylines and scenery. He displays this ambient, smart, poignant, vulgar, atmospheric, sexy, unflinching yarn flawlessly. The story moves swiftly and effortlessly. Transitioning from a simple tale of a lonely writer into an intricate, veritable look at our expanding knowledge and existence. Jonze does this while eventually, occasionally simultaneously, providing the reason why this growth will be our downfall…unless we come to terms with the truth. That being, no matter how we break our bounds and overcome obstacles, our structure, our very make-up will always bring us back to one another.

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Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the strongest ensembles 2013 has to offer keeping your footing. “Her” features Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson in the lead roles with Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, and Chris Pratt running support. We all know that Adams has the chops, so her magnificence shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Nevertheless, somehow, she still manages to bewilder and her performance here is nothing short of perfection. Wilde, who I feel finally won her critics over with one of my favourites this year, “Drinking Buddies” continues to move forward with another strong effort. Pratt plays the quirky, visceral, long-time friend infallibly, something he’s done for a long time. As for Mara, who still remains on the periphery of the mainstream for some odd reason, gives another powerful effort here. She’s that odd, house-hold name that everyone seems to push to the back burner.

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Phoenix and Johansson, our star-crossed lovers, search endlessly for a way to make their unconventional romance work despite all the restrictions. And I must say, they look…and sound I should say, quite striking doing so. It’s utterly remarkable how the two play off one another. Johansson might not be able to garner an Oscar nomination due to some idiotic stipulation, but in my books, she’s got the award wrapped up. As for Phoenix, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll grab a nod himself, possibly take it home all together. I know it’s simple fiction, a movie, but the chemistry, the sparks these two create is something of such authenticity, it has to be seen to be believed.

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Spike Jonze’s “Her” is beautiful, smart, disconcerting, and depressingly emotional. “Her” will be fighting for nominations this award season, there’s no doubt, the only question is, how many will it win?

Her: 9.5 out of 10.

TIFF 2013: Under the Skin (2013)

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It’s essentially a foregone conclusion that everyone on this planet has a fear of something or someone. Anyone who tells you different or that they are fearless is down-right idiotic, lying, or inhuman. To fear is to live. Now, you’ve got your typical fears of sensible, common, physical things, for example: spiders, ghosts, storms, clowns, etc… Then, there are psychological trepidations such as: social anxiety, heights, being alone…things that are a little bit harder to understand and empathize with. Regardless however, for the most part, the things that draw the ire of our dread can be avoided, accepted, tolerated. And for the most part we can continue living day-to-day without our fears ruling over our existence. That being said, the majority of us have a fear that exceeds all bounds of comprehension, rationality, and common sense. They leave us inconsolable, paralyzed…just a complete wreck. Not everyone has despair this extreme, but the ones who do know what a nightmare it can be.

Now, you’re all probably wondering to yourselves, “what does this have to do with the review?” Well, it just so happens that my unbearable fear, I’d even go as far as to call it a phobia, happens to be aliens. You know, the kind that travel amongst the stars, searching for habitable planets or resources and settle into Earth to begin exterminating us. It’s quite ironic actually, I’m an avid stargazer and enjoy being an amateur astronomer, cosmologist if you will. So I’m rather knowledgable when it comes to the cosmos, therefore completely convinced that extraterrestrial life exists and have come to peace with it. I am aware that the way these foreign creatures are depicted in films, novels, and media is inaccurate and for the most part is just science fiction being science fiction. Yet somehow, it still manages to make my skin crawl. So you can imagine how conflicted I was being a cinephile aching to see “Under the Skin.” While the film doesn’t portray alien life to the same negative extreme as sci-fi epics such as “War of the Worlds.” It still consists of a foreign life form consuming and ending human lives…so I was a little weary.

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Nonetheless, we are here. I watched the film at TIFF and survived the experience. To be honest, it wasn’t even as bad as I originally anticipated. I concluded it to be because the alien was cloaked in Scarlett Johansson’s skin. And if I was to be murdered, then digested by an extraterrestrial, I’d prefer it to be at the hands of one who looks exactly like Scarlett Johansson. Not to mention, I’d manage to find a way to come to peace with the fact that the last thing I saw was Mrs. Johansson completely naked…but that’s besides the point. The film is, in my opinion, quite remarkable. It’s a highly visual, highly artistic exploration into this typically high-budgeted, explosion-filled science-fiction trope. It is, without question the most unique film I experienced at this years festivities and I officially dub it my sleeper hit of the festival…if that means anything to anyone at all.

Based on the novel of the same title by Michel Faber, “Under the Skin” tells the tale of an alien sent by a massive corporation from her home planet to capture unimportant, family-less, lonely hitchhikers. She is then to return them for fattening and sale as human meat is a delicacy on her planet. But believe me, it offers so much more than this disturbing premise in the sense of underlying themes and content. The story is one of the more intriguing, intelligible aspects of the film. Touching upon several significant, socio-political, and controversial topics: humanity, mercy, farming, sex, and business morals being the most prominent. Although, in my opinion, the film could have better explored and expanded these themes, much the same as Faber’s novel did. Jonathan Glazer, the director of “Under the Skin” does a sublime job packing in all the lyricism, relevance, and symbolism from its source into the hour and forty minute runtime.

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Set in the Scottish countryside, “Under the Skin” has no shortage of serene, stunning scenery. It is immaculately captured by Glazer, who superlatively masks the vibrancy and naturally enthralling element of northern Scotland and drenches it with the dreary, shadowed nature of the film. Visually, it might appear all doom and gloom, but there is something uplifting, chilling about its epic atmosphere. Alongside, Glazer accompanies his complex, hypnotic story and dark setting with an entrancing, terrifying score composed by Mica Levi. The soundtrack really completes the film’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” feel with its ominous tones and horrifyingly abrupt shifts. No doubt, if you prefer the lack of emotion and drama in  “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s subtle intellect and deceptiveness. “Under the Skin” will serve as an excellent update to a sub-genre that’s recently lost its way.

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For the most part “Under the Skin” relies on the beauty and seductiveness of its female lead, played by the aforementioned Scarlett Johansson. Who, I forgot to mention is unfathomably stunning here, both physically and in her portrayal. She elegantly captures the dark, at times satirical humour of the film drawn on by awkward encounters and familiarizing herself with our planet’s customs, not to mention her own body. However, as impressive and memorable as her physical and socially inept performance may be. Watching her stoic, cold-blooded alien transform into an emotionally conscious and understanding being is the highlight of the film without question. Apart from Johansson, “Under the Skin” is practically void of a cast, which makes her portrayal all the more amazing. Nevertheless, the supporting ensemble, despite not being on screen for more than 5 minutes individual, do a fantastic job selling the premise and evoking strong reactions.

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Deeply intelligent, highly visual, and featuring an outstanding performance from Scarlett Johansson. Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is one of the films to watch out for in 2014 and is sure to be a cult smash. I recommend it be infused into the science fiction canon.

Under the Skin: 9 out of 10.

The Guest List: Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings

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Well, it might be only the third edition of The Guest List, but I think it’s already a huge success. It’s accomplished exactly what I had hope, introduced fellow film lovers to one another, spurred on some debate, and definitely stirred the pot. And I can already tell that this week’s edition featuring James from Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings is only going to improve upon the segment. If you don’t know who James is or haven’t already followed/subscribed to his website, I highly recommend you do so right now. You’ll find some solid reviews, terrific articles, and a lovely segment entitled “Who’s That?” when you head on over. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

Now, I have to get some administrative stuff out of the way. For those of you who have signed up for The Guest List segment, could you please post a comment below on when I can be expecting your article. I am very organized about my posting and would love to get a schedule going with this segment.

If you’d like to submit your very own top 10 to The Guest List, here’s how to do it! First, shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Make sure to include a descriptive, yet brief introduction and a picture or clip for every entry in your top 10. Use my own top 10s as references. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish.

Also guys, please if you haven’t already, check out my TIFF 2013 reviews. I wouldn’t usually beg like this, but I worked extremely hard on them. It is totally worth your while, there are a bunch of films reviewed that haven’t even be released yet with plenty more write-ups to come. So head on over to a review or two by clicking on the picture under the sidebar entitled TIFF 2013.

Okay, now that the boring stuff is all taken care of, I am going to turn things over to James, enjoy!

Top 10 Films of the 2000s: by James

Thanks Joseph for allowing me to spread my opinions out across your blog here! This is my pick of the top ten films of the last decade. There are endless films which could have made it into here but didn’t, such as Oldboy, so feel free to criticise, praise, rant or rave at me and my choices in the comment section below! For now though, take a look at what I did pick out:

10: Spirited Away

This charming tale of a young girl who ends up in a mysterious place inhabited by gods and monsters is the only animated film to make it onto this list, and it truly deserves its place here. It’s some of the finest animated storytelling of all time, and a personal favourite to re-watch.

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9: Battle Royale

Shockingly different to the previous entry; Battle Royale has kids killing each other off in all sorts of ways after being forced into a nightmarish situation. For its satirical commentary and also sheer entertaining spectacle Battle Royale makes it onto this list.

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8: Volver

One of the first films that introduced me to Almodóvar, Volver quickly became one of my favourite films for it’s well handled and performed story of loss and redemption. If I said any more I would spoil it, but please do seek it out if you haven’t already seen it.

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7: Kill Bill: Volume 1

I often describe the final third of this film as being perfect cinema; and anyone who listens long enough will hear me rant and rave about the use of colour and music, the well-handled action, and the enormous sense of fun that Tarantino seems to be having which then crosses on over to the audience. The rest of the film isn’t too far off this level of entertainment either, making Kill Bill an obvious entrant into my list here.

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6: The Pianist

Adrien Brody is incredible here as he takes us through the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. This isn’t an easy or an uplifting watch, but it’s certainly one that lingers in your mind for a long time after the credits roll.

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5: Hero

This is one stunning film. The focus on the splendour of the visuals may not be for everyone, but Hero really deserves more praise than it often gets. It is not a fast paced action film; rather it’s an exploration of movement.

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4: City of God

Now this is where the list becomes really tricky, I can play around with the ordering of these last four movies endlessly and quite happily put any four of them in first place. City of God is a tale of violence set in Rio de Janeiro and is essential viewing if you haven’t already seen it. The directing style and rawness to the film makes it a pretty special watch.

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3: No Country for Old Men

Javier Bardem is an unforgettable presence in what is arguably the Cohen brothers’ best film, and yet its success is not all down to those three. Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Kelly Macdonald all contribute fantastic work and collectively make this one of the best and most important films of the decade.

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2: Lost in Translation

My personal favourite out of all the films on this list, or in this decade, Lost in Translation is the deceptively simple story of two people who meet in Tokyo and form a relationship that’s more meaningful than they could have previously imagined. It features excellent performances by both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, who have brought characters to life here that I have grown far too attached to and fond of. This is easily one of my absolute favourite films.

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1: Adaptation

I know of no other film which so confidently, nor so successfully breaks itself apart and exposes itself. This is unquestionably a fantastically handled film that is about film; it’s about itself, the creation of itself and then the evolution of itself. Not only is it incredibly clever though, it doesn’t come across as pretentious but is instead warm hearted, funny and occasionally touching with great performances given by Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper. I cannot recommend Adaptation enough.

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What an outstanding list. A BIG thank you to James for contributing his list this week. Remember, check out the criteria for submitting your own list above. Have a great weekend!

TIFF 2013: Don Jon (2013)

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It’s about as close to the perverse truth as any romantic-comedy has come close to depicting. It delivers the goods on its premise and is unique enough to distance itself from the genre. There is no denying the chemistry between its two wonderful, handsome leads and the laughs are consistent and real. Yet, one can’t help but feel that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut “Don Jon” is missing that certain climactic element. Essentially, there is nothing utterly wrong with the film itself. The fault lies in its inability to provoke any kind of meaningful reaction or reward the viewer for tagging along in the journey. Granted, the plots skeletal structure is anything but common and Levitt isn’t afraid to show a little skin, so to speak. However, the point in which the viewer joins the protagonist never diverts or scatters, resulting in a linear, anti-climactic, albeit impressive debut for Levitt.

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Jon Martello (Levitt) is a present day Don Juan who objectifies everything in his life, specifically women. His friends call him Don Jon because he is consistently able to pull “10s” every week. Soon, Jon’s addiction to internet pornography renders his sex life less than fulfilling and eventually his relationships begin to falter because of it. On his journey to discover a more satisfying love life, Jon falls for Barbara (Johansson), a beautiful woman who is obsessed with control.

Much like Joss Whedon did to the horror genre with “The Cabin in the Woods,” Levitt has disassembled, dissected, and rebuilt the conventional stereotypes and outlook of the romantic comedy. However, when blatantly poking fun at countless years of tradition and canon, the revolt better be a game changer. And for the most part, Levitt has this transformation pointed in the right direction. His outing is a raunchy, veracious, satirical romp…of course not to the same height, success, or effectiveness as Whedon and Goddard’s comedic fright-fest. However, with “Don Jon,” Levitt has genuinely created something brash, original, and straightforward. It definitely bursts with the usual charisma and wit that typically defines films of this genre and manages to lure the viewer in with likeable, terrifically performed, over-the-top characters.

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Although for the majority of its runtime, “Don Jon” is severely superficial. This reinvented concoction does offer more insight, intelligence, and endearing qualities than the majority of the genre’s entries. “Don Jon” is merely a half-realized revelation for the rom-com genre and is heavily directed at the male populous. It’s sure to not sit as well with the female market, but for those who can handle the harsh fact of differing motivations in opposite-gender relationships. It’ll conjure up some big body-aching laughs and a veritable gaze into the logical and emotional differences that continuously baffle our co-existing genders. Compared to its counterparts, “Don Jon” is a breath of fresh, sexually charged air into a genre that would rather play pretend than focus on truth-telling and authentic, situational humour.

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It’s rather comical, yet seriously obscure that I’m having this much difficulty writing up this review. As I previously stated, there isn’t anything actually wrong with the film. It’s funny, different, and Levitt, again for the most part, has done everything with his usual flair and charm. I just feel that with “Don Jon,” Levitt errs on the side of caution. As if he has intentionally pushed the envelope, but got cold feet halfway to his destination. You’ll find yourself watching the film and feel a bit naughty and excited by this new, uncharted cinematic territory. And then, when you’ve finally reached the end, flustered and gleeful, the slow realization that you weren’t overly wowed begins to take over. However, all this being said, “Don Jon” truly is an impassioned, touching, respectable debut for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. So long as he keeps chugging along this road of ingenuity and continues to carve out his own way. Levitt will have a long, prosperous career behind the camera.

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The one thing you can rely on when heading into the theatre to experience “Don Jon” is the consistent cleverness and turbulent coexistence of all the characters. Which are incredibly and ably performed by the entire cast, which features Scarlett Johansson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza.

Marred in heavy makeup and a thick New Jersey accent, Scarlett Johansson is as striking as ever, even though she maybe a tad incoherent. Nonetheless, in a role that significantly depends on superficiality and surface pleasures. It’s her ability to transform and power through the external distractions in order to reach internal importance that is truly remarkable. Tony Danza is down-right hilarious in his supporting role. Hopefully this will lead to his emergence from the shadows and launch him back into the mainstream. Moore is just phenomenal in her supporting role, she hasn’t been this effective and stunning in a long while. As for Levitt, he’s as effective and suave as ever, but we shouldn’t have expected anything less. Levitt does a phenomenal job while pulling double duty and really adapted both physically and mentally, not only to play and capture the role, but create it. Although I have to admit, Levitt’s portrayal here is quite the oddity when you associate him with the heartbroken romantic from “500 Days of Summer,” quite the contrast.

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It might dwell a little to close to safety, but its excess of honesty and hilarity is enough for “Don Jon” to overcome its faults. It is a respectable inception for director/writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Don Jon: 7.5 out of 10.

TIFF 2013 Releases Schedule and Final Announcements

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We are now less than two weeks away from when the Toronto International Film Festival tickets go on sale to the public and a mere 16 days away from the start of the actual festivities. On Tuesday morning, another slew of films were announced along with the schedule itself and a long list of celebrities set to attend the festival. I don’t know about you, but the anticipation is overwhelming me. I suppose the nervousness and excitement will dissipate somewhat when I actually know what screenings I will be attending, or it could skyrocket even higher. Either way, this is shaping up to be one hell of a festival!

Schedule:

Now, for those attending, or those simply who’d like to know what’s going on and when, you can find the full schedule by clicking here.

FInal Film List and Programmes:

If you’d like to know what films are playing at the festival, you can click here for the entire list or click the TIFF button in the main menu at the top of this page. You can also find all the programmes offered by the festival by clicking here. Essentially, all films screening at the festival are divided into groups for attendees to better understand what type of genre and themes the film will contain.

TIFF Guests:

Perhaps the most exciting news released Tuesday morning was the endless list of celebrities ready to attend the festival. Amongst the names are Benedict Cumberbatch, Meryl Streep, Rebecca Hall, Josh Broliin, Alan RIckman, Clive Owen, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Tom Hiddleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nicholas Cage, Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin, Liam Neeson, James McAvoy, Nicole Kidman, Felicity Jones, Ed Harris, Spike Jonze, Melissa George, Paul Giamatti, Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Gadon, Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender, Jesse Eisenberg, Sandra Bullock, Chris Hemsworth, Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Mia Waikowska, Owen Wilson, Steve McQueen, Jason Reitman, Keanu Reeves, Keira Knightley, Matthew McConaughey, Ti West, Eli Roth, Daniel Radcliffe, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Oliva Wilde, Mike Myers, James Franco, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, and Thandie Newton, just to name what I feel to be the most important. And honestly, I couldn’t type any more names. There is a bunch more on the list you can find here. Also, these are just the people confirmed thus far, it is expected that the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, amongst others will be attending.

Jason Reitman’s Live Read:

You can find all the information below, provided by the TIFF website.

The Festival proudly welcomes back Jason Reitman’s Live Read — a unique event in which classic movie scripts are read by contemporary actors. With no rehearsal, the actors come together for a one-take read-through with Reitman narrating stage direction. In 2012, the Festival welcomed Reitman and an all-star cast — including Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon and George Stroumboulopoulos — for a live table read of Alan Ball’s screenplay for American Beauty. This year, Reitman is back with a surprise script from a modern classic and a new cast at the Ryerson Theatre on Friday, September 6. Details, including cast and script, for the 2013 Live Read event will be announced in early September.

IMAX Screenings:

New this year, audiences are invited to be part of the action with two official Festival selections and two special screenings presented in spectacular IMAX. The two films will be Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and Keanu Reeves “Man of Tai Chi.”

Next Wave and Manifesto Announced:

You can find another plethora of titles announced by clicking here.

New Galas and Special Presentations:

Metallica Through the Never: Nimród Antal, Canada/USA, World Premiere

Dane DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines) stars as a Metallica roadie dispatched to hell and back in this mind-blowing mash-up of concert film and post-apocalyptic adventure, presented in IMAX 3D.

The Wizard of Oz: Victor Fleming, USA, World Premiere

Experience Judy Garland’s over-the-rainbow adventure in vivid new detail with this IMAX 3D presentation of Victor Fleming’s family classic.

10th Midnight Madness Film Unveiled:

Witching & Bitching:

Fleeing through the impenetrable forests of the Basque countryside after a jewel heist, a hapless band of robbers runs afoul of a coven of witches, in this madcap supernatural spectacle from Spanish genre specialist Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus).

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Okay then, that’ll do it for the pre-TIFF announcements. The Cinema Monster will be covering the festival in full, providing reviews, news, and Q and A’s as often as possible, make sure to follow our website to keep up with the festival. Also, follow The Cinema Monster on Twitter (@cinema_monster) and Facebook for up-to-the-minute news and posts, not to mention special pictures and videos provided by me from the screenings. Have a great week!

TIFF 2013 Announces First Batch of Films

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With a little over a month until the Toronto International Film Festival officially kicks off its 38th edition. The first batch of attending films were ceremoniously announced around 10am this morning in what is shaping up to be one of the most prolific, star-studded years in festival history!

75 films were announced Tuesday in what should become roughly 290 total, at least equalling last years output. Expect the entire Midnight Madness lineup to be released July 30, with the remaining films formally presented throughout the coming weeks. Check out the Galas here and the Special Presentations here.

The most notable from the first batch are as follows:

August: Osage County John Wells, USA, World Premiere:
August: Osage County tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. Based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize– and Tony Award–winning 2007 play of the same name. Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard and Chris Cooper.

The Fifth Estate Bill Condon, USA, World Premiere:
Triggering an age of high-stakes secrecy, explosive news leaks and the trafficking of classified information, WikiLeaks forever changed the game. This dramatic thriller based on real events reveals the quest to expose the deceptions and corruptions of power that turned an Internet upstart into the 21st century’s most fiercely debated organization. The story begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistleblowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world’s most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of modern time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society — and what are the costs of exposing them? The film also stars David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Dan Stevens.

Kill Your Darlings John Krokidas, USA, International Premiere:
Kill Your Darlings is the true story of friendship and murder that led to the birth of an entire generation. This is the previously untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that would lead to their Beat Revolution. Also stars Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, David Cross, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick and John Cullum.

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Justin Chadwick, South Africa, World Premiere:
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is based on South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison before working to rebuild his country’s once-segregated society. Starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela.

Rush Ron Howard, United Kingdom/Germany, International Premiere:
Two-time Academy Award winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) teams up once again with two-time Academy Award–nominated writer Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) on Rush — a spectacular big-screen re-creation of the merciless 1970s rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Also features Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara and Pierfrancesco Favino.

12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, USA, World Premiere:
12 Years a Slave tells the incredible true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and finally freed in 1853. The story is a triumphant tale of one man’s courage and perseverance to reunite with his family that serves as an important historical and cultural marker in American history. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams and Alfre Woodard.

Blue Is The Warmest Color Abdellatif Kechiche, France, North American Premiere:
At 15, Adèle doesn’t question it: girls go out with boys. Her life is changed forever when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adèle grows, seeks herself, loses herself, and finds herself. Starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos.

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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her Ned Benson, USA
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is a two-part love story seen through the eyes of a New York couple trying to understand each other as they cope with personal hardship. The different perspectives of “Him” and “Her” result in two films with a unique look into one couple’s attempt to reclaim the life and love they once had. Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, and Jess Weixler.

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Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt, USA, Canadian Premiere:
Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a strong, handsome, good old fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to “pull” a different woman every weekend, but even the finest fling doesn’t compare to the bliss he finds alone in front of the computer watching pornography. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) is a bright, beautiful, good old fashioned girl. Raised on romantic Hollywood movies, she’s determined to find her Prince Charming and ride off into the sunset. Wrestling with good old fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy in this unexpected comedy.

Gravity Alfonso Cuarón, USA/United Kingdom, North American Premiere:
Gravity is a heart-pounding thriller that pulls its audience into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer accompanied on her first shuttle mission by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone — tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But their only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

To say that I am excited for TIFF 2013 would be a massive understatement! Can’t wait to see what other films will be joining this first wave.

Lost in Translation (2003)

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Unearthing the sentimental in the synthetic and the concealed sorrow that comes with significance and milestones. Lost in Translation is a dreary look at the cyclic inevitability of human life. Using pathos to connect how we desperately try to define the chaos and strive for zeal, the scenarios laid out may not be relative to everyone but the directive is universal. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson take the leads in this Sofia Coppola directed drama and unveil prime examples of their talents. Lost in Translation doesn’t insult the audience with cliches or resort to idiotic predicaments. Instead, it is indifferent to the viewer and gives exactly what is is, life. There is no extravagance, just chance encounters with plausible results.

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An aging actor who’s career is nearing its end, Bob Harris (Murray) travels to Tokyo on business. An enchanting young woman named Charlotte (Johansson) who is newly married to a photographer visits Tokyo with her husband for work. Their first encounter is in an elevator and the two barely notice one another. By chance, the two meet again in the middle of the night at their hotel’s lounge. As both cannot sleep and are bored to death during the day, they become travel partners and begin to sightsee around Tokyo. As their friendship evolves, they come to the realization that their time in Tokyo is drawing to a close.

Lost in Translation doesn’t teach decadence or cater to the grand design of what things should be. After all, the time we spend dreaming of what could be and what could be feels like is pointless. In the end, everything we imagine is what we already know, which is not a negative conclusion. Lost in Translation takes pride in what we know and shows that despite our mistakes such as optimism or forcing what we want to happen into happening, eventually we get it right. It may not be in the correct manner or the right approach, but we do know what we want and we are intelligent enough to know when it materializes. Bill Murray is comically melancholic and radiates his character’s self indulged compassion and positive narcissism. Scarlett Johansson lays out the best form of indifference and does right by her morals and choices, yet still becomes deceived. Sofia Coppola uses her surroundings in definitive ambience and amplifies the details in Johansson’s and Murray’s gloom.

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Lost in Translation: 8.5 out of 10.

The Prestige (2006)

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If you’re looking for a film that keeps you guessing, is full of tricks, and will leave you infatuated with its characters till the very end, The Prestige just might be for you. In my opinion, The Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s best and most complete film. Written by Christopher and his brother Jonathan, The Prestige is the ultimate magic trick that keeps on giving, viewing after viewing. Christian Bale (Batman Begins) leads a superb cast that includes: Hugh Jackman (X-Men), Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation), Michael Caine (Children of Men), and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings). With its nonstop twists and a script that never undermines the audiences intelligence, The Prestige is full of sacrifice, guilt, and struggle. With Nolan behind the scenes and a stellar cast up front, The Prestige is not to be missed.

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Nearing the end of the nineteenth century in London, Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) are a couple of stagehands for a friend while learning some tricks as both are upcoming magicians. One night during a routine performance, Angier’s wife dies and he places the blame on Borden. Angier and Borden continue to work at their craft as enemies and competitive rivals. As both come into their own, fame begins to bestow itself upon them. Their competitions become more violent and elaborate while both attempt to sabotage the others career. When Borden perfects and begins to perform the greatest trick the world has ever seen, Angier becomes obsessed with discovering the secret and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

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In the history of cinema, I don’t believe there has ever been a rivalry quite like this. Nolan has proven with every feature he has helmed that he is the creator of instant masterpieces and the mental kick the film industry has been waiting for. With the exception of Following (1998), Nolan’s full length feature debut, The Prestige is possibly his most underrated piece. Christopher and Jonathan provide the foundation of anguish, loss, and loyalty through a clever screenplay adapted from the Christopher Priest novel of the same title. Nolan’s ability to control and manipulate his cast into the perfect tones, external movements, and emotions is unparalleled. Bale and Jackman steal the show as usual as they both hurdle head first down a mountain of regret and anger. Through a vicious competition they had no hand in starting, Caine and Johansson are remarkable as they try to decipher their loyalties and scramble to make the right decisions. The Prestige is intelligent, violent, and at times very disturbing, but is a definite must see.

The Prestige: 9 out of 10.

Just a quick note. As the blog has just been started, for now I will only be posting reviews of some of my personal favourites and lesser known pieces of film genius. Reviews for current and upcoming films will begin this weekend starting with Chan-wook Park’s Stoker.