Blog Archives

TIFF 2016 Review: Una (2016)

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Una (2016)

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.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)

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An old-fashioned tale of life, love, and loss set to the sunny and shadowy panoramic vistas of lovely Texas. This Terrence Malick flick…what’s that? It’s not a Terrence Malick film? But, I swear the imagery and structure are just like…okay, okay…but what about…okay! Never mind I believe you…why?…I just checked IMDB. Now, regardless of who directed it, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” although overly traditional, even conventional to a fault is a remarkable reinvigoration of a classic, timeless story with universal motivations and rewards. It might be a little too lackadaisical for some and paced like a leisurely stroll. Yet, whatever it lacks in pure thrills, it more than makes up for with stunning visuals, attractive characters, and mesmerizing dialogue. It’s acted with a ton of heart and has plenty of staying-power to offer. While it wasn’t directed by the master of art-house Terrence Malick, it has all his signature trademarks and signals a promising career for director David Lowery.

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How far would you be willing to go for a loved one? How much would you sacrifice for them? If any of these inquires and their periphery topics caught your attention, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” just might be for you. And if you know me, which you probably don’t, you’d know that the romance genre just happens to be my guilty pleasure. What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic. Plus, you know, I am an aspiring writer, which pretty much means loving love is a necessary trait…but I digress. Now, if you’re thinking that these questions of love and devotion have been asked and explored so many times over that they’ve practically lost all meaning and don’t apply to you, this flick will definitely change your perspective. One might be able to resist the intoxication of romance on other, lesser, weakly enthusiastic occasions. But when the performances are this convincing and the setting so beautiful, it makes even the heartless get weak in the knees.

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Director David Lowry’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” really is quite something. An original, heartfelt take on the outlaw romance. Baring some similarities with a few of the best in this sub-genre’s canon like “Bonnie and Clyde” and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” which just happens to be one of my all time favourite films. Lowry’s unflinching, authentic look at a couple’s long, arduous road to reuniting is nothing short of hypnotizing and easy on the eyes, do in large part to his youthful, inventive style and endless talent. But make no mistake, it isn’t always a breeze to watch.

While not overly violent, minus a few exchanges of gunfire. The premise, the film’s characters and their collaborative progression through it to the finale is infuriating and disheartening, making “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” difficult to stomach at times. In all honesty though, the complex emotions brought on by “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is astounding and very intriguing. And when it comes down to it, a small price to pay for such a thoroughly beautiful experience. Not to mention the original soundtrack, composed by Daniel Hart, which adds another transcendent layer to the delectable cinematic feast that is “Ain’t Them Bodies a Saints.”

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What’s even more captivating is the invested, towering performances of the film’s three stars, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Rooney Mara. If the staggering emotional depth and striking imagery doesn’t lure you in, this trio of underused and underrated talent is sure to do the trick. Mara and Affleck portray the couple who flee from the law until their introverted, romantic lifestyle is abruptly torn. Both do a phenomenal job exuding the love in their hearts and the pain it inevitably brings. Separately however, they are ruthless, strong independent sociopaths. As for Foster, who continues to stun in every role he chooses, gives another unprecedented portrayal. What’s quite perplexing and sort of ironic about the film is that Foster’s character is the most unprejudiced and passionate. Regardless though, the trio’s efforts here must be witnessed.

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The performances and imagery more than make up for any faults one can find with the story. Add in some strong direction and “Ain’t Them a Bodies Saints” is a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: 8 out of 10.

Top 10 Movie Antiheroes

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With the passing of each week, the more I enjoy concocting these top 10s, and this week’s entry is no different. As you may have guessed from the title or header image, this top 10 will feature, in my opinion, the best antiheroes in cinema history. As always, if you feel I’ve overlooked a contestant or listed one that shouldn’t have been considered, leave all comments and questions below. I’m always looking to improve the segment and love interacting with fellow film lovers.

Every now and then there comes along a protagonist who might go off the deep end. You know, beat someone half-to-death, take pleasure in humanities destruction, or have the occasional soul erased from the face of the earth. Now, however they chose to go about there business is irrelevant. We, as cinephiles love these colourful characters for their more shady characteristics and the nonchalant way they handle things that would send normal people into spiralling depression.

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Honourable Mentions: 

Severus Snape (Harry Potter series, Alan Rickman), Oh-dae Su (Oldboy, Min-sik Choi), Marv (Sin City, Mickey Rourke), Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara), Patrick Bateman (American Psycho, Christian Bale), Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day Lews), Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee, I Saw the Devil).

10: Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson)

Jules is someone who really radiates anti-heroism. Almost like a gun-slinger with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

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9: Charles Bronson (Bronson, Tom Hardy)

Talk about taking pleasure in abhorrent behaviour. All Bronson wanted was to fight for the sake of fighting and to become Britain’s most violent prisoner.

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8: The Driver (Drive, Ryan Gosling)

Torn between his only skill-set and doing right by his friends. The Driver may lull you in with his heartwarming nature, but make no mistake, he is ruthless and unforgiving.

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7: Tyler Durden (Fight Club, Brad Pitt)

Driven by a desire to disrupt the world and destroy his opinion of oppression. Tyler may be trying to help out his bud, but he accomplishes it in true antihero fashion.

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6: Alex (A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell)

Alex simply wants to see others suffer, whether it be through violence, mental degradation, or dominance.

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5: Leon (Leon: The Professional, Jean Reno)

An assassin with a heart of gold.

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4: Tony Montana (Scarface, Al Pacino)

Willing to do whatever is necessary to become his own interpretation of king. Tony Montana is as cold-blooded as they come.

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3: Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro)

One can’t help but feel for Travis, attempting to free the unfortunate girl sucked into prostitution. However, his sociopathic mentality, obsessions with firearms, and desire to murder is too repulsive to overlook.

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2: Henry Hill (Goodfellas, Ray Liotta)

From the beginning, we are led to believe that Hill and his fellow thugs are normal, everyday hard-working guys. However, the truth is much more sinister and ferocious.

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1: Michael Corleone (The Godfather, Al Pacino)

Although we’ve been given a veritable gaze into the Corleone family and begin to care for them. There is no denying that this mafia family will do whatever it takes to remain atop, especially Michael.

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Okay all, that’ll do it for this week’s edition of the top 10, hope you all enjoyed it. Have a great weekend!

127 Hours (2010)

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An adrenaline high that pushes the boundaries of patience, mortality, and extremeness. “127 Hours” is a biographical-drama that is anything but easy to watch. Confined to a crack in a vast desert and the innermost thoughts and emotions of a doomed individual. “127 Hours,” without any doubt, is a severely draining experience. However, regardless of its morose and heartfelt tendencies, this expressionistic piece rewards just as often as it takes. As always, director Danny Boyle offers some immaculate, stunning, and at times stomach-churning visuals to accompany his flare for the dramatics. Delightfully atmospheric, airy, and elemental. Boyle’s  “127 Hours” is an entrancing piece that is arguably the illustrious director’s most complete and honest film to date. Provoking an array of colourful reactions and breathtakingly tingling to every sense,  “127 Hours” is a true masterpiece.

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Aron Ralston (Franco) prepares for a day of biking and hiking through Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. After biking for a while, Aron meets Kristi (Mara) and Megan (Tamblyn), two hikers who are apparently lost. The three stick together and end up doing a blind jump into an underground body of water. Soon after, Aron is invited to a party by Kristi and Megan, then parts from the girls. Continuing on his adventure alone, Aron soon finds himself stuck in a life-threatening situation with seemingly no escape.

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The build-up before the accident, let alone the nauseating climax is exhausting. While watching “127 Hours,” from start to finish, there is a constant fear of inevitability that tugs incessantly at the viewers reflexes and Boyle knows this and uses it as somewhat of a tiring agent. This effect works in brilliant contrast to the alarming, persisting melancholic visions, beautiful visuals, and paced self-brutality. Not to mention A. R Rahman’s outstanding score that ranges from deviously haunting, decidedly up-beat, and splendidly resplendent. Everything about Boyle’s “127 Hours” flourishes and acts as an intoxicant that poisons the viewers physical and mental bodies in the most exuberant, best way possible. It might be a bit too claustrophobic or detailed for some, to say the least. Yet, if you can power through, “127 Hours” is a rewarding cinematic experience.

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Just because “127 Hours” has a relatively small cast and bit parts, doesn’t mean that the roles and the actors who characterize them perform inadequately, actually it’s quite the contrary. “127 Hours” stars the impeccable James Franco, the exquisite Amber Tamblyn and the radiant Kate Mara. Tamblyn and Mara only appear on screen sparsely, however their affect on the film is monstrous. Exuding the energy and care-free lifestyle of young, ambitious sightseers, Mara and Tamblyn perform perfectly. I’d give the slight advantage to Mara, simply because I am smitten with her. As for James Franco,  who I feel should’ve won an Oscar for this role, is truly remarkable. Every minute of his performance is outstanding. Whether he is flipping through memories, gazing into the future, or dissecting his own body, Franco completely delivers.

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On a personal side-note, I saw this film for the first time at its premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival. Danny Boyle and the entire cast was in attendance, including Aaron Ralston. Upon hearing of his real-life struggles and memories regarding being stuck in the canyon, the film resonates so much more. Hearing Boyle and cast discuss filming and trials and tribulations that accompanied such a difficult shoot, I grew to appreciate “127 Hours” with an unparalleled depth.

Infallibly filmed and performed, “127 Hours” is immaculate in every sense of the word.

127 Hours: 9 out of 10.