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TIFF 2016 Review: Personal Shopper (2016)

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Personal Shopper (2016)

TIFF 2014: Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

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Greatly influenced by Arnold Fanck, pioneer of the mountain film genre, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his film, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.” Oliver Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” can’t help but keep its glamourized mindset floating amongst the thin, cool, moist air. Whether it’s the altitude, a life of fame, or a last-ditch attempt at recapturing dissipated youth, the fleeting, ungraspable nature of the film’s gaseous metaphor leaves little to sink one’s teeth into. That’s not to say there isn’t redemptive qualities about having one’s head in the clouds, literally and figuratively.

The Swiss Alps, ripe with greenery and dusted with snow at their dizzying peaks, provide a heavenly backdrop for this supremely meta drama. Yet, the promise of a Maloja Snake, the result of ideal atmospheric conditions, clouds drifting north from Italy and slithering their way through the distant mountain scape is the scenic treasure we, along with our leading ladies, can’t help but ache for.

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We arrive at the remote, sparsely populated town of Sils Maria via a spectacular train ride through central Europe’s vistas and some fine vehicular maneuvering brought on by our heroine, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and her passionate assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart). Enders, a well-renowned actor, has dragged her lovely and devout second in command Valentine to the middle of nowhere to accept a rather prestigious award on behalf of Wilhelm Melchior, the author/director who’s play had a significant role in launching Maria’s career when she was 18.

We’re now 20 years down the road from her big break and Enders is dealing with a rough divorce, a tragic loss, and an up-and-coming co-star (Chloe Grace Moretz). All whilst struggling to grasp the opposing role in a reimagining of the same play from her youth that landed her in the spotlight. Alienating herself in Sils Maria to rehearse with her assistant, Enders inability to comprehend and execute her latest part slowly dissolves everything around her.

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“Clouds of Sils Maria’s” intertwining narrative is a tough code to crack. Touching on a slew of themes with relevance to both the lives of the film’s characters and the actors who portray them (Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz). This makes it exceedingly nerve-wracking to decipher the film in its entirety upon a single viewing. It’s quite easy to see that Assayas’ intentions were to infuse a sense of realism into his characters, a sort of funhouse reflecting multiple vantage points on age, immediacy, choices, power…and he achieves a level of theatrical meaning and importance unlike anything I’ve witnessed.

In addition to the intersecting paths of Assayas’ characters and cast, the dialogue between Maria and Valentine rapidly shifts from rehearsal of Binoche’s character’s source material, which the two constantly run-through, and genuine, wholehearted conversations…seamlessly I might add. These prolonged isolated interactions Maria and Valentine find themselves in often descend into visceral altercations, envy, and sexual meddling, curiosity on Maria’s behalf, akin to that of the two characters in Enders’ source material, making the origins of their discussions almost indecipherable.

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Typically, a film of such self-reference and intertextuality would be better off leaving hints, subtle clues throughout to assist the viewer in the process of decoding. Yet “Clouds of Sils Maria” benefits greatly from the shroud of mystery and is surprisingly quite rewarding, like the satisfaction that accompanies the solving of an intellectual recreation puzzle. Assayas does a phenomenal job structuring and carrying through his latest as the experience will greatly attest.

The uncanny similarities between the cast and their characters makes it relatively easy for the ensemble to invest, explore, and portray their respective roles. Chloe Grace Moretz, a serious talent with an extremely bright future, does what she can in the limited screen time given. She adds a much-needed comedic element to a rather bleak, intentionally monotonous picture. Not to mention the hilarious, yet oddly depressing connection to modern starlets.

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Juliette Binoche is everything Assayas could’ve hoped for when scribing the role of Maria Enders. She’s encompassing, stunning, complex, and there’s rarely a moment when she doesn’t command the screen. Her character might not demand that significant of a stretch, but there’s no room for error. If a hint of disingenuousness or indifference seeped, the rest of the film would crumble. Thankfully this is not the case.

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With little hesitation I conclude that Kristen Stewart’s performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria” is a career-best, ‘On the Road’ being the only evidence to the contrary. Stewart has always chosen interesting, emotionally driven roles and that doesn’t change. As she matures, Stewart has ditched the mannerisms that plagued her early on and has really become comfortable acting outside of the ‘Twilight’ series. With Valentine, there isn’t much on the surface, but there is a hurricane under the skin. Clearly producing the stoic surface and hidden treasures of emotional vulnerability and honesty, Stewart is brilliantly transparent.

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Easy on the eyes yet incredibly intricate, Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” is beneficiary of strong performances and striking panoramic views…

Clouds of Sils Maria: 9 out of 10.

TIFF 2014: My Screenings

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TIFF 2014 is finally upon us! With that in mind, I present to you my schedule for the festivities. For up-to-the-minute coverage, reviews, media, Q and A, etc…make sure to follow me on twitter (@cinema_monster).

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The 50 Year Argument: Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi

Premium Screening with co-director Martin Scorsese in attendance.

Martin Scorsese co-directs this documentary tribute to the New York Review of Books, whose six-decade history saw it frequently on the frontlines of cultural and political debate.

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’71: Yann Demange

In the divided city of Belfast at the height of The Troubles, a rookie British soldier (Jack O’Connell, Starred Up) finds himself separated from his unit and lost in IRA-controlled territory.

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99 Homes: Ramin Bahrani

Premium Screening with Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, and director Ramin Bahrani in attendance.

Desperate to save his family home, an unemployed construction worker (Andrew Garfield) joins an unscrupulous realtor (Michael Shannon) in the dirty business of foreclosing on the disenfranchised.

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Clouds of Sils Maria: Olivier Assayas

A veteran stage star (Juliette Binoche) turns to her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for solace as she jousts with an arrogant younger actress (Chloë Grace Moretz).

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The Drop: Michael R. Roskam

A Brooklyn bartender finds himself caught between the cops and a crew of Chechen mobsters, in this gritty crime drama starring Tom Hardy, Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), Noomi Rapace and the late, great James Gandolfini.

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The Guest: Adam Wingard

Premium Screening with Dan Stevens and writer-director duo Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard in attendance.

Writer-director duo Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next) serve up a slick, eighties-style action thriller with this story of a mysterious and devastatingly charming visitor (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) who arrives at the home of a bereaved family claiming to be the best friend of their dead son.

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The Imitation Game: Morten Tyldum

Premium Screening with Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and director Morten Tyldum in attendance.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as brilliant Cambridge mathematician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, who spearheaded the Enigma code-breaking operation during World War II and was later persecuted by the British government for his homosexuality.

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Laggies: Lynn Shelton

Premium Screening with Chloe Grace Moretz, Keira Knightley, and Sam Rockwell in attendance.

Following a dismal high school reunion and a disastrous proposal of marriage, a going-nowhere twentysomething (Keira Knightley) falls in with a carefree teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz) and takes a week off to reassess her life. Co-starring Sam Rockwell (Moon).

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Maps to the Stars: David Cronenberg

Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Sarah Gadon, and Robert Pattinson star in this acidulous vision of Tinseltown from Canadian master David Cronenberg.

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Nightcrawler: Dan Gilroy

A drifter and petty thief (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins the nocturnal legions of scuzzy freelance photographers who scour the city for gruesome crime-scene footage, in this gripping portrait of the dark side of L.A. from veteran screenwriter and first-time director Dan Gilroy.

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The Theory of Everything: James Marsh

While students at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, Les Misérables) and Jane (Felicity Jones, The Invisible Woman) fall deeply in love. His earth-shattering diagnosis leads him to embark on his ambitious study of the nature of time with Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, in this moving adaptation of Jane Hawking’s memoir from Academy Award-winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire).

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Which film are you most looking forward to at TIFF 2014? Be sure to let me know what your thoughts on the festival and my schedule are below!

Into the Wild (2007)

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Pulling on the heart strings of the rebellious adventurer inside all of us while it pokes holes in systematic evolution and the steadily growing restraint on our existence. Into the Wild is a visually breathtaking, thought-provoking journey told through an eager set of eyes belonging to a unique, fearless individual. Taking full advantage of the vast landscapes across North America and a highly likeable lead. Into the Wild is one of the most appealing and striking films to ever grace the big screen. Based on a true story and directed by Sean Penn. This cross-country trek is ripe with bright-eyed, kind-natured people living their lives to the fullest. While it may not sit consistently content with all of its viewers. Into the Wild is an unflinching look at the harsh realities of this world and teaches us to seize it instead of looking forward to what could possibly await us in the next.

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Upon graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, Christopher McCandless decides to destroy all his worldly possessions and leave his home and family behind in order to travel across America. Hating every facet of a conventional, conformists living. McCandless thrives in the wilderness working odd jobs to make a couple of bucks and makes new friends on his long journey. Spending all this time alone allows Chris to reflect on his troubled childhood, existence, and become one with nature. Eventually wanting to end his journey in Alaska, Christopher does whatever it takes to accomplish his goal while trying not to hurt anyone along the way.

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The path may be divided, long, arduous, and diverse. However, there is one steady, dependable aspect of Into the Wild and it’s lead Emile Hirsch. Never taking the easy route or shying away from a little manual labour. Hirsch radiates youthful ambition and an infinite supply of energy. Although craving nothing more than feeling the wind in his hair and to take the road less travelled. Hirsch’s character rarely stays in one place or calls any land home. Hirsch does a flawless job staying firmly rooted and never bitter.

While Hirsch gives a terrific, almost infallible performance. An even more remarkable, albeit technically smaller achievement is the acting of Into the Wild’s supremely talented supporting cast. However, just because they don’t garner as much screen time, doesn’t make their performances any less spectacular. Featuring Vince Vaughan, Catherine Keener, Zach Galifianakis, Hal Holbrook, Jena Malone, and Kristen Stewart. Into the Wild’s superb ensemble is funny, caring, and enduring.

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Keener, without question, gives the most sincere and honest performance out of the supporting cast. There is no denying her charm, vulnerability, and maturity, she’ll make you weep. Despite being limited to no more than a few minutes of screen time. Galifianakis manages to conjure up the biggest laughs and shows a more serious side to his talents. As for Stewart, what can one say with a bias as strong as mine. Her performance continues to give me ammunition for anyone discrediting her as an actor. A lot like Galifianakis, Vaughan showcases a much more dramatic edge and discards his comedic prowess for a nurturing, endearing element. Hal Holbrook poses the biggest opposition for Keener. His nurturing wisdom and gradual sadness evokes an ocean of emotion. Finally, the highly underrated and underused Jena Malone provides the trustworthy and formidable base for Hirsch and proves why her lack of use is a travesty.

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Sean Penn does an outstanding job capturing the wildness and ferocity of the unforgiving terrain. The only aspect of Into the Wild that rivals his ability to illustrate the sights is Penn’s weightless camerawork absorbing every emotion emitted by the talented cast.

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Extremely beautiful both externally and internally, Into the Wild is a highly visual drama that is not to be missed.

Into the Wild: 9 out of 10.

Also guys, don’t forget to check out this week’s top 10 posted yesterday. Have a good weekend!

Adventureland (2009)

Just a quick review today as I am off to Niagara Falls for the weekend. I’ll more than likely post tomorrow as well but it will probably be a bit later than my usual posting time. Anyway, enjoy and have a great weekend!

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Bursting at the seams with nostalgia, wit, humour, and seductiveness. Adventureland is a rambunctious, yet sweetly subtle coming-of-age romantic comedy oozing with angst and clever diction that resonates not only with young ones, but adults as well. Investing a substantial amount in the directionless, hormone driven motivations of youth, their lack of aspirations, and facing the difficult transition into adulthood. Adventureland benefits from an idealistic, simplistic nature and a slew of staggering performances. Greg Mottola, who wrote and directed this retro love story. Substitutes the profanity and raunchiness of his previous effort Superbad, with a tale of heartfelt infatuation and whimsical comedy that even seizes its timeless cliches.

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In the year 1987, James (Eisenberg) plans to travel through Europe in the summer before heading off to attend an Ivy League school. After graduation, his parents inform him of their major career setbacks and that he will not be going to Europe or doing any of his future endeavours unless he obtains a job. Upon being rejected at almost every decent place of employment, James manages to find a place in the rundown amusement park, Adventureland. When James faces an unlikely, possibly dangerous situation, he is rescued by a striking co-worker named Em (Stewart). As he continues to struggle through the summer, he finds himself falling for Em. Finding caring, reliable friends in other various employees as well as Paulette (Wiig) and Bobby (Hader), who are Adventureland managers. James begins to find his current situation not only tolerable, but favourable. Befriending a machine repair man named Mike (Reynolds), James begins to learn life lessons as he transfers into adulthood.

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Absorbing the comical imperfections and endearing elements of Adventureland’s charismatic leads inflicts a dizzying, subdued, ageless state among the viewer. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Ryan Reynolds supported, rather, accompanied by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, Adventureland has no shortage of capable employees. Eisenberg’s quirky, bordering sociopathic awkwardness is entrancingly comical and infectious. Reynolds, who’s role is ingeniously uncharacteristic, is predictably stellar as his performance is particularly polarizing and deviously convincing. Hader and Wiig, in limited roles, still manage to produce the most uproarious laughs and also showcase their more serious, professional talents. As for Stewart, she unleashes pheromones that will leave you defenceless and willingly vulnerable to her undeniable attractiveness and warmth.

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One of the more outstanding qualities about Adventureland, albeit, lesser known qualities is its fluidity and authenticity. Never, at any point, does the dialogue, interactions, or story ever appear forced. This is imperative to a film that so broadly relies on the believability of its circumstances and  connectivity of its cast. This can be attributed to Mottola’s invested, realistic script and firm, but flexible direction. He elegantly captures the distinct vibe and flow of the films intentional historic feel and exaggerates the situation to unnecessary severity. His ability to control the captivation his immature characters want so recklessly to exist is remarkable. Coincidentally, the reason Adventureland resonates so strongly with its audience is evoked through the time and effort poured into the film in its entirety by the cast and crew.

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Adventureland: 9 out of 10.

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Top 10 Films of 2012

We might be a bit late to this particular list’s party, but better now than never. This was a difficult list to compile, lots of great pictures to chose from. But myself (monster1711) and my bud (cinema2033) think we’ve created a diverse and respectable list. If you feel that we overlooked a certain film or have any suggestions for future top 10’s, please comment below. Without further anticipation, let’s get started.

10. Looper. Easily the best science fiction film of the year. Featuring terrific performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, Looper is a brain scrambler that will leave you stunned.

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9. The Cabin in the Woods. Speaking of brain scramblers. The Cabin in the Woods is definitely the most bizarre film of the year. Mixing the hilarious and terrifying elements of horror and poking fun at them, it is sure to be a cult favourite.

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8. Skyfall. Quite possibly the best Bond film to ever grace the big screen. Skyfall is witty, charming, and one hell of a ride. With towering performances from Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, Skyfall is not to be missed.

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7. Seven Psychopaths. Another entry into Martin McDonagh’s violent comedies. Seven Psychopaths is full of violence, hilarity, and outstanding performances from Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken.

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6. Argo. Winner of the 2012 Oscar for best picture, need we say more? Directed and starring Ben Affleck, Argo is history come alive.

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5. Silver Linings Playbook. Thought by many to be the best picture of 2012. Silver Linings Playbook is another solid outing from David O. Russell and features a return to form for Robert De Niro. Not to mention the emergence of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as real acting heavyweights.

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4. On The Road. Possibly the most controversial film on the list, On The Road left audiences divided. Based on Jack Kerouac’s generation defining novel. On The Road features entrancing performances from Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, and especially the lovely Kristen Stewart.

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3. Django Unchained. The second chapter in Tarantino’s yet to be finished history trilogy. Django Unchained landed Christoph Waltz another supporting actor Oscar. Also starring Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, and a deliciously evil performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained is violently hilarious.

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2. Zero Dark Thirty. Best picture nominee Zero Dark Thirty is brought to you by the creators of The Hurt Locker. There really isn’t anything else that needs to be said. Incredibly tense, monumental performances, and impeccably scripted. Zero Dark Thirty is an unstoppable force.

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1. The Dark Knight Rises. The conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy, directed by the brilliant Christopher Nolan. With Tom Hardy as Bane, The Dark Knight Rises has the best villain performance of the year. Including an unmatchable cast and an epic finale no one saw coming, The Dark Knight Rises might be the greatest comic book adapted film in the history of cinema.

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Honourable Mentions. Lincoln, Sightseers, Prometheus, The Avengers, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, End of Watch.

On The Road (2012)

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After reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac countless times, this film was on the top of my viewing list since it was announced. Surviving numerous setbacks, budget cuts, and shaky reviews out of Cannes, On The Road had its North American debut at TIFF and I was in attendance. Directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and leading an all star cast is Sam Riley (13), Garrett Hedlund (Tron), and the magnificent Kristen Stewart (Adventureland). Stewart accepted salary cuts in her devotion to the novel and film when the budget was cut. Hedlund and Riley both have highly anticipated films slated for 2013. RIley is staring in Byzantium while Hedlund is prime for stardom assisting the Coen brothers in their new film, Inside Llewyn Davis.

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Sal Paradise (Riley) is a struggling young writer in the heart of the beat generation in America. Paradise, who’s father has recently died, has his outlook drastically changed when he meets Dean Moriarty (Hedlund). Dean is an out of control, can’t be held down life enthusiast  who just married a young woman named Marylou (Stewart). Sal, Marylou, and Dean travel across the United States with no direction and little to no money. On Their journey, relationships are forged, laws broken, and their lives changed forever.

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On The Road is the novel I feel everyone must read in their lives at least once. After watching this film, I feel the same way about it. If you miss out on the intoxicating drug that is On The Road, both film and novel, you are not complete. On The Road is the classic tale of a group of young outcasts and their struggles growing up while also coming to terms with maturity. The cast chosen fit the roles perfectly, especially Hedlund and Stewart. Stewart gives one of the best acting performances of 2012 while Hedlund doesn’t miss a step in capturing the essence of Dean. Not to be forgotten is Sam Riley who flourishes in his role as the unconventional Jack Kerouac. I don’t think their was anyone better to take the reigns on this film other than Walter. Salles combines the atmospheric visuals and boundless freedom each character possesses and translates it to the screen. On The Road was once thought to never make it to the big screen, but Salles and the cast have done exactly that in spectacular fashion.

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On The Road: 9 out of 10.