Blog Archives

TIFF 2016 Review: The Promise (2016)

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The Promise (2016)

TIFF 2016 Review: Una (2016)

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Una (2016)

TIFF 2016 Review: Paterson (2016)

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Paterson (2016)

TIFF 2016 Review: Personal Shopper (2016)

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Personal Shopper (2016)

TIFF 2014: Nightcrawler (2014)

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Nightcrawler (2014)

TIFF 2014: The Imitation Game (2014)

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My TIFF 2014 reviews continue to trickle through and today I’ve got something special, one of my most anticipated films of the year, “The Imitation Game.” Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, and Rory Kinnear, “The Imitation Game” retells the unbelievable life-story of Alan Turing. Feel free to click on the link below which will redirect you to my review over at The Cinematic Katzenjammer and please drop a like/comment/share.

The Imitation Game (2014)

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: Masters, Midnight Madness, and Vanguard Unveiled

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One of my favourite things about the Toronto International Film Festival is the diversity.

TIFF announced a relatively large chunk of its line-up last Tuesday which featured some early award-season frontrunners and a slew of high-profile talent. Now, a week later, TIFF heads in a completely different direction with its Masters, Midnight Madness, and Vanguard programmes. This announcement is for all the die-hard horror fanboys and edge-of-your-seat thrill seekers out there! That said, we haven’t forgotten the art-house hunters and idol chasers.

As always, I’ve provided synopses and trailers/images for the flicks that caught my attention. You can check out the full list of films announced today by clicking the corresponding programme title: MastersMidnight MadnessVanguard. If you’re interested in seeing our TIFF post from last week, simply click here! Finally, for the full list of films screening at this year’s festivities, click here!

The remainder of TIFF’s 2014 lineup will be released in the coming weeks and will feature films from such programmes as Discovery, Mavericks, and Wavelengths…to name a few. There is still a ton of films to be revealed and I’ll be posting accordingly so keep it locked here at The CInema Monster!

VANGUARD:

Over Your Dead Body: Takashi Miike, Japan

A theatre troupe rehearsing a classic play of murder, betrayal and phantasmagorical vengeance find life bloodily imitating art backstage, in this wild cinematic detour from madly prolific Japanese auteur Takashi Miike (13 Assassins).

MASTERS:

The Face of an Angel: Michael Winterbottom, United Kingdom

Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Brühl (Rush, Inglourious Basterds) star in this fictionalized version of the notorious Amanda Knox murder case from ever-adventurous director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People, The Trip to Italy).

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Adieu Au Langage 3D (Goodbye to Language 3D) Jean-Luc Godard, France

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the new film by Jean-Luc Godard is a visually sumptuous and richly complex meditation on history and eternity, being and nothingness, desire and death.

MIDNIGHT MADNESS:

[REC] 4: Apocalypse: Juame Balaguero, Spain

Confined to a high-security quarantine facility in the bowels of an ocean liner, a ragtag group of survivors fights for their lives against infected zombie hordes, in the long-awaited climax to the spectacularly popular Spanish horror franchise.

Big Game: Jalmari Helander, Finland/Germany/United Kingdom

Trapped in the wilderness after Air Force One is forced down by a terrorist attacked, the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) must rely on the survival skills of a 13-year-old woodsman, in this thriller co-starring Ray Stevenson, Jim Broadbent and Felicity Huffman.

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The Guest: Adam Wingard, USA

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.

Tusk: Kevin Smith, USA

Kevin Smith brings his comedic chops to a disturbing new milieu in this Canuck-baiting chiller about a popular podcast host who descends into straight-up madness when he heads north of the 49th parallel.

****

A BIG thank you to TIFF for providing a majority of the content in this post.

TIFF 2014: Galas and Special Presentations Announced

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Yes, I’ll wait patiently for you to scroll through the list of galas and special presentations announced today that kicked off TIFF 2014… Okay, Ready?

Today was the first of several press conferences scheduled to unveil the slate set to take over Toronto from September 4th to the 14th at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival! With rumours swirling and early award season buzz-buzzing, TIFF CEO and Director Piers Handling and Artistic Director Cameron Bailey took to TIFF Bell Lightbox and informed all those in attendance and tuning in online exactly what they’ll be watching come September. As I mentioned earlier, only the festival’s galas and special presentations programs were announced today. The remainder of TIFF’s 2014 lineup will be released in the near future and will feature films from such programs as Masters, Discovery, Mavericks, Vanguard, Midnight Madness, and Wavelengths, just to name a few. There is still over 200 films to be revealed and I’ll be posting accordingly so keep it locked here at The CInema Monster!

Below you will find what I feel to be the highlights of the TIFF line-up thus far. You can find the full list of Galas and Special Presentations by clicking the corresponding title. If you’d like to check out each programme individually, click here!

GALAS:

Escobar: Paradise Lost: Andrea Di Stefano, France

An American surfer (Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games) meets the girl of his dreams — but gets a brutal (sur)reality check when he meets her uncle, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro).

The Forger: Philip Martin, USA

Released from prison so that he can spend time with his dying son (Tye Sheridan, Mud), an expert art forger (John Travolta) is coerced into participating in a major museum heist, in this dramatic thriller co-starring Christopher Plummer, Abigail Spencer and Jennifer Ehle.

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Foxcatcher: Bennett Miller, USA

Based on true events, this film tells the dark and fascinating story of the unlikely and ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire and two champion wrestlers. Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Vanessa Redgrave, and Mark Ruffalo.

Laggies: Lynn Shelton, USA

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. Also starring Sam Rockwell.

Maps to the Stars: David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany

David Cronenberg forges both a wicked social satire and a very human ghost story from today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson.

This is Where I Leave You:  Shawn Levy, USA

Shawn Levy’s dramatic comedy follows four adult siblings who return home after their father’s death to spend a week with their over- sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and frayed relationships among those who know and love them best, they reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways. Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll and Kathryn Hahn.

Wild: Jean-Marc Vallée, USA

After years of reckless behaviour, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed makes a rash decision. She sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann and Kevin Rankin.

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS:

99 Homes: Ramin Bahrani, USA

After his family is evicted from their home, proud and desperate construction worker Dennis Nash tries to win his home back by striking a deal with the devil and working for Rick Carver, the corrupt real estate broker who evicted him. Starring Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern and Michael Shannon.

Before We Go: Chris Evans, USA

Chris Evans makes his directorial debut with this winning romance about two strangers (Evans and Alice Eve, Star Trek: Into Darkness) who spend a long, magical night in NYC after missing the last train at Grand Central Terminal.

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Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas, France/USA

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), in the brilliant new film from French auteur Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Something in the Air).

The Drop: Michael R. Roskam, USA

The Drop follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a covert scheme of funnelling cash to local gangsters in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living — no matter the cost. Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and James Gandolfini.

Hector and the Search for Happiness: Peter Chelsom, Germany/Canada

A dissatisfied London psychiatrist (Simon Pegg) embarks on a continent-crossing trip to discover the secret of happiness, in this globe-trotting comedy that also features Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno and Christopher Plummer.

The Imitation Game: Morten Tyldum, United Kingdom/USA

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal.

The Keeping Room: Daniel Barber, USA

In this stunning suspense drama, three women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru) left alone on an isolated farm during the last days of the American Civil War are besieged by a pair of murderous Yankee scouts.

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Manglehorn: David Gordon Green, USA

Left heartbroken by the woman he loved and lost forty years ago, an eccentric small-town locksmith (Al Pacino) tries to start his life over again with the help of a new friend (Holly Hunter), in the new film from David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls).

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Miss Julie: Liv Ullmann, Norway/UK/Ireland/France

Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton star in this stunning adaptation of the classic August Strindberg play directed by legendary actress and filmmaker Liv Ullmann.

Mommy: Xavier Dolan, Canada

The hotly anticipated new film from Québécois wunderkind Xavier Dolan shared the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Nightcrawler: Dan Gilroy, USA

Lou Bloom, a driven young man, discovers the nocturnal world of L.A. crime journalism. Joining a group of freelance camera crews who film marketable mayhem, Lou makes his own place at the table, aided by Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news. Blurring the line between observer and perpetrator, Lou finds his calling in a murderous world reduced to transactions. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton.

Still Alice:  Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, USA

Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a devastating diagnosis, Alice and her family find their bonds tested. Alice’s struggle to stay connected to who she once was is frightening, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Starring Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Julianne Moore.

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The Theory of Everything  James Marsh, United Kingdom/USA

The extraordinary true story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Hawking receives an earth-shattering diagnosis at age 21. Together, Stephen and Jane defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis and Emily Watson.

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While We’re Young:  Noah Baumbach, USA

Noah Baumbach’s exploration of aging, ambition and success, stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a middle-aged couple whose career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives. Also starring Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Charles Grodin, Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz.

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****

What do you think of TIFF’s 2014 line-up so far? What’s at the top of your must-watch list? Join the conversation below!

A big thank you to The Film Stage and TIFF for providing a majority of the information!

 

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.