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One of the Best Worst Things Ever

Movie Reviews, Random Musings

Playing right now at the Bloor Cinema (aka Hot Docs) is the rather spectacular documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened”.

Before I get into a few thoughts about the film, I have to point out the lavish existence that the Bloor Cinema has adopted. Fantastically stylish and minimal, the cinema is a perfect spot for one to catch a documentary because there are no fashionable flourishes to distract the viewer from the unfolding events on the big screen.

Back to the film…If you’re not a fan of musicals, don’t see this film. Also, don’t read my blog because I love musicals. The film itself documents the rather meteoric rise of the Sondheim/Prince musical “Merrily We Roll Along” as it prepares for its 1981 broadway review. Then, as tends universally happen in documentaries, the depiction of the show’s rather heart-wrenching demise is what carries the remainder of the story. The now adult cast looks back at their younger selves with all of their hopes and dreams as they began to prepare for their big broadway debut. Not shockingly, they wea the rose-tinged glasses that often accompanies the retrospection of adult memories. But where the film really succeeds is with its clever representation of the young artists’ wish for critical claim and the sheer lack of it when the show actually opens on broadway.

The Best Worst Thing is an important film in many ways. It’s commentary on the delusion that accompanies the quest for fame reminds the viewer of how the only constant in life is change, and that change is constantly fleeting.

Check it out!

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Finding Joy in “Joy”

Best of 2015, Film, Movie Reviews, Random Musings

First of all, I just don’t get why there exists any kind of vitriol for David O’Russell clever and heartful film Joy. Why there continues to be a polarizing response to the film baffles me. I found the film to be a class in master acting and a clever soundtrack to the difficulties that abound with familial relations, especially with the introduction of money.

The story is a simple one. It’s essentially a rags to riches story of Joy Mangano, the inventor of The Miracle Mop. The film chronicles the many trials and tribulations of her journey to getting the mop to be a success. Along the way, we are introduced to many characters, some of which propel the story forward, some whom are nothing more than background (Sorry, Dascha Polanco).

Jennifer Lawrence commandeers every single scene she is in. She’s radiant and powerful, unlike the women around her. A barely recognizable Virginia Madsen and the ever-shrill Isabella Rossellini are mere foils to what Joy will never be.  The male co-stars are mainly supporting Joy on her quest to wealth.

I found the film to be quick-paced, full of well-written dialogue, and above all else, funny. Jennifer Lawrence can really do no wrong. She’s fierce, funny, vulnerable and resplendent all rolled into one. Check it out.

 

 

 

A Good Marriage

A Good Little Movie: Some Thoughts on “A Good Marriage”

Movie Reviews

So you all know we are BIG Stephen King fans here at Reading Other People. We’ve all read the requisite tomes that collectively form the terrifying King library. From IT to The Shining, we’ve all grasped fear in very tangible ways, all as a result of the ferocious and creative mind of one single person. I had read somewhere that there were plans to make “A Good Marriage”, from King’s short story collection Full Dark, No Stars, but never heard anything again until I was cruising Netflix this evening and the film showed up as a recommendation for me (Thank you Netflix gods – right again!).

Obviously I started the film up right away and watched intently. Joan Allen plays Darcy, a rather complex character who has to make the unfortunate discovery that her SPOILER ALERT! is actually a serial murderer. Don’t you just hate when that happens? Anyway, after explaining to Darcy that it’s not really the husband killing these people but rather a voice in his mind (that once belonged to a deceased high-school friend) that is committing these heinous crimes and note the man that she just celebrated a wonderful 25th year anniversary party with.

Uh oh. She Found Out.

Uh oh. She Found Out.

Darcy is visibly torn. Should she turn her husband in and ruin her children’s lives, as well as her own, with gossip and idle chatter for the rest of their days? Or should she continue living with her husband who has avowed that he (the voice) will never kill again? That’s what we call a tough decision, folks.

Surprisingly, Darcy takes the latter option, but obviously she has something up her cream-colored, linen-sheathed, loose-fitting sleeve. After a night out of excessive drinking to celebrate the finding of an obscure penny that her husband was looking for for eons (which she planted – smart woman!), she throws him down the stairs in their home as he is bringing her some fizzy water. She then has to bludgeon him as the stair-falling incident just didn’t cut it.

Right when we think it’s all fine and dandy, a mysterious retired officer with a lung condition shows up. He brazenly tells Darcy that while it would be hard to justify, he knows that her husband was the serial murderer. Aghast, Darcy kicks him out. She then has an extremely tender scene with the near-death officer just a few minutes later where she is granted some redemption for her actions.

The Fateful Dinner

The Fateful Dinner

The film was surprisingly effective. While obviously shot on a low-budget, the film essentially stays within the confines of the family home. Representing the nuclear family with serious perforations at the seams, the home is a spider’s web of lies and deceit within the strangely large basement and bedrooms. There is lots of room literally and figuratively in the movie for deception to grow and fester, which it does.

The acting was spot-on. Joan Allen is a master actor. She gives her heart and soul to any role she’s acting in and Darcy is no exception. Her husband, portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, is sardonic and charming. Their children are as one-dimensional as they need to be because the plot doesn’t really require anything more. It’s a story of the boundaries of love and the power of hate. It’s a tense thriller, reminiscent of What Lies Beneath but without all the supernatural dead-girl in the bathtub stuff. Check it out.

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A Certainly ‘Wild’ Experience

Movie Reviews

I like Reese Witherspoon as much as the next person. She’s sanitized and bubbly, pretty and safe. In all honesty, I’ve always found her roles to be one-dimensional (see Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, etc) save for the exception of her star turn as Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne’s masterpiece “Election”. This is not a bad thing necessarily – her films are always entertaining and fun, just not heavy on the substance factor. I’m not saying that in order to be a good actress you have to don a prosthetic nose and play Virginia Woolf. There are many categories of fine acting, and so I thought Reese Witherspoon just happened to belong to the romantic comedy kind, you know, like with Jennifer Lopez and Sandra Bullock.

But that all changed when I saw the magnificently made, emotionally laden, tear-inducing film Wild. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club and my favorite C.R.A.Z.Y), the film is an exploratory study in the mind of a flawed woman who embarks on a journey along the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. Witherspoon plays said titular character Cheryl Strayed with such tenderness and authenticity that I instantly forgot that this was the same woman who toted around a chihuahua at Harvard Law School. I remember having this exact same reaction when I saw Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.

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The film is masterfully made. It’s a seamless unfolding of a journey that crosses different times in the history of this sad, stubborn Cheryl Strayed. The flashbacks are revelations into Cheryl’s life, linked to her present journey by a stellar soundtrack that evokes much emotion and feelings deep within. Witherspoon doesn’t pander in the role, either. She’s just a free spirit who has had an extremely terrible run of bad luck. Still grieving the death of her mother (played phenomenally by the wonderful Laura Dern), Cheryl sees her marriage end and her life come apart at the very seams. But like so many films where the lead character refuse to acknowledge their bad behaviour and just want to be saved, Cheryl understands that she’s made many wrong decisions and gets why the people in her life treat her the way they do. And what’s most uplifting about the whole thing is that despite her many mess-ups, her friends and family still love her and ensure that her care packages are ready at every check-in point along the trail.

I’m still really moved by the film now, days after having seen it. It’s so honest and gritty and real. It doesn’t try to be more than it is, which is essentially a woman who wants to find redemption but has no idea what redemption is or how it will change her if she does achieve it. She’s forced to confront all of her demons. The flashback scenes of Cheryl with her mother and brother, both as children and then as adults as her mother is dying, are some of the most effective cinematic scenes I’ve witnessed in an extremely long period. It’s like I was looking in on a very private and special time belonging to a special family and it broke my heart.

Watching Wild reminded me of a lot of things. It has forced me to remember that we are all on a journey into the unknown, plagued by memories where we regret the actions we took. Every single day we get a chance to relive and recall the greatness and the sadness that has made us whoever we are today. And, most importantly, we have to understand that it’s totally ok that we’re not perfect or always happy or content. Life is a walk through assorted terrains, through intense snow and scorching heat, and, like Cheryl Strayed, sometimes all we got to deal with it is our proverbial mammoth backpacks and reflective minds of the past.

It Follows

Reviewing The Polarizing “It Follows”

Movie Reviews

I’ll admit, I tried watching It Follows earlier this year but I had gotten so bored with it that I gave up. I figured since the film is now on Netflix, and Halloween is fast approaching, I thought I’d make the commitment to see the entire thing. While my first impression was not that far off from my final impression, there were certainly some good things in between.

The film is a horror flick through and through. There’s heavy industrial music following the many long tracking shots where the damsel in distress is constantly on the move. There are plenty of low angle shots demonstrating the vulnerability of our protagonist, Jay. Technically, the movie is a complete homage to John Carpenter and Wes Craven’s great flicks, but it has a certain awareness that really catapults it onto another level.

It Follows

The Walk

A Bumpy Walk: A Review of the Film “The Walk”

Movie Reviews

If you’re looking see a film where Philippe Petit’s historic tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City is meticulously depicted, then the Robert Zemeckis’ helmed The Walk is the movie for you. If you’re looking for a film with an adequate amount of character development and recognition of motivations, well, you may want to pass on this one. I suspect, however, that the key demographic for this film will opt for spectacle over substance.

The Walk is indeed a marvel to behold. The recreation of Philippe Petit’s walk way up high between the twin towers is so realistic and richly detailed that it’s hard to believe the film is a product of CGI effects. Petit, portrayed by the immensely talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an interesting character. His unwavering dedication to accomplishing ‘the coup’ (as he and his accomplices call it) is relentless and, to a certain extent, inspiring. From the subtle details of the inflection of his french-accented voice to the animated hand motions that accompany his screen time, Gordon-Levitt literally embodies a man whose only apparent goal in life is to achieve a feat that not only is incredibly dangerous, but would be history making.

Gordon-Levitt as PetitThe film itself is beautiful and epic in size. The first half of the film is set in Paris, with the city being depicted as full of whimsy and joy. Zemeckis is careful, however, not to depict the City of Lights as too cartoony or artificial. Instead, he uses the scenery of the beautiful architecture that defines the city as a vast difference to his presentation of New York City in the second half of the film. It’s a clear commentary on the opposition between the established history of France to the budding history of New York, especially in terms of construction and development.

Technically, the film is truly a spectacle. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski of Prometheus and, more recently, The Martian, spares no expense in richly detailing an era in history where societal norms and ideals are being upended. The viewer feels as though they have travelled in time to the ‘anything goes’ mindset of the 1970’s, thus making this controversial walk Petit wishes to complete not so unbelievable. Of particular glory is the actual imagery and scenes where Petit is walking between the towers. His consternation and confidence is riveting, the scenery at once both realistic and otherworldly. It’s truly a site to see.

the-walk03The supporting characters in the film fell a bit flat for me. The beautiful Annie, played by Charlotte LeBon, Petit’s girlfriend, really isn’t given much to do on-screen aside from supporting Petit on ‘the coup’. We don’t learn much about why she is so dedicated to Petit, and why she is so willing to leave everything behind in Paris to see her boyfriend achieve this feat. The other members of the team assisting Petit on his walk are slightly one-dimensional as well. They unwaveringly support Petit, but it’s never really explained why. Are they all in love with him? Are they all inspired by Petit’s tenacity and focus? We’ll never know.

Ben Kingsley shines, as expected, in his supporting role as the man who trains Petit to become the tight rope walker he becomes. Speaking with an indeterminate accent, Kingsley subtly acts as a father figure to Petit, opting not to withhold his honesty and feedback in hopes of making Petit a better, stronger man. The chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Kingsley is believable. I hope they act together again.

The soundtrack for the film is rather quite captivating as well. It almost plays out as a 60’s inspired, “Mission: Impossible” esque accompaniment to the intrigue and journey-driven formula of the movie. Well done.

All in all, The Walk is a definite must see. What lacks in substance is definitely a great style that will undoubtedly engage the viewer from beginning to end. Though bumpy at times, The Walk is a feat in film making.

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Fearful Holiday: A Review of ‘The Visit’

Movie Reviews

I, like you, have pretty much sworn off M. Night Shyamalan films. It wasn’t so much that his films were technically bad. In fact, some of his tracking shots and use of jump cuts are some of the most jarring uses in modern cinema. His story lines, on the other hand, are often so unbelievably ridiculous, building towards a crescendo of some big reveal that ultimately almost always underwhelms. This is why I was so reluctant to watch The Visit, despite its intriguing trailer. I’m not always the biggest fan of films that star kids, but I’m glad I made an exception and sat down to watch Shyamalan’s latest.

The Visit 2In today’s post-modern age, especially with such a fickle viewing audience, making a ‘scary movie’ is no easy feat. Why, Shyamalan’s own track record demonstrates that fear is subjective yet still very reliant upon staid genre conventions that are guaranteed to make the audience squirm. In today’s horror/thriller film world, conventions are being subverted and fused. A mash-up of scary films past to make one modern movie is not that unusual. In The Visit, Shyamalan eschews almost  all of these current trends and tendencies to make a truly thrilling film. Despite its footage-style type of storytelling, everything else in the film is wholly original and crisp, which for me, exceeded the little expectations I had.

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A Lesson in Frustration: Reviewing Goodnight Mommy

Mixed Feelings, Movie Reviews

I’m a lover of all things thriller and mystery, with a dash of horror thrown in for good measure. That is why I was super excited to check out “Goodnight Mommy,” a 2014 Austrian horror film only now  being seen in North America. The trailer alone is chills inducing, reminiscent of the creepy twins in “The Shining” and Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In.” But like with what seems to be the tendency of most trailers these days, the best parts of the film are already shown to the viewer, taking away from the eeriness of the film.

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Julianne Moore - Still Alice

Reviewing “Still Alice”

Movie Reviews

I was slightly trepidatious to watch “Still Alice.” The apprehension was not because of Julianne Moore. In fact, I’d probably watch her reciting the phone book in a black and white film that’s especially dim in brightness. No, it was because of Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart.

As a film school graduate, I was constantly droned with the lesson that one cannot let their like or dislike of a certain actor deter them from watching a particular film. I mean, not everyone thought Vivien Leigh was the best choice to star in Gone With the Wind, and, well, we all know that one turned out.

Once I put my disdain for Baldwin and Stewart on the shelf, I decided to just focus on Moore in all of her glorious skills and talents as a purveyor of emotion, feeling, and depth. The film, which tackles a professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s, is not a melodrama about losing oneself to such a horrible disease of the mind. It’s actually a story about the power of family and the ferocity that love can bring to such a dire situation.

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Dark Summer

Dark Summer

Movie Reviews

It was an evening of couch commando. I finally settled upon Dark Summer, a horror/thriller/mystery flick that looked promising. Newly released, it’s a story of a teen (though that’s unclear, I mean, how’s this kid supporting himself?) who is on house arrest after apparently being convicted of cyber-stalking his crush. Yes – that’s right. Who said chivalry is dead.

Anyhow, upon his foray into the monotony that one would imagine house arrest brings, the kid finds himself haunted by the girl he was stalking…who, mysteriously and never really explained fully, decided to call him while she offed herself. Sound pleasing? It gets better.

Dark Summer