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Category: Movies

Oscars Gonna Oscar

osc-banner_statuetteIf you’ve watched the Oscars for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed some trends: The Academy likes movies about real people, preferably historically significant ones. Four of the eight Best Picture nominees are based on true stories, and four of the five Best Actor nominees are playing real people, with the fifth, Michael Keaton, playing a sort of alternate universe version of himself. They also like movies about people with physical or mental disabilities (Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking being the best example this year), movies about art (BirdmanWhiplash), and performances by actors who hide their movie star looks under prosthetics (Steve Carell, acting under the shadow of Nicole Kidman’s fake nose). They also really, really like Meryl Streep.

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TIFF 2014: A brief sampling

Last week, the Toronto International Film Festival announced some of their big galas and premieres. There were some interesting films listed, but the real excitement came today, when they unveiled the Midnight Madness, Vanguard, Masters, and Documentary programmes. These are the films that are less likely to make headlines, but are some of the best, most interesting, and craziest movies at the festival.

Here are a few films that jumped out of the lineup so far. This is by no means definitive, and at times totally subjective and irrational. There is a reasonably possibility that some of them will not be very good.

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Obvious Child is 5% groundbreaking, 95% uninspired formula

Obvious ChildGillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child does one unique thing very well: It tells a story about abortion without any emotional trauma or hysterical moral wailing.

Obvious Child is the story of Donna (Jenny Slate), who gets pregnant after a drunken one-night stand and, given her complete lack of financial or emotional stability, decides to have an abortion. Predictable hijinks ensue, but more interestingly, women talk about their experiences with abortions, and none of them degenerate into tearful monologues about terrifying clinics or lifelong regret.

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Michael Keaton Strikes Back

Michael Keaton’s been middle-of-the-road for so long, it’s easy to forget he made some great dark comedies in the 80s – Night Shift and Beetlejuice in particular – and also did some solid dramatic work in Pacific Heights and Much Ado About Nothing.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier – the only problem is that Captain America & The Winter Soldier are in it

Captain America Winter SoldierThe worst thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that Captain America is in it.

I can’t lie: I’ve never liked the star spangled avenger. Most of that can be attributed to me being Canadian, and being fairly disinterested in a superhero wrapped in someone else’s flag. (Lest you think it’s entirely about nationalism, I have always maintained that Alpha Flight is pretty stupid.)

The first Captain America movie because it put the character in his proper context: As a piece of WWII propaganda. I don’t even mean that in a derogatory sense: It was a fun, pulpy bit of entertainment that played with the character’s origins and created a scenario where it was (almost) credible to dress a man up in a costume and send him to Germany to fight Nazis with a shield.

But while the modern Captain America narrative tends to be a “fish out of water” story, Winter Soldier takes Captain America too far out of the character’s comfort zone, and doesn’t do much with the resulting juxtaposition.

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American Hustle has style, but can’t back up its ambition

American HustleAmerican Hustle opens with a balding and pot-bellied Christian Bale performing the intricate ritual of arranging his combover. There’s some obvious symbolism in his character, Irving Rosenfeld, pretending to be someone he’s not: He’s a con man, leading desperate people on with the promise of loans that will never materialize in exchange for some very real fees. As his partner and lover, Amy Adams masquerades as an English noblewoman with ties to British banks.

But the scene, full of glue and merkins and hairspray, also hints at one of the film’s weaknesses: It is very concerned with how it looks. The film is set in the late 1970s in New Jersey and Long Island, and director David O. Russell wants to make sure you know it. This was clear from the earliest promotional posters, which showed off the clothes, hairstyles, and, in the case of the female cast members, cleavage of the era.

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How to start the year

New Year’s Resolution: Begin every day with Please Mr Kennedy, from Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s entirely delightful. (Note: Not an actual New year’s Resolution.)

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TIFF picks: Discovery

The Discovery programme is a place for taking chances at the festival. With its spotlight on new directors, you never quite know what to expect. Granted, that can go for anything you see, whether at the festival or elsewhere. With a few exceptions, there are few stars or big names in attendance. There are, however, some damn good films, and some filmmakers who may be a big deal in a few short years.

The best thing I can say about Discovery is if something looks good, go for it.

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A Brief TIFF Survival Guide

I’ve been attending the Toronto International Film Festival, to some extent, for the past ten years. I started buying just a couple tickets at a time, then moved up to 10-ticket packages, and have spent the last few years seeing around 40 a week at the festival.  If you love movies, there’s absolutely nothing better than this: Watch movies from around the world, see movie stars and directors and writers, spend an entire week getting no sleep or proper nutrition.

The Festival can seem glitzy and intimidating from the outside, but isn’t nearly so terrifying from the inside. Here are a few pointers I’ve learned over the years:

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