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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

Michael Keaton Strikes Back

birdman-posterIt’s been long time since I was excited about seeing a Michael Keaton movie. Probably since Batman Returns, which came out 22 years ago. (At some point, I remember wanting to see Multiplicity, but I don’t think I ever did; I was excited to see Out of Sight and Jackie Brown, but those are merely movies with a small bit of Michael Keaton.)

On the other hand, I usually get excited by a new film by Alejandro González Iñárritu, even if the results don’t always meet my expectations. There’s a lot I’ve liked about 21 GramsBabel, and Biutiful, but Inarritu often piles the drama on too heavy on top of scrawny plots & characters.

All that said, I never expected to see Inarritu and Keaton in a movie together, but that’s what we get with Birdman, and it looks fascinating. 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. 

Birdman obviously acknowledges the conceit that, yes, Keaton used to play Batman, then appears to take that in a crazy Black Swan kind of direction.

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.

Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

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:

Continue reading →