Thursday, 24 September 2015

Love and Mercy

Love and Mercy, 2015
Directed by Billl Pohlad
Starring: John Cusak, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti

Love and Mercy tells the dual story of Brian Wilson. It of Brian Wilson in the 60's, making the album Pet Sounds. And it tells the story of 80's Brian Wilson, who has become broken and confused, and under the watch of his 24-hours a day therapist. The two stories run back and forth from each other, both exploring the genius and sadness of Brian.

I grew up moderately listening to the Beach Boys. My parents owned a Greatest Hits album, and my parents always loved beachy music. But I know extremely little at all about the Beach Boys, and knew virtually nothing at all about Brian Wilson, going into this. However, the simple inclusion of Paul Dano made me interested in this, especially after it started getting fantastic reviews.

The format is simple, the two timelines flip-flop back and forth from each other. The 60's side of the story is filmed almost documentary style, in a hand-held camera way. And the 80's timeline is filmed more like a regular movie, with steadied cameras. The use of these two styles were effective and used quite well. It was an interesting stylistic choice, but I feel it paid off without being too distracting. he pacing of the film is really quite good, and is extremely well-written. We get a great sense of both of these Brian Wilson's, able to understand his mania and his brokenness. Both sides of the story really get us into the head of Brian, but the 80's timeline also gets us in the head of Melinda Ledbetter, the woman Brian meets when buying a car, and decides to date. The characters are given good growth and depth, and are well-written.

As well, the acting in this movie was on point. John Cusak was surprisingly really good. Not that I've seen Cusak in much, but I found him really quite good in this movie. As well, Elizabeth Banks was really, really great. She's another actress I don't really think of as being a fantastic actress, but she impressed me here. But Paul Dano, for me, was definitely the stand out in this movie. Dano has always impressed me with every role he does, but this is definitely some of his best. Dano really immerses himself into the mind of Brian here, and really does some fantastic work. It never comes off as a caricature, and Dano treats Brian delicately, while still making him a human. I just really want to campaign really hard for Paul Dano to finally get an Oscar nomination for his work here. Any chance he could squeeze into the Supporting Actor field?

Anyway, Love and Mercy is fantastic. Definitely one of my favourite films of the year. It's the complete package of acting, writing, directing and style. The costumes are fun and fab, and there's great characters depth and story here. Even if you don't know anything about Brian Wilson (which I didn't!), it's definitely still a film you should see!


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Black Mass

Black Mass, 2015
Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson and Kevin Bacon.

James "Whitey" Bulger is a notorious criminal in South Boston, whose brother is a senator and childhood friend now works for the FBI. Jimmy, as his friends call him, is tough, merciless and a psychopath. In 1975, Jimmy teams up with his friend John Connolly, an FBI agent in Boston, striking a "business deal". He claims he isn't an informant or a rat, but that he'll work with the FBI to help them bring down the mafia, in return for the FBI protecting them. But things spiral out of control as Jimmy's empire grows and Connolly finds himself being swept away by Jimmy.

I first became interested when Black Mass released it's first trailer. It's still such a fantastic trailer that really sets the tone for what Black Mass is. Or tries to be, anyway. Johnny Depp dives back into makeup and costumes, but this time to give us a much more subtle and nuanced performance as Jimmy. Jimmy is definitely a psychopath, but there is no hammy performance here. Depp brings his A-game and reminds us why he was regarded as such a fantastic actor, even if the character wasn't as three dimensional as others have made it out to be.

The acting is definitely the high point of this film. Everyone seems to be on their A-game here. Joel Edgerton was a surprise for me, as I've always found him to just be a little blah. But Edgerton is really able to submerse himself into the role of John Connolly, bringing just as much subtlety and nuance as Depp brings to Jimmy. Connolly was swept away with Jimmy as a child, growing up in South Boston together. And he's excited when he's able to strike a deal with Jimmy. But Connolly starts to get swept away with Jimmy all over again, letting murder, extortion and drug dealing (among many other things) happen. Connolly becomes entranced by the gangster life, while still staying an FBI agent, landing himself just enough information to be able to take down the Italian Mafia so that he can secure promotion after promotion.

The supporting cast are also all on point here. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Jimmy's senator brother Billy, also does good (though limited) work here. I pegged Cumberbatch as probably not able to pull off a convincing Boston accent, but I was left surprised. It was much better than I ever expected, even if it was much thicker and seemed to be trying much harder than others. Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll and Juno Temple also have extremely small roles, though all are quite good.

The movie itself got off to an extremely solid start, but I felt things started to get a little less coherent and to lose control a little bit, only about 30-45 minutes in, around the time Jimmy starts dealing with his son. Things were fantastic and well paced until this point, but then things started to just become a little more blah. I can't place my finger on why. I had thought maybe we were starting to get to know these characters well, but it turns out we were still not brought closer than an arms length. The story itself, too, seemed to jump around. Again, I can't place my finger on what exactly was not so great about the pacing or story, but it just wasn't. The movie was extremely close to being fantastic, but settled for being just good.

The story itself was chilling and it does get across how horrific working for Jimmy would've been, and narrating what went wrong, that so many people in his gang are now informants on him. Jimmy is horrific and violent, but we never quite understand why or what his motivation is as a person. All we know is he is someone to be feared, and fear him we do. However, the relationship between Jimmy and Connolly is well grown and developed, and even though it spans over some 15 years and jumps periods at a time, Jimmy and Connolly's relationship is explored well.

Black Mass could've been great, but we still find refuge in the fact that the actors all step up to the plate and deliver their best. Even bringing some career-best performances from a few. However, Black Mass is still a well-made and shot film, eerily chilly and stone cold. Black Mass is by no means a bad movie, it just never quite lives up to how close it got to being fantastic.

Will there be Oscars in Black Mass's future? At this point, your safest bets stay solely in the acting categories. At this point, Depp is all but a lock for a nomination for Lead Actor, and Edgerton, too, is gaining Supporting Actor buzz, both of which have strong shots at nominations. How much more than that? At this point, that remains to be seen.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

September Blindspot: The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawkshank Redeption, 1994
Directed by Frank Darabont

I feel like everytime I start one of my blindspot reviews, I start with "somehow I have gone my whole life without seeing this movie...". It's always true though! I'm not exactly sure how I got away without seeing the Shawshank Redemption for this long, but I did. I saw the first 30-45 minutes on TV (on my honeymoon of all places) but opted that it was too depressing a movie for 11pm start time after a day on the beach.

Anyway, I was already in a blue mood when I decided I finally had time to sit down and watch Shawshank Redemption. Again, I won't be avoiding spoilers for this movie, since this did come out 21 years ago.

The Shawshank Redemption, based on the novel by Stephen King, is the story of the people inside Shawshank Prison in the 1940's. It mainly focuses on Andy Dufresne, a man who is convicted of killing his wife and her lover, and Red, a man who's been at Shawshank for 20 years already, and has, once again, been rejected from his request for parole. Andy enters the prison quiet and stoic. He doesn't break down like the rest of the men, which surprises Red. It's several years before Andy begins to open up to others, but he and Red find themselves draw into a close friendship. Both are decent men who are seeking redemption, and who strive to do good.

The Shawshank Redemption is a melancholic, but beautiful movie. It's depressing but also quite lovely. It's the grey cloud with the silver lining- the ray of hope. Hope and redemption seem to be the driving forces behind this movie, and, even when this movie is at its darkest, it never fully succumbs to being downright depressing. That ray of hope is always there, even if only really dim.

My heart constantly ached for the characters in this film. Andy spent the first few years of his sentence being consistently raped. We also witness the brutality of the police security in the prison, and the dishonesty of the prison warden. Red, as well, has learned from his mistakes (he's the only guilty prisoner in Shawshank, don't you know!) but is still being denied parole. But Andy is able to grow past this. He's a smart guy and was a Vice President of a bank before his enprisonment. He starts doing taxes for various policemen, and also starts helping run the library, and writes several letters a week, campaigning for a budget increase for it, which he eventually very successfully wins, after several year. Red is by Andy's side through all of this, as the two men become closer and are constantly looking out for each other. Both want to see the other succeed, make a difference, and do good things.

One of the very best parts of the movie was the last 20-30 minutes. We've come to realize Andy actually is innocent, like he had insisted during his trial. But just when Red and the others in their group suspect Andy is about to kill himself during the night, Andy actually escapes. Using a rock hammer he had acquired only a few years after arriving at Shawshank, Andy has been chipping away at his wall and creates a tunnel. Finally, after 20 years of chipping in the night does Andy escape and move to Mexico. Eventually, Red is granted parole and joins with Andy in Mexico.

The ending was extremely hopeful and downright happy after the events of the movie. Red is struggling to find where he belongs outside prison, and contemplates doing some sort of crime so he can go back to Shawshank, because it's where his life was. As well, the (non-surprising) twist of Andy being innocent and escaping is just so well done and beautifully told.

Tim Robbins is quite sublime as Andy, and Morgan Freeman is never better than here, playing Red. Red is strong and gentle, resourceful and loyal. Red and Andy form a lifelong friendship and both will do anything for the other. This friendship is beautifully and realisticaly portrayed.

I could probably go on and on about how much I liked this movie. It made me sad but it was a good kind of contemplative sad. A beautiful melancholy.

There's a reason why this movie is so beloved. It doesn't try to be a "Manly" prison movie, but is actually quite emotive and powerful. It's about redemption and finding your place in the world. And I really did love every moment of this movie. The fact that it lost Best Picture to Forrest Gump is truly quite startling (and even a little unsettling). While I still haven't seen Pulp Fiction (coming soon!), this seems a terrible loss. Shawshank Redemption is a fantastic movie.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

My Day At TIFF!

So I got to spend just 1 day at TIFF again this year. It's a hassle getting downtown from where I live, and sadly my husband and I don't have a ton of money to spare this money. So we definitely made a day out of it, and I thought I'd share some of my photos!

Waiting in line to see Our Brand is Crisis!

The Director, David Gordon Green introducing the film


Toni Collette at the "Miss You Already" premiere

Drew Barrymore at the "Miss You Already" premiere

We happened to walk past Princess of Wales theatre just as Susan Sarandon arrived. "About Ray" Premiere. 

And just after Susan Sarandon went inside and lots of spectators and media left, Naomi Watts, Elle Fanning and Susan Sarandon came back out for a few photos together. "About Ray" Premiere

Staking out our spot at Princess of Wales for "The Danish Girl'" premiere. A few hours wait!

Only a slight surprise, Johnny Depp showed up to "The Danish Girl" premiere with his wife, Amber Heard. This was about all he did. This and a few media photos. No photos and signings with fans. 

Tom Hopper at "The Danish Girl" premiere

The beautiful Alicia Vikander at "The Danish Girl" premiere

Eddie Redmayne at "The Danish Girl" premiere

Eddie Redmayne "The Danish Girl" premiere

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander

We were able to snag passes for the Bell Deck at Roy Thompson Hall for the premiere of Legend! We got there about 3 hours before the premiere was due to start, but it was well worth the wait!

Not too crowded on the deck, but definitely had lots of crazy fans! Note all the umbrellas. It was pouring rain when Tom Hardy finally arrived. 

Tom Hardy in all his brilliance at "Legend" premiere

Me and Tom Hardy! Absolute peak of the day! 

I can't stop posting Hardy photos. He spent like 30-45 minute outside, in the pouring rain, taking photos with literally everyone who showed up. Not lying, he did the entire perimeter of the barricade, signing things and taking photos with pretty much everybody! He was such a champ and a trooper for doing that much for the fans. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

TIFF Review: Our Brand Is Crisis

Our Brand Is Crisis, 2015
Directed by David Gordon Green

Our Brand Is Crisis focuses on a group of American campaign strategists working on a presidential campaign in Bolivia. "Calamity" Jane Bodine is retired. But she's one of the best strategists and she gets offered the job of working the campaign for Castillo, a man who was previously President but had an unsuccessful run. But what really brings her back from retirement is the opportunity to face off again against Pat Candy, her old rival, whom she has yet to beat. Reluctantly going down to Bolivia, Jane is apathetic until Castillo plays right into the hands of candy, punching a prankster in the face as he's leaving a press conference. But thus launches their new brand. Their brand is Crisis, and the fact that Bolivia, a poor and unsettled country, is in one and that they need an iron fist to lead them.

I'm just going to put it out there that this movie is not going to be Oscar fare. It could possibly get Sandra Bullock some attention, but even that I doubt at this point.

With that being said, the movie itself isn't bad. It's a shiny and fun, yet somewhat biting and cynical look at American campaign strategists. These consultants always have tricks up their sleaves, and Jane and Candy are constantly trying to pull a new one on each other. Everyone is trying to screw the other one over. Or they're releasing something that makes themselves look bad, trying to make it look like the opposition, to either get what they want, or smear the other team. Everything is premeditated and everyone is lying.

Sandra Bullock is pitch perfect for the role of Jane. It's nothing exactly new for her and it feels like an amalgamation of a bunch of characters Bullock has played in the last few years. It's perfectly written for her. That being said, the movie doesn't give her much of an arc that would make her Best Actress material. Sure, it's a good performance, but it's more of a funny one than anything.

Billy Bob Thornton was in this a lot less than I expected, given that he has second billing on this. He only pops up every so often, and often is lingering in the background, or offering up a very short back and forth with Jane. But the film truly does shine when the two of them are going at each other. Both are incredibly smart and both love screwing the other over.

A particularly great scene involved Jane's bus trying to overtake Candy's on a small one-way road through the jungle of Bolivia. I won't spoil it, but it had my theatre in absolute stitches.

The supporting cast aren't given a whole lot to do. Anthony Mackie does what he can with the little he's given, Joaquim de Almeida is good as Castillo, and Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy and Zoe Kazan are there to serve as small background characters.

Overall, Our Brand Is Crisis is a decent film, but is in no way on the level of Argo. What's sad, is that it could've been much better. I can't put my finger on quite what, but it just wasn't what it could've been. I know many people thought it was quite cynical look, but I don't think that was the problem either. It was appropriately cynical, and was almost really honest. It was just a few steps away from really good, but settled with just being alright.

Our Brand Is Crisis will be in theatres October 30th 2015


Friday, 11 September 2015

So Fetch Friday: TIFF + New Releases

Hey everyone! How's it going? Right now I'm just really excited for TIFF. I know I posted about it the other day and you guys all know how I'm lamely only seeing 1 movie, but I'm still excited. I'm heading downtown tomorrow to see Our Brand Is Crisis, and will probably be spending a bunch of the day downtown, stalking some red carpet premieres and hoping to see Cate Blanchett (will she be in town?). It'll be exciting to be in town for TIFF. I'm looking forward to sharing with you all one of the first reviews for Our Brand is Crisis, and just hoping to see some cool celebrities.

I got around to watching a few newer movies in the past 2 weeks. Cineplex was awesome last week and, because there was almost literally nothing in theatres to watch, gave us Tuesday prices Monday-Friday (aka $5 movies!), so my husband and I finally checked out Jurassic World. Was it good? I'm not sure. I'd give it like a 6.5/10? It was fun, and that dinosaur battle at the end was just plain crazy. It was less Chris Pratt-y than I was expecting, but it was still good. Also, I just felt like screenwriters were trying very hard with the characters. I can just see them being like "okay, we're writing a woman, guys. She needs to be tough! She needs to be unlike other women! But still relatable in the end". I don't know how to describe it, but Owen and Claire just felt so... stiff. Claire especially seemed inconsistent, but whatever. Also, some of the dialogue was just generally really terrible. But, it was still a fun movie to watch, even if it felt much different than Jurassic Park. Also, Jake Johnson was in this and he was basically just playing a variation of Nick Miller and that was probably my favourite part of the movie.

I also got around to watching Far From the Madding Crowd. Not surprising to me, I very much enjoyed it. I really do like Carey Mulligan and she was really quite good in this. The story was refreshingly feminist for it's time period, but it was still a very sweet story. Bathseba was strong and independent, but still human with flaws and bad judgment. I felt bad for Matthew Sheen's character, and I just also really loved Matthias Schoenaerts in this as well. Definitely recommend for Pride & Prejudice fans. Was lovely and beautiful, but also had so much drama!

Another film I watched was Clouds of Sils Maria. I wasn't huge on the movie itself, but Kristen Stewart was actually quite good in this! Never did she feel awkward (unless she was supposed to be), and she felt very natural. It just seemed very much a role really fitting for her and her style and she really did quite well. Next time anyone says she can't act, I'll point them directly to this movie (and Still Alice). Juliette Binoche was also really good, but this was more to be expected than with Kristen Stewart.

Anyway, it's exciting that the fall film season is finally starting up. I'm hoping to either catch Black Mass or Everest next week (probably Everest because that demands a large screen and 3D!) and from then on, lots of great stuff is headed our way. You guys have a favourite movie of the year so far? Honestly, Mad Max Fury Road is definitely still my favourite.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

TIFF: Our Brand is Crisis

Last year was my first year at TIFF and we were able to see Theory Of Everything, which turned out to play extremely well with the Oscars, winning Eddie Redmayne Best Actor. This year, at this point at least, we'll also just be seeing one movie (between my work schedule and the fact I just took time off so I can't during the fest, and my husband starting his final year of his Masters, we just don't have time to see much more).

This year, we'll be checking out Our Brand Is Crisis, starring Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton. We snagged tickets without having watched a trailer, but the trailer dropped 2 days after we bought out tickets for this upcoming Saturday. So we're pleased to see what we're getting ourselves into. Produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov (yep, the guys who produced Argo!), see the synopsis below:

      Failing badly in the polls, a Bolivian presidential candidate enlists the services of an American management team for help. The main star is "Calamity" Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock), a brilliant strategist who comes out of self-imposed retirement for a chance to beat her professional nemesis, the loathsome Pat Candy. With Candy working for the opposition, it becomes a down-and-dirty, all-out battle between political consultants, where nothing is sacred and winning is all that matters.

I'm looking forward to seeing this one. It looks tonally similar to Argo, with a mix of drama and humor. Sandra Bullock looks great here and could certainly become a contender for her 3rd Oscar nomination. I'll have a review up sometime Sunday or Monday which I'll share my thoughts. Meanwhile, check out the trailer!