Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.
In days as convoluted as these, harmless movies about well-intentioned people overcoming difficulties and coming out empowered are a welcome respite. The High Note is one of those films. Clearly destined for the big screen (nice production values, a combination of up-and-comers and vets), The High Note is a nice movie that doesn’t break new ground or ruffles any feathers.
Freed from the 50 Shades burden, Dakota Johnson is delightful as Maggie, the assistant of an R&B diva. Maggie has designs beyond her less than fulfilling job: She wants to become a music producer, preferably for her boss. But there’s no clear path to go from her lowly job to behind the sound desk.
In turn, her employer, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish), is struggling with a transition of her own. A decade after her last successful record, she’s been offered a residency in Vegas, the musical equivalent of a farm upstate. Davis believes she still has fresh material to offer, but for industry standards, she’s old news. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle”
Twelve years ago, Pontypool pulled the rarest of feats. It was original for a zombie movie and intrinsically Canadian (the disease was transmitted via language). Something you may not have noticed is that there was a post-credit scene, featuring the leads as different characters: Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, two shady types looking for adventure. I completely missed that until re-watching it for this review.
The promise of the little-seen sequence is fulfilled in Dreamland. Director Bruce McDonald reassembles the Pontypoolcrew (actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle, scriptwriter Tony Burgess) plus a couple of ringers (Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis) for a surrealistic noir. Not Twin Peaks-bonkers levels, but pleasantly weird. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of”
With a batting average higher than most of her French-Canadian counterparts (including the likes of Dolan, Arcand and Falardeau), supporters of Canadian cinema would be well served by paying more attention to Anne Emond.
The writer/director has delivered three searing dives into the female psyche (Nuit # 1, Our Loved Ones, Nelly). Her newest film, Jeune Juliette, has a much lighter tone, but the lead is just as complex as the previous ones. OK, maybe not Nelly Arcan, but she’s on a league of her own.
The Juliette of the title (Alexane Jamieson) is a teenager enduring the worst high school has to offer: Loneliness, bullying and the petty behavior from others students who perceive her as overweight. Even though their casual nastiness leaves a mark, Juliette is also aware that she’s smarter than her classmates and it’s a matter of time until she leaves them behind. She also has a sturdy support net: Her doting dad, a sympathetic brother and her best mate, Leanne. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge”
It’s hard to remember after three Takens and a bunch of Taken knockoffs, there was a time Liam Neeson was a thoughtful, understated performer. At 67, he’s trading grunts for acting again, at least this once.
Ordinary Love is as simple as a domestic drama can get. It relies heavily on the lead actors’ acting abilities, but doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of story or ideas.
The film revolves around Neeson and the age-appropriate Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread’s MVP) as a mature, content couple. After spending decades together and enduring one unspeakable tragedy, Tom and Joan believe they’ve dealt with all the curveballs life had in store for them. Continue reading “REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’”
As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.
Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.
As luck would have it, Jesse Eisenberg is becoming one of the faces of pandemic. The Oscar-nominated actor is the lead in two high-profile features premiering on VOD. The first one, Vivarium, is a high concept sci-fi horror hybrid. The second one, Resistance, is far more traditional, but is not as satisfactory.
Based on the experiences of renown mime Marcel Marceau during World War II, the bulk of Resistance takes place during the German occupation of France. Initially a pedantic wannabe actor, Marceau (Eisenberg) takes a shine to a group of Jewish orphans that have escaped Germany.
As the Nazis put the squeeze on the Jewish community, Marceau feels compelled to protect the kids and join the French Resistance. His revolutionary activities put him in collision course with the Butcher of Lyon, the infamous Klaus Barbie. It downs on Marcel that saving others is a stronger statement than dying for the cause. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: The Director of ‘Resistance’ Could Have Used Some”
It’s probably still in the back of your mind. In June 2018, a children soccer team and their coach were trapped inside a cave in Thailand after monsoon rains flooded the exit. The event mobilized dozens of volunteers, including local and foreign divers, American forces and even Elon Musk (if only to provide an impractical solution and then harass a volunteer). The situation seems ready-made for a feature.
Lo and behold, here it is, less than two years since the rescue effort.
Cave Rescue is the kind of movie produced in a rush to take advantage of recent events while still fresh in people’s minds: Undercooked, underwhelming and with an inflated sense of self.
The film dedicates precious little time to how the kids ended up in the cave and rather focus on the rescue efforts (a mildly competent filmmaker would have spent time establishing the children as characters to raise the stakes. Not the case here). People pop up in and out of screen: American military personnel issuing obvious orders, farmers happy to sacrifice their crops to save the boys, interchangeable divers looking busy and a religious figure embodying the spiritual aspect of the rescue. Why not. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’”
Embrace your Coronavirus confinement in Vivarium’s surreal suburban nightmare
Vivarium VOD/Apple TV
Vivarium is a rare surrealistic horror. More structured than a David Lynch film and darker than something by Terry Gilliam, it takes petite bourgeois goals (own a house, have a kid, become your own boss) and reveals them as nightmares.
Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) are a young couple looking for a starter home who are roped into checking out a house just outside the city by a creepy-looking real estate agent. The place is one of dozens of identical green households in a very quiet neighborhood — so quiet, there are no neighbours in sight.
Red flags accumulate and Tom and Gemma make a run for it but fail: the hood is endless and the pair lands in front of the same house time and time again. Out of gas and ideas, they go to bed. The next day there’s a baby on the porch and they’re instructed to raise the child and be liberated.
Suffice it to say, the kid is weird. Friction ensues.
A minor controversy took place last year when the Centre National de la Cinématographie selected Les Miserables over fan favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire to represent France in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film process (not that either had a shot against Parasite). I’m here to tell you the CNC had it right.
Don’t get me wrong. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a good film, but comes way short from being the transcendental experience that has been advertised.
It’s late in the eighteenth century and like in most of the world, women in France are treated as trade goods, unless independently wealthy. Marianne (the drop dead gorgeo… super talented Noémie Merlant), a freelance painter, is hired by a countess to make a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adele Haenel, BPM). The fresco is to be sent to a suitor in Milan with whom Héloïse is to be betrothed. Continue reading “REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold”
A peek inside the mind of a film critic in real time. Warning: It’s disturbing
2oth Century… Pictures. End of an era.
Maybe the trailers are misleading, maybe the CGI dog is better in the movie…
No, that’s a CGI dog. The eyes are a dead giveaway. Too much white. Where are The Lion King people when you need them.
Granted, kids are more forgiving.
Wonderful. Bradley Whitford is in this (he’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
Jack London’s novel was raw and complex. This version feels soft. Has the dramatic subtlety of Legends of the Fall.
I really don’t need the dog to emote AND Harrison Ford to tell me how the dog is getting in touch with his wild side.
That said, Ford knows grizzled.
So, John Thornton is in the Yukon mid-Gold Rush, but he’s not there for the money. Got it.
Whoever thought of pairing Omar Sy with Cara Gee is genius.
Gee is the most stylish postman in history. Love the glasses.
“We don’t carry mail, we carry love.” I’m going to say this is not verbatim Jack London.
Evil CGI husky about to be dethroned… in a PG kind of way.
The power of London storytelling breaks through, but barely.
Not quite clear why Buck’s spirit animal is a wolf if he is half St. Bernard, half Scotch Collie.
Brits carry a gramophone, champagne and fashionable clothes to explore the Klondike. In case you haven’t figure it out they are clueless.
Wonderful. Karen Gillan is in this (she’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
Kudos to Dan Stevens for making a clueless dandy mildly menacing.
The fact Buck is so noticeably CGI deprives the film of actual stakes.
The movie avoids the most unsavory passages of the book, which is a disservice to the public. “The Call of the Wild” is a classic because of them. It’s often an introduction to young readers to the darkest corners of the human soul.
Then again, the original ending wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.
Janusz Kaminski shot this? This is Lost Souls level.
Oh, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes) plays Buck. Nobody better to play a dog. Except an actual dog. Or Andy Serkis. Two prairie dogs. The Call of the Wild is now playing, everywhere.
Now that Sonic the Hedgehog is a bonafide hit and talks of a sequel are afoot, the focus has shifted from the speedy mammal to the cast. Jim Carrey is back in manic mode as Dr. Robotnik. At his side, a surprisingly competent henchman: Agent Stone. Loyal to a fault, Stone manages to keep a straight face as Robotnik goes unhinged barely two inches away.
The actor behind Agent Stone is Lee Majdoub, a journeyman actor who, after working consistently for over a decade, is getting noticed not only as one of Sonic’s nemeses but as a recurrent character in the CW series The 100. We contacted Majdoub in Burbank, CA. He relates to Agent Stone in two key areas: His work ethic and big heart.
Jim Carrey is constantly in your face in Sonic. What are the challenges of that?
I would have to tell myself “he’s doing such an amazing job, don’t ruin it, don’t you dare laugh right now.” All my scenes were with Jim and I was feeding off what he was doing. He is a very sweet person to work with. Very collaborative.
What was your reaction when you found out Sonic was getting redesigned?
As an actor, you don’t play much of a part in what’s going on behind the scenes. I was more blown away by how many fans were engaged and how much of a response there was to it.
Before the movie, what was your relationship with the game?
The first video game console we had was a Sega Genesis. I spent a lot of time playing Sonic the Hedgehog
Your IMDb page is quite packed. What’s your career plan?
It’s always been about working hard, developing relationships and being a good person. I’ve always tried to help anybody who needs it, give advice when I can, and be prepared. A lot of it has to do with working on myself. If you don’t know who you are, it’s really tough to do a good job on auditions.
Is there any performance of yours you wish more people had seen?
There was a play I did seven, eight years ago. I played five characters who were all suffering loss, a child, their sanity, their home. For a small, ninety-seats theatre, it seemed to have resonated with a lot of people. It wasn’t as much about my performance as much as it was about the story.
At the end of Sonic the Hedgehog, your character is still on the board. Does this mean you’re coming back?
If there’s a sequel and they want me back, I’m going to be very, very happy. Fingers crossed.
Coming out of a screening of Jojo Rabbit last week (my second), I asked my wife her thoughts on the film. She said she liked it, but didn’t think the message was all that ground-breaking. Fair enough, the notion of “hate” as learned behavior children acquire early on and has long-lasting effects has been dealt with on screen before.
Then I saw a clip on Facebook.
In this video essay, a very angry girl in her early teens argues against the separation of church and state. She believes that if Christianity is kept out of school and government, so it should “liberal ideas” like abortion or transgender rights. Her argument holds no water, but that’s not the point. The rigidness of her reasoning reveals she has never been exposed to a different set of beliefs. The teen is so convinced, she is happy to put it on tape for the world to see. Forever and ever.
Colombian cinema is having a moment. Not only the local industry has an auteur in its hands –Ciro Guerra, director of Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage— a second one has emerged fully formed from Sundance Labs: Alejandro Landes.
In Monos, Landes zeroes in on a group of teenagers recruited by the local revolutionary army to protect an American woman (Julianne Nicholson, August: Osage County) they keep hostage. The rebels expect a handsome paycheck in exchange for the prisoner, so her wellbeing is a priority.
Things start going south almost immediately when the expected source of protein –a cow– succumbs under a hail of bullets. With little supervision or boundaries, the squad crumbles under the weight of responsibilities, power plays and a warped understanding of discipline. The fact they’re armed to the teeth makes their volatility lethal.
Monos doesn’t take the traditional route of the child-soldier subgenre. Each character is more than their circumstances; the atmosphere is oppressive, but there are laughs to be had and beauty to be taken in (the jungle setting amplifies the drama tenfold). Nicholson is superb as the sullen, scared hostage, same as Moises Arias (The Kings of Summer) as Bigfoot, an ambitious foot soldier who craves power but doesn’t understand the concept of leadership.
The film unfolds swiftly as the Monos squad has no notion of teamwork and breaks down at every corner. That said, I would have liked to spend more time with the teens: Each one seems to carry a story worth telling. Still, the one we actually get is worth the price of admission. Three and a half dogs.
As much as I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, the treatment of the film as a triumph of representation gave me pause. Sure, an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood production is something to celebrate, but the characters are obscenely wealthy and the audience-surrogate is well on her way to become a one-percenter. In short, they are hard to relate.
The infinitely more modest The Farewell is more successful at bring the Asian-American experience to the big screen. Not only that, it transcends culture clash shenanigans to depict the very real melancholy that accompanies immigrants through their entire lives. Trust me, I know.
About three years ago, a mediocre action flick made it to Canadian cinemas for no discernible reason. It was called Precious Cargo and featured noted muscle-head Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The former Saved by the Bell star had to go head-to-head against a villainous Bruce Willis, noticeably bored out of his mind. The movie was perfunctory and ended with a collection of bloopers (none of them funny), weird for a thriller. At least Willis got his paycheck.
What has Precious Cargo got to do with The Tomorrow Man? Both are labors of love by people too attached to material that’s not nearly as good as they believe it to be. If nothing else, there is a modicum of humanism in The Tomorrow Man thoroughly absent from the Gosselaar-Willis “romp”.
Written, directed and shot by Noble Jones —who has done videos for Taylor Swift and OneRepublic— The Tomorrow Man is the kind of movie you would take your parents to. At the center of the film is Ed (John Lithgow), a lonely retiree that spends his time in chatrooms and his money on a bomb shelter. Ed is not deranged but he is rigid and prone to rants (so, close). Continue reading “REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale”
It’s an all too common pipedream: Trading the rat race for the simpler life, one in which you cultivate your own food, grow your own eggs and work your patch of land from sunrise to sundown. Nobody follows through because, as delightful as it sounds, we know farming is a lot harder than this hipster visualization of heaven. Heck, I can’t even grow basil on my balcony.
The Biggest Little Farm chronicles seven years in the life of a couple who actually did it. Inspired by their rescue dog —too loud for apartment living— John and Molly Chester traded their L.A. apartment for 200 all-but-abandoned acres not far from the city. It wasn’t a blind bet: John turned this move into a project open to investors and people who want to learn how to farm.
With the support of a “farming guru”, John and Molly go through every stage of the process. From generating soil to animal husbandry. Sooner than later they discover the number of factors involved in having a successful farm is too high to have them under control, but also that the solution to most challenges lies in the interaction between existing components. The most difficult task is not a practical one, but to overcome the disillusionment of their earnest intent. There is only so many pests one can eradicate.
For someone with zero farming knowledge, The Biggest Little Farm is fascinating. John Chester, who doubles as director and cinematographer, manages to cram seven years of ebbs and flows into one coherent package, without depriving the audience of the small joys and heartbreaks of country life. It even dispenses some pearls of wisdom, like the advantages of taking a step back and solving a problem with existing resources, as opposed to introducing a new variable.
One issue that’s never tackled is the sustainability of the farm. We see the Chesters pivot constantly to maintain a prosperous biodiversity, but whether the project is profitable or not, we’re never told. Similarly, the presence of investors is mentioned in the beginning and never again. It doesn’t detract from the experience, but it would be useful to know if this is just a hipster camp or an example worth replicating. Three prairie dogs that probably wouldn’t be welcome at the farm (out of five).
The Biggest Little Farm opens tomorrow Friday 31st at the Rainbow (Studio 7).
Given all the revenue Disney is generating by turning animated classics as live-action features, it’s very unlikely the House of Mouse will stop doing it any time soon. Even the so-so Dumbo made over 340 million dollars worldwide.
While I would prefer Disney to take risks as opposed to mine the back catalogue, there is some joy to be found in these remakes: The breeziness of Cinderella, the underlying melancholy of Pete’s Dragon, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in The Jungle Book. The one thing you won’t find: Freshness. These movies have been fussed over within an inch of their lives. They are expected to hit all four demographic quadrants and please everybody. Not hair is out of place and most scenes seem airless.
I first saw High Life last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. It made no impact on me. How much so? Am I so jaded a thoughtful study about human nature doesn’t even register? I had to see it again because I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I wasn’t sure if it was the movie to blame or the fact I was sleep-deprived after a week of watching three to four features a day (plus a couple of parties).