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Episode 162 – Argo / Seven Psychopaths

In Episode 162 of Moviewallas we talk about:

  

  • Ben Affleck’s highly anticipated movie Argo
  • Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s latest work Seven Psychopaths

Visit www.moviewallas.com for reviews, articles, film festival coverage and more!

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Episode 156 – For a Good Time, Call… / Lawless

In Episode 156 of Moviewallas we talk about:

    

  • For a Good Time, Call…
  • Lawless

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2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – Update Four

The Toronto International Film Festival was in progress when 9/11 happened. TIFF takes place in the first two weeks of September, and since 2001 the festival has showed a short two minute memorial prior to every feature screened on September 11th. Over the years, the short has changed, but it has always been a well crafted piece consisting of reactions to 9/11 from the film community. And 2012 was the first year that the festival chose not to show a 9/11 tribute. There was some curiosity around this amongst a few people I spoke with today.  Most individuals, including myself, believe this was a deliberate decision, to demonstrate a small manner of healing that has occurred since the events of 2001. And that while 9/11 can never be forgotten, the world has learned to move on a little bit. This is oddly comforting.

All of the films I saw today seemed to deal with matters of the flesh in some form or another.

2012 TIFF still, ‘Byzantium’

Byzantium, the latest from director Neil Jordan (The Company Of Wolves, The Crying Game, Interview With A Vampire, The End Of The Affair) stars Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Atherton as contemporary blood-suckers. For a film about vampires, I found the movie oddly bloodless. To be clear, there is a surfeit of blood and gore on screen, but the film seemed to me lacking in dramatic tension. I respect the decision to have the movie be as much about atmosphere as the plot, but the terminally sluggish placing seemed a peculiar choice. The movie dips back periodically to a back-story set two hundred years in the past, but the back and forth in chronology isn’t effective since that origin story about the two vampires is not particularly compelling. I am hardly an expert on the mythology of vampires, but I am fascinated by the belief that vampires in literature have always been a metaphor for all those in the world who are patently different. And therefore subject to scorn and hatred. This theory also explains the need for vampires to stay in dark. It has been suggested that vampires in early literature were meant to represent lepers. There has been discussion that the vampires in Anne Rice’s books represent homosexual repression. Others have suggested that the reaction to vampires has long represented racism in the world.  Considering that the director of Interview With A Vampire is returning 20 years later with Byzantium, I was hoping he had something more to add to the mythology of blood-suckers. But I struggled to find any meaningful insight in Byzantium and surprised to see it be so toothless. Yes, he comments on how vampires have traditionally been male and the two female protagonists in this film are pariahs even within the vampire clan. But even that protest comes across a bit outdated. Saoirse Ronan is one of the more intriguing screen presences in current cinema and does a very able job here but even so seems underused. This is a technically accomplished film, but considering that it is presented as more than just pure entertainment, it was a bit of head-scratcher for me.

2012 TIFF still, ‘The Sessions’

The Sessions comes to TIFF already having gathered buzz at prior film festivals as the movie guaranteed to earn acting nominations for John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. I am not going to argue about that having seen the film. In fact, it is best if this film is seen with the minimum of expectations. This is a small-scale film that evokes some big issues. The movie is based on the real-life story of Mark O’Brian, a Berkeley area poet / journalist, who after being afflicted with childhood polio, needed to live in an iron lung and had no useable motor movements below his neck. Confined to a stretcher all his adult life, and with caretakers around him to help him with everyday activities, Mark O’Brian went on to obtain his degree. Obviously unable to do many things that others can, he realized in his mid-thirties that the one thing he could not live without having accomplished in his life was to have a physical relationship. The movie begins at this point in his life, and covers his relationships with those around him,  chiefly with the sex-therapist who tries to assist him with fulfilling his desire to lose his virginity. Helen Hunt plays the therapist in a fearless performance, depicting the complexities of a woman with a husband and son who, as part of her professional career is required to get physically intimate with others. John Hawkes, that menacing and charismatic actor from Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene is unrecognizable here in the lead role as a man constantly  shrunk down to size in the presence of the medical equipment around him. The film features some stellar writing, especially when it gets into decidedly unchartered territories, and performances that make you forget that you are watching actors. What I liked most about the film though was how it successfully makes the case, on multiple occasions, that many issues that we may consider as being uniquely specific to the physically disabled are actually remarkably universal; the impediments we face in life are not that different regardless of our physical status. This story is also rife for assessing the particular considerations of a professional sex-therapist. What are the ethics, motivations and conflicts associated with a person whose trained work involves having sex with clients and who receives monetary compensation for it  (Hunt’s character makes it clear, repeatedly, that she is a therapist, not a prostitute)? And when a sex-therapist builds necessarily difficult relationships with the person being treated, how can the physicality of it not bleed over into emotional dependencies? The film explores this to some extent – notably with the shifting attitude of Hunt’s husband who initially believes his wife is a saint for what she does to help people, but over a period of time starts resenting her for the same thing – but I wished it had plumbed this further. After all is said and done though, this is an original, intimate, and affecting film.

2012 TIFF still, ‘My Awkward Sexual Adventure’

Truth in advertising! The movie, My Awkward Sexual Adventure, is exactly what the title indicates. This is a silly little sex-comedy, which can sit in your Netflix queue along with the American Pie films. Did I laugh during this film? Yes, many times. And it is perhaps a notch above the sort of teenage raunchfests thrown at us from time to time. In this genre, nobody is looking for high art, or even exceptional insight, and as long as the film isn’t inept or does not insult the audience, it is already ahead of the others in the race.  The plot involves a man whose girlfriend declines his marriage proposal claiming she finds him boring and his physical skills in bed severely lacking. Through a turn of circumstances, he strikes a deal with a stripper (with a heart of gold? what do you think?) who promises him education with lovemaking in return for him assisting with her failing finances. A homegrown Canadian effort that took almost a decade to bring to the screen, the film is harmless fun. Although the movie does up the ante substantially in the raunch department, the writer and lead actor Jonas Chernick and director Sean Garrity keep things energetic, and the committed actors make this not an unworthy entry in this genre.

Sadly, I have only one more day left at TIFF and will be filing in my final report tomorrow.

2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – Update Three

My third day at TIFF 2012 involved the watching of three films, all of them rewarding in their own way.

2012 TIFF still, ‘The Impossible’

The Impossible, starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and the impressive young actor Tom Holland, is the sort of movie that gives melodrama a good name. The film is a harrowing account of a family’s experiences during the South Asian tsunami that occurred several years ago. It is based on the true story of these individuals vacationing at a resort in Thailand when the tsunami hit. While the film is majestic in its scope, by choosing to stick close to this one family during the aftermath of the tsunami, it invites the audience to be more internally involved with the things enfolding on the screen. For sure the film ought to win awards considerations for Sound Design. Perhaps it was the magnificent Princess of Wales theatre in which I saw the movie, but I experienced some of the best sound in film; each shake, each vibration, each rumble in the movie was perfectly captured and rendered without distortion, further personalizing – and intensifying – the experience.

What I meant by melodrama earlier is that this movie is not scared of going big with its emotions. In fact it relies on them. And while this approach fails in most movies (we are told subtlety should be the mantra for every filmmaker) this film achieves such an unquestionable sense of authenticity with the main characters that it earns the right to draw on grand-scale emotionality. While a film such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close came off seeming insincere using 9/11 as its premise, The Impossible, because of its honesty, stays clear of such concerns. In the screening I attended, this wrenching and raw film brought most audience members to tears and many left the cinema feeling sore. I know this film is being written off in some circles as being manipulative and overwrought, but then so was Gone With The Wind, and so was Schindler’s List. This is the best film I have seen at TIFF so far.

2012 TIFF still, ‘Thanks For Sharing’

Thanks for Sharing, tells a story of recovering sex-addicts living in Manhattan. This is a premise that we have not seen explored much on the screen, and there is a lightness of touch to how it is handled here, avoiding moralizing or judgment. To be sure this is not Shame, but the movie feels honest even when some of the stories do not work as well as others. With an enviable cast consisting of Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Natasha Richardson, Josh Gad, Alicia Moore and Patrick Fugit, the film circles around three prior addicts (Ruffalo, Robbins and Gad) and the people in their lives.  Stuart Blumberg, making his directorial debut with this film is an accomplished writer, having penned The Kids Are Alright, a movie that could be used to teach scriptwriting in Film School. And expectedly, the writing in this film dazzles with funny stingers that always make a good landing, particularly coming from Tim Robbins’ character. There are parts of the film that get dangerously close to contrivance, and not all of the pieces fit together perfectly. However I believe the film’s greatest strength is in its ensemble cast. These are all steadfast actors, who know how to get the job done. Mark Ruffalo always brings a low-key authenticity to his roles. Gwyneth Paltrow is warm, believable, conflicted and real. Alicia Moore (Pink) makes an auspicious film debut with an impressive monologue early in the movie. And Patrick Fugit and Tim Robbins, playing son and father, take a slightly overused story arc and relieve it entirely from cliché. This could have been a great film, but for what it is, good is good enough.

2012 TIFF still, ‘Ghost Graduation’.

If your list of comfort-food movies invariably includes films from the eighties, you will be sure to love Ghost Graduation (Promocion Fantasma). This is a light-hearted piffle of a film that only exists to get as many laughs as possible as it (re)visits the John Hughes universe. The director of this Spanish-language film, Javier Ruiz Caldera, mentioned in the Q & A after the film that the plot emerged from the premise of what might have happened if the characters from The Breakfast Club never got out of detention but died and were stuck as ghosts in their high school for the next twenty years. A school teacher who can see the dead has to help the ghosts  resolve any unfinished business so they can move on and stop haunting the school. The reason why Joss Whedon was the apt choice to make The Avengers is because he is a geek about the universe of these comic books and he gets these characters. A filmmaker who taps into his own outsized love for a particular story or genre, will always do a better job than someone who does not have that love, no matter how technically accomplished the latter may be. Well, here is a filmmaker who gets those seminal films from the eighties and he nails the sensibility of those films in his own directorial debut. At the TIFF screening, he got a long round of applause from the audience at the end of the film. Sometimes all you need to do is make a film about something you love, and the rest takes care of itself. Incidentally, I wonder if John Hughes will be someone whose cache will continue to grow in the coming decades. He is not typically invoked during mention of the greats from the last few decades or even within the names of more regarded contemporary filmmakers. We will find out, but I suspect time will be kind to the legacy of John Hughes films.

2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – Update Two

Immediately prior to the showing of any film at TIFF there is a notification that comes up on the screen warning viewers that the illegal recording or any other form of reproduction of the movie they are about to see is subject to criminal prosecution. And at that precise moment, someone in the audience inevitably always yells “Arrrwff”. I am not making this up. Of course all festival attendees are staunch supporters of anti-piracy measures, and hence the guttural canine utterance is not a sign of protest. Rather it is just a vestigial TIFF legend passed on from year to year since who knows how long. The sound of the “Arrrwff” always brings me comfort because it reminds me that I am doing one my favorite things in the world: about to start watching a new film at TIFF.

TIFF 2012 still, ‘Love Is All You Need’

Not all movies need to be high art. Sometimes putting a film together is like organizing an event. If your guests leave having had a good time and having eaten well, and if they speak fondly afterward about it, then it has been a job well done.  This is the case with Love is All You Need , the latest film from Susanne Bier (After The Wedding, In A Better World) which stars Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyerholm and Paprika Steen. The plot involves extended families getting together for a wedding. Pierce Brosnan plays the groom’s father  who has immersed himself completely into work since his wife’s death. Trine Dyerholm plays the bride’s mother, who has recently come off chemotherapy treatment. The wedding, scheduled in an old villa in Italy that is owned by Brosnan’s character, brings members of the two families together.  And the plot writes itself. This is a full-bodied, well-constructed film that respects its characters; the kind of mainstream film that is increasingly rare these days. Yes a person can be cynical and find this movie rote and unoriginal and complain that they have seen it all before. And yes the movie is predictable from the turn of the first reel. But that does not take away from it being a thoroughly enjoyable ride all the same. I bought into this movie from the start, found it  genuine, and believed in these characters. And I was within the movie through its running time instead of watching it from the outside. I suspect many will find it a piffle, a distraction, but this is the kind of film that resonates with me. Its a highlight of my TIFF experience. [By the way, I wish the original Danish title of the film, The Bald Hair-Dresser, had been retained as the English title too].

2012 TIFF still, ‘Out In The Dark’

If one purpose of film (or any art form, for that matter) is to depict our greater contemporary conflicts, the movie Out In the Dark provides a striking example of what separates us now as human beings. Director Michael Mayer sets his story at the crossfire of one of the more unresolvable political impasses of our time, the Israeli-Palastinian conflict. What are the repercussions of the bonding between two people, one from Israel, and the other from Palestine? The filmmakers add an additional dimension to this conflict by  layering it with something else that has the contemporary world currently divided: same-sex relationships. What if the bond in question was between two men who deeply love each other, but are from opposing sides of the geopolitical border?  Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student who is granted a permit to travel daily to a Tel Aviv college in order to study with a noted professor. Roy (Michael Aloni) is a successful lawyer living a comfortable, affluent life in Israel. Both are surprised at the strength of their affinity for each other when they meet. Against their judgment, and knowledge of the imminent danger, both fall in love. As unplanned but all consuming as their bond is, how are the two to find a tenable logistical solution for them to co-exist. So repellant does Nimr’s Islamic family find the concept of homosexuality that they lack the ability to understand his dilemma. And Roy is having to contend with the Israeli Secret Service nipping at his heels with the knowledge of his association with a Palestinian man. Although the film occasionally gets heavy-handed with its approach, and weaves its narrative thread across too many secondary characters, I liked the matter-of-fact, unfussy handling of this material. And the urgency and barely restrained anger simmering under the telling of this story. Ultimately I admired most how the movie telescopes the current Middle-Eastern situation through the lens of these two individuals.

2012 TIFF still, ‘Thermae Romae’

The film, Thermae Romae was the most profitable film of the year in Japan, the TIFF program informs us. And I can see why; it is a goofy, big-budget, time-travel adventure that is single-minded in its aim to entertain the audience. And indeed it was a crowd pleaser at the TIFF screening I attended. The movie plays with particularly broad humor, done with so much greater zest and wit in Mel Brooks’ History Of The World, Part I. The movie, based on a rabidly popular comic book of the same name, tells the story of an architect in ancient Rome with a special acumen for  building bathhouses intended to comfort the Roman emperor and army generals. Having lost enthusiasm with his job, he one day slips underwater and gets sucked, literally, through the space-time continuum to arrive in modern day Japan. Marveling at the inventions of contemporary Japan, he brings the modern inventions back to ancient Rome to achieve much acclaim. Much of the film’s humor is derived from the fish out of water situation each time the protagonist travels to the modern day Japan. The audience I was watching this film with enjoyed the film a lot more than I did. Maybe it was because I kept trying to see past the moment by moment gags in the film. And after a while the back and forth travel in time got tiresome. The lead actor, Hiroshi Abe, so nuanced and finely tuned in Still Walking, is asked here to play the character so broadly that he is left with doing not much more than providing exaggerated reaction shots of surprise. This is the kind of film that may go best combined with a beer on a Friday or Saturday night.

2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)- Update One

The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is off to a great start. The usual cinema venues, the usual running from one screening to the next, the usual sprints along the familiar blocks of Yonge Street and King Street with stops for caffeine on the way, the usual enthused audience members eager to tell others about what amazing films they have just seen – is what makes TIFF what it has always been: one of the most accessible and well programmed film festivals. In a perfect world, TIFF would be on every day of the year. But while being in Toronto for the few days that I am, I am determined to make the most of it.

TIFF 2012 still, ‘Frances Ha’

The first film I saw, Frances Ha, is delight manifest on the cinema screen. The movie is written and directed by Noah Baumbach, he of the dark, aching ‘comedies’ Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding, and The Squid and The Whale. His latest effort carries an entirely different blueprint. For one thing the movie is shot in gorgeous black and white, which renders Brooklyn and Paris that much more romantic. An audience member at the Q and A after the film asked Baumbach as to what besides The French New Wave and Woody Allen were his inspirations for this film. “Those two pretty much sum it up”, he replied. The movie is also co-written by the gamine Greta Gerwig who plays the lead role. Maybe its because of her greater investment in this film with her contribution to the script, but Gerwig is the most delightful she has ever been on camera – and this means something considering that here is an actor who has made a name for herself by being delightful in films. It would be reductive to call this simply a coming of age film. As Gerwig mentioned during her response to a question, this film interested her because it is based on something seldom seen in movies: unrequited love between two people who have a relationship that is not sexual. The film is of course nothing if not a showcase for exceptional writing. The dialog here is pitch-perfect. Laugh too loud at a line and you will miss the next piece of dialog. The completely spontaneous feeling of the movie, we learn from the director and cast, came from tedious repetition of takes based on a tightly scripted story. You will also have to see this film to find out the explanation for the title of the movie in the last scene. This is an immeasurably witty and wise film.

TIFF 2012 still, ‘Everybody Has A Plan’

Everybody Has A Plan (Todos Tenemos Un Plan), is an Argentine film that takes film noir and carries it through its fullest possibilities. Viggo Mortensen demonstrates that he is just as compelling an actor when he is speaking in another language. He plays the dual roles of Agustin, a well to do Buenos Aires pediatrician coming undone from his wife, and Pedro, his far less fortunate twin brother who lives in the impoverished water-logged islands (El Tigre delta) away from the city and who has his hands dirty with involvement with the local crime leader. The poverty-stricken islands in the movie bear a strong resemblance to the setting of the recent Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Throw in a younger lover, hard-scrabble criminals who will stop at nothing to recover their money, switched identities, and bee-keeping as a metaphor for the perils of getting too close to something dangerous. And you have a sticky, steaming brew of noir set in South America. What is surprising is to find that this accomplished film is made by a first time director, the young Ana Piterbarg.

TIFF 2012 still, ’90 Minutes’

The last film I saw in the day was the Scandinavian production 90 Minutes. It came advertised as a movie that tries to understand the possible pathology behind the 2011 mass shootings in Norway. The film toggles between three seemingly unrelated fictional stories, which start off from a place of the abjectly mundane, but only gradually reveal the undercurrent of impending malefic forces: a wealthy businessman who is having to make some major adjustments in his life, a police officer spending an evening with his family and starting to sense the displeasure from the mother of his children, and finally a third man watching television in a seemingly empty apartment before we are suddenly faced with the unthinkable horror around his existence. The movie depicts literally, the last 90 minutes in the lives of three individuals. And makes a case for the often very unremarkable basis for the genesis of terrible violence. This is technically an accomplished film, with masterful shot compositions. And heightened, crystalline sound that effortlessly makes the amplification of everyday noises (a dishwasher being loaded, a baby crying) summon anxiety and impending doom. For all its merits, the movie was ultimately, for me, impossible to watch. And there were steady walkouts during the screening, starting from almost the first half hour. I recognize the choice of a filmmaker to take a brutal, in your face, approach to depicting the horrific. But at what point does the end stop justifying the means? In its effort to drive home its (what seemed to me, somewhat oversimplified) tenet about what leads individuals into doing the unthinkable, the movie is willing to cross any line. As inured as we are to seeing the shocking and the violent in cinema, I still could not stomach this film. Perhaps the very fact that this film has engendered this much discussion within my head may speak to its potency. I need to continue to consider this film in the coming days.

Another three films on the schedule for tomorrow; other movies to revel in. Until the next update, then.

Episode 153 – Hope Springs / Celeste and Jesse Forever

In Episode 153 of Moviewallas we talk about:

     

– Hope Springs
– Celeste and Jesse Forever

[Note – This is part 1 of a 2-part show.  Episode 154 will include our reviews of The Odd Life of Timothy Green and The Campaign]

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Episode 149 – The Watch / Savages / Trishna

In Episode 149 of Moviewallas we review:

    

  • Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and newcomer Richard Ayoade join forces against aliens in suburbia in “The Watch”
  • Director Oliver Stone returns with the thriller “Savages”
  • Actress Freida Pinto plays lead in “Trishna” – A 21st Century take on Thomas Hardy’s class novel Tess of the d’Ubervilles

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Rent-a-Cat / Rentaneko (レンタネコ) | Review

I am sure that not many of us look forward to flying these days (me included), the endless security, fluid confiscation shenanigans, shoes off, laptops out, strip-searches etc. can become all too tiresome especially when it feels like you spend less time in the air than at the airport.

In recent times, and especially on long haul flights, one of my favorite pastimes has become trying to seek out movies that I would not normally get a chance to watch or foreign language movies that have not (and may never) get a US release.

Fellow movie lovers, there are some hidden treasures buried in the back of the seat in front of you (and I am not just talking about what has fallen out of the pocket of the supersized passenger).  On a recent flight from Tokyo, I was lucky enough to catch just such a gem. “Rentaneko” or “Rent-a-cat” (written and directed by USC film school alumni Naoko Ogigami) is a beautiful movie about a young lady called Sayoko who rents out cats to help lonely people fill the emptiness in their hearts. She walks along the banks of the river with a megaphone promoting her service and her animals in a handcart.   This stars Mikako Ichikawa as Sayoko with support from Reiko Kusamura, Ken Mitsuishi, Maho Yamada and Kei Tanaka.

Japanese cinema can often be about extremes, yet in this gentle sweet dramedy, we are delighted, moved and often tickled in the same scene.  Much of this is down to some careful direction and elegant cinematography, and many of the scenes are so beautifully composed that they could be frozen to create photographs.

All of this beauty is augmented by a touching and genuine performance from Ichikawa.  Her human portrayal of a single thirty-something coming to terms with the death of her grandmother (whom she considered to be ‘her rock’) is poignant.  Added to this is her biggest goal in life – to get married.  On the surface there is an air of light heartedness and comedy throughout the movie and yet, when this is scratched, belies a depth that touches your heart and warms you to your central core.  The story meanders a little towards the end, but at those times, the kitty-cat action is more than enough to keep you glued to your screen.

This is a quirky engaging movie that will amuse and enchant everyone – and if you are a cat lover, this movie is a special treat.  Of course being the crazy cat lady that I am, the scenes or outtakes with all of the well-trained moggies were like icing on this near perfect cake.

Rentaneko has been shown at a number of international film festivals through 2012 including Sundance and Edinburgh.  Unfortunately it seems that your best chance of catching it right now is to fly ANA between Los Angeles and Tokyo.  My only hope is that enough people hear about this movie and it get the chance of at least a limited US release.

Official Home Page (Japanese only) – http://rentaneko.com

Episode 147 – People Like Us / Magic Mike / To Rome with Love

In this Episode of Moviewallas:

     

– Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pine in “People Like Us

– Director Steven Soderbergh gets his raunch on with Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike”

– Can Woody Allen repeat the critical and commercial success of Midnight in Paris with “To Rome with Love”?

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