Monday, April 29, 2013


Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Directed by Shane Black
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle and Ben Kingsley

And so Phase Two of Marvel’s Avengers begins with the release of IRON MAN 3. No pressure, of course, for the hotly anticipated return of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, arguably the most popular Avenger in the bunch. It’s been three years since Iron Man’s last solo outing but really only one since audience’s got a significant dose of him, and although Downey Jr. could play this part in his sleep if he wanted to, he doesn’t, which might easily explain why I personally have not yet had my fill of him. Still, while I had great fun at THE AVENGERS, I still remember how little fun there was to be had in IRON MAN 2. Tony Stark is a complicated human being and, if allowed to veer too far toward the morose, he can be a bit much to be around. Fortunately, his former depression has now given way for some mildly crippling anxiety, which somehow has allowed the IRON MAN series to come back from overly cynical to just jovially sarcastic. And just like that, Iron Man is fun again!

The root of Tony Stark’s sleepless nights and tortured nightmares is the increasing sense of helplessness he feels to properly protect what he loves. Ever since he came face to face with dozens of alien soldiers in New York city last year, he’s realized that there are threats that are bigger than even he ever thought possible. Sure he and his Avenger buddies vanquished those guys back to whatever galaxy they came from, but what else is waiting out there for just the right time to attack the planet and, more importantly, will anyone be able to stop them next time? To establish some semblance of control in his life, he decides to take on an enemy he can understand, a terrorist known to the world as The Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley, with more range and commitment than I’ve seen from him in a decade). With Stark not at his best, The Mandarin is able to set him so far back upon his path that he must practically start from scratch. Finding himself stranded in middle America with no armor to protect him, Stark learns what it means to put one foot in front of the other and come back from extinction. It’s sort of like IRON MAN unplugged almost. Sometimes you have to strip away all the distraction to get back to the soul of the song.

There is a great deal of fresh blood pumping through the IRON MAN veins in this third installment, which could account for its revitalized tone. Shane Black, who came to fame for writing LETHAL WEAPON and essentially rewriting the action genre as we know it, takes over from Jon Favreau, who directed the first two IRON MAN entries (and appears again on screen as Happy Hogan, Stark’s unnecessary bodyguard). Black got into the directing game with KISS KISS BANG BANG in 2005, a film that helped Downey Jr. himself get his troubled career back on track. And even though he hasn’t directed a single thing since, let alone anything anywhere near as large as IRON MAN 3, Black manages to push our hero to great depths of despair without piling on heaps of self pity at the same time. The threats against Iron Man are stacked so high, that he has to dig deeper than he ever has before, to be the most super of super heroes he can possibly be in order to survive them. What then in turn endears him further to us, is that the strength he finds doesn’t come from the iron this time around, but rather from digging deeper within the man himself.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Black Sheep does TV: VEEP Season 1

Julie Louis-Dreyfus has tried a couple of times post "Seinfeld" to find a television vehicle that would properly capture her brilliantly sharp comedic savvy. Attempts to fit her into played out network sitcom scenarios, where she plays sympathetic characters surrounded by silliness, were blatantly obvious miscasts. They felt like nothing more than forced, desperate plays to capitalize on her notoriety. Safe sitcoms are not where this girl belongs. It would appear though that she may have finally found her niche on the HBO cable series, VEEP, where she plays the Vice-President of the United States as a reluctantly useless figurehead. Apparently, it is a lot easier to love Louis-Dreyfus when you are loving to hate her.

VEEP was created by the incredibly witty, Arnando Iannucci, who previously skewered American politics with his 2011 satire, IN THE LOOP. It is unfortunately nowhere near as biting or hysterical as that is but the momentum the show develops as it finds its footing and voice gives me great hope for its prospects. All we are told about how Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) found her way to her VP post is in the very brief opening credit sequence. She was on something of a meteoric rise during the presidential primaries and could have even taken the presidency. Then something happened, something we don't know about, and she began to publicly melt down. And so she was tossed the VP position as something of a consolation prize. Resilience is this character's forte though so she resolves to make her vice-presidency matter. She takes on filibuster reform and clean jobs and quickly realizes that her job is more for show than anything else. She wants to matter, to make change and leave something of a legacy, but her intentions are always so intensely selfish that you would think it would be incredibly difficult to muster any sympathy for her. All the same, Louis-Dreyfus gets it out of us, which is the crux of her genius. Selina Meyer, like Elaine Benes before her, is not that great a person on paper but yet somehow, you still want her to be happy.

Selina's team is a bunch of bumblers but the actors playing them are spot on. From Anna Chlumsky (an IN THE LOOP transplant) as an aid who can hardly keep up with Selina's constant foibles, to Tony Hale, taking his ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT obsessive worship to the next level as Selina's personal assistant and gopher. VEEP finds its focus about five episodes into the first season, in an episode named "Nicknames", in which she learns that her staff has to Google search a plethora of pseudonyms, like Veep Throat or Viagra Prohibitor, in order to stay on top of what the press is saying about her. That being said, there are only eight episodes in the entire season so finding your way half way through may be a bit late for some. Still, this first term has me intrigued to see what comes from the second.

VEEP Season 1 is available on DVD and Blu-ray now. Review copy provided by HBO Canada.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


An interview with MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN director, Deepa Mehta

I will admit that I was reasonably nervous to meet one of Canada’s most celebrated film directors, Deepa Mehta, but I know now that I needn’t have been. The moment she walked in the room to discuss her latest epic, MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, all of my hesitation fell away. It wasn’t her stature that put me at ease, even though she is a tiny wisp of a woman, but rather something much deeper than that. There is just something about her spirit that makes you feel welcome. Before long, we would be discussing the merits of THE AVENGERS vs THE MASTER and debating when it is acceptable to cast Robert Pattinson in anything. This was one cool lady.

A healthy spirit, and a belief in that kind of thing, is a useful tool when tackling a work as spiritually engrossing as MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN. The 1981 novel written by Salman Rushdie, long before he became the controversial figure we know him as today, juxtaposes the birth of a child with the birth of India’s independence in 1947. The book, which not only won the Booker Prize in the year of its release but the Best of the Booker Prize on both the 25th and 40th anniversary of the award, has been called unfilmable. That would not deter Mehta in the least from making it but she has no idea how it will be received.

“It might be really well received; it might be really trashed. It might become controversial; it might not. There is no formula to predict how any of this will do,” Mehta explains of her thoughts on the finished product. She then goes into a story about her father that endeared her even more to me.

Mehta, at the Canadian premiere of MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN in Toronto.
“My father was a film distributor in India so I grew up with movies,” she begins candidly. “He said, ‘Remember this always. There are two things in life you will never know about. One, is when you’re going to die. And the other is how a film is going to do.’” We pause for a brief but necessary chuckle at this revelation. Then Mehta concludes, “There is no formula to predict how any of this will do. My dad is right. In a way, you can’t totally give up your expectations. I haven’t been able to give them up 100% but its more realistic to leave it to the powers that be.”

Mehta had wanted to work with Rushdie for some time but MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN was not her first choice to tackle. To hear her tell how it came to be though, it seems almost fated. “I don’t know know what made me ask him, ‘Who has the rights to Midnight’s Children?’ I’ve always loved the book; I read it many years ago. It wasn’t a well thought out question. It was purely organic, purely instinctive.”

She may not have known quite what she was getting herself into at first but Mehta is very happy that it came to be in this particular fashion. “I’m glad I hadn’t thought it out because if it was premeditated, I might have been too scared. It is an epic; it is 60 years of post-colonial history. It is the parallel of a coming of age of a young man and the coming of age of a country. Sometimes it’s good to just jump off the deep end.”

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN stars, Satya Bhabba and Shriya Saran
Regardless of how far Mehta far would have to jump, there was no way she was going to miss out on the opportunity to work with Rushdie, a man she had admired for years. “It was one of the finest experiences of my life, a very interesting collaboration,” Mehta describes, in what is the closest I can see this composed woman getting to gushing. “Salman, as we all know, has a great mind. He is pretty brilliant. But also, he has a great sense of humour and he is very honest. So if something is not working, you can just explain to him why you think something isn’t working. There is no matter of ego.”

Mehta insisted that Rushdie write the screenplay, something he had never done before. And so he was tasked with pairing down an 800-page opus to a 130-page script.

“The reason I wanted him to do it and he agreed to do it is because only he could be the one who could be disrespectful to his work. It is an iconic novel; it’s the Booker of the Bookers! So, when there are aspects of the story that aren’t working in the movie, only he has the absolute authority to chuck them away.”

Mehta on set with young Saleem, Darsheel Safari
Rushdie’s final script focuses on Saleem Sinai (played as an adult by Satya Bhabba, whom most people would recognize from SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD), as he struggles to find his place in not only his family, but his country as well. With so much history to overwhelm the viewer, Mehta knew that Saleem’s character was the key to the success of MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN all along. “I really wanted to focus on the life of Saleem, who is a whimsical character. We balanced what was happening to him with what was happening to India at the same time. The emotional journey is not the emotional journey of a country, but it’s the emotional journey of a person. We feel emotional about what happens to a human being, not necessarily what happens to a country.”

Not that concentrating her efforts on Saleem was necessarily any easier than painting more broadly. “Once I focused on Saleem and stayed with him, the rest became easy. In fact, it was the particular Saleem, as opposed to the universal, which was much more difficult. I mean, the big scenes are a cinch. You have a lot of extras but you get good assistant directors for that. Yes, it’s overwhelming but it’s those intimate scenes that are tough. Those are challenging and they are very, very satisfying. That’s where performance comes in and you know there is truth.”

Mehta and Rushdie celebrating the film's success
MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN is Mehta’s ninth feature film and her most ambitious project by far. The film is now playing in Canada, the country she calls home after moving here in 1973. In fact, the film also has Indian distribution secured, with a release expected later in the year. We already know that she is leaving the film’s reception to fate but before we conclude our time together, Mehta reminisces one last time at how she had to prepare for this enormous undertaking.

“Somebody asked me once how I prepared for this film and I said I joined a gym. I just looked at the script and said I had better get my act together. I got a trainer and everything. You really need that stamina to survive that kind of thing, getting up in the morning and you know you’re going to work a 14-hour day. It’s not just your wits but it’s how long can you stand on your feet.”

Apparently this lady is not only cool but hysterical too.

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN is now playing in select cities across the USA and is available to rent or own in Canada.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Written and Directed by Justin Zackham
Starring Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams

Don: There’s an old saying about how marriage is just like a phone call in the middle of the night. First comes the ring and then you wake up.

A wedding is meant to be a celebration of love and commitment between two people made in front of their closest friends and relatives. Unfortunately for those two people, bringing together all of these supposedly supportive friends and relatives, and then throwing that beautiful love in their faces, also brings out all sorts of crazy that has been simmering beneath the surface for some time, just waiting for the perfect occasion to boil over. The bigger the wedding, the bigger the potential for disaster, and, depending on where you’re sitting, the greater the opportunity for hilarity. THE BIG WEDDING, an oversized, glossy ensemble remake of the French film, MON FRERE SE MARIE (My Brother Is Getting Married), attempts to recreate both of these possibilities cinematically. While it does have disaster aplenty to speak of, no matter where you sit, it is a serious stretch to find any moments of even mild amusement, let alone actual hilarity.

From the moment THE BIG WEDDING opens on a peaceful, calm lake at dawn, you know that this serenity is about to be rattled beyond any recognition and all you can do is wait for it to come. When your cast is led by multiple Oscar winners, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams, not to mention fresher faces like Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace and Ben Barnes, you might expect that the inevitable hijinks could prove to be well worth your attendance but sadly, you would be sorely mistaken. Much like a wedding is supposed to be about the couple but is more about the appeasement of the guests, a comedy is supposed to be funny, but THE BIG WEDDING plays everything so broadly that none of its guests are likely to enjoy themselves. For future reference for all filmmakers, the following plot devices are not actually funny: People thinking they’re having one conversation when they’re really having another because neither party speaks the same language, maniacal / alcoholic priests that say things you would never expect a priest to say, rich country club racism that everyone just swallows, people pretending to be married when they’re not to avoid angering Jesus, and 30-year-old virgins. You’ve got to give that last point another ten years before it gets anywhere near funny.

You know there’s a problem with a film when it has such an impressive cast and yet somehow Katherine Heigl manages to give the most emotionally engaging performance of the bunch. The problem is simple; THE BIG WEDDING is just a big paycheck movie for all involved. I can very easily forgive big action stars when they take on a franchise film just to pad their already overstuffed bank accounts, but when the talent is as reputed as this cast is, and the material is as lackluster as this is, respect is lost. You have enough money already; you shouldn’t need to subject fans of your work to this kind of perfectly catered torture. In the end, THE BIG WEDDING, was just like so many other large weddings I have been to before. I never really wanted to attend to begin with but felt like I had no other choice given the sheer size of it. And then, once there, I was constantly searching for an inconspicuous moment to sneak out and be done with the whole tedious affair. The good news for you all is that you’re not actually obliged to attend this event out of fear your family will shun you for staying home.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Written by Sergio G. Sanchez
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Tom Holland

On December 26, 2004, a series of horrifically destructive tsunamis struck many land masses touched by the Indian Ocean. Over 230,000 people were estimated to have died and nearly 1.7 million people were displaced during the events. THE IMPOSSIBLE, the first film from director, Juan Antonio Bayona, since his breakout, THE ORPHANAGE, and incidentally also his first in English, tells just one of those stories and, in doing so, provides one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had at the movies in quite some time.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play Henry and Maria, father and mother to three young boys, all under the age of 12, on vacation in Thailand for the Christmas holiday. Dad is in the pool with the two youngest when the torrential tide starts to come in, while Mom is a few feet away with a book, and their eldest, a few feet further away getting a ball. Up until this point, Bayona has allowed us to spend a few moments with the family, to get to know them, even if just a little, so there is actually some connection to them that binds them to us when they are fighting for their lives. Then, he simply lets the natural horror unfold and before long we are immersed in devastation and desperation, and led towards salvation by two strong performances by McGregor and Watts.

THE IMPOSSIBLE is quite an apt title for this film. Not only is the experience this family endures an impossible one to survive, but making this film is in itself an incredible feat that should not have been possible either. With the Indonesian Tsunami not quite 8 year behind us now, this disaster movie could have literally been a disaster if it got anywhere near exploiting the events for the sole purpose of titillating the audience and manipulating our emotions. Bayona flirts with this fine line on occasion but for the most part, he creates an honest space that just allows this powerful story to be told and resonate with the sheer nature of its authenticity.


I can understand why people stayed away from THE IMPOSSIBLE in theatres. Watching a natural disaster unfold on film is not the way everyone likes to spend their cinema dollars. I actually saw it twice in theatres but I'm a masochist that way. All the same, if you haven't already seen this film, you are seriously missing out. Yes, it takes you to difficult and scary places but the rewards from going there are so great that it makes the arduous journey well worth any tears you shed. And shed them you will. In fact, just in watching the special features on the Blu-ray, I almost shed a few more myself.
THE IMPOSSIBLE received some criticism when it was released suggesting that telling this one particular family's story in fact takes away from the overall devastation that impacted hundreds of thousands of people. They were just on vacation after all so what of all the people who actually lived in the areas that were destroyed? Weren't their stories infinitely worse and don't their stories also deserve to be told? I never felt that choosing to concentrate on one family's plight pulled focus away from the grander disaster. In fact, I felt that the filmmakers often tried to show that they were not alone in their horror and that the local inhabitants were actually incredibly generous in their efforts to assist those who needed it. The fact remains that this was not the story of the tsunami; this was the story of this family and their story deserved to be told as much as any other.

What I said then? "Bayona simply lets the natural horror unfold and before long we are immersed in devastation and desperation, and led towards salvation by two strong performances by McGregor and Watts."

And now? Well, now, I don't disagree with that statement in the least. Watts went on to earn a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her gruelling portrayal and McGregor received some of the best praise he ever has. I do want to single out one other standout performance though that I think would have gotten much more notice during awards season if it weren't such a busy season to begin with. Tom Holland, who was 13 years old when he was cast in the film, has to carry a great deal of the story once Watt's character becomes immobile. He emotes so much controlled fear while he's trying to remain strong for his mother and completely disappears into the intensity of his circumstances. I predict big things for this promising, young man.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are a couple of very brief but reasonably revealing featurettes included on THE IMPOSSIBLE Blu-ray. The first discusses casting the film, or the family in the film anyway. This amounts to not much more than actors patting each other on the back for being amazing when it could have addressed the decision to cast white, English actors when the original family this film is based upon is in fact Spanish. The second gives a very precise look at how the tsunami itself was recreated for the film when the budget did not allow for an all CGI experience. There are also some deleted scenes but the best feature of all is certainly the director commentary track. Bayona is very proud of this film, and rightfully so, and he shares that pride with the film's writer and producer as well. Also included in the commentary is Maria Belon, the woman whom Watts portrays in the film and who underwent this awful ordeal to begin with.

I truly hope that THE IMPOSSIBLE finds a wider audience in people's homes. It is a truly great portrait of a truly brave family.

THE IMPOSSIBLE is available to rent or own on DVD and Blu-ray now. Review copy provided by eOne Entertainment.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Written and Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon

The New York City of 1989 is not the New York City of today. Before its streets were cleaned up in the mid to late 1990’s, it was the crime capital of the country. There were so many crimes being committed at the time that there were too many to even report on in the press. There was one case though that got the attention of the entire nation, known then as the “Central Park Jogger” case. A woman was jogging at night through the park when she was brutally attacked, raped and left for dead. Around that same time, a group of 30 or so teenagers were terrorizing other park patrons. It would seem natural to anyone to detain and question those same young people about the attack on the jogger, and this is exactly what the NYC police department did. When there was clearly no evidence linking them to the crime though, it would also seem natural to drop the case against them altogether. This is not what the NYC police department did at all.

Ken Burns, along with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and a longtime producing partner, David McMahon, tackles this horrific incident in his latest documentary, THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE. I was but a boy of roughly 12 when this took place so all of this is new to me. Of course I knew that NYC used to be a much more violent place than it is now, but I did not however realize that this violence and the tension that ensued from it, was in fact something of a barometer to measure the heightened racial unrest in the city, and the country as a whole. The rape victim is a white woman. The five young men who were accused of her assault are not (four are black and one is hispanic). With the economic classes as divided as they were at the time, and racism rampant both on the streets and in the media, the five young men accused of this crime became examples for the white masses of how uncontrollable the black and hispanic youth had become. When it became clear that they were not involved in the crime at all, everyone who had orchestrated this modern day lynching, from the police to the prosecution to the press, needed to make sure those boys remained those examples, Not only did they have to save face but they also needed to satisfy the public’s disturbing need to see someone pay for this heinous act.

Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five, 16 when arrested, was tried as an adult, convicted and sent to prison.

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE features interviews with all five of the accused. One by one, they each describe their experience of the night in question and the hell that their lives became for the duration of their trial and the years they each spent in prison (all five were convicted and all five convictions were vacated in 2002 when the real rapist came forward). There is no shortage of stock footage and photography to help the filmmakers create a vivid picture of 1989 New York, but the linear structure the film follows sometimes stunts the film’s emotional impact. Considering everything they’ve been through, not to mention the gravitas of the entire ordeal’s larger racial implications, the five subjects, now all in their 30’s, very rarely let all their emotions out for the camera. They are also all telling the same story so it can get a tad tedious from time to time. Their experience, as well as the joggers, is an injustice so grand that it nearly tore the city apart at the time. I would have just expected that more of that outrage would have survived to this day and found its way into this film.

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE is now available to rent or own on DVD and Blu-ray. Review copy provided by eOne Entertainment.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Written by Michel Gondry, Jeffrey Grimshaw and Paul Proch
Directed by Michel Gondry
Starring Michael Brodie and Teresa Lynn

Michael: Gut feelings suck.
Luis: Gut feelings suck my dick.

The first time I ever knew I was getting older was when I was waiting in line at a concession stand behind several teenagers. I couldn’t get over how loud they were, how insistent they were to be noticed and recognized. I found them infuriating and I thought to myself, I was never that bad when I was their age, was I? That’s when I knew. And now, Michel Gondry, has captured that familiar feeling of frustration on film, with his latest, THE WE AND THE I. Only Gondry’s version is worse because it all takes place on one singular bus ride.

THE WE AND THE I is an ambitious experiment in filmmaking that Gondry more or less pulls off with the tools he has at his disposal. Like all experiments though, some things go wrong. A bus full of Brooklyn high school students make their way home on the last day of school and square off with each other until the last students reach their stop.  First of all, it takes so long to get all the kids off the bus that it actually goes from light to dark out, in June! I don’t know where these last few kids live but this was a stretch for me. Secondly, you wouldn’t know it was the last day of school unless they told you at the beginning, as none of the kids seem the least bit jubilant about it. And finally, all the kids in the film are naturally amateurs and, also naturally, some are better than others. Fortunately, none are so bad that it distracts from the film.

That’s what doesn’t work about the film. What does is actually pretty interesting. By forcing us to spend this much time in cramped quarters with these kids, they inevitably show their hands. As they all yell over each other and bully each other and blow things way out of proportion, THE WE AND THE I becomes akin to watching a nature documentary. They have no respect for others but they have even less respect, or understanding for that matter, for themselves. And, while I may have wanted to pull that bus over and throw them all off of it to start, I finished by feeling rather sorry for them. Maybe next time I am annoyed by teenagers in public, I will just go up to them and give them a hug instead of cursing them under my breath.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Written by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Starring Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman

Jack Harper: I know I’m dreaming but it feels like more than that. It feels like a memory.

Like a great deal of science fiction, OBLIVION requires a lengthy prologue in order to contextualize the viewer to the hyper imaginative world they are being introduced to. In this case, that world is actually our own, just not at all like we know it. It is 2077 and 60 years prior, Earth was attacked by an alien race, known to us simply as the Scavengers, or Scavs, for short. First, the Scavs destroyed the moon, which essentially threw Earth into chaos, and then we retaliated by setting off every nuclear device possible. As is repeated a few times in the film, we won the war but lost the planet, as it was essentially uninhabitable afterward. What’s left of humanity is floating around in space in a giant ship, waiting to find a new home. The world OBLIVION paints is certainly a striking one, but the emptiness that now dominates the planet inevitably also permeates through to the picture itself.

Like Joseph Kosinski’s first film, TRON: LEGACY, OBLIVION is visually engaging from start to finish. Kosinski illuminates the usually dark world of science fiction by shining an unflinching light upon it, much like Todd Phillips did to Las Vegas in THE HANGOVER. Everything is clean and smooth, which creates a serenity that just floats upon the surface, and subsequently begs to be destroyed. But alas, also like his previous effort, Kosinski’s obsession with visual perfection often comes across as cold and also comes at a cost to the story that is meant to drive the film forward. Tom Cruise, a technician stationed on Earth to keep its remaining operations up and running, is having a hard time letting go of the world he once loved. Given that this is the very same world that we all know and hopefully love today, you would think that there would be a more palpable sense of loss to feel here. As great a fit as Cruise is for this though, connecting emotionally with the audience has never been his strong suit. It’s his job to save this world but I never felt like he was saving it for anyone other than himself.

OBLIVION is entertaining and it is gorgeous, shot by recent Oscar winner, Claudio Miranda (LIFE OF PI). It’s only when you start to think harder about the complexities of its premise that it becomes apparent how unoriginal it truly is. Kosinski borrows so much from so many science fiction classics, from STAR WARS to 2001 to THE MATRIX to even WALL-E, that it plays out more like a pastiche of what made these films great instead of its own distinct experience. I can’t discuss in detail just how it connects to these other examples as that would spoil so much of what the film is so clearly trying to keep secret. I can say though that once you clue in to where everything is headed, which isn’t too hard if you don’t get too distracted by all the glossy gadgetry, the journey there goes straight from oblivious to just plain obvious.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


"Written and Directed" by Terence Malick
Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams

Father Quintana: Where are you leading us? Teach us how to seek you out.

To be honest, it is an actual wonder to me that Terence Malick actually thought his latest film, TO THE WONDER, to be finished. I don’t see how on any level he could have watched this film and thought that it would be satisfying for any audience, from his devout fans (of which he has many) to the casual filmgoer. Even at a reasonable two-hour runtime, I found it difficult to get through TO THE WONDER. I lost my patience about half way through and by the end, I actually found the film to be practically insulting on the part of the filmmaker. The man is famous for taking forever to finish a movie. Why he rushed this one, I will never understand.

There is a story embedded somewhere deep within TO THE WONDER, which is essentially the crux of the issue. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko fall in love in France and eventually make their way back to America, Oklahoma to be precise. There, she is out of place and he does not know how to make the relationship work. There are also subplots that involve Javier Bardem as a displaced priest and Rachel McAdams as a woman from Affleck’s past. The plot itself is thin enough already but it is clear from Malick’s execution that he has no idea how to tell this story. A slew of supporting characters never even made the cut (from Michael Sheen to Rachel Weisz) and Malick buries the rest of the story (which consists mostly of misery) within one long stream of consciousness poem. Now, I’m no poetry expert but even I know lines like, “What is this love that loves us?” are nothing but pretentious crap.

Malick is under no obligation to make movies for anyone other than himself. I’m sure his producers would disagree with that statement, but as an artist, he is entitled to express himself any which way he would like. After last year’s masterpiece, THE TREE OF LIFE, Malick seems to have found a pattern that he is fond of. He is not the least bit concerned with dialogue or convention (Affleck speaks so little in the film, for a while, I thought his character might actually be mute); no, Malick is more concerned with the image and the tone of the piece, and allowing life to unfold rather than having it told. TO THE WONDER often feels like an attempt to recreate the same aesthetic of his last project, and at times, at least visually, thanks to the always brilliant work of cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, it is striking to behold. THE TREE OF LIFE was about something though (and some might argue, it was about everything), while TO THE WONDER is about so little, it never justifies all the work involved in watching it. This infuriating film is not just a misstep for Malick, but a full on embarrassment.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


An interview with ANTIVIRAL writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg

Imagine a world, if you will, where celebrity obsession has reached truly disturbing heights. Your neighbour stops by the local butcher on his way home to pick up steaks that have been genetically engineered from cells derived from the latest teen sensation; or maybe your mother stops by the clinic to have the same strain of hepatitis that was once in an Oscar winner, injected into her own blood stream. All so that they can be closer to their idols in ways they never could before. It’s a new world, an unsettling world; it is a world one man concocted in his head in the midst of one heck of a furious fever dream.

“I was in a weird head space, obsessing over the physicality of the disease, the fact that I had something physically in my body that had come from someone else’s body,” explains writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg, of the inspiration behind what would become his senior short film project and eventually go on to become ANTIVIRAL, his first feature. “It struck me as a weirdly intimate thing, someone else’s cells penetrating your cells. It’s pretty sexual and pretty intimate if you think of it that way. I then tired to think of a character that would see disease that way and came up with a celebrity obsessed fan.”

If the whole thing still sounds a bit too much to take, keep in mind where Cronenberg comes from. Brandon is the son of David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s most famous directors, who made a name for himself in the 1980’s as a horror master, with films like THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS. Between his father’s warped inspiration and the celebrity interactions Brandon had growing up, ANTIVIRAL starts to make a little more sense.

Cronenberg checking the playback.

“Obviously through my father, I was exposed to a lot of celebrity,” Cronenberg describes to me when we meet at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where ANTIVIRAL had its North American premiere, following its world premiere in Cannes. “One of the themes in the film is this disconnect celebrities have as these cultural constructs and media constructs and the human beings that these constructs actually are. It’s not a revelation that what is conveyed in magazines isn’t completely factual, but to really see it first hand, the extent to which that is fictionalized, you can really see how far removed that is from the people themselves.”

Despite growing up around film, Brandon was adamantly against the idea of ever getting involved in it himself for a long time. “Until I was 24, I really hated the idea of getting into film,” he explains of his naturally youthful defiance. “Just because I grew up around it, I would get approached with these preconceptions that I must love film. At a certain point, I realized that this was a bad reason not to get into something I found interesting.”

ANTIVIRAL star, Caleb Landry Jones, in front of a massive Sarah Gadon billboard.

Brandon is also acutely aware of the level of scrutiny he is facing with his first feature, a horror one at that, having come from horror royalty. “In terms of individualism, everybody, well I shouldn’t say everybody, but certainly a lot of people, are affected by our relationship and interpret the film in the context of my father’s career, which was to be expected,” he confides, without a trace of disdain. “I think some of the comparisons are legitimate and some of them are vastly overstated. I was going to get that anyway; I was getting it before I even got into film.”

Regardless of where it’s coming from or why it’s coming his way, Brandon is just excited that people are seeing ANTIVIRAL as a result. “One of the great things about film as a medium is that it is still quite prominent in our cultural landscape. People still get angry about film. People still react to them very strongly. This degree of scrutiny is very strange to experience but it’s also great because I just want people to see the film. I’m happy to have it.”

See it, they will, but if they’re anything like me, they might have to look away from the screen now and then because ANTIVIRAL is just that horrifying. But have you really done your job as a horror director if that doesn’t happen?

ANTIVIRAL is now playing in American theatres and is available on Blu-ray and DVD in Canada.


Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Starring Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon and Malcolm MacDowell

Syd March: Celebrities are not people; they are a group hallucination.

ANTIVIRAL, the debut feature from Canadian writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg, is being billed as a horror film. While it does offer up some significantly scary moments and I did have to look away in disgust on more than one occasion, the most frightening thing about ANTIVIRAL has absolutely nothing to do with the horror you may be accustomed to. The thing that’s coming to kill us here is our own ever worsening obsession with celebrity and fame.

Cronenberg, son to infamously macabre director, David Cronenberg, paints a fairly desolate picture of our contemporary existence. Visually, everything seems so drab, as if we’ve stopped living with any actual passion. If it weren’t for his bright, ginger hair, we would likely not even notice the story’s “hero”, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), for his pale skin blends right in with the sterile background. Syd works for The Lucas Clinic, one of a handful of medical treatment facilities that allows people to get closer to their favorite celebrities in ways you would never even imagine. This clinic gives its patients the chance to infect themselves with diseases exclusively obtained from the elite celebrity community. Now, not only can you know everything about them, but you can have something that was once inside of them, inside of you.

Syd drives the rest of ANTIVIRAL with an attempt to sell the latest celebrity disease on the black market, which goes horribly awry. His struggle is a truly disturbing one but the brilliance of Cronenberg’s debut is that no matter how repulsive Syd’s exaggerated journey is, we can never forget that it is our very real celebrity fixation that inspired it to begin with.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


An interview with REVOLUTION writer/director, Rob Stewart

A revolution may begin with just one man, but it cannot continue at that pace forever, and Canadian filmmaker, Rob Stewart, proves this point when I meet with him to discuss his second film, REVOLUTION, in Toronto, just before it opens across Canada. Before our interview can even begin, he needs to get some tea with honey to fight off the cold he can feel coming on and though he never claimed to be leading the fight to save the planet, it’s pretty clear that he cannot do it alone.

REVOLUTION is Stewart’s follow-up to his revelatory debut, SHARKWATER. The latter played to great fanfare in film festivals around the world and went on to have a successful theatrical run as well. In it, Stewart alerted the world to the atrocities sharks were suffering so that man could enjoy a simple soup made from their fins. More importantly though, he showed us how the extinction of sharks, a species that has survived all five mass extinctions on this planet, could usher in our own demise. Little did he know at the time though, saving sharks was just the beginning, and that a revolution would soon be coming.

“With REVOLUTION, as soon as we knew what kind of movie we needed to make, it was clear we needed to make the most important movie ever made.” Stewart says this without a trace of arrogance, mostly because he is right. “Not to say that it in any cocky sorta way but the world needs this and if the world responds to it, then we could actually make the most important movie ever made.”

Stewart, asking you to take his hand and come on this journey

REVOLUTION picks up where SHARKWATER left off. Sure we could save the sharks but what would be the point if all the fish on the planet are expected to be gone by 2048 anyway? And what about the depletion of the coral reefs or ocean acidification from the carbon emissions coming from the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands or the deplorable deforestation that is slowly but surely destroying our planet, our only home?  When you add it all up, it is easy to see that a revolution is truly necessary if we are to actually save ourselves.

“We needed to bring this story to everyone and it was a giant task to bring the most devastating story possible in some form of entertainment that wasn’t going to depress everybody and make them want to jump off a bridge. We want them to come out positive in the end,” asserts Stewart, an impressively unflinching optimist himself. The biggest obstacle facing this revolution, as Stewart sees it though, is knowledge and awareness.

REVOLUTION is an important film but also often a beautiful one as well.

“Like every revolution in the past that worked, it worked because everyone knew where they needed to go. Right now, we just don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know about ocean acidification; we don’t really know too much about the tar sands; we don’t really know that we’re consuming our life support system. If we did, I think it would usher in this revolution.”

Stewart’s contribution to this fight is his eye, by which I mean his ability as a filmmaker, which stems from his early career as a wildlife photographer. “I’m making movies, not because I love making movies. I’m making movies because the world needs to know these things and I feel this is the best way to make use of my talents and educate as many people as possible on the issue.”

Aerial view of the Alberta tar sands

This pursuit can get a little blurry when you’re passionate about both the project and the fight itself. So, what comes first? The movie or the cause? “The movie is always more important,” Stewart affirms with little hesitation. “How high my picket sign is or whether I save that one shark on the long line doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but if we can make a movie that is more emotional, that will hit people harder, because I got the shot, then that could change the world.”

And change the world we must, if we hope to still have one for future generations. This very concept is a polarizing idea depending on who hears it, which is one of the revolution’s biggest hurdles. “When I was telling people about making this movie, I would tell them I was making a movie about how the human race is going to survive the next 100 years. You would get a distinct reaction from someone, let’s say, 45 and older vs. someone 45 and under. Younger people would be like, what do we have to do. Older people would be like, good luck, it’s too late.”

Felix Finkbeiner founded Plant-for-the-Planet at just 9 years old.

The youth movement gives REVOLUTION the hope it needs to not feel so futile.
It is the youth of today that will lead this charge, not because they want to, but because they have no other choice in the matter. “They have the most to lose. It’s the groups that are most impacted by an atrocity that are going to have to lead it,” says Stewart. They are also the most well equipped to handle this responsibility. “Adults rationalize about how we can keep economic growth and save the environment at the same time. Kids don’t have to rationalize that. The important thing for kids is their future and their own life support system.”

What can we do then, right now, to help, I ask. “Get everybody to see REVOLUTION,” Stewart answers. It may seem somewhat self-serving but Stewart doesn’t care how you see the movie, in a theatre or downloaded illegally, just so long as you do, so that your eyes can also now be open.

“I think we have everything we need to turn this around and turning it around is going to be awesome,” Stewart states with full confidence. By this point, he’s even got me convinced.

Stewart again, enjoying some well deserved down time

For Stewart’s part, he is currently developing a television series that will give people concrete, practical ideas on how they can change the world for the better in their own lives. As for his own life, “I want a home. I want to put some roots down. I want to get a dog. I’ve had a dream decade where I’ve been doing what I love with people I love; it’s all been awesome. If I’m going to make another movie and continue this battle though, I’ve got to figure out how to do it in a sustainable way.”

And so what applies to the individual, also applies to the whole.

REVOLUTION is in theatres across Canada right now. Please see it.
For more information on the film, please visit the REVOLUTION official website.
To follow REVOLUTION on Facebook, click here.
To follow REVOLUTION on Twitter, click here.

Finally, here is the REVOLUTION trailer:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel

Simon: No piece of art is worth a human life.

If I were trying to find a director to successfully helm a movie where the central action revolves around people being lulled into a hypnotic state in a calm environment, Danny Boyle would be at both the top and bottom of my list for very different reasons. On the one hand, Boyle is ideal; his ADHD-inspired style of filmmaking could give the film energy and brisk pace even when it was trying to be still. On the other hand, that exact same style could end up being blatant overcompensating for the story’s lack of visual propulsion. Unfortunately, Boyle’s latest, TRANCE, is an exercise in the latter, a film with many a problem that is shot and cut solely to distract us from these very problems. If you’re highly susceptible to suggestion, it may work for you. Cut through the smoke and mirrors though and you’ll see that Boyle is just as lost as you are.

TRANCE is troubled from the very beginning. Simon, a lovely and charming art dealer played by the always lovely and charming, James McAvoy, gives us the rundown on how the high stakes world of art thievery has become increasingly more complex over the years. Let alone that this is, at least to me, in and of itself, completely uninteresting, but it is also hardly the point. We know this because Simon, thanks to Boyle’s complete lack of subtlety, tells us that there is something much bigger going on here by looking directly into the camera with a knowing look, not once but something like four or five times in the span of five or ten minutes. He might as well give the audience an exaggerated wink. A valuable painting is inevitably stolen but subsequently also goes missing, thanks to Simon’s questionable involvement. There is one small problem though; Simon has no idea what he did with the painting because he took a nasty blow to the head while the robbery was going down. Enter Rosario Dawson as the hypnotist who will get inside Simon’s head, only maybe, she’s already been there. Oh wait, yes, Dawson just made a face at the camera that affirms to us that she most certainly has.

So aside from the rather tedious world of hypnotherapy and black market art dealing dressed up to look like the whole thing is on speed, TRANCE also has all of its leftover steam taken out of it by giving away its hand way too early. To be fair, Boyle doesn’t tell us what is going on until the end, but he tells us that something is definitely going on and that nothing is what it seems from the very start. And so, as an audience, we trust no one and all we can do is wait for the big reveal because we know that one is coming. Without the element of surprise, we are left with nothing but a lot of disconnected drama and uncharacteristic misogyny to keep us engaged. Hence the visual schizophrenia and pulsing soundtrack; something has to fool us into thinking this is actually interesting. For future reference, Boyle might want to make sure his audience is actually in a trance before he tries to trick them into thinking they’re watching an actual work of art.