From Filmmakers

IT FOLLOWS: S.T.G (Sexually Transmitted Ghosts)

It Follows. 2015. Directed & Written by David Robert Mitchell.
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Kelly Height, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary. Northern Lights Films. 14A. 100 minutes. Horror/Mystery.

★★★★1/2
it-follows-poster

There’s been a massive amount of praise roll in for David Robert Mitchell’s new horror It Follows, and it seems equal portions of people trying to say it isn’t what the hype is preaching. My take? Mitchell doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he does a damn fine job at making it spin smooth, intense, and a little better than the rest.

For the uninitiated, those who’ve yet to get a chance to see this film, It Follows starts with Jay Height (Maika Monroe who many know from Adam Wingard’s incredible action throwback, The Guest) who is a regular young woman – she goes to classes, hangs with her friends, and is seeing a seemingly nice guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). One night, Jay and Hugh are at the movies when he starts acting strangely, talking about a girl in a yellow dress who doesn’t look to be present when Jay searches for her. They leave, date over. The next time they go out, Jay sleeps with Hugh in the back of his car. Afterwards, Hugh suddenly throws a rag over her mouth and the next thing Jay knows she is waking up, strapped in to a wheelchair. Hugh explains he has ‘passed it on to her’ and that it will follow her, try to kill her – if it does, the thing will only circle back to him, so he warns her of some ground rules he has discovered. From there, things spiral out of control for Jay, and her friends are along for the ride. Everyone believes Jay was sexually assaulted, but the truth is far, far worse.

When I first heard of the basic premise I was almost reminded of the great graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns, which deals with a group of kids who encounter a very dangerous, strange disease being passed around through sex. Of course, the comic goes into a very different direction, but it sort of seemed like there was a creepy, similar vibe to both stories. It Follows is much more of a ghost story, obviously. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact only Jay, or whoever is afflicted plus the person who has passed it on to them, can see ‘it’. There’s a great scene where Mitchell puts it to use when the group of friends are all hanging out at the beach, trying to help Jay as best they can with what they believe is just nutty behaviour after the supposed assault by Hugh. They all sit around casually, and Jay has her back to a trail coming out of the woods. Slowly a figure appears and we can tell with each passing second this is ‘it’ and not some random person. Very effective.
Leading out of that, I love how Mitchell really played around with this idea, of how the afflicted are the only ones who can see ‘it’. There are certain scenes you can notice a person in the background, their step slightly skewed and walk not quite right, they move at a snail’s pace, and you’re left to wonder – is that ‘it’? The ending also plays off pieces of this, but I don’t want to ruin anything on that end.
Even further, Mitchell also pokes fun at this concept, and directly at his own movie, which provides great tongue-in-cheek moments. There’s one exceptional part I laughed at hard when they track Hugh down again, discovering his name is not even Hugh but Jeff – he’s in the middle of explaining the whole concept of ‘it’ when a girl walks up on them, and frightened he yells out asking if anyone else sees her, to which they all reply ‘yes’. It’s always fun to see a solid horror film, or any film for that matter, poke fun at its own concepts and logic.it-follows-3When it comes to the horror aspect of the film, a lot of people who don’t find it scary, that’s fine. I thought it was very creepy. One of the first moments when Jay realizes someone, or something, is following her is downright terrifying. The actors playing ‘it’ do a phenomenal job, even though they don’t even speak. I just find the whole concept of the slow-moving ghost, zombie, whatever, a real creepshow – it’s been said time and time again, but it really is a great metaphor for death and how eventually, somehow, somewhere, some way, death is going to come for us all. Tired old cliche? Maybe. Works, though. The look of the film, the atmosphere, and the score combined all make for a great flick. Beautiful cinematography, which I love to see from horror films; it isn’t glossed over like an Anchor Bay remake, it looks gritty and raw and real but captured wonderfully. Disasterpiece does the score and it reminds me definitely of something a couple decades old yet still with a fresh, electronic sound. These qualities make It Follows one of the better looking and sounding horrors out there in recent years. 23-it-follows.w1200.h630There’s only one point of the film I didn’t like – when they’re at the beach. It isn’t because the scenes are bad, or the writing, or acting – all great. What I didn’t like were a couple of the ‘it’ appearances. For the first bunch of times we see ‘it’, the make-up and look is super unsettling. Then at the beach, there are a couple of the ‘it’ moments where the look is like a bad rip-off of Asian Horror, with the hollow eyes and the black around the sockets.
It felt as if, for some reason, Mitchell wanted to expand on ‘it’, but instead of keeping with a similar style he tried something different. By no means does it take away from the film overall. It did make those moments less frightening. In particular, there’s a tall version of ‘it’ who shows up, and had they kept with the practical looking make-up of the earlier appearances it would’ve been mind-blowing scary for me. That’s the only real nitpick I have. Some people have problems with the “monster logic” of the film. I don’t see much trouble there. I also don’t want to go into explaining why I think there’s not much to pick away at because it will ruin things, so if you do have opinions on their logic – comment, let’s have a discussion! Even when I love a film I can always admit if someone has a good point that counters my own. it-follows-2All in, I give It Follows a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. If Mitchell kept the same look throughout for ‘it’, in all forms, I would’ve said this is a full knockout. But once again, this doesn’t ruin anything. It’s still a really solid film. I’m a horror fanatic and often I like a few movies along the way others think are trash. I just can’t see this being one of them. Sure, people won’t like everything the same way, but in a state of film like we are in today, with all the terrible horror films being pumped out, all the subpar found footage [I love the sub-genre yet there are only a sparse few actually worth seeing], it’s great to see someone trying to do things a little differently. People have also whined about how the movie seems to try so hard to be retro? I don’t get that. Sure, the soundtrack has a retro sound to it, harkening back to the 1980s and genre classics like Maniac, I just don’t think there’s anything else in the movie people can say has that feel. It’s very modern, I’d almost say it has an urban gothic feel with all the rundown neighbourhoods and buildings and the lives of the young people in it. See it for yourself, be the judge. One thing’s for sure – Maika Monroe is building a great name for herself, which I hope continues as she did a great job with this film. Solid acting, writing, and for those who don’t pretend to be jaded [I’ve seen almost 4,000 films, the majority of which are horror – I’m not desensitized, so stop trying to be tough about movies and just be creeped out!] you’ll get a couple fun scares plus lots of creepy weirdness.

Advertisements

INTERSTELLAR Takes Us on an Existential Ride Through Space & Time

Interstellar. 2014.  Directed by Christopher Nolan.  Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Jon Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, William Devane, David Oyelowo, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, and Leah Cairns.  Paramount Pictures.  Rated PG.  169 minutes.  Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2

interstellar3I was excited to see Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar for a number of different reasons. One of those being I have really enjoyed Nolan and his films since first seeing Memento, and then going on to explore the other films he would continue to make, as well as going back to his excellent feature length debut Following. Second, I’ve also always liked Matthew McConaughey.  Dazed and Confused was a staple of my first years at university, and no matter how many terrible rom-coms, et cetera, he went on to do before coming into his real own as an actor I could never get enough of his sly charm. On top of all that I’m a big fan of science fiction, so Interstellar looked from the beginning of its announcement to be something worth getting excited over in the genre.

The story of the film is similar to others, in that Earth has been devastated in the future, so scientists and great minds alike have been trying to figure out ways to either sustain the planet or find somewhere new to colonize and continue on with mankind’s ultimate fate. Ex-NASA test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), along with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), end up stumbling upon a top secret facility out amongst the desolate cornrows and dust storms of the now desert-like conditions near their home. When they do, it comes to their surprise scientists have been working on finding another planet so as to get human beings away from Earth, in order to try and avoid extinction. Cooper is recruited to go into space along with several others, and tasked with finding a planet suitable for sustaining human life.
interstellar-01I’ve really got to say, I was pretty bored for the first hour or so. However, once the mission sort of kicks into gear things got interesting. I’m not one of these people who needs constant action, of any sort, to keep me occupied. This is not my style. I just couldn’t get into the beginning of the film, honestly. Though, I enjoyed the characters, especially Cooper and his family; the dynamic between McConaughey and Foy as father-daughter was great, plus John Lithgow is always a damn treat for me.
interstellar01I like the character development in the family, particularly McConaughey – throughout the rest of the film after all the initial setup falls into place, his struggle is some of the most interesting stuff that’s going on. Nolan has stated this is very much a human film about families, in a sense, and I do not disagree with that whatsoever. Cooper goes through a great struggle, especially in the early part of Interstellar. It’s incredible, and heartbreaking, to imagine what things would have to be like for astronauts who will eventually have to deal with time shifts and other such problems – going into areas of space where one hour there equals a year or more on Earth. Of course, McConaughey does a fabulous job with the character of Cooper. He’s turned into one enormous, powerhouse of an actor.
o-jessica-chastain-interstellar-facebookThere are a couple other notable performances I did enjoy other than McConaughey. I usually love Jessica Chastain – here, no different. She provided just enough of what I hoped the character Murph would come to be, and once again proves she has real talent – some of the moments with her came off extremely emotional, very genuine. Aside from their physical resemblance, Mackenzie Foy and Chastain worked well as the same character, younger and older versions respectively; each of them carry the same adventurous and rebel charm.

A few of the smaller roles were done well. David Gyasi did a great job as one of the astronauts along with McConaughey’s Cooper – he kept me interested every time his character was in a scene; one scene I have to mention is after two of the other astronauts return after quite a length of time away, and the way Gyasi played this just felt perfect.
I was particularly surprised, in a great way, to see both Casey Affleck (as the older version of Cooper’s son) and Matt Damon as Dr. Mann. In particular, I really enjoyed Affleck. His voice has something about it which consistently strikes me as interesting, and in this role really fit well with that – though, his role is not exactly major I really liked the scenes he appeared in, especially the videos sent from Earth to his father in space. Excellent choice to include both Affleck and Damon as minor characters because they lend a lot of their excellent talent towards filling out an already pretty damn good cast.
interstellar-03What truly does Interstellar justice overall is the gorgeous cinematography, courtesy of Hoyte Van Hoytema whose work includes Let the Right One InThe Fighter, and Her. This is just truly beautiful stuff. Not only is the cinematography remarkably beautiful to look at, Nolan actually had some set pieces built; for instance, the interior of the space shuttle and such locations. I think this really worked well. Granted, right from the start of any science fiction film, for the most part, you know there’ll be at least a certain degree of computer generated imagery. However, Nolan helps make things a little more real by using these built locations. I loved the spaceship itself. The inside is really wonderful. There will be plenty of comparisons to some of the most famous science fiction films of all-time, and I’m sure Nolan included a couple bits in homage to those, but with the look and feel of the film Interstellar stands on its own. It is most certainly a modern science fiction movie, in terms of views (mostly scientific) presented, and the aesthetic look/feel reinforce this fact.
Interstellar-Matthew-McConaughey-850x560-600x357Added to all this is another fantastic score by Hans Zimmer. Lots of people like to say his composing sounds similar from film to film, and they do, but that’s part of a technique I believe he readily employs; he likes to work with patterns, repetitions, similar cycles. Regardless of that, I love his work, all the time.  He does a lot of great composing for Nolan’s films in recent years. This sounds so much different from those other works, and I love that it does because that aspect really sets it apart from Nolan’s other movies – especially his recent work on the Dark Knight trilogy. Zimmer is one hell of a composer. His music lifts so many moments above and beyond what they already were, and kept me so entranced at times it is wild. I really, really could not get enough of the final hour in regards to Zimmer’s score – there was this real fugue-esque sound he achieved, which not only brought the intensity to a higher level but also really made scenes feel incredibly ominous. Great music.
interstellar-1920Overall, I’ve got to say this an amazing movie. A definite 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only thing that holds me back from giving Nolan’s film a full 5-star rating is the beginning; I really found it lagged, hard. While it did keep me interested enough to stick with things, and it did not affect my overall opinion of the film too negatively, I still believe Nolan dragged his feet a little out of the gate. Mostly, there was just a bit more talk than I feel was necessary. I love scripts with a lot of dialogue. Here, I just felt as if there was almost too much an emphasis on worrying about explaining things – as if the Nolan brothers were anticipating the usual hordes of people looking to debunk every single sentence and bit and piece of a science fiction film. In lieu of including a lot of scientific talk about space travel, et cetera, I think the film could’ve cut out at least 15-20 minutes and not been hurt in any way. Despite that, Interstellar is a truly wonderful movie full of all the things I love about science fiction. It does have its own message, but I think one of the great things is the fact the movie addresses human intervention/the advances & mistakes of humans themselves into the whole concept of interstellar travel better than I could have imagined – especially once Cooper meets Dr. Mann, and the events that follow on to the end of the film. Nolan really has great ideas; very human, very existential. Not only the way he makes films, the way he writes and thinks of/explores themes is also pretty excellent. See this movie, enjoy it. There are great performances, a very nice script full of adventure, spectacular sound design and score, plus great imagery. This is one wild science fiction epic by a continually innovative filmmaker.

JOHN WICK: Dog’s Best Friend

John Wick. 2014.  Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch.  Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, and Ian McShane.  Thunder Road Pictures.  Rated 14A.  101 minutes.  Action/Thriller

★★

john-wick-poster-Keanu-reeves-405x600I, for one, have been a Keanu Reeves fan for a long while now.  When he played Bill for the second time I was only about 6 years old, but it was also only a couple years later, at an early age, I started to see a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching – Lethal WeaponDie HardHouse [1986], and more.  Not that I’m a prude about when kids should be allowed to see graphic material in films.  Though, I’m sure a lot of people would say 8 years old probably shouldn’t watch too much.  Anyways, I’d seen both Bill & Ted films around that time, too.  I thought Reeves was cool because those surfer types were the kind of characters I latched onto first.  Probably one of the reasons I later enjoyed Point Break, albeit for different reasons.  Then, of course, when I was getting closer to the end of high school The Matrix just destroyed all my concepts of action moviemaking, in a good way, and also pushed me towards what I would later start studying in university – philosophy.  Once again, Reeves reaffirmed to me he was one cool, bad ass dude.

Now there’s John Wick.  While a lot of people hyped this movie up as some sort of revelation in the ‘hitman coming out of retirement’ sub-genre of action films, I reserved judgement until I actually had the chance to see it for myself; something I try to always do, but with some movies it’s difficult because of the level of hype.  However, I went into this one with a very open mind.  I really do love action films, and there are always a few here or there which really subvert my expectations.  That being said, John Wick is not particularly one of these movies.  I did enjoy it, it’s decent enough to put on when you’re looking for a nice fix of a solitary man killing dozens of people relentlessly, but it’s nothing overtly special in any way, shape, or form.
john-wick-keanu-reeves-600x399I won’t recount much of the plot because there isn’t one.  John Wick [Keanu Reeves] is a supposedly dangerous man who once worked as a hitman for other similarly dangerous people.  His wife dies, but has also given John a dog, so as to make sure he isn’t all alone after she is gone.  One day, some men invade his home, kill his dog, and take his car.  This prompts John to revert back to his old self and search out those who did this to him.
-daa89c34-63fc-40be-ae3d-c218fe0e8df1I’m not saying any one plot for this type of film is better than another.  A lot of these movies work on a very similar principle.  Ever since Liam Neeson absolutely knocked it out of the park in the Luc Besson-scripted Taken, the ‘aging hitman’ sub-genre has become one of the hot tickets in Hollywood.  No doubt one of the reasons John Wick originally got greenlit.  I just really think the plot of this film is incredibly weak.  The story is so frail.  I mean, we’re not even given any sort of time to really care about Wick’s personal life before – BAM – you’re in the middle of the action.  I don’t need 50-minutes of a build up or anything, I think it’s just ridiculous to try and make this movie into something it’s not – there’s nothing grand here, there is no emotional weight.  So when Reeves barks out terrible lines like “Yeah – I guess I’m back” or one of the few dozen dead bodies drop to the floor, one after another, there is nothing to prop up such moments and make them any better.  Not that this script is a killer piece of writing; it’s not.  Regardless, you can shine a turd into a diamond with enough effort.  Reeves is not a bad actor, contrary to what some may have you believe, but him plus a bad script is just a mixture for trouble.
john-wick-is-keanu-reeves-best-movie-since-the-matrixThere’s a lot of wasted acting talent in this film overall.  I’m a fan of Reeves, yes, however – I’m a much bigger fan of both Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist.  I even love Dean Winters and John Leguizamo. You can’t forget about Ian McShane – incredible actor.  For all the names I’ve just listed, the many projects these guys have been involved with that I really dig, there is just nothing going on here to justify having them all in here.  There isn’t enough to hold up such an ensemble cast.  Plus, even the guys like Dafoe and Nyqvist who are onscreen plenty throughout the runtime just don’t get much to work with ultimately, and it shows.  The film tries to make up for lack of emotional depth by using tons of music in attempt to cover all the gaping areas where the absence of character development is really felt most.
keanu-reeves-john-wick-600x399I’ll give this about 2 out of 5 stars.  It is not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t my least favourite action movie, but there is nothing at all new here.  Even the way it’s filmed – they make John Wick out to be some sort of ‘better than average’ action flick, and yet there are maybe one or two scenes, hell, maybe only a couple shots, where I actually thought “Okay this is fun or interesting” or whatever other description you might come up with to describe a better movie.  Outside of these moments there is nothing else to make this movie worth raving over.  I really don’t understand all the love this got, and this is coming from a guy who often has a pretty unpopular opinion about movies now and then – I like a lot of stuff others seem to not care about.  John Wick is, simply put, a load of unused talent in a sub-par action film with a bad script, and offering no real innovation in terms of action, stuns, or anything similar.  I didn’t totally hate it.  Yet I can guarantee this is not a Keanu movie I will buy, nor one I will ever watch again unless it’s playing next time I fly somewhere.

STAR 80: A Chilling Biopic

Star 80. 1983. Directed & Written by Bob Fosse. Based on an article from Teresa Carpenter.
Starring Mariel Hemingway, Eric Roberts, Cliff Robertson, Carroll Baker, Roger Rees, David Clennon, and Josh Mostel.
Warner Home Video.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
Biography/Drama

★★★★star_eighty_ver2_xlgI’m not particularly huge on Bob Fosse, though, I do like his films. He does have a nice perspective on things, as far as I’m concerned. Fresh filmmaker. Then when I saw Star 80 there was something about it which really spoke to me.
The story of Star 80 is a true story of former Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), who was later murdered by her husband Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). At the time, the two were separated because of marital problems such as Snider’s reluctance to let her have any independence. The film chronicles Stratten’s rise from fast food waitress to Playboy Playmate hanging in Hugh Hefner’s (Cliff Robertson) mansion, rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest stars of the day. Snider was the first one to notice how “model beautiful” Stratten was, and believed because he essentially found her it was his claim to fame. However, soon Snider would realise her fame was her own. He could not accept it. One thing leads to another, as Snider gets more and more controlling, until everything spirals out of control completely.
mariel-hemingway_eric-roberts_star80This was a story I’d never heard before. Whatsoever. I like to think I’ve heard a lot of pop culture stories, especially really crazy ones and those involving crime/murder, but of course, one person can’t know everything – right? I was absolutely amazed once I saw Star 80. This was not my first experience with Bob Fosse. He is a fascinating talent, there is no doubt. Great director. He has made some definitely unique choices, as far as what he directs. Interesting resume. This is not a strange film, but it’s most certainly a dark one. Deep dark. Although not a stranger to the darkness – Fosse did direct both Cabaret and the biopic of Lenny Bruce aptly titled Lenny, which are each dark in their own rights. Although, Star 80 is a much more sinister level of dark than anything else in Fosse’s excellent filmography. Still not a surprise. Even in All That Jazz, a partly biographical and ridiculously honest movie, there’s a certain level of despair. Really a man who is not afraid of darkness, at the very least. It helps here. The story itself is one of fame, murder, misogyny, and the broken search for the supposed American dream (or better yet – the American nightmare as it were).
M8DSTEI EC005There are two pretty nice performances in Star 80. The most incredible of them all is, most obviously in my mind, Mr. Eric god damn Roberts. I’ve always enjoyed him. Personally, I love his sister a lot, too. But I think Eric doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  While he’s beginning to experience a resurgence a little now since his appearance in The Dark Knight, I still think his work is under appreciated. Star 80 pretty much all but proves my point on its own. His performance is so ridiculously creepy right from the get go. Most people might say it’s his 1980s pornstar moustache. It isn’t. Roberts’ whole demeanour, from the eyes to the look across his face, it all just makes me cringe a little. Not to mention the rambling, talking to himself, ranting. It’s a very unsettling character for Roberts to inhabit. This is how we start the film out – shots of Stratten and Snider pacing, talking to himself, bloody. Usually it doesn’t make things very interesting to begin from the end, especially giving us a more clear idea of what’s happening as opposed to something vague, but Fosse knows a lot of people (most certainly at the time the film was made) would certainly know the story anyways. So he opts to really dive into the character of Snider. While it’s a focus on Stratten overall, Fosse wants to get at the pathology of the man who ruined her life. Roberts does so much nice work in this movie. I’ll forever be a huge fan.
star-80-1983-07-gMariel Hemingway does well playing Dorothy Stratten. Most people often assume the Playboy Playmates are a bunch of bimbos. Certainly that was the case back in the 1980s. I don’t doubt ideas about women who pose nude back then were worse than now – and that’s not to say things are good fro them, or any women, nowadays either. Hemingway shows Stratten as a conflicted woman, but not stupid. We see Stratten get juggled between men. As Snider rules over her life until it makes her snap, the next man she moves onto is basically managing her life just the same. She goes from one guy to another being controlled. Though, it’s not particularly strong of her to go from one relationship to the next under near similar circumstances, I still believe Hemingway shows the strength Stratten had to at least try and face Snider herself – while everyone tried to make her not confront him face to face, she wanted to give him one last bit of dignity. Unfortunately for Dorothy, this was the final thing Paul Snider needed from her, and then he used this very thing to murder her. It’s so sad this happened. I hate to say I enjoyed a film about someone’s murder, however, I do believe Hemingway gave a good performance. There’s at least something good about this aspect.Eric Roberts Paul Snider Star 80Most certainly one of my favourites in Bob Fosse’s filmography. He is an interesting guy. If not a bit of a dirtbag according to his own creation, All That Jazz. Regardless, I do like the way he makes movies. Unique filmmaker. Star 80 is his version of the tragic true story of Dorothy Stratten and her collision course with the hurricane that was Paul Snider. The performances by both of the film’s stars, Mariel Hemingway and Eric Roberts, help all the emotions come across as they’re meant to play with the audience.
One of the downsides about this movie is the really awful performance of Cliff Robertson as Hugh Hefner. First of all, he didn’t do a really good job at doing a Hefner impersonation – you don’t have to do a caricature, but it was really one of the worst celebrity-playing-celebrity roles I’ve seen (and I’ve seen almost 4,000 films… I’d like to think I’ve learned something). Second, I don’t know Hugh personally, clearly, but I do not think this was a good representation of who the man really is because I see him as a pioneer, someone at least partly interested in women’s rights. This didn’t make him out in the greatest light really.  Though, it didn’t make him appear to be a piece of shit. Either way, I did not really enjoy Robertson’s performance here.
Everything else was fairly spot on. I highly recommend any fans of true stories, as well as Fosse fans, check this out if they can find a copy. Hard to get. Worth it.

Dangerous Forbidden Love: The Promiscuous Men of STRANGER BY THE LAKE

L’inconnu du lac (English title: Stranger by the Lake). 2014. Directed & Written by Alain Guiraudie.
Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, and Patrick d’Assumçao. Les films du losange. Unrated. 97 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

stranger-posterI know a lot men personally who would be uncomfortable watching a movie like Stranger by the Lake.  As a straight man myself, I have no problem with queer cinema. Just as I’ve got no issues with homosexuality, transsexuality, anything of any nature similar. I’m supportive of the rights of all human beings to do what they please, so long as it affects no one else. Personal choice is personal choice. That’s also why I don’t shy away from any movies which deal with queer situations, issues, et cetera. For instance, I happen to love Brokeback Mountain while most of my straight male friends would probably make fun of me (nice guys – just not the type who are going to comfortably sit and watch two dudes kiss or make love). I don’t want to particularly see it in real life or in film, as in I don’t find that pleasurable – I don’t mind to see it on film, though, if there’s a purpose. Stranger by the Lake has its own purposes. I think it’s a really exciting movie. If you’re comfortable in your own sexuality, or I guess particularly if you’re gay, you would probably be able to admit it’s a very sexy film, as well. Absolutely a fine dramatic thriller centered around a frequent hotspot for men cruising to find quick lovers, and maybe more – sinister and otherwise.
stranger-by-the-lake02Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake tells the story of a young man named Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) who spends his summer afternoons hanging around a local swimming spot – a lake where a lot of male bathers, mainly gay men, go to swim and bask in the sun. Nearby, there is a place where promiscuous sexual encounters happen between those who frequent the lakeside attraction. Franck meets a man named Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao) whose wife has recently left him. The young man is not particularly attracted to Henri, but the two form a friendly relationship, and often talk together while sitting and admiring the other men at the lake. Soon, Franck also meets the charming and handsome Michel (Christophe Paou). However, one night Franck secretly witnesses Michel commit a savage act. Yet despite what he knows Franck is intensely attracted to Michel, who he has come to discover is a killer. From here things become very strange, very sexual, and very mysterious.
stranger-by-the-lake05
I think the plot of the film is really a great driving force on its own, but what really makes the movie tick are the performances. It’s all about the chemistry between Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck and Christophe Paou as Michel. They are a pretty good duo. I’m not sure of their real life sexual orientations. Regardless if they are gay or straight, they do a good job acting passionately towards one another. While this is not a pornographic movie, and not even particularly a romantic film either, much of the story relies on the two of them acting off one another. A lot of the film’s tension is built through how we end up feeling about Michel – his interactions with Franck really fuel all the emotions conjured up in us. The two of these guys are really great together. I think Deladonchamps is my favourite. Yet Paou is fairly villainous in a seriously quiet, subdued manner.

Still, I can’t forget to mention Patrick d’Assumçao either honestly. He has a minor role. Though, I do feel there’s something important about him. Not that he comes off as unimportant. I think there’s a certain amount of a polar opposite effect in the character of Henri – while he is just this boring, nice, fragile, hurting man who could probably offer a genuine companionship for Franck, the young man is more interested in a dangerous person like Michel. If you didn’t know what you know about Michel, you would probably understand that Franck would be more intrigued by Michel. On the other hand, knowing what we know it’s that tragic irony visible in the plot that makes Henri a sympathetic character.
stranger-by-the-lake07This was one of my favourite films of the last year, which was included in the Best Of 2014 list I did recently. It’s nearly flawless. There’s something very exciting and mysterious about the movie, how it flows together, the characters – everything just works, firing on all cylinders. I’ve never seen any of Alain Guiraudie’s other work, but certainly aim to search some out now and watch them. I love a good erotic thriller. As a straight man, I don’t need to watch something about straight people. I hope there are many, many more like me – I know there are because if not these films might not survive to see the light of day, unfortunately. I think this could have been about anybody, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, whatever – this works as a basic concept. Plus, I think these men who acted in the film really pulled it off in a fantastic fashion. There is a lot of tension here, and great chemistry from the nice, tight writing of the script. I’d watch this again any day. Looking forward to eventually picking up a copy on Blu ray. Fantastic film. Highly recommended, but probably only to my cinema lover friends. To those too uptight or not comfortable enough with their own sexuality – get over yourself! You’re missing TONS of great cinema.

PRESERVATION is All About Female Survival

Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
Preservation-2014-movie-poster
I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The BayArgo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.

This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
PRESERVATIONAREADENHAMFEATThere were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.

One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
preservationfeatI think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.

This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
Preserve_KM_102313_677All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.

AMERICAN SNIPER: Making a Murderer

American Sniper. 2014. Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, and Kyle Gallner. Warner Brothers. Rated 14A. 132 minutes.
Action/Biography/Drama

1/2
american-sniper-poster-620x919
First of all, I have a family member who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. Second, I know others who’ve gone over to Iraq, et cetera, several people I knew well growing up. So I’d like to just say I have respect for those who choose to defend their countries. The smaller people who are the ones that actually go to war aren’t those making the big decisions – you can’t fault someone for wanting to be a patriot if they’re being just as misled by their government as us civilians. All that said, I’m really against some of the modern wars over the past 30 years America has involved themselves in. That’s no fault of the men fighting on the front lines. One such man is Chris Kyle, played here fabulously by Bradley Cooper, who is the most accomplished marksman, as far as I know, in the history of the American military. The guy served as a sniper during the Iraq invasion of 2003 onward. He is no doubt a tough soldier.

However, my problem with this film is not exactly with Kyle himself. The problem I have is mostly with the entire situation of the Iraq War, and some of the decisions made by the United States government during that period. My major issue is that here we’re asked to empathize with a man who has killed women and children – one of the early scenes shows Kyle making a split-second decision to snipe a little boy, who was given an explosive device to throw by his mother, and then just afterwards also killing her. I know a lot of people will make the argument that the kid would have killed American soldiers – absolutely, he would have. On the other hand, should Iraq have been invaded? Was it invaded for the right reasons? I’m not one of those people who is out preaching that the war was started for oil, I’m just saying – a foreign government sends troops into a strange place, people are threatened, everyone there is assumed to be a villain. Are we to expect people aren’t going to say “get the fuck out” and start fighting? Maybe the woman was a part of a terrorist group. Perhaps. We’ll never know, and that’s for sure.
AMERICAN SNIPERBradley Cooper does a great job with this role. I don’t have any problem whatsoever with his performance. Particularly, his Southern accent was absolutely flawless, to my mind. He did excellent work playing Kyle physically and vocally, as well as in the way the man was, no doubt, highly intense. I don’t have any problem with the acting in this movie. However, aside from Kyle there aren’t many characters with much room to breathe. I know it’s centered on him, clearly, but I mean a lot of this story is supposed to be about how Kyle was affected by the war, what he did over there, et cetera. We really don’t get to see enough of anyone else, from Kyle’s wife to his brothers-in-arms, to really latch onto any other character development or anything which gives us enough of an idea about the pathology of his trajectory. There are a few typical scenes with Kyle and his wife, one in the hospital as Kyle visits an injured soldier, and other than that it’s pretty much the Cooper Show. It’s a fun show, just not enough to justify the messages Clint Eastwood was shambling at with this movie.
AMERICAN SNIPERThis brings me to my final point about American Sniper. I’ve read lots about the Iraq War, in particular a really great book called Ghost Wars, which was a great dose of history tackling everything from the invasion of Iraq back to the 1950s and 60s, and everything in between. I am by no means an expert. No more than the regular person interested in history, war history in particular, and a love of books/reading. So, what I’m saying is, I realize there are plenty of situations where seemingly normal people in foreign countries might later reveal themselves to be enemies – however, Eastwood goes way too hard headed at this angle. It seems like Eastwood decided “I’m not going to show that there are two sides to these situations” then proceeded to put scene after scene in to really nail the point home. Every Iraqi is an enemy – this is his message. Even one scene where Kyle sees a young boy about to pick up an RPG launcher, after the man holding it takes a bullet from the American Sniper himself – Kyle is talking to himself, begging the little boy not to pick the thing up – finally when the boy opts to drop it, the sniper sighs heavily in relief. Even here Eastwood is almost saying “well the kid wanted to shoot and kill some Americans… he just couldn’t lift the damn thing!” I mean, it’s a bit ridiculous at a certain point. Even the nice family who take Kyle and his team of soldiers in for a nice dinner, sat around the family table – they turn out to be, gasp, insurgents or belligerents, or whatever the U.S Army/media decide to call them these days. I just found it really preposterous. I know that even Kyle in his book apparently says some fairly tough minded things about the people in Iraq, even going so far as to admit to looting houses after people fled them in Fallujah, but Eastwood could’ve at least tried to look as if he were aiming to show two sides of a disturbingly murky part of American war history. To me, it was just nonsense. Constant reiteration of “every Iraqi is a possible terrorist.” Film version of ignorant patriotism – there is a way to be patriotic without looking foolish.
american-sniperI’ll give this a 0.5 out of 5 stars only because I really enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle – regardless if I admire the man as a person or not. I know a lot of Americans probably don’t want to hear this sort of review about one of their heroes. I am in no way trying to disrespect people who serve in the military. Once again, as I said in the beginning, I do have a great respect for those who give up their lives, their safety, their comfort to defend the country they call home. Even if their government is sending them on a wild goose chase – I admire anyone willing to walk into the danger zones of a country foreign to them. But this movie is just Clint Eastwood’s Republican love song, honestly. I used to really love him, both as an actor and director (one of my all-time favourites is actually Mystic River plus a ton of his older acting performances). Nowadays I feel like Eastwood is just sinking into mediocrity. Letting his political views get in the way of good film making. This is just too much of a heavy handed political movie. I know it’s about a very political topic when it comes down to it, but above all it’s meant to be a character study of Chris Kyle. I didn’t get enough of what the film should have been. Instead, it’s a mix of a decent war movie, and a lot of ignorant perspective on the Iraqi war and the Iraqi people. Further than that, there’s no questioning of Kyle’s legacy whatsoever. I’m not saying I want this guy dragged into the mud – not at all. His family would want his memory preserved. But still, there are various accounts Kyle has talked about which are not verified. In this film you basically get a love letter to America and Kyle, without any inward reflection, though, it presents itself in a light many believe does show some sort of reflection. I don’t see it. Plus, the movie could’ve easily had a half hour or so chopped out with no difference made – too long for the purpose it attempted to serve. Many other, far superior, war movies at this length and less that impressed me more than this one. I don’t recommend this. See it only to admire Cooper’s work ethic and ability as a great actor, which I do believe. One of my least favourites from 2014. Clint Eastwood needs to reevaluate his dedication to film making, and whether or not it’s solely based on making money while telling lies. This was a bad movie. There are a lot of great war films, such as even the recent David Ayer film Fury, however, American Sniper will never ever be close to that or any other excellent movie centered on war.

The Deconstructed Life of BIRDMAN

Birdman. 2014. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, and Edward Norton. New Regency Pictures. Rated 14A. 119 minutes.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★

2562232_bigBirdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who was once playing the superhero Birdman in big movies. Now, he’s doing the stage. He has adapted Raymond Carver, specifically. All this stems from when he was a young man and supposedly Carver attended one of his performances; afterwards, the famous author drunkenly scribbled a note to a young Thomson on a cocktail napkin. Unfortunately, his stage play is suffering under the weight of many things – his ego, a rough relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a new and cocky actor (Edward Norton playing a meta-version of himself), et cetera. All of these things threaten to tear him apart, so the question is – can he hold it all together?

Birdman1I’ve always enjoyed Keaton. I think he is generally under appreciated. While this movie is giving him a wave of high praise to ride on, I believe there are other performances before this which have solidified him as a wonderful actor – just a few are the Tim Burton Batman films, still my favourite BatmanNight ShiftBeetlejuice, and Jackie Brown. I do love his performance here in Birdman. I definitely would put this in his top roles of all-time, no doubt. I don’t take him to be much like his character in real life, though, I’m sure some of the character is a little relatable just in terms of how his career must have went initially after the fame of Batman slowly faded. Either way, Keaton puts a lot of effort into this movie. I thought it was a really full-hearted performance. He definitely put all he is worth into this character. It shows.
BirdmanThe other performances are really something, too. I enjoyed Norton, as I always do. He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, so I’m sure it was at least a little fun for him to fool around with this character. It’s like a meta-version of Norton himself almost.

Another person who I thought truly stood out was Emma Stone. She’s a really great young actress. Though, I’m not actually a huge fan of the movies she has done in the past, except for maybe Zombieland and her role in Superbad, I do think Stone has talent. In this film, she did a fantastic job with the character of Sam, Riggan’s daughter. There was something really vulnerable about the character, and yet also she came across as quite a strong woman. The relationship between Keaton and Stone worked real well, I thought. Both of them played great as a father-daughter duo who have seen hard times. A couple real great moments with them.
Birdman_teaserI am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, Amores Perros is the first non-english film I’d ever seen. I believe I was about sixteen years old. The film really moved me, so much so I had the title tattooed on my wrist. It’s a fascinating movie. Then later I saw 21 Grams, and then Babel, and Biutiful – I loved each of these. He is an interesting, unique filmmaker. I love the approach he has to subjects. This is one of the reasons Birdman is most definitely a real good film. Just the way Iñárritu shot everything here to look as if it were one long uninterrupted take is really innovative. Now, of course, you can find the meticulous little places where Iñárritu decided to hide his quick cuts, but you really do have to be paying full attention, as well as give a shit about such things. I really enjoyed this. It’s a wild way to make a movie, and it could have come off really terribly. That being said, I think Iñárritu pulls it off here in grand style.

All that aside, I don’t think Iñárritu’s film is a perfect and as amazing as the glorious reviews will have you believe. It’s ambitious, it has great performances, and a decent script. However, I do find at times the theme, or the message if you will, behind Birdman is a little too divisive. And not in a good sense, in the way of opinions. I think the message is really heavy handed. At one point, Birdman is telling Riggan how people want to “see action” and not this talk, talk, talk, philosophical stuff. It’s a great point to try and make, I just think it comes across really ham fisted. Like it’s saying if you enjoy action, you’re dumb. I’m on the side of the fence where I don’t care about Marvel – I don’t want any more superhero movies for awhile, even though I’m a huge Batman fan, in all forms of media, and have been for a long time – I just don’t want the market flooded with all this CGI-infested junk constantly. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be told that action, et cetera, is some sort of lower art form. I know there is black comedy in here, there are a lot of digs at the artists themselves, some of the material is no doubt pointed at artists in general – but still, I think this comes across as preachy to some. I love this movie. I just think some of these bits could have been toned down a little more, so as not to alienate people. Perhaps some might say “who cares about those people”, and that’s fine, but I think there was a way of achieving what Iñárritu wanted to do without being a bit snobbish. Just one man’s opinion. Or maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is ego in all things, no matter if it’s an action-based superhero film or a stage play, or whatever – there is always an air of pretentiousness behind art, in whichever form it may come. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know. I take it in the way I do, just as others will in their own way. I respect if others see the film in another light.
still-of-michael-keaton-in-birdman-2014-large-pictureThis is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. It is certainly a great movie, and I don’t doubt for a second this is on many Best Of lists from last year. Me – I didn’t love it as much as other movies. I really enjoyed it, a lot, and would watch it again. I will, absolutely. I just don’t think it’s as great as the hype will have you convinced. Definitely worth seeing. If not just for the fact Iñárritu does a fascinating job at weaving the camera in and around the locations of the film, from actor to actor, very naturally and beautifully. I’m in no way talking the film down, because if you don’t already know I have a few real unpopular opinions about some movies (I’m the kind who loves a few movies that are generally considered terrible – example: Exorcist II: The Heretic). This is merely my opinion. I still think it’s a fantastically honed piece of work. Destined to be a classic of cinema down the road, if not already with the praise it’s receiving. Keaton, especially, I really loved. Check this out – let me know what you thought about it in the comments!

Lost Masculinity & Grim Relationships in FOXCATCHER

Foxcatcher. 2014. Dir. Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, and Brett Rice. Mongrel Media. Rated PG (Canada). 129 minutes.  Biography/Drama/Sports

★★★★★
foxcatcher-poster
I’d been anticipating this film for a long while. Ever since I’d heard of Foxcatcher, there was something about it which struck me. Now, I’ve only seen Bennett Miller’s Capote, which I loved. I have yet to see Moneyball. Either way, this was something I was looking forward to because I love Mark Ruffalo, as well as Channing Tatum. Even more I was excited to see what Steve Carell would do – and after seeing the first images of him ages ago, I had a feeling this would be something special. In my mind, I was absolutely right. Miller does a great job, along with the spectacular performances rounding out the cast of the film.

Foxcatcher is based on the the story of John du Pont (Steve Carrell), member of one of the richest families in America, and the relationship he had with Olympic Medal winning brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo respectively). Both men would come to be a part of Team Foxcatcher, led by the multimillionaire du Pont. Over time, it is increasingly clear du Pont is not a man in his right mind. While he at first appears to be just an eccentric, harmless man with too much money looking to finance a sports team, wrestling in particular, it is more and more obvious he will do anything to make sure his only legacy would not be tied up in that of his mother’s and horses. John and Mark become very close over their time together, almost like brothers themselves. When Dave refuses to be shut out of his brother’s life, du Pont becomes jealous of their bond, and the results are extremely unexpected by all involved.
Foxcatcher still 2 (2014)I think the style of Miller’s film really fits the overall subject matter. While I’m sure things were dramatized, as they always are with true stories because that’s how things go, the story of Mark and Dave Schultz’s relationship with John du Pont is a dark one anyways. The sort of grey, grim feel to a lot of the film is a really effective technique by Miller. Not that it’s revolutionary, I just think had he opted for a more bright look this would not have achieved the same effect as it does here with the grey and dull tones. The whole landscape of du Pont’s estate is shot to look almost foreboding and it’s like there is a constant fog at times just sitting over the grounds. Good choice between Bennett Miller and cinematographer Greig Fraser for the overall look. This works very well in conjunction with the editing, as well as the flow of the film. I love how things build up slowly. Once you get to the finale, things have really settled in, you feel comfortable, and even when you know it’s coming things really crash down on you – in the most perfect of ways.
Foxcatcher still 1 (2014)Naturally, I was most interested in the acting above all else. First off – Steve Carell is really great here. Not only does he sort of resemble the actual person he is playing, I think he made John du Pont out to be a very sympathetic character at first. Then along the line, I’m not sure exactly where, Carell really gets into the darkness of du Pont. Of course, starting out I knew the story of the film, as do most who either like to research films based on true stories or get constantly bombarded with information in the digital age, as we all do, so really the fact that du Pont gets a bit creepy and all that didn’t really surprise me. However, the way Carell plays him is really wonderful. It’s a subtle performance. While the make-up is what a lot of people focus on, that big schnoz, it’s not the make-up which defines the performance. Carell does such a great job with all the mannerisms of this character. He really fell into playing du Pont, and I think this shouldn’t go unrecognized. It isn’t all hype. Carell gives an absolutely phenomenal performance. As someone who isn’t particularly his biggest fan, except for his breakout in The 40 Year Old Virgin, I really think this guy gave a pitch perfect effort in achieving the strange quality of this eerie real life man.
still-of-steve-carell,-mark-ruffalo-and-channing-tatum-in-foxcatcher-(2014)Channing Tatum was incredible. I couldn’t get over his performance. I’m actually a fan of his, but here he just goes beyond what I’d ever expected out of him as an actor. Physically, he embodies the role of a wrestler. Further than that, Tatum really gets into the skin of Mark Schultz. I know Schultz has problems with the film, as we’ve probably all seen in entertainment news over the past couple weeks. Regardless, I really felt for this guy. The way Tatum portrayed him was just so full of energy at times, and then others he dove deep into this dark despair. It’s a natural feeling performance from him. There’s one scene in particular that blew me away – Schultz has lost a wrestling match, and is particularly upset at himself, so he smashes a mirror with his head. I am not sure at all if this was real or if it was fake, but either way it comes off really wild, and highly intense. This is just part of what makes his performance an awesome one.
foxcatcherAnother fabulous effort here is from Mark Ruffalo. His portrayal of Dave Schultz is also another great one. I usually enjoy Ruffalo, anyways. He is a solid performer. Particularly, I loved what he did in Zodiac; my favourite film with him in it. Here, he does a really great job especially when it comes to the relationship between him and Tatum. While their characters are brothers, they also have an even closer relationship – wrestling, being so physically close with someone, you develop almost a short-hand way of talking together. I thought the way in which Ruffalo and Tatum worked together, their chemistry, made things all the much better. Ruffalo even looked to have physically beefed up a bit. I have no doubt he and Tatum really trained a nice bit together because their relationship on-screen works so well. Awesome work.
foxcatcher-(2014)I know some people have complained the film doesn’t really give us enough about ‘why’ du Pont essentially did what he did, but I don’t think it’s unclear whatsoever. The man was driven towards something foul. Not to excuse what he did, it is unspeakably horrible, however, I don’t think it’s as mystifying as people make it out to be. The film really shows John du Pont to be a man who craves companionship – not necessarily in a loving sense between two romantically involved people, but maybe in the way of male bonding. You can see in one scene, after Mark has brought him home a medal, he just wants to physically be a part of the gang – he wants to wrestle the guys he sponsors, hauling a couple of them to the ground in a grapple as they celebrate the recent win. It’s a bit of a weird scene, and I can understand how some might take it as something overtly homosexual, maybe as subtext – regardless, it isn’t mean as something like that. I don’t believe du Pont was attracted to the men on his team, or Mark, or Dave. None of that. I think du Pont was so smothered by the influence of his overbearing mother that he was reaching out, straining, just to find some kind of friendship, a close bond, with another man. In the end, this is what drives John to do what he did, and why he eventually came to resent Dave Schultz – because Dave and Mark had when John and Mark would never truly have. It’s twisted. Yet I believe this is his true pathology.

This is absolutely a 5-star film. A lot of times anticipation will kill a film for me, but when I was able to see Foxcatcher none of that happened. I got into the story so deeply. The whole movie really got to me, and moved me quite a bit. Each of the three central performances worked incredibly well towards complimenting the finished film.  I think the casting was spot on. These three guys were the reason this film essentially works. Coupled with the fact Bennett Miller has a lot of nice sensibilities as a director, these elements really make this one of the greater films from the past year. A fascinating, disturbing, intricate look at the lives of three men who came together tragically. Definitely worth seeing. I really hope Steve Carell gets his due here because this is not overhyped, he really is wonderful, as is everything else about this fantastic biographical drama. Enjoy.

WHIPLASH: Two Jazz-Hands Up

Whiplash. 2014. Directed & Written by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, and Paul Reiser.
Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Drama/Music

★★★★★WHIP_INTL_1Sht_Lk2_LYRDI think one of the most incredible things about Whiplash is the fact it captures the blood, sweat, and tears which go into the making of a true musician so accurately that it’s almost a little scary. In fact, with J.K Simmons’ performance this really becomes a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the beating heart of music. While most people only see the surface of musicians, Damien Chazelle opens up the doors and shows the world what it’s like behind them. Now, not all musicians go through such strenuous training – many famous rockstars would have you believe they’ve run the gamut, however, the studied musicians who have trained for years and years, who have literally bled and spent hours grinding themselves into dust just for that extra bit of practice to get ahead, they are the true masters. I’m not discounting what famous bands, et cetera, are doing (there are absolutely famous musicians who’ve gone the hard road of classical training) – I only mean that the real tough and uniquely talented individuals are those who went through the trenches.

Whiplash tells the story of a young drummer named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) who attends a very prestigious music school. There, he comes face to face with a fearsome, well-respected professor, Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons). The two butt heads. Andrew wishes to be one of the greats. While Fletcher initially seems to give him a positive response, soon Andrew finds himself at the mercy of a merciless maniac consumed by only one thing – perfect music. Continuously the two clash to more and more unexpected results.
Whiplash-4091.cr2One of the most obvious things that impresses most people about the film is Miles Teller. Firstly, it’s incredible to know he played the drums. I mean, if you pay attention to the film for more than ten minutes you’ll obviously realize it’s him – very hard to hide anything the way Chazelle shot the film. But it’s still mind blowing. There are some really tough scenes in here. I can imagine some of the blood, and no doubt every last drop of the sweat, were all Teller; one hundred percent of the way. This is a performance where an actor really dives in. Not only pulling off a complex emotional character, but additionally playing the music of the film. Apparently, Teller has played drums since the age of 15, and took more intense lessons to prepare for the role. It shows.
He also certainly did a great job while not on the drums. His performance reflected a lot of what I’ve personally seen in musicians over the years. Myself, I’d never strived to be anything more than a decent musician who could play for fun. I grew up with an aunt and uncle who both have their Master’s Degree in music – both of whom taught me, in one form or another, over the years. I planned piano and trumpet for a long time, fairly well I might add, but not at a truly competitive level other than music festivals throughout grade school. I mention this because I’ve come across a lot of people such as Andrew Neiman while coming up. They are determined. Some times to a fault. However, I’ve always been fascinated with their determination. Trying not to ruin anything, I think it’s the finale which really brought me around to believing Teller did a fabulous job. You really see the determination, the pain, the anguish of Andrew in these moments. The ending is really beautiful. Overall, and for the character of Andrew himself.
whiplash3The other undeniable aspect of Whiplash and what makes it so good is, of course, the always fascinating J.K Simmons. In him, the character of Terence Fletcher really comes alive and jumps out of the screen. I know he played this role in the short Chazelle did before getting the funding for the feature, so that certainly was good for Simmons as an actor; being able to live with a character more than just a small period of time while filming. Either way, I’m sure he could have pulled this off. He has a great knack for playing hard ass characters, however, I think this goes beyond that – Fletcher is a cruel, relentless savage who stops at nothing to secure the best performance possible from every musician under his eye. Again, while Andrew is a very real character to me, so is the character of Fletcher. I’ve known people who could really push the envelope, as far as what is or isn’t acceptable to say to a person in regards to conductors. Even my own uncle who has been conducting, writing, teaching musicians for several decades now – this coming from both his nephew and a former student – could be an asshole. This wasn’t because being an asshole got him any further. It was always in service of the overall performance. Not only him, but other band teachers I had in grade school were also intense. I’ve seen and heard some fairly foul stuff from these guys over the years. One of them actually smacked me on the top of my head lightly with a trumpet mouthpiece – if you’ve ever held one, you know it doesn’t take much to leave a nice goose egg on the top of a teenager’s skull. All that in mind, Simmons really pulled off a spectacularly villainous role. He’s probably one of the best film villains of the last decade, and this is purely a dramatic film about music. So, I really think the praise is deserved, as much as any other great performance from 2014 – if not more. A great actor who deserves the most recognition possible.

In the end, I really think the best thing for me about Whiplash is the fact I really didn’t know where this film was headed. For a while, I sort of thought this might end up being a really cheesy music movie because of where I thought the plot might go. Luckily, was I ever wrong. Especially in the last third of the film. I really didn’t expect things to take the turns they did. Without spoiling too much, I think Chazelle made some interesting, non-typical choices. In particular, the very end played extremely well. I was expecting the film to end on a certain note, and while it did end in similar fashion to what I imagined, there was a distinct lack of ham. What I mean is, I really thought Chazelle might fall into the trap of lesser films where they go for sentimental conclusions which make me feel forced. I don’t like to feel forced to say “oh that’s nice a happy ending”. Whiplash ends on what I believe is a positive note, but doesn’t jam any sappy finale moments down your throat. It’s actually really intense. I found myself wide-eyed and wondering how things were finally going to clue up. I was impressed once Chazelle finished the film in the way he did, and walked away feeling great.
Whiplash-5547.cr2I can honestly say this is a flawless drama. It’s a 5-star movie about music. There is no doubt. While some might try and say it does no service to music because it seems to say practice can make anyone great, this is absolutely not the case. At one point in the film we see Fletcher’s only moment of weakness: a young musician he moulded, who went on to be a fabulous musician, dies in a car accident. Later in the movie, he explains a few things to Andrew. Fletcher ends up mentioning that even though he tried his best he never really “had a Charlie Parker” – right there and then, even if you know already, you realize this is not about saying practice can make anyone into one of the greats. Even this student Fletcher thought was the best he’d ever produced was not who he deemed to be “a Charlie Parker“. The point is, Fletcher pushed people to go beyond what was expected of them. He never guaranteed anybody greatness – only the opportunity to learn the tools through which greatness might then be attainable. The message isn’t wrong, but certainly will be misinterpreted. You won’t be great just because you practice yet ultimately, no one can be good without practice, and certainly not great – this is the message.

I highly recommend everyone see this film once they get the chance. It’s a great movie about music with incredible performances, lots of jazz, a bit of psychological horror in a few scenes, and always, always tons of heart. I enjoyed this every step of the way, and it defied a lot of the expected moments I anticipated to see.