Friday, October 31, 2014

REVIEW: The Evil Dead


The horror genre isn’t one that I naturally gravitate to (go ahead, call me a wuss) but as a cinephile I can certainly appreciate a well-made scary movie. In fact, there are quite a number of them that I really love (Psycho, Let the Right One In, Paranormal Activity). Out of all them, the one that I am most impressed with is Sam Raimi’s 1981 flick The Evil Dead. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s about a group of friends who travel to a cabin in the woods where they unfortunately end up releasing evil demons and spirits.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, October 30, 2014

FOREIGN OSCAR GUIDE: Africa


The Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards has been experiencing tremendous growth over the past few years, once again breaking the submissions record with 83 films in 2014. It’s an encouraging sign of a more globalized film market but there is still one continent that remains underrepresented – Africa. History shows that submissions have been scarce outside of South Africa and the Arab-influenced Northern countries, most likely due to underdeveloped film industries and lack of resources to go through the submissions process. There have been some improvements however, with three countries making first-time submissions in the past five years. This year’s crop of African films include one such debut from Mauritania, along with films from Egypt, Ethiopia, Morroco and South Africa. Together, they showcase the continent’s extensive cultural diversity.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

COMING SOON: Beyond the Lights

The fall season is well underway at the box office with tons of prestige films finally hitting theaters. One of those films that is flying under the radar is "Beyond the Lights", which premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival. It's directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood (who gave us "Love & Basketball 14 years ago, a film I absolutely adore) and features rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the lead role of pop star who struggles to cope with fame. Check out the trailer below:



Beyond the Lights hits theaters on November 14th. Go see it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

REVIEW: Coming Home


"Coming Home" begins with a scene in a small room, where some men are playing pool and having a drink. As if we're intruding, we catch them in the middle of a discussion about the Vietnam War. One of them claims that they would go back and fight if given the chance, out of a moral obligation to uphold justice in that country. The others are in disagreement, appalled that a veteran would come back with such a positive view. It's a very casual scene that stands apart from the rest of the plot, but it signifies director Hal Ashby's approach to the film. By the time of the film's release in 1978, public sentiments towards America's involvement in Vietnam had already soured. Under Ashby's direction, "Coming Home" thus feels like a film that simply joins the conversation, rather than mounting its own angry anti-war platform.

Following the prologue, we are introduced to two of our main characters - Bob and Sally Hyde. Bob (Bruce Dern) is a captain in the Marine Corps who is about to be deployed to Vietnam, leaving behind his wife Sally (Jane Fonda). Bob is enthusiastic about his departure while Sally is understandably sad, dreading the impending loneliness. She's a typical conservative housewife and therefore has a lot of time on her hands. To combat the idleness then, she decides to volunteer at the local veterans' hospital. It's there that she meets former classmate Luke Martin (Jon Voight), now a paraplegic due to injuries sustained in the war. Initially antagonistic and bitter about his predicament, his demeanor gradually softens with the aid of Sally. Soon, a romantic relationship develops that creates a difficult love triangle.

As mentioned earlier, "Coming Home" is a more subdued film than its counterparts (fellow Best Picture nominee "The Deer Hunter" for example). It's less a protest than it is an ethnography. All of its characters are wounded by the war, physically, emotionally and psychologically. In essence then, the film is a lucid examination of their varied recovery methods. Some find comfort in their relationships with friends and family, while others are simply overwhelmed. It's something that the script taps into beautifully.

Indeed, Ashby's direction is remarkable primarily for what it doesn't do. "Coming Home" feels like a "writer's film", in that it places utmost trust in the power of its words. It's never emphasized with poignant shots or emphatic performances. Ashby just gives it to you straight.

Where you do feel his influence is in the soundtrack. Known for his brilliant song choices in other films, he brings that same musicality here. Tracks like Simon and Garfunkel's "Bookends" infuse the film with his trademark warmth, capturing the beautiful spirit of the people. Though the war was of national importance, the film is very intimate in scale.

That intimacy is never more apparent than when our central lovers are on screen together. In keeping with the tone of the film, Fonda and Voight give wonderfully low-key performances. Fonda is particularly eye-opening. As an actress who I associate with fiercely independent characters (as well as her liberal "Hanoi Jane" personality), I was pleasantly surprised at how effectively she pulled off this "homely" role. She has the perfect match in Voight too, making their evolving romance feel incredibly organic and realistic. Bruce Dern also makes a strong impression, especially in the film's later scenes.

"Coming Home" may not have the same impact for modern audiences as more hard-hitting cinematic accounts of the Vietnam War, but it's an essential part of the canon. The captivating performances, moving story and excellent soundtrack make for a rewarding viewing experience. It deserves to be rediscovered by cinephiles today.

This film is part of The Matinee's Blind Spot series.

Monday, October 27, 2014

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: The Circle


If you thought you’d seen every significant historical story about Germany and its neighbors in the mid-20th century, then think again. Did you know that during the 1940s-1950s there was a gay underground organization called The Circle (Der Kreis in German) in Zurich, Switzerland? Did you know that they published a popular magazine? If you answered no to these questions, then Stefan Haupt’s new documentary "The Circle" will prove very enlightening. Even if you already knew the history, you’ll still find interest in this hybrid narrative feature that includes romance and political drama elements.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Saturday, October 25, 2014

INTERVIEW: Afia Nathaniel


Earlier this week I had the pleasure of conducting a Skype interview with writer-director Afia Nathaniel, whose debut feature "Dukhtar" was selected as Pakistan’s official submission for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In this thriller, Nathaniel tells the story of a woman in the mountain regions of Pakistan who flees her home with her 10-year-old daughter, in order to save her from a forced child marriage. In our interview she went into details about the production of the film, as well as giving some interesting insight into Pakistani cinema in general.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, October 24, 2014

REVIEW: Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed


Oh, The Beatles. Our fanatical world of pop culture wouldn’t be what it is without the phenomenon of Beatlemania. Their popularity was unprecedented and still remains relevant today. So much so that David Trueba felt inspired to make the film Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, a true story about a Spanish teacher’s quest to meet John Lennon.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, October 23, 2014

FOREIGN OSCAR GUIDE: Australia and New Zealand


As you may have noticed, I've been heavily invested in this year's Foreign Language Oscar race. For my Foreign Circuit column at The Awards Circuit, I've been reviewing many of the country submissions and I've now started a series called the "2014 Foreign Oscar Guide". In these posts I'll give some background info on the various contenders, to help familiarize readers with all these fascinating pockets of world cinema.

Click here for my first post, where I take a look at the Australian and New Zealand submissions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

REVIEW: Rocks in My Pockets


Animated films aimed at adults are rare in contemporary cinema, especially in Hollywood. We’re used to light-hearted fare that appeals to families in order to get the big bucks at the box office. It’s what makes Signe Baumane’s Rocks in My Pockets so unique. It’s a deeply personal, mature film that she describes as “a crazy quest for sanity”.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

REVIEW: Beloved Sisters


Many years ago there was an episode of love and betrayal, set during a time of revolution. Translate it to cinema and that story ("Beloved Sisters") has the makings of a David Lean masterpiece, charting the course of an affair through a tumultuous time in history. Such romantic epics naturally lend themselves to his style of bravura filmmaking, with their expansive scope and rich narratives. Making a good epic is hard work however and in this instance, all the elements don’t coalesce like they should.

Read more at The Awards Circuit