Wednesday, October 19, 2016

INTERVIEW: Rémi Chayé and Henri Magalon

Animation director Rémi Chayé and producer Henri Magalon are no strangers to awards season, having worked on nominated films “The Secret of Kells” and “Ernest and Celestine.” And with Chayé’s debut feature “Long Way North,” they may have another contender to add to their filmography. In this progressive female-centric film, an aristocratic Russian girl defies conventions by embarking on a perilous adventure to the North Pole in search of her missing grandfather and his ship. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with Chayé and Magalon to discuss the film, their upcoming Calamity Jane project and how hard it is to impress kids. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

You’ve seen it countless times before. An underdog fighter gets the chance of a lifetime to compete for the world championship title against a formidable opponent. He undergoes rigorous training to overcome the odds, often to triumphant ends. Juho Kuosmanen breaks away from the formula with “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki,” however, putting his own original spin on the classic boxing movie.

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REVIEW: Long Way North

If there is one thing that the current hoopla surrounding Disney’s upcoming live action “Mulan” proves, it’s the evolving tastes of today’s audiences. Amid the anti-whitewashing protests, many were also concerned about the perceived prominence of the romance element. Indeed, audiences are no longer satisfied with the “princess needs Prince Charming for her happily ever after” story. Instead they crave stronger, more independent female characters from their animated films. One such example is the protagonist of Rémi Chayé’s debut feature “Long Way North,” who desires adventure rather than romance.

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REVIEW: Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

At one point in “Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang,” the film mentions its subject Cai Guo-Qiang’s desire to top the great Pablo Picasso. Under normal circumstances, the statement would appear to be overly arrogant. But as director Kevin Macdonald proves in this new documentary, Cai Guo-Qiang is no ordinary artist. Indeed, this account of his life and work shows a man of incomparable vision and talent.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Exciting rumours about the new Jurassic World movie

Apart from the likes of Deadpool, 2016 has been a pretty bad year for the Hollywood blockbuster movie. With Batman V Superman getting lost within the complexities of its own plot, and Suicide Squad seriously underperforming at the box office, the lack of summer
has meant that we need the return of the Jurassic Park franchise more than ever!

Thankfully it looks like developments are already well underway in bringing these fearsome dinosaurs back the big screen, as Universal have a Jurassic World sequel pegged in for release in June 2018.

It’s not surprising that the Jurassic Park series would create yet another film. After all, 2015’s Jurassic World movie received favourable ratings from reviewers and eventually managed to claim a whopping $1.6 billion in box office revenues.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

REVIEW: Chevalier

Like her Greek contemporary Yorgos Lanthimos, director Athina Rachel Tsangari has an unorthodox sense of humor. As leading figures of what The Guardian termed “The Weird Wave of Greek Cinema", they have delivered some of the most unusual premises and characters to the big screen. That trend continues in Tsangari’s latest film “Chevalier,” an unusual buddy comedy designed like an arthouse chamber piece.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: From Afar

“From Afar” begins with a middle-aged man prowling the streets of Caracas. He is looking for a young man to bring home, using his money as an incentive. He finds one and pursues his catch, successfully luring him for sexual gratification. His arousal is derived from visual stimulation rather than physical contact, however. And similarly, director Lorenzo Vigas takes a conservative approach to this tense drama of male desire.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Do Not Resist

Craig Atkinson's debut feature “Do Not Resist” opens with scenes which have become all too familiar. A group of protesters take to the streets to march against the latest incident of police brutality. A young black man has been unjustly killed, leaving many to wonder how it happened and whether justice can be truly served in today’s flawed society. Through this enlightening documentary, Atkinson attempts to answer these questions, putting the potential threat of America as a police state into sharp relief.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Saturday, October 1, 2016

REVIEW: Sing Street

It's been a banner year for "separating the art from the artist". There's the ongoing dilemma of Woody Allen, who recently released his first TV series on Amazon (following on his latest film "Cafe Society") and of course, there's the neverending story of Nate Parker's rape scandal. Earlier this summer, another lauded filmmaker John Carney showed his bad side when he publicly and needlessly criticized Keira Knightley's acting in "Begin Again". But as with the other notorious men above (among others), Carney has managed to make the work speak for itself, delivering another wonderful film with "Sing Street".

Set in Dublin during the 1980s, "Sing Street" chronicles a pivotal year in the life of Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a youngest son of a crumbling middle class family. With both his parents struggling financially and their marriage doomed to fail, Conor bears the brunt of the family's woes when he is moved from private school to public school to cut costs. As expected, the transition takes a lot of adjustment, as the strict Catholic school rules and the intimidating all-male atmosphere makes his first days a nightmare. His first new friend Darren (Ben Carolan, a terrific newcomer) recommends he find a coping mechanism, which soon comes in the form of the beautiful aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton, a perfectly cast "Helen of Troy" type). In an effort to impress her, he claims that he's starting a band and needs her to be in his music video. With no way out of this lie, Conor is forced to live up to his bold claims. But with the help of Darren, his musically-inclined older brother Brendan and a few eager recruits, the dream becomes a reality. And the rest as they say, is history, as Conor goes through a eventful year filled with music, love, friendship and family.

Taking a deep plunge into the world of an Irish teen in an 80s high school, Carney crafts a truly winning film. As befitting the time period, the hair, clothes, makeup and of course, the music make a defiant statement. Through the eyes of Conor, we feel the excitement of the wave of change about to come, sparked by the emergence of the music video and its associated MTV culture. And as with any John Carney film, the awesome soundtrack is inseparable from the film's storytelling.

But what makes the film so rewarding isn't due to only the fabulous visual design, rebellious spirit and endearing romance (Walsh-Peelo and Boynton make excellent screen partners). Indeed, the story's true brilliance lies in how the these aspects are underscored by melancholy. The clothing and makeup for example, serve to rebuke the school's aggressively strict rules. Meanwhile the vibrancy of these young characters is fueled by a desire to escape the angst of broken homes, thwarted dreams and the general oppressive atmosphere of their small, puritanical town.

At one point Raphina explains to Conor the virtues of embracing the state of being "happy-sad". And this oxymoron is the perfect way to describe what makes "Sing Street" so special. Sometimes the most rewarding feel-good movies are the ones with a dose of harsh reality underneath the bliss.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Late in Clint Eastwood's new film "Sully", a hearing is being conducted to ascertain whether an emergency water landing carried out by the titular pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger could have been avoided. Using flight simulation technology, the inquiry board demonstrates that a safer landing at a nearby airport was possible. Sully argues that the simulation is faulty, as it removes the vital "human factor" from the high-stress situation. Similarly for Eastwood's depiction of this true story, the humanity involved before, during and after the unbelievable events prove to be essential to the film's questionable success.

Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Sully, a longtime pilot for US Airways with a wealth of experience. One day however, all his training will be put to the ultimate test, when a freak incident causes a routine flight to malfunction. While en route from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina, his plane hits a flock of geese, which disables both engines. With few options for a safe landing, he decides to trust his instincts and directs the plane towards a risky landing in the Hudson river. Miraculously, he pulls it off without any casualties. Sully is soon declared a hero by the public and the media alike. But with the significant financial losses incurred and pressure from the insurance company, an investigation begins to unfold to determine whether Sully should take the blame for irresponsible behavior.

Part delicate character study, part inspiring courtroom drama, "Sully" is a film often at odds with itself. Despite an intense opening scene depicting a horrific nightmare of a plane crash, Eastwood's direction is surprisingly restrained. For Tom Hanks, the approach comes as a blessing, allowing him to once again shed his former "aw shucks" persona for yet another deeply grounded portrayal. In what will surely place him in the Best Actor conversation, Hanks' performance is truly the film's anchor. Despite the glaring facial transformation, he manages to fully inhabit the role.

Unfortunately, the restraint hardly benefits the film otherwise. The predictable dialogue is delivered with such monotonous detachment that the film sometimes feels amateurish. And though the last act is considerably more engaging, the transition from Sully to the ultimate courtroom scenes lacks the tension that Hanks so effortlessly conveys. For a film that stresses the significance of human emotions in crisis situations, there's a disappointing lack of genuine human feeling in much of the acting.

Indeed, while Hanks gets to explore great the psychological depths associated with PTSD and the vulnerability of public scrutiny, the other main characters serve mainly as props for his journey. Laura Linney for example, is stuck with the laughably stereotypical "supporting wife" role, while Aaron Eckhart barely gets any showcase scenes despite being Sully's co-pilot who is also on trial.

By the time Hanks delivers what would likely be his Oscar clip, one gets the distinct sense of a film that doesn't know what it wants to be. In this climactic scene, he explains that it was the combined team effort of the flight crew, passengers, first responders and all of "New York's finest" which allowed for the plane's successful landing. But the dynamic ensemble drama he describes is far removed from the myopic biopic Eastwood delivers. Many may give Eastwood kudos for being able to deliver decent film at his age, with possible Best Picture and Best Director noms on the horizon. But for this fan of the prolific actor-director, "Sully" feels too much like Eastwood on autopilot, rather than taking full control of this fascinating true story.