Friday, November 29, 2013

#FF Gifts for Movie Lovers, Single Setting Movies and more...

The shopping season is well underway, with Black Friday raging on and Cyber Monday still to come. In light of this, John (from John Likes Movies) came up with some cool gift ideas for movie lovers on his site. Go check em out along with the other interesting posts below:

John recommended some cool Gifts for Movie Lovers, in honour of the holiday season.

Josh listed 10 Underrated Performances from 2013 that he's thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Sam from Movie Mezzanine interviewed the esteemed Wesley Morris for his "Film Critic of the Week" feature.

The French Toast Sunday crew discussed their favourite Single Setting Movies on their latest podcast.

Tom finally watched The Passion of Joan of Arc and gave it a favourable review.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, November 25, 2013


This week's top pick is Sam Peckinpah's dynamic 1969 film "The Wild Bunch". A sprawling, gritty western with a formidable ensemble cast, this turned out to be one of the most impressive entries in the genre. It begins with our title characters attempting to get away with one final robbery in 1913 Texas. As these aging renegades attempt to rob the local railroad office, their plans go awry in bloody fashion. In a violent shootout, a group of bounty hunters retaliate, even killing the innocent bystanders. Only a select few of the bunch remain, prompting them to make their way to Mexico to evade the law. With these bounty hunters already on their case, the wild bunch encounter even more trouble along the way.
Indeed, the violence doesn't end with the opening scene, an aspect that made this film infamous in its day. In fact, John Wayne himself criticized the film for its liberal depiction of violence. It's what makes the film stand out even now, due to its lack of heroic characters and a general absence of civility. This highly patriarchal society laid bare all the vices of men, including heavy drinking and hedonistic sexuality to go along with the violence. They were a wild bunch indeed.
With all of the debauchery on display, it would be easy to assume this film would play like B-movie pulp. However, if you actually watch the film, you're likely to be impressed with the skill on display. At the forefront is Peckinpah's dynamite direction, with stunning cinematography, superb sound design and a great control of tone and pacing. Even as the plot seems to overstay the depth of the material, the production values are so compelling that it never becomes tedious. The film is set during the final days of the "American West" and Peckinpah sends out this social construct in grand style.
The classic westerns have always seemed to glorify violence as a means to uphold justice. Furthermore, the antiheroes are often portrayed as sympathetic. Peckinpah however, presents a more realistic take on the wild west, showing how unpleasant such a society would have been. Women and children alike were caught in the crossfire, unwilling participants in an untamed parade of machismo. As the plot unfolds, the Latin American trajectory may remind you of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", but you'll find no Burt Bacharach songs here. Peckinpah took me on a brutal, bumpy ride and I loved every minute of it.

This film is part of my List of Shame.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


The first phase of the Oscar race is really starting to gain steam, with the announcement of the shortlists for 3 categories - Animated Short, Documentary Short and Live Action Short. As usual, I have no idea of the quality of these films or the likeliness for nominations. Perhaps the most obvious contender is Disney's "Get A Horse!" (pictured above), which should get a lot of publicity from playing in front of the feature film "Frozen". With that said, here's the full list of finalists for these categories:

Get a Horse!
Gloria Victoria
Hollow Land
The Missing Scarf
Mr. Hublot
Requiem for Romance
Room on the Broom
Subconscious Password

Facing Fear
Jujitsu-ing Reality
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Live Action
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)
Dva (Two)
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
Throat Song
Tiger Boy
The Voorman Problem

Friday, November 22, 2013

#FF Breaking Emotions blogathon, Profile of a Killer and more...
Mettel Ray recently started another great blogathon titled "Breaking Emotions" and this week's theme was "Tears and Suprise". It inspired some great entries and I've included a trio of them below. Go check them out along with some other fascinating reads from the past week:

Mette's post included The Broken Circle Breakdown, Fight Club and Magnolia.

Shantanu also made some excellent choices, including Finding Neverland, Grave of the Fireflies and The Usual Suspects in his post.

Stevee's choices included The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Psycho and Atonement.

Alex updated us on his upcoming feature film Wait.

The French Toast Sunday gang did a hilarious podcast about Race Against Time Movies.

Jessica explains how "Let The Right One In" influenced a new wave of Scandinavian sci-fi and fantasy film.

Nostra interviewed Joey Pollari, star of "Profile of a Killer".

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Monday, November 18, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: The Manchurian Candidate

There has been much debate lately over the notion that television has overtaken cinema in terms of quality. Indeed, the rise of the cable networks has produced many acclaimed shows that have pushed boundaries and provided a weekly dose of excellence that you are unlikely to get from the multiplex. While the constant rewards of HBO and AMC shows certainly make a strong case for television, it's perhaps more useful to view this as a natural evolution of the medium. While TV was just gaining popularity around the 1950s, cinema was already emerging from the shadows of the Hays code, producing daring films like this week's top pick - "The Manchurian Candidate".
Much like the popular TV series "Scandal" and "House of Cards", this film focuses on political antiheroes. John Frankenheimer's 1962 film is an unflinching portrayal of high-level corruption and moral bankruptcy that continues to fascinate audiences to this day. The focal character is war hero Raymond Shaw (played by Laurence Harvey) who is brainwashed in Manchuria, China to become an assassin for the Communists upon his return to the US. Under the influence of a psychological trigger (a Queen of Diamonds playing card), he is obliged to follow the murderous orders of Communist agents. However, his unwitting plan is hindered by fellow war survivor Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), who was also brainwashed with false memories of Shaw's heroism. His hypnosis isn't as successful however, as recurrent nightmares slowly remind him of the truth. As Marco slowly comes to his senses, the film becomes a race against the clock as he must convince the authorities that Shaw isn't who he seems before it's too late.
As the plot unfolds, the first thing that strikes you is the director's style, or lack thereof. Specifically, there's a calm steadiness to the storytelling that really allows the viewer to focus on the script and the acting. With our modern obsession with distinct auteurist directing styles, it's quite refreshing to see a film where a director is fully able to divert the attention away from himself. This proves to be highly effective as it reinforces the sense of evil lurking within civility. It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's personal favourite of his own filmography - "Shadow of a Doubt". Of course, this film isn't set in picket fenced suburbia, but rather the more executive level setting of Washington and its associated social structure. It's not an obvious comparison, but expectations of politicians are quite the same (perfect families, baby-kissing etc.) as those of the quintessential American household.
While Hitchcock's film employs his creative techniques of varying camera angles (Joseph Cotten's fourth wall-breaking is legendary) and evocative score, the aforementioned plainness of direction on display here is equally impressive. Considering the macabre premise of the plot, the frank, almost banal visualizations of the heinous acts is deeply chilling. As a result, the film is both potently of its time (the Cold War was escalating) and seemingly ahead of its time with its bold cynicism.
With the screenplay's strong content and themes, this was already destined to be a fascinating film. However, it's the outstanding acting ensemble that completes the package to make "The Manchurian Candidate" must-see cinema. Namely, the trio of main performers (Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury) gave truly memorable performances. Working in different registers of acting technique (Sinatra's grounded steadfastness, Harvey's jaded fragility and Lansbury's chilly deviousnes), this is a prime example of inspired casting. The film may be a slow burn overall, but the dramatic peaks are handled with crackling brilliance by these fine actors.
In essence, "The Manchurian Candidate" captures many of the traits of today's dark political TV dramas (along with the steady stream of similarly themed films). Of course, production values have improved and our tolerance of antiheroes as protagonists has vastly increased. The message is still the same as it always was though. With power comes the threat of corruption. This is true whether the power is obtained in a communist or capitalist society. It's a constant battle that we need to be reminded of in order to strive to a better future. That's why I have a great appreciation for films like "The Manchurian Candidate", where the entertainment value goes hand in hand with its important social relevance. I implore you to seek out this film, even if you've seen the 2004 remake.

This film is part of my List of Shame.

Monday, November 11, 2013


This week's top pick is the charming little indie "Frances Ha", starring Greta Gerwig as the title character. The almost-mumblecore plot of this film follows an aspiring modern dancer in New York City, who stumbles along the way to achieving her dreams. Struggling to make the jump from apprentice to company dancer, she finds herself in a minor crisis. As she tries to figure everything out, we watch as she simultaneously deals with various relationships, including a best friend who seems to be forging her own path in life.
What's immediately clear as you watch the film, is that it portrays a very specific subsection of society (i.e. Brooklyn hipsters). While there is definitely a discernible plot, the film is more concerned with capturing the tone and mood of Frances and her world. Thankfully, Gerwig is up to the task, as she fully embodies the character and its associated lifestyle. She's quirky and carefree with undeniably "white middle-class" problems. Indeed, this proves to be the crux of the entire film. If you can sympathize with Frances' struggle, then you're more likely to jive with this screenplay. On the other hand, you may alternately find her predicament unworthy of your concern (which seems to be the main issue for the film's detractors).
Even so, the screenplay (written by Baumbach and Gerwig herself) does a lot of work to help you to at least empathize with her situation. It's really a great portrait of your mid to late 20s, when you're too young for a midlife crisis, but old enough to be wary of your lack of direction. Haven't we all been there? In this regard, the subtle script manages to unwittingly tap into the zeitgeist. With the current economic situation, it's easy to dismiss her professional aspirations as folly (if you're familiar with modern dance then you'll know it's quite a curious art form and not very lucrative). However, her determination is admirable. Even as insecurity starts to creep in, (her best friend is achieving significant success in both her love life and career), she stays relatively level-headed, even taking unglamorous jobs if needed. Like many of us, she responds by meandering for a while, but she never loses sight of her dreams. You just know that she won't be content to wallow in apathy forever. As a result, I find her incredibly endearing.
Many will try to compare this film to the terrific TV show "Girls", but it's not entirely accurate. With the likable Greta Gerwig as the protagonist, "Frances Ha" is never allowed to be as acrid as Girls' many cringeworthy moments. As such, the film is less cutting edge, but certainly more accessible. As shocking as it sounds, I personally find Lena Dunham's cynical Hannah more relatable, so this film isn't as impressive as "Girls" to me. There's much to like here though, with the lovely black and white cinematography, pleasant script and affable lead actress.

Friday, November 8, 2013

#FF 12 Years A Slave, Kerry Washington and more...

"12 Years A Slave" continues its theater expansion this week and continues to recieve rave reviews from my fellow bloggers. Check out some of those great reviews below, as well as other interesting reads from the past week:

Clayton W. is impressed by the harsh authenticity of McQueen's vision.

Nick is fascinated by the screenplay's depth.

Ryan praised the film's direction and ensemble cast.

Clayton D. from the Awards Circuit makes a plea to AMPAS to expand their viewing horizons.

Jessica compares watching About Time to the delights of good old fashioned milk chocolate.

Shala reflects on the career of rising star Kerry Washington.

Stevee reflects on her own first hand perspective upon hearing the news that all remaining Blockbuster stores in the US will be closing down.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

OLDIE GOLDIES: Room At The Top (1959)

Simone Signoret receives her Best Actress Oscar
This week's featured film is Jack Clayton's impressive debut feature "Room at the Top". This British film is about an ambitious working class man who schemes to wed a beautiful upper-class young girl, all while getting entangled in a love affair with an older woman. As you can probably tell, it has elements of kitschy melodrama but this smart screenplay keeps it grounded. The script has such a rare openness about sexuality, especially for a pre-1960 film. In addition to the writing, the highlight is the alluring performance of Simone Signoret as the older woman. She deservedly won Best Actress at the Oscars (in addition to an equally deserved Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay) and the film was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Picture.

Monday, November 4, 2013


What else is there to say about "Die Hard"? The film and subsequent franchise have ingrained themselves so much into pop culture that most people are already very familiar with them (except for me evidently). As a result, I'll keep it brief.
"Die Hard" is a 1988 action film starring Bruce Willis as John McClane, a New York police officer who is visiting his wife in Los Angeles. While at a Christmas party hosted by his wife's company, he gets involved in a dangerous hostage situation. Trapped in a tall office building by German terrorists, McClane must use all his crime-busting experience to ward off these perpetrators.
What follows is a thrilling exercise in action filmmaking. As the criminals carry out their extortionist plot, there's a growing sense of danger and anticipation. Hans Gruber is a genuinely intimidating villain, while John McClane is the ultimate badass. The clash of these strong personalities is the exhilarating driving force of this movie. Indeed, it has many exciting scenes, but what most surprised me was how subdued the overall plot is. For the most part, this is merely a battle of wits between McClane and Gruber, which adds some intelligence to the surface-level thrills. Thus, when we do get the explosions and gunplay, it's very effective. It's a sign of strong direction, as John McTiernan makes full use of Willis' movie star appeal and the labyrinth-esque setting.
In many ways, "Die Hard" is a fascinating curio of its time. It's equal parts corny (yippee-ki-yay anyone?), thrilling and intense, much like many other mainstream films from the 1980s. The dialogue dates it a bit, but it holds up well due to the crowd-pleasing aspects. That's my biggest takeaway from watching "Die Hard". This film is just so much fun! It's no wonder they decided to milk the character and concept for all it's worth.

This film is part of my List of Shame.