Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Yes, we're well into 2014 already but as we all know from the Oscars, nothing of note gets released before May right? Jokes aside, I like to post this list around this time since we have a bit more info (images, casting news, trailers etc.) about the upcoming film year than we do in January (and partially for the Oscar reason too, I can't help it). Looking ahead, there are a number of acting performances that seem like they could be very exciting. So here they are, my Top 20 Most Anticipated Acting Performances of 2014:
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
This week on Hit me with your best shot, Nathaniel decided to revisit "Mean Girls" in honour of its 10-year anniversary! This fantastic teen comedy has built up a solid reputation since its release, due mainly to its quotable lines and memorable scenes. Critics have also championed the script's sharp observations about silly high school politics. Really, the mind games are enough to make your head spin!
Upon this rewatch, I was again reminded of how genuinely enjoyable it is. The plot moves along with a remarkable efficiency and it's so consistently funny. Even more impressive is that it has aged quite well in this superficial #selfie age of ours.
While the film is known for its humour, my chosen shot is more of a downer. It comes from an unintentionally "meta" moment involving Lindsay Lohan's Cady Heron character.
Click below for my favourite shot...
Monday, April 28, 2014
This week's top pick is the religious epic "Noah", directed by Darren Aronofsky. It's a doomsday tale that's well-known around the world, even to those with only a casual knowledge of the bible. With Aronofsky at the helm, the story is given his own unique interpretation, delivering something that fits well within his daring filmography.
If you're one of the few without any knowledge of the story, here's a quick refresher. The setting is an ancient time, many years Before Christ. Noah is a simple man who recieves a prophecy from God, depicting an impending flood that will wipe out mankind for their wickedness. Due to the goodness of him and his family, he is charged with building an Ark to save his loved ones and the innocent animals that roam the earth. In this interpretation, this sets up a war between Noah and the masses, who are lead by a man named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).
As you watch the events unfold, you're likely to ask yourself several key questions. Why save the animals? Why such drastic measures? Why is only Noah's family being saved? It must have been a hard task for Aronofsky to adapt this material coherently enough to appeal to a wide audience. The concept is one that's so ludicrous that it can only come from a basis in religion. In tackling this challenge, Aronofsky gives us a strong philosophical interpretation that we can relate to.
To address the first pair of questions, Aronofosky made a rather brilliant choice to take an environmentalist perspective. To show man's insatiable appetite for consumption, he depicts them as brutes who savagely mistreat man and animal alike. Even cannibalism is on the cards for these wicked people. The horrific imagery involved is a far cry from the Sunday School concept of cute zoo animals walking up to the ark "two by two, hurrah!" From my memory, it always seemed like they were saving the animals "just because". To see the destruction on display then, was a great way to internalize the severity of the situation. What's even more fascinating about the environmental take is how defiantly un-Christian it is! The common philosophy of Christian teachings is that man is to have dominion over all things on earth, including the ability to eat the animals who are so generously provided by God. The blatant environmentalist framing is therefore a bold choice that works well, giving a more understandable context.
The other question goes through a more complicated examination. When Noah first breaks the news to his family, his son asks "But what of us?" He responds by explaining that they get to start over in the new world like the animals. This isn't the first instance that the question arises however. Later in the film, when the sh** hits the fan, he starts feeling some survivor's guilt, prompting him to declare that they need to die as well. As Noah struggles to understand to God's true intent, he goes through great internal debate over the true meaning of good and evil. It turns out to be the most significant moral quandary of the film, as the ramifications of God's wrath results in much of the internal family drama that makes up a large portion of the plot.
As this is an Aronofsky film, the strength of these philosophical questions is equally matched by his bravura directing style. From the suitably brash score (at once "ugly" and captivating) to his lurid visuals, this is a tour de force of directing. Say what you want about the success of this vision, but at least you can't accuse him of phoning it in.
Admittedly, he does get carried away with the theatrics of certain plot points and the fantasy elements. Personally, I was a bit perplexed by the "rock monsters" and the general presence of supernatural forces (why do some people still have these powers when man has fallen from grace?). Still, these flaws weren't enough to take away from the rich themes and thrilling production values. Indeed, a few scenes are seared into my memory. Namely, the image of the earth covered in clouds and another where Noah sits alone in the Ark with the wailing cries of those left behind in the background.
His willingness to go to these dark places is the true mark of a confident auteur. It's a wonder then, that Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly manage to carve out such fully-realized characters within this obvious director's showcase. Connelly exudes a perfect air of grace, while Crowe captures the deeply flawed, tortured soul of Noah. Seriously, talk about a misanthropist!
In the end, Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" is unlikely to convert any new disciples to his "fandom". It's just too "out there". For those willing to go along with it though, this is a noteworthy entry alongside his other audacious films (especially "The Fountain"). If you're a fan of these types of films, then you should be able to find something to like here.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
I know I already did a wrap-up post for my Tribeca coverage but after the announcement of the festival's various awards, I felt I needed to chime in with some further thoughts. The main story of course, is that Talya Lavie's "Zero Motivation" won Best Narrative Feature and Libyan revolution doc "Point and Shoot" won Best Documentary Feature. By some stroke of luck, the former was the only film from the competition section that I scheduled and it turned out to be the top film! I haven't seen the other eligible films, but it's a definitely a respectable winner.
Of course, as an Oscar blogger I instantly started to think of these films in the context of the upcoming awards season. Over the past few years, the Tribeca Film Festival has established itself as a launching pad for several Oscar nominees in Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary Feature categories. For example, "War Witch" and "Broken Circle Breakdown" were big winners at Tribeca and rode that buzz to eventual Oscar nominations. On the documentary side, "Taxi to the Dark Side" won the top prize at Tribeca before its Oscar win, while "Searching for Sugar Man" and "Cutie and the Boxer" both placed 2nd for the audience award before their eventual nods. It therefore stands to reason that "Zero Motivation" (assuming it wins the Ophir Award to become Israel's submission) and "Point and Shoot" (it already has a pedigree due to its twice nominated director Marshall Curry) have gotten early boosts in Oscar's Foreign Language and Documentary Feature races respectively.
Further down the list of award winners, there are several other films to take note of in terms of Oscar potential. By virtue of having directors whose films have been submitted before (most countries tend to favour a core group of directors), the following are likely to be selected as the official submissions for their countries: "Human Capital" (Italy) and "I Won't Come Back" (Estonia). In addition, "Manos Sucias" could feature in the race after two notices here (Best New Director and Audience Award 2nd Place) but I'm not sure about its eligibility (joint Colombia-USA production with an American director). Mexico could also go with "Güeros", winner of Best Cinematography and a Special Jury Mention for Best New Director (more notably, it previously won Best First Feature at the presitigious Berlin Film Festival).
In other news, Oscar guru Harvey Weinstein could be back for glory with another inspiring music doc "Keep On Keepin' On". The film picked up awards for Best New Narrative Director on Thursday and was soon acquired by The Weinstein Company just before adding the Heineken Audience Award to its haul today. It certainly sounds like a major contender to me. Other winners in the documentary competition include "Regarding Susan Sontag", "Mala Mala" and "Ne Me Quitte Pas", so look out for those as possible Oscar contenders too.
Here's the full list of award winners from the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival:
Thursday, April 24, 2014
The 2014 Tribeca Film Festival continues through April 27th but sadly, my time is up. This was a different experience from NYFF last year due to my tight schedule (had a wedding to attend) which forced me to watch some films online. Still, it was a pleasant experience overall, even though there were no knockout films. I could definitely see myself coming back, especially to try out some of the cool sidebar events.
To close out my coverage, here are a few random thoughts and observations:
- The festival's rush ticket system lived up to its reputation. I managed to get a last minute ticket to the buzzy world premiere of "Every Secret Thing".
- In the words of Cate Blanchett, "The world is round, people!" Films directed by and starring women ended up being my favourites of the festival.
- Of the many first-time filmmakers, I think Talya Lavie is the one to watch. I'd love it if she won the Best New Narrative Director award.
- As a foreigner, it's a bit confusing that so many of the screenings aren't actually in the TriBeCa area. Why did I spend so much time in Chelsea and the East Side?
- Favourite film: Every Secret Thing
- Favourite director: Amy Berg, Every Secret Thing
- Favourite performance: Don Johnson, Alex of Venice
- Favourite screenplay: Nicole Holofcener, Every Secret Thing
Here's how I'd rank the 8 films I saw (in order of preference):
Every Secret Thing
Alex of Venice
Beneath the Harvest Sky
The Bachelor Weekend
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
I'm no longer in New York, but I'm still very much in festival mode. Using Tribeca's VOD service on iTunes I'll be reviewing two more films from the festival selection. First up is "The Bachelor Weekend".
This week's film for Hit me with your best shot is an animated one - 1995's "Pocahontas". This tale of forbidden love had the unenviable position of following "The Lion King" from the year before and it proved to be a tough act to follow. As a Disney fan myself, I take no pleasure in admitting that this is one of my least favourite Disney films. Among a slew of memorable musicals from the studio's renaissance period, this one only managed to have one good song ("Colors of the Wind"). Furthermore, something about the character animation always falls flat for me.
However, the environments surrounding these characters are very lovely. In retrospect it makes sense perhaps, considering the pro-nature themes of the film. The beautiful setting was therefore the focal point of my favourite shot this week.
Click below for my favourite shot...
Monday, April 21, 2014
My day at the Tribeca Film Festival took on a decidedly foreign spin, as I sampled a trio of films from world cinema. These included "Zero Motivation" (Israel), short film "Incident Urbain" (France) and "Karpotrotter" (Slovenia). Read on for reviews of these films below:
Sunday, April 20, 2014
The Tribeca Film Festival got into full swing for me today with my first set of actual theater screenings. It was a long day, as I watched a trio of films - "Alex of Venice", "Every Secret Thing" (yay for "rush" lines) and "Boulevard. Here's what I thought of this diverse set:
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I decided to skip "About Alex" today in favour of more online screenings (don't worry, I'll get into the real screenings tomorrow). Instead of a full-length feature however, I took a peek at two of the shorts. Here are my brief tweet reviews of "Peepers" and "Scratch":
A well-directed short film with an awesome sense of humour. Cleverly plays with tension and suspense. #Peepers— Shane (@filmactually) April 19, 2014
Interesting Irish short with amusing plot points. Doesn't add up to anything spectacular, but the dialogue and acting is solid. #Scratch— Shane (@filmactually) April 19, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
My Tribeca Film Festival started bright and early today with an online screening of "Ice Poison". Due to my limited free time available for this trip, these free screenings (part of the festival's online competition) proved to be very convenient. Here's what I thought of this Burmese drama:
Thursday, April 17, 2014
It's time! The 2014 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival kicked off last night and I'll be joining in on the fun starting tomorrow (Friday, April 18th). It looks like it will an exciting week ahead! For my personal schedule I've lined up a number of world premieres, in addition to various films that played other festivals (the ones with trailers below). Also, many of these are from debut directors, so maybe we'll be witnessing the arrival of new talent. Here's what I'll be watching:
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
This week's pick for Hit me with your best shot is the classic film noir "The Letter". Directed by William Wyler and starring the great Bette Davis, it bears many of the traits of the genre - devious woman, murder and crime-solving. It thus makes for compelling viewing, albeit slightly facile and a tad overdramatic in parts. The main draw however, is the star quality of Bette Davis, who gives good face as the femme fatale. For the purposes of this best shot challenge though, I decided to highlight another actress who also does strong work in the film.
Click below for my favourite shot...
Monday, April 14, 2014
This week's top film is a Spanish film of significant social relevance - "Take My Eyes". Directed by Icíar Bollaín, it tells the story of a wife/mother who suffers through domestic abuse. As she nears her breaking point, the film takes us through her harrowing ordeal. Will she rise up and liberate herself?
The film opens with a seemingly critical scene. Our lead character Pilar (Laia Marull) has had enough. Distraught and trembling with fear, she packs up her stuff (young son included) and runs away in the middle of the night. She soon lands on the doorstep of her sister, finding sanctuary at last. It's the ending we all want for such women but of course, life isn't so simple.
Indeed, this lack of idealism is the most fascinating aspect of "Take My Eyes". Unlike the more triumphant stories of female empowerment in the similarly-themed "Provoked" and "Enough", this film shows the harsh, complex (and often cyclical) nature of abusive relationships. This strikingly even-handed script shows rare insight, as we learn about both sides of the struggle between this man and woman.
In order to create empathy for the devil, the script smartly ensures that we get an equally thorough portrait of the husband Antonio (Luis Tosar). Pilar's departure frustrates him, driving him to anger management therapy and persistent grovelling for her forgiveness. As he fights to win her back, his hidden insecurities emerge - mainly his failings as a husband and provider.
Most importantly though, the film helps us to understand why Pilar would tolerate his aggression in the first place. Despite the violence and psychological torment, the truth is that Antonio is a passionate lover. This realization forms the basis of the film's title. The phrase "take my eyes" is taken straight from a sex scene when Pilar goes back to her husband. In a feat of intense seduction, Pilar declares that every piece of her is now his possession, including of course, her eyes. Everything you need to know about how this relationship - and the film itself - works, can be summed up in these scenes. Palpably erotic, the raw intensity is a great credit to the phenomenal acting by Marull and Tosar, as well as Bollain's direction. It so perfectly captures the level of selflessness that marriage requires. It's why I believe that the literal translation of the Spanish title "Te doy mis ojos" would be more apt. To translate directly, it means "I give you my eyes". This phrasing gives Pilar the true agency that she displays in the film. After years of willingly giving herself over to a man, she now has to reclaim her sense of self. By opening with that scene of self-liberation, only to bring her back into the mud with Antonio, we are therefore more able to invest in the complex nature of her decisions. Will Pilar 2.0 include Antonio in her life? The answer is neither obvious nor easy to explain.
Everything leads to the film's powerful conclusion, leaving Pilar at a crossroads after finally coming in to her own. The final scene therefore leaves us with food for thought, posing the question - Who is the weak one? Pilar or Antonio? After viewing the events of this film, the final answer may surprise you. It's evident that vulnerability and weakness manifests itself in many forms. Tyler Perry's several man-hating films may give you the Cliffs Notes version of this, but "Take My Eyes" is the real deal.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Next week marks the opening of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and yours truly will be attending for the first time. I'll be making a quick visit to the festival (on April 20-21) while on Easter vacation in the tri-state area. My personal schedule should be finalized sometime next week, so look out for that announcement. In the meantime, check out the video below for a glance of some of the star-studded films that will be premiering:
Monday, April 7, 2014
In lieu of the "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (it hasn't released here yet), I decided to catch up with another popular comic book movie this week - "Hellboy". Released in 2004, this fantasy/action film showcases many of the directorial skills that we've come to associate with Guillermo del Toro. Two years before his magnum opus ("Pan's Labyrinth"), he served up this thrilling, visually impressive interpretation of a superhero.
The film begins in 1944, with the Nazis conducting a secret experiment to strengthen their defense. They've developed a portal that will summon monsters to aid them in the war. The initiative is lead by a Russian mystic named Grigori Rasputin, who believes that this will make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the plan is thwarted by a team sent by the Allied Forces, leaving Rasputin consumed by the destroyed portal. In the wake of the destruction, a harmless baby demon is left behind. He is adopted by the Allies and given the name Hellboy.
Fast forward 60 years and Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) is now a fully grown adult, hidden away in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. He lives a peaceful existence under the watchful eye of his adopted father Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and other guardians. Danger awaits however, as Rasputin is resurrected and intends to finish what he started. With his band of fearsome creatures, he unleashes havoc.
As the titular hero, Hellboy's task is a bit complicated. Much like Superman, he is tasked to defend planet earth against enemies that are more akin to his own kind. Of course, as a hulking red demon, he's treated as an outsider among the humans, with every public sighting resulting in a storm of news headlines. In many ways, he's much like the "freaks" we call the X-Men. As a result, he has to derive mainly internal motivation to play the savior. Tie this all together with some of the dark, brooding atmosphere made popular by The Dark Knight trilogy and you get a compilation of practically all the signature comic book elements.
My reason for making these comparisons is twofold. Primarily, it's reflective of del Toro's vision for this film. Being a fanboy himself, he fully embraces the comic book origins of this story. Even as the atmosphere is dark and moody in a Nolanesque way, the main character is much more light-hearted. The tortured soul is now the new normal, but on this occasion del Toro gave us a throwback comic book style, emphasizing the playfulness. With striking visuals, grotesque creature design and a snarky, amusing performance by Ron Pearlman, del Toro thus blends the macabre and the zany like only he can.
On the other hand though, it would be dishonest to ignore the shortcomings of the script. For a film with such imaginative visuals, its typical plot is rather disappointing. It's bound to feel very familiar. Essentially, it's the misunderstood hero fighting against the forces of evil, with some romance thrown in for good measure.
In spite of its flaws however, del Toro compensates with genuinely thrilling action scenes and eye-popping visuals. So even when you start to feel wary of the writing, you're still invested in the "Bang! Pow! Boom!". It's a formula that has worked for him numerous times (I'm looking at you "Pacific Rim"), so props to him. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'll certainly be coming back for more.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In honour of April Fools' Day, Nathaniel chose a perfectly silly film for Hit me with your best shot this week - 'Can't Stop the Music'. This story about the formation of The Village People holds the inauspicious title of being the first winner of the Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture. It doesn't come as much of a surprise after watching it, as it really is hilariously awful (emphasis on hilarious). There are so many things wrong with this film but it's also a lot of fun, very much in the spirit of The Village People. Indeed, the plot has a lot of visually amusing things going on, but there was no doubting which scene would contain my best shot. It comes from the moment that I was personally anticipating the most - the performance of "Y.M.C.A.".
Click below for my favourite shot...