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Outstanding Sci-Fi Film
Big science fiction films are all the rage this year (Oblivion, Elysium, Pacific Rim...) and Gravity is finally one worth watching. From the trailers I had no idea what to expect. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock floating around in space for two hours eventually became my best guess. I rushed the film at the Toronto International Film Festival and when someone said they were showing it in 3D, I was half tempted to leave the line. I hate 3D movies, they give me awful headaches and I don't see the point of them. As soon as Gravity started, I changed my mind.
The 3D definitely adds something to the film. The opening shot of earth and space is absolutely beautiful. The film starts up fast enough. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are both out doing repairs on the spaceship when Houston warns them the Russians blew up their own satellite and accidentally destroyed every other satellite there is. Debris is coming their way and they have to get back to earth as soon as possible. Of course, from the trailers we see that debris does his them, and without a spaceship they must find another way home.
George Clooney basically plays George Clooney in a space suit (a funny self-loving character also often played by Robert Downey Jr) and Sandra Bullock plays a doctor who was trained a few months for this mission only. George gets very little screen time but Sandra shines throughout the whole film. Despite her being alone, I would say there is quite a lot of action in the film. She's alone out there and you feel you are too. The film takes you in space and it feels claustrophobic to be there. It keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Throughout the film, you see Sandra's character growing as well. Not only is she trying to get back home, but she's finding the will to do so as well.
The film is a visual masterpiece. Yes there is a lot of CGI of course (basically everything you see on screen is fake) but it never felt like it. For once, the 3D definitely adds something to the experience. You get the depth of field you need to truly experience the movie and feel as through you're right there with Sandra. She gives an absolutely stunning performance, acting to absolutely nothing, yet always being right on the spot.
If you get a chance to see Gravity in theatres, go for it, especially if you see it in 3D (even if you usually hate 3D, believe me, it's worth it.) Alfonso Cuarón has outdone himself with this film, it's definitely a must see for sci-fi lovers.
Labor Day (2013)
A new kind of film from Reitman
I attended the premiere of Labor Day at the Toronto International Film Festival. Most people walked in expecting a Juno/Up in the Air style comedy and if that's what you expect you'll be mildly surprised. The film is darker that Reitman's usual works though you still recognize the director's touch.
The movie tells the story of Adele (Kate Winslet), a woman who slowly shut herself off from the world, relying heavily on her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), whose father abandoned them to another wife and other children. Enters a menacing escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who finds refuge with Adele and her son as he tries to remain hidden from the police.
The summary will have you believe that 'the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.' or that the family realizes they're now prisoners in their own home which makes it sound like the movie is going to be some sort of Panic Room 2 but the story is nothing like that. As Adele and her son get to know the prisoner, they both find the family they've been longing for.
It's a beautiful story despite being somewhat implausible but I found what mattered wasn't the story we see, so much as witnessing the characters finally having a shot at happiness and how the remainder of their days is shaped by this weekend they spent together. This film isn't driven by dialogue as much as Reitman's other films were. The director has said in interviews that he found it challenging to do a movie where there was little dialogue (he actually said without music or dialogue and I walked in half expecting to see a silent film.) He worked around it by having Tobey Maguire narrate the film as an older Henry. The narration works though I think the film could have done without it as well. Don't let the whole 'silent' thing keep you from seeing this film, I found there was enough dialogue, and there is music as well though unlike Juno it doesn't play as a whole hipster soundtrack.
The movie is more subtle yet more raw, slower than his usual films and it lets the actors take us through every emotion. Kate Winslet is a terrific actress and she gave a beautiful performance as Adele, very convincingly portraying a woman who's given up on living. Josh Brolin was great as well, giving us both a tough convict and a soft hearted man at times. Gattlin Griffith was great at a kid who grew up faster than he should. I'm always very iffy when it comes to child actors but he pulled it off very well.
In conclusion, Labor Day is a different, more adult and more mature film from Jason Reitman. It's a nice transitions from his previous comedies and goes a bit deeper than his other films, bringing tension, tears and some laughs. Whether you're already a Reitman fan or not, I recommend this film, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The F Word (2013)
Funny and fresh comedy
I went to a screening of the F Word at the Toronto International Film Festival and I can say I had a good time (I can also say that Daniel Radcliffe is much much shorter in person than what you would expect.) I wasn't sure what the story was or what type of movie it would be and from the director of Goon and Fubar, I probably wouldn't have expected a romantic comedy, but as it turns out it was and I quite enjoyed it.
The film tells the story of Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) who meet at a party when Wallace finally gets over being dumped over a year ago and goes back into the world. He soon finds out that Chantry has a boyfriend but the two of them decide they'll give a go at being friends. Both characters are somewhat awkward and seem to have little friends outside of Allan (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Mackenzie Davis). Their best friends are common friends but for some unknown reason they had never met before, probably due to Wallace being somewhat emotionally unstable and completely shut off in his apartment for months on end.
The film is predictable overall but still brings some fresh moments. I absolutely love Adam Driver and he plays more or less the same character he plays on Girls but it was great to see him here. The characters are lovable in their awkwardness and shyness and you do hope for them to get together. They're also quite believable. Wallace was in med school but dropped out (still because he got dumped honestly, Wallace can't really handle being dumped) and now works at an alienating low end job, while Chantry has that girl next door look and works in an animation studio, with pressure to accept a promotion she's not sure she wants.
The film is cute for sure, but also really funny at times. I'm not a huge fan of Daniel Radcliffe to begin with, having seen him only in the obligatory Harry Potter series and the Woman in Black but he was quite good, and different. It's a bit slow but I can't say that was an issue for me. Toronto is featured a lot as the film was shot and takes place there (for once, they're not pretending it's New York) so it was great to see the city.
While there is no release date set, the director said the movie should come out around Valentine's Day so by all means, if you're looking for a fun comedy to watch, go see it. It's way better than most movies that come out for the holiday and it's one I believe both women and men will enjoy.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Another masterpiece from McQueen
I attended the premiere of 12 Years a Slave at the Toronto International Film Festival. Having no tickets, we had to wait close to 4 hours hoping they might let us in. I have to say it was definitely worth the wait and it is hands down the best film I've seen at the festival.
The film is based on the real story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York, who is abducted and sold into slavery in Louisiana. As the film begins, we are exposed to his talent as a musician (he plays the violin) and get a glimpse of the life he leads with his wife and two children. All is well until he meets two men who seem taken by his music and want to bring him along with them so he can play at various events. When Solomon wakes up in chains, his dark journey starts and the film never lets you take a break.
If you've seen McQueen's other works then you more or less know what kind of movie to expect (if you haven't then please stop reading and watch Hunger and Shame). 12 Years a Slave is dark and raw, it exposes everything, without sugarcoating it. It is definitely hard to watch; Several people walked out of the the theatre but in my opinion, it is not only worth watching but necessary. Films exploring themes of slavery are few and far in between and never has one been quite as exhaustive and effective as this one. Beautifully shot and edited, the film features moments of tension, heartbreak and a few laughs here and there. Steve McQueen has created another masterpiece.
Most actors get very little screen time. Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson are seen for a few minutes but both are great as usual. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a plantation owner, who recognizes Solomon's talent and tries to help him to a certain extent. Despite being a slaver, he is presented in the film as being a good man. Cumberbatch was very good, though outshined by far by Michael Fassbender. He goes through every emotion and gives it his everything. In my opinion, this is his best performance to date. Paul Dano gets a few minutes of screen time as well but makes incredible use of it. As Benedict's worker, he despises slaves and the songs he sings to Solomon makes an incredibly powerful scene, one of the most disturbing in the film. Lupita Nyong'o's first appearance in a feature film is stunning, as she plays a heart breaking young slave. I hope she has a long career ahead of her, she certainly has the talent for it. The true star is definitely Chiwetel Ejiofor. His performance as Solomon is stunning and unforgettable, I truly hope he wins the Oscar for it this year.
All in all, if you get a chance to see 12 Years a Slave, don't miss it. Not everyone will be able to stomach it but it's an outstanding film that deserves and needs to be seen.
Song for Marion (2012)
A simple film that doesn't pretend to be something it isn't
This film was the closing night gala of the Toronto International Film Festival. It seems most of those were forgotten in past years but I hope this one gets more attention.
The story is quite simple, a grumpy old man finds the love of his life dying from cancer. She is in a local choir, lead by a joyful young woman. But the man, Terrence Stamp, wants nothing to do with it. The film is somewhat stereotypical and he's the old man you'd expect to see, seemingly allergic to anything remotely close to happiness, unless it has to do with his wife. Even his own son doesn't seem to bring him joy. But as the film goes on, of course, he will find that there are things in life that make it worth living, and that accepting people in your life will make it worth all better.
I wish I could give this a 6.5. The movie isn't the greatest comedy of all time, but it's light and it's fun. The elderly people in the choir are cute but it seems they all happen to be really weird and want to dress up as rappers and sing about sex. Yes, you know how it ends. It could only end one way and you see it coming from the opening scenes.
The film could have been better, had it not been so typical. It could have been quite good, if the movie had explored the themes it barely grazed in the film, such as Stamp's relationship with his son. The film teaches you that it's never too late to make things right. But I'm thinking for some elements in this film it may have been.
The actors were good, I wish we'd seen more of Vanessa Redgrave but Terrence Stamp upheld the film from beginning to end and I thin it would have been a lot worse without him as the lead role. I guess he learnt to sing for the film and he was quite good, but if the movie hadn't stayed at the surface of the themes it explored, it might have made for a more touching ending.
Song for Marion won't blow you away by its originality. But if you can get past that, it can still make for an enjoyable film. Keep it for a rainy day and don't expect anything it doesn't promise.
The chance to make a good film was missed
I couldn't write this entire review without spoilers but I'll write a short one without any. This is the story of Augustine, a 19 year-old woman who is sent to an asylum because she has crises and is apparently 'possessed.' She is treated by Charcot (Vincent Lindon) who was a real french doctor who worked with hypnosis to treat hysteria and made several advances in the field of Parkinson and sclerosis.
Here however, Charcot's skills seem mostly to take off girl's clothes. Nothing is said about what Charcot really does or why he does it. He uses hypnosis to observe Augustine's crises but he doesn't really seem to care for the other patient. He quite obviously wants to sleep with Augustine and has a really nice monkey at home. That's what I walked away from.
The film itself would have been quite good if not for major plot holes. Vincent Lindon whom I love, was quite fantastic in this, as usual, as was the girl playing Augustine. It seems the film is going somewhere until the very end when you realize it really isn't. It's too bad because, because Augustine was 'almost' a very good film.
Augustine, following one of the biggest crisis is left with paralysis on her right side (it seems she can still move however, but she can't open her eye and she can't feel anything.) She is obviously sexually repressed and at age 19, still doesn't have her period. Charcot writes in his diary that she is starting to feel better. She had a dream that animals were being bled and now she has her period! Like magic, because Charcot really didn't do anything in the film, as far as we're aware.
Then she has another crisis and the paralysis moves to her left side. But she can still move everything except for her arm. Charcot undresses her a few times and decides he wants to present her to the academy to get more funding. But just before the presentation, she falls down the stairs and can move her arm! So she decides that she is healed (even though her main issue was her recurring crises) and she fakes a crisis at the academy, going all out to touch herself while looking Charcot in the eye. Huge sexual build up of course, so Charcot leaves everyone at the academy to go have sex with Augustine and then he lets her escape the asylum.
So what is the morale of the film? No one realized just because her paralysis is temporarily gone doesn't mean she is healed? Was she just so horny it caused her not to move? They had really good substance and wasted it to make this film a sexual affair between Charcot and Augustine. I did still enjoy the film beyond that, I am disappointed.
A beautiful and unforgettable ride through hell
I attended a screening of this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. The director was there and spoke of the tedious process of getting his film released. I am not sure when it will be open to the public but I hope it can come out in a not-so-distant future because it's definitely a must see.
Rebelle is not for everyone. It's hard to watch and may be too much for some. But what's so terrible about this film isn't what is shown. It's what isn't. The story is about a 14 year-old girl, telling her story to her unborn baby before giving birth. It spans the two years preceding the opening of the film, when the girl was abducted from her village by the rebel army and turned into a child soldier. As every step, something terrible happens. But somehow, leaving the theatre, you simply know that in real life, it may have been even more horrible.
I won't spoil anything but as you can imagine, as she lives with the rebel army, she is forced to do unspeakable things. She is somewhat protected by the leader as he believes her to be a witch. Throughout the film, she has visions of the ghosts of people killed by the rebel army, including her own parents. It doesn't seem unrealistic or made up. It makes the film just this more bearable to watch, as we're let into the mind of a child and her ways of coping with the events around her.
She befriends another kid believed to have special powers, a boy barely older than she is. As their relationship evolves, you find yourself within their own personal haven, their escape from the atrocities of the life they are forced to live. You understand why child soldiers do what they do, how a human being can be turned to commit inhumane crimes. From their adventure together, you will laugh at times and cry at others.
It's really hard to write about this film without giving away anything. All the emotions you will feel watching time come from the characters around the kids and the small things that happen to them that give them the strength to go on. The 'butcher' may be the best character in the film. His kindness to the children, his understanding of what they have been though and his acceptance of what they have become is incredibly touching.
It's a tough film. A beautiful film. A film that stays with you long after you've seen it. Most of the actors hired had never acted before but they are all fantastic. Rachel Mwanza in particular is unforgettable. I hope she goes on to have a brilliant career because she was fantastic.
If ever you have an opportunity to see Rebelle, take it. You won't regret it.
90 minutter (2012)
Ordinary lives turned to nightmares
I went to a screening of this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. We had to exchange tickets at the last minute before leaving the city and we picked this one quite at random. I must say I didn't expect what I saw.
The film begins as slowly as any film can be. A woman and his husband prepare for their children's birthday party. An older man cancels his newspaper subscription. A young man watches TV and observes the teenagers playing on the other side of the street. Going into the film, you know you're about to observe the last 90 minutes of these people's lives. But how do they get from doing the most mundane things to dying? Is it their own doing? Is it planned? Will someone else end their lives?
This is what you explore in 90 minutes. The contrast between all of these stories is what makes the experience interesting. The elderly's story seems straightforward. It's slow and it's sad but you know why, and almost how it's coming. The couple's story takes a different turn somewhere down the road and ends with a bang. I live in Quebec, and somehow I find it resonates with recent events here but no matter where you come from, you'll know of something like this.
The first two stories (although they do go back and forth between them so there isn't really a particular order) are scenes that we're almost accustomed to. The hatred, the regrets, the shame that can all build up within the most ordinary people only to explode in a burst of violence or drag the people you love down with you. It's real and beautifully shown here. We get glimpses of their past and it ties everything together, so that everyone will understand.
The third story begins ordinarily as well. After a somewhat long shot, the camera moves and suddenly the story is turned into a nightmare. It's the most disturbing and violent part of the film. It's also the one that raised the most questions. Why did she stay there? How long had this been going on? Had it always been like this? Unfortunately here you are made to answer the questions yourself. Perhaps the relationship took a wrong turn. Perhaps the man changed along the way. Or maybe it really never was a relationship to begin with. Either way this story is the one that takes the film to the next level. The one that allows us to glimpse into the violence present outside of the world of ordinary middle class people.
90 minutes will shock you. It's not a long film but it isn't especially easy to watch either. It's definitely worth seeing if you like foreign films, or don't mind ones that aren't action packed from beginning to end.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
A powerful adaptation to a beautiful novel
I was lucky enough to get last-minute tickets for this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. The theatre was packed and we were thrilled to see it although we did not entirely know what to expect. I had read a part of the book but never found time to finish it.
The very opening of the film is mesmerizing and sets pace for all that is to follow. Six stories are intertwined to create one magical ride through time and space, as all stories move forward as one. To those who haven't read the book, I expect you might find the movie confusing at first. It seems unclear at the beginning (and for most of the first hour and a half at least) what all these characters have to do with one another. The end ties it up quite well, but for a three hour film, you might find you've spent a bit too long grasping at straws. Just let it go and enjoy what's before you; It will all come together in the end.
An important aspect of the film is that actors play different characters throughout the film, finding themselves in different stories and eras. Often it works. The futuristic plot with Jim Sturgess is one I particularly enjoy. But sometimes, it feels like they're incorporated just a tad bit much. Tom Hanks' role in the editor's story seemed huge and important and first but it seemed we were supposed to forget about it. As I walked out of the theatre, I felt I had seen not only Cloud Atlas as a whole but a series of other films as well.
I think maybe for a film such as this one, actors who weren't as known would have been better. It may have been easier to believe in all their different characters and forget who they were. But as far as their performances went, well they were great. Tom Hanks shines from the opening sequence to the very end. Halle Berry was adequate for the journalist and Hugh Grant... actually it seems he's playing himself in this one too. But the true star as always is Hugo Weaving. He steals the screen whenever he appears and is mesmerizing both as the devil or a regular assassin.
The costumes and make up went from absolutely stunning (it may take you a few minutes to recognize actors sometimes) to somewhat distracting. Changing the race and age of an actor has got to be challenging but it's still hard to forget who they are. I expect the film will get an Oscar for this however, as I don't think anyone will beat them in this category before winter comes. The score was also incredibly powerful and beautiful and helped set the tone for the movie greatly.
Cloud Atlas will take you anywhere and everywhere. It may surprise you by its sudden burst of violence, sometimes exaggerated and almost funny, sometimes cold and raw. You might cry at times, as the characters make choices and sacrifices. One story is particularly funny and had the theatre laughing quite often.
All in all, Cloud Atlas is no ordinary film. It's a voyage that will take you to places you didn't expect. Don't try to understand it, just let yourself go and you'll find you understood what it was all about. If you're looking for a linear plot, then this film isn't for you. But if you want to experience something different, then by all means, buy a ticket for Cloud Atlas when it comes out. I know I'll be seeing it again.