‘Tomorrowland’ loses steam crossing the finish line
The newest project based on a Disney Theme Park attraction to be turned into a film, after the Pirates of the Caribbean films and others like The Country Bears and and The Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland comes from the mind of one of Disney’s most reliable director’s Brad Bird. After taking on the last Mission Impossible film, Ghost Protocol, Bird returns to the house of mouse to direct George Clooney, Hugh Laurie and others in his attempt to make the once fantastical Tomorrowland into a summer blockbuster.
Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a dreamer that will not stop fighting. When her beloved NASA is set to tear down the Cape Canaveral launch site, and also put her father out of work, Casey sabotages the demolition equipment to slow the process. Eventually Casey is caught, but her actions catch the eye of Tomorrowland recruiter Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who sets her on a collision course with another former Tomorrowland recruit of her’s, Frank Walker (George Clooney). But Athena’s mission is no longer just recruitment as the Tomorrowland of old no longer exists and is struggling under the leadership of Nix (Hugh Laurie). But can Athena’s recruits save the day, and the land of tomorrow? (more…)
Human Rights Watch Film Fest 2015: Uyghurs, Prisoners of the Absurd
As US forces inhabit Afghanistan in October of 2001 in search of their enemy number one Osama Bin Laden, the US military starts bombarding the country with flyers from planes above promising riches beyond compare for the information/capture of Taliban terrorists. For 22 members of China’s Uyghur minority that just happen to be living in the country after fleeing oppression in their native land, this turns out to be a disastrous turn of events. The Turkish-speaking Muslims are sold to US forces under false accusations and propaganda where they become some of the first accused terrorists illegally detained at Guantanamo Bay. (more…)
The 9 most anticipated films at the 9th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival
Since this year marks the 9th annual for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TAD for short), we will run down 9 of the most anticipated film playing this year, in what looks to be one of the strongest overall lineups of the festival’s history.
If you haven’t already procured tickets for tonight’s opening film then you better get down there really early for the rush line! Housebound had been leaving genre fans ecstatic for months now after a wildly successful festival run. The horror comedy from New Zealand about a haunted house has been a major crowd pleaser everywhere it has played. If its half as good as What we do in the Shadows, another New Zealand horror comedy that debuted at TIFF this year, then it should be a major hit.
ABC’s of Death 2
While the first ABC’s was uneven and even downright awful in parts this new incarnation features a brand new crop of talented filmmakers, some may argue its a more talented bunch but that is for them to debate, and more importantly perhaps this time around there was clear guidelines delivered for the filmmakers. The outcome, from word of mouth coming out of Fantastic Fest, is a film that is miles above its predecessor. (more…)
TIFF Free Screen – “Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater”
Tonight as part of TIFF’s Free Screen program TIFF brings a unique night with an equally unique documentarian, James Benning, with a screening of Gabe Klinger’s film on Benning and his 30 year old friendship with director Richard Linklater “Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater”. Double Play won the Best Documentary on Cinema Award at the 2013 Venice International Film Festival and screens with Benning and Klinger in attendance to discuss the film and some of Benning’s seminal work.
Benning and Linklater couldn’t be 2 more opposite filmmakers; Benning is a documentarian in the Cinéma Vérité mold that rarely breaks the camera’s concentration whereas Linklater has experimented with his camera quite a few times with films like “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly”. The pair met 30 years ago when Linklater made Benning the first guest at Linklater’s then newly established Austin Film Society (founded a year before the release of Linklater’s Slacker). But with Linklater’s newest film “Boyhood”, Klinger brings the pair together on camera to discuss the similarities between Boyhood and Benning’s works.
After the screening of Double Play, starting at 6:30, the evening will be topped off with a screening of 2 of Benning’s works as the director himself will be back to introduce American Dreams (lost and found), the film that most closely resembles/inspires comparison to Linklater’s Boyhood, and the short Chicago Loop which are both being presented on newly restored 35mm prints.
Tickets are being handed out on a first come/first served basis tonight, August 23rd, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox box office starting at 4:30 pm.
Till Next Time
Movie Junkie TO
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Muppets Most Wanted plays better at home
Now on Blu ray and DVD, Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” sees the entire Muppets gang embarking on a global tour that includes Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. But, as usual, mayhem follows the Muppets as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper to stela the crown jewels. This nefarious plot is headed by Constantine—the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit—and his dastardly sidekick Dominic (Ricky Gervais). Meanwhile, Kermit is detained behind bars by Nadya (Tina Fey), as Ty Burrell tracks all the shenanigans as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon.
Back in 2011, Jason Segel teamed up with writer Nicolas Stoller, songwriter Bret McKenzie and director James Bobin to reintroduce the Muppets to a new generation, while showing audiences who grew up on them exactly why they loved them as much as they had as children. The sequel brings back everyone minus Segel, which sadly leaves Muppets Most Wanted without a heart to its story, reducing the follow up to a series of sketches and cameos strung together with a threadbare plot that feels like The Muppets reimagined with a Family Guy mentality. To top it off the lovable Walter who was at the center of the previous film has been relegated to a ‘barely existing’ supporting role, something the film itself actually calls out.
Need for Speed races to Blu ray.
After being set up as the cause of a terrible accident in a street race driver, causing the death of his friend after a fiery crash on a bridge, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a financially struggling custom-car builder and street-racer, spends two years in jail obsessed with gaining justice and revenge. Upon his release he borrows the fastest car his workshop ever built and sold, with a passenger Julia (Imogen Poots) in tow, and sets out to enter a secretive and extremely high-stakes race known as The DeLeon. As it just so happens the reigning and defending champion of the Deleon, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), is also the other racer who was on that bridge that fateful day.
Straight off the final season of the hugely successful series “Breaking Bad” Aaron Paul lands his biggest leading man role to date with “Need for Speed”, and he certainly seems to be the man for the job. Need for Speed looks to win over the ‘gearhead’ crowd, an audience that has been dissatisfied with the new caper style film that the “Fast and Furious” franchise has leaned towards, by filling Need for Speed with some of the fastest and insanely expensive cars available. Furthermore, as a stark contrast to the Fast films all of the driving and crashes are shot practically, without the aid of digital effects, as director Scott Waugh has assembled perhaps one of the greatest stunt driving teams ever. The work pays off on screen as the stunt work looks fantastic and the film carries a throwback feel that harkens back to the work of legendary stunt co-ordinator/director Hal Needham.
Anchor Bay brings the action with “In the Blood” and “Road to Paloma”
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 2 new action/thrillers from some of Hollywood’s newest action stars to home video with “Fast Five” and MMA star Gina Carano’s “In the Blood” and “Game of Thrones” and “Conan” (the remake) star Jason Momoa’s Road to Paloma. Both films back up our stars with recognizable supporting casts and promise a lot of action, but can they deliver a story beyond the fists?
“In The Blood” marks the second time Gina Carano has been the main star of a film after headlining the Steven Soderbergh 2011 film “Haywire” and Carano seems to be finding her niche in front of the camera. A no nonsense type of girl with a violent past, raised by a survival fanatic father played by “Avatar’s” Stephen Lang, Carano’s Ava is not afraid to let her fists do the talking, much to the surprise of her newlywed husband (Cam Gigandet). After her husband disappears, she goes on a one woman crusade to find his whereabouts, breaking 100’s of body parts along the way.
In the Blood is a fun action film, with some ridiculous twists and some very sloppy writing at parts that gets sillier as the film goes along, but is filled with some top notch fighting. Add in genre legends Danny Trejo, Treat Williams and Luis Guzman for supporting roles with “Prison Breaks’s” Amaury Nolasco as the picture’s big baddie and what results is a fun romp through the Caribbean. Carano’s leads the film with a confidence that was only evident in parts of Haywire, showing that she may be developing into the kick ass leading female action star Hollywood has wished she could be. The disc contains only 1 small special feature but the action is shot very well and the story never wains, and at around $20 new, In the Blood is a fairly solid investment.
“Road to Paloma” carries more of a personal investment for star Momoa in that he co-wrote, with co-star Robert Homer Mollohan, and made the film his directorial debut. The story of a Native American known simply as Wolf, who sought his own brand of justice after the murder of his mother, and his winding trip through native land to say goodbye to all he loves while being tracked by a vicious FBI agent, only concerned with bringing him down.
Also featuring a stellar supporting cast that includes Wes Studi as his father, Sarah Shahi as his sister, real life wife Lisa Bonet as a love interest and Timothy V. Murphy as the man tracking him down, Road to Paloma packs a more dramatic punch than what would be first expected. The action sequnces are few and far between in what becomes a more brooding and desperate trip across country in desperate attempt to disappear into the back country. Momoa does a decent job with the dramatic endeavours, helped greatly by his supporting cast, minus a flighty and uneven performance from co-writer Mollohan, as Bonet, Shahi, Murphy and Micheal Raymond-James as Wolf’s brother-in-law all deliver excellent performances. Momoa’s is a smart enough director to frame the action that does happen well and use the strong supporting characters to do the heavy lifting. The disc also only carries 1 special feature, but the film is a solid directorial debut that is worth the effort in the end.
Till Next Time
Movie Junkie TO
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Whatever your plans may be this week, make room for “Life Itself”
It’s hard to be objective when talking about the remarkable documentary “Life Itself” as a critic who admired it’s subject very much, the world’s most famous film aficionado Roger Ebert, as I imagine it has been for many sitting down to review this film. Director Steve James, of “Hoop Dreams” and” The Interrupters” fame, takes us through the life of Mr Ebert, but also manages to be the benefactor of opportunistic timing as he takes the audience all the way through the end of his subject’s life as well. The stories of his long lasting feud that eventually turned to friendship with co-host Gene Siskel, his public speaking and movie deconstructions along with the love of his life Chaz, who he met at 50, are all examined, but they are juxtaposed between the documenting of the final months of Ebert’s life, caught on film by James himself.
Life Itself is at times heart wrenching, inspiring and revelatory throughout the film as James never shies away from Ebert’s very combative and unlikeable side, showing us a true portrait of the entire man. Starting off as a brash, outspoken and over confident young man, who at 21 inherited his movie review column at the Chicago Sun-Times that he never let go over the next 46 years, Ebert also quickly became an out of control alcoholic. Winning his Pulitzer Prize at a young age did not help either, as James examines all this material and shows us a much darker and angry Roger Ebert, light years away from the one most of the public knew. (more…)
True Blood Season 6 has a stale taste
The sixth , and 2nd last, season of HBO`s True Blood introduces several new story lines that threaten what little sense of normalcy remains in Bon Temps. After the explosive events of Season 5 finale The Authority is in flames, and the vampire`s lifeline True Blood is in short supply. Bill (Stephen Moyer) must find a way to come to terms with his newfound powers after emerging reincarnated from a pool of blood. Meanwhile Louisiana’s governor, in league with an old foe, has declared war complete with novel anti-vamp weapons and a high-tech internment camp established to wipe out the vampire race forever. Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Jason ( Ryan Kwanten) are faced with their own challenge as they must steel themselves for their long awaited encounter with their parents’ killer, the mysterious and ancient Warlow, as he comes looking for his prize.
‘Journey to the West’ misses the on screen presence of it’s director
Loosely based on the classic 16th century Chinese novel of the same name, Journey to the West (full title Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons in China) is more of a prequel to the classic tale than a straight adaptation. The story centers on Xuan Zang (Zhang Wen), a Buddhist trying to protect the public from demons, his emerging feelings for the lovely Miss Duan (Shu Qi), a fellow demon hunter who helps him repeatedly, and ends with Zang’s trans-formative encounter with the Monkey King (Bo Huang).
Filled with Director Stephen Chow’s signature over the top CGI slapstick style, Journey to the West lacks the Chow in the starring role, which he usually assumes for most of his directorial efforts, and the film misses his charm and energy immensely. Wen lacks the madcap energy that Chow would bring to the role, which isn’t to say he’s terrible, he’s just very bland. This is accentuated by the best performance in the film from the gorgeous Shu Qi as his would be lover/saviour who just oozes charm and sass. Her performance elevates the supporting role she is saddled with and the misgivings of the scripting of her character.
Ti West’s masterfully crafted ‘The Sacrament’ is filled with creeping dread
Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) tells his friends/colleagues Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), correspondents for media giant Vice, about the strange letter he receives from his estranged sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) and it sets in motion events that will change the lives of all of them. The trio decide her story, and the story of the “sober commune” she is living at, would be a great subject for a documentary. Patrick reunites with his serene, former wild child, sister while Sam and Jake investigate why members of the isolated community have followed their mysterious leader known simply as “Father” off American soil. Extremely skeptical at first, the guys slowly come around to the at least respect group’s utopian claims, until the cracks below the surface reveal a different picture all together.
As we have come to expect from Ti West, The Sacrament starts off with a fiercely methodical pace, building his characters and setting before adding in the many layers of creeping dread. The film kicks into gear, and does not let up until the end, with the first introduction of Father (a brilliantly menacing Gene Jones). Jones dominates the screen from the first second he appears, His Father is consciously measuring every twitch and calculating every body movement as the answers he gives and speeches he delivers are all meant to dissuade any truth while enamoring himself to his flock. The interview between the journalist and Father, which occurs live in front of the whole commune, is just another exercise of control and power for Father as he keeps his entire flock in the palm of his hand. The script and dialogue are extremely well written with Father’s double talk and rhetoric, making the insane actions of the third act feel believable. (more…)
We Are The Best is infectious fun
Director Lukas Moodysson adapts his wife Coco’s graphic novel “We Are The Best”, a story about three young misfits girls growing up in early 1980’s Stockholm, determined to start their own punk band. The trio consists of mohawk-sporting live wire Klara (Mira Grosin), her spiky haired best friend Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and their newest recruit the shy, god fearing classical guitar-playing outcast from their school Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne). Hedvig manages to help the best friends become competent as a band, despite having no instruments or discernible musical talent from the start. The trio eventually have their inseparable nature threatened by the discovery of some boys that share the same desire for punk music that the girls do.
We Are the Best relies heavily on the performances of its 3 young ingénues and the girls are up to the task. In particular Mira Grosin’s Klara is fantastic as a domineering personality that overpowers the shy and soft spoken Bobo, Grosin infects Klara with an unstoppable spirit that draws audiences in form the very start. It a very accomplished performance from a young actress, who like the rest of the trio of girls, is making her feature film debut. In an equally impressive yet completely different low key performance Barkhammar is perfectly cast as Bobo, the heart of the film and the character that goes through the biggest transformation, as she delivers real emotional impact with Bobo finally starting to ask and fight for what she really wants
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Blu-ray Review (Addicted)
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) lives life through his daydreams, but when his job at the iconic Time Magazine (along with that of all of his co-workers including the beguiling Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig) is to be phased out for the new all-digital edition, Walter must jump to action in the real world. Walter embarks on a global trotting adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined, in search of the one man who may be able to bring closure Walter’s final days at Time.
A passion project of director/star Ben Stiller’s, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a visually stunning piece of work that has a strong heart to the story and a really likeable cast. Stiller is great as the goofy dreamer Mitty and Wiig shines as the single mother that becomes his object of affection. The pair has some solid chemistry between the pair and that helps ground the film through all of its flights of fancy. The film features a glorified cameo from Sean Penn that works very well, and Adam Scott’s turn as the villain of the piece is full of awkward awesomeness. (more…)
Neighbors sees the other Franco steal the spotlight
Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen) were content to settle down in their nice and quiet neighborhood with their newborn child, until the house next door was taken over by a rowdy fraternity. Teddy (Zac Efron) is the President, Pete (Dave Franco) is his right hand man and chapter vice president, and the duo is quick to attempt to win over their new neighbors. But after a string of sleepless nights due to insanely loud parties, Mac calls the cops, who promptly out him as the complainant to the frat…then the war begins.
The premise for Neighbors is as simple and generic as revenge comedies go, the antics keep building and building to preposterous levels that stretch the lengths of believability and eventually ignore any sense, logic or reason all together. Often the one difference that makes comedies like this work is the chemistry between the film’s leads and Rogen and Efron do have great chemistry on screen, but this time it’s the supporting parts of their duos who steal the show. Byrne shows a great knack for comedy, getting to play against her normal type and her Kelly instigates more than enough trouble. But the real standout is Dave Franco who practically rips the screen away from Efron every time they appear together. His performance is the highlight of the film. (more…)
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Blu-ray (Addicted)
We catch up with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) after he has left San Diego for New York City with his now wife and co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and their son Walter Burgundy. But when legendary anchor Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) decides to retire, he promotes Veronica to full time lead anchor and fires Ron. Ron’s shot at redemption comes not long after from Freddie Schapp (Dylan Baker), an executive producer at the fledgling Global News Network, the world’s first 24 hour round the clock news channel. Ron proceeds to reunite the news team of Champ (David Koechner), Brick (Steve Carell), and Brian (Paul Rudd) and brings them to New York where fame and fortune change everything.
Anchorman 2 is less a movie than a series of thinly connected sketches. Fortunately, a lot more of the gags are successful than not and contain many laugh out loud moments. Playing into this is the fact that director Adam McKay likes to simply let the camera run, evidenced by the fact that there was enough material to release an entirely different ‘super-sized’ version in theaters and on this Blu-ray on top of an extended and theatrical cut. McKay doesn’t appear to do much directing here at any point, all of these actors have been cultivating these characters for nearly a decade now. (more…)
X-Men Days of Future Past delivers the goods
X-Men: Days of Future Past features the biggest ensemble of mutants put together on film to date as both the original cast and the newer cast from X-Men: First Class join together to fight a war for the survival of both human and mutant kind across two time periods. When the future war between mutant/mankind and the treacherous sentinels near its darkest hour the small but steadfast group of X-Men still alive –Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Magneto (Ian McKellen) – meet up with former students Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and their compatriots to form one last ditch effort to save all their lives. Wolverine is sent back in time to join the then rival Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) together to stop the events that lead to the mass destruction to come.
The star studded cast also brings backs Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and introduces Peter Dinklage as the man responsible for the sentinels, Bolivar Trask. Director Bryan Singer manages to coordinate all of this chaos into a complex yet balanced story that features the entire mutant cast getting enough exposure that they are not wasted while still feature the few that audiences really want to see. The film also packs some effective twists and some memorable cameos from other mutants that will delight audiences. The script ingeniously leaves room for multiple follow ups involving either cast and manages to reset the entire mutant universe in one shot.
That Awkward Moment lasts all 95 minutes (Blu-ray review)
Jason (Zac Efron) is womanizer that always bails out of a relationship just as it gets serious. But when one of his best friends Mikey’s (Michael B. Jordan) wife asks for a divorce, all while sleeping with her divorce lawyer, Jason sees it as an opportunity to get his boys back together and hit the clubs. Along with Daniel (Miles Teller), the three best friends make a pack to stay single together and just have fun. But then Jason meets Ellie (Imogen Poots), who just might be the first girl who’s perfect for him, Daniel starts fooling around with gal pal Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), and Mikey starts a secret last ditch attempt to win his wife’ s affection back.
That Awkward Moment is a film full of awkwardness and wasted talent. The normally engaging and accomplished Miles Teller and Michael B Jordan seem to be pulled down by the anchor that is the lackluster performance of Zac Efron. The wooden Efron sticks out like a sore thumb, and considering the adorable Imogen Poots can never not be loveable, it makes the chemistry between the two of them almost non-existent. Poots may be the only one who is really trying here as Teller seems to treating the film like summer school -constantly goofing off, adlibbing and riffing – and Jordan seems to have a constant “what am I doing here” look on his face. Any chemistry that the trio possess off-screen is lost in translation, which will make the prospects of the new Fantastic Four film with Teller and Jordan very interesting.
Million Dollar Arm is not really worth the money
After losing his last chance at a his only major client, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) concocts a scheme to find baseball’s next great pitching ace as a last ditch effort to save his career. Hoping to tap into the last untouched market for baseball, India, JB hopes to find a young cricket pitcher that he can turn into a major league star. JB concocts a reality show competition called “Million Dollar Arm”, that with the help of investors he travels to India to launch with the help of a cantankerous but eagle-eyed retired baseball scout (Alan Arkin). The competition produces Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma), two 18 year old boys who have no idea about playing baseball, yet possess a raw talent for throwing a fastball. As the boys learn the finer points of baseball, JB, with the help of his pool house tenant Brenda (Lake Bell), starts to learn valuable lessons about teamwork, commitment and what it means to be a family.
Million Dollar Arm is a predictable and formulaic sports tale that happens to be based on a true story. A harmless tale that lacks any staying power, the film is almost forgettable immediately after exiting the theater, Million Dollar Arm wastes the talents of many talented people involved while producing the most plain and dull product it can. Most of the cast seem to be slumming here; Hamm tries his best despite the cookie cutter script but really has nothing to deliver. The normally reliable and talented Arkin, Bill Paxton and Lake Bell seem to be barely even attempting to produce anything, partially due to the script but also because they all look bored and uninterested for the duration of the film.
Under the Skin is one of the best films of the year so far (Addicted)
In Scotland, an alien life-form takes the body of an attractive young woman (Scarlett Johansson), and then proceeds to travel the country in a cube van seducing men. As she lures her victims into a trap with the promise of sex, the men are deceived and abducted, never to be seen again. She is monitored by another alien, in the form of a male motorcyclist, who mops up any mess she leaves behind. After she takes pity on one of her victims and allows him to escape, she is forced to evaluate how much ‘humanity’ she possesses and whether she wishes to continue doing what she was brought to earth to do or to strike out on her own.
Under the Skin is one of the most unique and fascinating stories we are likely to see on screen this year. The film features a strikingly bold performance from Scarlett Johansson, a performance that is completely unlike anything she has portrayed before, and with her acting alongside mainly nonprofessional actors the weight of carrying the film falls almost entirely on her very capable shoulders. (more…)
Hot Docs 2014: The Possibilities are Endless (Dork Shelf)
Originally published at Dork ShelfAfter suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, Scottish singer-songwriter Edwyn Collins ended up slipping into a coma. After waking, it was discovered quite quickly he had suffered acute aphasia, a condition that affects the brain and leads to problems using language. Other than yes and no, the only other phrases Edwyn could use were the name of his wife ‘Grace Maxwell’ and the titular ‘The Possibilities are Endless’. The film employs lush cinematography and sound design to attempt an encompassing and sensory exploration of Collins’ recovering mind through this time while also showing us where he has progressed to today.
Directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall use interviews with Collins and his wife Grace Maxwell as the narration over moving abstract imagery in the film’s first half and recovered footage of Edwyn in the latter half to guide the film. The technique works quite well as, with the film mirroring Edwyn’s own recovery and progression. The film also uses re-enactments of the couple’s courtship and life together to help illustrate what’s truly an epic love story. (more…)
Hot Docs 2014: Love Me (Dork Shelf)
Originally published at Dork ShelfLove Me examines the Ukrainian mail-order bride business (which has gotten even more lucrative in the past decade) and the single men willing to risk their money to find companionship. The film follows 6 men of varying backgrounds and motivations and examines their relationship to the industry and the women they meet. The men take trips to the Ukraine where they encounter bombshells who cut straight to the point: they each want a man serious about marriage.
The 6 guys picked as the subjects for Love Me are very strategically placed to show the whole spectrum of outcomes of Internet dating, with some successful, some taken for a ride, and one in particular that’s to be a bit of a creep, yet he blames the women for not being interested. (more…)
Hot Docs 2014: An Honest Liar (Dork Shelf)
Originally Published at Dork ShelfJames “The Amazing” Randi is an 85-year-old magician who has been at the forefront of a movement to debunk frauds and phonies for decades. After dedicating his life to the magical arts from a very early age, Randi became a sensation mainly due to his impeccable skills as an escape artist. Randi has always referred to himself as being a “liar, cheat and charlatan.” But when the leading crusader against false propaganda is found to have been holding a secret for the past 26 years, will Randi be able to remain an honest liar?
Featuring appearances from other famous magicians, mentalists and skeptics like Penn and Teller, Banachek and Adam Savage from Mythbusters, An Honest Liar is an excellent time capsule looking at the past couple of decades of magic and deception while also proving to be a very effective character study of Randi himself. The film is buoyed by a considerable amount of archival footage that’s edited and culled together in impressive fashion. The film’s pacing is excellent and keeps the audience immersed throughout the entire running time. (more…)
Hot Docs 2014: Domino Effect (Dork Shelf)
Originally Published at Dork Shelf
Abkhazia is a mainly unrecognized state on the Black Sea that has claimed independence from Georgia. What used to be a frolicking beach getaway for lucky Soviets now sits in post-Communist ruin. But for Abkhazian Sports Minister Rafael everything appears to be turning around. His new young wife, Russian opera singer Natasha, gives up her home and custody of her daughter to take a chance on a new life in the country. But when the fiercely traditional locals don’t take to Natasha at all, and aren’t afraid to show it, their relationship starts to crack like the old buildings that surround them.
Domino Effect features a very static camera that doesn’t get involved with the proceedings for most of the film, something that sadly adds to its fiercely methodical pacing, making it feel much longer than its 75 minute run time. Rafael seems oblivious to the observations and conclusions of his wife, stuck in old world customs that show the vast chasm of difference between the couple. Natasha does have an epic encounter in a kitchen with a local woman after a traditional custom not being observed comes crashing down hard on her. (more…)
Hot Docs 2014: Before the Last Curtain Falls (Dork Shelf)
Originally Published at Dork Shelf
When the Belgian stage production Gardenia opened in 2010 it was a massive success: playing over 200 shows in 25 countries. The show is as much a performance art piece as it is cabaret, starring older gay and trans performers. The film follows the cast through their final performance and beyond, as they attempt to adapt and reintegrate themselves back into regular society after their final heart wrenching performance at home in Ghent.
Director Thomas Wallner has shot a gorgeous documentary (the performance pieces look outstanding), but the film seems to lack forward momentum throughout. The focus is more on performance than storytelling. These performers have led interesting lives, so the filmmakers’ choice to show us the troupe as a whole outside of the show instead of focusing on some of their stories dilutes the overall impact and leads to a very superficial account. (more…)