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…)
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…)
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
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…)
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.
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.
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…)
The follow up to director Mark Webb’s reboot to the Spider-Man franchise slings itself into North American theaters this week after already amassing a hearty amount of box office cash overseas. In this outing of the masked web slinger, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has settled into the life of a hero, with all the trappings of fame and glory that can cloud anyone’s judgement included, and despite the warning from the final moments of the first film, is still spending time with Gwen (Emma Stone). But soon new villains emerge to challenge Peter, the emergence of Electro (Jamie Foxx) and his old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan),and they all have seem to connect to Peter’s past and the ominous conglomerate known as Oscorp.
This outing of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is definitely a step up from the previous Mark Webb incarnation, the effects work is crisper and the ‘go pro video’ style incorporate d into the web slinging does a lot to make it feel more realistic, but the film suffers from an overstuffed script that was clearly influenced by the studio. Garfield is still very solid in the role of Peter and Emma Stone is perfect as Gwen, while DeHaan is a very welcome addition as the deluded and angry Harry. Jamie Foxx suffers through his turn as Electro though as the script and design of the effects does him no favors. Electro sports a poorly conceived look that never comes across as menacing, more like a goofy lower budget version of the Watchmen’s Dr Manhattan, and as Electro disappears from the film for long stretches he is not missed.
It’s 2010 and indie rock band The National is set to embark on their largest international tour to date. Enter lead singer ’s younger brother Tom, a wannabe horror filmmaker with aspirations to make a documentary film about the band. Starting out with large ambition and grand ideas, and starting with Matt’s full support, it’s not long before Tom’s tour roadie position is hanging by a thread due to his constant by slacking off on the job, getting drunk and overall lack of ability. What starts out as a candid music doc ends up going in a completely different direction, delivering an earnest, behind-the-scenes look at Tom’s endeavours and subsequent departure, but the question becomes will Tom be able to salvage his film?
Mistaken for Strangers may be one of the best stories about brothers captured on film. Tom may not have started out wanting to include himself into the film, but eventually his own antics and screw ups became too difficult for the director to ignore and he discovered the real film within his footage. This discovery also plays out over the course of the film’s last act, a rare glimpse into what goes into developing a film beyond the filming stages.
After the cataclysmic events in New York that occurred in “The Avengers” we find Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), living a relatively quiet life in Washington, D.C. Cap is still working with Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. but is quickly becoming very disillusioned at the politics behind doing so. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes a central figure in unravelling a web of lies, deceit and intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk that leaves the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as the only S.H.E.I.L.D. ally he can trust. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow must enlist the help of a new hero, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to help take down a menacing force that is much grander in scope than even Cap could have predicted.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is easily one of the best films that the current Marvel universe has produced. With ramifications and repercussions that will play out over many Marvel movies to come, Winter Soldier features a brilliant script that incorporates many nods towards the comic crowd while remaining easily accessible to regular audiences as well. The film takes a more espionage/thriller slant this time around, but with some extremely successful and impressive fight sequences, think “Manchurian Candidate” meets “The Raid”. This time around Cap’s fighting style has emerged as a fusion of MMA and Parkour that is highly effective and dangerous looking at the same time. This is a particularly more lethal looking Captain America this time around, which is reflective of Cap living in the modern world and perhaps hanging/working around Black Widow more often.
New in theaters is the remake of the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli film of the same name, Endless Love. The biggest claim to fame of the original film starring a very young Brooke Shields was the Oscar nominated song it inspired from Lionel Richie. This time around the story revolves around privileged Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) and charismatic David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by her father (Bruce Greenwood), who tries to keep them apart.
The first 20 or so minutes of Endless Love are very promising and frankly surprising. The chemistry between Pettyfer and Wilde is evident from the very start and Wilde connects with the audience right away. Dayo Okeniyi has a few fun moments as David’s buddy Mace and Rhys Wakefield steals the entire affair as Jade’s brother Keith, the only truly funny character in the film (more…)
Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” sees the entire Muppets gang embarking on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. But mayhem follows the Muppets as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper. This nefarious plot is headed by Constantine—the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit—and his dastardly sidekick Dominic, aka Number Two, portrayed by Ricky Gervais. Meanwhile, Kermit is detained behind bars by Nadya, a feisty prison guard played by Tina Fey, and 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 the equivalent of a rudderless ship. Without a viable human aspect to relate to this time around we are left with the random ramblings of the Muppets themselves, and while some of the gags work, others fall very flat.
Starting this past Friday, January 24th 2014, and running until April 4th, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is launching another major retrospective series, this time chronicling the career of prolific Dutch directorPaul Verhoeven, entitled Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven. After making a string of brilliant and bloody films in the Netherlands that had him proclaimed a national hero, Verhoeven was slammed back down to earth with the critical backlash that erupted from his motocross epic Spetters, which ended up with him packing his bags for Hollywood. Verhoeven would soon become the master of action packed excess with such films as Robocop, Total Recall, and the sexually charged thrillerBasic Instinct. But soon the critical backlash would rear its head in Hollywood as well, sending Verhoeven back to his homeland. (more…)
A Story of Children and Film is a documentary by Mark Cousins which explores the history of cinema and the roles that child actors have had in it. The film uses an interesting approach that utilizes a magnitude of different movies dating back to the earliest era and cinema and reaching all the way across different parts of the world. Cousins also intercut footage he took of niece and nephew and contrasts it to the films he’s talking about creating the actual narrative of the documentary. Aside from the footage that he took, and a few brief shots at the end of the piece, a majority of the film is footage from other movies with Cousins narration.
The topic that the A Story of Children and Film explores is not a commonly covered one, so Cousins does a good job at breaking new ground and exploring the various aspects of it. However, the films biggest downfall is its narration which is done by the director himself. Some filmmakers can pull off narrating their own films, however Cousins done so in the most monotone way imaginable. It can only be assumed that this is done intentionally with an attempt to speak in a somewhat poetic way; however it can often feel dry and boring at times. The footage really is the essential attention grabber in the documentary, and it becomes really interesting to see how the earliest pieces of cinema have had an ever growing influence on the most modern films released. Cousins goes on to point out that cinema is one of the newest art forms and that it is almost a child itself, something not often thought about considering how young of an art form film really is. Instead of simply narrating the entire piece, real life footage of family members was used to flow from topic to topic, thus removing the choppiness that a documentary like this could have easily fallen victim to.
Starting January 23rd and running til February 13th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox is the first part of a widely encompassing retrospective into the films of one of the French Wave pioneers and most beloved filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard entitled Godard Forever. The series will conclude with its second part in the fall program, but this first part covers the works of Godard from 1954-1967. The retrospective is highlighted by the rare, archival, and newly minted prints that fill the lineup.
The series starts with Godard’s iconic debut Breathless starring Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo curls and slithers across the screen like a viper ready to pounce where Seberg may be film’s first incarnation of the now popular ‘manic pixie dreamgirl’ character with her short cropped hair and infectious charisma and sex appeal, wrapped up in an unassuming package. (more…)
The Israeli film that caused a stir last year, and had Quentin Tarantino proclaiming it the best film of the year, “Big Bad Wolves” finally sees a release in theaters and on VOD. The film revolves around a series of brutal child murders that puts the lives of three men on a collision course. The father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder. After kidnapping the man believed to have murdered his daughter, the father goes searching for answers by any means necessary in the basement of his ultra-secluded home.
As you may devise from the brief description above, Big Bad Wolves is a bleak and at times unnerving thriller that takes it time to unfold. The brutality shown towards the main suspect Dror by both of the other parties is often made the main attraction and show in full detail, (more…)
The underdog sports story is one of the oldest tales in film. This is the one where the athlete that nobody believed in eventually proves everyone wrong to roaring applause. Such is the true life story of professional basketball player and overnight sensation, Jeremy Lin. Lin grew up living a normal life, idolizing his favourite basketball players on TV, and mimicking their moves on the courts with his brothers. He would time and time again prove he was an exceptional player but was often passed over because he didn’t look like a traditional basketball star.
Evan Leong’s Linsanity focuses on the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin and chronicles his early childhood memories while paralleling it with Lin’s current NBA stardom. The documentary does a great job of capturing the real Jeremy Lin, and getting a first-hand account from the star himself, which reveals the very personal and spiritual journey that the basketball sensation has been on since his youth. The strongest aspect of the film is that it doesn’t just gear itself towards basketball fans; it instead opts for a broader approach making it accessible and fun to watch for everyone. Even someone who has never sat and watched an entire basketball game will stay engaged in the film throughout. .
Mourning Has Broken, the new Canadian independent feature from the directing duo of Brett and Jason Butler aka the Butler Brothers, starts a week long run at the Royal Cinema in Toronto. The film features a simple premise as it follows Toronto based indie acting icon Robert Nolan as he tries to get through the day after discovering his wife has died.
The movie works brilliantly on many different levels, ranging from the comedic opening scene to some heart wrenchingly beautiful shots that convey the emotions of the main character. Robert Nolan’s character, simply referred to as Husband, attempts to complete a “To-do list” in his day while avoiding returning home to face the facts of his wife’s passing, throughout the day these simple tasks turn into a series of little nightmares for him. The Butler’s do a fantastic job of making these everyday tasks into thought provoking and character defining moments that push the story further into a final scene that will certainly tug at the heart strings and have you emotionally invested.
While training for the 2010 Winter Olympics, champion US snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a devastating accident on the slopes, putting him temporarily in a coma and leaving him with a debilitating brain injury. When he finally recovered both speech and mobility, Kevin shocked his supportive, tight-knit family by announcing that he wanted to return to the sport he loves—despite doctors’ warnings that even the slightest blow to the head would be enough to kill him.
The Crash Reel is an engrossing exposé on the world of extreme sports and more specifically the terrible accident and recovery of Kevin Pearce, known to his fans simply as KP, who before his tragic accident was poised to upset Shaun White for the gold in the Vancouver Olympic Games. The film follows diligently the Pearce family as they try to recover from his head injury that almost cost Kevin his life. Through practice and competitive footage, director Lucy Walker does excellent job of examining the psyche of an athlete and paints a compelling picture of the athlete and the man that Pearce would become.
Invited to document the Stones’ US tour in support of their legendary album Exile on Main Street, Robert Frank forgoes the glamour on stage in favour of the everyday chaos of life in the wings, as the band and their assorted hangers-on (groupies, roadies and journalists) pursue various listless debaucheries to kill the boredom and homesickness of constant travel. Reportedly described by Mick Jagger as “a fucking good film … but if it shows in America we’ll never be allowed in the country again,” Cocksucker Blues remains one of the most raw and unfiltered accounts of life on tour ever recorded.
Director Robert Frank’s unflinching record of life on the road with the Rolling Stones remains one of the most notorious documentaries ever made, and one of the most impossible to see. A legal settlement with the band — who feared that their entourage’s onscreen antics could lead to public embarrassment and/or criminal prosecution — permits it to be screened only in very controlled circumstances (which makes this screening at the Lightbox a priceless rare event). Throughout the film though Jagger and Richards are very protected as whenever something illicit may happen, for example when Jagger goes to snort cocaine through a rolled dollar bill provided by Richards, the camera pans away to other action in the room.
Starting this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and running through January 3rd with the retrospective program Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli. The expansive 18 film showcase covers the almost the entire lineup of Ghibli films and even boasts screenings of the rarely seen in Canada masterpiece Grave of the Firelflies. (more…)
Editor`s note: This marks the debut of new contributor to the site David Edwards. Hope you guys like his insight and opinion as he continues to help us out at the FIX. Welcome aboard David!
This week at the Carlton (Dec 13th-19th 2013)
The Punk Syndrome is a cinéma vérité style documentary that follows a punk rock band from Finland made up of four men with mental disabilities and the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into the process of creating music. (more…)
The documentary Let the Fire Burn uses entirely archival footage to re-examine the events of the battle between the city of Philadelphia and the pseudo religious group known as MOVE. This vastly under told story from American history resulted in a fire that ultimately claimed the lives of five children and six adults along with the destruction of sixty one homes.
On May 13, 1985, the municipal government of Philadelphia and an organization called MOVE collided in violent conflict — the result of more than ten years of simmering tensions that had already claimed the life of a police officer during a 1978 gun-battle. By 5pmon May 13, police had already fired over 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the fortified row home that contained children and adults. At this point, a helicopter was used to drop a bomb made from two pounds of C-4 military explosive onto the house. During the next hour, police, firefighters, and city officials looked on as the fire grew out of control