While the return of the Star Wars franchise in the form of The Force Awakens was wholeheartedly welcomed, Chapter VII raised a few red flags. The similitudes with A New Hope were numerous and conspicuous, enough to encourage the perception that the new trilogy may end up being a remix of the original one.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story benefits from this brewing problem by delivering the most original tale of the Rebellion since Jedi. Sure, the structure is videogame-like and the plot contrivances can be more exasperating than exciting, but the characters are edgier and their interactions are a lot spikier than what we have become used to. Continue reading “REVIEW: Rogue One Is the Best Kind of Outlier”
After conquering with relative ease the earthly and interstellar realms, it’s time for Marvel to get mystical. The most obvious way to enter the most otherworldly of planes is through Doctor Strange, the only character of the ethereal branch to break into the popular subconscious (with the possible exception of Ghost Rider).
At first sight, Doctor Strange appears to be a risky bet for Marvel. The film is loaded with comic book arcana and introduces -quite literally- a whole new universe with its own rules and characters. Furthermore, Strange’s ties to the Avengers and their baggage are very limited, at least at this stage.
It is, however, a calculated risk. Strange follows the Marvel formula to a tee (Strange’s likeness to Tony Stark is particularly on the nose), and for safety’s sake, nearly every plot point but one has been leaked to the public. There are so few surprises in Doctor Strange, it feels like a rerun. Continue reading “REVIEW: Doctor Strange’s Cold Medicine”
A member of the accomplished generation of actresses born in Regina in the mid-eighties (a group that includes Tatiana Maslany and Amy Matysio), Elyse Levesque had already reached notoriety thanks to geek favorite series Stargate Universe. Now she is the lead of the new CBC drama Shoot the Messenger.
Roughly inspired by Rob Ford’s controversial tenure as Mayor of Toronto, Shoot the Messenger is anchored by Daisy (Levesque), a reporter with a nose for exclusives and messy personal life. A seemingly meaningless gang-related death leads her to a vast net of corruption, involving dirty cops, crooked politicians and unsavory characters.
Elyse Levesque relates to Daisy’s ambition and drive. “The character appealed to the darker side of myself”, the actresses confesses. Even though she is often cast in shows filming in Canada (Messenger, Stargate, Cedar Cove) Levesque is based in Los Angeles: “I work everywhere but the city I live in.”
– You have been cast in a number of TV shows. Do you have an inkling early on which ones will last?
– You never do. The industry is so weird, it’s really hard to predict. Stargate Universe was such a great show, great cast, we were confident we were coming back for a third season and found out that was not the case. It’s unfortunate, because you can get really attached to people and is hard to say goodbye. Now that I’m older I try to choose projects that I would like to watch and hopefully other people share my taste. Continue reading “Shoot the Messenger’s Elyse Levesque: SK Fostered My Creativity”
Trespass Against Us (UK, 2015): I would normally praise an A-lister for going back to his native land to do a cheaper movie, but Michael Fassbender is rather miscast in this mildly compelling drama. Fassbender is Chad, the second in command of a band of outlaws living in the forest. Chad is good at what he does and is one hell of getaway driver. He is also a family man and has slightly more common sense than his fellow thieves.
When it becomes clear his son is likely to end up as one of the inept criminals that surround him, Chad begins to consider the possibility of jumping ship. The only obstacle is his father (Brendan Gleeson), a powerful figure that keeps Chad under his thumb using putdowns and guilt-tripping.
The Girl with All the Gifts (UK, 2016): Between The Walking Dead and all the low-rent undead flicks, it’s hard to give a fresh twist to the zombie subgenre. The Girl with All the Gifts does its darndest to achieve it, but the surplus of ideas ends up hurting the outcome.
The film opens intriguingly enough. A group of inoffensive-looking children are treated like Hannibal Lecter by an overzealous military unit. One of the kids is the dependably polite Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), who hangs pictures of a cat on her wall when no one is looking. Slowly we come to realize the children are partially zombified, but retain a semblance of humanity.
The matter of the kids’ right to be treated as people is one of the many issues the movie hints at, but doesn’t develop (likely, the novel that inspired the film is more thorough). One element I haven’t seen in other zombie movies is the suggestion that mankind is screwed anyway and we should just let it happen. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa”
Christine (USA, 2016): In 1974, Sarasota news reporter Christine Chubbuck responded to management pressures for more exciting stories by blowing her brains off on live TV. Since there is no mystery about her fate, this biopic focuses on the many factors that led her to take such drastic decision.
As depicted in the film, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall, Vicki Christina Barcelona) was the smartest reporter in the room, with hopes to go to a bigger market. Christine was also struggling with depression, infertility and an unrequited crush on the news anchor (Michael C. Hall, Dexter).
The film is broad but successful at exploring all the elements involved in Chubbuck’s suicide. But the movie’s biggest asset is a powerhouse performance by Rebecca Hall, who builds a sympathetic character without betraying the integrity of the person who inspired it. If Christine wasn’t an indie struggling with distribution, I would call Hall a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Three planets.Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm”
Deepwater Horizon (USA, 2016): Given director Peter Berg’s previous output (the disreputable Lone Survivor), I was honestly expecting this movie would be on British Petroleum’s side. Thankfully, Deepwater Horizon sticks to the official story and slaps some action scenes for good measure.
Berg’s go-to leading man, Mark Wahlberg, is Mike Williams, the second in command at the ill-fated oil platform. Because of greed inspired BP directives, a number of security checks are bypassed, so when they finally agree to a checkup, all hell breaks loose.
Even though Berg goes way over the top with the jargon, the filmmaker does a good job explaining the events that lead to the oil spilling (the environmental catastrophe that ensued is only mentioned in passing). But for all the didactic exposition and superb execution of complex action sequences, the characters are one-trait ponies. Kate Hudson is in this movie solely to pace around the house and look worried (and gorgeous). Two and a half planets.Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman”
La La Land (USA, 2016): Director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the superb Whiplash shows a filmmaker willing to explore outside his zone of comfort. Narratively, La La Land is pat, but the visuals, music and choreographies more than make up for it.
The story is pure Hollywood lore: Mia is a small town girl (Emma Stone) struggling with getting her acting career off the ground. As she makes her way through Tinseltown, she encounters a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) with whom she falls in love with. Opportunity doesn’t have a sense of timing and their careers get in the way of a fulfilling relationship.
La La Land is visually stunning and goes from feat to feat (the opening sequence set on a freeway is one for the books), yet it remains profoundly human. Gosling and Stone are top notch, both as song-and-dance partners and in the more dramatic sequences. The film features a coda so brilliant, it practically eclipses the rest of the movie. A strong candidate to best of the fest. Four and a half planets.Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson”
Denial (UK, 2016): A fascinating story that could be more at home on TV than on the big screen, Denial rises above pedestrian filmmaking thanks to the power of the material and strong turns by Rachel Weisz (above) and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).
The court drama pits American historian Deborah Lipstadt against British rabble-rouser David Irving. Lipstadt accused Irving of fabricating and misrepresenting historic documents in order to support his belief that the Holocaust never took place. Rather unexpectedly, the neo-Nazi icon sued the academic for libel. Since in the UK the burden of proof lies with the accused, Lipstadt found herself having to demonstrate the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners during World War II.
The film is bursting with fascinating info (even when defeat seemed unavoidable, the Nazis went out of their way to hide all evidence of the Final Solution) and serves as a primer on Britain’s justice system. Just as important as the Lipstadt-Irving showdown are disagreements within the historian’s defense team. While Irving’s position is indefensible, the debate over calling Holocaust survivors to the stand is a riveting one. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World”
Queen of Katwe (USA, 2016): A calculated risk for Disney, Queen of Katwe fits among the uplifting sport movies the House of Mouse puts out every year, but it’s also distinctive enough to stand apart. The biopic is set in Uganda, has a mostly African cast and is directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Reluctant Fundamentalist), a filmmaker with a knack to capture cultural nuances without been patronizing.