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”
Star Trek turned 50 this week and while Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future has created a massive franchise, there was also an influential sci-fi movie serial series in the 1950s. Sure maybe it it influenced more laughs and mocking from today’s audiences and maybe it wasn’t as influential as say Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers but Commando Cody still has his place in the history of sci-fi entertainment.
To start things off is the 1949 King of the Rocket Men. Now this serial wasn’t a Commando Cody serial but it first introduced the costume that Commando Cody wore in his adventures. King of the Rocket Men was about a couple of scientists fighting a mysterious evil genius named Dr. Vulcan. One of the scientists has invented a rocket pack with jacket and a bullet shaped helmet for the other scientist, Jeff King (Tristram Coffin) who also invented a ray gun to wear and go fight Dr. Vulcan. The serial was a hit for Republic Studios. Republic loved keeping costs low and so they recycled the costume and footage for their next serial. Continue reading “Sunday Matinee: Commando Cody: Sky Marshall Of The Universe”
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.
Free Fire (USA/UK, 2016): Ben Wheatley is without a doubt one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers at work, but his filmography is far from immaculate. He often engages in self-indulgence and glamorization of violence.
Free Fire embodies both of Wheatley’s main flaws. In fact, more than a movie, Free Fire feels like an exercise in style, following the infinitely more complex and ambitious High-Rise.
1978, Boston. A group of IRA members intents to purchase a number of automatic weapons from a shifty South African dealer at an abandon warehouse. The already tense exchange shifts into hyper-drive when men at both sides of the transaction succumb to the pressure. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 2: Free Fire, Elle, Snowden”
Toni Erdmann (Germany, 2016): A Cannes sensation, Toni Erdmann has already been celebrated as one of the comedic achievements of the decade, even making its way into the 100 Best Movies of the 21st Century list, according to the BBC.
Guess what. It’s overrated.
Don’t get me wrong, Toni Erdmann is far from a bad movie, but the 160 minutes-long comedy doesn’t deserve such unrestrained praise.
Winfried, a music teacher and incorrigible joker, tries to reconnect with his daughter Ines, a serious businesswoman on assignment in Rumania. The prankster fails in his first attempt, so he brings out the big guns, namely his alter ego, Toni Erdmann. The character is an obnoxious bore, but at least gets a reaction from Ines, noticeably depressed but unaware of it. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 1: Toni Erdmann, Werewolf, The Commune, Neruda”
Fifty years ago today NBC debuted a science fiction TV show called Star Trek. You’ve probably heard of it — the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise, and all that? I grew up loving Star Trek (in reruns — I’m not THAT old), so I’d have to be drunk on Saurian brandy or dying of Vegan choriomeningitis to ignore this occasion. Here are my six favourite original series episodes. You can bet I’ll watch a couple on Netflix tonight.
1. “Balance Of Terror”
This episode introduces the recurring Federation foes the Romulans with a Cold War paranoia and racism parable. It also has a chess-like spaceship duel that’s second only to Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan’s.
I’m cheating — this one’s from the 1973 animated Star Trek. Given that all the major actors (except Walter Koenig as Chekov) returned for this show (and Koenig wrote an episode anyway), it’s legit Trek in my book. After Spock is erased from history, he must travel back in time to save his younger self. You’ll never forget Spock’s adorable childhood pet sehlat, I-Chaya. Trust me.
3. “The Doomsday Machine”
Can Captain James T. Kirk use a wrecked Federation starship to defeat a humongous tinfoil space worm? Goddamn right he can. Amusing transporter problems and exasperated Enterprise crew members add to the fun.
4. “Devil In The Dark”
Space miners put jobs ahead of local wildlife and habitat. Sadly still relevant.
5. “Operation: Annihilate!”
Flying rubber pancake parasites from outer space wreak havoc. ’Nuff said.
6. Honourable Mentions
Oh come on, no one could pick only six favourite Star Trek episodes, so here are more: “City On The Edge Of Forever” (time travel, lethal moral conundrums), “Errand of Mercy” (Klingons!!!), “Space Seed” (Khaaaan!!!), “The Trouble With Tribbles” (an ecological meditation on invasive species — plus Klingons!!!), “Arena” (Kirk wrestles a bug-eyed space lizard), “The Enterprise Incident” (Romulans haz Klingon battlecruisers???!!!), “The Corbomite Maneuver” (discussed: the merits of poker over chess), “The Mark Of Gideon” (or: “why condoms matter”), the two-part, brilliantly-retrofitted original Star Trek pilot, “the Menagerie” (which won a Hugo award), and of course, “Amok Time” — because A.) horny Spock!!! and B.) the word “amok”.