Watch List: Elephant Song (2014)

Currently on my radar is Belgian director Charles Binamé’s (The Rocket) new movie Elephant Song, starring Xavier Dolan (in his first English language acting gig), Bruce Greenwood and Catherine Keener.

Adapted by Nicolas Billon from his original play, the movie is a two-hander, cat-and-mouse psychological thriller about an institutionalized man and the information he may have regarding the disappearance of a psychologist.  According to most reports, the acting is excellent, the movie well-paced and the writing superb.  It may not be perfect and as T’Cha Dunlevy of the Montreal Gazette writes

“Binamé’s film has many elements of a gripping psychological thriller, and the verbal jousting between Greenwood and Dolan’s characters is rather entertaining; but by the time all is revealed, the punch doesn’t quite hit its mark.”

Still, I’m excited to see such great performers battle it out with each other.

Gazette Profile

IMDb: 7.0

tomato : Not yet rated

Coming Up: Sundance

Sundance Film Festival

Thanks to Kate Arthur at BuzzFeed.com for providing us with an exhaustive list of the 65 most anticipated movies at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.  The festival gets underway in Park City Utah on January 22nd and runs until February 1st, 2015.

What’s most striking about the list is the variety of performances by recognizable actors.  There are a number of casts that I assumed to be comedies but are actually dramas, and vice versa.  That’s the beauty of Sundance.  It has yet to become the glamour-azzi of TIFF or Cannes and still offers upcoming talents who are able to offer interesting, new works or established names who can offer films that take chances.

Here are a few favourites as I make my way through the list, on my lunch hour…

1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Thomas Mann plays Greg, an antisocial high-schooler who also makes movies as a hobby. He and his one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler), are forced by Greg’s mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who has been diagnosed with leukemia. I have prepared myself to be moved by this film, since I teared up while watching the Sundance video of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon merely describing it. Jesse Andrews, whose 2013 debut novel of the same name inspired the movie, also wrote the screenplay.

10. Z for Zachariah (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Starring: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Like I suspect of many children of the ’80s, I can remember reading Robert C. O’Brien’s novel Z for Zachariah when I was a kid, and imagining its spare, harrowing story as a movie. Anyone familiar with the novel, however, will already recognize that this film adaptation has made some significant changes to O’Brien’s story. It still tracks Ann Burden (Margot Robbie), who believes she’s the only survivor of a devastating nuclear war thanks to the secluded valley she lives in that prevented any radiation from reaching her, because sci-fi. But with The Wolf of Wall Street’s Robbie in the role, Ann is no longer a teenager (or, at least, no longer looks like a teenager), and her life is upended when two men enter the valley — first Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Loomis, and then Chris Pine’s Caleb — instead of just one like in the book. I suspect these changes will shift the story from a grim coming-of-age tale to something more overtly sexual and thematically complex, both of which I think are good things. (Fun fact: Director Craig Zobel is one of the co-creators of Homestar Runner, which is just too random for me not to share.) —Adam B. Vary

22. I Smile Back (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Starring: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron, Terry Kinney, and Chris Sarandon
Directed by: Adam Salky
We always seem to make a big fuss whenever a comedian goes dramatic, but there has always been a chord of real darkness playing under Sarah Silverman’s comedy. Now that subtext becomes text in Silverman’s first fully dramatic lead role as a suburban mother whose depression, drug use, and sexual promiscuity slowly ruin her seemingly happy marriage and family life. I mostly liked director Adam Salky’s last film at Sundance (the 2009 coming-of-age film Dare) and I’m eager to see if Silverman can maintain her savvy live-wire spark without punchlines to leaven the gloom in I Smile Back, adapted by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan from Koppelman’s novel.

26. The Overnight (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Starring: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godrèche
Directed by: Patrick Brice
If you have children and live in L.A. east of La Brea — or wherever you think the Eastside begins (a question no one agrees upon) — then you may already be aware that indie pop culture seems to want to reflect your days. There’s Jill Soloway’sTransparent (and, before that, her Sundance movie Afternoon Delight) and there’s the Duplass brothers’ Togetherness on HBO, which is set in Eagle Rock. And now there are two Sundance offerings! In The Overnight, Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling play a couple, newly transplanted to Los Angeles from Seattle, who meet another couple (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche) with a small kid. They go over to their house, and then… raunchy comedy ensues? In his introductory video on the Sundance site, the movie’s writer/director, Patrick Brice, compared its humor to Wet Hot American Summer and Booty Call.

Here is the list in full.  Enjoy!

 

A New Year’s Resolution

It’s my hope to keep this blog going in 2015, despite a hectic writing schedule that has sadly left Can You Tell a Story at the bottom of my to do list. Still, I’m happy to announce, I’ve found a new home for Netflix reviews at Terra Magnum.

Can You Tell a Story

Here’s my latest review on Netflix’s The Killing.

If you haven’t watched it, do so now. It’s up among the greatest crime dramas, and I’m happy to have been late to this party so I could binge watch it, even if it meant this blog fell by the wayside…

Here’s a trailer of all four seasons for good measure:

I will keep you posted on those reviews as well as any news and reports about upcoming projects I’m excited about.

Cheers to 2015!

What to watch TV: True Detective

For an actor I once dismissed because of ridiculous cookie-cutter rom-coms, Matthew McConaughey’s recent string of outstanding performances have not only turned me into a fan, but I’ll tune in to almost anything in which he is cast.  And since I’m currently obsessed with crime dramas, well, his new mini-series is now pre-recorded on my PVR. 

Two of my favourite actors, McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star in a new 8 part HBO miniseries True Detective about a 17 year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana.

Has to be magic.

Grantland posted an early, rather critical, in-depth, review of the series and while I hope to disagree with Andy Greenwald’s opinion, though I’m sure I’ll relate to it, I was thankful to see the series’ two stars are worth watching:

“And it’s thrilling to see movie stars like McConaughey and Harrelson crackling in nearly every scene. They’re not slumming in TV, they’re soaring. Both are at the top of their game, though McConaughey in particular seems to be playing a different sport altogether: His True Detective turn comes smack in the middle of one of the more remarkable career resurrections in recent memory, immediately after a role that should get him an Oscar nomination (as unlikely activist Ron Woodroof in the excellent Dallas Buyers Club) and just before one that will likely break records at the box office (as the handpicked lead ofInterstellar, Christopher Nolan’s first movie after parking the Batmobile). Of course, Harrelson is no slouch, either: Between acts of grand theft cinema in smaller flicks likeSeven Psychopaths, he has kept busy collecting paychecks and a new generation of fans in the money-printing Hunger Games franchise. The two could have been anywhere else on earth during the long months it took to film True Detective, but they chose to be here, slipping in bayou mud and dodging crawfish shells. That desire is palpable in their performances.”

Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan.

Air date: Sunday, January 12th, 2014.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner

Award winning Canadian director, Jean-Marc Vallée directs this biopic about Ron Woodroof, a con man who defied the odds, and the law, to get the medicine he needed to survive; and in the process brought hope and peace to many others.  It is a well scripted, if linear, film that unfolds as McConaughey’s Woodroof learns about himself and the world around him at the height of the HIV scare in America.

What I liked:  It’s no wonder the Hollywood machine has been buzzing around the performances of the two lead actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.  Quite simply, the heart and soul of the movie is in the acting.  Both McConaughey and Leto utterly, and literally, morph into their characters – a scheming rodeo bigot and suffering transvestite.  It is rare that such prominent Hollywood personalities would be unrecognizable but such is the case thanks to Vallée’s brilliant directing and seamless performances from actors who didn’t just lose weight but altered their mannerisms, their features, their voices and even something as simple as a smile. There is a moment at the end of the film where Woodroof, exhausted and achingly thin walks into a room of familiar faces and smiles.   That smile expresses all of the film’s tension, emotion and beauty because it is so clearly Woodroof’s smile, not McConaughey’s.

What I didn’t like:  My only complaint about the film is that there’s nothing new in the telling.  After a mind-blowing experience watching Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club felt a little flat.  I recognize that the two movies are not comparable but I still wanted perhaps more artistic license and vision from a  director who has proven capable of both.

Last thoughts: As usual, Hollywood is placing more emphasis on the physical transformation of the actors than on the performance itself.  Granted, McConaughey is so physically transformed that at times it’s tough to look at his sickly frame but I would hope that if either of them win the Oscar it’s for their performances and not because they know how to diet for a role.

My rating: Between this and Mud, McConaughey has two of my favourite performances of the year.

My IMDb Rating: 8/10     tomato:  94%

Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ Looking Like a Big, Fat Turkey at Thanksgiving B.O.

canyoutellastory:

oldboy2013Well, that’s disappointing news.

Originally posted on Variety:

Not even Spike Lee can teach an “Oldboy” new tricks.

Lee’s reboot of director Chan-wook Park’s South Korean revenge thriller of the same name, surrounded by bad buzz, is getting clobbered at the Thanksgiving box office. Playing in merely 583 locations, “Oldboy” could earn just $2 million for the five-day weekend in what’s shaping up to be one of the worst performances of the year.

Enthusiastic fans of the original had been waiting to see how the auteur would put his stamp on the cult sensation, released in 2003, but the movie’s distributor (Film District) doesn’t appear to have plans for an expansion.

The film’s current per-screen average of over $3,000 is one of the worst counts since DreamWorks’ “The Fifth Estate” and Universal’s “R.I.P.D.”

Unlike with other Thanksgiving movies, “Oldboy’s” marketing and TV campaign has been all but invisible in recent weeks and reviews for the film haven’t exactly…

View original 158 more words

Save Mindy!

The Mindy ProjectAs if cold, dark winter nights aren’t bad enough, this week Fox released the news that, due to low ratings, as of January 28th, The Mindy Project will go on hiatus until April – essentially bumping it from the winter schedule.

This is horrible news for Mindy lovers.  The comedienne’s sitcom is one of the funniest on television and by far the best on Tuesday nights, a night filled with good comedies.

This is my plea to readers to catch up on this hilarious, hero-less 30 minute comedy teeming with celebrity guest stars that actually complement the show.  Trust me, your tv lineup will be better for it.

In case you haven’t checked it out, here are some highlights from this season:

Gravity (2013)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris

Every once in awhile a movie comes along that reminds you to believe in possibility.  3D film was developed so that visionary filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón could make movies like Gravity.  Quite simply, it is a groundbreaking, jaw-dropping experience of visual beauty and vicarious terror that leaves you breathless.

What I liked:  This is not the transcendent wonder of Kubrick’s 2001.  This is a physical and visual encounter with cinema.  For the record, I love 3D movies but not for the sake of it.  I enjoy new ideas being translated through a relatively new facet of technology.  Gravity left me feeling as though I knew what it would be like in space and that is no small feat.    Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have given us a visual story that previously was beyond my imaginative scope.  Just brilliant.

What I didn’t like:  As with most ground breaking films, what Cuarón was trying to accomplish cinematically overshadowed character and dialogue.  This is a rare exception where it’s okay with me.  The movie is not about Bullocks’ back story.  The movie is entirely in the moment and succeeds as such.  Bullock and Clooney are commendable and convincing but their familiar faces within this magical moment of experiencing something new in film, for me, was almost distracting – or a disappointing reminder that it was just a movie.

My rating:  Truly magical.

My IMDb Rating:  9/10        tomato: 97%

Rush (2013)

rushbanner

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Peter Morgan
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara

It’s my firm belief that if you have to start a movie in medias res and go back to the beginning, then your original beginning isn’t strong enough.  This holds true in Ron Howard’s latest film about F1 racing legends, the Maverick Brit James Hunt and his prickly Austrian rival Niki Lauda, where the movie opens at a critical moment only to immediately go back in time to recap.   Ron Howard knows how to create drama, pace and suspense perfectly but there seemed to lack a cohesive narrative thread that would have made Rush outstanding.

What I liked: The movie is as slick as a race car and the racing scenes are wonderfully executed, especially when there is poor weather conditions.  The movie is certainly entertaining. The characters and relationships however are underdeveloped and, frankly, a little wasted; except for Daniel Bruehl who plays Niki Lauda and adds all the heart and soul to this film.   He is brilliant and seemingly reaches beyond the written character, if I am to compare him to Chris Hemsworth’s less dynamic portrayal.  Somehow, while Hemsworth is convincing his character, ironically, lacks the charm to carry the emotion of each short scene, whereas Bruehl’s Lauda grows on us and stays with us.  The best moments of the film come late when we come to respect the rivalry as they do.  I enjoyed that there is no definitive hero and both characters make for a series of well captured scenes but…

What I didn’t like: The film unfolds like a feast of tasty appetizers that never settles into a meal. The story is interesting and there are well-executed moments of real connection and emotion but they never last long enough or fit properly to create a fluid whole.  The camerawork by Anthony Dod Mantle was electric and worked very well in some seems but, again, seemed to piece together different moods or ideas that contributed my overall sense of disharmony.

My rating:  Wishing for an Oscar nod for Daniel Brühl.

My IMDb  rating:  7.5/10     tomato : 88%