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%

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)

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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%

Captain Phillips (2013)

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Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay) and Richard Phillips (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman

Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) knows how to build suspense.  His latest action/adventure Captain Phillips, based on the true 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship for ransom by four armed Somali pirates, is no exception.  The movie creeps, crawls, rises and falls throughout its 2h15min running time.  Tom Hanks delivers but the Somali pirates are the real stars of the film.

What I liked:  Greengrass goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.  The movie has a brief and awkward start but with one flicker on the radar and a hand-held camera we are engulfed in foreboding.  The action gives the movie a frenetic pace but the performances win the day.  Hanks is the everyman we can all relate to and be terrified for but it’s the Somali pirates who offer us more than stock villains, even with stock dialogue.  Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman are smart, devious, famished, suffering and wilful.  They tug at our heartstrings even as we root for them to fail.  They are the driving force behind a film whose conclusion made headlines.

What I didn’t like:  Why did they cast the wonderful Catherine Keener if she was going to end up on the cutting room floor? This frustrated me to no end when the movie was over.  I can also understand why the Navy hasn’t exactly applauded the film because despite their oppressive presence they don’t actually seem to do or accomplish anything.  I understand the need to draw out action in order to build a climax but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the sequences were just add-in plot points to embellish the drama rather than actual events.

My rating:  Requires big screen viewing.

My IMDb rating: 7/10      tomato:  94%

Trailers I’m Obsessed With: The Grand Budapest Hotel

From my favourite storyteller.

I was so caught up watching the trailer, admiring the poster and reading everything I could get my hands on about Wes Anderson’s new film that I forgot to post the trailer here.

If I was a cartoon you would see hearts in my eyes.

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Léa Seydoux, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and many, many more.

Release Date: March 7th, 2014

Don Jon (2013)

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Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlet Johansson, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is an interesting one.  To its credit it is new, interesting and entertaining.  Gordon-Levitt clearly has a message as he plays the eponymous Jon who escapes into his obsession with porn rather than connect with another person or learn about himself.  I give credit to Gordon-Levitt for making me think during a film that could have been reduced to a romantic comedy with a twist.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a self-indulgent project or a meditation on isolation and the misrepresentation of relationships in a sex obsessed culture.  Where Gordon-Levitt falters is in his character portrayal but, overall, I was impressed with his writing, direction and wit.

What I liked: Gordon-Levitt’s use of repetition works.  His narrative framework is based around a series of mundane events – home, porn, sex, clubbing, the gym, cleaning, church and family dinner – that convey his character’s disconnectedness and masked despair.  Gordon-Levitt also conveys his ideas with an artistic flare that is thought-provoking, witty and fearlessly uncomfortable.

What I didn’t like:  His characters, while at times endearing and relate-able, are no more than caricatures, which is probably why he is being taken to task for what the Italian American One Voice Coalition believes are “racist stereotypes” rather than developed characters.   I think Gordon-Levitt pulls off his Jersey Shore-type character with flare, because it is so outside our perception of him as an actor that beneath his empty façade we recognize the scrawny do-gooder of 50/50, (500) Days of Summer or even Batman.  The rest of the characters offer no such recognizable depth other than Julianne Moore who escapes the stereotype and offers the real soul of the film.  To be fair, Scarlett Johansson has fun with her role and is both convincing and comical as the romance obsessed love interest.  While I imagine creating such extreme characters was the point, I still can’t quite figure out why since many of us ‘real folk’ often feel the same way or limit ourselves to routine so I can see how the message was lost.

My rating:  An admirable first effort and worth watching, because it is new.

My IMDb rating:  7/10      tomato: 83%

The Way, Way Back (2013)

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Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Written by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James.

The Oscar-winning duo that brought us The Descendants make their directorial debut with The Way, Way Back a coming-of-age story set in a summer beach town about a 14 year old boy’s quest to build confidence and find a sense of belonging and trust.  The movie is funny, sweet and brimming with nostalgia. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: “Its situations and feelings seem drawn more from available, sentimental ideas about adolescence than from the perceptions of any particular adolescent,” which, while true, doesn’t account for the endearing performances that give the movie a sense of uniqueness.

What I liked:  Strong direction and heartfelt performances are what make this film work.  Each character, no matter their screen time, offers a sense of depth that carries the emotion of the film, starting with Liam James whose awkward and introverted performance is spot on and a testament to the 17 year old’s acting chops.  Seasoned vets, Alison Janney and Sam Rockwell provide all the rich humour of the film from their first seconds on screen.  In fact, Janney’s introduction is one of the funniest and most effective I’ve seen in a while, not to mention her off-colour relationship with her son; and Rockwell, flighty and flawed, provides the film’s best dialogue.  Maya Rudolf, Steve Carrell, Amanda Peet and Toni Collette round out a stellar cast that works in harmony, even when they are at odds with each other.

What I didn’t like:  This movie has been on my watch list since it was released this past summer.  Happily, the movie didn’t disappoint despite a routine premise and narrative that has been done many times before.  The good news is that the writing is strong enough to make an oft-told framework successful and entertaining despite a predictable finish.

My rating:  I want Allison Janney to be my neighbour and Sam Rockwell to be my boss.

My IMDb  Rating:  8/10     tomato: 85%