Tag Archives: jake gyllenhaal

Okja

The new CEO of Mirando, Lucy (Tilda Swinton), announces that her company has made a discovery that will rid the world of hunger: a super piglet that looks like a cross between a rhino and an elephant that we’re assured tastes really fucking good. 26 super piglets are distributed to farmers around the world to be cared for over the next decade. In 10 years, popular TV veterinarian Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) will judge them and declare one ‘the best.’

Cut to: 10 years later, Wilcox hikes up a remote Korean hillside to visit Okja, a prized super piglet raised by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her father. Raised on love and freedom, Okja is objectively the best of the bunch, but that means this beloved pet must go to NYC okja-creature-littlegirl-woodsto be paraded around by its parent corporation (to disguise the secret testing) – unless of course she’s kidnapped by the Animal Liberation Front headed by Jay (Paul Dano), “not a terrorist,” along the way. And the ALF is only the first group of people Mija will come across that want to control the fate of her large friend, Okja.

Co-written and directed by Snowpiercer’s Bong Joon Ho, you can bet he’s got some interesting thing to say about these events: GMOs, image-obsessed corporations, eco-terrorism. But he cleverly brings it back to one of the most basic relationships to remind us of what’s important: the one between a girl and her best friend, the family pet. Here in North America, not only can we not imagine eating dogs, we object to it morally. Here, we name our dogs, we sleep curled up beside them, we feed them table scraps from our fingers, we look into their sweet faces and tell them they’re good boys, very good boys. If we accorded all animals the respect we give our pets, it would change the food industry okjaas we know it. This is the way Bong Joon Ho choose to frame Okja’s predicament.

Tonally, Okja is very different from Snowpiercer. If the score doesn’t alert you to its farcical nature, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s voice doesn’t do it, then the unconvincing CGI will likely push you in that very direction. But Bong Joon Ho’s skill as a director means that he juggles these switchbacks in tone very carefully, and Okja’s whimsy never fails. Yes, it’s a completely weird movie, one that can feel like a cartoon and a horror at the same time, that can make you laugh amid the darkest of scenes. I realize this movie won’t be for everyone, but I found it profoundly interesting. Tilda Swinton is excellent, and Gyllenhaal does something we’ve never seen from him before. But it’s Seo-Hyun Ahn who steals the show, her bond with Okja and her purity of heart that elevate this movie from fantasy to fable.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Zodiac: 10th Annivesary

It’s been a decade since David Fincher graced cinemas with Zodiac, which means it’s been 10 years since it climbed its way to the top of my favourite David Fincher films list, and remained there.

Zodiac is about the 1960s\70s manhunt for the San Francisco-area Zodiac Killer, who went on a murder spree-media frenzy, terrorizing people in several Northern California zodiac.jpgcommunities but evading police and justice to this day. The Zodiac Killer had held a dimming spot in our collective conscious for years when David Fincher got his hands on the material (a new book on the case by Robert Graysmith was the inspiration, though not terribly well-written) and turned a tired story into something that could take your breath away.

There are several brilliant strokes that make this movie more than just a movie.

  1. It focuses on Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at a San Francisco newspaper (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Paul Avery, a reporter (Robert Downey, Jr.), who became obsessed with the case and played armchair detectives. This was effective story-telling be because Graysmith and Avery are just like us: outsiders. They have no business “detecting.” They have no privileged information. They’re just interested, and it makes us interested.
  2. That said, this is a serial killer movie without the serial killer. The crimes were never solved. At best, he’s a shadowy figure in the movie (and brilliantly, Fincher had several different actors play this shadowy figure so we always feel a little off-kilter). This truly is about the regular people (and Inspector Toschi, a cop frustrated by the case’s dead ends – played by Mark Ruffalo), feeling more like Spotlight than Seven.
  3. Although the movie works very well strictly as crime drama, that’s really just a superficial reading of Zodiac, the tip of the iceberg with a whole lot more waiting to be discovered underneath. The film’s tone lulls us into a trance. The score, the pacing, the editing, it all works together to draw us into this hyper-awareness that heightens everything, so that we watch raptly, watching office scenes with trepidation equal to the creepy, cob-webby basement scenes. We start to realize that the serial killer is not what’s threatening Graysmith; it’s the search for truth that’s ripping his life apart. Now that little nugget comes with a whole lot more cynicism that mere murder can provide.
  4. The case and the film each build consistently, unrelentingly. You get pulled into it, dragged along. It’s not about the violence and blood (there’s very little of either), but about relentless pursuit, without resolution. That’s hard to maintain and in less capable hands, this could easily have been a dry and boring movie. But Fincher bring the suspense, and without us realizing it, he infuses that suspense into every scene. The suspense never lets up. It becomes an ache, one achieved not with fancy car chases or dramatic shootouts, but through methodical police work, the film as detail-oriented as the director himself.
  5. There’s no ending. Or no satisfying one, at least. That goes against what usually makes a Fincher film great, those memorable last lines, a Beatles tune playing over the credits. But Zodiac goes without, because in real life, the Zodiac Killer got away. Maybe we know who it is. Maybe. But no arrest was ever made, no one ever served time. The film reflects this truth and denies us catharsis and our “Hollywood ending” as we understand them. The Zodiac murders weren’t just a news item, it was The Case for a generation, one that never got wrapped up. Fincher was part of that generation, and grew up in the area. It obviously stuck with him. In many ways, Zodiac is his most personal film, so he made it not about the killer, but about the people chasing him. The people trying to solve the ultimate puzzle, and paying the price when justice is ellusive.

Because life is cruel, Zodiac was NOT a hit at the box office, making a paltry $33M in the U.S. against its $65M budget. It was never going to be a hit. It’s not lurid or bloody. It’s an ode to method. And while today we’ve become obsessed with this method (Making A zodiac-murder-scene.gifMurderer, OJ: Made in America), 10 years ago it was unknown. Maybe it was Fincher who invented it. He definitely perfected it, and without an entire season’s worth of episodes to devote to his subject, he imbues each scene with loads of meaning, making each one impactful and riveting. Maybe not as riveting as Wild Hogs, that atrocious piece of shit starring Tim Allen, John Travolta and Martin Lawrence (it opened the same weekend and beat Zodiac by about 30 million dollars), but in the past decade, it has impressed nearly everyone who’s sought it out. The cast is splendid, the script smart, the direction thoughtful and meaningful. But it did not win the Oscar. Know why? BECAUSE IT WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED!

 

Life

When I think about space, my limited imagination often goes to the arrogant American astronauts boldly planting a flag on the moon. In fact, there are now 6 American flags on american-flag-moonthe moon, one from each Apollo mission that landed there. Of course, none of these flags would be identifiably American any more, the stars and stripes long since bleached away by radiation from the sun. And none of them ever rippled in the breeze as the famous photo would have you believe (there is no wind on the moon, there is no atmosphere on the moon). It was a ruse devised by NASA and enabled by Neil Armstrong. The flag has a hidden metal rod along the top of the fabric; when Armstrong planted it, he gave the metal bar a push and the flag “waved.” It was a cheat, but after declaring a giant leap on behalf of “mankind”, the Americans wanted a way to tell the world “We got here first.”

Why am I rambling about the flags on the moon? Well, mostly because I don’t think there’s a single inch of film in all of Life where director Daniel Espinosa could plant his flag. It’s a complete retread. And I don’t mean that it’s bad, just that it owes a lot to space movies that have come before it, and it doesn’t have anything original to add to the “trapped in space” trope.

There’s questionable judgment and the flagrant flogging of protocol. There are plot holes to rival black holes. If you think about it at all you’ll be sucked into the vacuum of space where there’s no enjoyment of anything. But there is a way to enjoy this film: lay back and enjoy the ride. Because what Life is is a pretty intense thriller. My anxiety was so high I life3had to look away from the screen and focus on my gold Converse for safety’s sake. It was so tense I had the bones in Sean’s right hand nearly as mangled as a certain someone‘s in the movie.

Basically, six surprisingly attractive astronauts are hanging out in the International Space Station, waiting for a special delivery, some samples from Mars. Their mission is to probe the samples that arrive, and before long they’ve found the first incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars, which is cool for about 10 seconds before it starts trying to eat them. This is of course their own damn fault for pushing the thing out of hibernation in the first place. Note to everyone: curiosity killed the cat. So yeah, this alien thingy becomes very strong and oddly sentient and wildly out of control. The astronauts’ lives are in imminent and immediate danger, which is hard to care about because we hardly know them before the single cell from Mars becomes the monster that threatens humanity. And that’s the other slight problem is that the lives of the astronauts are overshadowed by the greater threat against all of humankind.

Luckily, the acting is pretty good. None of the characters is all that distinguishable but between Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, there’s enough charisma to circle the earth roughly 16 times a day (Zing! that’s an international space station joke, y’all!).

Okay, I’m quitting while I’m ahead. Life: fun but forgettable.

Nocturnal Animals

As the film opens, Susan (Amy Adams) feels guilty for not being happy, despite having ‘everything’ – Armie Hammer plays her current husband, but apparently they were maybe never truly supposed to be together.

A successful art gallery owner, Susan’s home is perfectly styled, filled with lacquered objets, 18nocturnal1-master768-v2beautiful things, much like herself, impeccably dressed, heavily made up. Her “bare” (movie bare, of course) face comes as a shock when she curls into bed to read a manuscript that has arrived that earlier that day, a surprise from the ex-husband she hasn’t heard from in 20 years.

She’s immediately engrossed in the story, which we see recreated as a movie within a movie. Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher play two halves of a couple travelling down a remote road at night. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a sinister man threatening them. It’s immediately tense. Disturbing. Distraught, Susan slams the book shut.

But that’s not the end, is it? No, she keeps going. And things get darker, and trickier. Director Tom Ford pulls a nasty trick on us: in casting Isla Fisher, he is intentionally making her a very easy substitute for Amy Adams (Isla Fisher once sent Christmas cards to friends and family with Amy Adams photo-shopped in her place, and no one noticed). But we’re not the only ones to notice the similarities: Susan starts to feel a little unsettled too.

This is only Tom Ford’s second film; I was blown away by his first effort, A Single Man. He has a distinctive style, he’s incredibly visual, but the story in A Single Man held up. More than that: it crawled right into my soul and crushed it, just a tiny bit. Colin Firth was robbed when he didn’t maxresdefault-6win an Oscar for it (well, he lost to Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart, and that was certainly deserved as well; luckily Firth one the very next year for The King’s Speech). You may know that Tom Ford is a fashion designer, but that’s clearly not the only trick up his sleeve. His direction is not a gimmick (it likely helps that he leaves the costuming to someone else, and that no Tom Ford suits appear in the film). Maybe it’s little more style than substance, but it’s not without substance, or merit, or worth. Nocturnal Animals is dark and moody and horrible. It is sometimes graphic, and psychologically tortured, and stunning.

It’s the kind of movie that will haunt you for days. There are lots of performances worth talking about: Amy Adams, and the sadness she can convey in her downturned eyes; Jake Gyllenhaal’s fire, and his anguish. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe for his supporting skeevy work here, but I think it’s Michael Shannon who maybe deserved the nomination, mustache and all. Can this man do any wrong? Oh wait

Most people bill Nocturnal Animals as a work of revenge, but I feel it’s more about regret. I suppose your interpretation may rest on the ending, which is intentionally vague, but I believe an indictment on Susan’s character. What did you think?

 

 

TIFF 2016: The Best

 

graduation

Graduation

From time to time, we all have to compromise our own values. It’s part of growing up. But do you remember the first time that you betrayed your own moral code?

According to Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, director of the brilliant and beautiful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (which I have not seen), Graduation is about a lot of things. “It’s about family. It’s about aging. It’s about you. It’s about me”. But mostly, as the Cannes Best Director winner articulated at the North American premiere, it’s about that pivotal moment in one’s life where they make a conscious decision for the first time to do what they know in their heart to be wrong.

Romeo (Adrien Titieni) couldn’t be more proud of his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) when she gets accepted into a fancy British school but he still can’t relax. Despite her stellar grades, she still needs to pass her finals to get out their Romanian town. When a vicious random assault threatens to shake Eliza’s confidence just days before her exams, Romeo can’t help feeling tempted to use his position as a well-respected surgeon to bargain with her educators in exchange for some leniency.

Graduation takes its time. It takes time to establish the relationships, set up the scenario, and let the story play out. Mungiu doesn’t resort to melodrama or even a musical score to beg for our attention. Almost every scene plays out in just one meticulously framed take. It’s an approach that gives his actors plenty of room to shine and his story the time to come alive. If you don’t mind the slow pace, Graduation asks big questions and will get you talking. It’s a very rewarding experience.

my_entire_high_school_sinking_into_the_sea

My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea

Dash Shaw was in high school when James Cameron’s Titanic was in theaters and couldn’t help imaging what it would be like if his school sank like the famous ship with all of his classmates inside. When you think about it, to avoid drowning to death in a sinking building, the smartest would head for the top floor and try to get to the roof. Once Shaw, director of My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea and apparently quite an accomplished comic book writer,  started imaging each floor being occupied by a different grade level, he knew he had a story worth telling.

To see a film called My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea without feeling like you’re seeing something completely unique would be a letdown. So I’m pleased to announce that, whether you love it or hate it, Shaw’s debut feature will not let you down. The unusual animation style takes a little getting used to at first and, even once you get comfortable, there is so much to look at that many of the movie’s jokes- and the jokes are almost constant- can be easy to miss. My Entire High School may eventually be best remember for its carnage (those who are spared from drowning are mostly impaled, electrocuted, or eaten by sharks) but it’s made all the more special by the hilarious and sometimes touching dynamic between three adolescent friends whose bond is in crisis just as their lives are in imminent danger. And it’s all brought to life by some of the best voice acting you’ll hear this year from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, and Susan Sarandon.

its-only-the-end-of-the-world

It’s Only the End of the World

I was one proud Asshole walking out of the Toronto premiere of Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s latest family drama. I was genuinely moved by a Xavier Dolan film. I admired Mommy, his last movie, I really did. It was just too self-indulgent for me to really relate to it in any real way.

So I was pleased to find myself loving this movie, more than almost anything else I saw at the Festival this year. I was finally starting to get it. I was quite disappointed to see that not everyone was as impressed as I was. It’s Only the End of the World currently has a score of 48 on Metacritic. If you’re not familiar with that site, let me put that in perspective. That’s only four points higher than Batman v. Superman’s score. Ouch.

I stand by my recommendation though. Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s Only the End of the World tells the story of a family who are easier to relate to than to understand. After a 12-year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is finally coming home but he is bringing sad news with him. He is very sick and doesn’t have much time left. He’s not quite sure how to bring it up but it wouldn’t matter anyway because his mother, brother, and sister can’t stop alternating between picking fights with him and each other and awkwardly trying to force reconciliation. They try to bond over trivial things and fight over tiny details but can’t seem to bring themselves to talk about anything important.

The claustrophobic family reunion atmosphere seems to rein Dolan in a bit. He still manages to make Lagarce’s play his own though. For such a talky film, it’s surprisingly cinematic with its unnerving score and great performances from Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotilliard, Lea Seydoux, and Vincent Cassell. Using his signature tight close-ups, Dolan works with the actors to find subtext amid all the shouting. No easy task. Hard to act like you’re holding back when you’re screaming at each other.

I’m still not entirely sure what they were fighting about. But the story feels real and profoundly sad.

nocturnal-animals-2

Nocturnal Animals

Careful with this one. The people around me at the TIFF encore screening of Nocturnal Animals were basket cases watching it.

It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same position as Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), a husband and father whose family finds themselves terrorized while driving a lonely Texas highway in the middle of the night. The tension is nearly unbearable as this story unfolds. Those around me could barely sit still watching it and Susan (Amy Adams) is getting even more stressed reading about it. See, the scary part of Nocturnal Animals is but a story within a story. It’s the plot of a manuscript that Susan’s ex-husband (also Gyllenhaal) has sent her of his latest novel. As unnerving as the novel is to watch, it’s even worse for Susan. She’s quite sure the novel is about her.

The three narratives (there are also a lot of flashbacks of Susan’s marriage) are balanced beautifully in the second film from director Tom Ford (A Single Man). Susan is a successful art dealer and everything around her is beautiful and fake. In the story within the story, Tony’s world is harsh and all too real. Nocturnal Animals is sure to be divisive. Ford lays out his themes very clearly and I’m sure I feel comfortable with all of his implications. But there’s so much to look at and so much to feel, think,about, and talk about that you kind of just have to see it.

nocturnal-animals-3

Oh, and if you’re not sold yet, Michael Shannon plays a crazy cop in it.

Celebrity Cameos in Music Videos

Not so very long ago, we were discussing famous movie directors who cut their teeth on MTV, but actors have an even more storied history of popping up in random music videos. Here’s a batch of my favourites (sorry James Van der Beek, as much as I appreciate rainbow lasers, this post is for A-listers only):

Make Some Noise, Beastie Boys

When Adam Yauch was too sick to appear in this video, a whole slew of celebrities lined up to help out their favourite MCs. Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, and Elijah Wood stand in for the Boys, but you’ll need all your fingers and all your toes to count the celebrity cameos on this video. Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Will Arnett, and Will Ferrell with his cowbell all make appearances, but blink and you’ll miss em! For an extended (like 30 minute) version with Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Adam Scott, Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Dan Aykroyd and more, follow this link.

I Really Like You, Carly Rae Jepson

I would never have heard this song if not for the fact that Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks!) stars in the video, solidifying our already niggling suspicion that Hanks is pretty much the most interesting human being ever. How on earth did they land such a huge star? “I literally had a beer in my hand and I said, ‘Yeah sure I’ll do it,'” – it was as easy as that. This will absolutely put a little joy in your heart, and be sure to stay right to the end when he joins in the inevitable choreography: it’s fucking worth it.

Weapon of Choice, Fatboy Slim

Predictable but absolutely necessary inclusion to the list. This video reinvigorated Christopher Walken, turned him into an icon for a whole other generation, and turned a stale music video industry on its ear.

Giving Up the Gun, Vampire Weekend

They brought out the big guns for this video: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a drunken tennis player (“Well, that’s the only way anyone’s going to beat me, if I’m that wasted,” Gyllenhaal joked. “They call me, like, the John McEnroe of action films”) showing some major leg – and shout to RZA while we’re at it. “They’re all really cool guys … and the Jonas Brothers, the RZA and Lil Jon, we all usually chill anyway. Actually, we were up in San Francisco, and I was like, ’You guys, do you want to come down with me?’ And Lil Jon was like, ’I’m busy,’ and I was like, ’Come on, man, get in the car!’ So we all chilled out, listened to the whole album, and the RZA was dope. He was great. He sat shotgun, because that’s where he likes to sit usually. … We all hang out because we’re all really good friends.”

Stylo, Gorillaz

So Gorillaz, who are animated, naturally, get into a car chase with Bruce Willis, who is not. Some things are too strange to be made up.

I Want Love, Elton John

It makes sense that the rocket man would tap iron man for a little help once in a while – and before he donned that Marvel suit, Robert Downey Junior had some time on his hands.

Crossfire, Brandon Flowers

Charlize Theron is everyone’s favourite badass heroine, so I suppose this video was probably stolen right from the director’s wet dream.

What Goes Around Comes Around, Justin Timberlake

A huge hit deserves a huge star, so Scarlett Johansson gets cast as the cheating whore who gets what she deserves: a fiery death. Kind of harsh, isn’t it? Brought to you by the same director who did Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Trouble, Pink

Recognize the sherriff of Sharktown? It’s none other than Jeremy Renner in eyeliner and a cowboy hat, that’s who!

Anybody Seen My Baby, The Rolling Stones

Need someobody who’s “more than beautiful?” You can’t do better than Angelina Jolie. Angelina was married at the time (to Jonny Lee Miller) but that didn’t stop her and Mick from hooking up, or from Jagger’s obsessing over her for two whole years.

Mumford & Sons, Hopeless Wanderer

Mumford and his sons prove they DO have a sense of humour about themselves with this spoof video starring Ed Helms, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis,and Will Forte. The video’s a lot of fun, and these guys sing a lot more earnestly than the real sons ever dared to.

Elastic Heart, Sia

This one may push the bounds of A-list, but how can we not talk about hot mess Shia Leboeuf bringing us yet another chapter in the dude’s book of dubious experimentation? I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to watch a 28 year old mentally unstable man beat on a little girl in a cage match?

Honourable mentions: Daniel Radcliffe in Slow Club’s Beginners; Aubrey Plaza in Father John Misty’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings; Olivia Wilde in Dashboard Confessional’s Stolen; Rupert Grint in Ed Sheeran’s Lego House; Helena Bonham Carter in Rufus Wainwright’s Out of the Game; Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s Crazy; Courtney Cox in Bruce Springstein’s Dancing in the Dark (or Counting Crows’ Long December); Christina Hendricks in Broken Bells’ The Ghost Inside; Keanu Reeves in Paula Abdul’s Rush Rush; Macaulay Culkin in Michael Jackson’s Black or White; Zach Galifianakis in Kanye West’s Can’t Tell Me Nothin.

 

Everest

Everest, the mountain, is a beast. It doesn’t care that you promised a class full of kids that you could do the impossible. It doesn’t care if your pregnant wife is waiting to hear of your success. It’s just big and tall and scary. The mountain always wins.

First, let me tell you this: I have a problem with this movie philosophically that means this review is going to be biased. This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, but here it is: I hate everestmountain climbers. I really do. Not just mountain climbers; I hate anyone who goes out there to find the riskiest behaviour possible, and then recklessly dives into it. I maybe wouldn’t have such a problem with it if all they wasted was their own time, money, and ultimately, lives, but that’s not the case. INEVITABLY, they will get stuck. Luck always runs out. And then we have to rescue them. Embassies will be called. Coast guards will be called. Helicopters, forest rangers, medical evacuations: these things cost money. Park services have to divert huge chunks of their too-precious resources toward rescue operations for idiots who never should have been out there in the first place – just one person can cost HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars. In Europe, they do things a little smarter. The bill goes to the rescuee, who’d better have insurance. But when people go to a third-world country to engage in high-risk behaviour, they call the embassies, who present the bill to the taxpayers back home who, like saps, were at work earning taxable income while these yahoos are out playing mountaineer.

So do I have a lot of sympathy for these guys? No, I do not. Not even if it’s Jake Gyllenhaal in a scruffy beard and manbun.

On to the review:

I saw Everest in all its 3D IMAX glory. Everest has never looked more beautiful, or more brutal. evhighAnd Everest is a real bitch.

1 in 4 climbers died trying to reach her peak until experienced and enthusiastic climbers saw a business opportunity. Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal play competing Everest tour guides, lending their expertise to guide people up to the peak safely. They’re both leading teams of people up her steep and merciless side in the spring of 1996 (remember, this is “based on a true story”). Among the hopefuls are John Hawkes, playing a guy with not much else going on who really, really wants this one achievement on his resume, and Josh Brolin playing a Texan in a Bob Dole t-shirt, cocky and overconfident as they come.

evcrackNow, you must know that we’re not just here for the visuals, strong as they are. To traverse deep and dark crevasses, ordinary ladders are latched together with rope, and strung maybe a dozen at a time across the abyss, with yet more rope tethering them into the shifty ice. Precarious, much? Now you get to enjoy the sensation of walking across such a contraption, one shaky step at a time, looking past the hiker’s feet down into the bottomless depths where Everest keeps her darkest secrets. It’s dizzying and thrilling and probably not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights. This mountain can be felt.

What I didn’t feel: emotion. Now, going in to a movie like Everest, you’re going to expect some thrills. They probaevjasonbly didn’t choose to tell of the story of that time someone climbed a mountain and nothing happened, the end. You expect a little peril, and you’re going to get it. But you  may remember from several paragraphs ago when I confessed my disdain for mountain climbers. A little peril? Not good enough. I wanted a body count, and I wanted it to be EXCESSIVE. So it’s partly my fault that I didn’t really care whether the people lived or died. But it’s also the fault of the script. First: like the mountain herself, this story suffers from overcrowding. There are simply too many characters to keep track of (and they all look the same in snow-covered parkas), and the back stories are brief if offered at all. No one feels like a fully-fledged character. The cast includes evjoshEmily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, and a dozen others, and none of them get enough screen time in what’s already a 2 hour movie.  And the story really just trudges along, telling us what’s happening but not bothering to be anything more than a recitation of: incessant cold, high winds, danger, danger, danger.

The cast is great – Gyllenhaal seemed to be trying to inject a little life into his character, but he got shut down a lot. The editing is really great; Mick Audsley keeps us going between the peak and the base camp, ratcheting up the tension with expert precision. And the everest2cinematography is really, really great. Two reallys! Salvatore Totino achieves new heights – literally, and figuratively. He makes us soar, and I had my heart in my throat more than once.

See this one on the big screen. See it for the vistas. See it for every moment of awe-inducing visual adventure – but human drama? Not so much. The mountain always wins, remember, and in this movie, she’s the only character that really matters.

Journalists in Broadcast/Print

TMP

On Monday, I attended the North American premiere of Spotlight, an entertaining and infuriating film about four reporters at the Boston Globe who investigated the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse at the hands of their priests. Seeing the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber walk onstage was exciting enough but the good people at TIFF really brought the house down with the surprise appearance of the real Pulitizer Prize-wnning journalists themselves to, of course, a standing ovation and a speech from Ruffalo about “unsung heroes”.

spotlight

Somehow, as usual, Wandering Through the Shevles seems to know what’s going on in my life because this week we’re paying tribute to these “unsung heroes”.

All the President's Men

All the President’s Men (1976)– Pretty much every movie about investigative journalism that I’ve ever loved has been compared to this movie. “In the tradition of All the Presidents Men”, the TIFF website wrote of Spotlight. It’s been years since I’ve seen this story of the two Washington Post reporters who investigated the Watergate scandal but what has stayed with me is the way that it manages to hold our attention and build suspense from behind a desk. Instead of car chases, we get phone calls, research, and checking sources. It doesn’t hurt that the journalists are impeccably played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

insider_interview

The Insider (1999)– In his best film by far, Michael Mann tells the story of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman’s battle with the brass at CBS to get his interview with a whistleblower against Big Tobacco on the air. Having Al Pacino’s and Russell Crowe’s names above the title wouldn’t be as exciting today but Mann was lucky enough to catch both actors in their prime. Only Crowe managed to earn an Oscar nomination from his performance but the great Christopher Plummer (doing an uncanny Mike Wallace) was somehow overlooked.

zodiac

Zodiac (2007)– This movie scares the shit out of me. The murder scenes are as chilling as they come but David Fincher’s return to the serial killer subgenre isn’t really about the Zodiac killer at all but about a small group of people who became obsessed with finding him and practically had their lives ruined as a restult. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. do some top-notch reporting (even though Gylenhaal is employeed only as an editorial cartoonist). What’s most impressive about Zodiac is the ammount of information they throw at us without it being impossible to follow and how much of the information we already knew without it being boring.

Tiffing Like Crazy

I hardly know how to begin summing up our crazy time at the Toronto International Film Festival. We’re actually only about halfway through our experience, but if I don’t start putting down some thoughts now, I’m going to run out of usable memory space.

Day 1

Demolition: Our first film of the festival is still probably my favourite. Music-obsessed Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) calls this the “most rock-n-roll movie I’ve ever made” and while that’s not the descriptor that immediately came to my mind, I do get where he’s coming from. I would call this movie vigorous. It’s very alive, ironically, since it’s about a man (2015 Toronto International Film Festival - "Demolition" Press ConferenceDavis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s been numb for the past dozen years or so. It takes the sudden death of his wife for him to realize that he probably didn’t love her. And once that realization is made, his whole life starts to tilt to the left. He becomes obsessed with understanding and improving small, safe things: the leak in his fridge, the squeak in a door, the defective hospital vending machine. A surprisingly confessional letter about the latter connects him to a lonely customer service lady (Naomi Watts) and they stumble together toward truth, just two lost souls helping each other without even meaning to. Gyllenhaal is nothing short of amazing. We see him removed from grief, literally doing whatever he can just to feel – manual labour, loud music, the embracing of pain. Gylllenhaal does disconnection eerily well. But he also has some bracing bonding scenes with a young co-star, the two careening from frank discussions about homosexuality in Home Depot, to the point-blank testing of bullet proof vests. The mourning in this movie is off-kilter to say the least, and jumpcuts and flashbacks keep the loopy momentum going – sometimes quite elegantly, as the editing and cinematography are both superb. Davis busies himself with demolition – he likes taking things apart, methodically, to see how it looks inside, but he can’t quite put it all back together. The physical demolition of his house, of the things surrounding him, serves as an apt metaphor for his sorrow, for his life up until now. It is brutal and quirky and offbeat. Gyllenhaal has been turning in solid performance after solid performance, but this one might be The One. It’s an unconventional movie but also deeply spiritual in its way. Jean-Marc Vallée, when asked after the movie about this theme, responded: “Have you ever smashed the shit out of something? It feels great!”

The Lobster: I realize now, having used words like quirky and offbeat to describe Demolition, that there aren’t words to describe this one. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is a sick man. He has imagined a world not so unlike ours, he thinks, where single people are so ostracized that it’s 40th TIFF- 'The Lobster' - Premierebeen made illegal to be without a spouse. When alone, they’re forced into this hotel where they either find a mate, or get turned into an animal. Many fail. Exotic animals abound.This is how we meet Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly as they desperately attempt to be lucky in love. It’s got the deadpan feel of a Wes Anderson movie, only instead of the warm and fuzzy nostalgia, there’s bleak and panicky hopelessness. This movie won’t appeal to most, or even many, but if you can stomach the brutality, this movie is not without some major laughs. And believe me, you earn them. Sean was having a little post-traumatic shock as he lef the theatre, but a few days a lots of reflection later, he found the movie to be undeniably growing on him. The movie is absurdist and bizarre and unique. It is occasionally shovel-to-the-face brutal. Lanthimos understatedly calls it a movie “about relationships”, and his leading lady, Rachel Weisz called it his most “romantic” yet.

Eye In the Sky: Helen  Mirren and Barkhad Abdi  joined director Gavin Hood in introducing this wonderful film to us – just icing on the cake as the film itself would have been more than enough. Helen Mirren, as you might expect, is completely compelling as a Colonel who’s been tracking radicalized British citizens for 6 years. Just as she’s found them she encounters bureaucratic hell trying to get permission to do her job – that is, to eliminate the threat. What I didn’t realize going in to this movie is that it would not solely be a vehicle for Mirren but a really heleneyestrong ensemble cast who all pull their weight to give this film so many interesting layers. Drone warfare is obviously a pretty timely discussion, but this movie is also an entertaining nail-biter, successfully blending ethical dilemmas with on-the-street action thanks to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) who ratchets up the tension. The crux: there’s a house full of terrorists. They’re literally arming themselves for an imminent suicide attack. Capturing them is not an option – they must be killed before they kill dozens, or hundreds. But just outside this house is a little girl, selling bread. So government officials debate her fate. Mirren the military tour de force is adamant that the terrorists must be stopped at any cost. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), the guy with the finger on the trigger, is not so sure. You can see the weight of this decision in his eyes, knowing it’s not his to make, yet doing everything in his power to stall. If he’s the heart and Mirren is the head of this operation, there are dozens of politicians muddling up the chain of command in between. The movie is asking us what is acceptable – the sacrifice of one bright little girl to save potentially dozens? The politicians waffle. The girl herself is not the problem, rather it’s the way it would look to the electoral public. How can they spin this? Who will win the propaganda war? Hood does a great job of subtly reminding us that no matter what, not everyone in the kill zone deserves to die. But at the same time, he lets us feel the urgency, lets us count the potential dead bodies if the suicide attack is allowed to continue. And who would be responsible for that? This movie never stops being tense, even when it draws uncomfortable laughter: Alan Rickman, at the head of the table of the dithering politicians, rolls his eyes for all of us as everyone passes the buck. This movie never flinches and it doesn’t take sides. There is an emotional heft to it and I felt it on a visceral level when this sweet little girl is callously referred to as but “one collateral damage issue.” Oof.

'Sicario'+Stars+Stunned+by+Ovation+Sicario: Matt was ultimately disappointed with the film but was still lucky enough to be at the premiere where Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro were both on hand to answer questions along with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

We Monsters: A German film by Sebastian Ko about a mother and father who follow their most primal instinct to protect their teenaged daughter even as she commits an unspeakable crime. It’s weirdly relatable and abhorrent at the same time, and keeps asking us what we would do even as it pushes the envelope to deeper and darker places. Many shots are obstructed, Ulrike-C-Tscharre-Sebastian-Ko-175x197keeping shady characters exactly that, a little out of focus, a little blurred, a little on the sly. The cinematographer cultivates a sense of dread expertly, boxing those characters in, keeping the shots almost claustrophobic. There’s a real sense of panic, of increasing alarm and desperation, and it’s not easy to watch. But it is kind of fascinating. Afterward, Ko was on hand to answer questions, and when someone asked him about the recurrent shots of a butterfly eventually emerging from its cocoon, he confessed that at first it was just meant as a metaphor for adolescence, but in the end he was struck that what emerged was a “pretty ugly creature” and made for a pretty fitting parallel.

 

 

 

TIFF 2015: Demolition

Demolition

Not only was my promise to Jay, based on my previous TIFF experience, that getting tickets to her favourite films would be a cinch with a festival pass a little too optimistic, it turns out picking them up once they’re already paid for can be a nightmare of its own. Jay, Sean, and I stood in three different lines at once (thankfully we had strength in numbers) and barely caught our noon screening of Demolition this afternoon.

From up in the balcony at Roy Thomson Hall, I advised Jay and Sean to learn to love the TIFF commercials at the beginning of the screenings because they’ll be seeing a lot of them. There were more than I remembered it turned out and the woman sitting next to me was already yawning by the time the movie started.

I am happy- even relieved to report that Demolition, the much-anticipated collaboration between Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Valle, was well worth the wait. Jake and co-star Naomi Watts may have been no-shows at the third and final screening but a sure-of-himself Vallee was onstage to introduce and answer questions about the most “rock and roll movie I’ve ever made”.

Gyllenhaal, on a hot streak lately, is never short of compelling as Davis, a successful investment banker who becomes both destructive and self-destructive after the death of his wife. Davis becomes obsessed with taking things apart and discovering how they work. With nothing left to lose, he starts saying what’s on his mind, giving Jake a chance to practice more of that fast-talking and disconnected delivery that worked so well in Nightcrawler.  Because Davis, unlike his character in Nightcrawler is anything but a psychopath, he gets a chance to being even more depth to his performance.

Also taking elements that have served him well in the past but taking it much further, Vallee – as pointed out by one member of the audience during the question period- has become an expert at stories of rebuilding and starting over after a tragic loss. The painful and beautiful memories are handled similarly as in last year’s Wild, with the sound and images as fading echoes instead of traditional flashback scenes  it works even better here, with the director having a much richer and surprisingly funny- script to work with.

This marks the first time I – usually too excited at a screening – have ever cried at TIFF but Demolition really is that powerful. I’m already emotionally drained with 11 movies left to go.