Friday, October 28, 2016

Doctor Strange (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Steve Ditko (comic), Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill (screenplay)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlberg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins

Doctor Strange is now in Australian cinemas and is distributed by The Walt Disney Company.

Doctor Strange brings a new brand of superhero to the Marvel universe who relies more on the power of the mind, spirituality and inner strength rather the traditional battle of the brawn and super-gadgets. Although visually spectacular with an exceptionally strong cast, Doctor Strange has a recycled plot not unlike other Marvel films and a less than satisfying finale.

Egotistical and arrogant genius neurosurgeon, Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) feels like he has had his life ripped from him when a serious car accident leaves him with seemingly irreversible nerve damage to his hands. In a last desperate move to find a way to restore his body to the way it once was, he travels to Kathmandu where he believes he will receive help spiritually, but finds that he enters into a world of sorcery that is overseen by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). As Stephen opens his mind, he finds that this world is not all it seems and that he may be the one to protect it from the Dark Dimension.

Doctor Strange is a rather deceptive film. It is wrapped up very nicely to look as though it is a breath of fresh air to the Marvel Universe with a new type of superhero in a strange new world, when it really is an atypical superhero introduction film. It has rightly drawn comparisons to Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man as the two lead characters in both films have the same initial character traits and embark on the same journey of self-rediscovery after life-changing events. It is, of course, obvious that Dr Stephen Strange is going to become the hero of the story (hence the name of the film), yet the rest of the film is unpredictable, but unfortunately not in a good way. Spending the latter half of the film wondering where it is going is normally perceived as a positive, but not when the finale is met with the exclamation of "Was that it?"

However, the film's downfalls are disguised by it's breathtaking visuals and incredible special effects. Doctor Strange is a film that must be seen in 3D and on as big a screen as possible to be able to grasp how exquisite it truly is. The creation of an alternate dimension is sublime and beauifully original (although some scenes do replicate Christopher Nolan's Inception). The only criticism that can be said for the visual aspects of the film is that the make-up for Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius and his cohorts is rather lack lustre with the over-obvious use of glitter.

And while the story falters, the stellar cast do all they can to make the film work. Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Stephen Strange is a perfect piece of casting. Cumberbatch has an extraordinary screen presence and dominates every scene he is in just like a hero is supposed to do. He brings his dry, but amusing sense of humour which, as always, works well for him and adds to the enjoyment of the film by living up the dialogue. Rachel McAdams also continues to further impress in her role as Strange's love interest, Christine Palmer. Always charming and likable, she actually does bring something new to the Marvel superhero love interest in that she is not the damsel in distress, but the voice of reason who is not as much in awe of Strange's new found powers, but more irritated at the absurdity he has brought to her life and career.

Doctors Strange could well have been just another run of the mill superhero film, yet the filmmakers have dressed it up to be something that seems original with it's extravagant visuals and solid cast who each bring something new to the film.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Regarding Marilyn Monroe...

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did
"Candle in the Wind"- Elton John

Where do you even begin to start writing about Marilyn Monroe?

I've been meaning to write about what Marilyn means to me for awhile now and even sitting here I struggle to find the words. I find my inspiration when I look at the photo above, which was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE in 1953. It is a beautiful photo to be sure and Marilyn is stunning, but I look at it and just see sadness, as I do with many of her photos. She may not have been sad at this moment and 1953 was indeed a breakout year for her with the releases of Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, but knowing what I know about Marilyn Monroe makes me just feel pity and sorrow for the poor little lost girl by the name of Norma Jeane who just wanted to be loved.

I've always wondered what Marilyn's life would have been like if she knew that 54 years after her death, she would still be one of the most recognised of all movie stars past and present and to many personifies old Hollywood and its glamour. Her luminous face is printed on countless pieces of memorabilia in the souvenir shops that line Hollywood Boulevard and tourists flock to see her handprints at the Grauman's Chinese Theater forecourt and take photos with her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even those who just know the basics about Marilyn, will talk with conviction about how she was a legend and about how much they admire her. Yet, in life she was incredibly insecure regarding her acting ability and always worried that people weren't taking her seriously.

Norma Jean Mortensen was born on June 1 1926 to a single mother, Gladys and a father who Norma Jean never knew and was never named. She never experienced a stable childhood as she was moved from home to home because of her mother's mental condition and as a result, struggled to find and hold onto love. This constant need to be loved followed Marilyn for her whole life. She was always on the lookout for someone who would love her with their all and never leave. Marilyn married three times (Jim Dougherty in 1942, Joe DiMaggio in 1954 and Arthur Miller in 1956) and this neediness was something each husband experienced. She aspired to become an actress believing that it would make people love her and ultimately bring her happiness.

Fame certainly found her, but as Marilyn Monroe and not Norma Jean...who were two very different people. Norma Jean had reinvented herself as the persona of Marilyn Monroe (although the studios gave her the new name) and it was Marilyn who was being loved, not Norma Jean. For someone who had had a childhood riddled with abandonment, she was destined to struggle in Hollywood and she was unfortunately always going to feel the pressure of the studio system. Poor Norma Jean never really had a chance of pure and all encompassing happiness as Marilyn Monroe.

But....if by some crazy way she was able to see into the future and see how loved she still would be and how many girls would still admire her for her beauty and glamour, would Marilyn's mentality have been different? For the girl who was always worried whether she was loved and whether she was being taken seriously, a snapshot of how much she dominates the world and our minds when we think about  old Hollywood would surely have made a difference.

So my point is that we can all learn from Marilyn and not in the way that many people believe. Marilyn Monroe is an extraordinarily loved Hollywood historical figure not just for her beauty, but also for her films which are still widely available today. She was always worried that she wasn't being taken seriously, but history has always taken her very seriously. Maybe we can all remember Marilyn next time we wonder if people are taking us seriously and if we are loved? We often see ourselves in the harshest light and Marilyn was no exception, but the world see's us differently to the way we see ourselves.

When I started reading books about Marilyn (I have to this date read biographies by Barbara Leaming, Michelle Morgan, Fred Lawrence Guiles, Donald Spoto, J, Randy Taraborrelli and Anthony Summers), the lyrics of  "Candle in the Wind" by Elton John (as above) suddenly made complete sense to me. I feel so sorry for poor Norma Jean having to go through life looking for someone to stand by her and take her at her best and her worst. It does make you feel as though you somehow should have been there for her no matter how impossible that is.

So our lesson learnt is that the world often sees us differently to the way we see ourselves, as was clearly the case with Marilyn Monroe. It is easy for us to see how loved she was then and how loved she still is, but her mind was clouded over by her insecurities and sadness. If only she had had a crystal ball to see the world now and know that she is still a part of it in a way she would have loved.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cafe Society (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director/ Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll

Café Society opens in Australian cinemas on October 20 and is distributed by Entertainment One.

Woody Allen's 1930's tale of two cities, Café Society lacks the lovely nostalgia that it should have with not only it's lukewarm screenplay and lack of strong plot, but also it's strange choices in cinematography that don't make the time period and locations anywhere near as exciting or wondrous as they should be.

In 1935, young and naïve Bronx native, Bobby travels cross-country to try his luck in the glamour town of Hollywood. He is employed by his uncle who is one of Hollywood's leading agents, Phil Stern (Steve Carell) and has one of his uncle's office girls, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) show him around town. Bobby is instantly besotted with Vonnie, but she is already in a relationship with a mystery man who is already married. However, Bobby and Vonnie's story doesn't end there and spans over time and the two cities of Los Angeles and New York City in one of their most exciting times.

Looking at Café Society from the viewpoint of a fan of the golden age of Hollywood, the film does not hit the heights expected from the exciting prospect of Woody Allen making a period piece about the earlier days of the film town. Allen did such a great job with Midnight in Paris in 2011 with reconstructing Paris in the 1920's complete with personalities such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway that one would expect a film set in the 1930's with such a strong film basis to be successful. However, Allen does not do this period justice. Not only are there several historical inaccuracies (including architecture and costume design), but the screenplay features famous names from the time period such as Judy Garland, Errol Flynn and Joan Crawford being thrown around for the sake of it rather than to move the story along. While Café Society is also supposed to be equally focused on the New York City scene, it feels more focused on Hollywood and the New York world which the film's title is named after is left rather unloved.

While his films can often leave people trying to figure out what their point is, the usual consensus is that it doesn't matter if there was a greater meaning just as long as you were entertained and enjoyed the film. Café Society has no real direction, a tedious story and we can only have a guess at what Allen was trying to tell us as an audience, but not with any great confidence. It may be that the person we don't want to be is the person we are really longing to be inside, or it could be the idea that circumstances change us and our views on the world. However, it does really feel as though Allen wanted so greatly to make a film about this time period that the story wasn't as important as the visuals.

Yet the visuals are not as striking as they possibly could be. The type of lighting used throughout the film mirrors what the lighting would have been like in such a location, but on screen it can look particularly unattractive at times, especially in Phil Stern's office. The production design for the outdoor locations is really quite lazy. Old Hollywood enthusiasts love seeing old venues recreated for the screen, don't expect this to be the case in Café Society. All the locations appear the same as they would if you visited them in Hollywood yourself today and no effort is made to show locations that once existed and now do not. The Hollywood history film is almost a sub-genre in itself and Café Society is a particularly weak member.

Jesse Eisenberg does fine in the lead role of Bobby and is enjoyable and charismatic. However, it is obvious that Allen has once again directed his leading actor to be a clone of himself. Once upon a time when Woody Allen was playing himself in his own films, it was nowhere near as tiresome as it now is watching a series of films with big name actors giving their best Woody Allen impression. On the other hand, Allen's female characters remain as diverse as ever. Kristen Stewart is luminous as the woman everyone is falling for, Vonnie. Stewart continues to impress with each film she is in and show how versatile an actress she truly is. However, she has little chemistry with Steve Carell. who is her primary love interest of the film.

Café Society is an incredible shame of a movie. Woody Allen could have done so much more with the film by way of screenplay depth and got really inventive and gritty with the time period, but the film feels lazy and uninspired.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Inferno (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 121 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Dan Brown (based on the novel by), David Koepp (screenplay)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu

Inferno is now showing and is distributed in Australia by Sony Pictures.

Dan Brown's fast-paced suspense novels that typically tread a fine line between fact and fiction almost beg to be adapted into screenplays. So why aren't they working so well on the big screen when they are so popular among readers?

Inferno is just fine. Like the book of the same name, it follows the same pattern of those which have come before it...with a few minor differences. Robert Langdon (portrayed once again by Tom Hanks), the Professor of Religious Iconology and Symbology at Harvard University who has such a strong pull to dangerous situations, wakes up in a Florence hospital recovering from a gunshot wound with no recollection of how he arrived there or in the city. With the help of Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), Langdon attempts to solve the puzzle set out for him which heavily involves Dante's "Inferno", as well as trying to understand why his life is in danger thanks to those who are following his every footstep.

For The Da Vinci Code in 2006, the order of the day was over-expectation considering how astronomically successful the book was. Despite the film not being well-received by critics, it performed very well at the box office as all those who read the Dan Brown book flocked to see Ron Howard bring it to life. Much the same occurred with Angels and Demons in 2009, so why not bring Brown's sixth novel, Inferno to the screen?
Inferno is high paced and entertaining for the most part and intriguing enough to keep your attention for it's entirety. However, as stated before, the small details are not enough to make the film feel original by any means. Any reader of the Brown books and those who have seen both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, it is inevitable that there will be at least four twists in the story and these twists may be predictable in their occurrence, but the good news is they are still unforeseeable in nature.

And of course, there's a whole lot of facts about historic places and artefacts thrown in there as the books can often feel as though they are a regurgitation of a "Did you know?" history book. However, this is one of the reasons why people still do flock to see these films as it is like having a guided tour of such locations....with the tour guides constantly running from the bad guys. Florence and Venice are on show in exquisite fashion. If you are planning a holiday to these cities, than Inferno may work as a great tool for what to see with a whole set of trivia attached to it (as what The Da Vinci Code did for Paris and Angels and Demons for Rome). There are some truly beautiful landscape shots, but the depiction of Dante's "Inferno" on Earth is downright terrifying.

Tom Hanks is solid in his third outing as Robert Langdon. He gives a flawless performance of the character of Robert Langdon, which he has moulded to be his own over the past three films. Felicity Jones has bee given the job of portraying a character who is not particularly interesting until the last third of the film and as would be assumed, her performance hits it's stride at this time. One of the best things about Inferno is it's depiction of the "bad guys". The film correctly shows that most of the time in real life, the people who are perceived as being the enemies always believe that they are the good guys and are doing the right thing, as is shown here.

Inferno is entertaining, but is just another film in the now tired series of Dan Brown adaptations.


Friday, October 7, 2016

The Girl on the Train (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Paula Hawkins (based on the novel by), Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay)
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Allison Janney, Lisa Kudrow, Laura Prepon

The Girl on the Train is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Entertainment One in Australia.

One has to feel sorry for The Girl on the Train.

When the novel by Paula Hawkins was released in early 2015, it instantly drew comparisons to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" with it's similar themes and suspenseful nature. It was only ineviatble that the film directed by Tate Taylor would also be compared to the film version of Gone Girl, which was directed by David Fincher. While this comparison is harsh to have to contend with, The Girl on the Train also faces the comparison that could never have been avoided which is the eternal question of whether the movie is as good as the book.

It feels as though The Girl on the Train was never destined to be it's own film as the filmmakers obviously knew the pressures they were going to be unable to avoid. As a result, it evidently struggles with it's own identity and caves under the pressure in several areas, but excels itself in others.

The girl on the train is Rachel (Emily Blunt), a woman who has turned to alcoholism after several bad turns in her life including having her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) leave her for another woman, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) whom he is now married to with a small child. Rachel travels by her old house each day and see's an idyllic couple a few doors up who she likes to believe are living the life she misses so greatly. However, one day she witnesses something in this perfect house that makes her fall apart and plummet into an alcohol-induced black spot which she can only remember fragments of. It is only when she hears that Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) has disappeared that she starts to become paranoid that she is the one behind her disappearance.

Although there are several notable differences from the book that impact the film's depth, The Girl on the Train carries with it the same atmosphere and suspense which made the novel so popular. The story is in itself unsettling with characters that are intriguing, but are all quite unlikable. All the people in the film (except Lisa Kudrow's Monica who was invented for the film) are extremely flawed human beings to the point that they all feel dirty to watch. Emily Blunt's Rachel is one that is particularly hard to watch, just as she was to read in the book. This is a woman in so deep that she cannot pull herself, only dig herself in deeper. Of course, this terrible character trait is what moves the story along and is ultimately justified despite being so frustrating. A film does not need to have likable characters in order to work and although all the cast give splendid performances, there is no connection between the viewer and the characters because one does not want to feel connected to people like this.

However, unless you have read the book, Taylor's film does carry a real sense of suspense and unpredictability that make it impossible to look away. The reason The Girl on the Train is so often compared to Gone Girl is because they both have the resounding theme of how well do we really know the ones closest to us. Paula Hawkins book delves into this in greater detail than the film. As the book was written in the first person by all three of the main female characters in rotating order, the film struggles to adapt to this and fit it into it's nearly two hour running time. Rebecca Ferguson's Anna is particularly hard done by as her character is sliced of all her gritty inner thoughts and true character development.

One of the resounding questions posed by anyone who had read the book beforehand is how Emily Blunt could have possibly been cast as Rachel? In the novel, Rachel is referred to numerous times as being unattractive, overweight and repulsive..... a description that does not suit the genetically blessed Blunt. The make-up department certainly tries their hardest to make her less attractive, but the way Blunt disappears into her role makes one forget about her outward appearance. Her performance is of the incredibly unstable Rachel is just superb and shows a great deal of variety within her screen time. The bathroom mirror scene is particularly memorable for how terrifying she suddenly becomes.

Haley Bennet is also wonderful as Megan. Her character and performance seem one-dimensional for the majority of the film until towards the end when she has the opportunity to show how much talent she truly has and rises to the occasion. Rebecca Ferguson does what she can with her role, but again, she is denied the depth Rachel and Megan are given. Luke Evans shines as the grieving husband, Scott and it is unfortunate he didn't have more screen time. Justin Theroux does fine as Tom, but his is the only performance in the film that feels a little too restrained, particularly as it heads into the final quarter.

The Girl on the Train cannot help but be compared to the novel in which it is based on by those who had read it, which in this case is not a good thing. The film has a dark and grimy atmosphere with a screenplay that evidently struggles to be all it wants to be. Yet, the cast (particularly Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett) breath life into the film and save it from being merely a failed adaptation.


Monday, October 3, 2016

#Top10...with Ella Donald

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

Our guest for today's #Top10 is writer, journalist and film critic, Ella Donald!

Here's a few words from Ella describing herself...

"When I'm introduced to people I meet as “the movie one”, I know my reputation precedes me. I grew up watching everything, particularly old Hollywood musicals (if you ever want an in-depth discussion on MGM's back catalogue, you know where to find me) and comedies, and today (as well as studying at university) I'm a freelance journalist and film critic . I can talk way too much about everything, from how that perfect swell in the music at the end of Laurence Anyways ALWAYS makes me cry because it feels so much like the ache of being in love, to how Velvet Goldmine is really the film that encapsulates the mysticism and euphoria of fandom in your teenage years, to how I watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers most days before I started school.

My life feels lived through films, each favourite somehow intertwined with a part of my story. Where do I start to compile this list? Asking me to name my favourite films is never definitive, it feels more like a snapshot in time than a list that is in any way permanent. Every time I pick I feel like I'm leaving off something incredibly important. So, think of this as less of an all-timer, and more of a right-now list. These are the films I've been coming back to lately, that I can't get out of my mind. The list is alphabetical, because I'm not a fan of ranking things, it intensifies my anxiety about coming back five minutes later and changing everything. Although, if you've taken a look at my social media in the past year, you can probably guess which one rises above the rest... I'm nothing if not obsessive."

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This one needs little introduction, because it's one I'm sure many have seen! So let me tell you the story of how I first saw it, which is one of the reasons why I hold it so dear. I was on holiday when I was 11 and it was our final night. My parents had booked a hotel that looked MUCH better on the website, but turned out to be a sketchy single room where the only overhead light was in the bathroom and our neighbours seemed intent on having an argument all night. So we sat up and watched hotel room cable TV (I remember also watching Pleasantville) until we fell asleep and this was the second one we watched. I told you, life lived through movies here. This one just gets better the more times I watch it, the dialogue and references just get funnier. Combine the charisma of Heath Ledger here and in I'm Not There (another favourite), and damn, I just miss him more and more as the years go by. My latest thing is I like to imagine that Kat, who talks about Bikini Kill, was a fan of Sleater-Kinney too. 

All That Jazz (1979)

Here lies a film that shouldn't work. An eerily prophetic portrait of how Fosse himself would die only 7 years later, it's autobiographically self-indulgent to a fault. Is that the highest act of art itself, death as depicted on screen?

Roy Scheider plays Fosse (not fresh faced, young Bob Fosse of Kiss Me Kate and My Sister Eileen)'s proxy Joe Gideon, a drug and alcohol-addled, brittle multi-hyphenate who drives himself off the edge from exhaustion while editing a film and staging a new Broadway show. The film is based on Fosse's experiences while he was rehearsing "Chicago" while editing Lenny in the early 1970s. Ann Reinking and Leland Palmer play thinly-veiled versions of Reinking herself and Fosse's longtime partner Gwen Verdon, respectively. There's also the incredible 13-year-old Erzsebet Foldi in her first (and only) film role as Fosse's often-neglected daughter. But why, how on earth does it work? Like many films that exert a manic, impossible genius, it's hard to say. It's a dizzying, kaleidoscopic journey, one that's continually walking the tightrope between triumph and failure and somehow failing. Plus, it has some of the most incredible editing I've ever witnessed, making sense of the madness on screen. 

Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight (1995, 2004, 2013)

I graduated from high school in 2013, the year that Midnight came out. That was the year I became
obsessed with these films. There were so many days where I'd come home, cry and put Sunrise and Sunset on. Linklater's strength in these films is the sense of place and time, how quickly one gets attached to these characters.

The story is simple. Celine, a Parisian student; meets Jesse, an aimless American, on a train through Europe. Through an impulsive decision, they decide to get off the train in Vienna and spend the night together. Their story picks up again nine years later, and then another nine years after that. Each rewatch feels like a catch up with friends, a homecoming to a place where one is always welcome, but it always feels spontaneous. There's something always new and magical happening, like those afternoons and evenings are unfolding before my eyes for the first time. A relationship formed, rediscovered and explored, waiting for me to return to whenever I want to. No matter what, Celine and Jesse will always be wandering around the capitals of Europe, falling together, apart, and together again.

Carol (2015)

Todd Haynes is undoubtedly my favourite director and most of his films rank in my favourites, but I've restrained myself to just one in this list for the sake of some variety. This one will be completely expected to anyone who has talked to me for a minute, let alone knows me quite well, over the past year (psst...I've seen it 14 times. I was good to do fact-checking from memory after about four). It's a film I could write endlessly about and still not feel like I quite perfectly articulated why exactly I love it so much, one that's profoundly affected me personally. Here's an extract from my 2000 word monster of a sort-of-review/essay about it when it was released earlier this year:

As I watch it again and again and sit down to try describe the indescribable, to try capture the magic of this film, I’m convinced that indeed, this is the film I’ve been waiting the first twenty years of my life for. Why, exactly, is beyond objective reason or description, writing about it is a never ending task fraught with failure. Every time I settle into my cinema seat, hear the first longing notes, I am utterly transported to another world. It’s a world of understanding, a world of love, a world that feels straight from the depths of my heart, too familiar to actually exist. I look into Therese’s eyes and see something about myself, something ephemeral. I drink in the surroundings, trying to catch every minute detail, and failing. No matter how many times I see it, I can’t get enough.

It's one of those perfect films, those ones I adore so much. Every time I watch it feels new but still familiar. Its wonders are bottomless, that I can't wait to continue to discover in years to come.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

It's a film I know few feel passionately about and if it's passion one feels about it, it's mostly of the negative kind. A sentimental love story in the midst of David Fincher's typically cold and violent nihilism, I've read plenty of dismissals of it as being overlong, hokey, Brad Pitt's voiceover being a little too Forrest Gump-esque... But there's a real melancholy here, a sadness and groundedness to the story that Fincher brings. The idea of time slipping away slowly, without knowing when it will end. The feeling of constantly missing one another or something, that there is never enough time. The inevitable loneliness of life. Plus, Cate Blanchett plays a dancer, and there's something that Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth, as well as Blanchett, get oh-so-right about that storyline and characterisation. It achieves something ephemeral about being a dancer, something moving.

High Society (1956)

The Philadelphia Story is also a favourite! But I love this semi-musical version of it that's been one of my favourites since childhood. It gives Grace Kelly, one of my favourite actors, some fantastic sharp dialogue to work with and a wardrobe that is to die for

Lilo and Stitch (2002)

It was an unintentional choice by my parents, but I didn't see any Disney Princess movies or anything like The Lion King until I was 13, but I saw this at the cinema, for some reason. Maybe it was the Elvis music? But in any case, it's a small wonder. Only 75 minutes long, it's hilarious and heartfelt, and despite it being half about a blue alien, it's one of the more realistic Disney films. 

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008)

Another one I saw at the cinema and have loved ever since. A 50s comedy somehow crafted with perfection in 2008, it's infectiously delightful and rewatchable. The titular Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is a middle-aged London governess who stumbles into the fast-moving world of American actress and singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams, fresh off breaking out with Junebug) for one memorable day. Songs, laughter, tears, delightful actors doing comedy for once aplenty. Does one need anything more?

Paris is Burning (1990)

A snapshot of a New York long gone, a tribute to a culture absorbed into the mainstream without being acknowledged to where it's from. Jennie Livingston's documentary chronicles the ball culture of New York City in the late 1980s and early 90s and the gay and transgender African-American and Latino communities involved in it. The third 'act' of sorts, where Livingston returns a year later to find that the ball community has been appropriated by white, straight people (eg. Madonna popularising voguing) is devastating. 

Titanic (1997)

Beautifully escapist. Particularly watch it in a cinema and it's just so...spectacular. Spectacularly overwhelming, gorgeous, romantic, an emotional experience like no other. It's just completely immersive, a finely constructed world to get lost in for three hours. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Their chemistry is mind-blowing, it's a joy to watch them fall in love again and again. But also, Jack is ultimately a bit of a boring character. The story isn't how Jack saves Rose, it's about how Jack, who with a happy-go-lucky attitude and a knack for being good at everything, gives Rose the strength she needs to control her own life going forward. Jack's merely an accessory to her storyline. Jack didn't save Rose. Rose saved herself.

A shortlist, because why not: Cafe de Flore, Go West, Kiss Me Kate, On the Town, Centre Stage, An Education, Laurence Anyways, Monsieur Lazhar, Fantastic Mr Fox, Mustang, His Girl Friday, I Love Melvin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher), The Social Network, Velvet Goldmine, Etre et Avoir, Persepolis, Stories We Tell, The Odd Couple. Heavenly Creatures, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Paper Moon, Take This Waltz, Hugo, Girl Walk // All Day, The Descendants, What Maisie Knew...and the list goes on.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

#Top10 .....with Emilie Sabourin

#Top10 is a brand new feature to Movie Critical. Each week we will be chatting to a film lover or a member of the film community about their #Top10 favourite films and discussing what makes these films so special to them. We all have different tastes in film and watch movies differently depending on who we are. The object of #Top10 is to share the love of film and hopefully you the reader can find some new favourites.

This week we chat to film buff, Emilie Sabourin about her #10 favourite films!

Emilie is a small business owner from the Canadian Rockies who knew when she walked out of her first film as a toddler (this film is in her list) that she had found her passion. Growing up in a small town, her and her friends main form of entertainment was going to the local cinema and Emilie went on to study Arts and Literature, majoring in Theatre. She has now passed on her love of film to her two young daughters who she has lavish Popcorn-Movie Nights with and introduces her favourite films to them from her childhood.

"There is no better way for me to relax than to sit in a darkened room, with a mouthful of candy, waiting for a much anticipated movie to start" says Emilie.

"It's my happy place!"

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)

"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world." ~ William Ross Wallace

I couldn't make a top 10 without including a movie from my favourite genre: suspense/thriller. I know that in this day and age, those type of movies often lack originality, but when this one came out in 1992, it offered a fresh perspective on the subject. Or it did in my 12 year old eyes anyway. I wasn't technically even old enough to watch this R rated movie but it didn't stop me from watching it over and over again.

Watching it now as a thirty something mother of two, it doesn't lose its appeal and it adds a new terrifying aspect to it. Rebecca De Mornay is perfect as the psychotic nanny and Annabella Sciora is likable enough as the head of a family, who at first glance seems to have it all. Unlike most movies of the genre, you know from the get go who the villain of this movie is. You are along for a deliciously disturbing ride as you wait for the others around her to see through De Mornay's character manipulations. Look out for a small part by a then little known Julianne Moore.

A League of Their Own (1992)

I dare anyone to find fault with this movie. For me, it comes as close to a 10 as a movie can get.

Based on a true story, it is the epitome of female empowerment and, as such, it presents incredible performances by a strong and eclectic female cast: Geena Davis, Madonna (in my favourite role of hers), Rosie O'Donnell, Lori Petty and Megan Cavanagh- to name the most famous actresses. Perhaps not surprisingly it was directed by a woman, Penny Marshall and it is filled with stories of friendship and sisterhood. I especially loved the relationships between sisters Dottie and Kit (Davis and Petty) and friends Doris and Mae (O'Donnell and Madonna.) I am not particularly fond of baseball but this movie definitely gave me a newfound respect not only for the sport, but for the challenges that women athletes met at the time and unfortunately still meet to this day.

Of course, one can not bring up this movie without speaking of Tom Hanks. I absolutely loved him in this. We've come to know him as an actor who usually plays the hero or the good guy but he played a different kind of character here. He definitely carries most of the humour in this comedy that sometimes delves into drama. A League of Their Own will make you laugh, it'll make you cry and it will definitely leave a lasting impression on you. The early 90's was a successful time for Geena Davis and this one is my favourite of hers, followed closely by Thelma & Louise.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

I have a strong emotional attachment to this movie. It was the first movie I saw in theater and I have memories of it even though I was only 3.5 years old. E.T was the first movie character that I fell for, in fact I'm pretty sure I thought he was real. What I remember the most about my first viewing of this Spielberg classic are the emotions I felt. I remember feeling elated, confused, happy and sad all at once. Oddly enough, I feel the same things watching it 30+ years later. It's not a perfect movie by any means, there are significant plot holes and I'm still not sure if it's suppose to be a comedy or a drama. I'm even less sure after watching it with my own kids how appropriate- or interesting- it is for very young children (I had fun trying to explain the scene where Eliot gets drunk to my kids!), but it does have such a feeling of nostalgia attached to it that I can't help but love it. We usually watch it around Halloween while eating Reeses Pieces, my 14 year old E.T. stuffed toy by my side. The child actors made this movie (how can you not love Drew Barrymore in this?!) and E.T. has an undeniable appeal as the poor lost creature who is just trying to survive so he can go back home. The end always gets me, and although I'd love to know if Eliott and E.T. ever saw each other again, I pray and hope they never make a sequel (or a remake).

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

What an epic movie. I have to say first of all that I'm not a huge fan of Anne Rice or vampire stories in general, so don't let that stop you from checking this movie out if that's not your thing. If you are into vampire stories, don't expect it to be the watered down vampire movies and shows you might see today. This movies is dark and gritty, yet deep in unexpected ways. I'm pretty sure that since I was a teenager at the time, Brad Pitt was the reason I went to see this and quite frankly, it is reason enough because he is phenomenal as the main character, Louis. I loved this movie so much, I saw it multiple times in theater. The story is complex enough that each viewing brought about a new understanding and appreciation. Tom Cruise was very effective as Lestat, but he wasn't quite as charismatic and multi layered as Pitt. The true breakout star of this movie though was Kirsten Dunst. Only twelve years old at the time, she had to convey the emotions of an adult vampire stuck in a child's body. She was fantastic and deserved her Golden Globe nomination. Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas played other notable characters in this unforgettable movie. 

Erin Brockovich (2000)

My favourite kind of movies are ones where ordinary people are thrown into extraordinary circumstances and manage to rise above. If those movies are based on true stories, even better. Along came Erin Brockovich.

Now the extraordinary circumstances could at first glance have been boring. They weren't out of this world events, they were grounded in the discovery of small town government corruption. Admittedly the previews at the time didn't catch my attention and I went to see it only when the reviews came back overwhelmingly positive. It quickly became one of my favourite movies. 

The movie is written and edited in such a way that you almost feel like you are watching a documentary. Julia Roberts completely disappeared for me and I was watching Erin Brockovich. The movie wasn't without flaws, I found the main character a bit too much of a caricature at time and the development is predictable. But despite it all, it is a truly an enjoyable feel good movie and to this day, it remains my favourite Julia Robert movie. This movie seemed to be made for her and she went on to win every award she was nominated for, including the Golden Globe and the Oscar. Albert Finney is every bit as good as Julia in this movie, I don't feel like he got the recognition he should have. Marg Helgenberge, pre-CSI fame, is another notable performance. She, along with several other familiar faces, bring forward the human aspect of this tragedy. Some of my favourite scenes are between her character and Julia's. 

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

This movie is such a guilty pleasure for me because it has several of my favourite actors... Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder, Brittany Murphy, Elizabeth Moss, Jeffrey Tambor, Vanessa Redgrave, Whoopie Goldberg, Jared Leto and my personal favourite (named my daughter after her) Clea DuVall. I have seen it an unreasonably amount of times. It is a brilliant movie and I urge you to watch it if you haven't already. 

It's a great drama filled with powerful performances. It was Angelina's first mainstream role and it is true that she steals the show (as proven by her Oscar win), but truly there isn't a weak link it in the bunch and I consider it an ensemble movie. Jolie does so well in the movie because she has chemistry with every actor and she has a charisma in this role that is hard to resist even if you're not usually a fan of hers. I know Winona's character is supposed to be the main one but my favourite scenes are definitely the ones with Jolie. The movie is based on a memoir and although it differs a bit from the book, the core of the story is intact and it's actually one of those rare instances where the movie is as good, if not better, than the book.

This movie is my favourite Angelina movie, my favourite Clea DuVall movie and my favourite Brittany Murphy movie. Honestly, I haven't seen it since Murphy passed away suddenly. If you've seen the movie, you know the fate of her character in it and so for that reason I've been avoiding it, but I definitely plan on re-visiting it in a near future. 

Playing by Heart (1998)

I discovered this movie when I was making it my mission to watch anything with Angelina Jolie in it. I was happily surprised with this little known movie. It stars big names such as Sean Connery, Gena Rowland and Gillian Anderson among others. It's one of those movies where there's several storylines who are all connected and although those stories seem to be everywhere now, it was a fairly original concept at the time.

It's a multi generational story, I think there's something for everyone. There's a good balance of humour and drama and it is filled with memorable one liners. It's one of those movies that I've recommended to people ov9/ er the years and usually people have never heard of it and usually they get back to me to let me know how delightful of a movie it is. It's definitely an underrated little film that has everything going for it. Give it a chance!

200 Cigarettes (1999)

200 Cigarettes is a fun, light hearted comedy that follows the adventures of a colourful bunch of character as they make their way to a New Year's Eve party. The movie takes place in the 1980's and the fashion and soundtrack delightfully reflects the era. It's my favourite movie to watch on New Years. It never fails to make me laugh and it's a joy to watch. It is filled will well known celebrities; the Affleck brothers, Christina Ricci, Kate Hudson, Paul Rudd, Courtney Love and many others.
I came upon it by accident and I gave it a chance because Paul Rudd and Courtney Love are two of my favourites and they happen to play a couple. The movie really took me by surprise with its wit and cleverness. It has some memorable characters and it's so busy at times, you need to watch it more than once, but that's not a bad thing. It's another one of those movies that seemed to fly under the radar even though it is filled with a talented well known cast. There aren't that many memorable movies about New Year's Eve but this one is definitely worth checking out.

My Girl (1991)

Hands down best coming out of age movie, but it truly is so much more than that. It doesn't hurt that I was 12 years old when I first saw it. I remember having to lie about my age as it was rated 14A in Canada, so essentially the same age as the main protagonist. It's probably why it left a lasting impression on me. There is so much emotion in this film. If you've seen it, you know all about the tragedy that unfolds and comes to change young Vada's life forever. I remember there wasn't a dry eye in the theater. I suppose it was a lot more dramatic than us pre-teenage girls expected, but we all loved it nonetheless.

Although this came out in the midst of Macaulay Culkin's fame and he was pretty good in it, the star of the show was definitely newcomer Anna Chlumsky. She held her own along big names such as Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. Unlike other movies where kids are the main characters, her performance didn't feel forced and I think it was easy to identify with this young girl on the verge of teenage-hood. The movie takes place in the early 1970's which is my favourite era for music and the movie didn't disappoint in that area. I absolutely love the soundtrack and it was just one more thing that made this little gem of a movie one my favourites. I think Anna Chlumsky was such a talented young actress and I'm glad to see that she's made a comeback, more recently in the superb series "Veep".

Poltergeist (1982)

Ah, Poltergeist! I've always had mixed feelings about this movie because although it's a classic in its genre and I absolutely love it, it also completely terrifies me and it was the subject of many nightmares. I was a small child when this came out and a small child I was when I inadvertently saw it for the first time. I don't remember who was watching it (my parents, older sister, babysitter?) when I sneaked out of my room and caught a glance of it...but I remember that the scene I had laid my eyes upon was the "pool scene" with the mom. If you know what I mean, you understand why it frightened my pre-school age self to the core. 

Several years later, I saw it in its entirety at a slumber party. I was hooked. I love movies that manage to terrify you without the use of violence or gore. If you think of it, that movie has very little to none of that. Yet, it manages to be creepy in a way that stays with you. The story of this everyday family thrown into this nightmare is unsettling and it was directed in such a way that the atmosphere is perfectly spooky without actually showing you much of what is going on. The fear factor is in the unknown, it isn't seen but it is felt and Heather O'Rourke as the cherub looking child was perfectly used as the victim. You want to protect her at all cost. It is so sad that the life of this young adorable actress was cut short. I would have loved to see what she'd done after the Poltergeist movies. She always reminded me of a young Drew Barrymore and I have no doubt she could have had that kind of career.  

As for the sequels to this movie, I did not care for them and I think the first one can definitely stand alone. I also hear there is a remake, but I have no desire to see it. I hear it holds very little resemblance to the original.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 127 minutes
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Ransom Riggs (based on the book written by)
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Terence Stamp, Chris O'Dowd, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Ella Purnell, Lauren McCrostie

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.

With a title that deceives you into believing that it is just another film based on a piece of young adult fiction inspired by Harry Potter, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is deliciously dark and twisted while at the same time being stunningly atmospheric.

For those who have not read the novel or are yet to see the film, a little about the origins of Ransom Riggs' twisted world. Author Riggs found his inspiration when collecting vintage photographs and he discovered that the most intriguing and bizarre photos he came across were usually those of children. Among these photos included a levitating girl, a boy lifting a rock larger than himself, twin's identically dressed in disturbing clown-like costumes, a department store Santa Claus with white for eyes and a suit that seems as though it is being worn by an invisible boy. Although these are all probably achieved using photography tricks, the unsettling nature of them allowed Riggs' mind to wonder and they each became inspiration for characters in his novel.

Screenwriter Jane Goldman has taken a number a creative liberties which make the Tim Burton directed film different in many ways to the novel and many of these changes will not sit well with fans of the book. Several characters have been omitted from the film and other key scenarios, which would have been beneficial for the film's flow and depth, have been discarded. One could guess that come time for the DVD or Blu-Ray release we may see some of these scenes appear in the special features or as an extended edition, and if so, the editing leaves the screenplay feeling somewhat sluggish and badly edited. However, despite these unfortunate and needless changes, it's intriguing and odd heart remains consistent.

Jake (portrayed by Asa Butterfield) is a seemingly average Floridian teenager who begrudgingly works at his local Smart Aid store, which is where he is when he is one day instructed to leave and check on his slightly mad grandfather (Terence Stamp). He arrives at his house to find his grandfather has been murdered in an incredibly gruesome fashion and briefly lays eyes on the horrific creature that murdered him. Jake is then swept into a world he dismissed as a figment of his grandfather's imagination where there is an orphanage of sorts filled with extraordinary children with uncanny abilities run by the enigmatic Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). As is the case with all things unusual, there are those who live in pursuit of the unimaginable and for most people besides Jake, an unforeseeable horror.

The story of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has found it's kindred spirit in Tim Burton. He is absolutely in his element making this film and his direction is perfection. Although it does not reach the heights of his acknowledged best films, it is a story that was just screaming for him to place his stamp on it. Despite the screenplay not being as strong as it should have been, Burton does wonders with everything he can control with his superb direction and gives the film the dark and twisted, but beautiful edge it deserves.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has a slightly X-Men-ish motto behind it that declares different as being a blessing rather than a burden, but it doesn't shout this loud and clear. The film focuses more on the power of narrative and just like Abe's stories to a young Jake, it allows a swift suspension of disbelief as you become engrossed in this fantasy world. It is extremely atmospheric at all times with the sterile Smart Aid, the worn down feel of Jake's Florida hometown, the tiny Welsh fishing village and, of course, Miss Peregrine's home. The second half of the film is a great deal darker than the first, but still maintains a colourful façade which is particularly Burton-esque. The production design by Gavin Bocquet is sublime and the costume design by the ever impressive Colleen Atwood for the children of the 1940's is wonderful.

In a role that could well have been exaggerated and overplayed, Eva Green is absolutely superb as Miss Peregrine. She performs the role with complete dignity and poise and manages to maintain the balance of harsh, but maternal. Her scene with Victor is particularly touching. Asa Butterfield is perfectly cast as Jake with his scenes involving Terence Stamp incredibly moving and sweet as they highlight the strong bond between grandparent and grandchil. Ella Purnell as Emma is also a stand out, who's role is a great deal more physical than the others. Although her peculiarity is flying, the hard part of her role is when she is walking and wearing heavy shoes to keep her on the ground, which she is continuously convincing of by way of her gait throughout the film. Samuel L. Jackson is also at his most terrifying as the evil Barron.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a return to form for Tim Burton with a story that seemas as though it was made for him to put to screen. It exists in an incredibly colourful imaginative and intriguing world, which is twisted and unsettling in a welcomed way.