Movie Reviews

Another Olsen Kid — Who Knew?

I hereby vow **holds hand up** that I will blog at least once a week, more often if I can, until I’ve covered more of my TIFF films.

I thought I should start with some of the ones that have already hit theatres…

One I really liked:  Martha Marcy May Marlene. (It’s easier to remember the title and order of the names after seeing the film…)

This is not an “easy” film but I was completely enthralled and mostly because of the performance by its lead, Elizabeth Olsen, pictured here with Sarah Paulson who’s always interesting to watch.

I didn’t know until after seeing the film that the actress was the younger sister of the Olsen twins and I’m glad I didn’t know, because I might have been distracted thinking about it. But maybe not. She was pretty remarkable in a not very easy part. Time will tell whether or not her performance in her debut movie was fluke but I’m guessing not.

The real challenge of this part is that she has to play this young woman in several different states of mind. One is a lost teen searching for approval and a place in the world. One is a happy, eager new member of a cult, thinking she’s finally found acceptance and love. One an obedient soldier in the cult, broken but steadfast. One a desperate escapee on the run. And finally a girl trying to adapt to the real world again and figuring out how to live with her sister and brother in law.

The timelines interweave. If memory serves (this is the problem with blogging more than 2 months later) we first see the escapee version of her character, then the girl trying to cope, then we flash back to when she first met the cult members etc. The tension continues to build as we see more and more of what this girl went through and understand why she’s so messed up and acting in such a bizarre manner in the present.

The cult leader is played by John Hawkes from Deadwood and Winter’s Bone. He was also fabulous in this. When I was a teen everyone was talking about cults… Maybe because the idealism in the 1970’s and the disillusionment with “society” (remember antidisestablishmentarianism?) led more young people toward cults… But this film reminded me why being brainwashed haunted my twelve year old nightmares.

The ending of this movie will likely tick some viewers off. I saw it with a festival audience and even then a few people shouted at the screen at the very abrupt ending. But those people might not have been angry… more startled. That’s all I’m going to say, except that with hindsight it was the perfect ending. The only other way they could have gone would be to add a big third act climax with a Hollywood ending… (think the hilarious last act of Adaptation after Charlie Kaufman goes to Robert McKee’s Story seminar) but it’s just not that kind of film. And we’ve seen enough at that point to deduce what’s about to happen after the projector shuts off.

If you have any tolerance for “art films” this is one you should see. I think Elizabeth Olsen might end up nominated for some awards and might just be a new rising star who will make people think of Kate and Ashley as Elizabeth Olsen’s older sisters rather than the other way around.

Ides of March

Dang, I am a bad blogger. I promised I’d get around to talking about some of the other TIFF films I saw last weekend. My how time flies.

While I haven’t found time to blog in the past 10 days, I did manage to see three movies 😉 . All films that were at TIFF, but I didn’t pick to see there (mostly because I knew they were coming out right after the festival.) I think all three of the fest movies I saw post-fest were great: Drive, 50/50 and Moneyball. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to go with 50/50, (because it’s the easiest to “like”), but if I had to pick the one I thought was “best” I’d go with Drive.

But back to The Ides of March.

This is a political film starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling (sounds great, right?) and co-starring Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood (sounds even better, right?). I mean stellar cast, stellar performances, interesting topic… It should have been a home run (to use a metaphor more suited to Moneyball).

But it wasn’t home run for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good. But I wanted to be blown away and I wasn’t. I keep trying to put my finger on why…. I think it’s because there’s really nothing new or groundbreaking about this story. Call me cynical but it’s not news to me that otherwise good people with strong values and ideals can do unethical and immoral things in pursuit of power. And in this case in order to get the democratic nomination for the US Presidency.

I feel as if Primary Colors already covered that ground and while this movie is more serious and dare-I-say smarter than Primary Colors, I’m not sure it was as entertaining.

I’m not saying don’t go see it — especially if you’re a fan of either Clooney or Gosling — but don’t get your hopes up as high as mine were, because super-high expectations are hard to live up to. :)

Drive and 50/50, on the other hand, both lived up to my expectations. But I’ll talk about those soon. :) I promise this time.

The Ones Coming Out Soon

After promising to post some reviews, I guess I should follow through. I’ve hit that evil just past the middle place in my current WIP and I’ve been spending a lot of time banging my head against the keyboard and haven’t felt much like blogging.

But here’s my take on a couple of films that are out or will be out soon.

Restless

I actually already talked about this one here.  According to imdb.com it was released in the US on September 16th. I don’t think it’s showing up here in Canada.

I give this a “maybe worth a rental” rating. I love Mia Wasikowska–think she’s incredibly talented–but the screenplay didn’t live up to her performance for me.


Anonymous

This was the one “second choice” I got this year. I’d chosen A Dangerous Method (which doesn’t open until December) but wasn’t that disappointed to get this screening instead. Both screenings were “day after the gala” showings so it’s not like there was any red carpet action going on anyway.

This one releases Oct 28th, and if you haven’t already seen the trailer (they’ve been showing it for MONTHS already) it’s set in Elizabethan times (not QE2) and posits another theory for who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays, plus some interesting theories about the rightful heir to Elizabeth’s throne.

At least this theory was a new one to me, although I certainly don’t pretend to be all that informed about Shakespeare theories. I was definitely aware of the theories that Will could not have been the true author, since there’s no historical evidence he was educated, never mind being able to write. The Shakespeare character in this movie (a minor role) was very funny and I enjoyed him a lot. I also like the young Earl of Oxford, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Arthur in the TV series Camelot. But I’m not certain I really bought Rhys Ifans (photo above) as his older self. I didn’t immeditately recognize Ifans, so I don’t think I was affected by other goofier parts he’s played, but I just didn’t buy him as a leading man. I honestly thought he was the villain in the first few scenes he was in and it took me a while to figure out who was who and what was going on. My overall reaction might have been different if I’d seen him differently from the start. (One reason to see again is to see if the screenwriter or actor or director missed an opportunity to make me like/identify with the protagonist…) I think the problem is that they make you think that Ben Jonson is the main character, but he’s really not….

Talking about Ifans not really working for me and my issues with identifying a main character probably leads me to my overall reaction to this movie which is:  I’m not sure… I think I’m going to see it again when it comes out. My biggest problem had nothing to do with the movie (I don’t think) but to do with the couple who were sharing my row near the front right side of the Elgin and destroying my concentration. Both of them had their phones out through the movie, frequently flashing in my eyes, in spite of my telling them to shut up and turn off their phones a number of times. People have suggested I should have called an usher (or one of the big burly men with night vision glasses) but I figured that would just cause more disruption for other people, and I’m not sure if the the big burly men care about phones shining in people’s eyes as long as you’re not filming…. Generally festival goers are better behaved than this pair, but it was a weekend screening and I don’t think they were true “festival goers” if you know what I mean.

Anyway, it was brilliant to cast mother/daughter acting team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as the younger and older versions of Queen Elizabeth I and the obvious age difference between Richardson and Bower (who plays the young version of Oxford) made one major plot twist even more deliciously creepy.

I think this one is worth seeing on the big screen–it’s beautiful if nothing else. Full of interesting conspiracy theories about an fascinating historical time. And like I said, I plan to see it a second time. But it didn’t blow me away as much as I’d hoped.

Will post my review of The Ides of March some time over the weekend. :)

TIFF 11 Review

I am going to start posting reviews of all or most of the 32 films I saw… but for now, I thought I’d post an overall review of this year’s festival. I know. Exciting, right?

Weather:  A

This is more important than you might think. The weather wasn’t absolutely prefect, but while it was kind of hot and humid near the beginning (if you got stuck in a line in direct sunlight) and kind of nippy later in the week (waiting in a line at night), it didn’t rain! (more than sprinkles) and was overall neither too hot nor too cold. Yay. With all the waiting in lines involved in the festival, this is key. A few of the days were downright gorgeous early fall days.

Ease of Festivalling:  B-

Yes, I made up a new verb. Sue me. I decided to fork out the big bucks to be a contributing member this year. While this didn’t mean I got all my picks, I did get 29 out of 30.  The only one I didn’t get was A Dangerous Method (got Anonymous instead) and based on what I’ve heard people say… it wasn’t that great, anyway. Or at least not as great as everyone expected with the Fassbender, Mortensen, Cronenberg combination. Although rating on imdb is quite good I see…

All of my trips down to the box office went smoothly — picking up book, dropping off picks, picking up tickets, buying a few single tickets, exchanging a ticket… That members and donors line is AWESOME.
On the other hand, I was annoyed that there were even more premium screenings this year. It was hard to pick films to see in the evenings the first weekend because so many of them were off limits for picks with passes and coupons. I think the festival should add some kind of pass or coupon booklet where you can pre-select a certain number of premium films… I don’t like buying a Gala pass (hate seeing movies at Roy Thompson Hall) and found the Visa Screening Room disappointing, too, because you end up with no choice… But why not a 10 coupon book or 5 coupon book for premium screenings… In my perfect festival world, I’d have a 30 film pass where I could pick up to 5-10 premium screenings within my 30.

Health:  B+

Okay, this is a pretty personal one, but also important. Back when I used to buy a 50 Film pass, I got a cold every year. I haven’t become ill the last couple of years because a) I no longer try to go to 9:00 am screenings. That’s just crazy. And b) I make sure I eat better than I used to and drink lots of water. But this year I got a monster zit on my nose, the likes of which I’ve never seen before… So not an A worthy health year. :)

Line Buzz: C

I noticed that now that everyone has a blackberry or iphone in line, no one talks anymore. Nor are they as likely to chatter with seatmates once seated in the theatre. I miss that. Although I do admit to checking my e-mail and reading on my kindle in lines and in my seat while waiting for screenings, too. Next year I vow to talk to more people (assuming I go again). I’ve met so many cool people at TIFF over the years and missed that this year. It’s fun to hear what everyone else loved and compare notes on films you saw in common. Plus, I get kind of strange when I go 10 days without much human interaction. Scary really. And the big zit didn’t help.

Overall Experience:  C+

The festival just isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Maybe I’m getting jaded, but I think it has to do with the fact I couldn’t pick any of the premium screenings and most of the “red carpet” events were deemed premium. Also, I somehow picked quite a few films this year that didn’t have a Q&A, even though it was a first screening… and didn’t have any of those great surprises when the director or actors show up at a next day screening. I miss that.

Films: B-

I will talk about each film later, but basically I didn’t have many that totally blew me away. :( And talking to the few people I did talk to in lines (and eavesdropping) most people felt the same way. That it was kind of a m’eh year for films. Maybe that’s why the People’s Choice was a Lebanese musical... Although I do hope winning that award will mean the film gets a general release. I don’t remember a time when the TIFF People’s Choice award didn’t go on to be a box office success…

More later. :)

A Great TIFF Day

So, I’m a little too bagged to blog properly… I will get caught up and talk about this year’s films properly, but I did have a really great day today. It was a five ticket day. I can’t say five film day, because one of them was a “Maverick” talk, not a film, but we did see a film clip as part of it…

My day started with Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson. I will post more about this film… Overall: great performances, interesting, too long. At least that’s what I think was “wrong” with it for me.

Then I went to a talk between Indian-born, Canadian filmmaker, Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie. She is currently making a movie of his book Midnight’s Children that will be out in October 2012. It was a pretty cool talk. I haven’t read the book, but the talk made me really want to see the movie and tackle the book, too. Sounds like my cup of tea… No pun intended. Seriously. I did not intend that almost pun.

Then I saw a screening of Anonymous. Very good. I think I’ll see this movie again when it comes out (soon). I was distracted by very annoying people sitting next to me who when they weren’t talking to each other, one or the other of them had their phone out. That kind of behaviour is rare at TIFF and I wanted to kill them. But LOVED the film’s theory on Shakespeare. Loved it.

Then came Pariah, which I understand was one of the darlings of Sundance last winter. And often those films don’t do as well with a “real” audience vs. the industry audience at Sundance, but I loved it. I’ll talk about this one later, too… But I was riveted. Touching coming of age story at its core. Stunning performance by the lead.

Then my last film of the day was Martha Marcy May Marlene. VERY interesting and tense. Loved it. Again, a stunning performance by the young lead (who happens to have very famous older twin sisters… named Olsen…) A non-hollywood ending that will make some people crazy (a few people swore aloud) and had me sitting stunned through the credits while the theatre cleared out. I have a new theory about the ending… Now can’t wait for someone else to see it so I can discuss. :)

Sorry for the very vague references and incomplete reviews. I promise I will talk more about these films and post some pictures as soon as I get some sleep!

Fright Night — UF or Horror?

I posted a review of sorts for Fright Night over at Drunk Writer Talk.

In a nutshell. Loved it. In the review I called it a horror movie… but now that we have the genre of Urban Fantasy in fiction, I’m wondering where the genre line lies in movies…

If you’ve seen Fright Night, is it horror or Urban Fantasy?

Do you think there are true Urban Fantasy movies?

Space Cadet

I seem to be forgetting a lot of things lately. To many things on my mind? Not enough?

Last evening I had a ticket to see a screening and discussion of Double Indemnity as part of the CBC/Tiff “Books on Film Club” and forgot. Around 5:30 or 6:00 (would have still been plenty of time to get home, grab ticket, and rush over to Tiff Bell Lightbox… I thought, Hmmm… maybe I’ll go see a movie.

Went to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, mostly because it was the one starting. Was bored, bored, bored, bored. Not sure why. Was it just my mood? Did others enjoy this movie?

Is Hanna YA?

I saw Hanna last week. Definitely a story I wish I’d written. Totally up my alley in terms of the kinds of stories I’m trying to write writing right now….

But it got me thinking about what makes a book or movie Young Adult vs adult. It’s not just about the age of the protagonist. I’ve seen discussions on the topic before that made sense to me and if memory serves the differentiations had to do with the themes explored etc. but I don’t think there are any obvious answers. It might be “you know it when you see it” and it might simply be a marketing decision. Some books, like the Harry Potter series and Twilight and The Hunger Games are clearly YA in my mind, but they get read by a ton of adults. But not all YA stories appeal to adults.

And I think with this current “hot trend” in YA a lot of books/stories are being released as YA that five or so years ago would have been published as adult books, regardless of the age of the protagonist.

Some books that come to mind that have kid protagonists but feel more like adult books to me include: Room, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and The Book Thief. I recently bought a new YA, Between Shades of Gray, that I’m really looking forward to reading, and I suspect it might fall into that category, too. Certainly the topic feels adult to me, even though it was on the teen shelf at Indigo. (Thanks to new writer friend, Angela Cerrito, for pointing me to this book. Angela’s debut novel The End of the Line has just been released, BTW. Angela’s book it has a thirteen y/o protagonist but an adult sounding subject. Cannot WAIT to read.)

But back to Hanna and whether it’s YA. I did a post a while back about True Grit and how I thought it was kind of crazy that it was being marketed as an adult Western, with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon as the stars, when clearly, to me, it was a young adult story with Hailee Steinfeld as its star…

Another book and movie that just sprang to mind is The Lovely Bones. I loved that book. LOVED it. And although the main character was young (and dead) I thought of it as an adult book. But I’ll bet if it had been first released now, instead of in 2002, that it would have been released as YA. And they marketed the movie as YA, didn’t they? And it kind of bombed as a movie. I admit I haven’t seen it, which is shocking because I see a lot (a ton) of films and was really looking forward to that one, until I started hearing negative things. Did they tame it down while trying to make it more of a teen story?? Does anyone know?

And then there’s Hanna, with the same wonderful lead actress as The Lovely Bones, Saoirse Ronan. And while this story is clearly about a teen girl, and has fairy tale elements to it… To me it was completely an adult story.

Not sure I fully understand why I think this. Can’t wait to discuss.

Anyone else seen Hanna? Thoughts? We’ve been talking about this over at DWT if you want to join the discussion there.

True Grit — A Western YA

When I walked in the theatre to see True Grit last weekend I was expecting to see a Western. And given how many groups of men were in the audience, so did they. Little did they know, we were about to see one of the smartest, funniest, most tightly plotted, girl-driven young adult stories I’ve seen/read in a long time.

I’ve never been a big fan of Westerns as a genre, but I do vaguely remember seeing the 1969 version of True Grit on TV, (probably because I had a now-embarrassing crush on Glen Campbell). And I barely remembered that the story was about a young girl.

When the book was first published, I understand it was put out by as a “book for young readers”, and having just seen the new Coen brothers movie (twice), which supposedly follows the original book more closely, I understand that. And really want to read the book. It is a YA story.

I did a (tiny) bit of research before composing this post, and now understand that the original film didn’t stick to the material in the novel as well as the Coen brothers did. Plus, in the new version, the actress who plays fourteen-year-old Mattie was just thirteen during filming. The actress in the original was twenty-one. And that says a lot in itself. I was in my early teens when I saw the original on TV and likely could easily see through the adult pretending to be fourteen.

The old version also took out a lot of the comic elements and made it more about Rooster and LeBoeuf and Chaney — more of a traditional western. I think the Coen’s managed to marry the two genres. Or rather make a YA with cross-over appeal, rather than a western. :)

One of the first things that struck me after seeing this movie was what an excellent lesson in POV it is. Perhaps it was just because I’m preparing to teach a POV workshop this weekend and thinking a lot about the topic, but I couldn’t help but notice that here’s not one scene in this movie that’s not from Mattie’s POV. Even the scenes that aren’t really about her, or that she’s not directly part of, we only see through her eyes… Entirely seen through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl. How could that not be a YA?

The trailer makes it seem like an adult western, and I suppose that was smart on the studio/distributor’s part, but how little Mattie is in this trailer is misleading. As I said above, she is in every scene in the movie, even if she’s just observing a few times. Also, the trailer makes her look like a victim. They skip the important part of that scene in the river. The part where she’s incredibly brave.

A good ten or fifteen minutes of the movie goes by before we ever see (or hear) Rooster. And the first time we hear Rooster, she’s tracked him down to an outhouse. And the Coen’s don’t cheat and show Jeff Bridges’s face, or go for the potential funny moment of seeing him inside the outhouse with his pants down. Or without his pants down and simply hiding from the girl. No. We’re left to imagine what he’s doing and just see her banging on the door, saying things like, “you’ve been about your business for an awful long time, Marshall” and we only see the scene from her side. Similarly, when Rooster is testifying in a court case a few scenes later, (the first time we see his character), we don’t see or hear any part of the trial until she walks in the room. Another example is when someone approaches Rooster and Mattie in the forest, when she’s high up in a tree, we don’t hear the conversation between Rooster and the man, until she’s down out of the tree and within hearing distance. Anyone who wants to understand POV should watch this movie.

Even more, anyone who wants an example of an active, decisive, perfectly motivated protagonist should see this movie. Yes, Jeff Bridges is getting a lot of attention for his performance and he was excellent. Yes, Matt Damon is HILARIOUS as the bombastic braggart LeBoeuf (pronounced “LaBeef” in this movie — which I found hilarious in itself). Yes, Brolin is astoundingly good as Chaney and Barry Pepper is so great in the role of Ned Pepper, I can’t even imagine that Robert Duvall did it better in 1969. But the real star of this film is its protagonist, Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld. She never misses a beat.

Mostly, I love that this is a story about a brave young girl in grown up and dangerous situations, but instead of being overwhelmed, she holds her own and doesn’t need to rely on the adults for everything. Yes, it’s true that she does need the adults. She couldn’t have gone after Chaney on her own. But she’s smart enough to know this and smart enough not to let the men take advantage of her, and even smart enough to push for her own way even when they aren’t really trying to take advantage — but thinking that they know what’s good for her better than she does. This girl doesn’t take cr%p from anyone. I particularly loved the scenes of her haggling near the beginning and how much she knows about law and how incredibly well-educated and articulate she is. Her word choices cracked me up so many times.

I think she’s one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in a long time who didn’t have unrealistic skills or superpowers. And she’s fourteen!

I even think my twelve year old niece should see this movie. I actually went the second time mostly to remind myself of the content because I’d already told my sister that she should take my niece to see it and started to question my recommendation. Yes, men get shot. Men get hung. It is a western. And there is one scene that’s pretty gruesome, but it’s not gratuitous and (like everything) it’s shown through Mattie’s eyes, and we feel the horror of it with her. (And compared to the violence in many PG-13 movies, it’s really not that bad.)

YA is taking over the entertainment world right now — it’s even claimed the gritty western.

Married Life

One of my WIP’s that’s more of a WFIP (formerly in progress) is/was a series of interconnected stories about single people. And I was planning to have the audacity to to suggest that some of my characters were very happy about their marital/relationship status. I have nothing against marriage or other forms of domestic partnerships and I’m sure many people are extremely happy in their marriages. But what irks me is the assumption that many/most married people have that people who are not married are defacto unhappy or missing something in their lives. That they’d be happier if only they were married. This assumption really offends me and that’s the theme I was hoping to bring out in my book. That happiness comes in all kinds of packages. It’s not one-size-fits-all kind of thing. And without turning this in to a way-too-personal post when it was supposed to be a movie review… I’m not anti relationship. If the right man came along. Sure. But I so love the freedom I have now to do whatever I want whenever I want.

Now, my book never got off the ground for a variety of reasons… I may still write it some day… but watching the film Married Life made me think about it again, because it made me a little bit happier about my single status.

The Globe and Mail reviewer, Kamal Al-Solaylee suggested in his review that the film Married Life poses two questions. One: can you build your happiness on the unhappiness of others; and two: can attempted murder spice up a marriage.

All I can say to that second question is, “HUH?” Did we see the same film? Just shows how different two people’s perceptions of the same film can be. I’m really curious to know if Mr. Al-Solaylee is married and my guess would be yes. And that his marriage needs some serious spicing up. For me, the second very obvious question asked in the film was: Can you ever really know what’s going on in the heart and mind of the person sleeping next to you.

In fact, that question was not just implied, it was specifically asked. And to me, that’s what the film was about. It was a pretty depressing take on marriage if you ask me. Now, not to get too biased the other way, at the end of the film all the characters seemed outwardly happy. Like I said before, happiness comes in all kinds of packages. But by the end of the film there were a lot of secrets never shared between all the couples. Big secrets (including an attempted murder) brushed under the rug, never to be discussed in order to save relationships.
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Hmmm… Now that I think of it, perhaps it wasn’t meant to be an entirely negative look at marriage, merely a realistic one but brought to an extreme to make a point.

Interesting film, anyway. Not amazing. Didn’t entirely work for me, I think mostly because of the Chris Cooper character. I normally love him in just about anything… but I found his character’s motivations too much of a stretch to be believable in this story. But obviously the film got me thinking.

I’d recommend it as a rental, unless if you suspect (or know) there’s a big secret between you and your significant other. Warning. Watching this film together might bring secrets to the surface, and this film certainly suggests that some things are best left buried.