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Showing posts from January, 2017

Back to the Feature: Chinatown (1974)

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown”
          Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is one of a number of films including Casablanca, Soylent Green, and King Kong with final lines so iconic, I knew them long before I first saw the movies. Luckily in the case of Chinatown, there’s very little context to this line so the ultimate conclusion of the movie can still be surprising. Which is good because this movie is a mystery, a genre where it’s especially important the ending isn’t forecast.
          Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a P.I. in 1930’s Los Angeles hired to spy on a Hollis Mullwray by his wife suspecting him of having an affair. Mullwray just happens to also have a place of authority with the L.A. water department. However after his inspection, he meets the real Mrs. Evelyn Mullwray (Faye Dunaway). Soon after, her husband is found dead under suspicious circumstances and Jake begins an investigation into a larger conspiracy involving the water department while simultaneously gett…

Martin Scorsese Delivers a Challenging Epic

Silence is a huge departure from Martin Scorsese’s last film, The Wolf of Wall Street. Not only in the setting and characters, but in its thematic depth and gripping emotion. Scorsese’s known for making movies about characters. Silence however is more a film about the power and meaning of faith.
          Set in the mid-17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests, SebastiĆ£o Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) receive word that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a missionary in Japan, has apostatized his faith in the face of torture by the anti-Christian authorities. The two volunteer to go to Japan, continue Ferreira’s mission and if possible, find and retrieve him. 
          The direction here is masterful. Scorsese proves that unlike some of his contemporaries, he hasn't lost his ability to make great artistically satisfying, interesting films. The breathtaking cinematography basks in the environment, the landscapes and civilization of Edo p…

Mary Tyler Moore's Best Moments

A couple days ago, we lost the icon Mary Tyler Moore. On the Mount Rushmore of groundbreaking comediennes, Moore has an undeniable place (with Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Cloris Leachman). She was often the best part of the Dick Van Dyke Show, making for half of one of the greatest TV couples. Through her own series, she was a key part of one of the most important and timeless shows of all time. Her kindness, perseverance, and good humour made her a role model for all, but especially women and girls whose greater representation in media she pioneered. She was such an endearingly sweet woman, a champion of diabetes research and a great philanthropist. When watching either of her classic shows, she always felt like a good friend. And now the world has lost that friend.
          In honour of her passing, I want to highlight just some of my favourite Mary Tyler Moore moments both as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, that attest to what a great comedic and inspirational talen…

There is No Lion in India

In 1986, a five year old Indian boy called Saroo wound up on a train to Calcutta, thousands of miles from the village of his birth. After enduring a harsh period of time in Calcutta, first on the streets and then in a run-down orphanage, he was adopted by an Australian couple and raised in Tasmania. More than twenty-five years later, he embarked on a journey to find where he came from and if his biological family was still alive.
          This is the powerful true story being told in Lion, the feature debut from Australian director Garth Davis. The film follows the tribulations of young Saroo in India before detailing his attempts to find his home as an adult played by Dev Patel, and how his obsessive consumption with this affects his relationships with his girlfriend and his adopted family.
          This is an amazing story, and a really uplifting one at that. And it’s really the interest in this story that drives a lot of the film. The intensity and utter hopelessness of S…

Putting a Spotlight on Moonlight

It’s important to remember people like Chiron exist. Kids who grow up with harsh experiences the kind of which many of us can’t imagine and the path their life seems unavoidably to lead because of that. I certainly felt when watching his story, told in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, that Chiron and others like him, deserve much better than what life hands them. 
          The coming-of-age story told through three sections named for monikers Chiron goes by at various stages in his life, is about this one boy’s upbringing in a poor neighbourhood; how he deals with his single mother’s crack addiction, who he goes to for parental support, the onslaught of bullying he faces for both being introverted and gay in an environment where neither is accepted, and just the generally miserable circumstances of his situation. Yet despite all this, he’s constantly growing as a person and discovering who he is. 
          There seems to be little point to the story or even direction, something t…

Ben Affleck Turns Bootlegger

For some time now, I’ve been fascinated by Prohibition gangsters. It might have something to do with the fact I used to get paid to play one. Nonetheless I’m still incredibly intrigued by that era, and what it brought out in people, what with the rise of organized crime. The last great prohibition gangster film was Road to Perdition which is unexpectedly a really touching story about a father and son. Ben Affleck’s Live by Night may be trying to be as good, utilizing this world to its fullest.
          The movie, based on the book by Dennis Lehane follows Joe Coughlin (Affleck) a small-time bootlegger from Boston who gets caught in the Italian-Irish gang war between bosses Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) and Albert White (Robert Glenister) when he falls in love with White’s mistress (Sienna Miller). Eventually, it lands him in Tampa, Florida where he begins to build his own criminal empire. 
          The story of a gangster’s rise to power we’ve seen plenty of times before, b…

Hiding in Plain Sight

Hidden Figures has one of those annoying but appropriate double meaning titles that you often find with true story movies. It refers both to the complex mathematics in astrophysics as well as to the social status of this films’ three central characters: a trio of African-American women working at NASA in the early 1960s. 
          Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is a brilliant mathematician working in a minor segregated computer department at NASA alongside Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) who runs that department but hasn’t the job title or pay of a supervisor, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) an outspoken and ambitious engineer. When the Space Team director (Kevin Costner) calls upon Katherine to work on the numbers for the plan to launch a man into space, she and her friends do all they can to prove they can contribute to the mission just as well as any of the white men working on it.
          This is an incredibly typical story, playing out exactly as any other story about p…

The Renaissance of the Struggling Artist Film

Something very interesting stands out to me about two of my favourite films from 2016. Though very different in tone and story, both La La Land and Don’t Think Twice have one significant thing in common: they’re both about struggling artists.
          This isn’t new. Movies about rising, talented, artistic people have been around since the medium began. As far back as The Jazz Singer, the first motion picture with sound, Hollywood’s been interested in stories about about people trying to achieve fame for their art. Films about the creative process like 8 ½, Barton Fink, and Adaptation are often critically acclaimed for their surreal take on the early development of a film. But in recent years, movies focussed on the struggle of aspiring artists have been if not more prevalent, more noticeably well done. Movies like Birdman, Frances Ha, Whiplash, Chico and Rita, Limitless, and Inside Llewyn Davis have come out in the last few years, all depicting the struggle creative people h…

Building on Fences

Few films have dealt with racial tensions of the mid-twentieth century like Fences does. In that the racial troubles that permeated the 1950s looms over the story but isn’t its main focus. That focus is on something more intimate: the character and attitudes of a black family living in Pittsburgh during this time.
          Troy Waxson (Denzel Washington) is a garbage-man earning just enough to provide for his family, his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo). He has an older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) an aspiring musician often borrowing money from his father, and a brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) who was injured during the war and is now mentally handicapped. The drama comes from Cory determining to become a football player rather than finding a job with sustainable income that his father wants, as well as Troy’s other habits that work to crumble his family relationships.
Fences is based on a play by August Wilson; a critically acclaimed Tony and Pullitzer …

Looking Forward to 2017

2016’s been one of the most horrible years on record, hasn’t it? From refugee crises to political disasters, environmental disasters to a cavalcade of celebrity deaths including David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Ronnie Corbett, Garry Shandling, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. So it’s wonderful to have 2016 over with. We can only hope everything will be better in 2017.
          Or can we? Through methods I cannot disclose, I’ve peered into the future and caught a glimpse of what 2017 holds. Here are the things you deserve to be warned about:

January: Donald Trump is inaugurated the 45th President of the United States. Meat Loaf performs at the ceremony and is soon after appointed Secretary of Agriculture when Trump realizes he doesn’t have one yet. Trump immediately sets to work adding his face to Mount R…