Thursday, February 4, 2016

The O Canada Blogathon


Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings have teamed up to bring the second installment of the O Canada Blogathon. Feeling adventurous (this will be one of several blogathons I partake in this month so you've been warned), I decided to chip in my two cents on a particular Canadian subject. Of course there are several people who've gotten famous over the last several decades that hail from there (as well as films being produced and/or filmed there) so whom did I settle on writing about? Well, Andrew and Kyle, get excited because I'm writing about one of your favorite directors: Xavier Dolan.


Now you yourself may not be well-versed with his small filmography but if you saw the music video for Adele’s "Hello", then at least you've seen one piece of his work. His films, however, deserve recognition beyond the art house film critics. With two films being released in the near future (one of them sometime this year), I decided to re-visit his films. For the record, they are:

(2009, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2010, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2012, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2013, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2014, dir. Xavier Dolan)

I think what makes Dolan an interesting director to watch is not just because of the many images he captures (believe me, it wasn't easy screencapping only three shots per film) but because of the elements that are known to his films. Like Pedro Almodóvar before him, Dolan frequently features queer characters in his films. (More often than not, said characters are played by Dolan himself.) And of course there are the stories he tells...

Friday, January 29, 2016

Labyrinth

You know how some movies were clearly made during a particular decade? Not because of certain technology used throughout or certain ideas the characters express. Just the general mood and ambiance of a specific title practically scream it was made within that specific era.

And boy, is that the case with Jim Henson's Labyrinth. It's probably the most 80s-looking film outside of Working Girl. (And that's saying a lot, mind you.) Sceneries strewn with glitter, a synthesizer-heavy soundtrack by David Bowie (his appearance is a whole category in of itself), sets made on the (relatively) cheap...just things of that nature.

Of course with this being a work of Henson's, the main attraction of Labyrinth isn't just Bowie (and his package) but also the many creatures in this world. After all, this is from the man responsible for Sesame Street and The Muppets so of course these creatures will bring some marvel to the viewers. (Eat your heart, CGI.)

And yes, while certain elements of Labyrinth now show their age, it's still a film that provides some amusement. Granted, both Bowie and Jennifer Connelly have since disowned their involvement in it but surely they must've held some regard for it in later years. (Okay, maybe not but who knows?)

Labyrinth is just straight-up silliness a good majority of the time but again it's an amusing silly. (That's 80s fare for you.) It's nothing deeply remarkable but it's good if you're looking for something to get your mind off your troubles.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Nowhere Boy

Every now and then we get biopics that focus on the sordid details of a famous person's life. Infidelities, abuse of all sorts, and numerous details that they want the public not to know. Though sometimes these biopics focus on their lives before they became famous.

Such is the case with Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy. Revolving around the life of John Lennon before his days with the Beatles, the film depicts his life as a misfit from Liverpool. Taylor-Wood depicts the future music legend as impatient with his life early on and striving to change it.

As anyone with a decent grasp on music of the last century knows, the Beatles were basically responsible for one of the biggest movements in the music industry. Had it not been for this quartet of Liverpudlian blokes, who knows what the state of the music world would be like? (More than likely boring knowing the number of musicians inspired by the Fab Four.)

Back to Nowhere Boy. Starring as Lennon is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose career since this has been met with mixed reception. But here he shows the promise normally found in young actors with that extra charisma usually absent in others. (Now if only his career would get back on that promising track...)

Anyway, Nowhere Boy isn't anything too groundbreaking but much like what Anton Corbijn did with Control a few years previous, Taylor-Wood uses her photographer eye to keenly capture the tumultuous private life of a famous musician whose life ended at a young age. (Hopefully Taylor-Wood's career will thrive more now that she's moved on from Fifty Shades of Grey.)

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Attack the Block

Joe Cornish's Attack the Block opens on Guy Fawkes Night, a time for those in London to revel in the celebrations of when the British government was almost overthrown. It's a time of fireworks and chaos. What better time for aliens to invade?

Okay, odd premise, granted, but Attack the Block is better than it sounds. It's not your typical alien invasion picture like The Day the Earth Stood Still or War of the Worlds. (And no, it's not a blatant reference to the current crisis going on in the world.) It's way creepier than that in spots.

Attack the Block is also reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead a good majority of the time as well. Both films don't rely on those with certain abilities to save the day. They instead have everyday people fighting the supernatural beings. (Who says you need to know martial arts in order to kick ass?)

Though Cornish hasn't been getting more recognition following Attack the Block, thankfully one of its stars has in recent months; And it's somewhat obvious that it's thanks to this film which earned John Boyega notice from the producers of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Hopefully Cornish will encounter this in the near future.)

Attack the Block is a fun little sci-fi picture. It shows that, like the original (and perhaps even the latest) Star Wars, big-name stars aren't generally needed for something like this. You just need actors that can get the job done.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Heathers

In the early scenes of Michael Lehmann's Heathers, the film appears to be a darker spiritual predecessor to Mean Girls. Bitchy high school girls, sharp-barbed jokes, the main character trying to be popular...it has all of the usual elements found in a teen comedy. That is, until J.D. (Christian Slater, channeling some serious Jack Nicholson vibes) enters the picture.

Both he and Veronica (Winona Ryder) soon develop an anarchy-fueled relationship of sorts. They kill a number of their peers and frame them as suicides. But how long will they get away with their crimes? And how much longer before they go too far?

Bear in mind that back when Heathers was released, the many dark elements were a warped form of comedy. But nowadays with teen suicides and school-related attacks making headlines at an alarming rate, Heathers becomes even darker in nature. There's absolutely no way in hell that this could get made today, especially as a comedy.

As mentioned earlier, Heathers is a very dark film. (It's certainly not your average John Hughes picture, that's for sure.) All of the later-uncomfortable elements aside, Daniel Waters' script has a wicked edge to it.

Heathers is the kind of film reserved nowadays for those with a really warped sense of humor. Sure, it's an accessible one but it'll more than likely alienate some of its viewers because of its content. (And honestly, there's a lot that probably made Lehmann and Waters cringe years later.)

My Rating: ****

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Nicolas Roeg clearly knew what he was doing when it came to casting the lead role in The Man Who Fell to Earth. He needed someone that was otherworldly and mysterious, the very essence of Thomas Jerome Newton. Who better for the part than ethereal and androgynous musician David Bowie?

At the time, Bowie was one of the biggest names in the music world. With a shock of (dyed) orange hair, he was someone that absolutely no one was prepared for. All these years later, it's because of Bowie's fearlessness when it came to expressing himself that made him such a prominent figure not just in music but pop culture as a whole. Truly he was one of a kind.

Amusingly there's a comparison or two between Bowie and his character in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton slowly becomes consumed by numerous earthly temptations; Bowie meanwhile was in the throes of cocaine addiction during production. This could be viewed as a prime example of art imitating life but more than likely this detail was just a coincidence.

Back to the film itself. The Man Who Fell to Earth is more or less an allegory on capitalism's crushing nature towards society. Admittedly this is a detail that's overlooked because of Roeg's imagery and Bowie's chic nature but hopefully it'll be one that gets noticed more on re-watches.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a very strange film (and not strictly because of Bowie's involvement). It's also the most 70s-looking film this side of Tommy. (And that's saying a lot.) But all in all, it's certainly something worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

My Brilliant Career

Early on in Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, our protagonist Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) shows no interest in a domestic life, something her family expects of her. She instead yearns for an independent life as a writer. But this is the late 19th century; it would be some time before society allowed women to express themselves.

Unsurprisingly, Sybylla's family is aghast by her free-spirited nature and they're determined to tame her. It's of limited success and offers of marriage practically repulse Sybylla. But will her opinions change when Harry Beecham (Sam Neill) enters her life?

Much like how Miles Franklin's novel was released at the beginning of the suffragette movement, My Brilliant Career was released at a time of screen feminism. Released the year after Girlfriends and An Unmarried Woman, it shows a woman living her life beyond the kitchen. (Once again, we need more films of this nature.)

Like Sense and Sensibility years later, My Brilliant Career has (then) modern-day feminism against a backdrop of the past. Indeed the feminist ideas of when the films were made and when they were set are different in some regards but the point is that feminism is not a new concept; it's literally something that's been around for generations.

Anyway, My Brilliant Career is a very well done film. Thanks to Armstrong's direction and Davis' performance, they show that women, regardless of age or era, strive for an identity of their own. Even if there's something in their way, they manage to persevere.

My Rating: ****1/2