Tag Archives: 2016

Noirvember II #1 – Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

hangmen_also_die_1943_posterHangmen Also Die! (1943)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Fritz Lang (story), Bertolt Brecht (story), John Wexley (screenplay)
Starring: Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Anna Lee

Back in October I briefly reviewed Sean Ellis’ new film Anthropoid, the story of a secretive British-Czech joint operation to kill high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich.  That film was not the first time it has been adapted for the big screen.  Released just one year after the events took place in 1942, legendary Hollywood director Fritz Lang adapted the true story for his film Hangmen Also Die!  The film is more of a loose adaptation of the true story, as the details of the event vary wildly from those portrayed in the film.  Director Fritz Lang is responsible for some of the most acclaimed films of the era, and made an entire career out of directing suspenseful and stylish film noir and crime movies.  Some of the most acclaimed works in his prolific filmography include Metropolis, Die Nibelungen, M, Fury, The Big Heat, You Only Live Once, The Woman in the Window, and Scarlet Street.  It is important to note that Lang left his native Germany during the rise to power of the Nazi Party, and so had a tremendous stake in the outcome of the second World War.  Fritz Lang’s influence on the film noir genre cannot be understated, first with the development of early noir in Germany, and later with his incredibly successful dark Hollywood noirs.  His trademark shadowy lighting style, pessimistic worldview, and famous composition can be identified in nearly all of his films.

Hangmen Also Die! tells the story of Dr. Franticek Svoboda (played by Brian Donlevy), who has just taken part in a mission to assassinate the “Hangman of Prague” Reinhard Heydrich.  Svoboda’s safe house is compromised at the last minute, and the young doctor is forced to seek shelter.  He meets a woman named Mascha (Anna Lee), her father Dr. Novotny (Walter Brennan), and a group of various Czech rebels who assist Svoboda by misleading the Nazi soldiers sent to find Heydrich’s assassin. Before long, an incentive program is created to out the highly sought-after assassin – Czech citizens will be executed forty at a time until the perpetrator is given up to Nazi officials.  Dr. Svoboda’s ally Professor Novotny immediately becomes a target of these executions, creating tension between the doctor and the Czech rebels.  Will Svoboda be given up to the Nazi’s, or will the Czech people work together in order to find a solution to save their own and the Heydrich’s assassin?  Find out in Fritz Lang’s 1943 film Hangmen Also Die!

With a filmography that includes some of the greatest films ever made, Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die! is a difficult film to rank.  It certainly isn’t Lang’s best work – it lacks the focus and innovative filmmaking techniques that defined his work.  At the same time, it certainly isn’t a bad film by any stretch.  It’s contemplative and suspenseful, and features some really solid performances. The problem with Hangmen Also Die! is that it’s bloated and at times pretty dull. At more than two hours long, Lang’s combination of noir and war film struggles to hold the attention of the viewer, despite having a complex and intriguing plot. Unfortunately, the film features very few truly memorable moments, instead slowly building up its complicated but fascinating narrative.  It lacks many of the trademarks that make film noir such a beloved genre: there is little mystery to be found in the screenplay, no dark or guiding narration, and features a pretty basic use of the foggy, shadowy cinematography employed in the genre’s best features. Hangmen Also Die! is a film I’m very glad to have seen, but it’s one I fear won’t be committed to memory for very long.
What I Liked:

  • The changes to the true story are enough to present an original story while also paying tribute to the courageous act of heroism.
  • The primary messages of patriotism and sacrifice in the name of country are very clear and subtle.  These themes could be over-the-top and obnoxious, but instead become uplifting.
  • The supporting players serve as the most compelling performances in the film.  Highlights include Walter Brennan’s Professor Novotny and Gene Lockhart’s Emil Czaka.
  • The film never resorts to cheap action set pieces to push the suspense and stakes.  The core story elements are more than enough to make the plot feel important.

What I Didn’t:

  • Fritz Lang’s usually innovative and brilliant direction seem to be missing – replaced instead by slightly uninspired filmmaking.
  • The runtime is completely unearned, especially since so much of it is spent on what feels like such minor elements of the story.
  • The lack of established noir elements makes Hangmen Also Die! feel like something of an ugly duckling in the genre.  The basic framework is there, but things just don’t feel right.
  • The audience is never given a reason to despise Heydrich as much as the Czech people in the film do, which creates something of a disconnect between viewers and the movie.

While Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die! isn’t a great film, it certainly isn’t a bad one by any means.  The film’s story often feels important and heavy, even if it’s a little bloated due to its runtime.  Supporting players like Walter Brennan and Gene Lockhart deliver solid performances, but they’re at times undermined by the slightly uninspired filmmaking and lack of classic film noir elements. Hangmen Also Die! is absolutely a better film than Sean Ellis’ recent Anthropoid, but it’s also a completely different one altogether.  It’s a respectable and entertaining tribute to the acts of heroism by the Czech people during a time of great turmoil, and delivers an important message about these same themes.  It probably won’t change your life – nor is it a great starting point for those looking to be introduced to film noir – but Hangmen Also Die! is recommended.  

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North Bay Film Festival (Day 4 – October 2, 2016)


Sunday, October 2nd marked the final day of the North Bay Film Festival.  Regardless of your feelings towards the films, there’s little doubt in my mind that the festival was a success.  While it may not have reached the high expectations of some longtime festival goers of the city, I saw a huge amount of fresh faces, made exciting personal connections, and saw a lot of interesting and exciting movies from some of the industry’s young up-and-comers.  I had an incredible weekend of volunteering, networking, and watching movies, and I absolutely can’t wait to get involved again next year.  Sunday’s lineup saw Canadian documentary The Messenger, Northern Ontario aboriginal film Fire Song, and Xavier Dolan’s French-Canadian award winner It’s Only the End of the World.  Below are my quick thoughts on the three films, and my personal best of the fest awards:

messenger-poster-webThe Messenger (2015)
Directed by: Su Rynard
Written by: Su Rynard
Starring: n/a

Su Rynard’s documentary about the mass deaths of migratory songbirds around the world was in my opinion one of the biggest missed opportunity of the festival.  While the film is beautifully shot and clearly very well researched, it doesn’t do much to connect and resonate with its audience after the thirty minute mark.  It’s a film I feel would have worked much better as a short film, as a feature length did it no justice at all – the material just isn’t there for 90 minutes of dead or dying birds.

What I Liked:

  • The film has some incredibly well-constructed scenes, especially those with closeups of birds flying.  The 9/11 memorial scene was memorable as well.
  • The archival footage used in certain scenes was very interesting, especially those featuring house cats preying on songbirds, as well as Mao’s “Four Pests” footage of sparrows being driven to death by exhaustion.  

What I Didn’t:

  • While I understand that the message is something needs to be done, it’s repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.  It’s tiring after 90 minutes of “something needs to change”, especially since we aren’t provided with any real hint of solutions to the problem.
  • The structure of the film is bizarre, jumping from location to location with no real rhyme or reason or flow to it.  There were times I thought the movie was winding down, only to reveal that there were still locations to visit.
  • The Messenger feels like one giant guilt trip.  It seems that everything we do as humans results in the deaths of songbirds.  We’re shown more dead birds than I’ve seen in my life, but after the first few I found it hard to feel bad anymore.

All in all, The Messenger just didn’t do anything for me outside of exhaust me to the point of complete apathy.  I was sad that the birds have been so horribly affected by our Western lifestyle, but I was angry that the film would hammer this point home without any real solutions or suggestions.  It feels half-finished, even though it runs for 90 minutes.  In other words, The Messenger isn’t nearly as important or ambitious as it thinks it is. It’s unfortunate, because I feel with a smaller scope and some real solutions this could have been something truly special.  Su Rynard’s The Messenger is not recommended.

Fire Song (2016)fire-song
Directed by: Adam Garnet Jones
Written by: Adam Garnet Jones
Starring: Andrew Martin, Jennifer Podemski, Derek Miller, Brendt Thomas Diabo

Having grown up in Northern Ontario, it’s bizarre to have finally seen something created in that region up on the big screen.  Fire Song tells the story of a gay aboriginal teen in Northern Ontario struggling to put his family back together after the death of his suicide.  While Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song may not be the best or the most subtle film ever made, it tackled some big issues in a fairly refreshing way, and had some terrific Northern Ontario scenery to go with it.  It constantly verges on the edge of seeming like a cheap back to school special, but in the end still feels worth the journey.  It’s bleak and depressing, but also full of hope and wonder.  It’s a story that, given the right director and budget, could really become a mainstream classic.  Unfortunately for Fire Song, its budgetary limitations will most likely keep that from happening, but what we’re presented with is nothing to ignore.  It signals the arrival of an exciting new voice and a new movement in Canadian film, and I hope to see it get even bigger and more ambitious as the years go on.

What I Liked:

  • It really, truly felt like a Northern Ontario reserve, for better or worse.  Everything featured in the film looked legitimate, and by my experience was very much true to life.
  • The message is an important one, and was fairly effective at the delivery of this message, especially in the first half.
  • For a group of mostly non actors, the performances given from the supporting cast are mostly okay.

What I Didn’t:

  • The script could have used a few more pairs of eyes, as I felt that there were a number of subplots left unresolved or without any sort of satisfying conclusion.  
  • The budgetary limitations are clear in the film’s casting, as neither of the three leads are talented enough to carry the film on their backs.  Scenes with emotional weight feel slightly hackneyed or false due to some overacting or over emoting, and I had trouble connecting to them because of this.
  • While the message of the film may be incredibly important, the script really tries to nail this home, and it becomes a little eye rolling in the final act.  This is a film that badly could have used some sense of subtlety.

While it may not be about to change the Canadian film industry, Fire Song is a refreshing look at the life of Northern Ontario aboriginals.  It tackles a lot of big issues to varying degrees of success due to the limitations of its budget, screenplay, and cast.  By the end of the 90 minutes, I felt mostly satisfied, having enjoyed most of the first half of the film.  The last half presents most of the heavy-handedness I had a problem with, but manages to deliver a somewhat satisfying conclusion.  It’s far from perfect, but I definitely look forward to what Adam Garnet Jones has up his sleeve in the future.  Fire Song is recommended.

juste_la_fin_du_monde_posterIt’s Only the End of the World (2016)
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Lea Seydoux

The Cannes reception to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World has made it clear that his films are not for everybody, and it’s Grand Prix win at the same festival shows just how divisive the director can be.  I’m pleased to say that I very much enjoyed Dolan’s latest, but I can definitely see why it may not be for everybody.  The film tells the story of a writer called Louis returning to his family after an extended absence.  His plan is to tell them that he is dying, but things aren’t always as easy as they seem, especially when it comes to family.  It’s Only the End of the World perfectly paints the picture of a broken and dysfunctional middle class family trying to enjoy a few hours together.  Everybody is faking enthusiasm, putting on false smiles, and going through the motions in order to please Louis.  Some are able to fake it better than others, but eventually everybody cracks and the facade is dropped.  Dolan’s film feels genuine in a way that so many other movies fail to, telling a story of a family without hope, holding up their forgotten Louis to impossible standards.

What I Liked:

  • The film is tense, awkward, claustrophobic, and at times incredibly hard to watch because of that.  It feels real, and all of the performances work and the play well off each other.
  • The film is incredible from a stylistic standpoint, using music and dream-like flashback sequences to paint a surreal portrait of Louis’ past.
  • Vincent Cassel shines as Antoine, an angry, unheard man who obviously has a great deal to say but never gets a platform to speak on.
  • The ending of the film is perfect and satisfying in every way, even though it’s bitter and heartbreaking.
  • Each character gets equal talk time with Louis, telling stories he’s missed over the years, using him as a verbal punching bag, and generally doing whatever they can to stop him from leaving their lives again.

What I Didn’t:

  • I wish that Lea Seydoux and Nathalie Baye had a little more to do in the film, as I felt their characters were the most interesting, but got the least amount of attention.  I wanted to know how Louis’ mother felt about his absence, what false sense of hope she needed in her life.  I wanted her to explode on Louis like other characters did, but we never got it.

Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World absolutely isn’t for everybody.  In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll probably dislike it if the general consensus is everything to go by.  Whether you love him or hate him, it’s impossible to deny Dolan’s style and voice.  He’s one of the world’s finest up-and-coming filmmakers, and It’s Only the End of the World only reinforced that for me.  It’s tough to swallow, but in the end feels cathartic in some ways, though it features no real answers or conclusion.  It’s dark, it’s frustrating, it’s angry; it’s life.  It’s Only the End of the World is highly recommended, but you’ll probably hate it.

Favorite Narrative Film: TIE between Love & Friendship and It’s Only the End of the World
Favorite Documentary: How to Build a Time Machine
Favorite Performance: Tom Bennett in Love & Friendship
Favorite Moment: Pillow Makeout Session in Morris from America
Least Favorite Film: The Messenger

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North Bay Film Festival (Day 3 – October 1, 2016)


Day three of the North Bay Film Festival was easily the most jam-packed, featuring a solid lineup of five feature films, a workshop event, a talk from industry professionals, and a vinyl-only after party.  While the day was long and exhausting, it absolutely flew by with the help of some excellent films.  The lineup included documentaries How to Build a Time Machine and Weiner, and narrative films Into the Forest, Morris from America, and Anthropoid. Below is how I felt about day three of the first relaunched North Bay Film Festival:

mv5bymvhytqzzdgtmde2zc00otmzlthin2itzgu2mdfjnjgzndq2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjywotizndm-_v1_sy999_cr00678999_al_How to Build a Time Machine (2016)
Directed by: Jay Cheel
Written by: Jay Cheel
Starring: Ronald Mallett, Rob Niosi

Canadian documentarian Jay Cheel’s beautiful and intimate look at the lifelong passion of two men who were introduced to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine at a young age.  Both men have two completely different motivations for their exploration into the world of time machines, and both are developed and delivered to the audience masterfully.  Dr. Ronald Mallett hopes to send a message to his late father that would see him getting medical help before the massive heart attack that would lead to his untimely death.  Rob Niosi, even more interested in the work of Wells, wants to build a scale replica of the time machine found in the popular 1960 film.

What I Liked:

  • Both Ron Mallett and Rob Niosi are treated with the utmost respect that they deserve.  A less talented filmmaker would have made them out to be “weirdos” from the get go.
  • The structure works perfectly, exploring the lives of both men for short bursts, alternating between them before things can get stale.
  • Interviews are often hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful.  There’s so much heart and passion in both men, and that makes it impossible for me not to adore them both.

Cheel’s How to Build a Time Machine could have easily been a disposable fluff piece or a lame special interest documentary that we’ve all seen a million times, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s clear that Jay Cheel sees how special what he has captured is, and he just lets things flow naturally.  This isn’t a film about obsession as some have suggested, but rather extreme, at times misguided, passion.  I smiled for 90 minutes straight, and that doesn’t happen to me often.  How to Build a Time Machine is my pick for best of the festival, and earns my highest recommendation.

Into the Forest (2016)into_the_forest_-_film_poster
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Written by: Patricia Rozema, Jean Hegland
Starring: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Callum Keith Rennie

I thought that maybe I had missed something on my first viewing of Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest, but after the festival showing I’m much more comfortable saying that the film just isn’t for me.  Into the Forest sees sisters played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood surviving in the forest after an unexplained event takes out the power in the continental United States.  They dance, forage, chop wood, and try their best to brave the elements until something happens or some answers are given.

What I Liked:

  • The film is beautifully filmed and the atmosphere is always thick with a lurking dread.
  • The sisters are both likable characters in their own rights, with both of them getting to play the role of the stronger sister an even amount.
  • Some of the more visceral moments are very memorable and could make even the most seasoned moviegoers a little squeamish.  

What I Didn’t:

  • Into the Forest never really goes anywhere.  Whether it’s a budgetary limit or a poor screenplay is unknown to me, but it always felt like we were waiting around for something to happen, much like the girls.  Unfortunately 90% of what they do on screen is uninteresting and not really worthy of a near two hour film.  It’s just very, very dull.
  • Certain scenes feel like they’re completely unnatural and only there to push the story along a little further, whether or not they actually work in the context of this universe.  

While it’s not a terrible film by any means, it feels like literally every other VOD movie of the month about an apocalyptic event taking place.  We watch two talented actresses sitting around in their beautiful home while the world around them is presumably falling apart.  Unfortunately for Into the Forest, this premise sounds a lot more interesting than the actual execution of the film.  Into the Forest is not recommended.

weiner_filmWeiner (2016)
Directed by: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Written by: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, Eli B. Despres
Starring: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin

My second viewing of Weiner.  Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary hilarious recounts the sexting scandal of Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner.  The film picks up a few years later, where Anthony claims to be a changed man, and has decided to run for mayor of New York City.  Along the way he has to convince the people of New York, the media, and his own wife (Huma Abedin) that what happened in the past will not be repeated.  Until it happens again.  And again.  And again.  Never has the downfall of one man been so widely covered and so hilariously poetic.

What I Liked:

  • The pacing of Weiner is perfect, never feeling like it’s overstepping or wearing out its welcome.  The filmmakers are never afraid to bring archival footage into the mix for laughs, which certainly helps things.
  • Kriegman and Steinberg manage to capture some incredibly intimate moments between Anthony and Huma on camera, almost as if both of them are oblivious to the fact that cameras are running.
  • The film does a great job of getting the audience to believe that maybe, just maybe, Anthony Weiner is going to live up to his promises and his potential and be a changed man.  
  • We simultaneously root against and for Anthony, alternating between disliking him and hoping that he succeeds, which is a true sign of an effective documentary.
  • Rather than mocking him or cutting him down, the director’s let their cameras roll so that Anthony’s actions and words speak for them.  He does a great job of making himself look bad.

What I Didn’t:

  • The documentary doesn’t seem to have any real purpose other than serving as a kind of morbid sideshow act.  We never learn anything new about Anthony or Huma, nor does the ending provide any sort of revelation.  When the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated.

It may not be wholly satisfying or revelatory, but Weiner is a masterclass in documentary filmmaking.  It brings to light a subject many of us had long forgotten about, and really tries to humanize him whether or not it agrees with his actions or politics.  It’s funny, it’s infuriating, and it’s incredibly entertaining.  Weiner is highly recommended.

Morris from America (2016)morris_from_america
Directed by: Chad Hartigan
Written by: Chad Hartigan
Starring: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller

Chad Hartigan’s latest film Morris from America is the only film of the festival to really take me by surprise.  I had no knowledge of the film at all previously, and expected it to be at best a Sundance-worthy coming of age flick.  What I got was a stylish, hilarious, and very touching comedy that really resonated with me.  Starring young Markees Christmas as Morris as he navigates his way around his new home country, Germany.  He writes raps, bonds with his dad, learns the language with his cool tutor, and falls madly in love with a beautiful German girl.  What more could a boy want?

What I Liked:

  • Craig Robinson shines as Morris’ father, acting as both a friend and a parent to the young Morris.  He’s cool as hell, and adds a great deal of much needed gravity to the film.  Robinson’s never been better.
  • For young, inexperienced actors, both Markees Christmas and Lina Keller stole the show.  They were believable in their roles, and both had excellent comedic timing.  Their chemistry was lacking as certain points, but that’s kind of the whole point of their unrequited romance.
  • Hartigan’s script is everything it needed to be.  It’s incredibly funny, moving, and quite insightful about growing up and interacting with the world, even when you’re somewhere you don’t want to be.  
  • It felt natural and real, and at times I could really relate to what young Morris was feeling.  It’s not easy to feel left out in a place where you don’t know anybody, and he makes the best of it in a very real way.
  • The soundtrack is incredible, mixing some tremendous rap with techno and house-influenced beats.  

What I Didn’t:

  • Like so many other coming of age films, Morris from America is not immune from the many cliches of the genre.  
  • Certain elements are introduced into the film and never given a proper send off, the biggest example being Morris’ father mourning his wife and at the same time yearning for affection.  I really would have loved to explore that dynamic.

Morris from America doesn’t reinvent the coming of age wheel, but what it does right is serve up a hilarious and touching story that is probably relatable for a lot of viewers.  Chad Hartigan’s script is very strong for the most part, and his direction is both energetic and focused enough to deliver a compelling and really fun narrative.  It exceeded my low expectations, and left me buzzing.  Morris from America is highly recommended.

anthropoid_filmAnthropoid (2016)
Directed by: Sean Ellis
Written by: Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones

Sean Ellis’ followup to his excellent 2013 film Metro Manila didn’t quite meet my admittedly high expectations.  Anthropoid chronicles the top secret Operation Anthropoid, which saw Czech rebels attempting to assassinate a high-ranking SS General, the man responsible for the idea of the Nazi’s Final Solution.  Ellis is very respectful to the important true story, and brings a lot of talent to the film, including leads Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy, both whom do an admirable job as leads.  While the film moves at a very slow and deliberate pace, there’s enough here to chew on to get some measure of enjoyment out of.

What I Liked:

  • Anthropoid is extremely tense and atmospheric throughout, never letting us forget just how important their mission is, and the fact that Jan (Dornan) and Josef (Murphy) can’t really trust anybody for fear of compromising their mission.
  • The moment that launches the chaotic last half of the film is incredibly tense and effective.
  • The film’s last act is action-packed and extremely well-directed, giving the audience a real feel of the layout of the massive cathedral, where the enemies are located, and where our leads are at all times.  If nothing else, Ellis is an incredible director of action.

What I Didn’t:

  • Both Jan and Josef are never truly developed past the point of “we need to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich”, which makes it difficult to care at times.  Unfortunately for Anthropoid, just being resistance fighters isn’t always enough.
  • There are two love stories in the film that feel incredibly forced and unnatural, and it completely kills the pacing of the film.  It was unecessary in every way, and did nothing to move the plot along.  Ten minutes of bad romance could have been shaved off and Anthropoid would have been that much better for it.
  • The SS General Reinhard Heydrich is never really featured in any grand way.  Instead of seeing first-hand what this man is doing that makes him such a force to be reckoned with, we’re only told that he’s a bad dude.  It felt like a huge missed opportunity to not feature Heydrich at all, and once again made it difficult to care about the film.

Anthropoid is not a bad film, but rather a tremendous missed opportunity from Sean Ellis.  The problem lays in the script rather the filmmaking, which is solid and inventive.  Characters are left undeveloped and story elements are left vague, and as a result the audience is left wondering why they should care about the events taking place.  It’s a real shame because of the immense importance of Operation Anthropoid and the consequences it had.  It’s not awful, but you might have difficulty caring, so I’d say view it at your own discretion.

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North Bay Film Festival (Day 2 – September 30, 2016)

Day Two of the North Bay Film Festival marked the first full-day of the fest, bringing with it four feature films, some excellent short film submissions, and a wonderful gala full of classic movie props, scripts, and costumes.  With a full day of films came the inevitable passion for the arts, excitement of the audience, and one incredibly memorable experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.  For more information on the North Bay Film Festival, you can visit
www.northbayfilmfestival.ca for schedules and programming, or you can like them on Facebook at North Bay Film.  Without further ado, here’s what I thought of the programming on Saturday, September 30, 2016:

maggies_plan_posterMaggie’s Plan (2016)
Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Written by: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph

A brilliant and independent woman named Maggie (Greta Gerwig) plans on having a baby on her own until she unexpectedly falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke).  Fast forward several years later, and things haven’t worked out quite as expected.  A regretful Maggie sets a plan in motion that may see her husband once again fall in love with his own ex-wife.  Maggie’s Plan is Rebecca Miller’s strongest film to date, combining hilarious and witty writing with a Woody Allen-esque plot and cast of characters.

What I Liked:

  • Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke have terrific on-screen chemistry, especially when they alternate playing the “neurotic” part of the couple.  Both give great, subtle performances.  Ethan Hawke truly shines in the last half of the film, bringing some much-needed emotional weight with him.
  • The script is sharp and hilarious in the vein of classic Woody Allen films.  It borders on shocking in some moments, to family-friendly in others.
  • The supporting cast of Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Travis Fimmel all give wonderfully charming performances, giving the audience something to look forward to when their characters come into the picture.
  • There’s an extended scene at a snowy French-Canadian lodge that is absolutely wonderful, perhaps one of my favorite movie moments of the year so far.

What I Didn’t:

  • While it doesn’t detract a great deal from the film, Maggie’s Plan is quite formulaic and predictable in its last act.  While the ending is still very satisfying, I don’t think it’s going to surprise even the least experienced moviegoers.
  • Julianne Moore’s eastern-European accent is atrocious, giving what I’d call the most puzzling performance of her career.

While Maggie’s Plan may not be an entirely original or unique take on the romantic-comedy genre, it has a heck of a lot to offer.  Very good performances from most of the cast, a truly funny script, and some very memorable moments makes Maggie’s Plan a real gem.  It comes recommended from me.

Tickled (2016)tickled
Directed by: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
Written by: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
Starring: n/a

Tickled is the story of a horrific discovery by New Zealand TV personality David Farrier. His discovery is the underground world of competitive endurance tickling, which is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds.  Unfortunately for Farrier and his partner Dylan Reeve, what they find when they delve deeper may change them forever.  This dark, bizarre, and at times hilarious documentary is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, making me roar with laughter at times, and then almost immediately make me sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation.  Tickled is unique and wonderfully weird, which is something every festival film should strive for.

What I Liked:

  • Tickled just might be the most intense documentary I’ve seen in quite some time, especially in its final act.  The filmmakers tail the ringleader of the dark underground world of competitive tickling, and the conclusion is fully satisfying.
  • The editing, filmmaking, and narration all work perfectly together, creating a sometimes frantic, always energetic documentary film that never feels stale or unoriginal.
  • The timeline of events are delivered clearly, and no loose ends are left by the end of the film.  Everything that is explored is eventually given a proper conclusion, so the film feels satisfying by its finale.
  • The crowd was left completely silent after the credits rolled.  No applause, no commenting, almost no sounds at all.  It really speaks to how effective the ending of the film is.

What I Didn’t:

  • There’s a point in the film where Farrier and Reeve visit a tickling fetishist, which is very funny, but adds nothing of substance to the film as a whole.  Instead it slows down the pacing somewhat, as I just wanted to get back to the mystery at hand.

Tickled is a completely original and unique take on an undiscovered territory for documentary films.  It’s enjoyable throughout the entirety of its brief runtime, and may even make you rethink the weird world we live in.  It’s absolutely one of the year’s best, and an experience you shouldn’t miss out on.  Tickled is highly recommended.

love__friendship_posterLove & Friendship (2016)
Directed by: Whit Stillman
Written by: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Tom Bennett

Any year with a new film from the always high-quality Whit Stillman is almost certainly going to be a special one.  His latest, Love & Friendship, based on the Jane Austen novel Lady Susan, is perhaps his strongest work yet.  Starring Kate Beckinsale as the titular Lady Susan, and featuring a cast full of veteran character actors, Love & Friendship is everything that is right about independent film.  A period piece about a woman pursuing a man who is originally intended for her daughter shouldn’t be nearly as fun as it is, but that’s exactly what makes Stillman’s film so special.

What I Liked:

  • Kate Beckinsale is tremendous as Lady Susan Vernon, bordering on unlikeable and despicable for the majority of the runtime, everything she comes into contact with invariably goes awry.
  • Tom Bennett’s turn as Sir James Martin is the highlight of the film.  He’s hilarious in every single scene, single-handedly stealing the show and bringing life to what could have been a cold and dreary affair.
  • Whit Stillman’s direction is fluid and energetic, bringing a great deal of flair to the usually dry costume drama genre.
  • The intertitles between scenes introducing the cast of characters are brilliant and set the tone for the rest of the movie.

What I Didn’t:

  • It does take some time to really become something memorable, the screening experience a few walkouts early in the film due to the pacing of the first 10-15 minutes.  Once it gets going, there’s no stopping it.

Love & Friendship will very likely go down as one of my favorite films of the year.  It brings the class and high-drama of typical costume dramas, but Stillman injects it with his trademark sense of sly, unblinking humor and turns it into the sort of thing worth revisiting over and over again.  I adored it, and I think most everybody reading this will too.  Love & Friendship is highly recommended.

The Shining (1980)the_shining_poster
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd

North Bay After Dark’s special presentation of The Shining is something I will always treasure as a movie fan, as it was truly a memorable experience.  Young and old alike came out with beers in hand to see Stanley Kubrick’s classic take on Stephen King’s The Shining. While it’s not a film I love by any means, seeing it on the big screen really made its imagery and more suspenseful moments that much more effective.  It’s not a film you have to love to get some enjoyment out of, as it has a little bit for everybody.  After all, who doesn’t love watching Jack Nicholson chew the scenery as he stalks his family around the atmospheric Overlook Hotel?

What I Liked:

  • Scatman Crothers’ Dick Hallorann is always a treat, especially his interactions with young Danny.  Hallorann’s bachelor pad got some pretty great laughs, which lightened things up a bit.
  • Jack Nicholson’s performance in the first 90 minutes.
  • Shelley Duvall’s performance in the final 30 minutes.
  • The Overlook Hotel is even more beautiful on the big screen, and I really admired the effort Kubrick put into designing the set.  The Shining’s production design is truly something special, probably owing to Kubrick’s obsessive and perfectionist nature.
  • The scares (the twins, room 237) still work wonders, especially with a pounding sound system and a huge screen at our disposal.
  • Kubrick’s camera is always moving and bringing the audience along for an adventure through the hotel grounds.

What I Didn’t:

  • Jack Nicholson in the final hour of the movie.  He goes from subtle and scary to just plain over the top, which is always too jarring for my liking.
  • The first hour of the film is very, very slow.  It sets the mood and builds atmosphere for the rest of the film, but by the time something actually happens I just don’t care anymore.
  • The final act with Dick Hallorann returning to the hotel and Danny running into the maze just comes off as an anti-climax for me.  I don’t know how I’d change it personally, but I know that I certainly don’t find it to be a compelling conclusion to this spooky tale.

The Shining is a love it or hate it cult classic, but there’s no doubting the artistry at hand.  After all, it is one of the greatest American directors in history directing the work of one of America’s greatest writers.  Somewhere along the line it loses me, but it obviously works wonders for others.  It’s scary, atmospheric, and a ton of fun.  I don’t adore it, but I do absolutely appreciate it and admire its place in horror history.  The Shining is recommended.

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North Bay Film Festival (Day 1 – September 29, 2016)


The first ever North Bay Film Festival is finally here, bringing with it thirteen incredible independent and international features, as well as gala events, panel discussions, industry workshops, and of course parties.  After a year-long wait and many hours of preparation, it’s incredible to see it coming together.  Seeing the smiling faces, hearing the back and forth banter about movies, and interacting with patrons has turned this into one of my favorite experiences in recent memory. Whenever possible, I’ll be giving some very brief thoughts on the movies I’ve managed to catch.  The North Bay Film Festival runs from September 29, 2016 – October 2, 2016 at the Capitol Centre in North Bay, Ontario.  Tickets and passes are available at the box office, and information on the lineups and start times are available at www.northbayfilmfestival.ca.  We hope to see you there!

Day One:

southsidewithyoupromotionalposterSouthside with You (2016)
Directed by: Richard Tanne
Written by: Richard Tanne
Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers

Richard Tanne’s directorial debut chronicles a single day in the summer of 1989 when love is in the air.  Future POTUS Barack Obama swindles the future First Lady Michelle Robinson into coming to a “meeting” with him.  Along the way they visit an Afro art exhibit, hang out at a park, walk and talk around Chicago, and see Spike Lee’s brand new controversial film Do the Right Thing.  Whether it’s a date or not is entirely up to Michelle, as Barack has made his feelings clear from the word go.

What I Liked:

  • The performances for the most part are excellent, especially Tika Sumpter’s portrayal of Michelle Robinson.  I could feel how conflicted she was at all times, trying not to fall for Barack’s charming first date, but wanting so badly to at the same time.  Parker Sawyer’s Barack Obama is terrific as well, but I found his performance at times to come off as stilted and maybe just a little robotic.  I guess in that way it’s quite similar to the President, but it didn’t feel genuine in the context of the film.  He comes off as incredibly charming and confident through most of the film, which is the important part.
  • The atmosphere is perfect.  Though I wasn’t there, Southside with You feels like how I imagine the summer of 1989 in Chicago felt.  Racial tensions still hang thick in the air, rap and soul music is blasting from every car stereo and boombox in sight, and people are out enjoying the heat, dressed terribly and having a great time.  
  • The film does not go into the politics of either Barack or Michelle for more than a few seconds, turning what could have been a Democratic echo chamber into a film accessible for absolutely everybody.
  • The pacing.  Southside with You is a brisk 84 minutes long, and feels even shorter than that.  We never linger on any part of the date for too long, jumping to the next logical point in the timeline before things can become stale or repetitive.
  • The walking and talking style is my favorite version of the romantic film genre.  It’s clear that Richard Tanne has seen and admires Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight).  He does his absolute best to match those films in tone and lightheartedness.

What I Didn’t:

  • Unfortunately, in copying Linklater’s trademark style, the film does feel pretty minor and inconsequential compared to those movies.  Instead of waxing poetic about all the things young people love and care about, Barack and Michelle spend most of their time talking about work and their communities, which at times made me want to yell at them to lighten up a little.
  • The film is clearly a very romantic depiction of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, as both character come off as very angelic and perfect throughout.  It would have been nice to visit some of their flaws or downfalls, but the movie isn’t interested in painting them in a realistic light, it’s almost exclusively about their courtship.
  • The attempt at bringing gravity to the film in the last act feels completely forced and unnatural.  Tanne wants the audience to question whether or not Barack and Michelle will actually end up together, but we all know how this thing ends.  It feels like more of a mark he felt he had to hit instead of something compelling and genuine.

Overall, my complaints about Southside with You aren’t nearly enough for me to tell anybody not to see this movie.  Whether you lean left or right on the political spectrum, you’re going to find something to love about this film.  It’s charming, it’s funny, and it’s got two very good performances from young actors that I now have my eye on.  It’s imperfect, but damn if it isn’t a hell of a lighthearted, feel-good film.  Southside with You is recommended.

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Worst Films of 2016 (So Far)

While we’re taking time to acknowledge the very best films of the year before the prestige picture season, it’s also important to tackle some of the not so great movies we’ve seen, too.  Bad films aren’t without merit, and often serve as a great opportunity for studios, filmmakers, and audiences to learn from.  Why was it bad? Where did it go wrong?  How could it have been improved?  No filmmaker is perfect, and everybody is capable of turning out a less than stellar project.  The following five films are the worst, most disappointing releases I’ve seen this year.  If you feel I’m off on my assessment of a film, or maybe just plain wrong about something, let me know in the comments.

maxresdefault-15. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot

Superhero movies are, by their nature, formulaic almost to a fault in most cases.  It’s no wonder why somebody like Zack Snyder would want to subvert the formula and try something new and bold.  Unfortunately for Snyder and company, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice falls into the same pitfalls that 90% of big screen comic book adaptations fall into, only with more dream sequences and hokey allegory.  Henry Cavill, reprising his role as Superman, is as stale and uncharismatic as ever, having almost nothing interesting to play off.  His co-star in Ben Affleck is quite possibly the most brooding, generic portrayal of Batman seen on film yet.  Affleck, normally a competent actor, fails on nearly every level thanks to Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s embarrassingly cliched script.  By the time the two icons of pop culture finally come to blows, we just don’t care anymore because we’ve seen it all before.  The tension between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, the death of the Wayne parents, Alfred struggling with the dangerous behavior of Master Wayne, and an over-the-top supervillain chewing the scenery in an attempt to save the film (but seriously, Jesse Eisenberg is one of the film’s saving graces).  It’s tired, it’s boring, and it’s just too damn long.  Somebody ought to tell Snyder to stick to something he’s good at, because it sure as hell isn’t superhero films.

tumblr_nz47gl5pbf1uj9ivco1_12804. Dirty Grandpa
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Written by: John M. Phillips
Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Dermot Mulrooney

How the mighty have fallen!  Robert De Niro, star of films such as The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Casino, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, was once known as the finest American actor to ever live.  That was back then, before the days of Dirty Grandpa.  It’s clear to me that De Niro feels like he’s earned his place in cinema history, because now every project he takes on is done in the name of the almighty dollar.  Dirty Grandpa is perhaps the ultimate example of this.  Featuring a cast of perfectly likable actors, an Oscar-nominated director, and a somewhat promising (if heavily cliched) plot, what could go wrong?  Well, everything it seems.  Dirty Grandpa is embarrassingly unfunny, almost as if it isn’t even trying to get a laugh out of the audience.  Zac Efron is an actor I’ve come to greatly admire over these last few years, but him playing the straight man to De Niro’s “crazy ol’ grampie” is just plain wrong, and completely unbelievable.  Efron’s straight man act ensures that the young actor can’t show off his true comedic skills, never giving him anything promising or subtle to play with.  Dirty Grandpa is lazy in the worst way, with a predictable script and lazy performances from a usually funny cast, there’s very little to like about this thing.  I tried, I really did.

160708_mov_ghostbusters_light-jpg-crop-cq5dam_web_1280_1280_jpeg3. Ghostbusters
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

Ghostbusters was my most anticipated film of the year, even amid all its controversies. While I don’t care about the original film in any way, I saw a great deal about it to be excited about.  Its director, Paul Feig, had previously released Bridesmaids and Spy, two hilarious female starring comedies featuring two of the hilarious stars of the new Ghostbusters in Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Ghostbusters was the subject of months of debate over the all-female cast, prompting feminists and anti-feminists alike to fight tooth and nail to decade whose ideology is the “right” one.  I’m sad to report that this is not a hill I want to die on, nor should anybody else.  Ghostbusters is at best one of the more mediocre films ever released, and the amount of attention and controversy it garnered is baffling to me.  Its script is awful, providing almost no laughs from me or the audience in the theatre that warm Summer afternoon.  The stars, normally funny, are instead shovelled into straight-laced and unremarkable roles, destroying any charm they may have brought to the film.  Its co-stars, including Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, are embarrassingly bad, giving some of the worst comedic delivery I’ve seen in a film this year.  While they may be funny outside of Ghostbusters, this certainly wasn’t a showcase to be proud of in any way.  With the exception of some interesting special effects, this is a bland, dry, and soulless film.  I really wanted to love it, but instead I walked out wondering what all the fuss was about.


2. Mother’s Day
Directed by: Garry Marshall
Written by: Tom Hines, Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant

Poor, poor Garry Marshall.  The famous Happy Days creator and director of Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, The Princess Diaries, and other such beloved properties passed away in July of this year, leaving behind Mother’s Day as his final project.  While I can’t claim that I’ve ever enjoyed one of Marshall’s film, I certainly see value to the entertainment they bring with them, and I respect anybody who finds enjoyment out of them…but Mother’s Day is void of entertainment.  It’s a contrived mess of a film, even for Marshall’s famous late-career ensemble films.  Starring washed up names like Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, and Timothy Olyphant, there’s literally nobody to get behind in Mother’s Day.  Every single character is annoying, grating, or are just plain terrible people.  The plot is about as believable as any modern contrived romantic film, featuring twists and turns that come out of nowhere that the audience is somehow supposed to care about.  It’s bad in every single way, and I beg you all to stay far, far away from it, no matter how curious you may be.  It’s not even good enough for a quick “so bad, it’s good” laugh, because you’ll be too busy tearing your own hair out to enjoy this loud, pointless mistake.

maxresdefault-31. Ben-Hur
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Written by: Keith Clarke, John Ridley
Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Morgan Freeman

Yikes.  1959’s Ben-Hur is the film that got me into the movies as a young lad, featuring excellent performances, a fully realized ancient world, incredible action set pieces, and a wonderful story loosely revolving around the last years of Jesus Christ’s life. Ben-Hur 2016 has none of these things, instead resorting to cheap, tired cliches and TV-level actors to somehow replicate the incredible Best Picture winning film.  Timur Bekmambetov’s films are usually quite brash and loud and meandering, but Ben-Hur absolutely takes the cake.  Instead of opting to faithfully re-tell the story of the 1959 film, it attempts to bring its own small unique elements into it, failing on literally every level.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle about Clarke and Ridley’s script, making the religious tie-ins much more eye-roll inducing than they should be, and transforming the character of Judah Ben-Hur into a completely unlikable, vengeful man.  The chariot race at the center of the film is unmemorable and unfocused, losing any of the grit and brutality found in the 1959 film’s epic race scene.  Don’t even get me started on Morgan Freeman, who is quickly becoming my least favorite living actor by taking roles such as these.  His role is forced and entirely cheesy, bringing nothing to the film except some laughs at his awful wig.  The man is a shell of a former self, much like director Timur Bekmambetov, who was once seen as an innovative mind. There’s nothing innovative about 2016’s Ben-Hur.  It might actually be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, so I don’t expect it to be dethroned by anything in 2016. Only time will tell.

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Women in Film Feature #3 – Gaslight (1944)

gasl2Gaslight (1944)
Directed by: George Cukor
Written by: John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, John L. Balderston (Based on Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton)
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury

The Swedish born Ingrid Bergman has starred in some of the most iconic films of the 1940’s and 50’s, and yet remains undiscovered by an entire generation of people unenthused with the pictures, and uninterested in their storied past.  With an impressive resume of films including Casablanca, Notorious, Spellbound, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Anastasia, Murder on the Orient Express, Autumn Sonata, and a thematic trilogy of films with director Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Bergman has an entire body of work ripe for discovery.  Renowned in Hollywood for her naturalistic performances, Bergman helped change the way actresses were viewed during the golden age of American films.  On screen, she was graceful, subtle, and effortlessly realistic – which stood out in an era filled with over-the-top damsel in distress performances by some of her contemporaries.  Ingrid’s realism focused performances managed to win her two Academy Awards for Best Actress, one for Best Supporting Actress, and saw her nominated a further four times throughout her career.  Her work with directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, and Michael Curtiz remain some of the most acclaimed films of their time, and have ensured that Ingrid Bergman’s place in Hollywood history is rightfully recognized.

The man of the hour in 1944’s Hollywood was undoubtedly the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.  With a Best Picture win just a few years previously for Rebecca, and a slew of hit American films under his belt, the man had quickly managed to leave an impression on other filmmakers of the time.  There’s no doubt in my mind that director George Cukor took a page (or an entire chapter) out of Hitchcock’s book when approaching the story of Gaslight.  Soaked in an atmosphere of dread, featuring incredibly suspenseful moments, packed with twists and turns, and filled with good performances, it has all the makings of a Hitchcock film.  Cukor had made a career as a director for hire for major studios throughout the 1930’s, and had succeeded in eventually making quite a name for himself.  With a pair of incredible performances from leads Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, a tight and thrilling screenplay, and dark and moody cinematography, it’s no wonder why Cukor’s Gaslight instantly became one of the director’s biggest hits.   The film earned seven Oscar nominations including major categories like Best Picture, Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Actor (Charles Boyer), and Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury).  The highly acclaimed Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman took home her first of three statues for her performance in Gaslight, praised for her portrayal of a paranoid and desperate woman trying to a solve a deadly mystery with suspects right under her own nose.  Gaslight is also notable for being the on-screen debut of prolific actress Angela Lansbury, multiple time Academy Award nominee, and star of the long running hit show Murder, She Wrote.  The film is seen as being somewhat dated to today’s standards, but remains an incredibly effective and suspenseful look at the forced descent into madness of a woman by a man who has managed to make his way deep into her heart.


Paula (Ingrid Bergman) and Elizabeth (Barbara Everest) in 1944’s Gaslight.

Gaslight begins on a murderous note, with opera singer Alice Alquist turning up dead and her jewel-seeking killer fleeing the scene after being interrupted by a young woman.  The young woman is Paula (Ingrid Bergman), Alice’s niece.  The young Paula is sent to Italy soon after, in order to study under a famed opera singer, and so that she can hopefully forget about the events she saw unfold on that fateful night.  Soon, Paula meets a charming and wealthy man by the name of Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), and the two quickly fall in love and marry.  Gregory convinces Paula that returning to London and living in her aunt’s vacant house would be best for her mental recovery, and the two set off for their new home.  Alice’s belongings are tucked away in the attic in order to help Paula adjust, and a young maid named Nancy (Angela Lansbury) is hired.  After accidentally finding a letter addressed to her late aunt and being forbidden by her husband to read it, Paula begins to notice odd occurrences around her new home.  The home’s gaslights begin to dim and brighten at random, pictures disappear off the walls, and she loses prized possessions from the safety of her own person.  To top it all off, the new maid seems to have taken a disliking to Paula, but her husband ignores all signs of this.  Convinced by Gregory that she’s imagining all of these events and that she’s still reeling from the trauma of seeing her aunt’s murder, Paula begins to doubt many aspects of her own reality.  She is soon isolated from outsiders by those inside the house, and her sanity is called into question by her husband.  Is there more at play than just a woman losing her mind, or is Paula being influenced by an insidious power?  Find out in George Cukor’s Gaslight!

While George Cukor and company may have taken many a page out of Alfred Hitchcock’s style book, there’s something very different and special about the way Gaslight plays out.  Its twists and turns aren’t quite as “big” as some of Hitchcock’s most effective moments, but Cukor instead opts for subtlety and making the audience think really hard.  The well-paced direction focuses on getting to know our principal characters initially, and then takes a sudden and hard turn into one woman’s battle for her own sanity.  The attention to detail and art direction is something to be admired, as the sets and costumes create a realistic and fully-immersive portrait of the film’s time and setting.  The real shining feature of Gaslight though, is its acting.  Cukor’s film is more than anything a moody and dark showcase for four incredible talents to give their absolute best performances possible.  The audience knows the twist from the very beginning, making Ingrid Bergman’s supposed descent into madness a truly frustrating and infuriating experience for viewers.  Bergman’s performance as the tortured Paula is incredible, as it’s never played in an over-the-top fashion.  Paula is a believably traumatized young woman who may have put what little trust she had left into somebody that is completely toxic for her.  Supporting Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning performance is a delightfully evil Charles Boyer as Gregory, Paula’s charming husband.  Boyer’s Gregory is sly, cunning, and has a silver-tongue when it comes to dealing with his wife, and every scene featuring the two becomes a subtle and suspenseful power play.  Even Hitchcock would have trouble making a character so hateable and yet so fully-realized at the same time, but Cukor pulls it off masterfully.  Worth mentioning is the debut of Angela Lansbury, whose turn as the maid Nancy earned her an Oscar nomination as well.  Nancy aids in creating the tense and toxic atmosphere that is slowly driving Paula insane, and the very young Lansbury is perfect for the role.


Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman and Best Actor nominee Charles Boyer in George Cukor’s terrific Gaslight.

While it may not be a completely unique or unpredictable tale in the modern age, George Cukor’s Gaslight is an incredible tale of a web of lies, deceit, betrayal, and madness.  It gives Alfred Hitchcock’s very best a run for its money, and has been undoubtedly influential on modern day suspense pictures.  Guillermo del Toro should have taken a page out of George Cukor’s book when making 2015’s Crimson Peak, as the two films share a great deal of similarities.  Gaslight features an Oscar-winning performance from one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses, a terrific and believable antagonist, subtle and deliberate pacing, and hopelessly bleak atmosphere aided by the dark and foggy cinematography.  It’s slow, maddening, and chock full of incredibly admirable qualities.  George Cukor’s Gaslight is highly recommended.

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Album Review – Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo (2016)

The day has finally come!  February 14th, 2016 marks the release of rapper Kanye West’s much anticipated seventh full-length solo album.  Ever since hearing his 2010 record
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West has been without a doubt my favorite artist of all-time.  All six of his albums prior to his most recent has had a completely unique sound and vision, ensuring that every single listen is a revelatory experience:

His debut The College Dropout is a soulful and melodic rap album where a young talent tries to make a name for himself.  His followup Late Registration sees a much more “full” sound, incorporating strings, samples, and biting lyrics focused on major social issues.  The last album in the college trilogy, Graduation, provides a fresh synthesizer-laden sound, full of booming triumphant anthems.  West’s style took a complete turn in 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, an electronic R&B record taking full advantage of the then brand new Auto-Tune sound, with incredible lyrics detailing the heartache and alienation felt by the controversial artist.  In 2010, Kanye West would release what is perhaps his most celebrated and acclaimed work, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Returning back to the realm of hip hop, MBDTF deals with the excesses of being a celebrity, existentialism, and the American dream.  Following the success of MBDTF, Kanye took three years to produce 2013’s Yeezus, which has proven to be my all-time favourite album.  Yeezus has an angry and aggressive, stripped down sound and deals with West’s furthering of his controversial, outspoken public persona.

I’ve been patiently waiting for his follow up to Yeezus for three years now, and West’s So Help Me God is finally here!  Er…SWISH is he-…really?  Waves?  Okay!  Waves is finally…*ahem*, sorry folks…Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo has finally been dropped worldwide through Jay-Z’s Tidal music streaming service.  The new album comes after a litany of name changes, tracklist mix-ups, and unexpected and disappointing delays.  Luckily for myself and Kanye’s patient and tolerant fans, the new album absolutely doesn’t disappoint on any level.  While the album as a whole may not be anywhere as thematically or stylistically consistent as the rest of his discography, anybody trying to find meaning and a prevalent style in The Life of Pablo is going to find it very easily.  Kanye ditches much of the anger and disillusionment found in Yeezus, and instead goes for something of a southern gospel-tinged sound.  Not every track benefits from the influence of the gospel genre, but it’s undeniably present in a majority of the tracks on Pablo.  The album mixes lyrical content of albums like 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Yeezus, and creates one hell of a manic project.

The album begins on an incredibly high note with the breathtakingly beautiful “Ultralight Beam”, featuring a terrific outing from featured artist Chance the Rapper.  The moment the intro track finished, I knew that we as Kanye West fans were in for something truly memorable and unique to his discography.  The thematic and stylistic changes throughout the album makes it far more interesting in my opinion, sounding more like a greatest hits compilation of never before heard songs.  The four track streak following the self-aware skit “I Love Kanye” of “Waves”, “FML”, “Real Friends”, and “Wolves” is one of the biggest emotional roller coaster rides I’ve ever endured as a hip hop fan, and instantly made me regard the album as a success upon my first listen.  After somewhere around a dozen listens throughout my day, nearly every track on the album still stands out as being a triumph, and I’m still blown away every time I heard some of these tracks.  The Life of Pablo is a revelation for me as a Kanye West fan, and I hope it catches on with those who discredit him as merely being an egomaniacal social media troll.  His latest album is truly special, and verges on being a masterpiece in its greatest moments.  It deserves a listen from anybody, whether you’re a fan or not.  Who knows, it may just change your opinion of the controversial and severely misunderstood artist.  Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo gets my absolute highest recommendation.


Below is a breakdown of my brief thoughts on each track:

  1. Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper & Kirk Franklin) – Indescribably beautiful, and nowhere near the kind of thing that usually makes its way into my ears.  The greatest possible way to begin an album, especially one as tonally varied as this.  When I pass away, this is a song I want played at my funeral.  I’ve listened to it over and over and over, and can’t see myself taking it off repeat anytime soon.  The booming bass drops set the pace for the track, and Chance the Rapper comes in midway through and steals the show with his verses.  Must be heard.

    Foot on the Devil’s neck ’til they drifted Pangaea/I’m moving all my family from Chatham to Zambia/Treat the demons just like Pam/I mean I fuck with your friends, but damn, Gina/I been this way since Arthur was anteater”

  2. Father Stretch My Hands Part 1 (feat. Kid Cudi) – While it may come off as crude and immature to some, Kanye’s lyrics on this track are hilarious and a welcome change from Yeezus’ “Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet n sour sauce”.  Kid Cudi’s feature on it is a welcome addition, and will hopefully lift him from the void he’s been residing in since 2010 or so.  

    “I was high when I met her/We was down in Tribeca/She get under your skin if you let her”

  3. Part 2 (feat. Desiigner) – The first track on the album that goes hard, and certainly not the last.  Part 2 took me completely by surprise, and Desiigner’s voice perfectly fits the hook here.  Everytime it hits I find myself unable to stop moving.  This one’s a banger, enough said.

    “I got broads in Atlanta/Twisting dope, lean, and the Fanta/Credit cards and the scammers/Hitting off licks in the bando”

  4. Famous (feat. Rihanna) – The first track I wasn’t sure of on a first listen has very quickly become one of the highlights of an album full of them.  While I’ve never been a huge fan of Rihanna, her feature has grown on me more than I ever thought it could.  The lyrics referencing Taylor Swift are hilarious and boundary pushing, and is exactly the reason I’m such a massive fan of this man.  He doesn’t care about what internet warriors have to say about lines like these, and tells it like it is.  The bridge featuring a sample from Sister Nancy is beautiful and completely unexpected, and makes Famous so much more memorable.  A great pop tune that I could see getting air time if it weren’t for the Taylor line.

    “For all my Southside niggas that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous (God damn)/I made that bitch famous”

  5. Feedback – The second track that feels reminiscent to work found in Yeezus, Feedback is a hell of a lot of fun and features an incredible beat.  Not a great deal of substance to be found here, but it’s an absolute blast.

    “Ayy, y’all heard about the good news?/Y’all sleeping on me, huh? Had a good snooze?/Wake up, nigga, wake up/We bout to get this paper”

  6. Low Lights – An intro to Highlights, there’s not a whole lot to say about it because this isn’t as much of a song as it is a synth bass tribute to the Good Lord.  It’s absolutely uplifting in the best way, and serves as a great and down to earth intro to what is sure to be one of the album’s singles.

  7. Highlights (feat. Young Thug) – One of the songs performed (not well) on Saturday Night Live before the release of the album, this was the most nervous I got about any track on the album.  Thankfully, the Auto-Tune used on the song fits much better on a studio version than on the live song.  Young Thug’s additions to the song are reminiscent to his feature on Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” from this past summer.  Highlights is incredibly catchy, and features some terrifically snappy lyrics (especially the line about Ray J).  A definite hit, and one I hope catches on in the mainstream.

    “I bet me and Ray J would be friends/If we ain’t love the same bitch/Yeah, he might have hit it first/Only problem is I’m rich”

  8. Freestyle 4 (feat. Desiigner) – This thing REALLY bangs, and I love every line here.  It’s aggressive, ridiculous, and over the top.  Exactly the way I take my Kanye.

    “What the fuck right now?/What the, what the fuck right now?/What if we fuck right now?/What if we fucked right in the middle/Of this motherfuckin’ dinner table?/What if we just fucked at the Vogue party/Would we be the life of the whole party?/Shut down the whole party/Would everybody start fuckin’?”

  9. I Love Kanye – A skit.  If anybody doubts Kanye West’s level of self-awareness, this is going to be your future point of reference.  This man knows exactly what he’s doing in the eye of the public, and gets a great deal of pleasure (and publicity) out of it.  Terrific stuff.

  10. Waves (feat. Chris Brown) – The track that supposedly delayed the release of the album by more than 24 hours, Waves is a more than welcome addition to the album.  It’s melodic, it’s joyous, and it’s catchy as hell.  The beat seems to come at you in waves of audio, making the experience even more memorable.  The start to an incredible spree of perfect songs, I for one am glad that the album was delayed for this addition.  An instant classic.

    “Step up in this bitch like (turn it up!)/I’m the one your bitch like/Yeah I’m the one your bitch like/And I be talkin’ shit like/I ain’t scared to lose a fistfight/And she grabbin’ on my dick like/She wanna see if it’ll fit right/That’s just the wave”

  11. FML (feat. The Weeknd) – FML is without a doubt the “Runaway” of The Life of Pablo, meaning it’s going to rip your heart on out every single listen.  It begins on a somber note and crescendos with the introduction of The Weeknd, who elevates the song with its incredible and heartbreaking hook.  This song already means a great deal to me as a listener, and it’s an incredibly revealing look at what’s going on in the mind of West.  An incredible track, and quite possibly the best on the album.  

    “They wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up/Can’t let them get to me/And even though I always fuck my life up/Only I can mention me”

  12. Real Friends (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) – A song I liked a great deal when it was released as a GOOD Friday feature, Real Friends works even better within the confines of the album.  It serves as a thematically perfect follow-up to FML, while also being an introduction to the proceeding Wolves.  The first true single of the album, Real Friends is an emotional roller coaster, and yet constantly maintains a catchy beat.  An incredibly emotional and memorable song about growing up, family, trust, personal pressures, and so much more.  I’m so glad it made it into TLOP’s final cut.  

    “I couldn’t tell you how old your daughter was/Couldn’t tell you how old your son is/I got my own Jr. on the way, dawg/Plus I already got one kid/Couldn’t tell you much about the fam though/I just showed up for the yams though”

  13. Wolves (feat. Frank Ocean & Caroline Shaw) – WOLVES CDQ!  This track surfaced nearly a year ago, and has had fans clamoring for a studio quality version ever since.  The final product doesn’t disappoint one bit, even if it lost some incredibly memorable features from Sia and Vic Mensa.  The new outro from Frank Ocean is a welcome addition because the man is really, really inconsistent in his release dates.  The track is hauntingly beautiful from a stylistic, with some incredibly introspective lyrics about Kanye’s behaviour since the tragic passing of his mother.  Wolves would have been my personal choice to end the album on the highest note possible.

    “You gotta let me know if I could be your Joseph/Only tell you real shit, that’s the tea, no sip/Don’t trip, don’t trip, that pussy slippery, no whip/We ain’t trippin’ on shit, we just sippin’ on this/Just forget the whole shit, we could laugh about nothin’”

  14. Silver Surfer Intermission – Essentially just a skit in the form of a phone call from Max B.  Takes some hilarious shots at Wiz Khalifa, which I’m always game for.  Also serves as a perfect intermission between the “real album” that preceeds it, and the “bonus tracks” that follow.

  15. 30 Hours – YES!  30 Hours dropped as a GOOD Friday release immediately before the release of the album, and I was really gutted when it didn’t seem like it was going to make the final cut.  The hook to this song is insanely catchy, and the lyrics see Kanye looking back on the early days of his career, the newfound luxuries of celebrity, and the lengths he would go for the loves in his life.  I wish that Andre 3000 would have provided new material for the song, but we can’t win ‘em all right?  30 Hours is incredible, and one of the few songs I’ve been humming whenever my earbuds aren’t in.  

    “I remember rapping for Jay and Cam/Young producer just trying to get his flows off/I remember being nervous to do Victoria Secret/’Til I pictured everybody with they clothes off”

  16. No More Parties in LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – Something of a throwback to the ghost of Kanye’s past, No More Parties in LA is an absolute treat for rap fans.  The southern-tinged intro sets you up for the knockout, and the sampling that follows hits you with the winning right hook.  Kanye and Kendrick Lamar trading verses is an incredible thing to hear, as it’s two of the industry’s very best at the top of their game.  The track famously put a permanent kibosh on parties in the city of Los Angeles.  But not really.

    “She said she came out here to find an A-list rapper/I said baby, spin that round and say the alphabet backwards/You’re dealing with malpractice, don’t kill a good nigga’s confidence/Just cause he a nerd and you don’t know what a condom is/The head still good though, the head still good though”

  17. Facts (Charlie Heat Version) – Just when you thought you had all the answers, Kanye’s new mix of Facts changes the questions out from under your feet.  This new version of the GOOD Friday release improves on the original in every single way, and becomes a loud and dirty trap banger.  Its new energy is undeniably infectious, and shows that Kanye isn’t afraid to mix it up in order to better suit a project.  So thankful for this new cut.

    “Herzog and Adidas, man you know they love it/If Nike ain’t have Drizzy, man they wouldn’t have nothin’, woo!/If Nike ain’t have Don C, man they wouldn’t have nothin’, ooh!/But I’m all for the family, tell ’em, “Get your money””

  18. Fade (feat. Post Malone & Ty Dolla $ign) – The runway music sounding outro to the album is probably my least favorite feature on The Life of Pablo.  That being said, I still think it’s still a very good track.  It just doesn’t suit the project in any way, shape, or form.  It feels like a song from two decades ago, in the best way possible.  Still sleeping on this track, and I know I’m going to come around to it eventually.  Weird way to end the album, but if Kanye likes it, I’m cool with it too.

    “You don’t even know/I’ve been so far gone/I feel it/I’ve been so led on/I’ve been runnin’ ’round/I feel it/I’ve been on my shit/Whole world on my dick/I feel it/I just need to know/I can feel it”

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February Theme – Black Directors (An Introduction)

With February being Black History Month, I’ve decided to go with something of a broad theme to celebrate.  Our theme for this month will cover nine great and/or highly influential films made by black filmmakers, spanning the blaxploitation boom in the 1970’s to the black independent movement of the 1990’s.  I’ve decided not to cover modern day black filmmakers, as I will more than likely revisit the theme in upcoming monthly marathons.

The directors being covered this coming month all made a giant splash in their industry, whether it be the early independent scene in America, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood filmmaking, or the African filmmaking scene in the French-speaking country of Senegal.  The films covered explore themes of racial tension, economic and social struggles faced by the black community through modern history, and create iconic characters whose influence is still being felt today.

Filmmakers being covered include:

  • Senegalese legend Ousmane Sembene, who is considered to be the father of African film.  His career spanned spanned five decades, creating some of the greatest African movies ever made.
  • Gordon Parks, one of the first major African American filmmakers to find success in Hollywood.  He pioneered the “blaxploitation” genre with the Shaft series of films.  His son Gordon Parks Jr., killed tragically at the age of 44, will also be covered.
  • One of America’s most underrated black filmmakers, Charles Burnett.  Burnett’s film Killer of Sheep took decades to be released on a wide scale because of music rights issues.  His influence on black filmmakers is undeniable.
  • The controversial auteur Spike Lee, who broke into the scene in the 1980’s with groundbreaking films like She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing.  Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X found mainstream critical and commercial success, and propelled Lee to become arguably the most successful African American director in history.
  • The 1990’s saw a sudden spike in original, stylistic, and highly influential African American films like John Singleton’s Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood, the Hughes Brothers’ independent hit Menace II Society, and F. Gary Gray’s stoner comedy Friday.

The schedule for February’s Black Directors Marathon is as follows:

#1 – Shaft (1971) (Gordon Parks) (Feb. 2)
#2 – Super Fly (1972) (Gordon Parks Jr.) (Feb. 5)
#3 – Touki Bouki (1973) (Djibril Diop Mambéty) (Feb. 8)
#4 – Xala (1975) (Ousmane Sembene) (Feb. 12)
#5 – Killer of Sheep (1978) (Charles Burnett) (Feb. 15)
#6 – Boyz n the Hood (1991) (John Singleton) (Feb. 19)
#7 – Malcolm X (1992) (Spike Lee) (Feb. 22)
#8 – Menace II Society (1993) (Albert & Allen Hughes) (Feb. 26)
#9 – Friday (1995) (F. Gary Gray) (Feb. 29)

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