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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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Top 10 Films of 2016 (So Far)

The Fall movie season is on the horizon, and with it inevitably comes a wave of hotly anticipated festival hits, independently-produced game changers, and studio prestige pictures all gunning for one thing: gold.  Now that the Summer movie season is more or less behind us, I thought I’d take a look back at the best and worst of the last eight months.  These lists will likely look much different come January 2017, after studios have released the films they’ve been sitting on all year long, so it’s important to give credit to some of the movies that may become lost in the shuffle over the next few months.

10. Hail, Caesar!
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes

The Coen Brothers’ most recent directorial effort wasn’t one I fell in love with immediately, but instead came to greatly appreciate it over time.  The beauty of Hail, Caesar! comes in the form of its solid script, bringing with it absurd comedy, nods to beloved Hollywood classics, and difficult themes like religion and communist politics.  The performance of future Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich as western star Hobie Doyle is perfect, and easily my favorite thing about the film.  It may not feel like a major work by two of the greatest living American directors, but it’s quickly wormed its way into my heart.

ZOOTOPIA9. Zootopia
Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Written by: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate

Disney proves once again that when they go outside of their comfort zone is when the time-tested production house delivers their very best output.  Following the early law enforcement career of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), Zootopia creates a beautiful and unique universe for viewers to really sink their teeth into.  The world building, character development, and film noir-esque inspired plot come together in one fluffy, wonderful package.  There’s a heck of alot here for audiences of all ages to enjoy, including some genuinely hilarious gags (the sloth sequence was a true highlight).  

1-maggies-plan8. Maggie’s Plan
Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Written by: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph

Greta Gerwig is quickly becoming my favorite working actor, and her performance in Maggie’s Plan is another home run from the talented young woman.  She stars at the titular Maggie in writer-director Rebecca Miller’s dramedy about the complications of long-term relationships, and the lengths people will go to when trying to rid themselves of such burdens.  Gerwig’s performance is as neurotic as always, but feels more mature and layered than previous starring roles in films like Frances Ha or Mistress America.  Gerwig is propped up by a typical good performance by Ethan Hawke, and a hammy but solid turn from Academy Award winner Julianne Moore.  Maggie’s Plan doesn’t quite reach the highs of Noah Baumbach’s Gerwig vehicles, but is still an intelligent, touching, and funny film in its own right.

zero-days-cia-nsa-xlarge7. Zero Days
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Starring: n/a

The newest addition to the list is also one of Alex Gibney’s best documentaries in years.  Zero Days is the terrifying look at America and Israel’s long-standing nuclear tension with Iran, and the role played by a highly advanced computer malware called Stuxnet.  While Gibney doesn’t get the answers he intends to, the reasons given for the lack of information are just as unsettling as the film’s subject matter itself.  What Zero Days does feature is in-depth interviews with incredibly important figures in America’s modern domestic defense force, and a very narrow focus.  If the subject matter interests you in any way, you shouldn’t miss out on this startling documentary.

maxresdefault6. Green Room
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

In 2013, Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin (the director’s second film) took the independent film scene by storm with its grounded, brutal realism and expert direction.  You can imagine my surprise when his follow-up Green Room was every bit as good, especially with the description essentially being “punk band clashes with neo-Nazi’s after a performance”.  For something that sounds like a B-level horror film, Green Room absolutely brings the goods.  It’s violent as hell, tense, and features the same realism that made Blue Ruin so great.  Green Room also features excellent performances from its entire young cast, consisting of the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles, Imogen Poots, and Alia Shawkat.  Stealing the show is the veteran Patrick Stewart in an extremely intense and commanding role, showing that the aged actor isn’t afraid to venture outside of his comfort zone.  In a weaker year, Saulnier’s Green Room would most definitely be at the top of this list.  It’s truly an experience you can’t miss, as long as you can stomach it.  

e95a78d0a8bdfc12dd50023c9d8822ea4a0845465. Sing Street
Directed by: John Carney
Written by: John Carney
Starring: Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aiden Gillen, Jack Reynor

As somebody who adores musical films, John Carney is absolutely one of my favorite working directors, creating two of the best musicals of the last decade or so in Once and Begin Again.  Carney’s Sing Street features the best elements of both those films, perhaps eclipsing both of them in terms of filmmaking and tremendous songwriting.  Set in mid-1980’s Dublin, Sing Street follows a young man named Cosmo as he establishes his very own DIY alternative rock band while navigating the ups and downs that are growing up, including falling in love, dealing with bullies, and a turbulent family life.  Sing Street is absolutely infectious in its energy and optimism, making it one of my favorite movie experiences of the year.  It may feel minor in comparison to your typical heavy-hitting Hollywood drama, there’s nothing slight about John Carney’s Sing Street.

the-nice-guys-film-goruntusu4. The Nice Guys
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley

The sleeper hit of the summer came in the form of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, harkening back to the days of good ol’ buddy cop movies.  Black and Bagarozzi’s hilarious and intelligent script sees the unlikely duo of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe trying to solve a series of adult entertainment-related murders and disappearances in 1970’s Los Angeles.  Serving as both a tribute to the films of yesterday and as an original movie aimed at adult audiences, The Nice Guys was a breath of fresh air in a season focused largely on men and women in spandex beating the hell out of each other.  Gosling and Crowe have incredible chemistry together onscreen, and the laughs come at you a mile a minute.  The Nice Guys did the impossible and managed to stand out on its own during one of Hollywood’s most contested release period.  If you’re looking for quality entertainment that doesn’t pander to younger crowds devoid of an attention span, The Nice Guys is absolutely for you.

oj-simpson-4816-usnews-getty-ftr_1wr8irqcosxa31etndnurfdyxv3. O.J.: Made in America
Directed by: Ezra Edelman
Written by: Ezra Edelman
Starring: O.J. Simpson

ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of sports-related documentaries has an impossibly high turnout of incredible works, and their latest epic miniseries is without a doubt their greatest achievement yet.  O.J.: Made in America methodically chronicles the life, career, alleged crimes, and subsequent trial of former football superstar O.J. Simpson.  Made in America runs for nearly 8 hours, but every minute of this documentary is riveting, and really helps you understand how the prosecution fumbled a case that seemed so simple to win in the beginning.  ESPN’s latest project looks at the socio-political climate of America in the early 1990’s, and without saying it implies that our currently climate is very similar.  O.J.: Made in America is peppered with phenomenal archival footage, and features in-depth interviews with those closest to O.J. Simpson, Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman.  This documentary is a triumph, and nobody reading this should let the daunting runtime scare them away: O.J.: Made in America is a modern documentary masterpiece.

the_witch_a24_2.02. The Witch
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Filmed a short distance from my lovely little city, The Witch is the hotly-contested Sundance award-winner and incredibly impressive directorial debut of filmmaker Robert Eggers.  Set in 17th century New England, The Witch sees a young family exiled from their home settlement and sent to live on a farm on the edge of a large, menacing forest.  From the moment the family touches down on their new home, they begin to experience unimaginable horrors.  The Witch is without a doubt one of the most atmospheric horror films I’ve ever seen, filling viewers with feelings of dread every step of the way.  Robert Eggers directs with an expert hand, bringing levels of subtlety that most novice filmmakers could never even dream of.  This expert direction coupled with beautiful washed out photography by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and a solid, genuinely frightening script make The Witch one of the most memorable horror films of the past ten years, sitting alongside modern masterpieces like It Follows and The Babadook.

everybody-wants-some-image11. Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Will Brittain, Zooey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell

Richard Linklater is a filmmaker who at this point in his career shouldn’t require an introduction, but is sadly not the household name he deserves to be.  Linklater has directed such incredible films as Boyhood, the Before trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight), Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and Bernie.  Everybody Wants Some!!, the spiritual successor to the aforementioned Dazed and Confused, fits perfectly among this eclectic list of tremendous films.  The premise is simple: the film sees a college freshman on his first weekend of college, making friends, meeting girls, playing baseball, and partying his face off.  We follow an incredibly lovable band of jock-y varsity baseball players doing everything college kids do best, and I couldn’t have possibly had a better time doing so.  Everybody Wants Some!! features sharp, hilarious writing by Linklater, a living, breathing 1980’s Texas backdrop, a hell of a soundtrack featuring the very best of the 70’s and early 80’s, and fun performances from a band of young up-and-comers.  It may not seem like much at first, but as the saying goes: don’t judge a book by its cover.  There’s much more to Everybody Wants Some!! than meets the eye, and anybody open to the experience is going a great time diving into it.

Top Ten Films of 2016 (So Far):

Honorable Mentions:

  • Barbershop: The Next Cut
  • Don’t Breathe
  • Finding Dory
  • The Fundamentals of Caring
  • The Invitation
  • Jim: The James Foley Story
  • The Jungle Book
  • Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Weiner

That’s my list!  I’ll soon follow-up with my least favorite films of the year, and the films that disappointment and surprised me the most, as well as highlight some of my favorite performances of the year, and movies I’m highly anticipating and haven’t yet caught up with.  If you feel I’ve missed anything or that I’m just plain wrong on one of my picks, let me know in the comments!

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