ADAM MCKAY’S THE BIG SHORT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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With stunning clarity considering the density of the material and the tendency for excessive jargon, Adam McKay’s phenomenally entertaining dramatization of the 2008 financial collapse shouldn’t be entertaining but it is. All kidding aside, this is a massively fucked up film that details how a group of people got extremely rich while so many were going totally bust, but because of McKay’s zesty filmmaking style, the narrative never gets bogged down in hard to understand plotting or surrounded by characters who we can’t relate too. This is an ensemble in the truest sense of the word, with each major actor doing excellent and generous work, with each performance feeding into the next, which helps to create a full blown tapestry of men pushed to their limits. Christian Bale is low-key awesome here, totally introverted as a genius money man, getting the chance for a number of quietly stellar moments. Steve Carrell is the angry conscience of the piece, representing the frustrations of the common person while also seeing the inner workings of a corrupt system, and after his brilliant work in Foxcatcher, represents another dramatic homerun for him as a dramatic actor. Ryan Gosling is the amoral trickster, and he’s pure energy and comic fizz, getting the film’s single biggest laugh during a small tour de force sequence inside of a men’s room, and Brad Pitt steals a few scenes as the sagacious insider who has become an outsider. All of the familiar faces in the deep supporting cast are terrific, and everyone is used to maximum effect via the long lens cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (United 93, The Wind that Shakes the Barley), who brings his customarily jittery shooting style to the proceedings, always searching and grasping for off the cuff moments, which appropriately sets the tense mood. When combined with the judicious and extremely sharp editing by Hank Corwin, it’s no surprise that the film keeps the pace of a rushing locomotive, yet never at the expense of coherence or intelligence. The numerous instances of the breaking of the fourth wall are smart and well timed, hilariously using real life celebrities in an effort to help the audience better understand some of the more shadowy and arcane bits of information. McKay has taken a HUGE step up with this film as a storyteller and filmmaker, after repeatedly proving to be one of the best directors of studio comedies over the last 15 years (his blockbuster resume includes Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys). This is his crowning achievement thus far, a piece of topical entertainment that is as enraged as it is playful. It’s one of the best films of 2015. And last but certainly not least, massive Tracy Letts POWER.

 

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Lawrence of Arabia – A Review by Josh Hains

I have been blown away many a time by many a film, though as time passes by at breakneck speed, so few are able to blow me away time and time again in repeated viewings. Lawrence of Arabia is one of those few. While David Lean’s glorious masterpiece (a word I do not toss around often) is not my favourite film, it does sit high upon a pedestal of the greatest films I have ever seen. I can not think of another film of equal or greater length that has managed to sustain my interest as consistently as Lawrence of Arabia does in its nearly 4 hour runtime. Much of what keeps me entertained does not have to do with the plot, the score, or most of the supporting performances, but rather, that eccentric leading performance from the late Peter O’Toole, as T.E. Lawrence, and that absolutely gorgeous cinematography.

The first time I saw the film, I was completely hooked by the time Sherif Ali makes his grand entrance, initially appearing as nothing more than a speck on the screen, before slowly materializing into a full blooded, and violent figure. I can not think of too many other films that dedicated that much time and effort to introduce a character. I do not think I can name another film that took the time to showcase the rising of a bright orange sun that fills the sky with its warm glow as gracefully as Lawrence of Arabia did. Nor can I think of such a magnetic, yet eccentric and carefree performance as the one Peter O’Toole delivers. Whether he is uttering blunt thoughts or speaking through his eyes, his Lawrence chews up every scene with a delightful cheekiness, spontaneity, and flamboyance. You can hardly take your eyes off him for even a second as he completely dominates every scene he is featured in. At the end of the day when all the dust settles, when I find myself reflecting upon this magnificent work, I am always quietly moved by every single frame of this gorgeous film. I can not find a single visual flaw, a singular moment that sticks out as odd or misplaced or weird. Every frame blends together splendidly, coherently, and perfectly. Lawrence of Arabia, with such a wide visual scope and a story of truly epic proportions, is one of those rare films that makes you feel as small and insignificant as an ant. To see Lawrence in his ceremonial garments, a small silhouetted figure standing against an enormous sky, is to be reminded of how enormous our world really is, and just how beautiful this film truly is.

I honestly believe that the best kinds of films invite you into their worlds, captivate your heart, mind, and soul, and in doing so, help provide you with an escape from the hardships of your life, if only for a couple of hours. The greatest films one can ever watch not only do that, but are of such marvellous quality, one often finds themselves wishing they would never end and that you could continue the journey for hours more. Lawrence of Arabia is one of the finest examples of this ideal, a true cinematic gem. What a wonderful experience.

PETER STRICKLAND’S THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Methodical, erotic, and exquisitely photographed and edited, The Duke of Burgundy is one of the more memorable films from 2015, a piece of work that’s in love with the very foundations of cinema and the endlessly possible ways that the moving image can transport the viewer to a richly atmospheric and highly seductive world. A romance, a thriller, a psychological horror story, and above all, a strangely sexy exploration of mental and physical domination, there isn’t a shred of nudity in this hot-blooded independent film, but that doesn’t matter; your pulse will race just from the sight of a person touching another’s leg. Writer/director Peter Strickland has made a film that Brian De Palma would and should be envious of; you feel the stylized filmmaking in this intoxicating and highly artsy effort right from the start, much in the same way that a De Palma film traffics in self-reflexivity and heightened stylistic flourishes. The Duke of Burgundy moves at a purposefully slow pace, inviting the audience into its esoteric and enigmatic playing field, where you observe the back and forth between two very particular women, and how they use sex, lust, power, and potentially love, in an effort to one up each other emotionally and mentally. Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen are both spellbinding in this film; you literally can’t take your eyes off either of them, if not out of wonder about what they’ll do next, but rather, they’re just so strikingly photogenic in very unique and unexpected ways. The costumes and lingerie featured in this film are also major strengths; the undergarment supervisor is even given an on screen credit which is something I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before! The entomology subplot puts things into thematic context while allowing Strickland some amazing opportunities for impressionistic filmmaking, while the entire film feels wholly unique in and of itself; there’s very little that I can think of that this film compares too. While not likely for everyone, this is one of those amazing pieces of dreamy and velvety storytelling that will produce a charge out of patient and artistically inclined viewers. The film also features an unsettling and nervy musical score, one that raises the tension levels while still hitting some lovely, romantic beats of sophistication. Available to stream via Netflix and also available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

 

PTS Presents WRITER’S WORKSHOP with JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY

JPS POWECAST

5beaee3a-69a9-4b9d-9d72-3d9c6a142ff0Podcasting Them Softly is thrilled to present a discussion with the phenomenally talented playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker John Patrick Shanley. An Oscar winner for his MOONSTRUCK screenplay, John has a list of incredible big screen credits which include the Andes mountain plane crash drama ALIVE, the hilarious and offbeat cult classic JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, which he also directed, and the 2008 feature film version of his Pulitzer and Tony award winning dramatic play DOUBT, which he also directed, and which starred Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. An NYU graduate, John has written over 20 plays, he’s worked in television, notably on the HBO war drama LIVE FROM BAGHDAD, and has even dabbled in the opera, with a version of DOUBT put on by the Minnesota Opera in 2013. His most recent endeavor on Broadway was the limited engagement of his original play OUTSIDE MULLINGAR, which looked at life on an Irish country farm, and which received a Tony and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Play. It was a real honor to be joined by someone of this magnitude, and we hope you enjoy listening to this fascinating and passionate discussion!

Room: A review by Nate Hill

It’s hard for me to fully express the staggering impression that Room left on me using only the written word, but I’ll have a go at it anyway. First I’ll say that it’s hands down my favourite film of the year thus far, and I left the theatre with many emotions swelling in me, affected in a way the only a small group of films have been able do for me. It’s a patient, mature study in psychology and a sweeping symphony of complicated emotions revolving around a terrible, tragic situation that seems like a well of hurt and pain until in climbs it’s way out into a tenderly heartfelt, incredibly life affirming resolution that never dips into half assed melodrama and feels earned and appropriate. The film casts such a powerful spell that it briefly changed the concept of time for me; Upon arriving near the end, I felt as if years had actually passed for me in theatre since I embarked on the film’s journey. The camera, script and actors kept me so intimately close to the characters for the duration of the piece and made me love and care for them so much that it brought me right into their timeline with an intimacy that rarely happens for me in cinema. Now on to the actors. What brave, compelling work from every single performer on screen, right down to the bit parts. Every role castes with a sharp eye for detail and reverent contemplation of who is right for what, creating a roster of heavy hitters and up and comers to be reckoned with. Brie Larson gives a beyond award worthy turn as Joy, a girl who was kidnapped at a young age and held captive by a horrible man (Sean Bridgers, displaying smouldering volatility in terrifying proportions) who impregnates her. She raises the child in the dour, tiny garden shed he keeps her in. Faced with the unthinkable task of creating a nurturing environment for her little one, she tells him that the shed is ‘Room’, their kingdom, and that the people he sees on their little TV are fake, imparting that they and their captor are the only real ones and there is no outside world. This reminds just how mouldable our minds are when we are small, and the film beautifully explores the psychological ramifications of how we raise our young, how nature vs. nurture comes into play in startling ways during the darkest of times, and the decisions we are forced to make on our own to ensure that our children are safe, even when things have gone beyond wrong, as they have for the poor girl. Old Nick, as she nicknames their captor, rapes her every few days, and treats the two of them like animals. Her son Jack reaches an age where escape becomes vital in his mothers eyes, and she takes her chance, orchestrating a harebrained ditch effort to break free, which is my favourite sequence of the film. It’s also one of the most tension filled, seat gripping scenes I’ve ever seen, as the character buildup has set our personal stakes epically high, which co,vines with the excellent set up makes for a clammy nightmare of an escape. The director makes the fascinating choice not to us any music at all until they reach freedom, which I noted. As soon as they are out, I let out a cathartic, audible sigh of relief, as the dank hell they undeservedly spent almost a decade in gives way to a vibrant, strange new world for little Jack. The camera takes his perspective and pores over every aspect of the outside realm with the patience and curiosity it takes to place us in his psyche, a child viewing the world in its entirety and true form for the very first time, essentially a second birth, a theme which the film handles marvellously. I must speak about Jacob Tremblay, a Vancouver native who plays Jack and gives the most soul wrenching performance I’ve ever seen from a child actor. The levels of sheer intuition and innocent truth he infuses in his work at such a young age are just unbelievable, and he should be in the riding for Oscar gold as well. Larson and him have uncanny chemistry, the love shown in the early scenes a blooming Rose of hope that fends off the looming darkness they dwell in, which is tested by the inevitable complications they face upon entering the real world once again. Larson burst onto the scene with 21 Jump Street and Don Jon, fun but inconsequential fluff. Here she shows us that she means business, and wants to tell stories that are important, and show audiences what it means to be human through her work. I look forward to where this extraordinary girl takes us in her next cinematic journey. Joan Allen makes subtly heartbreaking work as Joy’s mother, William H. Macy is briefly present as her Dad, Tom McCamus makes compassionate work of her stepdad and like I said, everyone else is superb, right down to the day players. I was crippled by emotion and raw with nerve jangling suspense after this one, exiting the theatre soaring on the high I eternally strive for in my cinematic adventures. The fact that only one theatre in Vancouver is playing this one is an affront to the universe. Get down to Tinseltown and see this one before it’s gone. You’ll thank me.  

GREGORY JACOBS’ MAGIC MIKE XXL — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Gregory Jacobs’ Magic Mike XXL is a hoot and a holler, and a total 180 from the original, far more ambitious film, which I legitimately feel is great, subversive cinema. With Steven Soderbergh handling the cinematography and editing (under his usual pseudonyms of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, of course), the entire tech package of Magic Mike XXL is super-slick and extremely thoughtful on an aesthetic level; there are some dynamic shots, either because of the camera movements or the still placement of the camera, and the editing has a pleasant hum that allows for an easy-going time. The script is nowhere near as interesting as the first film, but it’s really no less entertaining; this is the male stripper movie for those who felt that there wasn’t enough stripping and saucy shenanigans in Magic Mike. Whereas Soderbergh clearly wanted to subvert expectations with his surprise 2012 blockbuster, here, the vibrant looking sequel is more interested in having fun with a capital F, with a general party atmosphere firmly set in place right from the start.

Gone are any discussions of bank loans and start-up capital in favor of a more jocular, rambunctious tone. Channing Tatum is back as our entry point into this wild and wooly world of male entertainment, with most of the original film’s supporting cast making return appearances (notably absent is Matthew McConaughey). The ultra charismatic Joe Manganiello has a terrifically funny scene inside of a gas station convenience store, Twitch from So You Think You Can Dance shows up for some sexy dance routines, and I loved the Cougar Party with Andie MacDowell (she’s looking very fine…!) Also, the extra hot if too skinny Amber Heard shows up for some fun, Jada Pinkett Smith nails her scenes with authority, and the lovely Elizabeth Banks is a stunner in her extra-tight body suit during the protracted and highly spirited finale. There’s a level of innocent cheesiness to the entire thing that helps to make it all very non-threatening and harmlessly enjoyable, and even if it’s not up to the overall brilliance of the original (how could it be?), there’s plenty here to keep you satisfied. And here’s a final thought — now that we’ve gotten TWO high-profile male stripper movies from a major Hollywood studio, how’s about we get Magic Michelle?

JJ ABRAMS’ SUPER 8 — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Out of all the movies directed by JJ Abrams, that I’ve seen, Super 8 is easily the best. It’s a spot-on and misty-eyed evocation of late 70’s/early 80’s BEARD POWER with nods to countless genre staples. It feels like the ultimate lost Amblin film. Terrific cinematography with an obscenely awesome amount of lens flare POWER, great production design, and energetic and at times exhilarating musical score, and engaging performances from all the kids. It’s not a perfect movie but it’s immediately engrossing, and by the end, completely satisfying. The father-son component was a huge reason for this film’s success as a piece of emotional storytelling; this is the sort of CGI/monster movie I want to see, a film where the need for special effects is born out of the story and the characters and not used as a crutch or for cheap gags. As always, Abrams directs in his awe-shucks style of intensity, making smart creative choices and allowing his innate understanding of entertainment to rule the day. The list of movies that are either visually or thematically referenced in Super 8 is totally wild: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Explorers, Poltergeist, The Goonies, The Monster Squad. Gremlins, and E.T., to name only a few and off the top of my head. And yet somehow, the movie feels all its own. And it must be mentioned again — there’s an astonishing amount of lens flares in this movie, which always makes me smile. Kyle Chandler totally owned all of his scenes, bring gravitas and sensitivity to his role as the beleaguered father figure, and as usual, Elle Fanning showed why she’s one of the best talents of her generation. This is an underrated blockbuster and one that’s worth revisiting or catching up with if you initially missed it.

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