This is an unforgettable story about a 19-year-old drummer with big dreams. Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman with uncanny persuasion. Nieman attends a first-class conservatory where he attracts the attention of a formidable teacher, the uncompromising and sadistic Terrence Fletcher (Simmons). We’ve seen this genre before, but WHIPLASH actually turns it on its head, revealing the tortured relationship of a promising student and a fierce, punishing, and brutally aggressive instructor. Terrence, you do stupid stuff. The film smartly invites us to consider whether such pedagogical cruelty actually has positive effects. Nominated this season for literally dozens of awards, WHIPLASH makes To Sir With Love look like science fiction.
A little research will tell you that this Flaubert-inspired drama was first a graphic novel. The 21st century setting puts the source at several removes, but holds us to the original spirit of bored bourgeois Emma herself. Gemma Arterton plays the title role with typical French insouciance. She is unselfconsciously desirable in otherwise dreadfully dull Normandy to where she and her husband have located. An older neighbor, Martin (Luchini), has also recently moved from Paris to the town and he just can’t stop staring, thinking of, and fantasizing about her. The steamy bread-making lesson he offers her is worth the whole movie. Sometimes a baguette just isn’t a baguette. GEMMA BOVERY changes more than the spelling of the original heroine. Director Fontaine plays broadly for laughs, winking in obvious ways at the folly of young women and older men. That’s entertainment.
A darling at Cannes, the preternaturally talented Dolan cemented his already acclaimed reputation with this masterpiece of family dynamics. MOMMY is a simple story told with unbelievable complexity. Mothers and sons: an always tense and creative energy flows between them, but the bond is unbreakable. Pilon stars as the incorrigible 14 year-old Stevie, as difficult a youngster as hell on wheels. Mommy dearest is played with smashing power by Dorval, achingly credible in the difficult role of trying to do right by her hellion. Into their fractious world comes a disruptive agent—that is, a neighbour looking for some peace and stability. This unlikely trio struggle for power, control, and love, constantly surprising us with their individual intensity. MOMMY is an astonishing exercise in raw talent and artful cinema.
Unlike the reception Dolan received at Cannes (see above), Egoyan’s CAPTIVE drew a mix of boos and applause. Egoyan is one of our best and brightest and we think anything he does is worth a look, critics be damned. Besides, Ryan Reynolds commands the screen for huge slices of manly time, another reason to gaze upon the screen. Here he plays the anguished father of a kidnapped daughter. Eight years have passed but Matthew believes she is still alive. His quest challenges his relationship with his wife and the police who suspect him most of all. Part psychological thriller, part stupefying jigsaw puzzle, THE CAPTIVE sure drops an Atom bomb in our heads. The subject of child pornography isn’t the easiest sell, either, but no one ever promised you the sweet hereafter.
If it takes one to know one, then the genius of Mike Leigh perfectly captures the genius of nineteenth century British painter J.M.W. Turner. Where Turner gave us his stunning landscapes of the English countryside Leigh offers a stunning portrait of the man behind the masterpieces. Timothy Spall is nothing less than brilliant in his stuttering, spewing, grunting, humping portrait of Turner, the snuff dreams are made of. What kind of visionary could create such sublime images of nature? The answer is surprising, and surprisingly human. Leigh’s Turner might sometimes have his head in the clouds, but his arse is definitely on earth. Defiantly unsentimental, the film paints a gloriously dynamic picture of an eccentric artist and the chamber-pot period that shaped him.
In this case, the messenger is Gary Webb, the real-life reporter who in the eighties broke the story about how the CIA was essentially supporting drug smuggling in its efforts to bring down the Nicaraguan Sandinista Government. Working for then little known San Jose Mercury News, Webb first emerged an unlikely hero, breaking a big scandalous story. But then all the major newspapers started to turn on him, questioning his facts and undermining his credibility. Behind all of that resistance was the CIA itself, which dedicated itself to annihilating any shred of Webb’s integrity. Time, and a movie like this, has shown that Webb was right all along. Hell, anyone who watches Homeland knows the CIA will do whatever it takes to protect its own reputation. Real and riveting, KILL THE MESSENGER reminds us that although the truth may be out there, many don’t want to see it.
You’d have to have a heart of pebbles not to appreciate this crowd-pleasing based-on-a true-story film. The subject is Paul Potts, the hapless shop assistant who conquered the hugely popular TV show, Britain’s Got Talent, in 2007. We know the ending but the film is nonetheless enormously entertaining because of its expert pacing and directing. James Corden is superb as the schlemiel Potts. It’s not so much the tv show but the ramp-up to it that captures our attention. Potts grew up pudgy and bullied, but he escaped frequently into musical fantasy and opera where he found solace and validation. It didn’t hurt that he had/has a voice to die for. Overcoming real-life fear and building his confidence, however, is what gets Potts to the top of the pyramid. Sometimes it actually feels good to know the outcome in advance. And Toscanini never sounded so warmly familiar.
The distributor said, “this is a masterpiece but it runs at 196 minutes, you sure you want it?” We said, ”if MUN Cinema can’t show it, who can?” WINTER SLEEP won the Palm D’Or at Cannes, the biggest prize of all for the longest drama in the festival. If you like Chekhov, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Voltaire then you’ll love this film. All furnish dialogue in this talk-heavy script. At its heart is Aydin, an older man who owns the Hotel Othello (!) in the stunning Anatolian steppes. Married to a younger woman, he lives a life of complicated relationships. His sister and his tenants hold grudges and slights against him, but yet he seems such a centred, thoughtful man. The film is a kind of slow-burning Rashomon, as the director brilliantly shifts point of view to allow us the full measure of human condition in all its complexity. Exquisitely shot and written, WINTER SLEEP will keep you awake long after.
Ah, those Dardenne boys. They keep winning all the prizes for good reasons. Their decidedly local Belgium-based films always resonate globally. Their subjects almost always are, as with the Italian neorealists of last century, the poor and the disadvantaged, the humble and the real. In this case, the incredibly talented Marion Cotillard is Sandra, a working-class mom who discovers some ugly truths about her co-workers when she is laid off for medical reasons. Drama unfolds when she must convince them to give up their bonuses to pay for her own salary. Yikes. Norma Rae, move over—there’s a new self-directed, empowered and empowering woman in town and this time she means business.
Julianne Moore could read your grocery list and she’d utterly convince you she really did need orange juice. She’s one terrific thespian, and here she stars as the Alice of the title, a distinguished linguistics prof married to a more or less supportive husband with whom she has three kids. When the linguist starts to forget words she thinks she is merely absent-minded. But when she loses her way, the diagnosis is more serious. An unflinching and unsentimental portrait of Alzheimer’s, STILL ALICE wisely focuses less on the family’s reaction than it does on the woman herself, someone for whom control was once as natural as breathing. Ultimately, it’s all about what happens to us, and the choices we might make as a result.
The phrase “clever campus comedy” gets us giddy. Here we have a race-based twist, as the title hints. It’s more robust social satire than serious sermon, as the African-American lead character Samantha uses her campus radio/web platform to call out her Caucasian peers on some of the well-meaning boneheaded stuff they do to show they “get” non-Caucasians. The setting is the Ivy League, where there are more liberal-minded students than you can shake an Afro at. But wise filmmaker Simien thrives on the contradictions of all his characters, regardless of colour, and the result is a really insightful analysis of the Obama-era mess in which we (they?) are all mixed up. Hugely entertaining and clever, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is a terrific cinematic letter to all of us.
An art-house doc about hockey, this really is well worth your time, even if you have no idea if the blue line is different from the red state or the white house. A critical hit at Cannes, RED ARMY shows us a lot about the country in which the famous hockey team rose and fell, and these days the more we understand about that country the better. The film centres on team captain and Soviet legend, Slava Fetisov. In chronicling his amazingly interesting story the film offers a rich and complex appreciation of the Cold War and the relationship between the icy sport and national ideology, not only that of Russia but of the USA, as well. It’s a very fine example of the politics of the puck.
Another film about Russia, but in the very present tense. If notoriously grumpy Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw loved this film, and then so will you. Kolia is the little guy hero who takes on the crooked mayor of his northwestern community. Fortunately, he has connections and is not shy about using them to keep his property from slimy appropriation. Fortune, however, is never secure in today’s Russia, and slowly but surely Kolia learns that there is way more than meets his innocent eye. This is Putin’s Russia, after all, led by gangsters and ragingly corrupt officials—all men with far too much greed in their hearts and vodka in their bellies. It is an alarming portrait, masterfully drawn by a superb director. If you watched RED ARMY and LEVIATHAN back to back you would be eligible for a degree in Russian History, particularly of the Cultural variety.