Ethereal beauty Wasikowska plays the feisty Australian woman, Robyn Davidson, who takes on the journey of trekking some 1700 miles across the desert. Like young Dorothy who went on another journey along a yellow brick road, Robyn has her trusty dog Diggity by her side; unlike Dorothy, she also takes along four camels for company and a bit of schlepping. This is a true story from the seventies, as cinematic a tale as ever there was. Robyn endures all the punishing demands of desert life, and especially the often delicious solitude that attends a long, lonely trek. Director Curran captures the persistent spirit of this angelic creature who embraced the constantly mutating landscape of the desert with passion and wonder. Needless to say, the visual appeal of this movie is gorgeously staggering. Supporting roles by Bulbs, Dookie, Zeleika, and Goliath are admirably performed. You might never feel the same way about a smelly humped creature.
Talk about taking the long view. BOYHOOD is Linklater’s audacious cinematic experiment with the passing of time. Following the progress of young Texan Ellar Coltrane over twelve years, from grade school to college, Linklater chronicles the sheer extraordinary ordinariness of the everyday. This is actually a work of fiction, since actors stand in for the parents of a boy named Mason, but because Linklater uses the same actors over twelve years there is an undeniably documentary element to the story. Time stamps its passage on everyone’s body, and so we know we are watching both an imagined narrative about growing up and a real chronicle of time’s winged chariot. It’s an uncanny approach to filmmaking and it succeeds in glorious life-affirming colour.
Leave it to brilliant director Jarmusch to make a vampire movie. If you hate the genre for irrational reasons, then we urge you to give this a go. A big hit at Cannes, this is no cloyingly romantic twilight fiction, promise, but we do get to savour the director’s familiar languorous style. Musician Adam (Hiddleston) is perpetually bummed out. Well, he lives in Detroit and who can blame him, but he has seen it all and is understandably tired of the bland aesthetically-drained banality of the 21st century. When you’ve written for Schubert it’s hard to get excited abut the VMAs. Indeed, even with his cheerier blood-sucking partner, the appropriately named Eve, Adam is weary of the zombie-like humans on whom he is compelled to feed. There is a lot of subtle humour here and, so, if you can surrender to the allegory you’ll find much by which to be entranced. Culture never tasted so yummy.
Here’s Woody again, the irrepressibly urban romantic, with yet another annual gift of wit. Any movie with Colin Firth is well worth the gawking, and when you pair him with the delightful Emma Stone, you have the makings of a very modern, watchable romance. Firth plays the rogue and hustler Stanley, a stage magician without as much faith in humanity as a Hollywood agent. Foil to Stanley is the plucky young American, Sophie, played by Stone, who alleges clairvoyant powers and a sunny disposition. Truth is they have more in common than they first realize, and as in all smart screwball comedies, complications ensue before everyone sees the light of love. As in Woody’s many other comedies, there’s a sprinkle of Nietzsche here, a smattering of continental philosophy there. He always said he failed Metaphysics 101, but he clearly is, and always was, smarter than your average director, even with that whole age difference thing going on.
Mitch and Colin are two aging geezers who used to be married to sisters. They are as different as chalk and cheese whiz, but they have come to know each other well through the years, perhaps too well. Mitch, the brassy New Yorker, buys a couple of tickets to Iceland, and before you can say healing spa he and the quieter Australian Colin are heading north. Sure, we know it’s not about the destination, but this journey sure does show off the spectacular landscapes of beautiful Iceland as the two sometimes grumpy old guys talk, laugh, argue, and share the unpredictable newness of their adventure. As with other films of this genre (see A Trip to Italy) the charm is in the slow organic experience of a relationship, an existential buddy movie for people of all ages.
Programmed with the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. A hit at Sundance, this superb comedy comes to us with a fair bit of 21st century controversy—that is, the old A word. Jenny Slate is Donna, a stand-up comedian who is working her stuff out on stage in front of strangers in dingy clubs as often as she can. It’s a brutal, nakedly candid world. Joan Rivers worked it her way. Today’s female comedians tend to play a little more honestly with their own insecurities and life challenges, daring us to take them seriously. Jenny typically vents, sometimes hilariously, sometimes embarrassingly, as part of her shtick. It’s a shtick with consequences for others in her life. When Jenny becomes unexpectedly pregnant the comical becomes even more personal. This is perhaps the first really strong comedy to deal directly with abortion, and so consequently it has faced weird marketing challenges. As a first feature from director Robespierre it is a brilliant gesture of confidence, and we applaud its expert blend of tones and themes.
We are all madly in like with formidable Irish actor Brendan Gleeson after his superb turn as Murray in The Grand Seduction. Here he shows off his impressive chops in very fine fashion as a priest with a whole lot of dubious morality to deal with. Father James has been to hell and back. He once lived a fully secular life and so has taken on the priesthood with conviction and bags of experience. Essentially a good man at heart, he is confronted almost daily with the darkest of human depravity, and must wrestle with those demons in order to keep the faith. There is nothing black and white here except Father James’ cassock. Director McDonagh made the magnificently witty The Guard in which Gleeson played a wily man of the law. CALVARY is even darker, funnier, and smarter, if possible, and well worth a wise audience’s time. Flawless in every way.
This is a brilliantly shrewd adaptation of a John Le Carré novel about national security and the sins and follies that are generated in its name. Weighing heavily on the film’s naturally gloomy dissection of current geopolitics is the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a troubled German intelligence officer with a strong set of principles and a fairly realistic appreciation of how easily they can be threatened. Set in the magnificent town of Hamburg, the film centres at first on the harrowing story of illegal resident Issa, a Chechen with a scarred past and body. His appearance sets a flurry of actions in motion, and in true espionage thriller manner a lot of twists, turns, and torments ensue. The cast is large and impressively A-list, but Hoffman’s steady, important presence fills the screen with a fated sense of the inevitable. His performance—his last—is among his finest, making him as much the title’s subject as that poor bedraggled Chechen. Don’t miss this masterpiece of the genre, whatever you do.
Yes, it really is ‘the’ trip to Italy, because only Coogan and Brydon could have lived it with such wit, play, and garlic. Buoyed by the success of their earlier journey, The Trip, the two unlikely buddies decided to improv along a journey to one of the world’s most beautiful, delicious, and cinematic destinations. They don’t disappoint. We easily live their experience vicariously as they savour the glories of Tuscany, Amalfi, Liguria, Rome, and Capri. Michael Winterbottom knew he had struck gold with The Trip and so a shift from the English Lake district to the glories of Italy seemed inevitable. The boys have such a good time wining, dining, and riffing on their experience that it’s almost a crime to call any of this work. Certainly, it doesn’t feel that way for us. Grazie!
This highly acclaimed documentary entertains like a strong mystery, at once unraveling the mystery of a woman we knew nothing about and teasing us with the possibility of even further layers of secrecy. When the director came across some 10,000 photographs taken by the obviously talented Maier, he just had to seek and then tell her story. What is especially appealing here is that Maier was a ‘street’ photographer, taking snaps at ground level of whatever caught her well-focused eye. Working most of her life as a low-paid nanny in Chicago, Maier obviously made a huge impression on the children under her care, and their voices help fill in a portrait of a woman who died alone and virtually unknown in 2009. The film is not only about an enigma but also a study of the cultural value of photography, the art market, and the challenges of being an artist, let alone a female one, in this day and sometimes thankless age. Vivian, we hardly knew you.
Only a film series like ours could get away with showing this superb exploration of life behind the scenes of some 200 performances of Richard III. House of Cards antagonist Kevin Spacey played the role of the dubious king with all the sinister, gnarled morality of a Frank Underwood, and then some. It was a hugely successful tour directed by Sam Mendes and this doc is not about the performance itself but about the performers who schlepped from one country to another to animate the genius of the bard. Treading the boards isn’t as easy as it looks, especially with a limp. Brit critics lamented the film’s in-the-wings focus while North Americans admired the very same exposure. Fact is, it’s hard not to admire Kevin Spacey, regardless. Anyhow, you be the judge and jury of this winter of dis-content.
Acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Mann turns his lens on one of the most admired filmmakers of the last century. ALTMAN is homage to the fifty-year career of the maestro of improvisational directing. Famously fired a whole bunch of times from directing TV shows, Robert Altman eventually struck out on his own in the seventies, beginning with the hilarious anti-war comedy Mash, which won all the world’s prizes, and moving on to Nashville, The Player, Popeye, and many, many more. All are acknowledged in Mann’s smartly directed tribute. Film studies scholars well know what Altman contributed to the medium, notably overlapping dialogue, organic story-telling, and many more devices, techniques and unconventional, anti-Hollywood approaches to capturing the truth of character and experience. A primer on one of the most beloved directors in the American canon, ALTMAN will send you right back to Netflix to catch up on his remarkable repertoire.
No doubt, the world divides between those who admire and those who dislike the films of David Cronenberg. Our view is that he commands attention. He is one of the most intellectual of our filmmakers, a homegrown cineaste who appreciates the potential of a good story weirdly told. We all know Hollywood is a strange environment, an otherworldly playground populated by divas, cokeheads, hustlers, geniuses, and wannabes. The superficial things in life define the culture, as they do the Weiss family at the shaky centre of the film. Julianne Moore possesses the role of a possessed movie actress. The rest of the clan are somewhere between narcissism and solipsism on the behaviour spectrum. It’s dark and humourous in those parts, sure, but typical of Cronenberg’s themes, the film tracks our obsession with the body in all its vulnerable, plastic, decaying forms. No wonder everyone is so anxious in glitter land.