Reviews

Film reviews from theatrical releases, festivals, and retrospectives

The Last Laugh at Hot Docs 2016

When I was 15 years old, I worked at the local movie theatre. One of my coworkers, who wasn’t Jewish, decided he wanted to tell me a joke about Jews. Against my better judgment, I told him to go ahead. “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza?” he asked. I...

League of Exotique Dancers at Hot Docs 2016

Last night, Rama Rau's rousing documentary League of Exotique Dancers opened the 2016 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival with a bang. One of my favourite films of the festival thus far, it's an exhilarating look at the lives of aging icons of...

Blood Glacier Hits Theatres for Sinister Cinema!

Back in September, Marvin Kren’s The Station made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival through Midnight Madness, a programme dedicated to the dark, the twisted, and the horrific in cinema. The atmosphere is that of a community engaged and in love with...

Hot Docs 2014: I Am Big Bird, The Condemned, and Watchers of the Sky.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story Director: Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina Program: Special Presentations Run Time: 85 minutes From Bozo the Clown to Oscar the Grouch, Caroll Spinney has been enriching the lives of adults and children alike for nearly 45 years....

Hot Docs 2014: Opening Night and The First Day

The 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is upon us. North America’s largest Documentary festival is about to take over Toronto, showcasing some of the best documentaries from around the globe at ten venues across our fair city. With over 200...

Bears

Nature is a beautiful thing. Vast and expansive, it is home to thousands of different species. As a child growing up, I was raised with a keen understanding and respect for nature. In spite of vague memories of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Bear, most of that education...

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Marvel universe has been beautifully brought to life, repeatedly. While some adaptations have been more successful than others, Captain America: The First Avenger pleased comic book fans, critics and laymen equally. The homegrown, wholesome as apple pie Americana...

Cinéfranco Francophone International Film Festival Hits Toronto

Cinéfranco, arguably the most significant International Francophone Film Festival in English Canada, has started. Running from March 28th through until April 6th, the Toronto-based film festival showcases the rich diversity of Francophone cinema, in an attempt to help...

Robert Lepage: Possible Worlds at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Dreamscapes and fluid transitions dominate the otherworldly aesthetic of Robert Lepage’s oeuvre. His seamless transitions across time are stunning, while he allows a kind of whimsy to seep through even his bleakest pieces. He’s a transitional master, blending time and...

Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II

At first glance, much of Lars von Trier’s work seems disrespectful, antagonistic, self-aggrandizing, and unapologetically brutish. His latest piece, Nymphomaniac, the nearly 5-hour-long story of a self-professed nymphomaniac, certainly felt this way prior to...

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The highly stylized and ever whimsical Wes Anderson has struck again with his latest gem, The Grand Budapest Hotel. A delectably decadent treat, the film unfolds as a kind of matryoshka nesting doll: a story within a story within a story. Peppered with his usual array...

A Field in England

Ben Wheatley has asserted himself as the new face of avant garde cinema. From Down Terrace’s darkly comedic family crime story in 2009, to 2012’s bleakly hilarious Sightseers, nothing is by-the-book. Wheatley’s latest venture is no exception. Desolate, oddly funny,...

In Fear

The trailer for In Fear, Jeremy Lovering’s feature film debut, is grossly misleading. The tension is palpable, and the terror is real. Elegant, and subtle, it comes across as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. In truth, its premise would be better suited to a short film,...

Like Father, Like Son

The complexities of each individual family unit are boundless. Both child and parent interact in unique ways, forging memories and developing routines. We make plans. We make promises. We form unshakable bonds. But the ties that bind run deeper than blood, and often...

Bettie Page Reveals All

Bettie Page is, to our celebrity-crazed culture, an enigma. “She’s lasted because she has that rare quality that’s hard to define,” raves fashion designer Todd Oldham. “It’s that sort of ultimate star quality,” he adds. Rebecca Romijn regards her as “the most...

Particle Fever

The Large Hadron Collider is one of the greatest scientific achievements in history. Built with the purpose of discovering the Higgs Boson particle – controversially referred to as the God Particle – it is the largest, most complex,and most costly experimental...

Non-Stop

In Liam Neeson’s latest venture as Action Hero, we are presented with Non-Stop. Twisting the whodunit motif with a slew of redherrings, it’s a thrill ride that builds to a fever pitch with delightful treats along the way. Hardly an intellectually stimulating affair,...

Tim’s Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer is regarded as one of the great Baroque painters, along with contemporaries such as Diego Velázquez, and Rembrandt. He’s often considered one of the greatest painters in history. His depiction of light is masterful, incomparable to any of his...

The Wind Rises

A little Japanese boy walks atop the wings of one of Giovanni Caproni’s impossible aircrafts. This dream would be the first of many. “The wind is rising! We must try to live!” A fitting way to start what seems to be master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s final film. The...

Takedown: The DNA of GSP

The UFC is a niche market. While it’s currently at the height of its popularity, it is still niche. Not everyone knows what it’s about, and not everyone cares. Most people look at it and think these are just a bunch of brutish boars, and deny it as a sport. But it is...

The TIFF Next Wave Film Festival: For No Eyes Only

The TIFF Next Wave Film Festival is a small film festival run out of Toronto, and geared towards young adults ages fourteen to eighteen. The panel of judges who select the films are all up and coming filmmakers, film lovers, and critics in their own right. One of this...

At Middleton

A College film for adults, At Middleton is about the complexities of post-graduate life. Though far too heavy handed to be a great film, its performances and sentimental script elevate it above simple mush. It’s sweet and touching, and altogether enjoyable. Two...

That Awkward Moment

That Awkward Moment masquerades as a progressive romantic comedy. One that gives its male characters an ounce of genuine vulnerability, showcases their flaws, and pairs them with empowered, intelligent, and well-written women. In reality, it’s little more than the...

Devil’s Knot

The West Memphis Three have been the subject of several documentaries in recent years. The Paradise Lost trilogy by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky documented the trial of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin, and their eventual release from prison....

Her

We all harbour deep-seeded fears of being alone. Whether we wear that fear on our sleeve, or it only rears its head in our darkest moments, it exists in all of us. As our dependence on technology grows, we’ve attempted to break down barriers of communication. For the...

A Serious Man

The Coen brothers are known for putting their leading men through hell. Predominantly pathetic anti-heroes, whether Barton Fink or The Dude, their success or failure isn’t what interests us nearly as much as the process by which they suffer. Joel and Ethan Coen have...

Antisocial

I'd written Antisocial off from the very beginning. A predictable plot line, horrendous acting, mediocre cinematography, poor soundediting – It had the makings of a truly magnificent pile of crap. Then I hit the 35-minute mark. Antisocial is an exhausted premise with...

Blood in the Snow 2013: Thanatomorphose Review

Thanatomorphose is a French word translating to the visible changes to the body caused by death. Basically, the decomposition of flesh. Éric Falardeau’s feature film debut of the same name is the brutal, bloody, claustrophobic, and relentless portrayal of a young...

Blood in the Snow 2013: Evangeline Review

This year’s Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival opened with Karen Lam’s demonic revenge story Evangeline. While an interesting premise that’s high on style, it winds up losing its way. The muddled plot loses as much focus as the camera does in an attempt to lend...

European Union Film Festival Toronto 2013: Night Boats Review

Love is ageless. This is the message behind Igor Mirkovic’s feature film debut, Night Boats. A tender film, beautifully if simply shot, it offers a diverse image of love. Acted with compassionate care, and written with a deft, at times poetic, hand, Night Boats is...

When Jews Were Funny

I initially saw When Jews Were Funny at TIFF, and wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. On the outside it looked like a failed documentary: one that doesn’t seem to ask the questions it wants to, and winds up bumbling about, mildly aggravating some of its subjects....

Derby Crazy Love

The niche world of roller derby is one that exists below the radar. Having peaked in the late 1970’s with Disco culture, the female dominated sport all but died out. That is, until the early 2000’s. What was once akin to the WWE is now back with a vengeance, and...

RED

Mel Aravena’s bold follow-up to his excellent rendition of Ariel Dorfman’s controversial Death and the Maiden is the John Logan Broadway success Red. Based on the life of Mark Rothko, the play elegantly brings to the foreground the control and abandon prevalent in...

Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée Screenplay:  Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare, and Steve Zahn. MPAA Rating: R Running time: 117 min. A clear Oscar contender, Dallas Buyers Club continues Matthew...

Willow Creek

In the latest venture from former comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, we’re given yet another attempt to recreate The Blair Witch Project. Sadly, you can’t remake lightning in a bottle. Though it manages some moments of genuine tension, it starts too slowly, and ends too...

Evil Feed

Evil Feed makes its intentions known with little hesitation. It’s silly, funny, bombastic and bloody without remorse. Capable of being a no-holds-barred non-stop blood bath of fun vulgarity, it loses much of its power to juvenile production value. The fight scenes are...

Solo

Rudimentarily shot, predictably written, with mediocre performances and painfully stilted dialogue, Solo fails to thrill or scare. The story sets up far too many plot lines, and struggles to keep them together, making most of them irrelevant. Sadly, this was the...

Odd Thomas

Based on the acclaimed Dean Koontz novels of the same name, Odd Thomas, written and directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) is unfortunately flawed. While I haven’t read the books, and can’t attest to its strength as an adaptation, it fails as often...

The Battery

Partially the product of circumstance, The Battery is a low-budget zombie film with nearly no zombies, blood, guts, or action. It’s a slow, seething film that focuses on human interaction at the end of the world, bringing it back to the social and cultural commentary...

Stalled and Septic Man Reviews

Stalled Unfortunately, this aptly titled film lives up to its name. A predominantly one-man show set in a women’s bathroom during the zombie apocalypse, the film feels far more stagnant than startling. No amount of blue zombies or Evil Dead visual cues can save this...

Bounty Killer and Big Ass Spider! Reviews

Bounty Killer Based on a graphic novel of the same name, Bounty Killer leaves its bombastic, cartoonish roots in tact and delivers senseless violence, gallons of blood, and 93 minutes of unapologetic entertainment. The second feature at this year’s festival, it...

We Are What We Are

Horror’s breadth of vision is part of what makes it such a remarkable genre. Straight horror is steadily becoming an increasingly difficult label to affix to a genre film, as they tend to vary drastically in their thematic elements and tonal range. Horrific elements...

The Dirties

The Dirties is one of the most insightful films on bullying in years. Effortlessly acted and directed by newcomer Matthew Johnson, it’s as much about the tragedy of school shootings as it is about the nature of the high school experience. Rather than obsess over the...

Europa Report

Caught between straight science fiction and a monster flick, Europa Report is about a team of scientists sent to one of Jupiter’s moons in search for signs of life. Shot in the found footage style with elements of a documentary film, it hopes to bring our...

TIFF Review: Oculus

Oculus is a supernatural horror that toys with the mind, calling consciousness and autonomy into question. Though chilling and startling, the film feels a little thin. The scares, however, pack quite a punch, and will have you jumping out of your seat. Tim Russell...

TIFF Review: Attila Marcel

The first live-action film from Triplets of Belleville director Sylvain Chomet, Attila Marcel is a captivating story of self-discovery. Bright and whimsical, the film fluctuates between exquisite piano solos and quirky musical numbers. Punctuated with heartbreaking...

TIFF Review: Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier is an interesting documentary. In an effort to peel back the layers of a complicated and elusive figure, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel have sifted through the remnants of Vivian Maier’s life, which are plentiful. Through thousands of photographs...

TIFF Review: The Station

The second film of this year’s Midnight Madness programme was Marvin Kren’s highly anticipated The Station. In a landmark year for the programme – Midnight Madness is celebrating its 25th anniversary – Kren’s film broke another boundary being the first Austrian film...

TIFF Review: All Cheerleaders Die

Starting off Midnight Madness 2013 with a bang was Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson’s All Cheerleaders Die. Resurrected from a video of the same title they made in 2001, the film starts off fast and absurd. Progressively quickening its pace and sharpening its wit, our...

Big Bad Wolves

This is my first time seeing the trailer for Tribeca Film Festival hit Big Bad Wolves. From visionary Israeli horror directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (Rabies and the upcoming ABC's of Death 2) comes the...

Before Midnight

Like so many of you, I’ve been waiting seven years for the third installment of Richard  Linklater’s Before series. A project that has progressively become the baby of Julie Delpie and Ethan Hawke, it reaches its age of maturity here with a well-balanced and realistic...

The Purge

The year is 2022. Crime rates are at an all-time low, and poverty is virtually non-existent. The reason for this harmonious existence is The Purge; the one night a year that all bets are off. All emergency response teams are shut down. The police can’t help you. The...

#35 – The English Patient (1996)

Beautifully shot over sweeping landscapes, The English Patient is a poetic adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel of the same name. While I haven’t read the book, it seems you don’t need to in order to appreciate the film. It’s all past and present melding together in...

#34 – To Sir With Love (1976)

Significantly lighter fare, To Sir, With Love is, well … lovely. Though hugely sentimental and entirely unrealistic, its success is owed prominently to Sidney Poitier’s magnificent performance. In fact, it seems he was the reason it succeeded so astoundingly in the...

#33 – Midnight Express (1978)

 Effective, if a little dated, Midnight Express wasn’t nearly the horror story I was expecting. Being told it’d make me petrified of travelling abroad, I was anxious going into it. I almost wanted to be horrified. I was expecting to be challenged. Instead, though...

Much Ado About Nothing – My Review from TIFF ’12

As many of his fans know, Joss Whedon leaves a recognizable mark on everything he touches. Much Ado About Nothing is no exception, adding a signature sense of humor and a fitting weight to an otherwise lighthearted Shakespearean comedy of manners. The film radiates...

Here Comes the Devil – My Review from TIFF ’12

Often overlooked or written off, horror movies tend to get a bad reputation outside of their niche audience. Every once in a while, though, a film comes along that embraces the genre’s best elements making it more accessible to the masses. Part of the Vanguard...

The Lords of Salem – My Review from TIFF ’12

It seems that Rob Zombie has hit his creative stride as a writer and director with his fifth feature-length film, The Lords of Salem. Lush, haunting, and delightfully kitschy, he’s collaborated with a string of iconic cult actors to bring us his personal Rosemary’s...

90 Minutes – My Review from TIFF ’12

There isn’t much that can be said about Eva Sørhaug’s remarkable 90 Minutes without ruining its impact. A shockingly powerful film about the final 90 minutes in a person’s life, focusing on domestic abuse, it’s full of difficult subject matter and challenging imagery....

Frances Ha – My Review from TIFF ’12

The story of a hopelessly undateable young woman on her way out of her twenties, Frances Ha embodies a strange combination of Woody Allen neuroses, Seinfeld plot points, and a whole lot of heart to create what was an excellent opener to the festival, for me. Noah...

#32 – In Bruges (2008)

The first thing that threw me about In Bruges was the somber tone. That much I was not expecting. But leave it to Collin Farrell to change that by saying you’d have to be retarded to enjoy Bruges, and insulting a rotund American family. That got the ball rolling. When...

#31 – American Graffiti (1973)

I watched this months ago, on a whim, and for some reason never wrote about it. I think I was distracted from watching it so many times in a row. It’s its own fault, really - it had to go and blow my mind away with delight. Between the soundtrack (I have a soft spot...

#30 – An Affair to Remember (1957)

I’ve seen Sleepless in Seattle (1993) about a million times. Until now, I hadn’t seen its inspiration. Now that I have, unfortunately, it just doesn’t resonate. Do you ever feel as if you’ve watched or experienced something too old for it to leave that indelible...

#29 – Jerry Maguire (1996)

  I was doomed to be disappointed by Jerry Maguire (1996). Possibly one of the most over-hyped films on my list, it features two stunning, if poorly written leads (Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger), a deliriously cute, if misused, child actor (Jonathan Lipnicki),...

#28 – Revolutionary Road (2008)

Once in a blue moon, I’ll read the source material for a film before seeing the film itself.  Just the other day, on the plane back from Barcelona, I finished Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, fighting back tears, and wrestling against sobs. It was so exquisitely...

#27 – Dazed and Confused (1993)

I’ll start off with the truth - this didn’t do much for me. I wanted it to. I love Richard Linklater - Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are two of my favorite movies. But Dazed just didn’t do it for me. Though I get why it has such a cult following. Like Fast Times at...

#26 – In the Mood for Love (2000)

Beginning alone, two solitary entities drifting in a sea of loneliness, Su Li-zhen Chan and Chow Mo-wan were little more than specters. Suspecting an affair, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan begin a friendship of their own, and steadily fall in love. Their absentee spouses...

#25 – Tootsie (1982)

I have vivid memories of watching trailers for Tootsie as a child. Usually in those Columbia Pictures montages that ran before a film on VHS. That was my limited exposure to this Dustin Hoffman drag show … until now. I’m glad it was. I went into this mostly blind, and...

#24 – The Last Picture Show (1971)

I went into this film with minimal knowledge, save for basic details regarding plot. I’ve come out of it thinking it’s the best coming-of-age drama I’ve ever seen – a difficult statement to make, as I adore Stand By Me (1986). The problem with films such as Stand By...

#23 – It Happened One Night (1934)

Like All About Eve and The Philadelphia Story before it, It Happened One Night has me smitten. Quick witted, fast-paced dialogue combined with charming performances make an otherwise conventional romantic comedy a joy to watch. The plot is predictable and transparent,...

#22 – The End of the Affair (1999)

The End of the Affair didn’t do it for me. There’s no other way to say it - in my eyes, it fell flat. Stellar actors didn’t help an otherwise passionate story of love, loss and obsession. And who do I blame? Gossip Girl. Motherfuckers. If I’ve ever said I have no...

#21 – Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven is a film I grew up around, but never watched. My father talked about it all the time. When I told my brother I’d never seen it, let alone Dad, there was stunned disbelief. It’s always been there, hovering like this thing you’re expected to do at some...

#20 – Zelig (1983)

In my attempts at self-education, and knowing full-well my mild obsession with Woody Allen, I’ve decided to have a secondary offshoot to some of the most iconic films of all time: a Woody offshoot. Welcome to the Woody Allen Earning My Stripes as a Cinephile! … It’s a...

#19 – Radio Days (1987)

I’m a nostalgic, sentimental person by nature. I’m a sap, really. However, I’m of the mindset that if a film uses sentiment and nostalgia as a crutch to distract from a lack of substance, it’s a failure. There are exceptions to every rule, and Radio Days (1987) is one...

#18 – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Before The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was released in 2007 I had followed much of the production news surrounding it. I didn’t know a lot about it, but I had watched the trailer on repeat about 15 times, and knew that I had to see it upon its release. As is the...

August: Osage County

The newest trailer is out for August: Osage County, the cinematic adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play by Tracy Letts. The star-studded cast includes powerhouse Meryl Streep,...

#17 – The Great Dictator (1940)

When it comes to Charlie Chaplin I am far from an expert. In fact, I know very little about him and his work (I spent a bit too much time obsessing over Buster Keaton to give Chaplin his just deserved attention). I’ve seen the odd Little Tramp short in some of my film...

#16 – 12 Monkeys (1995)

I have vivid memories of Brad Pitt’s insane rants as Jeffery Goines from when I was a child. I’d never watched all of 12 Monkeys, but when I was about 8-years-old my brother loved it. This was one of the few movies he exposed me to at a very young age (and although I...

#15 – Duck Soup (1933)

I must begin with a slightly embarrassing statement of fact: until now, I had never seen even a clip of anything done by the Marx Brothers. Not even the scene with Harpo and Lucile Ball from I Love Lucy (though I clearly know of its existence). That being said, a lot...

#14 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Now this is my kind of old school romantic comedy! Not that the two can really be compared, but I’ve always preferred Katharine to Audrey Hepburn. No relation, and therefore no real grounds for comparison (it’d be like comparing Spencer Tracey to Kevin Spacey, the...

#13 – Roman Holiday (1953)

I’ve never been particularly fond of Audrey Hepburn, or her films. She’s cute, lovely to watch on screen, but I find her a bit too dainty and delicate for my tastes. Perhaps I’ve simply not seen the right films to think higher of her as an actress.Roman Holiday I...

#12 – The Apartment (1960)

In the mood for lighter fare today I opted for one of the few romantic comedies on my list of things to see. I was surprised when it quickly dove headfirst into issues of adultery, debauchery, depression, misogyny and suicide attempts. All in a days work in the late...

#11 – A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind falls into one of those categories on my list of things to see that most people I know have often let out an exasperated “Really?? You haven’t seen this yet??” when they find out it’s even ON my list (not dissimilar to that period of nearly seven...

#10 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Quite like Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby is one of those movies that transcends the term “iconic”. I’ve known its premise since I was a child, and I believe I may have even seen it when I was quite young. In my mind, I might as well have never laid eyes on it. When first...

#9 – Carrie (1976)

I have come to the realization that along this “journey”, if you will, to educate myself, I’m going to run into movies that are iconic. So much so that everyone knows just about everything about them without having seen them. This is to the degree that the full impact...

#8 – The Thing (1981)

It’s been nearly (or just about) a month since my last post, and nearly two months since my last Earning My Stripes post. As it is Halloween weekend, what better way to resume my practice than by exploring one of the horror films on my list? I’ve now finally...

#7 – Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

The beautiful thing about Once Upon a Time in the West is, in fact, it’s beauty. It’s a fairly simple story, not much density to it. It’s not a very meaty plot, shall we say. Then again, not many Westerns are or ever were. It’s the execution that’s key, and here...

#6 – Blade Runner (1982)

There’s a lot that can be said about Blade Runner. “No shit!” you’re probably thinking, as it’s been voted one of the best films of all time on multiple occasions. That being said, it’s clearly a highly discussed film. It’s not nearly as close to the “source...

#5 – Mystic River (2003)

The next film in my attempt at self-education is Mystic River (2003), based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, and directed by the one and only Clint Eastwood. I knew very little about it going in, save for the fact that ***SPOILER ALERT*** Sean Penn’s daughter gets...

#4 – Amélie (2001)

I know I said that this project was about watching movies that I hadn’t seen before, but I think an amendment must be made. Woody Allen, when asked if he believed more in learning by oneself as opposed to in school, once said: Absolutely. It’s socratic. It enters...

#3 – Vertigo (1958)

Be warned! If you, like me, have avoided seeing this film (SHAME!), there may be spoilers ahead! Going into Vertigo I knew … well, absolutely nothing. Shocking, and a little shameful, I know. All I knew was that it starred Jimmy Stewart, and had elements of the...

#2 – All About Eve (1950)

Starring the incomparable Bette Davis, All About Eve is an interesting and thoughtful critique of female stardom, and a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of obsession. I was in love from start to finish. Full of dense, complex characters, Joseph L Mankiewicz has...

#1 – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

In this attempt to fill as many of the gaps in my cinematic knowledge as possible, I’ve started with David Lean’s 1957 classic The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness, William Holden and Sessue Hayakawa. I couldn’t tell you why I decided to start here, of...