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Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

No, it’s not Monster Truck Madness at the Tacoma Dome. It’s something far more dirty and overinflated. But also, for a movie nerd like me, a lot more fun.

It’s Oscars time, y’all.

The yearly tradition where everyone and their half-brother gets to pretend like they know anything about movies and complain how Iron Man 3 was clearly the best movie they saw out of the three movies they saw last year and what the hell is Her anyway? I didn’t see any commercials on TV for them. What a load of crap.

They sure are, but I enjoy them, and I also enjoy complaining about them too, so I get it. Complain away you strangers of the cinema who for some reason still watch the Academy Awards every year. Shine on.

Does none of this make any cohesive sense? No? Who cares, it’s the Oscars!

So every year I tend to write this little preview to weigh in on what I think will win, should win and should have been nominated at the Oscars.

We all know they are but one test of the best movies of the year, and a highly flawed one at that. Both huge commercial successes and mass critical darlings tend to get left out, though occasionally those worlds converge. None of my Top 5 Films of 2013 are nominated for Best Picture, and many other critics could say the same.

That being said, it’s a pretty good crop this year. I don’t absolutely loath any of the Best Picture nominees, so that says something. There’s no War Horse, no The Help, no Les Miserables.

Let’s just get to it shall we.

Here we go:

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Will: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley) – Getting over the fact that Before Midnight is not an adapted screenplay (which I never will), this is a category where I think the early overall favourite in the Oscar race is going to take it. 12 Years a Slave managed to build a magnificent movie out of what I hear is some pretty sparse source material. The movie’s power is in its performances, direction and music, but the story itself is also meticulously and expertly constructed.

Should: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hunt) – I would have zero problem with 12 Years a Slave winning, but if I had my way Before Midnight, my favourite movie of 2013, would receive some love in the only category it is nominated in. Even if it doesn’t belong in that category. It’s a film of words, magnificent words which hold so many insights about life and love in them, while seeming so natural and effortless. Linklater and his actors did a wonderful job constructing them and wouldn’t it be nice to see them recognized.

Missed: I have no strong opinion over a missed opportunity in this category. Sorry.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

Will: American Hustle (Eric Singer and David O. Russell) – This year’s race towards Oscar love appears to be a three-way split between Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, so one of the keys to figuring out your predictions is figuring out which of those will take the top categories. I don’t think it will be American Hustle, hence why I think it will receive love here. It’s a popular movie with lots of support, and its screenplay is full of colourful, interesting characters and scenarios. Why not?

Should: Nebraska (Bob Nelson) – When it comes to film writing I’m a person who appreciates subtlety and silence. Nebraska is rather broad in its comic appeal, but its characters are perfectly balanced against its setting and tone. It’s a film which rises from its script. It would be a well deserved win.

Missed: Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen) – I may become a broken record here, but I love Inside Llewyn Davis more every time I think about it, and its screenplay is a big reason. Rich characters, biting dialogue. An unfortunate snub by the Academy.

Best Documentary Feature

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Will: The Act of Killing – I’m willing to admit I could be very well wrong about this one. The race seems to be between the popular favourite (20 Feet From Stardom) and the critical favourite (The Act of Killing). It may be just that I’m plugged into the critical world a bit too much, but there has been so much talk about how outstanding The Act of Killing is as a doc, and it truly is, that I can’t imagine it not winning. Only, well, I can.

Should: The Act of Killing – I have never seen a doc quite like The Act of Killing, and I mean that in a good way. I must admit docs are not my first love in cinema, so to see one break away from the form I often find holding them back was inspiring to see. It’s a great film, and deserves to win.

Missing: Stories We Tell – This is my most anger-inducing missed opportunity by the Academy. Maybe it’s the combination of being a film lover and a Canadian, but Sarah Polley’s doc not being nominated makes my blood boil. It made my best of the year list, is another doc which really stretches the form, and manages to make non-fiction incredibly personal, while managing to say so much about the nature of truth, family and storytelling. #$@( you, Academy.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will: The Great Beauty (Italy) – This is a close race, but The Great Beauty seems to be the favourite, what with the Golden Globes win and all. It’s a little bit on the abstract side for the Academy though (which is to say it’s ever-so-slightly abstract), whereas The Broken Circle Breakdown or The Hunt might appeal more as straightforward story-driven narratives. Nonetheless, The Great Beauty has been very well received by all, so I think it will take the award.

Should: Tie: The Great Beauty and The Broken Circle Breakdown – I saw The Great Beauty recently and I loved so much about it, but did feel it dragged in the middle and covered the familiar ground of a rich, aging white man all of a sudden discovering there is more to life than money and power. All the same, it is a beautifully wrought movie, especially in its depiction of it’s true main character: Italy. So really, I’m split. I also really enjoyed The Broken Circle Breakdown, especially the music, but found that too got bogged down, only in melodrama. Both are basically wonderful movies though, I would be happy to see either win.

Missed: I have no strong opinions in this category for what was missed. But I did rather enjoy a French film called Grand Central I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival which I really haven’t heard anything about since. I’m not sure what its release history is, but the film, starring Tahar Rahim (The Prophet) and Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), is a captivating look at a romantic triangle which arises among a group of nuclear power plant workers. Keep an eye out for it.

Best Animated Feature Film

I honestly don’t really pay much attention to this category and haven’t seen any of the nominees. Frozen will probably win and The Wind Rises probably should win. That’s all I have. Animation ain’t really my thing, especially the Disney-fied animation the Oscars tend to focus on.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Will: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) – For all the work Hollywood still has to do to include well-rounded LGBT characters in mainstream movies, Oscar sure does love a sick gay guy played by a straight guy (Tom Hanks, Sean Penn). And while that may sound glib, and it is, it could be worse. And Jared Leto is impressive as a transexual AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club, getting into the role with his usual dedication and depth.

Should: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) – I would support most of the actors in his category (except maybe Bradley Cooper), but I think Fassbender put in a marvellous, largely underrated turn in 12 Years a Slave which helped the film articulate its point of how slavery hurts everyone. He is a vile, tormented man, with demons his own way of life stokes. It’s a searing, ravaged performance.

Missed: James Franco (Spring Breakers) – Oh come on, how cool would that have been to see Franco’s bizarre yet infinitely engaging performance as Florida scumbag Alien nominated for an Oscar? He could hoist the statue and tell the audience to look at his sheeyit.

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Will:  Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – I said June Squibb on the CinemaSpiel podcast I’m a part of, but now, with further reflection (and Google searches) I believe the award will go to Nyong’o for her brave performance in 12 Years a Slave. For one thing, I think voters will feel guilty for not giving any of the other marvelous performances from that film awards and, for another, she deserves it. Jennifer Lawrence is a contender for American Hustle, but she won last year and Oscar don’t play like that.

Should: June Squibb (Nebraska) – I will be cheering if Nyong’o wins, but I loved Squibb as the delightfully foul-mouthed matriarch of the quirky family of Nebraska. She gets the tone just right, and it’s a fun, charming performance. It’s a heavy year for Oscars, be nice to see a comedy get some love here.

Missed: Scarlett Johansson (Her) – I didn’t love this film as much as others did, but Johansson turned in an extremely impressive performance, considering we never actually see her. As the voice of a personal operating system who falls in love with her owner, Johansson hits all the right notes, capturing all of the longing, confusion and disappointment of love all in her voice.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Will: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) – Another strong performance from a film I liked but didn’t love which will see success come Oscar night. McConaughey is picking up all the right hardware on the road to Oscar glory and is the talk of town ever since he reinvented himself as a dark, intense character actor. He is great as AIDS patient/medication smuggler Ron Woodroof and people love them some McConaughey, so it’s all but sewed up here.

Should: Bruce Dern (Nebraska) – I’m extremely split over whether I’d like to see Dern or Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave win, but I’m a fan of comebacks and it is just so good to see Dern getting some late career recognition that I can’t help pulling for him. Nobody has played a quiet, grunting, curmudgeonly old man better.

Missed: Robert Redford (All Is Lost) – Another category where Inside Llewyn Davis could have got some love for Oscar Isaac, but I’m a fan of the strong, silent performance, and none was better than Redford in the largely dialogue-free All Is Lost. He manages to elicit all the survival, fight-for-life sympathy Sandra Bullock does in Gravity, only without the cheesy backstory and overinflated dialogue. Now that’s a performance.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Will: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – Another seemingly locked up category, Blanchett will win for her turn as a mentally-strained divorce survivor in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. The film isn’t great as a whole, but her performance is what holds it all together. Allen is buried in controversy right now, but Blanchett’s performance speaks for itself and she will win on her talent alone.

Should: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – I don’t disagree with anything I said above. While I wish I had an actress to root for in a film I loved, this will do.

Missed: Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) – Delpy is a force to be reckoned with in Before Midnight. Sweet, smart, passionate, sexy, fierce, confused and outraged, Delpy passes through all these modes with talent and intense commitment. Anyone who can perform a nude scene like the one in Before Midnight is an actress worth her weight in Oscar gold.

Best Director

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Will: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) – People be lovin’ some Gravity, am I right? While I’m not one of them I can objectively see the wave of support this film is getting and while its performances were (rightly so) left out of contention, Cuaron’s use of dazzling special effects will be honoured here. It’s one hell of a film to look at, I must admit, it’s just too bad it’s not as impressive to actually watch. Nonetheless, this is the one to beat.

Should: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) – I’m sorry, y’all, but I feel like the lone wolf who didn’t fall in love with Gravity, and I don’t believe grandeur for its own sake should win a Best Director Oscar. It deserves every technical award it will surely win, but when it comes to the direction of its actors, I found Gravity to be disappointingly heavy handed. 12 Years a Slave, on the other hand, manages to take already heavy material and find effectively subtle ways to get it under your skin. From the long-shot of the hanging, to the power and grace of the graveside singing, 12 Years a Slave goes for both the head and the heart and hits every note just right.

Missed: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) – Here we are again, but Joel and Ethan Coen are at their best when tackling understated tales of doomed characters living in flabbergasting worlds, as in A Serious Man, and here with Inside Llewyn Davis, one of their best movies. The use of colour, music, pacing and tone are exquisite and the film as a whole is a worm burner of a masterpiece.

Best Picture

Will: 12 Years a Slave – You never know, Gravity may just split the difference between 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle and take the win, but I think the Academy is going to go with the early favourite this year, after last year’s momentum winner (Argo over Lincoln). Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but love for American Hustle seems to have lost steam and the Academy still typically loves drama over pure entertainment, so 12 Years a Slave will inch out a win.

Should: 12 Years a Slave – For once, I agree. 12 Years a Slave is a rare picture which manages to be Oscar bait, due to its heavy, American-historical content, but is also marvellously made, with stunning performances, one heck of a story and the impressive vision of director Steve McQueen. This is the black history film America has been in need of, and it deserves all the accolades it gets.

Missed: Inside Llewyn Davis – Broken record much? I’ve said it all already: I loved this movie, critics loved this movie, it deserved a nomination at least, over Gravity, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Phillips, in my occasionally humble opinion. Like I said, I don’t detest any of the nominees this year, but Davis is such a strong picture, it would have just made this category all the more impressive. Before Midnight, too.

So there you go. In other news, look for Gravity to sweep up technical awards and a bunch of films we’ve never heard of, even if sadly so, for short films. Oh, and dresses and stuff, whatever. The main point is: have fun.

Look for me on Twitter @CineFileBlog to get into some live reactions to the awards this Sunday night (March 2) at 4 p.m. (that might be red carpet stuff, I’m not sure).

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Well Victoria, B.C. film fans, it’s that time of the year again. The main event. The big show. The Run for the Roses. Film festival.

While it’s not the biggest or most important film festival going, VFF is nonetheless high in quality. It’s generally too early in the year and too small to premier anything, but organizers do an excellent job of bringing together some of the finest features from the previous year’s festival circuit, giving us all a chance to catch up, look ahead and enjoy some of the world’s finest.

Plus with an amazing slate of guest speakers, documentaries, short films and limited release movies which otherwise would never be screened theatrically here, it’s not to be missed.

But time is money, am I right? So what to see, what to see?

For those of you looking for a little guidance as to what’s worthy and what’s worth missing, here are my humble picks for 10 films to make the effort to go see over the festival’s nine days. Keep in mind I’m more partial to narratives than docs, and that I haven’t actually seen any of these. I will, however, explain why each has me excited.

In alphabetical order:

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A Field in England (2013), directed by Ben Wheatley

Why: Mainly because Wheatley is a name to watch in UK cinema for original, edgy and slightly crazy movies, especially 2011 horror flick Kill List and 2012’s Sightseers (which I haven’t seen yet). The film itself is a historical thriller, shot in black-and-white and set during the English Civil War, but it promises to be anything but dry or “normal.” It was well received in Europe and has played at only a few North American festivals, including Vancouver.

 

The Congress (2013), directed by Ari Folman

Why: Again this choice (as many will be) is based on the strength of the director, whose previous film, Waltz With Bashir, was one of the most inventive and engaging animated films in recent years. With his second major release, Folman is returning to animation, this time with a meta-level actors-playing-themselves-type affair which looks equal parts inventive and mesmerizing. Not yet released beyond the festival circuit, this is one not to be missed.

 

Devil’s Knot (2013), directed by Atom Egoyan

Why: While Devil’s Knot has had a limited release, including a run in Vancouver, this will be the first chance to see it in Victoria (before the Americans no less) and, most importantly, presented by the director himself at his speaker series on Saturday. Even if you can’t make the special event, the film, starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, a crime thriller based on the West Memphis Three case in the States (also the subject of the Paradise Lost series of documentaries and West of Memphis), looks dark and riveting. Victoria-raised director Egoyan is one of Canada’s greatest filmmakers and if his last feature, Chloe, is anything to go by he is still at the top of his game.

 

Empire of Dirt (2013), directed by Peter Stebbings

Why: The Canadian Gala choice this year is a film about three generations of First Nations women dealing with the past and their relationships to each other. Written by Cree screenwriter Shannon Masters, the film got notice at Toronto’s film festival and unless you’re tired of all the movies centred around First Nations women (sarcasm), this Canadian feature sounds like a breath of fresh air.

 

Enemy (2013), directed by Denis Villeneuve

Why: Because Villeneuve (Incendies, Polytechnique) is the most interesting and talented Canadian filmmaker working today. Because his partnering with Jake Gyllenhaal is worth getting excited about, if last year’s Prisoners is any indication. Because the plot, centring around a man seeking out his exact double after seeing him in a movie (with both roles played by Gyllenhaal) sounds like a lot of fun. And because you’ll get to see it before the rest of Canada does on March 14.

 

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Sarah Prefers to Run (2013), directed by Chloe Robichaud

Why: Part of the festival’s commendable Women in the Director’s Chair series, this French-Canadian film looks like a delightful coming-of-age type film about a young female runner. Robichaud’s feature film debut has played in Quebec, but this is one of its first forays outside of the belle province into our Anglo world.

 

The Selfish Giant (2013), directed by Clio Barnard

Why: This UK film got a lot of notice on last year’s festival circuit and made the cut on more than a few best of the year lists, including that of prestigious British film magazine Sight and Sound. The film follows two English youth who get caught up in the criminal world of scrap metal dealing. The film looks heavy, but powerful. And hey, another female director being featured is always a good thing.

 

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Stranger by the Lake (2013), directed by Alain Guiraudie

Another Sight and Sound pick for one of the best of the year, Stranger by the Lake is getting massive amounts of critical praise and has a good chance of making some North American lists this time next year, having just had a limited release here. This film, an erotic thriller about a summer tryst between two men in France, is worth seeing based on early reception alone.

 

Tide Lines (2014), directed by Andrew Naysmith

Why: Because you gotta support the hometown folks, you know? This is the only full-fledged local feature film of the festival, and it looks like a good one, following two Victoria brothers over three years as they sail the world to surf and spread the word about environmental issues related to beaches. So it’s got that whole environmental doc thing going on, which seems to be what people like. I might like this one too.

 

Young and Beautiful (2013), directed by Francois Ozon

Why: What’s a film festival without at least one erotic French movie? And with respected director Ozon (In the House, Swimming Pool) at the helm, this one, about a teenage prostitute, looks particularly captivating, if the critical acclaim and Palme d’Or nomination are anything to go by. And if the trailer is anything to go by, it also looks scintillating and thought provoking.

 

Also of interest: Alan Partridge; Big Sur; Cas and Dylan; Finding Vivian Maier; Il Futuro; Like Father Like Son; Me and You; Our Man in Tehran; Siddharth; Strange Little Cat and The Stag.

PS: Oscar nominated documentary The Square is also playing at the festival. But it’s also on Netflix. So if you’re making some hard decisions on what to see and what will have to be missed, well, that’s something worth knowing. Just saying.

So there you go folks, I’ll see you at the festival. Come say hi. I’ll also be doing capsule reviews throughout the festival online for Monday Magazine and here at CineFileBlog. For updates follow me on Twitter @CineFileBlog.

CineFile’s Top 10 Films of 2013

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And what a year it has been.

I probably spent more time in cinemas and saw more movies this year than any other before. My friends and family knew not to bug me Tuesday nights because I would be in the theatre for cheap night. At least a couple of other nights of the week I was likely at promo screenings. I went to two film festivals, using my holiday time for one. Some might call it a lack of a social life, but I call it devotion and integrity. I knew at the end of the year I was going to have to write a list of best movies for the people and that I would be held accountable. Imagine the pressure.

That being said there’s still a number of movies I haven’t had a chance to see, mainly due to limited releases being hard to track down in Victoria. Highly praised movies I’ve thus far missed out on include: Blue is the Warmest Colour, Short Term 12, The Act of Killing, Her, The Great Beauty and others.

Those I did see, and there were many, helped convince me 2013 has been an extraordinary year for film. Sure it was a lousy Summer Movie Season but the number and variety of impressive films this year has been staggering. This is the first year in many where I believe every film on my list to be truly great.

Anywho, off we go:

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10. Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne

For a year full of movies about excess (an excessive amount, some might say) the strong, silent and quietly hilarious Nebraska was a welcome break. A great late-career performance from Bruce Dern and a wonderfully colourful supporting cast helped Alexander Payne tell this heartwarming, but never sappy, tale of a father/son road trip, small town quirks, one hell of a good punch to the face and one million dollars. Actually, now I think about it, Nebraska is sort of the Spring Breakers for mid-western Americans over 80.

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9. The World’s End, directed by Edgar Wright

Among disappointing blockbuster summer fair (Man of Steel, Elysium) actually came some great mid-budget entries, including this third film in Edgar Wright’s so-called Blood and Ice Cream, following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The third turned out to be the best, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost out to conquer a 12-pub crawl and a force bent on taking over the world. Fast-talking Pegg is a wonder to watch and the movie as a whole is wonderfully silly, well written and full of laughs.

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8. The Conjuring, directed by James Wan

James Wan’s The Conjuring is about as good as a mainstream Hollywood horror movie can get and holds the distinction of  being one of the few I wondered if I would be able to get through. Its set up is simple, but its pace is unrelenting, taking the house of horrors trope to new, frightening levels. This isn’t a bump in the night, this is an explosion, full of gripping tension and horrific sights. In other words, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

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7. The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese

Ah yes, the most divisive film of December, if not the year. Is Martin Scorsese’s three-hour, hell-bent-for-leather opus of drugs and Wall Street scamming in the 1990s a brilliant satire or a deplorable celebration of depravity? Can’t it be both? The power of this astounding film is in both its epic, ridiculous, mind-numbing scale and its resistance to assign blame. Yes, it’s more entertaining than it has any right to be,  leaving viewers with a ‘what did I do?’ type hangover, but in so being the film raises questions of how much our own American Dream culture, and therefore ourselves, promotes and props up wolves like Jordan Belfort, who is now developing a reality TV show. You decide.

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6. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen

2013 was a big year for movies about the struggles of African-Americans, with three major releases, including the commendable Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Fruitvale Station. But the best of the bunch came from British director Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger), whose no-holds-barred look at the soul-crushing depravity of slavery made for one of the most powerful films of the year. Featuring a staggering performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave isn’t a film I particularly want to see again, but it’s one everyone should see once.

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5. Stories We Tell, directed by Sarah Polley

Technically a 2012 release in Canada, Stories We Tell is Oscar eligible for 2013 and I didn’t have a chance to see it until this year, so I’m counting it. We already knew Sarah Polley as a great narrative director (Away From Her, Take This Waltz) but with this fascinating and touchingly personal documentary on her only family secrets she proved even more her capacity for thoughtful, inspired takes on what it means to be human. In turns funny, thought provoking and compelling.

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4. Stoker, directed by Chan-wook Park

I love me a seedy little Hitchockian crime movie, and Chan-wook Park put out one of the best since, well, Hitchcock, with Stoker. Beautifully filmed but a nasty bit of work all the same, Stoker is a captivating watch, one part film noir, one part erotic coming-of-age tale, all parts engrossing, filled with lovely cinematic flourishes and knock-out performances from Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman.

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3. Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen Brothers

The Coen Brothers are, rightly so, rated highly amongst contemporary directors, and in my opinion they’re never better than when making simple, character-driven tone pieces of hard-luck souls trying to navigate a baffling world. A Serious Man is perhaps the best example, and Inside Llewyn Davis follows a similar path. Davis is a great film for its performances, especially Oscar Issac, for its music and for Ulysees the cat, but mainly for the grace and patient, puzzling beauty the Coens bathe it all in.

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2. Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine

I must say I thoroughly enjoyed thinking of all the teens and tweens unknowingly lining up to see the new Selena Gomez movie Spring Breakers, totally unaware of the nightmarish, dubstep drenched vision of youthful decadence Harmony Korine had lined up for them. Some mistook the film for vapid exploitation, but I have trouble understanding how anyone could see Spring Breakers as anything other than an intense, troubling, invigorating piece of confrontational art, and the most modern film of the year.

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1. Before Midnight, directed by Richard Linklater

How lovely that the best film of the year also be one of the simplest. The third film in the Richard Linklater/Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy Before… trilogy, turned out to be the best, a loving portrait of a committed couple working through the complexities of romance and life. It is a film of conversations, primarily between two people, but in its maturity and honesty the movie finds beauty, depth and, of course, a love truly invigorating to watch. An inspiring use of cinema.

Worst Movie of 2013:

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Tie: The Hangover Pt. III and A Good Day to Die Hard

Even in an amazing year for movies, some, er, crap still managed to rise to the surface. These two films proved to be the absolute low points in their respective genres: the third Hangover film being a comedy with no jokes, unless a swearing Korean man and a decapitated giraffe are your thing, and the fifth Die Hard movie being an action movie with completely indecipherable action and only the worst in genre cliches. These films are the pinnacle of Hollywood driving once great ideas into the absolute ground.

Well there we go folks, another year down the hatch. I’d say we should meet up soon, but I’ll probably be at the movies.

The Burning

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The Burning (1981), directed by Tony Maylam

Nowadays when people talk about slasher movies they speak about them as silly, formulaic nonsense for naive movie audiences of the 1980s.

We can thank Scream and Cabin in the Woods for this attitude, among others.

While I don’t mind a new take on slashers, when you get down to watching an original, earnest one you begin to realize what made them popular in the first place, before they got self-consciously silly and aware.

Sure, a lot of people never liked them, finding them lurid and worthless. Most famously, Roger Ebert despised them, believing they appealed to the worst in us while offering no cinematic joys.

Well, sorry Roger, but I for one rather enjoy a well made slasher film. The first two Friday the 13th movies, for instance, are great fun to watch, and have some legitimate scares (Tween Jason coming out of the lake? Come on.), and of course Halloween is one of the all time great horror movies.

The Burning is another classic slasher film from the year of the slasher, 1981 (The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th Pt. 2, Halloween 2). This is before Michael Myers turned into a joke, before Freddy Krueger started making one-liners before every kill and before Jason Voorhees went to space.

There’s a certain mindless candy fun to a well made, earnest slasher film and this honestly has to be one of the best. Sure, it’s a clear cash-in on the success of Friday the 13th, which came out the year before. It has a similar setup, what with the summer camp setting and the psycho getting revenge on the camp counsellors plot, but in some ways it’s a little more straight forward.

For one thing I really enjoyed how the killer in this one is clearly human and clearly still alive. It’s not the classic he disappears for years and then he’s back and is he a ghost or a zombie or a mutant or what?!

In The Burning he’s clearly a human, albeit a badly burned one. It’s great how you get to see this guy recover and go through terrible rehabilitation and all the consequences of what the teens did.

For one thing, you end up sympathizing with him. It was pretty awful to burn him like that. I’d be pissed too. I’d like to think I’d take a different route to retribution, perhaps the courts, but at the same time I’d probably at least think a little bit about picking up those garden shears over there and taking it into my own hands.

So even though, like most slashers, part of you is rooting for the killer, in this case you have a pretty decent reason to.

But the camp kids are fairly personable too, even if they have some serious problems around camp safety. I’m not camp specialist but leaving children unsupervised for the purposes of running off to have sex in the woods is surely against some sort of rule. But it seems reasonable that that kind of things do happen.

And then there’s the one creepy kid who likes watching people have sex. He’s an interesting character. It’s funny how most of them just write it off as some quirk of his. “Oh Alfred.”

The cast also has a young George Costanza, er, Jason Alexander, proving that, yes, he once did have hair, and that, yes, he has always played annoying loudmouths.

Holly Hunter is also in it in her first role, but I have to admit I didn’t spot her. So there you have it.

And the ending is epically fantastic and overkill, literally. You know this mf isn’t coming back anytime soon.

So listen. I liked The Burning a great deal. It had a classsic setup, some gnarly kills, a real good pace and tone to it, some great effects and mostly enjoyable characters. If someone is ever looking for a straight up, original slasher movie I think this is the one I would send them to. Maybe Friday the 13th Pt. 2.

The Burning is available on home video formats.

PS Sorry about the shortage of Horror Pledge 2013 entries. I do this all out of passion on the side of my desk and unfortunately the front of my desk has kept me rather occupied lately. Plus I’m getting ready to go to this camp on some lake. This old dude at a gas station warned me not to go, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.

[REC]

REC

[REC] (2007), directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza

Maybe I’m jaded folks.

Maybe in the six years since the release of [REC] I’ve just seen too many found footage horror movies to give a damn anymore. People were excited when this movie came out and it still gets talked about as one of the better modern horror movies.

With great respect, I disagree.

This is the first entry for Horror Pledge 2013, wherein I do my darndest to watch as many horror movies I haven’t seen before in the month of October to try and unearth some new favourites.

For instance Horror Pledge 2012 helped me to find and fall in love with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Dead and Buried, two damntacular movies.

Obviously, this year I’ve had a late start but SOMEBODY didn’t think about Horror Pledge 2013 when they scheduled the Vancouver International Film Festival AND my holiday time. Way to go, jerks.

I didn’t actually know [REC] was a found footage film going into it.

I did, however, know it was foreign, hence the confused look on my face when the default DVD settings had me watching it dubbed in English. Which I can’t stand. Who would honestly rather hear a dubbed voice than be able to hear the voices of the actual actors and read a few subtitles? Really, let me know and tell me why, if so.

Anyway…

While I will defend The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 to the bitter end, I am now finding myself firmly seated on the Sick to Death of Found Footage Films train.

Maybe in 2007, in a cinema, expectations pounding, this one would have shaken me to my core. Watching it on my TV with my cat on my lap in 2013 didn’t take.

The film is about a Spanish news crew spending a night with the local fire department to see what an average shift is like for them. The department responds to a call about an elderly person stuck in her apartment, perhaps injured. The TV crew gets excited about the action, the fireman shrug it off as routine and they all head out.

Only thing is, and I’m pretty sure this doesn’t qualify as an average night, the old lady in the apartment bites out the jugular of a cop.

Next thing you know, the building is sealed off from the outside by the department of health and all, firefighters, TV crew, apartment residents alike, are trapped inside with some neck-biting zombies.

It’s an OK setup, not exactly anything original now, but, again, back in 2007 this stuff was probably blowing minds and taking names.

But for me it felt like old news (pun intended). Without anything resembling characters or really anything to elicit some kind of emotional response, the film barrels through a series of found footage check marks (camera recording a scared face, camera seeing something the characters don’t, etc.) with no real paydirt. Also, the only person you maybe should care about, the TV reporter, plays the typical screaming idiot character, which didn’t endear me to her cause.

The only thing I liked about this found footage film over others: the camera is a hell of a lot more steady. And it makes sense, because it’s supposed to be a professional cameraman filming it, so he would have good equipment and know how to shoot things without it looking like you just jumped out of a third story window. Whoever played the camera man should be hired to shoot Hollywood action movies.

Some of the effects were cool too, like the use of the camera light in the dark apartment, and when the little girl snaps and turns deadly. I don’t know why a small child seems so much more frightening as a zombie than an adult, but they do. Really, just grab their forehead and your good as gold, but they freak me out. Small hands.

[REC] would go on to spawn two sequels, with another in the works, and an American remake, Quarantine. I haven’t seen that either but I’m in no hurry to, clearly. The original movie still has a 96 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which baffles me. Apparently y’all found something special to like in it. I’m happy for you. I’ll be moving on.

The search continues.

[REC] is available on home video. And from the library, where I got it.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

The Vancouver International Film Festival Top 10 (Out of 10)

Well, I hit the big time this year. The jackpot. I managed to get a media pass to the Vancouver International Film Festival. I threw some names around. Don’t worry about it.

This is, of course, the major festival for the West Coast of Canada, sort of the older sibling to the Victoria Film Festival, Whistler Film Festival, etc. When I went to university in Vancouver and lived there for four years I would go to VIFF every fall, spend some money to see a few flicks. Always had a blast.

Changes happen, seasons came and went, ashes to ashes and all that, and although I don’t live there anymore, I made sure to book my holidays for when it would be going on and got hooked up with the media credentials. So with my press pass clutched eagerly in my paw, I filled a rucksack and headed off, a country film fan in the big city.

Unfortunately, what with a regular job and limited funds and personal relationships to keep up and all that junk, I could only go for three days. But in those three days I saw 10 films. So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Films of VIFF (Out of 10):

1) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), directed by David Lowery

While much of the rest of the world has seen this film already, thanks to a heavily staggered release schedule, us West Coasters had yet to have the chance. It caught my eye because it looked as though it had that Terrence Malick, Texas Southern Gothic feel going on and, as I have stated many times in the past: that’s my jam.

And boy, was I not disappointed. Lowery’s first film does have a Malick influence going on, what with beautiful shots of Texas wheat fields and big skies juxtaposing the crowded lives of the characters below. But more so it feels like the film of a new voice, one who revels in the past but has his own take on it, his own perspective.

Director David Lowery attended the screening and talked about how he tried to make the movie feel like a folk song, in its portrayal of characters and the way in which the tone of the film comes across through pacing, music, etc.

He has succeeded and it’s what stands Ain’t Them Bodies Saints apart from lesser films it could be compared to. In some ways it’s the opposite of a film like Lawless, which was essentially an exploitation film about the South. That film didn’t work partially because its characters were caricatures and hard to care about. Lowery cares about his characters and it’s their choices, their desire to do the right thing, their escape from the tropes of the genre, which makes the film work so well.

The tone of the film is hypnotic, the cinematography beautiful (particularly its use of natural light), but above all else it’s the characters, and the actors portraying them, which make this a great film. And it is a great film, the best at VIFF (out of the 10 I saw).

2. Whitewash (2013), directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais

I have to say, I saw a lot of bleak, violent movies at VIFF. Lots of themes of despair, helplessness, and, perhaps above all else, solitude. Many of the films revolved around a single character seemingly taking on the world all on his own (I would say ‘or her own’ but I have no examples of that).

Of these films, Whitewash was the best, and the purest. This film captures the very core of being alone: a man, out in the wilderness, hiding, fighting the elements and, best of all, by choice. There is actually a gas station and hardware store not far away from where Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) is living out of his stuck snowplow. But he stays away.

For one thing, he is being looked for by the authorities. He went missing the same time a man who had been staying at his house went missing. And he has something to do with it. So it’s best, for now, if Bruce doesn’t have much contact with police.

But he’s also getting away from his life. His wife died and left nothing but boxes of marble doll eyes she hand painted to remember he by. He drinks, which has cost him his driving licence and his job. He hasn’t got a lot going for him. So when he finds himself stuck in Quebec woods, his incentive to leave is not strong.

Church’s performance is the highlight of a film which is at times tense, at other hilarious. It’s a dark tale, both in location and themes, but it doesn’t fail to come off as enjoyable in the end, despite its lonely core.

3. Grand Central (2013), directed by Rebecca Zlotowski

Starring current French film stars Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Les Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Grand Central is a look at the seemingly disposable lives of the workers at a nuclear power facility and the love triangle that arises out of the tension of living close to the edge.

I enjoyed the performances in this film and the juxtaposition of the detail-oriented work versus the messiness of the character’s personal lives. A decimal point on a radiation reader can be the difference between safe and in danger of “a dose” inside the walls of the plant, but outside it is alcohol, sex, fighting and speed which typify the lives of these lost souls.

The film is stunningly directed, with a great use of colour and scale, and the affair at the centre of the film is appropriately charged (pun intended). It’s simply a unique story, one which raises questions over the meaning of life, and the cost of consumption, while never being heavy handed or cliche.

4. 11.6 (2013), directed by Philippe Godeau

Another French film, 11.6 is a neo noir of sorts, and one that manages to be high in tension while minimal in action.

French Dustin Hoffman, Francois Cluzet, plays Toni, a security guard with a armoured car service, who is up to something. He’s bought a Ferrari, is creating a false wall in the back of a rented storage unit and is treating his girlfriend with unusual disdain and distance.

What he has been planning, and what plays out, is a caper more impressive for its simplicity than its carnage, and yet as tense as any shootemup Heat-style snatch.

While the ending is a little baffling, 11.6 is a compelling thriller and with more depth of character than one usually expects with this sort of fare. Nerve-wracking and exciting.

5. The Past (2013), directed by Asghar Farhadi

In Farhadi’s followup to the fantastic A Separation (2011) he again looks at the effects of a marriage torn in two, but with a more obvious dramatic flair than his previous work, which for me diminished the power of what is otherwise a magnificently wrought film.

Farhadi is best at his simplest and for my money is one of the best actor’s directors working today. There is nothing flashy in his style, but in his ability to wring superb performances from his actors he is superb.

The first half of The Past carries on this tradition, with simple delights and empathy found in watching his characters interact with one another, their words and body language conveying all the complexities of human relationships. It’s far more captivating than such a simple film has any right to be.

From there, however, the film turns into a series of dramatic reveals and a whodunnit investigation into, well, the past. It’s all quite intentional, but whereas Mike Leigh understood in Secrets and Lies that the past is merely a detail of the present, Farhadi gives it a legitimacy which is hard to care about.

By the time the film finishes tying up all the loose ends it has created, it has overstayed its welcome and lost the grounded appeal which makes the first half, and his prior film, so powerful.

6. Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (2013), directed by Sam Fleischner

Following the journey of an autistic teen who spends over a week lost in the New York City subway system, Stand Clear… is almost as much an experiment in perception as it is a harrowing story of a mother’s search for her son.

Ricky isn’t running away, he is merely following his instincts, oh and a pair of sneakers he really likes. As he rides the trains he thinks his own narrative to himself while observing and occasionally interacting with other, sometimes strange, sometimes mean, riders.

Fleischner’s use of the camera, his attempts to capture the disjointedness of Ricky’s thought process visually, creates a captivating juxtaposition between the downtrodden lives of the characters and the vibrant world inside his mind. Tying the adventure in with the socioeconomic state of the family and the flooding of New York also gives the material a weight beyond its own story.

7. Heli (2013), directed by Amat Escalante

Steven Spielberg loves lesbian sex and violence. That was the word coming out of Cannes this year, when the Spielberg-headed jury picked a couple of shockers as big trophy winners, including Heli, which won the award for directing.

Quite frankly I’m surprised ole E.T. phone home, doe-eyed Spielberg could tolerate the level of sadistic violence in Heli, a film about stealing from Mexican drug cartels. I nearly couldn’t.

While, yes, it is incredibly well directed, and, yes, provides an unflinching look at an important topic, Heli is the kind of film you can respect but never love, it is just too hard to watch.

I’m still trying to figure out how the filmmakers even accomplished the special effects behind some of the horrendous torture seen in the film, and the outcome of the entire affair is as bleak as the desert terrain it is set in.

This is probably a great film. But I’d rather not see it ever again.

8. Another House (2013), Mathieu Roy

I started the festival off with this Quebecois drama and it really set the tone for what was to follow: pure, unadulterated sadness.

In a film about family, Roy follows the lives of two brothers attempting to take care of their elderly father, who has dementia. One of the brothers, Gabriel (Roy Dupuis), is a well-known journalist with many commitments, while the other, Eric (Emile Proulx-Cloutier), has the time but perhaps not the mental stability to provide care.

This is a fine film, with great performances, especially from Marcel Sabourin as the father, but my is it bleak. The selfish, self-destructive Eric is painful to watch as he pushes everything decent out of his life. Gabriel is more interesting, especially when on assignment, but the film as a whole is more hard to watch than insightful.

While much of the cinematography is a pleasure and the acting is top notch, I had a enough hard time trying to tolerate Another House, especially Eric, to be able to get much out of it.

9. Closed Curtain (2013), directed by Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi

Perhaps I didn’t know what I was getting into, and perhaps I missed some tremendously brilliant point, but I could not get into Closed Curtain. Granted I have yet to see This is Not a Film and I was a walking, sleepy zombie after a day of movies, but to me Closed Curtain was dull and pointless.

This is the latest from Panahi, who is under house arrest in Iran and therefore can only make movies within the confines of his property. There are no exterior shots here. The only views of the outside world are seen through windows. And yes, there are closed curtains.

This is an art film, and all that means. It has a purely abstract interest in perspective, in the effects of authoritarian control, in spaces. The narrative of the story is one which dissolves as the film goes on, breaking down into theory over practice.

In another mood I may have taken more away from this film, but as it was I had no time for it. While many hail Panahi as a brilliant fillmmaker, I found little of interest in this claustrophobic exercise.

10. A Long and Happy Life (2013), directed by Boris Khlebnikov

Another film with a strong start leading to a disappointing finale, A Long and Happy Life isn’t terrible but it lost me enough to make it my least favourite of the festival (out of the 10 I saw).

While I understand the film wants to convey the spirit of a Western, I wish it hadn’t been so literal about it. The shootout ending comes out of left field and makes no sense for the character or the tone of the film. I get how it is supposed to be an interesting turn of events, considering it was only the “ignorant” villagers who before spoke of turning to violence. But I never believed Alex’s quick trigger finger, his descent into violence.

The rural scenery is beautiful, some of the acting is decent, I really liked a lot of the setup but then it took its turn and completely lost me. Shame.

 

So there it is. After all this violence and misery I’m in need of a good comedy. Or a late start on Horror Pledge 2013. That’ll do.

The Vancouver International Film Festival continues until Oct. 11.

Fruitvale Station

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013), directed by Lee Daniels

Fruitvale Station (2013), directed by Ryan Coogler

It’s United States of America race relations weekend in Victoria, British Columbia.

I mean, not really, but in my lovely home base city we have two movies opening this week which focus on stories of the black man in America. They both explore intolerance and racial tension. They are both true stories. But they are two very different movies.

To me, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is the antithesis to The Help. It’s still a tear-jerking, Oscar-baiting, flagrantly manipulative movie, but at least it tells its racial story from the point of view of actual black people and is based on a true story. And for what can be a sticky sweet film at times, it doesn’t hold back when it comes to the portrayal of the violence and hatred directed towards African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and throughout US history.

I hate to use this cliche, but it’s an important film. It’s important because we usually don’t see movies like this, which star black actors telling a black story about race. We are more used to having these stories spoon fed to us by white actors in films like The Help or The Blind Side or Crash. This is an important film because it’s written and directed by a black man, staring black actors, telling the story of who black people obtained equal rights to whites in the United States (on paper).

The Butler is at its best when depicting the civil rights movement. There’s a horrifically captivating sequence where Daniels juxtaposes a shined-silver dinner at the White House with an act of civil disobedience at a diner in the south. One ends well, the other does not. Daniels manages not to hammer this point home though, leaving the audience to make the connections. He simply lets the horrific actions of the white people do the talking in the scene. It’s powerful.

The film is not perfect, however, and an unfortunate heavy hand from Daniels prevents it from becoming something truly great.

It’s at its worst when it’s parading through the parade of cameo appearances by prominent actors as presidents, one trick gags which rarely amount to more. It stumbles when Daniels’ insists on using slow motion and other obvious cinematic trickery in scenes which really don’t need it. The narration is clumsy and overused. The tear-jerker moments are insulting to the audience, who should be able to conclude for themselves the emotional impact of the events witnessed.

Also, get rid of Terrence Howard’s character all together. He takes up far too much screen time and contributes nothing.

The material is powerful enough that being constantly force fed Daniels’ “THIS IS VERY SIGNIFICANT” approach bogs the entire piece down.

I think you can break down who should go see which of these two movies to the personality of the moviegoer. If you’re dealing with a The Help fan who could use some exposure to a similar, feel good type of movie, but one which takes an appropriate perspective on race issues, The Butler is your jam.

But if you are talking about someone who will respond more to a pared down indie flick, deep with understatement and tackling the racial problems which exist to this day in America, head to Fruitvale Station.

Fruitvale Station is a simple movie, depicting the last day of a young black man before he is shot by a police officer outside of the BART subway in Oakland. That’s not a spoiler, we know from the first, real cellphone footage seen in the movie what the ultimate outcome will be.

Unlike The Butler, Fruitvale finds its power in understatement. The film observes Oscar Grant interacting with his girlfriend, his child, his parents, a customer at the store he worked at, a dying dog. We see him face the daily tough decisions he must make. We see him make the wrong ones, and the right. The film’s power comes from the reality of its situation.

As a self-contained film, it is a masterpiece of great insight. When brought back into the real world, it may have some issues. As perennial grump Kyle Smith has pointed out, it has some factual issues. And as he and others have pointed out the cause of the shooting may have come down more to pure incompetence than anything racially motivated.

But I don’t think that’s the entire point of the film either. The racial divide between the young black men and the white cops certainly plays into the officers’ overly aggressive handling of the situation. Beyond that though the modern world of the African-American, one which still includes everyday racism, fear and tremendous pressure, is under the microscope here, and also contributes to Grant being at that place, at that time, in that situation.

Oscar Grant is not portrayed as a perfect man in the film. He cheats on his girlfriend. He’s lost his job because he is constantly late. He has been to jail, clearly for selling drugs. He is prone to bursts of anger, which come with shocking speed and ferocity.

While the film is obviously looking to illicit sympathy at times, and certainly steers the sympathies of the audience, there is a fine line between that goal and taking a serious, justifiable look at the circumstances which have produced this angry young man. And even with his failings, Grant is still trying to turn his life around, even if at times he doesn’t know how or isn’t properly equipped in life to do so.

The true joy of the film is Michael B. Jordan’s performance. Those of us who worship Friday Night Lights already know Jordan as a talented actor (go Lions!) and now he seems to have had his breakthrough with this film. He shows great range and talent. His emotions are raw, written on his face and body language, the true canvas of great acting.

While The Butler contains historical importance, Fruitvale Station captures something more modern and does a better job of allowing its audience to feel an active part of the story. The Butler leaves nothing to the imagination and is the worse for it.

Both are important films, however, and both should be watched. Racial relations are still widely misunderstood (as any comments section from a online story on Trayvon Martin will show you). Film is an important avenue for social discussion. Both of these movies are important contributions.

Lee Dainels’ The Butler and Fruitvale Station are in cinemas now.

Frances Ha

Frances Ha

Frances Ha (2013), directed by Noah Baumbach

As Andy Samberg’s version of Nic Cage would say: high praise. That’s what the critics have been lavishing on Noah Baumbach’s latest jaunt into his quirky indie world of hapless losers with too much education and no idea what to do with it.

I wouldn’t say I’m especially endeared to Baumbach’s particular style or his choice of subject matters. Like most, I enjoyed his breakthrough film The Squid and the Whale, but unlike most I didn’t think it was anything beyond pretty good. Threw Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg Baumbach continued to mildly amuse me while underwhelming me.

There are some fabulous moments in his latest, Frances Ha. I love the use of music. I like Greta Gerwig’s physical comedy, which comes off as sincere and telling. I enjoyed the ending. The segment in Paris is ridiculous and funny, and I like how it took you out of the world of the rest of the movie, but not in any jarring way, much like the Christmas trip home. I liked her relationship with her “undateable” roommate.

Much about the structure of the film, its storytelling, impressed me.

But I am no great fan of awkward humour, for the most part, and Frances Ha is nothing if not cringe-worthy in its frustratingly overwhelming awkwardness. To many, it seems, Frances is charming, quirky and delightfully lost. Maybe I’m just an old grump but I found her incredibly hard to love. I spent most of the movie wanting to bury my head in my hands.

Oh sure I’ve been 20-something and lost too, trust me. Nothing like a winter in your mum’s basement at 24 to give you time to worry about the rest of your life. And I get that some feel this film is capturing this Girls-like aimless wandering mid-20s female character we’re all of a sudden interested in (or is just the people making our media have just graduated from this stage in life and so that’s what they write about?).

Of course we have a right to document and explore this stage of modern living, but does it make very good subject matter?

I just have trouble caring. I spent most of the film wanting to someone to just tell Frances to get her life together. Sure I could relate, to a degree, and if I was in a similar stage I might have loved the vindication of a movie like Frances Ha. But now, with a better understanding that you get out of life what you put into it, I’ve lost interest.

Is that too much of a personal reaction for a film critic? Maybe. But here we are. Plus it is in how it’s handled for this film. I like Girls and more than support young women telling their stories. That’s not the problem.

I did appreciate Gerwig’s performance, she nails her character. It’s a turning point in her career.

But my troubled relationship with the works of Baumbach continue, and while I hoped this would be the film where he amazed me, I left the cinema feeling once again like we hadn’t connected.

He seems very nice, but he’s totally undateable.

Frances Ha is in cinemas now.

The East

The East

The East (2013), directed by Zal Batmanglij

The East is the first Hollywood movie I can recall explicitly cashing in on the whole Occupy, radical protest.

But is it helping the cause or exploiting it? Will scraggly bearded, Salvation Army-clothed college students dig it, or will they see it as misappropriation? Will it raise the attention of its broader audience, the middle class, who may have ignored the aims of Occupy or other protests?

It’s hard to say. On the one hand, it is exploitation of a kind. The film has big name actors pretending to be the extreme version of environmental activists for the purposes of a movie. It’s meant to be entertaining. The scenes of the crimes are exciting and tense at times. We’re supposed to be entertained.

At the same time the film seems eager to make a point, though what that point is can be hard to put your finger on. I think it wants us to understand better who these people are, their anger, their backgrounds, their cause. But the film itself also questions their tactics, ultimately helping everyone to feel better about themselves by promoting a more peaceful, though entirely fictitious and ridiculous, road to change.

I think enjoying the film on a level of its message will depend on your politics. While I may have enjoyed their antics as characters in a movie, I would abhor their tactics in real life, as a firm believer in not hurting people, no matter what your beef with them is. I can get behind protesting, even if I don’t join in, but as soon as you start in with destroying property or physically harming them, I’m out.

So I didn’t have a lot of sympathy with the group after they started poisoning people. Fill a house with oil? Sure, maybe, OK. Deliberately give people a substance you know will give them brain damage? No, not even if they did the same thing.

The movie also kind of lost me on the “message” level at that point too, because the idea that an antibiotic which commonly causes brain damage in a matter of weeks after consumption would ever make it to the market is a ludicrous, conspiracy-theory-level idea. I’m not saying some drugs don’t cause more harm than good, or that pharmaceutical companies don’t do terrible things, but this drug would obviously have never passed trials.

I normally can’t stand it when people nitpick a plot for holes or stretches, but I think in this case, if the film is trying to be anything more than just a fun movie, which I believe it is, the ground on which its concept stands is an important one. And I don’t think it holds.

Beyond that, purely as a movie, The East also falls short. It’s far too long, it meanders and frequently coasts into the realm of “bore.” Some scenes are great, such as the party scene, or Marling’s interactions with Patricia Clarkson. But the endless squatter worship at the house and the detail ascribed to each “jam” breaks up what could be a zippy, exciting movie.

If it had made the eco-terrorism seem more exciting rather than take this half-hearted analytical look at it, it may have found a bigger audience and sparked more conversation, which I assume was the point. I get that it didn’t want to take that road, preferring instead a cold, hard look at its characters and plot, but it falls flat.

It sure made me appreciate Fight Club, I’ll give it that, a movie I’ve had issues with ever since it came out.

In an effort to be relevant and thoughtful, but still a movie, in the common sense of the word, The East forged its own failure, never managing to be much good as either an “issue movie” or entertainment. It lies somewhere in the middle, as lost as its main characters.

The East in is cinemas now.

The Internship

The Purge (2013), directed by James DeMonaco

The Internship (2013), directed by Shawn Levy

This past weekend felt like a slight one for this Summer Movie Season. No big blockbusters, no superheroes, no explosions.

But it did have some all-American violence and a re-pairing of the biggest comedy team of 2005. What’s not to love?

Well, as it turns out, not that much.

The Purge is a gimmick film centred around the concept that in the near future of America crime has been virtually eliminated and unemployment is nearly extinct (not sure how that’s related, but OK), all thanks to a yearly purge: a 12-hour window of opportunity for people to commit any sort of crimes they like without fear of punishment.

So step one to the movie is buying that, which really shouldn’t be a problem, it’s a movie after all, so why not?

I actually thought the concept had promise, what with the human nature implications and lock-and-load Americanism at play. Plus it looked like it could be downright scary with these creepily-masked intruders breaking down Ethan Hawke’s steel-reinforced door.

As it turns out, The Purge is part cabin-in-the-woods horror, part thriller, part vigilante action film, but mostly it’s just dull.

Part of the problem is it can’t pick which of those to be. The film starts off firmly grounded in reality, with newscasts asking experts how the purge works from a psychological standpoint and with the film seriously considering the implications of giving crime a free leash for a night.

Then it switches gears with this masked gang of yachting commerce students and tries to become a intruder horror movie a la Funny Games. These kids skip with machetes and sing children’s songs and generally act like their all 11 years old and on mushrooms at the Texas Chain Saw Massacre house.

While this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (even if these kids did want to kill on the purge, why would they act like leftovers from The Shining creep sequences?), it also goes against the most interesting aspect of the movie: average human beings allowed to commit whatever crimes they like.

My biggest problem is no one in this gang ever breaks the facade. It would have been really interesting to see these young psychopaths as actual young people. It would have been a whole other thing to have one of them all of a sudden question what they’re doing, or get upset when one of the others dies, or hesitate before a kill.

They don’t. They are undaunted, horror movie killing machines, which goes against the reality-based setup.

But you have to take a film by its own merits, and this one clearly wanted to be a horror movie. At this it does not succeed either. There are some slightly creepy moments, but the film goes light on the violence, never pushes the boundaries and relies on gimmicks far too much, such as the three or four moments when someone is about to kill someone else but unexpectedly gets killed at the last second by someone else entirely. First time: sure. Fourth time: shame on you.

It’s a symptom of a movie which has a basic idea and little much else. The script feels slapped together and never takes the time to delve into what could really make this set-up interesting: the deeper human nature questions. We see it momentarily with Hawke’s character debating the sacrifice of a life to save his family, but in a film where the most interesting concept is the grey area between right and wrong, there are far too many blacks and whites in The Purge.

By all measure The Internship is a slight film. On one level it’s a giant, very long commercial for Google. It’s an unhesitating celebration of commercialism and the American Dream. It all seems a tad more than naive.

But dammit if Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson aren’t charming as all heck and manage to turn this senseless idea of a movie into a moderately charming and enjoyable little film.

The idea that two philistine 40-something men who know nothing about computers could manage to get, let alone succeed at, an internship with Google is of course ridiculous. The filmmakers realize this and simply don’t care, and by the end of the film, neither should the audience.

And it’s all thanks to Vaughn and Wilson, who, for some reason, work well together. I suppose it’s the classic comedy team up, really. Vaughn is the fast-talking, larger-than-life (both physically and by his personality) comedy central, while Wilson is the straight man, with his slow Southern drawl and puppy dog features.

The two work well together and despite my initial complete disinterest in the entire affair I couldn’t help by the end but to get swept up in their fast talking, pants-off charming ways. They’re not the first pair to keep a movie going on charm alone, in fact they come from a great tradition of it (Crosby and Hope, Jerry and Lewis, Weaver and Xenomorph), and I don’t think it’s a great insult to say they save this movie.

Just an idea though: how much better would this film have been if they were allowed to be gay? I mean, it seemed pretty obvious anyway, but if they finally hooked up at the end? Could have provided some on-screen sparks, that’s all I’m saying.

The Internship is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s charming enough to be entertaining, although that’s the extent of it. It might pass my Internship Purge, but just barely.

The Purge and The Internship are in cinemas now.